Sorry about the absence

Whilst not of any “outdoors” interest, I do try to keep you up to date when the website goes AWOL for any length of time. In this case, we’ve had multiple failures. First, the ADSL connection got really flaky, with the speeds getting lower and the modem dropping out with irritating frequency and no regularity whatsoever. BT tested the line and reckoned there was no fault. Then BT did some work on a neighbour’s phone line, and ours went dead completely – so at least BT at this point admitted there was a fault. Turns out that our wire was getting frayed at the telegraph pole across the road, (BT blame the wind for prevailing at right-angles to the wire, although I believe its been blowing this direction fairly predictably since before phones were invented so you’d think they would have anticipated this). This was fixed in three days once they got a cherry-picker to reach it. Next, the hard disc decided to die on the firewall which was particularly annoying as we were getting ready to have a faster broadband link put in and I’d spent two days writing new configuration files ready for the change. Needless to say, as I was changing things every few minutes, I’d saved frequently to the hard disc, but not to longer-term backup. Grrr… and as it turned out, the whole box was dying as this failure seemed to have done nothing good for the CMOS memory and I couldn’t get it to boot with a new disc. Ho, hum, so back to the backup system – an old Fabiatech industrial router that is known to barf under heavy load over its gigabit interfaces (which is why it got retired). I now ordered a newer router, with little hope of it arriving before the new 4G broadband would be installed, so I could see I’d be doing all this configuration a second, and then a third time. Meanwhile, I’d also got a few new ethernet cables to install – feeding things through narrow bendy tubes, into wall cavities and up into vast caverns full of fibreglass insulation. As if to take the piss, it became apparent that the supposedly automatic renewal of my letsencrypt certificate for the server had been failing to renew without having the courtesy to send me any kind of error message, and since the email from the letsencrypt server telling me it had expired couldn’t get to me over a dead internet connection, I didn’t find out abut this until it had been expired for over a week, and we were in mid rebuild-the-infrastructure crisis. Needless to say, I’ve not got much paddling or gardening done this last couple of weeks !

However, at least we now have 20 Mb/s broadband, both wired and wireless access into the west end of the house where it never reached before, and a firewall that works for the time being (although I still have to move over to the new hardware, which is steadfastly refusing to play ball with the ubuntu installer for reasons which are seriously opaque). The next step will be to take the firewall down and clone its disc, so I can boot up the new firewall with a pre-installed system and then reconfigure it from there. We’re hoping that with a lot less bandwidth on the ADSL link being used by our own internet use, you’ll see a bit of an improvement on the server. 4G broadband doesn’t come with a public IP address, so the server has to continue to live on the ADSL line, I’m afraid. Expect to see a few more (hopefully shortish) outages as the last of this upheaval plays out. On the upside, with a 4G link that was showing up to 30 Mb/s upstream, it shouldn’t take three days each time I want to upload a ten-minute video to youtube !

This isn’t a technical blog, so I won’t regale you with how to configure my firewall to provide three different levels of service over two broadband connections from the various subnets in the two houses. Suffice it to say that I know even more about netfilter, iptables, iproute2 and the whole Linux network stack than I did before. Fascinating stuff, best learnt from the internet, and therefore very frustrating when it is the failure to get to the internet which is causing one to need to learn it.

A new project

For some time I’ve been wanting a more expedition-orientated sea kayak capable of carrying gear for longer trips than the Mistral (no more than a week) and the Cormorant (five days is definitely the limit). I paddled a Cetus for the ten days in Alaska, and whilst conditions were never challenging, I definitely felt the boat was very pedestrian. The received wisdom is that if you don’t try a Nordkapp, you will always have nagging doubts about whether you missed out on the best possible expedition boat. Nordkapps have a reputation for being unstable and unforgiving, but this arises largely from people paddling them empty when they were designed to carry a big load – up to 90kg – and were never intended for casual day trips. The boat has also suffered from “genetic drift” over the years since the 1975 original, such that even Valley describe the early twenty first century versions as a “caricature” of the original design. For this reason, in 2015, they introduced the Nordkapp Førti, with the benefit of an original boat repurchased and measured. This is widely acknowledged to be a far better boat than the models which preceded it. Of course, two and half grand is a lot to pay out for a new boat to see if you like it, and even enough trips in a demo boat in increasingly challenging conditions is going to set one back by more than the cost of an early model boat on ebay.

