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.
Darn. I put my Seawave on eBay to ‘test the water’ and it went within hours. Still, it’s an excuse to show some of my favourite Seawave shots in five seasons of fantastic paddling. What a great boat that was. So great that, with nothing better available at the time, in October 2020 I bought another Seawave (left).
Hypalon is a cool-sounding word and although not made anymore, has become a generic term for the similarly durable syntheticrubber-coated fabrics still in production, like Nordel and Nitrilon. Once upon a time all rafts and were made of hypalon, then less expensive Asian PVC came on the scene. More about IK fabrics.
The other day, while lashing the Seawave to a chopped-down trolley, the bag sagged under its own weight and rubbed on the sharp edge of the hard plastic wheels which wore through the pack and then the boat’s hull (left) ;-((
The trolley had worked fine with my UDB drybag in New Zealand (below left), but that was partly because you can fully inflate a UDB via its one-way oral valve, transforming it from saggy sack to firm travel sausage.
Ironically, just two days before I damaged my Seawave I’d snagged a BNWT Orlieb RS140 (right) on ebay. I’d been eyeing up this non-rigid wheeler duffle for a while as a versatile Seawave transporter plus a reliable on-water drybag/buoyancy aid. With a bag like this, an IK or whatever you got can be transported easily across any wheelable terrain, or carried as a holdall or on its backpack straps if you’re strong enough.
With enough practice applying D-rings, let along bike and moto punctures over the decades, I was confident I could do a bomb-proof repair on my Nitrilon Seawave. In a way, I was even a little chuffed that my 5-year old IK was earning its first battle scars. Plus, in my experience rubber-based IKs like Gumotex, NRS and Grabner glue more reliably than PVC boats. Shiny packraft TPU is even easier: you can just tape it, but packrafts are low-psi boats not normally inflated with mechanical pumps. My adapted Seawave side tubes run 4 or 5 psi.
Things you will need
Patch The right two-part glue (below left) Solvent (MEK, Toluene) and rag Sandpaper or abrasive foam sanding block (note: Toluene eats foam plastic sanding blocks) Masking tape Small brush or wipe-stick Tyre repair roller (right) Well ventilated space to do a good job
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.
First paddle of the year and it’s nearly May! I need to get out more. It was a calm day but as we’d not been there for ages, we decided to go inland to the ever-reliable Loch ‘Sion’, spread below a cirque of dramatic Assynt peaks. From the lay-by on the WMR it’s a half-a-mile’s trudge down to the west shore at Boat Bay, dipping through the hazel woods then tip-toeing over rotting walkways spanning slimy quagmires.
Down at the bay – bother! The skeg – clipped to hull through a zip tie was MIA. The zip tie had probably succumbed to the UV, as they do. Oh well, I claimed years ago these IKs are controllable without a skeg, let’s see if that’s still true.
On a flowing river, finessing the paddle strokes while solo, it works well at the cost of some flat-out speed. But two-up and with a tail breeze – that aeolian nemesis of paddlecraft – we scratched a scruffy traverse out to the mouth of Boat Bay where it was quicker to let the funnelled wind push us out into the main loch. Suilven sat to the north, Cul Mor was straight ahead and the ever-popular Stac Polly was to the south where panting lines of day-trekkers were eyeing us right now, some with what I liked to think was mild envy. By and by we reach Eilean Dudh, the islet just north of Eilean Mòr, where I went for a solo spin to see if the boat was easier to track solo. It was a bit, especially once off a tailwind.
That done, we paddled over to Eilean Mòr, parked up on the east side out of the breeze and found a flatish, dryish patch where some woodsman had made a rudimentary camp. I went off for an explore through the mossy-barked woodlands, like something from a fairy tale, then up to the unusually bald summit which in a month or two will be waist-deep in thick, green ferns. All around the heather-clad hills still clung to the tawny hues of late winter and the branches of gaunt, leafless trees, deformed by the prevailing winds, reached northeast like some toga-clad heroine in a Romantic painting. May’s reliably sunny spells will soon put an end to all this drabness.
When the time came to paddle back, set against the wind the skegless Seawave was much easier to handle and satisfying to paddle. In fact I got so engrossed in the effort that amid the perspectiveless blur of yellows and browns I missed the small entrance back into Boat Bay and was steering us west towards the Polly Lochs.
‘This doesn’t look right’. And I was right, it wasn’t. A quick glance at the map and a turn to the northwest delivered us back to the right shore. Back home, the skeg lay in the gravel by the wall alongside a broken zip tie. Have I mentioned tough, TPU RovaFlex reusuables yet?
A fortnight later (that’s the frequency of sunny days up here) we looked down on a new perspective of Suilven and Eilean Mòr island from the windless 2800-foot summit of Canisp mountain, still clinging to the last of the winter snows.
