In May 2020, myself and Paul, both veterans, both suffering from PTSD, and both a little crazy for taking on this nutty challenge, will be leaving Dungeness, across the English Channel on an epic 222-mile challenge!
We will be using 2 P&H Scorpio kayaks, recommended by experienced professionals due to their versatility, design, weight & handling. Built purposely for sea kayaking, we will be putting them through their paces on a 29-mile crossing facing the open sea and dealing with larger waves than usual.
Neither of us have ever kayaked, and are training over the coming months to complete this challenge and raise funds for veterans’ mental health care and support. Landing at Pegasus Bridge for the 75th anniversary year of VE day (Declaration of Peace) and finally ending by taking in the viewsof Point Du Hoc memorial in Normandy from sea level. Over a total of 14 days of paddling, we will be filming our journey and sharing live footage, blogs, and updates as we progress.
A bridge too far? Haha, we don’t think so. Physical and mental torture, being pushed to the limit, exhaustion, and attacks from wildlife… maybe! But we will do this; the adventure, the achievement, and a £250k target make it all worthwhile.
This Summer, my partner Amy and I headed over to British Columbia to paddle a section of the Inside Passage. If you’ve not heard of the ‘bucket-list’ worthy Inside Passage, it’s a coastal route that stretches 1700km from Washington, USA, through Western British Columbia, up to Skagway, Alaska. Its major drawcards being the teeming wildlife, a multitude of islands to weave, and the perfect balance of solitude versus opportunities to re-stock in remote First Nations communities.
We had a month to play with, so opted for a 780km section of this marine passage, from Comox on Vancouver Island up to Prince Rupert, in the north-west of British Columbia. We had a brilliant time encountering wildlife, meeting locals, and living the simple life, submersed in stunning scenery. This guide is intended to help you plan your Inside Passage adventure and hopefully provide a few nuggets of inspiration and lessons learnt.
The climate is quite similar to Scotland, so expect rain and also stunning blue skies. We went mid-August to mid-September and paddled in t-shirts for 90% of the time. The great thing about Aug/Sept is the salmon are starting to run, so lots of Orca, Humpbacks, and the bears should be well fed (fingers crossed).
Quick hit – The most compact enjoyment was certainly around Telegraph Cove. There are lots of guided trip options, amazing scenery, and loads of Orca and Humpback to get excited about.
For wildlife – The Broughton Islands certainly offered us the most varied scenery, tides, and wildlife. We saw about 60 Orca on separate occasions, Humpbacks galore, Sea Lions, Sea Otters, Bald Eagles, but no Bears…
Wilderness – The further north we travelled, the fewer people we encountered. Although most of the coast has been logged at some point, north of Vancouver Island thick forest lines the high tide mark with only the occasional small village breaking the vista.
to get there
Fly to Vancouver and catch either a bus and ferry over to Vancouver Island, or get a floatplane to your starting point from £50 upwards.
We found it surprisingly difficult to hire boats. MEC hire Scorpios from Vancouver City, but then you need to get them to your starting point. Most of the companies in the north of Vancouver Island only do guided trips. The best option we found was from a company called Comox Valley Kayaks. They hire out boats for any duration and provide a drop-off and pick-up service. We met other paddlers on shorter trips who used private boat shuttles to fine-tune their drop-off and pick-up points.
are lots of marine charts and topographic maps available of the BC
west coast. Depending on the length of your trip I’d recommend
marine charts from 1:40,000 scale and smaller. As our trip was quite
long and space was at a premium, we opted to use a road atlas for
large scale planning and the Viewranger and Navionics apps for our
day to day navigation. To charge our devices
we had a 17 Watt, waterproof, Voltaic Systems solar panel and
battery. This system worked amazingly well, enabling us to charge
cameras, phones, VHF and head-torches.
There is a ton of useful resources out there to help you plan your paddle. The Inside Passage Facebook Group is a great treasure trove of knowledge. We downloaded the book ‘Kayaking the Inside Passage’ by R.H. Miller onto our phones which offered information on history, tides, wildlife, routes, campsites, and much more. There are various online maps from previous paddling trips, featuring notated information such as campsites, water, and resupply points.
