Choice of Kayak.My Top Ten

Paddleyak Swift and Cobra Expedition Sit-on-top Kayaks (and a couple of Loons)

This is my guide to the top ten kayaks I have owned or paddled which are suitable for flatwater touring, coastal cruising and wildlife watching.

They are listed in reverse order with number one being the kayak that I consider to be the best for the job.


I thought I should include a conventional Sit-in sea kayak just to show that I am not completely biased towards Sit-on-tops. I bought this particular craft when I dibbled with a bit of competition sea kayaking. It was suitably quick and I thought it might also be good for notching up a few miles  of coastal touring.

Sipre Millenium Kayak

I paddled round Baggy and Morte points in North Devon on a perfect calm day, enjoyed the thrill of scorching along but really didn’t enjoy the gnawing concern of what would happen if I tipped out. I know how to eskimo roll but was fully aware that the majority of competent paddlers (and incompetent ones like me) probably wouldn’t be able to perform a roll ‘in anger’.

You would be struggling to find a faster boat than this, but if you want a worry-free paddle, would like to sit on something more forgiving than a solid fibreglass seat, and paddle something a bit more stable and relaxing, then this is not for you.

It looked great on the roofrack. It spent a lot of time there.

I sold it.


Oh come on, you’ve got to be kidding. You cannot include an inflatable in a review of serious kayaks. Well, yes I can, because quality inflatables are remarkably waterworthy.

Gumotex Seawave Inflatable Kayak. It makes you grin.

The trouble with hardshell double kayaks is that they tend to be horrifically heavy. Getting them on the roof could result in any number of strains ,tears and ruptures to many areas of your musculoskeletal system.

This kayak lives in a bag the size of a large rucksack and once inflated is so comfortable that come coffee break and lunchtime you will want to stay lounging and stretching out in the boat instead of trying to find somewhere comfortable to sit on a patch of slithery kelp between those barnacle-encrusted rocks.

Inflatables have the reputation of being blown around by the wind lilo-style. This is massively reduced by the tracking fin which acts like a skeg and locks it on to the surface very effectively.

For me the Seawave is just a bit too long and takes a long time  to inflate, and is prone to bending in the middle when there is a bit of chop. I don’t use the optional top deck stiffening poles.

It’s also a pity it doesn’t have drainage (scupper) holes like its smaller stablemate the Safari, so that water flicked in by the paddles gradually accumulates and needs to be scooped out every so often.

Gumotex Seawave in camping mode

But it is superb for a super-comfortable and relaxed paddle for two, or a major camping expedition for one. I used mine for a four day camping trip down the River Severn.



South Africans know about seaworthy craft as their patch of sea can get a bit lively.

The Paddleyak Swift comes from Cape Town and is a fantastic and stylish sit-on-top sea kayak (technically a hybrid as it’s got a coaming for a spray deck, but you really don’t need it). It is only 23 inches wide and so unusually fast for a SOT.

Paddleyak Swift

I paddled mine for many years and completed my longest sea paddle of 36 miles (along the length of Chesil Bank and back) in this craft. It’s drawback is that there is no comfortable seat, little back support and the hatches are very small.

But you will struggle to find a better looking kayak. When I rolled up on the beach heads used to turn. Or was that because of my groans as my numb backside came back to life?

It’s just a bit basic compared to the more ‘comfort aware’ range of kayaks now available.


This was one of the first plastic Sit-on-tops. And what a design. 26 inches wide so narrower than many of its style , and at 14ft long  impressively fast. A huge hatch at the front (which inevitably leaks a bit), and a tankwell behind the seat.

Ocean Kayak Scupper Pro

The only real drawback is the low seating position which means you have a wet ride and are permanently sitting in a puddle of water. This of course is a common SOT problem but most others have  either the seat raised a bit or have channels to drain away the water.

I managed to hole my Scupper Pro while paddling down a river and a rock punctured the hull adjacent to the central tankwell scupper hole at the back. Although it was repaired I lost a bit of confidence with it.


I think the Tarpon 160 was designed for Americans who spend a lot of time at McDonalds. It is a battleship of a kayak. I bought it when I was in the heart of my kayak-fishing phase with a view to landing some mighty fish. It did indeed see some action with several Tope up to 60lbs.

