Anglesey Trip & Sea Symposium
This year is my third time around at the Anglesey Sea Symposium. Herman had joined me for a paddle around Anglesey in the week before the symposium. Hans, who now lives and works near London would also be on the trip. The reader is warned that this time my log has more written down on from weather forecasts than ever before. So how come?
Friday April 26
After a long and slow haul, especially getting around Birmingham, we arrive at the Anglesey Sea and Surf Centre at about 19:30. A shower, the one that does not have any plumbing, sends us right to the bar for a meal. After putting up our tents we get back to the bar and meet again with some familiar people. Upon leaving the Netherlands I just read on the BCU message board that Fiona would paddle around Ireland (in a message by someone else!). Upon asking her about her plan it appeared that she just very recently conceived the plan and now it was already known to all the world. Just as we discussed if Hans would arrive this evening he enters the bar. Hans' kayak is now permanently located at the centre. Because of his busy job he unfortunately has not too many opportunities for a paddle.
Saturday April 27
Irish Sea: W backing SE-4/5 occasionally 6; showers, visibility: moderate to good.
Ronaldsway: W/NW-5; 22 miles; 1007 falling slowly.
Inshore 24hr: W/NW-4/5 occasionally 6 in the morning; sea state: slight to moderate becoming moderate to rough.
Inshore 48hr: W/SW-5/7 occasionally 8 in south.
We need to do some shopping first. We visit the chandlery and we lunch at the centre. In the afternoon we walk to South Stack and watch a spectacular Holyhead Race. At the RSPB observatory we turn the binoculars from the birds to the spring tidal race and we estimate the (breaking) waves to be between two and four meters in height. The horizontal water movement has some resemblance to an conveyor belt. White streaks of foam are moved downstream while breaking waves continue to produce more white foam. The guide at the RSPB observatory informs us that Puffins are likely to return to Puffin Island. The rats are gone (eliminated). We go to Penrhyn Mawr, but no race there at this time of the tide. There is a strong wind and we take a break in the shelter of a rock ledge. By 16:00 we are back at the centre. Our planning of our trip around Anglesey is in jeopardy because of a forecasted gale force 8 on Sunday.
Sunday April 28 (A field day at Carmel Head)
Synopsis: Gale warning; Low west of Bailey 984 will move to Malin 981; Low Malin 998 will move to Chromarty 978.
Irish Sea: W-5/6 increasing 7 or gale 8, perhaps severe gale 9 later; visibility: moderate to good.
Ronaldsway: W/SW-4; 13 miles; 998 falling.
Inshore 24hr: W/SW-5/7 gradually veering W/NW; later increasing 6 perhaps gale 8 later; visibility: good, moderate or poor at times; sea state: moderate to rough.
Inshore 48hr: W/NW 8 backing SW decreasing 4/5; sea state: moderate to rough.
3 days: Remaining unsettled; complex area of low pressure; lighter breezes further north.
The weather forecast leaves no doubt: severe gale force 9, so no paddling. Hans takes us by car to Carmel Head. We first take a look at some play boaters at Stanley Embankment (2 hours before HW Holyhead). It is a strong spring tide and there is big water for them to play in. We then visit Porth Trwyn. There is less surf than I expected. The sea even seems calm enough for launching and paddling, not taking the force 5/7 winds into account. The sea is white above Langdon Ridge. We continue to Church Bay. It is about HW springs and the whole beach has gone. Waves are pounding the cliffs. The nearby pub is closed, but the next one we pass is open. Just as heavy rain begins to fall we enter the pub and we have ourselves a cup of tea. When we leave the pub it is sunny again inbetween the racing clouds. The car is parked at Mynachdy and we walk the footpath that takes us to Carmel Head. When the sea comes into view, a spectacular sight unfolds. I have litterally a "field day" with my camera. Every now and again there is strong sunlight, and heavy tidal races and breaking waves are contrasted as far as the eye can see. We also see relative calm areas with less white, which seem relatively safe to paddle through. The strong cold wind is definitively a "show-stopper". On a warm August day it could be a challenge to take on. On our walk back we line-up the stone beacons with West Mouse; a transit normally taken from off the water. In Trearddur Bay heavy surf rolls in; no way! The wind has shifted from W/SW to SW and is increasing. Out of Porth Dafarch the sea is a soup with no rythm to the waves. We can still make our trip around Anglesey starting on Monday or Tuesday. But the remaining swell from SW to W might pose problems. The weather forecast by the Coast Guard at 19:35 warns for severe gale 9 soon. For the first time ever I attach the storm lines to my tent which is shaking violently at times.
Monday April 29 (Stormbound)
Irish Sea: Gale warning: W severe gale 9, decreasing gale 8. W backing southerly force 7 to severe gale 9 decreasing 5 or 6; squally showers; visibility: good.
Inshore 24hr: Gale warning: NW-8 for a time decreasing W/SW-5/6 in the evening. W to NW-7 to severe gale 9 gradually decreasing SE-4/5 veering SW-7 later; showers dying out, rain later; visibility: good decreasing moderate or poor; sea state: rough to very rough.
Inshore 48hr: SW-7 decreasing 4/5; later veering W; rain then showers; sea state: moderate to rough.
3 days: Low pressure; rising pressure with lighter winds.