Hence, I’ve been watching ebay for a while, and when a 1970’s Nordkapp HM came up fairly locally, I was definitely in there bidding. Remarkably, no-one else seemed to be keen, and the boat was mine for a song, and seems to be in remarkably good condition. As with many of these old boats, the pump behind the cockpit has either failed or been deemed useless and removed, replaced with a rather ugly metal plate. The bulkheads are in positions which leave a huge volume of cockpit to fill with water in a rescue, and the old failsafe footrest is still in place. The boat (which appears to have been originally orange like a lot of these older kayaks) has been thickly painted white above the sheer, and red below. I’m in two minds as to whether to go to the trouble of removing this paint (which would save a bit of weight) and restoring the gelcoat. Much of the other work is already decided and some of the bits and pieces already ordered.


Late 1970s Nordkapp HM bought 2017-06-22

New aft bulkhead
There’s a huge dead volume behind the cockpit. A new curved and sloped bulkhead will reduce cockpit volume by over 25 litre, and a dayhatch will rather more tidily fill the space where the old Chimp pump was removed.
Modern footrests
Removing the fibreglass plates which support the old-style footrest will be a pain, and whilst I’ve done this job before, it was in an old McNulty Seaglass double which had a lot more space in which to work. However, I very definitely do need either a bulkhead footrest (if the boat is just for me) or more modern adjustable footrests (if I decide to retain the flexibility for others to use it – or, of course, to sell it on). Since I have two sets of footrests not used on previous projects and one set removed from Mary’s Romany, there’s no excuse not to fit one pair of these. I don’t want, however, to bolt through the hull, so I’ve ordered glass-in studs from Fyne Boat Kits which should enable me to fit footrests without making holes. Always assuming I can find the space to work, of course.
New forward bulkhead
The forward bulkhead is far enough forward for a paddler of seven foot eleventeen, which I’m not. Even if I fit adjustable footrests and allow enough room for a taller paddler, I can have a bulkhead much further aft than the one fitted now. This will both reduce cockpit volume and increase cargo space. It’s a bit more committing than adding an extra aft bulkhead, as the existing bulkhead will need to be removed.
Foot pump
Many years ago I bought a Henderson foot pump and fitted it into a bulkhead-shaped piece of glassed-over marine ply, with the idea of putting it into my Mistral (whose forward bulkhead left me a couple of inches to play with). However, I never got round to deciding where to place the outlet pipe and this piece of kit languishes in the barn awaiting a home. If I’m fitting a new bulkhead in the Nordkapp, this would be an obvious opportunity to add the pump. The problem still remains, of course, of deciding where to feed the outlet pipe…
Seat and backband
The original seat has already been replaced, and I can’t say I like the one now in the boat any better, so I’ll be removing this and adding a foam seat with hip pads. I will also be seeing if it is possible to add an adjustable back band with ratchets – although the small sized Ocean cockpit may make this impractical.
Knee tube
Ocean cockpits don’t really go well with the sort of thigh braces seen in keyhole cockpits. The Nordkapp was designed with the intention of a more straight-legged paddling position, and there is evidence that a foam knee-bump was at one time fitted in this boat. A knee tube is generally a more solid support for bracing the knees as well as useful storage space, but does make getting in and out of the boat (particularly for deep water rescues) more difficult. I’ll tack in a temporary knee tube to see if this makes the boat too hard to use, and if not, this will become a permanent feature.
Skeg
The “M” in the model name reflects the Modified hull shape in response to the rather severe weathercocking of the very first boats. The HM has a deep extension to the keel aft, which reduces weather helm, but can make the boat hard to turn without radical edging. Modern practice is to fit boats with a drop skeg, and a number of people have trimmed down the HM fixed skeg and retrofitted a retractable one. I’ll paddle the boat for a while before deciding whether to take this step – it is clear that a retrofit to this boat is difficult without removing the deck. I would hope to be able to fit a skeg offset from the keel line (like the Islands Kayaks Expedition) to reduce the tendency to jamming. If this looks practical, then I’ll probably fit a conventional wire-operated skeg. If the space available only allows a skeg on the keel line, I’ll have to consider options to avoid the usual risk of a jammed skeg and a kinked cable.
Compass and video
The compass recess doesn’t accept any of the kayak compasses currently on the market, though Sestrel models for which the recess was designed are occasionally available secondhand. However, it became very obvious the first time I sat in the boat that the recess is in almost the perfect location for a GoPro mount, whilst a compass would usefully mount further forward, possibly in a newly built recess.

