Irish Sea Crossing – Anglesey -1994

By Martin Bell

It was a quiet day down at the climbing wall, so we were discussing sea kayaking…as you do.
“I fancy paddling over to Ireland from Wales sometime”.
“Ok, let’s go, how does April sound?”
Brief pause as Adam takes a step backwards.
“Yeah ok, we should be quiet after Easter.”
“It should be windy enough then as well!”
So that was it, the plan was set in November, to leave Holyhead during the night on April 11. All we needed to do now was a whole heap of training, finalise the route and get a boat and some gear to go with it. We lacked just about everything at this stage. Adam didn’t own any sea kayaking gear since he’d borrowed most of it before, and my gear was old and battered! We also wanted a bit of an easy time, so a double would be best to do the trip in.

RNLI

With such a trip in mind: Holyhead – Dublin – Belfast – Portpatrick – Ramsey – St Bees, we decided late on to do it for the RNLI as they’re a jolly decent bunch and a very worthy cause. Eventually the RNLI officials decided we weren’t a couple of suicide cases and that we knew what we were about, and gave us their blessing.
Now into scrounge mode (or whatever official term you care to call it)!! Valley Canoe Products came up with an ALEUT demo for us to use on the trip. LENDAL donated two modified crank Nordkapp paddles. A trip to see an old fiend(sic) Tony Stephenson at Jack Wolfskin brough us in a decent set of thermals and sleeping bags. Whilst a chance meeting with the Sub Zero rep, Clive Garret brought us some more thermals for every inch of our bodies, right down to the underpants!

With all these sponsors and money for the RNLI riding on this we thought we’d better get our acts together to produce the goods.

The training had to be squeezed in between two very hectic work schedules. Me as a manager of the Keswick Climbing Wall and Adam as Senior Instructor at Newlands Adventure Centre, found it quite hard to wangle time on the water. Friends would have it that the most of our time was spent at local watering holes rather than on the pond – but that’s not true HONEST! (gratuitous reference to alcohol again, cut it out boys! Editor) Departure date was approaching, so the night before we left for Wales a trip to the pub was in order (final warning Ed.) just to get the flavour of Ireland you understand. So that done the walk back from the pub at Newlands, a full half mile, a good half inch of snow landed on us – fine weather for a jaunt in a sea kayak. Next day however the sun was out and off we went to Adam’s Dads in Colwyn Bay to sort a car full of gear into some sort of semblance of order and to relax for a couple of days after a hectic Easter at work.

Ideal Conditions

Monday arrived with a large high pressure sitting off the west coast of Ireland. It was due to move across to the Isle of Man during the day making conditions ideal for a smooth trouble free trip. So down to the Anglesey Sea Surf Centre for final fiddlings, words of encouragement and a final Guiness training drink before setting off.
The team at ASSC are a great bunch allowing us to use their facilities, giving us encouragement (or was it abuse), helping down to the beach and looking after the car.

So with the wind still blowing a bit, but dying away – we’re sure it was, we launched into the pond. A dark night and a long paddle ahead we were full of confidence in our attitudes and the Met Office weather forecast.
Now the first thing you hit going west from Holyhead is North Stack tide race! A bit of a bouncy affair and an interesting proposition at 10:00pm. On hitting this the word was “Oh it’s the race” “It’ll calm down soon” “you into this?” “It’ll be reet” “next stop Dublin then!”

The lads from ASSC stood on the South Stack until they were sure the strobe on our back was indeed the right way up and heading over to Ireland. Then back off home for a night of wondering how these two crazy paddlers were doing?

With a course plotted and a good rhythm developing our progress was good considering the weather that is! Our friendly force 2 Southerly had swung round to be a challenging force 5 North west. So we headed on into 3-4 foot waves as the night went by.
Navigation was done by Adam in the back of the boat using the lighthouse of Skerries and South Stack until they disappeared over the horizon, remembering that Derek Mayes had jokingly told him: keep Holyhead behind you and you’ll be ok!”.

Once these lights had gone it was up to me in the front with a head torch and compass! Talking was down to a minimum due to the wind making things hard. At least I think so as Adam reckons he can talk for 14 hours non-stop, so the wind has it’s blessings!

Progress through the night was good and the sighting of the odd ferry reinforced the point that the compass was still doing it’s job. Feeding ourselves through the night on “Climbing Wall special flapjack”, things didn’t seem so bad despite the fog and even driving snow at 2 am with lost horizons and only a circle of light in front there was nothing to do but paddle into the blackness. As I was navigating in the early hours all Adam could do was paddle. At this stage the mind decides to play silly games with you. At one point Adam thought he was walking down a sunlit glade of poplar trees – a much better place to be in my opinion.

Both of use were looking forward to a glorious sunrise to boost morale and the like. It came like a pale grey non event, so it was back to the flapjack, as the morning went on the sun did come out but the wind and waves stayed – jolly unsporting I thought. The Sea Cats and ferries still went by and eventually murky shapes of land appeared as another shade of grey in the distance – only 5 more hours to go then. And it was as the tiredness set in they crept imperceptibly closer as the morning wore into afternoon. The buoys of Kish bank and Burford bank slipped slowly by and we were in Dublin Bay – trip complete good job done lads!

Closing on land rapidly now, well we were getting there.The KILORAN a passing trawler called over and asked about our trip, so who were we to refuse the ensuing lift and cups of coffee after an 18 hour trip, thanks lads!

Pints of Guinness

On docking at Howth, just North of Dublin Bay the harbour master and the RNLI crew couldn’t do enough for us and had pints of Guinness fluid replacement coming our way almost before we got our feet on the land. The hospitality of these people must be second to none as they really looked after us during our stay in Howth. After the fluids and showers, the only thing that spoilt our meal at “Casa Pasta” was me doing a faceplant in the middle of it. After another pint, 12 hours of sleep ensued. I could have slept anywhere but the accommodation was way more than adequate.

The stay in Howth lasted for 2 nights as we rested bruised backsides and waited for a break in the weather. This didn’t happen so our only move now was to the ferry port for the easy way back to more hospitality and “comment” from the ASSC team. The next few days saw us do some trips around Anglesey, including a trip to the Skerries which has been on my tick list for years.

So the fortnight off work allowed us both to achieve some long dreamt about goals despite the fickle weather. And here’s to our next trip, with an undying sense of humour!!!!!

Martin Bell

Our thanks to all those that helped us on our way, especially Rupert Jeffries and the team in Howth, Nigel Dennis and the Anglesey Sea and Surf Centre team and to our sponsors:
Valley,
Lendal,
Jack Wolfskin,
Sub Zero

Article submitted 2020 by Adam Waller. Previously published by Martin Bell (1994) in Canoe Focus