At 06:30 Hans is breaking up camp. He lost faith in us doing any paddling this week. He will return for work and by doing so save up his few holidays. Herman and I are left to devise a cunning plan. We will drive to Caernarfon to start our trip from there. Hopefully when lighter winds and acceptable sea states arrive later this week we still can complete our circumnavigation of Anglesey. We first go to Soldiers' Point. Surf shoots moving spray curtains high over the breakwater of Holyhead harbor. Rebounced waves meet incoming waves and produce massive clapotis. Waves roll-in at the stony beach of Soldiers' Point creating a dumping surf. We hike the footpath to the signal station near North Stack. The tide is still flooding. A spectacular but "deadly" view. A complete white sea with a foam "conveyor belt". No safe eddies. Just big waves hitting the rocks and producing spray. North Stack gets a pounding. Every few minutes a particular big wave will hit, producing spray as high above the island as the height of the island itself. Seagulls take-off by the dozen, only to land on North Stack again a little while later awaiting the next hit. High waves run into Parliaments Cave. Not daring to look too far down over the edge. The wind is howling and keeps us kneeling down and holding one hand to the ground for support. With the shock-like wind gusts it is difficult to sit/stand firm to make pictures. Is this my first experience of a force 9 wind? On our way to the Coast Guard we pass Nigel. At the Coast Guard we check the latest weather report, but it has not changed from the last one. We tell them of our plan to start at Cearnarfon tomorrow. In Cearnarfon we do our last shopping. We find a campground (Coed Helen) which is on walking distance of the tidal harbor of Caernarfon. The campground staff is very friendly. We can leave the car at the campground. On our inspection of the take-in spot we notice that it is one hour after LW Cearnarfon, which is the same as our intended time of departure. There should thus be just enough water in the harbor channel. Because of the low temperature we opt for eating in a pub, which by coincidence has a TV running a soccer match with Dennis Bergkamp playing for Arsenal.
Tuesday April 30 (Cearnarfon - Red Wharf Bay; 20,5 nm)
Synopsis: Low Rockal 987 will move to southern Scotland 985. Low Forties 988 will move to Viking 984.
Irish Sea: Gale warning: Gale 8 backing SW. Cyclonic becoming westerly 5/7 occasionally gale 8.
Ronaldsway: S-3; 11 miles; 995 falling quickly.
Inshore 24hr: A depression across northern Scotland will fill. New lows expected over Ireland and Scotland. SW-5/7 locally 8 in south decreasing 5/6 locally 7 veering NW; rain followed by showers; sea state: moderate to rough.
Inshore 48hr: W/SW-5/7 decreasing 4/5 later NW; showers some heavy; sea state: moderate to rough becoming slight to moderate.
We start paddling at 08:40; forty minutes later than planned. I needed more time to break-up camp and pack and hear the weather forecasts of both BBC and Coast Guard. The wind is still forecasted to drop by the end of the week. Today still gale force wind. But in the Menai Strait the wind is funneled to be at our backs. It is raining. We make fast progress and are at Pont Britannia by 09:45. Herman does not immediately understand my hint to get in the eddy behind the bridge and misses it. I on the other hand now have trouble leaving the eddy because turning my boat is problematic. I want to take a picture of Herman in front of the small island and do not watch my movement through te water. I hear a bang and I am swepped around a yellow buoy. As by a miracle I do not capsize. We paddle left of the south cardinal marker. I have been here once before but the cardinal marker confuses me. The Swellies are on the other side of the marker. Apart from a strong current there are not that many standing waves in the race. Herman sneaks quickly in the eddy behind the suspension bridge. From now on we experience a freshening wind. Until Beaumaris we will also have the current with us. Because of the strong wind we decide to carry on past Beaumaris (10:45). We paddle more and more offshore and find ourselves surfing off slowly increasing waves. It takes a moment of analyzing the situation that we are surfing against the current above the tidal flats and approaching Dutchman Bank. To be on the safe side we paddle closer inshore were we find lower waves but an eddy to help us. Because of the strong offshore wind we do not paddle around Puffin Island. Instead we paddle against the current around the Trwyn-du lighthouse. Herman paddles left of the lighthouse. I paddle on the right side of it as I still have a clear picture of how the sea bed below looks like. The meaning of the big sized words "No passage landward" on the lighthouse become only clear at LW. Kayakers can get away with it most of the time. At noon we land on the shingle beach for a well deserved lunch break at the same spot as Nico and I camped two years ago. We are sheltered by the wind and let our bodies collect the heat rays of the sun. By 14:30 the tide should have reversed and we are on our way again. The green bouy still is in the flood position though. We set our goal for today at Moelfre. As soon as the coastline starts to curve southwestward near Table Road we begin to experience strong gusts of wind. A sure sign that the wind is bended around the coastline. Fortunately we see the gusts coming by the rippling effect they have on the water in front of us. It is not long before the wind gusts hold on for longer and turn into a continuous very strong wind. We are only two kilometers away from the beach at Red Wharf Bay. We are on the lee shore of the island and the fetch is too small for big waves to develop anyway. We inch our way forward. Herman offers me a tow as at times the progress is almost zero. He is the stronger paddler; he always has been. I refuse the tow as I still feel strong and confident that we can make it by just keeping paddling. This is the strongest wind I have ever paddled against. We take shelter in a small bay were we discuss our options. We could get ashore here and put up our tents. Unfortunately there is unregular swell on the rocky beach. In an emergency it would not be an issue to land here. We both are still full of energy and in high spirits of our battle against the wind. The beach of Red Wharf Bay is now less than a kilometer away. When we hit shallow water we begin to paddle alongside the beach. We now have quartering winds. My kayak is laden perfectly. I have no trouble adjusting the skeg to keep my kayak turning upwind just slightly. Herman reverts to yelling at me the same thing twice, as the words the first time are usually lost in the deafening wind. But he will have drawn my attention to hear the words the second time around. Despite the strong offshore wind low swell is still running in from seaward. The resulting surf is completely blown away in a 30 cm layer of spray and mist. I focus on a clear landmark; something that looks like a castle. My vision is a little bit blurred by the spray on my glasses. We finally are getting somewhere. The castle turns out to be just a cliff (Castell Mawr). We land at 17:30 near the slipway of the campground at the west-side of Red Wharf Bay. After paddling for almost three hours against strong headwinds we now carry our laden kayaks against the wind to the slipway. Our kayak carts are put to good use to roll our kayak to a sheltered piece of grass; against the wind of course. There is one other young couple that camp nearby. Their car gets stuck in a ditch and a row unfolds. We quietly help push the car clear and wisely do not enter the discussion. We are cold. The campground facilities are closed. The Ordnance Survey map shows a public house nearby. We find the restaurant "the Boat House" and have a drink, meal and desert.
