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Archive for June, 2015

Last night we pulled into Brandon Bay after a stunning 22 miles along the north side of the Dingle Peninsula. Mountains meet the sea and make for a breathtaking backdrop to our paddle. The size of the cliffs plays with your perspective and only a passing gull against them gives you a hint that what you are looking at is not a couple of hundred metres away but more like a couple of miles. Everything on this side of Ireland’s coast seems immense. 

The landscape even shapes the local weather. Despite the forecast being for F3/4, the hills and mountains funnel and accelerate the winds, particularly in the afternoons it seems, and we often experience sustained F6 gusts. 

It had not been a long day but it was a good day in that it set us up nicely for our most committed and open crossing yet – across Kerry Head and the mouth of the Shannon up to Loop Head.

We tucked the boats away by the side of the harbour wall and walked all of 20 yards to a great pub, ordered a pint and some grub. 

A little later that evening I popped down to the Harbour to check on the boats only to to see a shivering man getting changed. It was Mick O’Meara, who met us in Tramore. He had set off last Thursday and had already caught us. He’s been averaging 45 miles a day! 

We helped Mick with his kayak and returned to the bar for a beer and a catch up.

A couple of beers and a slug of Lagavulin later we climbed into our tents having agreed to do the crossing together the next day.

We were up and on the water by 07.45 and heading north east. To our right we could see Kerry Head about 12 miles away. That would be the only land we would see until about half way across the 23 mile open crossing. Loop Head is on fairly low lying cliffs and so we had to trust that our bearing (and our ability to stick to it) would deliver us on target.

Mick has access to some very detailed localised forecasts which suggested we should expect a south westerly wind all day F4/5. We knew that the wind would be stronger until we escaped the clutches of the mountains around Brandon point. 

And so we set off with a solid F6 behind us, pushing us along at around 5 or 6 miles and hour. From the off we told Mick that if he fancied pushing on he should, and not let us hold him back. But I think he and us welcomed the company on such a committed crossing.

The miles were soon ticking away and as we left the mountains of the Dingle Peninsula behind us, the wind did die down to a F5. But we were now exposed to Atlantic swell around four metres. Progress slowed a little to around 4.5 miles an hour which we felt was ok given the confused state of the sea. Geoff and I could tell Mick could easily have squeezed his speed up a few notches. We hoped he wasn’t too frustrated being held back by us.

The conditions were testing but comfortable. Every so often a swell would crest and break over the boat requiring a brace stroke to keep upright and to keep a straight course. 

One slightly comical moment was when Mick and I were chatting only to both turn round at the same time to see what must have been a seven metre swell behind us with a rather composed Geoff trying to surf down it. 

I think it was at that moment we thought that this was going to be a big day.

Ten miles in and now and again as we rose up on each swell we could see Loop Head appearing in the low mist. We were on course. 

Kerry Head now behind us after three hours, we were half way across and just entering the mouth of the Shannon. 

Another hour and a half later and after a precarious pee stop, our minds turned to what kind of sea awaited us around Loop Head. The south west swell would be reflecting back off the cliffs and causing all manner of mayhem – clapotis, pyramid shaped waves that appear without warning and thrust you and the boat in the air with no solid water around to brace your paddle on for support. 

The only sensible option was to give Loop Head a wide berth – a mile or so. 

It would be each paddler for himself for the next hour and a half as we made our way past the headland. Swells seemed to be hitting us from all directions now. Time to really concentrate. We could just make out tourists on the cliffs looking out. What must they have made of us three mad kayakers!

The clapotis died down and the tension eased. We’d made it without mishap and any time you test yourself in conditions you learn a little more. Geoff and I stopped on the water and had a sandwich. Mick had pushed on and landed in a bay for a stretch and food.  We figured he would catch us pretty quick – and he did.

Just 14 more miles to Kilkee, but the swell kept us focused. This coastline is littered with reefs which cause the swell to rise up and break and are to be avoided (to put it mildly)

Finally after around 9.5 hours and 39 miles we said goodbye to Mick as he pushed on up the coast and we negotiated the reef in Kilkee bay and sought safe landing.

We are now a third of the way round and hope to be on the Aran Islands by Friday. Today however the winds have kept us off the water. I think we are both relieved to have a day off after paddling ten days in a row.

Thank you Cynthia and Liz for your generous donations! Means a lot to us.

   
 

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We have been blessed with some amazing weather so far and not wanting to waste any of it we have paddled nine straight days in a row and have now accumulated 288 miles under our belts. Just over a quarter of the way.
Yesterday we had a fairly tough paddle into a F4/5 (mostly the latter it felt) to cross Dingle Bay from Portmagee. A seven hour slog in the end. 

Today however, perhaps inevitably, our bodies seem to be telling us to rest. I guess it’s not just the paddling but the broken sleep in harbour walls and in car parks too that takes it’s toll.

So we cut the day short a little after 21 miles and are in Brandon. From where we are camped we can see across the Shannon. We hope to be on the other side tomorrow.

Time then to say a little more about the charities we are raising money for whilst we paddle round enjoying the extraordinary scenary and friendly people.

We are hoping to raise money for two charities:

Samaritans – supporting anyone in distress, around the clock, through 201 branches across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Geoff and Andy will be raising money for the branch in Cornwall (Truro) which provides support to callers from all over England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Registered Charity Number: 262105

The West Of England MS Therapy Centre – providing support and relief of symptoms to people with Multiple Sclerosis and their supporters. (Registered charity number 801155)

No doubt you all get asked regularly to sponsor people but if you would like to make a donation (split 50:50 between these two charities) please follow the link below:
http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/midlifekayak

Anything you can give will be very welcome. Thank you!
Andy and Geoff

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Day 11 Portmagee

A slog of a day, 24 miles into a headwind but the Guiness is good (and so are the fish and chips). We’re in Portmagee, looking out across the sound to Valentia Island. Stunning!

   
   

        

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Day 10 Garinish Bay

We had climbed into our bivy bags besides the kayaks in Crookhaven fairly early last night, looking forward to getting some rest before the big day round Mizen Head and on to Carinish Bay. It would be a committed open water crossing and no opportunity to get out of the kayaks for some 24 miles.  It would be our first full day on the west coast and I guess both of us were feeling a little apprehensive.

It was a mild night and we were both asleep before too long.  I woke around 1am with Geoff telling it was raining. We decided to close up the bivy bags and hope they didn’t leak and that the rain would stop soon. 

At 3am, I swam out of my bivy bag and sought shelter outside a bar. 

Over porridge we surveyed our sodden kit and moaned about how unpleasant it would be to climb in to bed the following night. We were feeling right sorry for ourselves. 

Fortunately we had another can of HTFU juice and both drank a good mouthful, got kitted up and on the water.

From camp it was a 7 mile paddle to get fully round Mizen Head and it’s impressive cliffs. The forecast north easterly helped push us in our way for the first hour.

The rain had stopped by the time we started the open crossing. We could make out Sheeps Head but the other side of Bantry Bay was shrouded in mist and we assumed, rain.

We headed off north west on a bearing of 300 degrees. We figured that ought to take us slightly east of Dursley Sound, allowing for the effects of the  north east wind, through which we would paddle the last few miles to get to Carinish Bay.

As we left  Mizen behind us the wind settled down and a Minke whale broached maybe 40 metres in front of us. It was clearly a sign that it was going to be a good day.

And a good day it was. From a wildlife perspective it was easily the best day either of us have had in our kayaks. 

Gannets, Puffins, Guillemots, Shearwaters, Dolphins and Minke whales were feeding in the area. Gannets were putting on their incredible diving displays.  Every few minutes a Dolphin pod would appear and we had several close encounters with Minke. On three ocassions a Minke circled us several times, broaching within 10 metres of the kayaks. 

We felt incredibly privileged and blessed. 

With the wildlife display going on the miles ticked by and by 4pm we landed in a beautiful bay and pitched camp. 

The photo is of a lovely family we met when we arrived.  Also keen kayakers.

   
 

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Day 9 Crookhaven

Had a great night’s sleep on the lawn outside the Stone House B&B in Baltimore. Jerry and Rhianne who run it, provided us with a huge breakfast this morning to set us up for the day’s paddle. They are also on the RNLI crew and had arranged for us to store our boats safely by the lifeboat station. Thanks so much guys!

