Seven Sensational Sounds of the Sea


Amazing….when I went to bed the forecast for the following day was wet and foggy for  the whole of Devon and Cornwall. When I checked again at 5am it was rain in Plymouth, drizzle in Looe, ghastly in Fowey and……sunny and still in Penzance….wwhat?

My picnic was packed in superquick time (no chance to layer mayonnaise in the sandwiches) and I got my first glimpse of Mount’s Bay at about 7.30. It was so glass calm and I was so keen to get on the water I parked beside the sea at Marazion to save a ten minute drive to Penzance harbour. As a bonus the car park ticket machine was broken.

And the next seven hours were not only a feast for the eyeballs, they were a fest for the eardrums.

It consolidated my firmly held view that watching marine wildlife is best from a kayak.

The view from the seat of the kayak is second to none. An uninterrupted vista. This might seem like a statement of the obvious, but with any other craft there are distractions. Screens to check, bits of equipment to look at. Always the danger of looking in, and looking down. When you should be looking up and out. Looking for that fin.

A sailing boat has much of the view obstructed by the sail, and there is always the temptation of slipping below, clicking the kettle and sneaking a chunk of battenberg.

In a kayak the very fact that you have to paddle means you HAVE to spend the whole time looking up, and looking ahead. There is nothing else to do.

I have droned on about how the complete silence of a kayak means you can hear absolutely everything that dares to squeak within a mile radius, and today was the perfect example of how excellent a kayak is for listening to, and watching, the current boom of magical marine megafauna. Because it was staggeringly still.

In fact of the hundred or so big creatures I saw today, all but a few I heard before I saw. Puffs, splishes, splashes, sploshes, roars (of water), breaths, blasts.

Seven different sounds from the surface of the lake-like sea.

So, here they are:

1. The thoomph of a diving Gannet


Gannets are big birds, with a six foot wingspan.They dive onto shoals of surface fish from an extraordinary height and hit the surface hard. Despite assuming the shape of a missile as they strike the water, they send up quite a plume of spray and make quite a noise.

2. The slappy splash of a Sunfish.

Here is the normal view of a Sunfish. A sharp fin corkscrewing across the surface. But every so often they will dredge themselves out of apparent torpor and hurl themselves from the water and land back with a slap. It is a characteristic noise because they always land on their side so it lacks the depth of sound of all the other splashing creatures. I can now recognise it from quite a distance. I have never managed to photograph one breaching, although I was very close today.




3. The puff of a Porpoise.

Harbour Porpoises are the cetacean I encounter most often. They are outnumbered by Common Dolphins because dolphins go around in larger pods, but I see porpoises on many more days.

The majority I hear first, because they have a characteristic explosive breath. That’s why they used to be called Puffing Pigs off eastern USA.

Harbour Porpoise

4. The blow of a Common Dolphin

I REALLY like Common Dolphins, and a day with a dolphin encounter is very special day indeed. In fact everybody loves dolphins, and the recent seasonal surge in numbers around the coast has sparked off a huge demand for boat trips to go and see them. Certainly a bit of pestering by jetskis, some of whom have not been adhering to the rules about approaching wild creatures in the sea, and who have the manoeuvrability and speed to chase, and potentially really harass,  the dolphins.

They (dolphins, not jetskis) feature in this list twice, for two different sounds. The first is their blow, which although is quieter than a porpoise (although the first breath after a dive is quite noisy), is somehow full of character. And because they go around in gangs there is a lot of characterful puffs going on!

Here’s today’s dolphins:

juv dolphin
juvenile dolphin starting to exhale
juv dolphin 3
juv Common Dolphin blowing


5. The  crazy raking splash of a Giant Bluefin Tuna.

The noise is quite characteristic, and totally astonishing. Although I have heard it a lot recently, every time it generates a “what the heck was that?” response in my brain, and I have cricked my neck more often than reccommended.

It is an explosion of sound because the fish are travelling at such incredibly speed when they ambush their small fish prey from below. On this trip to Mount’s Bay I heard and saw about a hundred tuna splashes, but actually saw only about ten fish.

Tuna eruption

I have seen more Atlantic Bluefin Tuna exploding from the surface along the south coast of Cornwall and Devon in the last two weeks than ever before. This includes some really big fish that definitely cross the threshold (150kgs) to qualify them for the tag of GIANT Bluefin tuna.

Bluefin Tuna slashing the surface

Here’s a really big one. The Manx Shearwaters in the pic have a wingspan of just less than three feet, so that is some hefty fish!

Giant Bluefin Tuna

6. The controlled and polite splashing of a Common Dolphin.

Although I like the crazed manner of Giant Tuna erupting from the surface, the splash of the dolphins appeals to me just a bit more, because dolphins are more interactive with kayakers than the amazing, but personality-less, tuna.

These dolphins below are being about as splashy as they ever get, but are still less wild and thrashing than the ultra high speed tuna.

very splashy Common Dolphins

There’s a bonus sound in this video clip if you listen closely….one of the dolphins has got a bit of a squeak when it breathes.



7. The prolonged blasting blow of a Minke Whale.

Hearing the blow of a whale, in SW England, has got to be the most thrilling sound a wildlife-watching kayaker can hear, by quite a long way.

