EQUIPMENT

As the journey is slowly nearing to its end it is time to write about the equipment we have used and what do we think about it.

TIDERACE XPLORE (Writen by Michal)

When we were getting ready for this journey I was told that circumnavigation of Britain will put a boat through the same stress as ten years of normal usage. Obviously we started to look for the best possible kayaks.

I made a list of what to look for on an expedition boat.

COMFORT/BOAT CONTROL
We knew it was going to take us four months to paddle around the British coast and we would spend long hours in the boat, often without breaks. We were looking for a really comfy kayaks but at the same we wanted to have a full control over them. Basically this one was all about cockpit.

VOLUME
We were not looking for a big kayaks. Ideally we wanted small kayaks with huge amount of space in the hatches.

STRENGTH
For obvious reasons we wanted strongest and toughest kayaks.

PERFORMANCE
British waters offer all conditions one can imagine so we were looking for boats which can handle everything.

Once we knew what we wanted we started to look for such kayaks. There was one little trouble, I have used Tiderace Xplore for almost two years prior this and it became my benchmark to which I tend to compare all boats I have tried.
And I have to say that most of the kayaks we have tried, could not match Tiderace’s cockpit. Often it was because of the seat and backrest shape regardless of how much padding there was. The main reason why we did not look twice on most of the other kayaks, was low foredeck and nonfunctional tight rests. Simply, there was no reason why I would chose such boat and have cramps in my legs from sitting as a frog, and there was no reason to have a best performing kayak if cockpit wouldn’t allow to use it fully.
There is not much to say about volume, numbers are clear. There are some bigger and wider boats than Xplore but hardly any of them have the same space in hatches.
In terms of strength I had no doubts about Tiderace kayaks. I used and abused my previous one a lot while playing between rocks and not always successfully and I have never managed to damage more than just the gelcoat.
In terms of performance, there is not much one wants from an expedition kayak, it just needs to go straight in any condition. Something what most of the seakayaks should do anyway, and Xplore is not an exception.

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Now, being so close to the finishing line, in terms of kayak usage we have finished the first decade. And here is what we learn about them.

In terms of volume we could fit everything in what we wanted including two folding camping chairs. We actually fitted more than what was needed on such journey and left some behind at half way in.
As for comfort, no cramps in legs or feet, we could paddle up to 15 hours without getting out of them. The cockpit still allowed us to have control of the boat in any situation and as fast as needed when different leg position was taken.
The boat even when heavy loaded still seemed to be quite fast. There were no problems with stability in any conditions experienced.
The directional stability was great most of the time. If there is a side or tail wind the boat has tendencies to weathercock without skeg, especially if the load in a boat is not spread very well. However with careful loading, skeg can handle most of the situation and some edging is needed only occasionally.
Now, where do this ten years of usage come from? Mainly the landings. Since Natalie needed to stop more offer than I, we had to land on various places, anywhere, including between rocks. Also for the boats being heavy and us not being able to carry especially on uneven ground we often have to drag them above the water line in order to unload them. The landing were also hard there and now with boats being dumped on the beach. Although we were sure the boats were sturdy we are surprised how well they managed. If you ask Natalie how’s her boat, she would say: “Still shiny”.

As expedition boats these boats are great and we would use them again any time. As a boat for everyday use? I used Xplore for almost two years before and know that this boat can be used on overnighters, rock hopping, playing in surf equally.
I can’t and don’t wont to compare how fast or how small turns it can make in comparison to others. What I know is that this boat paddles well full or empty, it feels great on the water and that’s what matters.

RAAB PADDLES

During our paddling before this trip Michal always used Werner and I used Lendal. But for this trip we knew we needed a second pair each. We had an opportunity to try RAAB paddles from Czech Republic. This company has a long history at making white water racing paddles, some of them are being used at the Olympic games at the moment.
They also started to make sea kayaking paddles. The ones we had was one of their first models.
Once they arrived we were impressed by the quality of the finish. Suddenly some of the paddles we used before started to look like homemade. These paddles are very light and very powerful. Originally we thought we would use them as splits, but as soon as we tried them, our original paddles became splits.
We felt very fortunate to have such great paddles despite the few disadvantages. The blades were bigger than on our original paddles. It didn’t matter but for when paddling for too long against the headwind. The company has a solution, new different version with smaller blades. We are looking forward to try these as an addition to these original ones.
Since these paddles were the first split version RAAB ever made, we experienced some problems with the joining mechanism. It stopped working half way through the trip and had to be fixed by ever so good looking orange tape. Fortunately the company has a solution already, a new joining mechanism which seems to be better. Once we are back, it will be changed on our old paddles.
Despite few minor hiccups we do think that these paddles are one of the best Euroblades made for sea kayaking so far.

