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.

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