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

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Rubha Hunish

Our fifth annual trip to Skye.  We arrived late Sunday, today was Wednesday and my first day on the water.  The forecast for the week had originally been awful but it seemed the bad weather had not pushed this far north.  The wind, my main enemy, was blowing in from the south west but was not particularly all that strong, force 3-4 occasionally 5.  There were a few big trips I really wanted to get done, so for my best chance of success I headed north to the very tip of Skye.

Staffin, a large bay on the north east Trotternish peninsular.  Last year I completed a trip from here heading south, today I will be heading north tying the two trips together.  
For now the wind would be on my back as I briefly leave the shore and head around the back of Staffin Island and onto the islands of Eilean Flodigarry and Sgeir na Eireann. 
East side of Staffin Island left and the steep cliffs guarding the island of Eilean Flodigarry right of picture.
Wind in my sail my bow drove on through the slight following waters sending spray into my face.  This was the first time I had really used the sail to its full advantage and it was fun.  I glanced town at my gps, if I could keep this speed up this would be a very short trip.
The impressive basalt cliff guarding the southern end Eilean Flodigarry grew ever closer.

Passing between the two islands I was joined in the water by some weary seals.
Continuing on looking back with the two islands seen left of picture over my right shoulder.
Out of the reach of the wind bellow the towering cliffs the geology continues to impress.
And so does the wildlife, two White Tailed Sea Eagles leave the cliffs and sore high above.
And you don't have to go to Ireland to see the giants footsteps.
As I take my time to explore this section continues to keep giving with sea stacks, caves, tunnels and arches...

After and hour and a half I reach the north side of Kilmaluag Bay I take the last opportunity to stretch the legs before I head around the north tip of Skye.
So far the conditions were perfect but for the moment I was on the sheltered side.  Once I round the next point I will be exposed on all sides to weather, swell and fast flowing tides.  Add into the mix the remoteness, loneliness and the not really knowing what to expect factor, the commitment weighed on my mind a little.  But fear shows respect and to not fear the sea would be a mistake.    
I push off from the pebble beach and round the corner and point my kayak north.  The island of Eilean Trodday about 1.5km off the eastern tip looked temptingly inviting, but I didn't want to push my luck.  
 Turning west the northern tip opens out into a large c shaped bay.  This is where many whale sightings are often seen...just what I need a pod of Killer Whales to ease my nerves!
I decide to stay relatively close to the shore where there seems to be a bit of back eddy flowing toward my direction of travel as predicted.  It's calm, quiet and tranquil.  The nearest road is at least 2km inland but there are a couple of people spotted walking atop of the cliffs.
A big sea stack marks the point where I make my final turn around the tip before heading south.
Here we go...the tides were really chugging along but there was nothing more than a bit of confused water thankfully.  Mind I wouldn't fancy it on a big day.
The west coast unfolds before me and it's time to head south.  Again the cliffs here tower above but lack the stacks and caves of the eastern coast.
Only three hours in and I am paddling along Tulm Island keeping an eye out for otters and heading toward my final destination.
Duntulm Castle marks the last point of my trip.  I was here last year in rougher weather looking down upon the sea from the cliff above.
I land my boat on a small patch of white sand and dig out my sandwiches feeling extremely chuffed having just completed one of the classic headlands of Scotland.  I head toward the back of the beach where I get mobbed by Japanese tourists excited to learn of my travels and how far I had come.  
A sorry sight of a dead seal washed in on the high tide mark.  Inspecting a little closer there is a clear gun shot wound to the abdomen which was clearly the reason for it's death.  I am lead to believe fishermen are allowed to shoot seals in Scotland if they are encroaching on their fish stocks.  
I spend forty minutes or so sipping my hot coffee from my flask taking in the views across the Minch onto the outer Hebrides.  I pick out the Islands of Fladda-Chuain, another trip I hope to complete for another time.  I study my map, roughly 7km further on (about an hour paddling) is another possible pick up point for my dad.  I try to call him but there's no answer so text him my intended plans and hope he gets the message that I am to continue on to Camas Mor.  I take a call from my dad not long after, he's come off the hill earlier than expected so is fine to meet me at my new destination.
And what a beautiful place to finish.  Conveniently it had almost tied up another trip I did from Uig on our first visit to Skye.
I bring my kit up to dry in the sun where we enjoyed wide views of the Minch.  This time I could now pick out the Shiant Isles, a distant cluster of small islands that would act as an overnight stop should you wish to cross the Minch to the Outer Hebrides.     
After years of bad weather I could relax with a pint and a good meal tonight after completing a trip that had been long overdue on the Skye bucket list, and it lived up to it's expectations.  The good weather would not last however as the island regained its reputation as 'the mistly isle'.