Sunday, 18 November 2012

Beyond the Holms

Alarm wakes me up at 5am to load the boat up on the van on what was probably the coldest morning of this year so far.  The plan was promising to be worth the early start.  Another meeting at Sully with the usual suspects...Taran, Eurion and Jules.  
The plan was to leave Sully and aim for Steep Holm.  From there we would use the remainder of the flood to take us across to Brean Down on the English side of the Channel.  The dotted line shows planned route but bold line (actual route) show all didn't go to plan...
I was a little behind picking up Eurion but we managed to get on the water by 7:30 with the sun still bellow the horizon.
A mad paddle against the flow through Sully causeway warmed the muscles and it was on toward Steep Holm.  Conditions were near perfect with a slight southerly breeze.
The sun broke above our destination making the early wake up all the more worth it.

Taran and Jules drifted further and further away from Eurion and myself as we made the long crossing across the channel.
Passing by Flat Holm.
Me and Eurion made our decent onto Rudder Rock on the most southerly side of Steep Holm.
Rudder Rock with it's WWII defences.
We made our way to the top of the island for a quick respite and re-configure the plan.  It turned out we were 40 minutes behind schedule.  We still had roughly an hour until slack so decided to paddle on as planned.
A sea mist drifted in as we take in the unfamiliar views of Steep Holm's north western face.
After a short debate we decide to cut our losses and use the remainder of the flood to take us back toward Flat Holm.  On such a big spring tide it would have been a struggle to get back to Sully.
We arrive on Flat Holm with one more boat than we came with.  It turned out Hywel was making the best of the weather also at the usual retreat.  Coming in along the top of the island we were greeted with a display from a pair of Peregrine Falcons, but despite my best efforts my pictures were very poor.
We met up with Hywel up top for lunch.
The Western Life Boat crew and HMS Exploit were out training, or as Jules put it having fun in a rib, out on the channel.  Some might recall the HMS Exploit from one of my earlier trips....
Onward we go through Castle Rock and into the fast ebbing flow.
From the look of the Wolves buoy in the distance we were travelling at some pace, I think Eurion mentioned +5 knots or so even with our ferry glide into the flow.
We flew past the Wolves but I was determined to get up the eddy to the cardinal marker leaving the others to drift further down the channel.  With all the effort it took to reach the buoy I wasn't going to waste my higher line of decent and paddle down onto the rest of the party.  So I made a lonely trip back to Sully, surfing in the following sea.
A brilliant trip even though we didn't get to our planned destination.  But then that gives us an excuse to do it all again.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Cardigan Island

It was a chilly morning at Poppit Sands.  The sun rose in the east to dry our dew soaked kit while we ate breakfast.  We were kept entertained during the night with a firework show on the beach and a beautifully clear night under the stars.  

Taking a stroll down to the beach the once flat conditions from the evening before had got substantially bigger.  Steep rollers swept across the bay, their white tops whipped off with the northerly wind.  

I popped to the toilet block when a load of cars skidded into the car park.  Both lifeboats were being made ready for a mayday call within Cardigan Bay. 
I ran down the beach to get this shot of the second boat being launched unscathed in a brief lull in the surf.  The first boat had a trickier exit through the surf.  What worried me was how small the boat looked under the looming dark waves.  
With out boats on the waters edge the waves suddenly looked very intimidating, maybe a play in the surf first.
Taran paddled out looking very small, he was hanging back which isn't like Taran.  I paddled to join him and I could see why.
I could here the conversation the lifeboat crew were having over my radio discussing landing and half expected a big orange bow to come crashing over the waves.
We had a brief play in the smaller waves closer to the shore when I spotted another lull.
We paddled free of the surf just as one of the lifeboats were coming in, assumingly spotting the same break.
We paddled on toward Cardigan Island, picking up a little adverse tide along the way over what I assume was the sand bank.  Cardigan Island was once home to nesting sea birds including Puffins and Manx Shearwaters. This was changed when rats abandoned a sinking ship in hurricane conditions in 1934 and wiped out the islands populations of nesting birds.  By 1969 the rats were successfully exterminated and attempts have been made over previous years to re-establish bird populations but have all failed.  It seems the island now belongs to the boisterous Black Backed Gulls.   
The seaward side of the island look very entertaining so we opted to head for the sound between the island and mainland.
The island is home to grazing Canada Geese, increasing to a level where they actually keep the grass down. The island like most has previously been inhabited during the Bronze Age, the age of the saints (5th & 6th centuries) and the Norse name given to the island is Hastiholm.  During the 18th century the island was known as 'Smugglers Isle'.  This was during a time where the tax on salt was lower in Ireland than in mainland Britain.  The caves on the island were used to drop off the contraband while boats waited for the tide.  
On the seaward side of the island we keep a safe distance from the huge swells battering into the cliffs.  Taran spots what at first appears to be a dead seal.  She was still breathing but unresponsive to Taran stroking her.  Then all of a sudden as if awoken from a sleepy trance she reacted with teeth flared.
We made our way back to Poppit watching the huge white topped rollers sweep in across the bay ahead.  A few big sets rolled in just prior to our landing but we managed to pass through unscathed with just a small surf in to meet the sands.
Only a small trip today.  After yesterdays long trip the motivation for anther long paddle in big swells and damp kit was a little too much.  A great weekend with superb weather and great company, looking forward to the next.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Newport Sands to Poppit Sands

