Jo (sephine) Bloggs Paddles 

I’ve been thinking back to the very start of my paddling journey in 2014, where the main aim was rehabilitation, to where I am now. Looking at my pictures warms my heart and when I have moments of doubt in my ability,  I simply look at my photos and I am reminded that anything is possible.

If I could capture the essence in one snap shot of these two time periods, I would struggle to believe the experiences and adventures that I have had.

I have said it many times, but I believe paddlesports to be one of the most inclusive sports available. By means of a thank you to my coach and the paddling community for welcoming me and motivating me, and to help inspire everyday people from all backgrounds and abilities to give it a go…nearly a year ago, I agreed to become Inclusion Director for the governing body, Canoe Wales.

This is of course a great responsibility and a privilege and I promise to do my best, the only way an ex Brownie and Girl Guide can do…and you know, we always keep our promises.

I have been thinking about the need for my next physical paddle challenge – this is presently something I am struggling to do, not only because of logistics but also finding expedition buddies. I definitely need to keep up the momentum of personal challenges to keep proving to myself on a mental note that I am capable of anything, but to also keep my physical condition optimum in light of MS. I am thinking warm and bigger than I have done so far, to REALLY push myself. Why warm? Because I am struggling with the cold as my legs do not like it at all I am learning – it causes my muscles to be stiff and sore.

If you have a challenge idea for me or are interested in taking part in something with me – please get in touch.

Whilst I am thinking about my next move, the next few months are all about aiming to get Jo (sephine) Bloggs in my  capacity as Canoe Wales Director, but also, as a human being who wants to have fun paddling with friends, out on the water.

The past two weekends have been lovely going out with a new aquatic companion in sea boats down Barry Dock and the River Ely…

And as I get settled in to a life in Cardiff, I hope to make more friends and get on the sea and rivers much, much more.

I’m really pleased to be making a good friend in new fellow Director, Sarah Williams, whom has a fear of open water but as she’s part of Canoe Wales, really wants to give it a try. She doesn’t really know it yet but I plan to take her out soon when it gets a little bit warmer, with a picnic of course…and now it’s in my blog,it HAS to happen!

That’s a wrap for now, but I look forward to keeping you updated on my paddling pootles.

Thank you all for your support the past 2 or so years.

Popeye Hell…

Dear Reader, I do apologise for how long it is taking me to write my blog about our Maltese SUP Project…I am an easily distracted squirrel.

So where were we? Ah yes, that’s right – I left you when having gone to snoozeville in Golden Sands, behind a stack of sun beds and in the company of MUTANT BUGS.

It is 4.24am on 4th November 2016 and I have been RUDELY awoken from my shallow slumber by a thumping, clattering and banging of something from up above, broken by an exceptionally loud and guttural Scottish male shouting something like “Is ‘at it? reit, weel i’ll see ye in a scuttle weeks”. Of course, what else should I be hearing 3579km from Glasgow.

Apparently I am now awake for the day, and what does that always mean when your body is suddenly woken up unexpectedly? The absolute urgent requirement for a wee. But there was nowhere to go…it’s a bit too light to get away with a beach wee with this man being so active and visible…and vocal…and heavy handed. It’s clearly a personal vendetta towards me. FACT.

Yes, dear Reader, I am aware that at this point, irrational thought had taken over my being but woe betide anyone messing with a sleep deprived and desperate for urination Jones.

The funny thing is, I can’t remember how or when I went for a wee to overcome said issue…but goody gum drops for me it happened to save everyone from a meltdown!

Anyway, that’s quite enough toilet talk.

For the first time we set off standing UP on our boards (hooray for us!) – all seemed calm –  we did not know, that today, was going to be the most surreal day of our trip, and quite possibly, our lives.

Due to childhood visits to Malta and having a distant memory of visiting “Popeye Village”, I felt deep within my soul the biggest urge for us to visit it as a team…and lo and behold, on looking at the map, we could seemingly access it from the water. What joy. Not that I had at all looked at this in depth prior to the trip…no…not I.

Funnily enough, childhood memories have a very interesting way of making tacky luminous roller-skate key-rings seem “like totally awesome, dude”  (ha – no, I won’t be saying that phrase out loud any time soon!)…or maybe that prized key-ring possession of mine was “amazeballs” (bringing out the classics today) as maybe it was “ironic” cool. So who knew what Popeye Village was going to be like.

Anyway, back on our boards, after a morning of playing between rocks, we were suddenly being exposed to side winds again and so we needed to plummet to our knees…and after yet another skillful “sea-wee” by George (gosh, we love our urination don’t we!), we began to creep around the corner to Popeye Village.

