Thursday, 6 December 2007

Crossing The Finish Line

Days 167 to 175

October 19th to 27th

Leaving Cleethorpes i head down the Humber and back out into the North Sea heading south towards Mablethorpe, as i cross the RAF Bombing ranges at Donna Nook a visitor stops by to hitch a ride. Hearing a noise behind me i turn only to find a small baby Starling fly over the back of my boat and land on my head!! I was some 2km offshore at the time and obviously as welcome to him as an Oasis in the Sahara, he sits on my head for a while before moving down to my deck bag as i paddle him into shore where he makes a short 50m dash to dry land!

The next day i paddle past Skegness (where their lifeboat comes out to visit me) and across the Wash in the glorious sunshine. This is the last of my big crossings and brings me back into East Anglia, its a good trip and because of the low lying land in the region its the first time that im completely out of sight of land during the trip. Reaching Norfolk i catch the tides and end up past the large seal colony at Blakeney Spit to complete a 68km day.

Norfolk passes easily with some bouncy days keeping me off the water for a couple of days. Then passing Southwold i enter into Suffolk, a lack of phone signal when i land means that when i do call the Coastguard to let them know im safely onshore i find that they where only 30minutes away from launching a full scale search!

All of a sudden i find myself on the last 12km of the trip from Felixstowe to Shotley Marina, i've arranged media coverage and sadly found that the RNLI couldn't escort me in due to operation matters!! I have mixed feelings about finishing, part of me is glad to be off the water and safe before winter really sets in while the other part of me doesn't want to give up on the lifestyle of paddling everyday and existing in a small bubble seperate to the rest of the world.

After an Interview with Felixstowe TV i round Landguard Point into the river Orwell for the final few kilometres. I can't help but remember how unsteady i felt as set off 175 days ago on a journey which i had never expected to turn out as it did! Again i feel sadness at nearly being done.

I arrive at Shotley Marina to see a small crowd and enter the marina itself to tie up for the last time. I find that i don't really know what to feel as i land but can't resist belly-flopping into the water to show of for the cameras. Then its to the bar for a welcome few pints!

Total Mileage is 3477.3km over 175 days with an average of only 19km a day when all is said and done.

So whats next - well in January i start with the Army at their officer training school at Sandhurst, after that who knows - i've certainly got a taste for adventure and i know that this is just the start. Perhaps its time to row the Atlantic.......

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Royston Vasey: Local Birds

Days 157 to 169
Tue 07 to Wed 19 Oct

Well, things have slowed down yet again. After a fantastic 10-day run to Scarborough I get stuck by big swell and winds which block Filey Brigg and Flamborough Head.

After two days climbing the walls I make the short hop round to Filey. Here, Barry the RNLI coxswain gives me tea and Toffee Crisps. As we chat the VHF radio in the corner starts chattering. It turns out that the crabbing boat Flourish has been rammed and sunk 30 miles offshore.

Rescue 128 (Sea King Search & Recovery), nearby vessels and other Royal Navy vessels scramble to the area and three of the four crew are rescued. Despite a lengthy search the skipper is never found. It's a sobering reminder of the dangers fishermen face every day. My thoughts go out to the skipper's family.

Leaving Filey the next morning I push round Flamborough (watching the Sea King SAR practise cliff rescues) to the clay cliffs south of Bridlington. I get a little put off by the small clay cliffs here - the chalk bed runs some seven miles inland from here. I hadn't expected these, and my supposed landing at Atwick
doesn't actually have any sea-level access.

Instead I land through the increasing surf on the narrow, steep beach at Hornsea. Disaster strikes here and in a freak carry handle accident Marty the ship's mascot (Halfway to Scotland, 26 Aug) is decapitated. During his short career he performed his duties brilliantly and his loss is sorely felt.

Next day the swell is up again (sea state moderate/rough) and take off is a little interesting. It's a fairly short day to Withernsea where the landing is hair-raising through the dumpy waves. Saturday night here feels far too much like Kidderminster back home.

Weather turns here as a front pushes down from the NW. I spend the next four days at the Spurn Head Bird Observatory waiting to cross the Humber. During my time here Rose and Jean from the Crown & Anchor along with Andy from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust stop me going completely nuts from boredom... though I do worry about their sanity.

After a while here I feel I've learned all I need to know about birdwatching. I make my TV debut on BBC Look North, and meet the Humber lifeboat crew (one of the UK's two permanent crews). Luckily a high pressure arrives and allows me to cross the Humber.

Under control of Humber VTS (stops a repeat of the Thames tanker near-miss) it's a good fast crossing, though a combination of delayed starts, tides and ever earlier last light means I only make it as far as Cleethorpes. However, at least the RNLI crew here recognise me from off the TV.

