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Archive for May, 2012

Geoff and Andy spent this evening in the company of an ‘elite group’ of the Oswestry Ramblers: Terry, Jon, Anjie, Jo and Jane. They had just spent a week walking in the Aberdaron area and it was them we had to thank apparently for the good weather!

Lovely to meet you all and thank you so much for the generous donations.

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We left Fishguard this morning and after 18 miles, now having lunch and drying kit at Aberystwyth (see photo) before the afternoon paddle to Tywyn another 12. Also a beard check shot for you!

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We left Fishguard this morning and after 18 miles, now having lunch and drying kit at Aberystwyth (see photo) before the afternoon paddle to Tywyn another 12. Also a beard check shot for you!

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Just a short update to say hello and a big thank you to 1st Letterston and 1st Hayscastle Brownies. We met them all on the beach at Abereiddy as they had lunch and we were getting ready to launch.

They gave us a lovely send off and a very generous donation for all our charities. Thank you all and hope you have a fabulous weekend in Pembrokeshire.

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I promised this little update about our extended stay in Camarthen Bay. What should have been an 18 mile, 4 hour crossing from Worm’s Head to Tenby, ended up as a 4 day circumnavigation of the Bay, dodging the F6-7 winds and firing ranges. Indeed I started drafting this while listening to 30mm cannons being proof fired from Pendine Sands. We’d watch out for a short burst of delicate splashes on the water and a couple of seconds later hear the sound.

That final morning in Camarthen Bay we were up at 4.30am keen to catch the tide and make the most of the good forecast. It was dark as we carried the boats down to the water but getting light as we pushed off. The water was beautifully calm as we set off for Tenby and the rising sun warmed our backs as we paddled. This day the Bay felt very different to the frustrations it had caused us over the previous three….

Since making the Bristol Channel crossing we had had one night in stunning Port Eynon before paddling to Worms Head. The forecast had been for a F4 gusting F5 South Westerly. Our plan had to be to get to Worms Head and see whether the crossing to Tenby was on. If not we would use the SW wind to cut into the Bay and start making the long way around (around 31 miles).

We arrived at Worms Head, a crossing didn’t feel the safe option. The sea state was up and we didn’t want to be half way across and for it to worsen. So we made the call to head roughly towards Pendine Sands around two thirds of the way along the Bay. We got a little help from the wind this way. Unfortunately after a couple of miles the wind picked up and increasingly we were taking breaking waves beam on, causing us to have to brace regularly.

We took stock and decided that while we could cope with this as it was, we still had 10 miles to reach land and if it got worse we may struggle. So we made the call to a more directly into the Bay towards Pembrey Country Park and Cefn Sidan Sands. That way we could use the wind and the following sea to make good progress to shore. Our only concern was to avoid the sand banks we had spotted on the map as we planned the day.

The strategy was working well. Our speed over ground picked up and we estimated we ought to be on the shore within a couple of hours. It seemed to take an age to get past Rhossili Sands. But then it is around three miles long.

As we reached Burry Holms island at the end of Rhossili Sands the wave sets seemed to get larger. Increasingly we found ourselves surfing down them, fun at times, nerve wracking at others. But we all seemed to cope with it well.

The next hour was perhaps the only point of this expedition that we have all used the word ‘scared’ in our post mortem at the end of the day. Unfortunately, rather than missing the sand banks we found ourselves right in the middle of them. The shallower area forces the waves up and the strong wind gave them foamy crests that threaten to take us sideways. Some of the sets that came in were 2.5m to 3m.

It was a testing 60 minutes or so, but we were pleased with how well we all coped. We landed safely on Cefn Silan Sands near the lifeguard’s hut. Well almost safely. I have to confess that after dealing with the crossing Mike and I were telling each other stories about who surfed the bigger wave when the smallest piddly wave came along, I caught my paddle at the wrong angle and got a dunking in two feet or water! How embarrassing.

Pembrey Sands is enormous and so the carry up the beach took an age. It is also miles from anywhere so that night we had to bivvy down in the dunes. It was a howling night but actually we felt quite cosy in our tents as the wind picked up to gusting F8.

By the morning (day 2 in Camarthen Bay) it had reduced to a F6 again and more westerly this time. That would mean we might be able to make progress in shore as it would be beam on as we headed west towards Pendine Sands.

We popped into the RNLI lifeguards hut to see Cara, Adam and Sophie (yes we were their so long that we got on first name basis). They gave us an update on the forecast and even popped down in their 4×4 to Pembury firing range to see if they could allow us through. They could but unfortunately the next range at Pendine was test firing all day until 16.00. This was all the more frustrating as the wind had started to die down but was forecast to pick up again later.

So we spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with the RNLI drinking their tea while they ate our chocolate. You may have seen the photo we published a few days ago.

Around 13.00 the wind dropped and we decided to paddle in the surf zone, bizarrely quite gentle in comparison to outside of it, down towards the Pendine Range. We stopped briefly to chat to the Range Controller at Cefn Silan Sands Range who confirmed it was safe to pass.

