From Stacks to Swellies

Aug 26th - 28th 2017:  a sea kayak circumnavigation of Anglesey

Saturday  - Weather was F3 from the SW and this was on the flood tide which goes clockwise around the island, so tidal flow and wind to assist me.  Started at Porth Dafarch on the west side of Holy Island.  Penryn Mawr was the first notable tide race and was ok (third day after springs).  

Got up to the South Stack probably 500m offshore and there were distinct breakers here – GPS showed upto 16 kph during this section and always more than 8.  I was now early for the Fast Ferry (the Dublin catamaran does up to 40 kts) so went in to Gogarth Bay to have a look at Parliament Cave.  Parliament is past its best after a partial cave-in last winter, but the arch and caves along the cliff are pretty cool.  Saw the arrival of the ferry into the Holyhead approach so started the paddle around North Stack.  

Great weather conditions so set course directly for the Skerries across the bay (which is about 2 kms offshore Carmel Head).  This crossing is about 10 kms but conditions were good and I was making about 7 kph for little effort.  However I did have to get across the approach lane in front of the P&O conventional ferry which caused me to push my pace up for about 20 mins (until I had clear sight of the ferry’s other bow face, and in sufficient time to not give their bridge watch a concern).  Rest of the transit to the Skerries was more northerly and about 11 or 12 kph.

Some good mini-races going on at the Skerries and enjoyed a break on a little shingle beach overshadowed by the red/white striped lighthouse, this is a must-see if you the northern coastline.  Tide rising rapidly also brought a few tourist speed boats into the lagoon to see the seals – I decided to head on.

Moved on across the north coast to West Mouse keeping an offshore track to maintain the tidal assistance.  Spotted a single porpoise passing the other way but it took no notice of me.  The wind had dropped to a F2 with just small swell/chop.  Aimed for to skirt Wylfa Head before going into Llanlleiana bay for a leg stretch.  A few folk were present as this is “prime” Anglesey coastal path territory – there’s a ruined porcelain works here.  Also present were a pair of Peregrine Falcons having an argument with some other birds on the cliff.

Still early afternoon and not far to go on this leg of the trip so went straight out of the bay and headed to Middle Mouse – whoooaaaaa – the tide was ebbing quickly so once out at the rocks had a brief play on mini-races and boils before pushing through the “bow-wave” at the eastern end and doing a big ferry glide to get back inshore near Llanlleiana;  had a group of about 8 sea kayaks pass me at this point going to play round the rocks…  I was doing about 1 kph in my desired direction and 5 kph sideways. Not so bad once inshore so eddy hopped eastwards and round to Porth Wen, what swell there was helped with the odd bit of surfing (must have been swell against tide at this point).

In Porth Wen is the ruined brickworks which is quite an interesting piece of industrial archaeology – however it also pulls in the crowds.  Lovely calm bay / bank holiday weekend, so about 6 power boats and 2 sailing cruisers moored there.  Lots of families snorkelling, sunbathing, etc.  I had a good look round and took some photos of the ruined kilns and boilers and the natural arch that is built-in to the quayside.  The pictures of the works at low tide are a good reminder of the tidal range seen on Anglesey – a good 10+ metres is clearly visible on the footings of the old workhouse. The tourists slowly disappeared in early evening but I paddled across to the other side of the bay anyway to pitch camp.  The first day of my circumnavigation trip had gone well with a 16.30hrs finish and after 42 kms.  Lovely peaceful evening with time to dry gear and feel settled.

Sunday -  Waited a bit for the tide to rise and help me get a loaded boat back over the rocks (top half of the beach was a nice shingle, lower half rough rough rough) so 10.20hrs start.  Went onto East Mouse and was seeing about 13 kph ground speed on my GPS.  The old copper harbour of Amlwch is in here although well hidden from the sea.

