Jennie, a wreck in a cave

The bow of Puffer Jennie, in her last resting place.

Partly due to the weather the light is already dimming out. We had an early start and some rest on the southwestern tip of Arisaig. But then late in the afternoon, we started a long crossing in some formidable waves and a strong wind. Now we move along the lee side of Isle of Eigg and everything is calm again. However, it is hard to make landfall on the rocky beaches and the grassy slopes are to steep for a tent. We keep pushing on and around 20:00h we approach the northeast point of Eigg and the Sound of Rhum. Sgorr Sgaileach, which appropriately translates from Gaelic as the Shady Hills. Here the cliffs that fall straight into the sea. Before we can circumnavigate the point we pass a cave, in it the skeletal remains of the bow of a ship. The force of the sea has the rusty corpse firmly wedged in the dark chamber. Where the hull is riveted together the heavy metal plates are not jet corroded, leaving a rough but picturesque trellis. Fascinated by the scene, I snap a few pictures with my small digital and waterproof camera. Unfortunately, the camera is already signing that it is too dark or that I am too shaky.

Back home there are two issues, a burning curiosity and some blurry pictures. The later is solved by some drawings and watercolour and results in the image above. To satisfy my curiosity, I start normally at the Canmore site (https://canmore.org.uk). The site contains information about archaeological sites, buildings, industry and maritime heritage across the whole of Scotland. By starting on the map page you can normally find the smallest cairn or mitten by just zooming in. Just get the right location on the map.

In this case, I discovered, it was the Clyde Puffer “Jennie”. She sank in February 1954 when she hit Sgorr Sgaileach. The tragedy worsened when int the spring of 1954 the Puffer “Lythe” tried to salvage cargo from the wreck of the “Jennie”. The “Lythe” did strike her and ended up on the bottom of the Sound of Rhum herself.

The Clyde Puffer VIC32 at the Crinan Canal

Puffers are stumpy little coal-fired steamboats. They were the workhorses of the Hebridean. Transporting cargo between Glasgow, through the canals and on to the islands. This “Jennie” was built in 1902. We did see one of the last two seagoing Puffers, the VIC32.

Alexander Gannet

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The zombie apocalypse.

Have you ever thought about what to do when zombies take over the world?

Arisaig beach with our kayaks on it.

Arisaig beach.

Neither did I until I met James on a beach in Arisaig.

We land our kayaks on that lovely beach on a glorious day, fully expecting not to have this gorgeous beach for our own. It is relatively close to the road and with this fine weather people will walk up to this white sandy beach with azure blue water. Just to get a Caribbean feel to your Scottish holiday.

We carry our kayaks above the tideline and change our outfit. Ready to meet the neighbours.
I found a lovely little green sea urchin and offered it to James. You know those people that you instantly connect with at first glance? It was like that with James and his girlfriend. You just know you can talk to each other for weeks without it getting boring.
James is a musician and Jen works as an architect in Edinburgh. We talk about holidays and how to spend it. He wants to know everything about kayaking and how we survive at sea, what we do for food.
When I find out that James is a blogger as well as a musician, I want to know everything about that. My secret ambition at that time is to start a blog. But I do not know how to start and to be honest, I find it all a bit daunting, I’ve never written before so properly am carp at it. My idea of social media is A-social media. So I’m not going to use it.
James encourages me by telling me he learned to write better during the years. And if I did not enjoy it I can quit any time. He has a point there. It got me thinking again. I do want to share my Scottish stories….

Fried seaweed on our stainless steal plate

A selection of fried seaweeds.

We gathered some varieties of seaweeds to experiment with earlier that day. And caught some fish. After cooking food we asked them over to join us in the seaweed tasting adventure. We put some coconut oil in the baking pan and fry the various seaweeds in it until crunchy.
The Dulse is a definite winner, fried until crunchy, it’s like a salty crisp and melted on the tongue. Surprisingly, Jap weed tastes like fatty mackerel, a bit smokey and oily and with its fine texture, a bit spaghetti-like. The larger leaves of the sugar kelp need some handing, it almost seemed to be afraid of the frying pan. It curls up when it comes in contact with the heat and the hot coconut oil. It results in some bits were nice and crispy while other bits are chewy. The Irish moss isn’t that big of a success, very chewy and tough. We knew it was supposed to be better in a bouillon but we gave it a try anyway.

