Richard Janes’ thoughts on “Followership”

The essential skill of ‘Followership’…

I have been studying and recently completed a short Open University Course on ‘Leadership and Followership’ I find it fascinating to apply strong concepts from other arenas to paddle sport and I look to share some thoughts. Please excuse brevity, I have included references in support.

It would be very difficult to have dipped a paddle a few times and not come across the notion of ‘leader’ in our sport. However, we don’t often talk about ‘followership ‘ and if we do, it is usually in a very benign way. 

Leadership and followership are two, interdependent skills. Both essential to a happy day out. The purpose of my musings are to explore the role of followership and consider it to be not only an essential skill in group paddles but also the foundation to being a good leader.

What do we mean by ‘Leader’? 

There are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept. And there are probably as many definitions as Leaders.

In his book Leadership Theory and Practice, Professor Peter Northouse takes the central components from 65 different classifications of leadership, and distils them into the following definition:

‘Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal’  (Northouse, 2016, p. 6)  

That’ll do for me!

We can consider style of leadership. And this is where it becomes very interesting. Consider the variables in sea kayaking. Environment, weather, kit, people… No one size fits all here! Examples could range from an autocratic, military style in extremis to laiser faire bimble on a sunny afternoon. Paddlers themselves will be equally wide in their style and approach. So, our sea kayak leader will need a quiver of leadership skills and the ability to choose which to draw. Quite a challenge and not easily taught on a couple of formal days training. 

What do we mean by ‘Followership’

Again, you don’t have to look far to find multiple definitions! However, in our game this definition makes sense to me:-

‘Followership is the process of attaining one’s individual goals by being influenced by a leader into participating in individual or group efforts toward organisational goals in a given situation’. Followership thereby becomes seen as a function of the follower, the leader and situational variables (Wortman, quoted in Crossman and Crossman, 2011). 

There are of course different types of followers. Robert Kelley (1988) points out that ‘Followership is not a person but a role’ and explains that ‘effective followers and effective leaders are often the same people playing different parts at different hours of the day.’ 

In many respects, being a good follower follows the same characteristics as being a good leader with many of the skills and attributes required of an effective follower also seen in an effective leader. 

Some examples applied to sea kayaking:-

Communication…… ‘Let’s keep the group together’

Independent thinking…….. ‘Where’s Paul, did he go behind those rocks?’

Judgement……… ‘Wait until this set has gone through before we launch’

Initiative…….. ‘ We can use this cable tie to fix the skeg’

Collaboration……. ‘Steve, I’ll kick your boat away to help you empty it’

Diplomacy…….. ‘ Sue could you paddle with Nick, he could do with the company’

Influencing…….. ‘ Hey, Ed try this paddle to get round the headland’

Empathy….. ‘ you ok?, tell me about your holiday’

Self awareness and self management…… ‘I struggle in the heat. Must make sure I drink enough today and keep a hat on’. Or, ‘I might find this hard. Take it steady’

Teaching such skills on a short training course is impossible. Logged journeys indicate we have been on trips and maybe participated as leader. But what has our approach been as a follower?  Kelley (1988) describes five groups:- 

1.      Sheep – passive and uncritical, lacking in initiative and a sense of responsibility. They perform the tasks given to them and stop.

2.      Yes people – a livelier but equally unenterprising group. Dependent on a leader for inspiration, they can be aggressively deferential, even servile. In later work, Kelley refers to them as ‘conformist followers’.

3.      Alienated followers – critical and independent in their thinking but passive in carrying out their role. Often cynical, they tend to sink gradually into disgruntled acquiescence, seldom openly opposing a leader’s efforts.

4.      Survivors – perpetually sample the wind and live by the slogan ‘better safe than sorry’. They are adept at surviving change.

5.      Effective followers – think for themselves and carry out their duties and assignments with energy and assertiveness.

On the assumption that Canoe Clubs represent a cross section of people, I guess we will meet all types. As conscientious group paddlers, leaders and aspirant leaders we should all perhaps be pro-active in our efforts to be more ‘effective followers’

I don’t think a paddler has to be the strongest or most able to be an effective follower and I believe it is important for a novice to be aware of what constitutes good followership and works towards such skills. Training undoubtedly has a place both formal and perhaps less formal, alongside a more experienced paddler on trips. (Thought….Isn’t that how it used to be done?)

Interestingly, some of the very best followers I have met, who happened to be very able paddlers themselves have absolutely no intention of ever being leaders. Partly through lack of interest in the role and some have simply been put off by perceived expectations.

In a comprehensive review of the existing followership literature, Uhl-Bien at al. (2014) conclude that in the emerging field of followership research, there are two key approaches:

1.      Followership as a position or role – this approach considers how followers’ identities and behaviours influence leader attitudes, behaviours and outcomes

2.      Followership as a social process – this approach looks at followership and leadership as being co-constructed in social and relational interactions between people.

