Saturday, August 30, 2008


The Isle of Man is a remarkable island. The shoreline is varied and fascinating. Dotted with caves, colonies of birds, seals, beaches and charming towns all of which call out for exploration. It would be easy to spend an extended holiday here getting to know the secret places and wonderful people of the island.

If fortune should once again come my way and I should I be granted an opportunity to return to paddle this coast I'd start in Peel. Ideally I'd return with two or three companions and together we'd make our way to this port city on the west side of the island. At least a day would be given over to exploring the narrow streets, the history and the charm of the town.

Peel Castle sitting out there guarding the entrance to the town on St. Patrick's island is worthy of a days exploration.

From Peel I would head south to Port Erin. Along this coast I'd try to stay inshore to paddle the cIiffs that I had to pass by. Bradda Head would also come under closer scrutiny.

Already I feel a kinship with this town. It was here that I truly took control of my trip. Because of the weather I came ashore early and was able to spend at least a few hours getting to know the town. I'd look up the kayak shop owner Jenny and buy her lunch for the help and assistance she gave me. I'd also introduce my friends to the Grosvenor Hotel and it's friendly proprietors. Up town we could hop aboard the steam train for a ride. When we got back I'd look up the Manx Phone company and politely explain what I think of them.

Each town, Port Mary, Castletown, Douglas, Laxey and Ramsey would be on our itinerary to explore and discover. Just as important as the present habitats it would be grand to come ashore and examine any number of the forts that dot the Manx coast line. There is no doubt that Manx men where warriors, the proof is in the ruins of forts that lookout from almost every head land.

But of course we'd have to experience the ultimate Manx custom – racing down narrow lanes lined with stone walls in some car of uncertain quality and reliability. Just about any little old grandmother should be able to provide that experience as they all race home seemingly afraid the eggs will go bad or the milk will spoil if they don't get home as fast as possible.

Ultimately for a kayaker the attraction to the island is the Caff of Man and those headlands where tide races form. Here's where the devil may care thrill seeker in us would come to the fore. I'd show those Manx grannies a trick or two.

Mist in the Valley

Yet another front has moved into the Conwy Valley. There's been almost no rain for the past two days but there has also been very little sunshine. Now a mist of fog and cloud has slipped down off the moors to fill the valley. Conwy is obscured behind a veil. Oddly there is no wind at all.

Hasn't the wind always blown up here, I cannot recall such quiet. Even the sheep in the pasture have gone to ground, their seemingly constant bleating has come to an end. I wonder if this is a foretelling of a coming storm.

The embers in the fire need attention, dry wood is running low and although there is plenty in the garden neatly stacked it needs to season and dry. No worry in five days I'll quit the cottage and head to Manchester. My kayak will have to be sorted out on Monday. I think a trip to Holyhead to plead for support will be required.

Up here I'm cut off. To connect I have to drive 20 minutes down the lane into Conwy. Yesterday the rental car was side swiped by a giant MB SUV. Any joy in driving is gone. No doubt there will be a deductable to pay when I return the car.

Once down I borrow time on a computer at the library. Check emails and try to connect with friends and family. After my time runs out I walk over to to “Coffi Conwy”, an internet coffee house, buy a cup of joe (white) and log on with my own lap top. I up load the notes and comments I've prepared the night before, then head back up the hill to the cottage, packing in whatever supplies I need.

If the time is right I try to make a call home from a phone box. this is usually frustrating as I frequently get answering machines, or if I do connect I rapidly run out of coins for the phone and get cut off in mid sentence. That's very annoying.

One bright ray of sunshine was the travel agent in Conwy. After exhausting my time trying to book a flight with the information the now defunct Zoom Airways was providing I walked into the local travel agent and with her help quickly had a flight home booked. I'm taking them coffee and cookies tomorrow to show my appreciation.

It means a drive down the lane, but it has to be done. The fire is almost out, got to attend to it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

News Flash Zoom Goes Belly Up

This morning a gentleman from Scottish Power came by to examine the power line drop at the cottage. After he was finished he asked if I was from Canada? Then if I was flying Zoom.

Yeah, why, I replied. "You don't have radio or telly up here?" No I don't. It's pretty basic, why? "Then you have not heard?" says he. Heard what, I asked.

"Why Zoom suspended all flights and has gone into receivership, asn't she."

I broke out laughing and I'm sure by the look on his face he thought me mad. But, I could not help myself he sounded so much like my Dad parceling out the bad news, chewing over every morsel as if to extract every bit of flavour from it.

After quickly saying his good byes, surely he thought I'd been up here too long, I packed out a few things and headed down the hill.

Down in Conwy I set about solving this later problem. I booked a ticket home on a more solvent airline, or so I hope, called my wife, updated the cottage owners and started what will be along process of getting my kayak home - if at all.

As a consequence I will be returning to Victoria a week earlier. Plans to kayak around Wales have been suspended. My kayak was holed in a parking lot accident, has yet to be repaired and may not be until after I return.

Money is now running short as my budget for the last 12 days in country has just been consumed by a one way ticket home. I'll spend my time up at the cottage throwing myself into the reno work, cut back on the pub nights and take in some long walks. More later.

