Sunday, 30 October 2016

Bristol Channel Crossing

The forecast was favourable for this time of year, originally easterly force 1-2.  Myself and Elan took the chance to do something a bit more exposed than normal.  There were two options when we arrived at Llantwit Major early morning.  Cross the Bristol Channel to Heddon's Mouth, a trip I've done once before with Eurion in 2012, or a crossing of Swansea Bay linking the shipping buoys from Nash Point.

The forecast had since changed from my initial excitement three or four days before.  It was still a favourable force 2-3 but gusting force 4-6 later in the day.  The Swansea Bay trip was longer and would involve a direct head wind for the entire return trip.  Wind on tide (spring tides) was the only issue for the Bristol Channel trip, but even if the forecast was right it was nothing we couldn't handle.  Heddon's Mouth on the north Devon coast it was then...  

We left Llantwit Major half hour later than intended on a rough SSW heading.  I haven't paddled with Elan since June so we had a lot to catch up on and time flew by in pleasant conditions.
We spotted pods of Porpoise on four separate occasions and young guillemots circled often.
The light cross wind provided enough to give us a gentle push in the right direction...even when we stopped for a break.
Spirits were high as the sun broke through the clouds briefly.
St Athan SAR helicopter circled past us, probably wondering what we were doing way out here.
The white column of Foreland Point lighthouse and the square outlines of buildings at Lynmouth drew ever closer.  We were (thankfully) on target.

The V shape valley of Heddon's mouth looked familiar, we were here.
Where the steep cliffs of the Exmoor national park drops off vertically here into the sea is very impressive.  I say it every time, but it does deserve some further exploration.
It's taken us about 3hrs15mins, a really good time considering we put in very little effort between our ramblings.
The beach was surprisingly busy considering the nearest road is 1.5km away.  By the time we haul our boats a short distance up the beach and and find a quiet spot to rest it was spot on low water.
There was no huge rush, the longer we leave it the faster the tide picks up giving us better assistance into the increasing easterly wind.  It shouldn't take us much longer than four hours, but our biggest enemy was the daylight, especially as the clocks went back today. 
Queue the 'dramatic mode' on the camera.  As we packed our boats ready for the return trip, the conditions had clearly changed, quite dramatically.  We gently landed here not much more than an hour ago.  Now there was a large dumping surf dragging every last inch of water out to fuel its steep wall of water.  We waited...and waited...until there was a very brief break in the swell.  Picking up our boats we legged it to the waters edge, paddling like mad beyond the break line with our legs still draped over the sides of out boats. 
In the relative shelter of the bay we flicked up our sails which were instantly filled with the crossing easterly wind, forcing me to lean heavily to my right to counteract the wind forcing the kayak over to the left.
It was instantly obvious that this wasn't going to be a simple three hour crossing back.  
We flirted between 60 and 90 degrees.  60 gave us a better sailing angle drawing us nearer the Welsh coast, but 90 was more into the wind and drawing us further up channel toward our destination.  That would explain the erratic line on the GPS track above.   
The sea state was relatively lumpy with a strong side wind, nothing to dramatic in comparison to some conditions I've had to endure.  It was a battle however.  Everything ached from the constant leaning, correcting strokes and bracing.  I was sitting in a puddle, water ran down my neck from some of the larger breaks, I was cold wet and miserable.

The English coastline didn't seem to be moving and when it did finally conceal itself into the cloud it felt more like we were mid Atlantic than the Bristol Channel.  Where was Wales? how munch longer will this take? it felt like hours.  How is this fun? 
Finally something emerged out of the endless sea.  As expected we would come across at least one ship making it's way up channel to one of the busy ports of Avon, Cardiff or Newport.  As it drew nearer we could see we were on a direct course with it, so we held back for a 5min break.    
Shortly after our ship encounter there was a very small blink on the horizon coming from Nash Point Lighthouse.  Finally Wales was there.  The boost this gives you is incredible.  There was an instant change in my paddle stroke.  The conditions had let up also and the wind direction was slightly more favourable for my aching side.
Something else that put an extra bit of haste in my stroke was the setting sun on our back.  Nash Point lighthouse still looks a way off and I think Elan called out about 11 kilometers from his GPS near this point.  I was trying to work it our in my head.  11km, roughly 6 nautical miles, we were doing roughly 8km and hour....possibly and hour twenty I will be dark by then.  The harder I paddle the lighter it will be.  
The white walls of the coffee shop grew closer and closer as it drew darker and darker.  On a spring tide the beach presents itself like a wall and the deep swells will just carry you into it.  We waited patiently for a small set.  Set after set swept by as it got even darker.  There was no way of landing in this without trashing the boat or yourself.  A very brief break Elan made a run for what was left of the slipway, I wasn't waiting around for the next one.  We both jump out as the wall of water picks up our boats and smashes them into the rocks with a painful scrape and a bang.  Onto the slipway our boats, full of water, are too heavy for our exhausted arms to lift.  We empty them quickly before the next wave sweeps in and we are finally on dry land.  

I loved it, I hated.  I was happy, excited, free, alive, miserable, cold, wet, sore, aching.  That was an adventure.

Distance 73.9km  
Moving Time 8hrs25min
Total Time 9hrs38mins

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Bishops and the Clerks

It was the bi-annual West Wales Sea Kayak meet.  The forecast promised to be good for the long weekend of paddling, drinking and catching up with old friends.  I decided to join the Bishops and Clerks trip after turned down the invite for Grass Holm with Eurion and Mark.