In both scenarios, followership and leadership relationships are closely linked, each influencing and interacting with the other to create the best possible outcomes.

It surely makes absolute sense that followership skills should be viewed as prerequisites for effective leadership.  I have paddled with many groups of individuals over the years. I have met paddlers from each of the five groups identified by Kelley (1988) and in some cases, in rather disparate paddling groups. The same groups where there has been considerable discussion over leadership and a desire to gain formal leadership awards.

“Miss, Miss can I lead?” Any Teacher will have heard similar shouts from children, hands clawing for the ceiling in hopeful anticipation. What is it about the notion of ‘leading’ that seems so exciting to many of us? Is it a strange anticipation of personal glory or do we actually consider the goals, needs and wants of our group? 

On the basis of the arguments above the role and skills of followership should carry a similar level of debate to leadership, both essential skills for a safe, happy day on the sea and  apprenticeship for aspirant leaders.   Maybe it is simply down to the implied meaning of the terms ‘leader’ and ‘follower’. Whatever the reasons it’s always a good exercise for us all to reflect on our dynamic roles within paddling groups, whatever our skill level, experience and whatever we call ourselves!

References

Crossman, B. and Crossman, J. (2011) ‘Conceptualising followership- a review of the literature’, Leadership, vol. 7, no. 4

Kelley, R. (1988) ‘In Praise of Followers, Harvard Business Review

Northouse,P.G (2016) ‘Introduction’, Leadership Theory and Practice, 7th edn, California, SAGE Publications Ltd

Uhl-Bien, M., Riggio, R.E., Lowe, K.B. And Carsten, M.K. (2014) ,Followership theory: A review and research agenda’, Leadership Quarterly, vol 25, pp. 83-104

Sea Kayaking Wales’ Open Day!

Sea Kayaking Wales – How it all started…  By Geth Roberts

Eleven years ago I started paddling with Rich and Paul. This was the start of a weekly kayaking get together that would grow and later become known as the Saturday gang. At some point Rich started suggesting that we work on a kayaking business together. This business started forming in 2015 as Sea Kayaking Wales and properly became established in 2018 when I finished secondary school teaching. We were all proud, me especially so, during the first SKW Open Day to be coaching together as a team of three, our first time doing so with SKW. A lot has happened since 2008 and a pipe dream has been realised… We thank all of the Open Day participants for sharing this day with us!

Paul, Geth and Rich on one of our adventures in Ireland


When 13 is a lucky number… By Rich Janes


At SKW we are not usually superstitious but today was the first SKW open day and we truly wanted everyone to have a good time. We met thirteen paddlers in the cafe this morning.Now, the (probably unverifiable) hypothesis holds that 13 is an unlucky number because it reflects the human fear of the unknown, since it is the first number that cannot be enumerated using our available digits.Within minutes of our meeting, everyone was chatting like old friends! Past trips, planned trips, courses and oh, … Today! Thirteen interesting, talented and great people joined us for our first SKW ‘Open Day’ and what an excellent day it was….. 
The purpose of the day was to give folk a ‘flavour’ of what we do and an SKW requisite,  have a fun day.


The plan was for Geth, Paul and Rich to Guide and facilitate our groups to enjoy the fabulous coastline around Rhoscolyn. We split into three groups. A minor mathematical challenge dividing thirteen by three but hey, we’re clever! 


The forecast for the day was light, Northerly wind. Little swell and a generally ebbing Spring tide. Beauty of Spring tides hereabouts is that high water (Local, 0845) is in the morning and not too far to carry boats. Hard work at the end of the day, though.Formalities of ‘briefing’ and not so formalities out of the way, we paddled out of the bay, heading generally North. ‘Generally’ meaning the beautiful conditions allowed us to explore every ‘nook and cranny’, adrenaline fixes satiated between gaps and  …. Er,. On rocks. So much fun, so many laughs! Narrow slots, gullys and the Arches appeared all too soon. We had planned to meet at 1300 for lunch in Porth y Corwgl. We had over spent our time! So, we headed out to sea to enjoy the ebbing tide escalator to take us back to Rhoscolyn Beacon. 


We would have loved to have been able to offer time in the tide races for which these parts are well known. But light winds had created a beautiful mirror sea and the scenery was simply wonderful. The sun now picking out colours in ancient cliffs, snowy mountain backdrop and the Beacon in the foreground.  I think everyone was captured by the very special environment. The tide had now carried us down to the Beacon. No (playable) tide race today and the group tested their skills squeezing through impossibly narrow gaps. 


