18 August 2015

Anti-Clockwise Kayak

In 2015 I headed out to paddle the whole thing once again - this time the wrong way around.

Here's the on-going blog:


06 October 2012

Life goes on...

Well things are slowly falling back into place.
Last weekend I gave my first presentation of the UK trip, at Summit to Sea on Anglesey. We worked hard to cut the thing down and dump most of the 1800 photos we had, but it was still hard to squeeze it all in to a manageable length. I really wanted to keep the feeling of the whole undertaking rather than just a few disconnected stories and photos. I did go on for a while (I was on a bit of a roll!) and I did notice as we passed through the 'audience numb-bumb stage', but then there was no chatting going on and nobody walked out, so I guess it went reasonably well after all.

Afterwards a number of people came over to chat and it was really interesting to hear people's tales and thoughts. Ian Papworth was one of these people and I enjoyed chatting with Ian as he told me that he set off on his own UK circumnavigation a few weeks after me and followed in my wake, in a slightly larger boat though. You can read of Ian's adventures on his blog: http://www.sailingwithian.blogspot.co.uk/
For me it is especially interesting to read his comments on settling down again not being too easy.

Training is just starting to fall back into place again and it's going pretty well on the water. I'm enjoying the training and just paddling in general, in a way that I haven't for a while. The times are coming back down and are pleasingly close to PB's in a few places - not bad for an old git. We are working pretty hard on the water and I'm really enjoying my paddles with Pascale and Aled.
I'm still to get my weight back down, but then I shouldn't eat like a pig I suppose. This is making for a few problems on the running front, but that will come - though I might have to miss a few races this year.

Axel in the Swellies

I've decided to take a bit of a sabbatical from work at Rockpool and Mike has been rather understanding about it all. I've got a few things to catch up on; one of which, a revamp of the Performance Sea Kayak site, is taking much of my non-paddling time at the moment.

And of course there is time taken in planning for whatever comes next.

Life is a bitch they tell me, but I can't really understand why...

29 August 2012

Talk and Slidehow

I've been asked to give a slideshow presentation and talk about the trip at the Summit to Sea shop on Anglesey on the evening of Saturday 29th September 2012.

Details will follow here and on the Summit to Sea blog/facebook pages.

At the moment I'm sifting through the 2000 or so photos, it could be a long evening.


27 August 2012

So, what have you been up to then?

A good friend phoned, and as is often the case the conversation started with that phrase - 'So, what have you been up to then?' The conversation stalls, there is a moment of hesitation, even disappointment as I reply with 'hmmm, nothing much really I suppose'. A sort of, 'well that knackers that then' start to things.

Later it made me think about just what I have been up to since I returned from the trip; it's two months now since I stepped stiffly onto that windswept and grey beach at Cemlyn and I have to admit that I'm still to fully find my feet once again.

Training wise I just farted about for a while, no real structure, no aim nor motivation. This didn't really surprise, it was expected - though it persisted a little longer than I hoped. I was determined not to fall back into the mediocrity and triviality of modern day life and of course, I did exactly that. It was hard to get excited about things. That said, we started to get a good group together paddling down the Straits in the evenings, we've had some fun and memorable sessions - even some nights with a little sunshine.
Two weeks ago the fog finally cleared though and training started in earnest once again. I need to lose a little(!) weight and get fit again before I can get going properly, so I've got until mid-October to get fit to train I reckon. I'm looking forward to a good winter of hard work, without repeating the mistakes of last winter. I don't know just what I'm training for yet but I'll be ready when it comes - I have a few ideas but I'll keep them to myself just for now.

I returned back to the Rockpool factory; things unsurprisingly had moved on a touch since I had been away and it was a little tricky to pick up the pieces initially. Eventually I got back into working with the 'Tiny Taran' plug. This had suffered from a number of frustrating delays (we paddled the prototype a year ago) and now I was keen to finish it so the boys could build a boat and we could finally get it on the water. I'm glad to say that I completed the shaping of the plug just over a week ago and now it is the hands of the polishing expert to get a good finish ready for a mould to be taken. I look forward to seeing it afloat at last. I'm also intrigued to know what it is going to be named - the working name of 'Tiny Taran' is not considered macho enough.

The Performance Sea Kayak website has been taking a little time too as I moved the Gossip page to that 'love it or can't see the point of it' icon of the modern world - Facebook. It seems to be working quite well, though I'm aware that not everyone is into Facebook - it is much easier to put pretty pictures up though! http://www.facebook.com/PerformanceSeaKayak
The PSK website as a whole is due to undergo a major revamp too, though this will take quite a while I think. I'll let you know when it's done.

There was a pleasant interlude last week too as I finally got to meet Geoff Murray and Greg Simson from Tasmania. They were on their way home after a visit to Greenland and Geoff dropped in for a little coaching before his 4* assessment. It was a good week, and Geoff got the piece of paper he was after.

Trying to get my legs to work again, we've been plodding around the hills a little too. Here is a photo looking out over Caernarfon Bay  - where I had a rather lumpy survival paddle on my second to last day.

How it should have been

How it was

There has also been a fair amount of soul-searching and thinking, the hills are good for that. I've spent a chunk of time reviewing the trip - and looking at nearly 2000 photos ready for the presentation (how many sodding lighthouses can you have in one camera?).
I know I should be quite pleased with having completed the trip, but I can't say I am really. Unusually  I made a hash of the training last winter and went into things with probably the lowest fitness levels I can remember for a good while. I suppose it was interesting to see that you can still get it wrong after all these years - old lessons relearnt.
At the same time I just wasn't ready for things in some other areas - a touch annoying for a once in a lifetime adventure. It had also been a couple of long years with various other paddling bits and pieces, I think in the end that even the fumes in the tank had finally dried up.