We set out to paddle from Chichester Town Basin, down the old ship canal into the tidal Chichester Harbour at Birdham Lock. Lois and Austin in two do-it-all, drop-skeg Venture Flex 11s (left) Robin and Elliot in an old Gumo Twist 2 and a newer Nitrilon one, both of which fitted into carrier bags. Plus my Seawave lashed to a trolley.
Nearly two hundred years ago Turner depicted tall ships gliding serenely along the then new 4.5-mile canal (above). During the canal boom preceding the railways, it linked Roman-era Chichester with the huge natural inlet of Chichester Harbour and the adjacent naval fleet at Portsmouth. To the east was a canal to the Arun & Wey navigation (left) which was a short-lived inland link between London and Portsmouth commissioned at a time when Napoleonic fleets threatened the English Channel.
Our original plan had been no less napoleonic in its grandeur: a 15-mile lap of Hayling Island, but today the tides and winds were all wrong for that, and even with Plan B we’d arrive at Birdham at low tide to face an undignified, sludgey put in.
On Google maps the canal looked clear, with maybe a quick carry around a lock or two. But just two miles from the basin, a thick mat of Sargasso frogweed clogged the channel at the B2201 Selsey Road bridge (below), reducing speeds to a crawl. Worse still, over the bridge this unallied carpet of errant biomass ran on forever, and probably all the way to Birdham Lock.
Was it a high-summer frogweed bloom? The initial two miles are kept clear by rowers, paddlers and the 32-seater cruise boat which hooted past us with a lone passenger tapping at his phone. But nothing bar the Solent breeze stirred the canal west of the B2201, allowing the thick Sargassian spinach to fester and choke navigation for even the pluckiest of mallards. A picture from 2008 (above) shows less weed at the bridge and a rather squeezy thrutch through a spider-clogged culvert under the road.
Abandon Plan B all ye who Venture Flex here. Austin called in an Uber: ETA 4 mins; ET back to his Volvo: 6 mins. Total elapsed recovery time: 16 mins, give or take. The internet of things – how modern! Soon the hardshells were lashed to the roof and the rolled-up IKs heaved into the spacious boot of the Swedish landraft with class-leading crumple zones.
A quick map check and I proposed Plan C: Pagham Harbour just down the road and out of the rising southwesterlies. I’d never heard of this medieval-era port which was now a bird sanctuary-cum-sludge repository, but Elliot had been spotting here so knew the way to the chapel at Church Norton, thought to be the mythical 7th-C source of the overdue Christianisation of pagan Sussex.
A 5-minute haul led to the shore, except the tide – which should have turned over an hour ago – was still way out, leaving only snaking channels accessible down muddy banks. We ate lunch, waiting, like Al Gore, for sea levels to rise. But when the time came nothing but irksome clouds of marsh gnats stirred as we padded over the springy salt-scrub to the nearest channel (above).
All around, collapsed jetties, concrete groynes and other arcane structures recalled Pagham’s 19th-century heyday. Back then the sea had been successfully sealed off and the land reclaimed for farming until a storm in 1910 broke through the embankment, reflooding the harbour for fair and fowl.
Another portage over a shingle bank got us to the main outlet leading to the sea and where the water was rushing out when it should have been filling. I realised that narrow-necked inlets like Pagham Harbour act like reservoirs, releasing their tidal fill gradually for hours after the sea tide has turned. In the tropical fjords of northwestern Australia’s Kimberley it can produce bizarre spectacles like the Horizontal Waterfall (left).
We drifted and boat-hauled through a strange, desert-like landscape of barren shingle banks speckled with forlorn fishermen and demure nudists until the spit spat us out into the English Channel like five bits of unwanted, flavourless chewing gum.
According to images and video on Save Pagham Beach (left), it’s staggering how fast the spit has grown once shingle management ceased around 2004; part of a new ‘natural coastline’ [money saving] policy. The spit has repositioned tidal erosion eastwards and along the shore, accelerating the scouring of Pagham’s foreshore and endangering the homes immediately behind. Recutting the Harbour’s outlet to the west (bottom picture, left) is thought to be a solution, but may transfer the flooding risk inside the harbour. Add in the protected SSSI status of the Harbour and the ‘homes vs terns’ debate becomes complex. Who’d have thought we just went out for a simple paddle.
Eastward along the coast, the assembled infrastructure of Bognor Regis rose from the horizon, while behind us the promontory of Selsey Bill kept the worst of the wind off the waves. With a helping tide and backwind we bobbed with little effort in the swell which gradually grew and started white-capping once clear of the bill. But as I often find, a sunny day and not paddling alone reduced the feeling of exposure and imminent watery doom. Only when a stray cloud blocked the sun for a minute did the tumbling swell take on a more malevolent tone. The buoyant Twists – hardly sea kayaks – managed the conditions fine and the lower, unskirted Ventures only took the odd interior rinse.
