Plovers

Piping Plover with kayaks in the background.
Piping Plover with kayaks in the background.

‘Oh, there is a nice grubby there, let’s run to it. Oh no the wave is coming, let’s run back. Oh, there is a great jummy grubby there, let’s run to it now the water is gone, Oh no, the water is coming, let’s run back. You see that grubby there? Let’s….. Read more

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Move with me!

Hi guys, it has been a while since my last post. I decided it was time to create a self-hosted website. This has been quite a learning curve but I’m proud to present my creation.

Not exactly dead, but migrated to the other site.

And now the big reveal….Ta-ta-da-da….https://allexclusivecruises.com/

Please tell me what you think!

Once I know how to move you to my new website, I will pack your waterproof bag and paddle you there!
But if you are afraid of the water you can always decide not to get into the boat and stay behind.

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 divorce

Our blue mini campervan overlooking Maclean’s nose on Ardnamurchan

I felt a bit of a struggle coming up when we drove back from Orkney. The paddle of the clutch was not responding all that well. It kept sticking. Overall it sounded a bit unwell. I thought it caught a Scottish cold or something. The indicator lights didn’t flash up when needed and the headlight sometimes just switched off for no apparent reason. All signs that the car was definitely a bit under the weather. I opened up the hood to check for problems but no problem was found. I checked the wiring, everything was fine. Perhaps it is a bit of oxidation on some switch or whatever, of the Scottish salty air. Just like other years, the problem will wear off with use, I’m sure.

But when the door handle of the side door broke off while camping on the Black Isle, I really was concerned. Is the car shutting me out! Am I not taking good care of my car, did I leave it alone for too long in Scotland? Is it physical or a mental problem? After some checking the internet I found I could fix the door problem for 10 euro. Great stuff. All is well again.

As we drive to Hull to catch the ferry back to the Netherlands, we hear the car crying. A high pitched crying sound comes from under the bonnet. It probably does not want to go home. Just like Alexander, it’s got ‘going-home-blues’. With handkerchiefs, I try to comfort it. Some small oily tears are dripping out of the engine onto the pavement.
The engine sounds normal but the pain is in the gearbox. When squeezing the clutch the crying starts. We drive off the ferry and limp home in our injured car, hoping it will make it home.

Back home we must consult a car doctor. Luckily my brother in law is an excellent car doctor but the diagnosis is not encouraging. All the reparations costing well over 1500 euros!! OMG.

Well, uh, just that, €1500,00.
OK, that is too much reality all of a sudden.
What to do now? Do we repair the car or do we need a replacement?

But this car has been with us for ten years! She has brought us to France and Scotland. I felt safe in her while sleeping in the back and safe while driving on the motorway. I’ve got pictures of us together on our holiday. And she would start on cold wintery mornings without complaining. It is my lovely dependable blue car and I’m quite attached to it even though she is dented on all sides including the roof, she still looks lovable to me. Every dent and scratch has its own story to tell. What is 1500 euro in a friendship like this?

Our blue mini campervan used as a drying rack.
Our bleu mini campervan used as shelter for the rain.

But at the end of the day, I am looking out for a different vehicle while my little blue car stood hopelessly on the driveway. Looking at me with sad headlights and unable to stop me in my efforts to replace it.

The more I am looking out for a new car the more distance becomes between me and the blue car. It must have felt it because I noticed it had a flat tyre. Like it was the last thing it could do to get some attention, love and care from me. A bit annoyed, I change the tire and patience is running out. I have no time for a whining car, I need a working car!!

I took Alexander out to look at some new cars and found one that met all our needs!! How exciting!!!
We went out for a test drive, it felt great. She is a lovely German reddish brunette, slightly bigger than our blue car and it sits 5 people. Lots of windows and well insulated. It is love at first sight, butterflies in my stomach. The blue car is just a vague memory now.
We can not resist her good looks and comfort and decide to buy her. We sit down for the deal and the salesman starts talking about trading in the old car….

