Totally Thames Tasters – 7 & 8 Sep

PLA Notices

Moving water fun in Pembrokeshire: Caves, Rescues & Birds!

CKC Moderate Water Trip to Pembrokeshire April 2024

CKC Attendees: 

Fiona, Claire, Rich, John L, Tudor, Damian, Rachel, Jude, Gilly, Izzy, Mary, Mike L, Paul H, Steve D, Ingo, Andrew

In April, Fiona and Claire organised a fantastic trip to Pembrokeshire for “moderate water” Sea Kayak coaching with Sea Kayak Guides (SKG) who had coached CKC on a similar weekend in 2023. Pembrokeshire offers some wonderful scenery with access to some challenging moving water conditions. 

Sixteen of us converged on Trefin/Trevine, just off the Welsh coast path, on the Friday night, with several people bringing club and personal boats from London on roof-racks. We’d booked out the whole of the Old School House Hostel for the weekend, with shared rooms, a drying room and a communal kitchen stocked with copious breakfast foods laid on by the owner. After meeting up, most of us went to dinner in the Ship Inn just a few doors away. 

Saturday 20th

On Saturday we were up early and carpooled to Llanungar Caravan/Campsite to meet our coaches from Sea Kayak Guides Martin, Ben, Bramble and Pablo. It was bright and calm so we could sit outside to introduce ourselves and discuss our goals for the weekend and come up with a plan. (The trip required Explore Award or higher). After going over the tides and weather forecast we settled on putting in at Porthclais, southwest of St Davids, planning to head west to Ramsey Sound. 

The guides rented us additional boats and equipment and we loaded them up on their trailer before squeezing into as few vehicles as possible to get to Porthclais.  At Porthclais we unloaded at the bridge but because of a low tide, had a couple of hundred metres of pulling the kayaks down the stream before we could get in. Once on the water we gathered together and divided into two groups – one (with Ben and Bramble) intent on going to Ramsey Sound and the other (Martin and Pablo) spending more time to rock-hop along the shore.  

We paddled along the cliffs in beautiful, calm weather stopping to practise some strokes at a couple of points. Nearing the Ramsey sound, (site of a tidal turbine project) the coaches reviewed the tidal streams. There was a strong southward current at this state in the tide (peak flow, of up to 6 knots at springs, occurring at high tide). Bramble crossed the eddy-line to show how fast it was flowing. We were able to keep in to the shore and work North through the back eddy until we were ready to do a ferry glide across the current to the Bitches rocks by Ramsey Island. Bramble took up station downstream to be able to assist but we all made it across and into an eddy behind one of the rocks. Then there were a series of rocks with jets between and we paddled into them and enjoyed being able to ride the small standing waves after some strong paddling to overcome the initial flow. 

We paddled through an arch by the small harbour wall and then paddled back to the mainland and across to Porthlysgi beach for lunch, just as the other group was leaving. There we kept having to move the boats up the beach as the tide came in. On our way out we practised some strokes, rolls and rescues, then rock-hopped back to Porthclais where we were able to paddle all the way up to the launch ramp. 

We all went for another great dinner at the Ship Inn again and looked at weather forecasts and tides to outline some trip proposals for Sunday. 

Sunday 21st

Sunday’s weather was again great – sunny with little wind and swell. We met the guides again at Llanungar and decided on the trip options. We’d all put in at Whitesands beach, northwest of St Davids. We could all paddle round Ramsey Island, and then split into two groups – one group paddling round to Porthclais and the other returning to Whitesands, which might be a bit more challenging against waves and current. This required a bit more planning to get some cars to Porthclais. At Whitesands we put in and paddled with the current west to St David’s head before striking out to a rock off the north of Ramsey Island. There we sheltered in the eddy and split into groups to circumnavigate the Ramsey island anti-clockwise. 

As we paddled round, we visited a cave and spotted seals peering at us from the water while oystercatchers flew overhead. At the southern end of the island, our guides briefed us on paddling through the short tidal stream which was against us through the Midland gap. We broke through to the eddy on the other side and paddled up to have lunch at the harbour, the only permitted landing place on Ramsey, along with another group of kayakers.  After lunch we divided into groups again, with some paddlers heading back to Porthclais, and others returning to Whitesands, after playing in the now-northward tidal stream between the Bitches rocks. A couple of us did some assessments and self-rescuing before returning to the beach. 

Monday 22nd

Some returned to London on Sunday night, and a few people walked or cycled on Monday, so on Monday seven of us were paddling, and we met two new guides from SKG, Rich and Lucas (who had coached for CKC the previous year). We discussed goals and agreed that with the wind expected to reach a northerly force 4 in the afternoon, we should choose a sheltered route. They felt that while we wouldn’t be able to paddle around Skomer like last year, a trip along the lee shore would be possible, with some coaching and skills building as well as the chance to see puffins. 