It is lovely, sharing a whole new experiment, learning stuff.
But Scotland would not be Scotland if the weather didn’t spoil the party. Huge big drops of rain pour down on us and we rush into our separate tents but with new ideas and possibilities. The world has just grown a bit.

The next day when we pack our stuff and say goodbye to James and Jen. James tells us that he’s been thinking about our way of travel last night. And his conclusion was, ‘Now I know what to do when the zombie apocalypse comes, I just get into a sea kayak, do some fishing and gather seaweed.’

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If you squint real hard you just might see zombies marching onto the beach, a few beers might help aswell.

Charlotte Gannet

How to kill a fish.

Charlotte Gannet fishing with a hand spool in her kayak.

Catching fish with a hand spool

I put my index finger in one gill and my middle finger in the other. I place my thumb on the spine. I close my eyes and bent back the head of the mackerel. I hear a tearing sound, like the ripping open a seam of your favourite jeans.
The whole fish just went limp in my hands. I open my eyes and see a big red droplet of blood trickling down the left glass of my sunglasses. As I look down I see my kayak covert in blood. The same colour as my own blood. It is almost too much blood, I quickly check if I have any wounds.
I look at the silver coloured fish, so dynamic and lively as it was on the fishing line. So beautiful in the black coloured pattern on the back and the iridescent shimmering in the smooth scales.

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Beautiful iridescent skin of the macerel

‘Yeah, that looks like dinner, gut it and fish for some more!’ Alexander cheers.
‘What?’ I look up from my dazed moment contemplating the fact that I just killed a fish. I overpowered another living thing, weaker than I am. I tricked it with a shimmering piece of plastic and a hook, pretending it was food. Food, the basic necessity for all life on this earth.
Ironically, I’m going to eat it as food. How can I not have feelings about killing a fish?

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Killer kayaker

Recent scientific research has shown that fish do feel the pain of catching and when it dies of suffocation when out of the water. This knowledge changed my entire view of killing fish.
I used to catch fish and let my husband do the killing because I am a bit of a coward. But in a higher sea it is not possible to hand over a slippery fish, we tried and lost some good fish that way. In bigger waves, I would just remove the hook and leave the fish to die in my kayak. Now I know that is a horrible way for the fish to die.

Killing the fish is the most difficult thing to do when you think about it. It appeals to my conscience ‘Thou shalt not kill’. Taking a life to feed yourself. At home it is so easy, the fish is already dead and gutted when I buy it. It is neatly packed into some plastic. It is not even a fish anymore. Life has left the body, it is just flesh. But out here, I need to find my inner hunter, that ‘ eat or be eaten’ instinct. Although, I don’t think a mackerel will strike back and throw me overboard to kill me. Because it is not a big threat to human existence it makes an easy prey.
But if I choose to eat fish I better take the responsibility to kill it as quick and painless as possible. If that even exists.

But I don’t think it is sustainable to eat fish or any other animal every day. The planet can not cope with that.

I only fish with 2 hooks on my line twice a week, only catching what I eat, kill it swiftly and thank the fish for feeding me.

Eating the makerel after it is cooked in alu foil on the fire.

Eating the makerel after it is cooked in alu foil on the fire.

Charlotte Gannet

The man with bad make up.

This story is a followup on ‘I’m a weirdo and I know it’

‘Lets camp over there, at the blue car’,
‘What blue car?’ I haven’t got my glasses on so any detail in the landscape is a blur to me.
With a deep sigh, Alexander starts a description of the landscape. As always, I just don’t see it, even if I had my glasses on.
‘How did a blue car end up there, is there a road going there?’
‘No. Must be washed up there by the sea.’

As we paddle closer the picture changes. It is like looking at clouds and see what kind of shapes they make. Could it be blue plastic barrels? No, washed up plastic sheets?

The closer we come the odder the scene becomes, the heather and the Rowantree, the grass, it looks a bit unnatural. And suddenly we see a head of a man looking over one of the walls, looking angry at us. Is he going to throw rocks at us? And why is he wearing makeup?

‘What do you want!’