Back on the Soča

I’ve not finished editing the video from last year’s trip yet, and here we are, generating more footage. The weather is blisteringly hot, the Rainex is fresh and I’m getting better quality on a lot of stretches, especially the Bunker section (which we’ve run twice) where the critical bit at the entry to Canyon 3 last year was spoilt by a big drop of water on the GoPro. This year I have clear 4k footage from both runs (and good lines both times).


Dropping into Canyon 3 on the second run. 0.13m on the gauge.

The penalty for the hot weather and a low snow pack is, inevitably, low levels. The Koritnica ran at the start of the week, but is looking pretty empty now. The Bunker section is probably now out unless the thunderstorms we saw over the Austrian side last night return and drop some water a bit closer. The classic sections lower down are still fine, of course, and we’ve been having plenty of fun around Srpenica. Not sure if we have the group to do the slalom section, but there is talk of doing the Otona on Friday which is the only section (apart from Siphon Canyon which no-one sane runs anyway) I’ve not done.


James Lock in Canyon 3

More photos to come !

Lismore at Easter – never believe the weather forecast

I planned going up to Scotland at Easter to meet up with Sarah (working for a few weeks in Fort William) with a view to an overnight sea trip. I’d injured my shoulder skiing in February, and hadn’t paddled since New Year, so wasn’t sure how fit I’d be. We weren’t wanting to paddle the whole bank holiday weekend, which was just as well since the forecast was not very promising. By Thursday the weathermen seemed to think that Easter Sunday would be the worst day, so we were aiming to get off at a reasonable time on Good Friday, paddle as far as we saw fit down Lismore, and if that was far enough, round the southern tip and back on Saturday. To this end we got ourselves to the big layby opposite Shuna and fafffed about packing. Sarah hadn’t packed for an overnight trip before, so we weren’t expecting this to be quick and were not too disappointed to be on the water by eleven (or so…), though this did mean we were a bit later in the tide than ideal.


The Eilean Musdile Lismore lighthouse hoves into view as the headwind increases

At this stage we were expecting it to be windier today (supposedly from the northwest), getting better and being calmer tomorrow, so we headed on down the more sheltered eastern side of the island. We didn’t make bad progress for someone who has not paddled much on the sea and who had found her previous longest trip of 14 km (out to the Farnes) pretty tiring. We had a decent stop for lunch and continued on south into an increasing but not overwhelming headwind. We got far enough that we both ended with our determined heads on and could see that we should be able to make the end of the island. Conditions worsened, the rain set in and the headwind got stronger, but we were still making progress. As we got to the corner where we would turn right, we expected that the wind (which seemed to be much more from the south than forecast) would stop being directly in our faces, but we were wrong – there was now a really stiff breeze blowing right through the gap between Lismore and Eilean Musdile. The lighting over the Sound and Island of Mull was fantastic as we fought into the sunset pelted by rain and with a rainbow behind us, but that last half mile was a real battle and it started to feel as if the bay with the good camping spot would never materialise. Finally it opened up on our right and we could run the last 100m into the beach.


