Summing Up

Anglesey - Jan 2016


So how did it all go?

Well, it was cold, damp, stressful, tiring, expensive, intense, frustrating, challenging, scary, rewarding, disappointing and a touch dodgy.

 It went pretty well, all things considered.

When I set out the main aim was just to complete the trip, and return safely. We managed that one.

Next, was to finish in 80 days. I really wanted that one. It was the goal that got me out of bed on the miserable mornings. However it wasn't to be.

The daily finish-projections varied widely as things progressed. At the most depressing point the figures showed 92 days, at times 70's faded in and out, even the odd high-60. But once things had bedded-in the numbers hovered around the 80-ish mark. In the later stages, as we headed down the Scottish West Coast, sub-80 still looked possible; however once I committed to going around the Irish Sea that dream was over - 83 days, no excuses, end of story.

Going the Wrong Way

Working anti-clockwise was more challenging technically:
  •  After the South Coast most of the time was spent paddling on the ebb. This meant that rivers, estuaries, bays and harbours were emptying rather than filling, and in turn, this meant that the more challenging water conditions were now ‘outside’ of those features – sometimes this made for impressive and extensive differences.

  • The timings of paddling on the ebb also made for a lot of long ‘multi-shift’ days and early starts. Fatigue built up.

  • Probably the most significant factor was that the ebb was working against the weather and the swell. Much of the time the swell was lifted significantly by pushing against the flow of the ebb.

 Van Support

Though I would paddle this trip solo, I had decided that I could not set out on this trip alone. The 2012 trip had left me with significant back problems. This time the boat load had to be lighter and long-term tent-life was not an option. Having the Team Manager and the Van along for the ride were a success; I returned far less painfully than 3 years earlier.
  • Sleep was also better in the van - it was quieter, warmer, drier and more secure.

  • I had the luxury of taking different boats and kit to try out.

  • Food was better too.
There were down sides to the van though:
  • It brought its own admin; surprisingly having the van didn't make the daily start any quicker.

  • You had to consider the other party, they had a life to lead too. Compromises had to be made sometimes. The focussed selfishness had to be toned down a little.

  • This time I was less of an adventurer and more of a tourist. People were less intrigued to know what was going on, they didn't come to chat in the way they had previously. I missed that, the trip was far more bland without the daily ‘character’ injection.

  • It was expensive; as we were seen as tourists we were also seen as fair game to be milked of cash pretty much wherever we went.

  • The van was a late arrival on the scene prior to the trip, it became a distraction in the late stages as it was prepared.

  • Team Manager got to see the stress and daily dodginess close-up. This was often uncomfortable for her. It will be interesting to see her outlook on future paddling exploits.

Van and TM did over 6000 miles.



Light V Heavy - Boats

The light construction Taran  (pink + yellow) handled things well; it was the sole boat to be paddled from Scarborough onwards - from Day 36 -753 nm done, 1107 nm to go. However, I did make an effort to look after it - it was not used for seal launches and dodgy landings were avoided whenever possible.
  • The heavier red + white boat was used when things were likely to get ‘scratchy’.

  • Manual handling was easier with the light boat.

  • The light boat was a 4 hatch boat i.e. no rear day hatch. The red + white was a 5 hatch boat.

  • The light boat did not make any significant difference to the daily mileage, when viewed from the perspective of the trip as a whole – the weather was a far more significant factor.
Still, whenever I had the opportunity, I chose to paddle the light Taran.


Kit

I took kit from two manufacturers: Palm and Kokatat. Both performed well, I had no problems with either. I tended to alternate between brands in order to keep me in dry kit for the day.
  • The Kokatat kit was made from Gore-Tex, the Palm from their own-brand XP fabric - the Gore-Tex was more breathable. Both were waterproof.

  • The Kokatat kit used was ‘left-over’ kit from the 2012 expedition. The Palm kit was sourced new from Surf-Lines in North Wales.

