We paddled out of the calm waters of Brixham Harbour and into a stiff wind. Beyond the sheltered wall of the marina the waves whipped up into frothy white caps.
Our sea kayaks rose and dipped with the swell of the surf. A force 3 to 4 wind was driving at us from an angle.
“Stay close to the shore!” shouted coach MikeBradford, his voice carrying over the waves. “And keep together as a group!”
For many of our small group this was our first taste of the sea paddling. Taking a sea boat up and down the Thames on a Sunday morning is good practice. But it is nothing like being on the open sea.
Sharron “Salty” Bartlett had organised this weekend to kick-start the club’s sea section and tempt more paddlers to the salt and surf. Much would depend on how we all coped with the conditions that morning.
Our group including Catherine Harris, Rodney Casbierd, Tony Flannery and Duncan Hughes paddled round the coastline into a bay sheltered from the wind. Here we practised some of the basic techniques of sea paddling, like edging to turn the boats.
This was simple enough in the calm bay. But Mike then sent us out into the open sea to try it in waves and the stiff wind.
“Capsize!” shouted Mike, as Duncan Hughes became the first swimmer of the day. Mike then demonstrated a deep water rescue and Duncan was soon back in his boat paddling again.
Next we tried surfing. With backs to the wind Mike showed us how to wait for the swell to bring up the back of the boat. Then take two or three rapid strokes to the top of the wave and use its power to surf forward. It felt wonderful to ride the waves.
We then continued our journey round the headland, feeling more confident and trying out our newly acquired skills. The sun was shining, our boats rode over the waves and we passed beaches and headlands before stopping for lunch atone of the bays off Torquay.
On the way back we stopped once more in the sheltered bay and practised more deep water rescues, including an Eskimo rescue technique while parallel to the capsized boat instead of at right angles.
In this method the capsized paddler uses the rescuer’s paddle in stead of the boat to hip flick back up.
We paddled back into Brixham Harbour taking in the majestic sights of one of the most beautiful marinas in Devon bathed in late afternoon sunlight. Moored sailing vessels were bobbing in the waves while ferry boats and fishing trawlers made their way in and out of the harbour.
We headed back to the campsite, which was rather basic in its amenities and made a Spartan military base seem a luxurious holiday retreat. But the sun was shining, we had cold beers to crack open and at least there was hot water in the shower block.
Suitably cleansed and refreshed we headed into the fleshpots of Brixham for fish and chips, beer and much merriment while discussing the events of the day.
After a busy day’s paddling we all slept soundly and next morning woke to the delights of Tony Flannery’s cooked breakfasts, comprising chorizo and fried eggs.
To add to the fun, a passing magpie swooped and stole a pack of filtered coffee only to deposit it on the roof of a caravan.
Then it was back to one the sea, with a new addition as Michael Frellsen replaced Rodney.
The wind had dropped and the sea was much calmer as we headed out around the harbour, with friendly greetings from local fishermen casting their rods from the wall.
“You’ve got the whole sea – why do you have to paddle round here?” shouted one with a Neanderthal gesture.
Mike wished him a good day’s fishing and we paddled out towards the headland. The contrast to yesterday’s paddle was stark. Once round the headland we left all signs of civilisation(if Torquay can be so described)behind us. All we could see were dramatic cliffs on one side and the open sea on the other.
The scenery was stunning as Mike led us round beautiful isolated bays where we paddled in and out of deep caves, going in backwards to some with low ceilings in case the swell took us in further and made exit tricky.
We also tried the art of rock hopping, using the waves and swell to paddle through gaps in the jagged rocks. If you get the timing right, a waves carries you through. If you get it wrong you risk being marooned on a rock until the next wave.
There was much to see. We feasted our eyes on seabirds perched on the steep cliffs and circling high above the rocks. Also bobbing up and down in the bay was the occasional seal.
Around the next headland we aimed towards a quiet looking beach, a common spot for seals to gather, Mike told us. But these seals basking in the sun on the shingle looked rather pink and thin. We paddled closer to take a look.
“Ahem. Is that a nudist beach?” asked one of the group. Yes indeed it was. And unlike the seals who were wonderful to behold, these human specimens were clearly well past their prime.
We paddled quickly on, eyes firmly ahead. We ate lunch on a pretty shingle beach where the human seals kept on their clothes.
On the journey back instead of hugging the coastline in and out of the bays, we headed straight across from headland to headland. It was a wonderful feeling being so far out to sea with the boat rising and falling with the swell.
That day we paddled 25 kilometres along magnificent coastline. We arrived back into Brixham Harbour tired but immensely satisfied with what for some of us was a first taste of paddling the open seas.
Michael treated us to some of his delicious Danish chocolates, which tasted wonderful.