Bouyancy aids and life jackets, tools for a job


Service in the Royal Marines means that at sometime in your career you will wear a lifejacket and  in a variety of situations. The frequency and familiarity with this piece of equipment has allowed me to identify times on the water where in fact a life jacket is a far more appropriate piece of safety equipment.

loaded - Version 2For an open crossing four years ago it was my preferred choice considering the level of exposure  when leaving coastal shores.

I found a rather useful PDF where the UK Scout movement explain the CE and ISO standards relating to life jackets and boyancy aids.

water Safety          The later half of the document relates to Scout association rules for choice of flotation wear.

So in this document you will see  the following definition of a 50N PFD

Level 50 Buoyancy Aid
CE 50 Newton (11lbs buoyancy)
EN393 ISO 12402-5
Only suitable for competent swimmers.
Recommended for use in sheltered water where
help is close at hand.
Only provides support to conscious people who
can help themselves.
Inferior in performance to life jackets or the
previous BMIF Standard for Buoyancy aids.

This protection is quite limited, anyone who has swum ashore through 2mt surf will remember how uncomfortable that experience is.


This clip illustrates quite clearly how difficult it can be with even a small amount of chop.

There are different types of lifejacket, crucially an Automatic inflation is not appropriate.   You must have control and choose when to inflate, that means choosing a manual inflation jacket.    This post does not advocate an either or approach, but is simply to highlight the benefits of having a range of equipment that you can select from appropriate to your intended trip.

To make an informed choice, carry out your own research there are always pros and cons, consider these carefully, best of all try them out, and practise all your safety drills.  Some you will find easier with the reduced bulk of a lifejacket, however you will loose the thermal protection offered by a PFD

Here is a rather excellent Hybrid PFD  which appears to incorporate the best of both.

My choice is a 150 N   Manual Life jacket with integral sprayhood, harness and crotch strap, using a crotch strap means wearing  it under the  spraydeck  loosing the advantages of a double waist cag …..   just another thing to consider.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 08.48.13Finally a few snaps to encourage practice with the new kit, it will behave differently and you will need to change and adapt your techniques to suit




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Sea Kayaking in Norway

We departed for Norway on 11th July and visited during a period of fine weather that has not been witnessed in Norway for many years. The trip was almost a month long and we have close on a thousand photos.  Here is a small intro to our tour and a separate page on the Blog Menu will link to a longer article.

P1020061We took the Ferry to Kristiansand and immediately started our journey to the West coast. Our route took us North and through the mountains to our first destination Bergen
The drive North took us through beautiful scenery in fantastic weather, as the sun went down the colours were amazing.

P1020067There were plenty of places to get off the road to rest and eat. This rather idyllic spot was also host to a Scandinavian midge with teeth like vikings. We had ‘all the kit’ ‘Boots insect repellent’ cream,  a mozzy repellent spray called “OFF”  bought in Italy and of course our headnets …..  but were just a little slow deploying all the resources, a big lesson learnt.

P1020082Our journey continued, and the weather changed we soon found ourselves in thick cloud at the tops of the mountains.

P1020106We were expecting to find sunny weather again as we descended from the mountains into Bergen, but the weather just got worse pouring rain and poor visibility. We spent a day in the rain trudging round Bergen and then decided to use the wet weather to drive further North to our next stop situated on the Vilnesfjorden

GrytoyraJust a day and a half after the rain and mist of Bergen we found ourselves in brilliant  sunshine. The forecast was good and we looked forward to a good few days on the Bulandet archipelago.

P1020119At Grytoyra we find a nice harbour and a small Marina. Parking at some places in Norway can be difficult, and we found asking always was well received and with positive results. There are a few small businesses here and a request to top up our water for a three day trip was again met with a genuine willingness to help and interest in our trip


We set out for Vearlandet the largest island in the Archipelago, where we would take lunch before continuing to Bulandet.  Above on the far left is the Bulandet archipelago and the large island more centrally to the right is  Alden.


The two peaks of Alden give its its local name of the Horse’s Saddle, it is a great landmark at 480 meters high and can be seen for miles in all directions which makes navigation amongst the hundreds of small islands much simpler.

P1020137We pulled into a small gully at Vearlandet and tied up on a clump of rock. The tidal range here was just 80cm and of no concern at all. It meant that we never bothered hauling out the heavy loaded boats. We continued our journey to Bulandet after lunch.

