Saturday, 17 September 2016

Stage 12 - Barry to Cardiff

There's nothing like a welcoming party. But before we could get to ours, the Coastguard had sent their own to Barry in the form of a helicopter to pick up to powerboaters who had decided their boat looked better upside down. After they'd been plucked from the water, we carried on at a cracking pace 'Bay-ward.

Having just left our new friends at Barry Yacht Club, we set course for more friends, family and barley pop at the Lookout Cafe, flanked by the Cardiff Sea Safaris RIB.

We were excited to come into Cardiff. It was the last stretch of what had been at times a gruelling, grinding and generally event-filled fortnight sea. Perhaps one thing we were looking forward to most was not having to put wet wetsuits on the next day. Dry pants also have certain charm.  

Nevertheless, we knew we were going to miss it. The sun rises, sun sets and everything in between. The wildlife and wild - sometimes downright scary - rides. And of course, the incredible group of paddlers, sailors and other boaters from all along the coast who had given their time to support us on each of the stages.

And this was the final stage. We had done it, nearly 400 miles around our coast. 
After all the musings about how we'd feel coming home, it was just a bit surreal. Having been waved off by ITV who had come to report from the start of the final stage at Barry, we began to realise the magnitude of the journey and just what it symbolised.

It was about focusing on abilities which we all possess, setting goals and absolutely going for it! This wasn't about comparison with what others had done. Instead, it was realisation. This was enablement in action. We'd paddled around Wales to prove what can be done when you focus on individual ability over disability. 

Barrage-style bubble bath
And then we got to the outside of the barrage and realised something else. There was a regatta on. Sailing boats were coming at us from all directions. Luckily Jack and Sean aboard the RIB where on hand and we tethered to the side of their boat as we approached the lock. 

Jack and Tom
The final few hundred meters awaited. First though there was just time to shove a flagpole - complete with Welsh flag - into Tom's buoyancy aid and prepare Gary the (salty) dragon, our faithful mascot, for the big entrance.

We paddled around the perimeter of the barrage and finally the end point came into view. What seemed like hundreds of our supporters were standing on the waterfront... mind you I wasn't wearing my glasses. This was epic!

It's hard to find the words to explain the feeling. Most of all we were thankful. Thankful to have so many friends, family and supporters. Thankful we had made it. Thankful to be home. Thankful to achieved what we'd set out to do, despite the odd typhoon along the way.

From sea to ITV - full report

So, to summarise... Thank you. To everyone along the journey who made this possible! You know who you are.

A special thank you again to Gus and the team at Escape Watersports for believing in us and for supplying the incredible steed - our Wilderness Systems Polaris 180T, along with all the other equipment since training started two years ago. 

In a couple of months we'll be totting up the fundraising. In the meantime, we will be busy enjoying not having saltwater in the eye and the undervalued benefits of the aforementioned dry pants.

Ben and Tom

Friday, 9 September 2016

Stage 11 - Porthcawl to Barry

There's nothing like saving the best until last. Except weather of course, we like to get the good stuff out the way first.

When we set off from Newton Beach in Porthcawl a 6am for the penultimate stage, we knew it was going to be rough. Gusting 21mph south westerly was the expectation. We could handle it.

However, we had four hours to reach Barry Yacht Club before the tide turned on us. So we got going at a pace, smashing through the breakers and onto Southerndown. This was where we had to make the big call for the crux of the day. Perhaps of the whole trip. Going solo, we decided it was best to aviod the converging force five tidal races at Nash Point.

We decided to land at Southerndown and went a short distance on to Atlantic College by road where we were met by Simon Neenan in the outdoor centre. Thankfully we could launch again from the slipway on the college seafront.

View from Atlantic College

It was a choppy off this time, and midway through the first set of breakers we realised the rudder steering cables had detached. Thinking better of crashing back through the surf we carried on. It was tough work, with the on-shore wind pushing the aft end shoreward and the nose out to sea, we were having to make constant adjustments - every other paddle stroke was used to correct our course rather than power into the waves which were, at points, above our heads.