This trip has been on the list since I started kayaking.  I remember being inspired by one of Richards posts but never seem to have ventured that far north.  This 18km trip is the last remaining stretch on the north Pembrokeshire coast I have yet to paddle.
I met up with Taran, Jim, Gareth and Simon at Newport Sands on Saturday morning.  A northerly force 3-4 seemed perfect for a paddle along the north coast.
Jim and Gareth ran a car up to our destination at Poppit Sands.
Left to right...Gareth, Simon, Jim and Taran.
From the start the cliffs rise steeply, shaped over thousands of years of geological activity.
The aim of today was to take our time and explore the rugged stretch of coast.  But our main goal was to find the Witches Cauldron, a collapsed sea cave.
I was just about to have a look in this cave beyond when I noticed this seal cow guarding the entrance, with a seal pup inside.

The cliffs continue to rise steeper and steeper.  A settled forecast is advisable for this trip as there are no escape routes until Ceibwr Bay some 10km away.
Already this trip was throwing out huge sea stacks and caves.

We were always under the watchful eye of a big bull seal, with so many pups on the shore.

We come across a sea arch, this tip has everything.

Caves caves and more caves....

And cascading waterfalls!

A young seal pup on an outcrop.
Errmmm Taran decides to take a dip in a cave...that's for the suitcase picture ;)
We continue on in search for the Witches Cauldron 
Not in there...
Jim seems to be on to something.
Looks promising.
The colours in here were beautiful, as if under-lit with green lights.
Into the enclosure and we're all looking forward to stretching our legs and getting some food down us.  Unfortunately well camouflaged at the back of the only beach was a lone seal pup, best not disturb it.
A secret cave through a very narrow and low entrance proves to be a beauty.  Sun light pours in through a hole in the roof, bouncing off an overhanging rock, illuminating the entire cave.
There was another cave with a waterfall but I had a heart dropping moment when I dropped my camera in the water and thereafter didn't take any pictures.  Here is a short video tour of the Cauldron to capture the moment...

Back outside we follow a couple on a double sit-on-top who disappeared into a cave.  It was narrow and there was a swell running through.  Half way in it was pitch black and with the sound of waves crashing into the gloom it was a bit un-nerving .  A faint light was visible around the corner so we proceeded on to be welcomed with the view in the bellow picture.  Whilst inside there was a huge boom where a wave had hit the back wall and the whole cave
We arrive at Ceibwr Bay but there was a blow hole opposite that looked like fun.
Jim gets up close waiting around for a big wave to fill the cave entrance.  Seconds later he gets a face full of spray...brilliant.  Here's a quick video...

Gareth getting a closer look.
Just before the blow hole Taran took this picture.  There was a rock ledge about 2ft out of the water, which with the swell rising was possible to ride over.  Taran goes over in his plastic boat.  I wasn't going to chance it in my glass boat, then Gareth runs it in his brand new immaculate Tiderace.  Looks like I'll have to do it now.
The outcome!
We stop for a long awaited lunch break at Ceibwr Bay.
Back on the water and the geology gets better and better, another reason I wanted to get up here.

Pen yr Afr head with its complex folding and faulting.
A large cave in the side of the head.

Camaes Head.
Anticlinal rock fold Camaes Head.
More complex folds in the strata...beautiful.

We pass a beach loaded with seals and pups and paddle on before we upset them.
There's a last little play with a race forming off the point and one last look in a cave.  It almost looks like the scales of a huge dragon.
The sun gets lower in the sky silhouetting Cardigan Island on the opposing horizon as we paddle into the calm waters of Poppit Sands.
We land at Poppit with a long drive back to Newport before saying our farewells to Gareth, Simon and Jim and heading back up to Taran to set up camp for the night.
11 nautical miles over a leisurely 5 hours.  A brilliant trip, probably one of the best made all the better with great company.  Cheers guys.