First challenge done – Axe River Race, got Gold in the Sea kayak class

The first challenge of this year’s fundraising, entering the River Axe Race, is completed and I managed to pull off an excellent result with Gold in the sea kayak class.

The weather was pretty foul over night and I was worried the race would be called off, but the weather in East Devon had been slightly better than in West Somerset and the race went ahead. When I got to Seaton, to leave the van, it was howling out to sea but it was a lot more sheltered up the river valley and the start point at Whitford Bridge was calm if busy with racers.

The race was split into different classes, with K1 and K2 racers, Canadian canoes, general purpose and slalom kayaks, SUP, Sit-ons and Sea kayaks. Our group of sea kayaks were one of the last classes to leave and I was getting chilly by the time we were given the off. But with a sprint start I warmed up pretty quickly and manged to carve a good lead. The guy behind me was pretty close so I kept up as fast a speed as I could, I almost lost the lead when I span out in an eddy, but recovered OK and settled down into a calmer rhythm and held a good line in the fastest bits of the flow.

The route wound and meandered round bends and over shingle banks and you had to work hard to avoid the low trees and rock defences in the banks in places. The route eventually opened out into the estuary, paddling the last kilometer or two down to Axemouth and the yacht club. Thankfully, the wind had dropped a bit and I slogged on to the finish. I had left my nearest competitor behind luckily, so could relax a little, but still tried to catch the Canadian in front of me. Rounding the last bend under the road bridge, I pushed on to the yacht club slipway and then scrambled out of the boat, up the ramp to hand in my tag to claim first place, in my class.

I have to admit the number of entrants was a bit down on last year, but I’m still counting this as a victory. Thanks to Axe Vale Canoe Club for organising a great race, as ever, and for the lend of the boat from Exmoor Canoe Club. Hopefully mine will be back and fully repaired soon and ready for the next challenge, paddling out to Lundy or round the Isle of Wight.

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A new year of challenges ahead for 2020

I’ve set myself a goal to raise more money this year for Crohns MAP Vaccine. The Crohns MAP Vaccine passed the Stage 1 trials and it is hoped the Stage 2 trials will start very soon. Remember, the CMV is the best chance for a permanent cure for this horrible debilitating disease.

My son’s Crohns was under control last year but this year it is not, the drugs aren’t working and he is in the middle of a horrible flare up. I had got complacent, had relaxed, but this flare up reminded me that I have work to do, to help raise awareness and raise some funds to help keep the lab at Kings College London supported in it’s work in the CMV human trials.

So this coming weekend is my first fundraising event coming up, the River Axe Race and I’m hoping for fair weather and a little luck. Last year I managed to come second in my class (sea kayak) and I’m hoping to match that, although I’ll be in a borrowed kayak, so who knows! I’ve updated the JustGiving page, with new information for this year, I really ought to go through and update the website too. Anyway, please see my JustGiving page and sponsor me!

Once this race is done, I have a plan, weather permitting to do a practice paddle out to Lundy Island and back (approximately 35km each way!), then hopefully a sponsored solo attempt, followed by an even bigger open crossing later, if I can work out the logistics. Wish me luck, I’ll need it.

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A few ideas for the next mad challenge!

It’s been a while since my last blog entry in September, the Poole Harbour race was unfortunately cancelled due to high winds, with the organisers worried about the safety. Everyone was very disappointed to miss this year’s race, but are looking forward to next year and possibly the Eddystone Challenge, in Plymouth Sound, too, but I didn’t want to leave it there and no other challenge being planned, as I like to be training for something.

I’ve been thinking about a number of different challenges, being inspired by others who are pushing themselves and reading a few exploits of other sea kayakers past and present. I’ve been thinking of what I could do to raise awareness of the Crohn’s MAP vaccine, looking at options that are within my capabilities of skill and time away from home. Basically, I’m not able to take a significant amount of time off work to do an epic trip, I can’t afford too exotic a trip, but it still needs to be interesting enough to grab people’s attention, but not too dangerous!

