Terror Tern!

There is nothing like arriving in a tern colony with your kayak. The overactive black and white nimble birds fly in groups over the beach while screaming loudly. They are like swarming nationalistic hooligans screaming all sorts …..Read more

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Seal choir

Seals on the rocks basking in the sun
Cozy gathering of seals.

Wowowowowo
Now, repeat after me…
Wowowowowo, more like a howling dog but not that loud. Just a bit softer, wowowowo.
Now, let’s make it more playful. You do the wowowo-part and I will do only wo but make it a prolonged wooooooooo. This can either be…. Read more.

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

The secret world of Highland cows

The herd of Highland cow's in front of Guirdile bothy on Rhum
The herd of Highland cow’s in front of Guirdile bothy on Rhum

When approaching the island of Rhum from the north side we usually paddle to the bothy of Guirdile. It is a very nice bothy on a shingle beach with a good water source passing the house to the sea. It’s not a good idea to put a tent up even though the grass looks excellent for it. On the grass grazes a herd of highland cattle, and they eat or lick about anything. We strip our boats from everything of the deck because the cows will eat/lick it. We found that out when we left a green bag made of fisherman’s rope attached on the boat. The plastics knotted thing was gone the next day and we only saw a bit of green string dangling down from one of the cow’s mouth.
They just love the salty taste of the gear, they lick the entire boat clean from salt if given the chance. A tent is most likely to get the same treatment, a good thorough wash and probably missing a few strings.

Highland cattle
Just look at those cute faces, full of mischief.

The bothy is very comfortable and ranks high on the list among walkers visiting the island. It has a large area upstairs and 2 rooms downstairs where you can have some good fires in the hearth. Through the windows, we have watched beautiful sunsets over Canna in the evening and sometimes otters can be spotted playing and food gathering on the beach. After some tea or something stronger, it’s time for bed. Not a sound is to be heard. Until….I sit up straight in my sleeping bag, what is that sound?
A rasping noise woke me up like someone is rubbing a stone against the house. My imagination gets the better of me and I imagine ghosts of the people who once lived here or men with evil intentions, sharpening their axes on the house. Are the zombies finally taking over the world? Could it be something simple like the wind?

Guirdile bothy and ruined houses
There used to be more houses on Guirdile but only one survived.

It turned out to be the cows who like to use the corners of the bothy as scratching posts. But why in the middle of the night! Don’t cows sleep?

Highland cows
Just look at the size of those horns! And they are a bit clumsy with them.

Say yes to the dress!!!

Charlotte Gannet wearing a wetsuit and having lunch.
Charlotte Gannet wearing a wetsuit and having lunch.

OMG! What am I going to wear? Most girls know this panic before going on holiday. Especially, when wearing the outfit for 5 weeks, do you go for functional or fashionable? So let me take you around my kayak wardrobe and the thoughts behind it.

Well, let me start with fashionable. Of course, we are on prime beach fronts, but the deserted island we like are inhabited by two and a half sheep. So a fancy suit is maybe not high on my priority list. I am more looking for functionality.

So do we have options? Yes of course. For the non-kayakers, some regular outdoor clothing and a pair of green English wellies might sound like a good option. However, cold water and weather combined with sea spray and incidental capsizes should be taken into consideration. So to add some safety to our endeavours, the only valid options are dry-suits or wetsuits.

The drysuits keep the water out and seem to be the more fashionable statement at the moment. This fashion comes at a cost of about 600 euro and up. A wetsuit is made from neoprene and comes at a cost of approximately 65 euro. But costs aren’t everything, there are more things to consider….

Suit comfort
A drysuit keeps me perfectly dry. Water can’t come in, and it can’t go out. Excellent in cold weather, not so nice in hot weather. Imagine a wearable sauna. Getting in and out of a drysuit is like a rebirthing experience, the narrow cuffs around the neck, wrists and ankles are really very tight.
A tight-fitting wetsuit stretches with all my movements. But it doesn’t dry very fast, on cold day’s I got to wiggle into a cold and wet suit. Luckily my body heat warms it up pretty fast.

More suit comfort
A drysuit is a nightmare if you need to pee while kayaking. The zipper sits not anatomically in the right position in the suit. A wetsuit can be altered to have a zipper on the right spot and thus making peeing easy.

Suit abuse
I can throw my wetsuit over barbwire and there won’t be any holes in it. I don’t recommend doing this with a drysuit. One hole in a drysuit and the suit has to be fixed by a specialist. I can sew my wetsuit with a sewing machine and alter the suit myself.

Suit management.
A drysuit is great, it dries very easily even when it’s a bit salty. A wetsuit doesn’t really get dry when using it on the sea. It is the salt in the water, you see, it doesn’t get dry. And there is not enough Scottish sunshine to dry the suit.

Suit safety
A drysuit is very safe, it keeps me warmer when I’m lying in the cold Atlantic for an hour. But kayaking a sport where I supposed to be in a kayak…. So it is very good against hyperthermia but not so good when overheating by kayaking in 30 degrees.
A wetsuit is sufficient when I’m planning to stay in the kayak and not too much in the water. I can make the suit wet when the weather is hot and not too wet when the weather is cold.

