Would you believe it?…Even More Dolphins

IMG_1034Having clocked up twenty miles the day before, and fifteen the day before that, I was contemplating an easy day. Fowey seemed to fit the bill for a bit of laid-back paddling , and I could stick my nose out into the open sea in case I case I fancied a bit of an offshore jaunt.

Fowey is always great. Whichever way you decide to go at the mouth of the ria, you’ve had an excellent ‘warm up’ paddle through the harbour, dodging the Polruan ferry and all the other boat traffic.

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Fowey

I spontaneously decided to turn left and head east once out into open water, because that was where the wind was coming from, and I always paddle into the wind to start off with because it makes coming back easier. My planned coffee break on the sand at beautiful Lantic Bay didn’t happen because the waves were a bit ‘dumpy’ and getting out wouldn’t have been that easy.. So I carried on round to Lantivet beach which was a bit more sheltered, but not before I severely scrunched the bottom of my kayak over a savagely coarse barnacle-encrusted rock when I cut a corner a bit fine just before a wave was about to break . What an idiot, why didn’t i just paddle a few yards further out? Lucky my boat is plastic and not fibreglass.

I disturbed a Peregrine having its breakfast on a grassy knoll as I paddled past, and downed all three segments of a Bounty Trio while being scrutinised hard by a young family on Lantivet beach. By the way they were staring I got the impression that the image that their eyeballs was transferring to their cerebral cortex was not one that had been relayed before. It might have been the Bounty Trio that drew their gaze, but I think it was just me generally . Such was their unswerving eye contact I opted to have the rest of my coffee break far out to sea and took to the water again.

Considering what happened next they had unwittingly done me a huge favour. Just for the hell of it I paddled half a mile out around the excellently named ‘Udder Rock’ buoy and was going to take a slingshot around it and head back. However another half a mile further out was a scattered group of Kittiwakes feeding at the surface. I was lured out to investigate and was pleased to encounter a singleton porpoise who ‘piffed’ past a few feet from me.

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Udder Rock buoy

I was just about to crack open my thermos when, about as far out as I could see with my naked eye, my attention was drawn by a more compact and more vigorously feeding group of gulls. Out came the binoculars and I looked hard at the surface for several minutes. Just as I was about to give up, there was the splash of a dolphin. I instantly engaged warp drive and paddled flat out for twenty minutes or so towards the action.

I thought I was too late but was suddenly accompanied by four or five Common Dolphins who came in to ride my bow wave. Absolutely thrilling. Waves from dolphins surging beside me sloshed over the deck. For half an hour they played and puffed and looked and splashed all around. About a dozen in total with, I think, just a single juvenile.

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There she (he) blows
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Common Dolphin
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Dolphin sloshing water over the deck
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Being eyeballed by a dolphin
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that was close!

One adult dolphin had a significant injury on its back behind the dorsal fin which looked as though it was healing and certainly didn’t compromise its ability. Another also seemed to have some sort of old scar on its flank. Are these injuries from being caught in nets, or maybe boat injuries? My money would be on the net thing. At least  I don’t think it’s Great Whites.

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Dolphin with injury
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Dolphin with injury
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Dolphin with vertical scar on flank

Although the action took place two and-a-half miles off Pencarrow Head ,the wind had dropped completely, the sea was smooth, there was no tidal current an it was all so relaxing and enjoyable I supped my cup of coffee while being entertained by the dolphin troup.

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Coffee break with entertainment

They finally lost interest in me and headed off, and I lazily paddled back towards Fowey, passing about ten Portugese Men-of -War on the way.

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Portugese Man-of -War

The sun came out and it was all very warm and pleasant as I paddled back up the ‘urban’ section of water to Caffa Mill Car Park. There were lots of other sit-on-top kayaks about, not all piloted by homo sapiens.IMG_1433

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Fowey
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More Fantastic Common Dolphins

IMG_0258A single day with light winds was forecast . It was a gap between ex-hurricane Ophelia and approaching Storm Brian (I’m sure weather never used to be like this!). I was tempted offshore in an effort to see cetaceans. Although I have had a couple of really excellent prolonged encounters with inquisitive and friendly dolphins this year, it doesn’t look as though I will match last year’s tally of seven cetacean species (two whale, four dolphin and porpoise).

It must be one of the windiest years on record and the opportunities for offshore kayaking have been very limited. I’m sure I have said before that I prefer the sea to have no whitecaps which means I have worry-free paddling and makes spotting fins easier. Any sort of chop means you are much less likely to see a fin, and unlikely to be able to hold a camera steady enough to take a photo. Even if the sea is smooth any sort of groundswell can hide the horizon for a significant proportion of time because your eyeballs are only three foot above the surface.

Veryan bay in South Cornwall seemed to fit the bill. A lovely launch at sandy Carne Beach (with the bonus of FREE parking…gasp), direct access to the open sea, and not too strong a tidal current.

