Articles - South West Sea Kayak Meet 2010

The sun goes down on the brilliant South West Sea Kayak Meet
The sun goes down on the brilliant South West Sea Kayak Meet
Images by Jason Smith & Mark Rainsley - Posted on 24 Nov 2010
After four hours in the car, battling the worst traffic imaginable, I was seriously beginning to question what I was doing. My planned destination was the small village of East Prawle in South Devon at that was still a long, long way away! For a second I considered turning back, after all there was a pile of stuff that I should be doing that weekend, and my planned companions for the trip had all dropped out, but something told me that the South West Sea Kayak Meet, the reason for my journey, was going to be something a little bit special and worth the motorised pain, so I turned up the radio and pushed on…

Five hours later and I was on the final approach and winding my way along pitch-black country lanes. As I got nearer I spied some headlights up ahead, which as I drew up behind turned out to be a trailer piled high with shiny P&H sea kayaks. I was going the right way! I followed the P&H van in and after another 10-minutes or so we finally pulled up in a field marked ‘Sea Kayakers Only’. We had arrived. South West Sea Kayak Meet - Chart of Saltcome Coast line

The event began when Mark Rainsley organised an informal gathering a few years ago to launch his guidebook South West Sea Kayaking. Slide shows, sea kayaking and fun were the order of the day and those that attended enjoyed it so much that the badgered Mark to do it again the following year. The SWSKM had been born!

The field was already fairly full with tents, cars and camper vans and lots and lots of sea kayaks. Despite the darkness I could smell the salt in the air as the campsite overlooked the sea. In a flash the tent was out and up and I wandered back across the field to the village in search of the Pig’s Nose Inn. According to the bumf I’d downloaded from the Internet the Pig’s Nose was going to be hosting the Saturday Evening Slideshows and my journalistic instincts told me that this 500-year old watering hole was where I would most likely find the majority of the SWSKM Crew. They were on the money and once through the door, as soon as my specs had cleared of steam, I bumped straight in to event organisers Mark and Heather Rainsley and a table full of like minded sea paddling folk all doing a fine job of testing the Pig’s Nose’s impressive range of real ales. I ordered a pint of ’Wild Blonde’ from the suitably apt Wild Blonde Barmaid and then also bumped in to CKUK contributor Eurion Brown and his friend Jim at the bar. Before you could say ‘A’hoy there’ ale was being sunk, stories were being shared and new friends were being made.

It’s All About Social Sea KayakingSea kayaker preparing to set off from Start Point at the South Wet Sea Kayak Meet
The next morning dawned misty but warm and at 9.30 the eighty or so paddlers present made their way over to Mark’s car for a morning briefing. The SWSKM is not about heroic expeditions, or earnest Level 5 coaches it’s an informal gathering of kindred spirits who want to get together and go for an enjoyable paddle on the sea. As Mark explained during his briefing talk, “It’s about social sea kayaking, paddling together and making new friends to paddle with in the future.” It’s an ethos that was obviously attractive to all those present.

There would be lots of groups heading out led by volunteers launching from either Hallsands or, for those looking for gentler waters, the estuary at Salcombe. Once you’d decided what group you wanted to join you headed over to the trip leader and put your name down on the list. Boats and bodies were then shuffled to minimise the amount of cars heading to each destination. It all seemed to work perfectly and in no time at all cars full of boats and paddlers began leaving the field.
I opted to join Eurion & Graham’s group along with Jim from Wales and Mark from Poole. After an interesting drive down some very narrow lanes we arrived at Hallsands. It was a great sight. All along the beach were groups of sea kayakers excitedly getting ready to launch. There was a small amount of swell running, which meant a bit of a shore dump landing on the steep shingle beach, but it was no problem to punch through.

A Great Starting Point
South West Sea Kayak Meet organiser and Guidebook Author Mark Rainsley
It was an atmospheric spot to launch, because as soon as you were afloat you were paddling past the last remnants of the ruined village of Hallsands. It’s poignant sight, as the last few buildings still not claimed by the sea cling desperately to the cliff. On past here is the lighthouse at Start Point and the tidal race that lurks there. We were chatting away as we paddled and it felt great to be out on the water with like-minded souls enjoying the swell and the sunshine. Once through the race we spent some time practicing our rock hopping skills, nipping in and out of gaps and having a right laugh, we even saw a seal, which always makes it a ‘proper’ sea trip in my mind. We paddled past one group enjoying a spot of lunch on a long sandy beach, but decided to keep going as we still felt fresh and we could see a great looking beach in the distance that looked just the ticket. Once there we had a bash at catching the small waves that the swell was producing until we all finally beached and got the flasks and sarnies out. After a chat and a look at the map it was decided that we’d carry on after lunch and head to the sea arch near Prawle Point.

A Swellegant Time
Eurion informed the Coastguard of our revised plan and timings and we headed off. The coastline of the South Hams is lovely, lush vegetation and craggy, needle like ridges give it a primeval feel and there's so much to explore. Wildlife, rock-hopping sea arches. It's got the lot. The sea arch was really impressive, especially with the swell surging through it. Never one to shy from a challenge Eurion stepped up to the challenge in the name of a good photo and paddled through it. He timed it just right but as it sucked back he totally disappeared from view before flying through in fine style grinning from ear to ear. It was now time to point our bows into the wind and start the long paddle back. It was a bit of a slog but the swell, and good company meant that we were soon back at Start Point and paddling back though the race. It was a tad on the lumpy side, but we all passed through OK.

