New Podcast - Canoe Boys with Duncan Winning

This summer I'm making three BBC Radio Scotland Documentaries about the Canoe Boys who, in 1934, paddled from Glasgow to Skye.

In this second Podcast with Duncan Winning, I’m given a tour of the classic kayaks in the archive where he works and Duncan talks about the sort of boat the original Canoe Boys would have used. Listen and subscribe free here or download directly from the Podcast Library.

Incidentally, that's not one of their boats in the photograph. I'm very keen to find anyone who has a kayak of the Lochaber design , or who has stories from a family member who met the original Canoe Boys. They can contact me through this Blog or through

I'll be paddling with Cailean Macleod and working with an old friend, Richard Else of Triple Echo Productions. Richard also produces The Adventure Show for BBC Scotland, so we might also end up on TV.

P&H is kindly lending us a couple of gorgeous carbon-kevlar Quest LV kayaks, quite different to te Lochaber design. We only have one so far, so I'm in my trusty old Quest in this photo.

Oh, and if you don't know about the story, a new large-format edition of the book, complete with fresh material from Alastair Dunnett's family archive, will be out soon from Neil Wilson Publishing.


This weekend I had the chance to play with my new toy - sorry - navigation instrument.

Our old e-Trex has been suffering for a while. Two pieces of foil were the only things keeping the batteries in contact with the unit, and the connection would repeatedly get lost.

So after a lot of research, mainly on the Forum and e-mailing Douglas at, I took the plunge. It cost me £300 plus another £100 for the Bluechart for the west coast of Scotland.

As well as some neat GPS-type functions, you can also upload the chart (or topo maps) to the unit and see this as a moving map on the display. As the photo shows, this isn't much use in bright sunlight, but where it does score is when adding a way-point on the fly.

Move the arrow to the point on the map where you want to go, press a button, and that's it marked as a waypoint. There's no messing about with co-ordinates.

We didn't really need it on Saturday as we crossed Loch Sunart and then the Sound of Mull into Tobermory, or today as we messed about at the south end of the Sound of Mull, but it's good to have a track of the trip.

Douglas' description of using a similar GPS is very useful and only serves to illustrate how much more I have to learn to get the most out of this unit.

Interconnectedness and the anthropocene

I've rarely met a sea kayaker I didn't get along with. There seems to be a connection between people who explore wild places.

My friend puts it simply; "we're wired a lttle differently".

Part of that wiring seems to be an appreciation of the interconnectedness of life, and if that sounds like you, may I draw your attention to the BBC Reith Lectures by Professor Jeffrey Sachs. I'll leave it to him to explain the term, "Anthropocene".

I've listened to the first two as Podcasts and the third is broadcast tonight. Consider them highly recommended.

"Clyde Coastguard, Clyde Coastguard..."

I'm grateful to the staff of Clyde Coastguard in general and yesterday's day-time watch manager Bill Spiers.
Bill speant two hours showing me around and answering questions, many of which were suggested by readers of this blog and the sea kayak Forum. I recorded the whole thing and I'll release it as a Podcast very soon.
For sea kayakers, it's fascinating stuff. For example, many kayakers were concerned when the Coastguard switched from keeping a 'headphone' to 'speaker' watch of Channel 16. Well, see that woman on the right? That's the channel 16 desk, and she's wearing headphones. One of the coastguards joins Bill in explaining why.
I input it all to the computer last night, stuck it together, and it came to 1hr 15mins! That is too long even for a good Podcast. I'll put it to one side, come back to it fresh in a day or two, and try to edit it down to about 45 minutes. I'll put it live in a month when I have a shorter Podcast to release, and so balance the bandwidth use.

Photos to go with Duncan Winning Podcast

I'm lucky enough to have had some positive feed-back already on the Podcast with Duncan Winning which went live last night.

Duncan speaks about how he studied the Inuit kayak which Ken Taylor brought back to Scotland in 1960 and then drew its design. Those drawings formed the basis of more than forty sea kayaks around the world.

Phil posted these picture and more on the Forum. Among them, the original of Ken on Loch Lomond demonstrating the now forgotten art of harpooning!

