Great British Adventures - Sussex by the Sea
In his next Great British Adventure, Pete Woodward takes to the water for a kayak journey on the Channel
Discovering new places under my own steam has always been a passion of mine and when I am not out on my own adventures, I read those of others avidly. Over ten years ago, I read a book called Pedalling to Hawaii by Stevie Smith (Summersdale). Stevie and his ‘Expedition 360’ partner, Jason Lewis, set out to complete the first human-powered circumnavigation of the globe; cycling, rollerblading and walking across the landmasses, and traversing oceans in a pedal-powered boat built by their friend Chris Tipper. It is a fantastic book and gave me a new perspective on adventure. Years later, when Jason completed the circumnavigation, I devoured the series that he released, “The Expedition”. They remain among my favourites and I took great inspiration from their ambition, tenacity and from their willingness to tackle challenges that others had written off as dangerous or outright impossible.
You’ll imagine my excitement, then, when I saw an article by ocean-going pedal-boat builder, Chris Tipper about his new kayak company in Newhaven, Sussex, just down the road from where I live.
A couple of weeks later, I was stood in Chris’ workshop below the cliffs in Newhaven admiring the racks of traditionally made kayaks and Moksha, the Expedition 360 pedal boat. Tucked away below the cliffs of Newhaven, Chris’ workshop sits just yards from the beach and we were soon staggering across the car park carrying two sleek-looking boats before crunching towards the tideline over the pebble beach.
Like many South Coast beaches, the tideline is steep and as we seal-launched from the shingle we were straight into white water and breakers. Pulling hard, we fought our way offshore, me very conscious that I didn’t have a kayak skirt, and ended up with a few well-placed waves sloshing around in my lap. Out onto the sparkling blue water of the Channel, we shared a wry smile as we sponged out the cockpits and regained our composure.
With tide and wind in our favour we headed west, off the shingle beach and then below the steep white cliffs between Newhaven and Peacehaven. The cliffs are rugged, and are clearly undercut at the base where the power of the Channel is steadily eroding the shoreline inland. The impressive boats were responsive and rode the rolling waves well.
Chris’ boats are all wooden, avoiding the use of plastic, and are either glued or stitched using traditional Greenland methods. The traditional V-shaped hulls provide more directional stability and a trend to reintroduce this out-of-fashion design feature fits well with Chris’ wooden boats. The use of plywood provides a strong material that once sealed with epoxy resin, can challenge the performance of carbon fibre boats. Chris’ company, Selkie Kayaks, is developing a kit-form boat that can be easily assembled at home and will provide a high-performance boat within reach of the pocket of the amateur kayaker.
On one of the first warm days of the year, we paddled with the wind on our backs and the sun on our faces; walkers watching from the clifftops and gulls whizzing by, dipping their wingtips into the sloshing waters and sweeping between the wave crests. The early summer sun sparkled on the water and we made easy progress towards Rottingdean where children played in the surf and families were picnicking on the beach. We rounded the boulders of the breakwater, beached the boats and sat outside the seafront café in the sun, sipping coffee and feeling lucky to be out on the water on such a glorious day.
Refuelled and with our eyes trained on the tower of the i360, our planned finish, still a further five miles away, we swapped boats and launched from the beach. The gentle breeze on the water and the spray from the paddles was a welcome relief as we pulled our way west towards Brighton, the sounds of the shore drifting out to us as we headed towards the marina. The huge concrete harbour arms jut out into the sea and we headed further offshore to round the entrance, keeping a watchful eye for yachts. With the constriction of the tidal flow and silt deposits around the entrance, the water reared up and having approached the harbour chatting side by side, we were soon riding the roller coaster of steep following waves and snatching wary glances at each other across the rising sea.
With the boats surging forward, we rounded the harbour arm and slipped into calmer and quieter water with the famous sights of Brighton ahead of us. The afternoon heat throbbed and we slid across the smooth water towards the famous Palace Pier, waving to children as we cruised beneath it. Space was at a premium on a packed Brighton beach and we drifted to the foot of the i360 before beaching the boats and trying our best to look inconspicuous as we carried them across the road to Chris’ flat. A unique perspective on our stunning coastline and a fantastic human-powered adventure on the sea.
Check out Chris’ kayak designs at
Kayaking is a fantastic way to enjoy our varied coastline; however, before venturing out to sea some formal training is advised.