The continuos chatter and laughing continued over lunch. Even the sun put in an appearance and felt warm! Well, for a bit, then we were cold so we headed South towards Silver Bay with more spirited rock hopping before our turnaround time, carefully calculated using British Canoeing 9 ‘star’ techniques to best balance getting off the water with time for a quick visit to the pub before home time.


More chatting, laughing and making plans.One day with such good people and it feels we have been paddling together for years. 
Very lucky number, thirteen! 

Even the Seagulls were cold…. by Richard Janes

Up to now (17th Jan) it’s been a very mild winter over here in North Wales. The hills have been bare and our crampons are definitely rusting.
Today was different! Time was needed to scrape the windscreen in the dark of 0730 as I left home in Llan Ffestiniog. Snow showers chased the van as I climbed over the hills and I felt grateful for having recently fitted ‘winter’ tyres. The Dawn was glorious! Snow covered hills of Eryri, glowing pink in the first light.

Why, oh why have we planned to go paddling and not heading for the hills today?
Wind Northerly. No messing, straight off the Arctic (F5+) dropping steadily during the day. We headed to Trearddur Bay and a plan to paddle South with the last of the ebb and wind. Play around Rhoscolyn Beacon and return with the flood and well, the Northerly wind should have dropped by then.
We should have known better as we watched a gull going for a wet landing. Toes in, an odd feather and whoosh!! He’d cleared off to a dry rock to squark on a pile of pelvetia, like only seagulls can and to watch other idiots on the sea. Er,.. That’d be us. 

Getting into drysuits was purgatory. Frozen fingers, jamming zips along with serious questions of sanity, eventually saw us launching onto a slate grey sea. A bit of effort and circulation began to return, at least to most parts. …

Conditions were brilliant! Swell, around a metre or so along with wind blown waves generated glorious lively conditions around the rocks and reefs. “Could we land here?” , “how might we manage a rescue there?” .. “Let’s give that a go!”  Great opportunities to challenge, test and consider. 

The ‘Beacon’ soon appeared and whilst very early into the flood tide, it seemed wrong not to pay our respects. Too early for the race.

Landing on ‘lunch’ beach (never learned the name after decades of paddling), I shivered whilst Paul enjoyed his Sushi and egg mayonnaise, our rain hoods drumming to the beat of continuous, heavy hail.  My hummus seriously wanted chips (lots). 

Launching was only possible after sweeping the slush from the cockpit and seats. Seal cold, we paddled hard out to the Beacon race. The sun came out and the waves were big! Sadly, not square enough for our lustful (surfing) desires so we headed North looking for the roughest water and playtime. Beautiful, breaking water around reefs and slots fed our adrenaline need. The wind had listened to the forecast and we paddled back over a flat sea, rolling swell continued to make the rocks and reefs interesting and a playful seal rather took the whatnot as we pondered a ‘rock hop’

Using the excuse of failing light, we headed back to Trearrdur Bay. Landed and sorting kit, we both noticed lack of (any) feeling in toes and somewhat useless fingers. Good job we hadn’t needed to fire a flare.

Sorting kit and loading boats maybe the worst part of the day. But what a brilliant day! Warmth, hot coffee and the usual erudite conversation of the pub finished a fabulous day. Hope the seagull has warmed up ? 

Sea kayaking in the Winter!

What brought us out this winters day,
From a place so warm and safe?
What brought us out this winters day,
To wind blasted eyes and face.
What takes us from a working life
Banal, we earn our pay,
To soaking clothes and salten lips,
Hands, seal-cold with spray?
What brought us out this winters day,
Wind whipping from the North.
The sea a violent turmoil,
White chargers to the Bay.
What tempts us out on such a day,
To the cold brought from the deep?
In these waters life is found,
And memories long to keep.
Why go out this winters day,
Sea the colour of slate?
To play with friends in waves and tide,
At Natures Loom to be
Soaking wet and freezing cold,
At home with the living sea.

Round Two At The Races! – Richard Janes

Round two at the races! 
Two recovery days from surfing South Stack and a great forecast of light Northerly winds with a Spring tide found our team of Roger, Justine, JF, Mirco, Jan, Garry, Geth, Steve, Barry, Paul and Me having a ‘staggered’ start from Porth Dafarch, heading North to the races of  Penrhyn Mawr and South Stack. Now, The meaning of ‘Porth Dafarch’ may have originated from the contraction of ‘Porth Dau Farch’ (harbour/inlet of two horses/stallions). We didn’t let accuracy get in the way of a good story (!) as the late arrivals (Paul, Steve and me) left Porth Dafarch behind as we paddled North towards Penrhyn Mawr and the first race. Thoughts of beautiful waves most definitely spurring us on; “Wild, wild horses, We’ll ride them someday” (Rolling Stones)
Tide pulling us through ‘mini Mawr’, we could soon see the rolling white of Penrhyn Mawr, along with the odd paddle flash from our friends already in the race. ….. And what a joyous race Penrhyn Mawr was today! Effectively, the last hour of a Spring tide, boils and whirlpools had subsided, water depth increased leaving beautiful rolling waves breaking, then running out onto an oily sea. Our efforts swiftly followed by lunch  in the sun at Porth Ruffyd
With domestic commitments for several team members, our group now split. Paul, Gary, Steve, Jan and me headed North. Beautiful rock hopping towards South Stack and beyond. Looking West, South Stack race looked lively with a light breeze blowing spume from the crests of waves. So that’s where we headed for a stunning surf session. Multiple and extended rides on rolling, near perfect waves. I truly didn’t want to leave; “Wild Horses, Couldn’t drag me away” …. But sadly, failing arms meant it was time to submit to the ebb flow and the paddle back to Porth Dafarch. 
Passing Penrhyn Mawr, now silent. Redolent and waiting for the flood, it was difficult to remember the excitement of the morning.
Our day finished with a beautiful sunset as we packed soggy kit and warmed chilled bodies after another fabulous day.
 

Diary of a magic day with old and great friends! – By Richard Janes

Diary of a magic day with old and great friends! 
 
You know you’ve had a good day when later, much later …you’re still ‘buzzing’! Well today was just such a day. 
We had not seen our good friends Justine and JF (Marleau) for a long while. Forecast today was for light (SW) winds, sunny periods and a chunky tide.  ‘The Stacks’ seemed a favourite choice when we met for a coffee first thing (ish) with Paul, Me, Geth, Steve, Lynn, Justine , JF (Marleau), and Mirco. A good sign of any group of friends meeting after a while is how quickly conversation begins and very quickly the months disappear. Today was no different. Paddling plans were made between general catch up and non stop conversation. 
 
Setting out from Porth Dafarch entailed  the usual discussion  of I’m too hot/cold, where’s the swell… And it goes on. Light on the cliffs was wonderful and early surf rides before the entrance to Abraham’s bosom a great warm up and lots of fun! 
Rock hopping towards South Stack was joyous. And the gap separating Ynys Lawd from the cliffs concentrated minds, as we paddled against a fast tidal stream under the bridge. ( ….Now, what was that noise? Paddles ‘clarting’ against rock or the heavy footsteps of the Ghost of ‘Jack’ Jones as he tried to climb steps after receiving a bang to his head from a rock?) 
 
A late start meant thoughts now turned towards lunch. Landings hereabouts are few and far between. Choice positions were taken up by young seals, so we paddled on to North Stack for a lunch afloat. Hmm… A ‘stretch’ would have been welcome! Nevertheless, Scotch egg and a final hurrah (!) for the turkey went down well. North Stack race was fast and furious. And the tail down toward South Stack had me regretting the Scotch egg, which I believe was trying to reincarnate as a chicken, feathers and all. 
 
…..BUT then, a wave appeared. A glorious, green and curling wave at the start of South Stack race. Rarely will you see a bunch of grown-ups (?) enjoying such simple pleasures. Absolutely amazing surf runs with boats hammering forward, enjoying the energy of a big tide. And the race continues to run. And we surf and surf. No escape, no eddies, paddles moving on. And eventually, as the race subsides, we start to feel a little knackered. I tried to pretend but I’m sure the look on my face would have been enough! Decisions made (thank heavens) and a quiet paddle with the setting sun and a brief dolphin sighting, took us back to Porth Dafarch. 
 
I’d seriously tried the notion of ‘Dry January’. But Geth is a bad man and my will power is (um) weak. How better to end a fabulous day with friends? 

Skomer July 2018 – A Perfect Day by Richard Janes

Sea kayak journey round Ynys Sgomer (Skomer)  and Ynys Sgogwm (Skokholm)



” Oh, what a perfect day”. …

(Line from a Lou Reed song applied to Sea Kayaking)

 

How to make the most of a sunny, warm July? Scotland seemed a good idea but with only a few days available, hungry Scottish midges breeding for the next Olympics and reluctant to endure the driving haul again, Pembrokeshire was the choice location. Especially before School summer hols and increased traffic. 

 

Thinking about it, what makes a brilliant paddling day? 

For me it’s great company, beautiful place, weather, wildlife, mermaids, interesting water, playtime and a beer to finish the day. 

 

Skomer is a National Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area. It is surrounded by a Marine Nature Reserve and is managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. It just happens to be an amazingly beautiful place as well!

We launched from Martins haven with a plan to use the South going stream to assist us down the West side of Skomer and down towards Skokholm.  Using transits we checked drift whilst crossing Jack Sound which passed very smoothly. And then we started seeing puffins. And puffins! This Atlantic puffin population colony is the largest in southern Britain and we passed dozens of rafts of these charming little birds and the air buzzed with their fast wing beat. Not to be outdone, we saw some Shearwater and I was amazed to find out that nearly half the world’s population of Manx Shearwaters nest on the island.