All in all I'm disappointed by the week. I knew my good run had to end soon, but the pressure is back on to make the finish line by next Saturday!

290km to go, but who's counting...

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Cliffs and castles

Days 130 to 156
Wed 12 Sep to Mon 08 Oct

Sorry for not getting on here sooner, truth is I've been a little embarrassed. If I can choose three words to sum up SE Scotland they would be WINDY, SLOW and DISAPPOINTING.

However, before I completely fast-forward I need to mention the fine people of Elie in Fife. Here Angus, Paul and Sarah (along with their mum) give me a bed to stay in and invite me to the Post-Fete committee knees-up. Last thing I remember is gin and tonics (which I hate) at 6am. Oops.

So by 29 September I've finally reached North Berwick (having gone all the way up to the Forth bridges). It's a great sigh with the volcanic plug tower of Bass Rock offshore, a large swell and sunshine.

I get a lucky break and a week (still counting) of light winds lets me shoot down the east coast. I cross back into England and pass the Holy Island (with seals) and the very impressive Bramburgh Castle.

Sadly a heavy landing has holed my main boat so the folks bring up the spare which I use for three days while an Eyemouth-based wind turbine blade manufacturer repairs the red one. Thankfully he does a cracking job!

Crossing Newcastle and the Tyne I land in Sunderland (complete with hoards of little kids - watch your valuables!) and enter Yorkshire.

Here I face a bigger swell (up to 3-4 metres), limited landing spots and high cliffs. Worse still, in Scarborough every pub seems to be a karaoke bar!

I've got less than 400km to do now and while I'm anxious to get back before the weather slides even more I really just don't want this trip to end.

Still, it would be good to get across the Wash (my last crossing) and finish with a bit of style.

Please let the good weather hold...

Monday, 10 September 2007

Downhill from here

Days 119 to 129
Sat 01 to Mon 10 Sep

High winds keep me in Inverness for the next couple of days, i spend my time reading and watching TV in the very relaxed Bazpackers hostel. Its nice to have a roof over my head and not be worrying about wet kit!!

Monday brings a nice break in the weather an i head up NE under the Moray Firth and under the Road bridge towards the Point at Fort George (still an active military camp). I wait till morning to get through the narrow entrance here and then push east again past the sandbanks and seal colonys (hundreds of the beasties and i feel guilty ever time they shuffle to the water because of me - however an offshore F6 wind means i want to hug the coast as much as possible.

I pass Nairn and Findhorn and with increasing winds and swell put into Burghead as waves slap over the harbour wall. Its a nice place and i have a few drinks in the 'Harbour Inn' with the womens darts team before heading back to the quayside for the night.

The next morning i wake to F6 onshore winds, haven't slept well as the tent nearly blew away last night - none of the pegs held in the stony ground and i ended up anchoring it down with drybags from the boat. By 1600 the winds have dropped to a F4 and i set off reaching Lossiemouth that evening, all day i've seen hundreds (WELL MAYBE NOT) of Tornado fighters, Sea King SAR helicopters and Nimrods from the 2 nearby RAF bases.

Another early start in sunshine today (yippie!!!) and after a brief chat to the Lossimouth Harbour master/local reporter i put my head down and paddle across Spey Bay for Portsoy. Along the way i have a regular escort from Dolphins - they come within 5m of me and during the afternoon i watch them jumping out of the water and a couple of times even chasing/throwing fish up in the air then jumping after them. The scenery also changes from sand dunes and shingle beaches to low crags with plenty of caves and arches.

Yet again the wind picks up to a F5/6 tailwind and its a bouncy ride the next day, worse still the boat stills seems to be taking on increasing amounts of water and after 1hr i have to put into Banff harbour to spongee out. Once off again i move past Macduff (great place name) but as the waves pick up decide to land at Gardenstown to repair this leak. Here i meet local man Nick and his Nephew Mathew who put me up for the night in there home and take me to the pub that night. From them i learn an awfull lot more than i previously knew about Lobster fishing.

Yet again its bouncy the next day and as i round Troup Head (home of the largest mainland Ganet colony -- thousands of them) i consider turning back. However i push on and things get calmer once i reach Rosehearty and get round Kinnaird Head. From hear on its south all the way until i reach the tropics of East Anglia.

I head past Fraserbrugh (and a rather badly parked fishing trawler - should it be on the rocks?) and land at Ratray Head lighthouse. here the old keepers house has been converted by husband and wife team Rob and Val into a fantastic hostel so i have a nice shower and the place pretty much to myself until Swiss chap Nicholas arrives.

Bit of a late start the next morning as i say goodbye on the phone to Rhiannon over the phone to fly off to a wedding in the states, we had both planned to attend but a while back it became obvious that i wsasn't going to be finished. Once again im watched by plenty of Seals as i paddle down to Peterhead (where BBC 1's Trawlermen series is filmed) and against the wind and tide toward Cruden Bay.

