Friday, August 27, 2010

A sideways glance at British kayaking news from 1967

In 1967 the British Canoe Union (BCU) magazine “Canoeing in Britain” published a Christmas competition with a prize of a copy of each of “Byde’s Books”. (In 1960 Alan Byde had become just the second person ever to be appointed Senior Canoeing Coach by the British Canoe Union (B.C.U.). I’d better explain that in Britain a “canoe” was, and sometimes still does refer to both canoe and kayak. More about Alan later…

Alan Byde at his home in New Zealand 2006

 In a country where people place bets on hounds chasing hares at up to 45 miles per hour... albeit electric hares... in 1967 a number of people wrote their dismay at a somewhat slower hare. The prominent sea kayaker Chris Hare, on returning from an expedition to Greenland where he had hunted from his kayak with Greenlanders, attempted to gain support for the introduction of seal hunting from kayaks in UK. (no.. not electric seals...)

Meanwhile Colin Mortlock, (who later led the expedition in Norway, 1975, for which the Nordkapp paddle and kayak were designed) described kayaking Welsh white-water rivers in flood. 

A 1967 advertisement for a sea kayak, the "Wessex Sea Rapier", demonstrated its on-land portability by showing it on the roof of a Morris 1,000 (1,000 cubic centimeters... and that's the engine not the cab)… a car that originally had little lighted orange pointers that swung out like arms from the supports between the side windows to indicate the direction of a turn! I'd like some on my kayak! In 1967, that fiberglass Sea Rapier cost just 36 pounds and 15 shillings… With today’s poor US dollar exchange value that’s about 74 dollars…

The 1967 magazine columns were full of quirky little revelations, such as “A Canadian is not really a sea going canoe”… and that by September 1967, two people had passed the "Advanced Canadian examination"… (You really have to look closely at these Canadians nowadays!)

Next… “The Senior coach is on a par with the Gold Medalist, and is a gentleman to be reckoned with” (Any women reading this?) This begs to be brought together with the declaration; “To all but a rhinoceros it must be obvious that the only place to learn to roll is the swimming baths – in this country anyway.” One can only imagine that the author had spotted the second appointed "BCU Senior (Rhino) Coach" on his back in his garden in Wolverhampton. This was apparently not an advanced Canadian exam!

In 1967, Hans Klepper died. He was the son of one of the original tailors who produced the first folding Kleppers in 1905 to speed up trips from the mountains. Hans was associated with the design of the Klepper Arius in which Dr Hans Lindemann crossed the Atlantic. Skipping through the manufacturing processes from folding kayaks to plastic, “the first thermoplastic kayak” was displayed at the annual boat show in 1967. And from kayaks to paddles, Dave Mitchell (who made "Mitchwood" paddles in UK and now owns Mitchell Paddles in USA) won silver medal for slalom kayak in the 1967 world championships. And in the realm of competition, the Atlantic beaches of Bude suffered the annual invasion of competitors for the week-long surf kayaking event.

In this context, back to Alan, from the start of this piece… Alan wrote a great (truly) book titled “Living Canoeing” which published in 1969 and according to Alan was started in 1967. It is a classic book, with content mostly valid today. I can see how later writers have likely been influenced by the style of line drawings that illustrate many of the technical aspects, and by the content of the Sea Kayaking sections of the book. Not Byde’s first, or last writing achievement, but possibly his finest. Returning to the photo of Byde upside down in a kayak on his lawn, you can see similar images (in fact rolling sequences) in my own “Kayaking; a beginner’s guide” and “Nigel Foster’s Sea Kayaking”... I've picked up a technique or two from him. But perhaps it was not his aversion to being called a rhino that drove Alan Byde to New Zealand. Maybe when he was sitting in his back yard underneath his kayak he was simply preparing himself for living "down under".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lake Ozette

Whisky16 on Lake Ozette
red willow roots dangle in the lake
heading for the trail head
boardwalk trail
tree burned hollow
Hollow red cedar log
A slow-moving yellow slime mold explores the forest floor in search of food
The Olympic Peninsula, which defines the northwest tip of Washington State, is home to the Makah tribe whose land includes Tatoosh Island at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca; a great kayaking area. For a couple of thousand years there was a Makah village site on the Pacific coast at Cape Alava, south of the Makah village of Neah Bay. Part of that village was buried by a mudslide around 1700. Storms in 1970 began to expose artifacts that had been engulfed by the slide, and excavation uncovered six long houses and more than 55,000 artifacts.

The Makah Cultural and Research Center (museum) at Neah Bay has a great display of these artifacts, including canoes, tools and fine cedar bark fiber baskets.

Familiar with the magnificent coastline Kristin and I determined to explore somewhere we'd not seen before; Lake Ozette, third largest lake in Washington State. A narrow strip of forest stands between the lake and the ocean.

