Autumnal high water

It had been more than three month, since I used my kayak the last time. It’s a shame, especially since the kayak has been lying at a small beach right at the Baltic Sea and it would have been so easy to make a short trip in the evening.

Yesterday however I finally found time to make a small tour again. The small beach had almost disappeared because the water level was 60 cm above normal. That’s quite a lot for the Bay of Bothnia. The kayak was partly filled with rainwater and I was glad about my little hand pump with which I could quickly remove the water. Soon I was on the sea again.

My first idea was heading south-east but the wind came from the north-west and I prefer paddling against the wind when I start. I kayaked along the shore to an island I thought was Björkskär. While I tried to paddle around this island I realised, that it was not an island. Accidentally I had entered the bay Djupviken (“the deep bay”) which is anything but deep.

Because of the high water level I could go on paddling much longer than usual. I decided not to return but to carry the boat across small gravel road. Normally it’s more than 100 metres to walk, this time it was only round 20.

 

I definitely prefer paddling before carrying a 27 kilo boat over land. A gust of wind almost brought me down. A five meter long kayak has quite a large sail area, when you carry it. So I was glad to sit in the boat again this time heading for Björkskär and the bay Harrbäckssand.

Here I turned. This time I paddled along the outer coast of the island and then back across the open sea. It was too windy and wavy to stop paddling and make any photos. Within seconds the wind would have turned the kayak across the wind, making it quite unstable.

When I approached the island Storgrundet (which is almost home again) I decided to continue my tour. It was fun to sit in my kayak again, i wanted to head the small island with the coloured trees and furthermore I wanted to take the opportunity to cross the island by boat.

Crossing an island by boat? Well, many parts of the islands that lie off the coast of Skelleftehamn are quite flat. Storgrundet has such a part, too. It’s just a passage of rocks that connect the main part of the island with an extra part. Normally you can go there (at least with rubber boots), yesterday it was possible to cross this part by kayak.

From this point it was near to the islet Brottören where I could catch the last sun before clouds approached.

The rest of the kayak tour is quickly told: I went around the island Storgrundet, met a man in a small motorboat (until then I had been completely alone), paddled along the tiny beach where I use to bath (it was mostly flooded) and finally arrived at the starting point again.

#escapism – kayaking to Gåsören

This article is part of the series #escapism. It’s about being outdoors and leaving civilisation behind in excursions that take less than 24 hours. Everyone should have time for such!

Yesterday I wanted to take advantage of the good weather and decided to make a kayak trip to the island Gåsören. I planned for an overnight stay and that means packing a lot of things:

Anything on the photo beside of the empty plastic box came with me. From left to right: Dry suit, life jacket, food and stove, camping map, spare clothes, tent, camera equipment, water bottle, book, sleeping bag, neoprene boots, 5 litre water canister. It’s almost miracle that everything fits into the kayak. Since it was quite warm I only wore pants and a t-shirt and of course the life jacket, that’s a matter of security and therefore principle.

I paddled between the islands Storgrundet and Brambärsgrundet, passed Vorrgrundet and then headed to Klubben and Flottgrundet. Here I left the islands behind and continued to Gåsören. The weather was nice and the sea was calm. Already 50 minutes later I arrived. I dragged the kayak ashore, took all baggage and went to my favourite campground (and one of the few placed not completely covered with pebbles and rocks) where I put up the tent.

After “cooking” and eating I visited two friends that own one of the two summer cottages on Gåsören. It’s really a beautiful place they have. We talked about paddling, hiking, skiing and much more. It was late when I want back to my tent and the sun started to set.

I didn’t go to sleep directly but watched the sun going down and the many fluffy but extremely clumsy seagull chicks walking around. They cannot fly yet and use to stumble over every other stone. What a contrast to the elegant flight of the grown ups.

It was much brighter than it looks like on these backlit photographs. It doesn’t get dark in the night  and I found it hard to sleep, not only due to the bright night but also to the increasing wind and the constantly screeching seagulls. I put on a woollen cap. It was not cold at all but it helped to block the direct light (though not the shrieks of the gulls).

At half past five I gave up and started to finish a book I’d been reading for a while. That took some hours. At half past eight I took a frugal breakfast: Toast with cheese.

