Humpback. Complete Fluke.

Apologies for the pun. Couldn’t resist it.

I’ve clearly been influenced by the tabloids:

daily mail
Daily Mail
The Sun

I still can’t quite believe my luck with this staggering encounter. This was my seventh trip of the year around Mount’s Bay from Penzance. The inner bay (inside a line from St.Michaels Mount to Mousehole) is relatively sheltered and tidal flows are weak. Further along the coast towards Gwennap Head the tidal rate increases, with a potentially fizzy area off Tater Du lighthouse where currents converge and there is an underwater ridge.

Swirling currents mean fish which in turn mean dolphins (and whales) but if there is any wind at all it is not at all great for offshore kayaking because the sea chops up dramatically. So I am very wary off paddling miles out to sea in this particular location.

So it was incredibly fortunate that on this remarkable day there was no wind at all and the sea was essentially smooth…just a small swell rolling through.

The timing of my arrival was sheer luck as well. I had paddled fourteen miles out from Penzance in a big offshore loop and had been going for five hours. I heard the whale blowing about at least half an hour before I saw it and I think it had only just arrived in the area. I watched it for well over an hour and I left it working its way west towards Land’s End, where it was seen later in the day.

So it was only there for a couple of hours, just when I happened to roll up.

Extreme fluke.

dripping flukes

I’ve actually been focused on looking for whales from my kayak for over five years. This means heading far from the shore and I have clocked up about five hundred miles of offshore paddling (more than a mile from the coast) for each of the last four years.

I am very fortunate in having the time and living in a location to be able to do this, because days suitable for offshore kayaking (unless you are a hard-core type) are few and far between.

I only venture out if the wind is less than five mph all day. In SW England this is unusual. A wind any stronger than this makes the kayak bounce around and photography becomes even more challenging, and as soon as there are any splashy waves the chances of seeing a fin diminishes and the chances of hearing a cetacean breathing also goes down. And its just not so much fun.

Photography from a kayak with a camera that is not waterproof is tricky at the best of times. It lives in a dry bag behind my seat and is promoted to my lap when action is imminent.

Camera stowed safely (in grey/black drybag)
camera poised for action

The next few weeks are ‘out’ as far as offshore kayaking is concerned, because the wind is going to be too strong. Just look at the forecast for today, for instance:

Screenshot (37)
savage winds across S England

Before this big encounter I have had ten whale sightings in Devon and Cornwall. Mostly fleeting glimpses of a passing Minke Whale, frequently only one blow and it is gone. This video is fairly typical (including the slate grey sea)


Also a very dramatic sighting of a large whale, thought to be an incredibly rare Sei Whale, lunge fishing near the Eddystone lighthouse, three years ago.

probable Sei Whale
Probable Sei Whale, Eddystone

My only previous encounter with a Humpback was Horace (aka Doris) off South Devon in 2017. This photo looks great but when you consider that Horace was tangled up in a lobster pot line and so going nowhere, it’s not so good.

Horace and thelonekayaker

Fortunately he/she was released successfully by the BDMLR team.

I have been so keen to improve my whale-from-kayak chances, I have ventured on trips to Greenland…..

Greenland kayak-camping

and the world’s greatest ocean-aquarium, the Sea of Cortez in Mexico….

Sea of Cortez

Fantastic experiences both, a few glimpses of distant whales, but the search for that magical encounter continued…..

until now. gulp 8

I still can’t quite believe that the sort of sight that I had specifically gone to both Greenland and Mexico to see, happened right here on my doorstep. It’s all the more personally satisfying for me that I came upon the Humpback completely unexpectedly, completely randomly, completely unguided, and powered only by my own grunt. I have always been a huge supporter of observing and celebrating the natural history on your home patch, even though it might be harder to find, and require more effort (and enduring some dubious weather) than hopping on a plane to where the wildlife might be handed to you on a plate (so to speak).

I’ve also always quite liked doing stuff where the end result is extremely unlikely to happen and only comes about by putting in huge amounts of hours of trying. I think I am the only individual daft enough to go looking for whales from a kayak in England.

So here we are….everybody’s favourite species of whale putting in a spectacular show of lunge-feeding, fin-slapping and raising the tail flukes (but no singing….as far as I could hear, above my pounding heart).

flipper 2
Humpback, Gwennap Head behind

Played out on a calm blue sea under a cloudless blue sky with a backdrop of the stunning Cornish coast. How good is that?

Everybody loves a Humpback…this next video has had well over one million views. That’s more than Happy Talk (singalong version) by Captain Sensible on Youtube. Sorry, Capt.



Just seeing this next image is exciting enough for me. It was all I was ever hoping to see. Six views so far. All by myself.

dorsal fin 2
Humpback back

I might struggle to match the excitement of this astonishing sight in subsequent blog posts, but if I can convey the enjoyment of slicing through the water completely silently and unobtrusively, whether it is far offshore or miles inland up a creek, observing and enjoying the huge variety of wild creatures that inhabit the southwest of England, then all is good.

It is great to welcome a whole load of new readers on board.






Kayaking in Greenland

Greenland…..could be chilly

For a change of scenery I booked a sea kayaking trip to Greenland with Hezzer. This is the sort of thing I do in winter during the dark days and lousy weather. The darker it is and colder and wetter it is the more daft a project I dream up to do in the summer. And this year with a bit of pain from a replacement knee thrown into the mix, the resulting expedition was particularly extreme.

When summer eventually comes around I am usually quite happy  paddling the coast of Devon and Cornwall ,but Greenland was already booked ,so off we went.