And of course there was the 'R' word to consider - as the subject of retirement rears it's ugly head once again. After 30 years of hard slog, training, sacrifices and no room in the garage - perhaps this could be a logical point to call it a day? But I know what Uncle Geoffrey would say - you'll never retire, just find something else to do. He's rarely wrong.

And so where does that leave the Clockwise Kayak blog. Well, to be honest I think we've been kicking the arse out of it for a while now, so maybe it's time to put the whole UK Circ thing to bed at last? I don't want to bin the whole blog though; so Clockwise will keep going - with the odd update of whatever comes next.
I don't think you will be too excited to read about daily paddling and training (5 x 8' on 2' off at 150 bpm rising per effort - early flood, calm towards Felenheli or 6 x Killer Islands on flood or 3 x BB TT's close to HWS or 10 x 1'on 1'off and so on) but maybe you may find a little more interest in the planning and paddling for the odd race or record that wanders over the horizon. I will write things up now and then. Cheers.

Until then, stick it in and pull hard...

02 August 2012

A point to ponder...

Back home at Mission Control we have been scratching our heads a little and asking ourselves why?

Now don't get too excited, we are not looking for the answer to the 'Ultimate Question' or suchlike (it's 42 anyway apparently). No, we have been wondering for a while now why 2012 has been such a significant year for that, until now, rare and elusive beast - the UK Sea Kayak Circumnavigator.

If you take a look at the figures (http://www.performanceseakayak.co.uk/Pages/UKCirc.html) you can see that so far in 2012 a total of 6 paddlers have completed the trip. That is as many as for the previous 10 years combined - assuming the PSK figures tell the full story of course. If the 'Land on Our Left' boys and the 'MidlifeKayak' gents complete too (and we don't see why they shouldn't) then that will lift the total to 11 this year - as many as in the previous 18 years totalled together.  If two more people were to complete the trip in 2012 then that would be as many completing in 2012 as for all previous years combined - impressive.

So from the sea kayaking point of view it may not be too melodramatic to argue that 2012 has been an historic year.

So why is this case? Well, I can't say that we have been able to come up with a definitive answer to that one unfortunately - which sort of knackers the whole post I suppose.

But a few thoughts anyway:

The weather surely? I doubt paddlers were spurred into action by the glorious 2012 weather; let's face it it wasn't a (glorious) summer at all. The nature of the event doesn't really allow the luxury of picking the best weather anyway, everyday life also has to be factored into the timing and planning. No, I don't think it was the weather that really swung people in to action...

The popularity of sea kayaking? Well there is no doubt that sea kayaking has been on the up for a good while now. You see more and more boats out on the water, the coaches continue to earn a living teaching sweep strokes and the manufacturers continue to build eyebrow raising numbers of boats on a weekly basis. Perhaps it shouldn't be a great surprise then that with all those people out there paddling that a few have set themselves such a challenge and have the wherewithal to set out - but why now?

The kit? I think this may be a significant part of the reason. In recent years the paddling kit has become much more advanced and useable. Drysuits and realistically waterproof paddling kit abound and to some extent have revolutionised the ability of paddlers to go out in (and enjoy) conditions and venues that in the past they may not have considered feasible. It is easier for limits to be pushed when you are warm and dry.

T'Internet? In recent years Internet forums and blogs have not only become popular but also influential. It is easy to forget that it is only a relatively short time ago that such things did not even exist. Now they can have a significant effect and influence on others, the sea kayaking world is not immune. People can easily tell others of their tales of derring-do and likewise paddlers can easily seek and find inspiration and ideas - 'if they can do that then why can't I?' A momentum builds.

The 'Legacy'? Oh yes, the good ol' Olympic Games have been credited with solving just about everything else at some stage. Perhaps it is possible that as people looked forward to the giant egg and spoon race down south that minds were concentrated and inspiration occurred - with a few deciding to go for their own personal gold medal.

If you are waiting for the punchy closing line to round it all off then I will have to disappoint; I wasn't misleading you when I said I didn't have an answer to the question.

But I figure coincidence was probably as significant factor as anything else, a number of things just fell into place for a number of people to make 2012 the year to go for.

If you have any thoughts then don't be shy.

As for me, well I chose 2012 just because I'm getting too old...



29 July 2012

Touching a nerve and spilling the beans - The Taran

A number of years ago I drifted into the Rockpool fold and found myself shaping a couple of wild water racing (WWR) boats. We used these boats to try out some new ideas and hull features, we were pleased with what we learnt and how the boats paddled.

Later after my first record, the Anglesey Circumnavigation, I was talking to Mike Webb of what I saw as the limitations with the boat that I had used. The conversation ebbed and flowed over a few days and before we knew it there was an idea for a new Rockpool kayak - something different to complement the fleet, a sleek fast boat.

In the earliest days the plan was to build a boat to improve on the record, but at the same time Mike saw it as opportunity to steer Rockpool in a new direction and gain new knowledge and experience.
I had ideas of what should go into the boat, we combined those with what I thought were the better bits of the WWRs and before long I was shaping a boat that Mike would name the 'Tarran' (later in the production boat the extra 'R' was dropped). Though it was to be a fast boat it was not a pure out and out racing boat, it would have to earn it's keep too - it had to be a sea boat that people could, and would want to paddle.

After a lot of sweat (literally), filler and dust I finished a plug; a mould was made and the boys built a nice sulphur yellow kayak ('Citron') - the first prototype. It was all a little eleventh hour, we had missed the first tidal window for the Anglesey Circumnavigation and the next was was only 3 days away! So it was straight down to the Straits (sorry) to throw it around in the rough; I can still remember the session that I paddled that day, poncing around in the sunshine around Ynys Gored Goch. From the start I knew we had a good boat.