60lb tope
Tope in Tarpon

It is very robustly built and has a  comfortable seat and excellent adjustable backrest. My 160 was 16ft long so I could pack in huge quantities of camping gear (plus other people’s surplus they couldn’t fit in their own kayaks). It is 28″ wide which is about standard for this type of kayak.

Tarpon’s are justifiably popular but have one major drawback (apart from the leaky front hatch which I think is now resolved). They are horrifically heavy. I’m still not sure how I used to ‘clean and jerk’ mine onto the roof of my MPV without dislocating my entire body.

pollack hat trick
Wilderness Tarpon 160

I think it weighed 32 kgs but I never dared check in case it was more than that.

As I do a lot of solo kayaking a boat that I can get onto the roof by myself without needing a stay in hospital is absolutely essential.

And surely having a similar craft which is 25% lighter can only be an advantage.

But it served me well during several multiday camping trips including a five-day expedition to the Scilly Isles rounded off by the thirty mile open-sea crossing back to Cornwall.

I sold it for something lighter.


This is my kind of boat. I really love it. It is narrow (26″) and sleek and longish (14ft). Best of all it is light….23kgs.

RTM Disco Kayak

I have used one quite a lot in Spain and paddled in excess of 30 miles per day.  I think I am probably about as tall as it would accept as my feet are squashed against the bulkhead of the footwell, and I am 6ft 1in. Similarly a heavier paddler might have balance issues as this is quite a narrow delicate craft, certainly when compared to the Tarpon which could accommodate a small elephant.

RTM Disco kayak

But it looks great, like a conventional sea kayak, and goes satisfactorily fast.

It has a good watertight tupperware-style front hatch, and attachment points for a comfortable seat.


My first SOT Kayak. 16 years ago. My eyes were opened. It was exactly what I had been dreaming of for years. What a fantastic boat. Although little more than a flat slab of plastic with a couple of shallow recesses for seats.

Ocean Kayak Malibu 2

But absolutely worry-free and in fact great fun for swimming off, fishing from and generally larking about with the family. Thank goodness I didn’t buy that Sit-in sea kayak which I so nearly did, and would only have used a fraction as often as the Malibu 2.

It is quite wide and quite slow but extraordinarily light compared to the newer double SOTs.

You can only do that on a sit-on-top

It introduced large numbers of friends and family to the delights of kayaking.

Fun,fun and more fun.

It was eventually scrapped when the keel wore completely through due to excessive dragging.


I have owned a Safari for nearly two years and still cannot quite believe it. It is my kayak of choice for trips up to ten miles long (quite often more) and it seems to defy the laws of science and aquatics, because it goes almost as fast as anything else. It really shouldn’t.

Gumotex Safari

I think that it is because it is so sensationally comfortable, and jamming your backside against the huge inflatable seat, and your feet against the squashy inflatable footrest, means that you can perfect your paddling action including pumping of the legs and so maximise your paddling efficiency. You are poised like a coiled spring.

I was very doubtful when I bought. it but thought it would hasten my return to the water following a knee replacement. It did, as it weighs only 12kgs.

But since then I have clocked up over 2,000 miles in it, including a 32 mile open coast paddle around Land’s End from Penzance to Longships Lighthouse and back, which is a grade ‘C’ sea kayak trip (the most severe).

It seems to keep up with chums in normal recreational SOT kayaks and is a lot easier to sling around on land. Lots of room for gear in the tankwell behind and, probably its best feature, has scupper holes between the side and floor inflation chambers that make it self-draining. I didn’t realise what a benefit this was until I saw how much water accumulated in the non self-draining Seawave.

Its tracking fin means it doesn’t get blown around.

At only ten foot long and 28″ wide it still amazes me with its speed through the water.

My only criticism is that it gets slowed down rather more than a more substantial craft when heading in to wind and chop but this is hardly surprising.

It is so idiotically comfy and so light and easy to use that I would dare to suggest that over the course of an entire days paddling you would end up notching up the same distance in a Gumotex Safari as you would in any other kayak because you take a fraction of the time to get on and off the water and don’t need to have breaks to stretch your legs onshore because it is a lot more comfortable in the boat (and you don’t get stiff, and can move around).

It might be a bit tippy if you are over 80-90kgs.

Gumotex Safari….more comfortable than a bed


I spent a long time looking for a kayak like this.  Essentially an expedition sea kayak with SOT credentials. And it was plastic so good and rock-proof.

Narrow (less than 23″ wide) and surprisingly light (less than 23kgs). 18ft long.

