Safari Gumotex Solway Estuary

Tuesday 4.10.16
As I got to the boat there was no sign of the tide, again it would be a high tide of 7 meters (at Silloth). I judge the tide from Silloth as it is these readings the Cumberland News give to mention tide height and times. Over the years I have worked out that it takes roughly 1 hour for it to reach Port Carlisle; the height is different of course, but if it is 7 meters at Silloth it means it will be “over the banks at Port” and thus giving me 4 hours of sailing/kayaking/floating.

As I unpacked the kayak from the bike trolley, dumped my luggage into the cabin and started to inflate the kayak the tide was reaching the boat. I did not rush, I knew how to fix the ladder and ungraciously roll into the kayak from the cockpit.

When it was inflated and the skegs screwed in, I lowered it over the side into the sea and secured it to the boat. I put some baggage in the rear cockpit to give me some back stability and lowered myself down.

The wind was strong, it was from the East, making the sea state a lee-shore and quite choppy. I pushed away from the boat and headed towards the harbour with the intention of going around it once to get into the main channel and to head down past Grune Point.

The channel pulled me down past the harbour wall and I noticed the different sub-currents swirling around underneath me, turning me from left to right and back again. There was no wind behind the harbour wall and it felt calm and peaceful. AS I turned the corner at the top of the harbour the Easterly wind fit me in the face and I had to paddle in earnest to pull away. I understood the channel was heading South East, but the wind was strong and against tide, so even though the channel was taking me in the direction I wanted to go, the wind was pushing me back. Every meter gained was achieved by many paddle stokes. I slowly passed the boat on my stern, slowly over taking it like a dream in slow motion. The wind shifted from an Easterly to a Southerly, and the water became quieter and flatter.

Then I passed the shore wall that once belonged to the harbour; then passed the houses, it took a long time and my mind began to wander. A sort of auto-pilot took over my paddling. I noticed the wavelets hitting the kayak, I noticed the spray in my face, the wind flattening the waves sometimes, but my strokes were methodical, low to the water, and plodding. I decided to video this experience, to show how routine it can be.

Slowly I got passed the solitary farm house and then I became conscience of my surroundings, especially a group of ‘white-tops’ in the distance. I want to go and see what was causing them. As I got closer I noticed they were two channels meeting each other running in opposite directions. Also there could be another reason for the disturbance; the incoming tide does not slowly come into the estuary it rushes in with multiple ‘tide races’ each tide race over laps and collides with the multiple currents or sand bars. When there is a tide race the sea state becomes confused and results in white-tops and larger waves, this could be happening. I had thought the flood was over and it was the beginning of the ebb, but if that was so the sea state would be calm as it would be ‘wind with tide’ but this was more of ‘wind against tide’. The wind suddenly shifted back to being from the East. As the ‘ripple’ effect of this confused sea state got closer I began to notice a change in the steepness of the waves. I prefer to stay facing the waves in the inflatable as I cannot ‘cut through’ a wave as I can in my hard-shell kayak, in the inflatable I only can ride on the waves and, depending on the steepness, avoid tipping.

I changed course, heading away from the white-tops, across the bay, and towards Drumbrough village. To do with meant crossing the bay, a long way out from the shore and this meant having a proportion of the waves on my port side. They were not too bad and I could ride them ok. The channel was taking me along and I found myself soon at ‘the point’ and near to the creeks of last week.

The wind was changing all the time from E. to S.E. to S. and then back again. I decided to join another channel that looked like it was heading towards Carlisle in a hurry; if I could take a ‘ride on its back’ I would get to the shore much faster. I cut across the quieter channel into the rougher wavelet area. I did speed along nicely, and I followed a stream of ‘white surf’ that marked the edge of one channel and the other. As the wind changed so did the wave direction, often it was head on, other times it was beam on, other times it was both, with standing water for me to crash into.

