The waves are alive with the sound of singing.

An example of a rough sea at Mealista. Charlotte is not in her boat
Rough sea at Mealista. Definetly waves where you should sing in.

Throw mindfulness out of the window! We should all be singing when fear gets to us.

Anyway, that is what I do when the waves are just a bit too high. Or when bigger waves are coming from the back and I can’t see them coming. When I’m not singing, fear will take over and I will start stiffening in the kayak. The paddling strokes become careful and tense. I try to find support on the waves by bracing. The entire flow and energy are gone as is my speed. Totally exhausted I wash up on the beach with aching muscles and close to crying. Not a nice state to be in. Fear takes too much energy.

Do you recognise this state? The best medicine for this is Singing!

I will tell you why.

I read a book written by Timothy Gallwey called ‘The inner game of tennis’, he has written also one about work, golf or any other field except kayaking.

In short, the theory is that there are two selves: Self 1, which is analytical and ego-driven, prone to worrying and ruminating, and Self 2, which is more unconscious, intuitive and physical.

The secret to the Inner Game is to get Self 1 out of the way, to stop being so self-critical and anxious, and simply let your body play the game, without being too outcome-oriented. You can get Self 1 out of the way by training your attention on each point, for example, or on the sound of the ball (in tennis) – giving your Self 1 some activity to keep it busy so it can let Self 2 do the work.

Alexander and Charlotte Gannet in big waves, I’m sure I am singing here although you can’t hear me. Which is a good thing.

Translating this theory to kayaking, my Self 1 judges the waves and my own skill set in paddling bigger waves, this will lead to thoughts of fear which results in stiffening up and paddling with laboured strokes, ending up in exhaustion.

My Self 2 is not bothered by the fear and knows exactly what it must do in order to stay afloat.

The problem is that my Self 1 is dominant over my Self 2.

So, what to do?

According to the theory, the best thing to do is to put my conscious Self 1 to work. To Sing. Let it be busy with remembering the lyrics of the song. With big waves, I sing out loud with smaller waves I sing inside my head. In the meantime, my Self 2 will do the paddling and be excel at it. It hasn’t failed me yet!

To be honest, I have to bring myself to start with singing, usually, fear is sitting right on top of my head. First I start singing hesitantly, I notice it helps a bit, then I sing a bit louder and try to sing more convincingly, Yes, I definitely feel the benefits. And then there is no holding back. I sing aloud and I don’t care what the birds think of the quality of my singing.

Alexander en Charlotte Gannet in a big sea, Charlotte must be singing to paddle her boat.
O yes, must be singing here!!

My preferred songs are from ‘The Sound of Music’. This movie has a special place in my heart because it was the first movie I ever saw in a cinema when I was around 10 years old. I cycled all the way to The Hague with my mother and sister to see it and it was magic. I have this totally useless gift of remembering the lyrics of a song after hearing it only once and remembering them forever. It is a family thing, both my sisters suffer from the same affliction.

So after TSoM I go on with lyrics from the movie ‘Grease’ and then Aretha Franklin with ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’.

There are more benefits to singing, it boosts your immune system, it lowers stress and is a natural antidepressant. I wonder why people are not singing all day? Wouldn’t the world be a better place?

Try it next time you come into a scary situation like paddling higher waves that you are used to. Of course, you can create your own playlist of favourite things, euh, songs…

Charlotte Gannet

The Old Man and the Sea

Reproduction of Norman Acroyd's by Alexander Gannet.
My study of Norman Ackroyd’s work. Mingulay Bay 2015

After a day, sheltering for the endless rain, we decide to explore the town a bit further and find ourselves a nice dinner. Dressed in our dark green rain ponchos we wander around Castlebay. We are desperate for a hot and spicy meal and walk into the Kisimul café, a small Indian restaurant with views over the castle. Unfortunately, all the empty tables are reserved for the night and we leave disappointed.

