Travels with Paddles

a sea kayaking journal

Axel Schoevers (Photo: A. de Krook) Name:
Axel Schoevers
Rijswijk, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

Sunday, December 19, 2010

White Out

I stayed with Justine & Barry for a week. While they are heavy into the final preparations for their Tierra del Fuego trip starting January, I had some NDK business to attend. Some of the weekend plans got changed because of the wintery weather that moved into the UK.

I barely made it back to the house on Friday afternoon in the worst road conditions I ever encountered with my car. Lots of trucks stranded along the A55 and abandoned cars on the smaller roads. I was lucky I guess with my snow tires that made all the difference.
Paddling plans changed into a mountain walk through knee deep snow with Justine through the slate hills with views of the Menai Straits, Puffin Island and overlooking Llanberis. Today driving to the Hull ferry to be back for Christmas with the family.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Filter Feed

In the Netherlands kayaking is rarely picked-up by the media. And when it does, it is usually because of an incident, like ours on June 13. In the days following, a lot of us were frantically checking the news sites for any coverage.

I thought of what would now be a modern variant of the gathering of newspaper clippings. How to weed through massive amounts of news agency RSS-feeds for kayaking related articles?

By coincidence I stumbled upon on Yahoo Pipes. It allows one to unite an unlimited number of RSS-feeds, throw away all duplicates, filter the remaining stream by using selection criteria and sort the results. I could never foresee that it would be that simple!

Well, the only 'problem' I have is that what I mentioned at the start of this post. My kayak keywords rarely get a hit. Today, one to be precise. And that one is from the RNLI. Just look at the NEWS HEADLINES box in the left pane.

Maybe if I would add 'all' the RSS news feeds of the world I would get some more hits, but I think I keep it to the Netherlands and the UK for now. I think we got hit enough this year.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Let's face it again

Earlier this year Blogger ended support for the ftp-hosting of my blog on my own server, forcing me to use the hosting on Blogger. Apart from that change, I never got around to actually use the new Blogger functionality. Up until now that is.

Unfortunately after a backup/restore process it turned-out that Blogger adds random numbers after the post filenames making all my posts 'not found' through search engines. And worse, all links to my blog posts on other sites are also not valid anymore. Even with my original backup this re-naming issue seems irrecoverable.

I think that's 'just life' on the internet. Sometimes the internet has the memory of an Elephant and sometimes it suffers from instant and total amnesia. Remembering what is no longer there...

Until the search engines have fully indexed my blog (again) I have added a custom Blog & Site Search (top left panel) that does a combined search in all my blog entries AND all the articles in my pre-Blogger Logbook.

I also added the page for my vaarWEER widget. It combines all the weather and tide information that I find useful for planning trips in the Netherlands based on the ports where there is tidal information available. It is amazing how much information is available as 'widgets' that can be contained in other 'widgets' that can be contained in other 'widgets'.

I am also back on facebook. From a totally empty friends list I renewed my first facebook friendship. I tried to get my profile and privacy settings so that the newsfeed notifications are now hopefully bearable. You can help me (stay on facebook) by not tagging me in pictures, video's, likes, yikes, quizzes and such.

I close my eyes,
only for a moment, and the moment's gone
All my dreams,
pass before my eyes with curiosity

Dust in the wind,
all they are is dust in the wind.

(Dust in the Wind - Kansas)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Timeless Skies

