SHETLAND Canoe Club held its fifth sea kayak symposium over the weekend of 4th- 7th July at Bridge End Outdoor Centre in Burra.
The symposium takes place every second year, alternating with the Scottish symposium in Skye, and it is now an established part of the Scottish sea kayaking calendar.
This year just over 40 people attended, roughly half of them local and half visitors. The largest visiting contingent came from Aberdeenshire and the furthest travelled was from New Zealand.
The weather on the Friday afternoon was perfect and most of the visitors took part in a trip to South Havra. At one time 26 kayaks were on the West Ham beach – surely some kind of a record.
In the evening a buffet meal was followed by an outline of the weekend programme, and an introduction to Shetland wildlife and geology for the visitors was provided by Jonathan Swale.
On Saturday numbers were boosted by Shetland club members who had been working on Friday. The day was again warm and sunny though with a breeze picking up in the afternoon.
The main trip was a circumnavigation of Muckle Roe, always a highlight. Meanwhile those who elected to stay around the centre had a choice of sessions.
Given the weather it was no surprise that everyone opted to go on the water and practice paddling skills with visiting coaches Mike McClure, Ken Nicol and Ken Lacey.
In the afternoon the choice was between a session on safety and rescue and a short paddle from Whiteness to Scalloway. Mr Nicol gave the evening talk on the subject of a Pentland Canoe Club trip to south-west Greenland.
On Sunday a stiff north-easterly gave suitably testing conditions for a session on leadership skills with Mr McClure, while the main trip set off to paddle from Hillswick to Mavis Grind, and those who opted to stay on dry land learned the basics of navigation from Mr Lacey.
In the afternoon the dry session was on equipment and theory for the four star leader award, including input from Shetland Coastguard in the form of club member Dave Phillips, while the short paddle was a very quick wind-assisted trip from Scalloway back to the centre.
In the evening Mr McClure took us on a tour of Irish sea paddling locations from the Skelligs and the Blaskets to Rathlin Island.
Monday saw the main trip set out for St Ninian’s Isle and Colsay, while Mr McClure took the four star trainees through the new British Canoe Union Coastal Navigation course. By completing this and the relevant sessions over the weekend a total of eight people, four Shetland Club members and four visitors, have now completed the training element of the new four star leader award.
The official symposium programme ended there, but many of the visitors stayed on to take advantage of the very low west side swell and visit Papa Stour, Eshaness and Westerwick, before heading up to Unst on Friday for the Shetland Canoe Club weekend. This was based at the Gardiesfauld Hostel in Uyeasound with the Uyeasound Hall being used for meals and talks.
The north-easterly wind persisted into the start of the weekend, and, while it had flattened out the swell on the west side of Shetland, it made things more difficult on Unst. A few people paddled round Uyea Isle on Friday afternoon and a few more paddled down Bluemull Sound with the wind and the tide on Saturday afternoon.
Sunday, however, was a different story. The wind and the tide fell away and everyone was able to get on the water at Burrafirth. Thirteen explored the many caves and geos on the east side of Burrafirth, then crossed over to Hermaness where five returned and eight went on out to Muckle Flugga.
The other 13, who had opted for a longer trip, had a day to remember. After rounding Muckle Flugga and crossing to the Out Stack they continued down the west side of Hermaness. Coming out of Woodwick after a lunch stop they encountered a pod of five killer whales which accompanied them all the way to their eventual landing at Lund, accounting for at least one unfortunate seal on the way. An unforgettable end to a memorable 10 days.