So, let’s talk about safety! It has been a while since our first “Worst Case Scenario” video (where we are recovering an unconscious victim in awaiting of the Coast Guard) and our attention was drawn by a few real-life stories from fellow paddlers that lost their boat during their trips. Why is it that a board surfer is tethered to his board, and a surf skier is also tethered to his surf ski….? But I rarely hear sea kayakers tethering themselves to their boat? Of course, it can be dangerous in specific situations such as during surfing, or during rock hopping. But when one goes offshore than there are only benefits by attaching yourself to your boat. We tried a few setups during the past year, going from the use of the long tow line on the belt to a mid-size safety line, to the short tow line just in front of the cockpit. I chose the last option, where I hook the carabiner of the short tow line (a piece of bungie) to the loop of my spray deck. That way I can still pull my spray deck in case of emergency, it is also not in the way of a roll. There is also a minimum risk of entanglement. This video shows what could happen if you lose your boat, and how you can prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario. Feel free to comment or share experiences and what works best for you. Have fun and be safe on the water!
With the success of the SKTC of last year it became clear that there certainly would be another chapter in this story. We were asked again to coach this training camp a second time. Of course, we joined in, to share our passion and knowledge with other sea kayak enthusiasts. The advantage of this SKTC is that everyone can join and that we can start with basic things in a calm and beautiful environment with low risks. That way it’s possible to give a very personal approach what was very much appreciated by the participants. Safety and making fun are key in the program, if there is no smile on your face, then there must be something wrong. The camp takes places over five days with both theoretic lessons and a lot of practice on the water. We start with basic things and then move over to combined exercises and even worst-case scenarios where the participants must solve the problem. Working as a team is equally important, the first day we immediately said that we don’t want a group, but a team! I want to thank the team members for their positive spirit during the camp, my assistant Winoc to be at my side during coaching and Boris & Ivka from http://spiritofkorkyra.com/ for again a perfect organisation. Let us not forget NSK team member Sylvie! Without her it would not been possible to make this video, she spends hours on the beach to take a lot of footage…. Maybe we will see you next year? Paddle safe and take care of each other!
This time we are showing you how we fix a worst-case scenario, as in “my kayak is sinking”! We are 4 kilometers offshore and we pulled of one of our hatches, leaving the front compartment exposed to the sea water. With a little leaning our kayak is flooding. It’s scary when doing this training exercise for the first time. We trained on this a lot in the safety of the harbor, and we advise you to get started in a safe environment when doing this training for the first time. You will be surprised how easy this rescue is. Of course, the harder the conditions, the harder it will get. But most important, we know that it is still possible to rescue ourselves when the worst thing happens. Follow up the top tips that we are giving in the video and you will do just fine. Make sure to carry a grab bag at all times, and make sure that you have duct tape with you. Trust us, this can happen (we have seen this happen only once, but still…) in real life.
After my previous record back in 2015, I had no idea that I would go for a second attempt, but the past year the sea began to call again.
I waited together with a Spanish team last year (2017) on perfect weather, with no success. It was only this summer, after waiting a few months, that I saw an opportunity.
I had also contact with Eddie and Jens, a German team that had the ambition to attempt to cross the North Sea. We shared information and knowledge. We agreed to stay in contact and start together if possible. They would make the same trajectory as I did in 2015.
So, we got together during the night in Nieuwpoort harbour on Wednesday 1st of August 2018. Both the German team and I had made practically the same navigational planning and we wished each other success. I must say that it was an honour to depart together with them. I said goodbye to my wife and children. My wife Sylvie is my support team and keeps keep contact with Oostende Radio on the Belgian side, and Dover Coast Guard on the UK side. Both services were informed properly about our intentions.
