Saturday, 26 December 2009

White Christmas.

I'm just not into all this christmas stuff. So as I normally do I went for a long walk in the hills.
The view over the Forth valley from the Ochil hills.
Ben Lawers and the Crianlarich hills from Ben Ever.

The old man of the mountains.

I saw four hardy souls all day, it was great.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

UKCC Level one coach.

After thinking about it and talking about it far far to long I finally went away and did it. Over the last two weekends I've been preoccupied with power transfer, posture, connectivity and feel: the fundamentals of paddling. Along with IDEAS, introduction, demonstration, explanation, activity and summary. Both weekends were pritty full on and with a heavy workload in between I'm feeling totally worn out. The main thing is I passed and I'm now a UKCC level 1 coach, "wow wee" I hear you all shout, all I need now is someone to coach.
Andy showing us all a bow draw I think.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Saturday, around midday and Ray and I leisurely packing our kayaks on the banks of Loch Lomond at Balmaha. Our friends Sebastien and Lawrence have already set off to prepare the course, John and Evelyne arrive and Tom rings from on the island. We take a slow paddle over to Inchcailloch and start unpacking our kayaks and putting up tents, drinking tea, wandering around the island, telling tall stories and picking sloe berries. Gradually over the next few hours more and more kayakers arrive. As the light fades the excitement mounts. We sort ourselves out into teams of three, Jonathon joins Ray and I. At last we are handed a sheet of paper with the grid references on and the clock starts. There are ten check points, a string with a weight at one end and a light stick and a float at the other. Written on the light stick is the name of a rock band, we have to collect the names and get back within two and a half hours.

We wear a light stick on our BA’s and I have another on my compass, we each have a headtorch but keep it switch off most of the time. The first two check points are quickly found one on Torrinch and one on Creinch followed by an open crossing on a compass bearing, 2km to Inchmoan. On the south side of inchmoan is a large bay, the check point is on the western headland enclosing the bay. We’d deliberately headed for the other side of the bay, so that if we’d strayed off bearing a few degrees either way the check point would still be on our left. Paddling along the shore line was an eerie experience as a misty layer was hiding the beach and making judging distance difficult. Eventually we hit – quite literarily – the other side of the bay. We can’t see the check point; it’s amazingly hard to see a light stick floating in water until your right on top of it. We search both side of the headland, no sign of it, we backtrack, it’s hidden behind a rock. Now we have a fix of out position. The next checkpoint is by the castle on Inchgalbraith, little more than an overgrown crannog less than 50m wide. We take our bearing and head off in line abreast. The headlights of cars on the A82 give away its position; we quickly find the light stick - the Rolling Stones.

Head north until we hit Inchavannach then follow its east side up into the narrows. Here we have a choice; there are check points on the west, east and north sides of Inchconnachan and another on the north side of Inchmoan. The points on Inchmoan and the east of Inchconnachan only have a low score so we decided to skip them. Entering the narrows is like a scene from “Apocalypse now” there are four huge fires; at first I thought it was a forest fire. Each fire is big enough to burn a whole coven of witches. There are many very K-lyed people around, one with a very powerful spotlight. We sprint through and away, back into the darkness.

Different coloured dots of light coming towards us as three groups collide at the check point on the north end of Inchconnachan.
“Who’s that?”
“Is that you Owen?”
“Have you found it yet?”
“It’s over here”.
“What’s it say?”
“The fix-ises”
“Who? Spell it”
“J.I.M.M.Y.S.H.A.N.D”
“Bugger off Ian”.
“Wasn’t he in Deep Purple?”
“Now that would be different”.
“It’s the Pixies”.
“Oh, who are they then?”

Bucinch, our next check point, over a kilometre away is clearly silhouetted. We paddle across, flat out. How can three people starting off from the same point and heading for the same place end so far apart in such a short time? Eventually we re-group and collect that point and the final one on Inchcruin. All we had to do now was get back to Inchcailloch. Inchfad with its off-layer island Ellanderroch was clear on the horizon. As we paddled past I said “don’t go through the inside channel it’s very shallow” so we went around and promptly all ran aground. We made it back to the campsite with only a small time penalty and came third; the best I ever done.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

All Change.

