Posted by: paddle4mentawais | December 11, 2010

Official Invite!

Would you like to be involved in the Paddle for the Mentawais – Yas Island Challenge?

I’m looking for people to take on the challenge as individuals, or as part of a relay. It is about 20km around Yas Island, so I reckon that is about 4-5hours of paddling. The job will involve finding sponsors to support yourself or your team to get around the island. That way the sponsorship can be pooled and contributed to SurfAid.

I will be talking to some people today about finding some SUPs for paddlers who don’t have access to them and organising some practice paddles so that everybody gets a chance to build up their skills and endurance. The plan will be to build up slowly, but purposefully. There is a paddle this afternoon at the 19th St Beach on the Bateen side this afternoon with the Abu Dhabi SUP club if anyone wants to come down and have a look or try out a board. Just go to the lights at the end of 19th St (Western end), turn left and you will see a beach on the right beside the road. You should see us there, we kind of stick out a bit!

If so contact me through the comment facility below. (It gets sent to my email, so I will receive it and get back to you asap).

I’d love to have you aboard!

Posted by: paddle4mentawais | December 9, 2010

The Next Challenge!

Yesterday I was invited to speak at the  American Community School in Abu Dhabi about the National Day Paddle. The Grade 9 and 10s gave up their break to listen to me speak. I was really impressed by the their attention, especially when shown the images of the conditions in the Mentawais. THe theme of the talk was based on explaining the issue and taking action. Many thanks to Haje and Anne for inviting me!

During the talk I announced the next step towards achieving the fund raising goal: To organise a group/relay paddle around Yas Island on the 21st or 22nd of January next year. Already I have a group who have put themselves forward. If you are interested, get in touch quick using the comment facility on the blog. While I would like as many people as possible to be on the Paddle, numbers will be limited by the numbers of boards available. I know we can organise some from a few places, but I’m not sure exactly how many. First in first served

Yas Island looks to be about 20km around and most of it will be in protected waters, so wind shouldn’t be too much of an issue. The timing will depend on the tides, although it shouldn’t be as much of an issue as the big island. It should take about 3-5 hours and we already have some offers of support crew to look after paddlers. (Thanks!)

I’m hoping to get people who have never paddled before to get a group together and form a relay team. While more confident/expereinced paddlers can have a go at the whole trip. To get a feel, I will be trying to organise some practice paddles soon. Get in touch if you would like to find out more. (Post a comment below. It will come to my email before being posted on the site).

Also, could I ask you to please click on the links to the newspaper stories in the Links section. This will let them know this story is of interest and hopefully we will get more follow up stories. Not to mention, for those of you on Facebook, the SurfAid International page. If you like the page and then also the post they did on our first Paddle that will help get the message out there. Of all of the hits on this blog, (over 500 now), the majority have been linked from Facebook.

The current tally is getting close to 10 000 Dirham. I will be collecting from a few places tomorrow before sending off the first collective donation tomorrow afternoon. Thanks again to all who have contributed!

Posted by: paddle4mentawais | December 4, 2010

More plans?

More on that later.

I forgot to mention that one of my experiments with the Paddle was to see how much my weight changed, before and after. I started on 98.2kg. During the Paddle I consumed 6l of water, 990ml of Pocari Sweat, two chicken, avocado and cheese sandwiches. After the Paddle I had two 33oml beverages and a serve of fish and chips. I probably had a few more drinks of water before weighing myself again to record 95.7kg. Most of that is now back…

I have come up with some more plans to keep rolling along. I’ll have to check a few things first, however it will probably involve paddling around something…

Thanks for checking out the blog and hopefully donating to a good cause. (Please let me know if you do donate so I can keep tabs on our target. Thanks).

Posted by: paddle4mentawais | December 3, 2010

The Details

Pirates Ahoy!

Officially, comprehensively and obviously no further to paddle.

"Look, I love you, I really do, but I have been on this board for about 11hrs today. Can I please get off now?"

Smiles of relief

Real smiles. Can you spot the difference?

To read this epic and brilliantly written tale, you must visit the SurfAid website. It is your choice to donate or not, but I reckon you will feel better if you do! Just one click for the satisfying feeling of helping out people in the Mentawais.

Total Distance: 65km

Total Time: 13hrs 6mins 11.58secs  (the 58 100ths could be important for record claims!) And we claim the WORLD RECORD for a circumnavigation of Abu Dhabi…

Injuries: 11 blisters, lost feeling in finger tips of left hand, (slowly returning, and hopefully not a stroke beckoning) and general soreness all over. (What a surprise!)

Every other time we have been to Le Meridian, we have had little trouble in finding a park. You would expect at 1.45 in the morning this would be even easier. But no, it was packed and we had to park quite the walk away. It felt a bit strange to walk past a ‘pumping’ nightclub full of revellers while we were on our way out into the night…

We set off at about quarter past 2 yesterday morning. At that point the (quarter) moon was only just beginning to rise, although there was plenty light from the surrounding areas for us to see reasonably well. The first obstacle was a bridge between reclaimed land to the Reem Island development. The last time I was at the hotel, it was a wide open waterway. While the bridge itself wasn’t an obstacle, a floating trash barrier certainly was. The first one had a gap we could push through with a bit of effort, while the second required a dismount into waist deep water and sinking ankle deep into silty mud.

It was a bit a bit breezy, so we stuck to paddling in the lee of the shore as much as possible on the first stretch up to the Saadiyat Island Bridge. Once we turned out to go under the bridge we felt the wind in our faces for the first, but definitely not the last, time. The tide was slack, (like a student I once knew!), and we made reasonably good time until we hit the more open part as the channel mouth opens past the new Louvre. It was a bit lumpy, bumpy and disorganised, (like a teacher I once knew…)

The water conditions in themselves probably weren’t all that bad, however the fact the lumps and bumps were coming out of the pitch black meant you could not see them before you felt them. We had a short break in the lee of the outside breakwall to prepare for the real open water. We headed off around the corner sitting on the boards and using kayak paddles. There is a part of me that wanted to be ‘traditional’ about the trip, but sometimes you just have to be practical. As I tell my students, “sometimes tradition is a ay of explaining things that really don’t make sense”. And it is still a paddle, it’s not like we strapped on 150hp outboard motor is it?

It was a slog. Wind over the right shoulder, waves coming from the right at a 45 degree angle and then bouncing back off the breakwall and hitting us from the left. I suspect the tide was also pushing against us too. It certainly didn’t help much if it was with us. I was fighting trying to keep my board heading away from the breakwall because of the luggage box I had strapped to the front. It is about the size of a milk crate and covered in mesh, which acted like a mini sail pushing the nose towards the breakwater. While my troubles were countered by a stronger left hand paddle stroke, Harold was dealing with other issues.

He was paddling my board which has some different characteristics. It doesn’t track so well, meaning that it is tricky to keep  going in a straight line in normal conditions. In these conditions it was skating around all over the place. The other factor is that the nose is wide and blunt. This means that on-coming waves that hit it literally stop it making forward progress. This was pretty much the only time on the whole trip he was behind me.

In the dark, the only thing we could see on the water was our navigation lights. I’d paddle until I couldn’t hear his paddle hitting the water, then slow up, check for his light, wait for a bit and offer words of encouragement (“Hah, you call that paddling”). I didn’t actually say that. Now, it seems the sort of amusing thing that you could say to relieve the stress. At the time it could have resulted in being hit over the head with a paddle…

We made a left turn  around the western end of the breakwall heading towards Lulu Island. To our great joy we were able to get some run with the waves without the backwash and zipped across the channel in short order. The view of the city from this angle at night is amazing. The buildings are dressed up for National Day. For those who don’t live here, almost every building along the Corniche is draped in lights making the UAE flag, sparkling like diamonds and just generally looking, well, amazing. If anyone is interested in a leisurely night paddle while the lights are up, let me know!

