Sunday, 28 September 2008

Pea Soup & Starfish for Four 28/09/2008

After leaving Cardiff at 5 o'clock on a still dark Sunday morning I met up with Adrian, Eurion and Steve about 7 o'clock at a very foggy Llansteffan.

Llansteffan is about 7 miles from Carmarthen on the River Towy estuary and an ideal launching site, but this morning we couldn't even see the sea!

After a brief discussion we all decided to give the proposed paddle across Carmarthen Bay to Tenby and back a go. With the tide ebbing we would use it to take us out the channel between the Carmarthen Bar and Cefn Sidan Sands and out into Carmarthen Bay, hopefully!

After paddling out about 100 yards the beach disappeared and we were enveloped in the pea soup! After about 15 minutes of paddling, the sun started to break through the mist. Once safely out into Carmarthen Bay we changed course and paddled, hopefully, to Tenby.

As we got further into Carmarthen Bay the fog came back down and what wind there was, dropped, creating mill pond conditions and deathly silence, apart from the occasional boat engine.

After a brief discussion again, it was decided not to paddle to Tenby but to carry on further southward and paddle around Caldey Island instead.

So putting a new waypoint into the GPS it was onward to a new course of the Woolhouse Rocks, a small outcrop of rocks NE from Caldey Island, with a bit of luck!

What seemed like an age and a slight feeling that we were paddling round in circles, the small group of rocks began to appear through the mist, our navigation was spot on and my GPS with the Garmin Blue Chart was also bang on which is good to know.

There were numerous seals hauled out on the rocks and I felt a little guilty that we were disturbing them as they nearly all slid awkwardly into the sea and observed us from a distance. They probably weren't expecting four sea kayakers to appear out of the mist so far out at sea.

It was whilst we were having a break that Adrian spotted the thousands of starfish clinging to the rocks in the crystal clear water. There must be an abundance of them because later when we reached Caldey there were numerous gulls with starfish in their beaks and if we got too close they would swallow them whole, in case we attempted to steal them!

All of a sudden the sun began to break through the mist and the Pembrokeshire coastline finally came into view. We could now see our intended destination of Caldey Island across a glassy flat sea.

As we reached Caldey Sound the tide was just beginning to flood but the flow was not enough to worry us as we passed the cliffs of St Margaret's Island with its ruined quarrymen's cottages on the top. St Margaret's island was extensively quarried for limestone until the 19th century. The west side of St Margaret's Island has some very impressive high cliffs with vertical layers of rock.

It is then a paddle across Little Sound and to the south of Caldey Island where the cliffs now revert back to the purple sandstone. Along these cliffs under the lighthouse there are again numerous seals hauled out on the rocks which are very inquisitive of our presence.

Adrian and Steve find a very secluded beach where we stop for half an hour to have something to eat and stretch our legs then it is back in the boats for the long return crossing of Carmarthen Bay.

After another discussion of our planned return route and more seals we are on our way.

It is a calm crossing with better visibility than on our outward journey. We even have a shower of rain! What a day, we've had fog, boiling sunshine and now rain!

The paddle back, yet again goes all according to plan and we finally reach the marker post that this morning we could hardly see and we even manage to see Llansteffan Castle perched above the small group of houses where we launched from some 9 hours earlier.
A fantastic paddle covering a distance of just over 32.5 nautical miles (37.5 miles of 60.5km) made all the better with the fog, and good to put our navigational skills to the test.
Thanks to Adrian, Eurion and Steve for the invite, and once again a really great day's paddling.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Big Ships & A Little Island 21/08/08

Paddling out from Penarth on a breezy but quite sunny Sunday morning I decided to paddle straight out towards the Mid Cardiff Buoy with the possibility of maybe carrying on out to Monkstone Lighthouse.

Mid Cardiff Buoy is approximately 1.5 miles into the Bristol Channel and on the edge of the sandbanks of the Cardiff Grounds. It was quite choppy and windy when I got out there so I decided not to carry on out but paddle SW against the last of the incoming tide towards the mainland and Lavernock Point.
Whilst paddling, glancing behind me I spotted a large boat fast approaching. A quickening of my paddling speed and I just had time to turn around, get my camera out before the ship was past me, it makes you feel very small when one of these large vessels pass close by.

