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...

14 July 2012

Next time...

Nigel H posted a comment asking what I would do differently if I was to go around again. Well...

Of course I have been reviewing what I did and looking for improvements and lessons to learn, but on the whole I was quite pleased with how things went. If I was to look for changes to make for a future trip then it would depend greatly on whether I would aim purely for the record or a 'just for the hell of it' trip.

But, first of all to answer the specific points from Nigel:

No, I would not spend a night in the boat using an outrigger. I couldn't see any advantage to this one for me. I couldn't see how I would paddle well after spending a night afloat in the boat. I learnt early in the trip how my performance was linked closely to the amount of sleep I had. There's no handbrake on the boat either, you are unlikely to start the day where you finished the previous one.

To short cut bays? Well I think I pretty much did that whenever I could anyway, where I didn't it was down to the weather on the whole.

So what would I do differently?

Well, I was disappointed with my winter training this year. I like to think that that is one thing I am reasonably good at, setting a foundation of good winter training to allow the remainder of the year to be built upon. But this time I let myself get distracted by a number of things, my training suffered and consequently I started the season with probably the lowest level of fitness I had had for many a year. No excuses; it was entirely my fault and all part of the game - but I will do a better job next winter, whatever I have planned.

Tied in with the poor training I also missed out on some of the skill work I should have done over the winter and again I felt I was lacking in a couple of areas. Again, totally down to me and me alone, but a lesson to be (re-)learnt for the future.

I would reconsider some of the sponsorship. On the whole the Sponsors were very helpful, but I think I would do a couple of things differently if my time was repeated.

If I was to go with the goal of the record then I would make an effort to put a support crew in place to make life easier and allow a better focus on the paddling alone. I would also try to avoid the tent whenever possible in order to get better sleep, unless they make a soundproof one.
If I was going out to just complete the distance and make the most of the adventure then I would carry my tent (Hotel Vango) once again and try to be pretty self-sufficient along the way. I think you experience more of the whole adventure, the people and the localities this way. I feel I set the balance pretty well on my attempt; I got under the 80 days but had quite an adventure on the way - after all I might never have heard of the Dog Poo Fairy if I hadn't taken a little time out now and then.

With hindsight I would avoid some landing localities and head for others, but then again these were more often than not dictated by the weather anyway.

I would also try to make sure I had no time deadlines to get back for. I had aimed for this to be the case but a couple of commitments arrived that I perhaps should have ignored. They added undue pressure that forced me to set off when maybe I would have rather have waited a little.

And I would make a sacrifice or two to the Weather Gods before I set out - they had by far the biggest single impact on my trip.

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.

07 July 2012

The Kit List - The Full Monty

I know a few people want me to spill the beans on the kit I took, the good stuff and the bad. Now I'm sure you've guessed by now that I received various sponsored items for this trip - look left if you haven't worked it out yet. But at the same time, if you've been following the blog, you should realise that I tend to say it as I see it, I won't call a spade anything other than what it is.
So, hopefully without annoying too many of the sponsors, let's crack on:

The Boat: Rockpool Taran
Epoxy Diolen construction. The Taran was a standard production boat to the most part, with a rear day hatch added as part of the original lay-up. Mike Webb was also kind enough to allow me use of the Rockpool facilities so I could customise a number of minor aspects myself, I also made a few more in the garden at home.
A rudder cable broke on day 30; this is the first I have come across in 3 years with the Taran - both cables were replaced on the beach and the boat was paddleable again within the hour. I still need to find if there was a specific reason for this or if it was just one of those things, when time allows. Otherwise there was the expected wear and tear to the hull after solo dragging of a loaded boat up and down the beach for 70+ days, but no significant problems.
I never once regretted the Taran as a choice for the trip.

The Paddles: Legend Small Fusions
The Small Fusions were chosen, partly because they were a small wing blade that I thought was suitable for 'heavy boat into headwind' paddling and partly because I had experience of Legend reliability from previous paddling.
The blades did the job very nicely; the handling of the Small Fusions was excellent - smooth and dependable - very well mannered in the rough. There was a small amount of corrosion discoloration to the stainless steel tips by the end - Legend had warned me that this was possible.
I'm still very happy paddling these blades.

