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.

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

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!

Riding the Elephant: Moderate Water Skills Weekend, Wales, May 2023

CKC organised a club skills weekend in Pembrokeshire, focused on developing paddling skills on the sea. The plan was for both less experienced paddlers and more experience paddlers to be able to gain new skills and practice old skills in a safe environment, with external coaches. This meant that everyone was challenged at least a bit, but without the peer pressure to do too much beyond each individual skill level.

The result was a great success with everyone coming away from the weekend much more confident and better paddlers. With a rockhopping focused first day and a trip over to Skomer on the second day, everyone loved the weekend, as these comments for CKC club members show:

“As usual loved spending a weekend with the members of CKC. My favourite moments were practicing self rescues, braving gullies with large wave surges, capsizing in a gully and gaining confidence in knowing I can exit and re-enter my boat in such a situation. Also managing to paddle in rough water and ferry glide across a tide race in Jack Sound. I was in awe of the beauty of Skomer and its wildlife, and being able to paddle alongside puffins, seal’s and porpoises and realise how fortunate we were to circumnavigate the island with local guides and instructors to keep us safe. All in all thrilling and magical!”


“I’m a novice kayaker and I really enjoyed the weekend. I appreciated the opportunity of playing on the sea. I trusted the guides and found myself rock hopping around tight corners as waves were breaking. Yikes. And bizarrely I wasn’t scared. I loved it. And this experience gave me the self-belief and confidence to cross Jack Sound and be with puffins. Absolutely amazing.”

“I’m a beginner as well, having been out on the sea only a few times and had a great time. Rock hopping was fun, and the guides were really skilled in helping you develop your skills. But the highlight for me was the trip to Skomer, across Jack Sound, a tricky stretch of water with several tidal races that I didn’t think would be possible, but was totally within reach. We were rewarded by having reached the north shore of Skomer and kayaking with puffins!”

“Highlights for me were a few sea kayaking firsts – first time in sea caves, being close to a tide race in a boat, as well as being coached through my first self rescue with a paddle float. Also kayaking amongst the puffins by Skomer island was a fantastic experience 🙂 Great to paddle with other club members as always and the guidance from the sea kayaking coaches was excellent.”

“A wonderful weekend of relaxed learning focused on rockhopping and handling tide races. Rockhopping is always fun and one of the best bits was discovering how to judge the swell to swish through on the surge. Turns out the best moment to set off into a feature is often when all the water has been sucked out (which feels counter-intuitive) as the next wave is just behind you. But there are exceptions, double surges and a whole world of new things to learn. Crossing the tide race to Skomer Island was less scary than anticipated (phew!) and doubly interesting on the way back when the water was ‘misbehaving’. With the tide flowing north, why were we pushed south? A bit of wind against tide and some strong back-eddies around the smaller islands. It all highlighted the skills and local knowledge of our three excellent coaches. A great weekend. I’m looking forward to doing more rockhopping to build up my skills.”

“It was super to be led by such experienced and professional guides who know the area so well. Really fun playing in the tide races knowing they were ready to rescue us if needed, and amazing to kayak around Skomer island. Big thanks to CKC for organising the weekend.”

“The feeling of being in a gully, when the sea floods in is a bit like riding on an elephant as it stands up!”

“An amazing weekend on the Pembrokeshire coast, I achieved more than I thought I was capable of. Thanks to one of our fabulous guides, (Lucas) who didn’t let on that we wouldn’t be bypassing the tidal race that stood between us at Jack Sound -between the Isle of Skomer and Wales, as expected, but would be running it full on, with all the thrill and excitement that a tidal race has to offer. Lucas said after all our successful crossings, he knew we had the ability and trusted us to complete the passage, which we all did. Everything I have ever learnt about kayaking came back in a rush and helped facilitate a very exciting culmination to an amazing weekend, thank you CKC!”

Gower Surf Skills Weekend, April 2023

Last weekend we had a great turnout of fourteen for a surf skills trip on the Gower in South Wales. Previous attempts to organise a surf skills trip had been postponed because of poor conditions – too calm the first two times on the South coast, and then too rough on the Gower in the autumn. This time, however, the weather worked out and we had a successful trip. 

Liza arranged accommodation for us in the Eastern Slade Barn, and we converged there on Friday night, having picked up boats, equipment and passengers at the arches. On arrival Yossi prepared an amazing vegetarian focaccia for everyone, accompanied by Gilly’s fantastic foraged salad. 

Yossi’s Famous Focaccia

On Saturday we drove to Caswell Bay to meet the local coaches – Chris, Kay and Paul from Vale Paddle Sports. It was just past full tide, and Chris confirmed the swell of 30-60cm would be good for learning to surf. We unloaded the boats and Chris talked us through surfing in to shore – waiting perpendicular to the waves and when a wave comes, paddle very fast (“PLF”) trying to stay perpendicular. If the boat starts to turn, it’s almost impossible to keep on track, and the boat turns parallel to the wave but by low-bracing in the incoming wave one can stay upright and “Bongo slide” in to the shore. 

Bongo Bandit #1
Bongo Bandit #2

We practised this, taking it in turns to surf in to the beach and paddle out again, with Kay helping to retrieve those of us who capsized, and Chris and Paul giving pointers and demonstrations from their kayaks. At times we had to share the beach with groups of surfers or swimmers, but the retreating tide gave more space. 