This entailed a longer drive around St Bride’s Bay to Martin’s Haven. We unloaded kayaks near the slipway but parked cars higher up at the National Trust car park.  After getting on the water, while a dive team was shuttling gear to their boat, Rich (from SKG) had us practicing low brace turns. We then went round the headland and paddled across the southward tidal stream to regroup in an eddy behind a rock just off Skomer.  There Rich (from SKG) and Lucas coached us in entering and exiting the streams using the low brace turns. 

After playing at crossing the eddy lines for a while, we paddled southwest along the south coast of Skomer Island, and were soon paddling under hundreds of puffins, paddling out to sea to avoid the groups of puffins on the water. We rafted up while Andrew got into some dryer clothes and we had some lunch, then paddled back, catching nearly slack water in the channel but then paddling into the predicted rising northerly winds which made the last stretch quite choppy. 

Several CKC members stayed on in Trevine and took a two day first aid training course. 

First Aid Course

Overall we had a great weekend with excellent weather in a beautiful location. The Pembrokeshire coast had very interesting, challenging paddling with brilliant coaching from SKG, who ensured the challenges matched our individual abilities. Thanks for putting together such a great trip, Fiona and Claire! 

Herne Bay Fun, May 2024

Before the trip: Happy Paddlers!

An almost unprecedented 1pm on the water time meant that the Herne Bay trip, launching at Hampton, was very relaxed start. After a safety briefing we launched into virtually no waves from the shingle beach, although the wind was a bit stronger than expected, F3 from the East and pretty constant, the temperature was a very pleasant 14C with bright sunshine.

We paddled past Herne Bay with some waves 0.4m, 6s, caused by the wind against the tide. The wind seemed to have taken away a lot of the tidal assist that we had planned for, but the waves were fun to paddle through.

Coloured houses and waves at Herne Bay

We landed at Reculver in the lee of the breakwater and are sheltered from the wind and it becomes very warm. We have ‘lunch’ although it is 2:30pm while Mike checks the football scores to find out that Sheffield Wednesday have won their match and therefore not been relegated. So he is even happier!

Powering past Reculver

We get back on the water and paddle towards Minnis Bay. With the tidal flow reducing and the headwind still F3 with some stronger gusts, our progress is much slower. We decide to take a break on the shingle beach for scones and Sardinian jam (from our late Autumn trip to Sardinia).

Scones on the beach

While eating the scones we can see that the tide has turned and the water level on the beach starts to increase quite quickly. We hop back into our kayaks and start the return journey back to Hampton without stopping at Reculver or Herne Bay, using the increasing tidal stream to push us back. The wind has dropped almost completely and the journey back is done in blazing sunshine, and really gets quite hot.

Rafting up
After the trip: still Happy Paddlers!

Arriving back exactly at the estimated time of arrival in the plan, we carry the kayaks up the shingle, have a team photo and get changed, pack the cars and load the boats. After we’re done, our table is ready in the pub – perfect timing again. Over dinner several of our group noted that this trip was the furthest that they had paddled in a day, and that the distance and the waves had made it a thoroughly enjoyable day. To top it off we see an amazing sunset from the pub window while eating a well earned pub dinner before the long drive back to London.

Window table with an amazing sunset view

Racing Past Seals and Shingle on Suffolk’s Coast, April 2024

A strange landscape that was once top secret and remains largely inaccessible

We punched through the waves with the flow behind us down the seaward side of Suffolk’s longest shingle spit. Suddenly we were surrounded by seals.

Britain’s largest new colony of seals is well-defended by unexploded ordnance and the North Sea. The Atlantic greys first appeared on Orford Ness three years ago, where their presence was kept secret by wildlife rangers until early 2024. Judging the colony of 200 seals as strong and stable, the National Trust called in environmental journalists for the big reveal. But the seals have seen few humans since as they live on an ex-weapons research base, largely undisturbed by land visitors or tourist boats.

Seeing them was a highlight of CKC’s recent trip to Suffolk. Their wildness and isolation could be seen in how they escorted us through their territory, policing us in formation. Like other sea kayakers, I’ve often seen seals watch from a distance and follow our boats but never so many, or with such boldness.

Orford Ness is a 10-mile-long shingle spit squeezed between the River Ore and the sea. The National Trust allows visitors (for a fee) to walk among the eerie ruins of radar research stations and nuclear detonator testing sites but only on few marked paths for safety reasons. 

Our weekend in Suffolk’s restless shorelines and huge sea-like estuaries began with a Friday evening planning chat, where Jonathan, our sea leader, outlined two trips, along the Ness or up the River Deben (pronounced Deeben by locals).

As the wind on Saturday was potentially too strong for the Ness (force 4, gusting 5), we opted to do the Deben first – a good decision that delivered two days of strong sunshine and manageable winds.

On Saturday morning, we launched at Bawdsey Quay, opposite Felixstowe Ferry, thankfully not the container terminal (whose cranes were visible to the south) but a quaint village with yacht moorings. We put in below a sign that warned of ‘strong currents’ beside the ferry steps, carefully avoiding the tugboat-style ferry itself.