Thursday, August 21 – Isle of Man

0235 High Water Liverpool, 0919 Low Water Liverpool,1453 HW Liverpool, 0603 LW Liverpool

Light winds WNW, expected to increase in afternoon

Paddle Plan

- on water at 0800, 1st hour tide running SW 0.5 knots, straight across from Douglas to Clay Head approximately 3.5Nm, start 5hrs after HW Liverpool
- Clayhead - straight across to Skeirripp, – about 2Nm, stay offshore
- Skeirrripp to Maughold Head back inshore, should be out of wind and in weak opposing current
- Maughold Head to Shellag Point – winds NW, straight across Ramsey Bay, 4hrs before HW Liverpool
- Shellag Point to Point of Ayre inshore out of wind current at back
- rest one hour at Point of Ayre
- 1600 begin SW trip down to Jurby Head expect beam seas aft, NW winds freshening
Juby Head to the Cronk, 1Nm end time 1600 total distance about 57k or 29 Nm – 10 hours at 3 knotts

At the end of day three Jim and I went in search for a place for me to stay for the night which lead us to the Information desk at the ferry terminal.

Inside out of the wind I was no longer up wind of myself. I took a step back but to no avail. Still in paddling gear I was ripe. As a test to the legendary Manx hospitality the lady on the info desk said nothing and very quickly found me a room at the Berkley; 30 pounds. She was amazingly efficient.

Jim returned to the kayaks while I checked in and had a fast shower. Back at the kayaks we sat down and waited the return of the car. Upon the return of the bus riders I stored my kayak tucked in between some containers and left for a quiet evening walk back along the Douglas promenade.

From the second floor sitting room adjacent to my room I had a great view of the promenade and Douglas Bay. Out in the Bay perched on St. Mary's Rock is the Tower of Refuge.

As I sat watching the evening light play across the tower I imagined young men seeking refuge for some misdeed on this rock. It looks quaint, but I suspect it's sparse interior and the elements would quickly melt most men's resolve.

Easterly storms pound into the seawall along the promenade, out on St. Mary's rock I could envision desperate men throwing themselves from the castellated tower to escape their despair and the madness of those storms. My despair still lay before me manifested in one more mad rush to complete the trip around the island. I set about planning, then headed off to bed.

Morning came and true to form my chariot ride was waiting for me at the door. The evening before I had met a couple who had come in off the ferry to kayak the island. When they learned I was from Vancouver Island they broke into huge smiles and spilled out their account of living in Tofino for a year. They then volunteered to meet me in the morning to help me launch off the slipway.

The detailed plan I'd worked out the night before however came apart as I missed the launch start by half an hour. I'd chase that time and never catch it all through the rest of the day.

For once I launched into flat water and with the harbour masters green light to cross the entrance I headed NW. Once past Douglas Bay the coast steepens up again and there are few pull outs for kayaks except at the seaside towns.

Laxey and Ramsey like Douglas' waterfront consist of stately old Victorian walk ups that show off their finest in the early morning sunlight. This same light brings life to the moors high above the towns. The greens are sharper, richer and more vivid then anything I've seen since leaving the cottage up above Conwy in Wales.

Although the interior roads are lined with gnarly old oaks and elms from the shore the entire island looks bald. Stone walls cut back and forth, with no rhyme or rhythm, to create a patch work of fields cropped short by the ever present sheep.

Coming from Vancouver Island where towering giant trees are in abundance not having any trees around seems strange. Yet days ago I cut a dozen trees out of my sister in laws garden to open it up to the sun and to open up the view. I found myself paddling along wondering if I'd done the right thing. Life takes strange twists.

And then perhaps the most whimsical moment of the entire trip occurred. I heard a steam train whistle and high above me climbing across an open meadow was what looked like Thomas the Steam Engine. I stopped paddling and watched the little guy and his string of cars until he disappeared around a curve in the track.

Manx men are nuts about trains. I think they have one of every type and one of every gage. The other thing the are crazy about is motorcycles. Occasionally the morning quiet would be punctuated by the roaring wine of a high performance bike working it's way up through the gears.

This was the weekend of the Manx Gran Prix and a good portion of the island roads would be closed for the running of the race. Yet if not for these odd bursts of sound and the old guys in leathers on all sorts of conveyances, from flimsy vintage motorized bicycles, to super modern and powerful death dealing monsters, I was barely aware of the event.

Later I'd learn that the racing gods had taken another life. The Manx population seem fatalistic about this, some hold the life given is an almost natural right of passage. It smooths the road for the survivors. I think of the parents, families and friends. Their road will be anything but smooth.

I suppose this is what happens when the weather is fine, the sea kind and the tide and current is at your back – you spend too much time thinking and not enough time focused on the task. My speed has dropped, I'm loosing ground to my plan and I still have miles to go.

Finally I make Maughold Head and turn the corner into Ramsey Bay. The wind is now right into my teeth and the sea has turned to a short choppy 12 inch to 18 inch waves for my entertainment. I look for a place to rest and put on my jacket.

For the past two to three hours I have been paddling in a short sleeve Kokatat rash shirt, but it's time to suit up as there is a chill in the wind. I put in at Stack Mooar. The tide is rising and I have to keep pulling the boat out while I fix a quick lunch of flat bread, honey and peanut butter.

I launch and start what will turn into a two hour crossing. The waves are just big enough to break over the bow and wash back to the forward hatch. At first I'm happy not to be in another beam sea but I soon tire of the head wind.