As we approached the beach we could see that there all the other groups were already back and were waiting with some anticipation for us to negotiate the dumping waves back on to the steep beach. Unknown to us there had already been plenty of good ‘sport’ from people getting ashore. All went well though and we were glad of several pairs of helping hands as we crashed up on the shingle. Paddle over it was back to East Prawle for the evening’s entertainment.

Surf ‘n’ TurfThis sea kayak landing didn;t go to plan in the shore dump at Start point
Back on the campsite Mark had laid on a large barrel style BBQ for communal use. It proved an ideal focal point for everyone to get together and share stories of their day’s adventures while the sun set slowly and the smell of sizzling beef and freshly caught mackerel wafted on the evening air.
Once bellies were full it was time to once again repair to the Pig’s Nose Inn for a trio of talks. Pints of foaming ale in hands, the back hall of the pub filled up with sun kissed, salt encrusted and expectant sea kayakers. The first talk of the evening was by Eurion Brown, who had the crowd laughing from the start. His talk was on sea paddling in the Channel Islands and was both informative and entertaining. By the time he was done there was more than one paddler who’d added the Channel Islands to their ‘must go’ destination lists.

Next up was Anglesey circumnavigation record breaker and team P&H paddler Kate Duffus. Kate gave a fun presentation on all the different places she’d been and the assembled throng had to guess where the pictures of sea arches and rock formations were taken. There were a few impressive individuals that would do well to pick this as their subject should they ever find themselves on Mastermind!
The final talk was by Heather Rainsley on an awesome five-week trip to the Shetland Islands. The pictures of the epic scenery and diverse and rare wildlife were breathtaking and Heather’s talk certainly managed to paint an inspiring picture of Shetland’s wild and beautiful nature in all of our minds. I don’t think there was a single paddler, who hasn’t already been, that wasn’t thinking ‘I’m going there one day!’
The evening finished in a happy flurry of good beer and great conversation before finally heading back to the campsite for some much needed sleep.

Sunday Salcombe
Sunday morning saw another short briefing from Mark where he explained that the trips would be heading out of Salcombe because the wind conditions were going to deteriorate as the day progressed, before reading out the list of the day’s volunteer trip leaders. I was surprised to hear my name read out, but pleased to be able to help out. I was to head out with a group along with Kate D. After Kate’s great talk the night before it was a Landing a sea kayak at Start Point near East Prawlepopular option and our list was soon full. A quick chat eased my nerves a little as everyone had long drives home ahead, so we settled on a gentle trip exploring the rocks to the east of Salcombe. We headed out across the river mouth and then poked our bows around the headland and in to the wind. It wasn’t as bad as expected, so we headed out and started to paddle along the coastline, enjoying some good rock hopping along the way. One member of our group, Tim, was using Greenland style paddles that he makes himself. When I talked to him about them he promptly, and kindly, swapped blades and let me have a go. They felt strange but good and as we paddled along Tim explained the various ways to use them and why he preferred them to standard paddles. Soon enough we came to a lovely little bay and decided to make this our lunch spot. As we sat there chatting in the sunshine looking out across the emerald water of the bay it was easy to put the long drive home and the imminent week at work right to the back of your mind and just enjoy the moment.

Once lunch was fully digested it was time to head back. There was a bit of a swell running and some of the group were enjoying some quality rock hopping. It was during one of these sections that we had a little extra excitement injected in to our trip! While paddling through a rocky gulley Mick, a newcomer to the fun of rock hopping got caught by a surge and capsized. It was a tricky spot as the swell was surging and it was fairly tight. Albert, an experienced coach, was right behind Mick and was soon working hard to get him back in his boat. It wasn’t easy though and Kate and I moved in to assist. While this was happening Tim also got tipped over and took a swim in the foaming water. I rafted up next to Kate, to help stabilise her while she and got Tim back in his kayak while Albert sorted out Mick. They were back in, but now had a lot of water onboard and the swell was still crashing in. Mick was nearly out in to calmer waters when a wave hit him and he was over again. Albert and Kate instantly got to him to do another rescue. I accompanied Tim out the other way, again to calmer waters but he also took another spill and swim. He was soon back in his boat too though and we all paddled back to the rest of the group who were patiently waiting. All pumped out and with the adrenaline subsiding we headed back to Salcombe with some new ‘Tall Sea kayakers Tales’ to tell. Mick was sporting an impressive looking ‘shark bite’ from a brief encounter with a sharp rock but once we cleaned it up it was only a tiny scratch.

The Sun Sets on another Great SWSKM
Enjoying a spot of sea kayak rock hopping near Salcombe at the south west sea kayak meet
And that was it all over for another year. All that was left to do was wish everyone a good journey, swap e-mail addresses and hit the road for the drive home. The informal and relaxed nature of the SWSKM is in contrast with some of the other sea kayak symposia that I’ve been to and it’s an approach that I wholeheartedly endorse. Everyone that I spoke to had enjoyed every minute of their weekend and made some new paddling friends in to the bargain, and on top of all the great socialising and sea paddling the SWSKM also raised over £1,000 for the Devon Air Ambulance and Dartmoor Rescue Group.
Mark, Heather and their band of volunteers need congratulating on putting on a most excellent event. Thanks also need to go to P&H for supplying a fleet of great demo boats for folks to use, Eurion, Kate and Heather for their brilliant talks on the Saturday night and the Pig’s Nose Inn for their hospitality.

More Info
South West Sea Kayaking by Mark Rainsley

Further Reading:
Sea Kayak Navigation by Franco Ferrero
Sea Kayak Handling – Doug Cooper
Sea Kayaking – Gordon Brown
CK.Co.UK Book & DVD Shop

Follow these links for more great sea kayaking features, sea kayak tests, sea kayak course providers and downloadable sea kayak trips

Check out these short films from the event by chykensa...

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