Phil particularly wanted to show that development continues.

He writes, "My son Alex paddles the latest iteration so I thought you may be interested in some visuals to show how Duncan's designs are being used."

Absolutely! And there are more of these excellent pictures of a beautiful boat on the UK Forum.

As for the Podcast, you can listen and subscribe free here or download it directly from the Podcast Library where, for those who hesitate to listen to Podcasts for technical reasons, there are now clear instructions.

New Podcast - Duncan Winning OBE

I'm really pleased with the latest Podcast just published. Listen and subscribe free here or download directly from the Podcast Library.

Few people know more about the origins and use of the Inuit kayak than Duncan Winning OBE.

A marine engineer, he studied the kayak brought back from Greenland in 1960 by Ken Taylor and drew its design. Those drawings became the blueprint for more than forty different designs of modern sea kayak.

In 2004 he made a ‘pilgrimage’ to the village of Igdlorssuit in North Greenland with a copy of the original designs.

Duncan is Honorary President of the Scottish Canoe Association and a technical archive surveyor. I visited him at the archive where he works.

If you haven't yet listened to a Podcast, please try this one. Duncan is a fascinating talker.

More Coastguard Questions

Suggestions about what to ask our friends at Clyde Coastguard have been coming thick and fast on the forum.

I'll record a Podcast with them on Sunday morning, so if you have any suggestions, please comment here or on the forum and I'll incorporate it too. I'll try to get an answer.

Incidentally, an excellent Podcast (if I say so myself) with Duncan Winning talking about kayak history will go live at midnight tonight.

Here's the questions I have as of Thursday morning. more appreciated

+ Matt in Kirkintilloch asks not sea kayak specific, but I'd be interested to find out what they actually do on a day to day basis, who funds them, numbers of staff in GC clyde and how they work with other agencies, such as RAF SAR, Police SAR and medical services.

Let’s start with the day-to-day routine stuff
+ Nick in Cornwall asked
What's your attitude to receiving a radio check request on Ch. 16 at the start of a trip? Do you get overloaded with such calls. It must be a nightmare for them in the Solent on a summer weekend.

Lot of questions concerned when we should call in and tell you we’re starting on a trip
+ when do you prefer folks to check-in & report back

+ what info they need / the CG66 scheme

+ Chris in Baisingstoke asks Do you prefer that we file a trip plan with a home contact rather than with them for minor trips, and if so what is a minor trip?

+ Mark in Dorset asked two questions
is there any consistent and simple way that we can record trip activity with you, so that they have the info to hand? I've not always been convinced that this is the case.

+ Chris in Warrington It would be interesting to hear what they expect from paddlers on a multi-day trip regarding listening on VHF. Chris’ point is that handheld battery life is such most kayakers on multi-day trips only switch on the VHF when they want a forecast or have something to say. He has had the experience of checking-in at the start, having a yacht call the CG to say he thought the kayaks were in difficulty, then the CG couldn’t raise the kayaks because the VHF was switched off. The shore contact was phone and the whole thing only sorted out when they came back I range and turned on the radio. Chris stresses he is not being critical – he just wonders if the CG realizes the limitations sea kayaks sometimes work under.

+ Mark in Dorset wonders how sea kayakers can help the CG understand more about our sport, because he believes there’s a bit of misunderstanding among CG staff. I asked Mark for examples:
... calling in on Liverpool CG in person, I discovered that none of those on duty had ever seen a sea kayak before and had no understanding of the capabilities/ potential of the craft.
... speaking to Clyde CG last Feb, I spoke to numerous different people in the course of several days and in each case encountered wildly different levels of understanding and interest, and had to re-iterate my trip details each time.
... speaking to Solent CG last year, I was mildly scolded for trying something so daring as going to sea after dark in a kayak.

He again stresses, this is not a problem with the CG. But asks - can we help to give you a better picture of what we do and what our craft can do?

