Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Cove

Yesterday, I returned to the scene of a previous night-swim on a truly beautiful evening - green hedgerows framing clear blue skies, the gold-on-gold of evening sun on ripe fields. This being my first daylight visit to the cove, I began with a cliff-top survey. This is (part) of what I saw...

From the sea, the views are, if anything, even better. Rugged cliff faces fall steeply into the sea, their bases riddled with caves and sea arches. My favourite discovery of the evening was the sea arch in the centre of this picture: it leads to a hidden cove with a substantial south-facing shingle beach, almost entirely enclosed by cliffs. From the land, it could only be visited by abseilers, but from the sea, visitors have a choice of two fine arches or one (narrow) open channel. A magical, numinous place.

Outside the cove, wandering among islets and sea stacks, I came across two other swimmers who said they were hunting for crabs; I don't think their prey was in much danger though. The would-be "crab hunts" were armed only with children's hand nets. One of them was trying to dive; I would see the head duck down, followed closely by a disappearing bottom. However, a wet bottom was all that he could manage, and his legs would remain, disembodied, on the surface, thrashing frantically at the air, a little bit like a capsized sheep (well, if sheep were black, bipedal, and could swim).

I decided to have a go at crab-diving myself. The bottom was a mixture of bare rock, kelp-beds and white sand, and the water was extremely clear in the sheltered areas - swimming in fifteen or 20 feet (5 - 6.6 metres) of water, the visibility was so good that the sensation of height made me a little dizzy. Finding crabs was very easy - one should look at the edges of the kelp beds, where prospective victims have food, but only imperfect concealment.

Catching them wasn't much harder - I would drop into a vertical dive with only the tiniest splash, and reach "snatching distance" within a few seconds. The crabs turned out to be a fairly combative bunch, stretching their claws up and back in search of the fingers gripping their carapace. They turned out to be smaller than I expected - the water makes everything seem larger and closer - with most of their spiky shells about the size of my hand. The strength of their legs was amazing, though (comparable to human fingers, I think). The largest and most aggressive of the half-dozen which I caught (and released) did manage to make contact with his right nipper: but it closed on thick and nerveless neoprene.

Very, very good to be back in and beneath the water. I never get tired of the sheer otherness of exploring these "alien" places; of the strange beauty that I find there; of lifting from deep sands and rising weightless, without effort, to the rippling "sky".

Monday, August 14, 2006


I first saw them just outside The City - two bikers, southbound like ourselves, whizzing past the four-wheeled folk. Both with helmets; the second rider had a jacket, the first one just a leather waiscoat. I looked at their gloveless hands, jeans, runners - and their wheelies! - and shook my head in my best old-fogey style.

About three miles along the road, we met them again - this time, stationary. Biker No.1 - he of the bare arms with stylish leather waistcoat was lying in the road about 15 metres from his bike. Biker No. 2 had parked in front of him, and was standing beside him doing nothing in particular. Having called an ambulance as soon as we saw Biker 1 on his back in the road, we did our (amateur) best to assess his injuries.

These weren't nearly as bad as I expected. He was conscious, his limbs were all present and in approximately their usual configuration. However, he did have the following:

- A very deep abrasion on his left wrist, the blood from which had formed a crimson puddle about the size of a dinner plate on the tarmac below his hand, the fingers of which weren't nearly as pink as they should have been.

- A very large area of skin was missing from his left forearm. I think he'ld left it somewhere behind him on the road.

- A small but deep abrasion on his right elbow, with something clean and white showing at the bottom. Bone?

- A bloody mouth.

- Confusion: although conscious, he was apparently unaware of the extent of his injuries, he forcefully expressed the opinion that a visit to A&E would not be necessary, and that the (very promptly) arriving police were "all I f***ing need". I put this down to concussion.

In the end, there wasn't much we could do for him: we called the ambulance, positioned our car with hazard lights flashing so as to protect him from the traffic, and watched as an off-duty nurse bandaged the leakier wounds. Afterwards, watching his blood drying into my wife's blue jeans, I decided that getting a first aid kit and a warning triangle to keep in the boot would be a good idea.

Although I was glad that we gave what help we could, I could find only limited sympathy for this man and his injuries. Speeding, stunts, and very inadequate protective clothing? He didn't have an "accident" so much as an extremely fortunate escape (he was overtaking when he fell, and the car only just missed him).

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Surfing. On a kayak.

Back to the sea I went, on Tuesday evening. Came to the beach with a car full of gear; surf was good, but not great, so I decided to experiment. Out came an inflatable kayak (Lild, special offer, bought two). This isn't really a surf kayak - more a paddle-on-calm-lakes kind of vessel, with the paddler sitting on top rather than inside. The paddle itself is assembled from five seperate pieces, and the blades aren't particularly large.

I chose a quiet set to launch, and was pleasantly surprised - designed for novices, the kayak was so wide and stable than falling off was practically impossible. The slight flexing as waves pass seems to make staying on even easier. Best of all, armed with a paddle, I made short work of the trip out to the break, where more conventionally equipped surfers were waiting for their waves.

Result? I caught lots, although I did have some initial problems with weight distribution: waves were getting past me because my weight was too far astern. Leant forward on the next one and slid down the face - then the nose must have dug in, because the next frame on the video is full of bubbles... great fun. I did catch a few waves without incident though; my favourite was the one where the flexing of the kayak causing it to become lodged on the crest of the wave (rather than riding at the foot of the face, like a surfboard would). Fantastic. A leash would be a good investment though - the kayak travelled nearly as far independently as it did with me. See below, the video version of this post...