New look Canoe Focus – and Four Borders report

Canoe focus is the BCU’s magazine and is free with BCU membership. It has started looking rather different the last few issues, and I’ve been meaning to write a review of it for a bit, because its quite an improvement.

Check out the main feature in the current issue, its a report on the Four Borders expedition we heard about from Lowri Davies, written by one of the other paddlers on the trip, Dave Burne.

Click to go to Canoe Focus Magazine

CF does get a certain amount of stick – can’t really please anyone on the access pages, too placatory for some, too excruciatingly boring for others – and some parts of it can have a “WI roundup” feel, which I actually find quite endearing as it does remind us that kayaking is made of clubs of hundreds of hard working volunteers. Of course, the range of articles CF can print depends hugely on what they get sent – its a free magazine, and they do not pay for articles unlike commercial magazines like “Paddles” etc. Usually the expedition articles are great, but some issues have hardly a one, and are instead just a catalogue of race results.

Well, from January, that seems to have changed quite a lot – each issue has had a good bunch of articles on exploration, whether that is whitewater or sea kayak, and at various levels, from first descents to stuff within reach of everyone. As well as that, theres more of a range of other articles.

The quality of the photos and layout has also improved – a lot less hard to read text-blocks-over-photos, and a lot more pretty pictures. BCU have obviously made a concerted effort to up the quality of the printing and to change the format of some of the sections to turn focus into a shinier sparklier item.

I always read the whole thing, but with these new ones, I truly enjoyed pretty much the whole thing and was really impressed with the breadth of articles and the improved editing.

Things which are new:

  •  Personal profiles of famous paddlers / BCU officials. The profiles of famous paddlers are great. As for the BCU middle-upper-intra-management, well, its good for playing jargon bingo, (I counted 8 “going forward”s), and its good that they are being transparent and informative about what they do.
  • Much better pics, including full page images on the front covers with dramatic scenes
  • Lots more articles about expeditions and trips – this is the bit we love!
  • More product info – CF does do this part fairly well, the pictures of new gear are very good. One gets the feeling that CF are very ready to listen to and print the manufacturers own comments about their products fairly unquestioningly, so they are really “new product listings” rather than “reviews” as such. However, thats fair enough, its not like they can pay a team of product testers, they are a free magazine.

Some things I really enjoyed:

  • Pictures in Chris Smith’s Madagascar article (previous issue)- there were more pictures than in his Winston Churchill report
  • An article about children with special needs being introduced to boating over a number of carefully planned sessions (previous issue) – this is something I have no experience of, and its not my area of paddling – the author kept the reader’s interest by focussing on the different stories of achievements the children, and by not dumbing down the technical language.
  • A report (latest issue) on the Four Borders Expedition – of course, we already heard about the trip from recent speaker and its great to get different views on the same trip.

All very nice.


White Water Safety and Rescue – 2nd Edition

wwsr cover - 2nd edition

link to pedapress

Talking of Santa, have you asked him for this yet?

Updated from the 1st edition: A bit more on organising your river descent, avoiding problems before they happen, latest thinking etc. A lot more pictures – this time, colour photos.

Fantastic book.

If you don’t have it already, you need it for brushing up on:

  • Principal of the clean line
  • Principal of maximum usefulness
  • Principal of presumed insanity

This book will help you to enjoy white water – the emphasis is on becoming a better paddler, as improving your personal skill set is key as a way of staying out of trouble in the first place, as well as to having a more enjoyable time on the water.

Great book for everyone in the club to read:

For the beginner: Explanations about the fundamentals of river trips – what all the kit is for, explanation of how a groups of paddlers will typically arrange themselves on the river, important basics like not heading off on your own, not hanging back on your own, and making sure to keep others in sight.

For people wanting to improve personal paddling skills: Good clear explanations of the various types of river feature, and how to make use of them effectively when positioning your boat. Also sections on how people “paddling as friends” can organise themselves effectively, use a variety of strategies for the descent, and keep everyone interested and pushing toward personal improvement by e.g. taking turns at roles such as river probe or taking responsibility for guiding a novice.

For those who are starting to get involved in rescuing others or kit: Sections on what you can be doing to improve those skills most safely and key considerations when dealing with swimmers, in terms of looking after their mental state as well as their physical well being.

For those used to carrying out rescues already: Current techniques, example scenarios, all the different cat’s-cradles of rope-to-retrieve-a-kayak you can possible imagine – keep your skills current!

For people who find themselves organising river trips: there is a lot on different leadership styles, appropriate sharing of roles, working as a team etc.

Basically, you need this book!
Its very good and very easy to read.

Buy or borrow a copy – I have one I’m happy to lend you, and I’d like you to read it so that you will rescue me properly!

Read what others think of it on ukriversguidebook forum.

