Archive for September, 2010

The South West Canoe Show

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

The colourful stands of weirdly dough shaped playboats were well displayed against the horrible trash-pompous backdrop of the shop and luxury apartment complex on the Exeter waterfront, its facade much, but alas temporarily, improved by the scaffolding netting.

SW Canoe Show

All tastes were represented, including this fully equipped fish-on-top with fishfinder and positionfinder, and much else of fancy equipment.

fishing canoe

At the ultra-orthodox end of the scale, was a nicely tied Greenland style kayak.

greenland cockpit

There were few innovations in the modern sea kayak class. P&H offer the Delphin as a hybrid sea, surf and rock garden play boat. Here is the chief of the Dartmouth canoe club, Tim Freeman, exposing the underside, showing bow-only chines and a bulbous bow to stop it diving into the trough of the wave. The bow normally rides high above the water, so for sea kayaking on calm water one needs a crate of ale in the forward hold. Even without ballast, the boat is heavy, being built to withstand battering on rocks and beaches.

tim in delphin

tim P

Coach update meeting at Hayle, Cornwall

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

I motored my kayak the long (for me) journey to Cornwall for a one day improvement course. The update part was powerpoint diagrams with boxes and arrows explaining the coaching hierarchy in all its confusing artfulness. Some quick witted participants immediately pointed out straying arrows between boxes in the sequence of slides, confirming the byzantine complexity of the paddle sport formal structure.

But it was fun on the water, in a way. Here we are going out past the Goodrevy Lighthouse looking for bouncy waves to practice rescues.

Goodrevy light

And here is Russell grappling with the instructor’s canoe as he splashes around patiently in his dry suit.

bow clutch for emptying kayak

Then it was my turn to take to the water, imitating, improbably, a paddler too heavy to put back into a dry boat. So all my hatches were sprung, the boat forced to flood. I floated into the sunken wreck easily and was then pumped out a bit, to imitate a real rescue but without taking so much time over it.

I spent the rest of the exercise in a half flooded boat making brace strokes to stop it tipping, vainly suggesting we raft up to empty the boat properly. Then I had to rescue an instructor tipped in between two rocks. I don’t know if he knew this, but there was a ferocious tidal stream between the rocks, opposite to what one would expect – a classic end of beach phenomenon. So we just stayed in the rough without budging, however hard I paddled to tow him and boat to calmer water.

We ended by practicing Greenland paddle rolls near the beach, so I was a bit late for the afternoon session.

bivvy competition

It turned out to be a fortunate late entry. The other participants had been busy making bivouacs which seemed to consist of wrapping a canoe in a pound-shop tarpaulin, then unwrapping it a bit, sticking in some paddles to hold it up and nailing the end to the turf.

Our genial instructor, Steve Hopkin, is a canoe hedonist, devoted, he said, to eating well and sleeping well in the outback. I pointed out that his outback must be remarkably insect free and unfolded my Hennessey Hammock, which is too pricey for a pound shop (multiply by 100) but does keep the midges out. It can be sat on the ground by using two (Greenland) paddles as supports for the netting and the tarp which shelters the hammocky bit. So two trees at the right spacing are not necessary, and in my experience, non-existent.

blue barrels

Then we moved on to the cooking techniques. Steve was obviously brought to the event to emphasise to ascetic, minimalistic sea kayakers that the coaching qualification now demands mastery of the open canoe. To demonstrate the extra capacity of this method of water transport, Steve had brought along an assortment of cast iron rustic stoves, each of which would have required strapping two sea kayaks together to transport. He also had some ready made pancake mix for us to vapourise, turn into tar and occasionally confect into a perfect disk of variegated light ochre leather, ready to smear with jam or sardines to make into a tasty snack.

I had a bad conscience about the petrol used for this instructive, frivolous and compulsory escapade (half a tank of my Honda Jazz), so I spent a day exploring the coast path west of Penzance. It is basically granite cliff with few landing places. Here is the view looking south west from Zennor head.

looking SW from Zennor head

A bit further south is the tin mining area around the Geevor mine. It is an expanse of bare mine tailings on which only Sea Thrift, Armeria maritima, grows. If modern waste, it would be regarded as a shameful, poisonous eyesore. Being ancient and romantic, it is a world heritage site. Here is the arsenic roasting house of the Levant mine.

levant mine smelter

tim P

Peak tide day

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Occasionally, it is really easy to launch at Bow Bridge, but watch out for wash from cars.

Just downstream, on the way to Tuckenhay, the Dart trail stepping stones are 5 feet underwater and I can trespass over the lawn of the pretty Victorian cottage.