Cobra Expedition fully laden for camping

But very difficult to get hold of one in the UK because of lack of demand. Kayakers wanting a performance sea kayak went for a Sit-in, paddlers wanting a recreational Sit-on-top , frequently for fishing, went for a wider more stable variety….very sensibly.

But not me. I was looking for a narrow craft that would REALLY do the mileage, but by this time I was a definite SOT convert. I just can’t see the point of having to worry about safety associated with falling out of your boat when you have absolutely no worry at all when paddling a SOT. And can stretch your legs. And sit with your legs dangling over the edge having a cup of tea ten miles from the shore. All those pages devoted to rescue techniques in the sea kayaking books can be torn out and replaced with a few words……..’you just climb back on’.

I will accept that it just might not be that easy to climb back on if the conditions were bad enough to tip you out in the first place, but its going to be easier than getting back into a swamped  sit-in sea kayak.

(And also I will accept that SOTs encourage completely inexperienced kayakers to take to the water with all the associated risks).

Back to the Cobra Expedition. It’s not quite as comfortable as some SOTs and comes only with a backrest. I glued on a load of camping mat to the seat area which probably makes it a bit more unstable. Stability is definitely an issue with the Expedition but something you will get used to.

To make it as steady as possible the seat is set low. This leads to a wet ride in anything more than six inches of chop because water comes over the low freeboard. So expect to get a wet backside in anything other than completely flat conditions.

Cobra Expedition

The rudder is handy but it has an appallingly big turning circle. However this is not really a problem as tight turns are not really required when sea kayaking. The beauty of having a rudder is that you can concentrate on keeping  up a steady paddling rhythm and finely tweek or adjust your direction using the foot pedals.

Only one major complaint with this kayak . The hatches leak. They are good size hatches with covers locked down by eight plastic rotating toggles. But if you get waves over the deck, and this does happen a lot with this craft which is fast and low-profile, water gets through. Embarassingly I havn’t found out quite how yet. I completely taped over the cover of the small day hatch behind the sea, and water still got in!

The quantity that enters always seems more than it actually is, but it is a bit of a concern given my penchant for offshore paddling.

However overall a fantastic kayak.

I put its Expedition credentials to the test when I spent two months paddling around the west of Scotland in 2014 (including around St Kilda). Surely as good as any  Sit-in sea kayak.


The original, and in my opinion still the best.

It’s pretty remarkable that Ocean Kayak’s initial design for one of the first recreational SOTs has yet to be bettered.

It’s perfect for beginners and experienced kayakers alike.

Derrick, Scilly
Prowler 13 in epic conditions at Scilly

At 28″ wide and 13 (or 15)ft long it is moderately fast. It is super stable. It is well laid out. You can clip in a comfortable seat. It has got a big storage space behind the seat. It is a pleasure to paddle. It is lightish (approx 24kgs).

I am talking about the original uncluttered Prowler 13. This is all you need for touring or wildlife watching. All manner of newer versions are aimed at fishing and the plethora of gadgets increase the weight considerably. Light is good as it ultimately means you go paddling more often.

Prowler 13…good at everything

I would recommend the Prowler 13 to anyone as a first SOT , and often do. It’s length means it has better tracking than a shorter kayak and so is more suitable for longer trips. Also length means it has better ‘glide’, so carries on moving through the water for longer and in the right direction if you stop to scratch your nose.

And more length means more suitability for packing in the gear for camping trips.

My first single SOT was a Prowler 15 and I seriously regret selling it.


So that is it….my overview of the best kayaks for distance cruising and wildlife watching, based on nearly 17,000 miles paddled.

You will notice I drone on a lot about weight. Weight is much more important than you might realise. And plastic (rotomoulded) kayaks seem to be getting heavier because they come with more and more features which are largely unnecessary if you are not fishing. All you need for fishing anyway is a couple of rodholders.

The heavier a kayak is the less likely you are to take it out in marginal conditions (such as a cold wet day in winter) because it is just too much effort. You are more likely to stay at home and eat cakes and watch the telly.

That is why I love my Gumotex Safari inflatable because I can chuck it in the back of the car and be on the water within a minute of arriving at the river/lake/sea. This is an extreme example but the principle applies to all of them.

Unquestionably the best multipurpose craft which you will be guaranteed to enjoy is a Sit-on-top which is over 12ft long (so it tracks and glides well on extended trips) and about 28″ wide which provides the best compromise between speed and stability. Like the good old Prowler 13.