After looking at options such as completing the Cornwall – Devon mini expedition or extending it to the Scillies, doing the DW or completing another mini-expedition such as a Coast to Coast or similar, I keep coming back to an idea I had last year after reading an article in Performance Sea Kayak. This idea keeps eating away at me, to the point where I think that nothing else will do until I have done it! Luckily this idea ticks all the boxes, as in it can be done in a day (hopefully), the start/finish is within a few hours of home and it involves a significantly long crossing of open water to be dramatic enough to raise some interest. I’ve made some enquiries about assistance and regulations and it looks possible, if not easy – but then if it was too easy it would be less interesting, I guess.

I don’t mean to be too cryptic, but I don’t want to outline too much about the challenge until I have got some confirmations on the help that I will need, when that has been confirmed I will be more able to give some more info. So, until I can confirm the arrangements, don’t worry I am working on something that I hope will be exiting, certainly challenging and will lead to a good amount of public interest and so sponsorship – until next time!

the end of a great day, at Widemouth Bay

 

 

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New boat and the next Challenge – Poole Harbour Race

Got my new sea kayak in July, a lovely Mega Viking, is longer, sleeker and faster than my last one, so after some good test paddles in the surf of Pembrokeshire and North Devon and playing around Combe Martin I thought it time to do another Kayak Challenge. This time I plan to do enter an open water race in Poole Harbour. The Poole Harbour Race is open to different types of paddled craft and runs over an 8 or 15 mile course.

Not sure which course I’m doing yet, the 8-mile is easier and has more classic sea kayak entrants to race against, however the 15-miler is tougher, has more kudos, but has less entrants to race against. Whatever I choose I will be raising Sponsorship for the Crohns MAP Vaccine trials and if the race works in my favour my sleek new boat and lack of injuries may even give me a chance of getting a placing. Wish me luck!

Poole Harbour Race-Route

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Open crossing to Steep Holm completed

The weather was kind and the visibility OK and I managed to complete the open crossing to Steep Holm this morning. Got down to Lilstock beach just after dawn and after a safety chat to the Coastguard set off on a bearing towards Steep Holm. The island was just visible, but I set a compass bearing just in case the visibility deteriorated and it was a useful tool to observe how the tide pulled me off course!

Was later than planned leaving Lilstock after the lengthy chat to the CG (20 minutes!) and so pushed on to try and meet my target of High Water at Flat Holm (0910). There was a little swell and not much wind when I set off, but the wind built by the time I got out into the channel, picking up a 1-2 foot of chop. The island seemed to take for ever to get any closer, but finally I rounded the east side to find a stony beach in shelter. By this point it was 0905 and nearly high water and so I decided to stop at Steep Holm rather than push on to Flat Holm and possibly struggle against an outgoing tide half way there.

After a cuppa and a scotch egg I got back on, paddling out into a new tide race where the eddy once was and paddled round the island. By the time I got round the back the wind had picked up, to the point where it blew my hat off rounding the headland. On the way back the sea was a little rougher and going a bit slower, into the headwind. I was following a bearing for a while until Hinkey A-Station came into view. The tide dragged me off course a little, but I managed to paddle back up the coast in close to the shore. Once back to the shore the wind dropped right off and the sea looked mirror flat again.

Was met by Sarah, Alex and my Mum(!) on my return for a fresh brew and Welsh cakes cooked on an open fire, can’t be bad and managed a top speed of 10.4km/hr on the way out, see the GPS log

 

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Last challenge coming up – an open crossing to Flat Holms

So a little over a year after I took up sea kayaking I am hoping to complete my last challenge of a committing open crossing. Next Sunday, weather permitting, I hope to complete the paddle from a beach near me (Lilstock) into the Bristol Channel out to Steep Holm and to land for refreshment at Flat Holm, then back to Lilstock a total of 22nm (43km).

