EMERALD COLOUR WATER
A circumnavigation of Ireland. By Tom Thorpe. This article appeared over two issues of the Paddler Mag. Paddler Ezine.
Date of completion: August 2019
Paddler: Tom Thorpe is a teacher and semi professional sea kayaker based in Devon and Cornwall.
Distance: 800 miles approximately
Start and Finish Point: Portpatrick, Scotland
Route: Anti Clockwise
Ireland is a place that is made for sea kayaking. Whether you wish to circumnavigate the whole Island, or cherry pick the best stretches, there is something for everyone. Around half of the Irish coastline is exposed to Atlantic swells and winds. Paddling whilst being surrounded by white caps and clapotis is pretty normal. Irish conditions are notoriously hard to predict and if a circumnavigator choses to go clockwise or anticlockwise it’s almost certain they’ll encounter headwinds and apposing conditions.
If you talk to folk that have undertaken the expedition you’ll hear them talking about the long days, the rough water and the notorious headlands and for the most part what they say is unlikely to be an exaggeration. It’s pretty full on! The Atlantic swells rise up from the deep water and meet huge cliffs. Anyone who paddles around Ireland will be put to the test. Anyone that belittles it probably hasn’t done it.
By far, the most impressive trip that has been done was by a group of Irish chaps in 1990. The group included Mick O’Meara and the trip took 33 days. The boats they used were Valley Nordkapp copies and although the Nordkapp was an extremely advanced design for its time, its still an older style displacement hull and all of the equipment would have been heavier than most of today’s circumnavigators use. The 33 day trip was never supposed to be a record, it was simply how things worked out and for the guys it was simply something they wanted to do.
Interestingly though, that 33 day time would stand for 20 years and even today, with the lightest and fastest equipment, most will struggle to beat that. The trip is between 800 to 1000 miles depending on the route taken. If you choose the 800 mile version a paddler will find themselves in open water very often.
My trip took 26 days, anti clockwise, including the crossings from Scotland. My 26 days included two days off the water, one day due to force eight headwinds and one day due to strong winds and a choice I made to rest instead of battle and make slow progress.
In any sport there seems to be a set path. A climber will find themselves in Fontainebleau and Yosemite at some point in their journey. A surfer will find themselves in Morocco or Indonesia and a sea kayaker will find themselves in Greenland, Norway, Ireland, Scotland and other places. There seems to be a well-trodden path and areas that attract more hype than others.
I travelled around the world when I was younger, searching out national parks and hidden areas. I tried desperately to stay away from other westerners and tourists. Towards the end of my travels I realised something; I realised that there is often a reason why people flock to some areas and why they are so popular. It’s because they are outstandingly beautiful and inspiring.
As I progressed through my sea kayaking career I kept hearing about Ireland and as I studied atlases and maps of the world I’d often check out the Irish coastline.
I didn’t mentally prepare and fully commit to the plan until six weeks before I set off.
In 2018 my friend Steve Bowens and I paddled around the top of Scotland and included lots of the islands in our route and some of the best crossings and exposed sections of water in the UK. We called it the Roof of Britain Ultra and it was around 620 nautical miles. It was the perfect preparation trip.
During the six weeks leading up to Ireland I got hold of all of the maps and things I needed. All of my heavy equipment was switched out for lighter gear. My training schedule was tripled and I did my reps and exercises most days. Where I live is perfect for paddling and training and trips around Plymouth breakwater with a heavy boat or towing Mr Finn was a regular occurrence. That training was essential. Luckily, my girlfriend is very supportive and I regularly towed her whilst she sat on my longboard surfboard. That resistance training was a big help.
Training for long trips is tricky; long distance sea kayaking is a lot about endurance and mental grit. The Scillies crossing and Islands is one of my favourite places and one of my favourite paddling trips and it was great to be able to test my equipment there.
The best time to do an Ireland circumnavigation is around the longest day of the year. Often the weather is pretty settled through June and around the longest day. If you read the books about the UK circumnavigations and other Ireland circumnavigations, folk always try to be on the Irish west coast at that time. Obviously the more settled the weather, the more distance one can achieve and for most, the more fun the paddling.
August is when I get my summer holidays. Bumpy water helps me stay engaged and focused so I wasn’t worried if it wasn’t going to be super calm.