Wednesday May 1 (Red Wharf Bay - Porthygwichiaid; 6,5nm)
Synopsis: Low Viking 982 slowly moving north 998 filling.
Irish Sea: W/NW backing SW-4/5 for a time occasionally 6 at first; showers; visibility: good.
Ronaldsway: W/NW-4; 22 miles; 992 and rising.
Inshore 24hr: Strong wind warning: W lightly to touch 6 at exposed headlands this morning. Complex depression will drift away. W-5/6 gradually backing SW decreasing 3/4; sea state: rough slowly becoming slight.
Inshore 48hr: W/NW-3/4; scattered showers; sea state: slight to moderate.
3 days: Light to moderate winds on Friday.
For once the weather forecast appears to be good. Just temporary strong winds near headlands. Herman has not slept very well and has a little headache. He also hints at feeling his wrist. We leave at 10:00. The sun is shining. But at every bay we cross we encounter strong cold gusty winds coming in from the west. From the beach at Portobello I listen to the 11:35 weather forecast by the Coast Guard. There is still a warning out for force 6 at exposed headlands until at least 12:00 UTC. We decide not to go around Point Lynas today. We do not have a clue about the sea state and wind just around that corner. My cag leaks at the arms and I am getting very cold. Herman does not want to put any more heavy stress on his wrist. We stay close inshore and do not paddle to Ynys Dulles. At noon we land on the shingle beach of Porthygwichiaid. The kayaks are put on a shingle ledge. It starts to rain an we take shelter half under a big boulder for lunch. A seal sleeps in the water nearby. There is just enough grassy area to put our two small tents. I try to put up my tent in a dry spell but it soon starts to rain even harder. One of Herman's tent poles needs repair. But in the end the sun is shining again. My tent is tilted and I need to put my neoprene and cag on one side under my sleeping pad to prevent me sliding down the slope. A small rat finds its afternoon route blocked by Herman's tent. It is obviously not affraid of people. When we have established camp we go for a hike to look at the conditions at Point Lynas. We find the coastal path which has new foot bridges in place. We are a little bit surprised to find calm conditions at Point Lynas. A very managable tidal race around the corner and no swell whatsoever! We could have continued. But I am unaware of the seriousness of Herman's wrist problem. The strong and cold wind and/or the carrying of the heavy boats might have triggered it yesterday. As he is a very strong and experienced marathon paddler he would be the last one I would suspect of getting tendinitis. Herman wants to do a 5-star training next week. So we decide to end the trip tomorrow at Moelfre. His wrist can than have rest for the next four days. Just theoretically we still could have completed our circumnavigation of Anglesey by Friday afternoon. Our weather dependant trip planning would have worked out. I have an exhausting hike back to camp. We cook in the sun on the beach. We notice a man collecting shells. We are a little bit surprised that we did not notice him coming. When we are back at our tents to get the 19:35 VHF shipping forecast he walks by for a chat. He points us to a mouse walking by our tents. He collected shells for dinner and tells us that mouse and rat are also edible. The weather forecast is for high pressure and light winds in the weekend. At about 02:00 I wake up to the sound of surf. It is near HW neaps and surf gets to within two meters of our red mud based ledge. Every spring tide the soft cliff is surely to be eroded further away and slowly wash away our current camp site.
Thursday May 2 (Porthygwichiaid - Moelfre; 3,5 nm)
Synopsis: Low 200 miles N of Viking. Low France moving to German Bight.
Irish Sea: NW-3/4 occasionally 5; showers; visibility: good.
Ronaldsway: N by W-2; 22 miles; 1007 rising slowly.
Inshore 24hr: Area of low pressure over France will move north. Minor ridge of high pressure will build over the UK. N/NW-3/4; fair periods with showers; visibility: good, poor in showers; sea state: slight to moderate.