I’d like to say I impressed Harold with my navigation skills in hitting the edge of the wall in pitch black. The actual event took place like this. “There should be a breakwall here somewhere. Oh, there it is!” Best of all we didn’t have to paddle any further than we had to. Straight lines are best when paddling and with my ‘skills’ we hit went straight to the exact right spot. Ta dah!

By this stage, 2hrs into the trip, I had been hit by 3 garfish and Harold had one flapping on his deck. That’s about enough for a decent breakfast! The trick is, in not squealing like a girl when a fishy missile comes out of the dark and hits you. One of the Piscean terrorists made a valiant attempt to swim up board shorts resulting in the most of those afore-mentioned girly squeals.

Folding the kayak paddles away, we took advantage of being out of the wind and zipped up to the Marina Mall end of the island for a short break at about 5am. Then it was in and around the giant flagpole and under the causeway. The bridge has a pipe across the water which we only just scraped through and I mean scraped. My backpack was touching as I lay on my belly. We hugged the shoreline out to the right and then went across, thankfully comparatively mild, openwater in front of Emirates Palace to the Musaffah Channel. I was a bit disappointed they had turned off the laser light show. It would make a pretty spectacular sight from the water I suspect.

As we turned in to the channel, I was cutting the corner and the front half of the board got caught in an eddy, and pulled to the left, while the back half was in the current and kept going straight and to the right. So it was a less than dignified entrance to the next phase of the journey as I flapped about trying to stay on top of the board rather than swimming. At this point we were hitting waypoints right on my predicted timings. With the wind at our backs, the tide pushing us and feeling fresh we were flying along at about 9km an hour. It was also at this point I got a bit scared. It was about here that I asked Harold about paddling the Molokai Channel in a dragonboat and found out he was also a member of the Canadian Dragonboat team…

Here I am with half a brain and a hare-brained scheme, thinking it would be nice to have someone with “some paddling experience” come along. I’d would have an excuse to slow down and cruise along a bit. Now I find out I am on the water with a paddle monster! I thought I would be able to give him a few tips on technique and cruise along. At this point, I had a good look at his style. Smooth, minimal, fluid and powerful. The dude has skills and I ended up adjusting my technique….

We made it down to 19th St Beach for another break to be met by the Martin-Parkinson family and a distinct lack of the promised sandwiches, water and wife. The support crew was caught by every traffic light on the way, which was OK as we had a little bit longer off our boards. You have no idea how encouraging it was to have people meet us at these breaks. We also had our first and only touch of the hysteria surrounding the journey when a French couple asked for a photo with us. Move over Paris, Lindsay and Britney!

Off again and by now the wind had turned offshore, which as we all know is great for surfers. But not so good for paddlers heading inshore. The tide was still helping and we made it down to the Officers Club and turned into the channel to head around under the 3 bridges. Here, the water was pushing against us, although the wind had dropped so it was smooth, albeit slow, paddling. A bigger crew was there to meet us under the Maqta Bridge. Big thanks to the Turner boys and Dad, Kristina and Alan, Tania and Kira (Harold’s family), Fiona, and of course, Super Lucy and my boys. It was very humbling to have so many people take time out of their day to encourage and support us. Even if we were not really capable of carrying out a decent conversation. (We are much better in more formal social situations and before we have paddled for 9 hours).

As the tide was rushing through the wrong way, we had a long break of about an hour. As it turned out this was the last break on land until we got back to the hotel. When we did head off we were fighting the tide and wind. At least the tide turned as we got out past the desalination plant. But the long run up to the turn back to the port was wind directly in our faces the whole way. The geography teacher part of my brain theorised that the wind was caused by the hot air raising over the land and the cool air being sucked over the water making it as hard as possible. The paddling part of my brain was just cursing it. Over and over and over…