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PALM OCEANA (Writen by Natalie)

During this journey we used cags from Palm, Oceana. Due the problems we have experienced with our drysuits we have used them more than we originally thought.
We were surprised at how good they are. It started long ago at home when Michal took it our of its packed and put it on. Suddenly his old cag, so comfortable until that time, wasn’t any more. He wasn’t sure about the hood, though, but during our days paddling in rain and wind, he began to like very much.
I just liked the look of them and the double neck. I likes to have jackets high up to the chin and this one provided that and had nice soft fleece which didn’t hurt on the chin.
Later during the paddling I also discovered the advantage of longer shaped cuffs, they do cover top of hands and give them protection from sun and spray.

We are not going to describe all their features as some had no great significance for us, for example pockets. The jackets perfectly lived up to our expectations, being comfortable and to last for the whole time, despite the great amount of abuse they sustained.

We did not have any opportunity to rinse them in fresh water, apart from while raining, and often they were covered in layer of sea salt crust. They never had real time to dry perfectly between being use and were stored in the tent porch in an IKEA bag mostly.
We didn’t expect to stay completely dry when rolling or capsizing in turing jacket but we were surprised how dry we stayed even when going through surf breaking over us or wearing them all day in pouring rain. We are definitely going to use these again, won’t be looking for any other alternative.

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OVERBOARD Drybags

During this trip we had an opportunity to try a selection of dry bags from Overboard. Now, our previous trips we tried few different ones, so we could compare.
When we started to pack I found the Overboard bags little bit tough to fold and squeeze into the boat. But soon during usage on the trip this problem disappeared. On the other hand the sturdiness of material made the very resistant to wear and tear. There is not much to say about dry bags in general, because most people have only one expectation, to keep stuff dry. Well these did it.
Yet Overboard puts lots of thoughts into their cases and bags. They have them in a great range in sizes, shapes – the flat one came handy, and colours – so important when having lots of smaller bags full of different kit. We also shortly used a laptop bag and felt confident, and definitely didn’t worry with the iPad one.
Overall we are happy that four months on the bags look good as new and we can use the same ones again and again on future trips.

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LAND EQUIPMENT

A Czech company HANNAH Outdoor Equipment provided us with a selection of clothes for land and camping gear. I am not going to describe all of it, but what was very useful on trip like this were the soft shell trousers. They had several great features, they were comfy, sturdy, fast drying, wind proof and survived without being wash once.

Other must have thing for us was a Pertex jacked with PrimaLoft insulation. It was great against wind, light rain, but mainly it remains dry even in the salty environment.

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Gravesend

Gravesend, there are many versions where the name derives from. For example from grafs-ham – a place “at the end of the grove”. Or it may derive from the Saxon Gerevesend, the end of the authority of Portreve. Some of the locals believe, that the name was born when the bodies of those who died from the plague in London were buried in the town in attempts to put an end to it. Hence the name Graves-end. Unlike princess Pocahontas, we didn’t end in a gave here. However it was a place where something ended for us, the circumnavigation of British coast.

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From now on, we are truly on the way home, back to the big City of London, and precisely to Shadwell Basin.
Today’s visit to Gravesend was very different to the one four months ago. Then we were at the beginning of the journey not knowing what to expect. And apart form late dinner at local international cuisine place we didn’t see anything.
This time we discovered that Gravesend is quiet a nice place with rich history connected as a gateway to the City and sea by the river and roads.

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Still being influenced by the routine of our journey it felt strange to walk around the place without the dry bags full of valuables and iPad in hand. We didn’t have to worry about kayaks being just left somewhere relying that they are too heavy to be carried away and clothes too wet to be touched. Having food in a pub was a pleasant affair without the need of quickly writing an update or choosing where to sit according to position or number of plugs. We didn’t have to rejoice at the availability of WiFi, something we baldy needed and couldn’t really get since leaving Scotland. They even had great coffee with soya milk here.

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So although something may have finished for us here, something else is starting. As from now on, we can partially resume our lives and do something different for a change. I am saying partially resume our lives as our flat is still being lived in by somebody else, but hey, it’s still holiday time, so no real need for something stable just yet.

119 Days and the circle is drawn

Today we reached the sailing club in Gravesend. This is the place where we spent our first night at the beginning of our circumnavigation.

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When our boats were taken up on shore, we realised that we had done this before. It dawned on us, we have finished the circumnavigation of Britain.

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However, we have yet to finish the journey. And that will be at Shadwell Basin on Tuesday.

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Windfighters II

The second part of the day was completely different to the first one. But first food. So we had ice cream and coffee and then lunch. Now lunch was interesting. You go to a pub/amusement arcade, they seem to have only these her around the beach. Then you order from a small menu and then in twenty minutes a guy from next door chippy brings your food. Takeaway containers, sauces, plastic forks, everything. Besides, it was tasty as well.

