Monday, June 30, 2008

Smokefree at last: eating out in Holland

Scottish cuisine may not be famous around the world (Haggis?) but the quality of local produce (seafood, game and meat) is outstanding. Govert and I really enjoyed some good meals in Scottish Bars and Restaurants. Since England and Scotland have a smoking ban in bars and restaurants I find eating out even more attractive. A fascinating side-effect of the smoking ban is an almost Mediterranean eating and street culture in Britain: many outside tables, terraces and a lively outdoor scene in the streets in the evening.

From the 1th. of July the smoking ban in Dutch bars and restaurants finally is in force. I really welcome it. It makes an end with bizarre situations like yesterday. We made a reservation for a table in the smoke free zone in the Mexican restaurant in Utrecht for the birthday party of Lieke. We had a good dinner with a group of kids, really enjoyable. But despite the smoke free zone (some tables in the middle of the restaurant): the smoke of the bar and smoking zone was evenly distributed in the whole restaurant by the ventilators on the ceiling.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The last lighthouse-keeper

It looks as if the struggle is definitively lost: from 2010 on there won't be any keepers more on the Dutch lighthouses. Unmanned lighthouses is the new policy of the Dutch Traffic Department - economization and modernization. Camera's and computers will take over the tasks of the keepers.
Yesterdays' broadcast on (click for the full report - in Dutch) about this item is not an impressive piece of press-work: cheap and suggestive. Nevertheless I agree it's a bad development. The Dutch lighthouse keepers always offered the perfect local coastguard service and are since centuries an essential contribution to safety at sea. I don't believe computerization nor a central traffic-management centre will replace that.
Not only the Seakayakers are going miss the daily contact, the local knowledge and the good advises of the lighthouse keepers ;-) And I don't like the idea how kayak-incidents like this and this would have ended without the local coastguard support of the lighthouse crews!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Scotland journey - 3: from Oban to Scarba, Jura and the Slate Isles

Pulling down the tent on Belnahua - Lunga, Scarban and Jura in the background.
Fast water in the "Grey dogs"-tidal races between Lunga and Scarba
Paddling on a mirror in the Shuna Sound

The story continues: the report of the 3 stage of the Scotland-trip Govert and I made.

Sorry: the day by day report is "under construction". Click on the Picasa-miniature for a slide show/picture report.

Updated 4th July:
With new supplies from the Tesco (fresh food and drinks) and after a relaxed day around Kererra island, we were ready for the next challenge: a multiple day trip to the Slate Isles, Scarba, Jura and the famous whirlpool and tidal races in this area: the Corryvreckan, Grey Dogs, Dorus Mor etc. Places full of history full, legends and myths, still regarded with respect by seafarers all over the world. We took four days from Oban to discover this magnificent area – which is of outstanding beauty!

Sat. 31th. May : Oban-Belnahua, 25 km, SW 3-4 later Var.
Paddling late in the afternoon from Seil to Belanahua we heard an emergency-call on Channel 16 on the VHF-radio. A little vessel had serious problems in the Gulf of Corryvreckan. Two persons on board lost control. The coastguard contacted a fast RIB near the Gulf and started immediately coordinating the rescue operation. We heard glimps of it life on the radio. It turned out well, but it added to the myths of the Corryvreckan – the Whirlpool we wanted to explore the next day…
It was a nice paddle from Oban tot the Slate isles, passing by Seil and Easdale. South of Seil began the area with currents noticeably stronger than near Oban and Mull. We were paddling against a light breeze but had the current with us. It was a pleasant paddle, but not my luckiest day. I lost my (waist-mounted)tow-line. Probably because I had forgotten to gear it on after the break. Half way between Easdale and Belnahua I suddenly missed the tow-line. We paddled back to Easdale to look for it (meaning an extra 6 km paddling, half of it against the current – don’t mind - we like paddling ;-) but didn’t find it. And after this incident with unpacking on Belnahua I found that the rear compartment of my kayak was flooded with liters of salt water. Fortunately I had packed the essentials, like the sleeping-bag, in drybags, so the damage was harmless (only my notebook and the Rough Guide for Scotland were wetted). It was sunny, dry and windy on Belnahua (no midges!) so everything dried fast. On the following days the compartment stayed totally dry - so I suppose the leakage was caused by a not properly closed rubber hatch. Closing the oval Valley-hatches is always a bit critical.

