Dolphin with attitude

So what about this Nordkapp? Well in some ways it chose me rather than the other way around. We have history together, so to speak.

If you're looking for technical descriptions then look somewhere else. When people talk to me about chine, rocker, primary and secondary stability (and row about whether these last two actually exist) then my eyes glaze over. I'm not technical. I'm going to talk about feelings.

And my first feeling was unmitigated fear. Liz and I have done most of our training with Gordon Brown of Skyak who we knew prefers the Valley Nordkapp. That's enough of a reason, in my book, not to buy one as on the kayak evolutionary scale, if Gordon is an advanced primate I'm still swimming with amoeba.

In March 2005 I did one day of 4 star training and one day assessment with him. On the first day I left my much loved poly Capella on the roof rack and paddled a Nordkapp. This was (almost) the first composite boat I'd used and it was a revelation.

I felt like I was sitting astride a dolphin, whizzing through the waves, effortlessly making turns and .... Splash! We learnt about breaking in and out of tidal flows. "Which way do I edge"? "Try one side and see what happens", says Gordon, using his best discovery learning. Splash! Wrong side. It's not easy to ride a slippery dolphin.

Towards the end of the day I had to try a roll. Previously I'd rolled once in a pool and.. er, that was it. So it was with some trepidation I found myself not breathing water. The sudden experience of being upright again took me so much by surprise I almost capsized on the other side, a full three-sixty roll. Wow. Some dolphin.

Day two saw me on board a very different beast. A P&H Quest - now this felt safer. No unscheduled underwater views and no surprises. I passed and that same night, on the UKSeaKayakGuideBook, I saw Douglas Wilcox was selling a Quest. I bought it. Much later I discovered I'd become the third owner of the original Quest prototype, called a "Capella Explorer" on the cockpit sticker, which Mike Thompson had helped to name after naming this particular boat "Sea Quest".

It has been a superb sea kayak. We survived the Hebridean Challenge in July 2005 and it has always been a stable platform from which to take photos. It was exactly what I needed at my limited level of ability and would have served me well long into the future had I not wanted a challenge. Reliable, dependable and steady are all words I'd use to describe it.

But it's not a dolphin.

Liz is a better natural paddler than me. In 2006, after trying so many boats as to end up utterly confused, she bought one of the new Nordkapp LV boats. She called it Sanais Mara, 'Sea Whisper' (low volume - geddit!). She can't explain why, but what had been a difficult decision became simple the second time she sat in it. "It felt right", she told me.

It's Sunday morning. Gordon and I load his trailer with a few boats for me to try and we drive to Kylerhea just as the tide begins to ebb. Liz borrows an eye-poppingly yellow Nordkapp LV. In the Nordkapp Jubilee I immediately experience exactly the same feeling as Liz did last year. It feels right.

On Gordon's advice I find some still water and some moving water and practice turning strokes, noticing how easily the boat edges and how stable it feels. Then I swap boats, and do exactly the same again. Hmm, not as much difference as I expected. Back into the Nordkapp. Oh, there you go.... now I feel the difference. Good grief, the edging characteristics are completely different! I have water on my spray-deck it edges so easily. Three strokes and am I was facing the way I'd come.

I'm back on my dolphin. Only now I know a little more about hanging on.

"Why not paddle back to Camuscross?" asks Gordon. We eagerly accept and I spend the next two and a half hours in ideal demo-boat conditions. Calm wind, with slightly lumpy following, head and beam seas. It's never enough to throw me out but enough for the Nordkapp to hint at its potential. It can do much more when I'm good enough to handle it.

Later, Gordon warns "It will force you to do things the right way". A boat which automatically punishes sloppy paddling. An on-board coach. With a stick! Actually, that's just what I need.

Liz got it in one. "If you choose something else, you'd always wonder if you should have had a Nordkapp". It wouldn't work the other way around.

I know I'm setting myself up for some scary days at sea. There'll be times when I long for the stability of my Quest and I'll be in no rush to sell it. Not every one will agree with my approach but as of now, that's what I hope to do when I can afford it.

Now I have to find the Gaelic for "dolphin with attitude".