We stopped over in Iceland which was disappointing because I hadn’t planned it properly. We stayed in a bed and breakfast near the airport which was a bit of a bleak lava field. We took one trip into Reykjavik to meet up with my brother Tim and Calum who were on their way to Greenland to hunt Musk Ox and fish. This was not a coincidence and I had timed our trip to coincide with theirs but all we did was have a meal together and share the plane from Iceland to Narsarsuaq in Greenland. Apart from that we saw nothing of the rest of the island.

The flight to Greenland was absolutely thrilling, and something I will never forget. The brown mountainous coast filled the horizon, with glaciers flowing down the valleys to break up into myriads of icebergs, and the great white sheet of the polar icecap covering the entire interior like a monumental duvet.

Greenland from the plane

The little plane twisted and turned down the valleys below the level of the surrounding peaks to ‘give us a bit of a thrill’ as the pilot explained when he emerged from his cockpit afterwards.

As we disembarked at the tiny airport icebergs of all shapes and sizes bobbed about in the adjacent sea.

Hezzer and iceberg

Hezzer and I were quickly introduced to our other five Tasermiut ( the travel company) expedition teammates and we were whisked off down the fjord in a RIB. Another thrill. Upon arrival at Narsaq we were introduced to Adrian, our guide and installed in the kayak ‘hotel’ which was a sort of shed but perfectly well equipped.


The next morning we had a brief wander round the Inuit town with its brightly coloured houses (and no fences)  before we were whisked off in another RIB to where the kayaks were located. Basically a beach in the middle of nowhere with seven kayaks stacked up neatly on the shore. Superb. Proper wilderness.

pre-departure lunch

As we munched lunch prior to departure eagle-eyes Hezzer spotted a White-tailed Eagle circling about, which attracted the attention of a large falcon which carved across the sky towards it. I was pretty sure this was a Gyr Falcon as it looked too grey for a peregrine, but didn’t look too hard as I was sure we would see more over the next week, but we didn’t. Not for certain, anyway.

White-tailed Eagle

We loaded up our kayaks and off we paddled. Dodging between the icebergs which were constantly creaking and groaning and surprisingly often rolling over with a massive roar.Wise to give them a wide berth.

At last…paddling Greenland’s icy waters

The camp on the first night was a superb location on the corner of a fjord and the water was complete glass. And the sun shone, just what I wanted. And yes it was cold at night but not below freezing.

First night camp


More flat fjord, sun, icebergs and treeless mountainside the next day with a camp below the icecap on a desert like area. Really very little wildlife apart from the occasional wheatear and family of snow buntings, with eagles overhead every so often.

Glassy paddling

We had a superb paddle on day three past some massive cliffs and then culminating in the approach to the foot of a glacier with bergs breaking off regularly and thundering into the sea. Our camp overlooked the mile-long wall, but if you turned your head to look at the action when you heard the boom of breaking ice, you were generally too late because the sound had taken three seconds to reach your lugholes.

Camping with a view

The next day we paddled beneath the two ‘feet’ off the glacier (at a respectful distance) . This was everything I had hoped for when I booked to come here. A wall of ice, glass calm blue sea and unbroken blue sky above. Perfection. When  arrangements were made for the walk up the glacier I declined to go as I was a bit worried about my new knee so just sat around watching the scenery. There was absolutely no wildlife to look at and not a sound of any life, just the crack and creak and crunch and grumble and thunder of moving ice.

At the foot of the glacier
Greenland perfection

Due to a sudden unexpected wind, which I think was a katabatic wind pouring off the ice sheet ,we had to be ‘extracted’ by boat and taken to an encampment of Tasermiut-owned plastic igloos for the night. I would have sooner been in the tent but never mind. Plastic igloos don’t really tick my wilderness box.

Igloo village

Next day was a short hop to an island where we went for a water collecting stroll , punctuated by a swim in a lake as it was so blooming hot! would you believe that…too hot in Greenland!

Hezzer cools off

Our final day had us hopping across the mouths of several fjords so I was hopeful of my long awaited encounter with a whale from a kayak. Alas no whales but we did see a couple of seals but these were extremely easily spooked and no doubt with good reason as I think they are a prime hunting target for the local inuits.

Little wildlife, lots of icebergs

Incidentally, if I had known I was going to have a spectacularly good and prolonged encounter with a whale less than a month later off the coast of Devon I may not have booked the trip at all.

Distant caribou

We did manage a very distant view of a single Caribou at the range of about a mile, and that was the end of our six day Greenland kayak adventure. We covered just over fifty miles in total so I was reasonably happy with that. There were plenty of stops for ‘snacks’, in fact many more than I usually have (both in terms of the stops and the snacks) on my usual full day paddle trips.

Food overload

A final night in the hostel and meal in the surprisingly well supplied Narsaq Hotel, and the next day we were speeding back up the fjord towards the airport with laughing Captain Oju cracking  (incessant) jokes at the helm of the RIB.

Hezzer and Captain Oju

Greenland did turn out to be a place of extremes. The world’s biggest island  and the least densely-populated country in the world. Two-thirds covered in ice. I think we saw fifteen species of bird during the six days we were there, a tally that I could better in less than six minutes in my garden. But apart from that minor glitch it was an extraordinary adventure in an extraordinary country.

To me what is even more remarkable about Greenland is that nobody seemed too sure to what continent it belonged. Incredible as it is the size of the whole of western Europe. (technically it is part of the continent of North America…..I think).p1140602