Paddling Clothing: Kokatat
Kokatat kit was chosen on the results of a winter testing various types of outer wear and partly on the reputation of their excellent customer service. The kit list was as follows:

Gore-Tex TecTour Anorak - a little heavier than the other jackets, but it was the one I fell back to on the numerous 'winter' days. I paddled many long days in serious conditions in this one and finished nice and dry each time.
Gore-Tex Action Jacket - a little 'less serious' than the TecTour - the main cag used for the majority of the miles. A nice dry and comfortable fit for those splashy but not too serious days.
PacLite Pullover - a superlight jacket used for warmer days and as a wind cover, used with the sleeves rolled up on the warmer days. Excellent.
Gore-Tex Whirlpool Bib Pants - combined with a decent jacket (and spraydeck) these gave the benefits of a drysuit but with the flexibility of a cag/jacket. No wet feet - a brilliant piece of paddling kit.
Gore-Tex Boater Pants - taken as a spare to the Whirlpool but also used as off the water clothing for those damp camp site mornings/rainy days.
Ronin Pro PFD - well thought out PFD with a good paddling fit, but I think I chose a size too large.
Gore-Tex Nor'Wester - I wanted to keep the wing paddle splash out of my ears and this did it well. Perhaps it is not the most stylish piece of paddling kit for the fashion conscious UK sea paddler, but I thought it was great - nice and dry whatever the weather.

The T-shirt cag was sent home early! - in the whole 72 days I paddled only once without a cag and I think less than 5 times with my sleeves rolled up; 2012 - a good ol' British summer.

There was a slight problem with wear under the arms on one cag, I think this was caused by my choice of overlarge size on the PFD. The wear was minor but even so Kokatat forwarded a replacement jacket to me in short time - excellent customer service as I had been told to expect.
Overall - excellent paddling kit.

Spraydecks: Phoenix of Nottingham
I have a house full of spraydecks made in the UK by Phoenix (I think at last count it was something over 40!) - I've used their spraydecks since they started back in the 1990's. Joel is a paddler and his Elves know how to make spraydecks; they've never let me down, so why would I change?

Tent: Vango Vortex Lite 200
Once again a choice made partly on a reputation for reliability and also on the specs for a sub-3.0kg 2 man tent. The Vortex had plenty of room for myself and all my soggy kit at the end of each day, food + cooking kit in one porch, wet kit in the other and the dry kit (and me) in between. No problems at all weatherwise - the 2012 year will be remembered for the wind and the rain, but the tent took it all. For a lightweight fabric tent it was also very quiet and stable in the wind.
Only suggestion would be to ask for a little more room to get canoeing shoulders through the door.

Stove: Trangia Multi-Fuel
I liked the flexibility of this stove, I used it equally well with both gas canisters and petrol. When combined with the Trangia cooker it meant that I could just put the water on and walk away to do something else - no worries of it falling over etc. The hard anodized pots took the knocks too. I did manage to damage my first burner, but Vango/Trangia sent me a replacement in quick time - excellent customer service.

Drybags/Mapcases: Ortlieb
As expected the Ortlieb bags kept everything dry. They were also very robust as kit was stuffed into and dragged unceremoniously out of hatches. There's not too much you can say about drybags but the Ortlieb bags did the job well - all critical kit was stored in Ortlieb bags.
I have used the Ortlieb map cases for years and chose them for this reason. They performed well; the only thing to say against would be that they can get a little fiddly trying to slide a map in when things are damp - wet hands etc. A minor point though.

Drybags: Exped
The lighter Exped drybags were used to minimise bulk and were used for items such as wash kit, first aid kit, Trangia stove etc. They made a good companion to the Ortlieb bags.

Food: Wayfayrer Ready to Eat Meals
The Wayfayrer food pouches were the staple diet for much of the time; quick, easy and requiring little water or washing-up! Each day started with an 'All Day Breakfast', while evening meal was keenly anticipated if it was a Chicken Tikka Massala or a Chilli Con Carne (the Spicy Vegetable Rigatone was not exactly my favourite though I must say). The self heating meal pouches can even be used for a hot meal afloat in calm conditions, impressive. It says something that I can still readily plump for these little beauties even after 72 days away!