Sun. 1th. June: Belnahua-Lunga-Grey Dogs-Scarba- Corryvreckan-Jura, 3-4 Bft. Var. later SW.
This was the day for the races. In the morning there was a light breeze, but that was gone when we started paddling in the middle of late after noon. We started late because we wanted to play in the Grey Dogs with tide full running and slack water in the Corryvreckan was at nine in the evening. One of the advantages of paddling early June is that the days are long! Crossing to and paddling along Lunga we had the tide against us, but despite this we made good speed using eddies along the west-coast of Lunga. This gave us plenty of time for a break before going in the Grey Dogs. We enjoyed the last sun of the day on a rocky isle before the entrance of the Grey Dogs. Heading in the Grey Dogs the sky turned very grey and it started raining, but we didn’t mind – we had just changed in our drysuits and the playing in the Grey Dogs is a wet anyhow! The Grey Dogs are a perfect playspot with a standing wave and a lot of eddies around the rock in the middle of the race. Water was pressed with high speed through the small passage between Lunga and Scarba. We left with paddling speeds up to 18km/h! When the tide was decreasing we paddled south along the Scarba coast – to have dinner at the south-east tip of Scarba- and to wait for slack water in the Gulf of Corryvreckan. Dining at Scarba wasn’t to pleasant – plagued by millions of midges – cooking and eating with a midge-net on the head ;-( So as we had finished out meals we decided not to wait any longer and to see how we could ferry-glide to Jura with the Corryvreckan still running. Which was surprisingly manageable – despite all the dramatic stories we were told. Water was running very fast (one big boiling pot) but as there was hardly any wind we managed to gain good progress in the eddies and arrived at Jura an hour before planned.

Mon. 2nd June. Jura-Corryvreckan-Shuna Sound-Torsa-Seil Sound- Bridge over the Atlantic-Seil, 30 km 3-4 Var, lat. 5/6 SW
After a rainy night on Jura we left early to paddle two hours against the ebb-stream in the Gulf of Corryvreckan, before the tide would turn and the flood would take us back to the Luing and the Sound of Shuna. The streaming water in the Corryvreckan was impressive: boiling water, whirlpools, suddenly holes in the water, eddylines everywhere, constantly changing. Even under these optimal conditions a place to be handled with care! A big contrast with the mirror-like Shuna sound – only a few hours later. The weather forecast told something different but in the morning clouds and wind disappeared. We had a coffee break in Toberonochy on Luing and were happy to change clothes – swapping from drysuits into shorts with t-shirt!
In the evening we camped on Seil and had a good meal in the Tigh-an-Truish Inn (Tigh an Truish means 'house of the trousers' and comes from the period after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion when kilts were banned in Scottish mainland. Islanders heading for the mainland are supposed to have stopped here to swap their kilts for trousers).
It was tempting to stay more days roaming around Jura, Scarba and the Slate Isles. The Garvelachs and Jura are still to be discovered, but we had other plans: we wanted to be back in Oban on Tuesday, because Wednesday was spring tide and the best day in the two weeks we were in Scotland to enjoy the Falls of Lora…

Tue. 3rd June, Seil-Sound of Kerrera-Oban, 10 km SW backing SE 4-5, 6 at times
With a backing wind a fast ride back to Oban. Regarding the weather: we were very lucky with our weather window! Continuously the radio was talking about rain and showers – we had occasionally some drops, but mostly sun – Scotland in a Mediterranean mood!

Click on the miniature for the GPS-tracklog, 85 km.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Espresso for ocean paddlers

I am not a coffee drinker. But with this new gadget I would almost turn into one. On the Oban campsite Gerard demonstrated us his latest toy: the Handpresso coffee maker.
Gerard intended to surprise his fellow paddlers Nout and Patrick with a quality coffee break half way on the trip to St.Kilda. Enjoying a fresh cup of espresso with a delicious aroma and a perfect crema - in the cockpit a seakayak, in the middle of the ocean: awesome!
This week the 3 St. Kilda paddlers come back - I am looking forward to their stories!

Update 25 th. June: Patrick, Gerard and Nout are back home. Patrick told me they didn't make it to St-Kilda due to the unstable and windy weather. The forecasts and the actual weather-situation were to uncertain to risk the long crossing to St-Kilda. Instead they had a good time paddling around in the Outer Herbrides and near Skye. Alas: For Gerard the last week was not that pleasant - he broke a bone in his foot (while carrying the kayaks on a pebble beach) and ended up in hospital and got his leg plastered...

