Thursday, 16 October 2014

Round Anglesey - Take 2 by Tavi Murray

Round Anglesey – Take 2:   Tavi Murray with Damian Pryor

It was our second attempt to paddle round Anglesey: on the first, the forecast definitely hadn’t played ball, shifting a forecast F7 from day to day and all we’d managed were day paddles hiding from the conditions. This time it was spring tides, which meant an anticlockwise circumnavigation with faster flows to help us round, but potentially bigger tideraces depending on when we hit them. The tidal crux points were engraved in my mind: the Stacks, the Menai Straits, Point Lynas, and Carmel Head. Our team was now down to just two– and the summer had already shown me the limits of that if one of you is in the water. Nonetheless the weather looked feasible with winds starting 4-5 then dropping through the weekend – a window of three paddleable days before it was forecast to be unpaddleable again on bank holiday Monday. Roger had kindly offered to be a backstop if we found ourselves stuck away from our car. It was game on!

Friday 22 August: Day 1, Soldiers Point to Beaumaris, 61km
The wind had been NW for days and was forecast as a good F4 from the NW, the swell was also from the NW and pretty chunky. We stayed overnight in Valley, ready for an early start from Soldiers Point with my plan being to sneak past North Stack at slack tide. This plan was thwarted as my attempt to find the car parking spot at Soldiers Point met with a line of boulders across the road and then an increasingly frustrated search down small roads. In the end we left an hour late into steep waves around 1.5 metres high (Damian says 2m). I knew North Stack would be the meaty tide race with flow that would now be against both wind and swell. An hour late – that means 50% full flow. It definitely was punchy! The biggest wave met me in the chest and knocked me backwards like an aggressive river stopper despite my determinedly planted paddle blade. However, once through North Stack conditions eased and both South Stack and Penrhyn Mawr were sleeping. We paddled on down the west coast of Anglesey surfing waves more-or-less continuously. My plan for the day was to reach Beaumaris, which would put us in position to finish the Straits early on day 2, but that was over 60 km and neither of us had paddled that far before. We’d agreed that if either of us said stop – that’d be it – we’d just stop without question. But remarkably quickly we were seeing Llanddwyn Island, taken south by the tide, wind and waves. After that we were in an adverse tidal eddy and crept along Abermenai Point, but conditions further out where the Menai Straits tidal flow was meeting the main stream and swell, waves were exploding vertically in walls of white water! We eventually landed for the first time for lunch around 3pm: 40 km of the circumnavigation ticked off. Hungry but otherwise very definitely ok and smiling. Brew and sandwich time while we sat on the beach and waited for the tide to turn and build. Once in the Menai Straits we were on familiar territory ticking of the features I knew so well from many windy paddles. We finally arrived in Beaumaris … pretty tired if I’m honest … We reckoned camping wouldn’t be possible and I went on a hunt for somewhere to stay. 61km of the 120km or so circumnavigation ticked off. Suddenly it felt like this could be a successful attempt.

Saturday 23 August: Day 2, Beaumaris to Traeth Bychan (Moelfre), 20km
It was a sunny start to the day and we paddled north from Beaumaris completely sheltered from the wind. Spotting Roger putting on at a beach near the mouth of the Straits we stopped to say hello and for Damian to rearrange stuff in his boat. Roger gave us some cautionary words about the possibility of looking at Puffin Sound before committing to it and some hints that the wind would drop later on. Conditions seemed benign though and to be honest I rather ignored his hints. Puffin Sound was indeed a bit more meaty, but perfectly manageable. However we then settled down to a fight into the force 5 headwind blowing across Red Wharf Bay and the 1.5m swell. Progress was slow, almost painfully slow, but I was conscious of the crashing surf on the cliff and then the beach to the south which was decidedly unappealing as a landing / re-launch possibility. I was even more determined that we wouldn’t turn around and run for the shelter we’d left behind. Traeth Bychan was a target I knew would be sheltered, and some 4-5 hours later, around 3pm, we crept into the bay fighting into the wind all the way. The bay was filled with sailing boats and other pleasure craft and really seemed a different world from the feisty paddle we’d just finished. Agonisingly the wind dropped an hour or so after we arrived on the beach, but we were pretty done in and very hungry! We’d crept on a tiny 20km and missed the tide gate at Point Lynas by hours. And the day had been considerably harder than the day before. Hmm, would we manage to finish now? We had around 45-50km still to go and the forecast for Monday was horrible and meant that there was definitely only one day left. A text from Roger reinforced my own thoughts for the next day – “keep off shore”– a tactic that helped a lot!

Sunday 24 August: Day 3 – Moelfre – Soldiers Point, 48km
Keep off shore – so we did! And once around Point Lynas we just flew along the north coast in the big spring tide, and for the first time, light winds, accompanied along the way by a friendly porpoise. Far enough offshore that we somehow missed seeing East Mouse completely, passed well outside Middle Mouse and began making our way inshore towards the two white ladies and the “snowman” on West Mouse. Carmel Head was messy but we were soon past the tide races (or so we thought). We opened the day hatches – nothing beats lunch on the water in the sun! We rapidly found ourselves being taken into another tiderace – providing one of two morals for the trip: “Never eat lunch in a tiderace”! Sandwiches eaten (or thrown overboard so paddles could be held) we moved on towards Holyhead, calling port control before crossing the harbour entrance. A slightly closer encounter with a ferry than I’d have liked (although we knew they’d seen us from VHF traffic), followed by a long paddle along the harbour wall, brought us into Soldiers Point and finished the circumnavigation at 2pm. 

What a great paddle! So what did we do to celebrate? Pizza and hot chocolates at Dylans in Menai Bridge (big smiles!) and then we headed off to the Tryweryn for a day of white water magic on the windy bank holiday Monday.

Learning for the trip:
-        Always call in to the coastguard, even if conditions seem benign (we didn’t on the 2nd day, but I regretted it during our long and actually quite challenging paddle)
     Never eat lunch in a tiderace!
     by Tavi Murray

     anglesey sea kayaking
     north wales sea kayaking

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