Wednesday, September 29, 2010


An inuksuk is a stone monument found throughout the arctic regions of Canada, Greenland and Alaska. The singular of inuksuit, it means "in the likeness of a human". Hence why many of the stone cairns that have been erected often assume the shape of a person. Created hundreds of years ago, an "ee-nook-shook" can take different forms, each with unique cultural significance and purpose. They are often used to mark special places and a familiar inuksuk is a welcome guide to a traveler in a featureless and forbidding landscape. 

Still being erected today, inuksuit are lasting symbols of resilience in a harsh, often unforgiving environment and have evolved into a distinctive art form. These sculptural representations are seen as among the most important objects placed by humans in the vast Arctic landscape. As a consequence, they have become a familiar symbol of the Inuit and of their homeland. Inuit tradition forbids the destruction of inuksuit as they are frequently venerated as symbolizing an ancestor who knew how to survive on the land in the traditional way.

In this way, inuksuit come to serve many purposes, both practical and mystical. An inuksuk can serve in a spiritual capacity to indicate where life is renewed. where spirits reside, where judgements or decisions are made, and where celebrations are held. They come to symbolise places of death and remembrance also. Inuksuit can also be signposts for safe or dangerous crossings, treacherous water, falling rocks, caribou crossings, good hunting and fishing locations. Amongst other things, they have become an enduring means of communication by the Inuit people through the generations that have been, and are yet to be.

So compelling was the desire of the Inuit to create inuksuit, that they not only appear on the earthly landscape but also in legend and stories - as figures that emerge from the movement of fingers playing string game or in a winter sky constellation. Some of the 'old' inuksuit are mentioned in the travelling songs passed from generation to generation in order to help hunters remember a series of directions on long trips. Often these inuksuit are venerted regardless of their function. Even today, the appearance of a familiar inuksuk on the horizon is a welcome sight when one is a long way from home.

Whether they symbolise their maker, act in a practical capacity or are the object of reverence, inuksuit function as helper and messengers created by an infinite arrangement of stones. They are an integral part of life outdoors, as an unspoken language and endure as indelible signatures upon the landscape.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

BCU Training Weekend

In many cases, before one can be assessed against a standard or syllabus, one must first become familiar with, practice and reflect upon the necessary skills and underpinning knowledge that is deemed to be necessary. So it was that this weekend saw me run the first day of a modular BCU 4* Sea training programme for willing participants from Shrewsbury Canoe Club.

Successful performance at this level indicates that a 4* Sea paddler has the skill level required to lead a group of competent paddlers on journeys between 5 - 10 miles in 'moderate waters'. Holding the award demonstrates that a 4* Sea leader can judge the conditions and the standard of the group to make appropriate decisions, understanding the need to modify plans when required.

The intention of the training course is to introduce the principles of safe group leadership; such as identifying hazards and avoidance strategies, the use of effective communication, good positioning for likely rescue scenarios as well as such things as access, environmental issues and equipment. The programme does cover seamanship and navigation within the context of leadership, but it is not the main focus of the training, as most potential candidates need to complete a day course in coastal navigation and tidal planning (or equivalent) prior to assessment. The training also sets out to ensure that an aspiring leader has the personal skills and self rescue abilities to be a safe in moderate sea conditions, especially when in charge of a group.

With a inshore forecast of South Westerly 5 to 7 being issued by the Met Office on Sunday, and the weather almost persistent rain, the judgement was made to spend the day on the Menai Straits. The appropriateness of that decision was confirmed by finding four other sea kayak groups launching from the slip way in Menai Bridge.

The plan for on the water was to provide a number of shake down activities that got the participants thinking and reflecting on both their personal paddling as well as their leadership skills. Whilst seemingly sheltered, the Menai Straits can offer its own set of challenges for paddlers and leaders especially if they venture in to the area between the two bridges know as the Swellies, which offers up a number of interesting and at times fast flowing water features depending on the state of the tide.

