Friday, 24 December 2010

Cold as Ice

What possesses someone to get out of bed on a freezing cold morning – no I really mean FREEZING (well for us in the UK anyway) – and go sea kayaking? It’s the day before Christmas. I’m not in work, it’s warm in my bed and it’s -4 degrees C by the backdoor (I know it’s not cold by any arctic standard).

Britain, still gripped in the snow and ice, has ground it to a halt, The temperature has locally been down as low as –16, but today the sun is shining, the forecast is looking good and it promises to be a great day for paddling.

I read about Stuarts earlier trip along the coast and saw his photographs of the icicles hanging on the cliff faces – something that we rarely get to see here. So decided to go and find some of these myself.

Arriving at Llantwit Major beach (Col-huw) the place is like an ice rink. Treading carefully I get down to the beach from the car park trying hard not to slip and break any bones, I’m on the water at 11am (3.5 Hrs before LT). It’s all very wrong – we shouldn’t have ice or snow at the seaside!

Traveling west I have the sun behind and it is all very pleasant. It doesn’t take long before icicles appear in abundance.

Not long before I’m entering Nash Sound and pass through at an effortless 7.5 knots.

Nash Point Lighthouse
Nash Point Lighthouse
I’m treated with sights of the snowline creeping down to meet the shoreline. With the sun being so low at this time of year there are quite a few places where it’s rays either don’t reach or are there for such a short time they haven’t been able to melt the snow. Much to my childish delight.

Arriving at Southerndown (Dunraven Bay), my scheduled turn about point,  I come across this little feller
Christmas Roast?
– or feller-ess to be more precise as after a bit of asking about it turns out to be a female Cape Shelduck.

With my early arrival and still about 2 hours of ebb in my favour I let the coastguard know I was going on to paddle further to Tusker Rock before heading back.

Within 30 minutes I’m sitting on the rock having my hot soup and sarnies and taking in the fantastic picture poastcard views of this tremendous heritage coastline.

Wreck remains on Tusker Rock
Ogmore by Sea from Tusker Rock
Dunraven Bay from Tusker Rock
The tide hasn’t quite turned when I leave within 40 mins of low water but I can make steady ground. Today daylight dictates the travel plans over ease of paddling. Heading on out into the Bristol Channel my plan is to go out over the Nash Sand Bar and pick up on the main tidal flow as it turns and the flood kicks in.

The sand bar is some 14 miles long, but only parts of it broach the surface at the lower points of the tide. It produces some wild conditions when the wind and tide dictate.

Even with the fairly benign conditions I face today you can tell when you pass over the shallow water. The water surface gradually moves through glass like to ripples to small breaking waves. Today it is manageable. The water around here does weird stuff, flows in odd and for me at least, unpredictable ways.

I give it the respect I think it deserves. Creepily it gives me the feeling of a small welcoming smile growing to a chuckle and onto hysterical manic laughter. I don’t trust it. I’ve been here before when it seems to entice you into it’s playful arms.

Out into the channel the tide is taking me nicely with the accelerating flood. Closing into Nash Point  I’m surprised to sea some of the sea birds ‘walking on water”. From my low seating angle I can’t see the last remains of the sand bank protruding through the water for them to stand on. I decide, as I’m passing, to land and take some photographs of the cliffs lit by the beautiful late afternoon sun.

My luck just as I land the sun nips behind a cloud and the golden light drops off the cliff.
Looking west along the sand bar heading towards the Gower,
the submerged bar causing the confused waters beyond.
Swirly waters taking back the sand bar

The water level is rising with each wave and I don’t fancy staying out of my boat for long, as my firm footing starts to change to quick sand.

Leaving Nash I keep well offshore and ride the conveyor belt back to the frozen car.

After all that, I hope it’s fairly obvious why you don’t need much more of an incentive to get out of bed and go for a paddle!

15.7 Nm (29 km)

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Abacus on Amphetamine

The met office website is one of those places I pick up weather information before deciding on whether to go paddling or not. The inshore forecast they provide, plus a look at some wind sites that give more localised info, help me make my decision.

Never really thought much about how this stuff was put together, so I was intrigued when on their website the Met Office put an invitation for people to come along to their HQ in Exeter for an open day. I applied for a ticket and without delay one arrived in the post.

A very early morning wake up to the light of the moon

I'm well into England and down the M5 before we rotate into the sun's rays. Coming off at Jn 29 you can't really miss the Met Office's Hadley Centre, not that there are Monty Python like sun rays out of dark clouds pointing you to it, but more like numerous highways agency sign posts. They don't want you to miss this expensive building.