High pressure clamping a damp marine layer of low cloud and fog to the coast had finally moved, freeing the coast to hot dry weather!

A circuit of the lake in our Point65 Whisky16s found us dodging for shade, and discovering brilliant red willow roots dangling in the lake, deep blue gentian flowers in the lakeside meadows, and snaking tree roots where higher lake levels or rougher weather had eroded the shore between the trees.

A trail leads from a half-hidden landing place into the semi-darkness of temperate rain forest. A crude bouncing boardwalk  leads two miles to the Pacific, threading between the trees and above the channels and streams.

Finally we broke through the deep undergrowth onto a pile of bleached logs, and beyond to a sun-baked sand beach. It was hotter than I've ever experienced on the Washington coast, so we soon plunged back with relief into the shade beneath the dense canopy of forest. Back at the lake the breeze was brisk, whipping up little breakers that kept us pleasantly cool with spray for the remainder of our circuit of the lake.

Next day we took a different board walk hike from our camp site near the Ranger Station through the forest to the ocean.

There is another route from the same start place that reaches the beach three miles north from the one we took... so we hiked the beach and followed the other route back.

Since the weather was so great and there were almost no bugs, after dark we lay on our backs in the open watching the Perseid meteorite shower... shooting stars blazing across a star-studded sky!

(by the way... slime molds actually do move around... I wasn't joking! They're really interesting creatures!)

A strange spider-like monster above our heads... ( a "Forks vampire spider"?)
Sun dried sea-life.

Rocks off the coast make it a graveyard for ships
Low tide rock pools teem with life...
including sea anemones
the islands offshore are part of the marine reserve

higher paths lead offer high tide escape routes.
Kristin takes a dive into the lake to wash off the salt... and cool off
Return journey... ferry across Puget Sound approaches Seattle
The end of a fun escape!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Stepping Stones of Ungava and Labrador

The new book "Stepping Stones of Ungava and Labrador" by Nigel Foster (Outskirts Press) has just been released!

Last night at an impromptu dinner party a friend's house I was asked to read out loud from the book one particularly harrowing section when Kristin and I were confronted face to face by a polar bear. Reading the story out loud brought me right back to the kayaking trip, in a different way than when relating it at a slide presentation to the Tacoma Mountaineers Club a week ago. With both story-telling and reading, you adjust the pace and emphasis to develop the tension in the story, responding to audience reaction. Story-telling during a slide presentation, I draw the story from my memories; from the images in my head. Reading last night, the story was presented to me as written; it was a direct input, and as I read I found myself creating mental images from the text.

So what about the polar bears? I didn't see any the first time I attempted the journey along the uninhabited northern section of the Labrador coast in 1981. But that time I traveled south from Iqaluit along Baffin Island's Frobisher Bay, crossed Hudson Strait and spent only 8 days in northern Labrador. When I returned to northern Labrador with Kristin Nelson we had 16 close sightings, and many more sightings of what were almost certainly bears. Not enough data for any conclusion. But in correspondence with Neil Burgess from Newfoundland, who was leading a research study into the impact of PCBs (discussed in "Stepping Stones") on breeding sea birds in the Saglek area of Labrador, he declared that his number of bear sightings in 2007 on the islands in Saglek Bay were dramatically more than in 1999. He continued..."I had a chance to talk about it with a couple of polar bear biologists who were doing a helicopter survey of Labrador polar bears in 2007. Their speculation was that climate change was disrupting the normal migration patterns of the bears. Normally in late winter the bears move south over the sea ice from Baffin Island and along the Labrador coast to the area where harp seals have their pups on the ice in early spring. When that is over, the bears migrate north on the ice back to Baffin Island. Now the sea ice is melting before the bears can get back to Baffin and they end up swimming ashore in Labrador. Folks in Nain tend to agree with this."

That trend does little to invite kayakers to explore the coast described in "Stepping Stones", at least not camping in the way we did, and especially not in the northernmost section which has recently become the Torngat Mountains National Park

But polar bears make up just one aspect of travel in Labrador. The area is fascinating for its prehistory, with evidence of population going back 7,000 years. Historical evidence from Vikings, European fishermen, Moravian missionaries, Hudson's Bay trading stations and medical missions, early exploratory flights, and radar tracking stations give the area a depth of fascination for me. Considering the phenomenal tidal conditions of Ungava Bay, the characteristic fog-swathed mountains of northern Labrador, the ground-hugging tundra vegetation and the night-time dancing ribbons of green aurora borealis, I admit it was the place that attracted me. But after completing the trip I realize that it was those few people that we met in Ungava and Labrador that made our trip rich!

(You can buy (or order) "Stepping Stones of Ungava and Labrador" softback or hardback from your local bookstore, or buy online from any of a number of web stores.... or you can buy from us at the Nigel Foster Kayak Store.)