+ how and when they respond to a call from a member of the public

+ Adam in the US asks In the UK does the CG have the power to declare a trip "manifestly unsafe" and therefore arrest boaters under the rubric? (I borrowed this from a different thread)

* new broadcast times - why?
* interpreting terms used
* I’ve done the VHF course, but practice does vary a little - talk me through RT procedure for calling for a forecast on VHF

* flares/Epirbs, what happens
David in London wants me to ask you about how we can dispose of flares that are out of date

* When to call mayday
* what info need and what happens
* talk through an emergency call

Looking to the future.

Tom in Aberdeenshire
would be interested in your take on the growth of sea kayaking, what this means to you, where they perceive the risks and how we can help each other. For example they have added sections to their website now for jetskis .

Tony near Oban
is a highly experienced kayaker, and runs a guiding business and a friend of mine. He’s concerned that the safety record of sea kayaking might be compromised as kayaks become cheaper and people take to the water with less experience and perhaps less prepared for the conditions – perhaps they haven’t heard the pharse – “dress for the swim”. Any evidence of this?

Coastguard Questions

Thanks to those who've contributed questions for me to ask Clyde Coastguard when I record a Podcast there on Sunday. More would be appreciated, either in comments or on this Forum thread.
The photo of the ops room is from

Here's what I currently plan to ask:


* when do they prefer folks to check-in & report back

Nick Crowhurst in Cornwall asked
What's the attitude of H.M Coastguard to receiving a radio check request on Ch. 16 at the start of a trip that doesn't warrant a CG66? Do they get overloaded with such calls, or do they welcome them? In the past I've checked with a nearby vessel, rather than bother the CG, but sometimes that's not possible. It must be a nightmare for them in the Solent on a summer weekend, but I'd like to know the official view.

Chris Bolton, Warrington asked It would be interesting to hear what they expect from paddlers on a multi-day trip regarding listening on VHF. The battery use on a 7 day trip means that I usually only switch on when I have traffic, but strict protocol says I should leave the set on. It can sometimes cause problems if they want to contact you, as they assume you'll respond. What they would prefer people to do if they are reporting that they are setting out, but don't expect to be able to report they are safe due to lack of radio / phone reception? He gives a personal example of how this created some confusion.

*what info they need / the CG66 scheme
* how and when they respond to a call from a member of the public.
* routine channels for talking to other group members

David P in London suggests You could ask about disposal of flares.

* new broadcast times - why?
* interpreting terms used
* RT procedure for calling for a forecast on VHF

* flares/Epirbs, what happens
* When to call mayday
* what info need and what happens
* talk through the procedure of an emergency call

How they regard Sea Kayaks
Are they concerned that, as sea kayaks become cheaper and available on e-bay, people set to sea with less knowledge and experience. This is an issue which might be worth developing further.
And more questions gratefull received.

Kayak Accident

I've been thinking a lot today about the kayaking accident which happened yesterday in Scotland. If you don't know about it, you can read it on BBC Online or the MCA website. The photo is from the BBC Website.

I can't begin to imagine how the family and friends of both young men must feel today; one is dead, the other in hospital. However, one of their friends has contributed to a thread on the SeaKayak Forum. The details of the accident aren't clear but the men were locals and, according to BBC Radio Scotland reports, may have capsized in the Dorus Mor.

I'll be paddling that area for the first time soon so this event is a salutary warning. Indeed, such accidents make me think through what I'd do in such a situation. Of course, it's so much easier when warm and dry. I wonder whether, cold and wet, I'd cope?

By coincidence, I was speaking to Clyde Coastguard today about recording a Podcast this Sunday. If you're on the water in the Clyde area, I'll be in the control room. The photo is from the MCA website.

Can you suggest any questions? If so, please add a comment. I plan to ask the following:

Routine - when they prefer folks to check-in & report back; what info they need; the CG66 scheme; how they respond to a call from a member of the public.

Weather - new broadcast times; interpreting terms used; RT procedure for calling for a forecast

Emergencies - flares/Epirbs, what happens; When to call mayday; what info need and what happens; talk through an emergency call.

First Aid Weekend

My thanks to Jim Morning of Alba First Aid for delivering an informative two-day first aid course. But was it a useful way to spend a weekend and £155?