‘I am sorry,’ Alexander answered, ‘We were looking for a place to put up our tent for the night. But we will find another beach. Sorry for bothering you.’
This seems to be the right password. The man comes from behind the wall. I expected a big bloke, but this small man appears. He is wearing an interesting combination of a blue T-shirt and skinny orange spotted legs in big yellow wellies.
‘No, it is fine. Hi, my name is Tom. I apologize for my rudeness just now. A few nights ago I had some intruders who also came by kayak, they ignored me completely. I don’t want that to happen again.’

I get out of the kayak and shake his hand. On closer observation, he has blue eyes tattooed on his eyelids and black spots on his face. This is not a young man, he must be close to 60. I’m bursting with curiosity, but it seems inappropriate to ask a question about it just now. Alexander and Tom are chatting and I am can’t help just looking at the man. What, how, when, WHY…?

‘When you are ready, pop over to the house for tea. I will put the kettle on.’
And he walks away. What house? The derelict bothy could hardly qualify as a house.
‘Wow’, I say to Alex when he left, ‘What a character. He sounds so English, did you see his legs?’
Alexander and I change into dry clothes, put the kayaks above the high tide line and have lunch. We want to know everything about this man. How did he end up on this east coast beach on Skye?

A derelict bothy, the kind that Tom Leppard used to convert to a shelter

A ruined bothy, the kind that Tom had converted to a shelter where he could live in.

We walk over the carefully laid out narrow pebble paths in the same direction as Tom had disappeared. The blue plastic we saw from the water, turns out to be the roof cover for a low shelter made from the leftovers of the old bothy. A strong incense smell comes from a doorway.
‘That is for keeping the midgies at bay’, Tom explains.

We enter the narrow doorway and walk in a narrow room which looks like a kitchen. There is a rough wooden work surface covert with a heavy plastic sheet. Some creative use of wooden crates and stones make shelving to put his food supply in. He has a gas burner and several plastic wash basins and a colourful mix of plastic fisherman gloves. A small opening in the wall shows us another narrow room which acts as a bedroom just big enough to stretch out in. More wooden fish crates used as shelving, a black sleeping bag on a mattress. Several books and knick-knacks on the shelves and no pictures.
I am soaking up the entire scene before me. It strikes me how clean and organised the place is.

‘Coffee or tea? Tom asks. ‘Or would you rather have a beer, I also have a white Chardonnay.’
We squeeze ourselves on some improvised seats in the cramped kitchen. On the gas burner, he cooks water for coffee.
‘I’m ex-military, I served in Zaire, now called Congo, Rhodesia and South Africa. I got out in the 80ies when Maggy was in charge. I could not find a job and found civilian life difficult, so I thought “If I look like a freak and live like a freak, people will want to pay money to take pictures of me or to write about me”. So I got tattooed as a leopard.’
‘Why a leopard print?’ I ask curiously while looking at a long orange spotted arm passing me on eye level as he pours the water on the instant coffee.
‘It is the thing that the guy holding the tattoo machine could do best. And I was fine with that. But the whole thing did not go according to plan. Those management guys in London did not care about me and sent no-one to meet me.’
Really, is that the whole reason behind the choice of tattoo? So, he could have been covered with butterflies? At the same time I feel sorry for him about his big plan falling through.

‘What brought you to this east facing beach with the only sun in the morning?’ Alexander asks.
‘This had a town nearby, this bothy and fresh water, looked like I could live here, so I stayed. Twenty years now this summer.’ He avoids looking at us and stares at the 2 steaming coffee mugs. I quickly glance at Alexander and see the amazement I feel, reflected in his eyes.

‘What do you do for food?’ This I really want to know. For me, good food is important to keep up moral. I sip my coffee and look at Tom expectantly.
Well, I paddle across to town with my two kayaks. I paddle in one and fill the other up with stuff. I tow it behind my back to my beach. I shop when I need to.’
He starts to chuckle: ‘Once I had to go across and on my way back the sea was too rough. The ferry scooped me right out of the water and brought me to my beach. With kayaks and all!’
The smile revealed surprisingly healthy looking teeth, only one tooth is missing but the face relaxes a bit.
‘But what do you eat?’ I try again. I’m so full of questions but don’t want to overwhelm him.
‘I have a can of vegetable at seven o’clock in the evening. I drink two pints of beer in the morning, two pints at 12, and a rum at four o’ clock. I do buy cheese and corned beef to feed my gul.’
‘Don’t you eat bread or pasta, potatoes perhaps?’ I ask in wonder.
‘Carbohydrates will make me fat!’ he answers with conviction in his voice.
He did not have much meat on his bones. In fact, he is a tiny little man. This food regime must be working. But what about that amount of alcohol? Is he an alcoholic trying to forget certain things? But I don’t dare to ask him, he looks so fragile. How far can I push him with my questions?