More paddling than I would normally do immediately before a record followed and then I found myself on the beach, packing kit, fitting watches and generally faffing. I hadn't really expected to be here, the Tarran didn't look like it would be ready in time and so I hadn't really anticipated or planned for a realistic attempt - 3 days to learn a new boat was just ridiculous! The weather was far from ideal also, but sod it I had nothing to lose - I couldn't lose my own record after all. It would be a good test for the boat if nothing else. The boat I had used in the very first attempt (2005) was such a wet ride, these conditions would show if we had improved on things with the design of the new Tarran.

The boat went well and a record was set, I had taken a good chunk off the time too - doubly satisfying in such choppy conditions.

It was still a prototype and to be fair did look a little rough, if you looked hard you could see where I had grafted pieces together. But then it was a concept boat after all, just to prove it worked as an idea - and it did. It wasn't meant to look pretty!

But as I continued to shape the next stage prototype, the word was starting to leak out, negative comments started to comeback in the opposite direction. For a British boat, it broke the mould and did have distinctive, if not unusual looks - some found this hard to accept. I started to hear the comments, I was unsettled by some that I heard. There were many Rockpool discussions on whether the boat would sell, I must admit I wasn't convinced myself. We chatted on how to raise a favourable profile.

The work on the second prototype included changes based on experience obtained from paddling many Prototype-1 miles, there was also plenty of work to smooth the form into something suitable for a production boat. Mike was (relatively!) patient, as I learnt to compromise a little as he pointed out shapes which were and were not possible when it came to going from plug to mould. But eventually we had a boat on the water.

It paddled well too.

The number of comments had continued to build and I was starting to get annoyed, I knew we had a good boat - a very good boat. But the talk wasn't encouraging - 'it isn't a real sea kayak', 'it can only go around Anglesey', 'it's too fast', 'too unstable', 'it's got a rudder' (oh, for ****'s sake!) and so on.

I continued to paddle the Taran and entered it in a few races. The best way to find how a boat really handles is to push it hard and a race is a good way to do this. Things went quite successfully - it didn't get beaten - and we learnt more.

But the 'it isn't a real sea kayak' comments continued, now it 'was only a race boat' it seemed.
I started to get pissed off, the people with the loud mouths and vocal opinions had not paddled the boat and most had not even seen one! Yet they still voiced their opinions.

But probably the most disappointing side to it all was the blinkered and ill-informed comments made by people who should have known better - without even realising it a number of 'experts' demonstrated their lack of knowledge and experience.

But work continued, after a few minor tweaks and some polishing to make the production boat (now known as the Taran) I paddled one from Anglesey to the Isle of Man. The boat had gone around Anglesey, won sea kayak races and made a 40 nm open crossing - 'ah yes, but it's still not a sea kayak of course...'

And then they started to get a little silly -
'Why is it not a sea kayak then?'
'It's too long for my jetty' --- yes, really! It was pointed out that it was 3 inches shorter than the kayak the gentleman owned.
'Because it's got a rudder' --- huh?
'Beacause the rudder is vulnerable'  --- broken 1 cable in 3 years.
'Because it's too fast' --- I'd rather make a fast boat go slow than to try to make a slow boat go fast.
'Because it doesn't have a pointy front end' --- and your point is?
'Because it's too narrow for me' --- perhaps you are too fat for it, n'est-ce pas?
'The square bow will turn down wind' --- hmmm, let's stop and think about that one for a mo. Take your ordinary 'pointy' boat - a Cetus, Etain, GT, Xplore or whatever. Does it turn down wind - no. Let's chop the bow off vertically at the waterline and seal the hole so you now have a squared bow. Does it suddenly turn down wind now? No, of course not - if anything it will now turn more into wind. Up yours Ugly!

I took the the Pink Taran across the Irish Sea - 'ok, it can cross the Irish Sea too, but it's still not a real sea kayak'.
But someone else had twigged the potential; Mike's patience had paid off and we realised that the boat was beginning to sell - increasingly well. The Taran mould was in demand as more boats left the Rockpool factory. I also started to realise that my little baby was morphing into more than the original boat was ever planned to be - we were paddling it in more and more different roles ourselves, and others were too.

I had long since binned my WWR training boat for the winter and used the Taran instead to make the most of the dodgy conditions, but now it was also getting use in the summer. It was fast enough, and as I got older it was also easier! The Boss and I were increasingly using it as a day boat around the Island too. Other boats stayed in the garage as the Taran just became the boat we liked to paddle - wherever or whatever we paddled.  My G.T. is full of slugs and spiders, and I'm not quite sure where I left the Quest.

Then Harry Whelan and Jeff Allen chose to take the Taran on their 25 day record breaking Circumnavigation of Ireland - the feedback was good. The Taran had now completed a sizeable expedition. The 'it's not a sea kayak comments' were fading now.
Recently I took a Taran around the UK in 72 days (you might have noticed) - Joe Leach followed 2 weeks later in 67 days, he paddled one too. Not many UK sea kayakers can dream of attempting an expedition of that length - the Taran had completed it twice.

So: it is used as a day boat, crosses open water, wins races, makes a damned good training/fitness boat, completes longer expeds than most ever will, runs downwind like a beauty, surfs with a smile and you can even  get it in pink.
But I suppose it's still not a real sea kayak - you know, one of those boring, ordinary ones...


26 July 2012

The Blog

The Blog was a strange creature, it grew to have a life of it's own and in a strange way became a sort of friend.
It was set up originally just to show the trip progress and give some sort of updates of how the odd day went to those left at home. I was taken aback by the popularity - I didn't really expect many more than a few close friends and my Mum to take a look at it.

In the early days I planned to get things running early and try to write a little about the preparation beforehand, as much for my own records as anything else. Unsurprisingly things didn't pan out that way and as the start date loomed time became a more and more scarce commodity and the anticipated posts didn't really appear as I had hoped. A few days into the trip things settled down though and the Blog became part of the daily routine.