Ginni, Gabe, Jen, Phil and I set off from Rattlesnake Beach late evening of Saturday 30 October. In the moonless sky I can finally easily distinguish my favorite constellation Delphinus. All courses finished that afternoon. With 'all hands' cleaned-up and stored the kayaks and equipment of Sea Kayak Baja Mexico. The 1st Loreto Sea Kayak Symposium and BCU Week in Baja California Sur has ended.
Lightly packing our boats with the bare essentials: therm-a-rest, sleeping bag, drinking water and breakfast. In total darkness we paddle the four miles to the south end of Isla Danzante. Stars are reflected from the glassy sea only broken by streaks of light from our paddles that stir the bioluminescent dynoflagilates. And some wild outcries when one of us gets hit by a startled fish.
Ginni knows this route by heart. She can easily distinguish a beach from a rocky outcrop by the sound of the waves lapping on them. We hit her favorite beach on Danzante spot on. On my clock it is just after midnight. I roll out my ground sheet, therm-a-rest and sleeping bag on the gravel beach, a few feet away from the water. I fall asleep under Orion and Pleiades to name a few. Taurus and Gemini are just above the horizon.
Sunrise is red and warm, as ever. Breakfast is simple, delicious and hot, as ever. We paddle north along the east coast of Danzante. The wind is picking up, as forecasted, and we have a choppy ride to the turquoise waters of Honeymoon Cove on the Danzante's west side for lunch. Ginni is cruising with the sailing rig on her Explorer; her sail finally catching a strong breeze. A rough crossing via Punta Coyote back to camp. A day later we find out that time, as we know it, has changed. Summer-time, Winter-time, Baja-time..
Next day Ginni went with Jen and Phil to San Diego to run a BCU 4* assessment for Aqua Adventures Kayak Centre. While Gabe and I drove to Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula to deliver a BCU 1* and a BCU Foundation Safety & Rescue Training for Cabo Expeditions.

- 1st Loreto Sea Kayak Symposium
- BCU Week
- Danzante trip
- Canyon Hike

In a far and foreign land
The new day breaks out
Opening up it's hand
And the sun has the moon in it's eyes
As he wanders the timeless skies

(Timeless Skies - Al Stewart)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Incident Revisited

The report on the Noorderhaaks incident is now available in English.
"Read and Shudder!"
In the meantime I had an enjoyable "Peddelpraat Sea Camp" first week early August. At which the Den Helder KNRM (Royal Netherlands Lifeboat Institution, the guys that came out to our rescue) gave a Sunday evening presentation on hypothermia and the use of flares.

Then before we knew it, we were invited to be on their Wednesday evening training session at which six of us practiced with the Lifeboat crew on how to get paddlers in/out their kayaks on-board. Watched by the forty of us from the dock.
For the lifeboat crew it is standard practice to get 'swimmers' on board, but a person in a sea kayak poses some challenges as you might also get a glimpse of from our incident report. For us how to deal with hydro-jets...
All this (and more) because of the incident on 13 June. It took quite a bit of time to get the (English) report out and now even more work to be done to add safety stuff to our sea kayak syllabuses? New chapters!
More to be said? Better let you read the Incident Report first!

I'm swimming into deep water
Would you help me one more time?
I'm tryin' all my best to keep live goin'

I'm swimming into deep water
Would you help me one more time?
I'm drowning but I'd like to stay around
'round for awhile

(Swimming into deep water - Don Rosenbaum)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Incident

Many years ago my role model Dutch sea kayaking coach, achieved expedition paddler and friend gave me his copy of Sea Kayaker's Deep Trouble. He had read it and passed the book along to me with the remark: "lots of stupid paddlers!".

Reading about sea kayaking incidents allow us to learn from the mistakes of others, so that we can be more informed and safer paddlers and not make those mistakes ourselves.

An incident rarely occurs 'out of the blue' Most of the time it is a chain of events that lead to an incident. Sometimes we are 'lucky': an incident could have happened, but did not.

On Sunday June 13 2010 I was part of group that was involved in a sea kayaking incident that required a major rescue operation by the KNRM lifeboats out of Den Helder.

A few days ago the group published its comprehensive report of the incident. I hope we can shortly make available an English version of the report. Until then I give you the English translation of the short announcement to the Dutch sea kayaking community the day after the incident.

Kayakers in trouble near 'Razende Bol'

On Sunday June 13 a group of nine (very) experienced trip leaders of the Coastal Kayaking Committee of the national kayaking organisation Peddelpraat (Paddle Talk) planned a trip around Noorderhaaks sand spit.
The goal of the day was a social paddle with the Peddelpraat sea kayaking trip leaders.