Once again the wind picks up to an offshore F7-8 so i take the day off and head into Aberdeen by bus to meet my younger brother David as he flys up (only £40 from Brum!!) for the week. I think there might be a bit more drinking this week, uh oh!!

Thursday, 30 August 2007

But where was Nessie!!!!

Days 111 to 118
Thu 23 to Thu 30 Aug

As I mentioned in the previous post I'd decided to go up around the Caledonian Canal, however I still wasn't completely sold on the idea so I decided to make for the Crinan Canal aswell. This cuts off the Mull of Kintyre and would save me two days which I could then have back if I decided the weather was nice enough to go round the top!

Bit of a slog to reach Arisdaig (the Southern end of the Canal) with a 55km stretch seemingly facing force three to four winds all day - felt like I'd worked for every mile! On the plus side I did manage to see around 30 seals in one place, sadly that one place was when I was answering a call of nature floating just off the Isle of Bute - can anybody spell stage fright!

I'd completely underestimated how long it would take me to paddle through the Canal. Although its only 16km long I hadn't really thought that it would have locks on it! I hitched a ride through the first eight of these with the crew of yacht Rhum - running up and down ladders and opening sluice gates. However, each lock took at least 20 minutes and what I had imagined as being a two-hour paddle took all day. It wasn't helped by a British Waterways staff member telling me I had to portage around the remaining locks!

However, as I neared Crinan I passed a small, brightly-painted wagon on the bank. Here Canadian imigrant artist Fraiser beckoned me over and gave me a signed postcard, telling me how Simon Osborne had stopped with him as he paddled around the UK a few years ago. Things turned even more surreal when I arrived in Crinan to find a group of grinning Welsh lifeboatmen on the bank. It turns out that Ross, Mick and Jo who had put the boat up overnight in there RNLI station at Porthcrawl two months ago [sooooo long!] were up here on a sailing trip. Once again the lads showed off Welsh hospitality with seemingly endless cups of tea, mackerel sarnies and maybe one or two beers.

The next day brought low cloud, moderate winds, lots of rain and low spirits to most in the Canal basin and I set out into the grey to reach Oban. This was one of my favourite days so far seeing the islands of Shuna and Luing and paddling through Dorus Mor (a tidal race where the water flows at 12km/h during neap tides!) and under the stunning bridge over the Atlantic. Really reminded me of Alaska with the occasional float plane flying around (when the weather cleared).

Oban was a lovely town and one I intend to visit again - I quickly met up with a bunch of Ozzies travelling around in a bright yellow bus with 'Wild and Sexy' emblazoned on the sides. It turns out that they where on a six-day Haggis Tour and proved very worthwhile drinking partners! Especially thanks to Colin (a moto-cross fan at heart) and Emma (another paddler). However, here I had the hardest desicion of the trip to make - to go up the Canal or go via Mull, Skye and Cape Wrath.

After much pondering and with a heavy heart I set off up Loch Linhe to Coran (a narrowing in the loch some 500m wide) to take the Canal. Over the next two days I make my way up the 96km of the canal (with 29 locks and 106 feet of verticle lift) passing through Loch Lochy (immaginative name - but visit the Eagle Floating Pub near Laggan) and Loch Ness (be warned it's much much longer than you think it is). Sadly the only large beasts I saw as I paddled up the loch where RAF C130 transport planes low flying along it, though a group of six paddlers from Nottingham in three open boats did make more interesting conversation. I must also say hello to Phil - I meet him just outside Fort Augustus and it turns out he was walking from top to bottom of the country - good luck to him.

I'm in Inverness now and looking forward to getting off the Canal with it's locks tomorrow! It feels strange to have cut off so much in just three days but in a way I'm relieved to see the home straight so close. I just wish I could have done the whole lot.


Sunday, 26 August 2007

Halfway to Scotland

Days 91 to 110
Sun 05 to Wed 22 Aug

Apologies for how late this blog is - I've been having trouble getting signal for the Internet!

This is just a quick recap blog to get back up to speed and it needs to cover a few points:

Good points:
  1. My GPS reads 2207km so I'm now over half-way - yippee!
  2. I'm in Scotland!
  3. I have a new trip mascot - Marty the Martian
  4. It's sunny!
  5. The scenery is stunning and getting better all the time
  6. I'm away from Blackpool (sorry if you live there)
Bad points:
  1. I'm badly behind time
  2. The boat's leaking a bit again
  3. My VHF radio is on the blink
So how do I turn the bad into good? Well... I've repaired the VHF using wire wool (yay!) and found the leaks in the boat.