Popeye Village is the original set from the film made in the 1980s…do any of you remember it? I have very vague recollections of it myself.

popeye-village-in-malta-0

 Anyway, as we turned the corner, we found a very sheltered and somewhat quaint little cove with curious little coloured houses. As we drew closer, we could hear something. No, is it…no…it can’t be…”The Monster Mash”? Yes it is…and as we got closer we could then hear “Ah-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga it’s still Halloween here in Popeye Village why don’t you….” WHAT?! Is it not November 4th? What kind of madness were we paddling towards?

We found ourselves a mooring at the beach of the shallow make-believe bay (just below the bridge in the picture above), and immediately sought comfort in…REAL TOILETS….HOORAH (seriously, you cannot underestimate small pleasures such as a good toilet experience)…where not only did George and I manage to wash our hair on the sly in the sinks, but a British woman walked in and said “I’ve been in the sea, I need a wash” and promptly stripped off before our very eyes (cream buns and all!) and there we were…in the toilet in Popeye village, having a community wash.

We all decided we were STARVING, after all, we had been up from silly o’clock and so it was only natural to seek the restaurant for a healthy portion of Carbonara at 10.30am. Yummy.

Throughout our meal, we were completely amused and bewildered by Popeye’s continuous announcements, which were interspersed by “I’ll put a spell on you”, a small portion of “Bach’s Toccata and Fuge in D minor”, the Harry Potter theme tune and back to “Monster Mash”. Repeat.

Popeye Village was like a ghost town, there was hardly anyone there, and so God only knows who Popeye and his gang were talking to over and over and over and over again.

Not long before I went to Malta, I went to see Groundhog Day the musical. For my time at Popeye Village, I felt like I was living a real life version of the musical. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW YOU COULD WORK THERE AND RETAIN YOUR SANITY…it makes me feel all pursed lipped and frustrated thinking about it.

At peak giddiness, whilst taking a mouthful of Carbonara, I became aware that something had happened to George whilst at the table. She was giggling like crazy. I was so tired and with overloaded senses from Popeye Hell that it took ages for the penny to drop. I think this was the same for Chris and Matt, because almost at exactly the same time we twigged and fell about laughing. George (as we all were) was sat at the table with her Glide PFD on (you wear it like a bum-bag, or for you American readers – “fanny pack”…that will ALWAYS make me giggle) and must have sat on the cord. When you pull the cord a CO2 canister inflates the PFD and low and behold…George was sat eating lunch with her PFD around her neck. You had to be there. It was hilarious. Promise.

And if it couldn’t get even more surreal, a witch appeared out of nowhere, came straight up to us and in the most relaxed and bored out of her skull way she said “boo”. I mean, what else can I say about that really?

We thought we would have a cheeky peruse of Popeye Hell whilst there but before I go into that, a note on the name “Popeye Hell” which seems to have developed from my finger tips on typing this blog. On reflection, I genuinely believe if hell exists, for me, it may resemble Popeye village having an extended Halloween every day for eternity.

Anyway, we were going to have a look around but Popeye’s arch nemesis Bluto approached (of course he did…ha!) and said it best we didn’t as he saw we arrived by the water and did not pay for entrance and so likely to get caught, and so that was our cue to flee the surreal land. What a nice chap he was.

download

After this, the rest of the day, seemed serene in comparison.

We paddled the north side of the island where we saw a man spear fishing – he showed us his catch. They love a bit of spear fishing in Malta; if you haven’t seen it in action, it’s wonderful to watch.

We then managed to tackle the crossing past the Malta-Gozo ferry port with little discomfort (we thought it was going to be rather tricky), and then we were able to spend a bit of time standing up again and in Chris’ words “Standing up hasn’t been the norm, it’s been the reward”.

We then rested in a cheeky beach bar for a wee while (what a hard life) before finding ourselves somewhere to snooze in a closed for the season water sports centre.

And why not round off this little blog, with a relaxing and cheeky 4-minute film of our trip – inclusive of George’s inflatable misdemeanour, trombone, a shaky bottom egg, and a spear fisherman!

Wind speed and direction: F3, SSW.

Distance: 13.3km completed.

 

 

 

 

Surf’s up…or not. 

Another brief interlude before #MalteseSUPproject is wrapped up…although as a heads up – a film and a write up in SUP Mag will be on its way soon so keep your eyes peeled!

Right – let’s get back to it. 

It’s 22:11 in Fuerteventura as I start to type musings on the mobile telebob (apologies in advance for inevitable typos!) from the comfort of my bed. 

My conclusion, before I ramble on is that I am pretty sure that I have just paid a considerable amount of money to be tortured. No Dear Reader, one is not a masochist…one merely went for a surf lesson. 

