An afternoon cuppa, come hell or high water

Although carry on kayaking sounds very British, to do so at 4pm, simply wouldn’t do.

Tea is as British as some of our most famous exports including punk rock, queuing, fair play, football and hooliganism and, Octane being miles from civilisation is no reason to lower standards. Come hell or high water, the Scottish seas offering much of both, we stop for a cuppa at 4pm.

Boiling water

For its pure simplicity the Kelly Kettle is much loved means of boiling water the world over – it can be fuelled with small twigs and eliminates the need for transporting heavy fossil fuels or prolonged sessions gathering driftwood and boils water more quickly than any camping gas cooker on the market.

When in need of a cup of tea, with no wood fuel available as is often the case on Hebridean islands, the Kelly Kettle comes into its own. So efficient is its conduction of heat the process of making tea can be done with minimum fuel (such as dry sprigs of heather or small twigs) and with minimum time. I know of no other method of boiling water as quickly.

Sheltered flame

Furthermore, the fire heating the water within the kettle is sheltered from wind by the internal chimney shape of the kettle itself – a most useful feature on exposed wilderness Hebridean islands. Once the water is boiled the hot embers can be used to light a campfire which otherwise might be challenging in the wind or rain.

Avoiding dehydration

A 5% reduction in the body’s hydration levels can result in a 50% reduction in paddling performance. In summer months in Scotland an active sea kayaker should not only be drinking about two litres of water a day should also be eating well for dehydration is caused by the loss of water, sugar and salts combined.

Drinking little and often is the best method of avoiding dehydration and two or three litres is quite a few cuppas – not necessarily not a problem for the British who like to busy themselves drinking 60 bullion cups of tea a year.

It started with tea

Many other countries were as technologically advanced as Britain in the early nineteenth century yet the industrial revolution started here – why so?

The manning of industry’s factories required an urban density never achieved before elsewhere because plague and pestilence traditionally limited urban population growth. Accordingly, densely populated areas were often decimated by plague during population peaks. However, because the British started to boil their drinking water first to make new found Indian and Chinese teas, their water was purified killing all harmful bacteria and protozoa. Furthermore, as belt and braces, the tea leaf itself is a natural disinfectant.


Empire links with India gave Britain tea and trade links with the West Indies gave the same people sugar soon making a virtuous circle of tea lovers, sugar addicts and shopkeepers. This holy trinity enabled urban populations to increase to unprecedented levels thus supplying manpower to those dark satanic mills.

Food for thought

So, the discovery of a rather modest drink created a virtuous circle of trade, cleanliness and addiction fuelling the industrial machine to define the modern world in which we live today. Worth pondering next time you sip a cup of afternoon Rosy Lee.


Campfire cooking – blueberry orange muffins

After a day catching lobster for the pot this simple campfire pudding almost cooks itself and, for entertainment value, these babies are bulletproof.

Don’t beat yourself up over the instant nature of this pudding — after all it’s not often one gets to bake cakes around the campfire.


Muffin mix
– Blueberries
– Four empty half orange skins


  1. Squeeze four oranges, keep peeled halves and put juice aside for breakfast
  2. Fill one emptied orange half with blueberry muffin mix
  3. Cover the filled orange half with the empty half and wrap in three layers of foil
  4. Place on hot embers
  5. Turn aluminum balls every minute, baking may take 10 minutes
  6. Check one after 8 minutes, return to heat until firm at the centre

When these blueberry orange muffins are ready they will emerge from the campfire like victorious steamed puddings that have just been Tangoed.

Unwrap and eat with a spoon.


Minimum impact coming ashore

Traveling through remote coastal areas, sea kayakers have a responsibility to tread lightly when coming ashore, ironically, it is onshore that damage occurs.

The sea kayak is a low slung silent craft allowing paddlers to get closer to wildlife than otherwise possible. However, it is this very access which requires a level of sensibility.

