Travels with Paddles

a sea kayaking journal

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

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Waltzing Vlieland

Our annual September NKB sea kayak instruction week had to cope with strong winds for the last four years. That puts a bit of a strain on both coaches and participants. Despite Vlieland being an island there is only so much one can do in 6-7 Beaufort winds.

Even for the Dutch equivalent of BCU 4/5* it was difficult to get the assessment done in an acceptable remit. Many of these leadership assessments get canceled because of too mild conditions. One day was spent on shore, 8-9 Beaufort, no way! The BCU coaching handbook mantra "challenging conditions, low consequences" almost continuesly ran through my mind. What about an indoor towing session?

One of my favorite play spots is 'de Wals', nothing short of a proper tide-race, the only 'predictable' one in the Netherlands.

On the last day of the week, the weather was finally suitable to get off the island to visit the neighboring island of Terschelling. On the way back, aspirant leader Peter led us close to and ferry-gliding the ebb in the area of 'de Wals'. This late in the ebb, just a very little wobbly patch of water, nothing to play with. Peter, as a good leader, warns us for the approaching ferry and ends with: "Look out for the ferry wake!". I yell "Look FOR the ferry wake!" and off I go.
Local knowledge tells me that the ferry waves kick-up 'de Wals' for about twenty minutes of play time. Do I feel bad about 'deserting' my group? Not quite. Soon we all are surfing the race. What a beautiful day to end the week!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where lightning strikes...

1, 2, 3, 4... Counting time between seeing a flash and the rumble is a good way of telling how far a bouts lightning strikes. Does it move closer, do I need to take any action? Can I stay in my sleeping bag or do I need to get up and huddle with my feet close together on my sleeping pad. Do I need to get out into the rain and run for cover into a nearby building?


The loudest lightning strike I have ever heard with absolutely ZERO seconds between the flash and the bang. It did not come with a warning of a closing-in thunderstorm, nor did any other strike happen after it.
Next morning it transpired what had happened on the adjacent field 50 meters away from my tent, and 20 meters away from the closest inhabited tent. Lightning had struck an empty 'seasonal tent', with some scorching and a blackened cooking unit.
How easy it appears for me (and others) to just register this totally separate from any 'what could have happened?'. I just hope the big metal cooking unit made the difference and I am glad that I generally do not pack the kitchen sink...

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Elfstedentocht (11-cities) non-stop

I Just returned from my second "11-cities, 200 km, non-stop" adventure. It is not a race because it is all about the achievement of completing this distance within the 36 hour time limit.

In my opinion and experience this is not as physically demanding as one might think. It is the psychological aspects that gave me (again) some unwelcome surprises. In my case it was again the sleep deprivation that (for me) takes it's toll in the night-time hours. That almost 'disables' me to paddle at a reasonable speed without frequent automatic "low-brace-skim-the-water" when I 'nod off'. OK, maybe that is a physical aspect. However the frustration about slowing my group down (psychological) is the worst feeling. After an-hour-and-a-half desperately trying fighting sleep I could finally have my 10-minute power nap at the Stavoren check-point and I was OK again.

From Leeuwarden onwards the organizers only allow teams to continue into the night. Teams will form naturally because at that time in the event people will have found fellow paddlers with the same speed and focus.

This kind of challenge is only possible with lots of volunteer help. Jolien took great care of me at all the checkpoints for food and moral support. And there is a great deal of sharing between all the support teams. For the team of Ad, Anneke, Peter and Piet, who I joined for the last 100 km, this event is 'a piece of cake'. That is what we stopped for at Workum; home-made apple pie with cream.

This time it took me and my group members 32 hours (first time 34 hours). My goal this time was to get reasonably fit out of the kayak at the finish. Two blisters at the side of my left ring finger and some chaffing from my back-rest, no muscle pains the next day. There is still room for personal improvement if I ever could deal better with the sleep deprivation issue. So I just might do this thing again to test myself... Have I already forgotten my bad moments? No, my good moments greatly outweigh my not so good ones.

The event is open to all, so if you fancy a challenge in a sea kayak, just contact the organizers at Elfstedentocht non-stop per zeekajak. If you have never been to the Netherlands before, it is also a great opportunity to see lots of windmills and make long-time friendships.