Then I packed everything together. Clouds had started approaching and I wanted to have everything stowed in the kayak before the rain. The sky above was still blue but the sea started to get choppy.

I stopped by my friends again to say farewell. They have their cottage on the lee side of the island and we enjoyed the last hour of sun before the clouds started to cover it.

I dragged the kayak into the shallow water. It was hard to start against the wind, because the kayak was constantly turned parallel to the approaching waves. Wrong direction and quite unstable. But after some tries I managed to leave the island behind. It was exhausting but easy to paddle against the wind. Anyway I wouldn’t have dared to cross the open sea in these conditions without wearing a dry suit even if it’s only 600 metres. The water is still very cold and in case of the kayak capsizing I wanted to be completely sure to be able to reach the shore without hypothermia.

It took twice the time than the day before. The sky was grey and cloudy and it had started to rain. It may not sound like that, but it was real fun paddling through wind and waves. The hardest part was going round Vorrgrundet where I had to go parallel to the short waves. Here I had to be fully focussed to keep my balance. As soon as I reached Storgrundet I was in the lee of that island again and the water was much calmer. Soon I arrived at yesterday’s starting point.

The whole trip took less than 20 hours and is therefore a candidate for the series #escapism.

Finally, two selfies, one sunny from yesterday and one rainy from today (made in the lee of a small island).

 

The first paddling 2018

At last – the first paddling of the season! The sea ice came early this winter and remained until late April. In early May Annika and I visited Gotland for a week and when we came back spring had arrived in Västerbotten. Since then I was either working or it was too windy or I was too lazy.

Despite to problems with my elbow I decided to kayak today. It was mostly sunny and hardly any wind – good conditions for a start. As many times I started at the beach of Storgrundet which is 1.6 km to go. I used the waistbelt of my pulka and a cord for dragging the kayak behind on its cart without using my hands. Quite comfortable!

At the beach I put the cart aside, put on my life jacket and started the tour, that took me first round Storgrundet and then along the outside of the islands Storgrundet,  Norrskär and Bredskär.

I took it quite easy to avoid overstressing my elbow. The first kilometre the elbow still hurted but became gradually better. I watched the blue sky, the approaching cirrus clouds, the ripples on the water and was glad to be on the Baltic Sea again.  Last time I was walking …

When you paddle along the outside of Bredskär you only see forest and a stony beach. The summer cottages are on the other side. One of the cottages belongs L. and S., my neighbours. I went ashore and was welcomed by S., who invited me to fried herring, caught by net just the day before. Delicious! We sat outside and talked about everything while I deepened the friendship with dog Dolly.

Finally I left the island and continued my tour, slowly heading home. Thank you S. for the herring and nice company!

I arrived at Storgrundet round two o’clock but it took an hour until I was home. First I just had to take a refreshing bath. Yes, it’s definitely refreshing with a water temperature round 15 °C. My tight back however loves the cold water. Then I met another acquaintance and we had a longer talk. Finally I walked my kayak home where I arrived six hours after departure.

Kayakvideo – my thing – winter kayaking in Skellefteå

Last summer I was asked by filmmaker Johan Granstrand if I would be interested in making a small film about my winter paddling. I felt honoured to be asked and gladly accepted.

Despite to this year we got a lot of snow already in the beginning of November last year. Since weather was nice (and cold) we decided to make the film on November 12, exactly one year ago.

I already blogged about this day in my post “Kayak – is it a boat or a sledge?”. Some weeks ago I got the permission to share the link to the video and that’s what I do today.

“Min Grej – Kayaking i Skellefteå på vintern” on Vimeo.

(I really like this film but I don’t like listening to me talking. My Swedish sounds awfully!)

Late autumn paddling

It’s so nice to kayak on a sunny summer day, wearing just shorts and t-shirt, feeling the warm breeze, taking a bath and having dinner on a warm sunlit rock by the sea.

I wonder, why I hardly do that! This summer I paddled exactly twice – once in May, once in June. Now it’s November!

When I saw the thin layer of ice at Storgrundet this morning I was kind of alarmed – the days of paddling this year are numbered.