Dodging yachts, and the Horse Sands shoal, we set off upriver for Woodbridge, 9 miles away, with a lunch stop planned at 6 miles. We had the incoming tide pushing us along but a strong crosswind required plenty of skeg. Avoiding yachts and their support boats became one of the day’s themes.

I (Mary) was doubting my fitness after a winter on the sofa and awed when a gig-type old-world wooden rowing boat turned against the flow and swept past us. All 8 rowers were elderly women, so I worked harder to settle into a cadence.

A windy trip upriver

The Deben is nearly half a mile wide at points. After three miles, it opened out into Ramsholt bend and a cross wind from the west slapped up a properly sealike swell. Another three miles along, we evaded dinghy sailors to pull in at the Maybush pub in Waldringfield – an excellent fish platter and burgers sort of place, just as Jonathan had promised. 

We enjoyed a lengthy lunch, before going on to Woodford, arriving in time turn around at slack water.

Waiting for slack water

The hardest work was on the return trip as the incoming flow picked up, though we had the comfort of knowing it was in the Plan. We had another, quick stop at Waldringfield, hugged the salt marshes as the tide strengthened, and smacked through more whitecaps in the Ramsholt bend. The last 20 minutes were tough in a satisfying way.

Happy faces at the end of a long day on the Deben Estuary

On Sunday morning, we tackled the Ness. The plan was to go down the spit, with the tide behind us, then turn into the mouth of the River Ore (also known as the Alde) and back up to our starting point. There was no landing on Orford Ness, and tricky currents at the river mouth. It was vital to hug the end of the Ness to avoid being swept past it.

We launched from the narrow neck of land at the top of the Ness, near Slaughden Sailing Club. The water was glassy and the sun strong. Our plan to avoid the strong wind had paid off, I thought.

Launching at Slaughden

We saw the first seals early on, lying on the shingle in groups of 35 or more.

Orford Ness’ other big attraction is its weird-looking pagodas and pyramids, the remnants of blast testing sites. Bombs and nuclear weapons parts (everything bar the radioactive bit) were tested here. It was a radar research station in the 1930s and ’40s and used to develop military flying tactics from 1913 onwards.

It soon turned out that we were in giant eddy protected by protruding shingle where the main spit turns southwest. A line of white appeared on the horizon. ‘What’s that?’ I asked. ‘Wind against tide,’ explained David and Jonathan. The next 20 minutes were ‘very committing’, as they say. The sea remained choppy all the way and we were soon congratulating ourselves on being fine with it.

Sentry seals popped up about 20 metres offshore, evenly spaced, to defend a shingle bank dotted with cream and tan youngsters. Meanwhile, a squad of 10 or more bull seals formed up to escort us down the coast, sticking their heads high out of the water to watch us.

With a few of Orford Ness’s roughly 200 seals

Ten kilometers on, we did a handbrake turn into the River Ore in brilliant sunshine that lit up the dramatic, flows in front of us. Counter-intuitively, the outgoing tide flows strongly into- and-upriver for several hours. We were relying on it to get us most of the way home. But first, we stopped for sandwiches on the far bank, and watched gulls being swept backwards by the flow on the estuary.

The river splits around Havergate Island bird sanctuary so we took the main flow up to Orford village, where we pulled up briefly at the jetty. Matt decided it was time for a flat white, despite Jonathan’s persuasive argument that ‘the longer we rest the more work we’ll have to do’. He started a rebel trend that soon spread to Jonathan himself (although for hot chocolate)!

By this time, the weather was turning greyer and windier. The final eight kilometers were tough and got tougher as the flow slackened. The river itself offered false hope in the form of hidden bends, but there was no mistaking our destination in the wide, sealike reach approaching Slaughden. We pulled in exhausted and watched a rowing boat of fishermen struggling static in the wind a few meters offshore. It was the end of a memorable trip.

West Solent, March 2024: My First Time Kayaking on the Sea

“Avoid travelling completely or find something to do at home: decorate the bathroom or something,” so said National Highways as they shut the M25 over a weekend for the first time in its history. Unluckily for them, I decorated my bathroom last year, and I had signed up for Liza’s planned trip on the Solent, one of the first CKC sea trips of 2024.

The plan was to paddle about 10km along the south coast from Lymington to Lepe and back again, about 20km in total. But first, we had to get there. After meeting at the Arches to pick up the boats and kit (shout out to hero Phil for driving down to the New Forest and back with two boats on his car despite having no plans to get on the water himself), Liza and Mike’s military-precision route planning was put to the test. But despite fears of a five-hour gridlock nightmare, we sailed past the offending area and on to the New Forest with barely a second thought.

I hoped this would be a good omen, since the trip would be my first ever sea kayaking experience.

Safety First
Let’s go!

The launch point was an easy-to-access beach near Lymington, and after a quick kit change and some surreptitious nature pees (out of sight of beach walkers, of course), our group of seven launched one by one into the water, which was calm with little surf. With overcast skies and a light wind, we paddled eastwards reasonably close to the shore and with the flow, which, mercifully for the sea debutantes on the trip, was strong enough to give us a welcome boost.