I got out of it and paddled over to a ‘point’ and a new creek I had not explored in 10 years or more. The high tide had made it possible to paddle up to the road. Being in the creek was like being in a different world, quiet and peaceful. I photographed the end of the creek to where the bridge/cattle grid marked the road and then videoed the slow paddle back to the sea.

I rested a while then headed back to see a smaller creek that had some barbed wire submerged in the water. I thought since I do not get a chance to get this far up the channel I will make an effort to reach the smaller creeks. Over the barb wire I paddled, and along a small creek until I reached the cattle bridge, then paddled back.

Once back in the main sea channel let myself float and to enjoy the calmness of the sea state, due to the ebb and the wind finally moving in the same direction.

With the peace and quiet I heard a ‘snort’ I looked around and I saw a black dot above the waves. Another ‘snort’ and it was a seal, sticking its head above the waves to have a look at this ‘strange creature’. Each time it submerged it re-emerged closer to the kayak. I was not paddling just floating and the lack of movement made the seal more curious. As I believe it is curiosity that makes the seal come closer. If it was frightened it could have swam away, not even made itself known to me, but it came closer, and I could see its head clearly, its markings, and it’s beautiful eyes, big and red around it sockets. How could it see in that silty water? I felt elated to share some time in its presence, and at such close distance. I had seen it before while sailing on Sadaf, but I never saw it so close. Kayaking can bring one closer too many things that sailing cannot.

After it has seen enough of me and got bored it dived and then next time it emerged it was farther away from me. I floated further down the channel noticing the sounds the ebbing tide was making as it contacted the shore line.

Passing Drumbrough Point I videoed the sea state and headed around the point into the bay where I surprised a group of birds resting on the bank. They took off and started to skim and dive over the water, great aerobatics and as they changed so did the colour from white to black to silver, hard to capture on video though.

Again, I floated and the tide took me once more passed Grune Point and into the main channel.

There was still some tide left to do some kayaking so I paddled towards the boat then onwards to the harbour and around the island. The sea state was jumping and strong, and it was pulling me out to sea, and after I had rounded the harbour wall I had to pull hard to ferry-glide to the shore and then to make my way, slowly, towards the boat in shallow water.

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Kayak (Day 1)

Monday 19.09.16

When woke up on Monday morning there was no wind, I knew there would be a little more by the coast but not enough to sail. I was facing another week of failed sailing plans, a quick decision was needed. I hurriedly checked the inflatable kayak to see if all was there, retrieved my 3-way split paddle from under the stairs and I packed it all on my bike trolley. I had a little food already in my bike pannier… I was off.

It took me about 2 hours to cycle to the coast, but the weather was fine and there was no head wind! And when I got to the boat the tide was still an hour away.
I got my wet suit (I always “dress for the sea” i.e. in it) and sorted out what I needed for the kayaking and took my things to the shore. The tide came in fast (as it was a high tide of 8 meters; when it is so high it races over the sands like a river in flood with a force to match).

The inflation of the kayak took longer than what I expected, due to me being “unfit”, huffing and puffing using the hand-pump; I was dripping with sweat by the end of it. I added the 2 skegs to the hull (it is supplied with 1 skeg when new, but I added another skeg fin to the front-end for added directional stability).

The beauty about the inflatable is that it is light weight and I could easily pick it up and carry it to the water’s edge, which had now reach the bank. As I walked to the bank’s edge I slipped on the sodden ground, down I went into the sea and I grazed some skin off my thumb in the process (making it painful when mixed with salty water). By the time I had packed my things into the rear cockpit the tide was deep and I had to “fall” into the kayak, not very gracefully!! When strapped in and secure, I was off.

It had been about 2 years since I had used the kayak, and I had forgotten a lot of things!! With each stroke I was “missing the water” (slicing through the water with the flat of the blade). I had the split paddle connected for a right handed paddler (as I am left handed I had to re-arrange the blade direction) once I got that sorted I had forward motion! Also the inflatable is “tippy” and I had to relearn my balance. But it comes back very quickly. I headed for the boat, and “Sadaf” looked different from the water, than the shore. A few times around the boat taking photos as I went, then off to follow the current/s out into the main channel.