For me paddling for eight to ten hours a day can get pretty laborious and monotonous if the water is flat calm, if there is a swell, tide or wind blowing or flowing I’m happy. The thing that does bother me on long distance days is a headwind. A headwind increases a paddler’s stroke rate and causes more fatigue. Paddling 30-50 nautical miles each day means that one cannot go crazy on any one of the days because rest and recovery is not an option, its really important to know your limits. I had a lot of headwinds in Ireland and that’s one of the reasons why my total came out as 26 days and not 21, I was careful and more conservative on the distance and a couple of times only achieved a 25-30 mile day.
Once you get a good relationship with yourself and know what you can achieve it allows us to find out what is possible and plan more realistically.
My route was planned out from the beginning and I had targets, but I took it day by day. I’d check the forecast twice a day and sit looking at the sea eating my breakfast. The plan was very dynamic and I made alterations to my goals the night before, the morning of and during the paddling days. Utilising the good weather days is so important and when the conditions allowed, I pushed the distance to 45-55 nautical miles. Eating enough food and carrying enough food was a major challenge.
I had studied the weather patterns all year, watching the synoptic charts and how the systems were moving. This year we have had abnormal conditions. A lot of easterly’s and northerly’s and prolonged periods of settled weather were common. Whilst working through June and early July the weather was amazing and I knew it couldn’t last forever.
Our predominant winds here in the UK are south westerlies. Some years easterly winds and swells are quite rare, but not this year (2019).
I looked at the charts and tides and the forecasts religiously within the weeks leading up to the trip.
It would be so cool to do the crossings from and to Scotland within the circumnavigation, so I checked it out. The maps suggested that Portpatrick in Scotland would be an ideal launch site and I had a really positive phone conversation with the RNLI station and the Harbour Master. I began to get really excited.
The decision to paddle clockwise or anticlockwise would be made a day before I set off, I wanted a week of semi reliable forecast to make the decision. So sitting in Portpatrick the night before and studying my apps, charts and maps, the decision was made. The tides and weather matched up and if I could maintain a good speed and reach my target distances, I could get down to the south west corner and meet the south westerly’s which were sure to come in at some point. If it went to plan the wind would assist me along the south coast and up the east coast and that would counter any conditions I met on the west coast. At least that was the theory. Definitely a risk, but I’m paddling around Ireland; the whole trips a risk!
I set of from Portpatrick after a windy and wet night in the van, I struggled to sleep that night because I was so excited. At about four in the morning the weather settled and I woke up and looked out, the rain was still there but the wind had dropped. The tide told me that I didn’t have to launch until 08:30 and I was pleased because it gave me chance to sort my gear and van and make sure I had everything for a potential month on the water.
I paddled out from Portpatrick into the fog and locked onto my bearing, it was an amazing crossing and 45 nautical miles later I paddled out of the fog and landed at a place near Waterfoot in Ireland. I had made it, the first challenge done, for me being in Ireland was so magical and I was so happy.
The forecast was telling me the weather was really settled for the next few days and I prepared for a few big days creeping around the north coast. At this point the tides were on springs and they would push me and be on my tail all morning.
In Waterfoot was where I would experience my first taste of Irish hospitality. My plans to paddle around Ireland with minimal equipment and weight meant that I carried minimal food and water, no shoes or non-essential items. The plan was to knock on doors or find springs for water and to stock up on food every three of four days. I went to find someone willing to fill up my water bottles. I knocked on a door and the family invited me into the house and I met an amazing chap who had sailed around the world and worked on super yachts. He told me his story and about how he had dived into shallow water, broken his neck and paralysed himself from the neck down. He was wheelchair bound and his positivity and his willingness to talk openly about his situation was very inspiring. He was really interested in my plans, I’d told him of how on the way over from Portpatrick I had attempted to get a good GPS track and check my location a couple of times due to the fog and shipping lanes. Unfortunately my GPS had decided it was time to die and wasn’t functioning at all. To my amazement he gave me a new GPS unit after hearing that mine had shut down. That was so amazing!
Here I was in Ireland, I had to embrace the fact that this was happening and fully commit to each day and to my plans to go anti clockwise.
I moved through the north coast and managed to make good time. The first day gave me a boost and I paddled through tide races in lovely warm weather, looking out towards the Scottish Islands and passing the giants causeway.
The headwinds arrived on the third day and I hugged the coast and took part in some tactical rock hopping to avoid the winds and tide. The weather was really changeable and as I moved around the northern tip, progress was slowed by strong headwinds. I battled on. The north coast is amazingly beautiful, the clouds hang over the mountains and the sandy beaches stretch for miles, I was soon to understand that the majority of the Irish coast is sandy beaches split by large cliffs.
When I made it to the west coast the wind was opposing tide and the water was pretty bumpy but I was moving quickly and managed to keep the wind on my tail for most of the day. Moving down towards Dawros was a full on day and arriving at a remote headland at 22:15 as the sun set was a big relief. I surfed into a natural harbour as the sun was setting. It was an amazing day and these were the conditions I had been expecting, the true Ireland. I had paddled past about 10 islands that day and covered about 50 nautical miles. I sorted my gear and sent my girlfriend a picture of the sunset. She sent me an alarming message back and I called her straight away. She had answered the phone in tears and she had just hung up from calling the coastguard. She had called them after becoming worried. I apologised profusely and after she had calmed down I decided I needed some help on the safety front to relieve pressure on myself and others. The next morning I messaged Steve Bowens. Steve is one of my best friends and paddled around Scotland with me last year. He is a surf lifeguard trainer and AALA inspector and knows the Irish coast and understands the processes involved with FSK expeditions.
Every day I would send Steve a route card with timings and everyone who cares would be able to follow me on an app. Elise my girlfriend would be able to call Steve if she couldn’t get hold of me.
Basically the instructions were; If you cant get hold of me, haven’t heard from me by 2am and the tracker isn’t working, call the coastguard and tell them my last known location and my target location for that day. The thing is with these trips, by the time anyone can get to a solo paddler on an exposed coast, its probably too late and I was fine with that, its something I accept when I paddle solo in remote locations.
The next couple of days I passed Rossan Point, stopping quickly to re-stock the boat at Malinmore. This was when I realised what Steve had tried to tell me was true. Being a Vegan in Ireland will be hard. Milk is in most things and wholefoods wont be common. Even cereal bars were hard to come by but I bought what I could and loaded up the boat. My decision to only carry minimal food was still good, a heavy boat is a slow boat. It crazy how much food a paddler consumes when paddling consistently quickly over long distances. The amount of calories burnt per day is estimated at 6000. To get a balanced intake of carbohydrates, sugars and fats is hard. Most energy bars are hard to eat after one has eaten ten and some of them taste horrible. Flapjacks for me are the best but I couldn’t buy them in most places. Biscuits and peanut butter sandwiches would provide the energy.
Moving towards Easky was challenging, the wind was changeable and making it to an island called Invermurray with a headwind was tricky. In Ireland there were monasteries and signs of historic habitation on most islands. I didn’t get much time to explore but luckily the islands were home to lots of species of birds and it was great to hang out and watch them. Camping on Invermurray was really fun and the next day I paddled to Easky in wind, fog and rain. My original aim was to cross the whole of Sligo Bay in one but the weather just wasn’t right. That lost me a day.
Luckily I had a tail wind heading towards Benwee Head and I camped at Raheen, which set me up to pass through my first crux section of the trip.
When I woke up on the sixth day knew that it was only a matter of time before that swell and west wind came in. The weather forecast was promising bad things. The Mullet Peninsular was challenging with really strong offshore winds, followed by strong headwinds and squalls and that day at a beach near Glosh, I realised that my dream of settled weather for the whole of the west coast was just that; a dream. I made peace with the decision that breaking the record of 23 days was very unlikely. To be honest, as soon as I made that peace, I was relieved and I felt more relaxed. From this point on, I wouldn’t be attacking Ireland and launching an offensive. I decided to work with the conditions and go with the flow. Whatever I could achieve and whatever happened-happened. If the weather was bad I would do a shorter day and get to a sheltered camp. I wouldn’t take unjustifiable risk and exhaust myself, trying to make the same distances.
I rounded one of the southern points of the Mullet Peninsular and met Sean Pierce of shearwater sea kayaking and his group. What a great guy! He spent time with me and we looked at the maps and he explained a few areas and gave me some tips. It was great to talk to such an enthusiastic and nice fella for a while. He understood my journey and he was interested in my plans. His advice was sound and local.
Opinions are always tricky for me to gauge and advice is always hard for me to accept, but it does allow me to form a well-rounded vision of what I should expect and be aware of.
Early on in my planning for the trip I had learnt not to listen to other paddlers advice and their horror stories. I needed to make my own plans and rely on my judgement and experience. Other paddlers just made me nervous and anxious of certain phantom cruxes and stretches of coast. The outdoor world loves a bit of horror.
Waking up at Surge beach, I knew the weather would get bad. I set off from the beach at 06:30 and battled my way toward Achill sound and Achill town. The rain and wind got really strong and the rain was so thick at times I couldn’t see. The squalls and wind would come and the wind would be so strong that I would just hold my position for up to 20 minutes and let it pass, when it subsided slightly I could carry on and find a wind eddy. When I arrived at Achill town I was tired and luckily a local chap called Patrick let me stay on his lawn, he provided me with a shower and a cup of tea. It felt amazing and even after only a few days of being wet and sweaty, it felt so good to come into contact with a modern world. I made a base camp on Patrick’s lawn and re stocked the kayak, ate a lot of food, stayed dry and made some alterations to my kayak. I was sitting there, chatting on the phone, I look up and who is there? John Willacy! Can you believe it! John holds records for most of the circumnavigations, crossings and circuits in the UK. John has never set a time for Ireland but its very likely that when John does, he will set a new record time.
With the boat packed and maintained I moved on from Achill and I was treated to the best day so far, I paddled past lots of islands, two big headlands including Slyne Head and I arrived in Connemara. When I got to the bay where I was due to camp, the dolphins came out to play and they swam with me for half an hour, I love dolphins.
The camp was set up and I sat above a beautiful beach watching clouds rising and moving towards me like monsters in the sky.
The weather forecast was not good and I stood on the hill and looked towards the Aran Islands and the middle section of the west coast. This was the section of coast that I had received the most warnings about. Horror stories about clapotis and boomers.
A big low pressure system was coming and that evening it was the calm before the storm. The northern section of the low pressure system, bringing easterly winds which annoyingly would provide me with headwinds on this section. The winds would get stronger and I had to get to the Aran Islands as quick as possible and sit out the first 30knot winds. I made it to Inisheer and that night the wind and rain got so strong it felt like I was camping in a hurricane. It settled slightly the next morning and I climbed into an old 15th century castle, ate my porridge and stared at the sea. The Easterly winds were still here but that would mean the cliffs of Mohar would provide me with a wind shadow, clapotis would be minimal and I’d be able to make progress, if I could get there. The winds were touching F4/5 but I loaded up and paddled out from the island. I had a battle to get to the cliffs and when I looked up the cliffs were lined with hundreds on people staring down. I paddled along the cliffs in flat water and passed through the arch at Hags Head and out into stronger winds, probably F6/7. Getting to a beach near to Spanish Point is where I sat there and ate lunch, I stripped off and swam in the sea and washed out all of my dry clothes. Sometimes with strong headwinds one has to just wee and deal with it later, stopping paddling isn’t possible, a relief zip in my dry pants is essential and toileting isn’t usually an issue. Offshore winds and strong winds with a short fetch are hard in a sea kayak because it hits the boat and the paddler square on, gaining shelter in the troughs isn’t possible. The winds began to ease, this was the eye of the storm. Looking up there was blue sky, looking out to sea or inland there were walls of cloud. I’m not exaggerating; this was paddling in the eye. I had identified Whitesands, Doonbeg as a sheltered location and my plan was to get there, set up camp and wait for the southern part of the depression and the westerly winds. The winds came and that night and the next day the winds reached gale force and there were frequent small craft warnings put out over the radio by the coastguard. Luckily social media worked amazingly and Ireland circumnavigations have a strong following of very enthusiastic paddlers. A group of great guys showed up and we all ate food and talked about paddling whilst I waited out the storm. A big thanks to a chap called Ted.
The weather moved through and luckily it was ok to paddle out. I knew there would be some swell and clapotis hanging around and the headlands would be spicy but I had to move south. The sea-state was still around SS5 but it was ok. I have spent a lot of time surfing, coasteering and rockhopping and it has really helped me analyse a coastline and read it like a river. I can see where the eddys and sheltered sections are and even tell which beaches I can still land on, so I wasn’t worried too much about rough water and swelly sections.
