Friday, July 20, 2012

Authority issues

After dealing with my underwater issues, I needed to catch up with Stu and Jon, who had done a couple of long paddles in the sea kayaks whilst I was learning to sink properly.

So once again we mucked up the tide tables and found ourselves at Marchwood with the water going in the wrong direction, but in reality it never goes very fast until you get into The Solent.

As we got the kayaks ready to leave, the limited room in the car park in Magazine Lane was made even more cramped by the mysterious arrival of a Police car, with a familiar looking copper in it. Jon and I did a double-take and realised it was our mate who told us off for paddling under a pier he was parked on one Sunday afternoon - see Sun Drenched and Copper Tainted. Jon gave him a mild amount of abuse that day, and we wondered whether the chap was going to exact some sort of revenge today.

He pulled right up to Jon's VW Transporter, and got out. He looked at our kayaks. It occurred to me that last time we saw him we were on our sit-ons, but he surely would recognise Jon's distinctive distain towards authority, even if he couldn't remember what he looked like.

He asked us where we were headed and when how long it would take us, and we dutifully detailed our plans for the day. Then he made light and awkward conversation with us before getting back into the panda and reversing out of the car park, and heading off. We thought nothing much more of it after that, other than a few funny moments when Jon was guilty of impersonating a police officer with some mild p**s taking. It wasn't to be our last brush with authority of the dasy.

We paddled out of Magazine Lane and headed to the other bank, and past Town Quay until we got to the corner where The Test meets The Itchen. We rounded the corner, which is a spot where we have twice before experienced washing-machine-like conditions. But it was pretty calm, and we were starting to realise just how stable the sea kayaks are, although they don't steer easily.

As we rounded the corner, and paddled back up The Itchen on our course up to Woodmill, we spotted a large cargo ship which seemed to be floating just off the dock. No ropes, but no bow wave, which told us quite reasonably that it was just bobbing about. Which is unusual for a massive tanker.

We paddled towards it head on, and I started to wonder whether something felt a little bit wrong about this. A big tanker floating untied in The Itchen? Are you sure it isn't moving, I asked Stu. He looked at the bow again, and there was definitely no wave at the front. In fact the boat looked absoletely still. I nervously steered dockside of it, still 30 yards away. "It's definately not moving", said Stu.

These were very nearly famous last words. I took this as permission to paddle across the path of the ship, to join Jon and Stu on the river side.

But the ship was definitely moving. I could tell because it was getting closer much more quickly than I was paddling. And Jon, being further out into the river, had now spotted the tug pushing it from behind.

Stu was by now alongside and very close - he was no more than 10-15 yards away - and I was paddling around the front of it, trying to get on the same line as Stu. A face appeared above the bow, looking out of a gap on the deck, and seemed to be laughing, or perhaps it was bemusement, fear, a sense of impending doom....who knows.

The light waves hit the ship and bounced back, creating a mildly unstable situtation as we passed underneath the side-deck of the boat, we were that close. Jon seemed to be laughing along with the sailors on the deck, who seemed to be enjoying our discomfort.

Note to selves - no bow wave does not necesserily indicate a lack of movement. All the old rules have gone out of the window!

Arabian Breeze, which we played chicken with (accidentally)

But we laughed about it afterwards, and I felt a sense of relief that Stu's infamous "It's definitely not moving" quote could now overtake my "I'm scared of falling in" effort. I don't think we'll come that close to a cargo ship in The English Channel but, if we do, I think it'll be the last thing we do, and they'll definitely have a bow wave as they will probably be travelling at 40 knots.


We thought that things couldn't get much more interesting. A strange copper and a killer cargo ship. But then we got pulled over by The Harbour Master, who even had a siren to make sure we knew he wanted us to "stop". He asked us what we thought we were doing back there, and Jon volunteered an explanation. The chap was unable to issue the "mild bollocking" he had planned (his words), probably on the basis that he realised we were genuinely unaware it had been moving, and probably a bit simple.

We headed on up the river, passing under the Itchen bridge, around some not-particularly-picturesque river-side features, such as a big pile of rubbish and some shipwrecks. Then we got to Riverside Park near Midenbury, and saw the Olympic plane taking off from Southampton Airport having dropped the flame back from it's morning in the Channel Islands.

Finally we arrived at Woodmill, rested for a few minutes before heading back against the incoming tide towards Southampton Water.

The journey back was relatively uneventful although the final bit from the corner of the two rivers back to Marchwood was a real slog. But it was a 15 mile kayak and another step towards our goal.

And now we have experience of dodging ships too. All useful experience.

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