Despite my initial apprehension about quite how wavy the Solent’s waters would be (fearing multiple capsizes, my dry bag was stuffed with several changes of clothes), I soon settled into the swing of things, and while a pesky side wind occasionally upset my attempts to paddle in a straight line, the group leaders Liza and Mike were on hand with guidance and encouragement and capably kept us all on course.

Quick pitstop

We made it to Lepe in time for lunch and a restorative coffee while we waited for the flow to change direction. The hardy seafarer reputations we had built among the families visiting Lepe Country Park during our lunch break were soon dispelled by a somewhat chaotic return to the water, mostly on the part of my husband Ben, which included a bit more splashing and a bit more water in his boat than intended.

But we were soon on our return leg – the wind had died down so the group enjoyed a smooth and speedy paddle back, and we paddled a bit further out into the Solent as were not planning to stop. We sadly didn’t spot any beach dwelling cows, which I’m told is something of a right of passage on CKC sea trips, but the role was ably understudied by a couple of New Forest ponies.

Return journey, in calm conditions

The whole paddle took about 4 1/2 hours. We were lucky that the flow helped us along in both directions and the water wasn’t too choppy. Having initially been a little apprehensive about how I would fare on the sea, with limited kayaking experience, I was reassured by how manageable the trip was. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn and a chance to improve my technique and stamina in relatively forgiving conditions. Huge thanks to the group for such a fun day and to Liza and Mike for their expert planning and leadership.

(You can view the CKC Cows on Beaches video (0:24s) here: Cows on beaches (youtube.com) )

Selsey Bill March 2024: A Shipping Forecast Micro-Adventure Part 2

Following on from the Margate to North Foreland trip in February 2024, CKC had planned a trip in another Inshore Shipping Forecast area: Selsey Bill. Checking the forecast on Friday for the Saturday trip didn’t give us much hope:

“The Inshore Forecast issued by the Met Office at 0500, Friday 1 March…North Foreland to Selsey Bill, Southerly or Southeasterly 5-7, occasionally gale 8, veering West or Southwest, 4-6, rain or squally showers, good or occasionally poor.”

Some hasty re-arranging, meant that we were able to change the day of the trip to Sunday, where the forecast was much more to our liking: “Variable 3 or less, increasing to 4 at times, mainly fair, good.”

We arrived down at Bracklesham at lunchtime and found the car park full and partially flooded. Most of the cars seemed to belong to surfers or play boaters practicing on the small but perfectly formed waves close into the shoreline. After a short safety briefing we launched through the small surf one at a time, before heading East towards Selsey. The wind was very light (F2), the sea almost flat and the sun was out in the blue sky.

Towards Selsey Bill

The flow around Selsey is often turbulent, with waves caused by the tidal stream coming into an area of shallow water. We could see waves breaking on the Bill further out and with relatively calm water between there and Selsey we chose to paddle across close to land. Once over Selsey Bill we headed Northeast passed the Selsey RNLI station.

Selsey RNLI Station

There were lots of people outside the RNLI station singing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the RNLI in 1824. There has been an RNLI station at Selsey since 1861, but we’re not planning that they will need to use their two boats Denise and Eric for us today!

A bit further along the coast we spotted a shore based member of CKC and headed in for lunch near to the end of the holiday cottages. These cottages were originally railway carriages and have slowly been converted to houses, although a few of the originals remain.

Railway carriage house
Coming in for lunch
Lunch in the sun on a virtually deserted beach
View to Bognor Regis
Getting ready to launch

We had a quick lunch on a virtually deserted pebble beach before it was time to catch the tidal stream back to Selsey. The wind had increased slightly to F3 and was in our faces for the first leg back to Selsey Bill. But more importantly the wind and tide were acting against each other so the waves started to get a bit bigger.

Start of the return adventure

Around the Bill the waves picked up further (0.5m) and became more frequent (6s) making the paddling a bit more of a challenge.

Westward over Selsey Bill at High Water on Neaps

The winds and waves didn’t drop off for the return journey and we kept going until we arrived at Bracklesham. We had planned the trip to arrive well after high water to avoid the dumping surf that can sometimes occur at this beach. Even so, we went in one at a time so that the shore based club members could help each paddler out of the surf zone and then everyone could help the next person in.

Once safely on the beach, changed and boats loaded it was time to reflect on the trip. It was fun trip – enjoyable with some paddling conditions that stretched the group’s abilities a bit. So ultimately it was a very satisfying trip to have had some conditions and been able to successfully paddle in them, building our confidence for future trips.

Margate Feb 2024: A Shipping Forecast Micro-Adventure

An early start on Saturday meant that we were able to get the shipping forecast for the area that we planned to paddle today. The North coast of Kent is the location of North Foreland, one of the boundaries for the shipping forecast and in particular we were interested in the Inshore Forecast for our trip:

“The Inshore Forecast issued by the Met Office at 2300, Friday 16 February…Gibraltar Point to North Foreland, Westerly 3 or 4, backing Southerly, South-Westerly, 5 or 6, fog patches, rain later, moderate or good occasionally very poor.”

