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 Justine's Journal

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New Years Irish Adventure
Saturday, January 03, 2009


I can't remember whose stupid idea it was to kayak over 50 nautical miles from Wales to Ireland in winter, a week after the shortest day of the year, but somehow Barry and I came to do just that. Barry has already kayaked from Wales to Ireland at the very top and very bottom of Wales ( from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire and from St Davids to Rosslaire) but he also wanted to kayak from the tip of the Llyn Peninsula to Wicklow. I think he probably imagined doing this in Summer but the Summer came and went without the Easterly wind that we wanted to push us along in the right direction. Then over the last 10 days, we've had consistent Easterly winds and bright skies. One of us suggested the paddle to Ireland and we came up with all sorts of excuses why we shouldn't do it - a lack of fitness, near freezing temperatures, the fact we have less than 9 hours of daylight for a 12-16 hour crossing, tiredness etc etc. So we went paddling to get our fitness up and tried out Barry's double seakayak which we thought it would be safer ( and quicker ) to take. The easterly winds didn't go away so on New Years Day, instead of sitting at home and relaxing we got organised and got our kit ready.

We only managed to snatch an hours sleep that evening before leaving the house around midnight, to drive south to Porth Oer ( otherwise known as Whistling Sands), a beach near the tip of the Llyn Peninsula. We planned to leave in the dark so we could be sure of arriving at unknown territory in the daylight. The crossing is around 50 nautical miles so we knew it would take over 11 hours in the double, and perhaps 14 hours or more if things didn't go well.
It might sound obvious but when we arrived at the beach, the thing that struck us both was how dark it was! It was a starry night but the slim moon we'd expected was nowhere to be seen. We couldn't pick out any waves. We considered driving home again but thought we'd get on the water and see what it was like. A rolling swell picked us up straight away and the kayak moved up and down disconcertingly below us. But as our eyes adjusted we could see the shape of the sea within a few metres of our kayak and it wasn't that rough. Green phosphorescence sparkled off our paddles and it was quite exciting to be setting off into the unknown.

The lighthouse of Bardsey island flickered it's beam over us for the first few miles as we drew further away from the shore. We paddled without any lights and navigated using the stars ( i.e we got onto the right bearing using the compass then picked out a star in front of us and aimed for that, turning the light on to check we were still on course every 30 minutes or so). We soon warmed up with the paddling, but as soon as we stopped to eat and drink, we got very cold within 5 minutes. The sandwiches and flasks of hot drink we'd prepared would have taken too long to pfaff around with so we drank water and ate snacks of sausages, hard boiled eggs, bananas, chocolate, nuts and museli bars. We would stop every 5 or 6 nautical miles, eat and drink quickly then paddle on again. We set off about 1.30am and paddled in the dark for the first 5 and a half hours. My stomach was knotted with tiredness and we were both struggling to stay awake. In fact we both fell asleep several times while paddling. We'd nod off for a split second then our paddle would catch on the water or we'd start to lose our balance and we'd wake up with a jolt. This was one of the reasons for taking the double. Apart from being faster, we wouldn't have to worry about losing sight of each other in the dark, and we hopefully wouldn't both fall asleep at the same time and fall in the frigid water.

Very soon I started to hallucinate and seeing all sorts of things in the sea in front of us - trees, boats, rocks, birds and sculptures all rose up in front of me, and melted into nothing as we drew up besides them, or over them. For a split second I believed that we were about to hit whatever the object was and a panic would start to well up inside me, but I quickly realised I was imagining things and watched them fascinated to see how they changed or disappeared. Once it got a bit lighter, I really believed that a swarm of midges had just flown past my face, until Barry pointed out that we were 25 miles from land and it was January so I couldn't have seen midges.
A slight breeze and swell from the east helped us along at 4-5 knots, and we were able to surf a few waves at up to 9 knots. At 8.30am the sun came up behind us and my hallucinations stopped. The tiredness was still there but we closer and feeling more positive. Finally Wicklow Head came into view and the flood tide was carrying us north towards it. The VHF radio crackled into life and it was Des Keaney of Deep Blue Seakayaking asking for an ETA.

We were now a mile from Wicklow Head feeling confident we could ride the flood around it to Wicklow Harbour. Unfortunately as we got closer, the tide on the headland had turned earlier than we'd expected and we had to ferry glide a mile into shore, giving it a last big effort to surf the waves forwards, against the tide.


At about 1.30pm we pulled into Wicklow Harbour after almost 52 nautical miles and 11 hours 53 minutes on the water. Des and Sonja held the kayak while we clumsily struggled out of it. They very kindly drove us back to their home, offered us a shower, cooked us a fry up and sent us to bed for 3 hours while they prepared dinner! Another friend, Marie came over that evening and we lost all track of time and stayed up chatting until 2am!! Thanks a lot to Des and Sonja for all their help and kindness. Today they took us to the Dublin ferry terminal, where Stenaline Ferries really looked after us ( thanks to Eila and the staff there for sorting that out). We had to wheel the double kayak through security and carry it around to the baggage lorry, then stack it on top of all the suitcases. Then we were invited up to the bridge to chat with the captain, Simon Mills, who is also a seakayaker.
We got home this evening, thanks to a lift from Nick and Libby. I think it's time to relax now!


Blogger Bethany said...

im impressed!

i cant imagine being so tired that i really was seeing things. makes me think of aladdin in the desert.

you are both incredibly tough and i admire you for it!

4:48 am  
Anonymous Jim said...

Good effort you two! Any friendly ferries on the way across??

8:21 pm  
Anonymous Ken Tappen said...

Congrats Barry and Justine on another great crossing! I can't imagine paddling so far in the dark, it must have been extremely challenging. I hope you both had a wonderful Christmas. Do you have another big expedition planned for 2009?

All the best,
Ken Tappen

8:24 pm  
Blogger Theodore said...

you 2 are so cute hhaha what a joyous adventure, and many more too the both of you, definably setting the bar high and showing us all what is possible with a strong human spirit and good peaceful attitudes!!
Saw you on orcas cant wait for whats next, in the this is the sea line up hahaha Have a great 2009


9:07 pm  

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