Friday, 29 April 2011

Zeus, Eurus and Devonian cliffscapes (Exmoor Day 3)

The wrath of Eurus was strengthening and due to continue to increase over the next few days so we decided to abort the crossing to Lundy. A shame, having come this far, but the island was't going anywhere soon and it gave me a great opportunity to discover some of the mainland North Devon coastline that I might have otherwise have overlooked. What a treat was in store.

We relocated to a campsite at Hartland which was conveniently located near Hartland Quay.

Launching from Hartland Quay

Not a real quay anymore, the original 16th centuary one was washed away in 1887, but still an easy access point to get out on the water for an evening paddle to Hartland Point.

It is a great bit of coast line to have fun rock hopping amongst the pronounced reefs. Reaching the race under Hartland Point lighthouse we rounded the point to take a look at the giant teed up golf ball that is the radar station behind the lighthouse.

Hartland Point lighthouse with the wreck of the coaster Johanna, wrecked in 1982

The radar station just around the point

Looking down on Hartland Point race and that elusive Lundy on the horizon

A few pints were sunk as well - conveniently located for the après paddle
There was to be no more sea kayaking of any substance for the remainder of the days in Devon, apart from an hour or so surfing just before the heavens exploded with a dramatic lightening storm which continued late into the night. Was glad to be off the water at that point as I wasn't very keen on being part of any "is it a good idea to paddle in a lightening storm with a carbon fibre paddle" experiments.

The following few days were used to explore the amazing rock formations found along the coast.

If you get a chance to have a paddle around these parts,  I'd advise you to grab it.

Well I probably was smelling a bit by now, and needed to wash off the salt

I love these rules. Just try and imagine a night out in Hartland in the 1700s . . . 

Lundy - another time

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Headdon's Mouth to Lee Bay (Exmoor day 2)

Morning dawns at some point that I'm unaware of and as high tide is at 1600 hrs there is no rush to get up. 

The day really warms up as the sun reaches over the steep valley top and I extract myself from my bivy bag to a bright sunny morning.

It's going to be a fantastic day.

Heddon's Mouth 
One or two people have already made the trip down to this very pretty valley, either along the cliff tops as part of the South West Coast Path or following the deep valley walk along the river towards the sea.
In its past it has been visited by more than just walkers and day trippers. During World War II, German U-boats would re-stock with water and stretch legs along this section of remote coastline. For more information read what Martin Hesp has to say about secret Nazi U-Boat landings for water and a game of football along these deep watered shores.

After a lazy lunch and having packed the boat at the high tide level - it only remained to lie in the sun waiting for the tide - this sea kayaking lark has it's moments.

Once on the water, heading west, I pick up on the beginning of the ebb tide. What's in store is an overpowering sense of how small I am as I look up at these towering cliffs. The tallest is over 1000 feet - and are the highest mainland cliffs in Britain.

I get sucked early on into exploring the base of the cliffs. Progress is slow due to the curiosity and the urge to go look-see.

Time to crack on if I'm to get to Lee Bay and get set up before dark. Reluctantly I put my effort into making some headway - so I by pass the very interesting looking Combe Martin Bay with it's secluded sandy coves and Watermouth Castle. Heading off shore a wee bit to pick up on the increasing tidal stream I make towards Illfracombe.

On the approach I see MS Oldenburg heading into port. I decide to follow and make phone contact with my mates to find out the latest on the arrangements to Lundy.

MS Oldenburg - passenger ferry for Lundy - with heated saloons a bar and buffet - I'll be getting there by kayak,  fuelled by chocolate, bananas and Jelly Babies  
After shore side comms. are over and resisting the huge temptation of hot fish and chips, I'm back on the water and picking up steam at a comfortable 6 knots towards Lee Bay. In my enthusiasm and unfamiliarity of the coast I almost overshoot my destination, convinced it was around the next headland.
Safe arrival, I gett all my stuff off the boat and settle down to cook tea while watching the sun go down.

After food I make my way up the Lee valley to visit The Grampus Inn to sample the delights of it's various guest ales and socialise with a few local maritime characters 'till the wee hours. Since the 4am launch has been postponed there is no desperate rush to get back . . .

Lee Bay the following morning

The days coastline (11.2Nm/20km) - well worth a closer more leisurely paddle - will return soon!
Getting further from home

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

gNashing at the Heddon Mouth (Exmoor Day 1)

The big plan was to head out to Lundy Island to escape THE wedding - I couldn't imagine a better place to indulge in a few well earned beers after a few days paddling, lie in the sun and do nothing.

Zero Carbon impact or just the impulsion to give it some stick I decided it would be a satisfying challenge to paddle there from the South Wales coast.

A three stage plan was hatched. Paddle a fairly long crossing to Headdon Mouth from Nash Point, then next day bumble along a few miles of the highest sea cliffs (250m) of mainland Britain to Lee Bay west of Illfracombe, meet up with some friends and paddle on to Lundy Island to sample the delights within the Marisco Tavern.