To say the place is impressive would be an understatement. It is super high tech and a super cool open plan environment. Each wing of the building isn't named Block A, B, C etc. No, not cool enough, each are named after a lighthouse around the world that begins with that letter. Eddystone, Fastnet are the only two I remember, the others are from far flung corners of the world. The place is heated by using the heat generated from it's computer system to heat up stone heat sinks in the floors, and then blow air over it to circulate it around the building.

There is a stream running through "the street" inside the building, and there is even a part built lighthouse structure at one end. The place has overtones of a Google Office work environment with think areas, comfy sofas and "intelligent art". Not quite my preconceived idea of an MOD department. Well done I say.

This open day is part of a consultation with the general public to find out what we like/don't about their service and what we would like to see in the future.

One of the newest offerings of their forecasting system will be made available shortly. A huge increase in the number of locations that we can access for weather predictions is going to be made. We will be able get forecasts for some 5000 points in the UK.

You can even ring them up for a localise forecast for your garden party. To help them with their predictions of the weather chaos system they have a computer.

Their current IBM supercomputer

The beast in the basement thing is being fed huge nay colossal amounts of data from satellite and real land based readings. These are fed in to the computer for a complex predictive model to be run which then spits out the weather (sort of).

I often wondered why the inshore forecast was updated in 6hr intervals, well it seems that it takes a while for each of these runs to complete, and then a forecaster to interpret and tweak and add that vital bit of human interpretation override. Can't always take a computers answer for it you know, even one that cost £33 million.

To call HAL's big brother a £33 million pound oversized calculator, would be insulting to its ability to make 137 trillion computations a second. This is a supercomputer, and one of the fastest on the planet.

Oh did I forget to say they have 2 of them. Just in case the main one fails there is a back up that can come on line and take over. This weather stuff is of national importance. The Met provides information to the military, airlines, environment agency, health, and loads of things I didn't appreciate they do.

The subtle irony of this centre, which provides for the UK Government an assessment of both natural and man-made climate change, is that the center itself produces some 12,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Presumably it's the amount of carbon dioxide created at the power station to generate the 1.2MW of electricity a year it uses (enough to light a small town). This is used mainly to power the beast in the basement. This is mitigated by an estimated 20 million tons of carbon dioxide a year saved globally due to the use of their aviation forecasts allowing aircraft to save fuel by using the wind direction at different levels of the atmosphere, as well as various economic savings through bad weather warnings (flood, ice, marine) which allow the various authorities and individuals to take appropriate action (or not).

The guys here admit, they do get it wrong sometimes, it is after all only a probability of an event happening within a chaotic system.

As I looked out the window I half expected in pure Kubrick style "Just what do you think you're doing, Eurion?" to pipe out of some hidden tannoy.

"Just checking the weather!"

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Strange Goings On

It's been one of those glorious mornings. Hywel had suggested one of his regular trips. So after a very lazy start to the day, Adrian and I met him at Swanbridge and left the enticemennt of the Captains Wife for a jaunt over to Flatholm.

Low neap tide and a high pressure together with little wind provided us with a fairly calm playground.

Flatholm, with strangeness occurring at the waters edge

What I hadn't expected, or had I seen before, was the way the opposite side of the Bristol Channel looked. Some strange atmospheric conditions were causing mirages to occur and the opposite side of the channel was broken up in to what looked like lots of islands.

Steepholm to the right with a new island to the left (Brean Down)

Brean Down 'Island' with other 'Islets'
(click on the pic to see a slightly bigger version)

Hywel approaching Flatholm

Giving way!

We do an anticlockwise circumnavigation of and head on back to the Captains Wife to sink a well earned pint of "Tribute" and contemplate projects.

A short trip, but what a glorious day and a fantastic pint.

7Nm around the island

Monday, 12 July 2010

Trip of the light fantastic

Looking out towards Mumbles and the Gower

Seeing this as I'm doing the washing up, I just had to get out tonight. Nobody else available, I decided on a solo night time excursion. Unbelievably calm evening, absolutely zero wind, no swell, nearly dark. Perfect.

A rocky launch from Southerndown I head west and ride with the ebbing spring tide towards Ogmore. The New Moon has just passed so it will be a nice dark night.

It is just so calm out here tonight.

I'm there in no time, the water giving no indication of the full flow in progress. I turn tail anticipating a bit of a work out to get back as the last of the light disappears.