Yes I know – some of you lazy beach bum holiday types (no disrespect but the idea of laying in one spot in the sun for days on end absolutely “thrills” me to my core…plus I’m far too pasty for that lark – I’d turn into an ACTUAL lobster) would find that a HORRIFIC idea anyway! 

So what went so terribly wrong I hear you cry? 

It was all set to be a jolly affair- a SCORCHER of a day and some lovely looking ocean…exactly how I wish life to look like 100% of the time. 

On being picked up by two stereotypical gorgeous surf dudes ( well, to be precise 1 dude and 1 dudette) in a funny little mini bus, within 5 minutes they did nothing but bicker. At first I thought this might be some curious sexual tension manifesting through the power of irritability but in actuality – I think they just got on each others’ tits…especially when it came to driving and directions. 

Then we ended up driving around and around and around and around the most desolate, tedious, and in the back of beyond estate, to pick up a couple who said they were waiting outside…they were clearly not outside. Long story short, we found them (all lies that they were waiting) and off we went to some mystery place…(don’t ask me where – I wasn’t paying attention) to get our SURF ON. 

We arrived at some kind of hotel and were asked to put wet-suits on. So far so good…no obvious misdemeanours; although I am told the owner of the surf school gave our bodacious tutors the “evils” as they were running late…on a side note it turns out that he’s a bit of an ogre… no, not as friendly as Shrek. 

Time to tally ho and find the beach but what’s this? No leader in sight…where are we to go? 

A Danish couple staying at the resort said there was only one way to the beach so off we trotted. Okay, “trotted” is far too a jovial and active word for this trip. Off we sighed, heaved, hobbled, and slowly started to die from the treck down a bloody great volcanic rock formed hill with incredibly wobbly steps.  

Eventually we get to the bottom absolutely exhausted from the full body work out we had just done…whilst in done up wetsuits. Vile.

We waited in anticipation for our tutor who didn’t come for AGES…to the point that the Danish couple went off to look for him. 

The next minute we hear a whistle (one is not a dog) and a wave and our casual instructor mooches up to us and basically implies that we were all the issue for the late start as we didn’t wait for our leader. I’m sorry, is a leader not supposed to LEAD and be around his pupils to guide… even in such things as walking to the beach? Apparently we went down the wrong route so now we had an epic mission transporting ourselves and our boards across a shelf of lava rock. Did I mention it was also super windy and the wind kept catching the boards? 

We then got to the beach for a short land lesson (and I mean short…I’ve sat on the toilet for longer that’s for sure) where we were all clearly knackered from the escapades prior to this that you could tell that rather than excitement – everyone had a glazed look on their face thinking “hmmm what I’d give for a cup of tea and a snuggle right now”. 

Anyway, we got in the water, “caught some waves, man” and fought the most HORRENDOUS current whilst trying to dodge all the other newbie surf God(desses) from decapitation by foam board. A note on the current – we were reliably informed after our session from a very experienced and lovely surf goddess (pro – not newbie!) that on that beach, in the past 2 months, there has been 5 rescues and 1 death because of the current. Well if that doesn’t shout suitability for SURF SCHOOL at you I don’t know what does. 

Eventually, the session came to an end which clearly wasn’t quick enough for most of us where we dreamed of relaxing immediately with a beer… but this wasn’t before climbing Mount Vesuvious. 

“Let’s go back the right way” Mr Surf God said. Off he goes, far into the distance,  without so much as picking up a board or helping an injured member with their board (or asking how they were for that matter! And on another note – no medical forms filled  out here folks!) And there we were, left to scale a very sketchy and steep hill with all our kit. 

The amount of times we had to stop to regain energy and fight the muscle burn in our arms was unreal…we were AGES hobbling and shuffling back. Every step was…and not to be dramatic…agony and like lead. Not once did anyone come to check on where we all were. 

We did, finally arrive back at the beginning…which was CERTAINLY a longer route than the original… bar-stew-ards. 

Interestingly when having a short chat with Surf Dude he said he “loves” his Jon (“Jon” is a typo for “job” but he may well love HIS “Jon” so I’m leaving it) and is a full time all year round surf instructor.  You wouldn’t have known it. His face didn’t say it, nor did his clipped and impatient instruction…and total lack awareness/care surrounding injury and/or general needs of his group.  Yes I know it’s hard to probably manage 7 people at the same time in the water but then again, maybe I’ve been spoilt by the strict and standards for watersports delivery we have in the UK…if Coach Brain or Erin were teaching I am certain it would have been an enirely different experience. 

