Friday, August 29, 2008

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.

No comments: