Saturday, 26 July 2008

Skomer & Skokholm - With Company! 26/07/2008

This was a last minute, totally unplanned trip back down West. Following a few emails back and forth I found myself paddling out from Martin's Haven at 8 o'clock on a glorious Saturday morning with Eurion and co., the first time I have paddled with company for many years!

There was little or no tide flow as we paddled across the north end of Jack Sound. Whilst the other five made a bee line for the Garland Stone on the Northern tip of Skomer, Eurion and I paddled across to the Neck where large numbers of Puffins were floating on the flat calm water.

Paddling between Rye Rocks and the mainland of the island there were a few seals basking out on the rocks.

It was then catch up time as while we had been sightseeing the others had passed the Garland Stone and were now paddling along the Western side of Skomer.

We caught them up by the Pig Stone and we all made our way into The Basin and then into the Wick, where there are still large numbers of birds nesting on the steep North facing cliffs and numerous jellyfish in the water.

After a brief rest here it was onto the Island of Skokholm across a very calm Broad Sound. Skokholm is totally different to Skomer with dark red sandstone cliffs and dark green vegetation.

Skokholm Lighthouse is situated on the SW corner of the island, it was built in 1916 and forms the landward corner of a triangle of lights, the others being South Bishop and the Smalls, guiding ships clear of this treacherous piece of coastline en route to Milford Haven and the Bristol Channel.

We stopped for a lunch break at the small jetty in Hog Bay. Before the lighthouse was built this jetty had to be constructed in order that building materials could be landed safely; after the station had been completed, this jetty was used for landing stores and supplies, these being carried the mile to the lighthouse on two small trucks running on a narrow gauge railway.

The trucks were originally pulled by a donkey which somehow always seemed to know when a relief day was due because he would deliberately hide often standing motionless under an overhanging rock. The colour of the rock blended perfectly with the donkey's grey coat, and he would just stand there while the keepers walked for miles seeking him. On any other day the donkey would come at a call.
The pony which replaced him apparently soon learnt the tricks because he did his best to cause upsets every time he was called upon to pull the trucks, scattering coal and stores all over the place. A tractor was subsequently used for haulage, when relief was by boat from Holyhead, but nowadays a helicopter is used.

It was then across Broad Sound and back to Skomer. This was a very quick crossing as the North flowing ebb tide was starting to pick up its speed. By now Jack Sound was at full flow but with no wind was just right to have a bit of a play.

Eurion joined me and together, keeping close to Midlands Isle we paddled against the tide flow and explored a few caves.

With the best one going right through the Neck with 2 other caves coming off it at right angles to the main cave. It was in one of these caves that I came across a seal sleeping in the dark. I don't know who was started the most, me or the unsuspecting seal!
Passing through the cave we were now back on the North side of Skomer. It was now back across the rough water at the North end of Jack Sound and back to Martin's Haven.
A very enjoyable impromptu paddle covering a distance of just over 13 nautical miles (approx. 15.5m or 24.5km) with a top speed of 7.5 knots.
It made a change to have someone else to talk to other than myself, thanks to Eurion and co. for the invite.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Ramsey Island - A Bit of Rough 19/07/2008

With the wind still quite strong and there being spring tides I decided to finish my week down West the way I started, with a trip around Ramsey Island, but in the opposite direction.

I left Porthsele just as the north flowing flood tide was starting to flow. I paddled straight through the sound to Pen Dal-aderyn and then across to the island with very little resistance from the tide. It was sheltered from the wind as I paddled southwards towards the Devil's Hole.

As soon as I rounded the southern end of Ynys Cantwr the wind hit me and the sea conditions changed drastically. As is often the case here there were large standing waves through the Devil's Hole but with the tide with me it was just a matter of pointing the kayak and enjoying the ride.

There were similar conditions all the way to Abermawr but with the tide aiding me it was a fast, wet and enjoyable paddling.

A Fulmar also enjoying the sheltered water

I had a brief rest stop in the sheltered water of the bay then it was onto the next rough water of Trwyn-drain-du where the tide flow runs close into the cliffs at this point and again creates overfalls.

On reaching Bay Ogof Hen at the northern end of Ramsey it was decision time, whether to return back to Porthsele or try yet again to get some decent pictures of the Manx Shearwaters. I decided on the latter but it was still too early so decided to paddle down to the Bitches which should be flowing quite fast now.

There was a bit of adverse tide at Trwyn Ogof Hen but a quick sprint and I was into the south flowing counter eddy that took me nicely down to the Bitches.

After a good half an hour playing on the wave and in the surrounding water it was back off northwards through the sound in search of the Manx Shearwater yet again.

I paddled out past the northern tip of the island and out into the main tide stream. Unlike yesterday the main mass of Shearwaters were a lot further out and with the tide flowing very fast and getting rougher the further out I went I decided not to risk going out any further and made do with photos of the odd few birds that were closer towards land, maybe another day, but soon they will be heading off to South America for the winter so it will be probably next year.

Still it was a good way to end my week with differing sea conditions covering a distance of 11 nautical miles (12.75 miles or 20.5 km) attaining a maximum speed of 10 knots.

