Archive for July 2010
Not a great photo, is it? It needs some explanation. It was taken with a big zoom lens from the island of North Ronaldsay at the very northern tip of the Orkney Islands last summer, after Heather and I had spent several weeks kayaking there from the Scottish mainland. The hazy outline in the photo is Fair Isle, 25 miles away and further north again. Fair Isle is the southernmost of the Shetland Isles; these are basically the last bit of Britain before you hit the Arctic Ocean! The Shetland Isles are an archipelago extending north to latitudes on a par with central Norway. The most northerly point is the celebrated lighthouse at Muckle Flugga, which is of course the northernmost tip of Britain. Muckle Flugga is precisely 711 miles north of our house; and hopefully we’ll be up there ourselves, very shortly! We head north tomorrow night, catching the overnight ferry from Aberdeen on Saturday evening.
South West Sea Kayaking Meet 2010 – this is filling up nicely, but there is still plenty of space at the moment. Details are here. If you post payment to me, make sure that you also email me (because I’ll be 711 miles from home) to help me keep track of numbers. Those of you who have signedup; more info about the event to follow, of course…
Hopefully my next blog post will have some rather better photos of the Shetland Isles…
Early Saturday morning … Heather realised that something was up when she drove past a friend whom she hadn’t seen for two years, close to our house. At breakfast he and many more friends turned up to join us, and as the day went on, numbers increased until we had a crowd of dozens joining us for a BBQ and camp at a disused quarry on the local coast.
It was great to surprise Heather for her birthday, but great also to introduce the scenery, flora and fauna of our amazing local shores to many friends who hadn’t experienced it before.
Back in 2008, we held a ‘book launch weekend’ to celebrate the arrival of ‘South West Sea Kayaking’. The weekend was based at East Prawle in south Devon, and was a lot of fun. We did it again in 2009. Purely for want of a name, it became the South West Sea Kayaking Meet, and this appears to be becoming an annual event.
This year’s event is being held from 3rd to 5th September 2010.
- The weekend is non-profit-making (indeed I can think of one person who loses money on it, every year) and is run simply for the fun of it by volunteers. We will however raise some money for two local charities; Dartmoor Rescue Group and the Devon Air Ambulance.
- It’s an informal get-together of friends and soon-to-be friends. It’s not a Symposium or a Coaching Festival. There are no workshops or clinics. It’s just some people going paddling and getting together socially. I’ll do my best to make it all run smoothly (generously aided by volunteers) but don’t expect a tightly choreographed event. Think: ‘shambolic’.
- The weekend is aimed at folk who just want to go paddling and enjoy the wonderful south Devon coast. All abilities are welcome, but the paddling will not suit complete novices.
- On Saturday night, there will be an evening of talks in the hall attached to the wonderful Pig’s Nose Inn. The guest speakers will be invited purely because they’re entertaining and visually appealing; no Big Names and no dull-but-worthy PowerPoint lectures from Highly Respected Coaches, I’m afraid.
- PH Kayaks and Venture Kayaks are kindly supporting the weekend and will be offering a fleet demo kayaks for use on the water, each day.
- There will be a range of paddling trips on the Saturday and Sunday; there will be a choice of doing your own thing, or joining small guided groups, led by experienced volunteers. All paddlers participating accept full personal responsibility for their own safety (as frankly, you should do every time you go paddling…).
- We will be camping at Higher Farm, just along the road from the pub.
- You can eat at the pub, but previous experience has suggested that it isn’t well geared up for large numbers of paddlers descending upon it on the Saturday evening. I would suggest that you consider bringing your own food and cooking at the campsite. I will be bringing along a large group barbeque and you are welcome to cook on it. Please don’t disappear off to Kingsbridge on Saturday evening; the talks and pub get-together are the focus of the weekend.
- Everyone who would like to participate will need to donate £20; some of the money will pay for camping, anything left over will be added to the charity pot. It doesn’t matter if you are camping or not, staying one night or two, paddling one day or two, or indeed paddling or not. You will have to donate £20 if you are going to join us.
The event has room for limited numbers and will fill up on a first come, first served basis. If you are planning on coming, please confirm as soon as possible. You can do this in one of two ways…
1* Paypal £20 to firstname.lastname@example.org and email me your details at the same time.
2* ‘Post’ a ‘cheque’ to Mark Rainsley, XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and email me your details at the same time.
Note that I will be away from home in the Shetland Isles for at least a month between now and the event; however I will have access to email.
Any questions? Email me or post them here: South West Sea Kayaking on Facebook.
I will supply more information in due course. Watch this space and also here in the weeks to come!