Inshore 48hr: NW-4 easing gradually 2/3, variable later; sea state: slight to moderate to smooth.
We are packed and ready at 11:00. The name of the bay has probably to do with the coastal features as a landing place. Between the shingle beach and the water lie thirty meters of big boulders. With three people we would probably carry our kayaks over the boulders to the water. We calculate and estimate that the water will reach our kayaks by 12:30. We have a relaxed wait in the sun. At 12:15 the water reaches the bows of our kayaks and after ten minutes we are afloat. We experience at last an ordinary and familiar swell with weak wind. We are in Moelfre within the hour. An inquiry in the pub for public transport sends me off for the 14:00 bus 62 to Bangor right away. In Bangor I take the 15:10 bus 5A to Cearnarfon. Public transport is quite good around here I would say! I cross the footbridge to take a short-cut to the campground. I thank the owner of the campground and I am on my way and pick-up Herman at 16:15. Back at the centre we have to wait until 19:30 for the bar to open for dinner. Cleaned and sorted-out my gear and myself to be ready for the symposium weekend.
Friday May 3
Synopsis: Low 350 miles north of Ireland 997 will move NE and filling. Low NE German Bight 1009. New high Chromarty.
Irish Sea: N-4/5 becoming variable 3; showers dying out; visibility: good.
Inshore 24hr: NW-3/4 perhaps 5 at times in the north.
Inshore 48hr: E/SE-3/4; sea state: slight locally smooth.
3 days: E/SE-3/4 becoming southerly 2/3; sea state: slight or smooth.
The weather is perfect for a paddle. But I need rest to be in shape for the upcoming symposium and the courses next week. Nigel gives us a tour of the new NDK factory. A "circular" production line shows various types of kayaks in different stages of manufacture. Back at the centre we have an extended lunch. The sun is shining, but the wind still feels cold. I finally have time to write some postcards. Herman and I both think the other one will save one card for our mutual friend Sien, so in the end we are still one card short. To our big surprise Hans shows up. He will be there for the weekend. Hans and Herman go hiking. On the balcony, out of the wind and in the sun, I doze away. A lot of familiar faces show up at the bar and the symposium is up for good start. My Dutch Peddelpraat Sea Camp T-shirt triggers a good laugh by Justine. She and Fiona paddled around Anglesey last March in a record 14 1/2 hours! So any attempt by me to paddle around Anglesey again might better be a spring tide day trip. Not to break any record, just to do it in one day. This year, Rick Carrick-Smith has the official status of "transport-coordinator". Nico, a Dutch paddling partner, arrives. He is recovering from an elbow injury. He made the long car ride anyway just to be here for the weekend, but without doing any paddling.
Saturday May 4
Synopsis: High Chromarty 1015 moving slowly north.
Irish Sea: Variable 3 becoming SE-3/4 in Sole and Fastnet.
Ronaldsway: N by W-2; 22 miles; 1023 falling slowly.
Inshore: Variable mainly NE
Having been at the symposium twice before, I decide to do different things this time. As a Dutch paddler, keen to experience tidal races, I would probably want to be playing again in the races. As I am into coaching now also, I help Keirron and a number of other coaches at the rolling pool session. I have almost instant success with Margareth, only to learn later that she could rol years ago but forgot the trick. My next "victim" is new to kayaking. She is flexible enough to probably be able to scull forever. But I cannot make her "hip-flick" work this session. I will assist Roger on the afternoon trip heading to Rhoscolyn at 14:00. At Porth Dafarch there are many kayaks on the water. Unfortunately there are also a number of powerboats and jetski's around. Roger splits the group into three pods. I am to lead a group of six, but another Roger and later Lester assist me. It is embarrassing for me that I fail to comprehend the spelling and pronounciation of Buddug, a Welch woman in the group. We stretch our legs at 14:50 at Porth-y-post. At 15:30 we pause at Porth Diana. We have a nice time exploring the rocky coastline and paddling through ever more narrow and shallow passages. At 16:50 we are back at Porth Dafarch. At the evening lecture Pete Bray tells about his successful crossing of the Atlantic. For me and Nico this ends a "sequel". In 2000 Peter told of his plans to cross the Atlantic that year. In 2001 he explained what went wrong. In the summer of 2001 he made it against all the odds of very bad seasonal weather.
Sunday May 5
Synopsis: High Forth 1021 expected NE Schotland. Low Holland.
Irish Sea: Variable becoming mainly northerly 3/4.
Ronaldsway: N by E 3; 22 miles; 1026 rising slowly.
Inshore 24hr: High pressure over UK declines as a depression builds over the continent. W or variable 2 later increasing NW-2/4 before veering N.
Another pool session. Now Roger has a frustrating but all too familiar experience. He spent time with a guy but falls just short of making him roll. I make a detour by letting him practice the high brace. In no-time he performs a high brace with his ear in the water ("Dutch" high-brace) and after that effectively rolls. Sometimes it is just too easy to finish-up the hard work that someone else has put-in before. Next is a strokes session led by Fiona. I get a good impression on how "coaching" differs from mere "instruction". I stay at Porth Dafarch for the afternoon session "moving water skills" by Helen and Richard. Penrhyn Mawr just barely runs swift enough to practice our break-outs and break-ins. We do a towed rescue. Back at the beach we practice our rolls. It is frustrating that my "off-side" roll fails the first time around. Back at the bar the international character of the symposium becomes clear with visitors from Wales, Scotland, England, Netherlands, Germany, United States, Canada, Sweden and Israel.
Monday May 6 (Coast Guard rescue demonstration)
Synopsis: Low Belgium 1017. New high Viking 1020.
Irish Sea: N/NE-3/4 occasionally5; mainly fair.
Ronaldsway: NE by E-4; 22 miles; 1028 now rising.
Inshore 24hr: High across Brittain; Low moving across France. N/NE-3/4 occasionally 5; fair start rain later.
The coast guard Sea-King helicopter will perform rescues at 11:00. It is cloudy, so maybe I can restrain myself this year from making too many pictures. After the rescues we are waiting for the helicopter to return to experience the downdraft and try to stay upright. Unfortunately the helicopter is called away for a real incident and the demonstration is over. On the VHF I hear that a man is lowered on a vessel. I watch Pete Bray perform a roll. This is proof that it is not only his transatlantic kayak that can self-right; he can also. In the afternoon I fall asleep on the balcony. After dinner Nigel explains the various courses in the rest of the week: training and assessments for 4/5-star and L2/3-coach. Some want to participate in more than one course. For the 5-star training a flexible system is devised. There are A, B and C sessions running on request every day. Apart from a potentially uncontrolled group size it works out perfect for everyone. Fiona and Justine give a lecture on their circumnavigation of Wales, via Birmingham as commented by Nigel. It came as a surprise to me that they only had one rest day during the whole 18 day and 944 km trip!
Tuesday May 7 (Assessor Training Day)
Synopsis: High Viking 1033 declining. New high 250 miles west of Rockall 1036.
Irish Sea: Mainly NE-3/4 occasionally 5 in Sole; occasionally rain for a time; visibility: moderate to good.
Ronaldsway: NE by N-3; 7 miles; 1027 falling slowly.
Inshore 24hr: High north Brittain edging north. E/NE-3/4 occasionally 2, later mostly E, locally variable; sea state: slight.
Inshore 48hr: E/NE-3/4 locally variable; patchy rain mainly in north; sea state: slight.
3 days: Rain in the north pushing southwards. Perhaps gales by Sunday.
Something must have happened or gone seriously wrong in my "kayaking carreer" when talking about kayaking inside a room takes over from "time on the water", carrying a briefcase around instead of a paddle. It is called coaching. Nigel Timmins runs the Assessor Training Day course. At first I am not sure if this course is appropriate for me at this time. But the morning session is very useful as it answers a lot of my questions about the assessor levels. In the afternoon we practice assessing and the various aspects of an assessment. We are to try-out explaining and assessing a skill of our own design. Tim shows us the "Colorado hook"; a cross-bow rudder with a twist! The course leaves me with a clear picture of how an assessment should be run. During breaks at the centre I watch Rowland giving his comprehensive navigation session.
Wednesday May 8 (5-star training: Tidal races and skills)
Synopsis: Atlantic high 1036 slow moving.
Irish Sea: E/NE-3 occasionally 4; mainly fair; visibility: moderate to good, poor in Irish Sea.
Ronaldsway: NE-3; 5 miles; 1022 falling slowly.
Inshore 24hr: Fronts becoming slow moving in north Scotland. Low pressure developing in north France. E/SE-2/3 becoming E/NE-3/4; fair, chance of mist.
I had hoped to join a C-session of the 5-star training: a trip to the Skerries. But today only navigation (A) and tidal races (B) are on. I join the group led by Rowland and Fiona. I volunteer to be a victim when needed. In the group are Garreth, Josh, Justine, Urs and Wim. We leave from Soldiers' Point at 11:35 for North Stack. We cruise single file through the race and gather in the eddy. After playing in the race each one may try to perform a roll in the race. The group hesitates as no one seems to want to go first. Then Justine takes the lead and one by one everyone goes in and performs a roll. For the re-entry-and-roll the same happens. Urs struggles with his R&R but does not give up and eventually manages. He is in very high spirits this week as he found the perfect kayak for himself. We have lunch ON the rocks in the eddy of North Stack. The requirement: being able to put the kayak on the rocks by yourself. The boats will get a few scratches from the sharp rocks. But I can justify the maltreatment of my own kayak. If my kayak would not wear out over the years I would never be able to justify buying a new kayak again. We see the HSS arrive around 13:50. I get a little anxious and start packing, but no swell seems to arrive. The packing is a general sign to get on the water again. As I did not perform a re-entry in the race I swim to my boat and re-enter it. Still in the eddy Fiona demonstrates how to attach a towline to a raft of two kayaks; Rowlands' and mine. Just as we are attached to Fiona's kayak the water draws away from a rock just to the right-hand side of Rowland. There come the waves! The waves flood the rocks where we and the kayaks were just minutes before. Only Urs is in a tricky position, but he manages to stay just clear from the rocks. I make a note of a time-delay of twenty minutes between seeing the ferry and the arrival of the waves. Now Justine leads us to South Stack, with Josh as assistant. I am to inspect the leftmost passage at South Stack. I declare it "theoretically possible", meaning that the passage is just wide enough for my kayak but not leaving any room to paddle. I push myself through helped by the current and the back of a small wave surge. Now Garreth is in charge. He does a rather rough estimate of the distance to Penrhyn Mawr converting nautical miles just loosely to kilometers. The resulting distance is then calculated by the group to take about twenty minutes to cover (from 14:58). Briefing and coaching take extra time and it is not too surprising that after the twenty minutes we are not quite there yet. In Penrhyn Mawr pairs have to tow. The tower has to capsize, undo his tow-line and roll-up again. This exercise is meant to create awareness of always knowing how to undo the towline in an emergency. Thus showing how to roll with the towline still attached is not acceptable in this case. Not everyone can undo the towline at their first try. Finally Rowland, Fiona and I are rafted together. Urs is in charge of getting the raft through Penrhyn Mawr. This is entertainment! Before the tow is in place we are well downstream. Justine tows at the front. This triggers an unforgettable remark from me to Fiona and Rowland, fortunately ironical as it turned-out: "I think the strongest paddler should be in the front!". The tow is running out of steam or committment and Urs gives up. A 5-star training is all about learning from "mistakes". On the paddle to Porth Dafarch I am again reminded of my stupid remark. Justine tries out the stirrup/sling rescue. In the evening Steve shows slides of his trip to Glacier Bay in a two-person Klepper.
Thursday May 9 (Coach Level-3 Training)
Synopsis: High 250 miles N of Fair Isle 1033 will move 450 miles N to Viking. Low NE France 1006 expected Holland 1004.
Irish Sea: NE backing NW-3/4.
Ronaldsway: NE-2; 6 miles; 1018 falling slowly.
Inshore 24hr: Low moving slowly to UK on Thursday. N/NE-2/3 occasionally 4 backing N/NW; visibility: moderate to good; sea-state: slight to moderate.
I am on a Level-3 Sea coaching course with Greer and David, led by Richard. The day has a "bad" start as I become aware of the fact that there is no Coaching Processes course this weekend. Theory in the morning and a on-the water session in the afternoon. Back at the center we do some navigation exercises. I make one mistake. I correctly interpret the flashing characteristics belonging to an east cardinal marker. Only to locate this bouy at another east cardinal marker (without lights) on the chart. From Greer I learn more about the grid system, and numbered coordinates, on the Ordnance Survey maps: "trough the hall and up the stairs!". After dinner we do trip planning. As I want to join the night trip I am keen to finish this promptly. For two groups the night trip is part of a 5-star assessment that started today. Pete Bray and Peter Jones lead our group of nine from Soldiers' Point to Porth Dafarch. We stay well clear of the two assessment groups. We see ships' navigational lights close inshore of North Stack. For a moment I have to think very hard of the implications of the various lights on the ship. We cruise through the tidal race offshore of North Stack. I did not do any navigational preparations for this trip. I did however come very prepared for night vision. A red bycicle light illuminates my compass and I put a red lens on my head torch to read the map. I have a hard time navigating while on the move. We have a nice, pitch dark (22:15), inside passage of South Stack. From here on there is a very little bio-luminence of the sea water. At Porth Dafarch kayaks are "stacked to the roof" of the two trailers and on the mini-vans with some night-time acrobatics. At exactly midnight we enter the bar until Jim "shows us the door" at 01:30.
Friday May 10 (Coach Level-3 Training)
Synopsis: Low Holland 1006 expected German Bight 1005. New low 1003 Faroes.
Irish Sea: W/NW-3/4 occasionally 5; mainly fair; visibility: moderate/good.
Ronaldsway: N by E-3; 11 miles; 1011 falling slowly.
Inshore 24hr: W/NW-3/4 backing and decreasing W-2/3 later veering NW; rather cloudy, risk of showers; sea state: smooth or slight.
Inshore 48hr: NW becoming variable 2/3; variable cloud amounts; visibility: good; sea state: smooth or slight.
3 days: Variable or cyclonic and fresh at times; sea state: moderate, rough at times.
Trys takes us on the water at Rhoscolyn Bay. The main objective of a Level-3 Sea Coach is "putting 4-star skills into a sea environment". Having attended a 5-star training and/or an incident management session definitively helps in my opinion. I only have to concentrate on the coaching aspects of the Level-3 training. We have lunch on the rocks of Rhoscolyn. Our kayaks remain afloat, rafted together by Trys and secured on my waist tow line. We compete with the seals. It is ebbing and the seals haul themselves on the submerged rocks. When we disturb them they take to the water and subsequently they have less time to sun before the next high water. We stay clear of the seals. We practice various types of towing. I finally understand the trick of attaching the tow line on a raft in such a way that it can be undone by the helper in the raft. When I tried to demonstrate this trick last year in the Netherlands I attached the clip to the towline itself at my kayak and could not undo the towline myself. The tow line should instead be threaded UNDER the deck line of the helpers' kayak and clipped ON the deck line of the victims kayak. Now the helper can paddle forwards to reach for the clip and undo the tow. Simple and it works! Unfortunately David's tow line is released on both ends and is dragged away by the current to be lost between the rocks. We practice a variant of towing that is new to me. David wedges his kayak in a gully. Every small wave surge moves the kayak further in the gully. The exercise develops into a realistic event. Now one needs to have a throw line. I try to throw my homemade towline but I miss. Trys advises me to add weight to it. After some experimentation I fill the dry-bag-type bag of the tow line with water and close it. Throwing this works much better. We discuss our reactions to capsizes and preventing the groups to get split-up. We have dinner in the bar. Bernhard, Garreth and Justine have passed their 5-star assessment. And Urs will testify that Justine has group control even while upside down!