RTM Disco and Ocean Kayak Prowler 13

The Total Tamar

Cormorant drying out

From Gunnislake weir it’s a twenty mile paddle down the entire length of the tidal reaches of the River Tamar. If you finish at Devil’s Point where it opens out into Plymouth Sound it’s more like nineteen but you really have to take a slingshot around Drake’s island to provide a satisfactory turning point for the trip.

It was such a nice sunny end-of-March day that I set out to paddle the whole length and back again, but because of the tide times I would have to start at Calstock and go downstream first and finish with the section upstream afterwards. The very high Spring tides would be a big help and power me along, especially in the middle section. Even so, a BIG day out and a good way to get fit for the Summer. Or collapse.

Definitely a job for my long and sleek Cobra Expedition SOT kayak.

I slipped beneath the never-ceases-to-amaze-me Calstock viaduct through the early morning mist before sunrise. Chilly enough to make me thankful I had remembered to bring gloves. Singing Blackbirds and Chiffchaffs injected a Spring boost into my cold musculature.IMG_0143

Early morning Calstock

The water was absolutely glassy as I cruised along absolutely silently past sleeping Cotehele Quay.

Cotehele Quay

The river then widens significantly for the long straight past Halton Quay prior to the huge loop starting at Pentillie and finishing at Weir quay.IMG_0159


Incidentally, there are good slipways to put in at Calstock and Cotehele although these are very muddy and tricky at low tide, and an excellent all-stage-of-the-tide gravel slipway at Weir Quay.

The next four miles to the Tamar Bridge is a bit uninteresting and potentially unpleasant if the wind is blowing. After Cargreen on the Cornwall side the River Tavy joins from the left and the branch line train clatters over the metal bridge at its neck.


Tamar Bridge

I was very pleased that as I approached the vast Tamar Bridge the wind was still non existent, and the outgoing tide whipped me along.

The moderate easterly wind which had so far lain dormant inland started to make itself felt as Devonport dockyard came into view. I always feel a bit small and vulnerable here as there is a lot of boat activity with navy boats shuttling about all over the place, and the Marine Police always watching, and no doubt wondering what on earth I am doing out in the middle of the wide river, all by myself, battling through the chop.

Four submarines and a couple of frigates on the left, a supply ship on the right, and then you have to time your passage correctly to dodge between the three Torpoint chain ferries. Not quite as straighhtforward as it seems as their movements seem a bit random, although I’m sure they aren’t.

Torpoint Ferry

Round the corner towards Devil’s point I hugged the Devon shore and although kept out of the wind found myself paddling against a stiff eddy current flowing upstream. I diverted into Mayflower marina for a breather and a cup of coffee. A seal popped up beside me and as I fumbled for my camera it disappeared and was gone.

King Billy (overlooking Devil’s Point)

As I emerged into Plymouth sound the wind really started to bite, but I was determined to get to Drake’s island as it provides such a good target and also the carrot of a sandy beach to stretch the legs. Although I’m pretty sure you are not allowed to land on Drake’s island I think there is some rule to say it’s OK if you are below the high water mark. This might be a load of tosh but I don’t want to find out because I am going to stop there anyway.

Lunch Break Drake’s Island

As I hauled up on the beach and levered myself out of the seat , a pair of Sandwich terns floated past with their grating call….Spring is here.

Sandwich Tern

I loafed about for the best part of an hour waiting for the tide to turn, very conscious of the marine police control tower half a mile away in Plymouth, watching me like the eye of Sauron in the Dark Tower.

As usual I set off too early and spent the next hour paddling against the last gasp of the ebbing tide, which as usual didn’t turn till way after it was supposed to. I think it is down to inertia; even though the tide is rising it takes a while to reverse the current in a large body of moving water.

I successfully dodged two of the Torpoint ferries but fell foul of the police boats when I ventured too close to the submarines. The officers were very polite and I diverted a bit further out.

The huge lake upstream of the bridge was a bit of a haul with wave chop coming over the deck but at least the tide was kicking in. I was surprised to see five Shoveler ducks flying over.

As the twists and turns of the river arrived the wind eased off. I was thrilled to see a pair of Barnacle Geese swimming beside the mud of the Devon bank at Halton Quay.  If this was a single bird it would probably have been an ‘escape’, but the fact that it was a pair makes wild birds seem more likely. If so, the first I have seen since I saw skeins migrating in across the Outer Hebrides (being harried by Golden Eagles!) decades ago.

Barnacle Geese (and Shelduck)

Only other birds of interest were five Common Sandpipers and a single Green Sandpiper on the corner just below Calstock.

Arriving back at Calstock with thirty-one miles under my belt, it was a bit of a struggle to set off for another five miles upstream. But the sun was out and pleasantly warm, and the water smooth.


Half a pizza at Morwellham Quay fuelled me for the final push to Gunnislake weir. The riverside tree that I had noticed had been gnawed by a Beaver last time I was here had fallen down. No other signs of any chewed trees, but I’m sure it was a beaver as you can see the teeth marks quite clearly.IMG_0279

Tree chewed by Beaver
Gunnislake Weir

I didn’t hang around at the weir as I was just about spent, and cruised back to Calstock on completely smooth water and a current that was just starting to ebb.

Three Kingfishers in the upper section.

Forty-one miles paddled. Total trip time twelve hours.IMG_0282

Biggest milage yet.

Another Extraordinary Whale Tale

Yet another trip down to South Devon to try to see the Humpback Whale that has been hanging around in Start Bay.

The first day bought a howling southwesterly wind so kayaking was off. It was also very cold. Hezzer and I  had superb views of a handful of Sandwich Terns working their way along the beach and frequently diving in for sandeels, as well as a couple of subadult Pomarine skuas harrying the gulls further offshore.

On the cetacean front we managed to see a small number of porpoises despite the choppy conditions, and the whale finally appeared in the late afternoon and worked its way past to the south, keeping well offshore and not giving anything more than a glimpse of its body, and just a hint of tail flukes.If it hadn’t been for the blows we would probably have never seen it.

The second day promised lighter winds and sunny skies, so I was very disappointed to be greeted by a hefty swell creating a nasty shore ‘dump’ whipped up by strong overnight winds,which once again ruled out any kayaking. Hopefully it would drop later in the day. Gannets and porpoises provided the only viewing through the morning, and then Hezzer got news via twitter that the whale was tangled by fishing nets over towards Blackpool sands. Oh no.

Through binoculars we could see a couple of fishing boats close together of Blackpool a couple of miles away, and then saw the whale blow close to them. And then it blew again in exactly the same place so it looked like it was stuck.

We drove round to Blackpool Sands as the RNLI inshore rescue boat was arriving to transfer members of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) out to the scene. I thought that I might just be some use as an extra pair of hands so I inflated Puffing Pig, my Gumotex Safari kayak, and waited on the shore for a suitable gap in the waves to get out onto the sea. The growing crowd would have smirked if I had been caught by a hefty wave breaking violently onto the shingle. There was the briefest lull in the swell and I was away.Just.

Paddling out

The RNLI crew sped over to warn me to keep away from the whale and although I hinted that I might have been able to help but they didn’t seem convinced (they were absolutely correct as it turned out).

Thumbs up from the RNLI

I was soon out near the attendant fishing boat ‘Maverick’ and the whale kept surfacing and trying to dive away. Surface conditions were more lumpy than I was expecting and combined with the underlying swell I realised I wasn’t going to be of any use to anyone, or any whale.

Lumpy sea conditions, and whale

So I paddled quickly back to the shore and glanced over my shoulder as I heard the whale blowing, rather desperately it seemed, behind me. I just got out onto the shingle before a mighty set of waves arrived, which would have minced me.

Blowing Humpback
It’s behind you (me)

Watching from the shore numerous rescuers were ferried out to the fishing boat with various gear for cutting the lobster pot rope wrapped around the whale’s body and tail.

The Salcombe offshore lifeboat arrived to support.

Salcombe lifeboat arrives

The hundred plus onlookers held their breath as the operation reached a critical point. Six crew members on the fishing boat hauled on the rope to bring the whale alongside, while a diver from the BDMLR leaned precariously over the edge of the boat to cut the whale free.

The critical cut

Success.The whale was suddenly released and it swam away, surfacing several times nearby as though nothing had happened. It headed back towards its favourite feeding ground towards Slapton.

The action happened too far offshore to hear any whoops of joy from the rescuers, but I’m sure there were  some. They certainly, and deservedly, seemed elated when they got back to the shore.4I2A9475

What a fantastic job they did. Carefully weighing up the situation, getting the right people and right equipment out to the whale (which wasn’t easy because they had to swim off the shore to the inshore lifeboat due to the heavy swell), and then the climax of the operation which looked to be a risky procedure for the diver hanging over the edge of the boat, inches above the whale.