We ramble on, looking for an alternative restaurant. The choice is limited, in a tiny town like this. The desolate streets end quickly into the hills, so we return and climb the stairs to the Craigard Hotel. Hotels are not really our thing, especially after four weeks of peddling, a handful of showers in a cold creek, some crusty streaks of seaweed on the bottom of your trouser legs and wearing our most elegant rain gear. Indecisive, if we would like to eat there, we loiter around. Looking for a menu and some glimpses of the food being served.

“The food is good”, a smoky voice declares. We turn around and in a cloud of smoke we see an elderly chap wearing a shabby blue sweater and jeans, he is standing on his socks just inside the hotel door. With his friendly, but glassy blue eyes it’s hard to tell if the man is tired or just enjoyed a whiskey or two. We start chatting and learn that he rented the “Boy James”. For two weeks he makes boat trips around the Barra head isles with his family and friends. So we tell him that he must have passed us this morning while we were getting on the water near the deserted village on Vatersay with our kayaks.

This triggers his interest, he used to kayak himself when he was young. Now he is still fascinated by the outer edges of the British Isles formed by this chain of rocks, skerries and little islands. He has been close to a lot of them. For every remote island, we mention there appears a new twinkle in his eyes. The more we exchange about our sea journeys, the more exuberance and vitality inhabits the man. It’s funny how a love of remote little islands, the sea and an obsession for the ever-changing light, can turn a meeting into an instant connection. A connection based on shared experience of the solitude shared in the screaming of the seabirds, of this deep longing for this aesthetic enchantment in the architecture of the land and the isolation of being on the edge of everything. We enter the building together, and while we wait for a table we chat about our kayak trip. He is clearly impressed, telling his companions enthusiastically about what we talked about outside.

When the waitress comes, to tells us that our table is ready, we say goodbye. For starters, we choose the local cockles, harvested on the Barra beach that doubles as an airfield. We really enjoy the seafood. One of the fears of eating in hotels is that I’m still hungry after the last bite. Fortunately, this is definitely not the case today. By the time we are on our last few bits, the man and his entourage are seated by the waitress at a table close to ours. We recommend the cockles. When I spot a sort of sketchbook in the man’s hands. It showed signs ruffled pages like it is used for watercolours.

View on the cuillins, skye in magical hebridean atmosfeer refelected by a calm sea
Magical light in a mesmerizing Hebridean landscape

As the main course, we are served on a large and full plate and the salmon comes with a good dose of potatoes. A habitual smoker, as the man is, he walks to the hotel doorway again for a quick cigarette.
The conversation starts going back and forth again. I become more and more intrigued and curious by the big stack of paper he is carrying around. It looks like a home-made holy book, a precious volume that needs to be guarded. Being an enthusiastic watercolourist myself, I recognise that behaviour and bluntly ask if he is drawing and painting. He confirms my question, but the stack of drawings stays firmly by his side. I do not push on, understanding that it can be quite difficult to show someone else your fresh work. Only at the end of our dinner, when we leave and say goodbye I ask if I can find his work on the World Wide Web. One of the men in the group quickly respond and writes a name down followed by “.com”. I read slowly, “normanackroyd.com”, it does ring a bell, but I can not remember where I have seen it before.

Only a couple of days later, on the ferry back to Mallaig, I can use my phone to access the Wi-Fi and check out his website. I am very surprised, the watercolours are familiar. Half a dozen of his paintings are already on my phone. I had downloaded them a long time ago. I studied them, to learn from his incredible capacity to capture this beautiful Hebridean sea light in watercolour. And there I was thinking this man was a fisherman when we met at the doorway of a Castlebay hotel.

Later, at home, I learn that Norman Ackroyd is a very accomplished artist, his work in the collection of the Tate Gallery. I copied some of his watercolours to acquire a bit of his skill. If you would like to see some of his work check out the Eames Fine Art Gallery.

At the time of our meeting, he is 78 years old. But with this vitality, both in his work and life, the sea must be his elixir of life.

Alexander Gannet