BulandetThere is a right in Norway to wild camp on any unfenced land at least 200 meters from property (and for a max stay of two days) and whilst this is most generous, in the Bulandet archipelago it is very difficult to find somewhere that fits the criteria AND is also easy to land a kayak.    From a trip four years ago I knew there was a small beach with a good patch of grass for camping, with a little search on google earth we soon came across it.


We quickly set up camp, and after supper took a walk up the local hilltop to be rewarded with a great view over the archipelago

P1020173 This first shot faces NE and overlooks our camp site located at the small left hand bay of the large lagoon. In the background is mainland Norway. Bulandet is is the most Westerly inhabited commune in Norway.

P1020174This photo looking East shows how easy it is to identify Alden, just to the right the next large island receding in the distance is Atloyna


Despite its remote location, Bulandet is a surprisingly lively community. Still very much a thriving community of fishermen. The small private harbours and jettys accommodated all manner of boats from very traditional wood fishing boats to sleek modern cruisers. Despite the number of boats here it was never intrusive, and the waters were delightfully peaceful.



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Searching for the Quenouille de St Brigitte

During conversation with a friend we learnt of a menhir  that had been adopted and modified by Christians during the early 16thC.

The conversation was  however some time ago, and we only had a rough idea where it was. We decided to launch from the car park at Pont Lorois, there’s great access to the water and plenty of parking.COL_0001

and use the tide up into the upper reaches of the Ria (On a previous trip we expored the Western side of the Ria at Nostang)


There was very little to pack, and we were soon on the water, but at low tide it means wading for the first one hundred meters to have enough water.P1010773

We made our way up the estuary heading for St Cado.  Passing the small Oyster Watchman’s house.   We could already feel the increase of the wind which was predicted to increase Bf5 +P1010784

St Cado is one of those places you will never tire of seeing.  This small island with its connecting harbour wall draws hundreds of tourists during the summer season, without doubt the best way to visit is by kayakP1010785

At higher levels of tide it can be fun paddling through the arched gates of the harbour wall against the flow of the tide, the tunnel is around one kayak length and needs a determined sprint to glide through…..  those who don’t have the speed or find the current faster than anticipated usually try to paddle only to find their paddles don’t fit under the arch ! P1010786There are always plenty of birds on the Estuary, this Egret was very happy to come quite close to us as we slowly moved through the mud banks


there are a good number of islands that are linked at low tide by rocky causeways. Here we needed to wait just a few minutes for the tide to rise a little higher in order to allow us to crossP1010808

Along came a party of people making their way back to the mainland, they had been using one of several small fishermen’s cottages on this small chain of islandsP1010811

It was another few minutes before they arrived at the causeway and the level of water was now thigh deep with a good flow of water crossing it. I offered a hand and carried a large bag on my deck  and hung around ‘just in case’  someone needed a bit more help. All was well with everyone across, however any further delay would have needed a boat or a 12hr wait till the next low tide.


Now we moved out into the open reaches of the Ria, we could feel the strength of the wind, the waves were mostly flattened by the wind, but every once in a while larger waves would form giving a chance to surf a little.

P1010793The weather had changed significantly in just a couple of hours, we now found ourselves paddling in a good force 5 on this open stretch, but it was easy to see the shelter offered much closer inland.


This is the Quenouille de Sainte Brigitte, It’s located on the Isthmus of the Ile Verdun peninsular. It’s a little over 3 meters tall and has three parts, a long cylindrical block of Granite carrying a smaller block which has a cross carved out, and these a finished with a conical cap.
I am always amazed at how these very ancient stones have survived so long. Of course now these historical relics are all recorded and looked after, but this is really something quite new in their history. It leads me to believe that there were probably many more that have just been lost or innocently reused before their historical value was realised.

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 07.07.04

Back at Pont Lorois, our starting point, the bay was filling nicely and the tidal flow into the bay gave Michelle an opportunity to practice her moving water skills.

So, probably time to ‘explain’ the word “Quenouille”

the translation I found in the dictionary is ‘Distaff’ it took me several searches to discover that this is the long spindle that ‘spinners’ use to hold the unspun fibres



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La Trinité

There is no doubt that I shall remember 2013 for its appalling weather ….  once again the bank holiday weekend arives and high winds Bf 5-6 +  showing all along the southern Brittany coast.

