At last. Accepted as a Creature of the Sea.

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Friendly seal

It’s taken a long time. Tens of thousands of miles paddled and thousands of hours on the water. But today I feel I have passed my apprenticeship as a member of the sea beast society. They seem to have taken me as one of their own.

I was  hugging the coast to keep out of the wind (as usual) approaching Pentewan beach in South Cornwall when a seal burst out of the water with a loud snort a couple of feet behind me. As usual it made me jump out of my skin and as usual I cricked my neck while turning round to have a look. It was a buff-coloured adolescent grey seal.

I wasn’t that surprised when it shadowed me, constantly diving and surfacing close nearby, but wasn’t expecting it to keep it up for over a mile.

I presumed it would lose interest as I weaved in and out of the bathers, speedboats, paddleboards, jetskis and kayaks along the beachfront at Pentewan, but was gobsmacked when it ignored all these other distractions and swam along beside my kayak like a puppy on a lead. Even more remarkable was that only a handful of the hundreds of people on the beach noticed it.

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Porthpean-busy beach

It was still there twenty minutes later as I approached Mevagissey, surfacing , splashing and hurling itself about without a care in the world. It was noticed by a boatful of (unsuccessful) fishermen and a couple of kayakers, who took snaps as the two of us sped past.

Why was I selected? Was it an unseen bond between two finely-tuned marine marvels, or was it that my wetsuit trousers were overdue for a rinse?

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Fine set of teeth

The seal kept displaying its fine set of teeth so I threw it a wedge of my Waggonwheel (superb value at £1 for six in Holsworthy Coop, using my new Coop card), but it wasn’t interested. Clearly no appreciation of a good deal.IMG_7473

By the time I had arrived at the entrance to Mevagissey harbour the seal and I were firm friends and I expected the large crowd of onlookers to be staggered by the man meets wild creature sort of thing, but unfortunately it suddenly disappeared and I was left bereft. I didn’t see it again.

So I finished off my Waggonwheel, sat around the harbour for a bit, and paddled back.

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Speedboat…ignored
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Paddleboarders..shunned
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Fellow Kayakers….blanked

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Magical Mevagissey

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The Gwinges

The ten mile stretch of open coast between Porthpean, St. Austell and Dodman Point is undoubtedly one of the best paddles in Cornwall.

It’s got everything. Sandy beaches, coves only accessible by kayak, cliffs, headlands, rocky areas to dodge in and out, and two super quaint coastal villages.

Even better for the paddler that relishes knifing across calm water (like me), it is east facing so immune to much of the wind and swell from the west. So it is often one of the only stretches of paddleable sea during the winter.

Paul and I picked a beautiful early April day for a fifteen mile jaunt from Porthpean to Gorran Haven and back.

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Mevagissey Bay

Mevagissey bay looked very calm and inviting when we rounded Black Head so we cut directly across to the offshore rocks on the other side called The Gwinges (excellent name). There are nearly always seals hanging about here but today there were none.

A mile further south we had a leg stretch and a bite at Gorran Haven which is about as perfect a sheltered Cornish harbour as you could ever hope to find, and it was looking particularly appealing in the Spring sunshine. Families sat around, dogs yipped, children shrieked with excitement, frisbees flew.

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Gorran Haven

With the deliberate aim to make it as much of a circular paddle as possible, we ‘coast-hugged’ on the way back, after staying offshore on the outward leg.

Of course we couldn’t resist investigating Mevagissey with its outer and inner harbour. It was heaving with visitors sauntering along at a holiday pace.

Mevagissey is almost too quaint to be real. I have visited by kayak on dozens of occasions but only once by car when I collided with a wall. I intend to visit again by kayak and never to go near the place again in a vehicle.

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Mevagissey Outer Harbour
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Mevagissey Inner Harbour

The final few miles past the long sandy beach of Pentewan and around Black head were uneventful but enjoyable. A pair of Peregrines sat motionless at the back of their usual cove, and we were stalked by a couple of seals when we were nearly back at Porthpean. One was an absolute whopper and I don’t think I have ever seen a bull seal with a more prominent nose.

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Bull Grey Seal

This is a fantastic bit of coast and justifiably popular with the sit-on-top brigade, especially the very sheltered bay containing Porthpean and Charlestown , and its many inviting beaches.

Brace of White-winged Gulls

Rare gulls of a bit of a birdwatching speciality, and a lot of them I wouldn’t recognise. However after thousands of miles of coastal paddling I am steadily getting my eye in.

Mediterranean gulls used to be an unusual sight but are now regular around the southwest. They appear in late summer and there are quite a few still around now. I think they disappear off to breed on the continent in the Spring.

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Mediterranean Gull

They look like a large Black-headed gull but with very white wings. And very bright red feet.

More exciting gull encounters occurred during a paddle along the coast to Mevagissey last week. (Threshold of ‘excitement’ is certainly lowered in the winter……gulls get overlooked for much more exciting stuff in the summer).

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Mevagissey

I was pretty pleased to see fifteen Great Northern Divers and a Slavonian Grebe in the open sea of Mevagissey bay, and then took a circuit around super-quaint Mevagissey harbour before the two hour paddle back to Porthpean.

Sitting on a moored boat in the outer harbour was the considerable bulk of a Glaucous Gull. The same size as a Great Black-backed but completely creamy white. Terrific….I have only seen one of these from my kayak before and only a handful ever. They breed in the arctic and  a few stragglers arrive in UK in late winter, usually after Christmas.

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Glaucous Gull

I would say quite a charismatic bird but others might say it is only a seagull, which it is.

Much more remarkable is that about two minutes later , just outside the harbour, was a virtually identical pale gull, but a bit smaller, equal in size to a young Herring Gull it was chummy with. This was an Iceland Gull, a fare bit more unusual than a Glaucous. But in appearance virtually identical.

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Iceland Gull

Either one of these would be pretty exciting on its own but to see both within a few minutes of each other was about as good as gulls can get.

Two ‘white-wingers’ in as many minutes.

Despite their name Iceland gulls only breed in Greenland.