Nearly all photos courtesy of Evoke Adventure – thanks Erin!
So it’s turns out that Kayakers are like swans.
“Aaaaah look at them going along gracefully” you think; “that must be a great upper body workout”. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
At the end of May, I spent two days discovering with Evoke Adventures that kayaking is not an upper body workout. It is a whole body workout but with upside of being incredibly fun!
(This September, I’ll be joining Evoke Adventures on a kayaking expedition around Menorca. There will be 5 of us: our leader, Erin, plus 4 ladies. We’ll be spending 11 days going around the island, so to get us ready for this, a bit of training didn’t seem unreasonable)
The weekend kicked off with me meeting my fellow team mate Lesley purely by chance. After an 8 hour train ride to Truro, I found myself waiting for the next train nearby another woman similarly dressed to me. Large rucksack, sleeping bag, outdoor gear…Yep, this was Lesley. She too was doing the training this weekend and we chatted with anticipation on the way to Falmouth. What would the weekend hold?
The next morning, I wandered down to Gyllyngvase beach to answer this question, ready to meet Lesley and our expedition leader Erin, the creator of this whole thing. We met at a lovely beach cafe where over a coffee, Erin shared what our plan was for the weekend. Turns out we were going to be spending the day kayaking to a camp, our kit in the kayaks and then onwards the next day. Luckily I’d been to Tesco that morning to pick up snacks as I hadn’t quite clocked that this would be on the cards. The part of the Menorca adventure that most appealed to me was the concept of kayaking from camp to camp, so why I hadn’t anticipated we’d do this in training (therefore the requirement for food!) I’m not quite sure.
Anyway, plan laid out, we hopped into Erin’s van topped with 3 rather large kayaks and 15 minutes later pulled up at a beach. First, the kayaks came down from the roof followed by operation dry-bag where we had to separate all of our kit out into little dry bags that could then be tessellated within the boat. Erin gave us each a life jacket, cagoule and splash guard too, so once we’d wrestled our hatch covers on, we donned our attractive outfits and we were off. We were off!
“Errrr…so what do I do now in this thing?!”
I’ve spent a lot of time in very skinny boats so being in a kayak didn’t feel totally foreign to me, but blimey, it is seriously hard work. Balance is needed like a single scull rowing boat, every muscle is used like a single, but unlike a rowing in a single, you’re doing that all for a lot, lot longer. After learning some turning skills (“making a wider rainbow arc with our paddle, “edging” and using your legs” she says, testing herself), we were then off down the coast. It was amazing seeing the coast from such a different angle and the wildlife that went with it, but at times I found myself struggling to keep up, an unnerving “aaaaaaah I can’t control this boat I’m going to be washed out to seaaaaaa” feeling accompanying my paddling at times. After being shown how to adjust the skegg (the fin) of the boat, I managed not to be washed out to sea and caught up with other two. Confidence building, the return journey along the coast was then mission as we were against the wind, so we tackled it in bursts done using the gear “paddle like f…” with intermittent rests. Knackering.
The rest of the day involved more paddling, lunch on a beach and even fishing. Fishing became a little more important when we discovered the village shop we’d hoped to stock up at was shut. Hmmmmm..better fish harder. As I’m somewhat low on patience, I left the fishing to Erin & Lesley. Nothing was caught so instead, we paddled up the Helford River to our campsite to set up camp with the intention of returning to a pub we’d passed earlier.
It was at this point in the weekend that I seemed to lose the ability to get in or out of kayaks successfully. Up until this point, it has been fine, but for some reason, getting my legs in without falling in became a real challenge. The best of these was when we’d finally tracked down food at the pub and we had to leave to paddle back to camp. Despite the water being shallow, I managed to soak all of my lower body and my forearms. The resulting paddle back was a bit soggy to say the least.
On reaching camp, we discovered that we’d be sharing the night with a couple of families that had moored their yachts there. Rather than chat, I retreated to my tent only to realise that I’d forgotten my trusty sailing combo of talcum powder & cosy socks to address my damp feet. As I result, I didn’t get the best night sleep. It’s been a long time since I’ve camped so every noise woke me up, by it was lovely to be outside.