I was the only one of eight people who didn't need the official certificate to validate an outdoor qualification. The rest were all outdoor leaders, most involved in mountain biking. Which came as a surprise, since I thought this was going to be a more paddle-specific course like the one run by Plas y Brenin. So at first I was a little disappointed, but not now.

I've read the syllabus of the PYB course I realise it looks the same but with the scenarios constructed around paddle-events - the pyb course notes warn, "you will get wet". It's a three day course, rather than the two-day I just did, presumably because those scenarios take more time to set up and execute.

I was thinking about this while stuck in traffic for an hour on the A9. I'll feel more confident coping with some emergencies, but not in places where we could be days away from help. For that, I'm told I'd need one of the 6 or 7 day courses run at Glenmore Lodge. I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet.

But here's the thing. When you're taught a new skill you learn by practicing. How do you practice coping with First-Aid scenarios? Chase ambulances? Hang out in Emergency Rooms?

Or do you turn into a bandage nerd, carrying an over-stuffed first-aid bag everywhere, just in case? I last did a First Aid course in 1994 and last used it in a rescue situation in 2001.

Frankly, if I never use it, that'll be just fine.

Mind Travels

I used to keep a photo of Nevada Falls, above Yosemite Valley, on my desk. When things became a little stressed I'd go there for a moment or two. I would sit on the warm rock, with my feet in the rushing water that smoothed the stones, and I'd relax. Refreshed, I'd get back to whatever I was doing.

I've now traveled more widely and been to some wonderful places. I find I no longer need the prompt of a photo; I store the memory of that moment in my minds eye and can slip into it just as easily.

I've done that a couple of times today, in between dealing with forms from the Inland Revenue and Spanish tax authorities on behalf of my 84 yr old Mum. You honestly don't want to know the details. But I'll be making another carbon emitting flight to Spain shortly, for just two days, to try to sort stuff.

I'll not get paddling this weekend as I'm signed up for a Emergency First Aid (REC 2) course in Aberfeldy with this outfit.

If it's any good, I'll be concentrating hard. If it's not, then in my mind I'll be paddling.

New Podcast - The Solway

Sea Kayaking in the Solway area of southern Scotland is the subject of the latest podcast.

Dr Douglas Wilcox is better known for his excellent website describing paddles to along the west coast, but the Solway is one of his regular paddling grounds.

This podcast is slightly longer than most and we cover just two routes because Douglas describes them both in such detail and with passion. If you've had a great Easter on the water and feel like planning another long weekend, this will inspire you to visit the Solway.

Listen and subscribe free here or download it directly from the (now extensive!) Podcast Library.


We're collecting islands! The Treshnish last weekend, the Garvellachs this weekend.

As the two previous entries from our trip clearly showed, we had a superb three day paddle. The weather was starting to turn when we came ashore, so we're glad we made it around in the time we had.

More photos and route description with GPS track are in

Now we've tree days of damp kit to sort. Good job Monday is a holiday...

Sent from north of Seil Island

I'm not saying exactly where we are but we have a great view up the Sound of Kerrera for our second night kayak camping.

We left the Garvellachs in bad visibility and worked on a GPS heading all the way to the black islands. We didn't see them until within 400 metres.

We had lots of fun in the tide today. Took a weird ride backwards on a strong North going flow off the north of Lunga - during the 4th hour of a south going tide! How does that happen?

Tide again meant we had a wavy course across the Sound of Luing - the water does some strange stuff here. It got a lot bigger and from behind as we approached Cuan Sound, then Easdale Sound.

We think the weather might break tomorrow so we've in a good place to run doen the Clachan Sound and Seil Sound back to Arduaine.

Easter eggs tomorrow.

Sent from Garvellachs

Sent from Garvellachs, originally uploaded by seakayakroutes.

So this is where we're spending tonight, camped on the Garvellachs, a lovelky chain of islands north of Jura and South of Mull on Scotland's west coast.