Charlotte Gannet jumping on Little Green holm, Orkney. Happy that she is wearing a wetsuit.
Charlotte Gannet jumping on Little Green holm, Orkney. Happy that she is wearing a wetsuit.

Suit looks
I look so much better is a slinky black wetsuit instead of a bulky loos fitting drysuit.

Charlotte Gannet

To pee or not to pee, that is the question…

Alexanders pen drawing after Rembrand's 'Man making water'
Alexanders pen drawing after Rembrand’s ‘Man making water’

Men are already ‘designed’ in a way that it is easy to make a device that lets you make water in the boat. A cheap, one euro PVC insert from your local DIY store, some old bicycle inner tube and a plastic sanitary towel bag, does the trick.

This is an image, I reproduced from an etching by Rembrandt. It’s a nice introduction to the next story. Actually, this story is not about men but about a woman making water. We perceive the British as polite, and at the same time, after crossing the Minch or any another four or five-hour crossing, they ask curiously “But what if you have to go?”. They look at Charlotte with that question because for girls it is much more difficult to pee in a kayak then for men. So for those whose imagination is triggered, this is the story.

However, for Charlotte, and for woman in general, it is a different story. Even before we went to Scotland, paddling from the Dutch Wadden back to the mainland, on a 25 km crossing we discovered that it is important that you can relief yourself while kayaking. The first step into a successful pee in the kayak for women is a suit with a zipper on the right anatomic position. Not many suits have that luxury for women, You need to be handy with a sewing machine and a zipper of around 35 cm. With the zipper installed, it was easy, the weather was absolutely calm and the water flat. We rafted the two kayaks together and Charlotte threw one leg over my kayak opened up the zipper in the suit and peed between the boats. We concluded this would not be an option in anything above a force two Beaufort.

We know a few female club members, who just drinks less and solve the problem of going by not going. But on a five-week trip, this is a dangerous and unhealthy solution.
We looked for a ready-made solution in outdoor shops, I mean, there must be more girls with this problem, right? We found the Uribag and for our first couple of years, Charlotte used this device.

The Uribag

But the uribag was not always successful, urine could escape over the rim of the device because of the sitting position.Unfortunately, the thing was a little bit big and had to be stored in the deck bag, between all the fishing gear. After using it for four years, when rounding the Mull of Oa, it slipped off the deck and disappeared into the deep. A big disappointment, not only because it littered a beach on Islay but also because the Uribag is not cheap (about €24) and we were far from any form of an outdoor shop to buy a new one. Panic, what to do now?

The only solution was for me to become the creative handyman. With an old Marmite jar found on the beach, a small plastic bag and an elastic band I crafted a replacement. The plastic jar was first modelled with a knife and later sculpted with some heat from a lighter. It was a crude device, modelled after its predecessor. Charlotte, however, was impressed and the device was more successful than the first one!

This made my engineering curiosity flame up. Back home, I decided to do some research. At first, it was not so easy, I learnt some very strange things and visited some very dodgy websites…
The solutions I found was for woman visiting festivals trying to avoid dirty toilet seats by peeing standing up and ill ladies confined to their beds. Useful, but not where I was looking for.

Then one day I spotted a glider, soaring high in the sky. I realised that the girl-pilots were spending a long time in a seated position. So I restarted the research like a true scientist and learned some new few useful things.
Broadly, the glider-girls use three systems; nappies, external funnels and internal funnels. Charlotte thought of the nappy idea; ‘Seriously, nappies? No way!!!’
That plan was dismissed immediately to be too bulky to carry around, create a lot of waste but foremost, ‘I’m not a baby/I don’t have that fetish!!’.
Our Uribag and later the Marmite Bag where the external funnel types. Festival girls and ill ladies use this as well. This device, you place over the Labia majora. More or less the ‘take it all’ approach. This makes the device large, and in the sitting position might give you some leakage through the creases between your legs.

All the external funnel devices you can find for girls to pee standing up

For the next device, the internal funnel, you need a bit of knowledge of the female anatomy. Get out your biology book and open it on the chapter describing the human female bits. (the Internet can also help you in your research)
This smaller device only covers the Urethral orifice. This is a much smaller device and it sits between the Labia majora for a bit. Some small plastic draining pipe in the right shape, a bicycle inner tube and an sanitary towel bag are all you need to create your own pee-device for girls.
After some prototypes and practice trails by Charlotte in the shower (I don’t think Google will allow these pictures), this looked like a successful design. According to Charlotte, it takes a bit of getting used position it on the right spot and to letting the pee flow and trusting the device.
But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. (Strange use of words in this context) So we went on a larger trip to try out this new design and it worked. It really did!! No leakage and no fuss. It was great. Charlotte recommends this pee solution to all girls in a kayak.

In the picture gallery below, you will find how you make your own pee device for kayak girls. Be sure to practice the handling of the device in the shower!! Have fun!! Let us know how you get on with using it!!

Charlotte and Alexander Gannet

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

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