Our departure point was at St Mildred’s Bay, West of Margate. There is a right carry-on as everyone tries to get into their dry suits for the first time this year. It is suggested that Phil, as a new training officer, might want to organise a training course for speedily getting into and out of dry suits!

As we were launching at low water, there was about 500m carry to the sea over a wide sandy beach. As part of the planning we had organised to have three trolleys to make it easier but it was still a long way with six boats.

Getting ready to launch on the wide sandy beach at low water

Before the safety briefing, Liza evaluated the wind. The forecast still said F4 but it was very light (F2-3) wind, so it is a ‘go’ and we were ready to depart at 12:30 pm.

Once on the water, with the tidal assist and the wind slightly behind us, we get pushed quickly to Margate. Once at the harbour wall we start looking for the Antony Gormley statue ‘Another Time’ near the Margate Turner Contemporary art gallery. We’re nearly passed the gallery when Yossi spots the statue on the shoreline. We took a minor detour and paddled over to take some pictures of the man standing on the rocks all covered in barnacles.

He gets covered and completely submerged by the sea from three hours after low water. He’s been there for 6 years and planned to remain until at least 2030, so likely to be even more barnacley by then. This is one of 100 figures that have been installed globally and is identical to Another Place 2007 permanently sited on Crosby Beach in Liverpool (which has many more statues).

Sir Antony Gormley’s cast-iron sculpture Another Time on Fulsam Rock
Paddler pleased to have found the ‘Another Time’ statue

Afterwards we continued along the coast Eastwards. In the distance Liza spotted Rob Davies from South East Kayaking, who was on the way back from a group trip, West Gate Bay to Botany Bay. After a VHF conversation, we paddled out to sea further, going out a long way to get around White Nose Spit at Foreness Point. This is a pumping station with a long pipe that is exposed at low water. It was quite turbulent at the cardinal marker at the end of the pipe, but we all made it around safely.

Around the corner we can see the long beach of Botany Bay and the chalk stacks but these were on the beach due to low water.

Botany Bay

We continued on to Kingsgate Bay where the Captain Digby pub, Whiteness Tower were visible, as well as the Arch. But again it was not paddable because of low water.

Another time maybe

We decided to cut the trip short paddling into Joss Bay where we saw the iconic North Foreland lighthouse, from the shipping forecast. A lighthouse has been located on North Foreland since 1636, and the present one was the last Trinity House lighthouse to be automated in the UK. The boats were pulled onto the beach and we walked up to have lunch on the sand under the white cliffs.

Joss Bay with North Foreland lighthouse in the distance
North Foreland lighthouse

Leaving after 3pm when the tide had turned, we paddled back the way we came but hugging the coast more to stay out of the South-West wind, still F3 with slightly stronger occasional gusts. It seemed like we had made the right call as the wind throughout the day was much less than forecasted. Looking at the actual winds afterwards we could see all of the 10 forecasting models had over-estimated the wind speed at this location.

10 forecast models and actual wind (in white)

As part of the trip research we had seen that for Southerly or South Westerly winds over the last 2 weeks, the forecasts were consistently over estimating the winds when we looked at the actual winds experienced. Comparing the forecast with the actual winds is a relatively new capability offered in some of the weather forecasting apps, and this was the first time we had used it in our decision making. As we had some local knowledge of the coast and had previously paddled in this area, we had confidence that the winds would be lighter than forecasted on this day.

Sunset was at 5:15pm, so it was a race to get back to the launch point before sunset. Weary bodies made the final push back, and it was clear we need to do some more paddles to get paddle fit for the season.

After packing the kit and boats there is only just time to reflect on the day. It’d been great to get back on the sea after a long winter break. We saw statues, stacks, arches and wide sandy beaches, as well as the iconic North Foreland lighthouse from the shipping forecast. It was just what we needed: a shipping forecast micro-adventure!

Arriving back at high water so no carry needed
Some successful North Foreland paddlers
Happy paddlers!

You can watch the Turner Contemporary video of Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Time’ statue here: https://youtu.be/3fUZA7ylRJk

Christmas Paddle, Dec 2023

Hands up for Christmas!

Yes, it is that time of year again – time for the annual CKC Christmas Paddle!

Even though the wind was gusting force 5 in our faces as we launched and the fluvial flow significant, we still had an enjoyable, although short, paddle.

Meeting up in the late afternoon sunshine, meant that we could all easily decorate the kayaks with tinsel and lights (and the odd inflatable Christmas tree). As well as finding our Santa hats.

Santa hats on
Decorating the kayaks

Deciding to go behind Brentford Ait was a very good choice after we saw some photos from the bank of the water alongside Syon House.

Buoy at Syon House

The flow didn’t dampen the spirits and one of the groups coordinated and sang the Gloria chorus of “Ding-Dong Merrily on High” carol as we all floated back to Kew Bridge – making sure they stalled under the bridge arch to get the best sound! Some thought that laminated carol sheets under the deck lines would be a good idea for next year too.

