VHF Radio

Having the ability to speak with any vessel in the vicinity is a great safety asset to any sea kayaker or wilderness expeditioner.

Anyone exploring wilderness and remote areas should be aware of the limitations of a VHF marine transceiver. They are generally a line of site communicator and from a kayak the horizon is only three miles away. A ship’s radio mast however is often a few metres higher so the range is often greater.

Mine is robust, waterproof and with a long battery life. It works in the rain and in the snow with no problems. It has a battery life indicator, a power save function and a clever gizmo that ejects water from the speaker grill using low frequency sound. Most crucially for kayaking the radio is submersible.

It is important to always use multiple methods of communication in remote areas. For this reason I have a mobile phone (using the Vodafone – the best cellular network provider for the area), a satellite phone, flares, torches, a whistle and a mirror.

Expedition kit – Ordnance Survey

I think every journey warrants an OS map, even some familiar ones — especially so when the nearest shop is an six mile hike along a windy footpath and then a ferry to the next island.

An Ordnance Survey map reveals a mass of information enabling its user to identify curious objects on route.

A 1:25,000 scale OS map details historic (and prehistoric) earthworks and remains, contours, terrain, water sources, woodland and more including every building, its shape and its aspect.

Since 1791, Ordnance Survey has been a world leading tool in which to place ones confidence – most recently enabling the UK to become the world’s first nation fully digitally mapped.


When sea kayaking, it is often more useful to use a nautical version of the same as coastal zones and tidal and intertidal features are more detailed.

Nautical charts, as referred to by maritimers, show water depths, navigational hazards such as sunken ships and exposed masts, buoys, tides, currents, harbours, ferry routes and shoreline characteristics.

Belt + braces

However, using the area’s map and corresponding chart in tandem can work well – especially if one must shore to find fresh water or height to attain cellular reception.

Rain stops play

Despite the OS app allowing for maps to be downloaded to be viewed on devices during periods with or without cellular signal, I often prefer a water proofed paper map which can be printed for each member of a group, can be scaled to the required level of detail and, most importantly, doesn’t sulk in the rain or run out of batteris.

GPS, a gift to the world from Russia’s henchmen

It’s possible to pinpoint one’s location to within a kayak’s length anywhere in the world thanks, inadvertently, to those trigger–happy vodka–swilling Soviets.

The GPS system we use so commonly today was first made available by the US military to civilian markets in 1984 as a result of Russia and her henchmen’s illustrious history of shooting down civilian airliners.

Porky pies

Each time it happened the Russians would claim the airliners had strayed off route and, being mistaken for military planes, were a perceived threat to national security.

Russia’s illustrious history

– Shot down: 1955 El Al Flight 402 Lockheed Constellation from London to Lod
– Shot down: 1978 Korean Flight KAL902 Boeing 707. Paris to Seoul via Anchorage
– Shot down: 1983 Korean Flight KAL007 Boeing 747 Jumbo. NY to Seoul via Anchorage
– Shot down: 2014 Malaysian Flight MH17 over the Ukraine

Russia’s illustrious present

Unfortunately the peacocking behaviour continues to this day with Malaysian airline MH17 being most recently shot down over the Ukraine in July 2014 by Russian made, supplied and controlled Surface to Air Missiles (SAM).

Pinpoint accuracy

Thanks to the availability of GPS, no longer can a nation falsely and conveniently claim a civilian airliner has crossed a geopolitical line.

GPS gives latitude and longitude coordinates anywhere on the globe in any weather conditions, at night or day so long as the handset is in line of sight of the sky. The GPS system can also give speed, direction and altitude readings.

GPS joy

The joy of GPS is its telling the sea kayaker where he or she is going as opposed to just the course they are on.

Just because a kayakis following a bearing it does not mean it will end up at the intended destination because Speed Over Ground and Course Over Ground are both affected by wind, tide and current.

Wider use

So long as your GPS handset is switched to the correct datum for the area in which you paddle (Ordnance Survey [OS] Datum for the UK), coordinates can be given to contacts onshore so they may know your location.

Batteries not included

It is important to remember that electronic systems fail.

A GPS handset should not be relied upon as a sole means of navigation – a boat compass, a sea chart, a land map and a good understanding of local tides, currents and weather is a must for kayaking at sea.

Thank you

However, as much as I love studying a good map, GPS is a wonderful gadget — thank you Russia.


Bialetti Moka, the reliable little waiter

A joy of wild camping is doing without much of life’s clutter. However, a wilderness morning without fresh coffee seems as complete as a tent without its pegs.

The Italian Moka coffee maker is my travelling companion of choice – robust and available in just about every size imaginable.

I use a Moka for one and it is made from an indestructible aluminium design and weighs very little – perfectly suited to the rigours of an expedition to the rugged, wilderness islands on the horizon.