I have visited these off shore chain of islands when paddling out to The Smalls and on return from the Ireland Crossing.  I have since wanted to return to take in the trip in its entirety rather than a brief passing.

Photo by Sean Hurrell
Quite a few had wanted to join in the same trip so we split in to two large groups.  The usual suspects included (from left to right above) Sean, Gareth, Me, Jim and Chris, Mike Mayberry was also leading our group.
Chris and Jim trying to look as if they know what they are doing.
So the plan was to take the south-flowing stream from Abereiddy down and out to North Bishop.  From there is was a case of simply allowing the tide to take us down past Carreg Rhoson, Daufraich (Bishops) and lastly South Bishop.  At which point the south flowing stream should be slowing to allow us to ferry glide across to Ramsey Island, sneaking through the Midland Gap and up through Ramsey Sound and into Whitesands Bay. Simples.
It was a perfect day as forecast but the speed of the flow was quite clear as we left the safety of the shore.
Sean and our first offshore destination, North Bishop.
Spirits were high as we headed out but there was a slight feeling of unease, for me at least.  The offshore overfalls around the chain of islands can become rough even in light wind conditions, partly the reason why some of us were looking forward to this trip and partly why some of us weren't so keen.  

North Bishop loomed closer and with it the tide becoming more noticeable.  However there was no obvious signs of any rough water to play in.
Jim enjoying some moving water.

A slight ferry glide was required to keep us on course for the Clerks but all was going to plan as we moved on between the islands.

The Clerks are actually a chain of over 20 islets and rocks, many submerged, encircling the coast catching many unwary sailor over the ages.

We continued on meandering between the rocky fangs, resting in eddies and playing in the overfalls.
Until only the last rock remained, South Bishop.  South Bishop, also known as Emskir (derived from Old Norse sker meaning a skerry), is the only rock with a lighthouse.  The lighthouse dates back to the 1830's marking the northern entrance to St Brides Bay.  Attached to the light is a pair of two storey keeper's houses, originally intended for two families.  However due to the exposed nature of the island it is doubtful anyone other than the lighthouse keepers ever remained.  In high seas the courtyard and addition of a heli-pad often flood and the windows have been known to break on occasions also.

Time was pressing and the flow had already started to flood north so we started what was to become an arduous ferry glide toward Ramsey Island.
The group split and the paddling dragged on.  It was clear we were not making much ground aiming for Ynys Bery, the southerly tip of Ramsey Island.  Eventually we gave into the forces of nature and aimed to paddle up the west coast of Ramsey before crossing over to Whitesands.

We stopped to rest and re-group upon reaching Ramsey Island before moving on.  Possibly the largest group of paddlers I have ever paddled with.
It was a fairly uneventful crossing back over to Whitsands bay where we joined with the group of the Ramsey Island trip.
A fantastic trip and another one ticked off the bucket list.  It was time to retire back to the club at Fishguard to catch Wales vs England in the rugby with a Chinese takeaway and a few pints to merry the night away.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Loch Bracadale - Isle of Skye

Visiting Macleod's maidens by sea has been on the bucket list since we first visited Skye.  In 2013 we hiked out to Idrigill Point to see the Maiden's from land but I have since wanted to return and sit bellow the 200ft sea stack towering above me.

The ideal trip starts out from beyond Neist Point in the west but the 32km trip has very few landing/escape points.  I'm writing this 19 months on but I seem to remember the tides for this trip didn't quite work so I opted to launch from a small beach called Camas Ban near Harlosh in Loch Bracadale to the east of the Maiden's.
It was a perfect day, probably the best weather I've had on Skye.  I launched from the crystal clear waters at Camas Ban leaving my dad behind to explore the coastal path around Harlosh Point.

Leaving the shelter of the small bay there was just enough wind to fill my sails aiding my 2.5km crossing over to the eastern reaches of Loch Bracadale.
Reaching the towering cliffs a white tailed eagle soured high above (pictures not worthy of uploading).
I poked my nose into the first cave and looked up at the full height of these magnificent cliffs.

Nearing the point the cliffs gave way to it's secret passages only a kayak can reach. A series of caves, arches, tunnels and stacks followed that only Pembrokshire can match.

Reaching Idrigill point I was now a good 7km from any road and possibly to early for anyone to have hiked the 5 mile walk out here.  I was truly alone. 
Rounding the point the view of the Maiden's opened out.  This is why I paddle...

My face says it all...awful trip!  I seem to remember in Grodon Browns DVD they landed under one of the stacks for lunch.  I had a little paddle around but the tide was a bit low to get up on the ledge.
A short distance away was a small pebble beach where I soaked up the view and had a bite to eat.  
The stacks from this side took on a ghostly look.  I only took a few more shots before I moved on...

The wind had dropped and the sea was mirror flat.
Turning back east I opted for the 4km crossing over to the small isle of Wiay.  In these perfect conditions I kept my eyes peeled for any movement on the water.  Last time we walked here we were lucky enough to spot a pair of whales feeding in the loch. 
Enough wind picked up again to take me along the southern reaches of the island.

I took some time exploring the caves on the eastern side of the island before moving on to it's smaller twin Tarner Island.

With views of the Cullin ridge off to the east I skirted the western side of Tarner Island before crossing back over to Harlosh Point. 
My dad was perched upon Harlosh Point and took the following photos of my crossing from Tarner Island and around Harlosh Point back into Camas Ban.

A fantastic trip, well recommended if you want to visit the Maiden's if you haven't got the tides, weather or time for the Neist Point trip in the guide book.  There is enough parking for a few cars at Camas Ban and the trip can easily be shortened or lengthened.