At 01 o’clock (local time), I started from the slipway at Nieuwpoort harbour, Belgium. I had some light from the full moon. I started at a pace I could keep up for hours without stopping or resting. When I left the safety of the harbour, all stress was away, I felt alive! Although it was too dark to see a thing, I knew my way around. This first part was a home run in my backyard so to speak. I chose to leave at this hour because of the tidal stream. I wanted the stream against me during the first six hours. I rather have it along the Belgian coast where it less powerful (but not to be mistaken) than on the UK side, where it is almost double the speed. I passed the Trapegeer buoy when the stream was still building up against me. Between here and the next buoy, the DY1, is a real battle. A battle against the tide, a battle against a shortage of sleep, and I must be alert for other ships who couldn’t see me. During the night I had only a force 2 headwind. I was relentlessly pushed back by the tidal stream and the wind during the very short breaks. One of the things I enjoyed most was sunrise. I took a very short break at that moment, so I could see the sun coming up.
When I finally arrived at the DY1 buoy it was almost slack water. Taking it easy now is not an option, since I need this advantage badly to reach the final section in time (also tidal stream related). From the DY1 buoy, I hopped to the SE Ruytingen buoy and finally the NW Ruytingen buoy, where the international shipping lane starts. I was there a bit too soon. I set course to the WSW Sandettie buoy. I saw that my speed was decreasing very much due to the stream that was still heading SW. Soon I took the decision to deviate the planned route and head towards the Sandettie lightship. The downside was that I crossed this part of the shipping lane at a sloping angle instead of as straight as possible. I had no other choice, because my speed was almost gone too, which makes a straight crossing of the shipping lane in this case even more dangerous. So, to the lightship it was! Except for one sailing vessel, I did not pass any professional shipping on this section. My speed increased and so I could take all the benefit I needed to go on.
When reaching the Sandettie lightship I was excited. I always had an interest in ships, beacons, buoys, and now this one was ticked off on my list. The second thing I was excited about was that I could now see the white cliffs of Dover in the distance. The next buoy, SW Sandettie, was close and so was the second part of the shipping lane. I was able to cross it straighter. During the crossing of the shipping lane, I only saw two merchant ships, that was all. Leaving the shipping lane behind it set course to the Goodwin lightship. Also, not on my initial plan, but since I deviated I had to adapt. There was very little tidal stream during this part, I could reach it without compensating a lot. It was slack water, but a bit choppy due to the area I’m in, the Goodwin Sands. I took a last break and I made a call with the VHF to the Dover Coast Guard to state my position and status. In turn, they informed my wife (aka, the support team).
I knew from the previous time that the last section should be worse now due to the wind. The wind was increasing to force 3-4 from the side (WSW) and the current would soon pick up in the northerly direction. So, I started heading to the harbour of Ramsgate, which I could not see at this point. The waves were there all the time from this point on, due to the current pushing over the Goodwin Sands and the wind. It decreases the much-needed speed to aim for the harbour. The more I closed in on land, the harder the tidal stream was pushing from the port side. With a lot of persistence, I reached Ramsgate harbour, finally!! My wife and two children were there, waving and yelling. I was relieved, happy, excited, exhausted and had a feeling that I could take on the whole world while being so tired that I could capsize in the blink of an eye, all at the same time. Just to be correct, after greeting my family, I paddled on to the slipway. It was only there that I switched off my GPS. I had paddled 107 kilometres and spent 17hours and 48minutes doing so. After taking a shower and eating a hot meal, we went back home by ferry.
My first time in 2015 was perfect, the weather was perfect, the sea was flat. This time the weather was good… only good, not perfect. No kayaker talks about force 3 or 4 unless you’re on a mission like this one. I could adapt, as I’m usually doing. But the constant headwind in the first half and the portside wind on the last section took their toll. I have no regrets, but I made it more difficult by crossing during these conditions. Make no mistake, the sea is boss, you’re not. Even with a lot of training and preparation, it’s the sea that will decide whether you’re ready for it, or not.
I wish to thank my family from all my heart for their continuously and unconditional support on all that I do or undertake! Were it not for them, I would not have done this. Thank you, thank you!
Special thanks to the people from Ostend Radio (MRCC Oostende-Belgian Coast Guard) and Dover Coast Guard (UK) for virtually watching over me during the crossing, again!
