Two weeks ago I swam out from the lochside roughly 500m. I struggled it took an age and it felt like the maximum I could have swam that day. Then a few swims later I swam out just over a 1 km, when I turned round it felt like a mammoth task to get back to the shore. After a few more swims, I swam out past all the buoys and felt there was more tank when I got back to the shore, the GPS had recorded 3.3km. That evening a friend asked me of my day. I told him I had a good swim. He asked what constitutes a good swim. I said if I can front crawl without constantly stopping, wondering if I am there yet, catching my breadth doing the breast stroke. Writing this I realise it’s the head down, swimming for ages, using the loch shoreside on a sidewards glance during a breath as an distance indicator, hardly looking forward. It’s the face in the water the stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, breadth routine, over and over and over and over. That’s what I have grown to love. It’s that complete focus on technique. My thoughts are like the discarded foliage and flotsam in the water drifting by. The cold shivering sensation after the swim, the atmosphere and views of the surrounding hills, the chance of new swimming horizon are all amazing bonuses.
Since January has my introduction into sea kayaking had been cancelled twice. The bloke called Garry who stays round the corner, had advised a session in the pool. In February I manage an hour in a 20m x 5 lane pool with over ten more kayakers all vying for space. They were all barrel rolling and other exotic manoeuvres, like stopping and turning. I was trying to make 4 paddle stokes make the kayak go in the same direction then stop without a collision, I did go upside down and pop out, a wee bit like the offshore training helicopter roll, but a small plastic boat instead of a large hydraulic 10 chaired, swim through the windows, rescue divers mock helicopter, it was kinda fun and did not cause any stress. My paddling experience is limited, a Canadian canoe for a few days when I was 12 and a couple hours in a small kayak on loch Lubnaig a few years ago. I have wanted to paddle for over a decade and even built my shed high enough to store a canoe. I was considering a Canadian canoe, but with little experience I was advised that they were not the safest mode of open water transport. I started looking at sea kayaks but looking was as far as I got, until I was informed these were also unsafe for solo adventures, maybe a sit on kayak, if you fall off you can climb back on without too much fuss, and might be worth consideration. I grew a pair, went down to the local paddle shop and was promptly told come back, when I have tried the local canoe and kayak club. I was pissed off, until I realised the bloke could have sold me the most expensive rubbish canoe and I wouldn’t have known any better.
A couple of weeks ago I had just finished a early Sunday morning swim at Loch Venachar and stopped in to see some folks I had swam with a couple of times. I bumped into a bloke from the canoe pool session who informed me Garry (The bloke round the corner from me) had organised a Sea Kayaking trip up to Arisaig the following weekend, and there might be a Kayak free if I was available. My heart started banging with excitement. 12 hours previously I had tried to organise a biking trip for that weekend but failed. So the free pass allowing time away from my family had already been confirmed. Oooh yah dancer.
The following Friday found me stuffed into the back of a car with paddling, camping gear and three boats on the roof heading for Oban. Arisaig was considered to exposed for the weekend’s weather forecast. Our destination and Campsite was opposite the wee island of Kerrera. We got the tents up arriving it wasn’t long before the light and my energy faded. I had already enjoyed a swim that morning in Loch Chon with my wife and a friend who had recently caught the wild swimming bug, I was a wee bit wiped out, I wanted all my energy for the next day, so headed for my tent early doors.
The morning arrived with blue skies and hardly a breadth wind, perfect conditions for the only novice among the other four other paddlers. After a few adjustments to the feet positions. I paddled out onto the water. I amazed myself by not tipping over immediately, I felt surprisingly stable. We were eager to get some on exploring. We stuck close shore and each other as we paddled south with the wind on our backs. After an hour we stopped in a small Bay for some snacks.
It was flat conditions and I was gaining confidence. Learning to use my lower half to get more power. We headed east staying in sheltered waters. Placing the paddle just under the surface watching the water glide over the plastic surface adjusting the angle making waves was hypnotic. In Ardtenallen bay we directed the Kayaks round buoyed boats and rocks. Just before we stopped for lunch three seals appeared round the back of a small island by the time our bellies were full they had dragged themselves onto the pebbles to catch some sunshine.
After lunch we continued East for an hour. Then we turned round started head West to the loch mouth. With the wind in our face for the first time. It felt good powering through the water pushing down with my lower half and twisting engaging my lats. Engaging lats is similar to swimming. It’s easy to on calm waters only use the shoulders and forearms. You will still get to the determined destination just a wee bit slower. Engaging the lats is harder work, but the benefits to distance and speed are worth it and less chance of shoulder failure.
Kayaking is magic, I mean it was a truly unforgettable experience. But the whole time I was kayaking I was thinking I could jump off them rocks into the water, I could not wait to swim in the clear water. Even after 7 hours of paddling, I was still excited about swimming across the channel to Kerrera, the wee island to the west of the main land. The channel is busy with sea traffic. Every time I got in a rhythm I was struck with the fear of a boat bouncing off my napper, had to stop and breast stroke catch my breath, check make sure the coast was clear to continue the swim.
The next day we stayed in the lee of the wind. We had a relaxed paddle nothing to strenuous, some the party had enjoyed some rum the previous night. I had decided to use my new birthday bivvy bag and sleep under the stars, early morning light rain woke me drained me of some energy, but did not dampen my spirits
We watched the start of the Kerrera triathlon from our kayaks. The swimmers were taking between 8 – 22 minutes, depending on stroke choice, to complete the 550m channel before mountain biking and running round the island.
We then paddled up into Oban for some mussels and oysters. That was fun and something I never imagined I would possibly have the skills or courage to do.
At over dinner the end of the first day one of the party asked me about my apparent confidence in the kayak, he had been at it two years and still had the odd wobble, we had finished that day in windy conditions which lead to the odd 2 foot wave, he reckoned I seemed quite happy and unfazed by it. I replied – I think it’s the swimming. I regularly swim a lot further from the shore than we had been that day and on my lonesome. With all the neoprene and buoyancy aids there was only a slim chance of drowning, pushed out to Mull yes but not drowning.
There is a real danger that when I try any activity once, I get hooked that’s why there is a massive telescope in a cupboard covered in dust, that is only one of many remnants of past hobbies stored away round the house and shed. I don’t think I will be rushing out and buying the latest paddling kit and it might take a wee while before I return to the shop to purchase a Kayak. I will be joining the local club. Learning to kayak will be like learning to drive. I don’t want to race the car, the thought of just going for a drive does not fill me with much excitement. Driving to continent to snowboard excites me or driving to Machrihanish for a swim excites me. Just as the thought of having the skills and confidence to paddle round to Sourlies bothy on the Knoydart peninsula from Mallaig for a swim and a dinner of scavenged mussels has my heart pounding with excitement. It’s the thought of having access to loads of new adventures. It’s not the same as swimming where every day I will try and find a couple hours to get wet and cold.