Thursday, 12 August 2010

Circumnavigation of Muckle Roe; bit of an epic!

Before I write this I know many of the people I value will be cursing at my stupidity of paddling 18km round Muckle Roe. I was only able to return to work a few months back after a long time ill with CFS/ME. In fact Clare has just clipped me round the head as I type!

One valued friend and mentor talks of me needing some one to stand on my tail occasionally, well it may be a time to knock a 6" nail through it to stop me racing of doing things!

Talking of which the 4 noble truths of Buddhism about creating our own suffering definitely hold true in relation to today ventures.

The usual useless Shetland weather forecasts led us to just looking out the window and deciding today would be fine for the 18km paddle around Muckle Roe from Muckle Roe marina. Indeed it was, with the exception of the odd shower and gust of wind.

We headed south down the gentle coast of Muckle Roe, following it round to the west to a little cove just west of Little Ayre beach where we stopped for me to adjust my seat and have a quick snack. My sea kayak is a Valley Aquanaught, a great high volume boat but I just can't get the seat right and consequently keep getting numb legs, a problem that will raise it's teeth later.

After the break we continued along the coast. A fantastic mix of coves, stacks and amazing inter-linking caves and tunnels. Entrances to the Hole of Hellier from the east being most spectacular with shoals of little red fish and sea urchins under us as we explored the caves.

From our break there was going to be no chance of landing before South Hams about 7km later, not a problem at the moment as the scenery was enough to even distract you from a root canal. One thing noticable was the drastically reduced bird life of all types, though some Shags were still in the nest in the caves under Muckle Roe Light House.

We did come across a very cute seal pup in one cove and pressumably it's mother which stayed poised on the rocks just long enough for us to appreciate them.

As we came on to the west coast the swell began to pick up along with a bit of surf round features and the odd gust of wind. We carried on northwards past enourmous caves and towering stacks such as Spindle, but the conditions were too testing to hang around and explore them, so onwards we paddled.

We planned to break for lunch and a brew at South Hams and then explore the coast more intimately from there on as it would be pretty sheltered.

As we were on the last leg to South Hams though the conditions rapidly worsened with swell, clapotis and gusting winds making conditions very tricky for the two of us less experienced sea kayakers. I was having problems with deadlegs and lower body leaving me pretty unstable in the kayak in the challenging sea.

Then half a km short of safety and lunch it really picked up. I twitched a few times as the randomness of the sea and gusts caught me out but managed to stay upright. However, it was only really a matter of time before I capsizied. Getting caught out and unable to respond with my lower body I went to brace but in my tired state mis-placed the paddle and over I went. TIme to pull the spray skirt and exit. I can't roll yet and even if I could I wouldn't have been able to in that state.

Bobbing up and holding on to the kayak I saw Clare's Dad and Sue gingerly coming across to rescue me. Rafting up they did an x-resuce to empty and right the kayak while I continued to hang on the front of the kayak. All I had to do was get back in!

Well it took me a while. I was very tired but, wearing a wetsuit, not cold. I've been practising a rear entry (ladder/rodeo) on my own, but the first attempts were to roll into the kayak from the side. I couldn't manage it and in the sea it was hard not to tip the other boats. After a few attempts I eventually did re-enter by shining up the rear deck as I was used to doing.

Now to pump out the water that was flooding the cockpit from the side on waves. Water was filling in from the back as we pumped out between my legs. I managed to get the rear spray deck on and we pumped out as much out as we could, finished fitting the spray deck and took a few minutes to rest and regain our composure.

As is with the sea, it had calmed down again by then so we got under way to South Hams. Entering the bay we noticed a cut through the headland to North Hams. It would save us a headland paddle and also a bit of distance so we heade through it.

Once on the shore at North Hams, I pretty much fell out the kayak and rested while the others got  a brew on the go and we had some food.

With 6km still to go to get back to the car we seriously thought about leaving the kayaks in a safe spot and walking back. However we finally, if not, nervously decided that carrying on was the best option. So, pretty much ignoring the scenery we plodded on, my legs getting numb again with in no time.

Eventually we entered Roe Sound and the home straight just to be surprised by an otter surfacing and swimming in front of the kayaks for a brief period. Almost made it all feel worth while!

Getting back to the car felt great. I was shattered, feeling pretty un-well with exhaustion, wobbly legged, but still enjoyed the trip. I learned a lot from it and enjoyed some of the most fantstic coastal scenery you can see anywhere.

As I type this my left leg and foot are still tingly, which is a bit worrying, but it has been easing off.  I'll have to look at either how to improve the seating in the kayak or more likely sell it and find a better fitting one for me. Some may say I should just sell it I guess!

As for pictures, I had loads of great ones on my phone of the caves, stacks and coves but the dip in the sea got it soaked and it's now totally fried inside. The couple on here are Sue's...


  1. Woah - that's some hair-raising stuff. I'm tired just reading about it!
    Have a nice rest before your next expedition!
    Talking of expeditions, I'm reading Storms of Silence by Joe Simpson...s'quite good so far. Maybe I'll send it up when I finish it, unless you've read it ;-)

  2. Not read it PA that book would be great :o)

    Planning a family camping kayak trip tomorrow just got to find a dog sitter!

  3. No yoke Kevin...nail that tail. Or get it nailed for you.