Last week when I practice paddled this stretch, it didn’t seem far at all. I suspect it doubled in length in 5 days. We turned once more into the wind. How you can make a 70 degree left turn and still have the wind in your face is beyond me. We paddled up a short-cut channel past a nice little house. Looked like someone had a nice holiday at the Bora-Bora Resort (Tahiti?) and decided to make an exact copy for themselves. Of the whole resort. I’m not kidding, it was impressive. But not as much as the sleek, shark-like 150ft (it was probably bigger) motor cruiser. Now I know rationally that the chance of what I am about to describe are slim, this is where my mind was at the time. When I looked at the boat, the windows, from a distance seemed to spell “BEER BEER”. I swear this is true. I didn’t want to ask Harold, just in case it wasn’t true.

Once we got into the main channel between the port and Yas Island the tide was helping us when we got into the deeper water. Interestingly, but probably only for geography nerds, the water on the windward side of the channel was quiet smooth because the water in the middle was moving faster and trapping the chop. On the other hand the smooth water was slow paddling because it was shallow and friction slows it down. So it was out in the bumpy chop because when you are heading down the back straight of a paddle around an island the best way is the fastest way.

The bridge to Saadiyat Island seemed a long way away. Then we could make out trucks going across. And not long after cars. The highrises in the city got bigger and before we knew it we were cutting back into the channel we started from. About 1.5km to go. Tidal flow was making for some tricky cross-currents, if it wasn’t directly against us. The final hurdles to face were the trash barriers and the aggressive tide pushing through the narrow gap under the bridge to Reem Island. Dismount, up and over, struggle through the on-coming water to the next barrier and then the final stretch back to the Le Meridian hotel. That bit was easy!

That might have been a result of the welcoming committee yelling support. Thank goodness sound travels over water. Thanks to the McKeoghs, Carneys, Wendy Fullerton (all the way from Australia, nice effort!), Kristina, Allan and Fiona (again), and our families. The extra distance was worth it to have access to a couple of cool beverages in short order. There is a photo which I do believe shows the first genuine smile after we finished. Any smiles previous to that were of relief.

I can’t say enough about the help and support we received along the way or to Harold for joining the expedition. He pushed me to keep going and made the trip much more endurable and entertaining. To do that on as little specific training as he had was incredible. I enjoyed the conversations we had as well as the “companionable silence”. I liked that we could put our heads down and paddle to our own rhythm while keeping an eye on each other as well. A real team effort all the way around!

Some quotes from the day.

“Eeeeek!” (2 hour mark) as a fish tried to swim up my shorts

“Does it hurt?” “Only when you put the paddle in the water”  (6 hour mark)

“How can I help?” “Convince him to stop now” (10 hour mark)

“Is my back meant to make crunchy noises?” (10 hour mark)

“Is it just me or we have had the wind in our faces most of the way?” “Yeah mate, but anyone could do it the ‘easy’ way” (13 hour mark)

Posted by: paddle4mentawais | December 2, 2010


Who the heck came  up with that idea?????

More to follow, I’m a little tired at the moment….

Posted by: paddle4mentawais | December 2, 2010

The Maqta Bridge

At 10:30 the boys arrived at the Maqta Bridge to a small welcoming committee (of Fiona, Tania, Kira, Kristina and Allan, The Turner family boys and the remaining Yules).

They were pretty cactus. And basically just collapsed under the bridge for an hour or so. The tide was just about to turn and was running pretty fast in the wrong direction.

The classic line was from Harold. Tania asked whether she could do anything for him and his response was “convince Russell to stop!” Sandwiches were consumed, massages were given, ibuprofen were swallowed and then they were on their way again. Estimated time of arrival at Le Meredian is now between 3 and 4pm.

Russell arriving at Maqta Bridge

Heading for the shade for some well deserved rest

Harold psyching himself up for departure.

Off they go with the Grand Mosque in the background.

Past the fort at Maqta Bridge.

