Friday, June 08, 2012

Press Release

A unique, multi-faceted journey along the 'Ring of Fire', sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean swells and the unpredictable changeable and stormy Bering Sea. The un-supported duo set a new record in sea kayaking, completing the furthest paddle West from Dutch Harbor on Unalaska to Herbert Island – the last of the ‘Islands of the Four Mountains’. A highly technical challenging trip, involving real risk in a remote location, with maximum exposure to the elements.

ps. a few thoughts from Herbert Island

Continuing would be "just a step too far" for George Shaw. It would be "a big ask of anyone". Content with having journeyed in a variety of tidal waters along the Aleutian Islands, between Unalaska and Herbert Island (in the Islands of the Four Mountains), George is rightly proud of his achievement.

Expedition leader Keirron Tastagh said "the expedition has been very tough mentally and physically, and the decision to complete the paddling at Herbert Island and take the lift offered back to Dutch Harbor, ending the week long siege the kayakers had already endured was "the right one for the team".

Safety on the water

During the planning stage of the Aleutians 2012 Expedition, Keirron and George set out and discussed their personal goals and expectations, the main challenges they envisaged meeting and how the journey could be completed successfully. These discussions then became the themes of the trip itself. Safety was a hot topic and arguable the overall theme, the direction we would approach each interlocking segment from...

As intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be largely guided by goals, and this expedition would likely require the full extent of physical and mental endurance from its athletes, setting an achievable overall goal which reflects the hard nature of the environment, the dynamic nature of expedition paddling, and
a sense of accomplishment through sound judgement was key to our personal safety.

In short the 'right' agreed goal would motivate, challenge and keep real risk to an acceptable level.

"…explore as far as necessary to reach the conclusions we require…"

Having set this as our blueprint, it also communicated a clear message to our sponsors, supporters  and fellow paddlers. The expedition was to explore the Aleutians by sea kayak, up to but not beyond our limits. We had discussed a policy of not requiring emergency assistance, as this would certainly show a lack of judgement and as 'expedition leader', I would deem myself to have failed in my role. This is the same approach we take at Adventurous Experiences. Providing individuals take some responsibility for their own actions, a serious medical condition is possible the only thing we could not anticipate or prevent.

Given the remote location, any immediate issues would have to resolved by ourselves anyway, and the 'snowball stopped and reversed', as emergency aid would take some time to arrive. We prefer to rely on the 'prevention is better than cure' approach. This included;

  • Gathering and tracking down every available bit of information and advice from previous expeditions and related experience in the Bering Sea, particularly the Aleutian Islands. 
  • Reading as many accounts and perspectives of major expeditions as possible, particularly in the colder regions, noting leadership decisions which has effected and impacted upon the expedition. 
  • Ensuring the planner included mental preparation and physical fitness training.
  • Refresh navigation skills and complete the RYA Day Skipper Theory course (through the winter) for external input and to understand the movements of any vessels we might encounter.
  • Swimming regularly in the indoor pool, and when practical in the sea (in wetsuits).
  • Studying regional weather 'patterns' and learning to use a barometer practically.

'Safety' Kit 
Contact Towline
Waist Mounted Sea Towline
ICOM M92D VHF with built in DSC and GPS 
Iridium Satelite Phone
Stand alone GPS and EPIRB units.
(all communications kept watertight in Aquapac and Peli cases)

Most of the above could also be described as emergency kit, depending on how it is used.
The kit which ensured our safety was actually our clothing, cooking and shelter equipment. The process which most decisions were made on was observation and informed weather forecasting. Previous posts have touched on these, the next post will go into these in more detail : )

Given the extensive nature of this, and other post topics, there is enough material to produce a publication (with some pretty pictures) illustrating the whole journey...

Saturday, June 02, 2012

reflection what this next stage of the journey is about.

The physical element of our journey from Dutch Harbor, Unalaska to Herbert Island (the last of the Islands of the Four Mountains) was the primary focus of this Blog.
There is so much more to express.

The kindness of those we met, the support of our sponsors, our families and the positive feelings of everyone following the trip. The internal journey the team are still on...

We'd like to thank all those who touched us with their generosity, hospitality, sponsorship and support.

