Catch me on a neap

Memory is a wonderful gift,
for with it the best is never past.
We carry thoughts of home in our hearts,
to live in always though time has passed.
(From: Harris' Farmer's Almanac 2005)

I am upside down in the roughest patch of a raging Penrhyn Mawr tidal race. Later that week I would joke about the two ways of going through a tidal race with a sea kayak; paddling upright or floating upside down. I must confess that upside down is not bad at all considering the thrill of surfing to the front wave of Penrhyn Mawr ending in a sideways trashing tumble. My second roll attempt succeeds and a water filled hood drains a trickle through the neck seal down my back. I am wide awake: cold or adrenaline rush: WOW! Of the numerous times I have been paddling in this tidal race, today's roughness surprises me the most. Why? Because today we are on a neap tide! A moderate swell is running against the current and creates the roughest Penrhyn Mawr I ever paddled in. Quite intimidating indeed.

I have lost my tethered cap in the trashing. I look to the back deck of my kayak to find that my spare paddle is not there in the bungees where it normally is. I do not remember to have taken a spare paddle with me today, so maybe it is still in the car?

While the rest of the group shoots into a narrow channel towards the lunch spot, Simon, Ginni and I go for some more runs. I feel a little bit guilty to go for a selfish play. Today is the first day of the 22nd annual Anglesey Sea Kayak Symposium. The different chutes of Penrhyn Mawr provide challenging conditions for everyone; a learning curve paddling up and surfing down the standing and breaking waves. A little while earlier I saw Helena from Guernsey roll in the very rough. Hadas high braced at forty-five degrees skywards on the back of a white pyramid shaped wave where her whole kayak fits on the wave.

When we finally make our way towards the lunch spot, we immediately have to execute a rescue for real. A paddler capsized in the 'Chicken Run'. The 'Chicken Run' is amply named for being a safe upstream escape route out of Penrhyn Mawr. But today the swell runs right into this area making it even challenging to reach the lunch spot. The paddler is hanging onto the stern of his kayak and the current draws him into a rock lined foam white channel. Ginni automatically goes into the 'rescue scenario near rocks'; "Plan A". She tows the kayak with the swimmer hanging onto the stern of his kayak away from the rocks. In this current however, this does not quite work as planned. The guy in the water is an 'anchor' to the current and the tow drifts further downstream. "Plan B": delegation. Ginni takes care of the kayak on tow and makes her way to safety. I now have the swimmer hanging onto the stern of my kayak. Now it is me that is not going anywhere safe. I cannot turn my bow upstream with that 'anchor' on my stern in the eddy. No choice than to go with the tide! And thus I venture into the channel between two rock islets. As I drift closer to the foam white waves and closer to the rocks on one side I shout to the swimmer: "Let go, Now!". With two quick strokes I manoeuvre my kayak to the middle of the channel to face the incoming swell. When I look back over my shoulder a few seconds later, I see the guy standing high and dry on the rock islet. On the receding surge he could feel bottom and decided to hang onto the rocks. When "Plan A" and "Plan B" fails there can only be the overall "Plan see". Ginni tows the empty kayak downstream of the islet. But jumping into the water and a x-rescue in a location with incoming swell does not seem attractive. Ginni, now totally into "I Haul", tows the empty kayak upstream again. The guy scrambles all the way to the upstream side of the rock islet and from there finally gets back into his kayak; up to lunch! What Simon did through all of this? Filming...

In hindsight, maybe my part of "Plan B" was the wrong approach. Maybe 'swimmer on back deck' would have worked better, but what about the choppy conditions I then had to cope with? Or what about a 'towing the swimmer with tow line' option. I would have been very manoeuvrable but would I have been able to 'drag' that 'anchor' upstream? Rescue scenarios with current near swell washed rocks with not much time and space to manoeuvre; hmmm!

At the lunch spot I hear that Pete, while overlooking all from the back of the race, found half of a split paddle floating downstream of Penrhyn Mawr. That is the feared 'confirmation' that my spare paddle has parted with my kayak and me. Somewhere between Penrhyn Mawr and South Stack, half of a white Lendal Nordkapp Paddlok paddle floats with a cap with the same logo; they go well together.

At lunch there is talk about the 'confused water'. That triggers a response from Ginni that there is no such thing as 'confused water'; it is the paddler that is confused...

I stayed in and out of Anglesey for the whole month of May and did, among other trips, quite a few more 'runs' of Penrhyn Mawr. It is almost a 'park-and-play' tidal race; a twenty minute paddle to it. Around the spring tides, with the strong winds and the sea state we had this May, it was 'out of remit' on many days. Then we would walk to it and watch it from the cliffs above. The race could be heard from a kilometre away.

On one 'acceptable' day near springs we find the 'Chicken Run' to have un-manageable strong current until the very last hour of the tide. Right at our lunch spot, where we wait for the current to slacken, a new channel forms by water over flooding a rock. I have never seen this before as usually it is ON these same rocks as we have lunch break. We tuck away in the high corner beneath the cliffs. Now even small standing waves form in this miniature Penrhyn Mawr. Geoff and I can even surf these and use tiny eddies; amazing. We finally manage to punch through the 'Chicken Run' and make our way back to Porth Dafarch.

