Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Morwenna's Maiden Voyage

The period from ordering my new P&H Cetus MV to its delivery felt like a lifetime, oh how slow the days pass when you are waiting for something so important to you! The weeks dragged by and she was finally delivered just before Christmas. Like a big kid with a big toy it was as if all my Christmases had come at once, just that I'd paid for my own very expensive present.

Man-flu kept me on my death bed for a week and I didn't manage to take her out until the 28th December. The day dawned clear and bright, the sea state was slight and the air temperature was a balmy 11°C, it was positively tropical! It was one of those fantastic Cornish mid-winter days that feel more like mid-spring, days that give you hope for the warmth of summer to come, albeit somewhat prematurely.

prelaunch on St Ives harbour beach
I'd arranged to meet Richard Uren from Paddlecrest Coaching in Penzance on the beach at Carbis Bay but it felt, being a St Ives boy, that it was more appropriate for me to launch the new boat from St Ives and paddle the mile or so around the coast to rendezvous with him there. Morwenna (Cornish: 'shining sea') was duly named and toasted with a glass of wine on the slipway at high tide, much to the bemusement of some watching visitors, and I pushed off and paddled across the harbour into the glittering reflections of the low sun. Like a baptism of golden light I paddled Morwenna across the shining sea and it seemed an auspicious moment. I was full of pride and excitement for finally launching her and knew that many miles of adventure lie ahead.

Richard was on good form and we paddled from Carbis Bay back towards St Ives in fairly calm conditions. I was still beaming from ear to ear about the new boat and she felt very comfortable beneath me. The Cetus is renowned for comfort and the Cetus MV is no different. Comfort was one of the primary considerations for me when I was trying various kayaks before committing a huge chunk of cash to a purchase and whilst some of the other big name manufacturers had superb boats they just didn't fit me like the MV did.

We rounded 'The Island' (St Ives Head) as the tide was on the ebb, with the current starting to run around Bamaluz point. Nowadays The Island isn't in fact an island although, apparently, hundreds of years ago before downalong was built The Island was connected to the mainland only by an isthmus of sand and was therefore almost an island. About 50 metres off Bamaluz Point there's a significant rock that dries by four or five metres, and there's an old local saying that if a fishing boat on the way out to sea passed between the point and the rock they would not catch any fish that day, and I'm sure the there's some truth in it, since the strong current, proximity of the unforgiving greenstone rocks and handling of the old Cornish sailing luggers would potentially have given any brazen sail powered skipper attempting to pass inshore of the rock far more to worry about than whether they would or wouldn't catch any fish. We passed inside regardless.

Rounding close under The Island we started to pick up a small swell and a light west south westerly. I was starting to get a feeling for Morwenna, but was pretty convinced I'd edge her too far and end up swimming and there was still plenty of time for that! Heading eastwards we continued directly on towards Clodgy Point rather than cut in towards Porthmeor Beach and as we cleared Clodgy we were exposed to a force 3 and a much stronger ground swell, with the waves driving hard onto the point. I didn't fancy denting the boat on her first outing and Richard clearly noted that my wide grin had subsided, so we turned in the lee of Hellesveor Cliff and headed west back around Clodgy and closer in towards Porthmeor, St Ives' prime surf beach. Confidence was building all the time and as the ebb was running around the Island we cut in really close under the shear black rocks, using a couple of eddies to ease our progress.

And so we landed at Porthgwidden Beach. I'd like to say that my landing in the new boat was calm and controlled but it was far from it, leaving it just a fraction too long before stepping out I was caught by a following wave, leaving me in a soggy heap under the curious gaze of the audience in the café above. After dragging the boats up the beach Richard and I joined our audience and we sat on the rather civilised balcony of the Porthgwidden Beach Café drinking lattes in the sun, watching the world go by and observing dog walkers and children intrigued by our two kayaks.

Refreshed and back in the kayaks we headed past St Ives harbour, Porthminster Beach and on to Carbis Bay to finish the journey. As we gained on Carbis Bay we could clearly see gannets and other sea birds diving into a vast shoal of fish just off Hawke's Point, curiosity got the better of us and we cut across to investigate. The sea was black from an incalculable quantity of sprats, the surface of the sea was sparkling from a dusting a scales from those fish that had already succumbed to the diving birds above and hunting marine animals beneath, and every now and again the dense black shoal would swirl and part revealing feeding bass and seals silhouetted against the sandy bottom. As our two boats scythed across the calm sea we suddenly became aware they weren't the only animals in the feeding frenzy, there were also four bottle-nose dolphins in the fray.

As we approached the dolphins left the shoal of sprats and came over to check out the two kayaks. Now I've been around dolphins while at sea and while scuba diving on many occasions and I have to say that I never tire of seeing them. Their graceful lines, effortless speed and obvious intelligence make any encounter with them truly magical, and this was no different. For about 15 minutes they alternated between the shoal of fish, our two kayaks and a lone surfer who's paddled out from Porth Kidney Sands to see them. The three of us were enthralled as they swam near us, under us and jumped in what was again a glassy sea. It was utterly spell binding, one of those really special moments that you treasure for a long time. And then they left.

a slightly convoluted route!
And so we returned to Carbis Bay beach and landed. After hauling the boats back up the beach Richard and I reflected on the day, and what a day it was. The christening of the new boat, a total of 9 miles, a rather refined coffee stop and four dolphins, and all in four hours. Just superb!


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