I've not posted for a while, I've been quite busy. I'm working full time again - what a shock to the system - moving very large quantities of Scotch Whisky around the Blackgrange warehouse complex. This last month I've had my head under the bonnet of my car for longer than I've driven it. There was a fault with the engine management system, could I find it, could I hell, cost me £100 to put it on a diagnostic computer. Turned out to be a sensor on the camshaft, another £65 to replace that. Then it failed it's MOT, new front brake disc's and new brake pipes, hopefully it'll all be done by Tuesday. Anyway, it's not all been work and trouble, I have done a little paddling. A few weeks ago a group of us paddled the Balvaig river from Loch Voil to Loch Lubnaig; it was really quite a mellow trip.

Ray and daughter Jacqueline on the Balvaig.
I've also got a new toy, a second-hand Pyranha Ina Zone. I don't do much white water paddling these days, partially because I've not had a WW boat, so now I have. Also I can use it in the pool and as I've just posted of my application off for a Level one coaching course I can use it for coaching.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Forth open water swim.

The annual cross the Forth swimming race was held yesterday. The Fife and Lothian kayak clubs act as safety boats shadowing the swimmers. This year we had a little drama, the race couldn't start until 16.30 after a large ship and a tanker had past. The swimmers got half way across when another very large tanker came down the Forth at high speed, it caused chaos.
The swimmer at the start on Hawes peir.









Two of the swimmers didn't make it across before the tide turned and they were sweeped out under the bridge. Still they didn't want to give in even though they were going backwards. In the end we had to pull them out of the water.




Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Big Eck.

My friend Alex Knox better known as Big Eck came paddling with Ray and I six weeks ago on Loch Tay. Although he'd been sea kayaking for over fifteen years that was his first time in an open canoe. He was so taken with it that he went out and brought a second hand canoe, a We-no-nah Aurora. For his maiden voyage a group of us meet up on Loch Voil for a warm up paddle half way down the Loch and back, before descending the river Balvag, which flows out of Loch Voil down to Loch Lubnaig. As always with Eck there was a really good banter flying.

"Eck I thought only lesbians wore dungarees".
First try at solo paddling.

On the river teamed up with Mike.


Not quite got the steering in flowing water off pat yet.



Monday, 17 August 2009

White water weekend.

No photo's this time, I did take my camera but was a bit preoccupied to take any pictures. On saturday we put in on the River Tay at Birnam near Dunkeld and paddled down to Meikleour at the confluence of the river Isla. Eck teamed up with Steve Croft in his Prospector, Nicky and Tony Credland (Tenboats) were in a brand spanking new Mad River reflection, while I was solo in the Pack.

It had pored down all night but by the time we started it had stopped and it turned into a fine sunny day. With all the rain the river was high and fast, so we really whizzed along. This section is mostly flat water with just a few little rapids, nothing over grade 1. We stopped for a picnic by a Roman Fort not far from Caputh a really nice spot in the sun.

Nicky, Tony and Eck had to return home but Steve and I camped at Grandtully. Ray came up on sunday. The three of us put in at Kenmore on the banks of Loch Tay. This time I teamed up with Ray in his "Charles River" and Steve paddled solo. The first rapid is under "chinese bridge" by Taymouth castle, a grade 2. The river bends sharply right just after the bridge and we had to be careful to avoid being sweeped into the left bank. Between here and Aberfeldy there were a few easier smaller rapids. We past a whole family of Red-breasted Mergansers but by the time I'd got my camera out we'd spee'd past them; we also saw some Goosanders.

At Aberfeldy there was a nice grade 1 rapid and then for the last mile or so into Gradtully was a string of grade 2's all bouncy and splashy and fun, but never too frighting. We got off the river just above the grade 3 slalom course, in the high water that looked really meaty.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Fire!!!