From the start I was going to say it as I saw it; there was going to be no spin or party line, no telling only part of the story - I would tell as much as I could, warts and all. I wanted to convey the full story; the highs and lows, the emotions along with the dirt and grit too. As a trip it was going to have some good times but no doubt there would be plenty of lousy, hard slog, uncomfortable, scary, wet and miserable days too - I wasn't going to pretend otherwise. It would be nice if it turned out to be the Caribbean Holiday that some expected but somehow I wasn't convinced. If I had a shit day you would know about it, if it was a good one I would tell you why. If I was scared you would hear about that too - there was no point pretending otherwise,it was all part of the game. I wasn't going to make out I was superhuman or anything, just a bloke, a canoe and a few miles to cover.

The only rule was that I would say it as I saw it, whatever, whoever, wherever.

I wasn't quite sure how this would pan out with commitments to sponsors though, but happily I took some very good kit. The only exception to the tell it all rule was for my Mum - some days I thought she perhaps didn't really need to read about the worst bits just before bed time!

I began to look forward to writing the daily post, it was a good way to reflect and put a few things to bed. It was also a way to stave off the loneliness at times; in a way it brought me closer to people at home, a sort of one way conversation I suppose.

On the down side, it did take a lot of time. I regularly found myself writing a post long after I should have been asleep. On some of the longer days I really didn't feel like writing, it was a sleep denying chore, but I was getting emails and comments from people saying how they looked forward to their daily fix - talk about pressure!
It was also surprising just where people popped up from. The Antipodean contingent lifted the view numbers on a daily basis, but so did the German Fan Club - getting their daily map update, 'Hallo' to Hubert too and of course Dan in the Windy City - never did track down the Russian contingent though, maybe for the best.

UK               31,864 views
US                2,360
Ireland         793
Germany     634 (Danke, Familie Eichenmueller!)
Australia     628
Isle of Man 389 (Joe's spies?)
Russia         294
Finland        253
France         242 (Bonjour, Celine et Yann)
Netherlands 233 (Hallo, Hubert!)

But looking back I don't regret it; the Blog became as much a facet of the trip as the paddling, the planning or the bad weather.

It did bring me into contact with so many people too. I met people daily on the way to or from the water and I was pleased and pleasantly surprised how many continued to watch my progress (Hello Bob and Frances!) and feed me the odd (and very welcome) encouraging comment. New friends and old, the comments made me laugh at times, they just helped to keep me going at others.

It was surprising how many long lost friends stumbled across things and got in contact too: Bob P (still got that same humour but slightly worrying to see he is now responsible for moulding the minds of the future generation in NZ), Andy H (aaah, those halcyon summer days and chilly winters slammin' on the Thames weirs, Bryce's buggy tied to a tree while we trained), Andy F (another blast from the slammin' past and now another NZ resident), Neil P (yet another slammer, last time I saw him he was only knee high to a grasshopper) and so the list went pleasingly on...

But to everyone who followed and to everyone who made the effort to get in touch along the way - thanks, thanks a lot, it did make a difference.

As I look now and see that the numbers have passed the 40,000 mark I'm not really sure what to think, after all it's just Fatboy and his canoe when all is said and done.
I suppose this post would make a natural and tidy(ish) ending to everything, but it's not quite over, I've got a little more to write yet - assuming you want to keep reading.

And, pssst, want to buy a book?....

17 July 2012

Those Memorable Moments - 3

More memorable moments:

The Solent - perfect timing, arriving on a Bank Holiday Saturday - wind, chop and gloom. Fast ferries and Hovercrafts, sponsored buoys, yachts and gin palaces. Precautionary Area big sprint to avoid the big boat resulting in a sweat-on and a sheepish wave.

Portland Bill - had to make a big ferrry glide just to get inside an even bigger tiderace. The crowds on the end reminded me of chimps in the cage at the zoo. I could see The Boss waving, and then intosome big spikey water going on forever. Finally arrived at West Haven, nice cliffs, a gypsy tea and the boys on their bikes.

Budleigh Salterton - rain, wind, mist and dark. Big waves, sneaky surf landing, yet another early stack, no time to visit Fat Wendy from Pomeroy.

Torbay - the paramilitary car park attendants, a tiny lighthouse and stuck in the motel for days - crap food and crap service in the pay & display kingdom - pants.

Boswinger - a visit to Mevagissey where I had to put the food in the bin, twice.

The Lizard - relieved to pass the Point. A brief visit from a dolphin at Mullion Cove and then a fantastic peaceful eveing in the sunshine and caravan - a lovely garden, feeding Blackbirds followed by the best night sleep of the trip - blissful.

Land's End - windy Porthcurno, then sun and swell around the corner, late arrival at St Ives with nowhere to stay.

Polzeath - Valley campsite; a very friendly welcome with beer on the house and a visit from Jessica followed by food, glorious food.

Bude - scratching the cliffs to avoid the winds, kitting up for a surf landing to find it calm around the corner, stuck for 2 more days, more crap chips, biiiiiig waves.
Lundy - a WTF climb, beer in the tavern, cheeky sparrows, friendly folk, snoozing seal.

Welsh Wales - a lost porpoise, big boats, a no-chance tide, crossing the range, Freshwater rest, Jack Sound, big hill and finally to bed.

Ramsey - sunshine and the Sound, dodging David's eddy, Porthgain lunch - once is enough, the Poppit caravan and chatting with Huw & Liz, familiar territory, huge food parcel from Joy, but no Uncle Geoffrey - real friends, noisy teenage talk at midnight.

Cardigan Bay - a long slog in calm conditions while dodging the range boats to finish the day on  a scruffy campsite with an offer of help from the lady in the wheelchair - must look knackered.

The Lleyn - a 20 mile warm-up on a downwind crossing and then a stop on the beach with The Boss. Dodging the toilet watchers to make a windy trek up Bardsey Sound. Then rain and calm heading north, the Boss getting wet on the cliffs, more miles until 'call it a day - it's dark' -  53.5 nm. Landed in Trefor - lock the boat for sure.

