Stories about our sea kayak expeditions

5 star sea kayak by Neil

5 star sea kayak preparation and assessment

This is the approach I took to prepare and pass my 5 star sea kayak assessment.

I attended my 5 star sea kayak training in Anglesey in March 2014 with James Stephenson of Adventure Elements, then returned to Greece where we run our sea kayak center for the summer season. I concentrated on group control and management during the summer as I knew it was going to be very difficult to work on personal skills.

My first 5 star sea kayak assessment was booked in for November 2014 in Anglesey, I did 5 days preparation with James but unfortunately the assessment was cancelled due to lack of conditions, which was probably a blessing in disguise as I didn’t feel fully prepared.

5 star sea kayak trainingMarch 2015 was the date for the next 5 star sea kayak assessment back in Anglesey which would be my first and successful attempt. Reflecting on the preparations for the November assessment and also my weaknesses and strengths I started to formulate a work up schedule. I knew I didn’t want to start too early but also I didn’t want to leave things too late!

Preparations in Greece

Being based in Greece there was no chance of me finding tidal conditions so I decided to concentrate on my Achilles heal which was my roll! Although I was comfortable rolling on both sides and reentering and rolling on both sides I found when under pressure I had a tendency to rush and snatch causing it to fail. As the new year broke, personal fitness had suffered over the festive period so how to get fit was the first priority! Cycling was my answer….a real passion of mine and it also meant I wouldn’t peak too early with the kayaking, so January was spent bashing out miles on the road.

Now to address that roll! February was the month to focus on getting it to be automatic. Every day I went to the sea and rolled and rolled and rolled! If the wind blew I looked for the most challenging conditions and rolled! By the end of February I was pretty dizzy but satisfied my roll was automatic…

5 star sunsetsAnglesey – 2 weeks to go!

Two weeks until D Day and the first week would be spent with James and a group working on their ISKA advanced guide award headed up by Shaun from Sea Kayak Cornwall. Fantastic week of tide races, tidal areas, rock hopping in big swell and plenty of leadership and navigation. Over the weekend a few of us headed to Penrwyn Mawr on Saturday to get some good quality tidal race time. Sunday we planned a trip to the Skerries, this was my first time there without instructors! Our plans unfolded perfectly!!

The SkerriesAnglesey – the final countdown…

Monday and Tuesday were a sort of rest day before the final preparations.

Wednesday saw a small group of us including Phil Smith and Tatiana Cappucci (Tatiana writes some great blogs on her site Tatiyak) setting out from Soldiers point to North Stack race, then onto South stack race before lunch. The afternoon was taken up with some rock hopping back to Soldiers point.

Thursday was a trip to the Skerries with Phil, Tatiana, Manolis and Jan, a perfect day with little wind but poor visibility so our plan needed to be spot on or we wouldn’t be having lunch on the island!! Needless to say we made it, relaxed in the spring sunshine before catching the flood tide back to Cemlyn bay.

Friday was the big one! The last chance to practice before my 5 star sea kayak assessment. The tides were right to squeeze in a trip to Bardsey island off the end of the Lleyn Peninsula. Our fearless 5 set off from Aberderon at the end of the flood at 09:00. The trip across was amazing in still conditions on the day of the eclipse. Our plan was all about getting the return timings right to catch the start of the ebb, too late and with the big spring tides we could have ended up in South Wales!!! We hit it perfectly, changing course to find the optimum angle to punch through the flow we eased our way back across Bardsey sound just in time for coffee and cakes in a seafront cafe!!

Rock hopping at the Platters5 star sea kayak assessment!

The 5 star sea kayak assessment is spread over 2 days and includes a night navigation exercise.

Our first day comprised of a desk top navigation exercise and then a trip with a group to the Skerries setting out on the ebb from Cemlyn. Although visibility was excellent the very strong currents meant navigating from the kayak needed to be spot on! and it was! Once at the Skerries we went through personal skills in the races before stopping for lunch. The afternoon was taken up with more rescues and navigation before a stop for food while we waited for it to get dark ready for the night navigation exercise. Finally returning to our start point in Cemlyn at about 21:00, a long but excellent day.

Sunday we headed to the races at North and South stack for more personal skills and rescues. Another excellent day but by the end I was totally battered, feeling like Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno (for those of you old enough to remember these heavy weight boxers) had been taking it in turn to hit me as hard as they could!!

The final stage was the results and debrief, it was a strange experience because I was so tired there was no Adrenalin left in my body!!

Congratulation you passed!!! Not sure what my facial expression was but my heart was definitely smiling…

A massive thanks goes to James Stephenson who put up with me and coached me to the standard required and also to Olly Sanders and Roger Chandler who made the 5 star sea kayak assessment process an enjoyable one where I was still learning, and to everyone who has been there paddling with me both in Greece and in Anglesey.