Harold and the Sheikh Zayed Bridge

Posted by: paddle4mentawais | December 2, 2010

The front stretch

"Grrr" see the testoserone oozing from their bodies and the (skull and cross bones look)

The boys arrived at the 19th street beach at about 8:00 am.  They reported that the wind was indeed strong and they had to sit for most of it. There were apparently lots of fish jumping and Harold said that one jumped up on his board and flopped about a bit. Russell had the same but his fish tried to go up his boardies leg! He still had scales stuck to his leg.

Russell reported that ‘it only hurts when his paddle hits the water’ but they both seem to be faring well. With the main soreness being between the shoulder blades. Can’t wait to see those sexy back muscles! 31 km over… hmmm could be more than 60km… urrrgh

Thank you to the Martin -Parkinson family who came with flags and loud cheering. And to the anonymous French couple who came to support Russell and Harold with kind words of encouragement. All of whom beat Russell’s very slack wife who turned up late…. Mind you, I did bring toasted cheese, avocado and chicken sandwiches which Harold said was “the best sanga’s he’s ever tasted”. Thanks Harold!

Their next stop is under the Maqta bridge at around 10.30am. If you can make it we would love to have a cheer squad. They are planning to arrive back at the meredian at 2 ish in the afternoon if you would like to come and meet them and celebrate their marathon effort. The more the merrier. Also check out page 6, of the National with the nice pic and blurb about Russell’s (and Harold’s) quest!

Bye 19th street.

Maqta Bridge here we come.

Posted by: paddle4mentawais | December 1, 2010

They’re Off!

off we go

All went off without a hitch. A slight breeze was beginning to whip up but they had kayak paddles in case they need to sit down to reduce wind resistance. I hope to meet them at 19th st beach at about 7am. It was unbelieveably crazy at the Le Meredian car park couldn’t find a park anywhere at 2am! Maybe  just don’t get out enough. Lucy

Securing the supplies

Posted by: paddle4mentawais | December 1, 2010

It’s Happening!

More things have evolved over the past couple of days since the last update. Interviews with local and national papers including an, (ahem), photo shoot at the Maqta Bridge. Let’s just say that my modelling career will probably head in the Bell full-face helmet direction. The word is The National newspaper will publish the story today or tomorrow and Abu Dhabi Week will have a story this week too.

In my previous post, I mentioned an un-named friend who had helped me out in a big way. I would like to announce that HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan has assisted by lending me one of his personal boards. After taking it for a quick practice paddle I can defintely say this board is more suitable, hopefully making the paddle easier and to keep going in a straighter line.

I would also like to announce I will be joined on the paddle by Harold Shim. I teach his daughter, Kira, in my class at Raha International School. Harold is an experienced paddler having made a crossing of the Molokai Channel in an outrigger canoe. He has a keen interest in keeping fit, regularly paddling a surfski when he gets a chance. Harold is also a doctor which might be handy for the other guy he is paddling with. I hope I don’t hold him back too much!

Also, the official starting point is confirmed as the Meredian Hotel in the Tourist Club Area. This is a great place to start and finish because it is close to the port, without having to go past it twice. And it means that the merry band of welcomers my wife Lucy has collected can hangout at the Hotel for a while if we are late coming in. It’s not the worst place to be in Abu Dhabi by a long shot. The other important point is that I might take a little while and I think there are one or two places that I would like to recuperate at.  If you would like to be part of that group, come on down to the Captains Arms where the group will probably be awaiting the return sometime between 12 and 2. A big thanks to Nemo for helping out with that!

I am hearing of lots of new, and old, friends who have made donations through the SurfAid website (linked on this page to the right). To those, I say many thanks for your effort in making me feel this is worthwhile and I hope you get the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from helping people in need. The support we have received is overwhelming and I hope we  do you proud on the day.

I have added a few articles to the Blogroll to the right there. These are people who have inspired me to have a go. Check them out!

15 hours to kick off!

Posted by: paddle4mentawais | November 29, 2010

Good news!