There is this interesting mix of emotions going on within me:

  • All excitement of the buying of the new and much better car and spending lots of money.
  • This is how it must feel when you get into a midlife crisis. Replacing the old model to a new one. There is a little guild in the background.
  • No feelings for the old car, flog it for the best positive price. The car is a thing, not a person where I might have emotional feelings for!!
  • But how do you say goodbye to a trusted friend who brought us to all our holiday destination? I just don’t know….

It makes me feel a bit giddy.
Even though I try to talk positively about the blue car, the nice bright colour, the low mileage, the air conditioning and the neatness of the interior, it doesn’t weigh up to the engine problems and the dent and scratch issues.
And my feelings towards my little blue car change from affection to business-like cold hard cash.

Next week we go to pick up our nice new lovely car. I talk to the blue car one last time.
‘Now listen blue car, I am going to bring you to a nice matchmaker who will take good care of you. He will put you on Car Tinder and you will be speed dating in no time. Don’t cry!! In the end you will be much happier in a new relationship!’

Our blue minicampervan at twilight

Climbing Ben Nevis

The view from the top of Ben Nevis

O noooo, wind force 8 predicted…and I am in a kayak on Cape Wrath!!! We must escape before the storm hits the coast! Early in the morning we get in the boats and sneak off to Durness just before the storm.

With still a week of holiday left, we travel down to Fort William to visit a friend. When I have more time to think and dream the most terrible ideas pop into my head. So I thought it a good idea to climb Ben Nevis. I have this urge to climb the Munro even though it goes against my better judgement. I know I am the worst ever hillwalker ever. But sometimes you got to break through your own restricting thoughts and JUST DO IT.

Alexander thought I had gone completely bonkers but supported the idea. As a matter of fact, he relished at the idea and he’s a really good hillwalker.

My Scottish friend encouraged me by saying: ‘Charlotte, you’re so fit after kayaking for 5 weeks. Ben Nevis will be a piece of cake for you! The path is very clear; there is just no chance of getting lost’. He estimated it would only take 3 hours to go up and 3 to come down again. He promised to cook a good dinner.

I was completely convinced, I’m going to walk up like it is a beach stroll. No doubt about that.

The next day we left early to start the climb. We had some good weather, not too hot or too cold. It was perfect.

The path was very clear. A giant Stairmaster with irregular steps lay ahead of me. A challenge for every fitness freak. With an optimistic spirit, I started my climb. We were not the only people walking up. Families and people of all ages walked up. Some on very insensible shoes and clothes.

After half an hour I seriously questioned my sanity, why did I think this was a good idea? I am out of breath and my legs are protesting against the exercise.

Charlotte Gannet climbing the stairs up Ben Nevis

After an hour I wanted to go back because I was really tired, the sweat is dripping from my face and I blame Alex for having this stupid idea of climbing Ben Nevis. But Alexander talked me out of that and I struggled on.

“Walk at your own pace”, Alex encouraged me while he skipped from stone to stone like a mountain goat without any effort.

After 2 hours I found a rhythm. I pushed through. On 2/3rd of the climb, the Stairmaster goes over in a flat zigzag path going up to the top. I do not have to lift my legs high up; the walk up became relatively easier. I ignore all the sign my body gives, trying to convince me to stop. My calves are burning. A stubborn will to reach the top pushes me on. I am going to push through the pain, mind over matter!! You go girl!!

And there I was, on the top of that damned hill. I had fucking done it. Ha, the world’s worst hillwalker is standing on top of Ben Nevis!

I am high on dopamine from the exercise on the highest Munro of Scotland.

And the view was……misty and murky.  I thought being with your head is a cloud would be a different view. Bright and clear. But between the fog patches, I see some of the views from the top.

It is considerably colder on the top.We put on some warmer clothes, have some food and looked around. There are some structures of an old weather station on the top. Imagine walking up Ben Nevis every day to go to work….