Food: Clif Bars
These were an excellent component of the front pocket food load, a nice change from choccie bars etc. They are designed to be used in the competition world and you can see this, a good size, moist and easily 'scoffed'. Crunchy Peanut Butter was the favourite.
Got to say I was even more impressed with the Builder Bars though. One of these at the end of the day or for a rough weather lunch afloat really made you feel you were getting a good chunk of what you really needed for the day.

VHF Radios: Standard Horizon HX 751 & HX 851
Both these units were easy to use and reliable with good battery life. They were both floating units which was a useful feature, though this made them a little more bulky. The HX 851 was a DSC/GPS unit, I tended to use the 751 as the day to day unit as it was a little smaller and have the 851 in the 'grab-bag'. I cracked the screen on the 751 when I dropped it; Dean from Standard Horizon met me at my tent with a replacement unit - winning the award for the 'best customer service of the trip' award!

Headtorch: Petzl PIXA 3 and E+LITE
The PIXA 3 was chosen as I wanted a robust and completely waterproof headtorch. It is a little bulky compared to the Tikka, though this is not really a problem But it is very tough and gives good light from AA batteries. Only problem I would suggest is that the detent on the on/off switch could be a little more positive - the light has a tendency to switch itself on in bags etc. sometimes.
The E+LITE was taken as a backup/emergency light. It was small enough (and waterproof) so that it lived in the shoulder pocket on my cag throughout. It also has a useful clip so it could be fixed to the peak of my hat for red light GPS use. Excellent little piece of kit.

Sunglasses: Julbo
The Julbo Floating sunglasses did as promised, they kept the sun out of my eyes, were comfy to wear and they did float. What else can you say?

Off the water jacket: Patagonia Micro-Puff
A fantastic piece of kit this one. On first impressions it looks rather modest but it really did change life for the better at the end of a long cold day, or for those afternoon breaks for the 3 o'clock wind. Also used nicely as jim-jams in the cold nights during the first half of the trip. This was one of the pieces of kit that I paid full retail for and I don't regret a penny - I've grown rather attached to it - the best piece of off the water kit.

The reasoning behind kit choice was for me was to take the kit I thought was the best for the job in hand - this took priority over any form of sponsorship or offers. While some of the kit I took was received at 'no cost' (cash-wise at least) the majority I did pay for. Some at a discount, some at full retail. In a number of cases I sourced and paid full retail for a specific item rather than take an offered or sponsored alternative that I considered inferior. Cost was secondary to performance - I wasn't going to get a second go at this trip.

Summit to Sea
Pete Baars and the team at Summit to Sea were extremely helpful in supplying and sourcing much of my kit. Pete also acted as a fixer for some of the sponsorship deals as well as dealing with any kit problems I had on the way around - extremely helpful when you've got your mind on other things in the middle of nowhere. Pete was also a great help in providing advice on kit I wasn't too familiar with. I am very grateful to Summit to Sea for their help and support.

Chandlery World
Chandlery World are not specifically a kayak related supplier but were very useful in filling a number of boating related 'gaps'. The list included: micro flares, OS maps, self-contained electric pump along with various fittings and chandlery bits and pieces. They also provided useful advice at the end of the phone. Once again, I appreciate the help they provided.

It is a long list, but then I did take a lot of kit...

05 July 2012

Kit and Method - time spent on preparation.

I've written previously on kit, but there's plenty more to say - it is also a subject that I've been asked many questions on. However as I prepared to write this I saw that Natalie had beaten me to it on the HomeSeaHome blog. Unfortunately they seem to be having a few 'kit issues' and I was worried that my post may seem a little insensitive or just rather 'smart-arse' - but sometimes you've just got to write.

I am very fussy when it comes to kit, ask The Boss or Pete Baars (Summit to Sea). I'll think things through to the extreme and take the fussiness to the point that I frustrate people or seem to cross the Prima-Donna line. But, like others I depend on my kit, sometimes to the limits. I also have a house full of kit from the early days that just didn't live up to expectations, hype or even just to the real world.
And besides all that, crap kit and poor design really winds me up.