All I was thinking about at this point was getting around the south west tip, the crux. I pushed south and made great progress making it to Brandon. Brandon is the start of the south west’s headlands.
It had taken 15 days to get here and I was please with that.
The clapotis through the south west section was relentless and my stroke rate was much higher to my glide phase being reduced, having to low brace was pretty normal.
Blasket sound and the Islands were inspiring and this section is where the incoming tide splits on the west coast of Ireland. Dunmore head gets hammered by all the conditions but luckily I managed to pass it on a relatively calm day. I knew the next two days would be pretty rough.
Mountains next the sea create their own weather patterns. The weather was so changeable, there could be blue skies and force three winds one minute and then the temperature would drop and the rain would start and the wind would pick up to f5 the next minute. It was hard paddling and when I reached my camp spot near Puffin Island, Portmagee, I was tired, a fifteen nautical mile crossing had worn me out. I made soup using spring water and ate a lot of food. I was half way right now and that felt really good.
At this point in the trip my recovery rate had improved, I would still fall asleep massaging my shoulders and stretch before bed. In the morning I’d still have to warm up and go steady for the first 45 minutes of paddling, but it was improving and all that training I had done paid off.
The south west’s headlands were great and because of strong winds and fog my daily distances were shorter than in other sections. This was the crux as I’d imagined but it was also my favourite part. Pushing hard to a sheltered spot and breaking a day down into sections is great. Id make full advantage of wind eddies behind islands and headlands. The water was rough and I was constantly wet due to fog, rain, sea spray and sweat. I’d wear wet thermals everyday and keep a dry set for the camps. I met a family in Glenarough who really helped and fed me. Coming out of the fog, rain, clapotis and finding people who want to help, in the middle of a remote area is so amazing. Irish hospitality is outstanding.
The major crux in my mind was Mizen Head and it didn’t disappoint me. I had beam winds and very low visibility. Off of Mizen the peaks and troughs were large and I managed to time it right so I passed with wind and tide moving together. I was really pleased I wasn’t there with wind opposing tide because on that day I’m not sure it would have been possible.
The winds increased and as I surfed downwind past the Fastnet lighthouse in a F6/7 wind, I was relieved to get to the south coast. I wanted to take the outer route around Cape Clear and Sherkin just because I thought I’d regret if I didn’t, the tides were strong there and I surfed a couple of tideraces to get to Baltimore. The winds were forecast to get even stronger and I didn’t want to be hiding out on an exposed west coast headland, I was relieved to make it to the south coast and my plan to meet the south westerlies may have worked. I went to Baltimore and ordered the biggest plate of chips and beans I have ever seen.
I was over half way and from now on I hoped that I could increase my daily distance and be more consistent with the distances I was achieving. The new rule from this point was; no rest days, no bad weather days, no excuses. I had taken two days off in 17 days up to this point and no more were allowed.
I checked the forecast and the weather was coming, strong south westerly winds and rain were imminent.
For the next couple of days the weather was ok and I had some lovely tail winds. The south westerly winds were well and truly here and the assistance was appreciated. I had pushed hard and paddled in some big water and headwinds to get around the south west tip and I was tired. The winds behind me helped me to back off on the power and re-coup some energy.
This paddling is not just about physical and body, it’s about a mental state and mental strength. Imagine making a goal to get to a headland ten or fifteen miles away; you can only really paddle straight to it because if you went around the bay it would waste energy and add distance. So you make it to the headland and you cant land because its bumpy, you’re relieved to get there but you paddle around it and look ahead there sits another headland ten miles away and that becomes the new goal. That scenario could happen five or more times a day. Spending that much time in open water by myself was the biggest challenge. If the water was bumpy that would help to keep me engaged and sometimes the dolphins and porpoises would come to see me. I was happy to get to camp in the evenings just so I could do something else and maybe meet people.
Some people love their own company and sea kayaking does attract and appeal to folk who struggle in social situations and want to spend time on their own. For me it’s a bit of both, I do want to escape but I struggle with myself after long periods on my own.
This was a circumnavigation of Ireland but really this was an endurance test and ultra marathon. An island and headland hopping epic.
On the south coast of Ireland there are more fishing buoys creating way points helping to chunk the big crossings, breaking them down into smaller sections.
On the first day on the south coast I’d paddled past four big headlands and a few islands and done a lot of open water crossings, I was hoping to get further but as I passed the last headland all I wanted to do was get out. Old Head has big cliffs but paddling along it I spotted a place which would accommodate my tent. The rocks and ledges below didn’t look too challenging so I climbed out and lifted all of my gear out. The grassy ledge was fantastic and I set up camp, it was sheltered and East facing,
That night a storm came and the winds shifted south and blasted the grassy ledge. I woke up at three, put my headtorch on and scrambled down to my boat whist the rain fell hard. The big waves were not getting to the kayak which I had lashed to a boulder and all was fine. I scrambled back to the tent and went back to sleep.
When it got light I woke up and the storm continued to unleash its fury. I sat on the boulders after breakfast and let the sea and winds settle. At around 10.30am the sea was still chunky so the only way I could launch was to pack the kayak on a boulder and then push the kayak out on a line, I jumped into the sea, swam and climbed into the boat.
That morning I paddled in a big sea and low visibility towards Cork. I was keen to find a find a café, drink some coffee and eat some cake. Luckily for me there was a café and I ran in really excited. I spent half an hour searching for food and reading all of the food ingredients and labels. None of the food was Animal free except for some Salt and vinegar pringles. I ate two tubes and drank some coffee. The idea of getting lost Cork and wasting time didn’t appeal to me, so I quickly launched and headed to Youghal in strong winds.
Youghal is a lovely place and I restocked my supplies once again. I would run really low on food from time to time and in Ireland there is a serious lack of beach cafes. Food is heavy but I always tried to carry reserves. Its pretty common that there wasn’t a beach café and if I didn’t have bread or I was running low on supplies Id sit on a beach or an island and cook up some pasta. If my plan was to camp on a remote headland or Island that evening and a water source wasn’t guaranteed, Id ration my water. From time to time Id cook my pasta and food using sea-water, ideally 50 percent fresh if I could.
I carried no more than four litres of water. Water weighs 1kg per litre, which slows me down. Water was needed to do dinner and breakfast and provide me drinking water to get to the next water source. It’s a valuable resource.
Often, when Id reach a town Id try and eat as many chips and beans as I could and stock up on calories to recover and prepare me for the next day. It no secret that Id be running on a calorie deficit for a lot of the paddling days. Even if I had supplies its really hard to consume enough. I did suffer a lot of muscle wastage.
There is a lot of negativity toward veganism and being an athlete it can be tricky. In an everyday context its easy to be vegan. In remote locations, very much less so.
Setting off from Youghal the winds arrived. They came in strong and F6/8 was common. The winds were behind me and pushing, the downwind runs were brilliant and I surfed past the headlands and islands. Downwind surfing in an FSK is so much fun and I love it. In an expedition craft with weight it does use more energy but when surfing its possible to grab a few seconds rest. The wind continued to increase and after leaving Mine Head the wind forced me to fully commit to a crossing. The plan was to get around Hook Head but with the wind blowing at F8 I had to go directly with it. Luckily for me, the wind was blowing direct into Tramore. That’s where I ended up after spending a couple of hours surrounded by white water and often having waves breaking over me. I was relieved to make the harbour and I hoped that the winds wouldn’t be like that the next day.
The little harbour was lovely and the sun was shining so I relaxed for a while and a couple of local fishermen invited me into their shed and made me tea. I sat there talking and laughing with them for a while and I learnt about smugglers, fish stocks and local history.
With that, Mick O’Meara (Ireland Circumnavigation record holder) turned up. He said “Ah Tom, I heard you were in Tramore, let’s put you’re boat in the lifeboat station and come for dinner if you’re up for it”. Amazing! So that’s what we did. The weather wouldn’t be settling that day or the next morning so I was pretty pleased. We drank Guinness and ate an amazing meal and I slept in the summerhouse.
We studied the weather and the wind was still high. I didn’t want to be off the water for another day so I made a plan to paddle as soon as the wind dropped. Hook Head was right there and I had to get around it so I could get onto the east coast. Mick headed to the harbour to do a training session and I went down too to watch. After the session they left and said their goodbyes and I sat there watching the ocean. At about 16:00 the wind dropped slightly. The wind was still blowing F5/6 but and there was still a bit of chop from the stronger winds and the tide was running, but it was manageable. I got a really good line on Hook Head and downwind surfed past the headland. The sea was big and I think the biggest conditions I had paddled in, rain showers were passing though. Hook Head created some shelter and I raced to Kilmore Quay and set up camp, I was really happy that I managed to push on.