It took us four hours to walk up the hill. Now we were thinking of descending. Surely that would go faster than walking up.

Wrong, it took 4 hours to walk down. And I dare say much harder. When walking down your body weight is behind every step and gravity pushes me down even more.

The realization of not escaping the 4-hour walk is a tough one. There is no one to pick me up by car/bike/wheelbarrow. I have to make every step on my own, one foot in front of the other. And there is the Stairmaster!! My knees are shaking with each step. I don’t want to sit down to rest a bit in case I cannot stand up again.

Charlotte Gannet decending Ben Nevis

It is around 4 o’clock when I am struggling down when I see lunatics running up the hill, running, they must be mad. This zombie is happy when she reaches the car without collapsing halfway. I have this disconnected feeling that my head is not in contact anymore with my body. This mantra going on in my head like ‘ the car, the car, the car’

And there it was! Our lovely blue car where I can sit in so my body doesn’t have to carry itself, and moves without me doing anything…..lovely!! Just a few meters more, two, OMG this is heaven!

I was not able to enjoy my home cooked dinner. Was a lousy dinner guest. Sleeping was not comfortable. I could not walk for three days. We went kayaking but after 3 kilometres Alexander had to tow me back. Walking Ben Nevis was quite a shock to the system. I think it is confirmed; I am more a seagull that a mountain goat.

Charlotte Gannet

May the fish be with you.

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Kayaking makes you hungry. We had some romantic ideas and mouth-watering dreams about catching fish as we went. Easy peasy, fish swim by them self, no need to carry extra weight. Just throw out a line and catch fish, simple…..

Or not…..It took us three years to learn how to seriously catch fish.

We both have a hand fishing line. A round spool bought in Greece with 25 meter of fishing line and 3 hooks. We make our own lures with some recycling of silvery insides of coffee bags and a small red tube that once belonged to a sunbed. This reuse house thrift really works!

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When we tried fishing in the first year we had no clue on how to go about catching a fish. We tried trawling the line behind our boat. We were very fanatic and we really thought that we would catch fish. All we got was in a better shape because towing the line was heavy work. But no fish. The hooks were too close to the water surface and we did not catch anything.

In the last days of the trip, we saw two fishermen in a boat moving a line with a heavy weight on the end, up and down in a stationary spot. And they got loads of mackerel. We asked advice on how to catch fish. First, they made good fun of our lead weight, it was way too small in their opinion. They told us to fish at a deep level closer to the bottom and to use a heavier lead.

The fisherman, feeling a bit sorry for us, threw our cockpit full of mackerel. On the beach, we altered our fishing equipment. We found some rusty nuts lying around on the beach and put them on the line to make it heavier.

But the good advice did not land us much more fish in the first year.

The next year we ended up in a fishing competition, grandparents with grandchildren in boats catching mackerel by the dozen. They advised us to look for a headland in the landscape because that is where the water flows a bit faster. Right, that was good advice. And we lowered our fishing line at the same spot as the competition. This really worked and we had a good mackerel dinner.

But the luck did not last. Fishing on a headland and a heavy line and in deep water wasn’t a guaranty for success. Fishing took us hours and we got cold while doing it.

The third year we asked a local fisherman why we were not always successful. He told us that the hour before and after high tide and the first hour after low tide is the best time for fishing. We gave that a go and it worked!!

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When in Scotland act like the Scottish! Good advice. But be sure to talk to the locals on tips and tricks when fishing.

Nowadays fishing only takes us about 15 minutes for a good mackerel dinner. And when the fish is not ‘on’ it means there is no fish to be caught, not the right place or not the right time. Better move on.

Like a virgin -touched for the very first time

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I made it through the wilderness
Somehow I made it through
Didn’t know how lost I was
Until I found……

-Madonna-

It’s intriguing how some text sometimes sounds so appropriate with the experience you have. After the very first day at sea, on our own, it felt like the first bit of the lyrics of this Madonna song. I was touched, to the point of being emotional by the awe and beauty of the scenery. I also felt relieved, although I was quite well prepared for the navigation, I still didn’t know what to expect. But at the end of the day, it all came together, like I found my passion.