On these occasions it is usually easy to find some reasonably sheltered water on the Golfe du Morbihan. I have wanted to return to the Golfe at some point to visit the Tumulus on Ile Gavrinis, now the Tumulus is open to visits so a phone call was made to get us booked in, we learnt that actually it was full because this weekend it was Fete du Golfe and accordingly the whole region would be swamped by leisure boaters….  We changed our minds !

fete du GolfeThis photo by Françoise Berland shows what to expect !

We went a little further north up to  the Crac’h estuary where we would get some reasonable shelter from the westerlys. La Trinité lies in the estuary and is a popular natural port, again on a bank holiday weekend it makes no sense going to such a popular tourist destination to find parking, instead we searched the opposite side of the estuary and found easy parking next to a slip at Les Presses on the opposite side of the Estuary

P1010821Shortly after launching we crossed the main channel to witness a ‘near miss’ between two sailing craft, there was plenty of shouting probably translating as ‘ I say old boy, you need to revise your Col Regs’

This weekend was the ‘Armen’ race, some of the boats were already in La Trinité so we decided to pop in and take a look.

P1010825This Trimarin, is quite an amazing boat, have a look at the video for some footage taken during the race.

Close up on the water shows the incredible form of the hulls

P1010828P1010823The seafront at La Trinité  was looking great, but as predicted very busy


P1010832 We continued up the estuary passing under the road bridge, the waterway here becomes immediately quieter, but does look a little industrial. On both sides of the bridge are stocks of rusty iron frames used to carry the oyster sacks .

P1010857 - Version 2Further paddling takes you into the more usual environment of mud flats and marsh, there are always old hulks left slowly decaying in the water, which in a strange way look quite attractive as they they slowly blend into the landscape.

P1010855When we approached this boat we could hear water noisily filling a compartment inside, it really sounded like a large tap running, which seemed rather strange in this abandoned boat, but it was of course the rising tide breaching some internal bulkhead.


Tidal mills were an important feature along these waterways, many have been restored to full working order while others have been turned into a variety of different types of accommodation, sadly others have become derelict.


On the upper reaches of the estuary we came across this rather ancient cross, it is located in a most remote spot likely to be on the property of the Chateau du Kervihan, getting out to take a closer look was not so easy … P1010845Mud is mud wherever you go !  but here we found a thin layer a brown mud  which lay over a deep thick heavy black mud that stunk !   Thankfully just a few meters to cover with some rocks on the way


It was soon time to turn with the tide and return back to our start point, the sky had clouded over some and the wind increased, but as always it was good to be on the water and we both enjoyed our trip.  On reaching the slip we found a large queue of ribs and small cruisers lined up waiting for their turn ……..  one of the great joys of kayaking is being able to slip in when we want without obstructing anyone.


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Renew, Refresh, and refurb……

It’s been a long drawn out return to the norm following the burglary at the end of last year. I have learnt much about the law in France … and in fact see that it suffers from similar complaints that are made about English law.



So I’ll close the ‘burglary thing’ by saying  that the Burglary was effected by the son of people known to me with two of his despots as accomplices, I attended the court hearing last week  and saw they were sentenced to two years imprisonment with one of the years suspended for two years, the end result for me after the insurance claim being some 4000€ loss,   surprisingly I did recover my photo gear after it was offered for sale in a seccond hand shop, but couldn’t take possession from the Gendarmes until after the Court hearing.

Of course we have all seen that the weather has been, well pretty dank …


so instead of being in the water we have used the time to do some updating, a new kitchen in the appartment taking a wall down and increasing the kitchen size to 26sq. M

Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 08.19.02

and at the house the work continues with a complete new solid Oak door and frame, the original door while looking strong was not in fact very difficult to ‘break in’


It now sports a wrought iron gate that can be locked during periods of absence.

Alongside the building work I have also installed a CCTV system at the house, the system can be monitored via the internet and also records to a hard drive, it ‘s great for ‘peace of mind’


The van too has received some attention, finally after prototyping a wooden bed system, I have at last got round to welding up a metal frame. It is simple and converts from a bench seat to double bed in just 15 seconds.

20130416_112258Some shelves have been added to increase the storage at the back of the van

So stacks of things going on … but not all kayaking.  The next post will feature some salty water at La Trinite


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The Medway Estuary

Having lived in the South East for a good few years I am no stranger to the Medway Estuary. Now that I have moved well away I find I always enjoy a return to this amazing area. At first sight it looks an industrial mess with everything covered in mud. Only when you get close up though that you, you suddenly find yourselves in a rather beautiful place.The large areas of mud and salt marsh provide a home to a great variety of birds. One of the major land masses here is Chetny Marsh which is now recognized a a major and important habitat for birds.