Some further details
The campsite is at Higher Farm in East Prawle village, South Devon. It is located (I’m quoting the owners here) 50 metres past the telephone box on the same side, heading towards the sea. It’s not a big village, you won’t struggle to find the farm.
It’s a farmer’s field with limited facilities, so please don’t expect Butlins! The owners ask for quiet in the evening and dogs must be tethered.
Whether or not you are camping, the event starts at 9.00 am on Saturday morning with a briefing in the camping field. If it’s raining, I have no idea how we’ll do this, but we’ll think of something no doubt. There will also be a similar briefing on the Sunday morning.
***This post has seen no end of visits and associated queries. For this reason (and because I’m becoming a sad camera gear geek) I’m submitting an updated version. I still need to get around to writing a basic ‘how-to’ on paddling photography, bear with me…***
I’ve had a fair few enquiries about the equipment used for photos in the blog and in the book South West Sea Kayaking. So humour me, I’ll try to cover this stuff in a single blog post.
Basically, I now always use a digital SLR. I carry it in a Watershed Ocoee drybag with internal padding. Watershed drybags are 100% dry (if sealed properly), but not cheap. Whilst paddling, the bag lives between my knees and is quickly opened/closed for photos.
The only protection for the camera whilst in use is a rubber Camera Armor cover; this at least protects the camera from damp salty fingers. Incidentally, ignore the lens condom thing that comes with the rubber case – this is useless and looks ridiculous, it goes straight in the bin.
The photos for South West Sea Kayaking were mostly taken with a secondhand Olympus E500. It’s conveniently small and light.
Looking back over the photos from the Olympus with hindsight and a little more knowledge, the quality is clearly lacking; most notably in terms of sharpness. I think the main culprit here is the cheapo kit lenses.
I subsequently decided to go a bit more seriously down the SLR route, and spent far too much money on toys from Nikon. For the last two years I have owned a Nikon D80 (Nikon have now replaced this with the improved D90)… this is a fantastic camera which does a much better job of exposing colour and light effectively (compared to the Olympus E500), and (something of a Nikon speciality) handles low light and high ISOs very well. If I were only ever to own one ‘decent’ camera for everything, it would be this one.
Late last year, I went temporarily insane and acquired a Nikon D300s; this expensive housebrick of a camera doesn’t really do anything new that my D80 doesn’t (apart from video, which I don’t want/need), but it is a noticeable step-up in certain respects, e.g. really fast accurate focusing and blisteringly fast frame rate (7 shots per second). The main advantage of the D300s is being able to adjust/ control pretty much everything; this is either a great bonus or the road to insanity, depending upon your viewpoint.
Like any camera geek, I have all sorts of lenses, not all of which I am entirely sure I understand what they do. However, pretty well all my on-the-water shots are taken using the awesomely versatile Nikon 18-200mm VR lens … the zoom range covers pretty well all possibilities, and the VR (image stabilisation) is obviously of benefit whilst your boat is moving up and down. Note that after I smashed/ wore out the first one (ouch), I bought a replacement which was actually the MK II…this has a useful zoom lock that prevents ‘lens’ creep; important as the lens is more vulnerable to damage when extended.
For wildlife/close-up shots, I was lucky enough to acquire a Nikon 80-400mm VR lens on eBay. This hefty lump of a lens is only really practical for use on dry land, and I’ve spent many happy hours lying on rocks and sand, pointing it at obliging seals and seabirds.
Two other lens have recently been added to my kitbag, courtesy of eBay and a flexible overdraft facility…
This monster only has a modest zoom (80-200 mm), compared to the beast above but I’m rapidly learning that it’s the highest quality bit of photography kit I own. Focusing is fast, photos are amazingly sharp and due to its fast aperture (f2.8 at 200mm for those who care…) really high shutter speeds are practical. The upshot is less wobbly pictures. Looking forward to making heavy use of this with the wildlife in the Shetland Isles. Obviously it’s not practical for use from a kayak…probably.
The other new toy is a macro (i.e. close-up) lens. It’s clearly a very high quality bit of gear, but there is a definite knack to macro photography that I need to work on; in particular, depth of field is a major factor to take consideration of and also any hint of wind (i.e. being outdoors) completely screws your pictures. Watch this space, hopefully I’ll learn more about how to use it.
Final item in my bag worth mentioning is actually virtually indispensable. I’ve played around with various tripods, monopods and suchlike; mostly they are a pain, awkward and slow to assemble and use. If you’re going to photograph wildlife on dry land, you really must get yourself one of these…looks daft but is amazingly useful. They come in two sizes, the bigger size is better but is only just practical to carry by sea kayak. Makes a great pillow, though!
