"Around the Sharp End", The South West Peninsular
Sea Kayak Challenge - Part 1/2
Sean Morley is a police constable in the Devon and Cornwall
Constabulary stationed in Exeter. He is a former member of
the G.B. Kayak Racing Team for both Sprint and Marathon and
has represented England at Wave Ski Surfing.
The Challenge: To paddle a sea kayak around the coast of
Devon and Cornwall in the fastest possible time. If weather
conditions permit to include open-sea crossings to and from
and circumnavigations of the Isles of Scilly and Lundy.
The Aim: To raise money for the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary
Widows and Orphan's Fund and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
DAY 1 Saturday 5th July 1997. (46 miles, 8 and a half hours
The start of my journey was at the end of a good few months
of planning. The idea to paddle around the coastline of Devon
and Cornwall became more than a pipe dream when I met Rob
Feloy and got to paddle the Inuk sea kayak he had designed.
I fell in love with the craft, a love affair that was positively
encouraged by Rob. He invited me on a trip to South Brittany
in May 1996. It was my first experience of real sea kayaking.
The other two 'salties', John Tipping and Angus Passmore had
Inuks too. Despite bad weather we managed to get out to the
Iles de Glenan and so discussion naturally came around to
plans for a crossing to the Isles of Scilly. Rob had been
wanting to do the trip for a number of years but had never
had the right conditions. I thought it would be good if I
could combine it with a paddle around the whole coastline
of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary-the Challenge was set!
It seemed a good idea to get sponsored to do the paddle and
since the Widows and
Orphan's Fund was the Chief Constable's nominated charity
for 1997 it was the obvious choice. The R.N.L.I. were another
natural choice since I would be asking friends and family
unconneceted to the police service to raise sponsorship on
The first problem I had was that I did not own, nor could
I afford to buy a sea kayak. Rob leant me the demo Inuk to
do a few races in and it seemed almost as if I could not lose
in it. The Inuk is so much faster than the average sea kayak
and with a rudder on, it's performance is truly remarkable
both on flat water and in the roughest sea. The boat was clearly
up to the challenge, the real question being, was I ?
My preparation was far from ideal. I caught the usual summer
virus with less than three weeks to go. I was using rest-days
after nights as part of the time off I would need to do the
Challenge and I finished nights feeling like death. I was
not at all confident that my fitness was good enough. Of course
it was far too late to back out and despite some very unseasonal
weather in the weeks leading up to the start, the forecast
for the first week of the Challenge was excellent.
Having done all my planning in reasonably good time and
in some detail - I had sent the Coastguard a route plan with
my intended start and finish times and had received an encouraging
reply - by the time Saturday 5th July arrived I was just keen
to get on with it. I had fully loaded the kayak earlier that
week to make sure the thing still floated! Fortunately it
did and despite the fact I could literally only just lift
it off the ground by myself, once it was on the water and
moving there was not that much difference in boat speed. I
had all the safety kit I would need thanks to Rob and John's
generosity. They had also given me some guidance with working
out tidal flows and plots for the open-sea crossings, but
to be honest it all still remains a bit of a mystery to me.
Rob and John would be joining me for the paddle out to the
Scillies. They would be using a double sea kayak 'The Voyager'
which had also been designed by Rob. I arranged to ring Rob
when I got down towards Land's End. We would make a decision
on whether we would do the crossing to the Scillies based
on the three-day weather forecast. I was taking a handheld
VHF and a mobile phone so I could stay in touch with the Coastguard
and with my partner Linda who would be manning the phone at
I had decided to do the trip unsupported as this would allow
me to be totally self-reliant. I would be able to stop when
I got tired and not be forced to continue to some pre-arranged
RV point. I had food for twelve days and intended to bivvy
on whichever beach I found myself on at the end of each day.
The prospect of this amount of freedom was exciting in itself.
I had decided to start at Lyme Regis and do it that way round
simply because it was closer to home and I could get an early
start without another night away.
Linda's parents came with us to see me off and when we arrived
at the Cobb at 9.00am I could not believe my luck. The weather
was absolutely gorgeous with hardly a cloud in the sky. The
sea was as flat as a dab and there wasn't a breath of wind.
A reporter from the Western Morning News met us.Clearly the
well-oiled machine of the Force Press Office had done it's
stuff. The Harbour Master was expecting us, wished me well
and offered to radio Portland Coastguard once I had set off
which saved me a job. Having posed for a few photos I left
the Cobb at 9.34am, remembering to turn right ! As I passed
across the front of the impressive rampart of the Cobb's outer
sea wall I could see Linda and her parents waving encouragingly.
