I’ve been looking forward to getting back to Dorset’s amazing chalk pinnacles near Studland which we paddled in the Seawave one calm morning back in 2019. Today the tide was right and the sun was out; it was just a bit chilly and on the windy side; a good day to see how my Sigma TXL might perform at sea.
A couple of paddlechums were also up for a pre-dawn departure; Barry rode down with his similar MRS Nomad S1, while Nimbus – yet to fully embrace inflatable paddlecraft – brought his 17-foot, plastic P&H Scorpio sea kayak (left). Even at ~30 kilos, it was a proper boat for the conditions and we imagined he’d run rings round our packrafts.
Early all-day parking is a problem at Studland as the car parks don’t officially open till 9am and anywhere else you’ll get towed and Twitter-shamed. But we slipped into Knoll Beach parking at 8 and were on the water before 9am. By this time a one-metre tide was about 90 minutes after HW, and we set off into a steady onshore 12-mph northeasterly which would stop Barry and me running away with ourselves. By the time we turned the right angle at the Point for the run SSW along the cliffs, we ought to be able to put up our sails to catch up with Nimbus, except I forgot my WindPaddle. Oh well, I’d just have to paddle the full four miles and get medevaced out.
The tides at Swanage aren’t the classic sine wave. Every other tide rises and falls normally, but in between is a mini low and high. Who knows how or why but I suppose the reservoir of Poole Harbour, plus the English Channel funnel have something to do with dampening every other surge. Either way, the range was only a metre today and is hardly ever more than two down here; not enough volume to raise any strong currents. Nimbus later calculated a southerly flow of around 1mph which may help explain our higher than expected packraft speeds.
Part of the reason I got the longer TXL was to try more coastal packrafting, even if the extra bulk and weight (actually only 450g more than my previous Rebel 2K) might set me back on overnighters. This is not a paddle I’d have attempted in my backheavy 2K, even with a deck; it’s just too slow to be enjoyable. But having owned a 2.9-m Nomad S1 like Barry’s, I was fairly sure the TXL’s near identical length, buoyancy and similar ‘footprint’ would make a difference. There is something about sitting in the middle, not the back end of a boat, that makes it feel more reassuring. Unlike my Thames paddle a week earlier, I decided not to fit the TXL’s inflatable floor pad in search of a better glide. As things were, in today’s wind and chop the stability from a lower seating position would be more important.
It was about 1.5 miles to the arches at Old Harry’s headland, so I set off directly across the bay, hoping for flatter conditions further out. That wasn’t the case; the odd wave was breaking, but the TXL moved across the water purposefully. Sure, it rolled, pitched and yawed in the side waves, but sat down low I felt completely at ease, maybe even more than in my Seawave IK? Barry was clearly having the same bouncy fun in his MRS and I’d assumed the P&H would have raced off, if for no other reason than to maintain stability. But later Nimbus said the Scorpio felt a little on edge in the high-frequency chop and couldn’t have gone much faster than us on this stage.
You’d think the two long, light packrafts’ would have been blown about, but the central, kayak-like position and added buoyancy made them easy to control (with skegs fitted) and the high sides kept most of the water out. I picked up maybe a litre over a mile and a half and didn’t miss a deck at all (though I did appreciate the drysuit).
Even with photo faffing, we reached the stacks of Old Harry in about half an hour, and it hadn’t felt like any more of a struggle than in an IK. It was really quite a revelation how well the TXL (and Nomad) were performing with just an extra 50cm or 20% in the waterline over a regula packraft. The lightness of the boats must have something to do with it. Round the outside of the Point the wind and tide were fighting it out in a tidal race. It made me realise how well timed our visit in the Seawave had been three years ago. We’d arrived here in much calmer conditions but also around mid-tide with a less nasty looking race. Going round the outside today may well have been doable but set aside unpredictable currents, waves can also stand up and break out of nowhere. It was more fun to slip through on the remnants of the outgoing tide between the mainland and Old Harry’s stack. Next time I come here, I’ll make sure to arrive at the top half of the tide so all the arches can be threaded.
After a bit of promo filming for the new book, we turned 120° to the southwest and expected to have the wind behind us, but it remained a case of dealing with sidewaves plus cliff rebounds, so we kept out to sea. Despite the packrafts jigging about like popcorn in a hot pan, we managed to make progress south along the cliffs, the Scorpio now edging ahead.
After being jostled around, Barry decided to air up his AirSail, but even with two of us, pumping it up properly in the chop proved too tricky. For easy deployment on the water, the sprung-hooped Packsail (like the old WindPaddle) is a much better idea, even if it’s more bulky to carry.
We rounded Ballard Point where the cliffs turned into Swanage Bay, and with the wind now on our backs, the GPS recorded 6kph (see graph below). As usual though, it didn’t feel that fast as the boat squirrelled around from the stern. I thought about moving myself further back (relatively easily done in the TXL unlike the fixed solo Nomad) so the lightened bow trailed downwind, but it wasn’t really that bad, it just felt sloppy. Sailor Barry was now keeping up with Nim until we all rolled up on Swanage Beach, aired down the packboats and made a beeline for the cafe for a superb Full Swanage Breakfast.
The cafe let us leave the boat among their bins out back, but I was overruled on walking the four miles back over Ballard Downs back to Knoll Beach. Barry clearly had a liking for taxis which I consider more of an emergency service. “It is not the Packrafting Way!” I squealed as he put a bag over my head and shoved me in the back. Nimbus kept a diplomatic silence. Back at Knoll Beach, Barry roared off on his motorbike while Nim and I wandered back the way we’d paddled to check out at Old Harry’s from above. The tide was now at its extended low period and the wind had swung to the southeast, sheltering Studland Bay. Down below, a lone kayaker was just setting off. “That looks fun, a. We should try that sometime.”
Judging by this outing, the TXL has proved to be just what I’d hoped: a dependably agile coastal cruiser with all the other benefits of a packraft. More sea paddles to come.
Once we were let out in the Covid summer of 2020, we did a very nice coastal walk from Hastings to Rye along the Sussex coast. Hot, but not so windy, it would have been just right for paddling. Today conditions were similar for a westbound transit from Rye back towards Hastings. High Water (and a spring tide too) was at a very reasonable noon in Rye, with a forecast of 8-14mph from the east and a bit of a kick at 3pm. I was hoping for the upper limit and a bit of splashy sport, so brought the WindPaddle I’d used on the packraft last month in Scotland in much stronger winds.
It’s only a 10-minute walk from Rye station to a boat ramp on the quay where the water was still inching up the concrete as I pumped up the Gumotex.
I was taking a gamble trying my untested new rudder set up. Because I expected it to play up, I fitted the stock skeg so I could lift a problematic rudder and carry on as normal without coming shore. To be without a rudder or skeg with a backwind at sea would not be ideal. Being the ever recirculating goldfish, I forgot to try out my sail stick mount idea.
Rye hasn’t been on the coast since 1287 or so when, along with gradual land reclamation, the biggest of a series of 13th-century storms filled the adjacent marshy inlet with silt and shingle which finished off semi-abandoned Old Winchelsea and radically redrew the low-lying coastline where the Kent and Sussex borders meet. It was the same in Pevensey to the west. The gif on the left from this interesting regional website shows how the coastline of southeast England was transformed in the late medieval era. Where the Rother river once flowed directly east to enter the sea at New Romney, the filled-in bay saw it diverted south below the old hill town of Rye, now stranded two miles from the sea. The then important port of Winchelsea was rebuilt on its present site in 1288, but eventual silting saw both it and Rye’s maritime importance decline. What this area may lack in epic spaces common to the north and west of Britain, it gains in fascinating history. 1066 and all that.
I set off along the River Brede which wraps around Rye’s south side like a moat, and soon joins the Rother. It’s about 5km to the open sea.
I’m into the wind but the grass banks are under water and the wind turbines are spinning merrily; all good signs.
Rye Harbour. The tide is high and I’m moving on.
In 45 minutes I reach the old breakwater opposite Camber Sands where I recall bucket & spading as a child. The sea looks depressingly flat.
Seals at the river mouth (a few days later).
It’s nearly 10km to the distant cliffs, a two-hour haul. And with the breeze from behind, I’m soon streaming with sweat. I’m not sure my water will last.
Going with the Flow A few years ago while planning Newhaven to Brighton, I learned an odd thing about Sussex and Kent tides. For the last two hours of the incoming (eastbound) flood, the tide keeps rising but reverses westbound along the English coast as it backs up at the Straight of Dover and spills back down the sides. That makes HW is around the same time in Folkestone, and 140 miles to the west, past the Isle of Wight, but HW at all the places in between lags behind. Tidal steams are not that strong here – wind will have much more of a bearing on paddling – but this means you get only four hours eastboundflow with the flood tide and prevailing southwest winds. But if you time your run with a warm easterly off the continent and go westbound– as I did on this occasion – you get a much longer run with the tidal current; eight hours or more; maybe 45km all the way to Eastbourne. The question is: can you paddle that long.
A breeze picks up so I flick up the sail. I check my GPS and am doing 3-4kph, while I can paddle at around 5-6kph. Then the breeze drops away. I wasn’t really planning to paddle the full 30+ clicks to Cooden station, but I can always get off at Hastings, a few stops before.
At least the rudder seems to working as it should, though any quick response is dulled a little by the skeg. A rudder’s not really needed in these conditions, though it compensates for me being blown gradually onshore. I’m trying a rudder lift-line only, not a rudder lowering line as well. But once in the boat I find I can’t turn enough to even see the lifted rudder to flick it down with the paddle, so I’ll probably fit a drop-line later.
I creep along the expanse of Winchelsea Beach. It’s hot work in a backwind. Eventually I reach the start of the cliffs where the coast turns more east-west, putting the wind directly behind me. But paddling at effectively wind speed, there is no cooling effect. More familiar with paddling at the other end of Britain, I’m not used to 27°C.
Then, as predicted, around 3pm the breeze picks up and I can get the sail up.
Paddling half a mile from the shore, initially it was hard to know if I’m moving and at what speed. So waking up the GPS screen was a handy way of telling if the sailing speed was worthwhile. With the odd gust I reach nearly 7kph, but average less than 5kph, a bit slower than paddling, but I’m not dripping like a leaky tap or needing to drink. In fact I could nearly doze off.
The cliffs inch by. This is the sea end of the Wealden sandstone formation, less high and steep than the better known chalky Seven Sisters to the west, or Dover’s white cliffs to the northeast. Both chalk cliffs are part of the same formation or bed, but when the land was squeezed and uplifted to the dome or hump was eroded away to expose the older sandstone below. This is what they call the Weald, and near Tunbridge Wells, East Grinstead and Frant, the weathered sandstone ridge produces small outcrops where I started rock climbing as a teenager (right).
I pass the Stade, the east end of Hastings where the cliffs drop back down. A few souls are enjoying the last day of summer on the shingle beach.
I keep going to the pier and decide to have a leisurely take out there. It’s gone 4pm so another 10km to get the train 6.15 from Cooden would be a rush.