After a mini bus jaunt back, the only way to deal with this draining jaunt was to go for a dirty Chinese meal on the strip,  sink a beer, and then, torture ourselves some more by walking up the seemingly epic hill back to the flat. 

Is surfing for me? Hmmm we have yet to see about that. I think a nice instructor in Cornwall will sort me right out. 

Lightning Butt or Tasteless Buds?

A slight deviation from finishing up my Malta blog for a spot of black humour.

On Monday I woke up to glorious blue skies above me through the sky light. It was the last day of the festive period before knuckling down for a few days before heading off for a spot of water-sports in Fuerteventura (I know, how dreadful…and yes, I am more than happy to rub that in…*tee hee*) and I felt rather excited for the day ahead.

A steaming hot cup of tea was brought to me in bed – how blissful. On taking my first sip I immediately wanted to spit my tea out. It was foul, loathsome, chemical, bitter, other worldly. Thinking a bit of tablet that I was swilling down my throat with the hot liquid may have got stuck, I took another sip. No, no – it was exactly the same. Utterly disgusting.

There must be something wrong with the tea and so I passed the cup over to my tea fairy for their kind opinion. Surely they must find it as offensive as I. They took the hot liquid to their lips and…nothing but a slight pensive brow appeared on their face and the report of “it’s not the best cup of tea I’ve had but it’s okay”. “Seriously!?!?!?!?!” I said, “it doesn’t taste like hell to you?!”. “No” said the tea fairy with a slightly puzzled look.

It immediately hit me that the tea wasn’t the problem, but it was, in fact, Malcolm (my Multiple Sclerosis) playing a cruel trick on me. You can take anything, but you can’t take TEA away from me – it’s nectar of the Gods. I may like to adventure, but at the heart of this wandering giddy hobbit, is a very British gal whom relies on her staple brew to fuel her through the day.

I then tried hot chocolate and hot juice (I dislike cold drinks…unless it involves ale or gin!) – exactly the same thing happened. Water, however, was fine.

I then began to realise that food didn’t taste right…and gradually over the day, on putting what should have been a very flavoursome lamb, coriander, pickled red cabbage and hummus burger to my chops…but it was magnolia – food began to lose pretty much all taste by the end of the day. Except for chocolate. Flavour lacked in chocolate but I could taste sweetness on the tip of my tongue, almost like a sweetener that some folk put in tea.

Food, next to all things outdoorsy, is one of my most favourite things…but TEA, well, that is practically pumping through my veins. Imagine my horror.

Well, I’m now 3 days in to having tasteless buds and there’s no sign of shifting.

One issue that I have had in recent times which when it has struck in public places has been most difficult, painful, and socially awkward, is the phenomenon of LIGHTNING BUTT. That’s right, you read it correctly. I have been getting lightning pains shoot straight into my butt and groin, just like someone has shoved an enormous sharp knife into my unmentionables. The most comedic and painful of times was in November in Oslo – it struck like a tsunami as we were walking through the city, to the point that I was so convinced there was something in my trousers I found myself in between grunts of pain and giggles from the ridiculousness, crouching down with a building or tree for ever so slight protection, and shoving my hands down my under garments to see if I could find the offending goblin. But no. Nothing to be found, just absolute muppetry. I’m sure Malcolm is part Cornish Piskie.

This week my fairy tea mother asked me what would I prefer “lightning butt or tasteless buds” and right now, I think I would say lightning butt for the sheer comedy value (despite the pain) it brings…what would you prefer?

 

 

Day 3 – Thunder, Lightning, Police and Heroes

The night of Day 2

Falling asleep on a slim ledge in a port with lights igniting the night’s sky and the occasional security vessel blasting search lights straight into our faces was certainly a unique experience.

The forecast suggested that at 2am we would be in for a storm and so before we went to sleep we had a very funny chat about whether we should try to move up the ledge a bit to get away from the water’s edge should it come up and swamp us out. Sensible heads told us that might be a good idea, but, up the ledge meant for potentially an even more uncomfortable night snoozing on and in spikey looking plants and rocks, which no doubt would be home to things like scorpions.

scorpion

The Maltese Scorpion

We faffed around for a wee while deciding what to do, and in the end, laziness, tiredness, and also not wishing to be eaten by bitey bugs made us suddenly adapt quite literally a “let’s live on the edge” attitude and see what happens.

Just before we hit the hay, a port security boat opposite us slowed down and shone its light directly at us. It felt like one of those comedy film moments where I thought “hmmm if we sit, really REALLY still, maybe, just maybe, they won’t see us – we will be invisible” whilst sat there in my bright blue down jacket against the beige clay ledge.

It was really clear we weren’t supposed to be there, but we had nowhere else to go, so to bed down and get on with it was the only option.