Book review – English White Water

English White Water – Pesda Press, editor Franco Ferrero, BCU book.

Book cover

Well, its quite comprehensive and you should probably get it for completeness of your library. You should definitely get it if you are planning on kayaking in the SW, or if want to know the paddling options near your home, and your home is not featured in its own personal guidebook.

This book is by the British Canoe Union. It is a consolidated attempt to provide a guidebook to the best white water in England.

That is a very good thing to do, because its not been done for a bit, and so it fills a gap. Previous to it, the most recent “bible of all rivers” is Terry Storry’s 100 best rivers of Britain. That is a great book, with lots of character, and a must for your library, but of course, its getting on a bit, and only has 100 rivers in it, because… well, because thats what it says in the title.

In contrast “English White Water” describes 170 rivers just in England, and tallying up all sections and playspots, reaches about 250.

The introduction includes an explanation of access – and its a fairly pertinent one. Of course, it has to tow the BCU line. Nevertheless, it is informative I think, and not too bossy. But do refer back to the Storry book for the full gen on the history of access and some interesting philosophy and geology lessons.

So how useful is EWW as a guidebook?

Some very good bits. Some nice things about this book – the symbols indicating optimal river flow, danger/hazard ratings etc are all very clear. Some of the descriptions are quirky and characterful, though there are few funny anecdotes. The book includes lots of playspots and weirs, which have previously not really been featured much in guidebooks.  The river descriptions are all fine, very varied – presumably very many contributers. They do include some little gems not included in other books – e.g. Peak district rivers. Some descriptions are more detailed than others – in some cases, I would have liked a bit more detail, and certainly some more diagrams of the rivers. And its not as browsable as it could be.

Maps and diagrams are a bit of a problem, as is the organisation of the book. Basically, the format is not totally condusive to easy browsing and choosing of a river, nor of easily planning for a river you’ve chosen:

  • There are no diagrams of the individual rivers. Boo.
  • There are no summary tables – summary tables make choosing a suitable river of the right grade, length, condition etc a doddle. We’ve seen this in other books. But not here. Boo.
  • The book divides the country into big regions and then those big regions into mini regions. So far so good. Sometimes the mini regions correspond to catchment, sometimes not – its a bit random, but still fine. However: There is no overview map anchoring the mini-regions within the big regions, so the reader unfamiliar with the region is not helped out much, and this too makes browsing really quite cumbersome. NB in the same series, “Scottish White Water” does have an overview map anchoring the sub-regions. Tick.
  • The mini-regions do each have an overview map indicating all rivers therein. These are, however, labelled by numbers, not names of rivers. This makes things uncluttered, but the effect is not pleasing, or nice to browse. And I don’t feel at all confident to find a put-in based solely on those maps.

So Pesda press, if you read this, we love you very much, and your excellent series of books, and we can see the huge amount of work and local expertise which has gone into this book, but please could you improve the format when you do a 2nd edition: we are spoiled by books which give us diagrams of rivers, clear indications marking put in and take out, and, most of all, area summary tables by grade, lovability and amount of rain needed. We Want Those Things!

Should you get this book? 

If your boating is mainly N England, then the first few books you really need are your own area book, e.g. the excellent “White Water Lake District,” and Terry Storry’s British white water, for history and coverage of all of Britain. And then as you build up your collection, you’ll want this one for completeness.

If your boating is in the SW, SE or midlands or if you rely on playspots, then English White Water should be a lot further up your list – certainly we did rely on it and enjoy it when on holiday in Devon.

Weaknesses of EWW: The diagrams and maps, the lack of summary tables, and the impact of this on browsability. (NB these are things that could be changed in a later edition.)

Strengths of EWW: Combined knowledge from multiple contributors, the coverage of: South West rivers, playspots in the midlands and SE, local rivers for local people, and some other areas which were previously under-served by other guidebooks.

So, to sum up, if you want an up-to-date guide book with fairly broad coverage to rivers in England and, for example, are going to Devon for New Year, then put this book on your Santa list. Available from the excellent pesda press and probably also the BCU maze/website.

Book review – Welsh Sea Kayaking – 50 Great Sea Kayak Voyages

Welsh Sea Kayaking – Fifty Great Sea Kayak Voyages – Jim Krawiecki & Andy Biggs

Pesda Press 

Welsh Sea Kayak Cover

What is it? This is a sea kayak guide covering virtually the whole Welsh coast, divided into trip-size pieces. The chapters are very thorough, with overview and trip detail, diagrams, tide explanations, difficulty ratings and colour photos. Some of the photos are aerial, which is a nice touch. All the pointers you need.

Is it readable? Yes, it is. As well as the technical stuff on how to do the trip, there are descriptions of natural or local history, warnings about which islands are snake-infested, and tales of ancient shipwrecks.