  • I couldn’t get my hands on a large range of Kokatat locally to try out for function or sizing. I could get ‘hands-on’ with the Palm kit, via Surf-Lines in North Wales. These folks were reliable and delivered on their promises. That was enough to swing it to Palm for the new kit.

  • A combination of new Palm and ‘legacy’ Kokatat kit kept the budget within reason.
Now I train daily in my Palm Kit, it does the job. I still look after my Kokatat kit, just in case there lies another trip ahead.

Spraydecks: of course, were supplied by Phoenix of Nottingham. I've been paddling them for 20 years or so - I'm not going to change now. Another big thank-you to Joel and his elves!

Yours Truly


Physically:

There were no significant back problems this time, in fact no major problems at all. I did have some eye problems, with symptoms similar to mild snow-blindness. These lingered for a couple of months. I had lost my sunglasses in the final couple of weeks.

While you can clock up miles on such a trip, and the body takes it surprisingly well, ‘race fitness’ is destroyed. You come back surprisingly 'unfit'. There is also the long-term fatigue that you would expect from 83 days on the go. That lingers.

The body craves the calories long after the paddling is finished, for me this means my weight balloons – still working on that one. Pass me another cake in the meantime.

Mentally:

I didn’t come back quite as weird as I did after the 2012 trip. It had helped not to be alone every day. We also took time to return home this time, ‘cooling down’ on the way. It helped that I didn't have a bad day in the same league as the Rubha Reidh day in 2012. My confidence had been battered after the 2012 trip, this time that was not such a problem. That I saw this trip as more of a success helped too.

It still was difficult for a while though:
  • Motivation didn't exist.

  • Nothing seemed important, nothing...

  • Emotions were flat, life was grey, it was hard to get excited about anything.

  • I had used up my decision making allowance for the year, I just couldn't make any decisions. I couldn't commit to such things as work dates or social invitations etc. Life was for today only, no further ahead...

  • There is also a long-term mental fatigue. That lingers too.

It’s over 5 months since the finish day as I write this, things are steadily getting better, but some things still hang around.

Overall 

Yes we didn't get the 80 days, that was the only real disappointment I guess. But if that’s the only one then you can’t get too upset.

I was pleased how I paddled technically late on; some days I see as some of the best paddling I had done for a decade or more. I can’t ask for much more than that.

I was a bit lazy here and there, but then it’s easy to criticise with warm and dry hindsight, and after a time of regular sleep.

We worked well as team, once again. To live in the confined quarters of a van, in such a stressful (and smelly) environment, for nearly 3 months and still be friends is some achievement. I owe that girl so much...

We made a few mistakes on the decisions, but on the whole I think we dealt pretty well with what came our way.

So... I was supported, we took a van and I was still 11 days slower, but I couldn't have asked for much more - from either of us. It would have been nice to have some better weather, but that doesn't happen, it's in the rules, it’s part of the game.

No, I'm pretty happy after this one, 83 days will do.

The emptiness has gone, the hole has been filled, questions have been answered...

83 days, 1860 nm and 434:43 hrs

Job Done.






UK 1UK 2Diff (UK2 v UK1)
Total Days:7283+11
Non-Paddling Days:1011+1
Paddling Days:6272+10
Total Mileage (nm):17731860+87
Total Paddling Hrs:419:00434:43+15:43
Daily Avg (total days - nm):24.6322.41-2.22
Daily Avg (paddling days - nm):28.6025.83-2.76
Daily Avg (total days - Hrs:5:495:14-00:34
Daily Avg (paddling days - Hrs:6:456:02-00:43
Overall Average Speed (Kts):4.234.28+0.05
Max Day Mileage (nm):53.4946.38-7.11
Min Day Mileage (nm):8.504.86-3.64
Max Day Hrs:11:5010:31-01:19
Min Day Hrs:1:5301:11-00:42






Off The Beach

Broad Haven – 11th Aug


But we still have to get off the beach.

I stand there, on the sand. It is the end of just another paddling day. Except of course, it isn’t just.
The mind works slowly, it has to adjust from one world to another. It takes a time to dawn, but when Team Manger conjures up the bottle of bubbly, it occurs, slightly, oh so slightly, that the end has been reached.

I'm a little over-dressed, standing here amongst the naturally-insulated kids, the should-know-better speedo-clad gents, and sundry sunbathing types, some wobblier than others. Somehow we are quietly inconspicuous amongst the friendly atmosphere. But swigging from the bottle and the indulgent bubbly spray draws a little attention. The word spreads and soon hands are being shaken and questions answered. The old favourites are there: What was the worst bit? How far did you row each day? What are you doing next?

Next? We're not even off the beach yet, give me a second eh...?

But it is pleasant, very pleasant and enjoyable to chat. For once there is no need to dash – none at all.
 I'm surprised how many people are interested, genuinely interested. It’s only canoeing. I share the bubbly with a young lad, while I reply to Dad’s questions. Dad doesn't want to spoil the party, turning a blind eye. Kiddo makes the most of his chance.

There is a slightly strange moment when a lady comes over to, rather loudly, tell everyone how far her sit-on-top paddling husband paddles when he goes out to fish. She isn't unpleasant, just proud of Mummy’s Little Soldier. One of those moments where there is nothing else to be said.

I don’t really want to leave the beach. Standing on the water’s edge is somehow the last link with the whole affair, it feels as if the memories might fade when I walk away. But the daily routine kicks in, unbidden, and I find myself emptying hatches, clearing the deck and sorting dry-bags. Can’t break the habit.



As we start to carry the boat across the soft sand, people come over, to insistently take an end. I don’t want to seem ungrateful but somehow this is my job, the day isn’t finished yet. It is part of the routine.

 And Taran has looked after me so well, through so much; the least I can do is carry her safely off the beach.

Two minutes later the sand is slippy soft, the hill steep and I am blowing out of my arse, regretting the sentimentality.

At the top we take a breather, in front of the little shop, amongst the car-park crowds. More questions and hand-shakes follow, it’s nice. A lady has followed up the beach and politely introduces herself and asks if I can spare time to answer the question – why?
Why? Hmm not an easy one that...

I find it a little curious that people are so interested and, well, just so damned nice.

Then we have the short trolley along the road to the campsite, 83 days since the boat was wheeled along this same stretch.

TM has bagged a good spot on the field,  and now it is time to sit down and take a moment.

Old habits are hard to break though and I find myself hanging kit to dry in the sunshine, sorting and fussing things. It’s my last chance for a good old faff.

I do know that once I sit down nothing else is going to get done today, so the boat is unpacked now and the kit laid out. Things are tidied and put away, with the luxury of slow-time though. It’s just such a deeply ingrained habit to look after the kit.




Eventually all is done and it is time to relax at last – Done and Dusted!

The jungle drums are beating and news is even rippling around the campsite, people ‘pop in’ as they wander past, on their way to the toilets. Aah the glamour. I find myself self-consciously signing an autograph, on a road atlas, for a couple of youngsters. Bet that’s worth a fortune now...

A sit-on –top-man comes over to chat, he saw me land and thought it was a little over the top to be spraying bubbly after a trip around the bay. Now he has heard a little more he wants to add his congratulations too. It’s a nice chat, I'm starting to feel a bit of a prat now though.

The campsite owner comes over too. On the evening before Day 1, the Lundy Crossing, back then we walked down to the headland together and gazed towards the island, out in the distance. It’s good to see his smiling face and shake his hand. It sort of joins the circle somehow. I'm not sure of his background, he’s done something in his past, but he keeps it to himself.

Geoff and Joy are on their way. The ‘We are at Broad Haven, where are you?’ phone call gives it away. There is a little confusion - it’s not a big place, you can’t miss us, you know big van, pink boats and all that stuff. It turns out there is a 20 mile confusion between Broad haven - the place and Broad Haven -the beach, aah... my mistake, apologies.