Day 3

The good news is…no storm arrived at 2am and we did not get hit by waves and rain in our sleep (sorry, not sleep, more like zombie-like staring at the sky due to the light and sounds all around).

The plan was to rise and spring into action at 5am to avoid getting into trouble and to make the most of the day in order to make progress.

The next stage had the potential to make or break the aim of full circumnavigation as there would be little to no places to stop due to a section called Dingli Cliffs.

dingli-cliffs_malta_malta-tourism-board

Dingli Cliffs

If something went wrong or the sh1t hit the fan with the conditions, we, along with our iSUPs and cargo could quite genuinely be battered straight into the cliffs and turned into mincemeat.

At 5am, we looked at the sky to see forks of lightening in front of us. We looked across at the sea where we could see increasing chop in the distance. We looked at the clouds and it was clear that at some point very soon they were going to burst with heavy rain. We looked at each other and knew, that right now, we needed to pack up our kit immediately to avoid it getting soaked and wrap ourselves up in water-proofs or a bivvy bag. There was no shelter.

My gut was telling me that today was not a day to even be considering that section and hoped more than anything everyone else felt the same.

We got ourselves sorted and looked at the forecast using the likes of Windyty and Wind Finder and other helpful bits of technology. Although we could see the weather was due to calm down on that side of the island, there was no doubt in our minds that the sea state would remain hairy. As a group, we made the decision that we needed to sit the weather out, and at the earliest opportunity, paddle further into the port as the map was suggesting there should be a town where we could flop after the excitement, get a coffee, and decide upon a plan.

I can’t remember what the time was, perhaps approaching 8am, but when the weather began to settle and the rain ceased, we became aware that we were being watched. Two tall dark figures were stood on hill to the left of us looking remarkably like the police.

We decided the best thing to do would be to approach the officers and explain that where we slept was the best we could do given the conditions, in the hope that they would understand and not give us a scary fine or worse, shove us in a cell! The officers were surprisingly very helpful (and one in particular was very handsome…I don’t think I’ve ever seen eyes quite like it!) where they explained that they were concerned for our safety, because you see, the thing is, unbeknown to us, we were sleeping right next to a very new gas power station. We decided to not tell the police that the night before we lit our PETROL STOVE for a hot beverage within its vicinity.

After some useful advice and perhaps some confusion on their part regarding how fast one can paddle a fully loaded SUP, they suggested we make our way into Marsaxlokk along the side of an ENORMOUS container ship / tanker whilst trying to avoid the paths of the queueing vessels.

I think we were all very nervous about doing this, where had even attempted to radio the coast guard / harbour master in order to advise them of our presence to avoid us being run over– no one answered our calls.

The good news is, on our way into the bay, we managed to actually SUP (yes, standing up!) the whole way and as there was a little breeze behind us, it was extra pleasurable…amidst the nerves from our surroundings.

mar-bay

It looks rather calm there doesn’t it! Thanks Renato Brincat for this wonderful photo.

After landing, drinking coffee, and consuming slices of pizza and a burger-pie (yes, you read that right, Chris has a BURGER-PIE…now if any Wigan folk are reading this, have you tired that?!), we formulated a plan. We needed to get up to Golden Bay on the NW corner of the island, which had considerably better wind speed and direction, so that we could perhaps consider a 2/3 circumnavigation. Dicing with Dingli cliffs was not an option. This did affect our mental state as our objective was now different – this did take some adjusting to, but as a group, we remained strong and united in our decision.

In order to get up there, we of course needed a lift. We walked the streets keeping an eye for a possibility and then we remembered something. On arrival there were some sea kayakers in the bay, and so we decided it would be a good idea to see if they could help, because the odds are they would have a van.

George and Matt went to find them and came back with the BEST news and something incredibly coincidental.

As soon as the kayakers were told who were and what we were doing they immediately said yes of course they will help us as they had read all about our mission – isn’t the power of social media amazing. It doesn’t stop there. Not only did they already know of us, as soon as we heard that two coaches were from the UK and we heard their names, we nearly fell off our chairs, because as a group, we all had some awareness of them (Richard Witheridge and Phil Hadley).

We paddled our boards down to meet them, where a group of very friendly people were stood smiling at us, and immediately a surfer dude looking chap, known as Chris Vermaak (owner of Kayak Gozo) came down to help us with our kit.

After getting over the coincidence and being incredibly grateful for their help, we loaded up Chris’ marvellous Land Rover and then relaxed with the boys having a beer before taking the journey up to Golden Sands.

landy

One thing which never ceased to amaze me on this adventure, was the overwhelming kindness of the people we met along the way – it has absolutely restored my faith in humanity. I will be eternally thankful for the people that crossed our paths on this trip into the unknown.

