Friday, August 29, 2014

Upwind paddle sailing with the P&H Aries 155 with forward fin, first test and review.

This striking pillar box red metallic with turquoise trim P&H Aries 155 is the latest addition to the seakayakphoto quiver.

Not only has it a Flat Earth kayak sail, it has an other interesting addition.. Note the central cord and cleat...

 ...which operates a large carbon fibre...

...forward fin for upwind paddle sailing.The fin is 30cm long and measures 11cm fore and aft at its mid length point. The fin is stiff but is cut from a flat plate of carbon fibre composite. It is pulled down by elastic and raised by the cord on deck. It will autoretract if you hit an obstruction. The fin box slot is 49cm long and will obviously increase turbulence.

The fin box is grp and is moulded into the forward bulkhead so it is very stiff. It does add to the weight of the kayak.

Here is the proof of the pudding. It is slack water at high tide. Wind is WNW F4 to F5. The sea is relatively flat due to being downwind of the shelter of Ringdoo Point and Garvellan rocks. I was paddle sailing upwind from Carrick Point to Ringdoo Point. I paddled four 500m tacks. The first two tacks were with both the forward fin up and the skeg up. From experiments with the Aries 155 last year, I already knew that it would point to about about 60 degrees from the wind with a tacking angle of about 60 degrees without the forward fin and this is exactly what I found on this occasion.

I  then put the forward fin fully down for the third and fourth tacks. From experiments with the bigger Cetus HV fitted with a smaller Karitek forward fin last year, I expected to paddle sail up wind with just the forward fin down and the skeg up. However, the balance point is different and as soon as I put the large forward fin down the kayak luffed up into the wind but this was easily corrected by putting the skeg fully down. I now found I was paddling 45 degrees to the wind with a 90 degrees tacking angle. This is the same as a Laser dinghy which was tacking alongside. Despite pointing 15 degrees higher into the wind my forward speed remained the same at a steady 7.8 km/hr. I also found it was easier to balance against the F4-5 wind with less strain on my core muscles.

Pros and cons:
The P&H forward fin is highly effective in improving a short kayak's upwind performance. It is very easy to deploy and retract and when fully down the sailing angle can be easily controlled by varying how much skeg is deployed at the stern. I found it easier to balance and control the sail upwind when using the forward fin. On the down side it adds cost, weight, water resistance and another control line.  You do not need a forward fin to have a lot of fun downwind paddle sailing the Aries 155. Lastly I found longer kayaks such as the Cetus MV will already paddle sail upwind at 45 degrees to the wind without a forward fin, though these kayaks are less fun down wind than the Aries 155.If you want to add a forward fin to an existing kayak then Kari-tek will be able to supply/fit a slightly smaller one which I found worked very well last year.

In conclusion, I found the P&H Aries 155 with forward fin to be the most versatile and fun sea kayak for paddle sailing which I have yet tried. Upwind performance over the standard kayak is markedly improved. Lastly the pillar box red metallic looks fantastic in the sunshine!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sheila Wilcox 29/7/1928 - 30/7/2014

My mother Sheila has died. Both she and my father gave my brother Donald and myself our lifelong interest in mucking about in boats. This photo was taken in 1962 which was my fourth season on the water! However, Sheila gave us much more. Below is the eulogy I spoke at her funeral service in Ayr.

A breezy day, September 2013, walking along the Solway coast.

My brothers and I were so lucky to be born to Sheila. I first became aware that our mother was a bit different to friends' mothers when I started primary school in Dingwall. She was always visiting needy or bereaved people, bringing them companionship and help. I had grown up thinking this was normal because Sheila's mother, Agnes, also did the same. In those days religious observance was very important in Dingwall. I was in the same class at school as a boy down the road but found we went to different Sunday schools. I went home and asked Mum "What kind of Christian are you?" She looked me in the eye and said "I am a practicing Christian." As a child I did not really know  what she meant but as the years passed and I watched how she lived her life, I came to understand.

In addition to being a wife and mother, Sheila was a teacher of domestic science. Years later, while my wife and I were working as doctors, we came across people who asked "Are you related to Mrs Wilcox? She was a wonderful teacher!" 
In her "spare" time, Sheila loved her garden and greenhouse, walking her dog, golfing, swimming, bridge, reading, driving her car, going out for lunch with friends and, when she was younger, 1st XI hockey at Marr College, badminton, country dancing, sailing, hill walking and playing piano. Her house was constantly filled with the rattle of her sewing machine and the smell of baking as she sewed, cooked and baked for family, friends and charity.