It was my ambition for many years to hear and see one, and it took many years before I did. It’s all so wonderfully ludicrous…..who on earth goes looking for whales in a kayak in Devon and Cornwall. I don’t think there are many fellow kayakers in the whale club.

Today’s whale was, not unusually, very elusive. It was beyond my paddling limit as I already had a ten mile paddle back to Marazion (and was three miles offshore). This seems to happen to me a lot…I stop for a coffee break before paddling back and hear a whale blow another mile further out.

I heard it six or seven times and just glimpsed the long back surfacing twice. This is the only pic I could manage…the tip of a fin and a swirl of water.

Slinky Minke Whale

To hear the blow a bit more clearly here’s a clip from one off Plymouth three weeks ago.


That sound is a bit special. It’s also very addictive.


It’s been a good year for Sunfish so far. I’ve seen half a dozen, mostly ‘finning’ but a couple of breaches. Also I’ve glimpsed a few random slappy splashes out of the corner of my eye, which are also almost certainly jumping sunfish. They have all been very shy and dived long before I could get close enough for a pic, until……..

I really wasn’t expecting to have such an encounter today, because the moderate northerly wind kept me pinned firmly to the shelter of the coast. I paddled out from beautiful Caerhays beach, fortunately long before the sand was covered with these sunseekers.


There is always some great wildlife to enjoy…..this morning it was Oystercatchers:


and a family of Peregrines:

juvenile Peregrine

I paddled out towards Dodman Point but not before a coffee break on a suitably secluded beach:

My kind of beach

And just when I poked the nose of my kayak around the corner at Dodman Point, the wind dropped completely. I am very wary of this headland because it can throw up quite a tiderace, but I just couldn’t resist a quick ‘look’ out to sea, so paddled directly offshore. One and-a-half miles,, to be precise.

Manx Shearwaters started to zip past, and even three Balearic Shearwaters, and was that a tiny Storm Petrel flitting about? And then a fin flopping about at the surface. Mola Mola!


I engaged total stealth mode to get a bit closer. I have learnt from experience that some a really spooky, others are completely the opposite.

It looks more like a turtle in this Gopro clip.


I drifted right up next to it as it was wallowing about.


An extraordinary thing then happened. As it dived down at the end of this next clip I saw it starting to really beat its fin and angled upwards in front of me. It exploded from the surface and leapt three foot into the air, and when it landed it continued to flop about at the surface in typical dustbin lid style.


It’s a real pity that it had an injury to its left eye, which makes these next pictures slightly less dramatic. It was clearly an old injury and fortunately didn’t seem to compromise its behaviour. Maybe it had been caught in a net as a bycatch, there certainly seemed to be a few other scratchy scars on its skin.

sunfish 4
Ocean Sunfish
sunfish 5
Ocean Sunfish


Possibly the strangest fish in the ocean. How excellent is it that they can be seen in Cornwall. And its even better watching them from a kayak.

The biggest bony fish in the world are Sunfish, but this one was about typical for the size I have seen before around the SW coast….a bit less than a metre across.

sunfish 3
Holy Mola Mola!

Day Trip to Lundy

Lundy Puffin

Wow, what a world-class adventure. Hard to believe it’s only half an hour’s drive from where I live.

Finding a day suitable for a kayak trip to Lundy, twelve miles off the coast of North Devon, is very difficult. It is at the mouth of the Bristol Channel so there are big tides and big, swirly currents. It is also generally windy and is fully exposed to groundswell from the Atlantic.

Planning a one-way trip is challenging enough, but sea conditions suitable for paddling there and back in a day are very rare indeed. If you like a smooth ride, there has got to be virtually no wind, virtually no swell, and tides should be neap. Just a handful of days a year are suitable. If you like being thrown about a bit, there’s a few more.

It’s a thirty-mile trip but because you have to paddle at an angle across the tide the distance equivalent is quite a lot more.

So all in all, a pretty daft thing to do. And therefore irresistible to our motley posse of paddlers, who were not without a bit of experience of the sea. Simon, ex world champion surf kayaker. Jack, current runner-up junior world champion surf kayaker. Austen, seasoned paddler and sailor. Me, good at spotting seabirds.

Austen, Jack and Simon were in sea kayaks. I was in (on) my plastic recreational sit-on-top. Not as fast as a sea kayak but boy, is it comfortable. Very important on a very long trip.

left to right; Simon, yours truly, Jack, Austen

We were on the water at Hartland Quay at 0630 (as planned!). Clear skies, light wind, not really any other sign of humanity. Apart from Hartland Quay Hotel, there are very few houses along the notoriously savage Hartland Heritage coast. No vapour trails, no boats or ships. No sign of a jetski. Good, good and good.

We headed out past Hartland Point lighthouse, where there is usually an impressive/ terrifying tide race.

Passing Hartland Point

We soon had Manx Sheawaters zipping past our kayaks, en route from their breeding islands off the Pembrokeshire coast (and also Lundy now) to feed somewhere off Land’s End, before returning to their nesting burrows at dusk.

Manx Shearwater

Next on the wildlife list was the puff of a Porpoise, which was, as usual, difficult to spot. It’s quite a small creature in a very big sea.