Eventually I make Shellag Point 4Nm to the northwest. It's now three hours before HW Liverpool and as predicted in the sailing guide there is a NW flowing back eddy. My speed picks up and I'm gliding along at an average of 4.5 knots for the run up to the Point of Ayre ; the extreme northern tip of the island. I make the point just at HW Liverpool (1453).

Just off shore there is a monster tide race forming. The waves are stacking up into great piles, one after another they stretch out for about a mile to the northeast. With a couple of trusted paddlers I would head out to play in the chaos, but I'm alone and off schedule.

I slip by, once again tight inshore, and make my way around the head land to the shouted encouragement of who else but Jim. He seems to be everywhere. I make a fast landing onto the dumbing shore share a quick word of encouragement with Jim and Kirstine but forgo the hour rest I'd planned.

Just as I push off Jim shouts out what I think is, “19 kilometers to go”. I quickly do the conversion and it's 8 Nm. Odd I thought it was only 4Nm. I recheck the map. He's right it's still 8 Nm away to the start point. My heart sinks. How could I have miscounted the distance.

I put the disappointment behind and put my head down. The tide will be against me for the first hour, the winds are on my aft starboard quarter and the waves are relentless. I paddle along like this for an hour then I pick up the southwest flowing tide stream. Nevertheless the progress is slow.

For the first time the Ordinance Survey map lets me down. It does not show Rue Point, or Blue Point either so that each time I pass these points I think I have rounded Jurby Head and have only a mile or so left. It's soul destroying. On top of that I'm running out of energy. My squeeze bottle of honey has gone overboard swept away by a wave. Luckily Jim and Kirstine have pulled into an over look to watch out for me.

As Jim goes to get chocolate Kirstine feeds me cheese and nuts followed by the chocolate the sudden calorie intake almost makes me sick as my blood sugar levels spike. I go for a short walk and feeling better climb back into the boat.

In geological terms the north end of the island is minutes old. It's a large sand and gravel bar that dried out only 5,000 years ago and attached itself to the much older main island. It's seemingly featureless. In close to shore you cannot see beyond the beach two to three meters above your head.

But it is home to lots of birds. One of those birds or rather a small flock of them returned to lift my spirits. Earlier in the day I had been startled by a sudden white flash that plummeted straight down into the sea just in front of the kayak. Moments later a white bird surfaced and lifted off. It was an Arctic Tern feeding on sand eels.

I felt a kinship with this bird from high up in the Canadian Arctic that was now just off my bow feeding. Now they were back and my spirit soared. These beautiful birds where well into their own journey or migration that will take them from the Arctic to Antarctica. And I was down because I had a few more miles to go. Suddenly I felt chastised. What a wimp.

As I pressed on I started side surfing the waves to pick up speed and distance. I knew I was tiring by my posture, I was beginning to slump, my cadence was dropping and my high paddle stroke was dropping. Then I started side surfing breaking waves at these false head lands.

But I gave this up as it was not worth the risk. These waves where breaking on a shelving beach that most likely was littered with underwater rocks that my Ordinance Map did not depict. I moved back off shore.

Yet I kept miss reading the chart thinking this has to be Jurby Head- it wasn't. Then I was convinced that the GPS had been possessed by a sea witch who was playing games with it and me. I sorted it all out by turning the chart over and ignoring the GPS. I simply started looking for the view of the beach I had fixed in my mind when I launched.

Eventually I spotted Jim waving a yellow gag over his head. Strangely he kept walking away from me. He'd explain later that he wanted to make sure I did not finish 10 yards short of the launch site. I just looked at him like he was mad.

Just off shore I pulled out my VHF and made the following call.

“Liverpool Coast Guard, Liverpool Coast Guard, this is the sea kayaker Gulf Whiskey over.”
Gulf Whiskey this is Liverpool Coast Guard, go to channel 86 that's eight six over. “Going to eight six Gulf Whiskey out.”

“Liverpool CG this is GW do you read me, over.” Go ahead Gulf Whiskey “Liverpool CG I am 500 meters off the beach and have completed my circumnavigation of the Isle of Man. This is my finial report, thank you for your assistance and service.”
Thank you Gulf Whiskey Liverpool CG out.

“Liverpool coast Guard, one last thing, you and your colleagues have just helped raise almost $6,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society thank you for your help. Gulf Whiskey out.”

Eh. r anks, ad ta elp ooout. Bloody! Liverpool oast ard out.

I shut down, surfed in and fell out of the boat 13 hours after starting.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Day 3 – August 20th – Isle of Man Circumnavigation

0200 High Water Liverpool 9.6 metre tide
0845 Low Water Liverpool 0.8 metre tide
1418 HW Liverpool 9.2 metre tide
2055 LW Liverpool 1.1 metre tide

Weather forecast Winds WSW 4-5 Seas 4-5, some white horses

With this information and the info from the Sailing Directions and Tidal streams you can calculate the speed and direction of the tide flows around the Isle of Man for 6 hours before and 6 hours after High Water Liverpool.

On Wednesday August 20th if I could reach Caff Sound which separates the Caff from the main island 5 hours after HW I would find a 1.5 flood tide running with me. The tide would carry me straight through the sound before any over fall's or tide races formed.

Just as importantly, in the 5th and 6th hours after HW, I would be able to take advantage of an inshore back eddy that would take me past Spanish Head and Langness Point two headlands with potentially dangerous tide races.