So we decided to have a quick land-and-go in the shadow of Aberthaw power station. With the rudder sorted and some flapjacks scoffed, we set off in the direction of Barry. 

Pit stop in the shadow of Aberthaw
It was a bumpy ride and a tough one - by the time we reached the Knap, the tidal flow was against us, halving our progress. Never the less, two hours behind schedule we crossed Watch House Bay then Whitmore Bay, finally the lighthouse at the entrance to the docks crept into view. Sanctity.

Then, we had the tidal race across the mouth to contend with. It was even bumpier but after two weeks on the waves, we got the boat through, despite our blurry-eyed tiredness from the 4am wake-up.

Arriving in the harbour's sanctity - facing BYC
We were greeted by a booming and cheerful "welcome to Barry!" from the harbour wall by Vice Commodore, Jack.

After a very warm welcome from members of the club, we stowed the boat in the shed and hung our wet gear for the morning's launch. Scurrying off for a much needed nap, we returned to the yacht club in the evening to be greeted by Commodore Joe Frearson, his wife Lis and a room full of sailors and rowers who had turned out for a fundraising quiz night and raffle to raise money for Sea Beyond Disability.

What an incredible feeling, to be shown so much support and encouragement with the finish line just around the corner. Thank you so much to everyone who came to wish us well. It means a massive amount. 

With the Club - what a night!
Tomorrow we will be saying farewell to the Club for now, heading to Cardiff - joined en route by the Cardiff Sea Safaris RIB to escort us through the Cardiff Bay Barrage, then heading for the Lookout Cafe party! 

It's hard to believe our paddle around Wales is almost over, and one thing is for sure... it wouldn't have been possible without the kindness and generosity of kayakers, soilors and all our other supporters on land and sea who have helped us make this a reality! Thank you.

See you in the Bay...
Ben and Tom

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Stage 10 - Port Eynon to The Mumbles

Getting wind is never particularly welcome. Especially when the wind is going 30mph, in the wrong direction. 

Having identified a small tide, flow and wind window, we set up for launch at 6am on Port Eynon beach, knowing we had just under three hours to reach The Mumbles. If we didn't, we would be going backwards when the wind picked up as predicted.

We were looking forward to this trip. Aside from the beauty of the Gower and Mumbles, we passed some places we know well - Oxwich Bay and Caswell Bay particularly. We have been here recently with Croesy Canoe Club and with Gus and the team from Escape Watersports for the sea kayak fishing competition.

Both bays seemed considerably longer this time, perhaps because we were doing both in one go, parhaps because we were against the clock or perhaps because it's really starting to feel like every paddle stroke is one more closer to home after the best part of a fortnight at sea. 
Looking out onto the Mumbles
We also knew the next day would be a write-off when the force seven rolled in. Instead we are waiting it out for an early Friday morning start. You can expect some dawn shots, this time from around Newton beach in Porthcawl... From there we'll be pointing the nose in the direction of Atlantic College before aiming at Jackson's Bay for Barry Yacht Club who are holding a fundraising raffle and quiz night for us. We can't thank them enough!

It's hard to believe it's less than 48 hours until we come through the Cardiff Bay Barrage and land at the Lookout Cafe. We're looking forward to seeing a bunch of you there. We can't wait!

Stay tuned!   
Ben and Tom

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Stage 9 - Tenby to Broughton Bay

There's nothing quite like a tank firing at you to make you paddle faster. Mind you, just the thought is enough. On another crossing, this time from Tenby to Pendine, the headland view was interrupted by the occasional yellow marker buoy. These were to warn of the sand bars. Of course they were.

It wasn't until we surfed the waves down onto Pendine Sands for a break after the three-hour passage did we realise there was another active firing range and those buoys where in fact what the tank was aiming at from seven miles away...

We were glad therefore when we landed to find the tank's gun had jammed otherwise we may have been reduced to a thin red film over a wide area of Carmarthen Bay.

After an hour waiting on the sands for the all-clear from the range, we crashed back up through the surf and  headed in the general direction of Rhossili. After a clong but serene evening paddle, we decided neither Rhossili nor Mewslade were particularly advisable give we were about six hours in and light was fading fast. 

Worm's Head would have to wait. We decided instead to go for Broughton Bay, whose only access was up a steep hill into a caravan park. So after a bit of side-on surfing we glided onto the beach and in the last of the daylight de-kitted the boat and headed for the King's Head in Llangennith for a bit of refreshment.

Next, some fairly familiar waters to us - through Oxwich and Caswell Bay, followed by the marvelous Mumbles and on to Porthcawl via Port Talbot. Time to break out the sun cream again.

Stay tuned!
Ben and Tom 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Stage 8 - Martin's Haven to Tenby

There are certain stretches of Pembrokeshire sea water infamous to kayakers. Jack Sound is one of those. We chose to tackle this particular bit of coast fresh after a good overnight rest at Dale Fort. 

In the morning we were joined by Nige Robinson and Ben Ceredig Fothergill of Sea Kayak Guides - there's not many who could claim to be as experienced here as these two! 

We set off from Martin's Haven at the same time as a boat full oof bricks and ecologists were making the foggy crossing to Skokholm Island for a week's work.

We had to contend with fog for the first time on the trip and we were very pleased for the local knowlege and compass-reading prowess of Nige and Ben. Especially as the next thing to come into view was Skomer Island and shortly after that the enormous tide rsce of Jack Sound running alongside. 

This was going to be big! Nige went through first followed by us, with Ben to our right. We crashed into the first wave. The next crashed over us. Peak, trough, peak, trough. This was the most intense bit of paddling we'd been through. Water bottles went flying and we almost sacrificed another GoPro. We were being battered but us and the boat would not be defeated.

We got through the Sound but we were not out of the tidal race and after a brief respite in the eddy by Skomer we were back into it. The most confusing set of wave patterns we'd seen on the trip. Front, back, side-to-side, up and down - this was more confusing than working out a hieroglyphic crossword written on a melted rubik's cube.

After the knarly bit of current we crept behind St Annes Head to wait for a super tanker and its tug boat to pass by before we made the final push to Angle. 

Nige vs tanker
Landing at Angle, there was just time for a quick group pic with Nige and Ben before they paddled back to Dale and we loaded the boat on the van and drove to Stackpole. 

Before leaving Nige and Ben at Angle
Skipping the active firing range at Castlemartin. Neither of us fancied dodging missiles.

We were met at Stackpole Quay by Mike Greenslade, National Trust manager for the area. And also coming along for the ride were our new boaty buddies from Pembrokeshire Paddlers, Clive Johns and Chiristine Wakeford. 

Us five setting out from Stackpole
With the fog still thick we headed for Manorbier were an hour or so later Mike left us and we carried on as four to Tenby. Passing Lydstep point we were expecting a lot more flow but it was a rather tranquil passage into Tenby's south beach after going through the gap at Caldey Island. 

With the smell of fish and chips in the air and the sands disappearing into dusk, we said goodbye to Christine and Clive and headed for a much needed rest.

Today off to Mewslade via Pendine Sands, hoping the fog will burn off. Looking forward to getting cracking again!

Stay tuned!
Ben and Tom

Monday, 5 September 2016

Stage 7 - Porthclais to Matin's Haven

Crossings are tough, how ever long they are. Making the passage across St Brides Bay was as tough as any. As soon as we were outside the shelter of Ynys Dewi, we could feel the tow of the flow trying to push the nose of the boat towards Skomer Island. 

Now we both like Skomer, it has puffins and seals and other such wonderful things but when there is the equivalent of a fast-flowing six-knot river flowing between it and the mainland, it's best to steer the little orange boat well clear.

The three-hour crossing was a gritty one, and when you factor in St Brides Bay being a carpark for several-thousand-ton crude oil tankers and a swell which meant at points we couldn't see the top of their wheelhouses, it becomes very exciting. 