Rock Hopping

As the surf was diminishing, after retrieving our lunch from the cars, Chris suggested we paddle out to Pwlldu (pronounced “puffty”) headland for which we split into two groups, rock-hopping below the cliffs. We sheltered from the wind at the edge of the beach as we ate our lunch, and were joined by Alex and Olwen who’d been kayaking in the tide race further East. After lunch we split into three groups, each led by CKC members. One group returned to our start point, and the other two first paddled across the bay and around the headland to Langland Bay where we were able to practise some more surfing. 

Finally we paddled back to Caswell Bay and as it was now low tide, we had a long portage up the beach, helped by kayak trolleys. We were done by 4pm and had time to return to the bunk house for a shower before going to the Ship Inn at Port Eynon for dinner and drinks, followed by a discussion of forecasts and plans for the next day.

Rhossili Beach

The next morning we had time to have an excellent full cooked breakfast and finalised a plan to practice our skills on the west-facing Rhossili beach. We packed up and left the bunk house, driving to Hill End car park  where we portaged our boats through the dunes to find a wide beach with plenty of surfers enjoying the substantial surf.

As we assembled near the water’s edge, the surf seemed quite intimidating. The more experienced members explained how to paddle out through larger waves – getting as much speed as possible, holding the paddle pointing into the wave to cut through it, and keeping your face protected in case the wave does catch the paddle. Rich managed to get through the waves, but for the rest of us the surf was too high and after a couple of capsizes the rest of us paddled  South through the shallows to where the waves were smaller. There we had fun trying to get out through the breakers and then surf back in without tipping over. After an hour or so we paddled and portaged back to the cars and headed home, exhausted but happy to have had a great weekend of paddling and learning.

Thanks to Liza for planning and organizing the trip and to everyone else for making the trip work out – from car-sharing and transporting boats to cooking. 

All the Bongo Bandits

You can watch a short video of the CKC South Wales Surf Weekend here:

Wootton Creek, Feb 2023

Winter paddling is not for everyone, so it was great to have a group of enthusiastic CKC paddlers getting out on the sea today!

We were all relatively experienced paddlers who were familiar with each other on the water from a few trips together last year.  However a Solent crossing is a paddling route not to be sniffed at. So the leaders had put a lot of effort into planning a detailed route ensuring the timings and hazards were well signposted and well considered.

Launching at Lepe Country Park is an expensive but easy place for a launch as well as having great facilities for breakfast bacon butties, as well as toilets.

It was flat calm looking from Lepe to West of Cowes on an overcast grey and quiet Solent. We set off on the bearing of 150 degrees in order to counteract the tidal flow pushing us Eastwards. Keeping as a tight group, so we could be seen easily by other crafts, we reached the first destination at Egypt Point/Gunard buoy after about 30 minutes.

Gurnard Buoy

The next potential hazard was to cross Eastwards the Cowes harbour entrance on the north side of the breakwater. Just after deciding to cross the entrance a large ferry suddenly appeared coming out of Cowes so we duly had to increase our paddle power to get out of it’s way.

Crossing Cowes Harbour, avoiding the fast cat
Crossing Cowes Harbour

The next 1 ½ hours were calm active paddling to Old Castle Point and across Osbourne Bay (with a view of Queen Victoria’s residence, Osbourne House) ensuring we kept out of the bay itself to gain as much of the dropping flow as possible. It was very empty of the usual chaos of numerous yachties mooring there for their boozy lunches, and we only saw the occasional ship passing.

Osbourne House

The entrance to Wootton Creek is not at all easy to identify in the bay especially on a grey winters day. However having the fantastic resource of the ferry that goes in and out from Wootton Creek, it helpfully pinpointed the entrance for us. We landed at the small beach next to the ferry terminal and hauled our boats onto the grass for lunch.

Wootton Creek

A most lovely Sunday pub lunch was had at The Fishbourne pub, a short walk up from the slipway and beach. We also had a good rest while waiting for the flow to pick up for our return trip. It was pretty hard to re-don our dry suits and get back in our boats after the cosy atmosphere of the pub though.

The trip back was again well executed with the Wootton Creek ferry the first thing to be negotiated.

Wootton Creek Ferry

The wind was more behind us and the flow helping us along fantastically. The essential part was to cross back over the Solent missing the hazard zone of the container ship turning area and paddling at an angle which ensured that we would not overshoot our destination at Lepe. The flow had picked up a bit more than the plan had been set for so we set the new route degrees to 360/0 from Egypt Point. For paddlers who have never experienced tidal flow like this, it is quite a surprise when you turn into it and realise the importance on keeping on the course you have been set to get across the channel correctly! For those without compasses on board clear markers ahead were given to aim for. It is essential that the lead communicates these markers / identifiers correctly and if they are changed that this is communicated to everyone.

On the way back

We were quite tired by now so it was a bit of surprise when nearly fully across that we had to navigate an area of overfall while crossing Lepe Spit leading to quite turbulent water, but made it an exciting end to our trip.

Tired but happy paddlers

Well done everyone for getting on the sea today! Achy bones and muscles for unfit desk-bound paddlers were very evident in the following days!

Mike also had a new voice activated Go Pro he was trying out and made the following video of the trip:

Lepe to Wootton Creek, Feb 2023