This is a committing paddle, into the fast muddy tides of the Bristol Channel, so hopefully the weather will be kind to me. At least their is the promise of a pint in the Gull and Leek on Flat Holm to look forward to! For the location see the Open crossing – Holms, not planning to be solo on this one but may have to if I can’t drum up any company!

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Cornwall to Watchet – GPS route specs

Downloaded the GPS routes of my trip from my Suunto GPS Trackpod – you can check these links for speed and distance specs – it’s interesting to see the different speeds at the open water and headlands.

Day-1 Widemouth, Bude to Mouthmill, Clovelly

Day-2 Mouthmill to Sandy Bay, Lee

Day-3 Lee

Day-4 Porlock Weir to Watchet

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Cornwall to Watchet expedition, days 3-4

Day -3

The wind and the sound of the sea woke me up by 6, although I had to wait 5 hours for the tide to be at the Low Water starting point. Once I’d packed the bags and hauled down to the water’s edge, I radioed the coast guard of my intentions, answered their questions and set off into the bay. The wind was strong and the sea was messy, with a 2-3 foot chop in the bay and a 2-3 metre chop further out where I was heading. The going was difficult, with constant bracing strokes needed, I made my way out through the rocks to deep water and sat there for a while trying to work out what to do. While I did so, I watched a small fishing boat bobbing up and down in the swell, one moment you could see the keel, next moment all you could see was its radio  aerials. After a few minutes watching the boat, looking at the way ahead, looking at the weather behind me and thinking of the difficult day ahead of me (40 km past Ilfracombe, Combe Martin, Headons Mouth, Lynmouth and Foreland Point) I decided the only safe option for me, solo, was to go back to land and either wait it out of get a lift to the next stop.

It was a strange feeling paddling back to land, knowing I wouldn’t be going on that day. Part of me hated it for giving in to the elements, the other part of me was very relieved. This would have been a difficult section on the best of days, with 40km ending going past Foreland Point, might have been OK on either a less windy day or shorter day. So I waited for the lift and drove to Porlock to make the third camp. On the way past I looked down at the sea, which got progressively rougher all the way to Lynmouth. I heard later the sea was gale force 4-6, rough, certainly at the limit of my comfort.

Day – 4

The storm kept up through the night, putting strain on my little tarp and I had to tie down the boat with large rocks, but my the morning it had dropped off quite a lot, with a lot smaller chop in the bay. Another long haul down to the water’s edge over rocks and sand and then off towards Hurlstone Point and Selworthy. There was some chop and wind in the bay, with white-tops but nothing I couldn’t handle. I got past Hurlstone at about slack and kept off shore past Selworth to avoid the waves. It was looking rougher in the channel, so I generally kept fairly close to the shore for a little shelter, although as time went on the tide picked up pace to be racing along, turning every little reef and headland into messy water with waves. The water was warm though and I was happy to be heading towards home on the last leg.

I stopped just before Minehead for a short lunch break and to get back on schedule, Sarah didn’t want me arriving too early as we had people turning up to greet me in Watchet. I got back out in the Channel, which was getting progressively rougher, and headed towards Blue Anchor. I stopped again just after Blue Anchor, not because I was tired but mainly to slow down as the tide was pulling me faster than I needed to! Unfortunately I couldn’t stay long there as I was sat on rocks and the tides was coming in fast, threatening to knock me about on the rocks. So I headed off again and tried to go as slow as possible, unfortunately the tide had other ideas and I needed to paddle to stay upright. Watchet Harbour came into view, and with a landing not easy on the beach I pushed on round to the Harbour entrance. I was met by my friend Deb and Brillo hollering from the harbour, I lined up for the entrance and as I shot past, sideways, I road the clapotis and pushed into the harbour. I was expecting it to be a bit shallow, but unfortunately it was half empty, and full of mud – luckily I moored against a ladder and climbed up and out to the top of the wall. Brillo handed me a much wanted cup of hot tea and I was met by the Free Press photographer. 20 minutes later Sarah, my mother and the rest of the gang turned up and after more photos I finally got into Pebbles for a well earned Cider.