I fought a while with my weaker self but finally it was me who won. I put on my drysuit, neoprene boots, hood and gloves, took my little waterproof camera and fetched my kayak from the garage. The weather was still a bit sunny and temperature round -4 °C. (According to the weather forecast it should have been cloudy for hours, temperatures above zero and rain on its way. But well, the Swedish weather forecasts are hardly reliable.)

It took less than ten minutes till I reached the small bay Killingörviken where I launched my kayak. Within this short time period clouds have been approached from the sea covering half the sky.

The first 70 meters were hard work. Even when the ice is only 7 mm thick it’s not easy to paddle through because you have to break the ice not only with the kayak itself but with the paddle as well to be able to push forward. But soon I reached open water, crossed the street and reached the larger bay Kallholmsfjärden, home of the port Skellefteå Hamn. At the rear the sky was still blue but in front of me dark clouds approached and soon it started to snow …

No! Wrong! It didn’t snow. Snow stayed home and sent his asshole cousin: Freezing rain. (Rain indeed, sometimes the weather forecast is right.)

I thought back to the time, where I had lived in Essen. In that time I used to say “winter is coming, the rain is getting colder”. And so it felt today. It was chilly, wet, grey, twilit and dull. A typical autumn day in Essen. Or winter day. Or … . But I get off the point …

Anyway when I crossed all the bridges that traverse the channel Kejsar Ludvigs kanal, my mind wandered back again. Here it even looked like Essen.

But there are differences. First of all I never paddled in Essen and then Skelleftehamn is a coastal town which means that you reach the sea in less than no time:

Near the coast there was another layer of ice and again I had to cut through. My plan was to paddle round the peninsula Kallholmen, meaning that I would have to cross the sheltered bay Kurjoviken. Would I manage it or would the ice shield be too thick to be easily crossed? Well, I’ll see …

I paddled along the southern side of Kallholmen. There was hardly any wind and hardly any waves. Time to stop photoing and just enjoying the motion. Kurjoviken however came nearer and when I went round the west tip my misgivings became true. The whole bay was iced.

I gave it a try and started paddling through ice a third time this day. Already after ten meters the ice was 10 mm thick and I knew that I had 500 meters more to go. I decided to give up my original plan and returned. Backwards since it’s hardly possible to turn in ice.

It was still grey and quite dark, but it stopped raining and there was a a silver lining on the horizon.

It started to rain again. The raindrops were so tiny that I hardly could see the drops impacting the water surface. The surrounding looked hazy and mysterious and it was hard to guess distance and size of other objects.

“Is there a man standing on a rock amidst the sea? Or is it just a rock? Did it move or not? It moved! Is it a bird? I’m not sure. Yes, it’s a seabird, perhaps a cormorant. And the four dark spots ahead? Is it small rocks? Or big rocks? Or seals? Or trees far away in the haze?” Probably it was trees, that spot was further away than excepted.

Finally I reached “Ice Shield II” were I used the ice-free channel that I created an hour before. A second time I paddled along Kejsar Ludvigs kanal and reached the harbour.

A second time I crossed the bay, reached “Ice Shield I” and soon went ashore.

Well, let’s say I tried to go ashore. It was easy to leave the kayak but hard to go up the shallow slope, since the cold rain had instantly become ice on the still frozen ground and it was extremely slippery. Did you ever tried to drag a trolley with a kayak behind on freshly frozen streets? With neopren shoes made for water, not for ice? One patch on the street was so slippery that I really felt stuck. I could not move in any direction but finally I made it and some time later I arrived home.

My plan for 2018: Much more kayaking. In sun or rain, night or day – doesn’t matter as long as it’s save.

 

 

It’s summer

When you look out of your window and see long green grass in the urgent need of being cut, where 4 weeks ago a snow shower covered the whole garden with white

When you go along the river Skellefteälven and finally other flowers started to bloom than only tussilago

When nights are no dark nights any longer and it will take many weeks until you can see the first stars again …

When you paddle on the river Skellefteälven, barefoot, just with t-shirt and shorts, not with a drysuit as three weeks ago and you even enjoy becoming wet by some breaking waves, because it’s so refreshing …

… then it’s summer in Northern Sweden.

And summer is more than welcome after the long winter. By the way, summer solstice is just 10 days away.

Winter Paddling

Yesterday I haven’t had the time, but today I finally opened the paddling season 2017. Normally I would expect the Baltic Sea to be completely ice covered at this time of the year, but warm and windy weather has prevented that until now.