All I had to do was cover the 1.5 Nm to the Sound and slip through at 0745. Although my room faced away from the sea and the prevailing westerly winds I was growing concerned that I might have more then force 4 or 5 winds.The window panes were rattling.

As I stepped out of the hotel and looked down at the promenade the flags along the wall looked as if they had been starched. They stood straight out. They'd make a snapping sound; a counter refrain to the base coming from the surf pounding the sand further beyond the sea wall. Out to sea were line after line of white sea horses or white caps.

My heart sank. There would be no relaxing paddle down to the Sound. But first I had to deal with the carry to the waters edge. Two regular large tides every day brings both a curse and a blessing. The blessing is the ultimate perfect predictions of the tides, the curse is the carry to the water during low tides.

I decided to hell with it and picked up the loaded boat, perhaps 130 pounds and balancing across my thighs started walking down to the water line. I sopped twice and finally dragged the kayak the last 20 feet into the surf wash – caught my breath and climbed in. It was 0650, the winds were blowing an estimated 25 to 30 knots, once out of the harbour the wind and waves were on my starboard beam. I had 1.5 Nm to cover. It was time to dig in.

Half way down to the Caff I was passed by two trawlers off on my starboard side about five hundred meters away. As they pitched down the waves into the trough mountains of spray would burst from the bow. Then they'd wallow up the back side of the next wave, reach the crest and roll as the wind hit the full length of the exposed hull.

I pitied the crew and hoped they were all seasoned otherwise I was sure there would be green faces aboard. I gave them a wave but passed on hailing them on the VHF. I didn't want to risk pulling out the VHF just to listen to a couple of fishermen admonishing another crazy in a kayak.

This part of the coast is quite steep and on any other occasion would warrant lots of exploration, but under the present circumstances I just pressed on.

My planning worked out quite well, as I slipped into the of the Caff the wind died and I was able to slide through the Sound between Kitterland rock and the main island. These were the first flat seas I'd paddled in.

I took advantage of the calm to make adjustments, call Liverpool Coast Guard, and take a long hit of water and honey. I had strapped a plastic squeeze jar of honey to the deck as sort of a poor man's energy drink. It seemed to work fine. Upon leaving the sound I took one look back at the seal colony I had disturbed when I was coming through and was surprised to see the tide race was already beginning to form.

I turned away and headed for the next obstacle – Spanish Head. As I paddled east I soon left the lee of the Caff of Man but this time the SW wind was on my aft quarter and the current or tide, all be it weak, was flowing in the same direction as I was traveling.

At Spanish Head the tide Race had already formed but it was not yet large enough to cause any undue concern. I pulled straight through the over fall's that had brought at least one ship of the Spanish Armada to it's end.

By setting up a ferry glide I was making a comfortable 5 knots. With these favourable conditions I decided to forgo going inshore to explore Port St. Mary. I set my course to cross Bay ny Carrickey and Castletown Bay and headed straight for the next head land Langness Point 5 Nm away.

My plan to deal with Langness; was to sneak through on the inside as close to the head land as possible. Because of the distance I had to cover and the conditions on the SW coast I knew there would be no way to avoid the tide race of this point. I think I arrived sometime between 5 hours before and 4 hours before HW Liverpool.

Right at the critical part of the point I was hit by an oversize wave, luckily I was able to make the right adjustments ( a low brace and edged into the wave) and use the wave to surf me through a good piece of the tide race. Later while Looking at the map I spotted an off shore rock that I must have missed before. The wave that first caught then carried me on around must have washed over that rock.

As I reached the end of Langness Point I turned the bow NE and headed up the opposite side of the Isle. It felt great as half the Isle was now behind me. According to the map St. Michael's Island looked like the first place I'd be able to land. Even though the back eddy was against me I choose to stay inshore looking for a place to pull out.

I reached St. Michael's Island after 3 hours and 50 minutes in the boat. The island is connected to the main island by a causeway and that is were I pulled the boat out and stepped out.

There is a beautiful old abandon chapel on St. Michael island just above where I had landed. If I had known it was a destination for retired clergymen and history buffs I'd landed some where else, anywhere else as all I wanted was to relieve myself.

However pouring down from the chapel came a gaggle of old men, a couple of kids and protective grandmothers, calling out to all to be careful. If they had known what I was about to do they would have called out, “Oh my don't look over there, you kids come back here right now.”

These sort of things happen to kayakers all around the world. In Sidney BC I am convinced there is a net work of grannies who have set up a spotting service. They sit by their windows waiting and when they see you returning to a launch site they get on the phone to let their friends know.

“Mildred those kayakers in the tight rubber pants have come back, if we hurry we can get down to the parking lot and catch them with there pants down. Come on Mildred we don't want to miss out on the show.”

Refueled on soup and hot chocolate I was soon back on the water. As the next 3.5 Nm crept by it felt as though I was paddling through glue. Straight across to Santon Head, then on to Pistol Castle, Gob Lhiack, Little Ness until finally I pulled around the corner and made for Port Soderick. There was a beach on the bay here and I was ready for another break.

As I approached three kayakers where preparing to launch. It was Jim,Kirstine and Duncan. As we sat in the boats exchanging greetings and info on the sea state they decided to change plans and head NE with the wind and tide to Douglas.

Off they shot, full of energy and enthusiasm. I plodded along a 100 meters behind, drained, tired, and hating their seemingly perfect form and ease of boat handling. My form was gone. In fact I knew from experience that I should not be on the water. My body was screaming go ashore. Except now there was no where to land.

