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.
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.
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.
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 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...