Needless to say, it was a wet day for all concerned. Whether it was a result of the incessant rain during the various leadership sections or due to the obligatory rescue sessions (and leaking dry suits) but nevertheless, the group were keen, able and cheerful throughout. Leading and rescuing partners and peers in never easy at the best of times but it does enable one to challenge perspectives within a supportive environment, establishing the role of a critical friend to aid personal development.

With day two on the horizon, the group have the luxury of some breathing space to practice, consolidate and review what they have done so far. With all good will, this should mean they come back fuelled with more questions and the application of what they have learned can be observed in earnest in the context of a full coastal journey.

Get in touch if you are interested in completing a similar training course or just wish to look at your skills development in a boat.

More pictures of the day can be can be found here

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

BCU Assessment Weekend

The weekend saw a number of candidates put themselves up for assessment - Simon, Rich and Chala had decided to complete their BCU Level 3 Coach (Sea) award, whilst Alex and Marc where taking the 4* Leadership (Sea) award. 

To achieve the current BCU Level 3 Coach qualification (not to be mistaken for the new BCU / UKCC Level 3), a candidate is assessed on their ability to delivery more sophisticated and perhaps more individualised coaching to a group within a specific environment, in this case the sea. There are elements of leadership, group management and risk awareness on test also. If successful, a BCU Level 3 Coach (Sea) can work in moderate water conditions on the open ocean (including launching and landing in surf) and can assess 1, 2 and 3 star awards. For reference, this award will no longer be assessed after December 2010.

In the case of the 4* award, whilst a key component is the ability to demonstrate paddle skills in a linked and fluid manner, sound leadership is variety of situations is the foremost issue under examination. The 4* is an ideal award for those paddlers who are leading club trips, and is a prerequisite to completing the BCU Moderate Water Endorsement.

The first day saw Rich, Simon and Chala work with a group of students from a wide range of paddling backgrounds who had volunteered their time for the day. All three were given the opportunity to demonstrate their coaching abilities using Trearddur Bay as a classroom, which has numerous sheltered coves along with islands and inlets that allow for progressive activities and application of skills. Also, each of the candidates completed a beach based presentation, varying from knots for sea kayakers to tidal planning, that made for interactive sessions of a different kind for the students.

Rich and Marc spent the day in the company of Nick Cunliffe, also launching from Trearddur Bay but setting out on a journey that would assess their primary paddling and leaderships skills. This team had an enjoyable time shaping a course out to Rhoscolyn Head and back with a good slight to moderate sea state and ideal wind conditions.

The second day saw all the candidates gather at Cemaes Bay with the explicit intention of looking at their ability to assess risks, uphold their duty of care and to manage groups on the water as leaders. This day also examines a candidate's ability to deal with incidents, both minor and significant, that might arise when leading a trip. There a further opportunity to ensure personal paddling performance is of a high standard, especially checking manoeuvring skills and close quarter techniques which enable a leader to respond more rapidly to issues as well as assessing a candidate capacity to self rescue and eskimo roll.

Both assessments need to be a thorough and fair exploration of a candidate's skills, knowledge and understanding of the role of a coach, and that of a leader. Looking at both practical and theoretical dimensions that are inherent within the awards. On this occasion, I am pleased to say that everyone was successful and went away with big smiles.

Get in touch if you are interested in completing any of these awards or just wish to look at your skills development in a boat.

More pictures of the weekend can be found here

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Puffin Island Triangle

Some time ago I formulated a plan for a trip that, in essence, is situated in my own back yard. There is every likelihood it has been done before but for the sake of providing a title for this article I will refer to it as the Puffin Island Triangle. The principle idea being that the journey involves completing three open crossing of similar length as well as appealing to my sense of geometry. 

