Irish Sea crossing by kayak

Friday 12 July 2013

07:00 Alaw Bach and I set off down the M3. Weather has been calm for days.

08:30 Pick up David my companion for the weekend and his NDK Explorer.

13:00 Arrive Stena’s offices at the ferry port in Fishguard. Commence negotiations, knowing that last time Stena required that all foot passengers only board via the footbridge, carrying their luggage, i.e. our sea kayaks. That involved manhandling the kayaks up and down flights of stairs. But the people on this shift are helpful,

co-operative and reasonable: we offload our kayaks by the freight gate; park the car in the long term car park (£7 for 24 hours, but actually £7 from now until sometime tomorrow); and wheel the kayaks onto the ship, leaving them between a coach and a trailer.

14:30 Ferry sails.

18:00 Arrive Rosslare. Wheel the kayaks off the ship, across the yard, through the offices (involving one lift around one corner) and outside. Across the car park and lift across a dune to the beach. Sea is calm and the locals are enjoying an evening on the beach.

We cook supper. Inshore forecast still F2/3, variable, though Shipping Forecast speaks of F4/5, N or NW later. A local – man and black dog – comes by to converse: he’s seen this before and quizzes us on our plans. As darkness falls we bivvy. The lighthouse at Tuskar Rock, and other buoys, clearly visible on the horizon.

Saturday 13 July 2013

04:00 Alarm goes off. Shortly afterwards man + black dog reappears for a brief chat: he’s brought us ‘souvenirs’ of our short stay in Rosslare: two drawings he has done of the ferry. They’re in a style like the primitive school of drawing allied to the thoroughness of an adult.

04:45 Launch onto a glassy calm sea. Bearing 070º. Dawn starting to break. After discussion, we decide to follow the Explorer’s compass as mine is reading

15-25º differently; and that’s after I’d checked that there was no steel anywhere near it. Could it be that my personality is more magnetic than I’d ever thought?

06:30 Having cleared Tuskar Rock, we turn on to a bearing of 125º. Guillemots sitting and enjoying the calm sea, some in groups, others individually, much like tourists on a beach. A couple of them dislike us and chase us away, shouting loudly. Later an Irish Ferry sails past ahead of us, where expected, bound for Pembroke. Our pattern is to stop hourly for drink, food and other relief as necessary. We seem to be making good progress – we are paddling well for 55 minutes an hour and the GPS is showing speeds of over 6 knots as the tide sweeps us south-westerly.

Noon Breeze starting to pick up, building to around F2, N. Alaw Bach not behaving impeccably, maybe it’s the extra load on the deck that causing it to start to weather cock. Am using the skeg, which is most unusual. A couple of tankers sail by well ahead of us.

15:45 No sign of land (it should be about 6 Nm away now). Check position on chart with GPS. We are roughly where we expect to be, maybe a bit behind. Paddle on. A ferry passes by behind us: maybe it’s the Rosslare – St Malo service.

16:45 Still no sign of land. Recheck position: we are further from land than planned.

17:00 Faint outline of land ahead. Disappears. When it reappears, it doesn’t seem any closer.

18:00 Land steadily visible through the haze. Probably 4 miles away, slowly getting closer. Probably is St David’s head, right on target. Bishops and Clerks appearing on the starboard side, as expected, and an outline of Ramsey Island. Breeze easing.

18:30 Approaching North Bishop rock, planning to pass north of it. A family of dolphins passes by without seeming to notice us concentrating on making progress in what is evidently a strong tidal flow. Observing the transit, it seems we are not getting closer to the rocks: actually we are going backwards. Adjust angle of ferry glide to get closer to the rocks, end up beside them, but at the south end. Head through a gap, find an eddy and re-consider. Seals alarmed at our unexpected appearance. We’re at least an hour late; tide is flowing more quickly than shown on the chart; it’ll be a fight to get to Whitesands Bay, as planned, which we wanted slack water to approach.

Options include heading downstream past Ramsey and The Bitches to land at Porth Clais; waiting for 4 hours for slack water; landing and camping on North Bishop; or heading across to Whitesands anyway. We decide to work our way up the rocks, eddy by eddy, and then test the flow east of North Bishop: it’s OK, we’re watching the transits, we can ferry glide across without being swept south.

19:30 Pause at Carreg Trai rocks. Current still strong with minor overfalls in places, but the ferry glide is working well enough. Wind picking up, F3 N already. Keep calm and carry on.

19:54 Land at Whitesands Bay. 50Nm in all! Photo opportunity. Tide coming in quickly spoils any chance of staying still, we get the kayaks up to the top of the beach. David secures me a lift into St David’s. There the town is busy catering to Saturday evening tourists, no buses at this time of evening, all taxis busy. Eventually one takes me over to Fishguard – remarkably expensive. Drive back to Whitesands, about half an hour; driving quite badly, even though entirely sober. Load the car and camp in a field optimistically called a campsite adjacent to the beach.

Sunday 14 July 2013

07:45 leave ‘campsite’; breakfast at McDonalds at Carmarthen.

Review trip:

Visibility seemed OK but actually was probably never more than 4 or 5 miles. Somewhere we lost a couple of hours, and that put us headlong into full tidal flow off Whitesands Bay where Cardigan Bay was emptying itself into the Atlantic, not the slack water we wanted. A more sophisticated use of GPS would have forewarned us of that; but to what advantage? What could we have done differently? And we had options which would have brought us safely to land.

Personally I emptied my Camelbak of about 2 litres of water + added vitamins, drunk a litre of Lucozade Isotonic and maybe half a litre of plain water. Ate many various cereal bars, plus two pork pies, two good handfuls of dates, an Eccles cake and a banana.

Tired but not injured, though it later appears that I have rubbed the skin off a small patch on my back just below my waist: that’s roughly where I have chafed through my spraydeck in the past.

13:30 arrive at David’s house. Unload. Unwind.