‘But there is a whole sea with fish, don’t you fish? Alexander asks in amazement.
‘Cleaning fish is very messy, I don’t like messy, so I don’t eat fish.’ Tom answers practically.
‘And what about a fire?
‘I heat my can of veg on my gas burner, I’m perfectly happy with that.’
‘Not even for warmth?’ Alexander tries again.
‘If I am cold I go and lay down in my sleeping bag, but it doesn’t get very cold up here. Besides, making fires is always very messy.’

‘I’m sorry for not talking very clearly, my tongue is quite out of practice. I don’t get a lot of people around to talk to,’ Tom apologises. ‘Besides, I already talked enough for a lifetime while I was in the army, I don’t want to talk much anymore with people.’

‘Don’t you get lonely here, all on your own?’ I ask carefully.
‘No,’ He reply fiercely. ‘I used to have a job in the youth hostel in Kyle of Lochalsh but I gave that up. You know, I attract the wrong kind of attention with my looks. I’ve been beaten up on a few occasions. I don’t want that to happen anymore.’

A combination foto of the elderly Tom Leppard and an insert of his younger self

A combined photo of the elderly Tom Leppard with and insert of his younger self.

We visited him whenever we were in the neighbourhood. He would recognise us and called us “The Dutch”, but never remembered our names. There were some topics of conversation he did not like to talk about. Religion and a certain meeting he had with a German girl. There were things that were bothering him but we did not dare to ask him about. He looked so sad when the conversation went that way.
At 60 he was still looking good and was strong enough to keep the lifestyle going. Going towards his 70 he could not keep it up. He could not manage the boats to get his shopping so he went more often. The guys from the nearby fish farm were keeping an eye on him as well as the people in Kyle of Lochalsh. It was touching to see how a community takes care of someone who has chosen to live in isolation. Not the odd one out but the odd one in.
Eventually, he was offered a flat in Bradford, a small town just over the Skye bridge on Skye. We wondered how he would adapt to living in a house and all its comforts.

We found out that Tom died of old age in June 2016 at the age of 80.

P.s. Slow traveling is meeting people in their own environment. It is not always fitting to ask for a picture in that situation and we did not feel the need for it at that moment. Tom Leppard is in our memory but now, with people reading this story they can hardly believe or imagine how he would look like, is he real?

If you like to check real images, checkout the video https://youtu.be/g8-cbPLEZ58
or google images (tom leppard skye)

https://www.google.nl/search?q=tom+leppard+skye&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi828G4pYLbAhUBzqQKHfOgBa4Q_AUICigB&biw=1536&bih=760

FAQ’s on hygiene, lowering my standards

Alexander and Charlotte Gannet at the end of their holiday, dirty and smelly

Lucky that pictures do not come with scent….

How much time do you generally take to pack your suitcase when you go on holiday? How many times do you repack? And when you get home again how much did you not wear?

In a kayak, there is only so much stuff that fits in the boat. I must really put a lot of thought into what clothes to wear.

So, for the 5 weeks we will be travelling I pack;

  • 1 pair of trousers,
  • 5 pairs of underwear,
  • 3 short sleeve shirts,
  • 3 long sleeve shirts,
  • a fleece sweater,
  • 5 pair of socks,
  • 1 windproof jacket,
  • 1 wetsuit,
  • 1 jacket for paddling.

Yes, I will wear one pair of knickers for one week as well as one pair of socks. It is only bad in the first week. My body has to ‘detox’ itself from deodorant and a shower every day and other hygiene interventions. The next week my body will adapt itself and become in a more natural state. The shirt that I will be wearing in the first week I will also be wearing the next week while kayaking.