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Veryan Bay

It was lucky I was wearing my drysuit top when paddling out from the beach because the only sizeable wave of the entire morning broke across my chest as I got the timing through the surf completely wrong, as usual. That was the last wave I saw the entire day and in fact the sea surface was unusually smooth…..absolutely perfect for gliding along in complete silence and getting completely absorbed (lost) in the marine wilderness.

It was so still I could hear the slight rustle of Gannet’s wings as they came over to inspect me as usual, and the noise of boat engines carrying so far I could only just see the source.

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Nosy sub-adult Gannet

I skirted Nare Head and Gull Rock and headed out into the open sea. It’s rare to be able to use binoculars from a kayak on the sea but today was different because it was so flat. I watched my first Great-Northern Diver (Common Loon) of the season fly past in front of me, and noticed a large circling gang of gulls busy feeding about about a mile ahead.

Mmmm. I would be surprised if they were not accompanied by some other sea creatures, so upped the pace and closed in on the action. I hadn’t gone far when I saw some fins converging on the same spot. A school of Common Dolphins! They were travelling at exactly the same pace as me (4-5 mph) and I didn’t want to disturb them so kept well away. I thought they would move off but as I neared the feeding frenzy of gulls noticed a couple more dolphins feeding and jumping about. When they met up they all stopped for a bit of a feed and a bit of a splash, and then the whole lot came over to check me out.

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Common Dolphin

There followed an absolutely incredible ten minutes. I could see the dolphins approaching just under the surface, and some swam along beside me just inches away. They popped up in front of me then sped off, did some jumping, and then all came back over to inspect me further, or maybe to check out what score I gave their performance.IMG_0370

IMG_0317There were a couple of youngsters in the group who didn’t want to miss out on all the excitement.IMG_0273

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Junior Dolphin

Eventually they lost interest in me and moved off. I couldn’t resist paddling further out and passed another eight or so dolphins. I eventually ended up at Dodman A buoy, about six miles south of Dodman Point, and decided that was far enough.

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Dodman A buoy

There were quite a few small parties of Guillemots and Razorbills dotted about, often in threes. I suspect these were mother, father and this year’s offspring.

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Family Guillemot

The nine-mile paddle back to the beach was a bit of a haul as paddling back often is. However virtually every time I stopped for a break I could hear the ‘piff’ of a porpoise. The sea was so very flat and the air so still the sound was carrying probably a mile over the surface, so I  only saw a few of them. This is maybe not surprising as they represent a very small eyeball target because they are the world’s smallest cetacean (four to five foot long) and their fin is less than six inches tall.

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Harbour Porpoise

 

 

 

The Portugese Armada

I like jellyfish  and feel we have something in common. Not so much that they are exotic and mysterious, but because they have no brain.

Up till now I have come across six different species:

Common, or Moon jellyfish.

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Common Jelly

Blue Jellyfish.

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Blue jelly

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish

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lion’s Mane Jelly

Compass Jellyfish.

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Compass Jellyfish

Barrel Jellyfish. These are the first ones to appear in April and are up to the size of a dustbin!

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Barrel Jellyfish

Crystal Jellyfish. These are supposed to be very rare, or have been up till very recently, and are like something out of Avatar.

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Crystal Jelly

This autumn I have heard about some Cornish beaches being closed  because Portugese Men of War jellyfish had been washed up, but  I wasn’t expecting to see one while out paddling because typically only a handful turn up each year.

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Mount’s Bay

I was hopeful for an encounter when I did a circuit of Mount’s Bay starting at Marazion. It was a bit choppy but I still went straight across to Mousehole. I had a brief view of a couple of porpoises and was very lucky to see a handful of Common Dolphins which passed just in front of me and stayed alongside for a couple of minutes. There were a couple of silvery-coloured youngsters in the group. Photography was very difficult and this is the only half-decent shot I  managed:

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Juvenile Common Dolphin (I think)

Spotting cetaceans in choppy conditions, let alone photographing them, is quite a challenge.

As I was watching the dolphins I drifted towards a floating translucent bladder with a mauve tinge….a Portugese Man of War jelly. I was actually a bit disappointed because it struggles to live up to it’s very dramatic name and I thought at first it was a discarded plastic bag. However I treated it with respect as I knew the dangling blue tentacles can pack a nasty sting, and recoiled in horror as it seemed to suddenly come towards me although it had probably just been caught by a gust of wind.

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Portugese Man of War Jellyfish

Over the next six hours I came across fifteen Men of War, up to about ten inches long and some without ‘tentacles’.

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Portugese Man of War

And my encounters with ‘Floating Terrors’ (another of it’s superb names) didn’t stop there. A couple of days later while kayaking between Looe and Polperro, Dave, Paul and myself  passed another twenty or so of the much-feared siphonophore (technically the Portugese Man of War is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore consisting of three types of medusoid and four types of polypoid grouped into cormidia beneath the pneumatophore. Jelly would be so much easier).

To be honest some looked more like a shortcrust top-crimped Cornish pasty.

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Portugese Man of War in Full Sail

The sea was quite lumpy again but it didn’t interfere with our jellyfish spotting and, as usual, a good time was had by all.