Everyone on the beach was thrilled. Even the dogs seemed happy.

Smiling dog

Incidentally, you can see why many observers think the whale has a calf. There are a lot of porpoises about (although they would be about twenty times smaller than a newborn Humpback!)

Harbour Porpoise in the thick of it

All of todays photos taken by Henry Kirkwood. Thanks Hezzer.

Hezzer and his mighty lens

Costa del Bonxie

Puerto Banus

We spent four days on the Costa del Sol,  based halfway between Estepona and Puerto Banus. From the beach the extraordinary Rock of Gibraltar is usually visible thirty miles away to the southwest sticking out like a sole molar from the gappy gum of Andalucia.

The weather forecast for the first couple of days was exceptional for mid March, even for Spain. Sunny, hot, and most importantly for a kayaker, hardly a breath of wind. Perfect for the paddle to Gibraltar.

I was using a RTM Disco kayak, a really excellent sit-on-top that is quite narrow (26″) so licks along and is effectively a mini sea kayak. It cuts through the water a bit better than the slightly fatter sit-on-tops, and with no ‘hull-slap’.

It was completely dark when I set off at 6.30 (Spanish time). I stopped for breakfast on the beach at Estepona soon after sunrise and ladled on the factor 50 suncream. And then ladled on a load more.

Sunrise Spanish-style

The sea was so calm and flat and benign that I decided to cut directly across the bay to Gibraltar 23 miles away, which would take me several miles offshore so hopefully meet up with a sea creature or two.

I was nearly too far out to see a small school of Common dolphins between me and the coast. I adjusted course slightly to intercept and then paddled along beside them for about a mile, only just able to keep up as their cruising speed is four to five mph.

Common Dolphins and Gibraltar

It was a school of about a dozen , with a couple of small calves sticking very close to their mother’s side the whole time, and breathing when they did. The water was oily calm and with the slab of Gibraltar as a backdrop it was quite an experience. Eventually they swung offshore and I resumed my course.

Mother and calf Common Dolphin

The kayak-fishermen off the headlands were not particularly friendly, saying, in perfect English, that they did not speak English. I think they considered me a threat to their fishing even though I quite clearly had no rods.

I had my passport tucked away in a drybag just in case I was stopped by one of the many customs/police boats zipping about.

Lunch break

As I crossed from Spanish water into Gibraltar a dark shape at the surface several hundred metres away caught my eye. I initially thought it was inanimate and nearly didn’t bother with it until it flopped half-heartedly. It turned out to be a fin belonging to a really big Sunfish, by far the biggest I have ever seen.

First glimpse of thumping great Sunfish

Sunfish are the biggest bony fish in the world (so excluding sharks and rays, which are cartilaginous), and it wasn’t quite a record breaker, but must have been four foot across. I sneaked up on it silently and managed a few underwater pics as it very slowly and reluctantly sunk into the depths. They really are the most bizarre design.

Ocean Sunfish

After 31 miles and ten hours paddling I rolled up at Catalan beach , Gibraltar.Feeling fairly pooped, and a bit burnt where the copious quantities of suncream didn’t reach.

Arrival at Catalan beach

Back along the coast near Estepona, the next day was equally sunny and still ,so I headed offshore. I was a bit surprised to come across half a dozen Great Skuas (aka Bonxies)which really do not seem to be suited to the calm waters and busy, built-up coast of Southern Spain. They are surely more suited to a windblasted patch of bogland above a wavetorn Scottish coast.

Bonxie on the Costa

Some were cruising about with that alarming sense of purpose, and enormous potential power. Some were resting on the water.

I saw half a dozen more the next day, and wonder whether they actually winter here as they seemed quite at home and not just passing through (although I’m not sure quite how they would look different if they WERE just passing through). Maybe, like us, they were on holiday.

Bonxie on holiday
Bonxie and the Sierras

I really like Bonxies and they might just be my favourite seabird. I’m not sure why as their plumage is sludge brown and they always look a bit scruffy. But they are never boring and to see them accelerate in to intercept a tern or a kittiwake or a gannet to make it disgorge is breathtaking.

The birding was complemented by a dozen or so Balearic Shearwaters zipping past, and a couple of Adouin’s gulls to dilute the monopoly of the hefty Yellow-legged Gulls (that are the size of a Greater Black-back).

Adouin’s Gull

The final day  in Spain was absolutely awful: rain, wind and cold. Couldn’t have been more British. Time to head home.


Epic Fail Whale

There has been a Humpback Whale close in to the coast of South Devon for the last three weeks. It has entertained huge numbers of super-enthusiastic whale-watchers by cruising up and down the sheltered beach of Slapton Sands so close you could throw a stone at it. it’s absolutely amazing that it has come in so close and stayed around for so long. I’m pretty sure this is unprecedented in this part of the world.

Hezzer humpback
The Humpback (taken from the shore)

It got even better for the growing group of Humpback lovers when it moved a short distance along the coast to Torbay. Here it dramatically upped its game ,which so far had involved a blow followed by a leisurely roll at the surface and a shallow dive which occasionally showed its flukes. In Torbay it hurled itself about, breaching  and generally putting on an impressive Humpback-style display. Best of all was for the watchers on Berry Head on a sunny Monday lunchtime, when it appeared directly below them in clear turquoise water, before slowly moving away breaching an incredible thirteen times successively.

I was thrilled to see it at unbelievably close range at Slapton. From the shore.But it would have been a lot better to see it from my kayak. That particularly day was too windy and hostile for kayaking so I returned a couple of days later and of course the whale didn’t show. Actually it did, but an hour after I had left.

I then  went to Berry head and paddled twenty miles around in a flat calm sea expecting the whale to burst out of the water at any minute. My heart was in my throat for the whole six hours I was on the water.Son Henry joined the throng of expectant watchers on the cliff top at Berry head and watched me cruise past on the silky smooth water. Fast heading south with the tide, very slow north against it.No whale, it had gone back to Slapton. Groan.

Whale watchers at Berry Head
kayak berry head 2
Offshore paddling at Berry head

So the next day I went back to Slapton and paddled around around for a further twelve miles, and the whale was at the mouth of the River Dart and then turned up at Slapton a couple of hours after I had left.

Maybe it’s justice, as you are not supposed to chase around after any whales, or any other sea creature, in any craft, and there has been much publicity to this effect relating to this particular whale. With the threat of prosecution.

But paddling along at three mph in complete silence in a kayak is hardly going to make a whale jump out of its skin.The whale is more likely to snigger at your insignificance. It would be a lot worse if I was on a Jetski.

kayak and jetski 2However rules are rules and I wouldn’t deliberately approach any such creature closer than the recommended two hundred metres.

Anyway, in a kayak you really don’t need to, as the sea creature will often come to you to see what you are all about. This certainly applies to seals, Bottlenose Dolphins, and rather surprisingly (and worryingly) Basking Sharks.

I launched four specific trips in my kayak to where the whale was supposed to be, paddled fifty miles,  and I didn’t see it.

So thank goodness for all the porpoises. I have never seen so many so early in the year before. They seem to be resident year round at major headlands such as Hartland Point and Berry Head, but in other areas numbers only build up as the sea gets warmer. Maybe I am wrong about that, and it’s just that I tend not to venture too far offshore in my kayak during the colder months, and the porpoises are always there.

I have seen over forty porpoises over the last couple of weeks while looking for the whale. They are not attracted to kayaks but just keep doing their stuff and seem indifferent to my presence. Having said that , if they get too close they will just disappear. One feature of porpoises is their constant changes of direction, first surfacing that way ,then next breath pointing in another direction. Dolphins tend to progress with a definite purpose but porpoises roll as if they are attached to the top of a wheel.

The water was so calm off the end of Berry Head I could see  ten porpoises at once and was thrilled to hear them ‘piffing’ all around. Hearing the blow of porpoises and dolphins is special to kayaks as most other craft make too much noise to hear the animals, and  sailing boats on days calm enough to hear the breaths have an engine running.

porpoises berry head
Berry Head Porpoises

I noticed a couple of porpoises  lie horizontally at the surface for a period of several seconds with their fins showing. I’m not sure whether they were looking above the surface, or briefly resting.

Resting harbour Porpoise

Some of my best and closest porpoise encounters yet.

They may be the UK’s commonest cetacean, and the world’s smallest (and certainly a lot smaller than the one I was hoping to meet) , but they are always a thrill to encounter, and I love their alternative title of ‘Puffing Pig’.

Harbour porpoise, Slapton