Unlike Austen’s and my first (and only other) trip to Lundy thirteen years ago, visibility was very good. On the previous occasion we became enveloped in thick fog and nearly run down by a ship. We could hear the thud of its engine and the blast of its foghorn, but all we ever saw of it was its bow wave.

Lundy, the distant target

This sort of offshore paddling is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I absolutely love it. The wilderness experience combined with the anticipation of seeing some extreme wildlife is quite a thrill. Not to mention the benefits of a wee spot of exercise, I suppose.

Several miles out from Lundy we eyeballed our first Puffin. Looking good in bright sun and blue sea.

Puffin number one.

As we neared the island after three hours of paddling, we had to increase the paddling rate and battle through the Rat island tide race before we reached the flat sheltered water beneath the cliffs.

Jack and Lundy cliff

A few seals gave us the look. Perhaps they don’t see many kayakers out here. I’ve just noticed that this one has a red tag in its tail, so is probably a rescue seal from Cornwall Seal sanctuary. I’ll find out.

Lundy seal (with tag)

We hauled up on a shingle beach beside the slipway, and although it was only just after ten, we demolished lunch. I generally will not entertain the idea of lunch before midday, but these were exceptional circumstances. Here’s the spread….

lunch is served

Sharp-eyed blog readers amongst you may have just noticed, like me, that there are five lunchboxes laid out, but only four paddlers. The feet in the background give the game away. Hobbits need a second breakfast.

We wandered up the hill to the village and rehydrated with a shandy at the Marisco tavern, but it was soon time for the return leg.

fish out of water

Despite a solid forecast of virtually zero wind, we were all a bit edgy about the return leg (apart from Jack and Simon). Maybe it’s because we got caught in the Hartland Point tide race last time.

No need to worry, for the whole four-and-a-half hour trip back the surface was about as smooth as this stretch of water has ever been. Incredible.

Heading back

And we came across more Puffins. Fifteen total. How fantastic to see these charismatic little seabirds in such ideal conditions. The reflections are almost as perfect as the original article above the surface.

Lundy Puffin
Lundy Puffin
Lundy Puffin

Superlatives all round. The name Lundy is derived from the Norse word ‘Lundi’, meaning Puffin. Unfortunately Puffin numbers had crashed (down to thirteen pairs), until rats were eradicated from the island about fifteen years ago. The number of breeding seabirds, including Puffins, has increased exponentially since then. A fantastic conservation success story.

Smiles, and camera clicks, all round from the kayak team.P1150826


I struggled to drag myself away from Puffinfest and got a bit left behind.

The others plodded on towards the distant Devon coast.

Hartland Point lighthouse… miles to go!

We briefly stopped for a breather half way back. Land six miles in front, and six miles behind.

There is the potential for boredom on this sort of a trip, but only if you are not in tune with wildlife. The call went up from Austen….’Sunfish!’. Two Sunfish were flicking their way just beneath the surface, with dorsal fins waving about in typical fashion. Strange, strange fish…visitors from warmer waters.

I was starting to get greedy and muttered about how nice it would be to finish off the day with a pod of dolphins. As I spoke I saw Simon, who was away off to the south, looking hard to his right. A dolphin suddenly leapt clear of the water right behind him. Muscle fatigue disappeared instantly as we powered over towards them.

Common Dolphin

At least a dozen, probably double that number, were scattered over a wide area and we were surrounded by the sound of splashing.

Wow, yet again.

Common Dolphin
Common Dolphin and Lundy

Once through the tail end of the Hartland tidal current we had a lake-like paddle back to the slipway at Hartland Quay for the final mile.

Austen eases achy back/backside
Stoke church and Simon
Fatigued, but buzzing. Life in the old geezer yet.


The end. I’ve exhausted my quota of wow’s.20170628_124346

The Rumps

20170601_090620Great Name. Spectacular location.

The Rumps is another north Cornwall headland that hardly ever opens its doors to the casual kayaker who likes flat water and lots of loafing about taking photos (and supping coffee) . It catches every little bit of swell, current and wind that is around and mixes and magnifies them all up into a confusion of clapotis (technical term meaning confused sea bouncing back off a cliff, that likes to cause havoc amongst small boats).


The big carrot for me, as I paddled out of the absurdly sheltered harbour at Portquin was the little colony of Puffins that I hope to observe in less bouncy conditions than I did last time, a couple of weeks ago.

I was thrilled to see them again, and the busy crowds of Guillemots and Razorbills, but the tidal current working against the wind made surface conditions tricky for photography again, especially when zoomed in. No complaints…that’s all part of the challenge, and fun, of taking pics from a kayak (and probably why very few other people do it).

Just like the seabird colony in full swing on the Exmoor coast, this seemed to be a very successful breeding season. Lots of adults flying past with fish, and several large baitballs of sandeels just below the surface.

It may just be an impression, because if a seabird colony is going to be busy at any time, it is now when the youngsters demand for food is greatest.

Here’s the gallery of seabird pics from the day:

Bridled Guillemot
Puffin and Guillemot with fish
flypast Puffin

I continued down the ‘alley’ between Rumps point and Pentire Head and Newlands island.