Talking of which, All Is Lost (right) was on telly the other night. Lone yachtsman Robert Redford battles against compounding reversals in the Indian Ocean after a collision with floating cargo container wrecks his boat. A great movie with almost zero dialogue.
Just near Bognor all was lost for real (above and left). Only a fortnight earlier, a similar, lone-helmed sailing boat had lost its engine and unable to sail, drifted onto Bognor’s serried timber groynes. Less than two weeks had passed and already the hull was now cracked like an eggshell and the masts were gone (maybe removed). But unlike the doomed Redford character, on the day the Norway-bound sailsman had been able to scramble ashore.
These groyne stumps – designed to limit longshore shingle drift – could also be a bit tricky in a hardshell if the swell dropped as you passed over one. And just along the shore was another wreck (above) protruding gnarly, rusted studs which may well have sliced up an IK. Mostly submerged when we passed, some post-facto internetery revealed it to be the remains of a Mulberry Harbour pontoon, one of many built in secret during WWII as far as northwest Scotland, then floated out on D-Day in 1944 to enable the sea assault on Normandy.
Our own beach assault ended at the truncated remains of Bognor pier, proving the sea eats away at this whole coast. Bognor is a step back to Hi-de-Hi! Sixties Britain when we did like to be beside the seaside. All together now! So ended a great day of paddle exploring. Uber!
Tuesday was set to be a scorcher – no less than 30°C predicted in mid-September (in the end over 34°C, the hottest Septemberday for over a century; the new normal). No excuses then to try my first south coast paddle if the winds and tides lined up. It could be my last paddle this year. With bands of chalk cliffs and the Atlantic getting funnelled in, the Sussex coast feels a bit exposed compared to northwest Scotland where I usually sea kayak. With little of interest, it’s not exactly a sea kayaking mecca, even though it’s highly populated. At least if you have a shipwreck, it won’t be far to a road or even a bus and I bet a mobile works everywhere. Wind direction for Tuesday was ESE – an ideal onshore-ish backwind, if a bit breezy (for a lone IK) at 13mph. And by chance the tide was just right too: high at a handy 9am with a moderate 3.5m drop. (good tide times website). In five days time the spring tide would be nearly twice that. Clearly this was shaping into a westbound day. Anyway, that was academic as wind and tide made Newhaven west to Brighton and beyond the way to go. With lots of rail stations, I could go as far as the arms lasted.
I learned an interesting thing about Sussex and Kent tides while planning this run earlier in the summer. For the last two hours of the incoming (eastbound) flow, the tide keeps rising but reverses westbound along the English coast as it backs up at the Straits of Dover and spills back down the sides. This makes a more usual easterly run with the prevailing SW winds a bit tricky (or short) on an incoming tide. The nearer the Straits the more skewed the tides. At Dover it falls for nearly 8 hours, but fills in less than five. At Brighton, where the Channel is four times wider, ebb and flow are equal but you still get that 2-3 hour backwash at the end of a high.
The Newhaven train took me over and along the South Downs where sheep nibbled in the early morning sunshine. It sure was nice to get out, even in southeast England which isn’t exactly terra incognita to me. On the steep shingle beach below Newhaven fort, the tide was topping out as I topped off the Seawave and the Dieppe ferry backed out of the harbour. These shingle beaches have steep ramps bashed out by stormy seas. At high tides this terracing kicks up the surf and means wading in can quickly put you out of your depth, as I recall well from childhood holidays on the Southeast’s shingle beaches. But probably more by chance, I timed my put-in on a lull, hopped in and PLF’d out of the surf zone. As usual, alone on a new shore after a couple of months off, the first few minutes or more required managing an agoraphobic anxiety. I reassured myself the wind was blowing me along- and towards the shore, and the dropping tide would gradually expose beaches below the cliffs if I needed a break. On the beach I’d inadvertently pumped the seat right up, and in trying to deflate it on the water, the annoying sticky twist valve stuck and I was soon sat flat on the floor. Oh well, it will make me more stable if it all gets rough. I’d forgotten my rudder too, but wasn’t too bothered about that. One less thing to concentrate on.
The trouble with backwinds is they give no impression of movement and soon I was dripping like a dewy fern at dawn. As you’d expect out here, the seas were jaunty, with occasional swells rolling by that looked higher than me. But there were no tell-tale whitecaps, the stern wasn’t pushed about, and half an hour in, a long concrete ledge/seawall below Peacehaven cliffs offered a way out if needed. That would have to be in extremis though, as at times the swell slapped hard against the walls and there were only steps to get out.