Landfall by Hastings pier. Compared to the fabulous Summer Isles, for me these southeast coast paddles lack drama and interest, but are easy to reach if tomorrow’s weather looks good. We walked Hastings to Rye again a day or two later; it took about the same time and was more enjoyable (though it was cooler). The rudder foot pivot worked fine, though needed a bit of re-tensioning at the pier. Next time I can confidently leave the skeg off, though I can see a rudder would only be needed when sailing or paddling in windier conditions. That is all I have to say for now.
One problem I’ve had sailing my Seawave is the sail tends to sway ever more violently from side to side when the wind gets too strong. This is not just a problem with the WP disc sail I now use (left); it was the same with the Pacific Action V-Sail I used on my Incept K40 in northwest Australia a few years ago. Unable to transfer the wind energy into forward motion, it instead spills over the sides in a flapping frenzy.
It’s well know these downwind sails (especially smaller ones) have a limit of about 15-20 mph beyond which they flip out. But lazily hooking up the WP to my Seawave’s decklines introduces a lot of slack (left) which may exacerbated the swaying. It was only when trying the similar AirSail and later my WP on my packraft in Scotland (at one point with gusts as strong as Australia) that I realised lashing the sail mounts close to the hull eliminated the swaying. At least on a broader bowed packraft.
Out sailing the Seawave the other day, I belatedly succeeded in tensioning the decklines on the water with some ever versatile SoftTies (right). As you can see left, that worked OK but annoyingly it wasn’t as windy as I’d hoped, and not enough to get the WP in a flap.
I’d forgotten to try my stick idea. Whether you use the deck cover on not, you can fix a transverse stick securely under the Seawave bow’s velcro flap and, with another couple of those nifty SoftTies, closely fix the WP to the stick. (I’ll be keeping an eye out for a nice bit of ally tube to replace the weathered old bamboo). Required work and added weight: negligible and it may work on other IKs, too. Something to try for next time.
Rather like sails where I Made My Own, lost interest, then returned with a proper WindPaddle, after five years I’ve come back to the idea of fitting a rudder to Seawave 2. Mostly, this was inspired by a much simpler pivoting footrest tube idea from fellow Seawaver Jules, replacing cumbersome and bulky foot pedals. A rudder ought to make the Seawave more useable in a slightly greater range of conditions, including sailing which I tried again recently.
I could have bought the Gumotex rudder kit for just £219, but as always it’s more fun to piss about for hours and days on the pretext of saving money and conjuring up small improvements. IKs sit higher than hardshell kayaks, so I coughed up 25 quid for the longest rudder mechanism I could find on ebay: 510mm. It weighs 550g. The stern-mounted rudder plate started as a slab of was a chopping board, then became an aluminium plate additionally located with velcropads, as Jules and Gumotex use. I found secure clamping of the rudder mounting plate to be important to stop it turning on its axis. There is perhaps more torque on the mount than might be expected when a rudder blade tries to turn a 4.5-m boat. As you’ll see I ended up making a Mk 3.1 rudder mount in a mixture of soft and hard chopping board, as well as a Mk 3.2 in aluminium. There’s a 20g weight difference. Another bright idea idea Jules had was running the rudder lines out of the way under the deck velcroflap and inside thin tubing. That largely eliminates any exposed lines. I also liked his idea of controlling the rudder by pivoting a drainpipe footrest tube from the centre, eliminating the need for cumbersome foot pedals. Overall the whole mechanism: rudder, mount and clamp (220g), cords and tube (50g), adds up to less than a kilo and under £50 (some bits I had already). Eliminating foot pedals was the main saving in weight and bulk.
Mk3 Rudder for Seawave 2
Ebay rudder assembly from £20
Piece of HDPE chopping board, 3mm x 400mm x 60mm, aluminium bar, or similar
Hand clamping knob and nut
6 metres of PVC (or PTFE) pipe with 5mm internal diameter
11 metres of 2mm Dyneema cord
4-inch ø x 30cm plastic drainpipefootrest (if not used already)
2 metres of 25mm strap
A few mini snaplinks, fish snaps or similar
You may also like:
Knob for rudder lift, cinch locks and clamcleats
Footrest I already use a drainpipe as a fixed footrest. At 25cm wide, another 5cm would still fit between the Seawave’s sidetubes and may give a bit more finesse and leverage to rudder steering. If this proves the case with mine, it’s an easy swap. Drill and/or hot-knife in two adjacent slots in the middle and feed the strap through. You must fix the footrest to the strap so there’s no slippage. A big knot inside will do. Thread the strap’s loose ends through the stock footrest attachments buckles on the boat’s floor. You can now easily re-position the footrest tube forward or back for tandem or other sized paddlers. This is handy whether you use a rudder or not. While fine in the straight line along the hull top, putting a bend in the soft PVC tubing down the insides of the hull caused too much drag on the lines. So to avoid wear on the grey Hypalon, I just chopped the PVC tube back and stuck on some tape. (As you can see I need to add another strip for the tandem position). It’s probable the harder PTFE tubing Jules used causes less stiction, but having the rudder line exposed near the footrest-pivot make adjusting clamcleats and cinch locks easier.
I stumbled on quite a fast and easy way to fine tune or readjust the footrest pedal tension: inline clam cleats (or cam cleats or rope locks) which I came across during my V-Sail experiments years ago. Feed the line through as shown below; centre both rudder and footrest, then cinch up and you should be good to go. Once you’ve established the right line length through the cleat for a certain fixed position, it can help to ‘memory mark‘ the cord (as I did in red). Though I bet once I get on the water and use the rudder a bit, they’ll go off alignment, so probably better to wait till then.