Coming ashore

In the Scottish Hebrides, when on the shoreline in long grass machair, sea kayaks must be carried and not dragged as birds can sit camouflaged and nests lie hidden beneath a walker’s feet without ever being seen.

Terns, ringed plovers and oystercatchers all nest on shingle beaches and care should be taken in mid May to early July.

If a plucky bird with a red bill and red socks flies away from you and lands very close making a kleep-kleep, p’keep you are likely to be near an oystercatcher nest, eggs or young – she is trying to distract you and you should walk away. Be careful where you tread – eggs and chicks are well camouflaged.

Move on

When coming ashore it is important to avoid beaches with breeding seals – it is much better simply to choose another beach unless in an emergency situation.

There are two species of seal in the Hebrides – the common seal and the grey seal. Half of the word’s grey seal population is found on the British coastline and many remote islands are given protected status as a result. The common seal is in fact not so common as the grey seal and its numbers are in decline.

The two types of seal have very different looking faces – the common seal has a sweet little face with big eyes, a forehead and a head that looks too small for its body whereas the larger grey seal has a roman nose like a bull terrier and looks more like he means business.

Indeed recent research has revealed that grey seals are responsible for the many dead common seals washed up on our beaches.

Wild camping – sand dunes

If camping in sand dunes it is best to located the fire on the high tide mark – campfires in the dunes damage the layer of live soil, which takes time to recover.

Fires built on the high tide mark are made in a pit about a foot deep, food scraps are burnt and the hole should be filled in afterwards with all burnt embers buried. When leaving a wild camping site it is important to leave nothing more than a flattened area of grass.

Dunes are important in stabilising the shifting sands and, in the Scottish Hebrides, provide ideal location for a unique Scottish habitat called machair. Machair supports wading birds such as the lapwing, ringed plover and dunlin. All care should be taken to avoid treading on or bird nests in these environments.

Wild camping – sea cliffs

Cliff-nesting birds such as guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes are vulnerable whilst with eggs or chicks (mid May to early July) and puffins nest in burrows that are easily collapsed under foot so it is important to always be careful and to stick to paths.

Wildlife experiences

It is hard to get closer to wildlife in any other scenario than on a kayak.

However, knowing about the seasons and breeding times is important so as to avoid being dive bombed by angry and protective Skuas or indeed out manoeuvred by a protective maternal whale.

It is always sensible to keep a respectful 50 metre distance from all wildlife and to let them come to you not visa versa.

Connected to the merry-go-round

Embracing wilderness living isn’t the shunning of urban progress but more the re-establishing of all that has been lost on the way.

Connecting has been a mantra since the 1960s and during the latter part of the last century – immigration connected cultures, hippies connected consciousness, cheap travel connected countries and technology connected communications – cultures seem to be speaking.

Off grid

However, there is a recent trend to disconnect as seen in the popularity of an ever-growing off-grid eco movement with the advent of green micro-power generation technologies.

A movement sometimes embraced by those allergic to society, a fondness for knits and an ever expectant eye for the day of the reaping but, rest assured, also embraced by progressive entrepreneurs.

Wilderness expeditions

Octane is an off-grid modern expedition company and we embrace technological progress to fulfil our function. Being off-grid, it can be a challenge accessing wilderness islands beyond the horizon, so we use some of the world’s most innovative expedition kit to make it all happen.

Camping equipment

We will review the best expedition and camping kit, gizmos and modern technologies in the coming months and outline what does and doesn’t work for those planning wilderness expeditions and adventures.

Perhaps we’ll reconnect soon…

Safety, risk prevention in the wild

With closest A&E located 50 miles by sea, 3 hours by quad on rough track or, as last resort, by helicopter – ‘hope for best and plan for worst’ is the best practice.

Prevention being better than cure, all sensible precautions should be taken when far from the nearest town or cellular reception. During any sea kayak expedition Octane remains in communication with one person on the mainland. However, for anyone planning to do the same on an expedition it is vital they have the correct equipment guaranteeing the communication plan is feasible.

