Random Thoughts:

Trying is better than talking, succeeding is better than trying.

A slow time is better than no time.

There are only two people that listen to your excuses, you and your Mum.

Three P’s to set a record:  Planning, Preparation, Pacing.

Good luck: Preparation meets Opportunity

The weather is what it is, not necessarily what you want it to be.

Cornerstones of good training:  Industry, Intensity, Quality, Repetition.

A missed session is gone for good.

If life is shit or time is short, go to Short Intervals.

Know your limits. And gently stretch them.

Three factors to win a race:  Make it to the start. Make it to the finish. Do the second one faster than anyone else.

Race Strategy:  ‘Go hard at the start, go harder in the middle, go hardest at the end.’ – Billy Blackman

Stick it in and pull hard.

Don’t paddle an ‘ordinary’ boat.



The Reluctant Time-Trialer

By Frank Harradence

Discovering Kayaking

In 2009, following 38 years in the NHS, at the ripe old age of 63 I decided to retire.  At the time I was blissfully unaware of sea kayaking.  However, a chance meeting with a party of New Zealanders who were kayaking around Kefalonia stirred an interest.
What followed was a move into kayaking and, over the years, lots of self-practice, supported by skills courses in North Wales, Anglesey and Cornwall.

On one visit to Anglesey, staying with Paul & Catherine at Stick Cottage, I was introduced to Paul’s handmade Greenland paddles known as the Anglesey Stick.  This lead me to research Greenland Kayaking history and before long I was no longer using my carbon Werner paddle and fell ‘hook, line and sinker’ into the Greenland way.  I had found my own kayaking niche, or so I thought…

The Taran

During one of our frequent visits to Anglesey, Sally my wife purchased an Alaw Bach from Mike Webb at Rockpool.  While at the factory with her I had noticed Tarans being built, but did not think about them any deeper than that.  However, bit by bit I was reading and hearing of ‘daring do’ trips achieved in these boats, which reminded me of my original kayaking inspiration of the Kiwis circumnavigating Kefalonia.

A demo paddle of both the Taran 18 and 16 followed and I found them both to be faster than my SKUK Romany, more demanding (I had one or two oops moments), but had a performance edge that generated a big smile.

Collecting my boat from Mike at Rockpool. Happy Days!

I paddle on the Norfolk Broads as well as the sea, so with this in mind I ordered a Taran 16 model – I felt it was more suited to the narrower inland waterways than the 18.  I collected it from Rockpool in May 2014 on my 67th birthday.

In use, the oops moments very quickly disappeared and the boats performance and feel was encouraging me to extend my skills.  My rolling improved, as did my general Greenland skills.  It was fun doing speedy curves with elbow submerged and shoulder just skimming the water.  And yet… nag, nag, nag.  The Taran seemed to be saying this Greenland stuff is all very showy but what we should be doing is putting the County of Norfolk on the Performance Sea Kayak (PSK) map, by doing some proper paddling in the form of a time-trial.  Reluctantly giving in to this nagging feeling I found myself buying a set of wing paddles and training with the racers at my local paddle club in Norwich (Broadland Paddlesport).

Scolt Head Island
Scolt Head Island

Norfolk has miles of sandy beaches, but from a kayaking point of view when paddling offshore it can all look rather bland.  However, move up to North Norfolk and things change; creeks, estuaries, inlets and harbours become a frequent feature.  One location in particular was of interest to me, Scolt Head Island, a barrier island between Brancaster and Wells next the Sea.

I have paddled this area many times before with friends and Sally, and was aware that you had to pay particular notice to the water depths in the creeks and channels. Scolt Head is approximately 11 miles to circumnavigate. It is open to the North Sea on one side and with creeks and a tidal channel on the other, separating it from Brancaster on the mainland.  It lends itself to be Norfolk’s perfect PSK time- trial course.  I would give it a go!

The Time Trial

On the day of the circumnavigation I gave myself plenty of faff time but still had a number of things to do with only 5 minutes to launch.  I had paddled the area before but this time I felt really ‘keyed up’, my nerves were jangling – it was the time-trial affect hitting me hard.
At the appointed time I sped off through the breaking surf like an arrow and then noticed I had neglected to turn on my GPS unit, essential for registering the journey with PSK.

