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Archive for the ‘Challenges’ Category

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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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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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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One thing about these trips that amazes me, is just how many experiences seem to be squeezed into just one day.

We got up around 6am having slept reasonably well in our bivy bags. By the time I arrived back from a trip to the public toilets, Geoff had already been given a cuppa by our lovely neighbours, and very soon I had one too. 

We were packed up, said our goodbyes and launched by 8.15. Leaving the Saltee Islands behind us we set off on the 15 mile crossing to Hook’s Head. Using our compasses we headed almost due west (with a pinch of South in it). Within a couple of hours we were properly alone on the water with the sun on our backs and making good progress.

A good day for wildlife, we saw our first Guillemots,Razor Bills, a solitary Puffin and a sleeping bull seal – vertical in the water.  Starting to feel like the expedition has started.

After a stop for lunch in Slade, we pushed on a few miles to Tramore and pulled into small fishing harbour which we discovered was also home to the RNLI.

To cut a long story short – what then followed was our second experience of incredible Irish hospitality. Pretty soon the local RNLI had arranged for us to store the boats and give us a place to sleep. Geoff and I headed off into town in search of food and our first Guinness.

On getting back, a car and a chap on a bike pulled up -Mick O’Meara and Dermot Blount. Both of them had paddled round Ireland in 1990 and set the record which stood for over 20 years. We enjoyed hearing some of their stories over a glass of wine and picking up some tips for our trip. Great to meet them both. Thanks both for your hospitality!

And also a big thank you to Dave O’Hanlon and the RNLI boys for looking after us so well……and for the life boat escort out of the bay the next morning. (So exciting!)
   
       

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