Thursday, 16 November 2017

The first UK paddler around the island of Menorca on a SUP.

I had discovered my paddling gears and powered up through the arch into a stiff head wind.  I could see the wind was stronger off the the final headland Punta Nati, 5km away.  There were white caps, with a perfect blue sky and blowing Beaufort f4 (14-16mph) NE.  We had come close to the NW point but there was no going on and we were 5km on from the last possible wild bivi spot.  We chatted briefly but turning and running back made sense and to be honest for me on a SUP was the only option! 

Two days earlier, we had been in a taxi on our way to Kayak en Menorca, to hire a sea kayak for Sonja, who was going support me on my SUP around the Mediterranean island of Menorca.  The island is a distance of between 180 – 220 km depending on how much of the coastline is explored or hugged. The second largest of Spain’s three Belariac islands, with a mellow and laid back feel.

Tramuntana wind
 I’d checked the forecast that morning and it was blowing Beaufort F4/5 NE with a fair swell running of 3-4 ft.  Es Grau looks out to the NE and on arrival there was a 2 ft swell rolling into the protected bay!   After talking with Maria one of the owners they were able to drop us on the South coast, which would mean an offshore wind, but some protection if close in and smaller to no swell.  It meant we could start, so that was a winner!

For me it was the first time doing an expedition on a Paddleboard.  I had done a number of sea kayak expeditions, so I had gone with the idea of one bigger holdall, like my bow or stern hatch on a sea kayak.  Then other dry bags, with items such as my sleeping bag and mat, spare clothes and food.  While I had another smaller holdall with snacks, first aid, snorkel/mask, sun tan cream, water proof jacket and trousers, money/passport and items that would normally be in my day hatch, that I want to be able to access.  Sonja had the tarp, stove/fuel and extra food.

I carried 22 litres of water on the tail of my Paddleboard in 3 x MSR water bags and two SUP paddles, one as a spare and the other as my main.  I had a medium sized blade made by VE paddles and the other was a larger blade by McConks.  I was going to start with the medium blade and as I got stronger and all was good, I would move across to the larger blade, for more power.

working hard to keep the noose in and on track

 We set out from Biniacolla right down on the SE tip and had decided to maximise the South coast and go clockwise around Menorca.  I had to work hard with the off shore wind, which kept blowing the nose of my board out to sea.  It was a balance between cutting across a bay with more exposure and less distance or keeping closer in out of the wind.  About 7km in to the journey the cliff’s got taller, offering more protection and the sun beamed on to the rocky walls.  We explored a few caves and started to consider with just over two hours of day light, what was realistic to aim for, for our first night’s bivi. 

I was aware of a Bristol team headed up by Katie who were going the other way around in sea kayaks.  A few of them I had met and worked with before.  They were heading for Cales Coves another 9km on and this seemed like a good place to aim for.  It was a beautiful evening, yet we had some kilometres to cover before we could fully relax. 

Truly stunning
The Bristol team, gave us lovely welcome and soon thanks to Dave we were drinking mugs of tea and settling into the evening.  Now with any trip it’s about finding the balance between purpose and holiday.  Too much of a holiday and if the winds picked up, could mean game over and for me this was new ground on a SUP.  I wasn’t sure exactly what I could do.  Yes, I had covered the length of loch Awe (40 km) a year previously, yet it was calm with little to no swell.  I’d put in time on the Anglesey coast since so I was in a better technical place, but there still was a lot to learn and develop.  I was keen to take it steady and pace myself so we headed out just before 10.00.

One of the lovely things about starting where we did was despite being in a small cove, beside houses, it seemed quiet and those buildings we soon left behind.  We were now leaving the remote cliffs and about to approach Son Bou.  Swimming zones, deck chairs and  the works.  It surprised me how busy it all was.  Our initial thought of heading in for a coffee, was replaced by ‘let’s cut across the bay’.  Sant Tomas seemed quieter and a nice looking restaurant on the beach had some places.  It was lunch time after all!

The rest of the day was mainly about me trying different techniques with my forward paddling, which kept my mind busy as I was keen to get as close as reasonable to the SW point, the Cap d’ Artrutx.  We decide to pull into Cala en Turqueta with 28 km done.  It was a busy attractive bay and Sonja spotted the fisherman’s cave on the left, which meant we were out of the sand and it was a little more peaceful.

On the water for 08.00 the next morning with about 8km to the point, still trying to find the balance between holiday or expedition, we decide after a couple of hours it was brunch time!  One tortilla and a couple of coffee’s later we were around the Cap with a surprised, although welcomed tail wind.  We moved along the coast offshore and after a 30 minutes or so we decide to aim for the headland West of Ciudadela.  Keeping an eye open for any ferry or big boat traffic in or approaching the port. We had made good progress and were nicely established on the West coast now. 