Frapa mocha lattecino

In Italy, ordering a cafe moka is not the same as ordering a mocha coffee in America’s cultural contribution that is Starbucks. They sound alike but do not taste alike – the former is a respected brand, a historical method and a practically designed utensil and the latter is the mixing of coffee and chocolate between salon appointments.


The Bialetti Moka Express logo is a very well turned out waiter, with one hand in the air, signaling he has received your order. Perhaps it is Senore Bialetti himself.

Thankfully Senore Bialetti designed the utensil as if specifically for packing into a sea kayak and, with no glass parts like some coffee makers, his sturdy aluminium creation is ‘ruggedised’ for expeditions – indeed, made from aluminium, it is almost indestructible.

Moka origin

The two-chambered moka pots have sat on Italian stovetops since the beginning of the last century, producing a small, strong, full-bodied coffee that is rich in aroma. Mokas were invented in 1930s Italy and are apropriately named after the Yemeni city of Mocha, a centre of coffee excellence for centuries close to where coffee is said to have been discovered.


A goatherd called Kaldi from the nearby highlands of Ethiopia is credited for the discovery of coffee – it is said he discovered the bean when noticing his goats, after eating berries from a certain bush, became spirited and, at sunset, cared little for sleep.


Kaldi reported his observations to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the beans and discovered he stayed alert for the long hours of evening prayer.

Soon the knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries began to spread. As word reached the Arabian Peninsula, Arab trade routes spread coffee’s reputation across the globe.

Coffee protest

We once hosted an Italian from Milan called Arturo on a wilderness kayak tour whereupon he was given a filtered French press coffee at breakfast and, thinking nobody was watching, he poured it into the sand without saying a word.

Bigger is better

He later explained I had made him an ‘Americano’ and that ‘Americans do with coffee as they do with everything else – dilute it to make it bigger’.

After the expedition he kindly sent me my Bialetti Moka Express and I have used it ever since. Especially so when there are Italians around.

Moka process

Water is heated in a lower chamber. As the water comes to the boil vapour pressure approaching two atmospheres pushes the water up through ground coffee in a filter, which collects in the upper chamber as liquid coffee.

It’s really that simple, but it does take some practice – a careful eye, the right grind (never too coarse), a low flame, and removal from the heat as soon as it has percolated through — if one is distracted, it is easy to forget the Moka and its handle may melt in the heat of the fire.

Height 16cm, width 9.5cm.

Read other methods of making fresh wild camp coffee here.

*The term fresh is relative. On the high-street, at supermarkets and in city restaurants fresh fish really means days old so, when patiently waiting for your number to be called at the fish-counter, be ready to ask where your fish is from and how many days ago it was likely caught. Supermarkets invent terms to suit their needs and, as a discerning consumer, it really is your right to challenge nonsense. At Octane we have therefore made a new, differentiated and entirely transparent definition – Ocean-fresh. Simply put, it means caught and eaten same-day.

See ocean fresh calimari caught, cooked and served in under an hour

No such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes

The phrase, commonly misattributed to British author Alfred Wainwright, rhymes in both Swedish and Norwegian so my guess is it originates in Scandinavia but they can fight amongst themselves for credit – the author is lost to posterity.

Our propensity to ponder the meaning of life means we are susceptible to cold in extreme conditions since one third of our body’s heat is lost through our oversized head.


The human head is huge relative to its body size when compared for example to the seal, which can remain smugly warm for extended periods in waters close to freezing. A balaclava, beanie or neoprene hood all work well in insulating head heat and a cagoule hood will keep the lot dry. Some 40% of the body’s heat is lost here and a wet cold head is a fast route to hyperthermia. In the summer a sun hat should be used to reduce the damaging effects of the sun and the risk dehydration.


A sea kayak cagoule comes in many guises and its purpose is to keep the wind out which keeps wind chill down. In doing so they also keep the water out and, to double ensure of this, they often also have taped seams. A good quality sea kayak cagoule is made from Gortex to allow the kayaker’s skin to breath whilst also having a latex neck seal and wrist seals to keep water from entering.

Spray deck

A spray deck is essential in keeping the sea from entering a kayak. In cooler months a neoprene spray deck will keep the heat in the boat and, in summer months, the use of a neoprene spray deck will reduce temperatures through the cooling effect of evaporation. A neoprene spray deck enables a sea kayaker to roll in the eventuality of capsize by keeping water out of the boat. Nylon spray decks are cheaper but they can collect water puddles at sea and can be ripped off by waves.


Gloves are important to the kayaker. In summer a simple pair of fingerless sailing gloves work well in minimising the chances of getting blisters and they also keep hands cool as they retain evaporating water for long periods. In winter neoprene pogues are the only real way to keep hands warm. These are wetsuit mittens secured to the paddle shaft, similar to those attached to a pizza delivery scooter’s handlebars.


I prefer to wear a wetsuit under my cagoule so, if I want to swim, I can. Importantly it is a free dive wetsuit, which comes in two halves. This means that I can wear just the bottoms allowing me to get in and out of the kayak with water to my waist and still remain warm and dry. It also means, if nature calls, I can easily answer.


Neoprene boots with rubber soles, otherwise known as booties, or neoprene socks with trainers are best as they allow the sea kayaker to get in and out of the boat in water and on rocky shores whilst keeping feet dry.

Wet feet dry out slowly inside a kayak and, all the while, sap heat from the body.

Expedition kit – Folbot Cooper folding kayak

The Folbot Cooper is a sea kayak which packs in a rucksack and travels in the boot of a Mini. The advert shows it carried by someone on a bicycle!

The craft weighs just 39 lbs, about the same as a three year old child because the frame is made from hollow aluminium tubing and the shell from a canvass upper and a rubber underside not dissimilar to a pair of Converse All-Stars.

Expedition craft

The folding kayaks each fit into individual rucksacks and stow neatly onboard a rib, which can be necessary to reach wilderness islands on the horizon from the Isle of Mull.

Folding kayaks are robust expedition craft used by NATO Special Forces and one kayak of a similar design was famously used by Hans Lindemann to cross the Atlantic in 1959.

He embarked from the Canary islands and, three months later when he shored in the West Indies, the world’s media took one look at him, then his boat and asked “But where did you sleep?” famously he answered “Between the crests of waves.”

Inuit mantra

Folding kayaks give Octane the ability to travel more lightly and to be more mobile. A liberating Inuit saying ‘live life like you are in a kayak’ is a good mantra for life on an island where simplicity is key.

Inuits from the past would be amazed at the technological progress made with the hunting craft design they first gave to the world.

Inuits first made their kayak frames from whalebone and stretched sealskin over the low set frame stitched together with sinew. The craft allows a hunter to approach his quarry silently.

20 minute wonder

The modern folding kayak equivalent has a modular aluminium frame that is assembled, with a little practice, in 20 minutes. A rubberised and abrasion resistant rubber underside and canvass deck, under tension when assembled, creates a taught and smooth exterior shape for minimum resistance through water.

Due to its low weight versus displacement ratio it is extremely buoyant at sea giving the craft a good load capacity for carrying expedition provisions.

Easy folding

Some paddlers prefer the rigidity, sleekness and sheen of fibreglass kayaks. They are a faster craft and superior in a race conditions however, for wilderness expeditions, I prefer folding versions for their load capacity and for their ease in accessing stowed kit.

A zip along the length of the forward deck provides easier access than the rubber deck hatches of fibreglass boats. Being lighter than a composite kayak but sharing a similar displacement (and aided by inflatable sponsons) the folding kayak weight to load ratio is extremely good. And, without the need for a kayak trailer, another advantage of folding kayaks is the ease of their transport – four easily fit in the back of a pick-up truck with their four owners in the cabin.

Zip it

Most usefully on an expedition, the Folbot deck zip, running the length of the boat, means that access to provisions, often under testing weather conditions, could not be easier. There are many Folbot kayak types but the Cooper, set up as it is for expeditions, is my craft of choice.

But beware, dragging the boat over sharp rocks and coral beaches is a no no.


Expedition kit – Kelly Kettle

The Kelly Kettle remains one of my favourite bits of expedition kit for its pure simplicity of design where form beautifully follows function as wistfully as Hilton’s little lap dog.

It can be fuelled with heather and twigs, saving weight on heavy bottled gases, and takes water to boiling point quicker than any camping cooker on the market.

Designed like a chimney, the flame travels up through the centre of the polished steel water holding container to heat it from the centre using the form’s large heat-conducting surface. As a result it uses a fifth of the fuel and water is brought to the boil in a fraction of the time.

Kelly Kettle minimises the use of or requirement for heavy, bulky and carbon emitting gas canisters. However, when wild camping, especially on remote Hebridean islands, there is often no wood fuel available but this is no problem for the Kelly Kettle which is at home in such windswept and exposed environments.

So efficient is its conduction of heat that the process of making tea can be done with fine sprigs of heather and small twigs. The fire that heats the water within the kettle is sheltered from the wind by the tube shape of the kettle itself and after water has been boiled the hot embers can, if required, be used to start a campfire using beach driftwood.

Kelly Kettle comes in a few sizes  ranging from the single user to the largest of which suits expedition groups. I choose the smallest as its best suited to the confines and limited access of a sea kayak leaving more room for other camping equipment.