I was looking forward to a nice relaxed paddle around the sheltered waters of Poole Harbour as I hadn’t ‘done’ the islands for many years.
Even better the wind was forecast very light, but by the time I got on the water my fingers had been nipped by the breeze straight out of the north, so the gloves went on.
The sun arose hopefully behind the Sandbanks ferry but then disappeared behind a sheet of cloud.
I crossed the channel to the south side of Brownsea island which was supper-sheltered from the wind.
I looked hard for a Red Squirrel (which I have seen once as I paddled past here, long ago), but the movement that caught my eye turned out to be a herd of five Sika Deer, who seemed so surprised to see me slipping past in the early morning mid-January half-light, they couldn’t resist coming a bit closer for a good snoop.
Lovely to see them so close. Like seals, it doesn’t seem to have taken them many years to lose their fear of people when they don’t appear in the sights of a rifle as often as they used to. (seals are now completely protected, deer are culled in a specific season).
I did a figure of eight loop around Fursey Island and Green Island, with the top of a big spring tide allowing to get in good and close. At low tide there is an awful lot of mud exposed. I could hardly believe the industrial hum coming from the middle of the pine trees on Fursey Island was an oil well. It was staggeringly well concealed.
Then I crossed over to paddle round the back of Round Island and Long Island via the Wych Channel. A drake Red-Breasted Merganser was fishing here.
I kept well out from the mouth of Arne bay beacause I knew it would be stuffed full of resting birds (because it is an RSPB reserve), but was surprised to see a splurge
of white was a roosting flock of about thirty Spoonbills. These birds were an extreme rarity until very recently.
As I crossed the mile and-a-half of open water back to Brownsea the surface glassed of completely.
A piping posse of Oystercatchers performed a close fly-past.
I looped right around the eastern end of Brownsea island but instead of crossing back to my start point couldn’t resist another paddle up the flat calm water of the island’s southern shore.
This time I had a close encounter with a pair of Brent Geese, winter visitors from the arctic Tundra. Their chattering contact call is the soundtrack of the winter around here.
So it was worth the extra effort, but was then it was DEFINITELY time for lunch (and my toes were starting to freeze).
The deer could carry on doing their thing without worrying about what on earth the idiot in the little yellow boat was up to. They had that look in their eye.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I noticed that one porpoise had a unnatural looking pale patch on its side:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.