Scotland journey 2: Rounding Kerrera

Back from Mull we camped at the caravanpark in Oban (Gallanach Farm, next to the sound of Kerrera). After a tiring climb to the Ben More the day before and with a trip to the slate isles in prospect, a resting day was welcome. A day off would also be a good occasion to dry and vent the camping and kayak gear and to resupply our food and drinks for the next multiple day-trip. The Tesco in Oban is a perfect kayak-expedition supplier.

What to do on a resting day? Paddling of course - it's a holiday ;-) We decided it would be a pity not to paddle on such a perfect day and left the car at the campsite and put the kayaks in the water to visit the Tesco in Oban. From the caravanpark we first headed south on the Sound of Kerrera to round the isle of Kerrera. Kerrera is a low lying island in the Firth of Lorn that shelters Oban from the worst of westerly winds. It's rural character is a big contrast to the crowded Oban. The south coast is rough, with Gylen Castle in a majestic clifftop setting. On the west-coast Kerrera offers some fine sandy beaches. The view on Mull, Lismore, the Scottish Highlands is fantastic. We started with a light wind, but on the west-coast the wind disappeared completely and we were paddling on a blue mirror. After a picnic on Slatrach Bay we paddled into the harbour of Oban.

A big surprise as we packed our new supplies in the kayaks. We heard a familiar voice calling "Hi Hans, Hi Govert!" - it was Gerard, a Dutch paddler. Gerard was in Oban awaiting Nout and Patrick, who would come to Scotland some days later, for their kayak-expedition to St. Kilda. What a coincidence! Gerard joined us at the campsite in the evening. We were fascinated by the stories about their preparation for the St. Kilda trip - an open crossing of 60 km's on the Atlantic. Govert and I were having a kayak-holiday. The adventure of Gerard and his friends is a kayak- expedition!

Friday, 30th. May, wind 2/3 Var, sea state slight, sunny.
Oban-Kerrera Island-Oban, 23 km

Meanwhile in Woerden...

Black Tuiliq by Reed-Chillcheater, picture by Janine
With all the recent postings about Scotland, it looks like there is nothing going on with kayaking in Woerden in the mean time. That's the wrong impression: kayakclub KV Wyrda is bursting with activities lately. The new group of youngsters is steadily growing and has almost every weekend a training session or a daytrip under supervision of Rob and Rob. The new members of Wyrda (all women...) have had an introduction course by Jan and are now very regular participants of the club-paddle on Tuesday evening. Alex is teaching Open canoe-techniques on the club-evenings. And so on...
The weather is fine lately and the water is warm. Paddling on the calm waters around Woerden is very uncomplicated and so relaxed. Simply pick up your kayak and enjoy the water! I personally love to take the K1 racer for a speed paddle with the wing-blade, or to jump in the black Reed-tuiliq for a rolling session with my hand-carved greenland-paddle.

Btw: The tuiliq does also a good job as "little party dress". Woerdens' parties are rather innocent ;-)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Munro bagging

A Munro is a Scottish mountain with a height over 3,000 feet (914.4 metres). They are named after Sir Hugh Munro (1856–1919), who produced the first compilation of a catalogue of such hills, known as Munro's Tables, in 1891. Sir Hugh Munro's original list, published in the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal in September 1891, listed 538 summits over 3000 feet, of which 283 were regarded as "separate mountains"; the term Munro applies to the latter, while the lesser summits are known as tops. Some hillwalkers climb Munros with an eye to climbing every single one, a practice known as "Munro bagging". Having climbed all of them, a walker is entitled to be called a Munroist. Munro-bagging is the most popular form of peak bagging. - source: Wikipedia.

Ben More (Scottish Gaelic: Beinn Mhòr, meaning "great mountain") is the highest mountain and only Munro on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. Despite their modest height the Scottish Mountains have quit an Alpine character due to the latitude and exposure to Atlantic weather systems. Even in summer, conditions can be tricky: thick fog, strong winds, driving rain and freezing summit temperatures are not unusual.
On Thursday 29. June we broke up the tents at the Killiechronan campsite to take the ferry from the Isle of Mull back to Oban for the second part of our kayak journey (to the Slate Isles). But before leaving Mull we walked upon the Ben More for an overview of what we paddled the days before an of what to come the next week.
We started the walk in the morning at sea-level in Dhiseigh in T-shirt with sunshine and very pleasant temperatures, above 600 meters we walked into the clouds and on top of the Ben More, after a walk of less than 2 hours, it was freezing cold and visibility was less than 20 meters... In the fog on the top we met a couple that was celebrating their first Munro too. Packed in fleece and jackets, enjoying a warm cup of tea (with the delightful Tesco-Chocolate Muffins) we paused, hoping that the fog would disappear. After half an hour sky suddenly broke open - offering fantastic panoramas between breaking clouds.