You need enough rudder line slack to slide the whole pedal-footrest forward about a foot when paddling two-up. Loose ends can be tidied away with cinch locks. Eleven metres of Dyneema cord is enough to do this job on a Seawave, including a single rudder lifting line. (To push and drop the rudder too you’ll need another 3m.)
Rudder mountplate The 10mm red chopping board I bought was actually quite bendy (LDPE, not HDPE?) compared to other bits I realised I had all along. The less play in the rudder system the more responsive it will be; an IK’s stern mounting is mushy enough. This time round I copied Gumotex’s idea of using small velcro pads to stop the rudder twisting on it’s pivot-clamp axis. Initially lacking stick-on velcro, I glued plain velcro, using the PU glue from the Gumotex repair kit. For one-part glue, it seemed to fix the velcro pretty well but if not, some sticky-back came in the post.
I knew from last time I made a rudder the under-plate shape helps eliminate pivoting of the mount, but you can draw out the truncated triangle by simply tracing the converging top seams at the stern, then make the under-plate from whatever you got. I used a bit of plywood: jam it in snugly, mark the point under the stock drain hole, remove and drill. I glued and taped a nut to the back of the ply and added a bit of string to help pull the under-plate out.
I would have rather made the rudder top mount plate from ally but with little more than a hacksaw and a kitchen stool, lacked the tools to do a neat job. Then, while waiting for parts to arrive, I realised it was possible to buy ‘aluminium bar off cuts’ on ebay (right). Using the word ‘bar’ was the key. This place, or others like it, sell various sizes, including 3mm x 400 x 60mm for 7 quid.
I’m pretty sure most kayak rudders come with a 48-mm pivot pin of 9mm ø. Or was it originally 3/8″s, which is 9.5mm? The pin slips into a 10mm gudgeon swivel sleeve/tube. Some hardshells have this tube moulded in the stern; on an IK it must be built into the rudder mount plate. Above left, you can see Jules (as well as Gumotex) integrate a gudgeon swivel tube into the end of the mount plate; a tricky thing to do accurately with a just a hand drill, though Jules’ thick plate makes it a bit easier. On my Mark 3.1 white HDPE mount, I glued layers of the old red LDPE into a block of plastic, then drilled a 10mm hole which works OK.
When it comes to an ally rudder mount, online you’ll find stainless steel kayak rudder pivot ‘C’ brackets for a fiver. They weigh 57g and are usually screwed to the vertical stern of a hardshell, replicating the gudgeon tube. Even though they’re only a fiver, it seems impossible to buy these from anywhere else but the Far East, and it would be more than a fiver’s work to fabricate that shape from hard stainless steel. I bought a pair anyway; they arrived in a fortnight, but hole diameters (not stated in the advert) were 11mm, meaning 2mm of play with my rudder pin which feels too much. Oh China, your poor manufacturing tolerances let me down! So I glued on some 10mm washers to eliminate the slack. I’d have been better off making something after all. It had occurred to me I could have bent my 400-mm piece of 3mm ally into a full ‘C’, either curved round a pole, or bent on an edge at two right angles, as up above left in cardboard. Tweak the alignment and precisely drill two 10mm holes and the rudder swivel mount and plate are all one piece. In fact, that 3mm alloy plate I bought was pretty stiff, so I settled on a simple L bend (and without a vice, even that wasn’t perfect), then glued and bolted on the Chinese ‘C’ bracket.
Rudder pulley Rudder blades have a hole in the back so the pulley can lift and lower the rudder near a shore. For the moment I’ve decided to keep things simple and only use a single lift line, not a doubled-up line (another 3m of cord needed; 14m total) to lower the rudder as well. I intend to use the paddle to reach back and flip the rudder into the water. If that is a poor idea, I can easily add a two-way rudder line. On packing up I realised this line needs to be in two sections if the rudder and plate are to be easily removable when rolling up the boat. The join can be at the back near the plate. As you can see I ran out of Dyneema and used an orange shoelace.
I fitted the lift line along the sides, using the deck support rib tabs and running through spare bits of tubing to avoid wear and aid smooth running. I fitted a tension-adjustable knob at the hand end of the lift line on the left, though anything will do. Pull forward six inches to lift the rudder. Flip the rudder back down with the paddle blade.
Does that flat, 4mm front edge of the rudder blade need chamfering to cut through the water, or am I other-thinking it? Who knows but watever you do, keep the skeg handy in case the rudder plays up.
It’s Midsummer’s Day up here in the MidSummer Islands, but it’s barely over ten degrees and blowing from the northwest. Now my Seawave PRV saga has been resolved, there’s enough (but not too much) wind to sail the four miles over to Achininver for a visit. It’s the last day of paddleable weather before we pack up and head back south with the geese.
It’s also my first chance to try out my trolley with wrapped-round inner tube tyres. It’s less than a mile down to the beach and the racket of solid plastic wheels is gone. This trolley really is one of my better ideas for the Seawave. It ditches the need for a car for short hops, and elsewhere means you can paddle somewhere and wheel back if there’s a road or decent track.
As it’s chilly and will get splashy on the paddle back, I slip into my Anfibio dry suit. If the sailing goes awry and I fall in, I have an impression of being protected, even if its true insulation effects will be marginal. Best of all, I can dip myself into the brackish loch behind Badentarbet beach for a salt rinse and be dry by the time I wheel home.
My WindPaddle is the 1.2m Adventure II model, big enough to haul the 4.5-m Seawave with me in it. I flip it out and off we go, trying to steer SW for Rubha Dunan point. Only it’s not really working so well. Apart from the usual sail swaying left-right on bigger gusts and flopping back on lulls, whitecaps are rolling in from the right, pushing me onto the Achlochan peninsula. Later I realise this drift is probably because the Seawave’s skeg (no bigger than my hand) is too small to stop the light Seawave drifting across the wind which across the bay may be turning WNW. This is why sail boats need keels and dagger boards. If I had a third hand or a passenger, the paddle could’ve been used as a rudder, but as it was my hands were full managing the sail and trying to take the odd photo. You don’t want to risk losing the paddle. Since then, I’ve made a rudder for the Seawave.
I’m pushed into the rocky shore where the refracted waves and added fetch make things a bit lively, but the ever-stable Seawave is reassuring. So with a quick cross-fold, the sail is stashed between my knees and I paddle on to Rubha Dunan. Once round the corner the sea is smoother but the wind remains so I cruise past the sandstone cliffs towards Badenscallie Beach, an alighting point for Horse Island. Once back out of the lee the waves build up and with the odd gust, the Seawave races on. When you’re not trying to control the sail, it is a marvel to sit back and look round as the water tinkles past the bow. One thing I did learn a few weeks later while sailing the packraft in similar conditions with a similar sail, was that the side-to-side swaying was largely eliminated because the sail was fixed closely to the bow with no play. On the Seawave, I just hook the sail to the grab line (below left) in the hope of gaining a bit more height for more drive. Next time I’ll pin it closer to the bow and see what happens. I’d expect better control.
It took me an hour-fifteen to cover the four miles to Achininver Beach, at times lazily sailing slower than I could paddle. Interestingly, it took only an extra 15 minutes to hack back non-stop into the wind at 2.4mph, but by the time I got in I was just about pooped. It was a fun excursion, but to make it worthwhile you need more wind than you’d want to paddle back against. A better use of the sail would be going somewhere and not having to crawl back.
Time to head back up the hill, dry out the boat and roll it up for this season in the Summers.
“I claim to have proved that the sea itself provides sufficient food and drink to enable the battle for survival to be fought with perfect confidence.”
Alain Bombard, The Bombard Story (1953)
Many packboaters have heard of Alone at Sea (right, and discussed below), Hannes Lindemann’s famous account of his sail-assisted, mid-Fifties Atlantic crossings, first in a dug-out canoe and then in a production Klepper folding kayak. As a doctor, Lindemann used his expedition to examine the physiology and psychology of enduring long weeks at sea alone.
Although he was already an experienced sailor and ocean kayaker by this time, Lindemann’s Atlantic goals may well have been spurred on by a meeting withFrenchman Alain Bombard (right) in Morocco in 1952. Also a doctor, Bombard was at the time engaged in exploring unorthodox ways of extending the survival chances for those adrift at sea. When they met, Bombard was about to set off across the Atlantic in a 14-foot RIB (rigid inflatable boat or dinghy) equipped with a sail – but with no food or water.
His book starts in 1951 when he estimated 200,000 people died at sea each year. Half perished when a disabled vessel struck the shore – ‘Fear the land, not the sea’ as a sailor’s adage goes – but about a quarter died while adrift in life rafts, surrounded by water and potential food.
Bombard was convinced that as long as sharks, madness and weather didn’t finish you off, indefinite survival at sea waspossible by drinking moderate amounts of seawater, as well as the less saline juice pressed from fish, and all supplemented by windfalls of rainwater. Fish could also be eaten raw or dried, while teaspoonfuls of plankton gathered in a stocking-like mesh could address vitamin needs. ‘Lobster puree’ was how he initially described the taste of the seaborne slime which he later grew to loath. All that was missing from a balanced diet were carbohydrates, to which Bombard believed the human body could adapt.
The key was to start drinking seawater as soon as fresh water became unavailable and before becoming seriously dehydrated. This sea-water-only practice was something about which Lindemann professed some scepticism. In his first dug-out trip his legs swelled up as a result, he thought, of drinking small amounts of seawater. Later, when he didn’t drink it they were mostly fine. But Bombard found no such ill effects early on, while adrift with a friend for a few days in the English Channel. Of course Lindemann was suffering in the torrid, tropical climate of the Gulf of Guinea while Bombard spent just a few days in the Channel during his first experiment. Although Bombard recorded many ailments, he reported little such swelling in the Atlantic; you do wonder if being able to move around his Zodiac more freely may have helped circulation, although Lindemann was never completely cockpit-bound on either of his crossings.
What does for many castaways is that once adrift and with all fresh water exhausted, it’s only in a state of acute desperation that they turn to seawater (or urine). By now severely dehydrated, the kidneys can’t handle the sudden accumulation of toxins and an agonising death soon follows, supporting the mariner’s lore that drinking seawater was fatal. According to Bombard the key was to drink early but drink little.
With the aid of sponsors, benefactors as well as supporters in the field of oceanography, he used an early incarnation of what was to become the well-known and widely licensedZodiacinflatable dinghy. (The Bombard brand of RIBs still survives today). He christened his own craft L’Heretique (the Heretic) which demonstrates how he thought he was perceived.
With much less experience at sea than Lindemann, in 1952 he set off from Monaco for the Balearics with an English companion and experienced sailor, a journey not without privations at sea and which on land included a hostile press eager to exploit his drama while keen to catch him out. A small store of emergency food and water was officially sealedand placed in his boatand though he was at times desperate, it was never used by Bombard – partly because certainly in the mid-Atlantic he was at timesthrowing excess rainwater overboard and was never short of fish, despite what many had predicted. Shipping on from Ibiza to Tangiers (where he met Lindemann) for the Atlantic stage to the West Indies, he correctly interpreted his English companion’s dithering as a change of heart forwhat lay ahead and so set off alone, while later praising his companion’svaluable contribution. (Lindemann interprets this episode less generously).
You can imagine the ordeal that followed. A fortnight or so to the Canaries – a dangerous stage for any small sail boat and one which Lindemann chose to skip in the kayak. And then over two months across the Atlantic to Barbados where he arrived just before Christmas 1952, desperate to let his wife and new-born child know he was alive. Pushed along by irregular trade winds but travelling off the shipping lanes, he only encountered two vessels on the way. On one ship, the Arakaka, met less than a fortnight from completion, he succumbed to a regular meal that was offered, but following weeks of raw fish, his starvation-hardened willpower went into a spin which he claimed very nearly finished him off.
At times it reads like a voyage in outer space of The Life of Pi, full of wonder as well as terrifying episodes: strange creatures, sound and lights, phosphorescence and a loyal escort of birds and dolphinfish or dorado (which also helped replenish his larder).
As well as his physical health, his mental state and morale were also closely scrutinised and well recorded, including his prolonged despair as land failed to materialise for weeks (most of the time his longitude was out by 10° or 600 miles). He demonstrated dogged defiance as storms swamped L’Heretique for hours on end, as well as the irrational conviction of being persecuted by inanimate objects – all exacerbated by the monotonous fare, incessant damp and interrupted sleep.
Loyal ‘Kleppards’ rightly hold Alone at Sea in high acclaim and ensure that it’s still in print, but whatever Lindemann achieved, you have to salute Bombard’s bravery, resolveand not least the commitment to his unconventional experiment in surviving for weeks by living off the fruits of the sea.
Reading the book I had a thought that perhaps Bombard had rediscovered a long-lost human ability or knowledge for surviving at sea. How else does one suppose people like the Polynesians colonised the Pacific, or humans got to Australia tens of thousands of years earlier and long after any land bridge? In fact his ideas had already been raised in the film of the Kon-Tiki voyage which had been released in 1950. Heyerdahl’s Wiki page says this of his 1947 expedition:
“Kon-Tiki demonstrated that it was possible for a primitive raft to sail the Pacific with relative ease and safety… The raft proved to be highly maneuverable, and fish congregated between the nine balsa logs in such numbers that ancient sailors could have possibly relied on fish for hydration in the absence of other sources of fresh water.”
The Kon-Tiki film (on youtube) mentions extracting fish juice, eating plankton as well as mixing 40% seawater with fresh, but on reading Bombard’s book you still get the feeling he took it all a big step further, critically examining the full nutritional potential of living solely off the sea, and then having the guts to put his theory brutally to the test while learning a few hard lessons on the way.
Bombard’s extraordinary adventure brings to mind another incredible voyage that took place at the same time, that of Australian Ben Carlin who sailed and drove an ex-army amphibious jeep called Half-Safe around the world (right). It took him ten years and cost him a wife or two, but in overlanding terms nothing else comes close. As with Bombard, many couldn’t believe the jeep had motored across the Atlantic and then been driven up to London.
Although long out of print, I found an original 1953 Andre Deutsch edition of The Bombard Story for a couple of quid on the web, impeccably translated it has to be said, by a chap called Brian Connell.
Alone at Sea A couple of years after meeting Bombard in Tangiers, Lindemannalso put himself to the test by crossing the Atlantic alone in, of all things, a heavily-keeled West African dug-out canoe he had made in Liberia where he was stationed at the time. Here’s a little newsreel of the boat.
He took off again a year later, this time in a smaller and less robust Klepper Aerius folding kayak (right), fitted with two masts and an all-important outrigger to partially compensate for the lack of a keel. Little changed, the legendary Aerius is still made by Klepper today. The Pouch we used on the Speyis a close copy.
I recall being disappointed when I realised Lindemann hadsailed his Klepper across rather than paddled it, which shows how little I know about ocean paddling! Indeed, I believe it wasn’t until 2011 that a 64-year-old old Polish guyAlexander Doba, managed to actually kayak paddle alone – not sail or row – between the African and South American mainland, although his specialised craft was noslim sea kayak, buta specially designed 23-foot, half-ton, self-righting contraption with a watertight sleeping compartment, similar to those trans-Atlantic rowing boats. Such features enabled Doba to keep at it for over three months, sitting out contrary wind and currents until he finally reached Brazil. Doba completed a much longer 4500-mile in April 2014 in a similar boat (left), crossing between Lisbon and Florida. As this article says:
My kayak was equipped with an electric desalinator that produced around 4.5 litters … of fresh water per hour. It needed electricity, which came from a big solar panel that charged the battery… I had two spare manual desalinators, which I had to use. It took me about four hours daily to get six liters for all my needs. So instead of resting or paddling more I had to pump the water. I wanted to use my legs, so I fixed the manual desalinators in a way so I could use them with my feet.
Back to the story. Overall I found Alone at Sea the less engaging of the two books, partly because there are no less than four trips covered which adds up to a lot of horrendous days and nights at sea with waves washing over his decks and smashing off rudders. The end of the Klepper trip does pick up though, as utterly exhausted through lack of sleep, Lindemanndrifts through hallucinations and altered states following two weeks of terrible storms.
