The dark and the rolling sea

If I leave tomorrow I will forever stay,
But if I leave today I will return to paddle here another day...

Monday 12 May 2003 (Penrhyn Mawr)
Weather: W-4/5.
Having no return ferry ticket booked I am easily swayed to spend another day in Anglesey. I could always leave 'tomorrow'. John and Chris will leave later this week to attend the Scottish sea symposium. With John being from New Zealand, Chris from Nova Scotia and me from the Netherlands we form a team that spans the whole earth. But are we ready for the races when it is moving towards springs again with a strong wind blowing against them? It is Nigel that puts an end to our doubts when he says: "If you want to play at Penrhyn Mawr then go now!" It is already 17:00 when we have a bumpy ride out of Porth Dafarch to Penrhyn Mawr. I have been here a number of times before and routinely make a wide approach to get us to the outermost race. But what I see there from still a safe distance worries me a lot. The confusion and size of the breaking waves is much bigger than I ever seen before. I decide to 'chicken-out' and we take one of the inner races instead. One of them is named just that: "the chicken run". From here we ferry glide across the chutes to the middle race. Adrenaline runs freely as this will be bigger than I have ever paddled before. The wind that blows side-on the race produces pyramidal shaped breaking waves. I decide to go for it. At least one of us will always keep an eye out while the other two are 'playing'. We make a lot of pictures and hope to catch the sheer size of the waves on film; which generally does not happen. The biggest front waves are difficult to surf and swamp me while I am bracing until the white stuff is picked-up again by the following wave. The very nice thing to learn is that there is much less power in the white stuff than with beach surf from waves of the same size. I do not dare to estimate the height of some of the waves that pick me up. Boat length? I cannot see the bottom when I stare into a deep black hole when a wave rolls under my boat. I make a bongo-slide, almost tipping over and making a high brace on the wrong side of the wave; barely surviving it. Again today my 'will to survive' prevents me from going all-out surfing the highest waves to try to force a loop. I did not use the shoulder straps of my spray-deck. The power of the water pulls the tunnel of the spray deck down and the water sloshing in the cockpit prevents me from manoeuvring even more. I paddle to a nearby beach and empty my cockpit and now attach the shoulder straps of the spray deck. And I put a new film in my camera. Now I can play without the worry of an imploding spray deck or water entering. Nigel and Ruth have arrived. They do go to the outermost race and with them leading I feel confident enough to follow them in. I obviously could not see myself paddling in the highest waves, but what I see happening to Ruth must give me a rough idea. A GreenlanderPro pointed to the sky engulfed in white; she survives. In fact it amazes me that I did not have to roll yet. I am indeed very lucky today as back in Porth Dafarch I noticed I did not tether my VHF radio to my buoyancy aid; I would have surely lost it on a roll... The race gradually slackens a bit and I find a path between the biggest waves that is surfable. I catch one big surf on successive waves that brings me clear of the front of the race; yeaaaaaaaah! And do it again. It is past 19:00 when we finally return to Porth Dafarch. The sea around the race has not changed but now feels like a 'pond'. It will be some time I think until I will be exposed again to such a wild ride. Chris and John are of the opinion that Anglesey is unique in the world regarding the number, 'quality' and predictability of tidal races. Have I been spoiled already ?

Tuesday 13 May (Pt. Lynas & Rhoscolyn)
24hr: W-5/6 gradually veering NW later decreasing 4/5; sea state: moderate building moderate to rough.
We first drive to Point Lynas where there is an ebb current of maximum 7 knots around the headland. It is also sheltered from the current wind direction. Apart from the strong current there is not much of a race running. After some playing and lunch (12:00-13:30) we head back to the centre. I do not feel comfortable to paddle in Penrhyn Mawr today. Penrhyn Mawr is running even later than yesterday and stronger as well with an even more 'unfavourable' wind against it. It can only be much rougher than yesterday. Nigel's advice is to go to Rhoscolyn. There is a tidal race that is generally less intimidating than Penrhyn Mawr and runs on the same flood. We paddle out of Borthwen at 17:00. The race is much bigger than I expected but indeed is less intimidating than Penrhyn Mawr. The waves are surfable and we can finally do some real playing and surfing. It is the perfect race. Again we make many pictures. Chris climbs out on the main island to take some shots from above. Later John attaches himself to his kayak with his tow-line and swims to a small rock outcrop that has surging swell of about one meter. He scrambles on the rocks and pulls the kayak up the rocks. From here he makes pictures of us surfing the race. We are back in Borthwen by 19:00.

These where two extra days well spent, but I must leave someday. Chris, John and Phil paddled around Holy Island on Wednesday. I had to take a break because I am by now physically exhausted after my three week stay at Anglesey. I left Anglesey on Thursday morning and I will be back another day.

An article by John-Kirk Anderson about his stay in Wales appeared in the 2003 December issue of Canoeist Magazine (UK).

© A.M. Schoevers