On finally getting to Golden Sands, the sea was beautifully flat, and so we treated ourselves to a sunset STAND UP paddle, and then a night relaxing at a beach bar over a beer and a burger. That’s right folks, this was a day of hard core adventure.

sunset

Beautiful shot taken by Georgina

That being said, it was all not luxury, as that night, as it was a very touristy beach, we had to wait in the shadows for people to leave the beach and pack up the restaurant before finding somewhere to camp down…only to discover we were in the company of MONSTER bugs. They were so big and hard that when they fell to the ground you could hear a CRACK.

bug

Mouse droppings were also abundant, as were ants. Such joy. At 1am I needed to go find somewhere to go for a wee, this was rather tricky; it became immediately apparent that above me were young lovers in their cars “looking out to sea”. Imagine what they would have thought if the light of the “moon” suddenly became very bright.

Anyway, for now, I will leave you to digest my latest novel.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment.

Have a very Happy Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2 – Sea wees, “Jesus”, and the Power Station

November 2nd 2016 #TheMalteseSUPproject (Force 2/3, SE, 15.7km completed – much better!)

On waking up, Chris informed us of his horror-encounter in the night. He woke up to find a SLUG on his face. A SLUG. How disgusting. Can you IMAGINE. I don’t care who you are…no matter how hardcore an adventurer you are, being woken up to a slug hanging out on your face is just all the colours of the “wrong-bow”.

And that dear Reader, is an fine example of the bitter sweet nature of bivvy bagging; on the one hand you can drift off to sleep with an uninterrupted view of the night sky, but on the other, you are prime pickings for all manner of beasties to feast and crawl upon in the night.

Anyway, we found ourselves on the water for 07:30 for a rather curious day ahead.

Although the wind was significantly less than it had been previously, we still had rather decent swell to contend with as consequence of the aftermath of the storm. One rather hilarious outcome of this, was the development of our rather alternative Stand Up* Paddle-boarding styles.

Okay, so you know how with this sport, the method is typically all in the name? You would expect us to be, funnily enough, STANDING UP all the time? Well, due to the heavy cargo on our boards combined with the rather substantial swell, and not to mention rather changeable wind directions and speed…let’s just say, on this day came the development of a range of paddle boarding styles, for example (diagrams to follow!):

SDPB (Sit Down Paddle Boarding) – kayak or SUP paddle

KPB (Kneel Paddling Boarding) – kayak or SUP paddle

APB (Armchair Paddle Boarding) usually with a kayak paddle – where you sit against your luggage like a chair

SBASFITAPB with a SUP paddle or a kayak paddle: (Sit Back And Stick Fin In The Air Paddle Boarding) If the cross winds were too strong and the nature of the fin wants you to constantly go with the flow of the wind/waves…sit far back so the fin raises out of the water and BOOM…it can’t change direction to where you don’t want to go…cheeky! 

By mixing up the paddling styles, it ensured we progressed because sure as eggs are eggs; if we attempted to stand up all the time, our bodies being essentially big sails would impede us significantly, but also, let’s be honest, we would spend more time IN the water, than out of it. Which, was actually preferable for George at times…on this day, she discovered the art of the getting in the sea and holding onto the board to have a wee. Needs must ladies and gentleman, for when there is no where to land, what else is a girl to do? This was not the only time during this trip this occurred, but more on that later.

As you know, we had been blessed by strangers on our paddle already and what became an on-running joke between us, was whenever we saw a small brightly coloured fishing boat near us (which was often!), as the guy who had blessed us the day before was also in one of these bad boys, we would suddenly cry out “look, it’s “Jesus” again”. Yes, I know, probably not politically correct, but it did amuse us. He seemed to get everywhere!

fishing-boat

We stopped for lunch in a fairly sheltered bay…which sounds delightful but landing was easier said than done. What became apparent was that we needed to be reeeeeally careful – I mean, they are inflatable after all. Also, unlike sea kayaks where you can pull the fin up, you can’t do that when you’re heading for rocks with a SUP, and so if you want to save your fin, you need to be quick witted,or work as a team.

In the early days of this jaunt I was very nervous about launching and landing. Apparently being in 6ft swell on day 1 on essentially a lilo was not at all an issue…but actually getting off the thing, a whole different ball game for my nerves as all I could imagine was the board popping. Matt, I would say was the pioneer of rocky inflatable landings – he would scout out a place and almost gracefully hop off…in my mind, he was a landing GOD.