Trefor - Lobster Bob regailed me with tales of vanishing kayaks. Nasty Bad conditions across Caernarfon Bar, survive to the sanctuary of the Straits. Paddled within 5 minutes of the house, later took a Red Wharf battering - yeah whatever, seen it before.  Resignation and pressure at Moelfre; Point Lynas you win. A welcome sight of the Stick clan on the beach followed by a visit from the Boss and Little Brother - what are you doing here? You know me too well. The final night, spent sleeping in a car park 8 miles from the finish.

North Coast - more pressure, more scratching, windy slog, nasty bays, shouts from the cliffs, waves from the girls, the final power station, people on the beach, into wind, Cemlyn lasts forever, thankyou to Mary C, kiss from The Boss, fizzy pop finish, smiling faces, big cake, chatting to Philip, Justine's soup, big camera, pretty warden interview, Barry laughing, the drive home, feels like the end of just another trip, finished, not ready for this. Anticlimax - don't want it to end...

16 July 2012

Those Memorable Moments - 2

More memorable moments:

The North East coast - was warned that the N.E. coast was not the most pleasant, but found it refreshing and intriguing. Nice to see an environment that had been used for people's lives rather than turned into the Goretex Disneyland that had been seen elsewhere.

Visiting Fast Pat - a friendly face, a flying visit to the supermarket and a welcome brew.

Crossing the Tees - the biggest game of 'Frogger' going.

Boggle Hall - another 'game of chess' surf landing, wading along the cliffs to a friendly YHA. Beer, giant pizza and the Kaiser room - not a bad way to end a stressful day.

Flamborough Head - Big cliffs, big birds (Gannets) and big swell.

Withernsea - it's all been said before. A non-too pleasant stay capped off with the menacing campsite company and a tent move.

Donna Nook Range - more swell, this time with bombs.

Ingoldmells - a welcome visit from Micky C and Debs. Good friends who arrived when I need them most and once again pointed me in the right direction - along with home cooked food and beer. True friends.

The campsite - 'You will have to run the showers for a while to get hot water. Don't worry they're not broken, it's just, well, that no-one around here uses them you see.'

Gypsy Cove - beautiful setting, sunshine, inland seals and a pleasant chat with Patrick. Blissful end to the day.

Scolt Head Island - sneaking through the mist and the gulleys - a magical start to the day.

North Norfolk - a day of 100m visibility and a 'Chloe I need help' landing - still got the wrong side of the breakwater though.

Holland on Sea - first decent pie of the trip, disappointingly far south. Mary C in luxury accommodation.

Crossing the Thames - perfect weather, the only cag-free day of the whole escapade. The Sandbank Slalom complete with charts & buoys too - felt like a real sea kayaker! Nearly wiped out by a moronic powerboat crew.

Margate - expensive pizza, The Dog Poo Fairy and thoughts of Tracey Emin.

Dover - dodging ferries of course and cliffs that needed a coat of paint. Channel Tunnel route marked on my map - why?

Dungeness - fat girls and extra chips, the B&B lady who won the jackpot, watching foxes, vomitting in the grass and the loudest bang since the Big one.

Beachy Head - look left, look right, look the **** up - impressive, what 'the' white cliffs should have been.
Brighton - the nastiest washback ever, from the Marina wall - who designed that? Meeting Oliver and Chris at Rottingdean as I spent the afternoon on the beach with Victoria Beckham. Chris' comment later: 'A inspiration to both me and oliver.. it just helps know that it is never to late to do something you love'(sic) - never too late? Cheeky ****, must have looked rough that day I suppose.

Selsey Bill - gets a mention because it doesn't deserve one - was that it?

Portsmouth - boat on the sandbank, rip-off campsite, new radio delivered to the door along with a pleasant visit from Millie and Dean - Cheers Dean, return of the Boss, 'Mr.Goodmorning'  (what a ****), late night drunks and early morning music, 30 mosquito bites - itching like a good 'un.

More to come...

15 July 2012

Those Memorable Moments - 1

So, it's time to reflect on those memorable moments of the adventure that was the UK Circumnavigation - the good and the, well not so good...

In no particular order:

Day 1 - trying to get drinking water on the Isle of Man. First door closed wordlessly in my face, second one answered by a gent with his trousers undone and at half mast. Felt out of my depth from the start.

Day 2 - meeting Ryan and his Grandparents on the beach near Niarbyl (Isle of Man), chatted as the sun went down. We chatted so long that the stove boiled dry, it was a special time with genuinely nice people. I still regret that I did not climb the hill to take up their invite.

Mull of Kintyre - 'My desire is always to be here' - my arse. My trip intro to big swell and nasty conditions - had to turn tail and run through the tiderace at dusk to get out of there. Camped for a day by the toilets.

Arisaig - battle of the torches with the Rozzers.

Day 15 - Rubha Reidh nr Loch Ewe. The nastiest paddling conditions of the trip, if something had gone wrong there, then I figured my future would have been relatively short and unpleasant. The clever money wouldn't have backed me. Just waiting for the 'crack' noise, indicating the timely end of some piece essential kit. I made mistakes and that worried me as much as the conditions.

Day 15 - Slaggan Bay - The most welcome beach landing of the trip.

Cape Wrath - turning the first 'corner'.

Armadale Bay - a beautiful secluded beach. Out of nowhere Aaron appeared and we chatted of his trip and mine. He was working his way around the country on foot; working and walking as required - it sounded like the right way to do things. I hope it is still working out for him.

Staxigoe - chatting to the last of two fisherman in the tiny harbour. The stories, the history - I sat there enthralled.

Brora 1 - 1 hr before the end of a 39 nm day I get a surprise phone call to say the Boss has arrived and is waiting for me in Brora with a very nice B&B booked too. Priceless.