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Paul, Dave and lumpy sea

The ultra-sheltered narrow harbour of Polperro provided a bit of a break before the paddle back to Looe.

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Polperro
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Looe Harbour

Incidentally, the unluckiest jellyfish I have ever seen is this one that was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was accidentally inhaled by a Basking Shark who usually prefer a diet of plankton. Maybe it was having the jelly for afters.

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Basking Shark and the unluckiest jellyfish in Cornwall

This strange, windblown visitor from the subtropics is probably the most dangerous sea creature I have yet encountered. I have had a few tussles with quite large fish with impressive teeth while doing a spot of fishing, but I think the Man of War just about takes the biscuit in terms of health hazard.

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shark…piece of cake
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Portugese Man of War…takes the biscuit

 

Purbeck – a Paddler’s Paradise

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Durdle Door bay

I had forgotten just how good the Purbeck coast of Dorset is for sea kayaking. It manages to squeeze in just about every type of scenery, from white-chalk cliffs to sludge-filled creeks, in a coastline ofnot much more than forty miles.

The clear placid water of Studland Bay was the venue for my first ever venture out onto the brine in a kayak many decades ago. One of those awful uncomfortable fibreglass craft that used to go round in circles no matter what you did with the paddles.

It was also here I landed my first ever kayak-caught fish, a mackerel, from the same meandering  kayak, using a cotton reel and line with a single hook and silver-paper lure. Forty years ago probably.

This time I started off with a nice downwind paddle from Swanage to Shell Bay, with the superb white cliffs and stacks of Ballard Down and Old Harry as the major highlight. Chalk cliffs always look sensational when the sun is shining on them.

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Swanage’s superb chalk stacks
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Old Harry Rocks

My entire body recoiled in a sort of primitive terror reflex as a Hercules roared over the clifftop above my head with absolutely no prior warning (although, I accept, I wouldn’t really have expected any), and then swung round over Studland Bay with its cargo door open. A heavy object attached to a parachute was thrown out (looked like a dishwasher on a pallet, but probably wasn’t) and was retrieved by a couple of very high speed splashy craft in a suitably professional manner.

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Hercules doing its stuff

There were a lot of Mediterranean Gulls feeding along the shore in Studland Bay, a species which was completely absent from this area (and the UK, I think), until recently.

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Mediterranean Gull

I paddled over Studland Bay’s areas of eel grass which provide a home to a variety of seahorse, amazingly. I lifted my rudder so as not to mess it up because the tide was very low.

Possibly more remarkable still was the nudist sitting all alone on the sand on what wasn’t really a sort of day for sitting around on a beach, with or without any clothes.

I just managed to dodge in front of the Sandbanks ferry before it landed. Paddling around it would have meant battling into the stiff tidal flow coming out of Poole Harbour, which is avoidable by sneaking along the shore only a few feet out.

On Day two I circuited Brownsea island which sits in the middle of Poole Harbour. Usually a nice sheltered paddle but on this occasion there was a stiff NW wind and the very big Spring tides made for some fairly dramatic (drastic) ferry glides across the channels. There is plenty to look at but mainly relating to humans e.g. hundreds of moored yachts and the most expensive real estate in the world on Sandbanks peninsula. It might actually be the second most expensive after somewhere like Malibu, I can’t remember exactly.

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Sandbanks
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Sandanks real estate

The armed forces were using a Chinook to entertain the hoardes of dog-walkers along Studland beach this time. It was carrying around a speedboat which seemed more appropriate to the needs of frontline troops than the Hercules’ Hotpoint.

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Chinook takes the strain

Day 3 was the best. Clear blue sky and fantastic visibility. Perfect for the classic paddle from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door, one of the most photographed coastal features in the UK. You can’t really claim to be a sea kayaker until you have paddled through the Door.

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Durdle Door

I had a bit of a chat with the guide from Jurassic Tours who was leading a posse of sit-on-toppers through the arch of the ‘Door’.

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Jurassic Tours

I couldn’t resist paddling all the way along the Bay and then punching  right through the buttress at the other end using the conveniently positioned doorway of Bat Hole. I then paddled back to Durdle Door along the line of four rocky islets with the excellent names of The Calf, The Cow, The Blind Cow and The Bull. I spent quite a long time trying to work out exactly what feature made the second cow blind, but eventually gave up none the wiser.

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Bat Head and Bat Hole (and little me)

Becky and my sister Juliet had walked along the cast path from Lulworth taking a few photos, wisely turning back  before the alarmingly named valley of Scratchy Bottom. I joined them on the cliff for a quick pic.

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Me ‘n my sis

The water in Man O’ War cove was satisfactorily turquoise and would not have been out of place on a June day in the Maldives, let alone early October in England.

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Man O’ War Cove (with me in the middle)

I paddled back to Lulworth Cove and had to dodge surprisingly large numbers of milling burger-eaters/ ice-cream slurpers while trolleying my kayak back up to the carpark.IMG_0155