First I was unsure whether I should paddle today because of a wind warning (more than 14 m/s), but when I looked at the Baltic Sea this morning the wind already had calmed down. Some hours later my kayak lay on some old ice floes ready to depart.

I put on my waterproof neoprene suit, entered the kayak and started to paddle along the icy coast. It felt a bit like late April – open water, hardly any snow left on land, just -2 °C and only the coast was covered by a thick layer of old ice. That impression changed when I came to the Bredskärsviken between the mainland and the islands Klubben, Bredskär and Norrskär. Here the water surface was covered with ice. Not with large ice floes as in springtime, but with crushed ice of all thicknesses between 1 mm and 15 cm. I entered the zone of crushed ice which made my kayak bumping against some thick underwater ice floes I didn’t see in time but soon I was amidst the drifting crushed ice.

It took me some minutes to leave that ice zone, even if it was only some meters to the open sea. I continued paddling southeastward along the rim of the drifting ice. I could see two people crossing the solid ice between the island Bredskär and the mainland. The ice on that part of the Bredskärsviken had been solid for weeks since it is sheltered by the wind.

… in contrast to myself. I felt the wind freshen more and more and the waves got more and more vivid when I paddled along Klubben heading for the island Flottgrundet. Here I decided to cancel the tour and to turn back. Probably a good idea, because now I really had to work against the high wind. You could see the wind blowing tiny ripples onto the already wavy water and more than once I got my face sprayed by water and wind. I couldn’t rest longer than for four seconds without floating back and the thick neoprene of my drysuit may be great for staying safe but not for a workout like this. Soon I was quite exhausted.

Finally when I was almost back ashore I “parked” my kayak in the drifting ice to make some more photos. The ice stopped me from drifting back. Next time when I’m in the need of a rest period I shall remember that.

In this segment the crushed ice was some centimetres thick. Because of the waves had been constantly pushing and pressing the ice together parts of it stood upright. An odd view.

The last stage of my short kayak trip was less exhausting since so near ashore the wind was less strong and soon I was on land again. A nice first kayak trip 2017.

What happened next?

  • I undressed the neoprene suit, put on pants, boots and a softshell jacket
  • I put on the belt with an attached rope and carabiner
  • I pulled the kayak over the ice and up the embankment to the street where I put it on the cart
  • I fixed the carabiner to the kayak and went home pulling the cart with the hip like a five meter long red dog
  • Home again I hung up the neoprene suit for drying, changed clothes and had a meal

Kayak – is it a boat or a sledge?

Today I was out and did some canoeing. There was a special reason for that: Johan from Sweet Earth wanted to make a short film about kayaking in wintry conditions for Skellefteå kommun, the municipality of Skellefteå. He asked me whether I wanted to be the canoeist and I accepted gladly. Since the weather forecast looked good for today we planned to make the film today.

And the weather was good – it was fantastic! When I woke up at 6 o’clock, the sky was still dark but starry and completely free of clouds. The thermometer showed -13.8 °C – the coldest temperature in Skelleftehamn this season. I was curious about Storgrundet, where it happened to be open water the day before. How would it look like today?

Some minutes later I stood on Storgrundet’s boat bridge and lit my strong flashlight. As almost excepted the water has completely frozen over last night and the rim of the new ice was about 3 cm thick. Too thick to break through with my kayak. Anyway, it could be less thick a bit farther away, I considered.

At 7 o’clock Johan arrived and we discussed the possibilities:

  • Plan A: starting at the Lotsstation farther away, where there’s open water and probably no ice at all, but perhaps less motives.
  • Plan B: trying to start at Storgrundet, where it might be impossible to kayak, but it would look nicer. And there would even be a Plan B2.

We decided for Plan A. I fetched the kayak from the garage and pulled it through the deep snow to the street where I put it onto the trolley. I pulled the kayak to the beach while Johan followed by car filming. Soon I arrived at Storgrundet’s parking place, but not Johan. Some minutes later my phone rang: Johan’s car got bogged down in the snow and he had to shovel it free. I returned to give him a push. Luckily his car was free soon again and we arrived at Storgrundet for sunrise.