Hisgreat achievement was preparing himself as well as he could mentally, using prayer, meditation, what we now call ‘visualisation’ as well as affirmation (‘I will make it’; ‘Keep going west’), and what was then known as autogenic training, a relaxation technique on which he was later to write manuals. All this must have helped Lindemannkeep going, when other individuals would have allowed a capsized boat to slip away. Towards the end of the book there’s a telling photo on a Caribbean quayof a hunched, emaciated but still smiling figure; Lindemann had lost over 25% of his body weight and on arrival his pulse was down in the 30s.
At one point Lindemann says an odd thing though: ‘Surely I took with me the least amount of food of any boat that has ever made the Atlantic crossing, at least much less than Alain Bombard’. It’s unclear if this is an outright accusation of cheating, or an out-of-context dig at the sealed reserves which Bombard carried but, as far as we know, did not use. Sure Bombardcarried reserves; if his ‘heresy’ was flawed he didn’t want to die. He carried a radio too (it broke).
Such spats over a rival’s authenticity and integrity are common among adventurers competing for the same goal, and in his summary Lindemanngoes on tomention photos published of Bombard taking on supplies of food from the Arakaka. It’s much more than the ‘shower and meal’ Bombarddescribes in his book but still, 50 days of fish juice and plankton was surely enough to prove a point.
It has to be said though, I did feel the supposed agonies of the ‘psychologicalhunger‘ which befell Bombard following the Arakaka meal (and which proved ‘very nearly fatal’) was not so convincingly portrayed. Could he have been scoffing away merrily away all the way to the finalé? Bombard also records losing around 50 pounds of weight as a result of the ordeal.
It is true that Lindemann succeeded in making the crossing from the Canaries with his own provisions plus what nature provided with no human assistance whatsoever. He makes another dig at Bombard’s patronage and sponsorship from Zodiac, but I read Bombard’s book as the story of a guy who primarily set off to experiment in living off the sea, but like any castaway, took what was given in moderation. His preparations and qualifications seemed skimpy because he had the sealed reserves to fall back on. His goal was not to complete the crossing in complete self-sufficiency; while at sea he also sought to evaluate the viability of inflatables as life rafts, something he continued to champion and (one reads) take on commercially long after it was all over. Lindemann acknowledges this latter fact.
So though less rigorous in his execution, whether genuine or contrived, Bombard does succeed in painting himself as a more sympathetic character, missing his family and his Bach, as well as his food. He even had a little doll as a mascot which got pictured in the book. Lindemann had a speargun. And to my mind Bombard recorded his self-diagnoses more compellingly too, though reading both books back to back I could have been desensitised to registering the finer points of Lindemann’sprotracted trans-Atlantic suffering.
Lindeman was clearly much more experienced, and better prepared, particularly mentally. But I interpreted certain anti-social and even cruel elements, presumably a consequence of the pressure to succeed in the huge task he’d set himself. This included a resolve to outdo Bombard – a guy who had no shoulders of recent predecessors to stand on and so perhaps, like Ben Carlin, has paid the price in the history books.
Lindemann’s book was originally published in 1957 and, as far as I can tell, was released in English about 35 years later and remains in print; a nicely produced small hardback with colour illustrations and a map.
A less illuminating article (in German) about drinking seawater and which cites the controversy between the two authors.
In 2021 WindPaddle.com stopped trading. But Anfibio now make the very similar PackSail for just €119.
WindPaddle Adventure II Weight: 385g (+ 45g ‘reins’ with 2 mini carabiners) Folded 3 times: (takes a knack) 40 x 45cm ø Folded twice: (easier/quicker on the water) 60cm ø Open: 116cm ø
I’ve been waiting for the right kind of wind to have a proper go at WindPaddling my MRS Nomad. Sunday was not that day with SW gusts up to 25mph. Yesterday was more like it: direct from the west at 10-15 meant a chance to run down the full length of Loch Ossian with the wind erring towards the road for the walk back or if it all went wrong.
You forget that starting at the upwind end all is relatively smooth and calm, but soon the fetch kicks up and stays that way. Progress gets a bit lively so you need to be on top of things which includes stashing the paddle safely. I found tucking it across the boat under some red sidelines (left) worked well and are more often useful for manhandling the boat. Lunging after a lost paddle would be bad; so would letting go of the sail’s ‘reins’ and having the boat run over it. The sudden drag and deceleration might see the racing boat slew sideways and flip you out. And before you come up for air, your packraft is skimming across the loch like a crisp packet.
I don’t know if gusts vary in direction but you also need to constantly modulate the reins left to right to keep on course. It’s said downwind sails like the WindPaddle have a narrow windspeed window which tops out around 15mph. After that, they start fluttering left to right in an effort to shed the load, as mine did a couple of times. Going out in stronger winds may be too hard to handle or very exciting. As it is, the maximum hull speed of a packraft must be about half that and, just as a cyclist’s energy to overcome wind drag grows exponentially with speed, so to you can only push a paddle boat so far. A packraft is about as hydrodynamic as a training shoe.
With the gloomy skies I was initially a bit nervous. Controlled by the wind and without a paddle in your hands felt disconcerting; a sunny tropical locale would have fixed that I’m sure. As usual with packboat sailing, it’s never just sit back and skim along like yachts seem to do; you have to keep correcting. At nearly 3m with the skeg fitted, the MRS is longish which must help keep it on line. And as mentioned before, with the WindPaddle you can steer at least 30° off the wind. According to the GPS, 9.3kph (5.8mph) was the peak speed, though most of the time I was zipping along at about 7.5kph. It felt faster as wavelettes broke to either side and occasionally over the bow. With the big Corry paddle, at maximum paddle exertion on flatwater I can hit 6kph for a couple of seconds. So once you relax, sailing can be a fast and energy-saving way of covering distance, and the WP folded up and stashed easily under the DeckPack.