Let us talk you through a small upgrade on the deck (or perimeter) lines of your sea kayak. In the video you will see Sylvie putting some flexible tube (from the DIY store) over the deck line near the cockpit. The benefit of this is very simple and convenient. It allows you to put good tension on the deck lines as it should be, and still be able to put your fingers (even when wearing gloves) underneath it at the right place. This is where the rescuer will grab, and stabilize, your boat when performing an assisted rescue during your re-entry. Also, another kayaker can grab them to stabilize you in rough water when you want to pick something out of your day hatch. It’s also easier for you to operate your short tow line with the carabiner hooks. It’s nothing revolutionary but it comes in very handy!! Feel free to share your own “sea kayak upgrades”, we’re always on the lookout for new ideas! Paddle safe and take care of each other on the water!
After receiving a few questions from fellow paddlers about our survival time in cold water during a distress situation, we wanted to test things out. We often see other paddlers go on the water, poorly dressed and without even a clue that cold water can kill someone within minutes. In our team everybody is aware of that, and so the team members are dressed for immersion. We never had problems, or even cold, when doing exercises during the cold winter periods. During training we do a few rescues, get back in our crafts and paddle further on. That way, we keep up our body temperature. But, we wanted to know what to expect in an emergency situation when we are unable to get back in our craft, or worse, when losing our craft. We don’t want to know what happens when we are well rested, when our undergarment is perfectly dry (no sweat) and when we just begin our training. No, we want to know what will happen when we are tired (or exhausted), when our undergarment is wet from sweating, and when the water temperature is as low as possible in our area. So, we paddled a fast-paced tour (as fast as possible) to sweat a lot, lose energy and get tired. We succeeded in that when entering the safety of the harbor to commence the test. The water temperature is 2°C, which is the coldest the water gets in our area. Safety precautions were taken in advance and the Coast Guard was aware of our test. In the video you will see the stage we went through, from entering the water until we got ourselves in the first stage of hypothermia. After thirty minutes we experienced uncontrolled shivering which was the signal to get out of the water. Of course, it would be possible a lot longer in cold water, in case of a real emergency. But we don’t want to take risks, our goal was already achieved. We were able to conduct a cold-water safety test that was as realistic as possible. That way we can share our knowledge with the rest of the team, and with other paddlers. Our main message; don’t be afraid of going out when it’s (very) cold, but be well prepared. Wear a good quality PFD and good clothing that protects you against the cold water (dress for immersion), field and swim test your gear on a regular base in the conditions you paddle in and last but not least, imagine the worst that can happen and prepare for it! We sincerely hope that our test can help you get a better understanding of cold water safety. We also advise you to have a look at the website of the NATIONAL CENTER FOR COLD WATER SAFETY. You can find a lot of good tips, together with real life stories. Paddle safe and take care of each other!!
In the Recap series we share our best cut scenes, experiences and other footage. If we can share the vibe with others and make other people longing to go out with a sea kayak on the water, than our mission has succeeded! 🙂 If you are not a sea kayaker already, maybe now is the time? There’s a wide range of things you can do with this craft, and some training. Most important of all, it’s all about the smiles and the companionship! Enjoy!
We must be a bit resourceful over here. It is not because we don’t have tidal races over here along the Belgian coast that we cannot train on breaking in and out of one. Somewhere in the back of Nieuwpoort harbor there is a complex with different locks called the Ganzepoot (goose foot, because it looks like one when seen from the air). In the periods with heavy rain there is too much water in the five adjacent canals and in the river Yser. The locks are then opened a few hours before low tide, until a few hours after. The amount of water that comes like an unstoppable force trough the locks is phenomenal. It also makes a perfect practicing area for us, sea kayakers. The different canals and locks have their own characteristics. We always start our training on the slower flowing water, and then build up until we go on the Yser lock. The Yser lock releases the most amount of water, at the highest speed. We train on breaking in, and back out, of fast moving water. You need a good angle of approach, some speed and a good lean-brace position.