It was a late start as we had to repack the kayaks after picking up provisions for the west coast. However, the stiff easterly wind helped us on our way out of the safe haven of Baltimore harbour, past Sherkin Island and into the Atlantic.

We were ticking along nicely at 5 to 6 miles an hour in the following sea. As we rounded Sherkin Island and turned to run down the north side of Clear Island we got our first glimpse of the Fastnet Rock, Ireland’s teardrop. The last piece of Ireland that emigrants saw as they sailed to America.

After a brief stop for a stretch and a coffee in the harbour on Clear Island, we started the open crossing towards Crookhaven Harbour. As the wind strengthened behind us, we zipped along at a fair old rate, surfing the ocassional wave. For a while we were tempted to keep going round Mizen Head and aim for Portmagee. But that would have been another 25 miles. So after a couple of hours we entered the safe waters of Crookhaven by paddling through a cave in the headland. 

Coming through the other side we were treated with a scene straight out of Spring Watch. There on the rocks in front of us, was a sea otter eating a fish that it had just caught. Stunning! 

Jerry and Rhianne – The Stone B&B. 

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Jane (Geoff’s sister) and her husband, Gary and the lovely Emma who looked after us so well……and fellow kayaker 

     

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Great to meet you guys! And thanks for supper.

   
 

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Sitting in a bar in Baltimore, the last town before we head up the West Coast, just reflecting on what an incredible week we’ve just had.

Sorry the blogs have been a bit intermittent but we don’t always seem to have data connections.

In our first eight days we’ve paddled 160 ish miles, seen some incredible scenery and wildlife and met some friendly and generous people.

The coastline has already lived up to its reputation. As we’ve paddled west the cliffs have started to grow and look increasingly dramatic. Whilst the majority of paddling has been headland to headland stuff leaving us a few miles offshore, each new bay that reveals itself seems to be even more jaw droppingly beautiful than the last. And that’s not meant to be an insult to the east end of the south coast, it’s all good.

We’ve paddled with flocks of Guillemots and of Shearwaters circling our boats, coming in low to check us out and peeling off at the last minute climbing to circle and come round again. We’ve been given high dive demonstrations by fishing Gannets and entertained by the comedians of the sea bird world, the Razor Bill, which look for all the world like a cross between a penguin and a duck (well to me anyway). They look so clumsy in the air but once in the water look serene. We’ve also seen Chuffs and Puffins and lots of birds we didn’t know the names of.

And then yesterday, perhaps the highlight of the wildlife week, we had just launched from a stunning sheltered bay on Galley Head and discovered a basking shark feeding just offshore. We stayed peacefully alongside it for a few minutes as the 3 to 3.5m beauty filtered the water alongside and under our boats. An amazing experience – the photos don’t do it justice.

We’ve met some more great people. Jon Hynes and his lovely family, put us up in their house in Kinsale, washed our clothes, fed us and took us on a stunning tour of the Old Head of Kinsale (particularly fascinating for me as it is where  my family are from originally). Jon is also a very gifted paddler and outdoor pursuits instructor and guide. He knows his stuff and spent a couple of hours sharing his knowledge of the West Coast with us.

Check out Jon’s new website http://www.seakayakaroundireland.com

Jon is also paddling around Ireland this summer. Geoff and I are fully expecting him to overtake us pretty soon after he starts!

Last night we were camped in a stunning sheltered spot in Glandore Bay. We got chatting to friends Louise and Kat. A little while later, their husbands, Rob and Matt, came down to the beach with BBQ fish, potatoes and some wine. The problem was that Geoff was asleep and knowing how much he values his rest, I decided it was in his best interests that I should eat the fish. We ate the potatoes on our paddle into Baltimore this morning. 

So thanks Jon, Kat, Louise, Matt and Rob! It is meeting people like your goodselves that is making this trip so special.

 Neptune and the weather gods have been kind to us this week. We’re both increasingly apprehensive about facing the West Coast and the Atlantic swell but also excited about the adventures it has in store for us.

The week has at times been an emotional roller coaster. The “why?” Question eats away at you when you feel tired and vulnerable but as we build the mileage, that will ease.

A selection of snaps from the last few days…

   
             

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Lunch Day 6

Great little spot for lunch on the way to Old Kinsale Head (blog update coming later….)

   
 

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