The first Munro tastes like more (but the number of 283 is a bit excessive, beyond normal limits ;-)!

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Midges are tiny insects with a wingspan of just 1-2mm. They suck blood from the skin, causing itching and swelling that can last several days. In summer, midges that bite people can reach vast numbers and become a real problem for both locals and tourists - the Scottish Midge Forecast

Amidst the preparation and the pleasurable anticipation for the Scotland-trip there is one issue I hopelessly underestimated: the Midges. Sure I heard about them and I packed a repellent with a high DEET-concentration, but I wasn't aware of the impact of these little "friends".
In the Netherlands we have "muggen" - Gnats. Dutch gnats don't like my blood, mostly the others get bitten, not me.. In Scotland however I discovered that the Scottish Midges love my blood. It's a cold comfort that only the female midges bite. There were thousands of these tiny girlie insects just waiting to put their cheeks in my skin (and these cheeks are each sporting 20 razor-sharp teeth). It's quit a nuisance to be that popular - especially because the result of the bites proved to be very itchy, a nuisance that lasted for days. Don't scratch!

The effect of the repellent proved to be only temporary, so I was very glad that Govert had taken an extra midge net along... The combination of a midge net and a Goretex dry-suit offers quit good protection, only you don't want to wear that gear all day...

Picture taken on Scarba. Scarba and Jura were the places most plagued by midges..

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Scotland journey 1: Mull West Coast, Treshnish Isles, Staffa, Iona

Staffa, picture Govert Plugge

Updated: The first part of our holiday in Scotland was a four day journey on the west side of Mull. From Oban we took the car-ferry to Craignure on Mull and set up our tents on the Killiechronan campsite. We met a friendly seakayaking couple at the campsite, which turned out to be Mike Nelson (the man behind North Shore Sea kayaks) with his partner. The next morning we packed our kayaks and left the car behind at the Campsite. The journey began! A journey in a fantastic region with dramatic landscapes, bursting of marine and bird wildlife and a fascinating history. Also a remote place far away from civilisation. It must be one of the last places without mobile phone coverage!
There are to many highlights to mention. The scenery of Ulva, the birdlife near the Tresnish Isles (I've never seen so many Puffins), the spectacular basalt cliffs and caves at Staffa, the sandy Beaches and turquoise waters on Iona, the close encounter with a basking shark north of Soa Island... The pictures in the Picasa-Album (click here or on the miniature at the bottom of this post) only give a little impression.

Update 19-7-08: Today I discovered some awesome pictures of the basking shark in a post in the UK-riversguidebook-forum (click on the link for the post with pictures). I love the picture of the kayaker with the tail, dorsal fin, head of the shark visible - fantastic. It must be the same shark we had the close encounter with -we met the lady in the white-green Greenlander-PRO at the beach in Baile Mor - she tipped us about the shark that she had just seen south of Iona.

Tidal streams at the west coast of Mull are very moderate. Only between the Treshnish Isles we noticed some stronger currents, on the north-western tips Lunga and Fladda we even enjoyed tide races. The stream in the sound of Iona can reach up to 2,5 knots, but not at neap tides. The lack off noticable currents made trip planning very easy and comfortable: it's a holiday! we took time to enjoy the isles and the coastlines and didn't bother much about tides...
Sun 25. May - Marine Forecast N-NE 5 occ. 6 Bft, sea state slight - 20 km
Campsite Killiechronan - Ulva Ferry - North of Ulva - Gometra.
Mon 26. May - N-NE 5 occ. 6 Bft. sea state slight to moderate - 32 km
Gometra - Treshnish Isles - a stop at Cairn na Burgh More and Dutchman's Cap - Staffa
Tue 27. May - N-NE 4-5 occ. 6 Bft. sea state slight to moderate - 26 km
Staffa - circumnavigating Iona, stop at Baile Mor - Eilean Annraidh
Wed 28. May - NE 3-4 backing SW - Rain and showers - sea state slight to moderate - 33 km
Eilean Annraidh - stop at West Coast Armeanach - stop at Kenneth Isle - Campsite Killiechronan

Btw: After the first two days the actual wind was far less than the forecast had promised...

