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Archive for June, 2015

It is 10.30pm and I’m in my tent. What’s that I hear? – Absolutely nothing. The winds have died down for what must be, the first time in a couple of weeks. Today out on the water Geoff and I noticed a marked increase in the warmth of the air that the southerly wind has brought in. Maybe summer has arrived.

The last few days we have had very strong tailwinds and we’ve managed to make some decent progress. Last night we spent on Aranmore and today we’re in Portnablagh. 

Tomorrow we’ll be round Malin Head and just beginning to make the slow right hand turn to head south again. It will mean the end of the west coast and the Atlantic swell. It has taken us three weeks to negotiate the west coast and it has been the most extraordinary experience that neither of us will forget, but we’re ready for the long push home now. 

We’ve covered 630 miles so far and think we have around 330 to go.

No dramatic sea stories today, sorry about that – although my Mum may be relieved!

Thank you Pauline for your very generous donation to our charities. We’ll be in touch when we get back.

Some photos from Glencolmcille where we stayed a couple of nights ago and where we met Margaret, Margaret and Kevin from the Folk Village Museum – such a fascinating place which will need another visit one day soon.

   
       

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Yesterday morning we woke to the sound of rain on our tents. Never a great way to start the day. The dilemma is whether to crack on and pack everything away wet, knowing you’ll be climbing into a wet tent the following evening, or to wait for it to pass and then be late on the water. 

We compromised and cooked breakfast (porridge) in the rain but packed the tents up when it stopped. 

We were away for 7.45am, but not before we chatted to some of the local fishermen heading out in their currachs and got their take on the weather.

As we paddled out to Downpatrick Head the sun came out and warmed our cold hands. All was good with the world again. The transition, getting off the water and settled, or packing up again in the morning and climbing into wet gear, is the hardest part of the day we find. 

As if to reward us for getting up and away on time, we met two basking sharks in the bay. One must have been  5m long.  Just amazing. We said before this trip that it was one thing we would  love to see and now that’s our third.

We crossed Killala Bay and headed for Easky where we stopped for provisions and made some soup for lunch. 

The wind was picking up F5 gusting F6 but still in our favour so we made the call to push on and cross Sligo Bay and towards the Island of Inishmurray. That would mean we would finish the day having started the crossing of Donegal Bay.

Three miles into the fifteen mile crossing the wind gusts were now strengthening – F7 were now common. 

The swell was picking up but in the main it was wind chop.

We had set off on a bearing as Inishmurray is low lying and we couldn’t see it from the start. Indeed it wouldn’t appear for another three miles. 

As we approached the Island we could start to make out the ruins of the old settlement and monastery. The jetty we were aiming for was at the ‘sheltered’ east end of the Island.

 The wind was now a constant F7 gusting F8 and the sea getting a little lively. We could see the jetty, it looked short. We both hoped it would provide enough shelter from the southwesterly wind and waves. As we rounded the end of the jetty, we realised the water was also low exposing some enormous rocks. It was clearly only a useful landing spot at high water. 

This was going to be difficult. Controlling an 18 foot kayak that weighs 80kgs, fully loaded in swell, strong winds and around rocks, is pretty difficult. 

We decided to take a closer look and see if we could pull alongside the rocks and clamber out for a short swim and haul the boats out. 

It wasn’t going to happen. The initial haul out would have been too high and the risk of injury to us or the boats too great. 

We decided to paddle round to the leeward side of the Island and take a look there. The swell was now wrapping all the way round the Island but there was an area of calm water. Unfortunately the landing was to be on boulders the size of fridges. Perfect boat and ankle breaking territory. 

We had no choice. We climbed out of the kayaks and waded the last few feet up to our waists so we could control landing the kayaks on the rocks. We managed to get both out of the water balanced precariously. The plan was to empty the kit out and then come back for the kayaks. 

It was then we spotted the nesting sites above us. There were chicks moving around the top of the foreshore. We couldn’t risk disturbing them so there was nothing for it but to paddle the kayaks back against the wind and return to the jetty. We left some of the kit on the beach to make them lighter and easier to handle. 

Same as before we managed to get alongside the rocks by the jetty, get out and swim the kayaks in. All the time the wind and waves were buffeting us. A broken boat (or body) would have been the end of the expedition – as well as a difficult evacuation from an uninhabited island!

Fortunately, with a little less gel coat than they had that morning we landed the boats. Geoff and I suffered no more than bruises. It took us a further hour to retrieve our kit from the other side of the Island and then pitch our tents before the wind picked up even more. That night we were buffeted by gale force winds, but as ever, you always feel safe and cosy in your tent and very satisfied to have paddled 36 miles given the conditions.