Pentire Head

A flopping fin of a Sunfish was on the surface in front of me, but disappeared long before I could get my camera out. Then another, equally shy. And then one breaching just in front of me. In fact over the next hour or so, I saw five or six more random splashes which I’m pretty sure were all sunfish. They like areas of tidal movement like this, and hopefully this heralds a good season of sightings….I only saw one last year.

The Mouls and the Rumps
Newlands, The Mouls, The Rumps, Pentire Head (in that order)

For a final fling I was lured a mile (or more) further offshore by a mini Gannet feeding frenzy. Usually where there are diving Gannets, there are cetaceans. But on this occasion there were no fins visible at the surface.

It was great to see the Gannets hurling themselves into the water, with a splosh that can be heard from far away. They often cannot contain themselves and utter a cackle of excitement as they twist prior to their plunge.

That’s it for the north Cornwall coast for a few days. There’s wind and a swell on the way.

So the Puffins won’t have to worry about being pestered by kayakers for a while.

Lots of Porpoises for Fowey Regatta

Fowey is good.

(Gig race in )  Fowey

It’s a great place to go kayaking, and in my opinion the most scenic and paddle-friendly estuary/ria in SW England.

Providing you can clench your teeth hard enough to handle the savage price for parking your car, it provides quick access to the open sea via a very pleasant one-mile paddle between Polruan and Fowey.

I was surprised to see the small cruise ship ‘Hebridean Princess’ moored-up in mid river. My last encounter was on a very wet day in Loch Sunart in 2014 during my month-long kayak trip up the west coast of Scotland.

Hebridean princess at Fowey

Once out of the mouth of the estuary I headed directly out to see but not before I heard a couple of Whimbrel ‘tittering’ on a rocky shore. They are migratory waders, very similar to Curlew but slightly smaller and with that distinctive monotone ‘seven-whistle’ call.


The sea was lovely and flat with little wind so it wasn’t long before I heard my first porpoise ‘piffing’, although it was minutes before I was actually close enough to see it.

I swung round a couple of miles off Gribbin Head and met up with two  bigger pods of Porpoises, about ten in each. I just sat and watched as they surfaced all around, but always frustrating from a photography point of view because they constantly change direction and pop up where you least expect them to do so (like directly behind).

You can here the characteristic piff quite well in this video, as they pass in front of distant Mevagissey:



Porpoises are small and very easy to overlook and I’m pretty sure none of the many passing boats noticed this little posse going about its business.

There was at least one juvenile amongst the group which was probably only two foot long….no wonder they don’t get seen.

porpoise 2
Porpoise and calf

I think there must be a reef stretching out well offshore from Gribbin Head, because it does seem to focus the feeding activity of a mixture of sea creatures. A handful of tiny Storm Petrels, always a thrill to see from a kayak, (because they are only seen far offshore as well as being diminutive…the size of a sparrow) zipped past.

Storm Petrel

Their name is accurate because they always fly a bit closer to the shore during poor weather. Today was drizzly but fortunately not windy:

Pencarrow Head
Dodgy day

Also off Gribbin Head I saw the fin of a small Ocean Sunfish flopping at the surface. I was hoping to get close for an underwater shot but it spooked surprisingly early.



The grand wildlife finale was a mini feeding frenzy of Gannets off the headland. I could see little white dots circling and dropping into the sea a mile, possibly two, in front of me. They are big birds with a six foot wingspan so can be seen from a huge distance (a bit different to Storm petrels). I have learnt from (bitter) experience that even if I crank the kayak up to its top cruising speed of five to six mph, the feeding event will probably have finished by the time I roll up.

This nicely summarises the extreme challenge of trying to observe offshore wildlife from a kayak, and is probably the reason why nobody else does it. Another Gannet seeing the ‘work-up’ from afar (which is precisely what they look out for when cruising about) can cover the distance in a couple of minutes. They just dip a wing and disappear off at staggering speed. A wildlife-watching speedboat could cover the distance a little slower than a Gannet but in time to see what is going on. The Lone Kayaker generally arrives on scene when all that is left is a few fish scales rotating about in the swirled-up water.

Despite all this I stoked up a head of steam because the circling birds were on my way back anyway, and arrived twenty minutes later to just in time to witness the end of the action. In fact it was definitely the end because there was only one mackerel of the baitball left, and the last two Gannets to dive in ended up fighting over it. Both had their beaks locked around the same fish as they flapped about in a melee at the surface. See it for yourself in this video…..I’ve slowed down the action because it’s all a bit of a blurr otherwise. You will notice the porpoises are still busy looking for any escapee fish.




Here’s another pair of diving gannets at normal speed. It’s great to hear their cackles of excitement which they only utter when they are involved in feeding…they are completely silent the rest of the time.



Back nearer to Fowey the profusion of wildlife was replaced with a plethora of sailing boats as the annual regatta was in full swing. A tremendous sight despite the grey conditions.

Fowey sailing Regatta
Fowey sailing Regatta

The sea in front of the town was heaving with action and I had to weave amonst entrants of the gig race, which seemed very competitive.

Fowey gig boats

The water around the slipway was similarly choc-a-bloc with water enthusiasts in the style of fellow kayakers.

Caffa Mill kayakers

For the lone kayaker the most impressive performance of the day was by the porpoises.




Boscastle at its Best

The perfect paddling day was in prospect: clear blue sky and hardly any wind, with a bonus of soaring temperatures and a small swell making the remote coast of Boscastle in North Cornwall irresistible.