Promises of daily phone calls, although well intentioned, can lead to concerned family members if unfulfilled. This in turn can set the ball rolling for a man-hunt which is the last thing anyone wants.

Cellular coverage

Once on a week long kayak expedition, group members were advised that they would be out of cellular coverage for stretches of the route. Unknown to the expedition leader, one of the group had a private agreement to text home to his wife each day. As predicted, our group soon ventured outside all cellular network coverage and a daily message home failed to send.

Although the group arrived at its objective on time, we were greeted by a concerned farmer who had been searching for us because we had been reported missing. Even the coastguard was involved. Although the expedition had notified the coastguard of its departure time, intended route, number of people in the group and estimated time of arrival, this unforeseen spanner in the works had scuppered well-laid plans.

On time

Despite the expedition being some 60 miles long, taking five days to complete and arriving at its destination to the hour agreed, it took some time for the expedition leader to shake off his nickname ‘the missing kayaker’.

Comms procedure

Preceding each Octane expedition departure we brief the coastguard detailing all necessary information concerning intended route, group size, group names, expedition duration and ETA. We also inform one dedicated person at the expedition destination who we report to on arrival.

During expeditions Octane is in touch with civilisation daily and more often if it so chooses. We use a sat phone which has reception everywhere in line of site if the sky which, in the western isles, is just about everywhere except in Fingal’s Cave.

There are a few satellite telephone systems for the sea kayaker to ponder:

Thuraya Satellite Phone

Thuraya is best for Asia, Africa and southern Europe. They have some great products such as the iPhone SatSleeve which clicks onto the back of an iPhone to extend all that it does into any location in sight if the sky. Unfortunately it is no good for Scotland as the satellites, at about 20 degrees high from the horizon, are too low in the sky for a reliable service

Iridium Satellite Phone

Iridium caters for North and South America, the oceans, Europe and the poles. Indeed, with Iridium, it is possible to call from or to anywhere in the world as long as you don’t want a chat with a North Korean due to some frosty trade embargos.

Apart from all the usual sat phones Iridium have some interesting products such as the Iridium GO! – it connects to the satellite and offers itself as a wifi terminal, which a smart phone can connect to. Iridium handsets are probably the most robust and the price reflects this but the data transfer speeds are not, in Scotland, comparable to Globalstar.

Inmarsat Satellite Phone

Inmarsat coverage claims to be global but their satellites are in the same orbit as Thuraya so I am told its not much good for Scotland

Globalstar Satellite Phone

Globalstar is only good for the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Russia and, for Scotland, it offers the quickest data transfer and the best voice quality. Globalstar also have a wifi terminal point that links your smart phone, pad or laptop to the satellite network. An app enables the user to use voice data.

Clean beaches make economic sense

Octane expeditions are reliant upon Hebridean natural wilderness, a landscape passed down through generations of crofters and the rich biodiversity within.

As a result of violent storms, pollution and dumping at sea, beaches can be littered with flotsam, often hundreds of metres beyond the high tide line onto the machair wild grassland habitat.

Perhaps naively, visitors to the Hebridean coast expect pristine beaches perhaps not realising that even the remote Galapagos beaches are now strewn with the clutter of our material world.

Beach flotsam

From Nike trainers and Bic razors to Samsonite suitcases and Mobil oil drums – nobody wants to accept responsibility for the tonnes of rubbish on our shores, least of all the manufacturers.


On 13 February 1997 the container ship Tokio Express was hit by a wave knocking 62 containers into the Atlantic, one of them containing 4.8 million pieces of Lego. The pieces, which strangely had a maritime theme (octopus, pirates, divers, scuba kit, ship rigging net, life preservers and spear guns), are washed up on British beaches every year and there is even a popular Facebook Lego Flotsam collectors’ page. Apparently the octopus is the most rare and considered the Holy Grail of swapsies.

However, there is a darker side. The estimated 165 million tons of plastic debris in the world’s oceans are worn down by sea action and enter the food chain as micro-particles, firstly being ingested by small seabed roaming organisms and then rising through the food chain the toxic and carcinogenic chemicals are finally consumed by humans.