Coming in to the beach at the southern end of Lismore

We had cut it finer than ideal, but still had enough daylight to get the tent up and gear sorted (most especially head torches) before cooking a seriously blow-out meal which we both felt we merited. I found that my aft hatch had leaked and my toughest drybag, which I’d specifically chosen for my pit, was perhaps not as intact as I’d believed. Fortunately, I’d chosen to bring my five-season hollofill bag, which is still effective when damp, so a reasonable night was passed. However, we weren’t exactly crisp on Saturday morning, and by the time we’d breakfasted and packed up, the race had built up. It was also still blowing plenty. We both fought our way successfully against wind and tide through the gap, but one good look at the more exposed western side of the island convinced us that we were not going to have an enjoyable day if we did a full circumnavigation, so we backed off and dropped through the race back to the sheltered side. You’d kind of hope that with the wind still blowing the same way, it would now be helpfully behind us, but in fact it must have backed a little further and we were pretty much in shelter. The tide was not with us (thought it is pretty weak hereabouts anyway) until after lunch, when it started to pick up and push us along. We had a rather chilly lunch huddled in the group shelter cooking the pancakes we’d decided to skip at breakfast time, which certainly cheered us up. Back on the water, the tide really picked up as we passed the northern tip of the island and headed across the short sound towards the scattered islands to the north. We were now almost home, with just the short crossing to Shuna ahead. This was exposed to the west and quite windy, and the flood tide here runs on a diagonal, so was partly helping us, and partly kicking up in the wind. As the depth varied and the flow changed, it was quite interesting keeping our transit to arrive just east of the southern tip of Shuna. Now we could relax in almost flat water with just a tiny bit of tide on our side. With the Van in sight ahead, the day was rounded off by an Otter, who must have been fishing at some depth, since when he surfaced the second time he shot almost clear of the water !


Otter popping out of the water in Shuna Sound

With more tidal assistance and no headwind, we finished quite a bit earlier today, despite not getting a good start, so had time to find a nice restaurant with somewhere to sit (quite a feat on an Easter Saturday), just south of Balachulish. We’d clocked just about 21 km each day, so definitely a step up for Sarah, who despite the battle into the wind on Friday was still keen to do more trips. Typically, on Sunday, when we went for a photographic wander on foot round Arisaig, the predicted worst day turned out sunny and calm, with lots of sea kayakers out on the water. The wind and rain didn’t arrive until about five minutes into our bar meal sat outside the pub… Luckily, by this time, there were seats available inside so we hastily moved indoors to eat.


Looking across to Eigg and Rum on a much nicer paddling day

As the weather was once again fine on Monday, we found time for a jaunt up to the CIC Hut and back in the shadow of Ben Nevis.

A return to 4k peaking – Morocco

Having walked up a 3000m peak in 2015 – the first one for twenty years, we decided to go higher for 2016 and do a trek taking in a couple (or three) 4000m peaks in the High Atlas.

I started a feedback essay for the company running the trek, but this diversified into more of a blog write-up. Then, adapting it for the blog, it strangely starting morphing back into feedback. Looks like I’ll be rewriting both from scratch shortly… But meanwhile, this is a placeholder blog entry, to accumulate a set of photos which I can write the blog around. The executive summary is that it was a successful trip, but with reservations. I don’t think I’d do a commercial trekking trip again – I had rather expected more independent walking between meeting points. I’m not really suited to walking in a crocodile like we did at primary school, and I developed a bit of an “escape from the chain gang” mentality which rather clashed with the guide’s expectations… Eventually I omitted the third 4000m peak (Mary and Sarah went up it) as my patience was exhausted.


Andy on top of Jbel Adrar n’Dern, 4001m (photo: Sarah)

Outage – lightning fries the village

On Tuesday 13th September, we had a massive thunderstorm, with a lightning strike on a house almost directly opposite ours. Many houses in the village had power problems, and almost all lost phone (and internet). BT and the electricity companies were both a bit overwhelmed by similar incidents across northern England and did well to fix many of the faults by the next day. The fault with our phone line proved to be outside the house, somewhere in the network, so we didn’t get phone back until after we had set off for our Morocco trip, at which time, since the house power was still tripping out once or twice a day, we had all the computers off (although UPS-protected, this doesn’t cope with long power outages when we are away from home and can’t rush about shutting down systems cleanly). On our return on October 2nd, the phone line was back, and we brought up the systems. Unfortunately, power is still tripping from time to time, so we can’t guarantee continuous up time, but at least we are back online most of the time. Currently, the hard disc on the firewall is reporting a lot of errors, so I’ll have to take us offline to clone the system onto a spare drive this week, too. Hope this will be resolved over the next couple of weeks and I can bring you a write-up of our trip to the High Atlas, but meanwhile, apologies for the extended outage.