Paddling back to the start point I waited impatiently and after what seemed like an age for the unit to find a satellite signal I was at last able to restart.  The first 900 meters provided a slightly troublesome beam sea and wind but once I turned due east on the open sea I felt the advantage of both for 5 miles as they pushed me towards the entrance of Burnham Overy Harbour.

My Pet Dog!

I turned due west for the homeward leg, the water is shallow in this area and depending on the swell and wind direction it can give you a rough ride but on this occasion lovely rolling waves sped me through (it was at this time I noticed I was being escorted by a very large seal).
Once in the bay steering for the main channel and heading west a strong, energy sapping headwind slowed progress. The channel feeds into Brancaster Bay/Harbour, this wide open area, exposed to the wind, caused large waves to develop, breaking over the bow of the Taran.

On landing I remembered the GPS this time and pressed stop, allowing it to record the route before jumping out of the boat and doing a little dance of delight.

A guy walking on the beach came up to me and said “I saw you through my binoculars – where did your dog go?  He was swimming behind you”.  I had to explain it was a seal!

Finish Beach

Prior to this time-trial I hadn’t thought of myself as someone who would enjoy doing something like this.  Although I can become somewhat obsessed with gaining or improving my kayaking skills, such as rolling, I am not competitive and entered this rather reluctantly as it didn’t feel it was a natural thing for me to do.
But I loved it!

The key to the feeling of heightened awareness was the addition of the ticking clock, I could feel its presence and I am sure I heard it ticking on a few occasions, a bit like Captain Hook’s crocodile in Peter Pan!  It totally focused me on the movement of the boat, and the areas that were affecting my performance, such as changing wind conditions, navigation and my own actions and decisions.
The training and pre-planning of the tides etc. had come together.   It surprised me how competitive I had become and how enjoyable the experience was.  In one respect, the actual time recorded was irrelevant. It was the combination of the various factors that made up the time-trial that made it special for me.  It was about getting the best out of myself and the boat and felt really personal….  I was hooked.
The joy of kayaking for me remains with the Greenland skills but now I’ve added a new, equally as enjoyable, PSK aspect to my paddling.  I don’t view them as separate, it’s just what I do.

I am now planning to do a solo Wash crossing. This time-trial malarkey is addictive.

Frank Harradence – Feb 2016

Paddling Out of Depression

By Dan McGongigle

This rather frank and honest article comes from Dan Mcgonigle. Dan has a lifetime background in sea and surf paddling; more recently he has become known on the UK scene for his 2015 circumnavigation of Ireland with Steve Miles and latterly for his two 2016 circumnavigations of Anglesey – the first with Jonny Eldridge and the second solo.   PSK

I have thought long and hard about a suitable subject to write about and decided…in the end to show a little skin. Something that I have struggled with over recent years is my Mental Health, more notably in the form of depression. So why not write about my experience and how it relates to my paddling and vice versa. Hopefully it will be received well and might help those paddlers in a similar place to where I was, only a year or so ago.

The Ireland Trip in 2015 was the turning point…but it was only after months of living back in the real world that I saw the real value of our big circle. The circumnavigation began with an inherently narcissistic motive, thinking about how people would see me after we had completed it. But long days on the water, chasing headlands in marginal conditions forced me to think. The importance of how I was perceived in the eyes of others dwindled and the importance of my own self-worth began to shine through.

It’s been a long day face… Ireland 2015

When it comes to the subject of depression and mental health we as a society are very closed off. There is a stigma that surrounds it and people tend to put you into a proverbial box (Or at least it felt that way). The systems of support are inherently flawed…so much so that to actually get some real help, you either have to pay through the nose, be on the absolute edge or have already passed the point of no return.

This lesson was driven home hard during my last year of University now 3 years ago.… The pressure had built up due to workload and I didn’t understand the way I was feeling until I was close to my limit. I went in search of help, in the form of my GP….. I left that appointment feeling even more confused but I had medication so everything was ok (sarcasm). I Struggled on…just about graduated and went into working life still unable to process my feelings. I would go through bad patches and people kept on asking me the same question. What’s your trigger?

A trigger is loosely described as something that sets the negative cogs turning within the brain. Someone once explained triggers to me by getting me to imagine the mind as a train station. Visualise now, the busiest train station that you have ever been in…. No people…just Trains. Each train that comes in is a thought…It stops at the platform and in a matter of seconds is gone again.