One of my pet hates is kit that was obviously designed by the marketing department rather than the paddling people. Or kit that was designed by just about anybody but was obviously never once tested on the water - please at least show us, the paddlers, the courtesy of testing your crap kit before you put in on the market. I won't bore you with the list...

And so when I was getting ready for my trip I spent a lot of time thinking about, testing and trialing kit. Now when I say testing I don't mean just going for the odd Sunday morn paddle with your new toy; the kit was tested in a certain environment, conditions and/or role, then the session would be reviewed (interesting dinner(tea?) table conversation) and often notes made - I don't fart around you see.
And then the whole thing would have to be repeated in different 'environment, conditions and/or role'. You should be able to work out that this takes time, a lot of it and to be honest can become a little tedious - another cold, wet & windy winter day or night paddling a set course, pattern or pace to compare with previous findings.

To some, if not most this may sound surprising and even a touch anal - but it does pay dividends, and builds a useful long term picture. Though I had a few minor kit problems on my way around, I had no major failures and was pleased that I did not make any major ****-ups when it came to kit choices. I'd be happy to go again tomorrow with the exact same kit list (hmm, now there's an idea). It took a lot of work but it definitely paid off.

I also make a point that every single time I get on the water I learn something, even if it is only to relearn something from the past. Likewise everytime I paddle with somebody I make a point of learning something from them, no matter who they are. (However, sometimes all I learn is not to paddle with that person again.)

Again this builds a picture; the recent years of records and crossings had put in place a familiar routine of method and kit. When it came to making crossings on the trip it was all familiar, easy, quick and confidence creating - I'd done it before and I knew it worked.

Now, I know I'm far from perfect and believe it or not I don't know it all. I often envy those people who can just 'grab the gear and go' - I don't, even can't, work that way. It's not necessarily the way I choose to be, more just the way I am. It can be frustrating and can cause so much faff, but then it usually works - I've lived this long after all.

So if you are a kit faffer then don't be shy, even rejoice in the fact - it pays in the long run.

The next post talks of the actual kit I took and how it performed - also a little about sponsorship too.

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.

Decisions, decisions

...more cake, less cake?

Paddling solo and carrying all of your kit means that you have a pretty heavy load to shift, both on and off the water. There's no chance to share kit across the team, you carry it or it doesn't come -simple.
It takes energy to shift all of this gear, but it is also commonly overlooked that it takes time to shift it too. If you get to a point where it is not possible to move that boat alone, then everything has to come out, to be moved bit by bit, then shift the unloaded boat and load it all back in. That takes a lot of time. Time is precious.

I know there are all sorts of thoughts and advice relating to what to carry, what not to carry and just which are luxuries and which are essentials. At times people seem to try to outdo each other in just how spartan they can make things for themselves. The less they carry, the more uncomfortable things are and then the 'harder' they are by association. Hmmm, that strikes me as a load of b*******, you don't go any faster just because you make a martyr of yourself - in fact it's not hard to work out that the opposite is the likely outcome.

That said, there are limits and when it comes to carrying kit. I am pretty terrible in prioritising what I need and what I don't. But then again, with the best part of 3 months of hard, wet days ahead of me I was buggered if I was going to make life any more difficult than it had to be - no, sod that.

I had picked the best kit I could for paddling in and it was time to make off the water life as comfortable as possible. Good tent, good sleeping mat, good food, comfy, warm and dry clothing, plenty of tasty food, something to read, the radio to listen to and so on goes the list. If you are going to work hard all day, then you need to feel the best you can before and after. Life is going to be hard, there is no way around that, but there's no reason to make it any harder. Will life be any better just because you play the Walter Mitty wannabe warrior type?

You can make your mind up on my behalf if you want to, I'd be genuinely interested to hear your thoughts.

The boat, loaded with daily living kit came to 61kg or so.
The water load varied, mainly dependent on whether I expected to be wild camping or not in the coming days - but an 8-10kg load would be typical.
Food would vary too, as would maps etc. The heaviest load came just after a resupply parcel or a decent shop, probably around the 10kg mark too.

That made a boat weight of around the 80 kg mark pretty common, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less.

So what do you think?

Did I really need to saw my toothbrush in half?

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