A washing line with kayak clothes in front of the tent hanging in the wind to dry on Cape Wrath

Alexander sitting in front of the tent while kayak clothes are drying in the wind, Cape Wrath.

You might ask, do you wash your clothes during the weeks?

The answer is No. But the trousers and fleece sweater have amazing self-cleaning properties. I might have sheep shit, rotten seaweed or fish oil on my trousers, a week later the stuff has vanished, isn’t that amazing? If I think that after 3 weeks my fleece might be a bit smelly, I go and sit next to a smoky fire and all smells will be gone. Luckily, Scotland does not have a very warm climate. Bad smells travel not as far in colder climates. I admit, after 5 weeks of wearing my trousers they are able to stand on its own without me in it.

Well, how about a shower or bath?

We do not encounter a lot of showers along the way. We can call ourselves lucky if we can find some fresh water to wash our faces. Sometimes I walk around with hair that will not dry because of the amount of salt water in it. I must admit, it is a great hair product. My hair looks really healthy, curly and full.

Natural stream with a deeper part, excelent to have a bath in

This was an excelent bath. Just a bit on the cold side.

When it is warm enough we wash in the cold stream. We use a cup and some soap and help each other to wash our hair and body. The most difficult part is cold water to wash my back, it sends shivers down my spine, making me gasp for breath.

If we are really lucky and we find some firewood lying around, we might wash with warm water. That would be, however, pure luxury.

Anyway, cleanliness is so overrated. Only in modern society body odour is unwanted. To wash your body daily with water and soap destroys all good bacteria. This only renders us susceptible to diseases and illnesses. When I come home I must confess that I shower every day (without soap) but it takes two weeks to get used to it. And I don’t feel as good as I feel being ‘dirty’.

Damp clothes drying in the wind on the car before packing for the way home

Damp kayak gear hanging in the wind to dry before packing them in the car for the way home.

Travelling home with a car filled with dirty and damp laundry during warm sunny weather really brings out the lovely horrible smells.

At the ferry crossing from Britain to The Netherlands I just hope that customs don’t pick out our car for a thorough search. Although, that just might be very funny.

Charlotte Gannet

‘Do you know where the shipwreck is?’

View over Calvary island where the SS Politician's bow should lay

View over the Sound of Eriskay and Calvary island.

Asked a woman when Alexander was just standing outside the tent. He turned around to see a family consisting of mum, dad, two dogs, a son and a daughter wearing purple wellies and a pink raincoat. I peeked through the tent-opening and saw the girl hopefully looking up to Alexander, smiling, showing teeth too big for her small face. The long blond hair peeking out from under the rain hoody.

How on earth got this little girl, with her family, in the rain on this outcrop of the island? And I in my mindeye I began to see the story that brought her to this spot.

I Imagined how she went with mum and dad to the pub for lunch yesterday. It was alright, fish and chips and her favourite soft drink, which she drank slowly with a straw while watching the raindrops trickling down the windows of the pub. The island Eriskay is boring for a girl like her at that age, the pub is boring, her brother definitely was boring.
While mum and dad were having coffee she looked at the black and white pictures on the wall. A boat with a load of people around it.
There was an elderly man in the pub with a few stories to tell.
‘You know what that is?’ Asked the elderly man with a pint of beer sitting next to the picture.
She shook her blond head with the straw still in her mouth.
‘Well, it’s the SS Politician, she was on her way to Kingston in Jamaica with a shipload of whiskey on board when she came in a pretty bad storm. In the early hours of Thursday, 5th of February 1941, just of Roshinish point, 150 yards from Calvary island. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was just a wee lad of 8 years old…

ss politician in full glory

The SS Politician in better days.

Mesmerized she must have been listening to the man, was it the soft Gaelic accent or the tone of his voice? It was as if she was there in 1941. The Islanders opening their houses for the shipwrecked crew. How the islanders smuggled the bottles of whiskey from the shipwreck. How they played tricks on the customs men and the police when they were hiding the whiskey and other stuff they looted from the ship. How everyone on the island was drunk for a month…. Her little-girl world suddenly became adventurous and exciting.
And as a proud Eriskay islander he ended his story with:
‘If you are very lucky you might find a whiskey bottle somewhere on the island. Not all were found again, you know, after hiding them,’ he said with a twinkle in his eyes.
‘You can still see the shipwreck today, just on the northeasterly tip of the island at low tide.’
The man looked around with a knowing smile and taped with his wrinkled finger under his eye. The entire pub was silent. The girl snapped out of the enchantment when everyone started clapping and thanking the man for the story.

