Since this blog is mostly about paddlesport, we’ll leave the ancient history to another page (link FIXME), although you’ll also see that the archives go back sixty+ years, so as it has evolved, the blog now contains more and more reports from my previous career(s) walking, climbing, skiing, caving and so on.
I started to paddle in 1976, on the River Cam in Cambridge, not a well-known white water venue. Fully occupied with the Caving Club at the time, another time-consuming activity was not going to take off to any significant level. But it was always “one of those things I’ll get into eventually”. An opportunity to paddle a river in Austria arose on a CUCC caving expedition, and I bought myself a Perception Pirouette in time for the next time I went out, paddling the river again (once) and playing a great deal on the lake. I hardly knew any canoeists for years, but starting a family and having family membership of the Swaledale Outdoor Club provided an incentive to get going again – paddling seems a more likely activity to appeal to children than caving, ice-climbing or serious fellwalking.
Having demonstrated that I was well-capable of survival whilst swimming near my kayak in white water, pool-training created a bit more ability (though thirteen swims in one trip down the Keswick Greta showed there was a way to go still). At the point of finally having learned to roll, along came foot-and-mouth to close down access to all the rivers, so sea kayaking became greatly appealing. And I was told that swimming was definitely not “the done thing” here 🙂 Hasn’t stopped me 🙁
A long weekend at Loch Sween and in the sound of Jura in absolutely perfect conditions (written up in the SOC newsletter) got me really hooked. This also looked like a good way to do multi-day camping trips in uncrowded places without the children having to carry heavy backpacks – something which definitely fitted with our ideas of a good holiday. I came back from this trip so enthused that Mary decided there must be something in this kayaking game, resulting in her going off on a “Discover sea kayaking” course with Plas Menai.
I soon bought my own first sea kayak (a North Shore Mistral), and became a regular participant in both days out and longer trips during the summer. About this time, I built my first custom sea kayak ‘Geyrfugl’, for my daughter, Sarah (then seven).
That was soon followed by another, ‘Piqqalujamik takujumavunga’ which is a fast, high performance (ie. narrow, wobbly) hard-chined boat. Swapping between this and the far more forgiving Mistral was very good for developing both technique and confidence.
Meanwhile, on whitewater, I managed to hole my Pirouette on a weir on the Tees one very cold winter’s day, so I bought a Pyranha Acrobat 275, which proved rather more forgiving and soon meant I was able to present some semblance of competence on grade 3 rivers. February 2004 saw a hole in my Acrobat, annoying as I really got on well in this boat and it was only two years old. A repair proved possible, but not before the next trip, so an ex-Demo Pyranha H2 zone 245 was hastily added to the stable, and a couple of rivers were enough to convince me that I liked that even better.
The H2 did well over a hundred rivers before a knee brace sheared and went floppy. That too was been repaired, making it more rigid and rather heavier. So I added a new Pyranha Ammo at the end of 2009, though the H2 still got used from time to time (it had a bit of a renaissance in late autumn 2011 and I’ve found myself amazed at how easy it is to paddle – I hadn’t really thought of the Ammo and Flirt as much less forgiving until I managed four breakouts on Dogleg in the H2…). As playboating took a hold on our psyche (Sarah had had a Fluid Nemesis for ages), both Mary and Michael got Jackson Stars, and I demoed a Molan, couldn’t get on with it, and instead acquired a Fluid Flirt which I really like. The H2 finally split after almost ten years use. At that point I inherited Michael’s Liquid Logic Stomper – a rather more rounded boat which is easy to paddle, but makes swapping to the much edgier playboat a bit harder. After an almost disastrous trip on the Arkaig I finally admitted that the Ammo is just too hard to roll, and has since been sold. Both the Pirouette and the Acrobat saw trips in 2014, although the Pirouette proved to be even more brittle than when last used, and is now a foot shorter at the stern (and took some welding!). In 2016, both finally went to the recycling centre to make sure there is a bit of space in the barn. A gouge that Michael had put in the Stomper eventually turned into a split, and this was professionally welded, but a second gouge looked likely to go the same way (four trips later, it did), so I paddled Sarah’s Nomad in the alps in 2015. In the autumn I demo’ed a medium Mamba with Glenmore Lodge and it paddled really well, so I bought one almost new. Unfortunately, I managed to put a hole in this on the first river trip, and soon after that, the Stomper split again. So in 2016, after another trip to Uganda with the Flirt, I was back paddling a repaired H2 which just keeps on going. However, Nicky Ball has made a very good job of welding the Mamba, and I’m hoping to match his repair with one of my own to the Stomper. In Slovenia I was paddling a Zet Toro and was starting to get on OK with that, but in Val Sesia I had a new Tuna, and that was much more to my taste (you can actually reverse ferry in these, which the Toro doesn’t support very well). So for autumn 2016 I have my own Tuna. The H2 went to the skip, and the Stomper stills awaits another weld (but has been used occasioanlly anyway).
After trips to the alps for several years, summer 2012 saw us all in playboats on the White Nile in Uganda, which was … different ! I certainly came back as a better paddler, finally getting close to a reliable roll – a skill that has been consolidated since our return from Austria in 2013. A return to Uganda over New year 2014 was even more successful. Since the blog has developed, a lot of that history is documented here, but I hope I’ll be adding more write-ups of trips longer ago, as well as keeping up to date with current activities.