Is it a replacement for Snowdonia Whitewater, Sea and Surf? Snowdonia whitewater sea and surf is a super book, and for years was the only guide with enough inshore detail on currents for kayak use. WSK certainly builds on that, with great new charts, and obviously it contains trips in South and Mid Wales not covered by the Terry Storry book, and gives you more up-to-date gen on where to eat and camp as well. Two great books which will sit nicely together on your shelf, great charts in the WSK, and character and anecdotes from the SWSS

Can any of these trips be done using General Purpose kayaks? Well, this is a sea-kayaking guide, and as the saying goes, “When in Rome, buy a sea kayak, and then walk away from Rome and towards the sea, then go sea-kayaking.” 

You need the right kit for the job.

Having said that, the trips are divided into 3 difficulty ratings, green=”not as hard as blue,” blue=”middling” and yellow=”challenging.” While many/most trips would be plainly beyond sensible thought in a short boat, some of the green ones, or shorter parts of some trips, are ones we have done, or might do, in GP boats. E.g. Puffin island, Greenscar, Llandwyn island, Roscolyn Beacon and the Tudwells trip can all be feasible, in the right conditions, in river boats.

Any gripes? No, none. Its a lovely book. It doesn’t always have time estimates in it for how long trips take, but then that will vary depending on many things, and users should anyway have the know-how to estimate expected journey times based on the maps provided and the tidal features described. With regard to the maps: In any sea kayak guide, authors have to decide how to balance detail vs clarity – mentioning every last overfall, flow variation or feature, or giving a clear view of the trip and the main markers of the journey. In Welsh Sea Kayaking, its good to see the clear, attractive solution they have chosen – the diagrams are certainly very clean and consistent in format, and do the job well.

All in all, this is a great guide for planning your sea trips and getting new ideas about beautiful places to explore. Its also very nice for reading in your armchair even if you have no intention of getting salty. I love it, and feel that it opens up endless possibilities for future trips – its going to be very well thumbed.

Alps DVD Review

Favourite Bond-meets-kayaking bit: Sean Connary dialogue, something like: “Come on in, the water’s lovely,” (in a good, husky voice). Water! See? Come on into the water. Like for kayaks! Do you see what he did there?

Other favourite Bond-meets-kayaking bit: The opening sequence, with 007’s blood running down the screen. Inspired! Sacrificing Timothy Dalton to get the red stuff out was a bit messy, but definitely worth it.

Over-and-over-again-bit: Lloyd doing a cartwheel, and then inadvertantly doing 8 more. I want this as my screensaver.

Best Raftguidlish-to-French translation: Can’t be done. Good to see Vincent in the video, brilliant bloke.

Chateau Q: This DVD is the “Bond” edition, but it could just as well be the “Q” edition, given the amount of Q footage in there. Also, we defy Mr Bond to actually do Chateau Queyras all the ways shown in this video: The right way up, the wrong way up, in a boat, in a raft, not in a boat or a raft (sadly we have to imagine this last variation, nice storytelling Dom, apologies to M. Potts and M. Crawley).

Dave has had a fair few goes at making these things, and they are better and better each year. And thats not just because he has to buy better and better equipment every time it gets nicked 😦 He’s building up layers of experience of what makes a good shot. Yes, OK, its SWIMMAGE which makes a good shot, but also there are lots of other factors, the light, the angle, the composition, the mood … 

The whole video is all very marvellous!! A happy chill-out film, with good tune-age on the vids and the stills, and perfect for watching while nursing a hangover. Hangover? Moi?

If you’ve not got yours yet, then hurry up and send your beer, cos he’s nearly finished the next one (Norway.)

Book review: Odyssey Among the Inuit, Jonathan Waterman

Tremendously engaging book, fantastic kayak journey through NW passage, self contained chapters tangenting off in all directions of inuit life and history.

book cover

Amazon link

Continue reading

Madagascar – inspirational report

Many of you lucc folk know Chris Smith (Manchester), if only because he’s pushed you in at polo. Or beaten you at BUSA WWR. But what you may not know is that in 2006 Chris traveled to Madagascar to explore white water there, along with a team from “the poly“. Chris was supported in his trip by the Winston Memorial Trust / Mike Jones Award. He’s recently finished his report of the trip, and it makes for some inspirational reading.

More details on Chris’s blog site “the white bits

(Clicky click for pdf of report)


What is the Winston Memorial Trust?

Its a fund for financing travel in all kinds of areas, including new exploration and adventure travel.

What’s the Mike Jones Award?

Mike Jones was the doctor who was the leader of the Dudh Kosi Everest river expedition (1970s). This award was set up in his memory and is specifically for new challenges in kayaking or canoeing. Previous awardees include Paul Grogan, author of the Babushka book: