Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Last day on the water in Scotland

It's been an amazing trip.  The people I've met and the places I've visited have far exceeded my expectations.  I've been on high mountain rivers and to the outer reaches of the rugged coast.  While there are many parts of Scotland I have yet to experience, each new hidden corner I visit, and the people I meet, only add to the wealth of pleasant memories I will cherish from this place.  I WILL be back for another visit.

Now, for the last day...

The Brown household and I awoke to a winter scene.  Those North winds yesterday had not stopped.  They brought with them a light dusting of snow.  The kids were VERY excited and couldn't wait to get outside.  While I enjoy snow, I can't say I shared their enthusiasm on this day.  We were onto rescues for the 5 star training session this afternoon.  There was REAL boat repairs in the field yesterday, and it looked as if we would have REAL hypothermia to treat today.

When the other two guys (both called different versions of Paul, one from Argentina and one from Greece) arrived for their assessment, they expressed interest in tidal planning and chart work for open crossings.  Since their assessment was going to start tonight and the fire was crackling away, we all agreed that we would much prefer to sit inside and plan journeys rather than go on one.  We would wait for it to warm up a little before we went for a short paddle in the bay to work on towing and rescues.

Pablo, Martin, Jonathan, and Pavlos work out a crossing to the Isle of Man

We enjoyed some lunch and got changed at Gordon's place.  All layered up in as much fleecy goodness as we could fit under our drysuits; we drove to the bay at Camas Barabhaig.  It had warmed up to a balmy 38 degrees Fahrenheit.  The sun was out for a few moments and offered some encouragement.  It wasn't the best temperature, but you couldn't ask for a better backdrop for some rescue and towing practice.  

Taken from the parking lot   

Camas Cross

Gordon and Jonathan take a boat down to the water

Once we got on the water It didn't take long to warm up.  Gordon had us all feel the difference between towing boats in a 'fan' shape vs. inline towing.  We also played with a version of a rafted tow that allows an easy quick release for the supporting boat using a bit of webbing and a biner.  Very handy.  It was not as windy as the forecast had indicated, but we went through the motions and the group learned quite a bit.  

Pablo pulls all of us in a 'fan' or multiple boat rafted tow

Gordon Brown 

The setting sun on the snow dusted hills coupled with an approaching squall made for some dramatic light.  I did my best to capture the scene, but these photos can't possibly convey what we saw today.  It was absolutely stunning.


The hills around the bay

The squall approaches

We finished up the day with some quick rescue work.  We went over the scoop rescue for an unconscious victim, assisted re-entries, and solo re-entries.  After we had cooled off, we headed for home to prepare for the beginning of the 5 star assessment later that night.  I sat in on the beginning of the assessment.  The group got through introductions, plans for the next few days, and went over the written exam in a Q&A format.  I am looking forward to my eventual assessment very much.  With what I have seen so far, I should be well prepared next year.  

Gordon gives the group a few pointers 

Tomorrow I catch a bus to back to Aberfeldy to say my good-byes to my new found friends.  I am going to miss so many people I have met here in Scotland.  It's amazing how boating with someone really brings you closer.  I will be boarding a plane for Portland, Oregon the next day and should be home in time for lunch on Thursday.  

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sea Kayaking Isle of Skye with Gordon Brown

I have been doing my best to fit in some quality sea kayaking while I'm here in Scotland.  I came up short in Anglesey, but Gordon made sure I got my salt water fix today.  I hitched a ride with Gordon, Morag and their lovely kids (one 3 and the other 5 years old) from the Perth show to Skye last night.  They were happy to be home after a long time away.  It was late and we were all tired from the long drive.  

The next morning, we had some breakfast with the kiddos and prepared for the days activities.  We were waiting for a few folks to arrive before we would sort out the best place to go.  Gordon does not have pre-determined class syllabi.  He invites you into the office, serves you some tea or coffee by the fire, and asks what it is that you need to know.  Two of the students arrived, and the third had some car trouble.  Martin, who is going for his level III next week, and Jonathan, who was up for 5 star assessment in a few days expressed interest in incident management, positioning, and trip planning.  