These trains come carrying all sorts of cargo and head down some very dark tracks. My negative train seemed to arrive when I felt directly responsible for messing something up…. Somehow ending up on this “Self-Critical” track heading to the next station that was full of similar thoughts. Once this process begins it is very hard to stop and I would find myself hours later in a really low mood and in a very different station to where I began. I could feel myself getting on the train but I simply didn’t know how to get off.

That is where paddling comes in.

Relentless, repetitive self-talk is what changes our self-image.” – Denis Waitley

Expedition paddling, especially the kind encountered on a trip like Ireland, where time and daylight are short, definitely couldn’t be deemed as fun. It’s an uncomfortable, repetitive and inherently arduous experience. Pressure sores, blisters, chafage, sun burn and crusty eyebrows are not what any normal person would think of fondly. This can only really be categorized as type two fun…the kind that is enjoyed later…in a masochistic sort of way. At the time however the individual has to numb themselves to the pain and boredom of watching a headland that just doesn’t seem to be getting closer. Everyone will react differently…but generally the bigger questions in life rear up and come to the forefront of the mind. Inevitably leading to reflection on one’s own life. This was an important thing for me to grasp and the idea of challenging my own thoughts became more appealing than daunting.

A day spent with the hood up – Ireland 2015

I realised…after succumbing to the boredom and accepting my thoughts for what they were, that my triggers where simply due to over personalisation. I would get really involved in things because I care and when they don’t work for whatever reason I see only myself to blame. This was the train…Now how do I get off it earlier or, even better prevent myself from getting on in the first place. The Answer, for me at least, is time spent thinking. Now don’t get me wrong, sitting in a room staring at a wall isn’t what I’m getting at. I mean Proactive and Constructive time with my own thoughts, where I can face my demons. This happened every day of the trip in some way, shape or form. Experiencing my whole bandwidth of emotions in a matter of hours.

Penrhyn Mawr with Steve after our big adventure.

Post trip I found that actively trying to recreate a long day on the water is difficult, given jobs, and life in general seems to get in the way. This being said I found it was possible to get little fixes. Like competitive runners and cyclists and with advice from John… I decided to see my kayaking as a form of training as well as recreation. As I work beside a lake, I partially get my fix by having dedicated training sessions…roughly 4 evenings per week against the clock. Structuring the sessions by using set goals, timings and heart rate mean that what may seem to some, as a mundane lap-fest actually has a purpose. Giving a session purpose and structure gives me a chance to replicate the conditions that encourage thought. I found, that this combined with my normal recreational paddling helps to both keep me motivated and active.

Training on the lake with Rich Griffiths Hughes

Getting out on the water, sea or lake, no matter what the weather, stops me getting on that train. By recording my own times I can compete directly against myself and no-one else, not an ego booster, simply a constructive way of tracking progress, both physically and mentally. These sessions provide that valuable time where I can process any thoughts that have niggled at me during the day.

Proactive, constructive time to think.

A really significant place for me over my whole struggle with depression is the Menai Straits and Telford’s bridge. I used to go and sit on Church Island to try and process things. The turbulent water that can be found in the “Swellies” is daunting to an untrained eye. Its waters, build and die, in surging, boiling confusion but yet an underlying feeling of predictability shines through. I didn’t know it… but it showed stark similarities my struggles at the time.

Entering the Puffin Island end of the Menai Straits with Jonny Eldridge – Anglesey 2016

The water moves in set ways around defined obstacles, as different on the ebb as it is on the flood. To a novice paddler heading into the area it can be overwhelming…flat one minute and fast moving water the next. Over time however you become used to this confusion…you plan for it, read the water, use it and expect it…rather than battle against the tide all the time. This paints a true representation of depression in its stages, as at the beginning of the process we get confused and fight the flow, not knowing how to effectively read the surge of emotions…over time however we build up a knowledge of our thought process…where the eddies are and the exact time and place where the flow of emotion will be strongest. At this point we can choose to play in the flow rather than fighting it….embracing the surges and learning. The more time spent here playing and exploring with different levels of emotion gives a greater understanding into how we process our thoughts.