The Garland stone soon arrived and marked a change in the water. Swell, sun, birds and dramatic cliff scenery merged to form a memorable experience. We even managed to get some surfing on a notable eddy stream South of the Garland Stone! 



From the Southern end of Skomer, we set off towards Skokholm. 

Skokholm is Norse for “wooded island,” very similar to the Swedish capital name Stockholm, named by the Vikings who visited the Bristol Channel. It doesn’t look very wooded now. The rock and cliffs had a pink/red hue in the afternoon sun and we aimed for the Lighthouse on the South Westerley tip.

The present lighthouse was constructed over several years up to 1915 and was officially opened in 1916. Forming a triangle of lights with South Bishop and the Smalls to protect shipping moving into and out of Milford Haven and the Bristol Channel. The lighthouse shines 20 miles. 

Every corner and headland of Skokholm carried a tide race, some bigger than others. They must have been some Seafarers, them Vikings!  The flood had now begun and very fast water was running North from the North  Easterly end of the island. We headed towards Gateholm Island and then with the flow through Jack Sound. Luckily finding surf waves and play time at the North end of the Sound! It was now a short and relaxing paddle back to Martins Haven to stretch legs cramped from no landing around the islands.

Paul and I have paddled a lot together. So many days and fun times (he really has endured his ageing friend), so it seemed somewhat poignant to finish the day by the van drinking ‘Old Peculiar’ … Or was that the comments  coming from the last of the day’s batch of Skomer visitors as they walked past? … A perfect day? We certainly ticked the boxes and I’m sure that seal looked like a Mermaid? …… But that was after the second bottle of ‘Old Peculiar’!

My first trip around The Stacks – Penelope Coneybeare

 Amy Goolden

“So what’ve you been doing, Mum?” This is younger daughter. She’s washing up while she chats.

“Well I went to the dentist and…”

“No I mean what Interesting stuff have you done?”

“Well”…a moment’s excited hesitation ”..we paddled the Stacks…”

“Is that interesting?” And I can hear she’s bored.

“Well… there were some climbers there. We were in this big cave and there were loads of climbers. Tiny climbers. On a massive wall”

“Yeah?” Still bored.

“Dreaming of white horses? Or something.”

“A Dream of White Horses?” She explodes “But that’s an icon! That’s just one of the best climbs in the world!”

Well, so is paddling the Stacks. If Anglesey is recognised as one of the finest sea paddling destinations in the world then the Stacks are “the jewel in Anglesey’s paddling crown…North Stack, South Stack, Penrhyn Mawr. Names that trip off the tongue like honey.”  That’s according to the UK Rivers Guide. Paddlers go quiet and reverential as they talk of muscular tides, gnarly tide races, massive overfalls. This is where only the big boys and girls can go.

The first time I’d hoped to paddle the Stacks was in July 2016. I was lucky enough to be one of a small group of women attempting to circumnavigate Anglesey with Justine Curvengen.  Justine was awesome. We all made lasting friends and developed as paddlers. But the Wind Gods were very fractious. We didn’t circumnavigate the island and we didn’t “do” the Stacks. The next attempt was to have been in May 2017 with Geth Roberts. Would have been good but the wind was humungous. And then illness struck and my horizons shrunk to what I could see from a hospital bed and then from my sofa.  The Stacks started to feel much, much bigger than me. Amanda and Anne Marie, my friends from the Justine trip, had done it but I never would.

But, thanks to Richard Janes’s coaching and confidence in me I got back off the sofa and into my boat. I found I could do more than I had ever thought. The Stacks started to be somewhere I could dream of once again.

Thanks to many a Wet Winter Wednesday with Paul Williams and Richard I have found that surfing is not actually beyond me. I always loved being out in big wind and sea but now I know how to use my body to better effect, how to connect with my boat, how to paddle assertively and how to read the water and understand why the wind can seem to maliciously change direction as you make it round a headland. Whoever would have thought that wind flows and eddies, just as water does.

When Richard, Amy Goolden, Lyn Mellina and I set off from Porth Dafarch for this iconic trip it was a quiet blue day. A silken sea merged into a soft blue sky. In the distance the mountains of Snowdonia were cushioned in sea mist. Penrhyn Mawr offered a little playful distraction, that’s all. Not so much a wild beast, more of a kitten. At Richard’s insistence we took it slowly, very slowly, soaking up the landscape. In these conditions the kayaker’s privileged view of the drama of the ancient folded rocks is heightened. The story the rocks tell unfolds before you. The folded fine silvery green cliffs between Porth Dafarch and South Stacks, described by the geologist Edward Greenly as “unsurpassed in Britain”, are simply enthralling. And then South Stacks itself with guillemots thronging the layers and galleries of the rocks and making impetuous mass forays into the sea around us.