13 years ago, the seed was planted

Vancouver Island Record in 2007 focused the mind

266 nautical miles
5 weeks in Alaska, 2 weeks prep
12 paddling days, 1 day of rest,
7 days waiting
an immeasurable life experience
our most unforgettable adventure so far...

"the journey is straight, but the path is winding"

As Rob Egelstaff reminded in his farewell email to me just before we set off.

Friday, June 01, 2012


It was 10pm when we saw the first glimmer of a ships mast light blinking through the foggy haze on the horizon...

Completing our final, well rehearsed yet conscious systematic preparations, packing away our thermal jackets, zipping up our Kokatat Expedition drysuits and donning headlamps, buoyancy aids and Snapdragon spray decks. Position the SKUK Explorer sea kayaks just above the surf zone on the boulder beach as the light grew dimmer, observing the timing of the sets steadily pounding the beach.

Rest the Lendal paddles in the cockpit, check the Suunto deck compass is fixed securely with the spare split paddles just in front. The barometer, fastened to my buoyancy aid just above and to the right of the front zip pocket, had been stable at 1017 for the last three hours.

Keeping as clear a deck as possible at all times. Finally clip and adjust our towlines, (previously checking and re-stowed), run through our approach and action plan (again), re-affirming the final sequence... I glance at the pattern of stickers, symbols of our sponsors and support, the vibrant orange and white logo of 'Hopes and Dream's...

At 10:40pm (Alaska time) on Tuesday 29th May 2012 with the anticipated lull in the large swell sets coming in nicely, we both pushed our kayaks into the Bering sea, wading swiftly through the foamy shallows, slippery and uneven underfoot, sat in the cockpit feet either side and delivered the vigorous strokes to take us beyond the beach breakers. George was about a second and half ahead of me and avoided the breaker I took over my open deck.

Outside the immediate danger zone, legs now inside, full contact restored feeling the anticipation and excitement which had been building through the day coursing through my body. We rafted up and I pumped out, a little chilly and we headed for the white light now about a mile away. Side by side in the darkness, natural strong easy paddle strokes, every contact point below deck felt alive and each change of pressure from my feet through my thighs to my buttocks accentuated as the kayaks moved gracefully in the increasing swell.

Darkness had descended fully as we drew along the Port side of the Puk uk, smiling welcoming friends to meet us and help us on-board, a good balance to counter the tall dark lines of the ship, rising falling above us, the ladder touching the sea then rolling high out of reach.
The sequence for boarding worked almost exactly to plan, and soon we were shaking hands, hugging Billy, Colette and Jake, and lashing the kayaks to the dinghy.

(photo by Jake Schmutzler)

And then we were continuing our journey, a new aspect to the trip, another stage in the ongoing adventure, the team a mixture of emotions, but very much a strong team, with added perspectives and experiences to discuss, reflect upon and share with others...


Our whole fleet on the Isle of Man at Adventurous Experiences has Snapdragon decks, cockpit covers, and our coaches and quite a few students use Snapdragon Decks as they they are undoubtable the best.

Snapdragon have supported us for quite a few years, and we're really appreciative. Not only do the decks take a lot of wear and tear, they keep the water out! For the Aleutians 2012 Expedition we used the top spec reinforced EXP decks with implosion bar. We were really glad of the total piece of mind in challenging conditions! Deck covers to keep our paddling kit secure in the cockpit overnight, and the snow out!

Its a pleasure as always!


I've been wearing FiveTen Canyoneer boots for years, both for Coasteering and Kayaking, and we knew we wanted FiveTen SAR Boots for this expedition, plus the folks at FiveTen sent us a couple of t-shirts and a pair of Guide Tennie shoes each, they are so cool. 
The SAR boots were exceptional, scrambling round the snow covered rocks (pretty chilly), getting photos and footage, and landing through the surf zone hauling the loaded kayaks up the boulder beaches, and the occasional hike up the volcanos above camp. I'm well impressed!

Herbert Island...

... for 7 day!
Since we've had time to look around, here's a few pics;
a Sea Lion haul-out on a reef offshore
had a little hike up the Volcano, to get a view and see what there was to see. Herbert has so much volcanic debris, and formations from the harsh environment, quite barren. But occasionally, the mist would clear, and blue sky appear, then it looked great.
A Sea Otter doing backstroke across the bay in front of the tent. Due to the protected nature of the boulder beach we camped on, the sea often looked fine, so a quick look from the higher slopes would identify the conditions off-shore, and the on-going wind...
sheltered that is, from a lot of the wind, except the occasional Willawaw dropping on the tent on the first night, and some days later, the storm predicted came in, and blew 50 knots! 