Garbage patch

Larger meso-particles are eaten by albatross and turtle and are fed directly to their offspring – it is estimated that one-third of all albatross chicks die as a result.

There is a floating island of plastic in the Pacific called the great Pacific garbage patch. It is estimated the island weighs 100 million tonnes in plastic particles. There is a vague and equally ambitious plan to clean it up using floating filters and booms to harvest the plastics for their recycled value.

Shipping container companies deem it safer to keep cargo loose on deck and, accordingly, one errant wave results in many taking a tumble. The Captain of the Tokio Express happily brushed the issue under the carpet saying the culprit wave was a “once in a hundred-year phenomenon”.  The BBC estimates the number of containers lost at sea in 2014 alone was 2,683.

Meanwhile, manufacturers wash their hands of the issue – Lego spokeswoman Emma Owen simply said the incident “had nothing to do with the Lego Group activities”. The company then had the audacity to launch a PR campaign leaving life sized Lego men, called Ego Leonard, on beaches around the world.

Consumer problem

Clearly the responsibility for beach clean-ups has been left in the hands of consumers – for it is they who create the demand. Martin Dorey has started a national campaign encouraging beach goers to pick up plastics at the day’s end.

The campaign is called the ‘2 Minute Beach Clean’

Scorched earth policy

Of all the things sea kayakers do in the wilderness campfires can be the most destructive.

Often it is the jokes around a fire that are most recalled during an expedition into remote areas and uninhabited islands – campfires are a wonderful moral boost and, in extreme circumstances, a lifesaver. However, a campfire kills the grass and the layer of live earth beneath and the patch, apart from looking very ugly in ‘pristine’ wilderness, takes a couple of years to recover.

Some of this grassland on Hebridean coastline is a habitat unique to Scotland called machair and quite often it has protected status due to its importance as a bird breeding ground. It should never be necessary to scorch the cliff top grasslands or machair because there are methods of making campfires that cause no damage at all.

High tide mark campfire

The highest point of the high tide mark is a drier part of the beach than most and, scorched by the sun and seldom wet by the sea, it is also an ecological desert. Building a campfire here ensures that no damage to the ecology is done and all traces of fire can be removed afterwards. Build the fire as follows:

  1. Dig a 12 inch deep trench 1 foot square
  2. Line the trench floor with fist sized pebbles
  3. Line the trench parapet with a wall of pebbles
  4. Build, light and enjoy the fire
  5. Cook on hot embers and oven hot pebbles
  6. Burn scrap foods, carry out plastics
  7. Fill in the trench with sand returning to original state
  8. Drench with water
  9. One storm during high tide will flush the area

Many wilder beaches in Scotland have no fallen dead wood within miles due to the scarcity of trees. Some sea kayakers buy a sack of logs for the trip and pack them in the boat deck, they do however take up valuable space.

Grassland campfire

If building a campfire on grassland cannot be avoided there are precautions that should be always taken.

  1. Remove a circle of turf large enough for the fire
  2. Line the edges of the exposed earth area with stones
  3. Build, light and enjoy the fire
  4. Clear the ashes afterwards (wetting them first)
  5. Replace the turf and the ground will recover in a couple of weeks with rainfall

Stone ring

If it is not possible to remove the turf easily because the ground is rocky and the earth is thin build the fire as follows:

  1. Make a ring of stones
  2. Fill the ring of stones with 6 inches of sand
  3. Build, light and enjoy the fire on the heat insulating protective bed
  4. Remove the ashes and charcoal afterwards
  5. Remove the sand and ring of stones

Sensitive machair

If the area is machair grasses you should consider whether it is appropriate to have a fire at all – portable gas cookers are more suitable to this environment.

Always dampen a fire after use as, in summer, disused fires can build up a heat and spontaneously re-ignite. Never burn fence posts even if they lie abandoned – they are treated with weather protective liquids containing arsenic.