Saturday, 26 July 2008

Puffin good Paddle

There was a certain urgency for getting down here for this trip. Puffins. I've never seen a puffin, and Skomer is a place they come to in abundance to procreate early in April. After breeding they all leave around mid to late July. I was hoping we were in time to see a few of the late departures.

We are up early and I am stoking the boiler with a morning fry-up when Steve returns from the coastguard lookout which overlooks Jack Sound. With an infectious look of concern on his face he reports of some pretty wild water, eddies, boils and such like. He'd been watching the ebb tide max out though the sound.

I decide to take a look after my nosh.

Looking down through Jack Sound an hour before slack on the ebb, towards Skokholm in distance, Skomer to the right and Tusker Rock at bottom right

By the time I take a peek (above), things seem to have calmed down from Steves earlier recon.

Mew Stone, off Skomer, in the early hours

Niel and Richard join us, after some ungodly pre-twilight drive from Cardiff, and Adrians brother-in-law from far off Pendine, so in addition to the pre-assembled Adrian, Steve and Hywel we make quite a party.

Early morning departure from Martin's Haven

We are on the water and depart 0810 (HW Milford 1224), Jack sound should be at slack water at this time. Paddling out of Martins Haven with anticipation out around Wooltack Point and across the north of Jack Sound proper. It is like a mill pond, with no noticeable tide flow. The unused adrenalin gets rebottled.

It is not to long before we pass Midland Isle and cross over Little Sound to reach The Neck. While Richard and I keep close to the island, the rest of the merry band make a beeline for the Garland Stone.

The water below the cliffs at the water edge is full of bobbing puffins

It must be quite an experience at the height of the season to paddle amongst them if the paddle with this lot is anything to go by. Gently paddling they didn’t seem to worried. Get a little to close and it is quite amusing to see them go through the motions of a comic take off procedure. Landing is just as funny, just stop flapping, plop down onto the water and bob back up. Their wings are designed for underwater swimming, but unlike the penguin they are still able to get air borne.

Passing inside the Garland Stone the full Atlantic swell excitedly introduces itself. We hitch a ride on the south going current that takes us around and down the west side of the island.

Niel looks around The Basin

Exploration of The Wick ensues with lots of jellyfish in the water and guillemots nesting precariously on ledges.

At The Wick

Niel sees the light . . . at The Wick

At about 1000 (–1.5 HWMH) we paddle due south across Broad Sound towards Skokoholm, experiencing very little tide movement as this section now approaches its own slack water.

Crossing Broad Sound

Looking west as we cross, we can just make out Grassholm Island in the far distance, host to one of the largest gannet colonies in the world, standing out white washed with gannet guano.

As Skokholm land fall approaches a little north east push, pulls us nicely into the island. This island is an SSSI, SPA and SAC. Intrigued to find out more?

Magnificent menacing black rocks provide a dramatic rockscape below the lighthouse, in stark contrast to dramatically lit rocks around the south side of Quarry Point, which are now lit by the full force of the sun, hardly a cloud in the sky.

Rounding the corner into the sunshine

Further on we have a little play time on some small overfalls by Crab Rocks before stopping for a bite to eat, floating by the jetty which was built to land building materials for the lighthouse.

More details about the lighthouse and an amusing story about the island donkey.

Just before hitting max speed around The Stack

Rounding Long Point and passing The Stack we get a sling shot of 7.5 knots and jump on the conveyor belt that whisks towards the jaws of Jack Sound.

Heading back across Broad Sound towards Jack Sound

Jack Sound

We get sucked through the Sound at full bore (neaps), standing waves and boils abound. Surprisingly not that intimidating. We do a bit of braking in and out behind Tusker Rock. I notice that Richard has stayed over by Midland Isle playing in some rough water. I wonder if I can get back against the sedate 5 knot flow. Well, ferry glide and keeping in tight to the land , I managed to get back to the south side of Midland Isle.

Exploring caves on Skomer

A bit of cave exploration ensued, with by far the most interesting being just beyond Little Sound and before Rob’s Wick. Here a cave takes you right through to the other side island (we got access at about HW Milford). The cave inside contains two other caves at right angles. A sleeping seal is abruptly woken by our paddle through.

Out the other side we paddle back across Jack Sound avoiding at least one gin palace that came roaring through, before returning to Martins Haven.

With: complex tide patterns to plan around; an early morning effort; good weather; good company; interesting scenery; abundant wildlife, this has to rank as one of those perfect paddling days.

Puffin in the bag

13.7 Nm round trip

If you're interested . . .


Richard said...

Hi Eurion,
Great write up, brilliant photos especially of the puffins it really was a perfect days paddling


eurion said...

It was well worth the effort to head down west.
The scenery is so dramatic the pictures make themselves.
We were very fortunate with the weather, which helped. Will have to go earlier in the season next time as I guess the puffins will be more numerous.