As I was fiddling about by the water’s edge folding the kayak trolley away in the front hatch, I was hailed by a guy in an inflatable (with hefty outboard) asking if he could get a replacement aerial in the area.  I pulled a bit of a long face because Boscastle is big on teashops and witchcraft museums, not chandlery stores. It turned out he was motoring right round the UK in his small craft, having set off from Southampton…..fab. Here he is, Alex Swarbrick.

Alex Swarbrick…..UK circumnavigator

Another inspirational character I have me on the water recently. On my last visit to Boscastle a few weeks ago.I passed someone who was attempting to SWIM round the UK.

Paddling out of Boscastle harbour always takes my breath away because you are thrust immediately into staggering coastal scenery. As was the case today you are unlikely to pass another craft or see anyone else apart from in the extreme distance on a clifftop.

Looking down the coast to Tintagel

I called in to the coastwatch tower on the radio to let them know my plans for the day and then, because the surface was about as flat as it gets at Boscastle, I headed straight out to sea. I must have passed tens of thousands of jellyfish, becoming even more concentrated along the tidal interfaces. Mostly Moon jellyfish with a couple of Compass and Purple jellyfish thrown in.


As I was looking down at the jellyfish I was startled by a large fish looming past ten feet beneath me; the first Sunfish I have ever spotted underwater!

I was confident I would see cetaceans because the sea was so smooth, and when I caught a glimpse of a flash of white as a Gannet twisted and dived a mile or two further out, I engaged top gear (economy, not sport…didn’t want to burn myself out too early in the day), and surged out towards them.

patrolling Gannet

The mini feeding frenzy of a dozen or so Gannets had fizzled out when I at last arrived on the scene, and the birds were sitting about on the surface with a sort of ‘too late, mate’ look. One which I am getting used to.

However by great good fortune I heard the puff of a number of porpoises nearby and was very pleased when a large scattered pod of about a dozen cruised past me. As usual they were aloof and not interested in me or my craft (unlike most offshore creatures) and went on their way. And as usual with porpoises, when I followed them at a respectful distance, they then pop up behind me exactly where I had been a few minutes ago. So I haul the kayak around and head off in the opposite direction, and they surface somewhere completely different. Part of the fun of wildlife observation from a kayak, although it might be called frustration. That is probably why nobody else (with any sense) does it.

porpoise 6
Elusive Porpoise

I noticed that one porpoise had a unnatural looking pale patch on its side:

Patchy Porpoise

The porpoises moved off and I sauntered down the coast, with tidal assistance, towards the forboding headland of Tintagel island. This is usually a very nasty place and the scene of a bit of a bungle I made in terms of weather and swell planning a few years ago, when I could taste disaster. It is a prominent headland with vertical cliffs slabbing into the water, and they are pitch black to make them look even more fearful. As usual, headlands like this amplify wind, swell and tidal currents and even on a benign day conditions around the tip of the headland can be very hairy.

Tintagel Head

Fortunately today it was as threatening as the boating lake in Hyde Park (if there is one) and the hot sun and blue skies made everything as relaxed as it could be.

Another circling and plunging flock of gannets was a bit closer so I was hopeful I might get there before the ‘bus had left’ on this second occasion. Sport mode this time, forget about early burn out, I didn’t want those Gannets smirking at me again . As I sped towards the action I could see dark bodies splashing at the surface and when a couple of cetaceans breached completely I felt certain this was a pod of dolphins.

But I was just a minute too late, close enough to hear the last diving Gannet ‘thoomph’ into the water with an impressive splash. As I rolled up glistening with sweat and trying not to look flustered the Gannets were once again sat around silently just looking, and judging . Exactly the same individuals as before, I think.

And to my amazement it was the pod of porpoises that were leaping about splashing. One of the features of porpoises is that they just roll quietly at the surface and it is the hyperactive Common Dolphin that does all the splashing, but I suppose if they are on the hunt and have herded a shoal of fish to the surface they are entitled to get a bit fired up about the feast.

The whole lot of porpoises then paraded past, still with a sense of urgency. You can really hear the characteristic porpoise ‘puff’ clearly in this video.



By this time I was a couple of miles directly off Tintagel Head so turned towards land and paddled slowly in. I couldn’t believe my luck when the sharp fins of a pod of about eight Common Dolphins appeared directly in front of me. I sheared away to avoid startling them but piled on the power ( intelligent eco sport) in the hope that they might come over and bow ride. Unfortunately they didn’t and headed further offshore. I could hear them breathing and splashing long after they were lost to sight.

Boscastle Dolphins 1
Common Dolphins

AS usual Tintagel island was crawling with loads of tourists that looked like ants (from long range) and I was glad I wasn’t on land. I called in to one of the sandy beaches at Bossiney for lunch, backed by water about as clear and as turquoise as it is possible to get in the UK.Tintagel.JPG

Another sunfish was waving its fin about off Short island and I thought this would be my first chance to film one with the GoPro. But to my surprise it disappeared long before I got close. So I took a selfie instead.

Bosacastle me 3
The Lone Kayaker scrutinises the Horizon

Back at Boscastle Alex was just setting off for the stretch up the coast around Hartland Point to Ilfracombe, still minus his aerial. Good luck to him on the rest of his adventure.