I took off my winter anorak and slipped into my waterproof immersion suit – ugly but vital. I removed the kayak from the trolley and pulled it to the end of the boat bridge. Near the shore and round that boat bridge the ice was white, it was older and thicker. Some metres away it was transparent and you could see the sea bottom. That ice was less than 12 hours old. I positioned the kayak at the rim of the white ice that bore my weight and entered slowly the fresh ice. It took just some steps and – Splat! – the ice broke and I stood in chest deep water. Well, that came not unexpected. That’s why I had the waterproof suit on and my isdubbar round my neck.

“Isdubbar” or ice claws are sharp spikes with handles. These are attached to a cord to be worn round your neck. If you fall through the ice you can use the spikes of the ice claws to pull yourself out of the ice hole back to safety. A must have when going onto the ice in early winter or unknown terrain!

I managed to crawl onto the ice even without the ice claws, because the immersion suit has so much buoyancy. I put the kayak onto the little ice hole and climbed in. Unfortunately the kayak wasn’t heavy enough to break the ice. I tried and pushed, wiggled and jiggled until I managed to forge ahead perhaps ten meters. Anyway I only succeeded into bending down the fresh and soft ice, instead of breaking it. Since the paddle had zero grip on the wet ice I couldn’t steer at all and turning was completely impossible. Finally I gave up and pushed myself backwards with the glove protected hands.

When I came to the older and slightly higher ice I was kind of trapped. I couldn’t push myself backwards hard and fast enough to come up onto the safe ice surface. I tried several times and at last I just left the kayak – Splat! – went through the ice again, crawled onto the safe ice and dragged the kayak back to the boat bridge.

The result: Paddling on ice: round 25 m. Paddling in water: 0 m. Baths taken: 2. Photos taken: zero. I hope, that Johan filmed my abortive efforts. It will make me laugh watching it.

But as I said, there was Plan B2:

500 meters to the northwest the Baltic Sea is not in the lee of the island Storgrundet anymore. Here at the bay Flunderviken it usually takes much longer for the water to freeze over. While Johan had to take the save way on land I could go straight ahead by crossing the ice with my kayak in tow. First I had to plunge through soft ice and water again but then the ice was of the older and stronger kind and it was easy to get ahead. I knew, that Johan would be slower and I would had time to make some pictures.

Anyway even Plan B2 was in danger: Flunderviken was iced, too. At least I could see open water 100 or 150 meters ahead. Perhaps the ice would be weaker and I could go through the ice howsoever and reach open water. But first I had to wait for Johan who had to stomp through more than knee-deep snow to arrive. Time for another photo, time for going through the ice again, this time only knee-deep. Even here the ice was 3 cm thick – too thick to paddle.

Soon Johan arrived and I made my reservations. I didn’t believe in “ice-paddling” that far. Johan got an idea: Wouldn’t it possible to use the ice claws to push oneself forward? Well, I could try. The idea appeared to be brilliant. It was quite easy to push oneself forward, even it was hard work for my non-existing arm muscles. It went great until the ice got weaker and the kayak started to break it. Here it was hard to reach ice solid enough to pull oneself forward with the spikes. It took a long time and I had to take breath several times until I reached the last meters of the ice cover where ice was so thin that I could use the paddle again and finally I was free. Hip, hip, hooray!

Now I was able to paddle freely as on a warm summer day. Beside of the floating ice needles. Beside of wearing my heavy immersion suit. Beside of the snow that covered all shores. Beside of the ice crust on my kayak …

And beside of my exhaustion because of the struggles traversing the ice. Anyway I wasn’t here for a long tour but for being filmed. I didn’t want to get too far away from Johan who was landbound. Therefore I took just a short round and made some more photos before I started back.

I followed my old route where the ice already was cut and it was much easier to get ahead. Soon I reached the thicker ice – first still cracking under the weight of me and my kayak, then thick enough to bear us without any complaints – and then the shore where I had to plunge in into knee-deep water for the last time before I went ashore.

Conclusion

It was great fun testing out the limits of winter paddling in Skelleftehamn today. It won’t be the last time that I do such. However this is only possible with proper equipment. Without immersion suit or dry suit, isdubbar and such this tour wouldn’t have been possible at all.

So, folks: Be crazy and be safe!

I’ll post the film when it’s ready in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned.