Five ton Fish

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.

Notice I do not qualify for disabled parking (yet)
Notice I do not qualify for disabled parking (yet)

And then straight into a three mile paddle across Penzance bay to shake off the cobwebs and get the sap flowing.

St.Michael
St.Michael

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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.

Grey seal at Mousehole

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 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. 

Lamorna Cove
Lamorna Cove

As I bumped my way through the tide race off Tater-Du lighthouse I was overtaken by the Scillonian, bulging with passengers as usual.

Scillonian III
Scillonian III

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.

Basking shark
Basking shark

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.

Basking shark and Logan's Rock
Basking shark and Logan’s Rock

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.

choc-a-bloc Minack Theatre
choc-a-bloc Minack Theatre

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.

BIG basking shark
BIG basking shark

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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. 

Basking Shark approach
Basking Shark approach

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.

Impact!
Impact!

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….

Basking shark close pass
Basking shark 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.

Porthcurno beach
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.

Turnstone
Turnstone

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.

St. Michael's Mount...again
St. Michael’s Mount…again

Dave and Verity

Boscastle high street
Boscastle high street

Following my big tope excitement I returned to Boscastle for more action.Every fishermen waits for the moment when his line is torn out and the reel sings into action. However the bites became fewer and further between and I suspect the tope season on this part of the coast is nearly over. In actual fact I really wouldn’t have a clue if this was the case, maybe they just havn’t been biting or I am a crumby fisherman (or both).

I thought that the reason I attracted so much interest as I hauled my kayak back to the car park up Boscastle high street was that I cut a bit of a dashing figure, but then realised it was because I was wearing my daughter’s pink peaked cap that I had grabbed from the shelf as I left home, complete with purple pony emblazoned on it.

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And the witchcraft museum has got a witch’s van to go with it, the modern day version of a witch’s broom, I suppose.

Although there don’t seem to be a lot of mackerel around this year I caught a nice selection of baits for giving me a chance at a bigger fish:

Pollack, mackerel,launce
Pollack, mackerel,launce

And after an awful lot of sitting around my Penn Pursuit reel buzzzed into action with its ringing metallic tone (which is why I choose it) and after ten minutes up came a 25lb tope. Always a thrill.

25lb Tope
25lb Tope

I have mentioned before that waiting for tope can be mind- crushingly tedious, but there is usually something else to keep you interested.Such as jellyfish ,and if you are keen on jellyfish then this is your year. There have been THOUSANDS of moon jellyfish spookily floating about

Moon jellyfish
Moon jellyfish

loads of blue jellfish and a fewer number of the strikingly marked Compass jellyfish…..

Compass jelly
Compass jelly

and even fewer Lion’s Mane jellies.

Lion's Mane jelly
Lion’s Mane jelly

So it’s a bit surprising I’ve only seen two sunfish (which eat jellyfish) so far this year, and unfortunately no more leatherbacks (which also eat jellyfish) yet.

While dozing a mile out to sea I was rudely disturbed by the fast approach of a piston-engined plane that was like a scene from Pearl Harbour. I searched the clifftops for  a sight and then realised it was scorching along beneath the cliffs about 20 ft above the water! Actually more like Dambusters. It whistled over the top of another couple of kayak fishermen who must have got a bit of an adrenaline boost. But I don’t suppose the Guillemot colony was too impressed.

Tora,tora,tora
Tora,tora,tora

My final visit to Boscastle was windy so not a day for loafing about offshore. It was back to hugging the shore for shelter trolling a plug. One nice little bass:

Bossiney  bass
Bossiney bass

and my first coalfish for a couple of years:

Coalfish
Coalfish

And I’d have a job to think of a beach with a better vista to stop for a tea break than this one tucked in behind Lye Rock at Bossiney. And for the extreme ornithologist Bossiney is one of the very few (maybe the last) places in Cornwall where housemartins still nest on the cliffs, glueing their nests of mud to the rock.

Tarpon 160 'gunship' armed and dangerous
Tarpon 160 ‘gunship’ armed and dangerous

The warmth and the ‘freedom’ (i.e. not having to be wrapped up in a drysuit and not having to worry about falling into cold water) of summer makes me look beyond vegetating out in a bay with a fishing rod. As long as it involves a kayak, I will do it. Wildlife watching:

Guillemot having a stretch
Guillemot having a stretch

Or a bit of relaxed family and friends touring:

milling about at Mevagissey
milling about at Mevagissey

Or maybe just dashing about as fast as possible when I’ve got a couple of hours to spare. With this in mind I have invested in a new kayak that I purchased off e-bay for a snip. A Cobra expedition. A sit-on-top kayak that is about as narrow as it can be, made of plastic, and with a load of seriously big hatches so indeed expedition worthy. A bit of a contrast to a short and fat Malibu 2:P1060395

Don’t ask how many kayaks I now own. I could easily open up a kayak museum with plenty of vintage,or even ancient, exhibits on display (myself included).

The speed of the Cobra Expedition was put to the test when I took it for a brief spin on the sea at Bude when the sea was as flat and glassy as it has ever been. A pair of lads fishing offshore in a Canadian canoe informed me a small school of Common dolphins had swum past five minutes beforehand, so I engaged sport mode and tore off after them in vaguely the correct direction. After twenty minutes I coud see a few gulls showing interest in something at the surface and another fifteen mins brought me amongst the dolphins that were steadily cruising south. They didn’t hang around, and I was pooped after the chase.

Bude Common dolphin
Bude Common dolphin

I wasn’t so quick getting back to Bude.

So it’s back to a bit of leisurely fishing to recover, and maybe a bit of freshwater trolling for a change…..

Perch
Perch

I do like perch, they are extraordinarily similar to bass, only not so feisty or spiky.

So where does Dave fit in? I felt the urge to clock up a few miles in (on) my Cobra Expedition so where better than the thirty mile there-and-back trip between Ilfracombe and Lynmouth? No fishing , just paddling. Hot sunny day, fantastic Exmoor scenery….especially valley of the rocks just before Lynmouth…as good as anywhere in SW England.

Exmoor scene
Exmoor scene

Valley of the rocks

Porpoise sightings are usually guaranted along this bit of North Devon coast but today they were conspicuous by their absence. The wildlife highlight (until later…just be patient) was a stooping peregrine that knocked something into the water far ahead, and then kept circling in an effort to pluck whatever it was from the surface. I slotted the Expedition into top gear and was staggered to sea a Curlew bobbing about on the sea like a duck. As I approached it took off and went on its way,  a little cautiously as the peregine was still around.

Paddling into Lynmouth was a bit of a culture shock. Normally I would be antisocial and eat my lunch at a remote beach around the corner, but having rendered my Weetabix for breakfast inedible by mixing them with salt instead of sugar, I had to have my cheese sandwiches (which were supposed to be lunch) for breakfast, and was left with the awful prospect of fighting my way through the tourists to get a pasty and chips at the award winning take-away on the sea front. Tough.

Lynmouth
Lynmouth

As usual a headwind picked up for the long paddle back and I stopped for a break at the very pleasant beach just east of Combe Martin (which seemed to be popular with nudists). A brief conversation with a couple of newby kayak fishermen (fully clothed) in a beast of a double sit-on-top, revealed that they had just paddled out of Combe Martin and they casually mentioned that they had ‘watched the dolphin’ on the way out.

Blooming typical, they had paddled about half a mile and had a dolphin encounter and I had been on the water for eight hours and seen nothing.

But all was to change as I paddled into the mouth of Combe Martin bay and into a large group of kayaks and small boats. And there it was, the fin of a sizable Bottlenose dolphin breaking the surface. I took up my position and waited with camera poised. I have yet to get a good dolphin pic as they are always reentering the water when you press the shutter.

Leaping Dave
Leaping Dave

Sitting amongst a crowd of boats is hardly my idea of good dolphin watching, but Dave is apparently a bit of a celebrity since he turned up a couple of weeks ago and usually puts on a good show….

He appeared at the surface batting about a sizeable fish:

Dave plays with a fish
Dave plays with a fish

and then spent a long time underwater, building up to his big show stopping move. And blimey, it certainly was worth the wait, and amazingly my camera was poised for action. He knew there were plenty of enthusiastic onlookers to impress.

Boatload of dolphin fans
Boatload of dolphin fans

...and a motley assortment of kayakers

Dave hurled himself skywards to an unreserved gasp of amazement and appreciation from all the onlookers. He is a big dolphin, perhaps twelve feet long so his jump probably cleared 15 foot. Wow.

Dave the dolphin
Dave the dolphin

Pity about the jet ski messing up the pic

perfect re-entry
perfect re-entry

Tom Daly would have been proud of Dave’s re-entry ….hardly a splash. After a bit more lolloping about Dave was a bit more elusive, the boats dispersed and I headed back to Ilfracombe, but not before a quick leg stretch on yet another top quality beach.

Combe Martin beach
Combe Martin beach

Upon arrival back in Ilfracombe my gaze was drawn to the extraordinary (in both size and shape) statue at the end of the pier,sword held aloft.. I’m sure it wasn’t there when I set off, although I suspect it probably was.

In fact it was so engrossing in a grotesque sort of a way that I nearly tipped the kayak over, a kayak that has negotiated many a tide race and sloshy sea without a wobble. Needless to say it was created by Damien Hirst.

Damien Hirst's 'Verity'
Damien Hirst’s ‘Verity’

I’m not sure that the name ‘Verity’ does the statue justice, It looks more like a Bertha.