Gordon, Making a plan for the day's lesson

Going over 5 star scenarios with Jonathan 

After drilling Jonathan on some scenarios with the dry erase board and taking in the warm cozy fire, we headed out into the frigid pelting drizzle.  Every drop seemed to cut right into you.  The winds were from the North and fairly strong.  23 mph gusting to 32.  We decided to head towards a constriction that separates the inner sound from Loch Alsh.  We would be sure to have enough wind, with plenty of fetch, opposing the flooding tidal currents mid-day.     
Gettin ready to hit the water

It was a really nice place to go for a paddle.  There was a very picturesque lighthouse coupled with a huge bridge that spanned the narrow gap between the Isle of Skye and the mainland of Scotland.  Everywhere you looked you could see dramatic hills in the distance and complex chains of small islands and inlets carved by glaciers long ago.  
The lighthouse and bridge
 (Gordon and the boys are just between the two, but are too far away and small to be seen)

First thing we did was paddle out well beyond the bridge into the big wind waves to go for a little surf session.  Gordon said we were in prime 5 star conditions including 4-6 ft wind swell pushed up by force 6+ winds.  I was unable to pull my camera out in the big stuff but, once both the clients were comfortable with the conditions, the boys worked on some contact towing while I rattled off a few shots from shore.  

Tow, tow, tow your boat...

The Stevenson Lighthouse

Martin crossing the shipping channel

After I hopped back into my boat we headed across to the other side.  Jonathan was checking out possible landing sites when a bigger set of waves decided for him.  He got washed up onto some sharp rocks and managed to badly damage his carbon/Kevlar Nordkapp Jubilee.  Enough with the scenarios... we did some real deal repairs in the field.

 Gordon helping with the repair by applying denso tape

Gordon explains to Jonthan what went wrong

We found several more breaks in the hull and deck

Eventually we called Martin in to join us on the beach.  At first he seemed reluctant to try his luck with HIS boat, but we coaxed him in for a nice clean landing.  The waves were very small, but broke onto a rocky shore.  It was good practice for him.  

Martin making a smooth landing on the rocky beach

Me, happy to be back in a long boat

After a nice stretch of the legs, we were right back at it.  We went for a little tour around the area and got in close to some more rocks.  The sun was getting low, so we didn't go for long.  The weather had improved slightly, but there was some ominous clouds on the horizon.  

Making our way back along the rocks near sunset

Almost home...

Making it back, just before the next batch of rain

We had a nice day out.  The conditions were great for the students, and I think we all learned something...especially Jonathan.   We headed back to the house via a hardware store where I picked up some denso tape of my own.  Since we can't get it in the States, I figured I would stock up.  I look forward to tomorrow.  We will be back at it for one more day.  It will be my last day of paddling in Scotland.  

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Paddle 08 Paddle Show in Perth, Scotland

I had a VERY productive day today.  While I didn't actually get any boating in, my mind was never far from the subject.  We spent all day at the paddle sports exhibition called "Paddle 08" in Perth today.  Everyone who is anyone to Scottish paddling was there.  I didn't remember to grab my camera battery out of the charger this morning, so you will have to excuse the hand full of  sub-par images I managed to capture with Steve's I-Phone.      

The event is small but packed with all the right stuff.  There were presentations on recent film releases like "This is The Sea IV," lots of interesting workshops were set-up for anyone who wanted to take part, and tons of shinny; pretty new toys.  Plus, everyone that I had been meaning to meet was there!  Gordon Brown, Aled Williams, Justine Curgenven, and others were all very nice and more than willing to talk with everyone.  

There was some important things that needed done.  First and most important of all, I NEEDED to sell my boat before going back home.  Remember the "wind surfer" ordeal?  Well, the nice girl at the airport check-in counter fudged the measurements for me to get it here, but also warned me that it may not make it back into the states.  I still haven't paid off the credit card I put it on, and it was not worth the risk of  leaving it behind un-paid for.  Luckily, I sold it just a couple hours into the day.  With the exchange rate, it more than paid for it self, plus the cost to fly it here!  WooHoo!  

With one task down I was straight onto the next...Justine and Barry Shaw were giving a presentation on "This is the Sea IV."  I had yet to meet her and wanted to let her know that I was looking forward to her visit to Portland this November.  She will be presenting the film with Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe at the Mission Theatre.  We chatted for awhile and decided that we would have to try to paddle together with the rest of the gang back home when she visits.    

Justine and Barry drew quite the crowd

 After Justine's talk, there was a workshop on the physics of forward paddling presented by Barney Wainwright, Sport Science Manager at GB World Class.  His job is to advise Great Britain's national and Olympic level coaches about there athlete's technique.  It was very informative and in depth.  This guy thinks about this stuff night and day...and it shows.