But eventually all is well, tales are told, more bubbly is drunk, dodgy directions are forgiven and final relaxation lurks.

All too soon Geoff and Joy bid farewell and head back to deepest Ceredigion.

But for us there is no rush tonight, we have our lives back. We walk under the stars and watch twinkling lights far away across the Bristol Channel. I've heard people paddle that.

No planning, no tides, no charts, no maps to fold, no breakfast to prep, no rushed diary to write, no smelly paddle kit to lay out, no stressing to do.

No alarm clock.

No sodding, effing, bastard annoying, depressing, irritating, 4 o’clock wet-kit alarm clock. Oh no siree...

A lie in tomorrow, whatever the weather...



Happy Birthday!

Day 83 – Porthgain to Broad Haven – 11th Aug – 34.9 nm




The day begins with a true FFS-it’s-early start. Not for the first time the clock shows 4’s in places that it really shouldn’t, not on my clock anyway. 

The plan is to arrive at St David’s Head around HW slack, this lengthens the tidal day, and with luck will minimise any wind/swell/tide shittiness on the corner. So there’s no pressing the snooze button this morning.

It’s strange that I've been thinking of the plan for the last stretch for a while, even with so many other things to dwell on. I've been telling myself, that if I get to Porthgain, then it could be possible to complete in a day – given a fair crack at the whip. Well, the day, and Porthgain are both here. It’s time to get cracking...

Even with the early start things are fairly positive in the van. We had a little time to chat and reflect on yesterday. The rights and wrongs on the decision to round Strumble Head will be debated for a while,  but even I can’t fault my paddling technically, or on-the-water tactics - beyond Strumble at least. For me it’s up there with the paddling on the Cape Wrath day, paddling that I thought was some of the best that I have laid down for 10 or 15 years. But it’s not time to get cocky. Yes, in the overall scheme of things there is only a small percentage remaining, however there are still plenty of miles to go – my swimming badge only says 25 metres on it...

It ain't over ‘til the... well, we've done that one before.

So out of the shelter of Porthgain harbour at 06:10 – Richard L would be impressed by that one. I'm not.






It’s a blue-skied, sheltered start to the day. After 10 mins the rocky shelter of Penclegr is rounded and the gentle W breeze and W swell become known.

Drama! Lego-man-Larry-From-Lyme-Regis has come loose and is lodged beneath the splits. But before my incident-management skills crack swiftly into action, plastic-man goes overboard, at the first wave. FFS. Larry’s been on the front of the boat through seriously thick and thin, and finally comes a cropper to a pissy little wave just outside the harbour. On the last day! Larry you tool. Tears well up. RIP Larry.




Life goes on. The breeze is not a problem, but the swell has the potential to stack up against the flow as I work towards the end, to St David’s Head. Hopefully the arrival-at-slack plan will work.

It’s a pleasant paddle along this finger of Pembrokeshire . As I get near to the end the flow increases and so, pleasingly, does the boat-speed, less pleasingly the swell does start to stack up too. And once again the tide makes the rules, the flow is earlier than the book(s) suggest. Though it doesn't really matter, suddenly I'm around the bouncy end and heading S into Ramsey Sound, that’s it - no great drama - one more down.







6 kts+ towards Ramsey is pleasing, and now that the swell and flow are at 90 degrees, life settles, the wind drops away too. The run into the sound is smooth, peaceful, relaxed. What a blissful place to take breakfast.

Drawing level with the S end of Ramsey Island  there is a small, smooth tide race forming. The first of the day’s rib-ride boats venture out to take a look. But sorry folks, I'm going to indulge myself here with a bit of a surf, selfishly I hog the waves. Fook it - the sun’s out, the sky’s blue and I've come a long way for this one. 'My wave.'



But it’s not long before discretion becomes the better part of valour, it would be a bit daft to make a tit of yourself here, and now. As the waves start to build, I let the Taran drift southward once again and we head across the smooth, oily slog of St Bride’s Bay.

It’s an hour an half to the entrance of Jack Sound, the old friend of Martin’s Haven lying just over to the left. The breeze is nothing and the swell is correspondingly lazy. Jack Sound has a bit of a reputation, but the feed in is fine. I get a bit cocky and paddle straight through the rest. A dodgy eddy-line moment and a half-ton face-full soon bring reality back.





Last time I was in this part of the world the stretch between here and St Ann’s Head was a bit of a handful, but not today. All goes easily as the boat ticks along – Mr Garmin still showing 6 kts+.

The entrance to Milford Haven is to be crossed next. No one wants to reply to my radio calls, so, slightly nervously,I aim for the Sheep Rock buoy and get on with the job – it’s ferry glide time. Half-way across and a ferry appropriately appears out of nowhere, as they do. It’s heading speedily in. I pull hard, but things are fine, there’s plenty(ish) of room. After 20 mins I'm at the buoy and it’s time to relax again.



5 hrs and 26 nm are under the belt, and it’s not even lunch-time. Time for a rule-breaking, indulgent landing at Freshwater West. There is a pleasant surf to slide the boat in, and onto the flat expanse of sand. Team Manger is slightly less relaxed as van-parking is limited, but a shoes-off and feet-in-the-water suggestion soon solves all of life’s problems.

It’s only a brief stop though, tidal worries concentrate the mind. Strangely there are no thoughts of the end, of trip-over, it’s just yet another day - grab the miles. Things are probably going to be a little choppy along the cliffs, do we stop here and drag it out for another day? It’s TM’s birthday, I haven’t had much chance to go shopping. So I figure the best pressy I can give is just to finish the whole dammed affair - today. On again then.







Down to the end once again, Linney Head this time. There don’t seem to be any red flags flying, so I take it that the Castlemartin Range is shut, more summer hols for the bomb-slingers it looks like.

The cliffs along this next stretch are not huge, but they are sheer, grey and firmly in-charge. As soon as the first corner is rounded things become boisterous, and then progress up the scale from there. There is always a flipping sting in the tail of course, always. And this is it. Right at the sodding end. It's not worth wasting the effort to ask to be given a break.







Movement along the cliffs is unpleasant and un-relenting. By the time I close on the first section of St Govan’s Head I’m just trying my best not to cock it all up, in the last few miles. The fat lady is taking the piss today.

Eventually, finally, St Govan’s Head is rounded and blissful calm envelopes. Another TFFT moment, possibly the last one?

Even Mr Pessimist has to accept that the end is within sight; well it would be if it wasn't around the corner.

There’s no hurry now, the wind, swell and chop are finally behind the final headland. The bay is calm. No, there’s no hurry now.

I tootle through a few gaps, bimble around a couple of stacks, taking in the sunshine, and then suddenly the beach appears. Not just any old beach , but the beach – you know, the first – the last.





It was 07:00 on 21st May when we last saw this beach. It was unsurprisingly quiet then, except for the bearded willy-dangler, but now it’s busy with August holiday-makers. Strangely I am surprised by this, I hadn't expected the crowds, illogically my mind just prepared for the quiet pre-breakfast May-day sort of beach.

Suddenly it dawns that it is all just about over, this had not been even fleetingly thought of, not even for the briefest of mind-wandering moments. But now the time is here.






As I paddle into the bay I am passed by a couple of guys in an inflatable, bare-chested and paddling out towards Somerset. I can’t even be arsed to shake my head anymore.

I'm not just ready though; I go for a brief, final loop of the bay and then head in towards the busy beach.

There’s no band playing, no welcome crowd. But there’s only one person I need to see, the one who made it all possible - Team Manager.

The ubiquitous bottle of bubbly appears, smiles and laughter to accompany.

A few questions are answered.

And then, that’s it,

Game Over.

Job Done.