Some of the CKC carol singers

After arriving back at the Arches we had an impromptu Christmas party in the kitchen at the Arches, with the mince pies, chocolate cake, sausage rolls and hot spiced apple juice. For one CKC member it was the first time he had eaten a mince pie, and was initially skeptical that a pie with mince in it was traditional British Christmas food! However it was found to be good and got the thumbs up!

A great afternoon of paddling, singing, eating, drinking and trying new things – Happy Christmas to everyone!

Sardinia, Oct 2023

Sunday 1st October

It was finally the day for six intrepid CKC kayakers to rendez-vous at Laguna Blu campsite in Alghero, Sardinia. The preparations had been ongoing for much of the previous year from planning calls with Clark, our local operator and provider of kayaks, to group zooms where kit lists, food plans and the all-important route planning was discussed.

The “advance party”, comprising of David, Liza, Fiona and Rich had flown into Olbia, on the other side of Sardinia couple of days before.  They had enjoyed some exploration – which seemed to have largely involved eating and buying local cheeses – before travelling to Alghero. 

Andrew and I (Claire) took the risker decision to fly Ryan Air direct to Alghero.  Ryan Air delivered and we were on time for the early afternoon trip to the supermarket to stock up for the week ahead.  Here there was much debate on which vegetables would last longest in our kayaks (aubergines, sweet potatoes and avocados it would later transpire) and if we indeed needed more cheese or not! More cheese was bought and it was a good hour and half later that we emerged laden with supplies. This was just in time for Clark to arrive at the campsite with the all-important kayaks and a briefing as to our route and camping options for the week ahead.  We were ready, or so we thought, for our adventure!

Monday 2nd October

Monday started with a relaxed breakfast at the hotel across the road from the campsite.  This is where I had opted out of the first night’s camping for the luxury of a bed and ensuite.  There was a general census that we needed a good breakfast to set us up for the week ahead, so the others headed over to join me for very good Italian coffee and multiple trips to the buffet. We then began the task of organising our kit and packing our kayaks for next 5 days wild camping. It took us over 3 hours to get organised before we finally launched at 2pm.  Quite a bit later than we had planned!

We launched on the lagoon by side of the campsite after some rather challenging carrying of the loaded kayaks down a slippery mud bank.  We then began to get accustomed to our new kayaks as we navigated the channel and emerged under a bridge to the sea.  With Alghero on the horizon to the south, we headed north and had our first views of the spectacular coastline which would unravel in the days ahead.

We had 15 kilometres of easy paddling as we adjusted to the hot and sunny conditions, a welcome change for us UK paddlers.  We saw the first medieval watch towers, of which we would see many over the next few days,  and paddled into the first caves of the trip.   The final stretch of the day was over a long bay to reach the beach where we would wild camp in front of a (sadly closed) beach bar. 

Due to our late start, it was almost dark by the time we arrived, so everyone was keen to set up camp and start cooking dinner.  The entertainment for the evening was a family of wild boars who were keen to share our food and kept having to be chased off by the braver members of the group.  We named the lead boar “Boris” who was pretty insistent on joining us, along with his wife and three babies. 

We were all pretty tired by this point and headed to our beds, only to be woken up by Boris and family re-appearing.  Luckily, Rich and Andrew, were quick to jump out of their tents and chased off the boars again!  Too much excitement for day 1 of the trip.

 Tuesday 3rd October

A full day of glorious kayaking 24 kilometres north awaited but first we had the daily task of de-camping and packing up the kayaks. 

The question of the week was “how quickly can we pack up in the morning?”.  On Tuesday we were still taking a pretty long time ….  about 3 hours from waking to leaving.  There was a lot to do to get everything back in the dry bags and then much groaning as items were pushed into every available space in the hatches. There was so much kit and not all of it was needed!

By luck the beach bar opened just as were ready to go, so it seemed rude not to order a round of coffees.  One of the few “luxury” moments on the trip!

Our paddle today took us around the coastline of the Capo Caccia and the Natural Park of Porto Conte – this has a number of fantastic caves and islands, which we took time to explore.  We enjoyed paddling around the rocky coast with the sheer cliffs above and gliding over the turquoise waters.

There were so many caves that warranted investigation, we developed a paddle signal system to let the rest of the group know if the cave was worth the effort of entering.  A paddle 90 degrees in the air equalled a fantastic cave and you must come in!  45 degrees and it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

 After a few hours of cave and coast exploring, we really had to push on, as there was still 15 kilometres to our campsite.  Hence a long paddle further up the coast and across a bay, finally brought us to the night’s campsite – a nudist beach…

 It was somewhat like a scene from a Carry-On movie, as we landed on the beach to be confronted by many naked men, who by the looks we were given, weren’t entirely keen on us being there!  Especially as we proceeded to create what became known as the “airplane crash” scene with kayaks, Ikea bags, tents and other kit spread across the beach.   We were quite a sight and so were the locals!