Update: October 18th – fault traced to one segment of upstairs ring main which we’ve had to isolate pending some rewiring, but power does now seems stable, so we should be back online pretty much full time (apart from the usual rural broadband dropouts, of course – business as usual).

Update: January 16th – we were losing internet connection more and more frequently and have just replaced the ADSL modem, to see a remarkable improvement suggestive that our old modem suffered some degradation, perhaps in the thunderstorm. Anyway the good news is that the line is no longer dropping, and our upstream connection speed (what limits the speed of this website) has gone up considerably. At the moment, however, downstream speed has dropped to less than the upstream speed, so possibly we’ll need to do yet more tweaking… Whilst we are still missing a segment of ring main, the power seems to be stable, too (barring the usual occasional ten seconds outage for the whole village – they never seem to go away).

Islands and waterfalls, round trip to Cascade Bay (Alaska episode 3)

We all landed at the Salmon stream across from East Flank Island on Sunday morning. With the tide out, many of the Salmon had been stranded or picked out and eaten, so the beach was pretty smelly, but still inhabited only by birds. Although the fish in the pool at the top were expiring through crowding and oxygen starvation, many more were fighting their way up the tiny stream, doomed to the same fate.


King Salmon fighting upstream to certain doom

After getting enough water to survive a day or so visiting only islands, we headed out into the Sound, aiming for Bald Head Chris Island, a crossing of about 2.5 km. We quickly passed this and continued SE, with a slightly longer crossing to Dutch Group. Here we landed for lunch and explored, looking for the “Abandoned Oil Tank” marked on our maps. It looks as though recent construction work has been in hand to remove all traces of such wartime installations, so there was little left to see except a rather scruffy road made of rafts of planks penetrating the rainforest. We soon headed on round the south side of these islands and noticed a lot of noise from a big skerry over to our right which had many sea lions hauled out. These guys can be a bit aggressive, so we chose not to make a closer visit, and headed for Axel Lind Island, passing another set of skerries on our left towards the end of this crossing, which was just shy of 4 km. There was now a little doubt over island identities and we paddled a little way along the north coast to be quite sure that our destination was not hiding out of sight just round the corner, but as soon as it became clear that we had correctly identified Eaglek Island, a break was made to cross to this, heading downwind. We aimed for what seemed like the biggest beach, and on landing, found that we could just about fit the three tents in gaps in the forest above the high tide mark.

Monday saw us off from the south-facing beach, rounding the east end of the island and heading west. The weather was threatening to deteriorate as we hit the next island and headed north towards Eaglek Bay. We followed the coast round, but avoided being fooled into paddling through the cut towards Ragged Point which would have taken us the wrong way. Instead we turned right again and headed north, taking another little cut between islands to visit an oyster farm (not much to see, as it happened, just buoys) by which time it had started to rain. However, by the time we were crossing Derickson Bay, it had cleared up somewhat, with visibility good enough to allow a choice between straight-lining to the next headland, or following the coast more closely and still remaining within sight of each other. We found a small beach with a little stream, and took the opportunity to fill up on water again. Another brief landing was made to scope out a possible camping spot where a small tidal lagoon drained out. I didn’t much like the look of this, as there were some very obvious trampled trails, and we would be very much open to being surprised by a bear emerging from the forest. Ahead, we could see the small wooded Cascade Island, which was on the far side of Cascade Bay, which was our immediate destination. Rounding a small headland, we could see white beyond some trees, and as we paddled into the bay, we soon got a better view of the biggest waterfall in Prince William Sound. We were able to paddle right up to this, where a sizeable river falls directly into the sea. The final drop, seen in the photo, is less than half the total fall, which is around 60m.


Andy getting a close view of the Cascade, Cascade Bay (Photo: Mary)

Back down the bay, we checked out an alluvial fan with a fine view of the waterfall, as a possible campsite. However, bits of seaweed strewn among the tall grasses suggested that there was nowhere for tents which was reliably above the high water mark, so we paddled back out into Squaw Bay and had a bit of debate. I favoured crossing the bay to where a number of beaches and grassy patches could be seen. However, a check with binoculars made these look less attractive and we decided instead to head south – a kilometre or two down Eaglek Bay, Derickson Bay opened and looked to have less steep slopes. We checked out a couple of small beaches at the entrance, but a short way into the bay