Monday, 16 September 2013

West Wales Sea Kayak Meet

This weekend I headed out to Goodwick, Fishguard for the West Wales Sea Kayak Meet, with a few others....
Eurion and myself arrived late Friday evening after dark, pitched the tents and headed up to the local pub to meet the other's for a few quiet ones.
An early awakening at 6am after only 4 hours sleep too find Jim torching himself outside his tent. 
I finally get to see my new tent in the light of day, having ever only pitched it in the dark.
We head over to the Beaches Dinner for a full Welsh breakfast to sooth the hangover before meeting to discus the days arrangements.
I decided to join in on the Dale to Martins Haven trip, one of the last remaining trips I have left to do on the Pembrokeshire coast.
Today I get to test out to new toys I had for my birthday, my new Overboard deck bag with my new SLR camera inside.
There were 15 in total taking up this trip including familiar faces Eurion, Gareth, Sean, Paul, Simon and Chris.
Launching from Dale
Picture by Eurion
It took a while to organise 15 paddlers but we were finally on our way heading out through Milford Haven.
Milford Haven is one of the finest natural deep water harbours, the third largest in Britain.  Vessels entering the harbour navigate their way via a series of range lights.
The first we pass is a 160ft rear range light at Watwick Point, which consists of a vertical black and white day mark and a flashing white beam light which is visible for fifteen miles.
Milford handles over 29% of Britain's seaborne trade in oil and gas as is evident by the ships constantly streaming in and out of the harbours entrance.

At West Block House Point is a fort that was constructed in 1857 as part of the protective fortifications around the entrance to Milford Haven.  An earlier fort was previously built on the same site around 1539, ordered by  Henry VIII to protect the port from invasions from the French and Spanish.  The fortifications have been modified over the years to accommodate various changes in war techniques until they're closure in 1950.  The fort is now let out as a holiday home.
Beyond West Block House Fort are the front range lights.  These consist of three concrete towers between 30-46ft supporting beam lights.  The two outer columns act as leading lights and carry black square day markers with flashing white lights.  The centre column has a flashing white beam and operates as a front range, visable for thirteen miles.
At the entrance to the harbour is St Ann's Lighthouse.  St Ann's Head is the oldest lighthouse on the Welsh Coast first established in 1714.  The first attempt to provide a light in the area were made in 1662 where a coal-fired tower was formed out of a destroyed chapel, thought to have commemorated the landing of Henry Tudor in 1485.
Although now unmanned and fully automated, the lighthouse remains an operating base for Trinity House's maintenance teams.

Rounding St Ann's head we journey on north into a brisk head wind.
We cross from bay to bay, trying to keep close to the headlands to shelter from the unrelenting wind.
Skokholm, Skommer and Grass Holm Islands are all visible further north and west. 
We take shelter from the wind at Westdale Bay.  This bay would make an excellent 'get out' point if the weather is not as expected on the western coast as it is only 1km walk from Dale on the other side of the peninsular.

After a short lunch break we break back out through the surf and carry on our journey north toward Gateholm Island then onto Skomer Island where the shore takes a sweeping right turn into St Brides Bay.
The paddle towards Gateholm island becomes a slog but we gather ourselves in the shelter of the island before continuing on.
We hug the cliffs for the next few kilometres of shoreline where the rock turns from soft Old Red Sandstone to harder igneous rock, which has been carved out into some impressive structures worth exploring.
Negotiating a gully.
Every cove was strewn with seal pups and protective mothers.
This cave/arch was very impressive leading in through a huge entrance carved out of the cliff face and out the other side.

Me enjoying myself - Picture by Eurion
Another large cave with at least three entrances.
Leaving the caves behind we continued on toward Jack Sound between the tip of St Brides Bay and Skomer Island.  Here it was more exposed to the northerly wind and the stronger tides running through the narrow sound proving us with a bouncy trip back to Martins Haven a short distance away. 
We completed the 16km trip landing at Martins Haven.
With up to gale force winds and rain forecast for the following day, everyone took the opportunity to make the most of the evening with a few drinks with no intention of getting up early too paddle.
The Phoenix Centre and rugby football club where we were staying opened it's doors to us where we could enjoys a meal and a few drinks with some old and new faces.
Most were sensible got their heads down for the night after the bar kicked everyone out gone 2am.  A few of us however continued on the festivities in the warmth of one of the rugby changing rooms until 6:30am.    
A great weekend with some good friends old and new...the paddling wasn't bad either, another stretch of Welsh coast knocked off.  A special thanks to Mike Mayberry for organising the event and we look forward to next years event...if they'll have us back.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Anglesey Circumnavigation

After I had overcome the aches and pains of our Ireland Crossing back in June I had the bug to do another challenge before the year was out.  Anglesey looked possible.  Not to far to travel, roughly the same boat time as Ireland and best of all would only need a day off work.  Elan Winter was keen to do it with me so the planning began....

'When' was fairly easy.  We both had a bit of time in September so looked to when the spring tides were.  Weekdays were better for Elan to get off from work so we narrowed it down to two sets of dates which both fell on a Monday and Tuesday.

'How' was a little trickier.  I had never paddled these waters so I was completely clueless where to start.  I started to look at ways in which other people had done it when I came across a blog by Kate Duffus.  Her plan made perfect sense and the tides fell almost perfectly with the dates we had in mind.  I armed myself with guide books, tidal atlas and charts and we were on our way.  