Brora 2 - The last supper - heading out, confidence dented, leaving Pascale behind to deal with the unpleasant atmosphere there as I avoided the warnings of those who new best. They even sent a guy down to photo my last moments on this earth as I paddled out beyond the break. I'm still breathing boys...

Lossiemouth - crossing the Moray Firth and getting a long lesson in the warnings signs of an impending squall battering - again and again.

Thorntonloch 1 - landing through the surf and gloom to be met by Dave Howie. Standing in the rain and eating cakes. Good to see you Dave.

Thorntonloch  2 - arriving in the morning and seeing the breaking waves - across the tops of the caravans. 'Shit, that's big.'

Thorntonloch 3 - paddling out through a gap in the reef break, to watch it close, for the first time, right across in front of me. By far the longest, fastest sprint of the entire trip.

St Abbs and Berwick - rudder cable breaking 10 miles into a 20 mile big swell, no get-out trip.

Berwick - the scariest, earn your money now Fatboy, surf landing that I can remember.

Bamburgh Castle - trying to paddle onto the beach for a desperate break but getting blown off the sand by the offshore wind.

Beadnell - friendly and helpful camp site. Shower curtain moving in the wind.

Druridge Bay1 - inadvertently resting the tent pole on an electric fence while putting the tent up. That got my attention, and made me think of all the people who would laugh at that one.

Druridge Bay 2 - stuck in the dunes for a day. Watching the hailstones melt by my Trangia, they lasted for 2 hours - brrrr - 15th May.

The remainder will have to follow later...

09 July 2012

Back in the swing?

I expected there would be a 'come down' period after the trip was completed. I've done enough events over the years to know that there is that anti-climax, that hollow listless feeling to follow. There was. 

I'd spoken to a number of people with more exped paddling experience than me, they all needed a period to readjust afterwards. Racing, expeds, whatever - it doesn't matter. It takes a time to readjust after completing the goal.

I had planned to be back in a boat soon after, and I was. I finished on the Saturday and had a brief paddle on the Sunday followed by my first training session on the Monday. Luckily I'm paddling with a good group a couple of times a week at the moment and that makes a big difference. It's hard to resist a bit of a dust up and the banter that goes with it. But for the rest of the week things were a bit aimless and lacklustre, but that's the way it is. There are still boxes of kit to unpack, maps to file away, thankyou letters to write, and bills to pay. There's plenty to do.

The  emptiness was compounded by the removal of the daily routine that had life had become - I was lost and listless now. It was strange to be back in a bed, it was so quiet. I missed that comfy little nest that Hotel Vango had become, my little under-canvas sanctuary. I even missed that daily dawn-chorus-themed alarm call.

You can't help but miss the simple routine that consumed the whole day: food, water, paddle, plan, sleep. Life was not easy but it was simple and uncomplicated. Now I was back in the world there was so much more to do, so many responsibilities and 'important' things to do. But they all seemed so mundane now and to be honest weren't that important.
They could wait, and they did. Some still do...

But tonight we had a good session in the Straits, nothing out of the ordinary but a good session all the same - enjoyable and rewarding.
Justine C, Aled, Big Marcus, Pascale and me - it made for a good group with some good work going on. No wind either!
Good paddlers who you can trust not to accidentally stuff you into the bank at the turn, but knowing full well they may 'squeeze you' all the same. Hard paddling, a bit of gossip, some banter and a few sneaky tactics - all the ingredients of a good sess.

After a downtime it is good to paddle that first decent session, you know things are back on the up, and tonight was it. Back on the wagon, time to get fit and start to get ready for whatever is next.

I'm not sure just what it is yet , but I've started getting ready for it.

03 July 2012

Page 3 Stunner!

I'm not very good at that self-publicity lark, in fact I'm rather crap at it. I find it all a little grubby and vulgar, I'd just rather go paddling. But then I do understand the 'need' for it now and then, especially with sponsors on-board etc. But as the 'Fat lad from Nottingham' would say, I can be a bit of a corporate whore when I need to. Oh, yes I can be a bit of a devil if I try.

But it still is not something I'm good at, nor enjoy. And so to that end I let the Team Clockwise PR department loose to do their work.

The North Wales Office (also known as the Office of the Logisitics Manager, Transport Manager, Nutritionist, Psychologist, Coach, Mentor, Accommodation Manager, Quartermaster, Mission Control and well, just The Boss) managed to get me a full page, Page 3 spread (eat your heart out 'Stacey from Essex'!) in the North Wales Daily Post. With, if I say so myself, a rather fetching photo too.
You can see an online version here:  http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/need_to_read/2012/06/25/north-wales-kayaker-breaks-uk-record-by-8-days-despite-weather-55578-31253075/ but the photo looked much better in the print version of course!

Ah, but it didn't stop there: a live interview on BBC Radio Wales at 'Drivetime'!  - S***, who the f*** would put me on the radio - live? I ask you. Best behaviour Fatboy.
If it's still there - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01k05ry

And then, not to be outdone, the North West Office (aka Little Brother) wangled another, yes another(!) full page, Page 3 spread (sorry to usurp you 'Chantelle from Oldham' but such is life)  - this time in the Lancashire Evening Post:
Nice photo, where's the guide dog?

But the celebrity lifestyle doesn't end there, oh no! I was on my best, with a hint of dashing and raffish, behaviour for an interview with a very pleasant young lady from the Garstang Courier - out on Wednesday I believe!

Will life ever be the same again?


But still, it's all a bit of a giggle for the fat knacker with the canoe.

Where's the cake?

A few photos from the Cemlyn Bay finish courtesy of Sharon and Mike Webb , 72 days and still looking so good! I never realised Tom Cruise looked so much like me though.