On the northern coast and towards the west of Noorderhaaks the group encountered 2-3 meter high breaking and increasingly dumping waves over sandbars. After two x-rescues of one paddler the decision was made for an escape route towards Texel in the east. During the execution of the escape route contact was lost with three paddlers.

Two of the missing paddlers ended-up swimming and rescued each other with one solo re-entry followed by an assisted re-entry. One of the two paddlers got seriously nauseated and had the beginnings of hypothermia. One thus incapable of paddling, the two rafted-up and called-out to the coast guard on VHF-radio for help.

The third missing paddler informed the coast guard on VHF that he landed safely on the east side of Noorderhaaks. He had lost sight of the group after a solo re-entry and had continued and brought himself to safety.

In the meantime, the raft of two had drifted with the tide and wind more than a mile to the north where they where the lifeboat took them aboard. The fully conscious hypothermic paddler was taken to hospital for check-up.

The group of six that had landed safely on Texel communicated with the coast guard and, after all were accounted for, picked-up the one paddler that landed on Noorderhaaks and returned to Den Helder as a group of seven.

All paddlers are safe and well. Now is not the right time to write an extensive report of the course of events and evaluation. More time is needed for that. Through knowledge and training, all have made it back to safety. However, there have definitively been shortcomings from which we must learn. The incident received national press coverage. We find it important to give you this early first report with more information to follow.

Upcoming first week of August I am again at our annual Peddelpraat club sea kayaking week. It was Peddelpraat that introduced safe sea kayaking in the Netherlands back in the seventies by inviting BCU coaches from the UK to set up the Dutch sea kayaking scheme that continues to closely follow that of the BCU through the Dutch Canoe Union (NKB).

Four, consecutive, organizers of this instruction week were part of the group on the day of the incident. Among the four of us there was an unbroken 30+ years of heading-up coaching safe sea kayaking and sea leadership. All nine are coaching during the upcoming week...

Have we lost all our reputation and credibility? We were stupid, definitively! I am glad we are allowed to learn from it. And maybe when others read about our incident they won't make the same mistakes or recognize some aspects and will appreciate that many of us sometimes are indeed 'lucky'.

I hope we can shortly make available a full English version of the report that does a much better job than the horribly bad Google translation of it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sea, Land & Iceland Air

At least the first part of my trip to Iceland is familiar and predictable; a ferry crossing from Rotterdam to Hull. Normally I would drive from there to Anglesey. But not this time.

My flight to Keflavik (near Reykjavik) has been re-routed to Akureyri (on the North Coast) out of Glasgow and a connecting flight from London Heathrow. I could never have made Heathrow in time, but I could make it to Glasgow for the 17:45 flight. Because of the light Sunday traffic I was at Glasgow airport well in time, only to learn that my flight has a 2 hour delay... In a perfect world I could have made Heathrow in time if that flight had had the same delay.

Akureyri is a 4 hour 'courtesy' bus ride to Reykjavik where I will be met by Magnús. He kept me constantly updated on the developments. This will be a long day and I hope to catch some sleep before tomorrow's Coastal Navigation & Tidal Planning course. At least the same planning rules apply. Be prepared for the unexpected.

When I return from Iceland, my Anglesey symposium will now start with a long car drive out of Glasgow. That is, I first have to make it to Iceland in the first place and back again (preferably to Glasgow). It is all in the air.

Update 26-04:
The Glasgow flight got an "indefinite delay", then was rush-boarded in half an hour, then it did not take off for another hour until 10 PM. Now it is 6 AM and I have finally arrived in Reykjavik after a 5 hour bus drive. Icelandic adventures.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ice & Fire

This afternoon Dutch airspace closed because of the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano on Iceland. A volcanic ash cloud spreads with the northerly wind over most of Northern Europe and grounds all airplanes precautionary. Does this eruption prevent me from traveling to Iceland for running a BCU course in ten days ?

After my sea kayaking trip in the Faroe Islands in 2004 I thought Iceland to be an obvious choice for my next trip; 'working' my way up north, to ever more scenic and exposed shores. But then coaching 'got in the way'; never knowing then that 'working' could also be taken literally.