I haven't been out paddling for a few weeks but I have been out hill walking. As I've been walking I've been collecting anything I find that may act as tinder for starting a fire with a firesteel; Ray Mears style. I've been coming back with pockets full of dry bracken, birch bark, grass, twiggs anything that looks like it will burn easily. So far I've only found three things that catch fire with any degree of reliability. I videod the result, the first one is down from a large thistle head. The second is cotton grass seed heads which was very easy to light but you can't always find cotton grass when you've run out of matches. The third works a treat.

video

So, the conclusion of this little experiment is to always have plenty of fuel and keep your matches in a dry place when you head into the great outdoors. Because all this bush craft milarky just isn't gonna save you.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Back on the Road again.

Not been out on the water this weekend as I've been finishing off my new hatch; I had a few problems with it but it's all done now. I'll leave it a few days to really set hard before taking it out on the water again.

On Friday I did a shift, the first days work for five months. I've also got myself another car. It's only an old banger but should keep me mobile for a bit. So if you see a red Astra with an orange Anas Acuta or a green Old Town Pack on top, give me a wave.
Kayak sorted, car sorted, hopefully work sorted so money coming in again, life's looking up after being down in the dumps for a while.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Loch Tay.

Whilst the fibre glass resin is still green I can't use the Anas Acuta. So, today I continued my re-learning of the open canoe. My friend Ray is an old hand at this game, so he took Alex (AKA Eck) in his Old Town Charles River while I paddled the Pack solo. Eck has paddled sea kayaks for years but this was his first time in an open canoe. He seemed impressed by how agile such a large boat could be when handled rightly.



Ray, stopped for a blather on the banks of Loch Tay.



Friday, 10 July 2009

Filling the hole.

The bulkhead is now fitted; I very nearly did myself it glassing it into place. Lets just say that crawling in through an ocean cockpit to work it the resin wasn't clever. I was tasting styrene for days after. Yesterday I glued and bolted the disc into place and today I've started filling the gap.


The disc in place.
The back of the gap is filled with modeling clay.

The first layer of filler, it was too runny to do it in one go.



Monday, 29 June 2009

Mellow paddle.

My Anas Acuta isn't finished so yesterday I borrowed an old Plastic Contour, wow, after the Anas it felt like paddling an oil tanker. Still it meant I got out for a very mellow paddle on Loch Etive. We put in at Bonawe narrows and paddled up the Loch to by the slabs on Beinn Trilleachan; I first climbed there in 1976. The weather was great warm and calm and the company was top notch as well.

Andrea, Ray and Tom paddling down the Loch.
Ray and Andrea at the Bonawe narrows put in.

Andrea in her brand new shiny Tiderace Kayak.


Saturday, 20 June 2009

Big Hole.

Today I cut a very big hole in my precious kayak. Hopefully I haven't gone mad, the idea is to fill the hole with a hatch.

The hole.
I've also made a new bulkhead to go in front of the footpegs.

The bulkhead ready to be glassed it.
To fit the flat hatch rim to a curved deck, I've made a disc of fibre glass which will be fitted under the deck so that the hatch stick out of the hole.

Where the disc will be fitted.


This is the hatch rim being stuck to the disc ready for fitting.

Once I've done the bulkhead and attached the disc I'll fill the gap between the disc and the underside of the deck with some filler. This will be quite a fiddly job so it could take me quite some time to finish. I'll put up more photo's as I go along.
After I've finished I'll tidy up the deck lay out before getting into my next project; making and fitting a skeg. That will be very tricky and will take a lot of materals. I've already started to make the mold but it's going to be very complicated.


Monday, 15 June 2009

Lismore: part two.

The dew was heavy in the morning and looking across to Mull there was a thick ground mist clinging to the hill side. This very quickly cleared and the day turned out to be a glorious one.

The misty Isle of Mull.

We decided that, as the day was so fantastic, we'd paddle out and visit the Lady's rock. We had to dodge, first a tour boat coming out of the Sound of Mull, then the fast ferry out of Oban before we got to the rock. As we reached it two porpoise crossed out path. Next we headed over to Duart Point just for the hell of it. After a quick leg stretch and a pee on the Duke's lawn we paddled back to Bernera Bay on Lismore.



