Friday, 10 February 2012

Surfing the Sound

27th Jan – Benllech to Porth Penmon

A short blast on the cards, due to both me and Rog having a time limit on a trip. We decided given the westerlies to head over to the east coast of Anglesey and paddle south from Benllech to Penmon. We dropped a car off in the layby at SH 6274 7955, which has great access to the water with plenty of space. There’s also a larger layby a few hundred metres further down the road for more cars too, but without access to the water.

The car park on the beach in Benllech was quite sheltered from the wind, and once loaded up we got on the water. We made good early progress, and once we were far enough off-shore, the wind really started to come into play. It was creating clean, quite sizeable swell that meant we practically surfed across the whole width of Red Wharf Bay. It was great fun too, and meant we sped across the bay not dropping below 9km/h covering 7km in 45minutes.

Red Wharf Bay is a huge bay, measuring nearly 6km in width and 5km in depth at high water so you quickly feel that you’re a long way offshore even after only a few hundred metres of paddling. Once the bay had been crossed, we stayed fairly close to the shore. This part of the Anglesey coast is littered with disused quarries with rocky beaches for the first kilometre or two.

Landing on them wasn’t really an option today given the size of the swell dumping on them, but they’d make a good spot for a picnic if the conditions were a bit calmer.

We maintained a fairly good pace along here as we approached and could now see the Penmon lighthouse. Once round Trwyn Dinmor we could see that the waves were still running through. I don’t think I’ve ever surfed past a lighthouse at such close quarters before.

Turning the corner round Trwyn Penmon into the strait we could see a large ship moored at the opening of the eastern end of the strait. It was a UK Border Agency 42m Customs Cutter with their RIB being lifted onto the back. Me and Rog weren’t carrying any contraband or classified substances so nothing to worry about for us!

The tide was running fairly quickly in the strait and we were quickly gaining on our trip end, crossing the bay of Porth Penmon reaching speeds of over 20km/h. We could see some more signs of Anglesey’s past here, passing some more limestone quarries and workings as well as the 10th Century Priory and 17th-Century dovecote.

A few more hundred metres of paddling before back to the car; 15km in just under 2 hours.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Anglesey Tides

When planning trips around the Anglesey coast, tidal stream information is important, but difficult to estimate from tide times alone.

There are or course, useful sources of tidal stream data such as tidal diamonds on nautical charts and within pilots such as "Cruising Anglesey and adjoining waters"

Tidal stream data is usually presented with reference to High Water Dover (HWD), and the actual flow at any given time identified by calculating how long before or after HWD that time occurs.

All very helpful, but you still have to work out what that means for you, on the water, on the day - this is where the TidalFlowAnglesey App comes in.


More information on the SeaKayakWales website.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Rich goes 'Into the wind'

19th Jan – Foel to Llanddwyn and back via Caernarfon

Another trip planned, this time to ride the tide from Caernarfon to Llanddwyn and back. Force 4 westerlies were forecast for most of the day. I decided to start from Foel to avoid driving to Caernarfon, and as Roger had an optician appointment there, I had time to kill at the start of the day. 

Setting off from Foel

Setting off from Foel I noticed that a large amount of the sandbanks were visible so had to pick my line through them quite carefully as a walk is on the cards if the wrong line is taken. My line was good apart from a brief stint of paddling in water no more than about 30cm deep. Once over the strait I headed past Caernarfon towards Coed Helen to the meeting point where Roger had just arrived and was busy unloading his boat and kit. Just as Kev arrived, the weather took a turn and we were forced to seek shelter in Roger’s van whilst the shower passed. The photo below was taken just before the shower hit!

Rainbow on the Menai Strait

 We got on the water to catch the last of the ebb out of the strait towards Abermenai Point and Fort Belan. For the whole of this section of the trip we were subjected to Force 4 or 5 winds more or less on the nose and over the tide which made for some very lumpy conditions. It appears that a low-volume, Greenland-style kayak didn’t like these conditions very much. I spent the majority of the time rebuilding my speed back up, having lost it all every time I was sent crashing off the back of a wave. It was tiring work, but we still made steady progress averaging between 6km/h and 8km/h. 

Rough conditions start here

Once round the corner, passing Abermenai Point and Fort Belan on the way, we then caught sight of our destination, Llanddwyn Island. 

Approaching Fort Belan

Our destination - Llanddwyn

Sun was poking through the clouds, but we were now heading directly into the wind which slowed our progress down a bit. Once the flood had started we were back into wind over tide conditions again. It was made worse by the numerous sandbanks and channels that exist off Newborough Beach, some of the waves reaching well over a metre in height.  Our progress was now quite slow, with the choppy conditions and wind limiting our speed to about 5km/h. 

It felt like a fairly long crossing to Llanddwyn in the end, and we had a bit of excitement on our final approach to Pilot’s Cove, where fairly big surf was forming. Kev gave me one of the funniest sights I’ve seen, pulling a hilarious face whilst bursting through the back of a wave. Once into the calm waters of the cove, we landed and dragged our boat up towards the wall where we stopped to have a well-deserved break. We’d paddled 12km in just over 2 hours into the wind, tide assistance being our only help. 

Once we’d dispatched our coffee and food, as well as waving like lunatics to a group of ramblers by the lighthouse, we got back in our boats to begin the return journey. We paddled in a north-westerly direction out of the cove taking advantage of some surf for a few minutes of fun. The swell had grown considerably by now, and with the wind now gusting F6 we were paddling in a fairly challenging, quartering sea once we’d stopped surfing and were heading back to Caernarfon. 

It was imperative to keep paddling as each wave came and maintaining a sensible direction was very difficult. The conditions were up there with probably the toughest I’d faced. A few minutes later Kev was capsized by a large wave and only narrowly missed out on a roll. A wet exit ensued as neither me or Rog were able to get along-side him quickly in the swell. Once Kev was back in his boat (and we’d retrieved his perpetually-floating sunglasses case [it’s another story – ask Kev]) and paddling away again we were making good progress, paddling in excess of 7km/h downwind against the tide. 

However, our progress was halted by Kev being capsized again by a large wave as we crossed some of the shallower water opposite the Newborough Beach car park. This time, Rog managed to get alongside him quickly to Eskimo-rescue (whether Kev wanted to roll or not!) and got him upright again fairly quickly. We then carried on making steady progress towards Abermenai Point, and once within about a kilometre of the point entered some relatively calmer waters. 

Calmer water

This made the final bit of paddling into the strait somewhat easier, but offshore we could see that the Caernarfon Bar sandbank was taking a real pounding by the waves. Once into the strait, the conditions calmed further, and we were now in a following sea, with tide and wind working with us. We made excellent progress towards Caernarfon, surfing small waves and reaching speeds of 15km/h. We were glad of some assistance from both wind and tide for the first time in the day. 

Once back in Caernarfon, I said my goodbyes to Rog and Kev and proceeded to ferry-glide back across the strait towards Foel, once again negotiating some very shallow water. The tide was running pretty quickly now, so I had to adjust my bearing on the final stretch to accommodate this, making back to the car in just over an hour and a half since leaving Llanddwyn. I was exhausted by the time I reached the car and once I’d changed, had to sit down for a few minutes before loading the boat onto the roof. 

24km paddled in rough conditions in just under 4 hours. I slept well that night!