The Puffin Time Trial

The Puffin TT is a bit of a bastard really. It hurts. It is 3 hrs and 30 km of uncomfortable. It starts off nicely, promising good views, good training and a good challenge. But of course it saves up the worst bits for the end.

You start from Menai Bridge with the tide running with you, and the luxury of following the flow, as you head initially for Gallows Point.

It’s a calm day and as Puffin Island looms into view your destination changes. It’s all running well, the Snowdonia mountains glide by in the distance and you feel like you are nearly there. Nearly half way. All is good.

You aim to make Puffin Sound close to low-water slack, to use the tide for as long as possible on the way out and then gain help for the way back. As you do.

And for a while it works, it coaxes you in, but then on the way back it shows its real character. The Menai Strait/Anglesey combination means that the flow heads into the Strait from both ends and somewhere it has to meet. That point is around Beaumaris, exactly where you are going.

So as you near BM you start to feel the outer effects of ‘The Bubble’, the moveable lump where the two tides fight it out. Your speed drops off, your estimations of a new PB are reassessed and you start to waver.

Normal drills are to head to the side and start to scratch your way up the eddies. But here it doesn’t work. Nil-gradient sandbanks litter one side and far-protruding gravelly shallows the other. Any gain from using the slack water is long outweighed by the energy-sapping bottom drag of the spot-the-bottom shallows. There is little to do but slog against it and live with the frustration.

The pier at Beaumaris promises help but does not deliver, the eddy to Gallows gives a little, but takes it all back – and more, on the other side.

You’re in ‘the Straits’ true now – trying to ignore Menai Bridge in the distance as you look for the best compromise between flow vs shallow. The clock is ticking, you are in the stages of the ‘final burn’ and it is hurting now.

Before ‘the lagoons’ there is a helpful eddy, the speed rises nicely and today you hope it stretches all the way to the finish, but of course it doesn’t. It’s the same as always. Optimism is put back where it belongs as you slog again. The clock is ticking too fast, quick calculations tell you that it is going to be close.

Too close, soon you settle for a new time goal.

And then another.

And then it’s done, you pass the slipway.

It’s not a PB, but then the years are ticking on now as quickly as the minutes.

You settle for ‘It could be worse’ and smile. You did finish.

Now a couple of days of soreness to follow.

The Puffin TT, the two-faced TT.

I’ve been paddling this TT for 17 years now, with over 40 runs, and it always does hurt. It has never been an easy one. But you do become accustomed to it. It now is mildly uncomfortable for the following day or two. In the early days it used to seriously wipe me out for a week. Though the 1 week per paddling hour rule applies to the recovery now just the same.

The times intrigue me too. I have 8 times all within 1 minute, an interesting consistency considering not just the 3hr distance but also the tidal nature of the course – and the 13 year span over those 8 runs.

I’m boring you now I can see…

I’ll get my coat.

John Willacy