Practice paddle at sunrise, Eastern end of island.
Woke up on Saturday to start paddling just after 6am from the Maqta Bridge. I wanted to kick off earlier, however the tide was not responding to my reasonable request. Even with the late start, it was still heading the wrong way for me when I set off. Planty of friendly sea life getting around on this paddle. Garfish are schooling up and do these marlin like runs across the top of the water although some re-enter the water more gracefully than others. I guess their friends are calling them kooks when they get back to hanging out.

I was followed by a bream looking fish for about 500m. The hunter hunted. It was nice to have company anyway. One day soon, I am going to take a rod  out and give these waters a try. Also had a turtle come up within paddle whacking distance, had I felt the need to whack a turtle gopher style. I didn’t. (Just in case PETA is listening…)

Anyway, it was easy to make good speed, even though the tide was small and short one, only 30cm  and 4hrs from high to low. For those with an interest, this is to do with water moving into the Arabian Gulf and not being able to get back out before the next tide pushes in. The following tide then has an excess which pushes out and means there are 4 and 7 hour tide cycles as well as steep vriations in tides one time and flat ones the next. On Thursday, I will be paddling in the longer tide cycle. Smart eh?

It took about 4hrs of fairly relaxed paddling to get to the Port, where I had a short break before getting out into open water around the front of the northern tip of the island. And that’s when it got tough.Just when I got out into the open ocean, 3 mates from the Falcons Aussie Rules Club headed over for a chat before they headed out for some fishing and wake-boarding on their boat. How do you think that felt to know they were going to be having fun, while I had already been paddling for 5 hours and had another who knows how long to go???

I hope they had as much fun as I did. There was wind coming straight at me, waves from the right that then bounced off the retaining wall of the port, so I was getting hit from both sides. Also, there was the wake from boats. Little boats, big boats, patrol boats, barges and container ships. Not to mention the tide had changed and was now heading back in, when I wasn’t. It was short, sharp and as choppy as a New Zealand abbatoir. Up until that point I was making about 6km an hour. It took me over an hour to make it about 3km through this mess and back to flat/protected waters. While I always respected the Molokai/open water dudes, new found admiration…

Once inside the breakwall protecting Lulu Island, progress was much easier, even against the tide. Paddling up close to the wall, to avoid the wind more than anything, gave a good perspective on how fast you are realy moving. When you are further out on the water, the visual references we usually measure our pace at aren’t always obvious. Against the wall it is right there in your face! the last little push across the channel to the Marina, near the imaginatively titled Marina Mall, was unprotected although only about 500m. As I paddled past the luxury yachts of all shapes and sizes, reflecting on the aches in shoulders, back, stomach, knees and other places that didn’t seem important, I also pondered the vast chasm between the lives of the people who owned these amazing boats and those in the Mentawais. It became very clear to me that we, who choose this lifestyle have  a reponsibility to help those who don’t. The other thought that popped into my addled brain as I paddled past a 120ft sleek, shark like ‘motor cruiser’ was that if you wanted to circumnavigate Abu Dhabi Island, a  120ft sleek, shark like ‘motor cruiser’ was probably a good option.

The good news? Well, I am now slightly more than reasonably confident I can make it around the island in one go. It will mean leaving very early in the morning to avoid the tides and boat traffic around the front/ocean side of the island on the National Day Holiday. However that will also mean I get back to the starting point earlier! And, I have been lent a larger, more floaty paddleboard by an, at this point un-named ‘friend’. (Thanks to Mark Anning for setting that up!)

Things are looking good. I am planning to set off from the Tourist Club Area (hoping to confirm a definite site today) at about 1.30-2am. From there a quick zip out around the front, then up inside the breakwall to Marina Mall, around Emirates Palace, down to the new bridge to the south, past ADNEC and Sheikh Zayed Sports Stadium, under the Musaffah, Maqta and Sheikh Zayed Bridges, out to the main shipping lane back to the Tourist Club Area. Sounds like a breeze. A 12 hour breeze…

If anyone would like to join me, I’d love to have company for any part of the trip. Stay tuned for more updates!

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