Archive for January 2008
Kevin (background of photo) said, “Follow me”.
Alice (foreground) answered, “Are you kidding?”
This story (quite true) serves as a perfect metaphor. This weekend, Alice marries Kevin and follows him into the black abyss of … okay, maybe that metaphor doesn’t work so well.
Alice is posh, and used to work for the Queen. She is terrifyingly efficient and recently worked 24.8 hours a day for a full year to get her MA, scoring 106% for every test. Her husband-to-be is an unkempt commoner and once barged Prince Andrew out of his way to get to the beer (true story). Despite claiming to be a ‘Master of Synchronicity’, he is always unbelievably late to get ready for anything, especially paddling.
They are made for each other.
They are getting married in Iceland, in order to enjoy the Northern Lights. Heather and I fly out to Reykjavik tomorrow night. The weather is forecast to be -11 degrees Centigrade on arrival and beer is £5 a pint. Alice had better show up at the church …
Heather and I have written and photographed numerous magazine articles in the past, although we’ve put this all on hold in the past year to work on the book. However, we were contacted last year by Xlife, which is apparently Hong Kong’s leading (only?) extreme sports magazine. Xlife sought permission to translate a few previous articles we’d already published, into Mandarin Chinese! The article pictured dropped through the front door in print last week. It was written by Heather about Scotland’s Isle of Skye. This wonderful island is exotic enough for us Brits. I wonder how it seems to the citizens of China? The full Chinese version is here and the original (English) article is here.
In the meantime, Pesda Press are apparently working hard putting South West Sea Kayaking together. As far as I know there are no plans for a Chinese translation yet …
I’m no birdwatcher (birder? twitcher? bird fan?) but I do like our feathered friends, especially those found along our coasts. I’m currently reading a wonderful book about Britain’s birds that my mummy gave me for Christmas. What a pleasure then today, to have one of my best bird moments* ever.
*Yes I know that sounds vaguely dodgy, but I can’t think of a better way to phrase it.
We got out on the water in our sea kayaks for the first time in 2008, enjoying a glorious early morning along our local Purbeck coast. No camera I’m afraid, for all sorts of reasons far too boring to explain. The old photo above shows the site of Durlston Head’s guillemot colony, with a few of these fat little birds just visible lurking in the shadows. As we passed 200m offshore of this spot today, we were delighted to see a great many guillemots crowding the ledges; they’re back for the spring!
The birds began to take off from the ledges, and as the air around us became thick with the little blighters, we realised that there were quite a lot of them. The colony numbers about 400, but we saw at least twice that number. The birds kept coming for what seemed like forever, emerging in rows from the caves behind and swarming into the air. Mingled in were many razorbills, recognisable by their distinctive ‘razor’ beak but otherwise unusually attractive in their winter plumage. These fellows are usually less numerous hereabouts, which seems to explain the biblical deluge of birds; perhaps many of them are just stopping off on their way elsewhere?
A sad footnote; two people (a walker and a climber) fell off the cliffs near this spot in separate incidents a few hours later, and both appear to have been seriously injured. We were paddling with John G from the Swanage lifeboat, who had also been called out to a climbing incident the previous night. We met the two lifeboats out on exercise on our way back, not knowing at time that they’d shortly be called to rescue the victims. Our best wishes to those involved.
Many crave immortality, yet few achieve it. Dave Surman (age 103) is truly a legend in his own bathtime. ‘The Surmanator’ has achieved near-mythical status amongst those privileged to know him, despite having no immediately obvious function or purpose in the grand scheme of things.
I’m being very unfair … Dave ‘Rodeo Grandude’ Surman has actually introduced, inspired and coached a whole generation of young kayakers, many of whom are now stellar hotshots. Dave is however best known for his ability to reduce polite and patient waitresses to rage and tears. Hand him a menu and time how long it takes him to finish ordering his food …
Dave wanted to try his hand at sea kayaking, and joined us this summer in South Cornwall. We kicked off with a pleasant evening saunter down the River Fowey estuary, and camped near Fowey. We were then stuck there for days on end as successive waves of rain, wind, hail, frogs and locusts destroyed our paddling plans. In the end poor Dave headed home in despair, having paddled precisely zero distance on the sea proper. Maybe next year, Dave?
98.7% of the research for South West Sea Kayaking has come from this indispensible little tome. Random extracts …
St. Austell Brewery is Cornwall’s oldest and largest family-run business, owning 170 pubs and producing 30,000 barrels of beer a year.
Visitors to Cornwall spend an average of £32 per day on food and accommodation, visitors to London spend £76.
Cornwall’s first ever lifeboat station opened in Penzance in 1803, 12 years before the RNLI began.
The Tate St Ives took two years to build, costing over £3 million. In 2007, Tate St Ives saw its three millionth visitor.
The Tamar Bridge carries 16 million vehicles a year, 10 times more vehicles than when it opened. On a busy weekday, 50,000 vehicles drive over it.
The Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape received full World Heritage Site designation in 2006. This placed the two counties’ industrial wastelands alongside the Taj Mahal and The Great Wall of China! The new World Heritage Site encompasses a huge number of post-industrial mining ruins. They are clustered in ten different districts stretching from the Tamar Valley west to St Just, Britain’s most westerly town.
Why exactly did they bother? I quote …
‘This cultural landscape is a testament to the profoundly important process of pioneer metal mining, to its industrialisation, and to the innovations which occurred here and had a fundamental influence on the mining world at large during the nineteenth century.’
It’s good to see important industrial archaeology preserved, and Cornwall’s former economic importance commemorated. Otherwise, let’s be totally honest. Awarding World Heritage Status to a load of abandoned mining spoils and ruins sounds on paper like the worst idea ever.
But then, you actually experience it …
Kevin is the reason I had a hangover yesterday. He’s getting married in a couple of weeks, so we all gathered for his Stag Night, which involved all manner of japes, such as … <edited – WHOTRSOTR>
Anyway, Kevin is yet another whitewater paddler friend who likes to slow down and enjoy the sea from time to time. He paddled to the Isles of Scilly with me a few days after buying his first sea kayak, and he has joined us for a number of trips this year. Kevin is very much into the campcraft side of sea paddling. In fact, he’s unhealthily obsessed with survivalist-bushcraft-Ray-Mears-type nonsense, and can usually be found lighting fires in pouring rain using wet moss and cow turds, whilst the rest of us head off to the pub for dinner. Kevin is also infamous for;
- Taking twice as long as everyone else to get changed.
- Being obsessed with shiney new colour co-ordinated paddling gear.
- Scaring small children.
- Wearing silly hats.
- Scaring llamas.
- Having no idea how many sisters his fiancee has, or what they are called.
Anyway Kevin, we’re all delighted that you and Alice are getting married. See you at the wedding!
Apologies for the awful photo quality- these pictures were taken by a mobile phone and I had (have) a hangover. I crossed the road from our hotel on Brighton seafront this morning, to get some fresh sea air and clear my head. I was amazed to see wood strewn all along the beach and floating in large expansive rafts out to sea. The photos don’t do it justice, inevitably.
It would seem that the ‘wood slick’ shed from the deck of the Ice Prince has completely bypassed the Dorset and Devon coast, drifting at least 90 miles east to fetch up on the shores of Sussex. Sussex doesn’t feature in South West Sea Kayaking, so I’m mightily relieved; it means that I don’t have to re-edit or change anything. Why was I in Sussex at all? The clue is in the grainy final photo, the quality of which accurately reflects the clarity of my memory of last night. We were gathered for the Stag Night of Kevin F (pictured), of whom more tomorrow.
Having drifted across Lyme Bay and past Portland Bill, the Ice Prince sank 28 miles south of St Alban’s Head (far headland in the above photo), indeed 32 miles almost directly south of my house.
Apart from the aforementioned oil, she was carrying a cargo of timber, 5238 tonnes of it, to be precise. 2000 tonnes were on the deck and will already be arriving on our local coast as I write. Well, a mountain of timber isn’t ideal, but the Ice Prince could of course have been transporting far more noxious things, I guess that we are lucky.
By coincidence, the 2002 wreck of the Kodima at Whitsand Bay in Cornwall also led to masses of timber washing ashore. Scavengers quickly descended, and much of the timber (allegedly) disappeared into the walls of the sheds that adorn the cliffs behind. Although the authorities have warned against scavenging timber on the Dorset and Devon coast, presumably the car parks of B&Q and Homebase will be unusually quiet this weekend …
Recently, Brixham Coastguard, the French Coastguard, the Royal Navy, Whisky Bravo, and the lifeboats of Salcombe and Torbay have all been having a busy time offshore of Devon.
The Ice Prince is now adrift in the English Channel, carrying 313 metric tonnes of oil amongst other hazardous things. It’s impossible not to feel a sense of déjà vu …
LIke most people I paddle with on the sea, Graham is a white water paddler moonlighting on the salty stuff. Indeed, I met him today for a run on the splendid River Dart. Graham runs Ringwood Canoe Club and has paddled whitewater all over the world. I’m delighted to say that he is joining us on our trip to paddle in India this Easter. For a living, Graham … actually, I’ve just realised that I have no idea at all what Graham does for a living and I don’t think that he has ever told me. Probably something illegal, or immoral, or both.
I once turned up at Graham’s canoe club, at his invitation, to give a talk … a week late. Sorry Graham.
Chris is known as ‘Tiff’, and lives in Calstock beside the River Tamar. He is currently doing a ‘gap year’ before heading off to Uni. From his front door he can paddle down the Tamar into Plymouth Sound and then out to sea. Indeed he frequently does so, and then paddles right back again. He has far too much energy; evidenced by his winning of the Eddystone Challenge last year.
Chris was good enough to guide us on a great paddle through his local waters, letting us know all sorts of things that aren’t in guidebooks. Want to know what’s in the moored MOD barges? Don’t ask! Chris has since paddled with us in North Devon.