Just before leaving Port Soderick we came across the group of paddlers who had abandoned Port Erin the day before they were heading south having launched on the NE calm shore and paddled down the isle. The bad news was they had been run off the camp spot at Sea Lion Cove and told no one was allowed to camp there. That was my end destination for the day.

Bad news. The thing about misfortune is it does not like to travel alone. Shortly after entering Douglas harbour and on perfectly flat water Jim's very expensive camera slipped from the deck and into the deeps.

All the photos he'd shot for an up coming guide book, plus the pictures he'd documented of my circumnavigation, now lay at the bottom of Douglas harbour. To his credit Jim took it well.
We offered to hire a diver in the hope that the memory card might be salvageable but Jim declined. He was already moving on. Pulling out a waterproof Olympus he just continued shooting photos.

It was a lesson I observed and would be able to reflect on and draw from in a few days time when misfortune would pay a return visit.

After discussing the options with my unofficial support team I decided to get a room and bunk down for the night in Douglas. This would give me a chance to rest and recover for what would be a long fourth day. I'd paddled 14 Nm through some difficult seas and day three was over.

Day 2 - Around the Isle of Man - August 19

In close against the cliffs on my little shelf of land I was completely out of touch with Liverpool Coast Guard. During the previous day I'd contact Liverpool on my VHF, identified myself as the sea kayaker Gulf Whiskey and stated my intention to circumnavigate the island solo. They requested that I check in hourly which I agreed to.

Unknowingly I'd committed myself to a lot of extra paddling as the only way I could consistently reach Liverpool was to paddle anywhere up to a mile off shore. Reception was totally dependent on the topography between me and Liverpool. When ever the shore steepened up the signal would disappear.

A mile off shore was much further out then I wanted to paddle. It also put me out into the full force of the southwest winds. That night after making the beach landing I was not able to raise Liverpool nor was I able to get the mornings weather forecast.

On Tuesday August 19 I awoke and looked out into what where likely force 4, to 5 winds and force 5 seas. Consequently I decided to head straight south to Port Erin 4.5 Nm down coast. I'd call in from Port Erin where I hoped to get a detailed weather forecast.

Kerrion had encouraged me to launch up on the NW coast, rationalizing that this would put me somewhere around Port Erin where I could hook up with a group that his company was leading around the Island.

I suspected upon waking that the group would not be leaving from Port Erin due to the sea state. I also dragged out departing to ensure that I'd arrive after their scheduled departure as I did not want to travel within a large escorted group. As it was the group left from the NE end of the island to avoid the weather. I could have started earlier.

Once under way the conditions became just part of the paddling rhythm. On occasion I'd use a low brace as an outsize wave would wash over me and the boat. Still it was slow going. There was only one place to land, Fleschwick Bay and in the rain and gloom I miss read it's location.

I was far enough out to see both the Caff of Man and Chicken Rock, a spire that looms out of the sea south of the Caff. Unfortunately I was misinterpreting both as a head land further north. At this point I was seriously misreading the map. I was calculating that Point Erin must be just inside what I thought was a bay. Turns out I was actually looking at Caff Sound.

As soon as I rounded Bradda Head my error became obvious. Port Erin was immediately to my right tucked in at the end of Port Erin Bay. Due to the conditions, wind, waves and contrary tide it had taken me three hours to cover just 4.5 Nm.

Even getting into Port Erin was a struggle as the current was now fully against me. When I landed I dragged the kayak well up the beach to within a short walk to the Cosy Nook Cafe and walked over for a coffee. I had pretty much made up my mind that this would be as far as I would go.

After a coffee I walked down the promenade to the red call box (phone booth). I checked for broken windows and the smell of urine before stepping in; i'd been warned about the alternative use for call boxes. For 30 pence I was able to leave a short message on Kerrion's answering machine. Unfortunately the phone then stopped taking coins.

Calling the operator I discovered that all the pay phones on the Isle of Man were programmed to accept pay phone calling cards only. So off I went in search of a calling card as I needed to contact Liverpool Coast Guard, the weather office and to confirm Kerrion had received my message.

I walked into a dockside book store where I was able to pick up a neat little tide table and the sailing directions for the Isle. Together these documents really enabled me to take control of the planning of the circumnavigation. Until this point I'd been following the advice of well intentioned volunteers. But from this point on I felt much more comfortable in my own planning and decision making. I was the person interpreting the tides, checking the weather and selecting my course and paddling times.

I still needed the phone card, mostly for a weather update. stepping out of the book store I looked across the street and there before me was a kayak shop. I walked in and asked if they had the weather forecast for Tuesday afternoon. Jenny the owner was great, she printed a copy of the afternoon and following 24 hour forecast from the computer.

As I read it over and explained what I was doing a look of concern came over her face. I assured her I was not going any further for the day as the forecast was for the winds to pick up and the sea conditions to worsen but to improve the following morning.

Jenny volunteered to let me store the kayak in her compound at the end of the beach right next to the Cozy Nook. With the boat stored I changed into street clothes I went off to explore and find the elusive phone cards.

Up town I soon discovered that my three leads, the Co Op, the newsstand, and the Post Office all carried cards but not the type I needed. No one knew who would have them. I decided to change tacks, I stopped worrying about Liverpool coast Guard and set out to explore.

