I go through phases. And just at the minute with my Cobra Expedition kayak it’s a long distance touring phase, but that’s not to say fish can’t be involved. Far from it, although not in the on-the-end-of-a-fishing-rod way. It hasn’t got any rod-holders so I couldn’t fish even if I wanted to.
What could be more exciting than my first visit to the Penwith peninsular of the year and a planned 28-mile paddle between Marazion and Gwennap Head and back? It’s got everything.
Starting off with fairytale St.Michael’s Mount.
And then straight into a three mile paddle across Penzance bay to shake off the cobwebs and get the sap flowing.
Mousehole is only just around the corner from noisy and fishy-smelly Newlyn Harbour but it might as well be on the other side of the planet. It is picturebook quaint and quiet and doesn’t look like it has changed much since the Spanish Armada.
And its entrance was guarded by a particularly haughty seal that was not going to budge off its ledge for any goofy kayaker. Actually I gave it a wide berth because I didn’t want to frighten it although I don’t think it would have shifted if I had rammed it head-on.
I stopped at Lamorna Cove to demolish my five weetabix for breakfast. Fortunately I had remembered to mix them with sugar instead of salt this time. I was so keen to get on, I wolfed them down in a PB time of less than two minutes. Luckily it was still early and there very few people about to witness this display of gluttony.
As I bumped my way through the tide race off Tater-Du lighthouse I was overtaken by the Scillonian, bulging with passengers as usual.
I would have preferred to paddle parallel to the coast, but well offshore to maximise the chance of a cetacean encounter but annoyingly found I was battling against the tidal flow, so coast-hugged instead to avoid the current.
No problem, rock-hopping close to the shore is quite absorbing and you always feel you are getting somewhere rather more than you do with open-water paddling.
And big oceanic wildlife isn’t always a long way offshore.Just past Penberth Cove in a very sheltered piece of water there was the rounded dorsal fin of a basking shark cruising about. Fantastic. I crept up to it as unobtrusively and unthreateningly and quietly as possible and just sat and watched. It just kept on circling around (probably in a thick vein of plankton) and I was in its direct path so when it came up to me it just dipped down a bit so its fin just missed the bottom of my kayak.
A trio of sea kayakers who were on their second day of a complete tour of the Penwith peninsular joined in the fun, as the shark continued its feeding unconcerned.
This was only a small shark, about 8 foot long, but I wasn’t complaining.
Just around the corner past Logan Rock is superb Porthcurno Bay. Turquoise water backed up by three white-sand beaches and overlooked by the Minack Theatre on top of the cliff. Whoever built this had done their homework. There cannot be a better vista in the whole of Cornwall/ south-west England/anywhere in UK (take your pick).
And the theatre was buzzing with a morning performance for children, who were all ‘making the sound of a tiger’ as I paddled below.
There is a big tide race off the next headland , Gwennap Head, the most southwesterly point of the UK. But it wasn’t ‘going off’ as it was slack water, Time for me to head offshore for a bit. I had been watching sreams of shearwaters passing by further out all morning and would love to be out there, with them whipping past my ears. Why? Not sure, but if you are on the sea and you have gannets and shearwaters passing between you and the shore, you are in an extreme and wild place (especially if you are in a kayak). And I like that sort of thing.
I could see a handful of birdwatchers sitting amonst the rocks of Gwennap Head staring out in my direction with their telescopes, and one of the birds they were ‘hunting’ flung itself past inches from me, a Balearic Shearwater.
I had never made it out to the Runnel Stone before, but I was lured onward by the smooth water and the promise of…I don’t know what. The buoy, which marks a reef about a mile offshore,contains a hydrophone that is activated by the swells and makes a horrifically haunting zombie-like moan every few seconds. This, and the threat of a tidal surge at any moment, set me a bit on edge.
But my pulse went into orbit when I saw an ENORMOUS fin on the surface a few hundreds yards ahead, and another nearby. I surged forward to investigate (no I wasn’t going to run for it as those with the telescopes might have been watching) and gulped when I realised that the second fin about twelve foot behind the first belonged to the same shark, and that lump twelve foot further forward was its nose! Cripes, this was a whopper.
Despite a confusion of messages arriving in my cranium pointing out that being alone in a flimsy (and a bit tippy) kayak a mile off one of the most exposed headlands in the UK, with a five-plus ton beast swimming about beneath, and a ghoulish moan wafting over the waves every so often, maybe wasn’t a good idea, I sat and watched from a respectable distance. Then the shark sensed I was there and came over for a look. Straight towards me.
As it passed a few inches beneath me the width of its body made me feel a bit little, and then it gave me quite a bump as its dorsal fin scuffed my rudder. Not well judged, sharky.
Now we were friends it kept circling around and passed directly beneath a few more times. It had quite a large area of white scarring on its back just behind the dorsal fin…no doubt a propeller injury.
One more close pass….
and then it just disappeared.
What a thrill. I don’t think basking sharks get a lot bigger than that and when you consider that the only fish bigger than them is a Whale Shark, I might just have spent half an hour in the company of the biggest fish in the North Atlantic! I reckon I could have paddled straight into its gaping mouth without bending over, and not made any appreciable difference to its outline (apart from my paddle which might have made it bulge a bit at the tonsils).
Time to head shoreward, the tide was just starting to kick in. Back to civilisation and a cup of tea on a Porthcurno beach.
And then the thirteen-mile paddle back to Marazion, made easier because I had the light westerly wind directly behind me, but made a lot worse because the tide was running against me the whole way. Not a lot of wildlife on the way back, the highlight being the absurdly tame Turnstones in Mousehole harbour that run about at your feet flicking over the seaweed looking for tiny crabs.
The last few miles were an enormous drag (aren’t they always?), but were livened up by the plane towing the advertisement that faithfully hugged the outline of the coast including a circuit of St. Michael’s Mount.