Monday, 27 August 2012

East Coast Paddling

It was a last minute family holiday before the kids go back to school.  I found myself on the south east coast of England on the Thames Estuary, Kent.  I had an offer from Jay to join him and some other local paddlers for a trip around the Medway...
Six of us in all met up in Rochester town centre and made our way down to Lower Upnor, one of the few places to launch on the Medway.  Almost the entire coast along the Thames Estuary is mud at any time other than high water.

An overcast day, southerly 4-5 forecast, 6 at times, slight to moderate.  It starts of breezy as we make our way up the narrow stretches of the river.
Remnants of a past busy shipping industry lay eroding into the banks.  Power stations and huge jetties take their place on all sides. 
As the river opens out (5-6 kilometres in places), the wind strengthens across the open water.  Plenty of traffic moves up and down the river. 
I enjoy a bit of surf from a following wind leaving the others behind.
So I take the opportunity to try out my limited edition Mars Caramel, mmmmm!
We pass some huge cargo ships thankfully quietly moored at the loading jetties.
We take the opportunity to re-group and rest behind a small island out of the wind.  I'm thankful of the company and local knowledge because without it I would be completely lost in this shallow maze of marshes and creeks.
We continue along the southern side of the river out of the wind and onto the Isle of Sheppey and under Sheerness Pier.
Sheerness beach stretches out before us with it's WWII batteries looking out over the estuary.  The round one on the right was used as an extended defence officer post commanding the controlled minefield.  The left was used as on observation post with a gun on top.  The centre tower was a fire control tower.  The centre tower has a false pitched roof and windows to disguised it as a domestic building.

11 miles into our trip we reach our destination and take the opportunity to land and have lunch.  In the picture above you may be able to make out the masts of the wrecked SS Richard Montgomery, a WWII cargo ship carrying 1,500 tons of explosives, enough to flatten Sheerness and the surrounding area should it ever detonate.

We slip off back into the water for the return journey back down the Medway.  We leave a little early with another hour before the tide starts to flood back into the Medway.
We cross back over to the north bank of the river into a strong headwind.  It's a long crossing and is a hard slog for all.
More fortifications intended to be used in conjunction with the Sheerness fortifications.
One paddler in particular was finding the strong winds increasingly difficult, especially without a skeg to help track the boat.  Me and Jay discus the situation and weigh up the options, our worry was getting back before dusk.  With very few (if any) 'get out' points, due to the vast expanses of mud we opt for a double tow.  We beach our boats briefly on the mud and set up our tow systems.
We make excellent progress, over 3 knots against the flow into a strong head wind whilst towing another paddler.  Not many pictures from here on, head down and into to the wind all the way.
We make brief stops to allow us to re-group.
Hoo Fort, built to defend the approaches of the Royal Dock Yard at Chatham.  Back in the sheltered narrow confines of the river I get my freedom back and the tow it unleashed.  After a 10 mile tow I let the tide carry me along the final stretch.  Keeping up with Jay in the Rockpool Taran was hard work.
We land and the slipway for the following reasons....
I thought the Bristol Channel was bad!  Roughly 22 nautical miles in total over about 7.5 hours.  Fish and chips and a nice cold pint to finish the day.  Here are some sun set pictures from back at the caravan park...

Always good to meet new people and paddle new places.  There are a few other trips I would have liked to have done around this area but spent the rest of the week with the family.  Really enjoyed the paddle, thanks again everyone for the company and hope to see you on the water again sometime.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Spring Tides Across The Bristol Channel

Myself and Eurion take advantage of the hottest day of the year, high pressure and low winds.  Both busy Saturday and work Monday we make best use of Sunday and plan for a paddle across the Bristol Channel.  A few differences to our last crossing. We will be paddling 20km further down the channel to Heddon's Mouth, a small bay about 13km east of Ilfracombe.  Today is Spring tides and there will be no overnight camp, we will be making the outbound and return trip in the same day.       
We launch from St Donnat Castle same as before.  A big high tide and swell make for a really difficult launch.  We both manage to get out with a few more scratches on our boats than were there before.
Eurion leaving the Welsh coast behind, Nash Point lighthouse in the distance.
We call in with the coastguard who annoyingly kept stalling us, calling us back to ask more questions.
Photo by Eurion 
Now Eurion has picked up a reputation for attracting headwinds.  A reputation so familiar that I wear my full dry suite on this hot day while Eurion dons a t-shirt.  After-all what could possibly go wrong today, very light winds bordering on non existent were forecast on this beautiful hot summers day
...Oh look what's that flag doing there, and what's that is that rain?  It looks as though Eurion is squinting because the rain is being driven into his face.  Ah yes it's a squall, hottest day of the year my arse.
The squall thankfully passes eventually, the wind drops and the air clears leaving us with a dramatic view of the Devon coastline capped in low cloud.
Ferry passing infront of the Lynmouth Foreland Lighthouse.  A perfect example as to why the light is not position at the highest point of the cliff. 
Just as we think we are in the clear we notice a large ferry, possibly the Lundy ferry, coming at our port side.  On our Starboard side is another squall.  Our worry was if the two meet we could end up stuck in the mist not knowing where the boat is coming from.  Luckily the ferry passes to our forward and the squall comes to nothing more than a bit of light rain.
Eurion has made this paddle previously and try's to recall the location of Heddon's Mouth.
Photo by Eurion
I'm in awe of the steep Devon coastline made all the more dramatic with the low lying mist.  I didn't realise it was like this and will definitely have to return to explore.  I don't know if it was the mist but it had a familiar resemblance to the Scottish coastline.
Out comes the tilly hat.
It's around here somewhere, Eurion still looking for the well hidden bay.  It's actually hidden in a narrow steep valley just before that headland.
We make the crossing in about 3.5hrs, that's quick.  In fact a lot quicker than planned.  Over 18 nautical miles that's averaging over 5kts.
Photo by Eurion
Wow what an entrance, navigating through the boulders that hide the entrance to the bay. 
We leave our boats at the waters edge with the tide still receding.  We head up the beach with a four hour wait until the planned leaving time.
We laze about as our kit dry's off.  There is a pub about a mile or so up a meandering path but feel lazy and decide to laze about and rest our seizing muscles for the return trip.
I left my sandwiches in the fridge so was left to feast on fruit, nuts and chocolate...mmmmm filling. 
 I take a short scramble up the cliff while Eurion scares people away with his snoring.
Great view and the sun comes out finally.
Eurion still where I left him.
The tide turns and we decide to get back on the water slightly earlier than planned.
Leaving Heddon's Mouth.
The Ilfracombe lifeboat helping out a stranded yacht.  The coastguard have been busy today.
That's more like it, sun, light winds, glassy seas...perfect.
Beautiful clear open stretch of water all the way to the Welsh coast.  We anticipate a longer crossing, one because we are tired, but also the tide is slower on the flood than the ebb.  We also left early, therefore the tide wont really kick in for another hour. 
It was really clear on the way back but I couldn't help to notice how close the yellow cliffs of Porthcawl looked after what seemed a relatively short period of time.  There was a huge swell rolling under us, making me feel a little apprehensive about the landing on the slipway.
Eurion was on a mission.  We hadn't stopped for a rest on either journey but I managed to keep up, further slowed down with my picture taking.
One last push and we make it safely to shore, a well timed landing gets us scraping up the concrete slipway.
68km, 42.5 miles, 36 nautical miles over 7 hours in total.  A brilliant time however I think a more leisurely pace over a few days next time giving us a little more time to explore.  Another fantastic achievement with great company, cheers Eurion.