 Up next was a visit to the Tide Race Sea Kayak booth.  Aled Williams and Dave were both there to present the new line of  boats just out of production.  The newest boats are being made in Finland.  I must say, they look superb.  The new color scheme is sweet, and the quality and finish work (excuse the pun) were far and above any other company out there.  I finally got to meet those guys after countless e-mails back and forth.  Since I have been pursuing sponsorship, I felt it essential that I introduce myself in person.  We had a nice chat before I let them get back to there BUSY booth.  Seems like they were being well received from the looks of the constant stream of interested paddlers around their end of the show.  

 I REALLY wanted to get to the west coast and do some sea kayaking in Skye while I was here.  Gordon Brown is one of the best in the biz, and told me that he might have time towards the end of the month.  I tracked him down at the show and asked if it would be possible to join him this Monday / Tuesday.  It turns out that not only will he be on the water, but he is running a 5 star sea refresher course!  I am going to be a guinea pig / observer on a 5 star course!!  This will be great training for me on advanced navigation, coastal planning, rough water skills at sea, incident management, etc...  Gordon even agreed to give me a lift out there and let me use one of his boats!!  What a nice guy.  I am sure to learn A LOT from him in the next few days.  Get ready for some Sea Kayaking shots on the next posting!!    


Friday, October 24, 2008

Big Tay ...Little Braan

Today, Dan and I got things started on The River Tay.  With all the recent rain, the Tay has really surged.  At full strength, it is quite the treat to have in your backyard.  We suited up  in the comfort of the warm dry house and strolled down the hill to the riverside.  With the high water, the run wouldn't take long.  We only had about an hour until the Macdonald Boys were done with school.  We had plans to get an after school run in with them before sundown.  With my trip coming to a close we were running out of time to get a run in with the whole gang.  


There was a mile or two of flat water to slog through, but eventually we managed to find some really nice waves to surf.  I didn't have time to take too many shots, but this one wave was too sweet to pass up.  Besides, you had to catch it on the fly, so it gave me ample opportunity to be out of my boat... might as well fire off a few shots.  

Dan droppin in for a creek boat throw down session

Such a nice wave hole...to bad it had no eddy service

Dan and I hurried back to the house to prepare for a second session with the boys.  I have been trying to get on the water with Steve and his two oldest sons, Struan and Ben for awhile now.  Dan and I waited in his car while Steve collected the boys from school.  We got a few looks from the boy's classmates as they all streamed by on there way to go watch TV or do some other indoor activity.  I'm sure they thought we were crazy, but I bet some of them were pretty envious.  I know some of my best memories as a kid were leaving school early to go on paddling trips.  It didn't happen often, but it was really great when it did!  

Anyway, eventually we made it to the upper Braan.  You can find it all on the Braan.  The section we did was a really fun bit of continuous class III with a nice warm up.  The scenery was wide open and expansive. Broad meadows and dramatic hills were all around us.  The river was at a perfect level, and we were all smiles.  You could seance  the excitement we shared to paddle near one another.  

Steve finding the line

Steve's eldest, Struan

Followed by Ben digging hard 

Dan went for the boof line with much success

We took out just before dark, and the next batch of heavy rain.  We didn't even bother getting dry clothes on.  We just made the 30 minute drive back to the house and loaded boats for the Perth Paddle Show tomorrow.  More about that later...    

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Orchy in Flood

It just kept raining!  All night I could hear rain drops pelting my window.  I had been hoping for some more water before I left, but this was getting out of hand.  The boys at Splash, one of the local rafting companies, were up for running a scouting mission on the Orchy and they needed some safety kayakers along just in case.  I knew I should jump at the chance, especially since the green van is having mechanical trouble.  Who knows when I would be able to find shuttle and another group to paddle with.  I was a little nervous about all the rain, but we would have to try.  Biscuit came to give me a lift to Splash HQ.  His car is out of commission, so his girlfriend Laura's car would have to do.  I crammed in my stuff and we were off.  

Once at splash, I introduced my self to the crew and helped load up.