As the tent (and half loaded kayaks it was attached to) blew across the boulders, me and George wrestled with our worldly possessions, the tide coming higher, rain lashing down. Finally got it re-positioned, back against the cliff, and huddled inside listening to the storm raging. Next morning, it had calmed a little and we could survey the scene.
The seal population watched us daily, and played in the surf : )
Fascinating to watch them, and the Sea Lions patrolling daily, observing us.
Plenty of time for contemplation, watching the small weather windows, the strong cross currents and unpredictable wind, and our slowly diminishing food supply : )
Billy's boat was due to pass on the 28th or 29th, heading back towards Dutch Harbor.

Sea Kayaking UK & Lendal

Our expedition kayaks from Sea Kayaking UK, and carbon Lendal Paddles have performed outstandingly well as usual! : ) George has the Explorer HV (to fit his big feet in) and i've a standard Explorer. Both were straight off the shelf stock boats with no special modifications. We had external keel strips applied prior to shipping out to Alaska.
Every hatch was not only watertight, despite heavy use, the skegs have now the bendy wire and setup which allowed us to hit the beach with skegs down (accidentally in the surf) realise our mistake, clear the skeg box and they worked perfectly!

Nige, they are brilliant!

The Lendal Paddles were a delight to use, and we've certainly put them through their paces. I've been paddling with Kinetic 600's for a while now, and George uses Kinetic 650's. Both carbon blades with the new production modified shafts, 4 piece padlock. Look pretty cool too : 0
Keirron & George

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Islands of the Four Mountains

Sea Kayaking to, between and around the Islands of the Four Mountains was the most breathtaking, stage of the journey so far.
The Aleutian Islands opened the gates for us and allowed us to pass into what has to be one of the most exposed, daunting, spiritual and beautiful places in the world.
As a paddler, this is the pinnacle and our window of opportunity allowed us to view the raw nature in this extreme environment, in tranquil calm, for at least an hour and half!
A quick break off the water as we watched the whole sky clear, with vivid blue encompassing everywhere...
Those photo's (and our other best shots and and footage) are being saved for the presentation and publications

We just could not believe our luck!  
52 nautical miles one day, and some excessive currents (rarely in our favour), pushing ourselves to the absolute limit, Nikolski to Adugak Island, spot some puffins eat a meal then over to Kagamil Island, round to the Steam Jets and caves... across over to Chuginadak Island by 10pm, up the coast to camp for darkness at 11pm.

A more regular distance the following day spending plenty of time exploring, taking pictures, and just bathing in the sunlight...
Our second sunset of the expedition took place as we ate our Mountain House freeze dried meals, on Herbert Island, Wednesday 23rd May..
Wondering how long our luck would last, we made plans for another pushing day on the Thursday, the forecast through from Karel Vissel sounded a little challenging, but we'd see in the morning.

Keirron & George


Kitted out in our Kokatat Expedition drysuits, with Ronin Pro PFD's we had the best possible protection from the Bering Sea, as always an absolute pleasure to wear. Practically and psychologically, a massive part of the expedition, absolutely watertight. I've been paddling Kokatat for over 12 years now, and i'm continuously impressed with the cut and performance.
The modern hood and baffle system on the expedition suits were perfect. Allowing a large range of vision with warmth and complete protection, we're extremely impressed (and thankful)!

We also used the Kokatat Storm Cag daily at breaks, and initially on the water too when conditions were particularly adverse. Immediate warmth. The paddling jackets were a great asset on land, and so light to wear.  Without a doubt a drysuit is one of the most essential pieces of kit for training and journeying in intermediate and advanced sea conditions, for both safety and comfort.



We been using Suunto deck compass since Vancouver Island 2007 Expedition, where Leon Somme also fitted a red LED for us, well used during that record circumnavigation. The deck compass was essential for the continuous crossings and varying visibility during this Aleutians 2012 Expedition, and the stunning Suunto Core watches with Barometer, thermometer, compass... invaluable in monitoring the pressure systems and giving early warning of incoming storms.
Paddling comfortably (perhaps swiftly would be a more accurate term) from Nikolski with a high pressure of 1028 for a period, we knew that we needed to make absolute use of this 'unheard-of' window in the rapidly changing patterns we had experienced.

Camped on Herbert Island, the storm warning went off frequently through what seemed another potential crossing day... Our Suunto Core watches allowed us to balance up what conditions were forecast, what we could see, and what we could expect...
The pressure kept dropping rapidly, eventually levelling at 972, it also gave us something to focus on, apart from huddling in the tent, as the wind and lashing rain did its best to rip us from our hide!

One of the main pieces of advice given to us both by Nigel Dennis, get a barometer and start using it. I'm very happy to share that piece of knowledge with everyone who has not made this discovery.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Waiting it out

It's been a very windy and wet few days in the Aleutian Islands, and I can only imagine the bilge pump visible on George's back deck in some of his photos has come in handy in the tent.

The weather is improving (or about to - small craft advisory persists through Wednesday night) somewhat, though of course sea state takes a while longer to lose energy. Here's a shot of that big low pressure system moving east (mbar pressure).

And isocontours of sea state (in meters) following along.
Quick review of "Significant wave height" since there is at least one oceanography class following along. As it says in the top left corner of the diagram, this is an average of the highest third of the waves. Out where the wave heights are big this means the largest third of the waves averages 9,5 meters -- 31 feet -- suggesting maximum wave heights might reach 12,5 to 13 m (43 feet).

Fortunately along the islands where we're focused the significant wave height is 3 m and dropping, suggesting a maximum height of 4 meters (13 feet).

The Puk-Uk has been checking in with the guys from time to time as they ferry scientists and other passangers between Adak and Dutch, once I have an update of course I will post it here.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunday night/Monday weather prognosis: more wind, rain

A second low pressure cell replaces the first. From "Alaska Weather" TV channel:


Update 2012-05-28 04:36 CEST: just got a note from Keirron, and all is well within the Islands of the Winds. Sounds like it's a very good thing they have a proper tent on this adventure!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

982 mb low just off the Aleutians

Looks like the high winds peak today or tomorrow as the low pressure system moves 100 NM west of Unalaska by Monday afternoon. For now a gale warning remains through the region, and I'm seeing gusts to 55 knots recorded from nearby weather stations.

The sea state will continue to be pretty significant for days after the system blows through. Meanwhile ... good hiking George and Keirron.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Horrendous horizons revisited

About an hour and a half after my last post Keirron SMSd that they are, in fact, pinned on Herbert Island at the same scenic campsite they found back on the 23rd. So, optimism corrected, here is a picture of their likely hang-out for the next few days.

The winds, true to form and namesake, are pretty stout and forecast to last another five days (after which time the sea state will still be huge). This low pressure system might peak late this weekend; here is Karel's forecast Sunday:

sun mrng noon sse to se 30 to 45 knts aft se 30 to 45 knts gusts 45 to 50 knts seas 3 to 4.50 mtr frm sw

These forecasts are usually for open ocean; locally on the islands these winds can accelerate, or, with large enough temperature gradient, become the katabatic winds (as George calls them "special winds") they encountered the first day out from Dutch Harbor.

We'll keep the updates coming as we get them, but look for this green pin not to move for a bit.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Horrendous horizons

No word yet from Yunaska Island where G&K were targeting to spend last night, but it's normal not to get a daily update. They were camped on the very tip of Herbert Island, collecting more amazing photos, hoping for a couple more crossings before the weather turns. Here comes today's guess - possibly optimistic - at progress:

The nearby research ship M/V Tiglax (TEKH-lah - Aleut for eagle), on hearing Keirron and George were westbound from Herbert, had this reply (in economical-but-hard-to-read CamelCase SMS code):

They have most excellent connections! And that "SE30" the message mentions at the end? Here comes a stout low pressure system (as Karel has been forecasting):

Yesterday the wind began swinging counter-clockwise around the dial from the east and northeasterlies, then blowing from the NNE, and today they have come up gusting to 25 knots from the northwest. The swell is 1 to 2 meters from the northeast still, but that will follow wind direction soon.

Birthplace Of The Winds, indeed.