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Islanders with their little boats full of goodies

‘Mum’, she asked as they were driving home to the self-catering cottage, ‘can we go and see the shipwreck tomorrow?’
‘Well, I don’t know. Let’s see what the weather is like. I thought we were going to Kildonan museum’
‘But I want to see the shipwreck’, she whined pouting her lip.
‘We will see tomorrow morning.’

That evening she was drawing pictures of the sea and a purple boat with smoke, a big rock and small boats and a rainbow with ‘Whisky Galore’ written in it. I imagine mum had to help with the writing.

Early that morning when some daylight was hesitantly poking through the curtains, she heard the soft rain on the roof. She tiptoed barefoot in her pink pyjamas through the house to her parent’s bedroom and slipped into the bed, to snuggled up against to her mother’s warm body as little girls do.
‘Can we go to see the shipwreck today’, she asked softly.
Her mother moaned and stirred a little.
‘Talk about…breakfast’, mum said in half sleep and sighed deeply.

‘What are we going to do today?’ her brother asked while having breakfast
‘Well, your sister wants to see the shipwreck.’
‘But it’s raining and I thought we were going to the Kildonan museum. She always gets her way, it is unfair.’
‘We might be able to combine the two, besides, we will have to walk the dogs’
‘I don’t want to see a stupid shipwreck’, her brother said and folded his arms over his chest.
‘Too bad, you don’t have to look at it, you can do the dog walking while we go and see the wreck. Deal?’

She did not care about the rain and put on her purple wellies and pink raincoat. She skipped and hoped from stone to stone. Flew up and down the hill, running after the dogs, while mum and dad walked with bend head against the wind and rain in their wellies. The north-east side of the island was in view, almost there!

On her way to the the remote landpoint there was a tent, a man standing outside of it and a woman peeking her head out the small opening.
‘Do you know where the shipwreck is?’ asked mum. ‘It should be around here somewhere.’
‘Well, I haven’t seen one’, said the man,‘and we came from South Uist yesterday by kayak.’
‘Oh, I see.’ She looked at her daughter from whom face the expectant smile was dripping off. Shoulders sagging down with disappointment.
‘Is it low water yet?’ Mum asked.
‘Yes, thereabouts. It still has 1 hour to go.’

She walked onto the beach. It must be there, it must be! That old man said so.’ Her little wellies were slowly sinking in the soft sand, the rain drizzled down on her raincoat. Was the water still going down? There were no big waves, the wreck should be visible any minute now.
‘Mummy, what time is it?’
‘We still have 15 minutes to low tide.’
‘There is no shipwreck, is there?’ she said staring at the water with tears in her eyes.
‘I don’t think so, honey’ her mum said softly.
She wiggled her wellies out of the sand, turned around resolutely. And walked away with angry steps. On her way she passed 2 kayaks, one was purple, her favourite colour, but she did not take a second glance at the bloody stupid plastic things.

View over Calvary island with the kayaks

View over the Sound of Eriskay with kayaks.

Without waiting for her parents and brother she walked back in de direction where she came from, yelling over her shoulder, ‘I never want to go to back to that pub, again!’

Her words echoed over the water, reaching the two kayakers at the tent, who simultaneously looked up, where they saw the little girl running over the hills and yelling to the big, big sea.

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

As dangerous as a visit to my mother-in-law

Charlotte Gannet in kayak followed by Basking shark in South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Charlotte Gannet followed by a Basking shark in South Uist, Outer Hebrides.

‘Are you sane?’ she asks when we tell her we will round the Mull of Kintyre the next day. We are not surprised by the question, ‘Is that not dangerous?’ It is regularly asked when we arrive somewhere with our kayaks. People and especially my mother-in-law, think that we risk our lives when we go out on the ocean with our kayaks. The perception is that that we are adrenaline junkies involved in extreme sports and having a deathwish. But is it so dangerous compared to some of the more accepted hobbies? In this blog post, we will put the dangerous reputation of sea kayaking into perspective.

