Five Star Sea Kayak Leader is seen by some people as being an unachievable aim. For me it was the end of one long journey, taking me to extraordinary places with incredible people, and the start of another, passing on those experiences. I wanted to document a few of the most memorable moments on that journey, both to share the joy and wonder of them, and to show that the aim in itself is very achievable, with effort and determination.
In 2003 I went to Gordon Brown for a two day introductory sea kayak course, and after the second day Gordon gave me the perfect advice: Go and buy a boat, and go paddling.
I set off racking up the miles... Solo trips to begin with, until I found Mallaig Canoe Club and a few choice paddling buddies willing to do longer trips with me.
Over a thousand miles in the first year, and a trip to Barra and Mingulay in 2004, followed by a trip to Lewis. Befriending the Stornoway Canoe Club gang got me into all sorts of trouble...
Photo courtesy of Gordon Brown... This picture has come back to haunt me many times!
Moving south for work, and I discovered the sublime sea kayaking on Anglesey. Despite living in Bournemouth, wild horses couldn't keep me from that beautiful island, and I fled up there every other weekend for over a year. Tide races, surf, rockhopping and lots of fun just kept me returning.
Some longer trips took me to Ireland... Both the West coast, and the North coast of the Emerald Isle discovered, and later a longer trip up the west coast of Scotland.
My lowest ebb came with the need for outside assistance. A rescue on Anglesey, involving the RNLI & RAF Rescue helicopter. It was the toughest day of my paddling career, but we survived, and we learnt from the experience. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Photo taken by Maurice Hoare.
A visit to Shetland established the northern isles in my mind as my favourite paddling location in Britain, and I vowed to return as soon as I could. Little did I realise that a few years later I would be dreaming of taking clients to those fabulous islands.
Sea kayaking then took a back seat in my life for a while, and I concentrated my outdoor efforts on the hills and mountains. These things come in waves, so to speak.
In 2012, my passion was reignited by a friend's description of their trip to Greenland. I decided there and then, I wanted to go. A year later, I was stepping off the boat in Tasiilaq, joining a group led by Martin Rickard of Sea Kayak Adventures, and back at home, about to accept voluntary redundancy and step out into uncertainty.
Two weeks in my favourite environment, where I barely stopped smiling, taught me a lesson. I wanted to lead and coach people in the outdoors. To pass on my passion for the places I love most, to open them up for people and help them gain the skills and independence they need to go there themselves.
I knew I was capable of achieving that big ticket: Five Star. Simple words that had come to mean so much to me in recent months. I'd led people informally on the sea and in the mountains for years. But 2014 was a very different type of paddling year. Focussed, determined practice of the last few skills I needed to add to my paddling experience culminated in two trips. I returned to Anglesey with friends, to test ourselves in the races and surf of my favourite place South of the Scottish border. And Cape Wrath: well, you've already read about that.
Assessment weekend dawned windy. Very windy. I was nervous, but I gritted my teeth, and did my best to do what I do. Counted down the minutes to the magic words... "Congratulations, you've passed..." The sweetest ending to an amazing journey, and the beginning of the next.