Hopefully that’s useful, for those who want to know the technical side of things. At some point I might find time to pen something about how I take photos, but I admittedly know a lot more about buying toys than using them …
PS If you feel a sudden desire to buy any of this gear for yourself, please use the links on this page – I get a small commission, enabling me to waste even more money on camera gear!
PPS Did you read this article expecting to be told what to buy? Well, if you have a moderate pile of money to spend, want to begin to take professional quality photos and want to be as versatile as possible, it’s simple – buy the Nikon D90 and the 18-200VR lens. Job done. However, don’t blame me if you eventually find yourself addicted to buying more and more expensive and arcane gear…
…namely, camping on a cliff ledge in an unstable and crumbling limestone quarry, accessible only via a slightly dubious scramble. It made for a pleasant and undisturbed night’s sleep however, and it also enabled me to wave my newest eBay acquisition at some bemused seagulls in the morning. Our love affair with the Isle of Purbeck continues; even after a decade living here, we keep finding new spots to explore.
In other news…
*The South West Sea Kayak Meet 2010 looks set to go ahead on 4th-5th September in East Prawle, South Devon. I hope to post up more details and joining instructions very soon.
*In three weeks’ time, we’ll be on a ship to the Shetland Isles, a wild archipelago forming Britain’s most northerly outpost. It’s a ‘working’ trip of three or more weeks, in which we intend to get some writing and photography done for our book. However, we might just manage to squeeze in a tiny amount of sea kayaking, amongst all the hard work…
*Some local teenagers who’ve just got into paddling are planning and training for an ambitious open crossing for charity. Consider supporting them…
A few months ago, Canoe Kayak UK magazine published a sea kayaking supplement, including a section where ‘Britain’s best sea paddlers’ described their favourite sea paddle. I was also invited to contribute. Below is the bit that I submitted about my local coast…
The Isle of Purbeck (Dorset, England)
Author: Until Mark Rainsley came to Dorset for a job interview in 1994, he hadn’t even heard of the Isle of Purbeck and (as a single-minded whitewater paddler) assumed that sea paddling was a mind-numbingly dull pursuit best left to paddlers with unfortunate facial hair and dubious social skills. He needed the money however, so purely by accident he found himself living amongst some of the finest coastal scenery anywhere. It wasn’t long before he acquired a sea kayak, got out exploring and began to realise how wrong he’d been…
Why it’s my favourite: I am lucky enough to live slap-bang in the middle of the Isle of Purbeck. This is the finest section of coast within the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, which was created on account of its outstanding geological diversity and beauty. The Isle isn’t really an Isle, but is actually a peninsula with water on three sides. Heading south and west from Studland Beach near Poole, paddlers can explore over 20 miles of amazing cliffs, secluded beaches and surging tidal rapids. The sea stacks of Old Harry Rocks form a taster of things to come, before the resort of Swanage is reached. After bouncing through the tide races at Peveril Point and Durlston Head, miles of sheer limestone cliffs present the most committing section of the Isle. They culminate in the huge tide races off St Albans Head, where the paddler feels like a mere speck beneath towering and tottering crags. If you’ve survived all that, then Chapman’s Pool is a wonderful secret cove to lunch at before continuing westwards across the shallow Kimmeridge Ledges to Kimmeridge Bay. There is little tidal flow now, but this area is famed for its ability to form big clean surf waves! The best scenery is arguably still to come, west of K-Bay. The Gadcliff is a contender for Britain’s weirdest rock formation, and Worbarrow Bay’s brilliant white precipices will both dazzle and amaze. By the time you reach the caves and arches around Lulworth Cove, you’ll be suffering from eyeball overload. Be sure however, to paddle slightly further west and explore the perfect arch of Durdle Door and the tunnel at Bat’s Head.
If you can show me any section of the UK’s coast with more variety in just 20 miles, I’ll eat my paddle and post it on YouTube.
Techie details: This coast can be enjoyed as one long trip, or as a fabulous overnighter. The water can be road-accessed at a variety of spots – Studland Bay, Swanage, Kimmeridge Bay and Lulworth Cove. Tides ebb out westwards for six hours from about 30 minutes before HW Dover. They begin to flood in eastwards from about 5.5 hours after HW Dover. The tide flows strongly (up to 5 mph!) with significant tidal rapids around the headlands, however there is little flow west of Kimmeridge Bay. Further information in the guidebook ‘South West Sea Kayaking’ by some fellow called Mark Rainsley, available from Pesda Press.