Now it's time to see if the magic I came out to see, appears.

Yes I saw it, or did I?

Gradually as the darkness deepens they appear like little fairies, fire sparks on the water, the magic of summer night time paddling - bio luminescence - don't even want to know how it works - it's a phantasmagorical phenomenon.

Returning to Southerndown, the tide now well down the beach for a nice safe sandy landing - just as well 'cos I can't see a thing.

Friday, 16 April 2010

It's life, Jim, but not as we know it

With Iceland's volcano Eyjafjallajokull (easy for some to say and entertaining listening to those that try) spewing ash into the air, British air space has been closed down and life on planet earth has taken a bit of a breather. No plane trails in the sky and wondrous sunsets are becoming the norm each evening.

Jim Krawiecki got in contact to ask if I fancied a paddle while he was down visiting God's Country. A paddle around Gower was in the offing, and almost the last bit of the South Wales coast I haven't yet paddled. It didn't take long to decide what to do.

I owe Jim a great debt. He co-wrote a book, with Andy Biggs, called Welsh Sea Kayaking - 50 great sea kayaking voyages. I was fortunate to pick up the book when I started to sea kayak. It provided inspiration and importantly the bits of information that made it possible for someone new to the sport to have at their finger tips the bits of information that can be used to plan and execute a successful trip. I have been steadily notching up each of the trips in the book - sad I know.

We meet at Port Eynon after work. The plan was simply to head out towards Worms Head, west, for a short paddle along the coast with the anticipation of watching the sun go down.

Jim taking pics of birds - he is a fountain of feathered knowledge

And I thought curlew's lived only on the marshes

Leaving the bay, just around Port-Eynon Point there is an odd inlet called Culver Hole.

If you don't look, you might easily miss it

Culver Hole

It's odd to see a blocked up cave in this area of unspoilt coastline. There are tales of it being a smugglers cave with an underground passage to the salt house at Port Eynon bay.

We could paddle right up to the base of it where there is an entrance. We didn't land to explore, leave that for a different trip. Culver Hole was most likely used as a dove cot to provide meat and eggs for the gentry.

As we move on around the coast the sun heads down, and the sky begins to fill with a vibrant orange. We are on for a show, the Icelandic dust is doing its scattering best.

Worms Head

Watching the sun going down I think of all those folk around the globe not being where they want to be. As for me, I'm quite content watching our star disappear over the horizon.

The sun put to bed, we turn to paddle back as the clear night sky turns dark and the stars begin to show themselves, the moon just about there. Out of this world.

Only downside was that sadly on returning in darkness to the beach we found that the fish and chip shop is closed.

We retire to the bar for recompense and the evenings entertainment begins in earnest.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Caves, Cliffs and Kayaks

Newton is a sandy beach sitting just east along the coast from Porthcawl. At this time of year you can park right close to the slipway that takes you down to the sand, and access to the water is easy. Paddling here there always seems to be a little bit of agitated water near the point. I'm paddling with Adrian today with the intention of going up the Bristol Channel with the flood tide through Nash and to finish up at St Donat's.

We make a beeline over the bay towards Ogmore and paddle up along the coast to east of Black Rocks. The tide is not too high yet, but high enough to get access to get to explore some of the caves.

Some of the rocks at the base of the cliffs provide a playground for a bit of rock hopping.

This section of coast between Ogmore and Southerndown always offers something different depending on the state of the tide and swell.

There is a tiny bit of swell and I get rock hopped onto a ledge when caught by the rogue wave in a set.

There is a definable pattern of surf sets building up, this is a pleasant surprise as we thought it would be fairly flat today. Gradually we make our way towards Southerndown at every opportunity looking in every available nook and cranny.

We stop for a bite to eat on the exposed sandy beach at Southerndwn. Follow this up with a bit of surfing. We have the surf all to ourselves as the unexpected sets haven't attracted any of the regular boardies.

Traeth Mawr towards Nash Point

Continuing along Traeth Bach and Traeth Mawr (the Welsh for little and big beach).
Just before we round Nash Point to play, it's nice to spot a seal in the water off Cwm Marcross. After giving us a few stares, he doesn't follow us as I guess he's busy feeding in the shallower waters.

Nash Lighthouse

We have a bit of excitement on the lively waters around the point and head on towards St Donat's under the shadow of the two lighthouses at Nash Point.

Great afternoon paddle.

(9.4Nm just over 17km)