I do not want to withhold from you a special encounter in Penrhyn Mawr. One day, Geoff, Dan and I find ourselves in a perfect 'learning curve' Penrhyn Mawr. It is on neaps, almost no wind and only a little swell remaining. For once during my stay, the outermost race starts out easy enough and very forgiving. Then slowly building in strength and wave height but never too rough to handle. It is 'end of May Bank Holiday Monday'. There are sailing boats, powerboats and RIB's going around Penrhyn Mawr. On this beautiful sunny day probably everything that floats is on the water. In the third hour of the tide we see a sit-on-top wave ski kayak dropping down on Penrhyn Mawr and paddling about ten meters in front of the green front waves and keeping about it's position. We do not think much of this because apparently he knows what he is doing and he is probably dropped off by one of the RIB's. Twenty minutes later the sailing boat and RIB's have gone and this guy is 'paddling like a banshee' (statement by Geoff), now off to the right of the race and his bow pointing to Rhoscolyn. Geoff asks me to check upon this guy. Like the guy in the wave ski, I too have to fight the current. He must be a strong paddler as in my sea kayak it takes me almost ten minutes to reach him. To get the picture clear; that guy is not moving an inch forward and I have to paddle very hard to make any upstream progress. When I finally make it to him I ask him the obvious question: "Are you OK?". His response is: "Yes!". I try my next question: "How is your energy level?". Catching my breath, I don't even wait for an answer and follow up with: "Can you keep up this sprinting pace for another two hours?". I think he has been 'paddling like a banshee' for more than half an hour now. He answers me that he was surprised by the strength of the 'rip'. Calling Penrhyn Mawr a 'rip' is giving it away. Oh no! He only wears a short neoprene suit and does not wear a buoyancy aid. On this beautiful day this guy will get away with what could have been a lethal mistake. I lead the way paddling in a straight line towards the shore. In the meantime the current takes us below the race. Close inshore we use the eddies to get to the 'Chicken Run'. By now Geoff and Dan have joined us. The 'Chicken Run' moves too fast for a sit-on-top wave ski to punch through. The 'Chicken Run' can also be 'walked' by scrambling over the top of a rock islet. On the other side I stress to him to keep very close to shore on his way back to Porth Dafarch. I cannot be too angry with that guy because he very much appreciated our help and his parting words are "an ounce of understanding is worth a pound of knowledge...".


- Sea Kayaking UK (Anglesey Sea Kayak Symposium)

- Stories and photos from the guiding life (Ginni Callahan)

Thursday 21 April 2005 (Penrhyn Mawr)
CG 24hr: ?; Sea state: ?

Saturday 23 April (Soldiers' Point - Porth Dafarch)
CG 24hr: E/NE-3/4 occasionally 5 at first; Sea state: moderate becoming slight.

Monday 24 April (ASSC)
CG 24hr: ?; Sea state: ?

Monday 25 April (Porth Dafarch - Penrhyn Mawr)
CG 24hr: NE-3/4 becoming V-3 or less, then SE-4/5; Sea state: slight.

Tuesday 26 April (Church Bay - Cemlyn - Skerries)
CG 24hr: S/SE veering SW-4/5 occasionally 6 by Tuesday night; Sea state: slight becoming moderate to rough.

Wednesday 27 April (ASSC)
CG 24hr: SW-4/5 backing S/SE-6/7 perhaps gale 8 later; Sea state: moderate to rough.

Thursday 28 April (ASSC)
CG 24hr: S/SW-5/7 occasionally gale 8 for a time, decreasing 4/5 overnight; Sea state: rough to very rough, decreasing moderate.

Friday 29 April (Porth Dafarch - Soldiers' Point)
CG 24hr: SW-4/5 backing SE-3/4; Sea state: slight to moderate.

Saturday 30 April (Porth Dafarch - Penrhyn Mawr)
CG 24hr: E-3 or less becoming S-4/5 for a time; Sea state: slight to moderate.

Sunday 1 May (Trearddur Bay - Rhoscolyn)
CG 24hr: SE veering S/SW-4/5 occasionally 6 in Anglesey; Sea state: moderate.

Monday 2 May (North Stack and Penrhyn Mawr)
CG 24hr: S/SW-4/5 occasionally 6 in west; Sea state: slight to moderate becoming occasionally rough in west.

Tuesday 3 May (BCU Level-3 Sea training)
CG 24hr: S veering W-4/5 veering N/NW-6 in the evening; Sea state: slight to moderate.

Wednesday 4 May (BCU Level-3 Sea training)
CG 24hr: N-5/6 backing W-3/4; Sea state: slight to moderate, rough at times.

Thursday 5 May (Beaumaris - Puffin Island)
CG 24hr: NW-3/4 backing W-4/5; Sea state: slight becoming moderate.

Friday 6 May (Navigation class)
CG 24hr: W/NW-4/5 increasing 6/7 backing SW-3/4 for a time; Sea state: moderate to rough.

Saturday 7 May (Trearddur Bay - Rhoscolyn)
CG 24hr: NW-4/5 occasionally 6; Sea state: moderate.

Tidal Range Holyhead April/May 2005

Holyhead tides April, May, June 2005

© A.M. Schoevers