…but not in the way you think!
The last couple of days have seen some big seas, lots of rain and some tense paddling moments.
Wednesday morning we both woke on Holy Island to the now familiar sound of rain on our tents (as well as a seal colony). Bugger! We’ll be packing the gear away wet again I thought.
I’m normally up first but often lie in the tent catching up on emails or writing a blog entry. It’s usually Geoff that kicks the official start to the day off by starting to pack. What then ensues is a silent but slightly competitive race to see who can pack first. Geoff always wins and I can’t figure out how. One area I am faster than him at though is eating breakfast. I have to take those small wins as they are few and far between.
However, that morning there was no noise from Geoff’s tent. I called out to him. I think we were both on the same wavelength. We’d paddled 40 miles the day before and arrived late, pitched tents in pouring rain and slept in damp sleeping bags. Not conducive to an early, energetic start. We both agreed to a late start and only after a coffee and Danish at the Pilgrim’s Cafe.
When we got back from the cafe the wind had turn 180 degrees and was now northerly, hooray! However it had also strengthened to a Force 7. Hmmm.
Whilst we mulled over whether to launch, we packed the tents away which had been nicely dried by the freshening breeze.
Class 3 from Henshaw CE School joined us as we packed the kayaks. What a bright bunch. We got some great questions from them about: navigation, how we slept at night, how the radios work etc but my favourite questions were:
1. “this might be a strange question, but how do you pee?” so I explained about the pee bottle in the cockpit. If it’s not rough we’ll do it solo but if it is, the other paddler will raft up and hold the boat solo”
2. “what do you if one of you capsizes?” I explained we would try to roll back up or perform an assisted rescue
3. “what do you do if you need a pee but the other paddler has capsized”. Well we have rehearsed a number of scenarios but I had to admit that I didn’t have an answer for that one.
Class 3 cheered us off as we carried the boats down to the water. Conscious that we had been so busy answering questions that we hadn’t actually taken the ‘go/no go’ decision given the worsening conditions, I asked Geoff what he thought. The sea state was fairly slight despite the wind and so we both agreed to go for it.
Once we had left the shelter of the harbour the full force of the wind hit us beam on. Leaning hard to the right, into the wind, hunching forward to keep our centre of gravity low and present less of a target for the gusts, we paddled hard to get across to Guile Point.
Adjusting the skegs to make sure we remained on track to head directly across the wind, we made our way across. The waves were picking up, not too big but cresting and breaking. If ever we are going capsize on this trip, it could well have been this morning and in front of Class 3. Sadly for them we remained up right.
We pulled alongside each other, Geoff offered me his hand to shake. We congratulated each other on surviving a 300 yard paddle!
We decided to follow the coast line as close as possible and see if we could get to Banburgh, around 4 miles down the coast. The wind was fierce, occasionally gusting F8, but mainly F7, it would try to rip the paddle from our hands. Fortunately the fetch was very short and the sea state remarkably slight considering. This allowed us to paddle carefully down the coast – frankly we could have sailed. Just holding the paddle up across our chests as a sail delivered 3kts! With light paddling we were doing 6 and 7kts.
At Banburgh we surfed up the beach and headed off in search of a coffee. This was going to be a low mileage day so might as well enjoy it!
We continued to eek our way down the coast, the winds had dropped to an F6 now, so still lively but less heart stopping moments. The sea state had picked up a little more now so we were struggling with keeping the kayaks straight. The odd wave would catch the back of the boats and turn them wildly left or right leaving us to fight to get them back on course. Every so often we would need to brace on the top of a wave for stability and prevent a capsize.
Next stop Seahouses, and then another short stint to Low Newton by the Sea. Geoff was keen to push on. Frankly I had had enough. The wind and conditions made for a stressful experience and being 6pm and the fact that this looked like a decent place to stay, we both agreed to call it a day. Only 15 miles but given the strong winds they were hard won.
After a very wet night I woke and peered out of the tent. It was still grey but at least it had stopped raining. The winds seemed to have dropped a notch too.
The usual morning ritual followed and we launched around 9.30. The sea state was bigger than the day before after the wind had whipped it up all night. Large swells were coming in from the north and crashing over the rocks in the bay with some considerable force.
We made good progress towards Craster. It was a roller coaster of a short journey as the swells would lift us up in turn. Peak to trough they ranged anywhere between 12ft and 25ft.
What was very apparent about this stretch of coastline and the swell, was that a landing in anything other than a harbour would be very risky.
After a short stop at Craster (and a lovely coffee with Angus, a retired GP) we pushed on. The plan was to stop at Newbiggin By The Sea, but we would start to look for safe landing spots a few miles before that as there were a series of headlands that might have afforded some shelter to tuck in behind.
As each headland approached we could see that the swells were rising up and breaking as the ground became shallower. Most of it was starting to break around half a mile out, so we tried to paddle just behind this line. Just occasionally a section of very large swell would break even earlier and so we risked being side swiped by the white water as it came in. On top of that, there were several areas off shore where reefs were causing the waves to break early too.
Both of us had a few ‘emotional’ moments but we continued to carve a path through. The only downside was we found no safe places to stop and have a breather along the way and so it was 22 miles after Craster before we finally pulled round the last headland and were so relieved to see the wonderful breakwater at Newbiggin On The Sea. As soon as we were round it the water was like a mill pond and it was a stunning warm evening.
We pulled up by the RNLI station and hauled up the boats, changed and hung up the kit to dry over some railings. A local retired fisherman walking his dog came over to chat with Geoff and a short time later Tim Martin arrived too. Tim lives just by the RNLI boat house and has served as a volunteer for 53 years. What a lovely chap. He opened up the boat house and popped the kettle on. Meanwhile his wife had buttered a couple of buns for us to go with our supper. We sat and ate our food in the crew room whilst we chatted to Tim. Such an interesting life he has led. We nearly fell off our chairs when he told us he was nearly 80. This was the man we had seen up the ladder working on his house when we pulled in and who later was manhandling his boat into his front garden.
The Operations Manager, Les, popped in and chatted too. He kindly offered to store the kayaks for the night so we didn’t have to worry about them.
Next morning they were both there to see us off and wish us luck.
Thanks guys for being so friendly and hospitable!