As the rain came down close to 6.30pm, we landed in Martin's Haven, glad to have made some headway on what was potentially another write-off day.

View out from Martin's Haven
This morning we three - not forgetting Oak, our intrepid roadie - woke up in the stunning surroundings of Dale Fort thanks to the fantastic hospitality of Tom, Mel and the rest of the team at the Field Studies Council. 

Today, with the tail end of Hurricane Hermine looming, we are hoping for a window to get from St Martin's to Dale or onwards from Dale to Tenby.

Stay tuned!
Ben and Tom

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Stage 6 - New Quay to Cwm Yr Eglwys

What a difference a day makes. After a choppy but manageable crossing from Aberaeron to New Quay with Andy Campbell and his paddle board, we expected more of the same for the next stage onto Fishguard.

Joined again by Tim Richards of New Quay Yacht Club, who had paddled out to meet us the previous day, this time with NQYC yacht following, we got the first hour or so of trouble-free kayaking we were expecting.

Cardigan bound - Tim Richards, Ali Davies and Emyr Davies

Knowing we had a couple of knots of flow with us, we were quite happy to press onto Newport Sands. That was until we got to Cardigan Island when any protection from the headland was gone and we had the full force of a 20mph southerly. The wind had come earlier than expected and we were in for a slog to Poppit Sands for a rest and to contemplate the next stretch to Ceibwr - the only get out before Newport.

View of Gwbert from Poppit Sands
Having made the call to push on, we knew we would be up against it. Little did we know how tough it would be. As we approached Cardigan Island, out of the lee of the headland past Mwnt - where we spent ten or so minutes readying ourselves and chasing a wayward pasty packet around the bay, we felt the full force of the wind against us.

Paddling against wind was tough, there were points where we thought of turning back, but its not a decision we take with even one or two knots progress - it's still progress. We were getting battered and so was Gary, our trusty mascot on the bow.

Wave after wave crashed over us, reflecting off the sheer cliffs to hit us broadside, as well as head-on and from the stern. This was energy-sapping stuff. And then we realised, perhaps this next bay wasn't Ceibwr after all. Maybe we couldn't land. Perhaps we might have to turn back. But with the wind due to pick up even more in the next half and hour we had to land!

What felt like seconds after this ultimatum had dawned on us, the tranquility of Ceibwr came into view. We'd done it! Just. 

Looking out on Ceibwr Bay
Both of us were equally relieved but couldn't help feeling a little disappointed about not reaching Newport - even if this was supposed to be our rest day.

After a refuel and recharge overnight at the Clark house in Llanpwmsaint, we headed back to Ceibwr for a two-hour push to Newport. We had a very small window to get the job done. The weather was due to pick up and fast, and with no support boat, it was down to us.

View over to Newport from Ceibwr Bay
After six consecutive days of paddling we were both really starting to feel the strain, but we knew the 10km to Newport was a must to keep on track. Again with strong winds against us, due to pick up to a 26mph squall at noon, we set off just after 10am, having logged a passage plan with Milford Haven coastguard. This element of the trip seemed now somehow more than just a tick on the checklist.

We rounded the next headland in very good time considering the conditions, so much so we decided to push onto the other side of the bay for Cwm Yr Eglwys to make an extra bit of distance before Sunday's enforced rest day and the possibility of missing one, maybe two more days of paddling time due to 40mph gusts.

From there we headed to the night stop in Goodwick where we were joined by our top chum Nick Green and his surfboard. We duly celebrated this by going to the pub.

Knowing the day was a kayaking write-off we headed for the beach in search of some surf with three boards and an inflatable crocodile. The red flag warnings just added to the fun.
Lads at Whitesands

Next we're hoping for a window for to head south for Marloes, but with the wind picking up again, it may be a day or two before we can get on the water. But one thing is for sure, if we can, we bloody well will!

Stay tuned!
Ben and Tom