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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Where we fools to start on Fool’s Day?

Some time ago someone told me this, referring to the day on which we started our journey. I didn’t quite see it that way, however slowly this sentence has started to play on my mind.
It all may have started at home, when our tent arrived for the second time with wrong poles. We are resourceful, and as it was four days before departure, we repaired them ourselves, thinking nothing of it.
Yet events of our journey are painting another picture.
The first problem was caused by one of our new camping mats, it lasted two nights. Fortunately our friend Alastair stepped in and agreed to bring us his. He did so on that dreadful day when we landed on Winchelsea Beach. I still remember that day as the worst one of our trip so far. On the same day our wheels broke, too. We managed to secure new ones in Brighton.

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The second sleeping mat followed soon. This one lasted all the way to Hurst Castle. Thanks to Kerri and Andy and Anna who bought new one for us and met us in Bournemouth, that was sorted, too.
Another big disaster was my dry suit. First time it gave up on Chesil Beach. Fortunately we were storm bound in Burton Bradstock and at O’Three in Portland they repaired it before we left. Only for me to discover loose stitches and a hole on right knee patch. I then had to wait all the way to Harlyn Bay in Cornwall to get new drysuit which was sent to Barbara and Ian. The same time Michal got his, repaired. His dry suit seal gave up before Portscatho.

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I have this great paddle, it’s carbon, it’s light, it’s comfy. Only the joint in the middle gave up when we were fighting big waves and headwind between Freshwater East and Barafundle Bay. Michal fixed it there and then by duck tape. We refixied it later. Amazing what an orange duck tape can do. The paddle has been good as new ever since, only can’t be splitted anymore. I was really upset about it, but only till Michal’s paddle did the same, three weeks later. You may notice the pretty orange tape on our photos.
Some time passed with no disasters, relief, I thought, we broke the spell. At Rhuba Reid my phone died, so no nautical charts for us. Fortunately just few days ago we managed to get the new Navionic version on the iPad.

We passed the next big corner at north west only to find out that Michal’s VHF is out of order for good. Mine followed soon, lasted till the hairy moment in the middle of Moray Firth and our unfinished crossing to Lossiemouth. I foolishly decided to listen to weather forecast only to realise that there won’t be any anymore. Big thank you to Fiona, who coincidently contacted us and offered to run errands without knowing what she was in for. She brought them to us yesterday.
My boat needed only a minor repair, so nothing worth to mention. But our set of luck really highlighted the day before yesterday.
We landed late, took a little while to find tent place in Gardentown, settled in the tent cooking dinner only to be interrupted by three coastguards. I am really sorry that our friend Kerri got the scary call from US telling her that our spot was sending distress call. Indeed, it was flashing SOS like mad. We only managed to silence it by pulling the batteries out. Guess we won’t use it again. The coastguards were happy they didn’t have to look for us in the middle of the sea. We then had to go all the way up the hill to search for phone signal in order to find out who else from our friends and relatives was in distress. We should not have bothered, no one. Yet again, thanks to Fiona, who got a distress call from us, we may have a new spot, soon.

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As for the tent, it can’t be used when it’s really windy, it leaks as soon as few raindrops start and two of its poles are already broken. But it’s still standing.
Were we fools to have left on Fool’s day or to have left at all?

The story of the dry suit continues

This morning was a happy morning for all. Michal was happy that we’re paddling again, I was happy that my dry suit was back with new neck seal, and the dry suit was probably happy, too, for being with us and not in some strangers’ work shop.
Jean-Pierre contacted Typhoon on my behalf and they offered to replace the old dry suit with a new one. They would have one ready for Monday. Unfortunately they insisted on direct swap, something I am unable to do as we need to go when we can and at the moment I live in the dry suit.
And so we said good bye to Ian and Barbara and left our temporary home in Burton Bradstock. In Lime Regis on the 11th day of wearing the dry suit I discovered a hole in it. The stitches in the top material on my knee are coming loose. It is probably that not enough material was secured in the stitching.
What to say? I hope Typhoon understands my situation and would be able to send replacement to someone who will then meet us. Let’s hope nothing else would go wrong with it, it’s still cold for non drysuit, especially if you paddle almost daily.

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Dry suit

Originally I wasn’t thinking about using dry suit since I do not like its tightness around the neck. Talking to Dave Felton while he fitted us with kayaks persuaded me to get one brand new dry suit, too. I choose one from Thyphoon since they do a great size called SRelax aimed at short nicely curved women. Bio-seal sorted the problem with the neck. The dry suit arrived with thermals, so my joy at having paddling clothes sorted was enormous.

Not for long. Bellow is a clip of what happened with the thermals.

I sorted that by leaving them behind and buying new thermal trousers.

Then, a week later the dry suit had its say, too. Look what happened with my neck seal. It is true it was trimmed a bit to make it less tight, but very carefully to avoid such events. It was only used for eleven paddling days.

Fortunately it ripped now and here, close to Portland where the company called O’Three agreed to fix it as soon as possible. So should be ready for Thursday afternoon.

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