Launching from the public slipway at Queenborough, we paddled against the rising tide the short distance to Deadmans island which sits at the northern end of Chetny Marsh. Recently it’s history has revealed itself with erosion exposing the coffins and skeletons of the Naval prisoners who died from disease whilst incarcerated in the old prison hulks moored in the Estuary.What appears to be shingle in the photo, is in fact tons of cockle shells that have been dumped here. It makes for an easy and clean landing.

deadmansWe continued our journey on to Burntwick Island, this was our destination where we would take a bit of lunch as the tide dropped before doing a little ‘treasure hunting’ Army hutThe whole region has been used by the Military for many decades, now there are many buildings long abandoned by the army slowly sinking into the marshes. On spring tides it is possible to paddle in through the windows.

Rusty tankThe ‘treasure’ that we came here to look for is all the old rubbish from the last century!

finding treasure

On a previous visit to the Thames, up by Tower bridge while have a food break we discovered many old Clay Pipes, apparantly these were purchased ready filled with tobacco “ready to smoke” and of course after smoking, they were later discarded into the river by the dock workers.


It is unusual to find the pipes complete, but the beach is quite literally littered with broken pieces.


It was not long before we had assembled a collection of ‘Old things’  … which would “Probably” look nice when they’ve had a good wash


The haul include a few cast bottle stoppers alongside a clay pipe bowl as well as a couple of old bottles that had suffered melting in a fire at some time which had left them all twisted.


At the Northern end of Burntwick Island are the remains of some building complex, just a few foundation stumps and an old Chimney, rather than sunken it seems more likely that previous sea defenses have been breached alongside rising water levels.

Flood Marsh

Making our way back to Queenborough, we took advantage of the high water level to choose a more direct route back, it was quite strange paddling over the flooded salt marshes with only the longest grasses breaking through to the surface

Mimi marshesAs the Ebb speeded up , we moved back into the main channels, to get dried out on the mud here would have been messy

Mimi Sunset

It was that ‘Golden hour’ once more and we were rewarded with some glorious last rays  as the Sun set.

We reached Queenborough slip at dusk and enjoyed a good Pint in the “Old House At Home” Pub which we had to pass to get to the Van.

There are showers and toilets opposite the Pub who are keyholders. We mret a couple of characters in the Pub, and discovered just how small a world it is.

Old_House_at_Home, more a great paddle


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The Thames

The original plan of a new years eve paddle was abandoned, mainly due to the weather but it was difficult matching known good parking and launching places with the tide. River Thames Kayak

Instead we launched new years day from the Rowing club at Gravesend and paddled up with the Flood, no real destination planned, but would turn round at high tide and return to Gravesend on the ebb.  The pontoon at the rowing club allows easy launching except at the very lowest tides. Parking is available a short walk away in the old swimming pool car park reasonably cheaply River Thames Kayak

SwansOn the adjacent beach were a flock of Swans who immediately came over to see us (no doubt expecting food !)

PLA PierAfter launching, we started our trip upriver, just after the Rowing club are the buildings and Jetty of the Port of London Authority.  The Gravesend RNLI boat is also berthed here.

Royal Terrace PierThe Royal Terrace pier was originally built for the great steamships of the past, but now is used exclusively by the PLA

Town PierIt is only a short distance further that you will come across Gravesend Town Pier, this the oldest cast iron pier in the world. It was built in 1834 when Gravesend was a popular resort for Londoners; it’s recently been fully restored and is now a restaurant and bar – though still with public access for those who want neither food nor drink

Continuing up the Thames, you soon arrive at Northfleet, here behind the industrial inner city views lies a curious history. For those interested heres a link to a Wikipeadia article

There is an old harbour at Northfleet which has now received attention as a project for redevelopment.

Our Journey took us on up past Greenhithe, visibility was deteriorating  and alongside Ingress park we stop for a snack Christmas cake and hot blackcurrant.  It was approaching high tide  and with visibility down to 200 meters it was a good time to turn back.

As darkness fell over the river we switched on our lights, nothing fancy or complicated just an LED ‘head torch’ attached to the PFD.
Kayak lightsNot a particularly good photo, but it does show rather well how visible you are with a light.

In fact the river had been rather busy all afternoon, I had been monitoring the Port VTS on chanel 69;  A large Tug boat past us in the main channel  and called us in to VTS  advising them of two kayakers on the water adjacent to Northfleet creek. They mentioned we were OK and ‘had lights on ‘   I called VTS and gave them our destination and ETA, who then requested an ‘Arrival’ comfirmation when we had landed.