So first of all, to put the risks in perspective, we need a measurement to compare different events in our life. Luckily for us a Stanford professor, Ronald A. Howard created a tool in the 1970s [2]. He introduced the micromort – a one-in-a-million chance of acute death. This equals the same chance as tossing a coin and getting 20 heads in a row.

Then we need some solid statistics and a good sample size. The Netherlands is too small as a country, and not many kayakers die while practising the sport. For a good sample size, it’s easier to look at a large country and with the statistics freely available. America seemed to fit the bill. The American Canoe Association keep a well-stocked site with all the statistics we need on one page.

In 2014, the USA has 13 million kayakers [1], which are participating in the sport. On average they made 8.1 trips. Unfortunately, about 75 of them died during their trips. So to calculate the micromort for a kayak trip we divide the number of fatalities by the number of trips. The total number of trips in the US is 13 x 8.1 = 105 million, with 75 fatalities. So a day of paddling will add 0.71 micromorts of risk to your life.

For sea kayakers, the statistics become even better. According to Plyler [3], sea kayakers account for around 5% of the total paddle sports deaths. So if we take the 167 paddle sports fatalities of 2016, only nine would have died while paddling on the sea. According to the 2015 special report on paddlesports [1] 2.9 million people were participating in tour/sea kayaking and had an average of 8.1 outings. Which makes a day off sea kayaking about 0.4 micromorts per trip.

So what does that mean? Is sea kayaking an extreme sport? Let’s start with a high-risk sport, climbing Mt. Everest is 37,932 micromorts. That is about 150 years of kayaking. Skydiving, with 10 micromorts is still not close to sea kayaking. Scuba diving in the UK is also 10 micromorts. But The British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) shows that training and preparation can help in limiting the risks. Their training has the emphasis on rescue training very early in the programme. Limiting the risk per dive to 5 micromorts.

Dark goat skull in a window with a brighty lit landscape in the background, in Ensay, Outer Hebrides

Vanitas, still life on Ensay

Sea kayaking is a very safe sport as long as you are properly trained and equipped. Sea kayaking has its dangers, drowning and hypothermia – falling into the cold water when not wearing a wetsuit or a personal flotation device are the biggest killers. Not capsizing means training for a solid kayak technic and knowing your environment. Understanding the weather patterns and tidal currents are necessary not to end up in wind and wave conditions beyond your limits.
We experienced only one capsize in 600 days at sea, and that was caused by inattentiveness influenced by the use of an antibiotic. The only thing that got hurt was an ego but the problem was quickly solved by a partner rescue.

To get back to the comparison, more acceptable sports, for example running a marathon is 7 micromorts and according to some statistics riding a bicycle is more dangerous than a day of paddling.

From time to time, my mother-in-law shudders with fear at the idea of us paddling on the ocean. So when she expressed her unhappiness I told her jokingly “If you don’t like us doing dangerous stuff, I won’t drive the highway between you and me. I believe that’s more dangerous than kayaking in Scotland”. If we drive to her by car, it takes about 290 km, which calculates to 0.81 micromorts, a little bit more than a day of kayaking. Funny enough, it is much more acceptable that Charlotte’s brothers ride on a motorcycle. But when her brother rides his motorbike, just to wish Charlotte a happy birthday, he adds 33 micromorts of risk to its life, that is more than our whole holiday combined!

Tell us, are you surprised and how “dangerous” is your life?

Alexander Gannet

[1] 2015 Special Report on Paddlesport
http://www.americancanoe.org/resource/resmgr/General-documents/OIF_PaddlesportsResearch_201.pdf

[2] Ronald A. Howard (1989) International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care
Microrisks for Medical Decision Analysis

[3] Jennifer L. Plyler, Ph.D. American Whitewater, March/April 2001
American Whitewater Boating Non-motorized human powered Boating
Safety Report: 1995-1998,

The lazy way to calculate a micromort: http://rorystolzenberg.github.io/micromort-calculator/

All other statistics from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micromort

The love boat

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A ship is always safe at the shore, but that is not what it’s built for.

— Albert Einstein or John A. Shedd.