David and Rich had volunteered to paddle back across the bay to meet Clark for an all-important water re-stock.  They came back heavily ladened with twice as much water as we had requested due to a mix up with Clark. Still at least we weren’t going to be thirsty in the days ahead.

 After another long and exciting day, tents were pitched and dinners cooked, before early nights again for everyone.

Wednesday 4th October

Every morning we did a check in to see how everyone was feeling and Wednesday started in the same way. Fiona requested we scored how we were feeling out of ten and compared ourselves to animal.  Some took this more seriously than others!

Once we established everyone was fit to get going, we decided to paddle straight to the next area of caves, which we were keen to explore.  Here paddles were regularly hoisted to 90 degrees.  Andrew had a brilliant torch which allowed us to see some fantastic rocky interiors.  The most exciting was a very long cave that went entirely under a small island.  If it wasn’t for the rock formation in the middle, we could have paddled through the island.

We had a quick break on a rocky outcrop where Rich managed to rescue a stranded football, later to become known as Wilson, (see Friday).

By lunchtime, we had arrived at the old mining town of Argentiera, and landed on the sandy beach for lunch.  It was a very hot day and we were lucky to find some shade below the sea walls for another picnic lunch where Liza made a great salad and more cheese was enjoyed.

We were getting weather forecasts on a daily basis from Clark during our evening check in phone call.  He had warned us that windy conditions were due on Thursday.  As we headed out into the bay after lunch, it soon became clear these winds had arrived early and the sea conditions were the bumpiest we had experienced on the trip.  Initially, this was only swell of around 1 metre but as we rounded the headland at the north side of Argentiera Beach and Cove, we encountered very choppy water and a hotch potch of waves (clapotis) coming from different directions.  I was very nervous as these conditions were beyond any I had paddled in before, but the more experienced members of the group were fantastic in coaching and supporting me through it.  After a couple of hours paddling, we still had a fair way to go to our planned camp site.  Due to the conditions, and my increasingly slow pace, a decision was made to divert onto the beach at Porto Palmas.  Liza and Fiona went ahead to land in the surf and help the rest of the group safely get ashore.

The upside was a really beautiful campsite on a pebble beach with big pounding waves adding the wildness of the location. No phone signal meant a long hike up the hill to speak to Clark and update on the next day’s conditions.  It was another starry night chatting over hot drinks before bedtime.

Thursday 5th October

The morning check-in confirmed all were fit to paddle despite the drama of the previous afternoon.  We had a shorter paddle today so could take it a bit easier.  Saying that, there were some navigational challenges, and a bearing was taken to cross the bay in an effort to find the camping spot. By lunchtime, we had arrived on a rocky beach only a short hop from our campsite.  Everyone was pretty relaxed, swimming and snorkelling in the bay and enjoying their lunch time cheese.

We then headed round a couple of bays to our camping spot, finally having a bit more time for rest and relaxation.  Of course, this meant everyone went straight back out on the water taking the opportunity to practice rolling and rescues, prompting much interest from the tourists sunbathing on the local beach. After sunset it was time to get on with cooking dinner.

Friday 6th October

Unfortunately, this morning, we had two injured group members, so the immediate priority was to take a decision on the days paddling plans.  David had slipped in the camp the night before and hurt his wrist but decided he could paddle. Sadly, Rich’s efforts in teaching others to roll and using a euro blade he wasn’t used to, had left him with tendonitis in his wrist and arm.  Despite best efforts to keep going, it soon became obvious he couldn’t continue. It was indeed a low point of the trip when we left him on the beach awaiting collection by Clark.  Not to be left of friends, Rich promptly turned his football into Wilson and they spent the day, happily hanging out on the beach.

The rest of us set off for the last stretch of the western coast of Sardinia. It continued to offer the caves, cliffs and rocky shores we had enjoyed over the past few days.  There was little in the way of landings but David managed to find a sheltered rocky outcrop where we could have lunch.  We named it “David’s Cove” and settled in for some swimming, snorkelling and chilling.

Eventually we paddled round the most western point of the coast and arrived into the very touristy bay of La Pelosa.  This was all a bit of shock after the last few days of being in wilds especially when confronted by a very large pink flamingo! Plans of landing and having ice cream were quickly abandoned, as we couldn’t face the crowds.  Instead, we continued north in search of our campsite on Isola Piana.  Fiona and I hung out here, whilst Andrew went off for a hike and David and Liza, keen for more, paddled up the west coast of the large island to the north, the national park of Asinara.

Our last night of wild camping followed.  Bartering food had become the normal over the past couple of days amongst dwindling food supplies. It amazing how exciting it can be to swap a sweet potato for some onions.  Bartering complete, we cooked under the stars for the final time.

Saturday 7th October

Morning check-in confirmed everyone was pretty tired after so many days paddling.  Group antics were getting pretty crazy by this point – morning check-in was now a number out of 13 and what plant you felt like.  We also had a range of injuries from sore wrists to aching shoulders.  Hence a decision to take an easy paddle to see what we could of Asinara before we needed to head south for our get out.