On this occasion I had not given a paddle plan, (in fact we really did not have one ! ) however where the estuary widens and I will be crossing the shipping lines then I will normally call VTS for a sit rep with the traffic. In fact in all my dealings with London VTS they have been absolutely helpful and communications pleasant.

P1010680It was fully dark when we reached Gravesend, The duty officer from the Port of London greeted us from their Pier, he told us he had heard us on the VHF and decided to ‘check us in ‘  It was a ‘nice gesture’ and this interest in our safety is  always appreciated.

As I logged off with VTS we saw the Swans from our launch had all settled on the Rowing club Pontoon, (sorry the picture is pretty useless ) we decided to let sleeping swans lie …  fortunately the tide was still high enough to allow us to use the beach.

A very enjoyable trip on the river at the start of the new year

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Last paddle of the season (…in France )

This is always a time of reflection for me as the year draws to a close, again I have been very lucky and had the opportunity to paddle on some fantastic coastlines and enjoyed some great trips. This year has seen me install the flat earth sail, it has been great fun learning how to use it.
There was a point when first considering a sail when I believed that without any knowledge of sailing, that I would find it too dificult to ‘learn the ropes’ Happily that was not the case at all, in this clip is a very quick snapshot of kayak sailing in a good Beaufort force 5 with gusts up to 6, the swell was over 1.5 meters occaisionally breaking, certainly at the upper limits of my practicability, but there is no doubt you can see it is possible to make progress.


We’ll be across in the UK before the new year, and just may be able to squeeze in one more paddle

We have some good trips in mind for next year, in particular a revisit to Norway, but with plenty of trips along the Breton coast

All that remains is to wish you all a good finish to the year

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Windy weather .. another bash with the Sail

We have seen many long standing and slow moving depressions sitting over the atlantic. This weekend again greeted us with high winds just about round the entire coast of Brittany, magic seaweed showing  Bf 5 to 6

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 3.23.42 PMIt presented another opportunity to get the sail out.

I launched from le Pouliguen  at the Western end of the Bai de La Baule knowing that close to the shore would be sheltered from the worst of the Westerly winds.

In all I was on the water for just an hour and a half.  It was the first time in any real swell and turned out to be great fun as well as a little tiring …

It was so easy having the wind take all the effort out of paddling out and over the incoming waves, further out the wind flattened out the swell leaving me to play around with the wind and sail, this is about my fith session now and it is still quite a novelty to have on my deck.
Every so often a wave would appear behind me and give me an incredibly long surf, it really is good fun.

At one point I found myself in the company of a couple of windsurfers, I was able to tack at very similar angles but their huge sail was much faster.
Now looking forward to the next session

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The Nantes to Brest Canal A nicely sheltered paddle

The entire coast of Brittany was hit with high winds up to Bf 7 over the whole weekend. There were some moments of calm but not really allowing a good day trip. So we looked inland, our first choice were the canals on the Briere marshes, but we soon discovered that this National park restricts kayaking on most of the waterways. We then took a look at the Nantes to Brest Canal, we chose the port at Guenrouet to launch from.

It was well sheltered by the forest, very quiet and hardly a ripple on the surface. After leaving the shelter of the forest we enjoyed wonderful views across the country, completely unspoilt

At ground level we could barely feel the wind, but the clouds were flying overhead, a good indicator of what would be happening on the coast

We came across these floating traps baited with carrots, they are an attempt to control the Ragondin (Coypu)  which has become a huge pest here on the continent

They used to be ‘farmed’ in Norfolk for their fur, and quickly became a pest after escaping into the wild, and a long sustained program  was needed to eradicate them. They damage crops and cause enormous erosion damage to the river banks where they burrow relentlessly

One sure way of keeping the numbers down is to put it on the menu,  it appears that Paté de Ragondin au cognac is just the job to keep the hunters bringing them in.

We stopped at a small harbour at Le Morissais, with its small jetty and slip. We took our lunch on the picnic tables enjoying the sunshine, it was just 15° C

Back on the water we continued to explore this lovely waterway, the reflections on the water made it quite beautiful.

This trip was very different to our usual paddles, we both enjoyed this very tranquil day, and as well as the ragondins saw a few striking blue Kingfishers.

So when the wind is just battering the coast a little too hard we have another 300 Kms of this canal to visit.


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