Operation: Menorca – Part 2, The Problem With Tarps

It was as I watched the girls putting the finishing touches to their tarps in the fading light that I realised I’d fucked up…

My new Alpkit Rig 7 tarp looked great, but the fact that it required the addition of poles, guy-lines, and tent pegs in order to be of any use had completely escaped me; luckily, Cress helped me to make inventive use of the P&H Kayak Sail Mast (with the attached stays acting as guy-lines), and it wasn’t long before I was fighting with the mosquito net, which also needed tent pegs to keep it in its optimal position, i.e. actually covering any part of my body.

The girls found my ordeal rather amusing, but eventually we all managed to settle down for the night, despite the awful smell coming from what must have been a nearby sewage runoff; it was just as we were drifting off to sleep (or perhaps being overcome by the fumes) that I heard the shuffling of feet on the beach, and then the thud of several clumps of sand hitting our tarps followed by the mischievous laughter of the local teens who had thrown them; it appears that wherever you go in the world, you can always rely on the presence of chavs.

I was suddenly aware that we were camped on a beach that was more or less in the centre of a small town, and that camping on the beaches was reportedly forbidden; the evening was also chillier than I’d anticipated, so sleep didn’t come easy, but I must have managed to drift off eventually as the next thing I knew, I was waking up to the sounds of the girls packing their boats.

The evening before our departure from the UK I’d essentially thrown everything I owned that was even vaguely related to kayaking and/or the outdoors into the car, so most of the morning was spent deciding what I actually needed and loading it into the kayak, being careful to avoid the same situation as last time I’d paddled with Sonja and Erin (I’d packed, rather generously, for what I though was a 5 day expedition, but was actually only a 3 day trip).

Eventually we were paddling out across the bay, and everything was exactly as I’d anticipated; the weather was warm, the water was topaz-esque in both colour and clarity, and perfectly still… until we left the shelter of the headland that is!

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Cress, on the Cress-t of a Wave

I found myself paddling side-on to waves larger than anything I’d envisioned at any point after the words ‘no tides’ had been used during planning; my bearings fluctuated between turning to run with the waves, then turning perpendicular to them again to avoid being carried towards the jagged rocks and cliff face to my right.

I was paddling so frantically that I’d raced away from the others, despite my erratically zig-zagged course, so it was a great relief when a short while later (although it didn’t feel that short) we regrouped in a small, sheltered spot. The nerves still had me feeling unstable, but being one of the more experienced paddlers in the group, I knew we’d certainly be figuring out a way to cut this day short and it wouldn’t be long before I’d be on dry land again.

That wasn’t the case; everyone else seemed to be having a great time!

Pride got the better of me, and I kept my nerves under wraps as we peeled out and carried on, I raced ahead once again, eager to get to within site of somewhere to land; it’s amazing how isolated you can feel just a few metres off the coast when all you can see is cliffs, and waves which you occasionally catch glimpses of your expedition buddies over.

Eventually we reached a relatively sheltered bay, and jumped out of the kayaks to allow one group member who was suffering from sea sickness to recoup. They were resolute to continue but I, however, had decided that enough was enough…

 

Operation: Menorca – Part 1, The Mysterious Banging Noise

This was not the trip I was expecting…

First of all, there was absolutely no drama in strapping 5 P&H Sea Kayaks (four Scorpio MKIIs and a Delphin) to the roof of my car, they just seemed to magically fit; this may be a misconception due to the fact that Tim kindly did the actual loading of the kayaks for us though!

Once the gear (including a beautiful selection of VE sea kayak paddles, and a box packed with shorts, t-shirts and sunglasses from the wonderful people at Dewerstone) had also been loaded up, Sonja, Anna, and I set off to Menorca, waved off by a small group of slightly-over-enthusiastic individuals holding hand-drawn signs (seriously, I work with a group of complete nutters; maybe that’s why I fit in so well?)