Depression and everything associated with it can be overcome. The one key thing to remember is, at the end of the day, it is up to the individual to take their wellbeing into their own hands. Don’t hide it but embrace it and play in the flow. Find out what your triggers are and what settles your mind. When that level of understanding is reached, a better, stronger individual will be created. I still have low days and I still suffer from depression, but that’s ok. I can live with that. The important thing is that I can catch myself before I fall. If it wasn’t for slogging around Ireland, sea kayaking and the sea in general I fear that I wouldn’t have anywhere near as much clarity.

I would still be stuck on that train…unable to get off, stuck in the flow….battling a building tide. This is how paddling has helped me deconstruct and process a very rough part of my life. I want to inspire anyone (Paddler or not) who is currently where I was, to actively look after their mental health and to see, that at the end of the day… recovery begins and ends with you.

Dan McGonigle – Aug 2016

A Love – Hate – Love Relationship: My Garmin GPS

By Richard Peevor

Out of the winter gloom a few years ago I received a string of emails from a guy who wanted to take up sea kayaking. He’d not paddled one before of course, but he was a sailor (yeah…) – he had been a runner too in the past, his name was Richard, and, oh yeah, he had a heart problem. What could possibly go wrong I thought? He wouldn’t leave me alone though, and so in the end I took him out for a paddle, aiming for a bit of email peace and quiet. A couple of years later he’s a regular in our training sessions; I’ve given him little leeway nor made allowance for his lack of experience, he’s endured the weather and survived ‘big-boy’ sessions, he’s suffered straight-talking and my grumpiness. I can’t put him off… PSK

My Garmin GPS: A love – hate – love relationship. (Getting in to Performance Sea Kayaking)

It’s 05:15 on a Sunday morning when the alarm goes off… Despite struggling to get to sleep last night and probably only sleeping for four hours (thanks to simply going over and over how I am going to go round a red buoy and get back to a slipway) I’m wide awake. I’m into the car and on the road by 05:45, in the dark. I’ve got an excited but nervous feeling in my stomach. All this is just to get on the water early enough to get the ideal tidal window to do the Menai Challenge. We are in a high pressure at the moment, it’s the first weekend of decent weather in ages, with no wind forecast… perfect conditions. To most people this challenge will mean nothing and getting up to do it at silly o’clock on a Sunday, even more of a waste of time; but to me, it means a lot.

A couple of minutes after 08:00 I press the button to stop my Garmin, job done! I’m pretty chuffed with my time, but not 100% satisfied. In a way that’s good, as it’s the drive you need to improve in the future. During the drive home I have that satisfied feeling and a smile on my face, it reminds me of the feelings I had after completing running races and triathlons five or six years ago. The difference is, with these paddling challenges I have a blank canvas of personal bests and I don’t have to compare my achievement (or lack of) to times from that period in my life when I was two stone lighter, a lot fitter and when I had a fully functioning mitral valve in my heart!

And that’s where all of this comes from…

For a week or two in September 2013 I was panicked with worry, I’d gone for a run, felt rubbish, out of breath and not able to run more than about half a mile. I got my stethoscope out of my bag and listened to my chest and heartbeat… Oh f*ck! I heard a heart murmur. Five minutes later I’d written myself off and booked myself in for open heart surgery. Thankfully, the cardiologists knew a bit more than me and after a few stressful weeks of investigations and consultations I found out my mitral regurgitation was mild to moderate and hopefully would improve with some medication. I even took a photo of my first pack of tablets knowing that for the rest of my life I’d be taking pills… oh joy, aged 36!

The first year was tough, not physically, but 100% psychologically. I knew medically I was fine but I was panicking that I’d get worse and no Google search term could tell me how quickly, slowly, or not at all, that my condition would change. The doctor had told me it was good to be fit and the only thing I should avoid was lifting heavy weights. I had many months off running and every time I tried to start again my performance was so shocking to me I couldn’t do more than 3-4 runs before I stopped again. Struggling to run 11 minute miles when 8 minute miles were comfortable previously was a killer… My Garmin wasn’t lying it was telling me the truth: my fitness was atrocious.

Five years earlier I loved my Garmin, I remember running races, not particularly well, but glancing down at my Garmin every few seconds to see I was still on track for a personal best. It didn’t lie then either, it was just a kinder truth than the truth it was telling me in 2013.