02 July 2012

The Cake Monster

'So what do you eat then? Energy bars and stuff I suppose'.
One of the questions that cropped up on a regular basis revolved around the food used to keep those little arms turning all day long. The expected answer (I soon realised that most of the questions along the way had an expected answer) was to involve 'energy bars', 'gels' and all that high tech stuff. Once again my answer rarely matched expectations and I could see the disappointment flit briefly across the face of the inquisitor in question, before manners took over.

I have done a few races in my time, and when people find this out their expectations move towards me being a paragon of culinary virtue. Sorry to disappoint once again, but no not me, I eat pretty much everything I'm not supposed to, and more often than not in fairly large quantities. You see if you eat the 'wrong' things then, well, it's just a motivational tool to go out and train a little harder.

And so the 'Pie and Chips Tour 2012' seemed like a dream on paper. Food (or nutrition as it is more correctly known in modern jargon speech) was planned and prepared for, but to put it simply, calories were king. If those skinny arms were to keep windmilling through all that bad weather they would need a fair amount of fuel, and to keep going the next day they would need some more and the next day, well you can work out the rest...

So the priority was to get those calories in. If it wasn't nailed down there was a good chance I would snaffle it, even small dogs started to keep their distance. But to disappoint yet again, don't ask how many calories I was expending - I haven't a clue. But does it matter? It's not hard to work out if I've got it right - too many calories and trousers get tight, too few and I can breathe again. Let's not over-complicate things here.
And so I was one of the few people checking labels looking for more calories rather than few - a pleasantly liberating feeling.

Obviously you need various 'good things' in your diet, you know vitamins and all that clutter. But they're not as hard as you think to get hold of. No, here calories were king - pass me that cake, then another, and wait for me to explode. Eat more and pull hard could have been the mantra.

So, energy bars and gels then? Well you could do worse than eat things that your Grandma (Great-Grandma?) would have eaten - you know, real food - no need to get all fancy and technical. All you are doing is paying for all that marketing and hype. Here it's only canoeing after all.

No, pass me another cake, and stand well back...

01 July 2012

The Rules of the Game

Along the way an oft-occurring topic of conversation revolved around the varying ways paddlers approach(ed) the UK Circumnavigation and how the differing approaches could be compared. Like it or not people will compare, and the number of days taken will usually be the first criteria used.

There are few hard and fast rules in this game; when you set out it is your train set and you decide on how it should be played with. It is not for others to say how you should do things - you go the way you want to. The rules of the game, almost the ethics of it in a way, relate less to how you make your attempt and more to how you portray your attempt in the aftermath.

If one attempt has a full support crew and another doesn't, does the first one carry as much merit on completion?

If one paddler goes entirely solo and another welcomes friends to join them on some stages, how does that compare? Does it matter?

If an attempt has a team of supporters to arrange accommodation, to help carry the boat, to obtain food and water, to remove the need to paddle a heavily loaded boat, to cater for every whim  - do they have an advantage? Is it 'fair'?

Of course it is - somebody somewhere has still completed a rather demanding and relatively rare achievement. Respect is rightly deserved.

If a paddler is lucky enough to be in the position to have a support crew then good for them. Do they have an 'advantage'? Well I guess they wouldn't go to all that hasssle if they didn't think it made life easier for them. But somewhere along the way people have had to put in a lot of time, effort, personal sacrifice and let's face it, money to put this support in place. Surely that is as valid preparation as marking maps, training fitness, seeking sponsorship or buying a new cag.
I don't see any problem with that, I would have jumped at the chance of a full support crew - initially anyway.

What is surely not right is to come home and put a spin on things, to not quite tell the 'full story' or even to deliberately mislead in order to make an attempt look more impressive.

Even if you want to use a sail, so what? Crack on. Just make sure the fact is mentioned at the end.

The only assistance that I think would not be in the spirit of things would be the use of an on the water, powered support boat. The temptation to use this to shelter from the wind, to wash-hang (haven't we seen that somewhere?) or just to give that near-by safety net would change the whole self-reliance nature of the daily challenge that is sea kayaking. All that said, remember that once again, the rules are set only by the participants.

For my part I paddled solo and for the most part was self-supported - though Pascale my girlfriend came to visit twice (for a few days each time) during the trip. It was nice to have the company but it also gave me a little more flexibility in that I could push my route in bad weather knowing that if I landed in a more inhospitable spot then 'International Rescue' would come along to bail me out. It also meant that I had to spend less time off the water sourcing food, accommodation and other such daily admin. But on the down side it also made the days a little more 'sterile'. I would meet fewer interesting people and the whole thing became little less of an adventure and more like a series of linked day paddles scratching miles.

There is a balance to be set, a choice to be made between chatting to every person you meet, visiting every bay on the way or just chasing headlands to keep the number of days to a minimum. Neither is right or wrong, just the method for different people to achieve their goals.

You don't have far to look to see wildly differing approaches. Currently Joe Leach is doing an impressive job of storming his way around the coastline, while Michal & Natalie Madera are taking things at a much more leisurely pace. On completion will one be more worthy of the other? No, of course not - they all will have pushed themselves to their limits at times and will have many tales to tell of their accomplishment. It is just that one will have taken fewer days than the other.

So, a full support crew? Well, for me and me alone, I think I set a nice balance - I wouldn't change what I did. Next time may be different though.

There are no rules in how you make your approach, no right or wrong way.
It's your train set remember. But there are definitely right and wrong ways tin how you portray your attempt.
And you don't half make a knob of yourself when the truth eventually comes out. And it always does.

30 June 2012

One week later

I'm sat on the water's edge, it's wet and windy once again. I'm here watching Pascale braving the cold stuff on her body board. It's fun to see the childlike grin on her face as she is deposited rather unceremoniously up the beach. She's having fun, water tends to do that for you.

Am I tempted to venture out?
Not in the slightest - no, not today.
It will come though, it always does.