I was expecting to walk back but gave paddling a go and stuck with it, hackling along at 2kph with rests every 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes sailing downwind = a 50-minute paddle back. I still think for the price, weight, bulk and ease of fitting and use, a WindPaddle is a worthwhile packboating accessory.
Packboat is my made-up word for easily portable boats that roll into a bag but deploy in minutes, in contrast with hardshell kayaks or canoes in aluminum, plastic, or composite. I’m here to suggest that if lugging a cumbersome hardshell on your overland rig isn’t for you, then a packboat weighing from 2 to 40 pounds and never bigger than a backpack might well be, while adding another great way to explore the outdoors…
We decided to lap the tip (left) of the Coigach peninsula. Doing it clockwise put us in the lee of the afternoon’s southwesterly once in Enard Bay and better still, we’d catch high tide at Achnahaird, enabling us to paddle up the creek to complete a near full loop back to the car via the freshwater lochs of Ra and Vatachan.
I remember being quite nervous the first time I did this way back in 2013 in my Amigo – in the other direction from Achnahaird. Looks like I’m not the only one – I blame the Pesda guidebook. It felt like a long old slog west then north between the Ristol islands – the tidal Ristol channel was dry. But by the time we’d passed the reefs of Reiff and reached the sparkling beach at Camas Ghlais (below) we were already more than halfway round.
Sitting on the beach, on warm days like this and always looking to refine my set-up to a razorbill’s edge, I sometimes think a sturdy football-sized net bag to take a beach stone would be handy to anchor the boat out in the shallows. This way it won’t beach itself, get hot and purge air which can make the kayak soggy once back in the cool water. It’s one slight drawback of running PRVs on all 3 air chambers. I could probably find some washed up net up among the flotsam and make one. Or I could Buy [a ball bag] Now on ebay for a £1.62. Leaving the sandy bay, I give the Seawave a quick top-up with the K-Pump anyway.
On the north side on the bay we nosed towards a slot cave, but white streaks running down from the ledges suggested nesting birds had hung out ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs. Either I’ve never noticed them before or there are lots more nesting birds around this year. It’s the end of May but there are still tiny snow patches on An Teallach and Beinn Dearg – maybe the season is late.
North of Camas the unrestrained swell was bouncing back off the low cliffs and small dazzling waves were breaking over semi-submerged rocks, making for a rough ride. But it’s all relative and showed what a sheltered life I lead, paddling mostly in and out of the protected Summer Isles.
We passed on sandless Faochag Bay and on turning the point of Rubha Coigach all was calm as the grand panorama of the Assynt peaks came into view (above). From the right: Quinaig; Canisp behind Suilven, Cul Mor, Stac Polly in front of Cul Beag, and the group around Ben Mor Coigach. It’s one good reason to do the paddle in this direction. There’s a bigger version of the Assynt panorama here taken on the road above Achnahaird. I really must work out how to do that panorama photo-stitch thing.
Coming down the Enard Bay side, we tried to explore some other caves with green moss streaked with guano, but got dive-bombed by angry shags.
Back out in the bay an unpredicted northwesterly picked up – time to launch that WindPaddle which has been sitting in my kit bag unused for a year or more. Initially, the breeze barely reaches 6mph – we could have paddled faster – but it sure was fun to kick back, look around and let the boat waft quietly along, free from the splish-splosh, splish-splosh rhythm. I wonder if self-driving cars will be the same.
It’s been a while since I’ve done this but the WindPaddle definitely felt better than my homemade efforts from years ago, as well as the knock-off WP I bought a year or two back. I tried a V-sail too but have never really got the hang of kayak sailing. It seems the sweet spot is hard to find: either the wind comes and goes and the sail flops, or it blowing so hard the sail can’t handle it and you’re clinging on. Still, I look forward to giving the WP a spin in slightly windier conditions. For the compact size and light weight I get the feeling it may be worth keeping.
The breeze picked up and we chugged along at a brisk stroll. But even then the WindPaddle feels satisfying to use. I think the key is the sprung tension of the composite batten (rim); it retains the circular shape of the bowl which means it’ll stay up as the wind drops and keep shape as it rises, then can be confidently scrunched down to a packable size without breaking. Doing that during a bit of a blow may be tricky, but it can easily be pulled back and tucked down unfurled over the legs (right). It’s only a downwindish sail but as with previous disc sails, I like the way you can steer intuitively by pulling one line back; a skeg must help but there’s no need for paddle-rudder assistance.
It was nice to look around in the quiet but I also missed that thrill of thrust when a sail catches and holds a good passing gust. Eventually we could stand the relaxed pace no more and the geef paddle-assisted us towards a stony beach at the mouth of the Allt Loch Ra creek. Squawking oystercatchers were guarding their nests. Left, by the bothy at Badentarbet last year; don’t stand on the eggs.
Refuelled, we paddled upstream for a bit then I tow-waded the boat, reminding me of the shallows of Shark Bay in 2006 – a good way to rest after what felt like days of headwinds. The short wade brought us to within a couple of minutes’ portage of Loch Ra just over the road. Now on fresh water, we dragged through the reeds before another short portage over into the adjacent Loch Vatachan. Picking a passing place close to the shore, the geef walked off to get the car while I rinsed off the seawater – another good reason to paddle this loop clockwise. It’s 15 miles and about 5 easy hours to loop the Coigach loop.