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!

Patagonia (1 of 1)-7

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.

Going Solo: Alone with the River

For many years, I considered those who ventured out to rivers on their own to be reckless individuals with no regard for their own safety or well-being; however, I was recently offered a fresh perspective on solo boating during a 4* Training day with Dave Kohn-Hollins (I won’t try and reproduce his words here, as I’ll most likely misquote him and lose some of the sentiment; instead, I’ll simply recommend you book yourself onto a course with River Flair).

The message I took from my conversation with Dave and the thoughts it provoked in my mind, were that in any leading situation you tailor the venue to suit the group and the conditions on the day, and there’s absolutely no reason why that approach can’t also be applied to a group size of one.

Of course, in order to pick a river that is suitable for a solo run you’ll need enough modesty to take an objective and impartial view on your paddling abilities; for this reason, I’d encourage you to really get to know yourself and your limits not only in kayaking, but in life in general.

Having pondered over the pros and cons for a while, I decided to take the plunge and head to the Tryweryn on my own (I do paddle other rivers too, I swear!) I chose this particular river as I know it well and felt comfortable that my abilities were at a level to cope with its grade and sort myself out should I get into any difficulties. At the Tryweryn, I also knew there would be other people around if I desperately did need help at any point.

I stopped at a couple of my favourite haunts on the way over to Wales, namely Starbucks and Go Kayaking North West, both of which served up an awesome cup of coffee! I spent a short while chatting to the guys at GKNW, but by the time I’d reached the mighty T and got changed into my paddling gear I was glad of the late start, as the first 5 minutes on the water with no one around were absolutely terrifying!

Not being part of a group on the river felt completely unnatural, and although I knew I was more than capable of looking after myself, it took me a good while to properly settle in and start pushing myself to make more technical moves… Even the ones I make routinely on each trip over that way.

However, as much as I love leading groups and helping others progress, when the nerves did eventually subside I realised the time I’d usually spend managing a group could now be spent on developing my personal paddling; throughout the day I was able to run and rerun sections, aiming for cleaner moves and harder eddies each time.

The knowledge of having to be self-reliant was a big contributor towards the sense of thrill (and fear during the first couple of minutes, it’s a fine line) whilst on the river, but it was definitely a confidence building experience. By the end of the day I was absolutely exhausted, but I’d gotten a lot more practice than I usually would have on a group trip, become comfortable in a boat again and made a bunch of new eddies… and friends!

A key point to bear in mind when considering your own solo mission is that ultimately, the only person that will get hurt by any poor judgement (or any other mishap) will be yourself; something far more reckless that happens all too often in boating these days is arrogant paddlers throwing themselves down rivers they don’t have the skills or experience to cope with safely and obliging others to put themselves at risk to save them when something inevitably goes wrong.

If you do choose to give it a go, definitely make sure someone knows where you’re going and when to expect you back, and have your phone, a whistle and all other necessary gear on you. I’d also recommend making sure you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt first (maybe even one or two safety and rescue courses, like WWSR) and that you only go it alone on rivers you know well.

As for me, I’m now looking towards my next solo mission to another of my favourites, the Kent

Would you go it alone?

All Before We’d Even Set Off… (Scotland 2012)

I didn’t notice at the time, but it seems like all the trips so far this year had just been building up to this… and it didn’t disappoint!

In the few days before the trip, the climate in Manchester had slowly been making the shift from arctic tundra to a place where it was almost vaguely acceptable to go outside in a t-shirt. Although not great for river levels, the sunshine certainly added to the growing excitement for the annual MUCC foray across the border into Scotland.

The Group

Left to Right: George Babington, Mathew Wilkinson, Charles Swannie, Andrew Lamb, Emma Sture, James Stewart, Lewis Renshall, Nicholas Kasch

When the morning of the trip finally came around, I spent the majority of it going over the plans to make sure I hadn’t missed anything whilst I packed my usual mountain of kit, including roughly 6million sets of spare river shoes (I should probably donate some of those to Oxfam). I then set off to Manchester Van Hire (via McDonald’s, where I discovered the Creme Egg McFlurries had returned, in one short second altering the landscape of my food plan for the week completely) to meet Nick and Lewis.

I arrived a little late at Man Van to find Lewis stood outside, but no sign of Nick (who was bringing the purchase orders so we could actually pick up the vehicles). The guys at Man Van showed us around the Ford Galaxy and the Van (which was a fair bit smaller than expected) and then we sat down inside to wait for Nick. After a little while, the kind people at Man Van told us we could just take the van and then Nick could give them the purchase orders and take the car when he finally turned up.

Trees Are Not Our Friends

Lewis loves wood, but not like this!

So Lewis and I set off for Brookbank to pick up our newly repaired splits (and take another broken pair to be fixed, we don’t have much luck with them…). On the way, Lewis managed to get in touch with Nick, and we found out he’d somehow gotten lost and/or got caught in a time warp (his explanation was so vague that we still don’t know which) somewhere between his lab and Man Van. A few minutes later, we heard from Nick again, this time telling us he’d lost the purchase orders as well as his sense of direction on the same journey. We instructed him to try and find them and if that failed, to go and ask Janet in the AU Office to print out some more and then head to stores once he had managed to finally pick up the car.

Silence of the Lamb

The mysterious villain prepares his next victim.

In the midst of all this disorganisation, Lewis and I had arrived at Brookbank, so we made the splits exchange and headed straight back to Manchester and to stores. On the way we got a call from the rest of the group who were now there and waiting, but strangely hadn’t seen any sign of Nick yet. He still hadn’t turned up by the time we arrived at stores (even though we’d also been to mine to pick up the rest of my kit), so we just got on with packing the van. Even when we’d packed everything he still hadn’t arrived, so we decided we were going to walk to Scotland… luckily he rounded the corner in the car just as we reached the end of the road up to stores.

Canoe Club Triumphs, Despite The Smell

Everyone MUCCs in to reach 7th place at BUCS Slalom.

Published.

Thankfully the article wasn’t a scratch-and-sniff.

Determination is a word that best describes MUCC’s efforts in last weekend’s BUCS Slalom competition at HPP, Nottingham. At the very start of the weekend, the majority of the group were delayed by a minibus that was so full of affection for 1st gear, it decided half way along the A50 that it never wanted to leave it again. Two hour’s wait and some gentle clutch persuasion by the AA man soon fixed that however, and the weekend was back on track.

The team had suffered a number of injuries prior to this competition, preventing three of their best paddlers, Andrew Williams, Clare Hawkins and Ben Brisbourne (two injured knees and a broken back respectively) from competing. Everyone was determined to try their hardest to plug the gap however, and the three injured members had even come along for moral support (helped substantially by the aid of Andy’s bull horn and several comedy tunes). The exuberant Lewis Renshall even came along as an additional cheer leader!

Give 'em Helliwell

Sam Helliwell gives the evils to an upstream gate.

On the Saturday morning, pumped full of Coca-Cola to ward off the River AIDS (HPP’s water is notorious for making almost everyone who paddles it ill in one way or another, or sometimes both ways at the same time), the team travelled from the scout hut they were staying in to the site of the course for the beginning of the event. Canoe Slalom is where competitors paddle down a river, weaving across it and going through as many gates as possible, some upstream and some downstream, in the fastest time. The Men’s individual kayak heats were first and the course saw some sterling performances from Ben Saxby, Frazer Pimblett, Tom Fyall, Chris Williams, Alfie O’Neill, Sam Helliwell, Mathew Wilkinson, Mike Fenton & Nick Kasch, some of whom had never even done slalom before. There were some swims, but everybody was in good spirits, and the members who weren’t paddling did just as much exercise running up and down the bank yelling at the competitors in encouragement, so much so that there were a few sore throats at our celebrations in the local pub after.

Two is Company

Tom Fyall and Frazer Pimblett make C2 look easy.

Sunday morning came with bad news, the course had been shut down due to the increasing volumes of what was referred to as water, but at this point was probably more accurately described as sewage. The team was disappointed by this, and began lethargically packing up and readying to head home, when another call was received announcing the course was open again! Everyone bundled into the vehicles, and made it to the course for a quick safety brief (essentially saying; don’t swim, and if you do, close every orifice as tight as physically possible). The smell on the river was noticeable to say the least, but nevertheless everyone gave it their best and got some fantastic results in all the events held that day. Both the girls (Susan Warden and Louise Maddison) rocked the Women’s individual kayak heats and Frazer, Ben, Chris, Susan and Tom powered through the C1 event (kneeling up with only one paddle, difficult stuff!). Mathew and Jonathon Winter provided comic relief in their drawn out build up to, and then short but sweet C2 run, and then Frazer and Tom showed everyone how it’s done. Later in the day there were 4 valiant Team kayak runs, which rounded off the day nicely for some incredibly thorough showering and then the prize giving.

Teamwork

Alfie O’Neill and Chris Williams show off their teamwork.

Taking the injuries and small team size into account, everybody was incredibly proud of their 7th place out of the 24 universities present, and there were some noteworthy performances from Frazer, Tom and Chris, finishing 7th in the team event, Tom and Frazer finishing 5th in C2, Susan finishing 18th in the Women’s kayak heats, and Ben finishing 23rd in the Men’s kayak heats. Overall though, fun was had by all, and nobody got seriously ill or mutated by HPP’s questionable water content!