I trolleyed back to the carpark past the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.

Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft and Magic




Land’s End. Eyeballed by a Sunfish.

I havn’t paddled Land’s End for several years so have been looking for some suitable conditions. The sea there is always lively as it is a focal point of currents and swell and everything that conspires to make the surface lumpy.

Today the weather was no problem as it was clear blue sky. The wind was light and I had done my tidal planning…..not straightforward as at Land’s End it flows north for nine hours and south for only three. The only potential glitch was the forecast four foot of Atlantic groundswell.

My departure point at Porthgwarra could not have been more picture perfect with the cliffs carpeted in the pink of Thrift and yellow of Kidney Vetch. I trolleyed through the tunnel onto the beach.


The sea here was smooth so I couldn’t resist paddling offshore to the Runnelstone buoy. This is a wildlife hotspot and Gannets and gangs of Manx Shearwaters loped past.

All very placid and sunny and warm, but the Runnelstone buoy gives me the creeps. The sea here is very restless in a tethered rhinoceros sort of a way, but worse by far is the appalling moan of the buoy when there is a bit of a swell running. More sinister than the theme from jaws….just listen to this:



I decided to keep well offshore in the hope of meeting up with some oceanic wildlife and with the tide in my favour I got a bit of a slingshot around Gwennap Head. However, with the mournful moan of the buoy still droning behind me, I started to run into the full Atlantic swell and felt a bit small in a big sea.

I suddenly found myself looking UP at a pair of porpoises as they emerged out of the top of a rolling swell. They swam right past me and one left a fluke ‘print’ swirling right beside the kayak.

Porpoises in rolling Lands End swell
Approaching porpoise with Lands End behind

Seconds after I lost sight of the porpoises I saw a bit of random splashing on the surface and paddled over to investigate. It was my first UK Ocean Sunfish of the year (although I saw one in the Med a couple of months ago). I quietly crept upsun to get some decent pics and drifted to within a few feet of it.

sunfish 5
Classic Sunfish fin

It didn’t disappoint and performed precisely as I had hoped. Even better actually because as it floated at the surface its eye was completely out of the water and appeared to be as interested in me as I was it (although it probably wasn’t).

Ocean Sunfish



A great encounter with a really extraordinary creature in a really dramatic place.

sunfish 6

Fired up by all this I stayed well offshore and headed directly towards Longships Lighthouse. A circling group of Gannets plunged as the tide drew me closer to a much more confused patch of water around Longships Reef. I was on the edge of my comfort zone and was pleased that I had called in to Gwennap Head NCI (coastwatch station) on the radio to tell them of my plans….just in case.

Longships Reef

Of course I had to paddle around the lighthouse having come this far, but then cranked up the speed and made for the shelter and cosiness of Sennen Cove a couple of miles away. I had a bit of a fright when there was the unexpected noise of a large breaking wave really quite close……

Wave breaking on Shark’s fin reef

which turned out to be another bit of the Longships Reef.

Sennen Cove was, in contrast, idiotically warm and sunny and sheltered and smelled of suncream as tourists wandered around licking ice creams and taking snaps.

Sennen Cove

I had a brief chat with a couple who were just about to launch their inflatable kayaks and advised them to stay within the shelter of Sennen (Whitesand) bay.

Fellow Kayakers

I was a bit apprehensive about the paddle back but still decided to keep close to the cliffs to make the whole trip a bit of a circuit.

It was indeed lumpy but I never actually felt in danger. The waves broke against the cliffs with quite an impressive impact, however.


I stopped to check out a small Guillemot colony at the island called the Armed Knight, while being scrutinised by a load of people milling about on the cliff top beside the Lands End Theme Park. Thank goodness I was down here and not up there.

The Armed Knight and Lands End

As the coast bent round to the south the tidal current eased and the swell subsided a bit, but the cliffs all the way back to Porthgwarra, past Gwennap Head which is the most southwesterly point of mainland Britain, can only be described as ‘unforgiving’.

Lands End cliffs
Gwennap Head

There is the most remarkable instant transformation from exposed cliffs with a tide race, to sheltered sun-drenched cove, when you come round the corner into Porthgwarra.


And as icing on the cake of a memorable paddle, a German tourist gave me a hand with my kayak back up through the ‘tunnel’.




Monstrous Mola Mola

Mola Mola is the scientific name of the incredibly weird Ocean Sunfish. It’s a really good name because it has a tropical flavour, and it is from warmer waters that the Sunfish originates before its wanderings to the North Atlantic,and elsewhere, in the summer.

My most recent Sunfish encounter was not in the UK however. A week in Spain seemed like the perfect way to escape the exceptionally rubbish weather in the UK. It was an extreme irony therefore that we left the warmest April day yet recorded in the UK behind us in the vapour trail as we jetted out from Exeter to indifferent conditions in Southern Spain.

Upon arrival at the beach at the Costa del Sol kayaking was on hold because of the huge surf that would have done a North Cornish beach proud.

Stormy Southern Spain

Fortunately the Mediterranean reverted to its more typical benign state after a few days so I wasted no time in heading offshore.

