I never knew how much there was to know about the weather. When you’re in a sea kayak, even a small change in the wide speed or direction can cause drastically different conditions. Phil Keetley - kayak coach, mountain rescue and army colonel - knows it all. Coaching us and coaching the coaches Ann, Juan and Roger. I was on a course aimed at completing the Sea Kayak Award offered by British Canoeing. Before the award is completed you need to demonstrate that you can handle yourself in up to Force 3 conditions, so I was soon learning all about wind, tide, fetch, charts and maps.
Taking to sea in a borrowed boat with my coursemates was nerve racking. My long sea kayak took some getting used to, Phil had us paddling figures-of-8 around moored yachts, practicing turns of different kinds in the calm bay. Gannets took huge dives from great heights, I interrupted Phil’s advice to point out the curved back of a porpoise. Seals eyed us from the shore, blending into the rocks. “Look where you’re trying to go.” Advice quietly whispered and shouted out loud.
What happens when you’re at sea and you fall in? We practiced various methods of getting back in. Grace and dignity are not required.
Packed for a trip: lunch, snacks, sunscreen, map and compass. “Take us to this rocky outcrop, don’t tell the others.” My navigation task had to be accurate to the nearest millimetre on the map. Lunch stop was in a secluded bay, three remote houses peaked out from the foot of the hills. “Imagine living here, commuting to the shop via kayak.” Fizzy worms passed around.
The Burnt Islands - where vikings cremated the fallen in battle. Seals watch curiously, disappear, bob up behind us. “What would you do if you had a hole in your boat?” I clamber onto the foredeck of my classmate while she flips and drags my boat across hers to mend the imaginary hole. The oyster catchers laugh as they whirl above our heads.
“Yes that’s Buttock Point,” chuckles Ann; the humorous name of the northern end of Bute. We hug the rocky shoreline, closer than any other vessel can go. Moon jellyfish, their transparent bodies visible just below the surface. Edible lettuce seaweed and barnacles stuck fast to the rocks. We stop in a bay, slippery boulders show the tide line and instruct us where to leave the boats. “No-one else can reach here, there are no footpaths, no roads. It’s too shallow for bigger boats.” The place is ours for a while.
Splash “Swimmer!” “I’ve hurt my arm.” If the kayak coaching dries up then Phil can be an actor. We put into practice all that we’ve learnt to rescue a casualty, tow them to shore, hail a lifeboat, construct a shelter. We could’ve acted faster, we made some mistakes, but did well enough to pass. Sat in the warmth of our makeshift shelter we discuss how it went.
The final paddle back. The blue water calls me to stay. I feel confident now. I want to explore. I’ll come back.
Tangled hair, sunburnt skin, salty clothes and a great big grin.
Are you ready for your own adventure? For Scottish trips contact Phil at Sea Kayak Argyll and Bute and for trips on the broads and the sea, as well as coaching in Norfolk contact Ann Merryweather