After months of inactivity I knew I had to take the cardiologists advice and get off my backside and try to get fitter. I just had to work out how to do it.

I commute up and down the A55 and I had seen plenty of sea kayaks heading to and from Anglesey. I was intrigued, so I started to look into it. I realised that Anglesey was one of THE places to paddle in the UK; so, during Winter, a good time to think about starting sea kayaking, I decided that’s what I was going to do. I started getting to grips with the local Anglesey Sea Kayaking providers and got myself booked onto one of Phil Clegg’s courses for the Spring, May 2014. I immersed myself into Google searches on paddling and I stumbled across Simon Willis’ website ( and I listened to a podcast by John (Willacy) on Performance Sea Kayaking and I wondered, even though I couldn’t paddle, and had never sat in a sea kayak, if this was something I could get into. I found the PSK website ( and I emailed John to enquire about the possibility of some 1-2-1 coaching. After a load of emails back and forth I had my first sit in a sea kayak in April 2014. I paddled John’s old P+H Quest and even though it was a stable boat, I remember how unstable I felt just sitting in it, BUT my eggs were all in this one basket and I was going to give this my all, I needed to psychologically.

John knew my motivation, where I was coming from and what I was hoping for. I am still not sure what he made of me in those early days but he was happy to keep coaching me so I was happy with that.

In the Spring of 2014 I had had a few days of coaching with John, Phil Clegg and Barry Shaw, I was enjoying getting out on the water. I was getting good coaching but it was an expensive pastime doing courses knowing that I wasn’t safe getting out on the water without a coach. I had enquired with local clubs but many didn’t have boats, or boats that I could fit into! I’m 6’5” and although not that fat, I couldn’t fit in most boats. I’ve never felt such a freak. I turned up to one club paddle, got fully kitted up and found I couldn’t get in a club boat and had to go home again…. Demoralised to say the least!! I think clubs need to invest in a few boats that prospective members can use to try out paddling prior to taking the expensive plunge into buying a boat, otherwise it’s a huge leap of faith.

Because I wasn’t getting out paddling enough I decided I needed to buy a boat, it took months to find an appropriate boat but eventually I bought an Explorer HV from Nigel Dennis, even then my troubles weren’t over,  his paddle making machine broke… I was potentially on the creek but without the paddle! Luckily Phil Clegg was fab and he gave me a long term loan of a paddle, I was so grateful. After three months waiting I cancelled my paddle order and went to see Lance Mitchell in Chester instead, he made me two paddles and was a nice bloke to boot… things were coming together! After about six months I’d managed to get a set of paddling kit together. If I hadn’t been so motivated to make this succeed, I suspect with all of this hassle I’d have given up.

During that first Summer of paddling I managed to get out once a week, often just a quick evening paddle but trying to work on skills and getting used to being in a boat as well as just having fun. Looking back through my emails though I can see that my mind was always on the performance side of things. I kept hassling John about the upcoming weather to see if we could do the Menai Challenge on one of our coaching sessions. My first Menai Challenge came on 9th November 2014. John followed me round pointing me in the general direction I needed to go, shouting words of encouragement like, “stop paddling like a girl” and was poised, ready to scoop me up if I fell in. It wasn’t pretty but it was 1hr 11min…. and I’d done it. My first bit of hard exercise in 2 years and that psychological wall had just had the top course of bricks knocked off it. I’d loved it!

My first goal had been reached, my first season had shown me I enjoyed sea kayaking and I’d got to the point where I could stay in my boat long enough to do a Menai challenge.  Over that Winter, as well as continuing to try to develop my paddling, my mind started to think of what my next challenge could be. One of the benefits of Anglesey paddling is that you get to meet the big boys and girls of paddling and it’s a pleasure to chat to so many experienced paddlers who have done so many amazing trips. I work full time and can’t do big trips and I certainly don’t have the paddling skill to do them safely either so I had to think of what I could do as a challenge to myself. My next attempt at getting that psychological wall knocked down…

I’d seen the route people had done paddling around Wales, I’d read Roger Chandler’s articles and Roger Pyves’ blog of his trip. This was still too big a trip for me but I wondered if I could do the North – South paddle down the inland waterways, this was still a good trip 240 km and I thought it would take me a week. This was going to be relatively safe but would still be an adventure and an achievement for me if I could do it. I planned to raise money for one of my work charities, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. The whole trip went well. I finished in five days, pushing on each day, coping with lugging my boat and kit around the 90 or so locks and finished without any injuries. I also raised just over £3000 so that was amazing.