I paddled with the tide towards Carlisle, there was no wind at all, and the sea was flat calm. About 15 minutes I saw a ‘black line’ floating on the water in the distance, a stick perhaps? I went to see what it was. Then it sank with a curved back… it was a porpoise.

It re-emerged a few moments later and I could hear its “snort” as it blew from its air-hole. The sea was calm; the surroundings quiet only this little creature was making a noise. Again it dived. I took several more photos but I was never fast enough to catch it as I saw it. My camera is a simple “point and shoot” and by the time it was ready the little creature had disappeared.

Then came a moment that I will remember, the blowing came from behind me, I turned and saw the porpoise coming straight for me, it dived once, twice and on the 3rd time it went underneath my kayak. While it was happening I was thinking about the film “Jaws” (how that film is in my teenage memory) but this was beautiful, and moments like that only happen once in a blue-moon. It came straight for me, curious perhaps? I do not know. I managed to take a short video of it diving for the last time, but it did not capture the moment as I saw it.

I waited around a little longer, but it did not surface again. I noticed I had drifted backwards with the current (towards the boat) so I retraced my paddle strokes and enjoyed the memory of the porpoise, and the stillness of the water. The light gave the water a silvery sheen, like I was floating on liquid silver.

I had ‘touched bottom’ while coming up-channel but I knew it was not the actual sea-bed as the tide was still deep. I paddled against the tide for about an hour and reached a creek just below the village of Drumbrugh. Only at high tide can one paddle up these creeks. They cut the land in two, and a few people have been caught out and had to be rescued, as they have not noticed the tide coming behind them via these creeks. I paddled up this one and then videoed my return journey.

I stopped to have a rest and take a few photos, when a man came to have a chat. He was a kayaker too and he was going to kayak but had left it too late. We swapped stories of the Solway and paddling in this area. There are so few of us on this estuary that it is always encouraging to meet a like minded person.

I continued on my way, paddling with the tide this time, gently going with the flow, enjoying the lack of wind making the sea calm, but still feeling its force.

There is a ‘point’ that is like a corner that the current hits and rebounds against; I floated passed it and floated down to the bay. If there had been strong winds this point would have been white-water.

The “bay area” is an area of erosion, where the sea is making its intrusion on the saltings. There has been a lot of erosion of the saltings due to the winter tides and each year the tide takes more away from “England” (and some say “gives it to Scotland!!). I continued floating with the tide giving me time to video the calmness and the evening song of the birds.

I noticed the saltings emerging from the tide; this grassy top would be part of another creek with the water going around it. These grassy banks would have been the ‘bottom’ that I had touched on my way up channel, half an hour before.

The out-going tide had shown me the entrance to this bay creek

I floated with the tide, past “Grune Point” with its look-out point and man-made structures, histories that are not recorded. When there is a lot of wind this area can be high swells.

I wanted to linger to enjoy the peace so I stayed within the eddy to delay my return.

The sun was setting behind clouds giving the sea a silvery glow.

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Getting nearer to my destination I began to touch bottom.

Then I grounded not too far from Sadaf. I simply tie the wheels to the back of the kayak and pulled it over the sands to the boat.

The moon came out later that night and it gave a nice reflection on the channel.

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Moon reflected in water

In the evening I cooked, read my library book by lamp light “Testament of Youth” by Vera Brittain; and practiced my Pennie Whistle. I have been practicing the melodies from the Scottish Highland bagpipe repertoire entitled: “Teribus” and “Corrichoiles”. Here is a recording of the practice:

And so ended Day 1.

I am so pleased I brought the kayak as one can see different things by paddling, close up to the shore line, than when one is sailing, which can be ‘too far’ sometimes.