Castle Duart.

Going through the gap between Bernera and Lismore the water was so clear and the kelp so thick looking down was just mesmerizing. All the way up the north-west side of Lismore was just beautiful. Blue skies, flat calm sea, fantastic vistas.








Lismore: part one.

The weekend club meet was to have been the Farne Isles, that would have meant using an expensive family campsite and plenty of time spent in the pub. Something I have to avoid at the moment. At the last minute it was changed to wildcamping on Lismore; that's more like it. Early Saturday morning saw Ray and I heading north up to Connel Bridge before turning right to Shuna Sound. Jeff was already there and Steve then Alan pulled in, Richard rang to say that Craig, Jim and himself were at Port Appin and would join us on the water. The dark clouds begain to break apart to show blue skys above. There was no wind and the water flat calm, what more could we ask for.

Setting off Shuna Sound.

We were almost past Port Appin and wondering where the boys were when a shout from behind came and they were paddling hard to catch up.
All together in the Lynn of Lorn.
We headed across to the Lismore side and stopped for a tea break on a nice little beach. There was some talk of walking up to an organic cafe but we decided it was to far away so put the trangia on instead. next we paddled over and explored the Creag Islands where we saw an otter and lots of seals. With the tide behind us we very soon were at the end of the island and set up camp near Rubha Fiart overlooking Mull and the Lady's rock.
A happy Ray camping on Lismore.

Campsite with a view.



Monday, 8 June 2009

Flickr Photo's.

I've been sorting out my old slides and putting some onto my Flickr account. Maybe I'll set up a better website sometime but for now this one will do. Have a look, what do you think?
http://www.flickr.com/photos/owenmerricksphotos/


This is my brother Pete, below Huandoy Sar 6395m in the Crodillera Blanca in Peru.


The Market place Huaraz.


Glacier lake, in the Cordillera Blanca.
I'll be putting up some more photo's of Bolivia, Norway and some more paddling photo's over the next few weeks.


Friday, 5 June 2009

Grounded.

My old car has finally died. I've has it nine years and done over 150 thousand miles in it. I only paid £1,800 for it so it's done me proud. I took it to the scrapy yesterday and now I'm back on my bike. The first time I've been without a car in over thirty years.
This is going to make life a really pain. I went into Stirling, six miles away, on the bus, £4.20 return, our public transport has to be the most expensive in the world. Just how I'm going to be able to get out paddling now I'm not sure; only time will tell.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Rolling Ray.

video

The weekend deteriorated into a comedy of errors, with people taking the wrong turn and ending up miles away from where they planned to be. In the end my friend Ray and I ended up on Loch Lomond enjoying a gentle paddle around the islands. At the get out ray did some rolling practiceing, i didn't that water was baltic. As an experiment I tried videoing him, I've had this camera four years and never used this function before. For another first I've put in on this blog.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Canoe, for a change.

My friend Ray has a couple of open canoes so he offered to leand one to me. One is a Charles River which whilst being a really good canoe is 35kg a bit much for one man with a dodgy back. The other is an Old Town Pack which is only 14.5kg, the plastic is a bit thin so I don't know how much ware it would take. Yesterday I took it out for a spin on Loch Chon.


Failing to set the self-timer on my camera.

Tea Break on the banks of Loch Chon.

At the put in already to go.


The Old Town Pack really is a light boat, even lighter than some river kayaks and quite a bit lighter than my sea kayak.



Ray also lent me some of his paddles to try, the one on the left is a Redtail the other three hand made. The two on the right were a bit short for me the other two were better my favourite was the one on the right.

It was quite gusty with winds upto force 3 or 4 at times, I found paddling into the wind quite a struggle. Because you only have one blade you have to use a J-stroke. Where the end of each stroke becomes a ruddering action to counter the tendency of the canoe to turn away from the paddle. This I found tended to slow you down just when you wanted to put the power on to push into the wind. Maybe its just because I not very good at the J-stroke; practice makes perfect I gust. Anyway I had a good half day out.