Anyway, an example of much needed launching team work was when we got back on the water after a lunch break and loading up with supplies for the next 3 days, as we knew there were not shops to be had on the next stretch. Yes, that’s right, this included 3 days worth of water on SUPs for 4 people. Super heavy stuff.

So our exit was a little crashier and swellier than when we landed and so it was clear that  at all times there needed to be someone steadying another person to launch and so we came up with the following as the answer. Matt got on the water first (I think!), and then I got on the water with help where Chris and George then biffed me George’s SUP. I then grabbed hold of the SUP by the leash to stop it bashing back against the rocks and then “nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo”. I lost grip of the leash as I was about to velcro it around my wrist. I then had to chase it as fast as I could without me and George’s board being swept onto the rocks. I managed to get it and as soon as I grabbed it I paddled hard out the way of the swell and immediately strapped her board to me. Meanwhile, George and Chris got on to one board and paddled out to the calmer water where George then transferred on to her board.

If that isn’t team work, I don’t know what is!

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Go Team!

We persisted in our paddle, looked at the map and the time and decided we needed to find ourselves a camp for the night. There was only one obvious choice.

On the map we could see what appeared to be a harbour called Delimara but as we looked to our left, we could see HUGE container ships hoping to enter said harbour. As there was seemingly no where else to go, we had no choice but to investigate further. SURELY there would be somewhere safe and quiet tucked away for us to snooze for the night.

We had a very precarious entry into the harbour, which on arrival at the entrance was clearly a very large PORT (Malta Freeport)!

We entered the port through a very small choppy channel, with old salt pans to our right with signs saying “no trespassing” and GIGANTIC ships in front of us and to our left. I was beginning to feel rather anxious as one thing you don’t want to mess with when on a SUP is a container ship. I think we all began to feel a sense of urgency to find a camp.

We paddled closely to the right hand side of the port in order to stay clear of the marine traffic. In front of us appeared to be something almost power station (more on this later!) like with exceptionally bright lights, but what we did see was a small ledge. A ledge perfect for 4 adventurers and their SUPs. There was no where else to go. This was it for the night.

As soon as we hopped off our boards something astonishing was felt on our skin. The water was like a bath. It was SO WARM. I thought to myself “hmmmm there’s a lot of power here, it must be heating the water!”. I was half expecting to see a 3 eyed fish floating on the water – but hey ho, I just thought “it is what it is, so let’s crack on”.

We set up camp and checked the weather forecast; we could see that a storm may be arriving at approximately 2am. We had some very funny conversations about whether we needed to move away from the water or not, but in the end, we looked at the options and just thought sod it, let’s live on the edge (quite literally) and stay put. The options were bleak.

You know what else was bleak? The amount of plastic rubbish that had been swept up here – never have I ever seen such hideousness. If any Maltese are reading this – are there any marine litter picking programmes in Malta, because if so, you need to head this way!

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Just as we were beginning to settle in the bright lights of the space-ship-power-station, a security vessel began to sweep by with a glaring spot light. We began to get the sense we were being watched…or could they not see us and they were just coincidentally sweeping their light at us? Who knows. But at this point, there was nothing we could do. We needed to stay put.

By the light of the world around us, we did some route planning based on the forecast and then bedded down for the night in the most surreal of spots.

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One of my favourite things to do is satellite watch when laid under the stars – it was so bright there was no chance of this at all. Hooray for the worst night sleep of possibly our lives.

More on what happened next later, but all I can say to you at this point is: you could not write the next sequence of events, even if you tried.

#TheMalteseSUPproject Paddle Day 1 – A blessed day 

1st November 2016 the paddle commenced!

As the sea state was too hairy the day before for us to begin our adventure, we weren’t sure what we were waking up to and whether our plans would be foiled again.

On waking up Georgina (AKA G-Max) and I went straight to the balcony to peek down the narrow street to look at the sea. The ocean appeared calmer than the day before and so our spirits lifted immediately.

After a hearty breakfast we all agreed that based on the forecast and the sea state – it was now or never.

Chris advised us that he spotted a feasible “get on” a 10 minute walk away when he went to find petrol for our stove.

We stared at the mountain of kit that we had and decided we most definitely needed to make life easier by getting a taxi…not environmentally friendly but it was either that or draw out the process significantly longer and break our backs doing it.

Before we got in the taxi we pretty much had an expedition trying to get all our kit down stairs. Getting into the lift was a challenge – every time it arrived at our floor, it opened to what appeared to be a tin can of breakfast hungry humans. It was ridiculous how many times that happened and so in the end, we bit the bullet, and tried to haul most of our kit down the very narrow marble staircase – all 5 flights.

Rather curiously our mini bus was aptly named…

On arriving at our start point in Balluta Bay, we were greeted by a very kind lady who works for a sight seeing company…(oh and yes, I know…a spotty swimming costume with over sized grey boardies is a really sexy look…).

She (pictured on the above picture to my left) was so excited about what we were doing and immediately wanted to suggest to us useful stops and local knowledge. She whipped out a tourist map, which was actually a pretty good representation of the island, and started scrawling all over it with “must see” places as well as useful insight on where we can find shops to buy supplies, and where she thought we could feasibly land our craft.

The night before the barman in the hotel, who we nicknamed “Seamus” as he was clearly a salty sea-dog (and they’re obviously all called Seamus…duh!), was talking all things weather and navigation with Matt. He was a very handy chap to get to know.

These early and informative encounters made one thing clear – the Maltese clearly love and know their island very well indeed.

Whilst inflating our SUPs and loading up our cargo…

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We got the feeling we were being watched by a lady and a gentleman. Two seconds later, they approached Matt and I and in a very strong sing-song Irish accent said “are ya Catholic?”. As you can imagine this took us by surprise and before we could properly answer they were popping something into mine and Matt’s hands and telling us it was a gift to keep us safe. We opened our hands to find a silver pendant of Mary on a baby blue piece of cotton; George and Chris were also given this beautiful act of kindness. We explained to them what we were doing and the couple from County Clare were nothing but supportive but were also most insistent we kept Mary close to keep us safe.

It’s funny as although I was brought up a Christian and went to Sunday School, as a grown up, I haven’t really considered myself remotely religious or indeed superstitious, but throughout the trip I had this overwhelmingly powerful feeling that I simply must wear the medal around my neck at all times as it really will keep me safe. I would have been very upset to have lost it – but it remained with me, around my neck, right until the very end.

Just as we began to set off, George took an absolute beating by a wave. You see the slipway in the above picture that the guys are stood in front of? Well, that picture doesn’t do the situation justice at all. It was clear to launch successfully would be all down to timing. However, George, on getting on her board, was rather suddenly dumped on by a wave and smashed back up the concrete slipway. It made me want to cross my legs and grab my breasts to keep them safe…as a sympathy reaction. What a to do!

And so finally…we were off. Within minutes of being on the water, even with the shelter of the bay, we experienced some interesting swell. When we looked out to our right, not only did we observe BIGGER swell (we decided about 6ft), we were greeted with ENORMOUS waves battering the headland and so we had to be sure to steer well clear of those bad boys. As usual, this stirred enormous excitement within me – my typical reaction began to kick in…giggle and singing-o’clock.

We had to keep our wits about us due to the sea state, as in essence, really, in those conditions, stand up paddle boards are essentially lilos. Heavily cargo laden lidos. Immediately we began to get a sense of how different our boards in those conditions (especially with all our belongings strapped on) felt and began to adapt our paddling technique in order to over-come the challenges we faced. One common theme throughout this trip was troubleshooting. I was certainly under-prepared for how the kit would feel on the board.

Before we went on the trip I thought it would be a good idea to take split kayak paddles with us, so if the going got tough, we could make up ground and be much more stable and energy efficient when paddling kneeling/sitting. Within a short while of being on the water, we had to whip out our secret weapons and by golly – I am so glad we all decided to bring a set of splits with us. I’m not sure how far we would have got if we didn’t take this solution as they ended up being an absolute God send.

With the exception of a short stop in Valletta for lunch and having to figure out our first landing in swell bouncing off the harbour walls…in a harbour with many moving boats causing chop…I fell in trying to get off the water …Day 1 was a short day due to:

  1.  How long it took us to physically get on the water
  2. The day light hours available to us in order to find camp
  3. The conditions

We ended our day with finding ourselves a secluded camp despite the urban nature of our environment at Fort Manoel where we relaxed from a very vigorous day paddling with a spot of ukulele, singing, and rum. Nice. This was absolutely needed to help us recover from the slight disappointment I think we all experienced by the distance (or lack of!) we had covered but it was also a very bonding night as a team as I think we were all hit with this very real feeling of WOW, “what we’re doing…it’s quite something and clearly isn’t going to be straight forward”.

I nearly forgot to mention that whilst paddling to our camp a tiny little colourful fishing boat past us where from it, a man began to bless us as he drove past. So that was 3 people blessing us on Day 1 – do you think this could have been a sign?

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View from our bivvy bagging camp in Fort Manoel

 

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G-Max rocking the ukulele and singing one of my favourite songs Rip Tide over a few rums

1

Start: Balluta. End: The little star on Manoel island

 

Conditions: Force 3, S.E winds

Distance travelled: 4.5km