We found the paddling relatively straight forward. The majority of the route is sheltered by islands with only a few exposed headlands. The wind offered some challenges but was never a show stopper for us. However, we have heard from other paddlers that it gets much stronger & prohibiting. As a general rule of thumb, you could set your watch by winds picking up at 3 pm in the afternoon. Tides do get pretty strong in areas with overfalls and whirlpools so a good knowledge of tidal planning is vital. Lots of the tidal cruxes need to be paddled at slack water and it was often possible to paddle up tide by hugging the coastline. Landings are found quite regularly and we found many more campsites than recorded online or in Miller’s book. We carried up to 13l of water each and managed to fill up from taps with the back up of water purification means with us if necessary. Bears… We saw one from the water and heard another near camp whilst in our tent. Cook away from your tent spot where possible. Store all smellies in your hatches, seal them and flip your boat overnight. Get studious and read up on bear-safe camping. Again, not a show stopper, but we have heard of trips earlier in the year with a greater number of sightings & encounters.
This area really is a sea kayaker’s paradise, with something for everyone. If you are thinking about a trip out there, do it! Give me a shout if you would like to chat more about it, and happy paddling.
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!
How often do your sea kayak excursions extend beyond a long weekend?
If the answer is ‘rarely’, you’re not alone; in speaking to
our customers, colleagues, and counterparts, it became clear to us that few sea
kayak trips justify the length and storage capacity of expedition-ready models
such as the Scorpio.
While we’re proud to say that the Scorpio’s meticulous design means that there’s little disadvantage in manoeuvrability, and that our advanced CoreLite X material helps keep weight to a minimum, it’s hard to bring the boat weight lower or make transport and storage any easier without losing some of that length.
It’s at this point that the Virgo was conceptualised; a compact, but uncompromising sea kayak for weekend warriors.
In many ways, the Virgo is a successor to the firmly-established Easky 15, but almost 20 years on, it’s safe to say boat design and features have come a long way!
Our focus was on retaining the familiar stability and hull speed, complimenting the surf potential that a boat of such manageable size and weight creates with a carving rail, and packing in all the essential features you’d expect of any other sea kayak in the P&H range, including a low-profile back deck for easy rolling and re-entry, and the option of a Bow Mini Hatch just in front of the paddler.
Here’s a summary of
the Virgo’s key features:
The short, 14’6” length increases the play
potential and keeps the overall boat weight at a minimum, meaning you can
really throw the Virgo around on the water all day long, and still easily lift
it on to the car afterwards.
A V-hull cuts cleanly through the water and tracks
beautifully when you’re simply headed for the horizon but softens towards the
centre of the boat for comfortable stability and easy release when you’re exploring
what you find there.
Moderate rocker allows the Virgo to pick up and
carry speed efficiently when flat but swing around effortlessly on edge,
perfect for catching surges and weaving in and out of every nook and cranny
when rock gardening.
As well as responding to traditional sea kayak
edging techniques, the Virgo’s hard chines engage for carving performance when
edging into the turn; highly intuitive for beginner/intermediates or those from
a whitewater background, and exhilaratingly responsive on a wave.
A moderately steep bow ensures a high proportion
of the length acts as effective waterline for hull speed and combines with
flared bow edges to give a dry ride through choppy water and lift the boat over
waves on the paddle out from the shore.
Carefully planned bow deck geometry provides
stiffness and strength for deep water rescues, kayak sailing, and all the other
demands of a varied, memorable trip.
The rear deck is ergonomically shaped and minimal
in height to allow easy rolling and re-entry and features a paddle shaft recess
for bracing during entry, giving you the confidence to try new and more
bow and stern main hatches with market-leading KajakSport hatch covers,
providing ample capacity for long weekend adventures and maximum safety when
exploring remote coastlines.
and functional details such as split paddle recesses, a drop-forged, anodised
aluminium security point, a paddle park, a full complement of deck lines and
bungees, and comfortable, highly-adjustable and reliable outfitting are in
keeping with P&H Sea Kayak design heritage and round out the Virgo’s design
to make it something that’ll be a pleasure both to own and paddle.
It’s nice to have options,
and on the Virgo, they are:
A Silva 70P compass (northern or southern
hemisphere variants are available) fitted to the moulded recess in front of the
The choice of CoreLite X for hull stiffness and
minimal weight, or MZ3 for high impact resistance.