 Penelope Coneybeare

And then, in silence, we floated in a cave with the massive proportions of a cathedral watching tiny climbers dreaming of white horses. The light cascaded though majestic arches into pearly green depths. It was, quite simply, awesome.

I am so very grateful that my first experience of the Stacks was on this blue day and shared with such company: Richard, Amy and Lynn. Would I take the chance to paddle it gnarly? Well yes, of course. But only in the right company.

A wander around Ynys Gybi or Holy Island, 23 June 2018

A solo trip report written by Richard Janes – Photos by Geth (from a similar trip)             

Richard (right) on another summers day at the Skerries

 

High Water Liv. (Gladstone): 0813 (8.1M)

Wind: NW F3-4

Sunny (ish)

 

Saint Cybi was a 6th-century Cornish Bishop who worked in Wales. The Island is called

‘Holy’ due to the numerous religious sites on the small island and are a source of much interest.

However, the island’s history has not only been one of Religious tranquillity. The bustling Port and Town of Holyhead will have had it’s share of ‘Sporting’ events with ‘Home’ and ‘Away’ games, possibly started by Cadwallon Lawhir (‘Longhand’), who defeated Irish Pirates on Holy Island (c.500)

 

What to do on a Saturday when all your Mates are working, on holiday, doing domestic stuff or don’t fancy an early start?

 

The Circum navigation of Holy Island includes fast tidal streams, paddling which ranges from shallow water over sand/mud banks to massive exposed cliffs, great wildlife, busy harbour and Port, two tunnels and a precise tidal ‘gate’. All in all, an interesting way to spend a Saturday Morning!

 

The tidal gate for this trip is Stanley Embankment where the water rushes  (floods) into the Inland sea and then drains (ebbs) to the North East.  After around half an hour the water is travelling much too fast to paddle against and forms dangerous stoppers. The plan is to be there just before the turn of the tide. My plan was to paddle anti clockwise around the island to make best use of the tides.

 

My starting point was Porth Dafarch . The origin of Dafarch was probably from a persons name; ‘Tafarch’ but I prefer to believe the less likely origin, ‘Dau Farch; two stallions. Especially when considering the tide races of Penrhyn Mawr and South Stack!

I set off at 0530. Probably around half an hour too early but I’m like that. Besides, it was a stunning morning and the temptation to launch with an early sun and oily smooth sea was simply too great!

Having the West Coast to yourself is an extraordinary feeling but far from lonely. I enjoyed stunning displays from Shearwater and the occasional fly past from Fulmar with their silent, knowing stare. Paddling South towards Rhoscolyn Beacon was a joy. Whilst the flood was still running, I took a  landward line and stayed in close down to the start of the Cwmyran Straits.

The paddle through the Cwmyran Straits to Four mile bridge is a peaceful delight! Heron, Egret and all sorts of wading birds within an environment which ranges from salt marsh to rocky shore. Getting lost is a real option here and another reason for my early start. The sea and air was mirror calm and the tunnel or what felt like a big drain to enter the Inland sea was surprisingly noisy. As my kayak took the drop, I seriously thought it might ‘ground’ but there was plenty of water followed by a wave train and tidal rapid.

Excitement over, it was a short paddle to Stanley and a long wait (over an hour) for the tide to turn and allow my exit from the Inland Sea. Stopping for a drink, I also felt hungry. Sadly, the soft sand of Porth Dafarch and a hungry seagull had earlier consumed my lunch. So I waited. And waited for what seemed like ages. My phone said about an hour, my broken watch said longer. A few times I tried to take the flow by storm but uphill paddling never was my thing and some stray pieces of rope dangling down gave me the ebegeebies, by the thought of getting tangled in them. Eventually, the flow gave up to my persistence and allowed me through.

The view now broadened to include the Skerries to the North East and my target, Holyhead harbour to the North West. A little further and I was talking to Port Control on VHF Ch 14. All very formal. I noticed he called me ‘Sir’, not been called that since I was teaching when I was called many other things besides. I had a good time window until the fast ferry was due but crossing the Harbour does make me feel strange. This is the World of proper big boats. Boats which don’t see you and with big propellers and stuff. So I paddled hard. Stupid hard, breathing a sigh of relief as I past the lighthouse on the end of the pier. Port control said they had been watching me on camera, so I waved. You can be a bit silly on your own. I’d already said ‘good morning’ to several seals and I’m sure the pretty one answered?

Phew! … Back on more familiar water, North Stack was a bit white and feisty. I tried surfing a few waves but they were too broken for whoops of joy. South Stack race was smooth. Oily, sexy smooth but not big enough for my enthusiasm. The cliffs and birdlife hereabouts are simply magnificent. The sea was littered with rafts of Guillemot, Razor bill and a good number of Puffins. I stayed offshore using as much push from the ebb as possible. Penrhyn Mawr came and went. A sleeping Stallion before his stable door would be opened?

