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Friday, 9 February 2018

Stay warm!!


I often get asked what I wear when it’s cold - so here’s a short summary. The main safety issue is cold water shock. 

Falling into cold water can cause the blood vessels in the skin to close, resulting in increased resistance to blood flow. This means your heart has to work harder and blood pressure can increase. If this happens it makes you ‘gasp’ in water. Then the breathing rate changes dramatically - it can increase as much as ten times. As you can imagine, this then causes panic and loss of rational thinking. (You can read more about this from the RNLI here ).


It’s unlikely that I’ll fall in but - if I do - I want to be as safe as possible. I don’t want to suffer cold water shock and sink, only to turn up a few days later on a different part of the coast. If I do fall in I want to be buoyant and be rescued quickly. So, if the water is below about 8 degrees, I wear a buoyancy aid nowadays, a 3/2 wetsuit or neoprene leggings, rash vest and neoprene jacket and dive boots. I’ll have a hat and gloves with me but may not wear them. This photo is of my boots -



they’re pretty old but I love them. I can fit neoprene socks inside if needed and they have great grip on the board. There are loads of different types of warm boots and it’s really important to try them on, walk around in the shop (or buy from somewhere with a good returns policy), but anything like the photo below will work. They want to be really comfortable and will go under your wetsuit.

Happy paddling!!





Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Do you drink tea?








It is now common knowledge that we are awash with plastics. At last it’s in all the papers and on people’s minds and, while the news of floating islands that ‘could be upwards of a million square miles in size’ (National Geographic) and plastic pollution that is ‘500 times the number of stars in our galaxy’ (https://www.sas.org.uk) is depressing and seemingly hopeless, we need to work hard to stay positive. Now is the time to garner a war on plastics and see if we can’t turn the tide. It won’t be easy and we’ll have give up some of the luxuries that we have become so very used to. One of those luxuries are tea bags that contain plastic…

Wait!… “What?” I hear some of you say? Plastic in tea bags? Sadly it’s true. Most tea bags contain a type of plastic called polypropylene or polyethylene which helps to seal the bag. There are very few that don’t use plastics and those that don’t tend to be the string and tag variety which usually come in a plasticised sachet which are not recyclable.  Of course, in an ideal world we would all go to our local tea shop (!) and buy fresh tea out of jars but that’s not going to happen (yet) for most of us. So I thought I’d find out which bags are the best and which are the worst so that at least we can all step one foot in the right direction to reduce our plastic footprint.

Herbal teas are no better. Whilst a lot of them don’t use polypropylene in the tea bags they usually come wrapped in the little individual sachets - and these are made of plastic and are not recyclable. It seems that a basic rule of thumb is that string and tag tea bags are made of compostable starch (but often come in the sachets) and square, heat sealed teabags do contain plastic.

Quite a few companies are working to try to make their bags biodegradable. In the old days they would have used staples to seal the bag but then we started recycling and, bam, out went the staples and in came the plastic. I am now very concerned because the council guidelines are to compost tea bags - and I don’t think they have taken the plastic in to consideration.

The Co-op supermarket is working with its supplier Typhoo and a packaging firm called Ahlstrom-Munksj√∂ to develop a plastic-free tea bag which would be fully biodegradable and should be on the shelves within a year.  
Read more: www.dailymail.co.uk

So, to sum up. These are the tea bags which are better than others - these have no plastics in the bags but may have some in their packaging:

Tea Pigs
Pukka
Whittards
These are two local tea companies:

I am using up my commercial tea bags and will only keep a few for emergencies. I have discovered that infusing lemon, ginger, turmeric and black pepper makes a great, immune boosting drink and will be buying dried chamomile and dried peppermint so that I have those options. And, of course, I’ve already moved on to loose tea too!

I hope to write more about this when I have more information - such as what the council have to say about what happens to the food caddies. Any questions or comments you have are much appreciated and will be answered.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Buy now or cry later

Shopping in India can be a crazy experience!! It's probably the nearest I get to understanding how a magpie feels - I want everything shiny and colourful. There are shops that sell every single kind of stainless steel cooking implement you can imagine




and shops full of such colourful, shiny tat which here, in the UK I wouldn't even look at. Somehow in India it's all so very appealing! There's such a fine line between buying unusual and fun things as gifts or for the house and ending up with a suitcase full of rubbish...