Whether we could get off the Island in the morning given the conditions would be another matter……we had figured we could be ‘comfortable’ for three days before food started running out.

Day 26 – in the end, this morning the sun was shining on our little camp in the playground of the old school on Inishmurray, and the wind had dropped a notch.   We had a chance to see what a stunning place this is, and appreciate just how tough a life it must have been to live on this Island.

Given the previous day’s exploits it was a late start. It was a complicated, but safe launch in the end and it was good to be on our way again.

The 25 mile paddle today, north towards Malin Beg and the village of Glencollumkille, saw easily the biggest seas we have had on the trip so far. The early morning sunshine soon left us and we faced regular squally showers bringing a stiff F7 wind.  The westerlies over the last few days have built the Atlantic swell up too. Whilst officially only 2.8m, over shallower ground we were experiencing steep swell around  5m or 6m regularly. 

But we were making decent progress and we seem to be handling the conditions comfortably. Our C Trek boats seem to ooze confidence in this sort of sea.

We landed in Glencollumkille, Donegal, stored the kayaks above the high tide zone and managed to find a nearby B&B. We needed a shower and to be inside for a few hours. 

The next few day should see us round the top and heading south towards Rosslare.

Thank you Carol for your very generous donation for our charities!

   
              

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Half way through our fourth week. We’ve now covered 508 miles – just over half way.

The last couple of days we have been heading east into the Bay of Donegal to position ourselves to make the crossing to Malin Beg. It is a spectacular coast but also very committed. There are few places to get out and the winds get compressed and accelerate over the mountains and hills and down through gulleys.

Yeterday we left Knocknalina with a southeasterly F5. We made good progress until we got into Donegal Bay proper.  We were facing F8 gusts frequently and for prolonged periods which attempted to rip the paddles from our hands. But we were still making headway, albeit only around 2.5 to 3 miles an hour. Then came the most torrential rain that was so hard it almost hurt the hands.

We had made 13 miles but progress was getting tougher. Porturlin was just a mile further on and offered an option to get off and reassess. If we pushed on we were committing to another 15 miles of potentially worsening conditions.

We opted for Porturlin. As we made our way to the back of the harbour and a beach landing we ate some food and discussed options. The wind seemed to be strengthening and so whilst we felt we could cope with the conditions we also felt why slog out 15 miles in 6 hours when we could probably so it in 3 tomorrow. 

We stayed in the kayaks and waited for the rain to stop. It was the best way to stay warm. In fact we both dosed off.  Finally the rain did stop and we landed and pitched the tents amongst the sheep and got some hot food on. 

It is strange how very quickly you become comfortable with a new camping site. What at first can look quite inhospitable becomes homely once you are warm and inside your tent. In fact I’m writing this inside my tent on a harbour wall while the world goes by outside.

Today the southeasterly turned into a southwesterly so although it was a similar strength as yesterday, at least it would give us a bit of a push.

For most of today, the rain stayed away and the sun lit up the extraordinary cliffs. We even had time to explore a couple of caves and gulleys – certainly the largest Geoff and I have ever seen. This is definitely an area to come back and explore more.

We have seen very few other craft up the west coast, those that we do see are lobster or line fishermen.  In some ways it adds to the sense of this being an extreme stretch of coastline. One thing that has struck both of us though is the greeting we get from fishermen as we paddle by. Not just a nod through a cabin window, most make a point of leaving their cabins walking to the stern and giving us a hearty wave.  

This afternoon we walked into Ballycastle to Mary’s Cottage Kitchen – soup, toasted sarnie, bread and butter pudding, cheese cake and around a gallon of tea. Perfect stop.

Thank you to Kim and David for your very generous donation! The total for our charities is climbing nicely.

The photos can’t do the scenary justice but do check for Geoff at the bottom of the cliffs – you’ll get a sense of scale. 

   
            

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Another great day on and off the water.

Last night was bonfire night in Ireland which is held on the eve of the birth date of St John the Baptist. No fireworks on Clare Island but the world’s biggest bonfire had been built on the beach about 300m from our tents. When Geoff and I headed off to bed around 10.00 pm the party hadn’t started. We thought perhaps we had got the wrong night and were quietly relieved that we might actually get some sleep. What we hadn’t reckoned on was the party starting at 3am. Our tents now formed the centre of the car park and what must have been all of the island’s young people arrived on cue. We kissed goodbye to any sleep….

Lack of sleep didn’t seem to affect us today though.  We timed our launch to pick up the north going flood tide through Achill Sound and together with a southerly wind we made between 5 and 6 miles and hour for the first 10 miles.  The persistent rain and mist didn’t take the gloss off a perfect start. At Achill Bridge the tides meet so that north of the bridge the ebb tide continues north. That means you can get a good tidal push for 14 miles or so – free miles!!!