Victorian cottage

The cattle were taking their customary stroll along the Dart trail, but evidently hadn’t read the tide table. It is a sunken track through woodland, coming down to the shore, so if the bullocks at the back keep pressing ahead, there isn’t much the forward troops can do to keep dry.

Wet cows

I paddled against the ebb towards Totnes, passing a large group of swimmers. The cunning ones were following the ebb stream, marked by the navigation buoy, but this group was cutting the corner and falling behind.


Further on, I passed what looked like a school of fish going upstream.


And further on, a tiny bit of white water. All this bubbling is caused by air leaking out of gravel layers whose surface from mid tide point is covered with mud. The rising water compresses the air which escapes through fissures, aerating the water.

more bubbles

The river narrows towards Totnes and the tide moves faster. The Waterside Bistro is good for a restaurant break, and parking is convenient.

waterside bistro

I used a long painter, since the cafe is popular, so service is not always instant. Over on the other side, someone had lingered too long over breakfast.

tilted boat

Then I turned downstream with the tide, taking a second cup of coffee at Stoke Gabriel, where I was caught out with the kayak resting on mud because I chatted too long with a paddler with a transparent plastic folding kayak. There would not be much benefit that day, because the water was very muddy. I had to haul my boat onto the pontoon then over to the far end where there was just enough water to launch by pushing the kayak between two dinghies. I’m sorry about the muddy footprints over the boats but had not time to clean up, since the creek dries completely on spring tides.

I do my food shopping at Marks and Spencer in Dartmouth, because it is at sea level. However, the nearest pontoon was high and dry as the water had sunk to the tidal datum, so I had a long walk with the groceries. Then I paddled back up to Bow creek with the Canoe club for dinner at the Maltsters at Tuckenhay.


Most of the party paddled back to Dartmouth by night.

after dark

tim P

South West Kayak meeting

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Mark Rainsley organised a weekend sea kayak meeting, based at East Prawle. There was a clutch of experienced tour leaders, which allowed the rest of us to dare go where we would not care to venture alone. I cannot be alone in holding back from joining informal paddle groups, wondering if I can keep up, or even keep upright. Upright I can certainly do, as a later picture demonstrates.

Here is Mark, with his head in the cockpit:

mark at barbecue

We had hazy sunshine most of the time, with a bit of rain and a steady south east wind, which raised a moderate swell. We paddled in groups of about eight and kept mostly within conversation distance.

kayaks at start point

The notorious tide race at Start Point was relatively benign, but still gave some scary moments.

start point light

Towards the end of the day people get a bit complacent and spread out. Note the two paddle tips sticking up on the right side of the picture below (click to enlarge).

At the end of the voyage, poor judgment of the wave sequence brought me onto the beach in a spectacular crash:

crash landing

Photo by Mark Rainsley

Other people were more skillful at landing. I land backwards because otherwise the skeg gets jammed with sand and pebbles, and I can hop out of the boat quicker when it’s tilted forward on the beach. But maybe it’s better to live with a jammed skeg and practice hopping out from a backward lean.

surf landing

I had another wet exit the next day, caught by a torrent of foam while fumbling with the camera to snap someone else being rescued in turbulent water among the rocks east of Salcombe. Then my pump swallowed a loop of my tow line. I landed to empty the boat on a beach with dumping surf. A kind lady on the beach helped me get straightened out to meet the surf head on, then herself got caught in the breakers. Fortunately, the water is warm now – around September 4th is every year the warmest day, under water, on the south coast of England.

The evening entertainment was a barbecue, followed by lectures on interesting/scary/odd places to visit by kayak. There were about 80 paddlers gathered together – the most I have ever seen in one place. The Pigs Nose Inn and adjacent meeting hall is a quirky place and worth a visit by land adventurers trudging the south west coast path, which is superb hereabouts.


The final picture is the melancholy remains of Hallsands, laid in ruins by a great storm in 1917.


It was a wonderful weekend. Flirting with rough water with able companions reinforced my conviction of the hazard of paddling alone. Mark says to only come again if one has made no friends this time, but eighty people is too many to befriend in two days. Only facebook would make that possible. I recommend these meetings even to people who swap email addresses with a write-underwater pencil while bouncing in the surf.

Thanks also to P&H Kayaks, who brought a trailer full of demo kayaks. I tried the Delphin, a hybrid surf, rock hopping and sea kayak. It is very maneuverable and stable, and rather ugly to my eye. I await the promised low volume version but am very happy with my Scorpio LV, seen in aerial view above, except for the skeg…

tim P