Sunday, 25 March 2012

Seals On The North Coast

Sun rise at camp Porth Clais...
In the early hours of the morning Martin made the long journey down from Sheffield to join us.
The swells were still rolling in from the Irish Sea and the wind on the exposed south was still up.  The thought of paddling into a head wind all day in choppy conditions and a long crossing to the south of St Brides Bay was off putting.
Photo by Mike
So Martin drove us back up to Pwllgwaelod where we started from yesterday for a shorter paddle around Dinas Head in hopefully calmer conditions.  
We bumped into Mike of Mike Mayberry Kayaking who was doing some 3 star coaching, one of which was Gareth from the club (above).
While Mike, Gareth and co went south we went north around Dinas Head.
The last time I ventured around here I was in my early stages of kayaking, and the weather was a lot choppier.  Still one of my favorite paddles though.  The geology on this section is amazing.
A gentle but sizable swell was enough to provide a bit of rock hopping fun on the way.
The swell was a bit to much to take the narrow shortcut through the headland cave but we found plenty more on the other side to explore.  The tide wasn't this high last time and there wasn't much head room.
Looking back at the head of Dinas with cave underneath.
Taran and Martyn were off chatting in their own little world so I went to explore this cave, it goes way back and out another entrance but the tide was too high today. 
Around Needle Rock and we decided to cross over Newport Bay to the opposing headland, yet more headland chasing.
The southerly wind was whipping up across the bay making the 4km crossing onto the opposite side a long slog.
Reaching the towing cliffs on the other side we got stuck into a couple of chocy bars to get some energy back and went on the look out for Witches Cauldron, a huge collapsed cave.   
More spectacular geology.
Passing by a small bay we noticed the beach was full of seals.  A few were in the water and were showing some interest so I sat by and waited.
Within minutes there were loads around our boats, some letting curiosity get the better of them and get right up close.  An absolute nightmare to catch on camera mind, a bit like the game whack-a-mole.  
 Photo by Taran
As you can see there was always one watching you from behind in stealth mode.

He's right beside you!!
We checked the maps and decided to head back, we had a rough idea where the Cauldron was but it was a long way back.  With a little tidal assistance we made a faster crossing back.
Martyn in a rock gully with the swell breaking over the rocks.
Ladies watch out Ali G has got his hairy back out.
A great relaxing paddle in the sun, getting up close and personal with the scenery.  A nice contrast on yesterdays trip.  Good to catch up with Martyn, Mike and Gareth again.  A long drive down to Dale now for my van and then home to see the family.  What a great weekend.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Chasing Horizons - Paddling North Pembrokeshire

FRIDAY 23rd MARCH 2012

A trip to Pembrokshire has been well overdue so it would seem silly not to take advantage of the unusually hot weather for the time of year.  I had arranged to meet Taran at Dale, Milford Haven in south Pembrokeshire, the plan was to drive the one van up north to Fishguard and paddle back over the two days. 
I couldn't wait to get on my way and arrived about two hours before Taran.  I made use of the time and took to the water.
There was a little swell entering the huge port of Milford Haven so I had a little play rock hoping along some of the cliffs.
Heading back toward the beach I could see Taran hadn't arrived yet so I set off again exploring the surrounding waters.


It was dark by the time we arrived at Pwllgwaelod on Dinas Head so spent the night in Tarans camper.
Morning arrived and the conditions looked promising.  The forecast came over the radio before we left, force 3-5, 6 at times, moderate seas.  Time of departure 8am, three hours before the turn of the tide, which meant we would have to round Strumble Head against the flow.  
The south easterly wind certainly became evident when we left the shelter of the bay.  We crossed straight over Fishguard Bay arriving on the other side flying along over 7 knots into a fast flowing counter eddy that runs along Pen Anglas head. 
Dramatic steep cliffs and rugged headlands finally give way to a view of Strumble Head lighthouse.  We pass through the inner island under the lighthouse access bridge and come across our first taste of rough water for the trip.
Looking back on Strumble Head.
Rounding Strumble Head our destined targets came into view on the horizon revealing the scale of our trip today.
After linking successive headlands with a mix of calm and rough water we take our first stop at Abercastle, a small sheltered fishing harbor.
Leaving the harbor we take a brief moment to explore some of the caves at the harbor entrance...
 ...before setting off again, chasing the horizon.
Each headland brings it's own dramatic natural architecture.
On the open water between headlands we were often joined by Fulmars, beautiful birds and experts on the wing, gliding effortlessly inches off the water around our boats. 

Huge swells role in from the Irish Sea, ramping high up the cliffs.  
Passing the old quarry building atop of Abereiddi one of the towering swells randomly breaks way off shore on our line of pass.  That was enough to intimidate me in this unknown territory.  Amusing as it was it would have cleanly wiped us out had we been ahead of ourselves.
We study the maps and take advantage of a last possible landing before rounding St Davids Head.  After all the tide was at full flow and it can get absolutely huge off the head, especially as it was wind on tide.
Taran taking a moment to bask in the unusually hot sun.
The scenery along this stretch is dramatic to say the least.  Huge cliffs rise steeply out of the water, my pictures don't do it justice.
Our speed picks up as we near St Davids Head.  I'm sure I spot a fin some distance up ahead, but then put it down to my imagination, must have been a wave.
Then alongside a Porpoise (relative of the Dolphin) breaks the surface breathing out a spray of air.  Then another and another, a pod of Porpoise, wow.  This poor effort was the best I could capture on camera.
Picture by Taran
We round St Davids head, the water spikes up a bit but on known territory now we feel at ease it wasn't big today.
After a brief meeting with another group of kayakers we take advantage of another safe landing at Porthmelgan.
Time presses on and we need to get through Ramsey sound before the tide turns at 16:00.  We head straight across Whitesnds Bay, past the jagged rocks of Carreg-gafeiliog and into Ramsey Sound.
We enjoy the calm waters sheltered in the narrow sound.
Rounding the end of the sound we paddle out into the exposed south facing side of St Brides Bay.  Swell and wind create some confused water along this stretch and we hope to take a short cut through the island of  Carreg yr Esgob.  Moments after this picture above a huge swell smashes side on through this small gap forcing us to take the long route around the island.
Exposed to the huge swells we paddle through some of the roughest water of the trip.
We were both glad to finally make it through to the sheltered waters of Porth Clais on the northern end of St Brides Bay, our camp for the night.
We were both looking forward to setting camp and getting out of our wet kit and into some clean dry clothes.  Sadly my dry bag with my clothes in had let in the small amount of water that had come through my hatch , but was enough to completely soak all of my clothes.  I tried to dry what I could with my gas stove to no avail and ending up spending the night in my damp clothes I wore under my dry suite.
Camp at Porth Clais
26.10 nautical miles (48km/30miles)
Total time 8:43:22
Moving time 07:40:32
Stopped time 01:02:50
Moving average 3.4 kts
Max speed 8 kts