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,