Anglesey seal


Sporades adventure

Sporades adventure sea kayak island hopping holiday

Sea cave
Our Sporades adventure started by enjoying home cooked food in a family run taverna in the port of Loutraki while meeting the rest of the group and sharing stories.
Slightly bleary eyed we all met at the sea kayak center in Glossa village. Most of the kit required for the trip was already loaded into the van, all we had to do was choose a kayak and paddle, drink coffee, eat freshly baked croissants and go through the proposed route.
We were met by a glorious day as we loaded our kayaks at the beach in Elios. Plenty of help and guidance was given where needed.
It was time for a group photo in the kayaks, then we were off, the Sporades adventure had officially started! Initially following the coast for about 1km while minor adjustments were made then we turned and crossed to a small island where a large sea cave and tunnel waited to be explored.
We followed the coast south, the fully loaded kayaks cutting effortlessly through the crystal clear warm waters of the Aegean sea around Skopelos, our Sporades adventure had started!
Relaxing on a secluded beach reminiscing about a beautiful day while watching the sun melt into the distant islands was perfect! Our evening meal cooked and a choice of tea, coffee or wine to wash it down was enjoyed while the most amazing night sky floated above us, so much nicer to sit under the stars of the universe than the street lights of London!
The first rays of the warm Greek sun landed on our backs as we ate breakfast and discussed the plans for the day. Today would see us continue our Sporades adventure by crossing to Alonissos, stop for coffee and supplies in Patateri, including more of those wonderful fresh croissants! Another deserted beach awaited us in the evening and another amazing display of stars, I could seriously get used to this!Alonissos
The discussions over breakfast revolved around the long day ahead of us. Our Sporades adventure would see us leave Alonissos and head to the remote island of Kyra Panagia. What an amazing day, the water was as flat as glass with views of distant islands melting into the haze. The coast along the route was littered with towering cliffs, caves and small coves to explore. The evening was spent with a feeling of total remoteness, being about as far away from civilization as it is probably able to achieve in Europe!
Rudely awoken in the small hours by a sudden Mediterranean storm! Flashes lit up the night sky as the wind built quickly with the strength to move kayaks and tents along with any unsecured kit! After a frantic hour rushing about with head torches cutting through the blackness order was restored, the storm passed and it was time to return to sleep.Cliffs
The sun lit up another perfect day leaving no trace of the excitement only a few hours earlier. Discussions this morning centered around strong winds expected late tonight. We would spent the night at the northern most tip of Alonissos sheltering from the winds, before deciding whether we retraced our route around the sheltered coast of Alonissos or braved the exposed coast!
After lunch we set out crossing the glassy waters back to Alonissos. The tranquility broken by a small splash close to our kayaks. Then another, only this time larger! A fish about 30cm long broke the surface, how exciting! Behind it the water stirred as something far bigger and more powerful moved in. The fish left the water again, this time clearing the front of one of our kayaks, but nothing prepared us for what was about to happen…. Tuna! was the squeal, as a silver, torpedo shaped, 1.5 meter leviathan rocketed out of the water, over the front of the kayak before disappearing with a large splash! Silence fell once more over the group, who all had eyes like saucers. Wow! what were the chances of that happening? Could our Sporades adventure get any better?
The wind as predicted came during the night and thoughts turned to the next day, play it safe or go for it?
Let’s go for it, was the decision. A full brief and preparation of the kayaks dominated the mornings proceeding before heading out on the next phase of our Sporades adventure!
The wind was forecast to drop from its peak of northerly force 7 in the night to nothing by early afternoon. We paddled into the dropping wind as the sea built for the first hour before rounding the top of Alonissos and heading south. Now with the wind and sea on our backs it was time to have some fun on the waves that reached 2.5 meters! Arguably one of the best sea kayaking experiences I have ever had, no capsizes, warm water and uninterrupted sunshine made for a perfect morning. Exhausted but happy we landed on a black sand beach for lunch and a well earned snooze.
The afternoons paddle was the opposite, as the sea dropped to nothing more than a gentle swell.
Our last evening on Alonissos was spent exploring the cobbled streets and stone buildings of the old town perched on top of the hill, soaking up spectacular panoramic views and enjoying superb chilli and guacamole handmade beef burgers!!
Crossing back to Skopelos, thoughts started to turn to our amazing Sporades adventure drawing to a close and how would we spend our final night.
The church of Agios Yannis (St John) perched on top of a rock was our lunch stop. The church made famous by the film Mamma Mia is well worth the walk up, although I do recommend you do this before lunch!
The final night of our Sporades adventure was spent relaxing on another one of those amazing deserted beaches, marveling at the night sky, drinking local wine and telling stories.
A paddle around the north of Skopelos held spectacular scenery and a look over our shoulders to the distant islands we have visited, it’s easy to see where the stories of the Odyssey have come from.
An amazing 7 days kayaking came to an end enjoying a home cooked meal in a family run taverna in Glossa with new friends!Kayaking the Sporades islands