Tag Archives: coast

Watery birthday, Part I

What do you get a man who already owns pretty much everything he needs and wants? If you’re my parents, and you’re shopping for my husband’s birthday present, you buy a gift certificate that can be applied towards an inflatable canoe. That may sound like a slightly unusual purchase, but it is something that Sasha has been wanting for quite a while now.

2014-07-27 14.34.21Before I arrived in Falmouth, Sasha used to do a bit of surfing, but the early mornings, cold water, and shortage of big waves cumulatively diminished his interest in the sport. He continued to periodically don a wetsuit and go for a snorkel, but his days of cruising over the water’s surface appeared to be over.

When I moved here with my kayak, I anticipated that we would frequently head out into the bay or paddle up one of the many nearby creeks and rivers. However, I failed to appreciate just how exhausting it would be to even contemplate carrying my kayak down two flights of stairs, through a parking lot, down the street, through the Falmouth Watersports Centre’s boat storage lot, and to the ramp where we could actually put the craft into the water. I am ashamed to say that neither of us has taken it out since I moved here in early 2010–though we’ve frequently discussed the need to buy a water vehicle that Sasha could take out alongside me in my kayak, or that the two of us could power together.

As I recall, Sasha first thought of buying an inflatable watercraft several years ago after he saw a photo of the Molokini:

This transparent kayak–which costs a whopping $1800–is not inflatable, but it did lead Sasha to discover a range of boats that are both see-through and affordable–such as National Geographic’s Eco-explorer Boat. Once he realized that we could own a craft that was easy to both store and transport, and that wouldn’t break the bank, it was only a matter of time before one came into our lives.

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So it was that we recently found ourselves paddling through Falmouth Harbour on an overcast but unusually warm and humid late July day. We’re lucky that we’d had such a tremendous run of hot weather, because it meant that the Cornish waters were not nearly as chilly as normal. You tend to drip water all over yourself while paddling, but this felt refreshing rather than frigid.

At least, that’s how the water felt at first, when it was just coming off our paddles. We weren’t too far away from the loading ramp when Sasha commented on how there was a lot of moisture around his feet and under his seat. He was sitting at the back of the canoe, and is heavier than I am, so at first I assumed that all my splashes were running backwards and accumulating at his end of the boat. Soon enough, however, he reported that the water was nearing his lap; not long after, I began to feel a pool forming around my own chair.

It was at this point that Sasha casually mentioned a hole in the back of the boat. Initially, I thought he meant a puncture, but it turned out that he was referring to a valve like this:

Image courtesy of Carmo

He hadn’t been able to find the plug for the valve, so he’d just assumed that it functioned as a sort of drain for any water that happened to get in the canoe while we were out on the water. Sasha may be an expert in biology, but a physicist he is not. Luckily, the kayak was inflated in such a way that it couldn’t sink even if fully filled with water, since the sides and top were isolated from the main body. Thus, while we continued to sit ever lower in the water–and struggle ever harder against the waves buffeting our bow–we were never in danger of having to swim to shore.

Happily, we were not too far from a floating pontoon dock erected by the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club. We pulled over, dislodging the juvenile gulls that had been sitting there begging for food and generating copious amounts of guano. I could have done without stepping onto the poo-covered surface, but needs must. We dumped out our watery cargo, plugged the hole, and set off once again. 2014-07-27 14.02.46


I’d originally thought we might go all the way to the docks down by the Penryn Bridge, but the tide was too low for us to get that far; that entire area becomes quite an extensive mud flat when the water isn’t moving inland. Instead, we made an exaggerated U-turn near Mylor Creek and the Truro River, where we could see beached boats of varying ages, along with a wide variety of waterbirds.

There hadn’t been much wind during our outward journey, and what breeze was present had been in our faces. This gave me the mistaken impression that we would have an easier time paddling home than we’d had when going towards Penryn. However, I soon noticed that I seemed to be working awfully hard to make only tiny increments of progress; further, although we hadn’t needed any breaks during the first half of our journey, we had to take several on the way back. Clearly, though we’d been going against the wind on our trip out, we had been going with the tide; when we turned around, the piddling breeze at our backs did virtually nothing to assist us in our battle against the current.

