Sunday, 10 February 2008

Local Knowledge . . .

Lesson 1: You can't get it all from charts, but it does help if you use the right charts.

This trip I did something different to my normal planning. I thought I'd plan the trip from a land map. (After all, most people I know use OS maps when they paddle). Besides, I hadn't laminated the chart and the GPS software was OS based. (So I guess I was just too lazy to plot my waypoints by hand).

The 48km trip from Penclawdd to Tenby was an ambitious trip, but with perfect timing for an early morning spring high tide, and equally perfect weather forecast, what could possibly go wrong. We would make easy meat of the Carmarthen Bay crossing. (Thinking back on it, Jim did mention something about a really big swell, but it didn’t really register).

8.20 am

Penclawdd is, a tranquil place, on the Lougher estuary. Famous for its cockles and laverbread, harvested here from before Roman times.
None of that this beautiful morning, cockle beds were well and truly covered by seawater.

Any one for fresh cold cockles?

Jim sets off

After a quick call to Swansea Coast Guard, we're on the water just as the tide turns.

Ripping along now at over 6 knots. Sun on our backs, perfect. As we approached Whiteford Lighthouse the ocean swell became noticeable.

Now you see the lighthouse.

Now you don’t.

Where did this surf come from. That wasn't in the plan.

How did we get in front of the surf zone without really going through it? Strange.

I like using the spray deck I was using to day as it has a handy front mesh pocket to carry my day and night flare on my person, it is also easy to put on. I hadn’t anticipated any surf. It is not the spray deck of choice for going surfing, easy on – easy off.

We headed out towards open water, the surf increasing as we progressed.

Two rather large waves, one from the left, other from right, joined together and seemed to rise to twice their individual heights and broke on me broadside. No problem, I can deal with this, just dig in and bongo slide. (Always works in the surf kayak, not so today). I was over. My thigh had dislodged itself from its grip, so I pulled my bum back in to the seat and orientated myself for my roll, waited for the aerated water to die.

Nearly made it! Nearly isn’t good enough good boy!

The surf dump had popped the spray deck – I’ve practiced rolling with a boat full of water, so that chestnut doesn’t wash. I can think of excuses, whatever, with lungs newly filled with air I sat upside down and decided to bale out. I had failed and was in the drink. Deal with it. It, was cold!
Jim came along side and I was very quickly back in my boat.

Lesson 2: Adapt to changing circumstances.

Feeling a little bit taken aback by events we decided to land and assess our situation.
Not knowing how deep the surf zone extended on this weird beach, or how many more of those big fellers we might encounter before breaking out, we decided on a change in plan.

Paddling just inside the break amongst waves we could comfortably handle, we would make progress along the coast (10 km) until we came to the Towy river mouth and break out there.
Ha, ha that was the plan. The strange "captivating" beach of Pembrey, however, had other ideas.

After a reviving hot drink of chocolate we got on our way. It was going to be slow hard work now and the effort soon had me warmed up. I was glad to be moving, standing around would have let the cold get a hold.

The effects of the second highest tidal range in the world is best seen on spring tides. Particularly on flat beaches. Both Pembrey and Pendine Sands are very flat. As a consequence the tide goes out at a walking pace. Jim floated his kayak in the water, jumped in, by the time his deck was on, the tide had receded a good 8 feet!

OK, who nicked the sea then?

This was to become a real pain. We were constantly being land locked, and often suddenly paddling in less than a foot of water. Quicker to jump out and push the kayak into deeper water or over the sand bank that had appeared from nowhere. Time is ticking by, we are not making the distance anticipated. No assistance from outgoing tidal stream and we are almost pushing our kayaks along the seabed with our paddle blades in places. A quick call to the coast guard to let them know we will not be making Tenby, but are aiming to complete at Pendine. (Ironically the location of many land speed records).

We are paddling (walking, dragging) inside a Ministry of Defense firing range. Notices, (we notice on our arrival at Pendine), warn of not touching any objects on the beach as they may be unexploded munitions. Someone is having a laugh.

It turned into a 21km trudge with some compensation being a days worth of broadside practice.
We arrived at Pendine feeling the need for a well earned rest.
At least I had finally tested in anger the suitability of my paddling gear. No dry suit, but a wicking layer system I had borrowed from my MR days. Wet suit boots for feet, fleece trousers under Palm Cobra pants for lower half, on top a long sleeve wicking shirt under a long sleeve thin fleece, under Palm Yukon cag.

As I paddled, the clothing began drained itself of the water, collecting at my feet and at the cuffs of my paddling top. To be emptied every time I got out to drag the kayak across the sand! The water ingress is mostly through the jacket neck which doesn't have a seal. The ankles and wrists have very effective seals. Most importantly, although wet, I wasn’t cold. However I wonder how effective this set up would be with a strong wind blowing and less mild temperatures.

Tenby is just a little bit further around and across there!

Lesson 3: Admiralty charts are good at showing things under water. 
OS maps are good at showing things above the water.

Trip stats: Distance 21.2Nm (39km) Time: 7hrs 50min. Max speed: 6.6knots Av speed: 3.2knots

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