It was day 22 and I rounded Camsore Point and Cahore point. I knew that I could achieve some big days but the record would not go. I was really happy with my choices and progress.
My tidal planning had gone well and I had made the tidal gates I had needed to. I had paddled through fog, rain, big seas and paddled with low energy and a lack of food. At this point in an expedition I find that my body and mind are completely in tune and I’m in the Zone, it’s a great feeling. Up the east coast I made a rule: No less than 40 nautical miles a day is allowed. I need to be in position to make the crossing next Friday, that’s four days left. Lets make this happen!
The wind blew offshore which was mostly on my beam but when I was paddling out of Dublin, the wind began to increase on my tail and gave me a push, once again the wind increased to about F8. When a wind that strong blows behind a kayak it does help but it’s less of a downwind surf and more of a drift and is often a lot of effort, of course it did help a bit and it set me up for the final push.
I set up camp at Corstown and did all of my admin and ate a lovely meal. I set the alarm for 05:00. I had around 60 nautical miles to paddle the next day and there was no excuse, it needed to happen because the weather window on Friday morning would allow a safe crossing back to Portpatrick. I woke up and then made it happen. Conditions were perfect and I had some amazing downwind runs that day. It was bizarre when I stopped for lunch to see the Northern Ireland flags (Union Jack) flying. I felt really on form and carried on. The sea did get bigger but I was moving fast and felt really in tune. I couldn’t believe that I was nearly there. Last year in Scotland, at the end of the expedition, my hands were wrecked and my lower back was all scarred and my bum bruised terribly. This was day 25 and my hands were fine, I was comfortable in my kayak and I felt strong and able. On the last section the sun started to drop low in the sky and my boat felt like it was made of concrete. I headed into the beach and to my surprise Maurice Bowens was waiting for me, my good friend Steve’s dad. It was amazing to see him and we ate dinner and we talked about lots of things. He bid me fairwell and he drove off into the night. The camp was set up and I set my alarm for another early start, I had one last look to see if I could see Scottish lights in the darkness, but not yet, Scotland was still hiding from me.
The last day!
I woke up and was literally buzzing, I didn’t sleep very well but it didn’t matter.
I had all of the bearings sorted and had done my chart work the night before. 24 nautical miles and I would be on Scottish ground. I started early because the tide was flowing north and that would help. The wind was also blowing south westerly and would be increasing all day, that allowed me to start a little more south saving more time. Visibility was poor but there was enough, I didn’t have any fixed features to aim for until about two thirds of the way across when the cloud cleared and I saw Scotland. Luckily for me, Portpatrick is a white village set amongst dark cliffs. Portpatrick is the only village on that stretch so it’s perfect for navigation. I soon saw it from about eight nautical miles out and headed for it. The wind had increased and I had some amazing downwind runs towards Portpatrick and I thanked Neptune for doing me a favour. I cruised into the harbour, it was done! 13:20 on the 26th day. My emotions were all over the place and I didn’t land for ten minutes. I sat in the calm harbour with my head in my hands. What had just happened? Did that really happen?
Thank you to everyone who supported me physically, emotionally and technically.
Thank you to my girlfriend Elise for understanding
Thank you to all of you on social media for the kind words
Thank you to all of my sponsors. Minimalism takes practice and every single piece of equipment I use is essential. Using the best gear available allows me to be fast and light. NRS provide the waterproof gear and clothing. VE paddles provided the Carbon Fibre. SKUK provided the kayak, The Quantum.
The gear I could not have lived without and I recommend to everyone:
-NRS ORION CAG: I don’t wear a drysuit whilst paddling in summer, using an FSK. I can’t be restricted. When the weather was rough the Orion cag kept me completely dry and warm.
-NRS Bibs: The bibs are amazing, they have attached socks and an essential relief zip.
-WING PADDLES: I wouldn’t paddle with anything else in an FSK
-SKUK QUANTUM KAYAK. The Quantum is undergoing some modifications based on feedback and two years of hard testing.
– MSR REACTOR STOVE: Its very hot! Cooking in a tactical way is important
– VAUDE POWER LIZARD TENT: So strong and so light!
– HEADTORCH: A powerful headtorch with different functions and a red mode essential.