 Sheila in about 1949 at Glasgow College of Domestic Science.

Sheila had a great capacity for love and caring. She moved in many circles and her phone book is full of friends from Glasgow Do' School, the teaching and  veterinary worlds, golf, bridge, St Leonard's church, the Ayrshire hospice (for which she was a volunteer for nearly 26 years), Cardoness where she spent her holidays and the many people she was looking out for. After Sheila died, I phoned people in her book, many of whom I did not know. Some were old friends from school days and others were very recent friends but all described the same joy in Sheila's friendship. Sheila was forgiving, she never held grudges and she always saw the best in people. Sheila was very independent, she would rather look after others than be looked after herself. After 57 years of marriage, when Rae died,  she was heartbroken but she pulled herself together and often said "I'm doing just fine". Despite being on her own, she filled the empty space in her life by going out and helping others again.  

Two years ago, after Sheila had major open chest surgery, she was given only two months to live. Sheila was determined to prove the doctors wrong when it would have been all too easy to just give up. Alison, her daughter in law, nursed her back to health over those two months. At the end of this time Sheila said to me "I think I am ready to go out for a drive". "Certainly Mum where would you like to go and I'll take you?"  "No, no, I'll drive, I only need you to check I'm OK". Earlier this year, when her breast cancer was well advanced, she had two cataract operations so that she could continue to drive. Then, just six weeks before she died, Sheila drove to and from her great grandson's first birthday party in Glasgow. She took with her three cakes and trays of pastries which she had spent hours baking.

Sheila was modest, sharing and so generous with her time. She was always thinking of others, whose needs she often  put first. Many times I tried to take her out for lunch only to be told "Sorry, I am just away to see an old friend is all right".  She loved nothing better than teaching friends to golf and helping youngsters who might have otherwise been unable to play. When Sheila was in hospital for the last time, a 99 year old friend sent a get well message. Despite her situation, Sheila's eyes lit up and said "Please tell her I'm doing just fine and I hope she is keeping well too".

Sheila was uncomplaining. Her last illness was challenging and painful but the nurses said she never complained. The New Testament has a proverb "As you sow, so shall you reap". After a lifetime of caring for others and when Sheila needed help most, she found herself surrounded not just by her family but by loving neighbours, friends and professionals who cared for her as if she were their own. Her one regret was that she spent much of her last three summers in hospital and missed her glorious garden. Both her birthday and anniversary were in July, when the roses bloom and these were her favourite flowers. When she was in hospital for the last time, I took her photographs as each of her beautiful roses blossomed throughout the month. It was a joy to see her smile, her eyes light up and nod her head in appreciation.

Sheila was an eternal optimist. Just over two months ago, I was with her when (for the second time), a doctor gave her just two months to live. By this time she knew how to cope with bad news. Going out to her car (she was driving) she said, "Six months, that's not so bad." By the time she got home to family and friends this had grown to five years! "I am doing just fine" she said and with a smile she went off to the greenhouse, sowing seeds for next year. She loved life and never gave up hope, not even at the very end of her long illness.

As the family shared a bedside vigil with Sheila, one of the very last things she said to me was "Will they accept me?"  I cannot imagine anyone who would be not be willing to accept Sheila into their fold. In the small hours of her last night I was stroking her hair and cheek when I was overwhelmed to feel so much of her love just slipping away through my fingers and there was nothing I could do to hold on. Then I heard her voice inside my head. "You're just feeling sorry for yourself, I'm doing just fine, now go out there and do some good in the World". When I got home in the early morning, the petals of the last of her beautiful roses had fallen to the ground and I knew that the natural cycle had turned. The love and time Sheila had so willingly shared with others had come to an end. Only precious memories now remain and to hold on to these, we should try to live a little like Sheila.

Sheila thank you for giving us so much love and joy. God bless you.

Sheila's last rose

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The best sea kayaking day trip.

Photo by Ian Johnston.
After our hot descent from the summit of Ailsa Craig it was a relief to cool off by plunging into the cool clear water off the granite spit. Two grey seals swam alongside us but were fortunately not too inquisitive.

 We then set off on an anticlockwise circumnavigation...

...below increasingly vertiginous cliffs. This area is the site of the former green  granite quarry. You can see the large number of quarried blocks to the side of the south foghorn.

 Great columns of rock soared into the sky though what we see today is just the volcanic plug. The original cone was 3500m high but was carried away by the glaciation of the Ice Ages. Erratic Ailsa Craig rock can be found all the way down the Irish sea coasts.

 This is where the gannet colonies begin, the flat tops...

...of rock columns are particularly favoured.

 It is possible to walk right round Ailsa Craig but only at spring low water as Stranny Point and...

 ...the Water Cave pose a formidable barrier at other states of the tide.

Beyond the Water Cave is the main gannet colony and the deafening croaking and overpowering smell ads to the spectacle...

...of thousands of wheeling birds in the air. It is literally raining with bird shit so bring a hat.

 Some gannets were fishing and...

 ...a fish would be lucky to escape their stuka dives.

 ...and plunge into the depths.

 This one could hardly take off, its gizzard was so full of fish.

Next we came to the green slope where...

 ...the puffins hang out! Their numbers are steadily increasing since the island's  rats were exterminated.

 A steady stream were flying in with sand eels in their beaks for hungry chicks.

After the puffins came...

...guillemot city.

 " I am not quite sure he is one of us..."

 Then it was the cormorants. 1st cormorant on a rock: "I look down on him because I am upper class."

2nd cormorant on a rock: "I look up to him because he is upper class but I look down on him because he is lower class."

3rd cormorant on a rock: "I know my place."

 As you swing round the NW of Ailsa Craig the vertical cliffs become...

 ...even more vertical, if that is possible!

 Next we came to the grey seals, some were very big and...

...some were very small.

 This one is called Gollum, it followed us right round the Craig.

 We rounded the great cliffs of the Eagle's Seat which tower over the...

 ...north fog horn and the Swine Cave.

Next on our tour was the blue hone granite quarry which had a narrow gauge tramway back to the lighthouse area.

All too soon we were back at the lighthouse. This is where photographs stop. Despite a forecast of light winds we left Ailsa Craig into a line of breaking white water. Out of nowhere a wind at the top end of F4 got up from the SE which was 45 degrees off our bows. The tide between Ailsa Craig moves in great swirls and sometimes tide was with the wind and sometimes against. Occasional braces were required in the breaking waves. As the sky to the SE grew darker we pushed on and despite the partial headwind completed the crossing in 1hr 55 minutes which was considerably faster than our usual time of 2 hours 45 minutes. It's amazing what a little adrenaline can do!

So our mission to Ailsa Craig had been accomplished, Ian had made it despite missing our last camping trip to the Craig. He had left his home near Aberdeen at 04:30 on the Friday and managed to get back by 01:30 the following morning. Ailsa Craig...a day trip from Grampian, who would have thought?

Ian and I cannot think of a better day paddle, stiff hill walk and incredible wild life experience than a trip to Ailsa Craig!

Monday, July 21, 2014

On foot on Ailsa Craig.

As we ate our sandwiches on the granite rubble spit we noticed that there were many blocks of granite that had been bored to produce the plugs of granite from which curling stones are cut. Kays of Mauchline visit every 10 years or so to remove about 2000 tons of granite that were blasted land quarried last century. Green, blue hone and red hone granite is all collected by a digger with a grabber arm and loaded onto large wheeled dumper trucks for transport to a landing craft at the spit. The last granite was collected in 2013.

After a very pleasant luncheon below the lighthouse Ian and I set off through the industrial archaeology of the lighthouse area. The railway line runs from the jetty to the lighthouse and the gas works. The points still work.

We climbed up to the 15th century castle...

...then up steep bracken covered slopes... the castle well. At this time of year it is very easy to miss the path as it is obscured by chest high bracken but I have been up so many times that we made few wrong turnings and...

We emerged onto the summit (338m) ridge where we enjoyed a stunning view Arran some 24km away to the north. It was from Arran's Kildonan shore (below Goatfell the highest mountain) that Tony and I had crossed to Ailsa Craig just 18 days previously. Even with a telephoto lens, it looked a long way off.

Far below FPV Minna cruised by while nearer at hand...

...we discovered dog rock just below the summit.

On the way down we saw several of these beautiful magpie moths (Abraxas grossulariata) they are particularly fond of elder trees and a few stunted specimens are found on Ailsa Craig where in the local vernacular they are known as bour trees. Soon we would discover more wildlife in near incredible numbers...