Very soon Porth Dafarch came into view along with some good friends on the water (Steve Miles and Sarah) where I stopped for some of our usual intellectual discourse. And so back to the beach and a heavy, hot carry back to the van. I think it was about lunch time but my watch said the same time as when I left.

Biggest decision of the day. Sensible cup of tea or a cold beer. What would Cybi have done? What would Longhand have done…. and he did see off the Irish Pirates, after all!

 

 

 

 

 

Barra, Mingulay & the Bishop’s Isles Expedition, 2018

Richard Janes and Ed Loffil
The Bishop’s Isles are a small archipelago of islands and the Southernmost of the
Outer Hebrides of Scotland. They lie south of the island of Barra and historically so named because they were owned by the Bishop of the Isles. The group consists of nine islands and numerous rocks. The main islands and named going South from Barra are Vatersay, Sandray, Pabbay, Mingulay and finally  Berneray or Barra Head. After which, there is nothing more going South for a very long way!
Beautiful islands, separated by Sounds of fast tidal streams and open to the full force of Atlantic wind and swell. Remote, committing and with such a fabulous name, Mingulay has been high on my dream list for many years. I first paddled to Mingulay in 2017, a highly challenging trip where on the West Coast our total focus was on the dynamics of the water rather than the Geography!  I describe here our visit in June, 2018 which was our second visit.

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The starting point for this trip is Castlebay, Barra at the Southern end of the Outer a Hebrides. A beautiful spot which is quite easily accessible from the South. A ferry runs from Oban. We left a vehicle in Oban and used trolleys to carry our laden kayaks onto the boat. The five hour journey to Barra is a delight! A cruise up the sound of Mull followed by Ardnamurchan point with views of the Small Isles, Treshnish, Coll and Tiree. We enjoyed a fabulous display from a large pod of Dolphins and sightings of Basking Sharks. The launch pad for the kayaking trip is a slipway and a very short trolley from the ferry.

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At the tail end of a long period of high pressure we launched at 7pm. Close to the longest day, it barely gets dark at these latitudes. We paddled South on a smooth sea with evening sun and very gentle air in ‘shorty’ cags. Stopping only to take pictures the gentle sussuration of wavelets on rock, punctuated by the evening call of so many seabirds created an idylic scene. We passed an otter about his evening duties. Crossing the Sound of Sandray, our
target for the night was Pabbay and we landed after nine Nautical miles on a pristine beach through turquoise water and camped on a perfect pitch of machair. Our bay was on the East side of the island but even here the  Westerley swell was enough to create sufficient surf to demand care when landing. We chose an exposed spot overlooking the sea but the still air brought out a few midges! Seals swam by at regular intervals and a porpoise was feeding. We must have been near a Tern’s nest, at least that was our explanation for the frequent attacks to my head by these beautiful birds!

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The next day was overcast but the High Pressure was holding. We paddled South across the Sound of Mingulay and down the East side of Mingulay. I started to feel apprehensive as we approached the Sound of Berneray. We had been paddling on smooth seas but from our previous visit, we knew the West Coast would likely be very different! Rounding the South East corner of Berneray we were on new waters for us. And what a place! Massive cliffs, topped by Barra Head lighthouse. Barra Head Lighthouse marks the southern entrance to The Minch, roughly halfway between the Eilean Glas and Rinns of Islay lighthouses. The 58 foot stone tower, built in 1833, stands on the west side of the island, at the top of a very steep cliff, making the light the highest in the UK with a focal plane of 682 feet above sea level. There is no shallow water west of Berneray to break the blow of the Atlantic storms and small fish are sometimes thrown onto the grass on the cliff top.

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We were now on the Wild West side of the islands and being lifted by swell and thrown around by the very significant clapotis. The West side of Mingulay is truly amazing. The cliffs rise to 700 feet and with major sea stacks, caves and so many sea birds a total joy for sea Kayakers! We paddled close to the cliffs but the constant swell prevented any ‘rock hopping’ in caves. Besides, this is not a place for error. Totally remote; flares, VHF and phone are useless. We carry PLB as a ‘talisman’. We followed the Coast of Mingulay through the Sound and landed for lunch on the beautiful Mingulay Bay on the East side of the island before paddling North to our starting point on Pabbay. With fourteen amazing Nautical miles under our hulls, sleep was very easy.
Day three and decision time! Where to next? The forecast held good but a brisk North West wind was forecast for later in the day. From our camp on Pabbay, we paddled West through the Sound of Mingulay past Sandray and its islands, Vatersay and then followed the West Coast of Barra North and into the Sound of Barra. Another magical area, the Sound of Barra is surrounded by more fascinating islands and islets. We camped on a tiny island between Gighay and Hellisay. We had paddled with some effort to beat the start of the adverse wind and we made it! The breeze kept the midges away and the 21 NM day ensured another good sleep.
Day four. Sunshine and the wind (mostly) behind us meant a glorious cruise down the East side of Barra and return to Castlebay in warm sunshine. A fabulous end to a spectacular trip with a good friend.