Point Lynas came up soon after and I kept well out following the flood tide round and started south.  The eddy lines on these headlines are obvious enough and move about 200m off the point trailing for maybe 750m downstream.  The Point has a castellated “fort” on it which is the lighthouse plus keeper’s cottages.  Caught sight of a single porpoise again. I had the wind now on my beam and not much to excite me.  

Just carried on past Dulas Island with its pepper pot tower, then to Moelfre Island and instead of being in the sandy shallows of Red Wharf Bay, I headed ESE across to circumnav Puffin Island which is an SSSI.  There was no sign of Puffins just lots of Cormorants /Shags.  The twitchers and the boat anglers were there a plenty and looking across past the Perch Rock Light I could see a million cars at the Penmon Point teashop!  In the opposite direction of course I could see Gt Orme Head on the mainland.  This was about 15.00hrs and was my intended camp area for day 2 but I made a quick change of plan and decided to carry on down the Menai Straits (the Day 3 mileage)

The older suspension bridge came up  (by Telford, 1826) and indeed the flow was pretty quick but smooth enough.  Now doing about 10-12 kph through the swellies section to the Britannia bridge (the newer, double-decked one, Stephenson 1850) and there were big whirly-gig eddies behind the pillars and bow-waves on each channel marker.  It was also wind against tide but there were really no standing waves to speak of, and certainly nothing big enough to surf.  It was now a long haul down to Caernarfon, wider & flatter.  Pulled across to the left bank to get a look at the entrance to the castle and found that half the city was there outdoors drinking beer and listening to a live gig on the prom.

The southern section of the Menai Straits becomes even wider and flatter with the exit at Point Abermenai.  I turned up to the north west now watching out for the sand shallows.  It was now the evening and the sillouette of the Snowdon range was just over my shoulder (about 20 kms away).  Arrived at the lovely beaches on the south side of Llanddwyn Island as the sun was setting.  It was now just before 8pm  so swiftly got camped and cooked.  Once I’d seen a last family of walkers saunter off the island via the tidal causeway I had a lovely time watching the lights over the water on the Lleyn Pennisula. This was a big day at 68 kms over 9 ½ hrs.

Monday -  Went for a walk round the historic sights of this island, it has two lighthouses just 200m apart and 4 old Pilots Cottages (one of which is now a museum) plus assorted celtic crosses and the ruins of a shrine to St Dwynwen who is the patron saint of Lovers. 

Launched at 10.30hrs again on the flood tide but with a nasty SW wind on my port beam as I headed back north towards my start point.  Found that there were random big breakers in the sea that dumped from shoulder level onto the spraydeck,; definitely not a day for taking photos or for inshore rock-hopping.  After a while I also realised that the boat was trimmed stern heavy and really didn’t want to turn to the left against these waves.  Decided to plod on as landing again in the lumpy sea wouldn’t be easy and the plan said this was the shortest day!  Wind was probably F3/F4 but lovely and sunny.  I made a good speed  of 7 – 8 kph with the tide.

Passed the Church “on an island” of St Cwyfan but just kept on plodding (it seems to be built on a simple 30m round hump with a 3m vertical sea wall).  Passed the Anglesey motor racing circuit as well – it was a bike racing day I could see, but fortunately not hear.  Moving north all the time, bearing off to navigate Rhosneigr.  I used a bit of cunning surfing every few minutes to get the bow round to the right (say 30deg off track) because its wayward tendancy continued because of my poor trim.  I started to balance my “outside” line with a few inside cuts now as there was some big waves being set up at the tidal bottlenecks like at Rhoscolyn Beacon.  My strategy was to avoid being washed onto the rocks!   Choosing the right line and stroke timing had become important as the waves could now be quite big (best to pick a smooth 8ft than a breaking 6ft’er).  Didn’t bother looking for the Black or White Arch features on the coastline either – would come back some other day for that. Still doing 8 kph though so getting there even with the sunny / lumpy / windy (F6 gusts) environment.

Finally spotted the entrance to Porth Dafarch and surfed round the rocky point; the narrow bay was full of kids and SOTs etc so gently glided imbetween them to land back at 14.30hrs after 26 kms for the day.