Around an hour later and a paddle in some lively conditions we landed at the edge of the Pendine Range. The red flags were down and so safe to pass. But as we feared the wind had strengthened again. Back at a F6 and now as we had to turn west it was practically a head wind. We were making very little progress but we couldn’t stop on the range. Not least because it was exposed and we were getting cold.

Our choices we to turn about and head to a village we could see to the east of us or push on. Not wanting to head backwards and also wanting to escape the Range we decided to push on. However it didn’t take long to realise the only way to make progress was to get out and drag the 80kg kayaks in the surf zone. That way we could make around 3mph. On the water it was more like 2mph and exhausting.

Mike with his military training set a fierce pace followed closely by a determined Geoff. Have to say I was shattered and lagged behind. We had forgotten to eat lunch and my blood sugar level was very low. Despite stuffing myself with some snacks I was struggling. It wasn’t helped by the fact that kayaking boots aren’t designed for walking 6 miles in 12 inches of surf whilst dragging the kayak.

We all had to dig very deep but after 2.5 hours we were at Pendine village. Of course the tide was now all the way out and so the carry was around 1/4 mile. This took another hour. To compound it all the heavens opened. You couldn’t have scripted it better. We just had to laugh. We had a big group hug and laughed at it all as we lifted the last kayak up the slipway.

That night we planned to eat up a storm. However we were so tired we couldn’t manage a great deal. We booked into the b&b that Malcolm Campbell stayed at when he broke the land speed record there. To be honest it has seen better days but at least it was dry and out of the wind. We knew the forecast for the next day was bad so planned so booked in for 2 nights.

It was bliss standing under a hot shower that night and being able to do all our washing and dry out the kit.

Despite how hard the paddling day feels, you soon forget about it when you’ve eaten and are warm. We really are operating at the bottom of Maslow hierarchy!

On the 4th day we escaped to Tenby and out of the Bay. One day I might come back to Camarthen Bay (but without the kayak).

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Lie in this morning after three days of 4/5 am starts. Up at 7.30, tents packed away and kayaks loaded, breakfasts eaten (porridge again) and on the water by 8.30. One aspect of this trip that has gone exceptionally well is our ability to be efficient on the shore!

We knew the wind would be up this morning but from the shelter of the bay at Abereiddy, on the Pembrokeshire coast line, it was difficult to see just by how much. So nothing ventured….

On the way out the bay we popped into the blue lagoon. A stunning old slate quarry that was flooded when it closed and the result is a beautiful blue pool, even on a grey cloudy day.

The dead calm of the pool was soon shattered as we rounded the first headland. The wind which felt like a constant F5 was compressed round the headland and delivered it as a F6 headwind. The wind was with tide but still the sea state was moderate (wind against will whip it up even more). Us kayakers prefer slight but low end of moderate is ok.

As we pushed through each headland the sea state and wind eased a little but as each headland appeared the wind strengthened and we found ourselves in the equivalent of kayaking martial arts competition. Guessing where the next wave was coming from and bracing on it to prevent capsize. The waves were also bouncing off the cliffs and back out to sea creating pyramid shape clapotis.

We had planned on a short day because of the weather – getting to Fishguard, about 14 miles. But after only a couple of miles the wind seemed to strengthen and we were making little progress.

It was almost paddling in ‘Everyman for himself’ mode and whilst we could cope with the conditions, if one or two of us had capsized, effecting a rescue would have been challenging.

Suddenly Mike called out to us to stop. Geoff was close and could hear and so also stopped, I was around 50 meters ahead and couldn’t hear the call. However I was regularly looking back to check as we all do if we find ourselves out in front. I saw they had stopped and turned back to meet them. Interestingly both had shouted and I hadn’t heard. I heard Mike’s shiny new whistle though.

So we find ourselves back in Abereiddy and a day of blog writing and eating in the Sloop Inn.

After each event like this we sit down at talk through our decisions. Should we have gone out in the first place? Well probably – we couldn’t tell how rough it was from the bay without putting our noses out into it. We are all strong enough paddlers to cope with the conditions. Should we have turned back or pushed on? Well perhaps debatable – we weren’t making much progress and whilst we seemed to be coping, we were close to our limits and if one of us had gone for a swim it would have been a challenge to affect a rescue. What’s more there are few stopping places over the next few miles. So we think we made the right call.

We have learned a lot about our team decision making these past two weeks. What is paramount is safety of the whole team, no good one person wanting to go on and the other two feeling concerned. Each of us know that we can call it a day if we feel out of our comfort zone with no recriminations from the others. We all trust each other and their skills and judgement implicitly.

In some ways it is this aspect of expedition paddling that is the most rewarding. Testing yourselves against the elements but safely and learning from your decisions and how the dynamics of the group may affect those decisions. We try to be completely open and transparent with each other and how we are feeling. We test and double check our plans and try and learn when we make mistakes. All good lessons for life back on dry land.

Anyway, hopefully back on the water tomorrow and adding to the good mileage we’ve achieved over the last couple of days. In the meantime, another slice of almond cake awaits!

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It was an early start this morning to catch the tide. 15 miles before breakfast. That’s more like it! Now some relaxation while we wait to cross another range and for the tide to change…

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