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From then the weather just got worst and worst. At some point we thought we won’t be able to see anything, mainly the big ships and their shipping lane. Then we thought, we won’t be able to go at all, it was storming badly. Oh yeah, and the headwind, but we know that one too well.

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In the end, we went, paddled, fought and made it to Gravesend to be already made to stop by safety boat. Hopefully they won’t bother us much during our go past the Olympic zone.

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Windfighters

It has been blowing F5 since yesterday late afternoon. And it will be like that untill Tuesday.
Despite the wind we enjoyed the paddle yesterday crossing from Holland on Sea all the way to Shoeburyness. We hoped for Southend, but well.

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At least we could paddle off together into the sunset. In our individual way, of course.

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After fairly short and not very peaceful night at Shoeburyness Beach the morning was early as we wanted to catch the last three hours of tide. The plan is to fight to reach Canvey Island, have a break, and leave again with the afternoon tide to Gravesend. It felt good to be on the Thames again.

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This side looks very different to the opposite one.

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During the trip I often thought of how it would be coming back this way. How would I feel, what weather there would be, and so on. I can say that the weather is as expected, sunny and warm. The paddle is awfully hard, not as expected, yet after paddling against the wind for so many times, it doesn’t bother me anymore. As I never get too excited prior expected in case it won’t happen, the thoughts still go as far as the night or what the weather will be tomorrow. But I do have to admit, I am looking forward to different clothes, nail varnish, hair brush, clean socks every day, sand free feet and always having the roof over my head once on the loo.

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Rounding the sixth corner

We like it when people are using the spot in its correct way – to find us on the water. And this is what happened yesterday, but I will come to that later.
The day started nicely after a good night sleep. The neighbours were quietly humming in the back ground, but were no bother, really. We stayed at Sizewell beach.

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From then we just paddled and paddled. Aldeburgh looked great, colourful match of interesting houses which we decided to come back one day and explore together with the inland canals and river.

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This soon changed and we started the long paddle along Orford Ness and Orford beach. It was soooo long, a true Chesil beach of the East minus the drift wood structures. But eventually we reached Shingle Street.

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It’s situated in Hollesley Bay and has many Martello Towers. This one was my favourite.

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The crossing of Felixstowe – Harwich was uneventful, but at least we met other water users.

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At Walton-on-Naze we started to look for place where to pitch. Well, no luck, so we continued and continued, passed Frinton-on-Sea and then we heard someone shouting from the promenade. We do not respond to people shouting to us, but then I heard my name. Ok, if someone knows my name then maybe I should respond. And right we did. It was Tim, we met him a while ago, he lives close by and thought we may do with a break. We did indeed. So we finished in Holland-on-Sea, loaded everything on and in the car, forgot to load the flask, and left.

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(Tim’s boatyard)

It was great evening, food was cooked for us and we saw the Olympic opening ceremony, good reminder that we’re getting closer.
This morning we arrived back to the landing spot, unloaded everything from the car, found the flask still waiting for us, packed the boats and now are ready to go. Southend is our destination for today.

Homeseahome is coming home

I am sure that many of you noticed that our speed increased the distance left decreased. Yes, we are heading home, to London. It would be four months and enough is enough.

We would like to arrive to Shadwell Bsin on Tuesday the 31.07.2012 with the high tide between noon and 1pm. You can always check our progress on the spot.

It would be great to see many supporters in the finishing line, however during the following afternoon we would like to sort out our equipment to be able to relax later. There is a BBQ planned by the THCC club members for later in the evening from 6pm.

Norfolk – Suffolk

Our first half a day in Norfolk was great. Lots of terns, many oystercatchers. We enjoyed passing the estuaries.

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Then it dawned on us. During almost two days we only saw dunes, sandy beach, sandy cliffs or any combination of those three. Besides Norfolk lacked in WiFi, 3G and public toilets. On top of that we had the most expensive coffee so far. £5 for two filter ones in a cafe where they had awfully dirty tablecloths. That was in Caister on Sea.

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Great Yarmouth failed to lift our spirits, too.

Finally we reached Lowestoft Ness, the most Easterly point in UK.

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With Suffolk the change in coastline came and our spirits did get the lift.

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Southwold indeed reminded us of Islington. Sadly we could not stop as we were trying to get the most of tide.

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One thing we have discovered is that it is a real lottery win to be a lighthouse keeper on South East coast. The light house is never in the middle of nowhere. You definitely don’t have to worry about water seeping through your cellar. The keepers accommodation also seems bigger than the ones we have seen before, let’s say on west or north coast.

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