The time issue however still looms. I got Rhianon (my long suffering RAF officer girlfriend) to check with her squadron's weathermen and their crystal balls and the news wasn't promising. Low pressures are expected for the next six to 10 days with NW Scotland bearing the brunt.

Because of this, and the fact I'm so far behind, I've made a difficult decision - to take the Caledonia canal and bypass Cape Wrath.

This will save me time and hopefully mean I don't get too badly behind due to weather.

I hate this idea - it feels like a complete failure as although I can still go round all of England and Wales, the UK circumnavigation is out. Sadly I'm just lagging so far behind though and I feel I can't risk the whole effort.

Worse still I miss an area of fantastic paddling that I'd really been looking forward to.

In a word: bugger.

To end this on a good note, I need to once again thank a whole list of people who have been fantastically supportive in Scotland. From Pete - a folk-singing Liverpudlian and friend of Nigel Dennis who I met in Whithorn - to Sally and the gang at The Ship Inn who looked after me so well in Drummore.

Until next time... (Hopefully with more good news.)

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Blackpool and Morecombe

Days 79 to 90
Mon 23 Jul to Sat 04 Aug

Leaving John's house in West Kirby i set on one of the sections of the trip that i've been looking forward to the least!! The muddy flatlands stretching up between Liverpool and the Scottish Borders.

Before starting this trip i purposefully did very little reading round of other peoples expeds so i didn't colour my views of anyone section because of areas they found difficult, this has mean't that i can judge each section with an open mind. However even with that Morecombe Bay still comes up as the one place 99.9% of paddlers hate - it has shallow water, unpredicatble tides, sandbanks, Shipping lanes and not very impressive views - right from the start of the trip i've been dreading this!!

The section started positively, I pass Liverpool and its sandbanks easily - playing tag with a seal off West Kirby (he followed me for about 2km surfacing and nudging my stern every 2minutes) and paddling through the rather disturbing collection of statues that have been Sprinkled on Crosby beach in the name of Modern Art. Reaching Formby i pass through the Great Altcar Army firing ranges and realise with a shock that i once spent 2 days sitting in a hut in the dunes as Sea Sentry making sure that no unsuspecting kayakers paddled into the range when we where firing - its was cold and dull then and from the water it was no better!!!

Lytham St Annes is the next stop, this is reckoned to be one of the rich areas around here and first glance confirms it - it does however have an awful lot of mud and i spend along time waiting on the RNLI jetty for the tide to come in enough to launch! Blackpool comes as a bit of a shock after Lytham - alot erhh tackier as i paddle through the increaseing Surf past its 3 piers, the Pleasure Beach (with the white knuckle ride - the Crazy Mouse!! good name) and the Tower. I get wiped out and nearly flipped right opposite the North Pier which earns me a few cheers from holiday makers.

I reach Fleetwood RNLI station on Tuesday and mechanic Steve takes me in and lets me store the boat in the D boat Shed. My girlfirend Rhiannon (i was told off for saying she was 'Ginger' she is a Redhead apparently!!) is down for 2 days and as the weather closes in (winds F5-7) we spend the time in Blackpool - including watching the Hot Ice show a 'danicng on ice spectacular' - her choice not mine!

The weather stays poor for the next 4 days with the RNLI staff advising me not to leave! Luckily help is at hand and my ex-housemates Mark and Neil travel up from worcester and take me out on the town for 2 nights of fun. In the process we discover that Blackpool is the Chav capital of the UK, home of Stag and Hen nights and that you can buy Stab vests in the pound shop for £100 (go figure) .

They leave on Monday and the weather clears, i cross Morecombe Bay in a SW 3-4 occ 5 in bright blue sunshine. Its a lovely crossing with Barrow in Furness's Submarine building sheds ahead of me, the Lake Districts hills to the right and Windfarms out to sea on my left. Things start to get alot choppier however as i near Walney Island on the North side of the bay, here an almost standing waves effect occurs as the tide rushes out over sandbanks - it became more interesting and i was certainly glad to make landfall. Such a relief though as i'm across the bay, really feels like a weight has been lifted!

That night i camp near Biggar and go for a drink in the Queens Arms where i meet Dave and Jenny. This local couple live just behind the pub and let me use their shower and sink to clean myself and my pans! They even give me a goody bag of food, bless them!

The weather closers down again and i edge forward through breaking waves to the end of the island, before heading out to Seascale the next day. Its a hard paddle into headwinds and 7hrs work only gets me 37km so im none too pleased, however yet again the scenery is good (Isle of Man on the Horizon and i think i can see Scotland ahead of me!!!) and the natives friendly.

In 1-2days time i should be in Scotland which is really exciting as i'll be starting the most exposed section of the trip. I'm worried about the time i've used getting here and really hoping for a good break in the weather - luckily todays forecast shows a few High Pressures around so i really hope to crank up the miles now.

Fingers Crossed