Sunfish 3
Sunfish Fin

A mile or two offshore I spotted a large triangular-shaped fin waving about at the surface and was pretty certain it was of a Basking Shark, especially when a great blunt nose just broke the surface about four foot in front of it. However no sign of a tail left me a bit puzzled.

All other Sunfish fins I had previously seen (from smaller specimens) had been tall and spiky, so I didn’t think it was one of those.

I sneaked up to the creature in absolute silence and was pretty gobsmacked to see the bits belonged to a really huge Sunfish. The biggest I have ever seen, although they actually can get very much bigger. Sunfish are the heaviest bony fish in the world, and this would be the be the third biggest sort of fish I had met up with from my kayak, after Basking Sharks and Giant Bluefin Tuna (although because it is circular and it was difficult to estimate its length it might just nudge the Tuna into third place).

Sunfish 2
Ocean Sunfish

In typical sunfish style it was wallowing about just below the surface, a circular disc with a large fin at the top and bottom.

I got to a couple of feet from it, and could see its glaring eye and permanently open mouth which makes it look both startled and gormless, before it sank into the depths and disappeared.

sunfish 4
Ghostly outline of Sunfish

The next morning, in glass calm conditions, I came across a staggering number of mackerel splashing at the surface, attended only by gulls which swept over the shoals and hoped to be able to grab a fish in passing. I stayed around to watch and was sure some other sea creature would be interested in the potential feast, and was just about to give up when a single dolphin showed up.

Splashing Baitfish
Gull hoping for an easy snack

I carefully paddled after it and it was soon joined by a calf which had been adventuring off by itself. I enjoyed watching them quietly surfacing in the calm water and warm sunshine, and then they suddenly sped off to join up with a larger scattered group of about twenty more Common Dolphins.

Dolphin and calf


Common Dolphins

A mini feeding frenzy of dolphins and gulls started up about a mile away so I sped towards the action but as usual it had all finished by the time I got close, and then also as usual, the dolphins all sped off to where I had just come paddled from.

The Sunfish and the Dolphins were supported by a cast of some of my favourite offshore seabirds: half a dozen ‘Bonxie’ Great Skuas, a handful of Balearic Shearwaters and a couple of Storm Petrels. Even though this is the Mediterranean these are birds you would expect to see in the Atlantic and off the coast of South West England in a couple of months time.

Bonxie (bottom right) shadowing fishing boat
Storm Petrel


The only land birds coming across the sea to Southern Spain from Africa were a scattering of swallows, and surprisingly, a couple of Goshawks.

Migrating Goshawk
Costa del Sol back to normal conditions

2017. The Year of the Dolphin


2814 miles paddled in total.

2400 in Devon and Cornwall

Winter Dawn on the Torridge estuary

183 in Spain (Costa del Sol)

Gibraltar (from Spain)

133 in Scotland

Loch Arkaig

100 along Rivers in England (Thames and two Avons)

September Thames

500+ miles of offshore paddling (more than a mile from the coast) in Devon and Cornwall.

6 trips out to the Eddystone Lighthouse

The author at the Eddystone
Yours Truly at Eddystone

1 Interception by the UK Border Force

Wildlife seen from my kayak in 2017:

1 Humpback whale seen. Horace, aka Doris, hung around the sheltered waters of Slapton sands in South Devon for an incredible six weeks in the Spring. I saw him (her) twice from my kayak, although the first time shouldn’t really count because he (she) was tangled up in a lobster pot rope.

Horace the Humpback takes a puff

33 days with Harbour Porpoises seen, a total of approx 177 individuals. Porpoises are very small and very unsplashy and easily overlooked unless the sea is flat calm. For every one I saw, I missed an equal number when all I heard was there ‘piff’ as they breathed, the sound of their breathing carrying long distances over the water.

Harbour porpoises

11 days with Common Dolphins, totally approx 171 individuals. Another 175ish in Spain. Several fantastic close encounters with groups bow riding when I could muster up the power to paddle at top speed. I need to eat more pasties.

Seeing Common Dolphins is extremely unpredictable and random as they range far and wide and usually keep well offshore. However the pods in Torbay around Brixham at the end of the year and running into early 2018, were the closest in, and most regular, I have known.

Common Dolphin (youngster)

3 days with Bottlenose Dolphins, totalling 50-80 individuals. Plus 8-10 at Chanonry point in the Moray Firth in Scotland, probably the best dolphin watching location in the UK.

Bottlenose Dolphins

A huge thrill on 18 Dec a couple of miles off Lamorna Cove when a proper ‘stampede’ of 30+ Bottlenosers charged directly towards me in a line all jumping out of the water simultaneously. An unforgettable image.

2017 was by far my best year yet for number of dolphin sightings.

7 Giant Bluefin Tuna sightings, all after 13 Nov. Amazing. I have glimpsed them on occasion before and seen the odd random splash but there seems to have been an invasion of them this autumn. Hopefully it means the baitfish are making a bit of a comeback which will mean more mega sightings of large fish-eating sea creatures.

Jumping Giant Bluefin Tuna
Giant Bluefin Tuna

Four days with tuna at Fowey, with one extraordinary day with scores of splashes and fish jumping right out, one at Mevagissey  (double splash), one at Berry Head (double splash), and brief intense feeding frenzy off Lamorna Cove near Penzance.