No need for that yet. We were moving along probably faster than I felt. I tried to keep away from the shore so as not to get caught by a rogue swell – I saw one break up ahead way off the shore and steered well behind that point. There seemed to be no pattern to these choppier episodes. Was it a set coming through or just seabed related? Later, looking at an OS map and what the sat map below shows too, a wave-cut sub-sea platform of the soft chalky cliffs extends quite far out. Where the jade green sea turns blue is where it drops off? Who knows, perhaps it’s just the sea, but it created an uneven rhythm considering the linear nature of the paddle. Another thing I noticed was that I drifted out to sea if I didn’t concentrate. It was probably the tide which not only ebbs westwards but goes out too. Hence the well-known expression and phenomenon: ‘the tide is going out’. Every once in a while a quick spurt inshore (but not too far inshore) put me right.
A few miles ahead I could see the whitewashed conurbation of Brighton, but without a seatbase the old backside was now beginning to feel the strain. I passed by a couple of serious-looking sea swimmers heading upwind, then put in between some groynes at Saltdean, where another cliff-protecting concrete walkway ran all the way to Brighton; a fun cycle or hoverboard, I dare say. I timed my landing well enough, but after pumping the seat and a rest, re-entry required flipping the swamped boat a couple of times. Probably because getting back out between the surf can’t be done as briskly as coming in.
Next obstacle: getting round Brighton marina where the seas really felt quite lively. The southeasterly swell was bouncing off the marina walls like Brighton revellers on legal highs. Nothing for it but to PLF; at least the wind was helping. Round the back of the breakwater all was calm, bar the odd oversized swell. I found a piece of coal and a child’s wet shoe. It was a good omen: follow the shoe!
Up ahead lay Brighton pier and the effort and early tension of only a couple of hours was starting to show. I hacked away towards the pier, then decided I must pass underneath it with my new shoe if I was to reach salvation. SUPers were gliding by and wetbikers were gunning about, making a grating, aggressive din. A surfy beach landing was performed ‘with aplomb‘ in front of the basking crowds. I recall an apocryphal American’s view of Brighton Beach ‘Beach? Where’s the saynd? It’s all stones!’. GPS check: ten miles at 4mph average, peak 6.5mph. Quite fast really. Time to pull the plugs.
In case you don’t know, Brighton is an unusually groovy and arsty enclave by English south coast standards; ‘London by Sea’ some call it. I met up with a young entrepreneur who was hoping to start-up an innovative coffee-by-drone delivery service. So far the response had been excellent and the odd sunbather who’d got a scalding espresso shower merely thought it was an amusing prank. If coffee-by-drone could work anywhere in the UK, Brighton would be the place. Apparently he’s idea is on an upcoming Dragon’s Den.
As for the paddle. It’s good to get a salty tan while exercising, but the run was as ordinary as I expected, not like the wilds of the northwest or even the rural southwest, and without much intriguing geographic detail to explore. I bet looking down on the passing Seawave from the clifftops was a lot more alluring.
West beyond Brighton it’s built up pretty much all the way to Selsey Bill before the Solent. In the other direction Cuckmere Haven around the much bigger cliffs of Seven Sisters and Beachy Head to Eastbourne pier (8 miles) would be a good one on a calm day. You can’t get lost – just follow the shoe.
The shell-sand skerries of Arisaig are a well-known sea kayaking destination so, blown out by the wrong sort of wind to complete our mission on Mull, we scooted over towards Morar on the warmest May day since Michael Fish was knee-high to an isobar. Arriving late the night before at the sheltered glampsite at Camusdarach (5-star ablutions), I wasn’t quite sure where we were, but somewhere out there the easterlies were howling like banshees. Next morning at Arisaig all was calm as a small posse of schoolchildren trotted by in high-viz safety wear, a tribute perhaps to George Osbourne.
We were at the wrong end of the tide to enjoy Arisaig’s famed aquamarine lagoons, so headed round the corner to some beaches Gael knew from previous visits. We lunched at one, set up camp at another then headed back to the archipelago in unloaded boats for low tide. For me it had become just too darn windy to enjoy a relaxing sea cruise. Even hopping onto one of the skerries, I could barely stand while grabbing a few shots of Gael (left). Back at the camp, conditions were calmer for a quiet evening, but early next morning, as soon as I looked out the tent the northeasterly kicked off for the 90-minute headwind hack back to Arisaig. We arrived at the jetty just as the church bell tolled 9am. Nice touch – can’t say I’ve ever encountered church bells in Scotland.
All that remained was a lift to Mallaig, a ferry to Armadale, a two-hour wait sun-baking outside the Ardvasar pub for the stealth bus to Broadford, then another hour for the big bus to gusty Kyle. An hour later the train left for the scenic line to Garve where the Mrs turned up right on time. I’m staggered by Cal-Mac prices for walk-ons, even hauling a paddle and some packs. You couldn’t go two stops on a London bus for what it costs to cross over to Skye. Integrated local bus services? Less impressive but I got there in the end.