This volcano has a reputation. The last eruption was in 1783 (and that was a massive one) and lasted for 8 months. Cross my fingers that the volcano settles down a bit, probably best for everyone. It will be my first visit to Iceland and I am looking forward to it.

Iceland = Fire
Greenland = Ice
What part in the world is named 'Fireland' and is probably Green ?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wiped off the Face (book) of the Earth

I sort of 'killed' myself on Facebook today.

I was not using it that often and when I did, like today, I was strongly frustrated by the flood of all irrelevant notifications that are shared with the rest of the world and no way to shut that notifying down. Totally swamping any friend's posts that I am interested in. Not to mention all the privacy settings that Facebook chooses to change frequently and some are still not user-selectable (or not anymore) and all the related privacy issues.

I can inform you that this 'suicide' was completely painless.

Axel on Facebook
14-10-2009 - 11-04-2010

So I am back with my Blog only, for now... And I am not lost to all my real-life friends. So if Facebook told you that I am no longer your friend, please do not feel offended, my friend.
Through early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
(Suicide is Painless - Johnny Mandel)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Seal Launch

Today was all about launching. We started our trip to Texel and Noorderhaaks from a more-rocky-than-expected corner in the Ferry breakwater in Den Helder. Where has al the sand gone... More than one participant complains about wet feet...

It is a beautiful sunny day, albeit somewhat chilly with the Northerly force 3 wind. We have lunch in the shelter of the beach pavilion at "Paal 9" on the Island of Texel. Just when we are about to launch (again) a truck drives onto the beach and unloads two blue cases. Ecomare chose this day, time and location to launch two nursery seals back into the sea. A chance encounter for us to observe a real seal launch.
At first, the two seals were not too keen to head to the open sea. Maybe they are a bit spoiled with their 5* accommodation and feeding at the Ecomare seal and bird nursery. But with some 'encouragement' from the keepers the two seals head out to sea. The keepers explained that normally the seals are set free out at sea from aboard a vessel. But for a national newspaper journalist and photographer they made an exception. They might have to encourage these two seals off the Texel beaches again for the next days or so.
Many of the ex-nursery seals end-up at the Noorderhaaks sand spit off Texel. And that is our next destination, after we ourselves (seal) launched from the beach.
On the Noorderhaaks sand-spit I have to delicately choose between two contradicting options. Staying clear of the restricted area (set aside for the seals), or land on the spot that is not restricted, but that usually has all the resting seals. Maybe the seals themselves have taken notice of the restricted area and stay out of that... Arggg... How strong is my case when a patrol wants to fine me because I am deliberately in the restricted area to not to disturb resting seals. Maybe if the police man also is a biologist, I should be fine... Bio-Logic.

But today I have the easy choice just at the corner of the restricted area. Today the seals are resting out of the wind (and out of sight) on the south-east side of the sand-spit. While we have a short (chilly) break on Noorderhaaks more and more heads are poking out of the water; Noorderhaaks seals are checking us out. We launch again back to our put-in where the water level has covered all of the rocky beach, making it now a very easy seal landing on the breakwater, with wet feet again. But now I hear no complaints...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Freya Hoffmeister Presents...

My first native language post (almost)... Freya will visit the Netherlands on 27 April for a lecture on her Race Around Australia. Komt dat zien, komt dat zien!

Lezing „Race Around Australia“

Een 332 dagen durende kajak tocht langs één van de meest afgelegen kusten ter wereld - gegarneerd met haaien, krokodillen en giftige zeeslangen, solo en zonder ondersteuning: Freya Hoffmeister (45) uit het Duitse Husum is geslaagd in iets wat vóór haar slechts éénmaal iemand eerder gelukt is: door een man met een begeleidingsteam, 27 jaar geleden.

