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 Justine's Journal

CackleTV Productions


Black Belt Seakayaking at the Bitches
Tuesday, July 26, 2005

When you visit a tidal race with a name like "The Bitches" then you know you're in for a good time! Last weekend we drove down to Pembrokeshire in South Wales to film what was dubbed a 'black belt seakayaking event'. Andy Middleton from TYF outdoor centre invited many of Britains' top seakayakers and white water paddlers to come and push the limits of the sport and see what can be done in fast currents and big waves with a lot of courage and skill.... and a 4 or 5 metre long boat! It was one of the biggest tides of the year in an area of Wales rennowned for it's fast currents and gnarly races. The sea funnels through narrow channels between islands accelerating to up to 18 knots as it pours over rocks just under the surface. "The Bitches" itself is the name given to a line of small rocks that stick up out of the sea inbetween mainland Pembrokeshire and Ramsey Island. Many ships have come to grief here, including a lifeboat. There is such a pronounced and shallow rock shelf of rock in a line perpendicular to the tide that the sea visibly drops a few metres as it pours over it, then the water curls back over forming a steep front wave that is unusually retentive for a tidal race. There are many other smaller races in the area which are a less defined, aswell as narrow shutes and beautiful caves. On Saturday, we went on a coastal paddle to some small islands called "the Bishops", looking for playspots along the way, before finally arriving at 'the Bitches' around 6pm when the race starts to work. Despite everyone being a bit tired by then (and more than a bit hungover in some cases!) we had a good play. I found it very hard just to get onto the front wave as you have to ferry glide across a weekly defined wave shoulder with 18 knots of current rushing under your kayak. Not that many people made it to that hallowed place but those that did had a great surf on a lovely glassy fast wave. The rest of us missed the front wave and battled with the more confused waves and boils behind and tried to avoid an area of nasty water known as "the dark side". You could still surf on the second wave and in a few other places, although a bit more bracing was required at times.

There were 17 good paddlers including former world C1 freestyle champion Paul 'Cheesy' Robertson, former squirt boating world champion Bob Campbell, head of kayaking at the National Scottish centre Doug Cooper, author of a surfkayaking book Bill Mathos, local experts JP and Andy Middleton and Sean Morley, who circumnavigated Great Britain and all the outlying islands last year and was an international racing kayaker. The photos are were taken by Flora Moody who works for AE Production which is a new digital photography and film production company with a focus on outdoor pursuits, water-based activities and extreme sports. See

You can also see a short description and some portrait photos of some of the paddlers at
I'm sure I don't usually look quite that bad!

The results of this adventure will be seen on the sequel to 'This is the Sea', which will be out before Christmas. The DVD will be called "This is the Sea 2" but I'm also looking for another more catchy name for it. If you can come up with that ellusive name then I'll give you a free copy of the DVD... Email ideas to

Windy paddling, Port Townsend, cheap VHS
Monday, July 04, 2005

Oh the joys of Summer in Wales. Outside the window the trees are shaking and almost all of Snowdon is covered by mist. Still, it's a lovely place to be. Over the weekend we were visited by a friend from Newfoundland, Geoff Minnely. Geoff is a river paddler who took us down Pipers Hole river in Newfoundland so we returned the favour and took him on 2 classic sea paddles. On Saturday we went "round the Stacks", which is a great paddle near Holyhead around really prety cliffs and via 3 tidal races. We went on the flood tide when Penrhyn Mawr and South Stack races run and North Stack is pretty flat. On a calm day with neap tides the paddle can be very straightforward and you can linger under the cliffs and look up at thousands of nesting birds and a few climbers (not in exactly the same place!). The only thing was that on Saturday there was a force 6 wind kicking up lots of whitecaps on the sea. Still, Geoff is used to lots of whitewater! Penrhyn Mawr was pretty confused but we had a short play in the smaller race to introduce Geoff to surfing in these funny long boats! The wind was behind us as we continued round the Stacks and we surfed speedily along to Soldiers Point. Alun was trying out his new Greenland paddles for the first time - I think he can safely say that he put them to the test and we were all very impressed that he not only remained upright but he even smiled a few times! On Sunday we paddled out to the Skerries, a small island about 5km from shore which is always interesting to get to because strong tides take you away from the island so you have to plan your angle of approach. The wind was still at least force 4-5 but the sea was exciting without being scary. We had lunch surrounded by seals, arctic terns, kittiwakes and the odd puffin. We're threatening to tell Geoff's friends that we converted him to proper paddling because that's what they told the seakayakers in Newfoundland after we really enjoyed the river!

Last week I was invited to be the Saturday night speaker at the 'West Coast Seakayaking Symposium' in Port Townsend on Sept 9-11th this year. I accepted and am looking forward to crossing the pond again, catching up with old friends and meeting new people. You can read about the event at

Finally, "This is the Sea" continues to be very popular but the DVD sales are far outweighing the VHS sales. I have a few VHS left and am selling them for the bargain price of £4.99 on the website. They work in the UK, Australia and Europe so if you want to share the excitement of seakayaking without paying the full price of the DVD, or you want to treat a friend by inspiring them to get out seapaddling then take advantage of this special offer.

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