Tuesday, 5 May 2009

New learning experience or mad paper chase?

For sometime now, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting into coaching, some kind of in-put to the sport; maybe. However the long list of “pre-requisites” and courses that have to be worked through is daunting to say the least. I, like the vast majority of kayaker, never bothered with all that BCU star tests, meaningless bits of paper. I grew out of that sort of thing with the bronze swimming certificate at ten years of age etc. Still, if you want to do the job you have to work with their system. Last year I went over to Largs and did my three star sea kayak.

But I also needed the generic two star, which covers both kayaks and canoes. It would seem the BCU has this vision of people turning up at a club and being introduced to a wide variety of padlesports. This isn't how it really is, clubs tend to just do one type of paddling.

Now I haven’t been in an open canoe for at least fifteen years. I’ve nothing against open boats, I even had one once, but time and money is tight and sea kayaking is my thing. The old open canoe was hardly ever used so I sold it. Anyway, I went off and managed to make one go in a straight-ish line, turn etc and did a rescue; all well and good. Yesterday, I spent the bank holiday Monday back at Ardmay House on Loch Long doing my “Foundation safety and rescue training”. So, now I have the first two ticks on my list of pre-requisites, I could go ahead and book onto a level one coach’s course now. But first I think I need to go and brush up on my open canoe skills. Passing the two star just isn’t really enough, being just about able to manoeuvre your own canoe wont inspire much confidence in those you are trying to coach.

So now, to show people how to do a sport I know about and have expertises in, know and understand the environment where it’s practiced, I have to go away and learn another sport in a different environment. Seems like a huge distraction to me, especially as I'll have to hunt around looking for people to coach whereas my sea kayaking club has lots of people to coach in kayaking; but we’ll run with in and see.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Cameras; what to do about cameras? Many moons ago when still a teenager I brought an Olympus OM1; then the smallest lightest SLR. This had served me well over the last 30 odd years. It’s been with me across hill and moor, up a dozen or more 6000m Andean peak, through the Amazon jungle and the Atacama Desert, from the Kenyan bush to the frozen wastes of Finmark and down to the Falkland Islands. All that time it’s never let me down; it’s mostly clockwork only the light meter works on battery, so it works well in the very cold. I did take it sea kayaking, but because it wasn’t waterproof and I didn’t want to get salt water on it, I always kept in inside the kayak in a BDH drum. For on the water shots I’ve had a collection of waterproof compact cameras; none of them lasted long.
Now I have a fairly good digital compact (Canon Powershot A540) and a waterproof dive case, which works really well. I’ve taken some really good – well good for me anyway – kayaking photo’s with it and I really like using digital; saves so much faffing around. For the past couple of years it’s all I’ve taken with me, but the lens has a quite short focal length and I’ve mist out on some really good wildlife shots because of this. Also it’s not always as sharp as it could be.

Like this one.
Not sharp, and so far away. With a telephoto this otter would have been so much better.

I'm a bit happer with this one; still could have been sharper.
I’ve seen a camera that would be ideal it’s a Canon 450D with an 18 – 200mm image stabilizing lens; trouble is its £820 and I’m out of work at the moment. So do I stick with the powershot and put up with its shortfalls or do I go back to carrying the OM and using film?


Night Owls

For the last few years some friends and I have been going to Loch Lomond on a November weekend to do some night time kayak orienteering. We base it around the campsite on Inchcailloch Island. The check points are lightsticks floating just off shore around the Loch. There's a code written on each lightstick which you have to get. It's all very low key and great fun. Afterward there's bar-bee-que and the next day we go all the way round again collecting up the lightsticks.

Brewing up whilst picking up the sticks.
The morning after, setting off from the campsite on Inchcailloch. (photo Peter Baker).

This is me in a borrowed plastic Nordkapp, very nice boat. Not so keen about having a flash gun fired in my face whilst night paddling. (photo Ray Wilson).


Another night shot, I don't mind so much when it's behind me. (photo Ray Wilson).


Setting off.
The Inchcailloch campsite, you can book it through the National Park.