Brixham Night Paddle

T’was a dark and quiet night. A gentle breeze skipped slowly over the sea which lapped gently against the shore (and sea wall…) A small group of interestingly dressed people had congregated in a local gathering place (car park) with strangely shaped boats. The scene had intrigued many people who enquired as to the events about to take place, or even what may have already taken place. Some others expressed less… interest… in events, other than trying to get out without running anyone over (always miserable people somewhere…).  After some (inevitable) faffing around the group huddled into a tight group where a hushed conversation outlined the plan, some coordination and the potential magnitude of events should they go wrong (a little too successfully I later found out ).  After this brief discussion concluded, the strange boats were taken to the sea with an almost ceremonial grace… (as always…) and the final safety call to the coastguard was made (more about that later!).  With that, the strange group of eight slipped quietly into the water and out to the dark sea…

We started off launching from just outside the breakwater at Brixham, next to a nice little seafood restaurant and a pair of (pay) public facilities.  Thankfully the parking was only £3 because we were parking “overnight” (after 18:00), otherwise I thought the price would have been a little steep.  The beach is quite nice, made up of rounded pebbles.  With the perfect conditions we launched into the sea with all our red lights ablaze.

First target was out to Torquay with its lovely harbour, big Ferris wheel (we found out, I didn’t know they had one until then) and the big hotels (light up like giant navigation lights) and went straight out across the bay looking for the bioluminescent algae… more on that later.  It soon became clear what a new experience paddling in the dark becomes. Your world shrinks around you, sounds seem to become louder and the motion of the sea feels even more acute.  The other interesting thing is that you feel like you’re skipping along at a crazy pace because the only thing you can see with any clear definition is the wake around you, and that’s moving past you at an amazing… walking pace – the same as always!

It soon became clear that, with the concern about the wind, the suggestion of wearing “clothes suitable for the cold” was a little over enthusiastic.  This became so apparent that we curtailed our course, and headed to the beach, to allow people to get more comfortable.  We pulled up on a little beach right in front of a series of beach huts – perfect for providing the group with either seats or tables for the nibbles we took with us.

Now nice and cool with the right gear on, we set off back to the start.  Initially we hugged the coast to watch Paignton go by, but I will admit I became overly concerned about the time, and turned us away just too soon to see the pier at night – sorry people.  Anyway, we kept skipping across the waves following my (seemingly) increasing inability to identify headings and worked our way back onto the end of the breakwater.  Interestingly this became the point where I think we encountered the greatest danger of the night – night fishing!!!  Luckily the two sets of fisher people(?) were cooperative and pointed out the end of their line (florescent floats! How good are they!) and the second group pulled in their lines for us (having blinded us with head torches unfortunately) Then, just as we all huddled together for a nice photo shoot at the end, guess what started to appear… yes, the little sparkles of photons from our algae friends.  Tiny little sparkles, but sparkles just the same (400m from the end of a ≈16km trip!!!)  And that was it, back all safe and sound right back where we started.  An experience I find unique amongst sea kayaking in terms of the environmental feedback and the impact that has as you paddle.

And now, the promised coast guard experience… I phoned Brixham coastguard on Friday to make sure that they were aware of the plans and to know if there was anything happening that we should know about.  I gave them as much detail as possible – numbers, equipment, general levels of experience, and I left it at that.  At their request I phoned again just before we left, filling in the details that I was unable to on Friday – boat colours identifying features, intended call sign (kayak8*) etc.  Interestingly, they had some difficulty in finding the notes from the day before.  “Oh well” I said to myself, at least they found them eventually…  However, the most concerning thing was when we got back, and I phoned in to say we had returned to shore and were safe (15 minutes later than estimated, but…).  At this point the gentlemen on the other end of the line seemed a little perplexed until he finally said “oh yeah, there’s the entry… I’ll just cancel that out then shall I?”  For me the moral/learning from this story is twofold:

  • When you call in to start with, ask for an identifying number for your call/log – that way on the outset of the trip you can identify that number as the entry (although they had asked for my name that didn’t seem to work!)
  • On the day, don’t phone when you set off, use the radio as a radio check. That is logged more thoroughly than a phone call!

I hope this helps.

Happy paddling and see you all soon

Chris Payne

* I have noted from talking to other kayakers and experience, that the best call sign for a kayaking trip before you set off is basically an ident of who you are and how many.  In this case I outlined “kayak 8” because we were in kayaks and there were 8 of us.  It is highly unlikely that there will be a second group of kayakers with the same group size around your area when you set off so this is a quick and easy method of supplying a call sign for both yourself to use, and for them to call you.