The advice I'd give? Take it slowly, don't be rushed in to too much tat and buy fewer - but better - things. And when it comes to haggling... I'm actually hopeless! It's complicated, the whole haggling issue. I was once in a shop in Istanbul with my husband. He was doing a brilliant price of haggling on the price of some cushions and I piped up and said that the price was unfair. Much too cheap!! So I'm probably not the best one to advise on this one. Some shops have fixed prices, the street vendors and markets expect a haggle but it's not always the done thing. If I love something I'm happy to pay the price if met with a tough bargain - and I always regret it if I don't buy something I loved!

And then there are the shops with the interesting or amusing names and signs. I particularly loved this one selling country drugs...







Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Holy Cow!




I've just spent a week in India immersing myself in the colours and the culture. The beauty, chaos and contradictions of the country always surprise. This time I went from Chennai to Pondicherry and my next few blogs will be sharing my photographs with you. Enjoy!

The cow is sacred to most Hindus, they honour her and thank her for the milk, cream, yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream, ghee and dung that she provides. 

Her nature is represented by the goddess Kamadhenu, the mother of all cows. They wander freely everywhere, they have free reign and there are huge penalties if you hit one whilst driving. You have to keep your wits about you at all times as they cross the road at a leisurely pace, whether it’s a dual carriageway or a country lane. In the state of Gujurat it is illegal to slaughter a cow and is now punishable with life imprisonment.





They eat the food littered by markets and bins and this means, of course, that they often eat the litter too, plastic and detritus thrown on the street. One of the many contradictions that is India. 


Friday, 4 August 2017

My brother can SUP

I was at a memorial service down in Cornwall a few weeks ago and got talking to my youngest brother (Merlin) and a friend of his about how they'd been paddling in Mull recently. They'd had a great time, fallen in a fair amount and had gone to bed tired, happy and with aching shoulders.



They were discussing how they'd like to do a long trip, maybe the length of the Tamar or similar. I said they should have at least one lesson before attempting this - oh how they laughed! They both agreed there was nothing to this SUP lark, you just jumped on the board and off you went. When I asked them if they were using their core they said they thought so but (and then did a paddling action) it didn't really matter because they were perfectly able to get where they wanted to go, whatever. As for leashes? They're for dummies. Ok.

I persuaded Merlin to come and spend the day with me and said we could go paddling. I didn't tell him that I was actually going to give him a two hour lesson, half an hour on land technique the works, but he's a cool guy and I knew he'd be fine!

I always start my lessons explaining the parts of the board, what the different fins are for and talking about the leash. One of the main problems with not wearing a leash (apart from an obvious safety issue) is that if you fall in the board might go off one way and you go the other, possibly dropping the paddle as you go. Do you fetch the paddle or chase the board? And if you do get the paddle how do you then swim to the board? It's not that easy with a paddle. You'll probably swim to the board and realise you've lost the paddle. Not a great scenario. He'll wear a leash from now on!!

We then move on to discussing the paddle. I asked him if he's kayaked. He said he had. So then I demonstrated how a paddle is held when kayaking and how it moves the water. Then I turned the paddle around and said 'when you SUP you hold the paddle this way round'. Most people are surprised. Merlin was very surprised. He had probably been paddling with the paddle the wrong way round all the time in Mull...



He even did it a couple of times with me. It's a hard habit to break.

He soon got the knack of using '90% body, 10% arms' though and was nicely powering through the SUP stroke.



By the end of the day I was an extremely proud sister. He was talking about courses that he was going to go on before taking to the Thames (he'd already decided to buy a McConks board) and now completely understood why it was a good idea to have at least one lesson! Even if he can't persuade his friends at least he will be safer and, although of course we all know it's not at all important, he'll look cooler than them out on the water!!




Friday, 9 June 2017

Should I stay or should I go?

