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Kirkwall Kayak Club was first set up in the Spring of 1973, as a club based at Kirkwall Grammar School.
John Mowat had, along with some other student teachers, joined the Northern College (now Aberdeen University) Kayaking Club in the late 60s. Club activities were based at Stonehaven on Saturdays and Sundays from April to July. Thereafter he continued kayaking and attended three summer residential Coaching Courses between 1970 and 1972 to obtain Sea Kayaking Coaching qualifications based in Stonehaven and Oban.
When he came to work at Kirkwall Grammar School in August 1972, Kirkwall Swimming Pool had just opened.
And the the number of people able to swim soon increased greatly.
Kenny Meason, while teaching at Stromness Academy, in the early 1970s had built a few glass reinforced plastic Skua sea kayaks and pool trainers, from a mould. On leaving Stromness in 1973 these kayaks, a mould and an old trailer became available. John as the only other kayaking coach in Orkney, at the time was delighted to take responsibility for them. These plus a mixture of home made wooden and GRP kayaks formed the basis of the fleet.
John has now been been kayaking for over forty years and has held British Canoe Union (BCU) coaching qualifications for thirty eight years. All kayaking coaches must attend kayak coach updating courses, every three years to maintain their qualifications.
Kirkwall Grammar School decided to run afternoon sports activities on Wednesday afternoons. Initially, about ten people opted for kayaking. From these early beginnings, pool training and kayaking in Kirkwall Bay started with strong support from the then Headmaster William Thomson and Deputy Head, George Blance.
Over the next few years 8 pool trainer kayaks and some more Skua sea kayaks were built. Unlike today, there were very few sea kayaks on the market which one could buy.
In the early days, relatively few people could swim, but this changed over the next few years, as young people and adults learned to swim in the warm waters of a swimming pool.
Kirkwall Boys Brigade were active in the 70s and 80s. Each year 10 to 12 boys did badge qualifications in pool and sea kayaking. The sea kayaking took place in KirkwallBay on Saturday or Sunday mornings during the summer months. These boys were physically fit, keen and made rapid progress. Boys Brigade members are trained to march in a straight line, during parades. They were even able to paddle in formation, in a straight line, across Kirkwall Bay.
Until the advent of ro-ro ferries North Isles pupils from Sanday, Stronsay, Eday, Westray and Papa Westray based at Papdale Halls, the school Hostel, rarely got home during term time. A group of these pupils also did some kayaking, pool training in winter and paddling in Kirkwall Bay or from Scapa beach during the summer. Again a keen competent group of young kayakers resulted.
During the 1970s and 80s a number of Skua and Sea King grp kayaks were built by club members , for club use. Adult members were encouraged to make their own kayaks from these moulds.
Making GRP (glass fibre) kayaks is a lengthy, skilled but messy process. Suitable sheds and garages were needed. These had to be watertight, well ventilated and have suitable benches and tables to set the moulds upon.
By 1980 there was a large nucleus of young adults who had done some kayaking, forming the basis of the club as we know it today.
Just over 20 years ago, a number of mostly English companies began to manufacture a variety of grp kayaks based on the design of kayaks used by the Inuit for hundreds of years in Greenland and Eastern Canada . Companies such as Valley Canoe Products, P & H Kayaks, and North Shore Kayaks, became well known. Nowadays, their models are also available in polythene. Polythene is a more durable material which can withstand rougher treatment, without damage. it is a matter of personal preference depending on where and by whom the kayaks are used.
For a number of years we were able to make use of the Army Youth Team of outdoor activities instructors who came to Orkney for a week, offering canoeing, kayaking rock climbing and other outdoor activities. They provided excellent instruction and leadership, free of charge. Schools, youth organisations and army cadets all benefitted from their presence.
The Youth Team also offered 3 or 4 day camps in outdoor activities in North and West Scotland, Durness, Ullapool, Loch Ness etc,) in May, June or September. Many young people attended these camps. Unfortunately cutbacks in army funding has lead to the demise of these army youth teams.
Their presence is nowadays confined to running outdoor activities at army cadet summer camps.
Many adult members started kayaking when attending KirkwallGrammar School and have since maintained their interest. In some cases young people have been instrumental in introducing their parents to kayaking. Some members have had previous experience of kayaking before coming to live and work in Orkney.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the club did a lot of fund raising to buy eight polythene pool training kayaks and six new grp kayaks along with twelve plastic multi purpose polythene kayaks. This enabled more experienced club members to undertake more advanced trips to the north and south isles, including overnight camping trips. Since then a few more new kayaks have been purchased, while some older ones are no longer used.
By the early 90s a number of kayak clubs and individual kayakers started to visit Orkney during the summer, on a regular basis. Caithness Kayak Club from Wick, Pentland Kayak Club from Thurso and others from South East and West Central Scotland have been regular visitors. Increasingly visiting kayakers from , Holland, and further afield have been discovering Orkney.
The Orkney Islands provide an excellent variety of trips suitable for beginners and more experienced paddlers. Scapa Beach, Kirkwall Bay, Inganess Bay, Waulkmill Bay and the Bay of Firth are sheltered and excellent places for beginners to gain experience. Ideally roads and car parks provide good access to beaches or slipway, thus making ideal launch sites.
During the summer months, Club Members have been meeting up on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and for longer trips on Sundays. Long daylight hours from mid May to mid August allow a variety of trips; Kirkwall to Thieves Holm, across the String to Shapinsay and back, Barrier Four to Rose Ness and back, Dingieshowe to Newark or Rose Ness and back, Skaill in Deerness to the Gloup, Mull Head and back, East Side, South Ronaldsay to Windwick and back, trips from Toab to Rerwick Head and back, Ness, Stromness to Graemsay and Hoy or the Bay of Ireland and back, Houton to Cava and back, Tingwall to Kirkwall etc.
Longer trips are sometimes done on Saturdays or Sundays.
In July 2007 an overnight camping trip from Tingwall to Gairsay took place, returning to Tingwall via Wyre and Rousay, the following day.
In previous years overnight camping trips to Rousay, Eynhallow, Swona, Cava, Hoy, Rackwick, Faray, Westray, Sanday, Stronsay and Shapinsay. More of these kinds of trip are being planned, at present.
Longer trips are entirely dependent on good settled summer weather, preferably with light winds and good visibility. A knowledge of tides and currents is required.
Inter island crossings must take into account times of high or low water and tidal flow direction.
When helped along by a five knot tide much bigger distances can be covered in an hour, for example.
Tides running in the Pentland Firth, Hoy Sound, Eynhallow Sound, or the String resemble giant rivers of moving water. These same tidal conditions may be suitable for large scale production of renewable energy ( electricity), in the future. EMEC the European Marine Energy Centre is leading research in the generation of electricity from huge amounts of energy produced by the wind, tides and waves.
Smaller plastic kayaks were used for sea training purposed, near the shore, at Scapa, for short trips and for kayak surfing, mainly at Skaill Bay in the West Mainland or Dingieshowe in the East Mainland, depending on weather conditions.
Each year, for the past thirty seven years, pool training sessions are run by the club catering for young people of school age and for adults who are interested in kayaking. Beginners were and are welcome to attend, in addition to those who have some experience. Ten Club Coaches are able to offer tuition in paddling, support strokes, turning, capsize drill, rescues and Eskimo rolls. Skills which are practised in the warm waters of the swimming pool during the winter months can then be transferred to coastal paddling trips or to some of the smaller islands.
The Club prides itself in having a friendly welcoming social atmosphere. Kayakers are encouraged to join the Scottish Canoe Association SCA and to read kayaking books and magazines. The British Canoe Union, BCU Coaching Handbook is recommended and contains a wealth of detailed information on all forms of the sport.