Friday, 18 July 2008

In Search of the Manx Shearwater and A Sunset 18/07/2008

Today the wife and boys returned as the boys have now finished for their 6 week break. Nothing major was planned so I decided to leave it till early evening to paddle out into the tide stream on the other side of Ramsey Island and St David's Head to try and film the elusive Manx Shearwater.

The only thing I had overlooked was that to get out there I would have to cross Ramsey Sound with the tide against me at it's strongest, still it would be good exercise and practice.

I paddled out of Porthsele and everything went ok until I reached the point of Penrhyn Dalar. The tide flow runs right close up to the rock so it was a bit of a sprint to get round the point against the tide, but I could use the waves which build up here to aid me.

I carried on staying close to the cliff until I reached St Justinian and then paddled out into the Sound. I made good progress for a while with North Bishop starting to disappear behind Ramsey Island but soon as I got further out the tide flow against me increased, North Bishop began to reappear and soon Carreg Rhoson appeared!

Although I was going backwards, I was also going sidewards towards Ramsey Island, and I knew that near the Island there is a south flowing counter eddy which would start to take me back the other way, but it wasn't coming soon enough, my arms were starting to feel as if they were going to explode, and all this to try and take some photos of some birds and the feathered variety as well.

As last I hit the south flowing tide stream and started moving forward again and before I knew it I was in the sheltered waters of Bay Ogof Hen at the north end of Ramsey Island and had a well deserved break.

Paddling past Trwyn-Sion-Owen and out into the northerly flowing stream towards St David's Head I caught my first glimpses of the Manx Shearwaters heading southward towards their burrows on Skomer and Skokholm where they make up about a third of the world's population.

I now let the tide take me past Gwahan with the numbers ever increasing.

It was an amazing experience with the Shearwater's gliding just above the waves coming from all angles at great speed, sometimes only just missing the front of the kayak.

The only problem was that there was a large swell and also the speed of the birds made photo taking almost impossible, all that effort for pictures that don't really do justice to the spectacle.

With the tide taking me very quickly I decided to start paddling back in towards the mainland, stopping just behind Carreg Gafeilliog to take some photos of the sunset.

Not a very long paddle but quite strenuous with the unforgettable experience of the daily migration of the Manx Shearwater.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Fast Cats & The Last Invasion 17/07/2008

Launching from the slipway by the Celtic Diving Base at Goodwick, I paddled quickly over to the ferry terminal to take some pictures of the Stena Lynx III (the vomit rocket!) before she left for Rosslare. She does the crossing in 1 hour 50 minutes, but has done it in 1 hour 30 minutes. She has a top speed of 44 knots, a lot faster than me so I didn't hang around for long.

I then paddled across Fishguard Harbour to the picturesque little harbour of Lower Fishguard overlooked by Castle Point.

I have seen dolphins between here and the Lighthouse on the North Breakwater, but today I was not in luck.

On leaving the North Breakwater I passed the normal ferry on its way into Fishguard, which takes 3.5 hours, not nearly as fast and sleek as the Cat.

Today I decided to paddle straight to my intended destination of Strumble Head using the tide to my advantage making progress against the wind a lot easier, I would do the exploring on the return leg.

On reaching Strumble Head I had the second period of rain of the week, so far it was only a small amount but enough for the light to come on and after many attempts I managed to catch it with the camera!

Leaving Strumble Head numerous small beaches are passed before reaching Carregwastad Point, where on 22nd February 1797 a French force of 600 soldiers and 800 convicts in 4 warships under the command of an Irish-American Colonel William Tate landed here.

Carregwastad Point

'Valley of Cwm Felin' is this where they actually landed?

They were ill prepared with few provisions and raided local farms looking for food but instead found a cache of liquor recently 'rescued' from a Portuguese shipwreck by the locals. This helped to incapacitate the invaders who signed a surrender on 25th February in the Royal Oak Pub in Fishguard.

The local heroine of the invasions was Jemima Nicholas who, at the age of 47 armed with a pitchfork, captured 12 Frenchmen. It is thought the French may have mistaken local women like her dressed in their tall black hats and red cloaks for British Grenadiers. So ended the last foreign invasion of mainland Britain.

I had planned to have my lunch on one of the numerous small beaches of Aber Felin around from Carregwastad Point but there were numerous seals hauled out probably preparing for the pupping season. A very large bull seal appeared and kindly escorted me out of his harem!

All along the coast to Pen Anglas there were seals basking on rocks and beaches so I decided to paddle across Fishguard Bay to Needle Rock where I knew there were plenty of small coves.

Needle Rock is a large stack with an arch through it's base. Opposite this there are 2 smaller arches which make quite good photographic material.

A little further on towards Lower Fishguard I found a tiny steep pebbled beach with a large cave that went a long way back into the cliff, ideal for smuggling.

It was here, whilst having my lunch that I had to make a quick dash for my kayak as the wave from the returning Cat hit the beach. I would dread to think what it is like when it is further out at sea and going faster.

It was now a leisurely paddle in the sheltered waters of Fishguard Harbour back to the slipway. Yet another brilliant day covering a distance of just over 16 nautical miles.