On the drive out, we were continually amazed at every little creek and tributary.  EVERYTHING was cranking out of the hills. All the fields had standing water.  We started to wonder if we would even make it down the shuttle road before it flooded out. Once we saw the Orchy, we all knew we were in for quite an experience.  We decided we better check the road condition before we get geared up.  Bail-out points large enough for the 10 person raft were also needed.  We drove all the way to the end of the run and I have to say I was not feeling too good about things.  The river was at a respectable flow and rising fast into the realm of ridiculous.  Check the two photos below and you will see what I mean.    

          The Orchy at a nice medium flow

The Orchy today

Several locals gave us some pretty funny looks.  One guy even asked if we were headed down stream.  Upon hearing our response he let us know, "You are off your heads!"  We decided to put on and get a feel for her.  We established several places where we knew we could stop on the drive to the top.  Although a little scary, we knew it wouldn't last long.   We suited up and inflated the boat.  There would be seven of us total.  Five in the raft with Nellie at the helm; Brett and my self as kayak support.  

Nellie "pumps up" the boat... Work smarter not harder!

There was very little opportunity to stop and take photos along the way.  Just know that I found some classic big water in Scotland.  Usually you are scraping down everything here, but not today.  I did manage to get one shot of Easan Dubha looking down stream into Sore Tooth rapid.  (all one continuous rapid at this level).  

We looked at this one for a LONG time.  Check out the little person on river left for scale

During the group picture, nellie tossed a throw bag into the main flow to feel the power.  He almost got pulled in!

Never a good sign
We had a great time on the river, with no carnage to speak of.  The river was still on the rise when we took out.  Once back to the top of the road, we found that it had been closed behind us.  It was a little strange driving up to the wrong side of the sign and cones.  We had a good laugh before heading to the pub for some celebratory pints.  

To Wales and Back Again

The next day after my assessment I packed up some sea kit and headed south.  The plan was a good one...  I wanted to paddle with Kate Howell, Nigel Dennis, and maybe even Aled Williams while I was here in the UK.  The only problem was, they all live down in Wales, and I am six hours north in Scotland.  
Steve had a solution!  He would let me drive the green van AND pay for my fuel so long as I picked up two open boats that were waiting for him at Pyranha's HQ.  Well, the open boats got picked up, but I never got on the water.

The drive went well despite the weather.  It was dumping buckets and the wind was blowing the van all over the place.  I made good time and hit only  minor traffic on my way through Glasgow.  Before I knew it, I was winding my way through the confusing industrial park between Liverpool and Manchester.  Nestled deep inside the contorted park was Marine Village, the quaint little community that Pyranha calls home.  With some help from one of their truck drivers and a quick negotiation for some free bow/stern lines I was off..."But where to...?" I thought to myself.  Wales can be a tricky place to drive, and I hadn't a clue where I wanted to go.  I still had not heard from Kate Howell, I didn't know where to find good paddling, and Aled was not going to be available to chat until the next day.  Complicating things further was my lack of a cell or 'mobile' phone as they are called here.  

I started to head south, further into Wales, and kept checking in via pay phone to get in contact with Kate H.  When I finally did speak with her, she informed me that she had thrown out her back playboating and would not be joining me on the water.  There goes that option...and any chance 
 of a place to stay.  She had neglected to inform me that she had moved to South England and was another 4 hours beyond where I was.  Seeing as I was only a little over an hours drive from Holly Head (sea kayaking mecca and home of Nigel Dennis Kayaks).  I decided to drive out there and sleep in the van somewhere near the water, perhaps even at the NDK factory.  (of course I had no idea where that was).  This way I could wake up early and get on the water with SOMEONE...ANYONE?

The wind was fierce the whole drive down and it didn't stop once I pulled into Holly Head.  I woke up several times to the van swaying from side to side in the stiff crosswind.  The protective plastic wrap on the boats sounded like it was getting torn to bits.  The next morning I awoke to clear skies and a crisp cool breeze.  I was hopeful that I would be able to locate the NDK factory or the Anglesey Sea and Surf Center.  

                        High                                                                                                                        Low

After searching high and low and negotiating the narrow back streets I asked several locals to give me clear directions to the factory.  At least I could borrow a boat and go out for a couple hours on my own.  I soon became frustrated with my inability to locate anyone that looked like they were going paddling, or even find a boat to use.  My third attempt to locate the factory led to a freeway entrance towards home.  Considering it was raining like mad in Scotland, I felt like I was wasting my time here.  I would just have to catch up with Aled back at the paddle sports show in Perth, Scotland on Saturday instead, and get my salt water fix in Skye the following week.