Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Paddling La Manche & Great Island

Last weekend, four of us went for a paddle on the Southern Shore (an hour south of St. John's) from Brigus South to Bauline East. We stopped at La Manche for lunch and then circled Great Island, which is one of the seabird islands in Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. The photo above shows paddling buddies Des Sullivan, Malcolm Rowe and Isabelle Hubert.

This shot shows the group under the East Coast Trail bridge at La Manche. It's a gorgeous spot. There was a fishing village here one hundred years ago, with stages, fishing rooms, and fish flakes for drying salt cod.

Here is the view to seaward from the La Manche bridge. We had a great day for paddling: sunny, hot and swell less than one metre.

As we approached Great Island, the numbers of puffins, murres, kittiwakes, and the occasional razorbill grew overwhelming. The seabirds were in the water all around us diving and feeding. The air was FULL of birds, flying back and forth to the island, carrying fish. As we got closer to the island, the smell and noise of the nesting birds reached a fevered pitch.

This rock has common murres standing on top and kittiwakes sitting on nests below.

Here is a tunnel on the seaward side of Great Island. The swells are always bigger on this side of the island, and this day they were surging through this tunnel. We had a close look but played it safe and didn't paddle through.

Here's a group of murres and razorbills on the water beside the island. It's amazing how close you can get with a sea kayak.

We enjoyed a fantastic day on the water. The paddle ended on a bit of a sour note in Bauline East. Some thoughtful soul had left a chest freezer full of rotten meat (or fish?) near the wharf. The smell was truly appalling. We didn't linger long.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Another great reason to paddle!

Here's a fantastic photo of my partner Isabelle Hubert, taken by Tony Lee on the KNL Father's Day Paddle at Cape Broyle on June 17. Isabelle is a real joy to paddle with. I'm a very lucky man!

You can see more photos of the Father's Day Paddle (and dozens of other Newfoundland paddles) on Tony's Kayak the Rock website
Just look under Gallery and scroll down.

Tony's website is so popular that some people have been recognized by total strangers across the island from Tony's paddling photos. You've had your 15 minutes of fame now, Paul, so step aside!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Making a Greenland Paddle

In early May, I helped organize a workshop for KNL members interested in making a Greenland paddle. Darren McDonald generously arranged access to a wood shop for us to work in. Brian Duffett, who has made many Greenland paddles of different designs, joined us and shared his experience and advice.

Most of us started with the paddle design instructions of Chuck Holst (available free at and the free instructional video by Matt Johnson (at Thanks to Chuck and Matt for sharing their knowledge and helping others.

We bought our wood, calculated the paddle dimensions in relation to our body size, and laid out the dimensions on the wood. We made the rough cuts along the outline of the paddle. Then started the slow and steady use of a plane, spokeshave and/or drawknife to carve the wood to the right shape.

Being a glutton for punishment, I decided to laminate several different kinds of wood together to make my paddle (spruce, cedar and virola). Why do it, when you can overdo it! I glued the pieces together with epoxy resin (left over from kayak building last year). Below is the paddle, cut out in one dimension, with the dimension lines marked on in pencil. It looks pretty square!

You can see the lines that mark the shape that needs to be planed to. In this photo, the bottom side has been planed to the line, and the board flipped over. I now need to plane the top side to the line.

Below you can see the start of the process of planing the bevel into the face of the paddle blade. I used a block plane for the paddle faces and a spokeshave for carving the shoulders and the loom (round part in the middle of the shaft).

I will continue this in a later post and show you how the paddle turned out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Icebergs in Trinity Bay

Here is Paul Benson approaching a bergy bit (a house-sized chunk of iceberg) near Shag Rock in Whiteway Bay in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. A group of 10 paddlers made our way from Greens Harbour to Islington last Saturday. It was sunny, warm ... fantastic!

The geology along the way was striking. The colour of the shoreline bedrock went from gray to red to green. Here's Paul again in front of a striking red outcrop.

Back to the bergy bit: Tony Lee, Paul and I couldn't resist sliding into a small fissure in the ice. Yes, this is risky paddling behaviour. Icebergs are unpredictable and potentially dangerous; chunks break off and bergs can roll over. Here's Tony happily risking his neck.

The sea stacks and rock hopping was great in a small swell and little wind. Below is Sue Duffett.

Dan Miller paddling past more interesting rock formations.

Paul Simmons exploring the shoreline cliffs.

We found another iceberg off Long Point (near Islington). Tony and I paddled out to take a closer look. On days this nice, it is always a disappointment to reach the take-out and the end of the paddle.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Iceberg off Salvage

A highlight at the KNL Retreat was a half-day paddle out to an iceberg near the town of Salvage. For Freya and Greg, this was their first close encounter with an iceberg. And were they excited!

Here's Greg with a big smile!

Freya had to get her hands on some ice.

Since the iceberg was grounded on the bottom, we dared get close. But this is risky, since the chunks could break off or the berg could split and roll. However, we could not resist the magnetic pull of getting close to one of these ice giants.

The shades of brilliant blue in the veins of the iceberg were simply gorgeous. The warmth was melting the berg into undulating curves of beauty.

It was a great day! Here's Dirk having some fun on the way back to Salvage.

KNL Retreat 2007

Well, it's been a dog's age since my last post. Lots to catch up on.

The Kayak Newfoundland & Labrador Retreat in late May was a huge success once again. More than 100 paddlers participated in Atlantic Canada's biggest kayaking event of the year. Our special guests this year were Freya Hoffmeister from Germany and Greg Stamer from Florida.

Here is Freya helping Dirk Muir with his coaching skills. Freya has a great progression for teaching rolling in her Greenland-style super-low-volume kayak. She had many paddlers rolling for the first time in her clinics. She also mentored Dirk and myself in teaching rolling using her methods. It was a rewarding experience for all of us. Many thanks to Freya for sharing her love of Greenland rolling with us.

Greg Stamer taught Greenland paddling clinics that were a real eye-opener. Most of us had not used a Greenland paddle before, so this was our entrance into a new paddling world. Through a combination of onshore lecture, on-the-water demonstrations and coaching, Greg introduced us to the basic strokes using Greenland technique. The subtlety of using a Greenland paddle efficiently was immediately obvious. I am hooked on my Greenland paddle. Many thanks to Brian Duffett and Dirk Muir for letting us use their collection of Greenland paddles for Greg's clinics. It was incredibly helpful to trade the many paddles around, so we could see how slight changes in design influenced performance and fit. Greg's enthusiasm for Greenland paddling was infectious. He is a great teacher!