Our journey from Pyranha HQ consisted of a medium-sized drive to Dover, a quick ferry to Calais, and an epic mission through France and in to Spain, getting as far as a service station just outside Barcelona before we decided to investigate the ever-increasing volume of the persistent banging noise coming from the car roof; two minutes of fidgeting later, and I’d made absolutely, one hundred percent sure that the front edge of the driver’s side roof rail was no longer attached to the car… damn.

We formulated a plan (and I had a bit of a sulk) in a Spanish Burger King with free WiFi, and after some mildly-excessive use of the spare roof rack straps to secure the kayaks, we set off for a Volkswagen dealership in Barcelona, enlisting a Spanish-speaking friend en route to warn the garage in advance, avoiding us trying to explain the issue in loud, excessively deliberate English garnished with a generous sprinkling of hand gestures.

The lady at the VW dealership was lovely, and spoke immaculate English, but she couldn’t help us; she sent us on our way with the details of two other garages on Menorca, which we had every intention of taking the car to…

The next task at hand was successfully negotiating the maze that was Barcelona’s road network, after which my mood was instantly rectified by the discovery of a harbour-side sushi restaurant, and the following eight and a half hours of sleep on the ferry to Mahon were also incredibly welcome.

We arrived in Mahon ready for breakfast, where a small café with friendly staff offered us ‘tostada’ and were even kind enough to share their knowledge of the local garages, but as most were closed (it was a Sunday), and the issue had become much less pressing now we had made it to the island, the draw of fulfilling the role of stereotypical tourists won out.

Setting about exploring Menorca on foot, it wasn’t long before we were met by Sonja’s equally wonderful mum, Maureen, who by sheer chance had booked her own little Menorcan adventure that coincided with ours!

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Maureen and Sonja at the port of Mahon.

After racking up another 3 café visits (including a spot of Tapas… I could get used to this!), we parted ways with Maureen (for now at least), meeting team member number 4, Cressida, before heading for Es Grau to meet Erin, who completed the Operation: Menorca group.

Quite suddenly, I realised the expedition Sonja and I had first discussed during an alarmingly stressful spa visit months earlier (that’s a story for another day) was now becoming reality…

The five of us (Erin, Cress, Anna, Sonja, and myself) then paid a visit to Menorca en Kayak, whose staff were immensely generous with their extensive knowledge of what Menorca has to offer for sea kayakers, going as far as to give us a set of laminated maps marking various points of interest, potential campsites, and places to restock our supplies, as well as promising to keep an eye on the car whilst we were away.

With all the important stuff behind us (at least for today, excluding all that ‘actually-doing-the-expedition’ business that was to come), we settled in to a waterfront restaurant for (supposedly) our last taste of luxury before we began our expedition; Cressida, who I had only previously met via Skype during the aforementioned spa visit, quickly united us all in giggles by ordering a duo of seafood dishes which can only be described as relentless (and that’s coming from me, possibly the greatest seafood lover there is!)

Our final task of the day was to choose our spots on the beach, and set up camp for the night…

To Be Continued.

Immersion Research 7Figure Dry Top Review

I’ll be completely honest, I bought my Methyl Blue 7Figure Dry Top because I already had a 7Figure Dry Suit in Lime Green and couldn’t quite convince myself it was a good idea to have two dry suits just because I couldn’t decide which colour I liked best.

Flying Start

Photo: Kirstie Macmillan, Paddler: Mathew Wilkinson, River: Tryweryn

I didn’t really need a cag, as my 7Figure Dry Suit isn’t too heavy to wear in the Autumn (even though it’s nice and toasty in the Winter), and my Rival Shorty Cag is pretty effective at keeping me comfortable even when the Summer sun starts to fade away.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve had several moments of rational thought on the subject since buying my 7Figure Dry Top though, and I still don’t regret the purchase; it’s great having that extra flexibility in my gear selection for those days where the weather could go either way, or it’s right in-between the perfect temperature for a shorty cag or a dry suit.

The 7Figure Dry Top also isn’t just half of the dry suit; it shares many of the same benefits, like super comfy yet highly durable material, surprisingly high levels of dryness that are yet to fade and a great fit, but it also adds in fuss free neoprene over-cuffs at the wrists.

I gave the dry suit 5 stars, so this probably deserves 5 and a half – it certainly blows any other dry cag I’ve ever owned out of the water, and in the water is exactly where I want to be (or preferably on it)!

Immersion Research 7Figure Drysuit Review

This thing is UNBELIEVABLY comfortable, and I don’t just mean the super silky material that feels almost like it’s flowing through your hands when you first unwrap it!

Not-so-Low Force

Kayaking becomes somewhat of a spectator sport when you’ve lost your boat, but at least I was dry! Photo by Martin-In-Teasdale.

I’ve had drysuits from several brands that have either been way too snug (even when I’m not being overly optimistic with my size choice), or make me look like MC Hammer and thwart my efforts to gracefully traverse even the lowest of fallen trees; the IR 7Figure Suit has no such issues, so I spend much less time squeezing air out of it and barely notice it’s there when I’m moving about on/around/in the river.

I’m probably the definition of an average paddler, so in the 12 months I’ve been using this suit it has seen several rough swims, a few hacks through dense undergrowth and plenty of clumsy moments getting into and out of kayaks, and it’s still bone dry and going strong.

I could complain about the neoprene over cuff of the neck being a little loose or say that the rear entry zip could be slightly better placed, but compared to the other dry suits on the market right now, that would be like saying my gold bars are a little too heavy, or my new Ferrari isn’t quite the right shade of red… This suit is great, and so is the price, so go buy one!

(P.S. I also love the unobtrusive neoprene waistband that keeps the suit up when you’ve taken off the top half, and the bright colours are beautiful!)

Don’t Lose Your Kit, Label It!

I’ve scrawled my contact details (and some funky designs) on to various items of paddling kit using many different implements over the years; Paint Markers, Sharpies and even Radiator Paint have been previous favourites, but I’ve been introduced to a better solution…

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2 Sheets of Toughtags and some offcuts of other colours they were kind enough to send me for a purpose you’ll see later…

Toughtags are fantastic! They don’t scratch, crack or rub off and it doesn’t matter how bad your handwriting might be, as they’re printed in an easily readable font!

It can often be difficult to write legibly on smaller items of kit too, which is another advantage of Toughtags, as even the smaller font sizes are still clear.

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Two labelled carabiners, and one in progress; Toughtags were originally designed for climbing gear so are perfect for this!

If you’re on a safety course, or dealing with a real life whitewater rescue situation, it can often be a pain in the bum to work out whose carabiners and pulleys are whose after everything has calmed down again; labelling them with Toughtags is a great way to make yours immediately identifiable.

For us kayaking types, Toughtags even offer an extra-long tag that will wrap around any size of paddle shaft (probably one of the most lost items when on the river!) – just send them an email asking for the longer tags!

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Comparison of the regular sized Toughtags (top) and extra-long Toughtags (bottom).

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Labelling my Werner Sho-Guns with the extra-long Toughtags.

Labelling your kit doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it back, but with no real GPS tracking option that is compact, waterproof, affordable and has a long-lasting battery, it’s the best chance you’ve got; it’s even mandatory at places like Lee Valley (so they know who to blame when a stray item jams the pumps!)

Make sure you include an email address and phone number (with international dialling code), so that whoever finds your kit has plenty of options to get in touch with you. If you have any specific medical needs you could even have these printed on Toughtags to stick on your helmet incase you’re unable to communicate those needs to the emergency services after an incident.

The strong, waterproof glue and durable material of Toughtags isn’t just great for kayaking kit, the offcuts shown in the image at the top of this article were used to replace the tattered colour coding labels on my tent poles, and they’re still going strong too!

 

P.S. I felt a strong sense of irony when completing this article, as I’ve recently lost my own, unlabelled kayak – should have followed my own advice!

If it Ain’t Broke, Make Sure You Have a Repair Kit Handy for When it is!

