Monday 6 July 2015

Lundy Island Solo, by Tavi Murray

Lee Bay to Lundy Island and back, solo. 2nd July 2015. - 76km.  By Tavi Murray

The northern track is out, southern back, the trip home took  4 hours 9 minutes.

I’ve been wanting to do the Scilly Isles crossing for more than a year now, but the right weather window and tides have not coincided, at least not at a time when me and my friends were free. The ambition to paddle to the Scilly’s lead me and two friends to do an Open Water Navigation and Tidal Planning course with Roger last spring to ensure we had the skills to plan the trip. Since then I’ve also done 5* training, and the OWNTP course is a prerequisite for a 5* assessment. Somehow it seems wrong that those skills should be theoretical at assessment time, so planning and doing an open crossing went on my 5* action plan, providing an extra reason to want to do the trip.

Research on the internet lead me to an article Roger wrote about his own solo crossing to the Scilly’s (can be seen here)  ... I found it a really inspiring read and … hang on … he paddled it solo! Yeah, but that’s Roger, he’s a Level 5 coach, he’s had his 5* for years and he’s light-years beyond my kayaking abilities even in my wildest dreams. But just there a little seed of a dream was planted. Then sometime on our way round the Roof this spring, no idea how it came up, there we were having a conversation about the Scilly’s crossing and the possibility of me paddling it solo. And not only was Roger not laughing at the possibility, he seemed supportive of the idea …

So since we’ve come back I’ve been waiting for the weather and the tides to coincide for the Scilly’s crossing. But the weather has been really unsettled and the only window so far I was tied up at work. So that dream remains at the top of my “to do” list. However last week Thursday looked fairly settled in the forecast and it was spring tides. I’d bought the chart for Lundy, and I’d stuck that crossing on my list too, but I hadn’t looked at it any further. Tuesday evening I didn’t go surfing, I spread out the chart and got my protractor, ruler and tide tables and started planning. Yes, even though it’s an 80 km round trip it looked possible to do there and back in a single day and the tide times made sense.

Who else wanted to come? And there was the problem, everyone I knew was busy. Perhaps I could do this one solo? I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. The crossing has tideraces at each end and the Bristol Channel tides are fast flowing, in my experience even ferocious. Even though it’s shorter each way than the Scilly’s crossing it’s quite possibly a more committing trip. I was really apprehensive … not committing to a decision. But I also put my boat on my car, and got all my kit ready. Then on Wednesday morning I looked again at the forecast, and it seemed pretty perfect, W F1-2 and sunshine, with 1.1 m swell. How, I asked myself, was I pretending I was going to paddle to the Scilly’s solo if I couldn’t commit to this solo trip? I developed a new test for myself: I imagined trying to explain to a friend why we weren’t going to do the trip together. There was no explanation – I should go! So I booked a hostel in Ilfracombe for the night and emailed Roger to ask if he’d be my shore contact. The answer was a supportive yes.

Driving through north Devon I was dismayed to find it was foggy, with visibility down to a few 10s of metres in places. That was one thing Roger had driven home on the OWNTP course … don’t do crossings in fog! I went to find the put in a Lee Bay and suss out parking and then headed to the hostel. There I checked the forecast again. It was now W/NW F2-3, with occasional F4 and rain all morning, possibly thundery. I set my alarm for 5 am, as I wanted to be on the water at 7 am, but without conviction I’d actually be paddling in the morning.

The forecast hadn’t changed the next morning, and although it wasn’t the perfect conditions I’d planned on I thought it was ok, head wind out, following wind back. I headed for Lee Bay listening to my car radio warning of violent thunder storms … On arrival there was low cloud wafting through the valley and visibility seemed poor. OK I thought, best not. I looked at my map and decided to head for Woolacombe to look at conditions, I texted Roger and said it was no go. I thought I’d do a short coastal trip or have a surf before heading home. Driving up the hill towards Woolacombe I thought about how I was feeling. Was I secretly relieved at calling it off? No, my only feeling was deep disappointment.
What! There’s Lundy! From the top of the hill looking over Morte Bay the island was clearly visible and conditions looked a lot better. Arrrrgh! Was there still time to go? Rapid thought and I decided so long as I could be on the water at 7.45 am I was happy my navigation would still be good. Hey, I could paddle fast too and make up some time. I texted Roger again (poor man!).

I was on the water by 7.30 am and phoned Roger and Swansea coastguard just before Bull Point. I was finally on my way! The tide race between Bull Point and Morte Point was a bit bumpier than I’d expected, it was wind and swell against tide and my bow bounced over the breaking waves. Out of the tiderace, things settled down a bit, but the 1 m swell meant Lundy kept vanishing. It’s really hard trying to keep on a compass bearing in these conditions! I used the clouds to steer by, but the wind moved these rapidly meaning I had to stay alert. Birds soared over the waves checking me out as I paddled. I stopped every hour for a few minutes and for a food and drink break. After a couple of hours the rain started!

It was clear I was heading further north than I needed to, but I was unsure when to let my angle off. I’ve experienced Bristol Channel tides round Flatholm and Steepholm, and they require real caution. I compromised, I’d aim to end up at the north end of the island which would give me a trip down the east coast and 4 km of safety as the Landing Beach is at the south of the island.

Arriving at the lighthouse at the north of the island gave me a few minutes of hard work as there was a north going current there I still don’t understand. But once on the east coast, the rain stopped temporarily and I paddled slowly along, surrounded by singing and playful seals. There really are hundreds! Lundy seems honeycombed by caves and I really look forward to heading back for a proper exploration.

Lunch in the rain on the Landing Beach was pretty miserable. I’d worn my drysuit and my thin top underneath was soaking from sweat. I changed it and put on a woolly hat. From being too hot whilst paddling I was now pretty cold. And it was raining heavily. My flask of ginger tea was really welcome.
When my boat was in danger of floating again, it was clear the tide had turned. Time to go! But there was no sign of England … I headed off on my compass bearing. Conditions cleared from the west and after 90 minutes land appeared in front, exactly where I expected it. The trip home took 4 hours and 9 minutes (my nav was for 4 hours 20 minutes so that’s pretty spot on!). Two thirds of the way over a porpoise arched up and stayed a few minutes.

Shipping isn’t really a problem on this crossing, but this sinister vessel was moving very fast!
Landing at Lee Bay was interesting – surf onto concrete and no beach visible in a place where I could access either slip from. I went in rather cautiously with my spray deck off, paddling backwards and I carried my now seaweed-festooned boat out of the surf as quickly as I could. I headed back to Ilfracombe with an enormous smile, for a much needed shower, and then pizza and a beer.

It was an amazing, awesome day and the trip felt like a real achievement. I really loved it and I am so glad I paddled solo. I felt completely at one with the environment and I have deep memories of many sounds and sights. Lots of firsts for me too: first real tidal open crossing; first real test of my navigation skills; first offshore solo paddle. I learnt an enormous amount both about crossings and myself. So a really big thanks to Roger for being my shore contact for the trip and for his support for my paddling aspirations – I’ve still got that big smile! Here’s hoping the weather window for the Scilly’s appears soon!

By Tavi Murray

Thanks for the Blog Tavi and a HUGE well done.  I'm really very chuffed for you .... Roger

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