Although fanatically*, we kayaked for just under two years now. The sea trips we made were visits across the Wadden, to the islands north of the Netherlands. Most of them, however, were guided by others. In the spring I had carefully introduced our club instructors to the idea that we were going to paddle in Scotland and they were not surprised or worried.

Starting this holiday in the Great Glen looked like the safe option, only to discover that Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy provide very little shelter from wind and waves. Also, the Caledonian Canal was quite hard to paddle. You are not allowed into the locks with your kayak, so there’s a lot of portage with heavy boats. Fed up with the locks we were eager to start on our sea trip and did quit the Caledonian Canal at the Gairlochy Top Lock.

So after a top-up of supplies in Fort William, we pack the boats near Strontian at the “Ceann Loch” (meaning head of the Loch) of Loch Sunart. This is our very “own” first trip on tidal water and we are excited. I have studied the Yachtsman’s Pilot to the Isle of Mull (Imray, Martin Lawrence) to the last letter.

The trip along the shores of Loch Sunart is pleasant. The narrow channel at Eilean Mor creates some interesting currents on the ebb tide. We also encounter our first seals, who are popping the curious noses out of the water when we pass. After the lunch and pushed along by the flood, we dodge the submerged rocks at Coal Charna on the east side of Carna. The eddies and whirlpools draw the rocks out on the water’s surface. In most cases, we could also pass over them in our kayaks but we are careful, courtesy of the current we have 2 knots of extra speed.

We enter Loch Teacuis for a good exploration. The flood drives us to the head of the loch. Returning to the direction of Carna is more of a challenge. Halfway, at a narrow section, there is a threshold of water, with the water level on the outside of the loch clearly higher. We need to push hard to get out of southern part of Loch Teacuis. At Eilean Chulaig we are out again and there is time to relax. The scenery all around us is breathtaking; the sun shines on the rugged wilderness, cute little seal pups with lovable faces surround us on the water, on the island fluffy Herring gull chicks waddle through the purple heather. Touched by the awe of the moment and relieved by the belief that we will be capable to successfully complete the trip, I am overwhelmed by emotion and it’s hard to hold back a tear that rolls over my cheek. All the training, all the preparation and all the reading about overfalls and submerged rocks, had built up into an apprehension and excitement. But now I could let it go, here in this moment of beauty and wonder. We found something that we really loved doing.

We leave Eilean nan Gabhar and start our approach to Carna, the island where we will sleep. The pilot states for this area; “The passages either side of Carna are among the trickiest bits of rock-dodging anywhere on the west coast, and there is still some doubt about the position of some of the rocks. In both passages, the tidal stream runs at 2 1/2 knots spring”. Still, we meet a man standing on the bow of his quarter million motor yacht. He shouts at us in despair “Do you have any idea what the safe passage is here?”. I can only tell him, that this is not the best place to be with a boat like his and that he should take a kayak or read his pilot.

While I bag my first Scottish Island, I think to myself; do not be afraid to go, the rewards are great. But practice your kayak skills and for the navigation bit; study like a nerd, from a book if that is all you have. You always can cut down on the information bit by bit, when you observe the system and get to know it more and more.

 

*By fanatically, I mean, kayaking twice a week and with a lot of courses and larger trips. Our training area is the Rhine river where large barges and the current make unpredictable waves and eddies. We had about 4000 km under the belt before we left for Scotland. As someone who is instructing people in the art of kayaking myself now, I can see that it’s difficult to reach a level where it’s comfortable to do your own trips out at sea, within two years. Besides the ‘on the water’ experience, I also studied a lot about navigation and the sea. I would suggest that you always consult an instructor or experienced kayaker before you set out and conquer the sea.