Although I arrived by sea I soon discovered a great number of people come to Port Erin by steam train. This is the southern terminus for the steam rail line on the Isle. The station also houses a rail museum. After poking about I wandered back down to the sea wall. Turning a corner, there in the window of a small coffee house was a perfectly restored Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle.

To a motorcycle enthusiast, who came of age reading Hunter S Thompson this was the holy grail of motorcycles. The Black Shadow was capable of speeds well in access of 100 miles per hour, contained sophisticated engineering that was years ahead of its time and most significantly the company had gone bankrupt in 1952. Yet here before me was the legendary bike.

Turns out this is the home of the Vincent Motorcycle Owners Club. Meetings are held every week. I was amazed.

Further down the beach at the Cozy Nook another group of motorcycle enthusiasts had taken over the cafe. I wanted the place to close as I wanted to pitch my tent in the adjoining compound where the kayak as tucked away.

The laughter and good times seemed likely to carry on for some time so I headed back up the hill with the hope of finding a hotel with a pay phone that would take either my credit card or coins. Directly up from the beach I walked into the Grovner an explained what I was doing.

They had a phone I could use however when she asked me were I was staying for the evening I didn't want to tell her I was going to camp down at one end of the beach. I suspected that this might be illegal. So I told her I did not know.

Stay here, we have one single room left and I'll let you have it for 38 pounds. I thought for a Nano second, hot shower, a warm room in which to plan the following days paddles, it was no contest - I checked in.

Turned out to be a wise move as the rain fell with a vengeance that night. It also gave me the time to carefully work out the detailed plan of how to tackle the Caff of Man and the southern section of the island.

When I spoke to people around Port Erin and explained what I was doing, the overwhelming response was concern, “stay in close to the right side of Kitterland as you go through,” or, be careful at Spanish Head,” “Langness Point can get very rough.”

All the advice was sincere. Yet each person could not help but convey with a look, a raised eyebrow, or a catch in their breath that I must be mad. The sole exception was the kayak store owner Jenny who understood everything.

By early evening, my phone calls made, including a far to short call home to my son, saw me safely squirreled away with my ordinance map, my tide tables, and the sailing directions. Soon I had laid out my plan that would take me around the difficult south part of the island and onto Douglas and eventually to Sea Lion Cove my next camp site. Day two was over.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

South bound from The Cronk!

August 18 and my planning has come undone. I have discovered that I have left out at least one bag from my kit, where it can be I cannot imagine, but it contains my pump. Luckily Kerrion has loaned me a spare along with his personal four piece Lendle paddle that he used to paddle around Vancouver Island. It never leaves my deck for the next four days. The Werner just feels right.

The wonderful short paddling jacket provided by Kokatat never makes it out of Jim's car. It's just too darn cold. But once again Kerrion is there to provide a long sleeve Kokatat with a hood. This turns out to be one of the pleasant discoveries of the trip. The hood is perfect for keeping most of the rain at bay but more importantly it really helps to keep the paddler warm and comfortable.

Still my rush to start undoes me yet again. I've left the loaned pump in Jim's car with my jacket. I decide to push on rationalizing that I can get a pump or bucket or something off the beach or in Peel the first town south.

Jim Krawiecki had driven me a break neck speed up to the northwest coast to a corner called, “The Cronk.” From there my plan was to head south as far as I could go toward two possible camping sites, the first at Niarbly Bay or the second 2.5 Nm down the coast at Fleshwick Bay.

At the outset it was raining and continued to rain almost the entire time I was paddling. The weather or wind was out of the west hitting me abeam. It was sullen a perfect reflection of my mood. What was I doing out here on the Irish Sea in this cold and awful weather. I was trapped I'd said I would do this and I had feared the conditions would make it miserable, my hope was for warm sunny weather but my fears had been manifested now there was nothing to do but put my head down and paddle when all I wanted was to be home wrapped in my wife's arms.

Heading south the west coast of the island consists of sand beaches separated by rocky cliffs until eventually the sand beaches give way to the higher uplands and constant cliffs. However for about the first 5 nautical miles the shore is a sandy beach. Beyond the shore the land shelves up. It's here that you can see all manner of homes, some small, some new, and some very large and very old, such as the Bishops Court Estate.

Just south of the Gob ny Creggan Glassey the cliffs start in earnest. In Gaelic Gob means spit, ny means north, so this translates into Creggan Glassey's north Spit. I think.

From here south there are lots of caves and frequent waterfalls. I only took time to explore one cave that had a double entrance. With so little time I had to pass on playing consequently I passed by countless rock gardens and spaces where I would normally spend the better part of the day scrapping gel-coat from the bottom of my boat. Very out of character for me. There was another reason for passing these areas and this I like to think was in character. Being alone I could not afford to make an error fooling around in these high risk areas.

I started to grind it out and after three hours I arrived in Peel 6.5 Nm south through driving rain and rolling seas. As you approach your awareness is torn between the 11th Century Castle sitting on St Patrick's island and the town's beach and promenade. Both are stunning. Peel is also the home of the world famous Manx Kippers. If you've not enjoyed these think of smoked salt.

As I pulled up on the beach there were two other kayakers and I was greeted on the beach by this woman who called out to me by name! Immediately I thought this could be trouble. I tried out a few first names, none fit. Finally in her polite English manner she reminded me we'd met last night or was it this morning - she was Jim's partner.