After some easy paddling with views of the island’s sandy beaches, we again pulled into a rocky cove for a final swim and snorkel session.

All that was left, was a 10 km paddle south with a bearing across the bay to our get out south of Stintino.  After unpacking the boats for the final time, we were very happy to jump into Clark’s van and be driven back to Alghero for a night of luxury at an argiturismo hotel.

After goodbyes and thank you to Clark, and a reunion with Rich, long showers were enjoyed by all, before a fantastic dinner of local food.  Our adventure was complete, and we had a great evening celebrating with a few limoncello and glasses of the local brews.

Crossing the Meridian: Rottingdean to Cuckmere, July 2023

After a short safety briefing on the beach we left Rottingdean just after low water under cloudy skies, light winds and a small amount of swell – perfect kayaking conditions for this mostly straightforward paddle, but with some significant distance to cover.

Launch at Rottingdean

The trip followed the cliffs passed Saltdean and Peachaven, crossing over the Greenwich Meridian. This is marked at Peacehaven by the Greenwich Meridian Memorial, which was just visible from the sea with its green ball on top. Sea defences form a barrier at the bottom of the cliffs to slow down coastal erosion.

Greenwich Meridian Memorial

The cliffs stretched out in front of us all the way down to the Seven Sisters.

A whole day’s paddling in front of us!

Travelling deep into the Eastern hemisphere we experienced some clapotic conditions at the breakwater at Newhaven. This quickly calmed down as we go around the breakwater and, after crossing the channel into the harbour, we took a break at the beach before continuing passed the Martello tower and cannon at Seaford.

Newhaven
Martello Tower, Seaford

Paddling passed Seaford we started to see the joined up white cliffs of the Seven Sisters, and so started to count the ‘Sisters’ as we moved closer to our lunch destination. Rounding Seaford Head we could see Hope Gap and the Cuckmere Haven Coastguard Cottages – famous for films such as Atonement and Summerland. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was also filmed on Seaford Head nearby.

We planned to paddle up the estuary for lunch, but actually finding the entrance was trickier than we expected. Only when we were right on top of the channel could we see the entrance, between the groynes and shingle banks. As it was approaching high water, the flow into the entrance was quite strong and we surfed in individually to our lunch spot on the bank of the channel.

Cuckmere Haven

After lunch, getting back out to the sea was more challenging. Although we were able to get about half way back up the channel the flow was too strong, so we ferry glided over to the other side and portaged along the beach for a surf launch. Even when we launched from the beach, the draw into the estuary channel was still surprisingly strong.

CKC Members & the Seven Sisters
Hats!

Once safely on the water we started the long paddle back to the launch point, which would take about 3 hours. To make it a bit quicker we decided not to land at a beach, but some of us decided to stretch our legs while rafting up instead.

After re-crossing the Meridian and returning to Rottingdean, we had one more adventure before heading home: a surf landing. Once again we landed individually and helped each other get out of the boats/surf while some big waves threatened to take our boats back into the sea. In the end everyone landed safely and although tired, we were also very pleased to have crossed the Meridian and seen the Seven Sisters close-up. Maybe we can get in the next film being made along this coast too?

Tired but happy paddlers

The trip was 35km, which was the longest trip that some of the group had done. Even with some tidal assistance, it was still a good effort by everyone. You can see a video of the day’s trip here (2:45):

Selsey Bill – June 2023

For Mike’s first practice sea lead we had chosen a favourite CKC trip down on the south coast – Selsey Bill. We had an onshore wind F3 with some good swell ~0.5m (although later that would become an issue) and launched in brilliant sunshine with occasional sea fog drifting in.

Once on the water we headed towards the Bill along the long shingle beach.

The Bill itself has the potential to create some significant waves at some states of the tide, but Mike had planned the trip to make sure that our trip only had some slightly disturbed water. Once around the corner at Selsey Bill the wind dropped and we paddled through the fishing boats anchored at Selsey.

Deciding to take an early break, we were lucky to find what all summer sea kayakers need to revive them – ice cream!

After ice creams we decided to practice some skills including the hand of God, towing and rolling. Rich’s hatch opened while in the middle of a roll and his trolley made a dash for freedom, but luckily didn’t make it.

On our return trip, after we had crossed the Bill, one of our group started to feel seasick. As we had just been practicing towing this was a perfect time to form a rafted tow, with one person towing and one supporting the casualty. Swapping out the person towing as they got tired, we were able to make it back to the launch point quite quickly. As the beach had small but strong waves we decided on an anchored tow landing with the casualty (who was feeling much better by this stage) and successfully got everyone onto the beach, much to the interest of the sunbathing public.

Apart from someone feeling unwell, we all had a really enjoyable paddle in the sun with waves, ice creams and using some of the safety and rescue techniques that we train for. Mike’s first sea lead, was certainly an exciting one and a good learning experience for everyone!