Wednesday 19 March 2014

Crossing the Irish Sea - a personal paddle

A few months back I was talking with Steve about paddling across to Ireland and the Isle of Man ... he was interested.   While I sat in the car, a few weeks later, close to Sheffield, I was looking at weather forecasts and noticed a big high pressure arriving.  I wonder I thought, as I had a few days off.  I texted Steve about his availability in the next few days ... he soon got back and he was clear!

A few days after the original text, James of www.adventure and David a friend of Steve's were both keen ... we had a team of four.  Time for some planning.  In brief we planned to leave at 0200, expecting about 16 hours of paddling and hopefully arriving in the light ... after about 55nm.  

However, that wasn't to be and all in all it turned into an epic day!!

Leaving my house at 0100, 15 minutes into my 30 minute drive my PH Cetus HV came off the roof and bounced down the A55.  I found out latter the end of the strap had passed through the buckle.  I hadn't tied the end off as I normally do as it was too short.  (Since then i have been driving around with a bow tie down, which I've only tended to use on longer journeys).  I phoned James and Steve and after a short discussion, they were sure they could get a kayak off Grant who runs  20 minutes latter, i had an explorer to paddle.  We were an hour later on leaving, but what a magic paddle it was and the stress of the morning soon slipped away.

3 hours into our paddle and about 20nm out from Holyhead Mountain, with the sun rising over it ...

One of the Irish Ferries, with David in the foreground ...

At about 11 we hit a fog bank, after about 5 hours previous paddling in good visibility.  We hadn't picked the risk of fog up on a forecast, so it was a big surprise and my/our worst nightmare!  Even more so when we heard the reality of a fog horn from a close ferry.  I say close, because we could hear the thud, thud, thud of the engine, feel the vibrations through the seats of our kayaks and smell the diesel fumes.  But we could not see it.  For a moment, which seemed much longer than that, the situation was very scary.

Thankfully we didn't see the ferry and a very long 3 hours latter after heading South,  (we decided to change our direction from West, to avoid the ferries) we paddled into beautiful sunshine and a calm silky sea ...  We had been in contact with the coastguard on the hour, throughout the journey.

Starting in the dark was magic, preparing to paddle into darkness, I found difficult.  It was clear that due to the fog, ferries and our decision to paddle S/SW (GPS track below) on an ebbing tide, we now had more miles to paddle which would mean a much latter arrival .....

As we picked up the lights of Dublin, the coastguard who we had been in communication with throughout,  our journey on the hour started to get more frequent.  I'm not sure whether it was a staffing shift change, or due to the time we had been on the water  or our course overall, or a combination of all of these, but now they wanted us to check in every 30 minutes.  This meant we couldn't get into any rhythm and as we were tired, we were now getting cold.  We never called it out.   Why would we when we could see the lights and coastline of Ireland, we were all OK, tired but still working well and we were so close to finishing.  The lifeboat soon located us and asked us aboard .... which we declined.  After an open discussion, the fact we had not called them out and also I think their realisation we had paddled from Anglesey, they guided us into a small harbour, with a massive spot light, highlighting the quay.  We thanked them on the vhf radio and approached our landing, smiling.

We finally paddled in to Dublin just after 2300, after 19 hours in our boats, and 74nm.  We were welcomed by Des and Connor.  Des partner Sonja joined us latter and together they run  They did a super job of moving boats and providing us with mugs of tea as we repacked boats and loaded them on to roofs of vehicles.  We now had a 0200 ferry to catch!!

They dropped us off just after 0100 and we were soon on the Stenna Line ferry on the way back home, with a big fried breakfast before a couple of hours sleep.  Janice picked us up at Holyhead and dropped us back at Rhoscolyn and we headed on our separate ways (BIG thanks for that).

I surprised my self with how long I could keep going for, not at a rapid pace, but a reasonable one and it was good paddling with the guys.  I was pleased i wasn't solo. There was lots of learning, that I feel on a shorter crossing can be managed and overall has less impact, while on the longer crossings early decision and there implications need to be carefully considered.  For me, I had to experience and feel what a longer crossing was about and I know this will make me a better paddler and allow me to share what I have gained from personal experience.  But i now know I do need to do another crossing, but next time no fog and it will be the planned 16 hours!!


Open crossing to Ireland
by sea kayak - Holy Head to Dublin


  1. Really good effort guys ! It's good to know that the extra stamina is there when you end up having to dig a bit deeper than planned.The sea-scape looked beautiful.

  2. Cheers Steve. Yes, for sure and its kept my interest on other open crossings, of similar lengths. First thing and late afternoon into early evening was very special and magic ...

  3. Enjoyed reading about your trip - thud, thud, thud , - has to be the scariest thing in sea kayaking - the expectancy of the large dark shape of a vessel's bow to suddenly appear out of the mist - everything sounds so close.