Monday, November 19, 2007

It's over!

I'm tremendously relieved the assessment is over and very pleased, of course, to have passed. Having failed to reach any Americans by phone to tell them the good news (it being 6am or so), I next phoned Rowland Woollven who is a good friend and who we visited at his house near the Falls of Lora on Tuesday. He was thrilled for me and made the hour long drive north to have dinner and celebrate. About 30 seconds after getting off the phone with Rowland, Fiona called to congratulate. Fiona has been my 'tutor' and mentor for the past couple of years and her support and friendship has been awesome. Rowland arrived bearing gifts from both of them - champagne, whiskey, and an exquisite model of an inuit kayak that he made last spring for my first assessment (it's been waiting on his shelf for me to get it right)!

It's really amazing to have friends who are willing to trek so far around the globe to a cold, dark, wet place to help me do this. I can't thank Thom and Lynn enough for supporting this endeavour not once, but twice!!! Brian was a perfect long term student and I owe him big time. Jake made the first trip so much fun and such an adventure. Thanks, guys.

We're all disappointed for Steve, but it's certainly not the end of the road. He's been so generous to us and has made this trip very easy. We spent the whole week chauffeured about (we offered to drive - don't know why he wouldn't let us) in a very large van with a very fine fleet of kayaks in tow. Even in his disappointment, he's funny and entertaining and happy for me. A class act, for sure.

Off to pack. See you all soon!


Let me Introduce America’s FIRST BCU LEVEL 5 SEA KAYAK COACH.

Above is the exact moment (well OK just 10 seconds later) that Jen was informed by Gordon that she had passed.

Jen then calls mom with the news. Jake might have gotten the first call, however, we all knew he was sitting up and a tree hunting deer and wouldn't answer his phone anyway!
I just couldn’t save that news to the end of the day’s diary. You want to know it and Jen wants to celebrate her success with each of you. Throughout the first BCU attempt in Thurso and this one Jen has repeatedly mentioned how much the support of her extensive kayak community (both local and nationwide) has meant to her and brought her to this achievement.

So back to our day with Jen. Once again we were out early to meet up and pickup Andy (the same assessor Bryan and I were with yesterday but new to Jen). Unlike Steve, Jen didn’t waste any time getting on the water. We moved gear and kayaks to our transport for the day and were off to the Falls of Lora. But this time we were going to play in the flood tide (still at neaps).

It is about an hour’s drive down the coast towards Oban and we were on the water by 10AM. Naturally we had researched tide and current times and expected good currents and eddy lines to work with but no significant standing waves… and that’s what we got. The perfect environment for Jen to show her stuff! She did a fantastic job keeping Bryan and I busy, often pursuing different tasks on the same venue. Ferry forward and reverse, at different speeds, edging, surfing small waves in current, rolling (Brian) and sculling braces (Thom) in moving water. We got wet, we had fun, Jen did great!

Brian doing a great job sitting in a small tidal race at the Falls of Lora
Note: I don’t want to come home to discussions about the usefulness of a sculling brace. It was challenging and built up my confidence. That alone makes it useful in this instance.

Shortly after we returned to the Assessment center Gordon gave Jen the good word.
Unfortunately Steve did not pass. I have hesitated to ask him directly regarding the Assessors feedback but hope to hear more over the next few days.

That’s it from Scotland. Monday morning we head back to Oxenholm, Tuesday were headed back home to San Diego.

Regards – Thom

p.s. A special thanks to my wife, Lynn, for supporting Jen’s quest and allowing me to spend the time (and money) supporting Jen.

Whew - At Last Saturday is Here!

Thom here…

This morning we were all business and out the door at 8AM, hooked up the trailer, and off to Orich to meet up with all the Assessors, Assessees, and Long Term Students (that’s Brian and myself among many others). The parking lot was chock full of cars covered with canoes, white water kayaks and then just a few sea kayaks. We were in a minority.

After the usual disorientation, trying to establishing where we were meeting, sitting down, then being told we needed to split up - students were on the other end of the complex, being grilled whether we knew, had paddled or been coached by the Assessee whom we were being paired with (that would be Steve whatever his name is!), then back to the original meeting place, and paired up with our Assessor and Assessee (finally).

I cannot speak for Jen’s day (at least not directly) as she went off with Steve2 and Sue not to be seen again till the end of the day.

Brian in the bivy shelter

Steve, however, did a great job. In his usual thorough manner he oriented us, explored our experience and strengths as well as our goals for the day and then offered a plan. Since we had an interest in his personal and group kits (that’s British for gear), leadership, coaching and paddling skills as well as navigation, he suggested we return to our chateau and spend a few hours there.

Steve discussing forward paddling with a demonstration video on the computer.

Time flew by as we discussed the contents of pfd pockets, different flare types, emergency shelters, vhf radios, deck mounted tow lines, contact tow lines, watched video of the British Olympic champion paddler and so much more. Indeed, as we broke for tea (I slipped in a sandwich) we realized that we had not yet covered navigation and needed to get down the road to Ballachulish to fit in a few hours paddling before dark. So we threw on our dry suits and gear and off we went into the rain and wind.

Our launch spot at Ballachulish (the launch ramp is behind me). Brian jumped in the picture and looked like a road worker in his dry suit.

We launched off a boat ramp in front of the Ballachulish Hotel and played in the narrows underneath the bridge. The natural topography protected from the full blast of the wind and the narrows had an ebb current that was surprisingly lively for a neap tide. If we let ourselves be swept down into the open parts of the loch there were significant wind waves built up by the fetch from over miles of open water in which to play.

The underlying theme of my work was leadership skills while Brian’s interest was in developing his coaching skills. While on the water we worked on paddling technique and boat handling, but it was good to have each exercise in context. Steve has an engaging teaching methodology that I find challenging, effective and beneficial. Generally he supports your process of coming up with answers with his guidance.

Once off the water we dropped Andy, our Assessor, of at Assessor Headquarters (he had to get back for a dinner) and returned to our chateau to pick up on navigation. Though exhausted, Steve had us plan a theoretical trip around the south end of Islay taking into account the tides, high water, and currents to navigate the tidal races. I found the exercise intellectually challenging; for Bryan it was a ‘piece of cake’ and he was soon bored and thinking of dinner.

Looking south towards Port Appin Left coast behind the castle. The islands on the right are where Jen and crew paddled to (and back).
Jen, with Steve2 and Sue returned to our chateau during our navigation exercise and informed us that they had gone south towards Oban and launched at Port Appin. There the winds were blowing at force 5 gusting to 6 so they worked for the first few hours with paddling exercises tucked in behind the ferry launch ramp, popping out in the wind and waves for skill building then returning to the protected area for instruction. They then set out across the channel to the island of Lismore, rounding the north end to play in the rocks on the west side. From their description I wished I had been along.

Talking about our day with each other in the kitchen

As you might imagine we had a raucous dinner this evening with endless stories about the day and, of course, the usual British / US English language barrier humor. Soon though, we were back at planning tomorrow, where to go, what are the expected tide times, current flows, what about the weather (gale force winds at 6AM are predicted on BBC radio), what we students wanted to experience and learn and what would be the best venue that would integrate all that and show off the Assessees skills best? Soon we were all slipping off to bed, hopefully sleeping better than last night, and ready for another exciting day.

Steve2 and Sue returning from their day with Jen

Sorry – no photos on the water today as it seemed as though it might be inappropriate during an assessment. I might ask tomorrow to see if it would be OK.

Regards - Thom

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Let Me Introduce to you...

America's First BCU Level 5 Sea Kayak Coach

Jen Kleck

Unfortunately that's all I can give you for now (but I was sure you would want to know).

The only Internet connection for ~20 miles is here in the Clachaig Inn and has a phone modem connection. Worse it has prevented me from inserting a USB thumb drive to transfer three days of journal writings and a plethora of photos. I promise to do that once we get back to Steve's house Monday evening.

Unfortunately Steve did not pass and that has been the focus of much discussion at our chateau. Additionally none of the canoe Assessees passed, white water Assessees had not yet returned to the center before we left so we didn't get their results.

So look for lots of text and pictures in 24 hours. See you back in San Diego late Tuesday.

Regards - Thom

Friday, November 16, 2007

Pictures from throught the week

Thom here...
This being the first Internet access time for a few days I thought I would catch you up with pictures...

Jen the Falls of Lora

Steve at the Falls of Lora

Steve's Birthday party

Jen working with Brian at the Falls of Lora

Have you seen our home base yet?

Well tomorrow the Assessment starts. Wish them luck.

Regards - Thom


Thom here on Thursday…

Another glorious day paddling on mirror smooth Scottish waters. Each day now moves us closer to full neap tide so strong currents and tidal races become harder to find. The temperature dropped a bit from yesterday and the sky was covered with low clouds. We rarely saw the sun. Nonetheless, paddling conditions were great for exploring the coastline as wind was nearly nonexistent and aside from a mild ebb tide, the day and the loch were ours.

We rose early once again and headed off to paddle Loch Sunart which is essentially an hour and a half southwest of Ft. William. To save driving 50 miles each way we jumped a ferry across Loch Linne at Corran then drove west to our launch point at Glennborrodale. As always the scenery on the drive was spectacular taking us along several lochs and over a low pass as we proceeded out the Ardnamurchan peninsula (the most western point on the British mainland).

Just a bit of a portage from our parking spot and we had our kayaks sitting on seaweed ready to launch. After dallying just a bit in Glennborrodale harbor we set out east along the coast, practicing strokes and setting up a ferry angle to cross Loch Sunart to Carna, an island on the opposite side. Our plan was to circumnavigate Carna, then hopefully continue west and on around the west end of the island of Oronsay, which is exposed to the sea and likely to have a rugged west coast along with some swell to play in. Because of neaps the current was running a mere 2+ knots and crossing was easy. We quickly rounded the east end of Carna and stopped for lunch.

After lunch we passed along the narrow eastern channel looking for sea otters and other sea life and practicing strokes whenever we found interesting currents and eddy lines. Once we turned west the ebb tide in the channel carried us towards Oronsay. But alas, we had tarried too long and the entrance to the backside of Oronsay was blocked by the receding tide. A ~200 yard portage across the seaweed and mud was an option, however, time was running short and the better decision was to turn north and head back across Loch Sunart to our original launch location.

Another lesson learned (over and over)… pay attention to the tides. Had we launched earlier, or possibly inverted the direction of the trip we may have squeezed through. Nevertheless, we had another great day on the water and are once again ensconced in our lodging looking forward to a rest day and preparing for the Assessment beginning this coming Saturday. Thanks for following along and think good thoughts for Jen.

Regards - Thom


Thom here on Wednesday….First let me apologize from all of us for the sporadic postings. There is no Internet access here in our lodging (as glorious as it is) and finding Internet access in small towns around rural Scotland can be daunting. As a consequence postings may be days apart and ‘lumped’ together. Additionally Steve is the only insured driver so we can’t simply stop at the end of a tiring day to find the ‘magical connection’ to the world. Nonetheless, we hope to get pictures up with this posting… but we will see.

Today we drove west of Fort William to the Sound of Airsaig to paddle Loch Nan Uamh. As always we were scouting out venues for Jen and Steve. Often finding a great location is not only about great paddling but includes nailing down a good launch point and getting there at the right time to take advantage of the tides and currents. Thanks to Steve and Jen we made that happen once again.

While we had to carry our kayaks a few hundred yards this morning we had an easy launch onto mirror smooth waters. There was no appreciable wind and only low clouds that were hugging the mountain tops as we paddled down the loch. While the ambient temperature was cool, the sun and our paddling kept us plenty warm. We hopped from island to island, playing in the rocks, taking advantage of the noticeable but manageable swell coming in from the sea. We found one particular spot that provided exciting rides for each of us and lingered there before moving on to yet another island.

I think all of us were tired this evening as we headed home. A quick pizza and the evening opened up to further theoretical preparation for the upcoming (geez it’s only two days away now) assessment and how to take best advantage of these two remaining days. Should we go to Cuan to check out the tidal race in neaps or spend our time at more locally? All agreed that Friday needs to be local (researching launching spots, locations sheltered from the expected storm, etc.) and get back to the house with plenty of time for Jen and Steve to get their ‘kit’ together for an early start on Saturday while Brian and Thom rest up.

Well I’m pooped and off to bed. As I mentioned earlier we hope to get this posted with pictures for you ASAP.
Regards - Thom

Hot and Cold

Brian here, welcome to virtual Scotland. Have your mittens handy, ‘tis a wee bit nippy’. We’ve been blessed with nice weather for the last couple of days, with the sun poking through and the wind and rain taking a rest. I didn’t expect to see glassy water but I’ll take it.

Without the wind the water is quite clear and you can see just how much kelp and seaweed grows here. There isn’t an overwhelming abundance of sea life, but we have seen a variety of seabirds (cormorants, shags, oyster-catchers and a few more whose name I don’t know) and a few seals and otters.

Paddling here is reminiscent of the Northwest, with steep slopes and rocky shores and lots of pines. Take that image and then imagine those hills being shorn of their trees with just a few patches here and there. The hills and mountains out here in the Western Highlands have a massiveness to them that is quite different than I’ve seen before. They are tremendously steep and yet rounded at the top, as if someone had thrown a wool blanket over an elephant and fastened it tight back to the ground. They almost look like they’re about to awake and move on.

One new experience paddling here is being both overheated and bloody cold at the same time. Wearing a dry suit with layers of fleece and thermals gets you quite toasty, and those suckers don’t breathe too well, so the heat stays in. Then feel the wind and water on your face and neck, and your hands are wet from the drip. It gets a little chaotic.

So I got my arse handed to me on our first day on the water. Mind you we decided to head straight for the Falls of Lora and get into some tidal races. The water wasn’t flowing at full bore, but still about 5 knots. Makes for some fun eddies and moving water. Rather new to me, but I definitely gained some new knowledge. Like don’t try a stern pry on the upstream side. Felt like a mermaid grabbed the paddle blade and just pulled me right over. Steve said I had a couple of seconds before I went over, but it felt instantaneous. I’d like to say I rolled right back up, but…

That’s all for now. Enjoy the pictures.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What a Start to our Paddling in Scotland

Thom here...

We headed south towards Oban today to start our scouting and hopefully our kayaking. The weather was cold (though not below freezing) with intermittent rain and occasional strong gusts of wind.

As we proceeded south scouting here and there, evaluating water access, training possibilities and general desirability of the paddling experience we crossed over the bridge under which run the Falls of Lora (sp). Jen couldn't contain herself and even though we are headed towards neap tide we happened (I think in retrospect she had this all planned) to be at full ebb tide. The falls were running strong (at least strong enough to intimidate Brian and myself).

Jen, on the other hand, was already half in her dry suit before we had parked to get a look at the scene. While we were getting dressed, she was already unstrapping the kayaks on the trailer and getting gear down to the water. She was well on her way up the coastline as we were still getting our foot pegs adjusted. Suffice to say she has a 'gung ho' style of coaching!

At the Falls one launches on the opposite side of the narrows, paddle up the eddy, then ferry across to the mongo tide race you have all seen in This is the Sea. I don't want to you think the Falls were going off as you saw in the flick, however, they certainly had me warmed up quickly and immediately confronting all my kayak fears. But once we had all crossed over (Jen had been on the opposite side playing for some time by then), Jen started her coaching, encouraging and coaxing us deeper and deeper into various waves and races. After an hour or so of playing, both Bryan and I became more adventurous and were rewarded with exciting rides and confidence.

Soon we grew physically tired and ferried back across the race, loaded the kayaks and went in to Oban, where we visited... what do you think??? A Chandlery (chart/map shop), a kayak shop, and, of course, the Oban Distillery (Brian's one demand for the trip).

I'll work on some picture processing tonight and hopefully get them posted tomorrow.

Regards - Thom

It's Snowing in the Highlands!

Thom here...

Today we drove from Oxenholm to Glencoe which is 17 miles up the road from Ft. William. Those technogeeks among you can actually follow along on our journey as Jen attached the EPERB unit to the top bar of the trailer. More important to those of us along on the trip Jen did a masterful job at locating lodging… but first the journey.

Steve drove the van as he is the only one insured to get behind the wheel. Brian kept him awake while Jen and I sat in the next seat back napping and fending off the cold. And I do mean cold! As we crossed the Highlands it started to snow. Not just fluffy little flakes – but big globby ones, each one falling with determination, seizing the opportunity to make a difference as they hurtled towards the earth. Fortunately as we descended into Glencoe and back towards sea level the ambient temperature warmed just above freezing and snow turned back to rain. The mountains should be pretty in the morning.

What about the house, you ask? River view, lots of parking for the van and trailer, three bedrooms, three baths, sleeping for six, three eating areas including a sunroom, a huge well equipped kitchen, and a living room with a fireplace (well OK it is fake but the chairs are all over stuffed) and heat! At this point we aren’t sure we will go back outside!

After arriving around 5PM (well after dark) we unloaded the van recovered from our shock regarding our new living situation and headed on in to Ft. William to buy groceries at Morrisons. And buy groceries we did. All four of us went separate directions (now we did prepare a list before our shopping trip), occasionally meeting up on one isle, then , and filled our grocery cart to the brim. At the checkout counter we looked at each other dumbfounded and in disbelief that we were buying so much food (and drink). I was sure our bill would exceed 200 pounds, but low and behold it totaled to just a bit less than 130 pounds. On our journey home we congratulated ourselves at how shrewd we had been, saving all that money we would have spent eating out the balance of the week (except Steve who seemed appalled at our consumptive American habits).

So we whiled away the evening as Jen cooked dinner and the rest of us helped in our own way. The evening floated away with us and soon it was leaning on 11 PM and we drifted off to bed, our thoughts of Scotland, and blessed sleep - or is that sheep (which Steve calls Meadow Maggots). Tomorrow, we promise, we will get outside as we head down to Oban and begin scouting the area for Jen’s upcoming assessment (brrrrr…).

Regards - Thom

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Jen and Brian arrive

Jen reporting from the UK - midnight GMT:

Brian and I had different philosophies about conquering jetlag. He swore that all you have to do is set your clocks and watches to your new time zone and you can literally trick your brain into believing the new time. Yeah, right. My method has been painstakingly developed and well tested: to induce in-flight coma, stay up all night before leaving, then drink 2 bloody mary's at airport (repeat as necessary on layovers). I awoke on the tarmac in Manchester refreshed and rarin' to go. Brian's been in bed for hours. Looks like I'll be collecting on that bet!
The team has finally assembled at Steve's house in England's Lake District. We've loaded our kayaks and kit, had a great meal in the local pub, and will head off tomorrow for Scotland. There is frost on the kayaks out on the trailer and kayaking in Scotland in November is seeming like an odd idea at best. To make it seem like a better idea, I booked us into a lovely house (appropriately with a 5 star rating) on the water north of Oban for the week. I'll spare no expense for my loyal team! It's going to be important to have a comfortable place to hang out since the days are so short.

I've brought my new SPOT satellite messenger and am having fun playing with it. You can see our progress (sometimes in real time) at Click 'my account' and Log on: user name: jenkleck password: kayak. If you click on 'messages', then 'select all' and 'show on map', you can see where we are. Use the satellite view - it's cool. I'll use the tracking mode when it's interesting and you'll be able to watch our travels. There's a lot of info about this amazing little device on the findmespot website. If you want one, Aqua Adventures Kayak Center is well stocked - they cost just $150!!
Brian (who is in the UK for the first time), had heard all the usual warnings about terrible British food. He was very impressed by his first pub meal and took this photo to prove the nay-sayers wrong. There was hardly a crumb left. Just wait 'til he tries haggis!

This is Steve, our gracious host, wondering how he's going to survive a week with 3 Americans! Steve nearly killed himself river kayaking a couple of weeks ago - hit his head very hard on a rock - and is still suffering from neck pain and numbness in his arms. He's taking some serious pain medication and acts a little strange from drinking Guinness out of a wine glass!? We suggested that beer might not interact well with the meds, so he poured himself a scotch.
Internet access uncertain this next week, but we'll find our way to internet cafes whenever possible!

Meeting up in Oxenholm

Thom here... literally here in Oxenholm at Steve Bank's home waiting for Jen and Brian to arrive early this Sunday afternoon. My training regimen has gone well; arriving a day early, sleeping, hydrating at the local pub, ending the evening with a wee dram of scotch, then more sleep (much more sleep). I feel great.

Once Jen and Brian arrive the plan for the afternoon is to head down to Dallum Outdoor Center, pack up the transport van and load up kayaks on the trailer. After that we'll head back to Steve's place and decide if we want to jump directly into a 6 hour drive to Oban or have dinner, sleep at Steve's and head up in the morning.

The current weather is cold and calm. A high pressure area is moving into the Oban/Mull area and as we progress towards this weekend we will be having neep tides. Generally that would mean we should expect minimal tidal currents and mild winds (less fetch), on and off rain is likely according to the current weather models. While that should make for easy paddling it may make the assessment harder as there will be less 'nature' (extreme water conditions) for Jen and Brian to work with.

That's it for now... Jen is landed and on the train headed north towards us.

Regards - Thom