Loads of seals. All Grey seals in SW England apart from one Harbour Seal near Portscatho.

Grey seal pup
Grey Seal pup
Harbour Seal, south Cornwall

11 Otters in Devon and Cornwall, plus 6 (before 6am on one day!) in Shetland. A poor year overall for otter sightings; there don’t seem to be so many on the River Torridge. ???


I saw otters on the Rivers Tamar, Taw, Camel and Torridge.

2 Mink. Nasty, nasty little creatures which have almost exterminated  Water Voles. Maybe this is a bit unfair because if you are a Mink you do what Minks do and can’t really help it (although leaving Water Voles off the menu would help the public image).

Mink (trying not to look too evil)

One on the Torridge, one beside the Thames in Marlow!

1 Sunfish at Fowey. There were quite a lot around this year, I just didn’t seem to bump into many by shear random luck (or lack of).

Also one off Gibraltar (also from kayak) on 10 March. A real whopper.

Gibraltar Sunfish

5 days with Portugese Man-of-War sightings, totalling over 50. A good year for jellyfish in general with nine or ten species seen, including the not so common, and unpleasantly named, Mauve Stingers.

Portugese Man o’War

Technically Portugese Man o’Wars are not jellyfish, they are Siphonophores. Likewise By-the-wind Sailors (another excellent name) are not jellyfish, they are Hydrozoa. However because I am a bit of a simpleton it seems sensible to lump them all together in one group because they are all jellylike and do what is expected of a jellyfish (i.e. float about and look like they might give you a bit of a sting).

6 Sooty Shearwaters, on four days. A true ocean-wandering seabird which nests on islands in the Southern Ocean. My first ever kayak-seen Sooty ‘Shears’ were the result of my concentrated efforts to paddle offshore this year. 5 seen near Eddystone, 1 near Land’s End.

Sooty Shearwater

37 Balearic Shearwaters, on six days. Scattered amongst the much more common Manx Shearwater, usually well offshore.

Manx and Balearic Shearwater
Manx and Balearic Shearwater

43 Storm Petrels, on six days from mid June to the end of August. 29 at Eddystone, 1 at Porthcurno and 13, several very close, on a rainy but fortunately fairly windless day off Fowey.

Storm Petrel

Storm Petrels are probably my favourite pelagic seabird I have seen from my kayak because they look impossibly small and vulnerable when fluttering low over the waves, yet spend all their time when not involved with nesting at sea scattered over the oceans of the world.

They are indeed vulnerable because they seem to be a favourite snack of Peregrines. I have seen a Peregrine snatch a Storm Petrel from just above the surface of a stormy sea off Hartland Point (not from my kayak). Probably a good reason why they usually keep well offshore.

5 ‘Bonxie’ Great Skuas. Another of my favourites, and a sensational encounter with one off Fowey on a calm and sunny day, only a few feet from my kayak. By far my best view in SW England.

Great Skua, Fowey
Great Skua

6 Arctic Skuas . All near Torbay and no decent photos.

6 Puffins. All around Eddystone. The usual gang of dirty-faced immature birds in late Spring , and one (very unusual sighting, I think) juvenile on 21 Aug. A Puffling.

Juvenile Puffin

1 Black Tern In Mevagissey Bay with a load of Common Terns. Only my second ever from a kayak, and first ever half decent pic.

Black Tern

8 Long-tailed Ducks. An exceptionally good year and (yet) another of my favourites. The males are one of the most attractive sea ducks. This year I was treated not only to a superb pair at Porthpean, but also a hugely unusual drake in summer plumage on the Taw estuary on 29 Sept.

Drake Long-tailed Duck in Summer plumage
Drake (and duck) Long-tailed Duck in Winter plumage

1 Pink-footed Goose Another kayaking first , and actually I can’t remember the last time I saw a ‘Pink-foot’, even from dry land. Superb close view, in amongst some Canada Geese, on the upper reaches of the Fowey River.

Pink-footed Goose

Several pairs of Black-throated Divers in Scotland. The most beautifully marked UK bird?

black throats
Black-throated Divers


Kingfishers on 21 days. Everybody’s favourite waterbird.


1 WILSON’S PETREL. I can still hardly believe this. The chances of seeing one of these from a kayak in England are as remote as Captain Sensible becoming Prime Minister. Ironically they are one of the most numerous birds in the world, nesting in the Southern Hemisphere and visiting the northern oceans in our summer.  A lot of birdwatchers spend a lot of time staring out to sea through telescopes hoping to see one but hardly any ever do. It’s only during storms that they are likely to be driven close enough to the shore to be seen, so when the sea is calm enough to venture far out in a kayak the petrels will usually be long gone.

So I was pretty lucky to see one a couple of miles from the Eddystone lighthouse, bringing back memories of the first one I ever saw with my father from the deck of the RMS St.Helena off the coast of South Africa, in 1989.

Wilsons petrel cropped photo
Wilson’s Petrel

Finally, 3 Favourite Scenes from the year. All great to look at from the depths of winter and give prospective kayakers hope that at least a few days next year might be warm, sunny and still.

1 Hartland Point

Hartland Point



3 Kynance Cove

Kynance Cove
Kynance Cove

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.