I was well chuffed. I really felt at this point I was getting back to normal and my heart problem was starting to slip to the back of my mind.

After my Wales trip and being in my second season, I felt like a paddler, not a good one, not an experienced one, but, still a paddler. My plan that started from those December emails was working. I was enjoying exercising again and I was proving to myself that the heart valve abnormality was mainly a psychological, and not a physical barrier to fitness (for the moment anyway).

Now that I am training, my Garmin comes out on the water with me regularly, I’m starting to work out what’s good and what’s not. Unlike running, the road isn’t fixed, it moves as well, so if you are having a bad day you can always blame the water and not your own fitness / skill if the numbers aren’t looking so good.

On a serious note however it makes it quite hard to judge progress because paddling on the same stretch of sea each hour of the day will give you different speeds and heart rates and it makes assessment of overall training progress much harder. When running its relatively easy to look at pace and heart rate, compare it to your perceived effort and you can see if you are getting fitter or if you are having a bad day. Also, if you decide to run a 10K or a half marathon a quick Google search will bring up 12 week training plans, 16 week training plans each telling you when to go hard when to go easy and how far to run each day of the week to almost guarantee you a successful day out at a race. I used to follow these to the letter and reap the reward 3 or 4 months later. It’s a bit different with Performance Sea Kayaking! There are no training plans and no textbooks. Maybe it’s time for a first book John?

I’m looking forward to 2016, I’m hoping to train regularly and build my fitness. I’m just trying to finalise what this year’s challenges are going to be but it will be something. One thing that’s in the plan is a Taran,  – I loved paddling it for my most recent Menai Challenge. It’s a boat that puts a smile on your face! And without trying too hard it gives you that 6th gear.

The main reason for writing this article is that it will hopefully show that a novice paddler (I’m just starting my third year of paddling) can make a start in Performance Sea Kayaking. It isn’t elitist, the good paddlers will happily chat to the less able paddlers to try to help them on their way. Sea kayaking is a great hobby but if you move those paddles a bit harder/quicker through the water it can also be a good way to increase fitness and add another dimension to your paddling. Challenges are personal and with this sport it’s easy to set yourself an achievable goal.

I’d encourage anyone to have a go.

Richard Peevor
May 2016

Time to Ponder

By John Willacy

The winter nights are drawing out, bodies are refreshed and minds are looking forward to the season ahead. Ideas are forming and plans are being laid. There are islands to be rounded, channels to be crossed.

But as we anticipate the adventures to come, we need also to take a time to consider the challenges and implications involved. The sea is not just a big swimming pool; it is not always flat, nor heated to 25 degrees, there isn’t a useful handrail all around the edge.

It has no respect for us, nor allows for our skill or reputation. It doesn’t care a fig that we may have a strong desire to complete our challenge or that we are raising money for a worthy cause. The ocean cares not for a desire to set a record, to make a name, or just ‘because it is there’.

A strength of purpose can’t overcome all open water adversity; only if you have gills and are invulnerable to hypothermia.

We need to be completely frank when we consider our abilities and limits, and we need to understand when we are pushing close to them. Let’s try not to fall for our own hype or worry too much about what others are doing. Pride, ego and a long-term future are not necessarily best buddies in this game.

We have a duty to ensure our skills are practised and sharp; that our mind and body are fit; and that we are honest with ourselves. Just because we got away with it before, doesn’t mean that we did it the right way…or that it will work out the next time.

We should be wary of an unquestioning belief in technology, or the seduction of marketing promises. Batteries run out. Breathable fabrics can only do so much. Helicopters break down and Lifeboats take time. We need to plan, prepare and anticipate, rather than manage and react. Take responsibility – self-reliance is important, experience is key.

But there is adventure to be had out there: limits to be lifted, challenges to overcome, accomplishment to be won and reward to be found.

However whatever we do, we should not forget that when the spraydeck goes on next time, it takes us one step nearer to our next swim – all of us…

John Willacy

Feb 2016