Before I knew it she was disappearing behind Sully Island in the distance. The rest of the paddle to Lavernock Point was uneventful, and on rounding the headland I finally got out of the quite strong wind and finished the remaining paddle to Sully Island in flat calm conditions.

Sully Island is a small tidal island with a rocky causeway connecting it to the mainland, which is uncovered approximately 3 hours either side of low water. This makes access to Sully Island a potentially dangerous exercise and many people have been swept away trying to get back to the mainland as the tide rises very rapidly.

Southern seaward side of Sully Island

Whilst on the south side of the island another large ship heading westward came into sight and was then passed by another ship coming eastward with a small sailing boat being dwarfed by both. My thoughts turned to Eurion and Hywel who were yesterday paddling across the Bristol Channel from St Donat's to Porlock, I hope it wasn't this busy!

Looking west towards Barry from Sully Island

Bull rock in the foreground with Marconi Holiday
Park at Lavernock to the rear

Often Sully Sound, the stretch of water between the island and the mainland, can get very rough, but today it was flat calm with hardly any tide flow.

It was an easy paddle back to Lavernock Point which is where on 13th May 1897 Marconi transmitted and received the first wireless signals over open sea between Lavernock Point and Flat Holm Island.

On rounding the headland it is then a long straight paddle back to Penarth finishing off a round trip of just over 8 nautical miles (approximately 9.75 miles or 15km).

Sunday, 14 September 2008

MV Balmoral & The Cardiff Buoys 14/09/2008

On arriving early to an unusually busy Penarth and chatting to some of the many people heading towards the pier I found out that the MV Balmoral was picking up at the pier on it's way to Lundy Island.
The Balmoral is one half of the Waverley excursions with the paddle steamer Waverley running trips in Scotland, the Irish Sea, the South Coast, the Thames and in the Bristol Channel.

The Balmoral was built in Southampton in 1949 and was part of the Southampton Red Funnel Fleet for 20 years. She then moved up to the Bristol Channel with P & A Campbells' White Funnel Fleet. They ceased operating in 1980 where she was moved to Dundee as a floating restaurant. This is where she gradually fell into disrepair. She was rescued by the friends and supporters of the Waverley and returned to service in 1986. In the winter of 2002 she received new engines and currently operates her main summer season in the Bristol Channel.

The passengers didn't take long to board and before I knew it she was disappearing into the mist aided by the fast flowing spring tide on her way to Lundy.

I then paddled over to Cardiff Bay Barrage. The Cardiff Bay Barrage lies across the mouth of Cardiff Bay between Queen Alexandra Dock and Penarth Head. The concept of a barrage was first suggested in the 1980s as a way to help regenerate Cardiff's largely disused docklands.

Two of the sluice gates open releasing fresh water into the sea

The barrage would create a large freshwater lake intended to attract investment into the docklands. The bay was part of the Bristol Channel which has the second largest tidal range in the world. As a result, for half of the day, the bay was empty of water, leaving large unappealing mudflats exposed. The barrage was consequently seen as central to the regeneration project.

Paddling almost easterly from the Barrage I reach the innermost starboard buoy marking the Wrach Channel which is the entrance channel to the Queen Alexandra Dock and what is left of the once massive Cardiff Docks.

The Inner Wrach buoy in the distance

The Inner Wrach Buoy with the Barrage in the background

Paddling southward along the edge of the Wrach Channel the next buoy I reach is the Inner Wrach buoy which as usual for a starboard marker buoy is cone shaped and painted green. When looking at the chart for Cardiff it is clear to see how important these buoys and the lights on the barrage are as the Wrach Channel is only just over 100m wide at the narrowest point, no problem for a 17.5 feet sea kayak but a different proposition for a large ocean going ship!

I then paddle across the channel over to the Penarth Head port marker buoy which is red in colour and cone shaped.

Again crossing the channel and heading seaward I reach the last Wrach buoy which is the west cardinal Outer Wrach buoy. Cardinal buoys use the points of the compass and this one shows the Wrach Channel is to the west of the buoy.

It is then a matter of dodging the numerous sailing boats back to Penarth. Only a short paddle but quite an interesting one.