The next morning, we packed up our camp and finally cooked the sausages Erin had bought with her for the BBQ that Lesley & I failed to prepare for. Cooked breakfast done (aka sausage a la fork) and then off we went again. This time, I managed to get into my kayak without falling in – miracle!
The second day saw us paddling up the river to explore, discovering boat yards and mudflats as the tide went out. It was amazing how quickly the mudflats appeared, reducing our route back to a channel marked out by buoys to avoid being marooned. The mudflats really blended in with the water making them hard to spot.
Once that was done, it was off to play in waves and wind vs tide meant that we had them, white caps and all. As waves go, they were really nothing major, but being so close to the water, I was definitely a little bit nervous about this. I still didn’t feel totally control.
Erin sent us out to practice some more turning techniques, this time using the wind (who knew the direction you padded in made such a difference) in different waves.
We were set a challenge of going out to a buoy, turning around it and coming back. I darted out to said buoy and back as speedily as I could, back to shelter. Lesley, in the meantime, went for bigger game and further out. I stayed tucked away in the sheltered area. Baby steps, baby steps…
Out in the waves, you experience the same slamming upwind sensation as on Clipper yacht, except everything is magnified though being closer to the water. You also have to paddle like hell (at least I did!) to stay in control. Once I’d got used to it, it was really was rather fun. Apparently these were the biggest waves we’d come across. If we came across larger waves in Menorca, we wouldn’t be going out in them.
Waves done, it was finally the time for the bit I was least looking forward to: capsize practice. Wetsuit on and kayaks emptied, I let Lesley go first as my instincts were screaming at me to stay in the boat. Yes, this definitely was not my bravest weekend.
After Lesley had been dunked and rescued by Erin (demonstration purposes only!) it was finally my turn. 1, 2, 3….and in!
Despite having just watched Lesley fall in and be rescued, the shock of being in the water still managed to wipe my brain clean of what to do. Luckily, Lesley rescued me beautifully and I was soon back in the kayak. I then rescued Lesley (eventually). Erin then revealed that we needed to learn how to get back in the boat by ourselves.
Getting back into a kayak by yourself is definitely not graceful. First, you have to get your belly on the stern, pull yourself up and then somehow move into a straddling position so that you’re sitting up, legs either side of the boat. From here, shimmying occurs. Shimmy shimmy shimmy aaaaaand somehow legs move from either side of the boat and into the cockpit of the kayak.
Belly flop, fine. Straddle-shimmy, fine.
Legs into boat: not fine.
Could I get my legs in? Could I hell. Every time, I fell back in.
4 attempts, 5 attempts: I still fell back in.
After taking these incredibly glamorous photos, Erin finally took pity on me and said I could give up and swim/walk back to shore. I quickly realised, however, that that would mean swimming through seaweed. Now Seaweed is fine when I’m in a boat, but I was not going to swim through it unless I absolutely had to. I was damned well going to get back into that boat!
One more attempt and finally, I got into the boat
Cue proud celebratory paddle/relief-that-I-didn’t-have-to-swim-through-seaweed paddle. I was so proud.
Mia 1 / Seaweed 0.
After all the swimming, the trip ended with us drying off in some toilets and then returning back to our original cafe for a hot drink and some sugar.
I was so tired: tired from the paddling, tired from the mental exertion of learning something new and exhausted from the capsize drills. I hadn’t quite anticipated how strenuous kayaking would be which means I definitely need to keep up the training pre-September! Despite the exhaustion, it was a brilliant few days. Erin & Lesley had been great company and there’s something about travelling under your own steam that made it feel like so much longer than weekend. Still, it was with relief that I finally hit the pillow of my Sleeper-train bed for the journey home. I now feel so much more prepared to take on the Menorca expedition in September. Perhaps I can nail looking a bit more Swan-like then?