Until recently, I’ve never carried a repair kit whilst on the river, under the assumption that if I broke any of my equipment I’d either just deal with it or get off the river.

As Chris Brain pointed out to me on a 4* White Water Leader Assessment though, it isn’t always that simple; the toolbox in your car might be incredibly comprehensive, but it’s no use when you’re miles away in a remote gorge with a loose seat and 6km of grade IV to negotiate before the nearest egress.

Bits and Bobs for All Sorts of Jobs

Left to Right, Top to Bottom: Paracord, Butane Welding Pen, Tenacious Tape, Dental Floss + Needle, Footrest Nuts, Miscellaneous Bolts & Nuts, Waterproof Repair Patches, Pocket Tool, Cable Ties, Permanent Marker, Zip Lube, Waterproof Glue, Spare Bung, Duct Tape, Container, Security Torx Bit, Plumber’s Mait, Plastic Welding Rods, Nylon Nuts, Sandpaper + Stanley Knife Blade.

So, I got to putting together a kit to fix the most common issues whilst kayaking, and here’s what it consists of (I won’t go into too much detail with every item, as most have several, fairly obvious and straightforward uses that would take forever to list, but I will pick out some key pieces and give a little more info on them):

A Durable, Water Resistant Container

I’m generally quite picky with my gear choices, and as soon as I started thinking about putting my repair kit together I had a very clear picture of what sort of container I wanted to use – unfortunately, I had no idea if it actually existed!

What I was looking for was a flexible, transparent, pouch style semi-dry container so I could stuff plenty of bits inside without it taking up too much room in my Ocoee Bag. Initially I was looking at pencil cases and document pouches, but nothing I found had a zip that looked like it’d stand up to any abuse – then I walked in to Tamarack Outdoors and saw the perfect solution, the Exped A6 Sized Vista Organiser.

Duct Tape, Paracord and Cable Ties

Plastic Welding Kit

A boat split is probably one of the worst kit breakages you could have on the river, so it’s worth having something with you to repair it; a plastic weld is the neatest and strongest way to do this.

Some people will just carry a lighter and a teaspoon or similar item to smooth the surrounding plastic over the split, but as usual I’ve gone the whole hog and got an Antex Gascat 60 Butane Torch Kit and some Plastic Welding Rods. I chose the Gascat as the lighter is handily built into the lid, and it’s necessary to buy the kit so you get the flame attachment (I don’t carry the other bits with me). I also have some Sandpaper and a Stanley Knife Blade to neaten up the split before and after a weld.

Pocket Tool

The Leatherman Piranha 2 is very compact, and has a screwdriver and various spanner sizes to suit most brands of kayak. I swapped out the additional screwdriver bits for Allen Key ones, and I also carry a Security Torx bit, as these fit the best kayaks in the world (Pyranha, of course!).

Spare Bung and Footrest Nuts, plus Miscellaneous Bolts & Bits

Plumber’s Mait

This stuff is fantastic for quick repairs of boat splits, or for awkward cracks that can’t be welded easily; it’s a putty-like material which is available from most DIY stores and will set solid, even when wet!

Some people will also carry a strip of flash bang for quick split repairs, but this is very difficult to remove afterwards and I’ve decided that I have enough repair options with the plumber’s mait and plastic welding kit.

Items for Quick Dry Gear Fixes

No one wants to paddle for a long period with a leak in their cag, and it could even be quite dangerous if the rip is big enough to cause any of your kit to fill with water; McNett make Tenacious Tape™ and Patches that can be used to do bombproof repairs on small holes or seams and bigger tears.

Drysuit Zip Lube

Spraydeck Repair Gear

A ripped spraydeck can mean anything from distracting drips on your legs to having to stop and empty your boat every couple of hundred metres, but sewing it back up with cotton thread will only last for a short time before the cotton deteriorates and breaks; instead, it’s best to sew a deck using dental floss and a strong sewing needle, then seal the repair with Waterproof Glue.

I’ve still never had to use any of the above (touch wood), but I now feel more confident knowing they’re always on the river with me.

What’s in your repair kit?