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Feeling happy to have reached the safety, and relative dryness, of shore

And so it was that we novices learned one of the most fundamental rules of coastal watersporting: One must always check the tide times, and plan accordingly. Alternatively, one could avoid tides altogether by going inland and paddling on a lake, which is what I always used to do. In any case, though the maiden voyage of our inflatable craft was certainly eventful, we ultimately escaped relatively unscathed (save for a few sore muscles).

It didn’t take much time to fill the canoe with air or to deflate it once we returned home, and it was easy to carry it next door to the access ramp–where we were ignored by the Harbor Master and therefore managed to avoid a £5 fee. With the exception of our life vests (purchased separately), all our supplies fit into a single, sturdy carrier bag–which means we can easily throw the kit into our car and look for navigable waters elsewhere.

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All in all, I’d say that Captain Birthday Boy was pleased with his gift.



Foggy first day of fall in Falmouth

Although today is officially the first day of fall–or “autumn,” as they prefer to say here in the UK–I have felt it coming for a while. We’ve actually had fairly summery weather the last few weeks, but the changing day length is an unmistakeable sign that we are headed towards the cold, dark portion of the year.

As a result, I’ve been feeling a bit antsy, like a migratory bird becoming restless in the days before it heads south. I don’t feel the urge to go anywhere (though if you told me you wanted to send me to the Maldives for a week, I wouldn’t complain). I do, however, feel the same inclinations that I feel every autumn, to do things that haven’t been a part of my routine for years. I want to go back-to-school shopping for clothes and office supplies; I want to put on a sweater and go watch a football game under stadium lights; I want to meet up with my cross country team and race on a 5K course that smells like damp earth and fallen leaves. Most especially, I want to eat candy corn.

Those things were a part of my life for so long that it is hard to shake the feeling that I should still be doing them, even after all these years. When I lived in the US, I could see them happening around me, so I could vicariously get my fix of autumn activities. Things are quite different here in the UK, though. Sports are different, weather patterns are different, food is different. For example, in addition to the dearth of candy corn (alas!), there is also no hint of pumpkins or pumpkin-flavored things, which I also associate with fall. People don’t decorate with dried corn husks or those cute miniature gourds, and stores don’t have displays of homecoming dresses or miniature candies for Halloween.

On any given day, if you asked me to describe myself, “small-town girl,” “Midwesterner,” and “American” wouldn’t be high on my list. In autumn, though, the drifting of my thoughts reminds me that I am most definitely all three of those things, no matter where I go or what I do. The fall-themed movie that plays in my mind contains just about every American cliche you can think of, from pickup trucks driving down windy country roads, to plaid flannel-wearing men going hunting, to V’s of Canada geese flying above red, yellow, and orange trees. I can practically smell the smoke from the fires my grandparents light in their wood stove, and almost taste the winesap apples my dad faithfully brings home from the farmer’s market throughout the harvest season.

I don’t necessarily feel sad about missing out on all these quintessential American activities, but I suppose that I do feel a bit of wistful nostalgia–not so much about the US in general as about my childhood there. The return to school each autumn heralded the chance to make new friends (and, of course, boyfriends), learn new things, be a different person than I had been when school let out at the start of summer. All these possibilities made me think of fall as quite an exciting season, and I still feel the remnants of that excitement even now. Those positive vibes more than made up for the fact that autumn can actually be quite depressing, what with the plants shutting down and the animals departing and going into hibernation.

As far as I can remember, I have only ever been homesick once in my life–an autumn night during my freshman year in college. I had my window cracked open and could smell that sweet, earthy scent of decaying leaves; every now and then, the sound of a goose’s honking voice would drift up from the pond behind my dorm room. The poignancy of the moment inspired probably the best poem I have ever written, and I can still picture that scene vividly. I find it interesting that I am still, consistently, contemplative at this time of year.