The route currently begins and finishes at the Penmaenmawr Sailing Club, which can be found on the promenade just off the A55. The first leg goes out to Puffin Island. From there the crossing goes to the Great Orme and finally returning to the sailing club. Each leg of the journey is approximately 9kms. It was not intended as a lone challenge, or a race even, more as a interesting day out with friends. However, so far circumstances have dictated that my good friend, Ali Othen, has completed the Triangle in 4 hours and 5 mins, going solo on a well planned Spring tide, whilst I did it in 4 hours 45 mins on Neaps with a SE 4 - 5 as hindrance! Anyone with astute seamanship skills can no doubt plan the route in such a way to maximise the ebb and flood for greater efficiency as well as pick out suitable variations in direction and launching points.

The common question people ask, who perhaps do not share the same deep love of sea kayaking, is 'why?'. Funnily enough, I was asking myself the same thing as I struggled with every paddle stroke on the Puffin to Orme section as the wind worked hard to defeat me. On reflection, it becomes a test of resilience as I'm not a huge fan of open crossings, probably because I get bored and when paddling alone I get lost in my thoughts which is not always a good thing. Company is often much preferred, even if it is just a few words ever so often to break the spell of introspection. Nonetheless, resilient one must be to complete whatever journey you have set out to do.

Any such undertaking requires the paddler to feel confident in and comfortable with their sea kayaking equipment. As ever, I employed my trusty Tiderace Xcite for the job, along with using Mitchell paddles. I was protected from the elements by my Kokatat TecTour Anorak, wearing an Inner Core top underneath and my buoyancy aid of choice was the Ronin, which is rapidly becoming a favourite. So all in all a good test of body, mind and boat with the luxury of knowing a hot bath afterwards was only a short drive away :o)

More pictures of the trip can be found here

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Sea Kayaking Adventures, Home & Abroad

Sea kayaking is a very popular outdoor activity and has an ever growing fan base; it has become one of the more popular water-based outdoor pursuits in recent times. The sea kayak is a versatile and challenging craft that can be great fun. Although the sport’s popularity is seeing an upsurge, the sea kayak also happens to be one of the oldest known forms of transportation. If you have a love of the great outdoors, sea kayaking should be on your list of pastimes. Sea kayaking does takes place all over the world. In fact, as long as there is a body of water in an area, the chances are there is also paddling going on somewhere.

If you’re planning a sea kayaking holiday on a tight budget, you may consider choosing a destination locally. The UK has plenty of ideal spots for a day of kayaking, or even a short holiday. For some extra adventure perhaps you should consider camping as well. Regardless of the destination, you need to plan ahead to make the most of your trip. 

Planning well in advance can help you take advantage of discounts that will help you get the most for your money. This may include discounted airline tickets, extended dates, and prime destinations during both peak and off-peak seasons. In addition to planning your travel arrangements you should also thoroughly research the intended destination to get the most out of your trip. Careful itinerary planning will allow you to get in plenty of kayaking while still allowing time for other local attractions. 

Sea kayaking in the United Kingdom can be very rewarding. The shoreline around the country is very varied with towering cliffs, lovely beaches and interesting river estuaries. The rugged headlands, long sandy bays, offshore islands, and sea caves allow for exploration and plenty of sightings of wildlife. 

For a holiday with a little more daring, why not travel abroad? Alaska in the northern United States offers some of the very best in kayaking adventures. It is a spectacular state with endless landscape beauty. It is in fact considered one of the best destinations for kayaking in the world. There are numerous places worth visiting in Alaska, particularly Glacier Bay and Prince William Sound. The diverse wildlife habitats in Alaska will provide numerous sightings of birds and animals that you may have never seen before. 

There are many ways in which to embark on an overseas kayaking adventure. You can book a package holiday or even put together your very own custom adventure. In fact, companies such as ours, Greenland or  Bust, can even help you find your flights and kayaking adventure locations. Using such an experienced company will definitely allow you to worry less about making travel plans and to focus on having a good time. 

A sea kayaking holiday can be one of the most memorable ones you and your family might take. With so many adventures available to you in both the United Kingdom and abroad, the only thing you need to really consider is your budget.