West Coast Mull, Tresnish Isles, Staffa, Iona

Trip preparation - acknowledgements

The trip to the Oban region was our first visit to Scotland. Very useful for planning this trip were the maps, charts, logbooks, tidal stream atlases and pilots Patrick and Maarten lent us. A good help was also the guidebook "Scottish Sea Kayaking" of Pesda Press. I hardly dare to say, but at the first sight I was a bit disappointed about this book. That was not about the thoroughness or the quality of the description of the sea voyages in this book, but about the fact that it covers only 4 trips in the region we wanted to spent two weeks in. That's no wonder because the book covers the whole Scottish coastline - the 48 (!) voyages ranging from day trips to 3 day journeys can only cover the highlights. My disappointment however was misplaced - the book proved to be a very valuable resource for our preparations - the Appendices on the last pages of the book offer in a condensed form a true treasure of information and the descriptions of the voyages are so complete and extensive that they are also a good starting-point for other trips in the region. I am asstonished about the accuracy and the devotion the authors have deployed in this work. A big compliment for Doug Cooper and George Reid!
Other valuable resources were the trip reports of Douglas Wilcox and Simon Willis in Ocean Paddler Magazine (OP). The "Essential Info" in the OP-trip reports is very useful. And the blogs and podcasts of Douglas and Simon add interesting background information. Interest is not only on navigational issues but also on culture and history of this fascinating region!
Altogether it was almost to much information - in the busy weeks before the trip I didn't manage to get through it all. Actually that was also some kind of blessing in itself -there should also be something left to discover yourself!
In Scotland we mainly navigated on Ordnance Survey-maps on which I marked the collected information about tidal streams, tide races and overfalls, possible campsites, timetables, POI's and so on. Touristical Background information offered the Rough Guide to the Scottish Islands I bought the other day impulsively in de Slegte.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Back from Scotland!

This afternoon I returned from a fantastic seakayaking-holiday in West-Scotland. Govert and I paddled two weeks in the Oban region: a paddlers' delight!
West-Scotland has a reputation of being a rough, windy, cloudy, humid and chilly place and is known for challenging paddling. The Scotland we experienced in the last two weeks was friendly, calm, sunny, mostly dry and warm. Challenging paddling conditions were a bit hard to find, but it was great that we could paddle anything we wanted: of our 13 days on the West-Coast - we paddled 12 days - almost 300 km's.

Our program included 3 multiple-day trips (coloured tracks on the Mapsource map):
- 4 days on the West-coast of Mull (Ulva, Gometra, Tresnish Isles, Staffa, Iona) = red track;
- 4 days from Oban to Jura and back (Seil, Belnahua, Lunga, Scarba, Luing, Shuna, incl. the Grey Dogs and the Corryvreckan) = blue track;
- 2 days around Lismore and Shuna Island = green track.

We also made some day trips (not indicated on the map):
- circumnavigating Kerrera Island (and shopping in Oban);
- playboating with empty seakayaks in the spring tide in the Falls of Lora.
As a little intermezzo between all this kayaking we walked upon the Ben More, the highest mountain of the Isle of Mull - 967 m. - our first Munro!

Next week I will post more pictures and a day by day report. The Picasa-webalbum (Firstlook Scotland) gives a first impression.
firstlook scotland

Special thanks to Douglas, Maarten and Patrick for their information and advises about paddling in Scotland!

Back on the web!

Finally a long due update of the Kajakwoerden-blog. The month May was dramatically busy and disorderly. Deadlines at work, family-affairs, a bunch of NKB-business and the preparation of the Scotland-trip came all together. But even in these busy times there remained some moments for really good paddling. And the NKB-work also starts to come to fruition. So there was actually enough stuff to blog about, but I missed the rest and the drive to do so. Now I am back from two gorgeous weeks Scotland, I intend to pick blogging up and to report about the kayak-trip with my son Jelle some weeks ago, the kayak-activities around Woerden and (perhaps) to give my personal view on the progress that the NKB is booking in promoting seakayaking. The latter is a bit of a balancing act: I can't totally separate my personal view from my involvement in the NKB-organisation and this blog isn't meant to be a platform for NKB-messages... Ok, that's the heavy stuff, that's for later, now first the fresh impressions from Scotland!