After a big event, something you have prepared for single-mindedly, for such a long time, there is always the anti-climax once it is over. It has been the focus, the entire focus, for such a prolonged period and then suddenly, almost without warning it is over.
Done and dusted.
Just like that.

The wind is taken from your sails (don't talk to me about the wind!) and there is a large gap that needs to be filled. A new purpose, a new goal.

But there is no hurry, there is no point rushing things, it doesn't work that way. Ideas will form, plans will materialise - go when it feels right. Until then just go with the flow.

It will come though, it always does...

Sent from my phone

29 June 2012

The Body

I have been training and racing for pretty much all of my adult life. I like to see what the body will take and to learn what improves performance and what doesn't. Over such a long time you get to build up quite a picture. But this trip was going to be the ultimate training session for me, I was intrigued to see how things would work out.
The first rule of racing is that you don't get a result if you don't cross the finish line and to that end I was conscious that I had to look after my body, especially in the early days, to ensure I could complete the distance.

Blisters: were inevitable, and by the end of the first week I was building up quite a collection. But this was expected and then it was just a case of caring for them until things settled down. I used zinc oxide tape and ordinary 'bodge' tape to cover them, I really didn't want to go through the skin.
It was also important to ensure that the paddle grips were smooth (though not slippy), any nicks or damage to the grip would cause problems - so the paddles got as much care as my hands. It all paid off; after the first couple of weeks I only saw one more blister, which came after not smoothing a nick in one of the grips soon enough.

Hands: the long days in the bad weather was not good for the skin on the hands and especially the fingers. On the challenging days my hands would be gripping the paddles tight all day, so tight that I would not be opening my figures with each stroke. Consequently no air would get to the underside of my fingers and by the end of the day they were square in section with white and wrinkled skin. Constantly wet for a full day was not good. So each night I took care to keep them dry and liberally coated them with an oily antiseptic creme. This worked well but meant that life could be a little surprising in the early morning when trying to grip the paddles going out through the surf!
Likewise a liberal daily coating of petroleum jelly in various tactical areas made life less chafing!

Keeping Dry: I took the time to test different paddling kit over the winter and then invested in some good kit from Kokatat. Keeping dry was important. If I was wet day after day it would be unpleasant and at worst would lead to persistent sores. 3 months of wet neoprene shoes was just not a good idea!
This strategy paid off well, I was snug and dry throughout - a little warm somedays perhaps but had no significant problems.

Sleep: If I had to change anything I would aim to get more sleep, much more. Mileage was linked to sleep. With less sleep decision making also became more woolly and indecisive and water conditions seemed more daunting and challenging. Less sleep = more scared basically! (And more mistakes)
Obviously sleep affects recovery and the longer mileage days usually followed the better sleep too.

Rest days: are strange things. Obviously rest is important. But taking a rest day or two is not as simple or as beneficial as it might initially seem. They need to be planned and worked around, but then I'm not going to give all the secrets away! Bad weather days provided many opportunities for rest.
The thing I was impressed with the most was how high daily hours and mileages could be sustained repeatedly. 6-8 hour days would follow each other relatively easily, a workload that back home would take a week would be 2 days worth here - though granted the intensity would be different. There was also a steady progression; what had seemed a struggle to complete in the early days became little more than a warm-up in the latter stages! Even I was impressed what an old body could maintain.
The biggest problems I had on the trip were two fold:
My wisdom teeth started erupting a few days before I set out and troubled me for the first 2 weeks or so. The biggest effect being how they affected my sleep, there wasn't really much I could do about this though, either before or during.
The second and more significant was a back problem. Like many people I suffer from a 'bad back' at times and made efforts to avoid aggravating this. Unfortunately the solo humping and dumping of a loaded boat inevitably caused problems; as did trying to help haul a swamped dingy up a beach. After that I learnt to steer well clear when I saw anybody struggling to push or pull anything! The back was sore for about 3 weeks and was painful in everything I did, on and off the water. Something to take steps to avoid.
There was also a problem with a rib, but I was expecting this and have been living with it for a long time. It was uncomfortable but didn't cause significant problems.

All in all I found it interesting to see what the body would take. And now I'm back home I'm intrigued to find out how the fitness resulting from the trip paddling compares to the training I would normally have done in the same time.
There are a few other things I found interesting, but then I have to save a few things for the book I am told...

Sent from my phone

28 June 2012

Post trip review

The last few days I've been spending as much time as possible trying to avoid all the responsibilities and work that needs doing after the time away. I'm firmly back in the land of procrastination it seems!

Today we put a few more photos on line, which brings us up to the finish line at Cemlyn Bay.

I've also spent some time bringing the Performance Sea Kayak website back up to date. There were a few bits and pieces for the Gossip page but also some new entries on the Menai Challenge rankings, an Anglesey to Isle of Man crossing for Natalie & Michal Madera (which they completed as part of their UK Circumnav - Blog link), and an entry on the UK Circumnavigators page for Rowland Woollven who completed his epic attempt earlier this month. I suppose I should put my go on there at some stage too.

There is still plenty to do: I need to start sending 'thankyou's to various sponsors and others who gave me so much help, I need to put together a presentation of the trip (To take place at Summit to Sea - date to be confirmed), write-ups to for sponsors and magazines, a few thousand photos still need to be looked through and of course, the bath is still full of kit that needs tidying away!

In the next few days I aim to write posts on various aspects of the trip: The Ethics, The Boat & Paddles, The Body - what's left of it, The Sponsors and Kit, and a few other ideas. So watch this space, as they say!

In the meantime thankyou to everyone who offered help and support. Thankyou especially to all those who sent words of encouragement, they did make a real difference on those lonely and low days - cheers!

But for tonight we are taking it easy and going out for a little celebration I believe.

Oh well I suppose it can all wait just a little longer...

More photos

More photos from the trip have been added to the Anglesey paddling collection:

St Ives to Lundy

Lundy to Anglesey