Training is about the repetition of techniques and skills. Training should enable you to do things automatically, without thinking about it, without hesitations. We have the good habit in our team to do some of those so-called training drills every time we go out for a paddle. There’s absolutely no excuse for not doing it, it only costs you a few minutes at the beginning, at the end or somewhere in between your paddling session, your choice. This drill on the self-rescue is about gaining extra stability when you are on the back deck. It makes you aware of your sea kayaks behavior when you’re out of the cock-pit. It gives you the needed confidence should you capsize. Start with it on calm water and then build your way up so you can do this drill in the conditions you normally paddle in. We give you a few extra tips in the video. Enjoy your training! Paddle safe and take care of each other on the water!
We are always looking for a good challenge, preferably one that takes us offshore. If you look at the Belgian part of the North Sea, there are no islands that you can paddle to (with the exception of the North Sea crossing to the UK). We have to do it with our buoys, navigation marks and towers. Yes, there are towers located in the Southern part of the North Sea. Two of them are drawing our attention. The first, and closest one, is the Oostdyck radar tower. When visibility is extremely well, it can be seen from the beach without binoculars. The radar sends all shipping movements to the Traffic Centre for monitoring. This tower is located some 21 kilometres offshore. What cannot be seen from ashore is the second tower located at the Westhinder sandbank. This one lies just behind the international shipping lane, one of the busiest in the world. The Westhinder beacon warns ships for the danger of the sandbank beneath. It also monitors the force of the wind and direction, which is important for the weather forecasts for this area. This tower is located some 32 kilometres offshore.
To take on this challenge you’re not only need a good physical condition and stamina, you also have to know more than basic navigation. There is always a strong tidal stream that pushes you constantly off track, the stream is never in you favour. Taking a break, even a short one, relentlessly pushes you off track. Also the strength of the tidal stream changes every hour, so you have to keep a good eye to your bearings. During the most of the challenge, you will not have any reference to paddle to. When you reach the first tower, you still have to cross the international shipping lane, which is one of the busiest in the world. Keep in mind that those very large ocean ships probably want see you, or change their course or speed for a sea kayaker. When you crossed the shipping lane and finally reach the Westhinder beacon, then you just completed the first half of the challenge. The second half, and the most important one, is to get yourself and your team back to shore safely. If you’re tired, you can’t just quit. There is no support boat to help you. There is only you and your team.
I’m proud to say that were able to put together a small international team to take on this challenge. Two very experienced and well trained Spanish sea kayakers were eager to take on this challenge. They travelled all from Spain to Belgium, we spend some days paddling together, before heading out. On Saturday 7 July 2017 we started from the Oostduinkerke beach, at 07:40 am (local time). As an extra difficulty we chose to navigate on compass, with a sea chart. We carried also a GPS, just for registration and safety precautions, not for navigation. We stated our intentions to the Coast Guard by radio before the start. We paddled at a high pace, in order to compensate a bit lesser for the sideways tidal stream. In the video you can see the buoys that we have passed, the way we have taken on this challenge. It took us seven hours to reach the Westhinder beacon. When we got there we established radio contact with the Coast Guard again, to tell them our position and that we were still in good shape to commence the way back to shore. It was 14:30 pm (local time) and we were at the farthest offshore point, being 32 kilometres. When arriving there, perhaps euphoric, we just did half the challenge. The second part, also the hardest, was to get back with the team. It’s also a psychological battle because you have absolutely nothing to look to, there are no references, and you cannot see the land for hours. The visibility was limited to ten kilometres, which is normal for us. You have to trust your navigation skills, simple as that. Even when tired, we still kept the same high pace to counter the current. We arrived back at Oostduinkerke beach at 20:55 pm (local time).
In the video you can see our GPS track log. The GPS was not turned off during our short breaks. It registered all of our movements during the challenge.
To all other sea kayakers out there who are looking for a tough challenge, this could be what you are looking for. Be well prepared for this one, both physically, mentally and be sure of you navigation skills.
I got extremely lucky to do this one with such experienced sea kayakers! Big thanks to Carlos GARCIA and Santi DOMINGUEZ for joining! It was an honour to be part of this team, and to beat this challenge together! Check out this unique record on the Performance Sea Kayak website; http://www.performanceseakayak.co.uk/Pages/Records/Uniques/recordsUniques.php