Loaded up at Nash Point waiting for the top of the flood
Looking back at Cwm Marcroes
Launching from Nash under beautiful sunny sky there is just a little breeze. I paddle straight out on my bearing which I hope will get me to the right point the other side!

It's not long before the clouds come. The day turns overcast and fairly cool which makes for a good paddling temperature. A fairly brisk easterly cross wind picks up which is a bit of a pain. Even with the skeg fully deployed and my boat packed to be stern heavy it  weather cocks annoyingly. Occasionally I need to paddle with biased blades - left shaft longer than the right - to try and maintain a constant paddling rhythm. I wished that the boat would track better in a cross wind. Just had to plough on.

Meeting other seafarers - best keep out of their way!
As requested I call in my position every hour to the CG and watch the tidal drift track on the GPS as I wait to be picked up on channel 67. Bang on neap tides, as expected, there is still quite a flow building up, thankfully, as my aimed off bearing is based on some of it.

Another big one - not that many out here today
After a few hours I've passed the middle and can see the English side getting closer - slowly!

England looms closer, Exmore - but it's still a bit dull and overcast
It doesn't actually feel that long a time before I finally arrive at Headdon Mouth and the sun decides to eventually pop out to provide a glorious evening on the beach to cook tea on.

Headdon Mouth - with the tide still going out
Actually the maths seemed to work - sort of
3 hrs 45 mins to paddle the 33km (averaging 4.6 knots) - seems I paddled over quicker than it would have taken to drive! I'm fairly chuffed. Time for some grub and watch the sun go down before heading off to the Hunters Hotel. Did I forget to mention there was a convenient-ish public house up the wooded valley? Oh yes!

Looking out of Headdon Mouth along the coast that will be tomorrows trip

At the end of a satisfying day!
Very eerie Blaire Witch walking through the wooded gorge up to the Hunters Lodge for a few well earned pints - I'm rewarded by the sight of an old friend - Addlestones Cider. The brewery were kind enough to sponsor me and some friends with a few casks of the nectar on my first channel crossing. Time to pay them back!

After an enjoyable evening talking amongst friendly strangers, I make my way back to the beach by some totally different route, never the less the lack of light pollution sets the stage for a truly spectacular show of stars in the cloudless night sky. I have my very own planetarium.

After staring up at the sky from my bivy bag for a while, I'm fast asleep.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Flat Holm, Steep Holm and the Wolves

With continuing high pressure and fantastic weather, today had the feeling of being a scorcher. First paddle this year in a short top me thinks!

With a fairly big spring tide and mirror like conditions Hywel and I decided we'd head out to Steepholm in the middle of the Bristol Channel.

Leaving Penarth we could just about see Flatholm through the fog. I had some unreasoned desire to go around the north of the island . . .

After a fairly steep ferry glide out towards the landing jetty on Flatholm, I finally gave in within yards. The flailing blurred paddling in almost tropic conditions was just a little bit too much like hard work. We decided to go down around the south of the island and immediately accelerated to some 5 knots without lifting a blade.

Scooting around to the lighthouse we start our second glide across to Steepholm. It doesn't take us long.

Within a short time, Flatholm seems miles away, and the mainland has totally disapeared

Arrival at Steepholm
The spit on Steepholm with Brean Down off in the fog
A very low tide
An alternative landing spot with convenient steps
High tide mark?
As we paddle around the island and hit slack low tide, Hywel mentions that his GPS is indicating an altitude of minus 8m.

Rudder Rock at low water

Hywel on Steepholm having lunch with Flatholm in the distance and nothing else
No horizon
Leaving Steepholm just as the tide begins to flood, it is noticeably eerie out here. No sound, no movement. Passing Flatholm I notice some disturbed water and something sticking out of the water. So with some more frantic paddling I try to gain ground and get closer to investigate before it is lost to the flood.

Approaching the Wolves

Wolf Rock as the flood starts increase
It is the Wolves, exposed, just. These rocks have claimed a few lives in their time.

Hywel sitting on some turbulent water before the rocks, above where we thing the masts of the wreck might appear on an even lower tide.
Hywel at the Wolves with Steepholm in the distance

The chart indicates that there are exposed masts at the chart datum.
With the high pressure and millpond conditions, we might have seen them had we arrived a little earlier. It could be the masts of the sloop William and Mary which struck the Wolves on 28th October 1817
 Her topmast remained some feet above the water, to which the crew adhered until the boat returned. Our informant saved himself by swimming, and was two hours and a half in the water, when he was taken into the boat. He witnessed the heartrending scene which took place on the sinking of the vessel. A Mr Barron, his mother, and four sisters (who had their man-servant and carriage on board) were among the passengers; the cries of the young ladies were most distressing. They all perished! They went down in each other's arms.
 54 passengers were lost, including 22 women and children. Only one person survived.
50 bodies were recovered and buried on Flat Holm.
14.7 Nm