Rather than follow Kate's plan to the letter we planned to leave our start point at Porth Trecastell on the south west coast a little later.  So rather than catch the flow along the west coast as it starts to flood, the flow would already be flowing well giving us the best possible push up the west and northern shores.  This was a bit of a gamble as it would only give us 7 hours to reach Puffin Island some 40 nautical miles away on the east coast.  This would mean averaging around 6 knots per hour.  This did have the added benefit of a few more hours sleep however.

'If' we managed to reach Puffin Island on time the tide would perfectly start to ebb down the Menai.  If we kept a good pace down the straits the tide would be against for the final 10 miles back up along the south west cost to our starting point.  The maximum tide rate here however is 1.5 knots so it wasn't a major issue.  It all seemed to make perfect sense so it was time to put it into practice.            
The first set of dates approached and we kept a keen eye on the forecast as it went from settled to unsettled.  Monday 9th September looked the best of a bad bunch of days so we committed to it and travelled up still uncertain if the weather would hold.
We were unable to leave until late Sunday evening so arrived at our starting point at Porth Trecastell around midnight.  We pitched camp, set the alarms for 5am and got our heads down.
The wake up call came way to soon but we broke camp, ate breakfast, packed our boats and we were on our way just after 6am.  Elan seemed eager to get in his boat and get on the water, but from my experience with the Ireland crossing I knew what was coming as I looked down at the small seat I would spend the next 10-15 hours in.
Within half hour the sun broke out on the eastern horizon.
The forecast on the day was north easterly veering north force 2-3, increasing 4-5, 6 at times, slight becoming moderate.  As we approached the first headland at Rhoscolyn there was no sign of any wind as we sailed through glassy waters.
Shortly after we took our first hourly break.  Like the Irish crossing we would take hourly breaks on the water, usually about 2 minutes or so to take on board the necessary food and water.
The next headland in our sights was the dreaded Penrhyn Mawr.  I've had nightmares about this place and it's enormous tidal overfall's, not helped by the fact we could see the waves from 5 miles away.  Thankfully we passed without too much action but could clearly see how this place could rear up in the right conditions.
We crossed the short distance over to South Stack where the northerly wind made it's presence known and the tidal flow was clearly evident.
We took the corner wide into the main flow and excelled our pace to over 10 knots continuing on to North Stack where we did the same.
Next was a good 6 mile crossing of Holyhead Bay.  The Hollyhead to Dublin ferry was smoking away behind the breakwater and we hoped it wouldn't depart until we were were out of it's path, thankfully it left soon after.  Our pace slowed slightly out in the bay but picked up again as we approached Carmel Head.
The Skerries we temptingly inviting but would wait for another day.
Along the north coast we passed through race after race, flying along averaging 7-8 knots all the way to Point Lynas on the eastern corner.
 West Mouse above and approaching Point Lynas bellow.
Five hours in and we had already completed half of the south west coast and all of the west and northern coast.  Feelings were flying high and the thought of a 10 hour circumnavigation crossed both of our minds.  Our next destination Puffin Island was 11 miles away where the coast turns south west down the Menai Straits.  
The wind picked up but was perfectly positioned to blow us down on to our destination.  The following sea wasn't quite angled in the right direction but we made the best of any waves to push us along.
The crossing dragged on, the island never seemed to get any closer.  The tide was dropping off and so was our pace.
We passed Trwyn Du light house and Puffin Island almost on the 7 hour mark just after 1300.  So far the plan had worked and from my calculations the tide into the Menai had just started to ebb out.
Now sheltered from the wind, the straits were flat and calm so we landed briefly for a pee stop.  The calm waters however did nothing to quicken our pace.  We weren't moving.  At 3 knots we slowly made our way down the narrow passage between Anglesey and the north coast.
It wasn't until the suspension bridge where the tidal flow took a hold, but when it did it didn't have shift.
The Menai seemed to go on forever.  The overall pace had dropped through the straits and the hopes of a 10 hour circumnavigation were crushed.  We were both feeling the strain by now.  13 hours was the realistic aim we had in mind at the start of this trip and it still looked possible we could quite easily do it in 12.  
But...we had no idea what to expect when we left the mouth of the straits.  We knew what tide there was would be against us and had hopped the southern shores would protect us from the northerly wind.  Unfortunately we were spat out of the straits into a fierce head wind and our pace dramatically slowed to bellow 3 knots.
We pushed on through gritted teeth but the wind was unrelenting.  We were unable to stop in fear of being pushed backwards.  We reached what we thought to be our final headland, my step quicken knowing we were close to a 12 hour time.  We reached the head and looked on, we weren't there yet.  It's the next headland...or is it? We were uncertain, every bay look very similar out here.  My GPS would tell us so I set a marker at the beginning of our track and set a path...12 miles!!!  At our current rate it would take another 4 to 5 hours.
We pushed on toward the next head, hoping the GPS was wrong and we were right, neither of us had much left in the tank and the sun was quickly getting lower and lower in the sky.  We looked on at the small sandy beaches around the final point in anticipation, there was the car, we made it!  Like two old men we hoppled up the beach with our boats just after 1900 giving us an on the water time of 13:01.
It was still another 5 hours before we got to rest in our beds back in south Wales.  A cracking trip but I think it's safe to say we wont be doing anything like that again for a while, well not until next year at least.

And the GPS....well I later discovered because the trip was so long it had used up the track memory and deleted the earlier tracks.  It was pointing us to Carmel Head, which explains the 12 miles.