Thursday, September 20, 2007

Three Tidal Races, One Day, Any Day

On the second day at Holyhead we reversed the previous days course and left much earlier to take advantage of bigger water at the North, South and Pendwyn Mawr and finally to shore at Port Dafarch.

Tom, Phil, David and myself reached the North Stack to find a confused sea state. Truthfully I was very nervous. Here I was at the crucible of kayaking and I desperately did not want to look the fool. At the time I had no idea how big the waves were. It was simply up and over. The Romany handles this stuff like a dream. It's not as fast as the Explorer but it turns much quicker. I caught a couple of waves for some good surf rides but spent most of the time trying not to get knocked over.

As we were leaving to head further south I climbed up one last wave face. The boat was completely out of the water back as far as the front of the cockpit. I've done this lots of times at home off East Sooke Park and in Baynes channel. But this time something different happened. As gravity caught the bow and brought it slamming down on the back side of the wave there was a distinctive crack mixed in with the slapping sound of the boat hitting the water. At the time I thought nothing of it.

In retrospect I think this is when the coaming broke and started to separate from the deck. After surfing at the South Stack I knew I had a problem. While Tom and David stayed inside Phil and I headed out to play in the current. The waves where much more uniform then those up at the North Stack. The race seemed to be about seven waves wide and the first two waves greened out into a long fine line which made catching them easy for Phil and less so for me. He caught any wave he wanted, I caught about a quarter of mine. By the time we headed into the "boulder" beach I was feeling ready for break. I was also feeling a lot of water around my feet, legs and knees. At first I just but it down to a poor fitting spray deck and the wet rides we'd been playing in. But when we pulled out there was a lot of water in the cockpit. Odd very odd.

Lunch was on a beach that no one from Victoria would even consider landing on. Stones the size of soccer balls, slimy green sea weed, rocks the size of small sedans. In other words a typical and fine place for a spot of tea.

Afterwards we slipped into the water, going first gave me a few moments head start and I used he opportunity to get right in amongst the rocks and play. Lots of fun that. We then paddled down to Pendwyn Mawr the third race of the day. I thought my face would split. I was laughing and smiling so much. Here I was playing in this legendary tidal race, catching waves, setting up ferry angles across the chop and current, just having a blast.

Finally we turned for shore. I found myself lagging behind. The boat seemed sluggish partly because the engine driving the kayak was slowing down but also because I had shipped a lot of water into the cockpit. That rational part of my brain was breaking through to the emotional thrill seeking part and saying things like, "excuse me for interrupting but there is something seriously wrong with this kayak."

Back on shore dumped out the cockpit. It seemed like 20 litres of water came flushing out. Then Phil leaned over and pulled up on the coaming. The coaming started to lift but the kayak stayed on the beach. Every lean, brace, and turn had allowed the the split to open up and let the water in.

No problem we just loaded up the lorry and headed back to the base where I'd get kitted out with another boat for the next day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Late in August I made a trip to Wales to hook up with the good folks from Sea Kayaking UK. After 36 hours of travel, with little to no sleep I arrived at Nigel
Dennis' house to be graciously greeted as an unexpected guests by the man himself. Nigel is the man behind NDK kayaks, an accomplished adventure and a renowned kayaker.

This was the bank holiday weekend in England and with staff rushing off to escape to parts unknown, the message about my arriving a day early got lost. Oh well not to worry a quick turn of the sheets and Nigel had a room ready for me. I was so zoned out from the flight, crying babies, sniffling adolescence and a very distracting cougar on the train ride up that I could have slept anywhere.

The next afternoon Nigel invited me along for a paddle with his daughter Elizabeth, Justine Curgvengen, Barry Shaw,
and Tom Thomas. Tom is the bloke on the About Us page on Sea Kayaking UK web page. His handsome features are unfortunately somewhat obscured by the history/information. We paddled from Port Dafach around to the sea wall at Holyhead. That's paddling through Pendwyn Mawr and the South and North Stacks. With little tidal stream running it was a perfect introduction to the area. Justin, Barry, and myself played in the surf off the Porth Ruffydd headland. Later I'd learn this was the fearsome Pendwyn Mawr, well ok not today.

I was kitted out in a Romany Surf. Here's a hint when doing your BCU assessments paddle one of these - it'll make you look good. Unless you break it. More about that later. I also chose to wear my dry suit. Bad mistake as the water was amazingly warm. As we paddled along the towering cliffs we stayed inshore. I contemplated slowing down to play in the rocks but was content to tag along. At the South stacks we split up. Barry and Justine went outside of the Stack to play in the tide race while we made our way through the multitude inside channels that separate the lighthouse islet from Holyhead. Soon we were in amongst some large and deep caves full of sleepy seals. The seals here have dog like faces and long necks. They spy hop like otters but don't bark like west coast harbour seals rather they moan.

Every time a seal was spotted some one would point it out, "look at the seal." To my Vancouver Island eyes a seal is a seal is a seal unless it's a sea lion or a whale. But what a great intro to the area. Along the shore there's a life time of rock gardens to play in. And when the tide and wind are racing off shore there's enough adventure to keep the most jaded entertained.

That evening Tom cracked open his laptop so Liz could download some music to her ipod. He has an amazing collection of music. I once worked for a national radio station with a huge music library to which this collection compared very favourably. Lots of rock , blues, jazz and reggae from the 30's on up.

It was a real joy watching the evening sun softly streaming through the window to illuminate this 16 year old girl. In a days time Liz would be off to Cambridge to school. A whole new chapter of her life opening up in front of her. In a few years my son will be doing the same. Throughout the evening Tom was letting Liz sample various artist from his playlists. She hated the teenage angst songs - no scars on her heart, but liked Dylan, almost all reggae which always brought a smile and even the Chieftans - very cool girl. While Liz listened Tom and myself took an introspective journey in an opposite direction to where Liz's life is taking her. We travelled back through our lives carried along with the music of our youth. I couldn't help but smile.