The NW corner is one of the cruxes of the trip, with 14 km of no landing due to cliffs and a rocky exposed shore and we were now approaching this section.  We now had a head wind that seemed to be accelerating off each headland.  But I had found my gears and was enjoying powering up into each wind eddy.  We could see Punta Nati, with white caps flowing towards us, with a perfect blue sky.  We quickly chatted and it was an easy decision, to turn and run back around to the edge of Ciudadela, 5 km away.  At least we could enjoy the wind on our backs.  It was strange as we paddled into Cala en Blanes, with a high rise hotel one side, a couple of bars playing music and lots of people crammed into a small beach. I initially felt at odds and out of place.  Yet soon with unpacking and sorting kit, I relaxed and joined Sonja at one of the bars, as well as David Bowie!

Break time!

A gentle headwind

Food and liquid refreshment all went down well and the crowds soon disappeared and I had that good glow of 36 km, even if 5km was in retreat.  By 20.00 it was dark and it was us and a few in the bar left.  We had a super light forecast for the next 2 two days.  Still North to North East, so a head or side wind, but it was light! 

We were on the water for 08.00 and I had now changed to the bigger blade.  I felt we needed to do what we could and get some mileage in the bank on the exposed North coast.  It was a beautiful morning and we were soon back at our previous day’s location.  No breeze this time though and making super progress.  Punta Nati was soon behind and far in the distance was the most Northerly point of Cavalleria.  The second crux, which if possible I was keen to get beyond as well.  I wondered if I could do that in the same day.  Box the two main crux points.  We looked at the map and decided it was realistic. 

Bay after bay we passed, again trying to find that thin line between gaining shelter from a headland to making progress across the bay, against a light wind.  Yep another headwind.  I took dips in the sea, on the hour today.  My ankles had swollen up and in particularly my right one.  Just being off my legs and floating felt great and I had also put the compression socks and tights on hoping they would help too.  We took lunch floating in a small bay and I could have easily said ‘let’s head towards that beautiful beach’ one of many.  I was tired.  Yet I also felt we had been given a gift F2 N/NE and less than 1 ft. swell on the North coast!!  It felt amazing passing beneath the small light house, but significant cliffs of Cavalleria.  Sonja did a super job of guiding me into our new camp, that was a further 4km around the head.  I was bushed, yet we had been afloat for over 10 hours and I had achieved my personal best with 46 km.  Happy days!

The most Northerly point, with Sonja on the left
Sonja found a super little cove with a lovely sheltered area.  Sorting kit and a super swim to leave the day behind, before a big pot of sweet corn soup and small pasta shells, then bed.  

We were up at 05.00, and soon I had the super porridge mix from Tent meals ready.  800 calories, that are well thought through, tasty and had been fuelling me for the first few hours each morning.  I was feeling surprisingly good and It was an amazing sunrise, which stoked me further.  East coast here we come!  

Magical sunrise start 

This was day five and this was probably the hardest part of the trip for me, a gentle head wind, that grinded away at me and headlands that stuck out further.  Meaning, it was better to paddle across the bay.  The lighthouse of Favaritx stood still.  I guess I was tired and tried to focus on being more effective with my stroke.  Floating each break time in the water, next to my board became essential and part of my break each hour.  We were eventually around Favaritx and heading further South towards Es Grau.  Yep, coffee time and some lunch felt good.  I had that second wave of ‘we could stay here’.   Yet I was also aware we could, just may be complete the loop.  We had around 20 km to go!

We headed on out with Mahon as the focus and I found a 2nd wind.  I felt efficient, excited and strong.  Maybe it was the coffee! It was just as well as the entrance to Mahon saw a few small sailing boats and motor boats, moving about.  The latter setting up an exciting inshore swell, while I dodged the sailing boats!

Illa de L’Aire, is the island of the SE tip, seeing it meant we were getting closer!  At Cala Alcalfar we had one of those tough decisions, with 6km to go but with one hour of daylight.  I had no real reason to take a risk and aim to finish in 5 days, so after a brief discussion we headed in to the natural harbour to take a look.  A lovely little village with a flat rocky area which would be ideal for our camp and what sounded like a restaurant or a hotel at the back of the bay.  It was a hotel so Gin & Tonics soon arrived, as we decide on what to eat for the evening.  49 km and my personal best!

Leaving and the protected harbour of Alcaufar and the last 6km!

Pausing ...

Time for coffee

Up and on the water early, as the wind was due to increase.  We headed on to Punta Prima for coffee and as it happened a full English, cooked breakfast!  20 minutes’ later we were back at the start, unpacking and laying out kit.  Soon the restaurant was open and we were sitting down to another tasty meal.  I could get used to this, I thought!

Job done now time for some food!
Big thanks to Sonja for the support, McConks for the paddleboard and paddle,  VE paddles, Kokatat for clothing and Kayak en Menorca for being so helpful.


You can read here, a shorter version that I wrote for Stand Up Paddle Mag UK.

To see my video of the adventure on YouTube 

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