OVERALL –  136 kms over the 3 days.  Not as challenging through the races as I’d expected and the Straits was OK.  Some interesting industrial archaeology spotted on the way round, good scenery.  

Paddling the Roof of Scotland

July 27th - 30th 2017

A long planned event for NESKy took place over this last long weekend:-  the paddle across “the Roof of Scotland”.  Part of a bigger series to circumnavigate the top half of Scotland by kayak/bike/foot in memory of Adrian Shaw.  Just to make sure this had a wacky touch we were bequeathed an old fisherman’s creel buoy that we were to carry/lug/tow around with us!

Thursday evening saw us gather at the campsite in Tongue along with the midges.  The bunkhouse here is well equipped and although we were camping we could have use of the facilities – an excellent kitchen and lounge included. Friday morning and we were starting as a group of 8 sea kayaks at Balnakeil beach just west of Durness up in the top left hand corner of the UK map (just on the edge of the Cape Wrath MoD firing range).  Weather and sea conditions were favourable, and we would get some tidal assistance each morning going west-to-east.  “Adrian’s buoy” was loaded on deck  and off we launched (the buoy is about 40 cms diameter, bright pink, and probably weighs 4 kgs – quite something to have stuck on top of your boat!).

Day 1 was 32 kms around Faraid Head, out to the north side of Hoan island and then across/around Whiten Head.  The highlight was probably seeing lots of puffins (is that a flock?) flying round us.  In we went to Portvasgo but the landing site didn’t look good so we did another few kms and surfed into the beach at Talmine.  A pretty raw evening after hours of shuttling cars around; but we were safe (!?) in a marshy beachside paddock that cost £2 for use of the loo block – only Brian seemed to get a hot shower though.  The paddling was very satisfying and on-plan with great natural features to check out.

Day 2 was an earlier start to try and keep the tidal assistance in our favour for an hour longer, we went out from Talmine through the Rabbit Islands (and its natural arch) and across to the south sides of Eilean nan Ron, then through the inner passage at Coomb Island and onto the sands in Farr bay for lunch.  The weather was holding bright so a few tourists watched us bemusedly.   Onwards and through the rougher stuff off Farr Point, then made a beeline straight to intercept Kirtomy Point and then again to Ardmore point – very much the direct approach).  The lighthouse at Strathy was next as it could be seen for miles and progress towards it was a visual thing.  We were wanting to have a wee play in the tidal race that builds here with a big eddy on the down-tide side but as we rounded to the east round the cliffs the mighty tide race at Strathy Point was nowhere to be seen.  An anti-climax.  Just 50 minutes or so from there to the beach at Stathy to make a 35 km day.  Surfed in the last bit and camp was in the sand dunes; some wind & rain but not enough to keep el-midge at bay.

As the tide was quite a way out, Day 3 started with “lining” the loaded sea kayaks down the creek to get to salt water and out through small waves.  The morning was a bit of a inshore cruise with lots of agricultural land now visible (as opposed to hill/bog country of the west).  Lunch was a sunny affair as we met up with the other group from NESKy in the picturesque Sandside Harbour. 

 In the afternoon the groups separated again and it was past the decommissioned Dounreay golf ball and on to some really very interesting rocks/cliffs with many fault lines and failures zones in them.   The final 7 or 8 kms was through windy/choppy/turbulent conditions as we needed to round headlands at Brims Ness and Spear Head to get into Scrabster / Thurso bay.  There was a visual illusion at one point where being surrounded by very uniform downward sloping fault lines on 300ft cliffs, you actually start to think that the fault lines must be horizontal so the sea is sloping downward (at about 20 degrees!)   The trip was completed with a head down thrash straight into the freshening wind (F4) across the bay and into the slipway at Thurso river. Turned out to be another 35 kms for the day, and 103 kms total for the trip.

Many thanks to those friends who donated to the cancer charities we are supporting this season.