One of the hardest decisions I have to make is whether to cancel a lesson or not.

I use two, sometimes three, apps/websites... the main one is Windfinder, then I check on Tides4Fishing and finally Buoyweather. But Whitstable has it's own weather - honestly, it's true! The only way to be absolutely sure of how the sea is is to go down and look at it. The apps might all say that the wind is up, say 10 kts gusting at 15 kts... I walk down to the beach and it's dead calm.


Or vice versa.


My scenario is often that I have a student coming from an hour away, Dartford perhaps, and they need to know the night before, or early in the day. The tide goes out so far here and is out for a really long time. I'll go down to the beach to look and the distant water may look fine but all the apps say the wind is coming up and could be more than I'm comfortable teaching on (12 kts or 13.81mph max).


Luckily I can offer a choice - but only if I have time and the student doesn't mind changing location. There is an excellent river half an hour away and, unless it is blowing a total gale and lashing down with rain, we can usually go there. For a first lesson it's ideal - easy to launch and lots of sheltered places to practice standing and turning.


It's only a 35 minute drive from Whitstable and it's always a pleasure to paddle on the river. I do tend to err on the side of caution and believe the app - even though I have returned to Whitstable to find the sea has been glassy! It's not worth the risk.

So, hopefully the lesson can still happen. I'll check the apps and ask myself, to quote The Clash, 'Should I stay or should I go?' and then I start to load the car!


Monday, 1 May 2017

Are you scared of the water?

Last summer I took my best friend, J, out for a SUP lesson. The day was fairly typical for Whitstable, a little breezy with a small chop on the water.

I was freelancing at a school nearby where it's obligatory to wear a buoyancy aid (otherwise known as a PFD, personal flotation device). There's some mixed feelings about wearing these and it grates a bit on some SUPers but the body they are associated with insist on it. Of course, there are times when it's essential to protect yourself and your students/clients/staff but when paddling on reasonably calm enclosed water conditions it can sometimes seem like overkill. The PFD J was wearing was a bit bulky and didn't fit her very well and this made the whole situation harder and more dangerous. Wearing one can also make it harder to swim to the board and awkward to climb back on to the board.

When we SUP we wear a leash (coiled or straight, depending on the location) and this attaches us to, what is in effect, a huge PFD.

We paddled out on our knees and got comfortable with the boards. J practiced some turns and then stood up. Her legs started to shake uncontrollably as soon as she rose to her feet. This often happens to a newbie and is quite normal. After a while it should stop but it's important to relax your body, and those shoulders. Flex your knees a little and breathe. Take time to look around and take in the surroundings.

We're really lucky here in Whitstable, there's so much to see. There are the beautiful brightly coloured beach huts and pastel 'Wavecrest' houses, the restaurants and food shacks scattered along the beach and always plenty of wildlife.

It's often possible to see a Cormorant diving and then reappearing further on, great flocks of birds that fly so close you can hear the beat of their wings and even the occasional sighting of a seal or porpoise.

J was doing really well but then she did fall in. And she panicked. She swum to her board and clung on but because she was wearing the pfd her legs went under the board. I was talking to her and trying to coax her to put her legs out behind her but the pfd had slipped up over her chin and she was really uncomfortable - she wasn't hearing me.



I slipped into the water and came up next to her. This is where it helps to be experienced and calm. I've got two grown up daughters who have put me through my paces and a husband who is an ex racing driver so I've had to learn this skill!

I got her to rest on the edge of the board and talked her round to pushing her legs out behind her. Then I slowly coached her into lifting her chest on to the board and then helped her swing her legs around so that she was lying on her front. None of this was easy because of the bulky pfd but we did it. I got here standing again quite quickly and she soon forgot about having been in the water and started to have some fun.

It wasn't until afterwards that J told me how scared she was. She really had believed she was going to drown - but she had then gone on to enjoy the experience.  She's more experienced now and, although she still has a healthy fear of the water, she's no longer terrified when she falls in.

So don't be scared! Come and have a lesson and experience the beauty of stand up paddleboarding. The chances are you won't fall in - but, if you do, I can assure you you'll be fine!