This being Good Friday we had to go to church, so we've been to one which was started in around the 6th Century. St Columba visited the monastery on Eileach an Naoimh whih we visited this afternoon. There are 'beehive' cells, circular stone buildings to where Monks would retreat. The monastery was quite big, and although abandoned in the 7th Century, it became a place of pilgrimage. Standing in the (newer) chaple was quite a moment on this of all days.

We launche at Aerduaine just before 10am and had our first trip through the 'Grey Dogs'. The tide can rip through this place at ober 8knts, so we aimed to head west trhough it in the last half hour of the east flow (against us). It worked perfectly, but I think we were lucky. We met three other paddlers from Oban who were racing to get through against a building stream - I hope they made it.

The weather forecast has the wind rising from F3-4 as it is today to F5 tomorrow afternoon, so we'll aim to be nearer the mainland by then. Our first time paddling in this part of Scotland, and we like it, but it's not as good as Ardnamurchan. I'm biased. But I can be here.

Easter Paddle

It's looking good for Easter weekend.

The holiday traffic will start tonight and we'll be part of it, heading in the general direction of Oban. We'll have something to eat, then find a quiet place to park and sleep in the car.

I'd wanted to spend four days circumnavigating Jura and received some helpful advice from Tony at SeaFreedomKayak about navigating the Gulf of Corryvrecken.

However, Liz wants to leave this until a later date, so we will.

Instead, we're packing the camping kit, four days food, and heading to the Seil / Luing / Garvellachs area.

Precisely what we do depends on tides and weather. I can't wait.

Kayak Sailing

On our paddle back from Staffa last weekend we saw this sail coming towards us.

At first we couldn't see to what it was attached. Whatever it was, it was small. "I wouldn't fancy being in that", one of us commented.

It looked like a windsurfer, but as we drew nearer, we realised no-one was standing up. Puzzling.

As it came even closer, we saw it was a Feathercraft double folding kayak with inflatable out-riggers attached to an aluminium frame.

We had only seconds to shout a brief greeting. "Sorry, can't stop to chat", came the reply from the back of the boat as they whizzed pass in the direction of Staffa.

We changed out minds. That's a heck of a way to travel!


I was rather impressed with this design for a kayaking t-shirt, so I bought one.

A few weeks ago, when I was seeking advice about the Helgeland area of Norway, I was contacted by Erik in Sweden who pointed me towards some photos he'd taken there. I noticed his site also had links to this t-shirt shop.

Turns out it's an on-line retailer called SpreadShirt where you up-load your own designs or text, and not only will they print the t-shirt for you, they'll set up an on-line shop for you to sell to other folk.

I wanted a cap and sweatshirt with on it, so I thought I'd set up my own shop. I'm afraid my hoodies and caps boast only text, but Liz is working on some designs for the future.

If they come close to Pia's excellent artwork for Erik's shirts I'll be delighted.

Treshnish Isles and Staffa

What a perfect weekend. Camped on Mull Friday night. Launched at Ulva slip before 09.30 on Saturday morning, and made it out to the Treshnish Isles by lunchtime.


I was astonished the previous entry actually made it onto the blog. I'll explain how I did it one of these days.

Anyway, this was our view from the tent door last night.

With all that's been happening with my Mum and work getting a little pressured as the Scottish Elections start, this place was the perfect get-away-from-it-all.

We'd read the the Puffins come to these islands to breed between April and June.

We joked that, since today was April the first, we'd awake and find ourselves knee deep in puffins. Well, not exactly, but they were on the water as we paddled across to the Dutchman's Cap.

The paddle from here to Staffa is probably our biggest open water crossing to date - we've only been sea kayaking for four years - so it felt quite an achievement to be back on Staffa.

The embarrassment came as I reversed down Ulva slipway to load the kayaks and the car wouldn't start again. It took twenty minutes to get going. I'll be on the phone to the garage first thing.

We arrived back in Glasgow exhausted but exhilarated after a superb, perfect weekend.

Oh yes - the Scottish Canoeing Podcast is live as is my new sweat-shirt shop. I only opened to get one with a logo for me, but thought other folk might like one. I add absolutely no commission for me.