Saturday May 11 (Cemlyn - Skerries - Holyhead; 10,8 nm)
Synopsis: Low Fair Isle 1004 expected 990 Faroes. Low 400 miles west of Shannon 1011 expected West of Sole 1005.
Irish Sea: NW-4/5 becoming variable 3 then S 4 or 5 later; visibility: far or good.
Ronaldsway: NW-4; 1012 rising slowly.
Inshore 24hr: Deepening low becoming slow moving. High over Brittish isles. NW to N 4/5 gradually backing SW-3 locally 4; partly cloudy; visibility: fair to good; sea state: slight to moderate decreasing smooth to light.
Inshore 48hr: SE-3 locally 4 gradually increasing 5/6; dry, fair in north, cloudy, misty, outbreaks of rain later; sea state: increasing slight to moderate.
3 days: Continued unsettled mainly S/SW, gale force at times; sea state: rough, very rough at times.
Because two of the 5-star trainees did not have their trip day yet, there is an extra day trip to the Skerries. The group consists of Hadas, Herman, Jeff, Justine, Michael, Nigel, Peter, Ruth and myself. We start at Cemlyn Bay. I take the opportunity to try out a NDK Explorer. It has a number of features that I am not familiar with: a keyhole cockpit, a rope skeg system and a different type of backrest. Justine wants to do some filming, but no one seems to be considerate of that. The group stays just clear of the heaviest breaking water just past Furlong. Blue skies and a spring tide with wind create exhilerating races and overfalls all the way to the Skerries. I am in an unfamiliar kayak but I try to make as much "spectacular" pictures as possible in the bumpy white water. Our course is more westerly than I would have chosen. The visibility is so good that West Mouse seems dangerously close. At the Skerries we head for an eddy at the northeast side. Nigel curves closely along a rock to the next eddy. Michael follows, but he is put on the rock by a surge. Back at the centre it would become clear that the hull was cracked over a length 25 cm with some leakage. Out of this eddy we go for a play in the spectacular exposed tidal race. Capsizing here followed by a rescue that takes too long could mean not making it back to the Skerries. The race is higher and with more white than I have ever experienced before. This is what I hoped for of getting during my visits at Anglesey. All the "frustrations" of two weeks ago when gale force winds prevented us paddling at the high spring tide then are put aside. I don't mind that the Coaching Processes course is canceled any more. The NDK Explorer is much more manouverable than my P&H Sirius and I have no problem in positioning myself for thrilling surfs. When I am exhausted I return to the eddy to rest and to watch the moves of the others. But five minutes later I force myself in the race again to have as much fun as possible, and gain experience in the process. I have a continous surf of three successive waves, ending with a submerged kayak and water up my chest. I will now always wonder what would have happened if I had shifted my weight forwards instead of backwards. Self preservation and control is probably still more deeply rooted in me than the thrill of an uncontrolled loop. But what an excitement that would have given! We end our play to have lunch. Nigel and Justine get back in their boats from filming ashore. We have to go through the race at the northwest corner of the Skerries. I am in high spirits. When I see Herman at a 45 degree angle with the bow and half of his kayak in the air I prepare to make a picture from within that piece of tidal race. When I hit the rough water I have my camera ready. But just before I try to press the button a wave pushes my left paddle blade under water. With only one hand on the shaft, and the other holding the camera, I cannot brace effectively and I capsize. When I am setting up for my roll I am pushed to the other side of the kayak. I am still mentally programmed for my left side roll and I struggle to get to the left side. With my camera hanging on it's leash from my buoyancy-aid I am up again. My first roll in an Explorer. I am in even higher spirits now; a little bit tempered though because I did not took the picture! As soon as we land on the shingle beach a warden informs us that we should stay on the beach as not to disturb the nesting birds. There is a big variety of lunches. Jeff shows a "kayakers lunch" consisting of a family size GBP 1,99 Tesco salad. Herman has a loaf of bread (who needs slices anyway) and bananas. I have "Hartkeks"; vacuum sealed cookies without any taste so they cannot taste bad either. Normally I eat them with marmelade, to give them a taste of choice, but the marmelade has run out yesterday. There is a gathering around Justine who is lying on the ground. When I get there she explains that she is investigating her relationship with the rocks. But in fact she fell and, in an effort to protect her camera, hurt her knee. The camera survived but the status of her left knee is disturbing. I have enormous trouble getting my spray deck fastened. I almost run out of strength, but finally manage to close the spray deck. With weak arms I paddle after the group. We slowly leave the disturbed waters around the Skerries behind us. We paddle through a few big "mushrooms". As we approach Holyhead harbor the water gets flat. We wait for the ferry to pass. When I paddle past the tower at the end of the breakwater I remember the spray curtains two weeks earlier to be at least as high as the tower; 21 meters. We land near the coastguard station and end our (almost) perfect day with a drink in a nearby pub. Far from perfect for Justine as the condition of her knee worsened that evening but started to recover next day; what a relief for her.