An optional Bow Mini Hatch for close-to-hand
storage of on-the-water essentials like snacks and sun cream.
The ability to simply and securely install a
P&H Sail System using the moulded-in inserts.
Skeg or Skudder options with the choice of a
simple cleat & cord or advanced MKII Skeg Slider System control.
You can expect to see the Virgo arriving with dealers in the UK and Europe over the next few weeks, and the following dealers have confirmed the will have a demo available:
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.
Lofoten really is a sea kayakers paradise. It combines Scotland’s intricate west coast with the mountain scapes of Patagonia and the wildlife of an Attenborough episode to create a truly magical place. This summer Amy Dunis and I spent a month exploring this archipelago and have put together a destination guide to inspire and help you head out to enjoy these islands as much as we did.
Different places to paddle
Henningsvær – Is called the “Little Venice” of Lofoten. You can explore and fish around the surrounding islands, then paddle into the spectacular harbor that cuts right through the picturesque town.
Moskenesøya – Is an amazing island in the south of the Archipelago that is the definition of wilderness. Towering cliffs, soaring sea eagles, endless beaches. This is the place to go to get away from it all.
Trolltindan mountains – Towering peaks, hanging glaciers, smooth granite faces and lush green fields dotted with grass roofed huts. A circumnavigation of this area gives you a real taste for all that is good about Lofoten.
1. Sea eagles are by far the coolest looking bird out in Norway. With a wingspan of up to 240cm they keep watch from cliffy headlands and saw overhead with such grace. On our best day we spotted 11 birds with each sighting as exciting as the last.
2. Trollfjord is the crème de la crème of fjords. 1100m peaks drop straight into the 100m wide Fjord with snow capped mountains surrounding you. Our top tip would be to get there early before all of the noisy tour ribs arrive.
3. Rulten in the Trolltindan mountain range claims the title of “Lofotens most beautiful mountain”. Paddling in crystal blue waters beneath the peak with a pristine grass roofed hut in the foreground sums up the Lofoten landscape perfectly.
4. Renei Fjord is a stunning 3 pronged fjord that cuts deep into the Moskenesøya mountains. It is the perfect place to paddle when the open seas are wild and a great place to explore if you are new to sea kayaking.
5. Moskenesøya beaches are by far the best in Lofoten. They are plentiful and their white sands stretch for miles. Camped up, with a fire roaring and the sun setting is pretty hard to beat.
When to go
The climate is similar to Scotland but on average 4°C colder so the best time to go is June to August. This also allows you to experience the amazing 24h daylight. Prepare to experience rain and wind but you will have the best chance to experience that classic Lofoten sun.
How to get there
This depends on your trip duration, budget and how many podcasts you have. We chose to drive as we wanted to take our boats, lots of food and not have to hire a car. It was a 47h drive so not for the fainthearted or those with limited time. Another option is to fly to Tromso and then transfer to Lofoten by either bus, express boat, plane or onboard the Hurtigruten (ferry). A hire car would make life a lot easier but isn’t essential.
Reine Adventure in the south and Lofoten Aktiv AS in the North hire boats and gear but you must have evidence of being at least BC 3*. Both companies will be able to give you some great advice on where to go with the forecasted weather.
Where to stay
Wild camping opportunities in Norway are amazing. You can camp for up to two nights anywhere on uncultivated land as long as you are over 150m from an inhabited building. This is a great way to save money and also wake up in truly amazing places. There are plenty of campsites with good facilities and hotels if you are feeling fancy.
Yann Engstad and Olly Saunders have produced a brilliant guide to the Lofoten islands with loads of brilliant day trips to do and a detailed explanation of the outer coast for those seeking to circumnavigate some or all of these magical islands.
Thanks to P&H for the use of the brilliant Scorpios 🙂
If you would like any more information about paddling or climbing in these magical islands please get in touch – Highland Kayak School.
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!!
We're paddlers ourselves, and all our boats are designed and manufactured by us; because that's all we do, you can be sure that all of our attention, knowledge, and passion for the sport go in to each and every kayak we make, so you'll get something that does more than just float!
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