We had timed it just right. We paddled under the bridge and pulled over on a slip way as we had spotted a supermarket. We must have looked a right pair as we walked in. We got a few funny looks and friendly comments. 

A coffee, sausage roll, chicken and mushroom pie and a breadcrumb fillet of chicken later and we were back on the water to pick up the ebb tide. 

As the tide changed so too did the weather. The rain stopped and mist and cloud lifted leaving us to paddle in glorious sunshine and allowing us to enjoy the incredible mountainous backdrop on Achill Island.

18 miles down now and we were out the other side of sound leaving Achill Island behind. Another 14 to go before  we met the channel that joins Blacksod Bay with Broadhaven Bay. 

Incidentally, a weather report from Blacksod lighthouse on 3rd June 1944, caused Eisenhower to delay the D  Day landings by a day and potentially averted a complete disaster.

By the time we arrived at the channel at Belmullet it  was low water, but there was still just enough for us to paddle the few hundred yards through. 

We were feeling good and the sun was still shining so we decided to stop for fish and chips and then push on a few more miles. 

So here we are at Broadhaven,poised to enter Donegal Bay tomorrow. We’re camped on an old slipway beneath a trawler feeling satisfied with another 36 miles under our belts.

Big thank you to Freya, Becky, Daz, Christine, Deborah and Joanna for your donations. You guys are amazing and so generous!

   
   

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We left Dogs Head Bay, Roundstone, bright and early. The strong westerly winds had been blowing F6 gusting F8 but had now eased to F4 gusting F5 and veered NW. Time to push west round Slyne Head and turn north once again towards Inishboffin. 26 miles is a modest target but against a headwind it turned into a 9 hour slog without getting out of the boat. 

I’ll spare you the details of the trip but needless to say bums and backs were feeling slightly the worse for wear when we pulled in to the stunning natural  harbour at Inishbofin. 

And imagine our state of delerium when we realised there was a bar and cafe next to the slipway. We ate ourselves silly, chatted to some folk in the bar and then paddled 200m to our own idyllic camping spot with private beach. I say private, and it was if you don’t count the sheep and hares.

Today we Island hopped in superb conditions and even a slight tail wind! First stop was Inishturk. Everyone we talked to said we had to stop here. Population 50.

As we pulled into the harbour in the sunshine, a voice shouted out hello. Mary Jo owns the cottage by the slipway and invited us in for tea and cake.

We had actually heard about Mary Jo’s hospitality from Jon Hynes. She loves kayaks and loves company of visitors.

We chatted about life on the Island, ate some more cake and said our goodbyes.  Mary Jo has welcomed kayakers, sailors and divers alike for years. Each of them will have left her cottage feeling revived after a day at sea and their hearts warmed by her generosity, as were ours.

It is for experiences just like that that Geoff and I love seakayaking and expeditions in particular. 

It was just a short 7 miles crossing to Clare Island, where we are now. Our staging post before we catch the flood tide through Achill Sound in the morning. Once through the Sound we will be half way through our little expedition. 

Tents pitched, time for a Guinness before bed……

Thank you so much to the anonymous person who made a generous donation to our charities. Please let me know who you are so I can thank you properly.

   
            

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Roundstone

                

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I’d love to tell you that the Aran Islands  are every bit as beautiful as their reputation. Unfortunately we didn’t see them. We landed in thick fog and we left in thick fog.

We did however have a restful stay in the Pier House B&B, run by a man who had fished for herring in the area for 40 years. We made sure we picked up any advice he had to offer about the waters ahead. We also consumed a huge quantity of calories in our 15 hour stay including what has to be the best Irish stew we’ve ever had (washed down with a couple of pints of Guiness).

We left Kilronan in sunshine but as we left the harbour the fog came in. We were headed to the Connemara coastline – Golam Head – around a 9 mile open crossing. We set off on a northwest bearing and soon lost sight of all land. Surrounded in an earie shroud. Other than our compasses, the only clue to our direction was the westerly swell and wind chop. 

A couple of hours later and Golam Head started to emerge through the fog. As we rounded the headland the fog cleared and the sun out in an appearance which made navigating the last 15 miles to Roundstone a little easier. 

This stretch of water is littered with rocky outcrops over which any swell breaks violently. Fortunately for us the swell was slight today.

The wind, as ever, was in our faces and our progress slow but miles ticked by – probably the Guiness and Irish stew fuel.

The Connemara mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to our campsite (whenever the cloud base lifts) – today we are off the water as the winds have strengthened.  But we hope to get round Slyne Head tomorrow and up to Inishturk. 

In the meantime – exploring beautiful Roundstone…

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