None of this is to say that Britain doesn’t have any charm once September rolls around. In our part of the country, at least, we can look forward to temperatures that are cooler but never very cold; as a result, we often get dramatic fog under conditions that are comfortable enough to allow pleasant walks. This was certainly the case this weekend, which was both the last of summer and the first of fall. Though the town has been swathed in thick mist since early this morning (and soundtracked by the consistent tolling of the foghorn out in the bay), the coastal path was full of people enjoying the dramatic views–or lack thereof. Like me, they were obeying the urge to flock to the shore to see what couldn’t be seen.

It all felt very deep and metaphorical, and I could see more than one set of eyes filled with a far-off look. Maybe I’m being melodramatic because of my own contemplative frame of mind, but it seemed that everyone was pausing, thinking, and remembering. I think that’s just the nature of the season: The beach trips are behind you and the merriment of Christmas is too far ahead of you to seem concrete, and so you are left in a bit of a hinterland. It’s disconcerting, but also fascinating. It reminds me of how it feels to travel to a foreign country: Only when you’re unmoored and working without a safety net (excuse the mixed metaphors) do you learn whether or not you can make it on your own. It’s a bit risky, a bit scary, but also somewhat thrilling.

I guess that means autumn still offers me a feeling of excitement and opportunity, just like it did when I was young. I won’t be running any cross country races or attending any homecoming dances (probably both for the best), but I’m sure there are other adventures waiting. I just need to go see what’s on offer. (Too bad it’s not candy corn.)

Summer comes to Cornwall

Amazingly, we’ve had nearly a solid month of summer here in Cornwall, which must be some sort of record. The sun has been out and the air has been warm, so everybody has been going to the beach. The water, of course, is as cold as ever, so once you’re by the waterfront, you either don a wetsuit in order to go for a swim, or you just hang out on the shore. I generally find the latter option to be both more comfortable and more rewarding, since it not only enables you to avoid the ice cream headache sensation caused by getting frigid seawater on your face, but also allows you to take in the scenery–and when you are visiting the lovely St. Agnes, the scenery is pretty spectacular.
(A gull surveys the shoreline from on high…)
(…but the view was pretty good from my perspective.)
(Here’s the view back towards St. Agnes, and the old tin mining buildings up on the ridge.)
(The beach is always a popular place on sunny days–we were sharing it with many others during this particular visit. Notice how very few people are actually in the water!)
(Many of Cornwall’s beaches are backed by impressive cliffs, and St. Agnes is no exception. If the wind is coming off the water, though, the stone walls don’t offer much protection, so many Brits bring windbreaks and even tents, as you can see in the background here.)
(When you’re at the beach, it is practically mandatory that you take a peek into the rock pools.)
(Underneath all the algae, you can find all sorts of other critters–anemones, shrimps (“prawns”), fish, crabs, and so on.)
(During low tide, you can also see wildlife higher up on the rocks, such as these mussels…)
 (…and these limpets. Also, the rocks themselves are pretty neat–look at all those intricate veins; they are a good reminder of Britain’s volcanic past.)
 (Pro tip: When you go rock pooling, take along a biologist (or three) to help you with species identifications.)
(To escape from the hustle and bustle of the shoreline, you can take a hike up the cliffs and get a new vantage point.)
(It may rain a lot in Cornwall, but not too many places have shorelines as spectacular as this.)
 (Here’s a reminder that there’s more to the seashore than algae and gulls. This little guy is a gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus), and is perched here on what appears to be some dried-up gorse.)
(In direct opposition to the dried brown vegetation in the previous picture is the vibrant coloration of the heather (aka “ling”), shown here with some blooming gorse in the background. Entire hillsides were pink and purple thanks to an abundance of blossoms like these.)

When you pack for a trip for the beach, it’s a good idea to include a camera alongside your sunscreen and wetsuit. Days like this are few and far between down here, so it’s good to snap a few photos that will help cheer you up during the long, dark winter hours–and remind you of what you have to look forward to next spring!

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