Moments later Jim arrived and upon learning I'd forgotten a pump ran back up into town to buy me a sponge while Christine fetched me a pump. These people were so enthusiastic, even overwhelming.

A bit abut Jim K He's the co author of the Welsh Sea Kayaking guide from Pesda Press. It's a great guide and I highly recommend it – even if you are not planning to paddle this area, it is a worth while read. Jim is also a great photographer and was busy documenting my trip around. He just kept shooting photos.

Turns out I needed the sponge as the day hatch was mysteriously full of water.

Approaching from the north Peel looked charming. But again there was no time to explore, my camp site was still about 5 Nm down shore and it was getting late in the day. As I continued south the rain would come and go but if anything the sea state seemed to be getting worse.

When I arrived at Niarbyl Bay I found a ten foot beach guarded by rocks to either side with further rocks laying just off the shore break necessitating a crooked s approach. Easy enough on flat water a bit more tricky in surf. Presently the breach was being pounded by consistent 4 to 6 foot waves.

I spent a great deal of time sorting out the wave pattern giving up day light for a smooth landing seemed the right choice. Eventually I slide in on a smaller wave and surfed the boat into the stream bed that was washing down from the hills above.

With the boat beached I began the laborious unloading and carry up past the high water mark. As soon as the tent came out the rain came back. Every thing seemed to get wet. Sometime during the night the rain gave out to intermittent showers unfortunately the wind seemed to be building. By morning the wind was out of the SW and the waves pounding the beach were rather disquieting.

I broke camp slowly hoping for better weather. Finally I launched into what I suspect were moderate seas. I passed on my helmet has sometime during the night it had become home to a snail which had left a nice slime trial across the inner lining. Day two was about to begin.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Crossing From "Lit er pole"

In Liverpool there is a shortage of syllables. The trick to understanding is to correctly guess what syllables are missing and fill in the blanks. This works fine up to about three pints after which you are totally at your own peril.

I know this for a truth as the ferry to the Isle of Man was two hours late in putting in to Liverpool. Which meant there was just enough time to get up to some mischief in a dockside pub.

Back at the terminal I was able to watch the Canadian eight man rowing team beat the British for the gold. I took this as a great sign and let out a whoop! The room went silent. I quickly filled the void with a, "good show England, second place is quite something." I feared there might be another pub incident so I asked the steward where the first class section was. I think he said "Dis is da erst class ectin inin it surr! I went and sat with some Dutch bikers heading to the Isle of Man Grand Prix. The Dutch still love the Canadians.

Judging by the aging faces and gray hairs these bikers likely watched our fathers drive the Germans out.

Sometime early Monday morning Kerrion met me at the terminal in Douglas. I swear to you now if you ever hear me complain about the BC ferry system again, you get one free shot, just shout out, "this is from the Steam Packet Line," and let me have it.

They run a high speed ferry, The Viking, which is known far and wide up and down the Irish Sea as a cursed boat. Yet the crew is wonderful considering the state of the vessel, I feel sorry for them. In any event Kerrion soon had me strapped into his truck for his own personal high speed race across the Isle. Everyone drives fast on the Isle of Man. That little old lady in the Vauxhaul, zero to sixty in eight seconds and god help you if you get in the way.

Kerrions kayaking business is run out his Mom and Dad's rambling farmhouse which had been overrun by kayakers from across Europe and Great Britain for the kayak symposium. This family defines graciousness. On this occasion Kerrion put me up in his room. I learned the next day that he'd spent the night in a tent. Of course the rain fell sideways all night long.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Off to the Isle

Today I leave for the Isle of Man. The anticipation is growing, as is the worry, warm weather has not materialized it continues to be wet windy and wet. Where is summer? Discovered my high tech emergency laser flare does not work. Hopefully I won't need it. Warm clothing is is short suppyly as is cold weather paddling kit. I now plan to blitz the paddle just to stay warm and get off the water as fast as possible between the low pressure fronts that seem to be constant.

Have not been able to get weather reports off my VHF, likely too far from ocean up in the hills. Hopefully that'll be resolved as I move down and closer to the sea. The GPS can't find any satellites and I have yet to sort out the input of OR co-ordnances. I'll rely on a compass and dead rec conning. Power is dropping on computer so that's all for now.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Raining and Working in Wales

An Irishman a Canadian and a Welshman walk into a pub, what do they do? They order ales drawn from casks and served at room temperature until six gallons later they stagger off into the falling evening light.

Paddy Whatman, an Irish choir boy living in Liverpool, sweet and innocent, and completely corrupted by myself and that incorrigible Welshman Gareth Richards. But what could we do with so many fine ales on hand it was hard to drag ourselves away.

After the rounds we decided to stay for dinner. I had a Mediterranean Tart. My best advice is, when in one country stick with the locals, as this tart was a little disappointing and kind of cheesey. but with laughter and dares all around it had to be ordered. We took our meals outside on the patio as the Welsh evening fell around us.

Quite a wonderful experience, I even forgave the old gentleman who asked me if I was from Colorado! Which I suppose is better then being called an American. And so began my decent into Welsh culture.