I always tell my kayaking students, jokingly, ‘the best thing about this sport is that it allows me to yell and scream at my spouse’. And it is true, a rough sea and strong wind demand short, loud and well verbalised commands. But there is more to it. So in this blogpost, I will dig into the way’s, how getting your feet wet with your significant other will built a state of strong emotional attachment or love.

The landscape we travel through, with its rough exterior, it’s old ways and it’s fascinating lighting, invokes not only feelings of romanticism towards it, but also to each other. During our ‘working life’ Charlotte and I already do a lot together; walking, inline skating, kayaking and cycling are part of our standard routine. We always share our dinner. But over here, in this rough landscape and the self-reliant way of travelling, the relationship becomes more symbiotic. It would be so much harder to do this alone and there is a real need to tune into each other’s state of mind, especially during exciting sea states.

I truly noticed this romantic aspect when we took a friend on the two first weeks of our Orkney trip. She was a single woman at the time. Somehow, at least not continuous, I did hold a more reserved pose towards Charlotte. Less holding hands, fewer kisses. When the friend left and we were together again the trip became this over compensated, sweet, sticky romantic thing. Later, to explain it to a good friend, I described these three weeks as ‘The Love Boat experience, just like in the television series from the 1990’s’. So let’s explore our different facets to this love story.

One of the most simple aspects I see are the shared stories we created together. The encounters, with people and wildlife. The romantic sunsets and enchanting landscapes we linger along. The tough and testing times and circumstances we suffer. It builds a shared narrative and forms the basis of a strong “We-ness”. Besides the narrative that grows there is also the learning by experience together, that bonds. We are so used to teachers teaching us, where knowledge is transferred from a person with knowledge to one without. But out there you explore and experience together and learning becomes bouncing concepts and ideas of each other and therefore the learning is experienced as growing together.

But, like it is with all cruises, it’s a package deal and has limited space. Being locked in by the rain on a 1.2m by 2.1m tent floor, less space than our double bed at home, for a whole day. It requires flexibility in both limbs and mindset. Wiggling around each other to get some form of cooking done, arms through a small hole underneath the tent seam, a dangerous flame of the petrol stove just outside the tent. This excitement is alternated with the more intimate moments of trying to have a wee in a decapitated cider bottle on your knees in the cramped vestibule of the tent. Yes, normalising new standards, it’s all part of the game. For example; when I said once, ‘I love you’ after dinner, Charlotte said ‘Why?’. My only answer at that particular moment was ‘I love you because you believe that spoon is clean enough to use next time after you lick it off’. Like it is normal to do the dishes in that way.

Part of the package deal is also dealing with each other’s negative moods. I can be too eager and willing to move faster. Being with me for more than half a day stuck in the tent can be a pain. But the worst flaw in my nature is the dreadful cases of going home blues. Silent or emotional, with strong mood swings. I hate returning home. Charlotte, on the other hand, can be indecisive at times and in an ‘I want to go but not too wet please’ mode after a day stuck on shore by wind or rain. In most cases, there is no winning decision in that situation and it can clash with my impatiens. So it is a case of acceptance, not aggregating the mood too much and learning to ignore the unworkable bits of each other.

For me tuning in Charlotte’s state of mind is a key component for a safe journey. As part of the navigation, on and off the water, there is always the check; how much is too much. I really had to learn, a challenging day is not measured in wave height alone. Three days after we passed the Great Race, in high waves we crossed to Colonsay in relatively small waves. But Charlotte’s perception was the complete opposite of mine.

Rest me to only tell you about the symbiotic aspect of the relationship/journey. In the testing conditions of camping in Scotland, there can be a need for a fierce efficiency. Outrunning the rain in putting the tent up or cooking on the fire with limited space and a sandy ‘counter top’. It requires constant cooperation the one keeping the fire going and cooking while the other is cutting the vegetables in the right order and pace.

So who would have known that one of the good tips for relationship building would have been to carry a 75-kilogram kayak over often slippery rocks and twice a day? Some of the readers might say: “this is not possible with my significant other!”, but remember you have to train. I started with the simple stuff; like just catching her bicycle after a strenuous uphill climb on route to Santiago de Compostela.

One thing that shocked me the most is that she stopped taking my love tokens. I like to beach-comb her heart shaped boulders and stones. But Charlotte believes my love will sink her ship.

 

Charlotte I love you!

 

Alexander.

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