Sunday May 12 (Soldiers' Point - Porth Dafarch; 5,4 nm)
Irish Sea: SE veering S-3/4 increasing 5/6 occasionally 7.
Inshore 24hr: E-2/3 gradually veering SE-3/4; sea state: smooth or slight gradually increasing moderate.
Inshore 48hr: SE gradually veering SW-5/6; sea state: moderate becoming moderate to rough.
3 days: Mainly S/SW moderate to fresh, strong at times especially in west; sea state: moderate or rough at times.
It is about 06:45. I am writing my diary upstairs at the centre while having a cup of tea when I hear noises at the back of the building. I put my head outside the door and see two youngsters poking their heads around the corner and make a retreat. It takes me too many seconds to understand that there might be something wrong here. I go outside and walk around the building but do not see the boys. As there are no doors on that side of the building I get very worried. Keirron is the first of the centre's staff that I can explain my sighting. He explains that they might be thieves looking for equipment left outside overnight. During the morning there are three reports of stolen buoyancy aids. I get very frustrated. I could have been the "hero of the day" if I had only acted more swiftly and decisively. Now I can only give a vague description and an estimate of the age of the boys to the police. And maybe prevented theft of other bouancy aids lying around. Although the centre warns for leaving equipment out overnight, the symposium and courses are so intensive and sociable that it is easy to forget this and have ones guard up all the time. Hadas and I like to paddle today. I plan a trip out of Soldiers' Point to North Stack and back. Nigel offers to shuttle us back to Soldiers' Point from Porth Dafarch. It is spring tide so we hope to play at North Stack race. Several things go wrong this day. The theft is one thing, but that I could not control. I forget my thermos flask, so no hot coffee today. I try to inform the coast guard of our trip plan on my VHF. The Coast Guard just barely got "ASSC kayakers" but I cannot follow up because the battery runs out. I have a spare battery that I take with me on multi-day trips. But that battery is now stored away in my car, and no brain connections prompted the idea to walk to my car to get it. The car was parked on a nearby parking lot not to leave it unattended at Soldiers' Point, weary as I am about theft today. My mobile phone does not work for phone calls within the UK. I have all the phone numbers but I did not took the time to thouroughly test out the proper provider lead-in numbers. We leave at 12:40. Just before us two other kayakers left the beach. Hadas and I are chatting away and "follow" the two kayakers. As I believe they too want to play in the races I do not watch the coastline too closely. Through my left eye I suddenly see a familiar coastal feature: North Stack! We make a dash for the cliffs and make it just barely in the second eddy. Another mistake. North Stack race is rather flat today and after yesterday it will probably take a few years to get another exciting (and hopefully safe) experience at the races. We try to play in the fast flowing water. A familiar cross-stopper prevents me from returning to the eddy upstream. I am again aware that the Sirius is not the best kayak for playing in tidal races. We soon continue our trip southwards where climbers are hanging from the cliffs. We keep a look out for Keirron and Grant who are out on a climb. We return to Parliament's Cave for lunch (14:10). Just a little bit earlier I have seen the ferry arrive. I am very aware of possible waves when we are about to land. But in the whole "window" of twenty minutes no waves arrive; another thing that is "wrong". From the cliff hangs a child. She is lowered by her parents to Parliament's cave. She tells us that they will leave by walking through the cave to the North Stack side, swim to another cave and hike their way out without having to climb. Hadas shows her how to juggle and I have also a go at it as the principle becomes clear to me. Just as we leave (14:40) I see a very familiar face. Carl is the father. I have been on a course with him at ASSC last year. He explains that by scrambling on the rocks you can even leave the cave without having to swim. We round South Stack on the outside, just for a change. Now we recognize Keirron and Grant standing on a ledge. We have a chat and take pictures. It is a beautiful last day on the water. Back at Port Dafarch, we immediately bump into Herman. I walk to the centre to get a ride to Soldiers' Point. Only to find that Nigel is in the King's Arms in Holyhead and Justine is about to go there also. Logistics dictate that Justine takes Herman and me in the mini-van to Soldiers' Point. Herman will drive my car to the centre and I drive the mini-van back. Right-hand side steering en left-hand side clutch; it takes a few stop and go's to get used to driving a British/Welsh car. Hadas is finally picked-up and we all prepare for leaving tomorrow. When we are all ready, Hadas, Herman and I go to the pub to join Nigel and Justine. Nigel proposes to have dinner at an Indian restaurant. As this is one of my favorites, I go for the hottest on the menu.
|Holyhead April/May 2002||Liverpool April/May 2002|
Appendix 2: Tidal Range Holyhead
Appendix 3: Anglesey and Symposium Links
- Sea Kayaking UK
- Cackle TV Productions (Justine Curgenven)
- Holyhead Coastguard
© A.M. Schoevers
in Dutch appeared in the August 2002 issue of NKB KanoSport.
The Skerries trip on May 11th was filmed by Justine Curgenven (Cackle TV Productions) and is part of the Nigel Dennis Kayaks promotional video.
Some pictures were published in NKB "Mededelingen" 2002/2.