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We paddled a total distance of around 60NM over four days. The distances are not great but the environment hereabouts is huge, in every way. It is rare for Westerley swell not to be an issue. The water is very deep and the reflected (clapotis) waves are significant. This creates turbulent water which may then be further confused by tidal streams and ‘wind against’ conditions. Not a place to be taken lightly..

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Of course, this was not the end of the trip. Sipping cold beer in the sunshine, looking South to Vatersay and beyond was a time for reflection. … “Slaintte mhath, Matey”; “do dheagh shlainte, …. your round!”

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Beautiful Mingulay
A heart so bright, living and warm,
Genesis of my dreams.
Hewn by Nature’s might,
Anchored in a sea of swelling, brilliant silver.
Swell surges to massive cliffs
Rolling energy, harbinger of life!
Sliding with water,
Running away as time.
Expressions of immeasurable force.
Ancient beauty
Sobs to the bruising, blunting wave.
Dark rock,
Dressed by natures hand
Studded with whirring birds,
Screeching for their future and lifted in spume
Above the boiling black of the ocean.
Stunning, savage, powerful place!
Living , changing and timeless.
Fragile life of Mingulay,
Pictures of our now and yesterday,
May your ancient rock hold fast
To remain our keeper of forever.

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The first SKW Biodiversity for Kayakers Course, Anglesey

On Saturday 28 April, Sea Kayaking Wales welcomed, to Bodorgan, Anglesey, its first Biodiversity delegates – Sue, Dave and Catherine.  The day began with sharing fresh coffee, croissants and pain au chocolat as we got to know one another.  This was followed by a classroom presentation/discussion, led by Geth and Richard, to formulate what we understand about Biodiversity and how it differs from marine to terrestrial environments.  We then practiced using a Field Studies Council “Rocky Shore Biological Key”, for species identification, on pre-collected seaweed and invertebrate animal specimens.  Our chosen goals, for the kayak trips, were to understand/explore tidal zonation in coastal ecosystems, identify a range of algae (seaweeds) and find as many of the main 28 animal groups as possible.

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The low wind, swell and sunny conditions allowed us to explore any angle of Anglesey’s coast.  We chose to paddle between Porth Llechog (Bull Bay) and the Borth Wen Brickworks, on the North Coast.  This gave us access to both rocky and shingle shore ecosystems with both exposed and sheltered aspects.  This rocky shoreline also has extensive sheltered cave and gully locations that are dark and protected from desiccation – here the baked bean ascidian sea squirt often outcompetes barnacles to filter feed on plankton and the red crusty algae decorates the rock walls in a bid to absorb the low intensity light.

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Baked bean sea squirt in a large cave

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Both Porth Llechog and Borth Wen exhibited great seaweed, mollusc, annelid and arthropod diversity in accordance with the zonation rules.  The Trecastell Hotel, Bull Bay, proved to be a popular venue, with fantastic views, to discuss our plans for the Sunday kayak journey.

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On Sunday, we met at the Truckstop Cafe, Holyhead for coffee and some more breakfast.  The aims of our second day were to visit additional coastal ecosystems (salt marsh, sediment and sand dune) and visit a seal colony.  Four Mile Bridge to Borth Wen, Rhoscolyn was an obvious choice given the favourable and sunny weather conditions.

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The salt marshes and sand dunes provided ample opportunity to explore the adaptations of intertidal salt-tolerant higher plants and drought-tolerant higher plants, respectively.  Both ecosystems also demonstrated succession of communities as the soil substrate conditions became less physically extreme inland.  At Silver Bay we stopped for lunch, collected some litter and examined ray and nursehound eggcases.

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The waters beyond Silver Bay were crystal clear.  Here the rocky shore was dominated by evenly distributed tough barnacles and marauding dogwhelks that were distributed in clumps near rock crack havens.  The darker gullies were again decorated with red crusty algae and, instead of sea squirts, bright patches of orange breadcrumb sponge and beadlet anenomes.

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At Ynysoedd Gwylanod, the Beacon Islands, the resident seals basked contentedly in the sun.  They were clearly well fed following another busy feeding session in the ebbing tidal currents.  Our team was also feeling very content and ready for their post-course pint in the White Eagle Pub.

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For more course dates follow this link:

http://seakayakingwales.com/exploring-coastal-biodiversity-by-kayak/