A great evening was had in Pebbles, more money was raised by friends and locals and the story retold a few times.

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Cornwall to Watchet expedition , Day-2

It was a calm morning, extracted the slugs from my equipment, the sun was shining, there was a little wind and what looked like only small swell. The Bivvy set up had stood up well and Mouthmills was a fantastic spot to camp, definitely going to come back some time. The get in at low water was a long way across rocks so I hauled the gear down slowly and eased off through only small waves. It was calm on the water but as I went past Clovelly and onto Bucks Mills a ground swell grew, forcing me away from the beach, although I had planned to ‘cut the corner off’ a little so this wasn’t a problem. As I entered Westward Ho bay the ground swell had grown, with 4-5 foot rollers breaking quite far out, this wasn’t a problem for me as the sea state was flat between the swell, with little wind.

As I crossed Westward Ho and Saunton Bay, the wind grew to a light breaze, I had intended to stop at Saunton Beach for lunch but the waves looked massive and breaking too far out for me to contemplate surfing in just for a tea break! As I went round towards Croyde and approached Baggy Point a lone Dolphin past with 20 metres of me, at that point the highlight of my day. Getting past Baggy point was interesting, with big waves breaking to out to my left and breakers crashing on the rocks of the headland on my right, followed by a confused sea  leading round to Putsborough. The wind got up again, as I crossed Woolacombe Bay and the ground swell still prevented me coming to land at Woolacombe. Just as I approached Morte Point a pod of 15-20 dolphin past me, followed by a smaller pod of 5-6 which came right up and underneath me. I tried to take photos, but by now the sea was a bit too choppy for comfortable snapping and I missed every one!

My coach buddy Darren had told me to go round Morte Point at high tide, to avoid the most, I was about an hour before high water and slack, and although there was a horrible mess of waves further out, the sea close to the point was relatively calm. I pushed on past and towards Bull Point. From here to Lee the sea was increasingly confused and messy, with a following sea and shorter period waves, but I paddled and surfed the remaining 5 kilometers to Lee. Once past Pensport Rock I cut back into the shelter of Sandy Bay, and was very happy to come to land on soft shingle, with no ground swell. At High Water there was only a short distance to drag to the camping spot and set the bivvy for the second night. Unfortunately there was no water near the camp spot, so I was forced into Lee to find a watering hole. I was met soon after and had a good chat with a wild swimmer who had swum across from Lee. Now off to the Grampus to refill my water bottles!

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Cornwall to Watchet – a solo 4-day expedition

PREPARATION

What a great trip, weeks of planning every detail of the mini-expedition, then within a few days of starting the weather forecast changed to be massive surf and strong winds on the first two days. As this was also the difficult section of Cornish coast I decided to scale it down to a four-day expedition, starting from Widemouth and ending in Watchet.

Day-1

Drove down from West Somerset to Widemouth Bay, parked, changed, handed the keys and after informing Falmouth Coastguard and the beach lifeguards of my plans I said a tearful goodbye to my wife Sarah and set off into the surf. Getting out past the break was easy enough and the sea was calm and glassy once I got out of the surf zone. The coastline was stunning, with rock strata and outcrops jutting out from the beach and sea, but with the growing swell I had to keep my distance. I managed to land at the rocky Welcombe Beach for lunch and a short rest, but by the time I got to Hartland Quay for my second planned rest stop the swell had built up so high stopping wasn’t a safe option. The tide had pulled me to Hartland point ahead of my schedule and I arrived 1.5 hours ahead of slack, but the race round the headland wasn’t too bad, although it extended, with a following sea for about 5km the other side. But finally the Blackchurch Rock, of Mouthmill Beach, came in to view and the sea calmed enough for a safe landing. Was pretty happy with how the that first day had gone, the planning, my paddling and the boat. Dragged the boat up the beach and set up the first bivvy and had a natural wash. Shared the night with the odd slug, but slept pretty soundly!

 

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