Gemiddeld bracht ze 11 uur per dag op zee door en legde in die tijd zo'n 60 km af. Deze „extreme“ sportvrouw stak de Golf van Carpentaria over in slechts 8 dagen; een afstand van 576 km, waarbij ze op open zee in haar kajak sliep. Ze peddelde langs drie 180 km lange rotskusten, ook 's-nachts, zonder mogelijkheden tot aanlanden. Eén haai beet in het achterschip van haar kajak en liet daar behalve een tand ook een groot gat achter. Het doel dat ze wilde bereiken verdween echter nooit uit het zicht: Australië rondvaren, een heel continent. Twee „kleinere“ eilanden dienden als „opwarmertje“: IJsland en Nieuw-Zeeland (Zuidereiland), welke ze beide in recordtijd rond voer.

Freya zal op 27 April om 20.00 (locatie wordt nog bekend gemaakt) in een levendige en boeiende lezing verslag doen van haar spannende avonturen.

Reserveringen bij, Tel.: 010-5214333
Meer informatie op Freya's website:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Windmills of our Time

Intimidated by the ever-widening A4 highway to Amsterdam. The Zelden Van Passe windmill of 1642 is marginalized even more since the building of wind turbines next to it in 2005. Driving by this morning...

Windmills trigger the Don Quixote metaphor of fighting unwinnable battles. A phrase not seldom used or implied to marginalize and ridicule concerned 'opponents' of 'the way forward'. Where political spin doctor surgery (law making) joins industry lobbying only to be exposed by meticulous investigative journalism. In politics 'not telling the truth' cannot be proven to be the same as 'lying'.

I think the traditional windmill stands a better chance to survive this century than it's turbine variants. I am not against windmills nor wind turbines; serving only as a metaphor. It is just that I do not trust every wind. Those who sow a wind will harvest a storm.

My first multi-day kayaking trip in 1994 involved paddling under this (then much narrower) highway and past the windmill towards the Kaag.

Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind
(Windmills of your mind - M. Legrand / A & M Bergman)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Somewhere over the Rainbow

Well... Returning to base-camp on February 2nd 2010 for re-supply it started to rain... Very untypical in Baja during Winter. A very rare few drops OK, but this was pouring.
Ginni made the opening picture the next morning; a truly magic double rainbow with blue sky and moon above.

We continued our trip towards La Paz in 'forever' blue skies, more typical for Baja winters.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue...
(Somewhere over the rainbow - Judy Garland)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Amsterdam Canals

Paddling all over the world and today I am paddling for the first time in the canals of Amsterdam.

The season opening trip on the Markermeer was canceled because of the forecasted strong winds in combination with lots of rain... Marianne offered an alternative.

As a child I did a sightseeing trip on a canal barge with my parents. Much later in life I worked near the Amstel river and had my lunch breaks along it.

Apart from the tour boats we had the canals for ourselves. In Summer this must be much different... No one-way streets, no narrow street traffic jams, no parking meters... Would we have been fined for 'parking' our kayaks on a parking lot next to the canal? Amsterdam, a nightmare by car, but today a wonderful place to start the Peddelpraat club paddling season.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Winter End !

I am still there ;-)) Winter is holding on for another few days I think. But today I have come out of my internet presence hibernation. Spending a wonderful and rewarding Christmas with the family extended all the way into January.

Then I spent three weeks in Baja Mexico with a group of Dutch paddlers. Using the logistics and sea kayaks from Ginni Callahan's Sea Kayak Baja Mexico we paddled around Isla Carmen and continued towards La Paz.
Should I say what we've seen and experienced? Or should I keep it quiet? For now at least. Upcoming Wednesday I give a lecture for the local kayak club and do not want to give away too much here now :-)) Still pondering what to do with a most untypical February Baja photo... All part of the Magic of Baja..
Below picture is of the group carrying my kayak towards the end of the trip. They are smiling while my kayak was the only one not to loose weight because it carried all the cooking hardware and all of it's original 26 liters of drinking water.
I enjoyed it as well. Thus I can already spread the word that I secured my slot for another trip in February 2011. Not quite Winter hibernation. More Baja Magic !

Seems it never rains in Southern California
Seems I've often heard that kind of talk before

(Seems it never rains in Southern California - Albert Hammond)