Wednesday, August 27, 2008

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.

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