The next mourning bright and early as the sleeping dogs laid about bed I was up and out amongst the hills. I hiked over to an abandoned homestead – just to check it out in case my wife throws me out and I decide to move into the neighbourhood. I found the place over run with sheep and with lots of water running - right through where the roof should have been. Only slightly discourage by this turn of events I headed up to walk back along the hill top above Gareth's folly. I arrived back to learn that the Welsh set their door locks. Unwilling to awake a sleeping Irishman and still early l turned to restoring the rock wall to keep the sheep out of what once was a garden but now looks a wee run down.

Alas the jet lag laid me low. Don't even think it. It was the jet lag beyond a doubt. So after the early mourning activities I slung back to bed to catch up on some much needed sleep. Nevertheless I was up and about to lend a small hand to the days activities and to make the late day run into
Conwy for fish and chips.

This being our second stop in the Castle town it was time to try a couple more pubs. Unfortunately lesser publicans have discovered flat screen TV's and video bandits. Keeping your business alive with such tarted up means is rather depressing. I suppose it speaks to the lack of good beer served well and good conversation. Fortunately these establishments seem to still be in the minority.

Up on the hill the work progresses between rain showers which in turn are interrupted by periods of intense moisture, followed by intermittent periods of dampness.

I exaggerate there are of course times when the wind blows so hard the rain does not reach the ground. Instead it's whipped sideways to smash against any vertical object in it's path, usually me.

The roofers have been engage for two months and as of this afternoon have put in two days. They've pulled the roof off the west side of the cottage and today got about two thirds pulled off the east side.

The locals are saying it is the wettest summer they can remember. I'm suspicious. I suspect they are still holding out hope that someone might put off that idyllic holiday in sunny warm Spain and come here to Wales.

In spite of the October west coast weather we are getting things done. The water system has been beat into submission, mostly by cutting out all the nonsense installed by the previous owner an running water direct to the taps.

It took three days, largely due to the necessity to run down the mountain for supplies which always means a detour or two, sometimes even to a pub. Drinking water was solved by installing a third world marvel tera cotta fixture that involves a clay pot suspended inside a plastic pail. This $20 device produces pure sparkling water and will save thousands of lives throughout the world.

After three days we took a break and drove down to Cardiff to visit Gareth's rental property, pick up tools and take a well deserved break. The first night found us out amongst the wild Welsh countryside tucked into a fine pub – The Plough and Harrow. This is one of Wales most renowned pubs. It's been serving ale since 1345 or some time there about. After a few pints we plunged into some traditional Welsh pub delights. Gareth sampled a couple of Faggots while I enjoyed the best Spotted Dick I've ever had.

do I have to explain everything! The first were welsh meat balls made from lamb and leaks and the later a pudding. Jeeese!

Driving lessons followed the diversion to Cardiff. It took a while toget use to driving on what I'm told is the proper side of the road but I think I have the hang of it. Although I am not looking forward to the drive to Manchester. Scary stuff that.

Back up to North Wales Gareth sent me off to Hollyhead to hook up with Nigel Denis. the boat is built and will be delivered to the Isle of Man for me. Nigel has even arranged to have it shipped back. That's a great service to me. I've booked my ticket on the ferry and have spoken to Kerrion who seems to be even more excited then I. Frankly I'm worried. The weather has me spooked. If it does not turn the circumnavigation is going to be challenging. Two days ago the Irish Sea looked down right menacing.

Too take my mind off things I've plunged into the cottage renos. After beating the plumbing monsters I turned to more manual endeavours. Just to the left of the main house is a side room whose roof has collapsed, into this debris the past owners have dumped 30 years of accumulated junk, rocks, dirt, ashes you name it. With a shovel a rack and a pick Gareth and I have tackled and removed perhaps a third. We'll be back to it tomorrow.

Yesterday , Sunday August 10th I pulled out my plaid shirt, high heels, cotton bra and once more took up the most honourable of Canadian professions – lumber jack. We bought a chain saw and took on the jungle that was a garden.

The garden is about 30 feet wide and perhaps 90 long. Down the middle runs the 240 power lines to the cottage. Stone walls define the perimeter. I walked it over, checking the clearances and smiled silently to myself. At least three of the trees were taller then the lines and with the prevailing winds blowing hard directly toward the power lines it would be a challenge to drop the trees in the limited space between the lines and the rock walls.

Could I after all these years drop these trees without bringing down the power lines or smashing the stone walls? Everything went according to plan. The first three were simple. But today the towering pine loomed over the power lines – ominous. Up on the roof the roofers were pecking away at the slate.

I made my wedge cut. Pulled back double checked and thought I'd better get everyone clear. The phone rings and Gareth wonders aimlessly back and forth through the garden. It's his wife, my sister in law, calling from Yemen. He's in a state waffling back and forth between rapture and fear. On and on they talk. The wind picks up. I look sky ward and another bank of black clouds is pouring over the hill and bearing down on the cottage. With the tree weaken it has to come down. Finally Fran says good bye and I ask Gareth to leave the garden.
I don't want him anywhere near sound diaster strike.

For a moment I consider going over to the roofers and asking them if they want to put a little money on where the tree will fall. But I decide that would be tempting fate. I reach down fire up the saw and make the finial fatal cut.
With a crack the tree starts to fall just as I pull the saw away. Slowly the tree turns ever so slightly and falls, the outer branches kiss the wall while the tree drops perfectly between two old rose bushes. A perfect drop. I let out whoop.

Later one to the roofers says, he'd bet the power lines would have come down. Not a chance, I'm Canadian. It's in the blood.