Saturday, July 16, 2005

Another World - Dorset Coast

My introduction to Sea Kayaking I’ve no idea why I began to experience a growing interest in long pointy Sea Kayaks – it could have been accounts from others on club sea trips (but these were few and far between), perhaps the photos that Douglas Wilcox posts to UKriversguidebook, maybe the long summers with no surf and no rivers or the number of paddling friends that have recently acquired ‘the knowledge’ or a latent desire not to shave. Who knows, but I already had the Tilly hat – all I needed was a boat.

As luck would have it, just as this growing interest was becoming an itch, I heard that Liz Sambell was selling Steve’s old Nordkapp HS. Elliott brought it down for me to try out at Mudeford one Tuesday. He had already discounted purchasing it himself – explaining that his manly physique prevented a comfortable ride. It was this Tuesday evening that I began to acquire ‘the knowledge’ (you can’t flat spin a sea kayak, bow rudders are less than useful, and the turning circle is more akin to that of a Boeing 747 than a Wavesport EZ) – what amazed me, however, is that I loved it – fast, comfortable and a brand new set of attainable skills to learn. Needless to say, I had bought the boat within 24 hours – just in time for Paul T’s Dorset Coast Camping trip the coming weekend

I spent the next couple of evenings trying to acquire more of the knowledge – I started delving into a book on Sea Kayak Navigation – but put it down after 5 minutes. Far too much to learn there, tides and tidal streams, charts and bouyage etc – it was clearly not a question of pointing the boat downhill and enjoying the ride. Anyway, I figured that for a paddle along the coast West of Swanage I should be OK keeping the land on my right.

I turned then to thinking about the kit list – but, hell, the boat had these cavernous holds so no thought was necessary it could hold anything I could think of. Aware that my knowledge remained weak, and I was paddling with the elite of RCC’s sea kayakers!, I had a plan to ensure that my inexperience wouldn’t stand out - I invited a friend (Richard) who, despite having his own Sea Kayak, had only paddled a few times before. If anyone was going to be the butt of the Jokes, let it be Richard rather than myself

7 of us met at Swanage on a glorious morning - Paul T and Elliott, Dot and Mike, Tim B, Richard and I. The normal chaos of an RCC river trip was outstripped by this Sea Kayak business. We took over the beach by the pier – boats, drybags, stoves, tents, bowls, gallons of water – the mountain of ‘stuff’ that we were taking was awesome.

I watched the others pack their boats, trying to establish if there was a recognised protocol – but having seen Paul picking up handfuls randomly and slinging them into holds I felt confident that there was no established system and that I wouldn’t make a complete fool of myself. What was a little worrying was that Richard seemed to know what he was doing. Perhaps even more worrying was all the strange stuff Elliott (Mears) was packing

We set off at around 11:00 - the plan being to paddle 15 miles to Warbarrow Bay, against the tide and a light prevailing wind. This seemed at odds with common sense but who was I to argue. We glided off into an azure sea – the long sleek boats shifting along with so little effort. The Nordkapp has a reputation for being very ‘tippy’ but I had quickly become accustomed to this on the previous Tuesday, and found the secondary stability excellent - now, fully laden, it proved very comfortable. Hugging the Coast to avoid the tidal stream we made good progress. Kittiwakes and Guilimots were around, but no Puffins and no ‘Durlston Dolphins’.

After a short stop at Dancing Ledge we approached Aldhelm’s head. Despite the tides there seemed to be white horses – the promise of some play at the overfalls there, but, sadly, nothing of consequence and so on to a late lunch at Chapman’s Pool.

Mid afternoon and the tide had turned, but any advantage that this might have offered was wiped out by a quickening South Westerly, eventually picking up to F6, stirring up a nice chop. While progress became a little more laboured, the sun still shone and the sea became playful. By the time we reached Kimmeridge (5’ish) some were feeling weary and by the time we hit Warbarrow (6:30’ish) we were all keen to find a camp spot out of the wind. Having gamely paddled the whole length of Warbarrow bay (twice!) we settled on a mid-point spot for bivying amongst the rocks.
It seemed idyllic and the wind had dropped but a few problems then arose.

  • Paul’s hatch covers were found to have perished – the toilet roll was amongst the sopping casualty list, and to cap this Tim found un-exploded shells sharing the paperless facilities
  • No one had any ‘real’ coffee – ‘Instant’ would prove a first for Paul
  • And Elliott, keen to practice his newly acquired ‘bushcraft’ skills discovered the beach was almost entirely devoid of timber, yet alone bushes. A thousand plastic bottles was no substitute

Still, we set up camp, managed to find a few timber spars and Elliott opened up his box of tricks to light a fire (insisting that the gas lighter, offered, was not ‘playing the game’). Meals were cooked, beer and wine opened and the conversation was so entertaining that Tim managed to stay up until gone 10pm!

I could hear Paul, of course, rattling pots and stoking the fire before 6:00 the following morning. An early start was clearly on the cards so a quick swim and I joined him for ‘instant’. 3 hours later Dot and Mike surfaced – it was close to 10:00 before we were all ready to leave. I guess this was an early start by RCC standards.

The air was still, the sea glassy and the tide with us. An easy 15 mile drift back to Swanage lay ahead. At Kimmeridge the previous day there was a notice on the dive board exclaiming 20M visibility!! And we found ourselves in another world – drifting across an aquarium. Our boats were now ‘flying’ over clear waters, the sea bed, fish, anemones and other sea life clearly visible below us. It was hard to lift our eyes up to the cliffs to watch the Peregrines!

We were at Swanage by 3pm, having hardly noticed the distance paddled – quick Ice creams and we were offSo this is what Sea Kayaking is all about – OK, certainly in the conditions we had, it does not provide an adrenaline fix, but it does open a whole new and changing world to explore while getting some needed exercise. I’m looking forward to the next time I can get out in my sea boat.