"LONG STROKES" bellowed across the water - Linda's
dad giving me a last bit of coaching as I glided away.
It soon became clear that my main concern that day was going
to be over-heating and de-hydration. My Palm Extreme River
Vest soon came off and I was grateful for the High Five hypotonic
drink concerntrate I had brought with me - I was going to
need it. My progress was excellent for the first hour to Beer
Head. My Wing paddles were scything through the glazed crystal
water and the boat seemed to run effortlessly. From Beer Head
I could see Teignmouth about twenty miles away. Visibility
was perfect. I headed just south of Teignmouth and soon I
was well off-shore. I saw my first Gannet of the trip about
a mile off Budleigh Salterton. I was enjoying paddling this
familiar stretch of coastline in perfect conditions.
A southerly breeze ruffled the sea off Exmouth and it soon
strengthened creating wavelets that grew into an irritating
chop that deliberately slapped me in the face every so often.
I was beginning to wish I hadn't cut the corner of the mouth
of the Exe quite so much as progress became harder and harder
as the boat bounced and lurched towards Babbacombe Bay. I
had to work hard to get into Babbacombe and it was a timely
reminder not to get too over-confident whatever the conditions.
Babbacombe is a posers paradise for the nouveau riche of Torquay;
speed boats, jet skis, dive boats and four-wheel-drives all
made me in my little kayak seem a bit out of place. A quick
phone call to the Coastguard (I had left Portland's area and
had entered Brixham's) and to Linda, a bite to eat and a slurp
of juice and I was off again.
Around the stinking Hope's Nose. With it's floating sewage
debris it is a clear demonstration of our lack of respect
for the ocean. Across Tor Bay and right under the watchful
eyes of Brixham Coastguard. Berry Head is spectacular and
a favourite paddle of mine. The sea- bird life is unexpected
for somewhere so close to the English Riviera. I gave the
cliffs a wide berth so as to cause minimum disturbance. The
tide had by this time turned against me and I was getting
tired. Rounding Scabbacombe Head took ages but I finally saw
the Mew Stone that signified the entrance to Dartmouth. The
tide was doing all sorts in the mouth of the river. I dashed
across without much of a glance at what has to be one of the
loveliest ports in Britain. Indeed the Dart River itself is
rare in that it is virtually unspoilt from source to sea.
I hope all the plastic rock bashers out there realize what
a precious resource it is.
I had set Stoke Flemming as my target for the day. Blackpool
Sands is mis-named. It is infact a gorgeous golden sandy beach
that was going to prove to be the perfect bed for my first
night. I had arranged to meet a friend Ian Wilson here and
sure enough no sooner had I unloaded the boat than Ian strolled
down the beach to greet me. Ian is a policeman in Harlow and
an all round action-man. I had raced against him a few times
but I always had the advantage of the Inuk. He had asked to
join me with a friend for a bit of the Challenge and I was
delighted to see him. We arranged to leave at 8.00am the next
morning and he went off to enjoy a pub meal. I wasn't jealous
because I had a pot load of pasta and the best view of Start
Bay you could wish for.
DAY 2 Sunday 6th July 1997. (57 miles, 10 and a half hours
Another glorious morning. Having slept reasonably well for
my first night in the open I thought I'd sneak around the
corner of the cliffs to do what you must. A peregrine falcon
shrieked her indignation at the fact that I was using her
gully as a loo. She then proceeded to fly around telling everyone
what I was up to. My breakfast of porridge made with water
was made edible by the sultanas I had added. Right on the
dot Ian and his mate Pete ( who I kept calling Richard for
some reason) turned up and we set off in perfect conditions
across Start Bay. The lighthouse at Start Point was brilliant
white in the early morning sunlight. The stretch of coast
from Start to Prawle Point is really special. Clearly that
is what a couple we caught lovemaking on a rocky ledge thought.
Ian's shouts were enough to put anyone off ! There was a classic
natural arch at Prawle Point that proved an irresistable challenge
despite the fact that if I did hit rocks with my fully loaded
kayak it could prove disastrous. Boys will play !
Pete left us to go into Salcombe. He was not as fit as Ian
and I and had enjoyed the bit he had done. The pace quickened
and the tide was really flowing now. Ian did well in his Baidarka
against my Inuk and in no time at all we were passing Hope
Cove and onto the beach at Bigbury-on-Sea. This is the venue
for the Inuk Sea Kayak Race that Rob and I are holding on
Saturday 27th September 1997. I would hope we will get a bit
more of a sea running for that event - but not too big, please.
I was just under half-way to Looe, my target for the day
and it was only 12.30pm. The temptation of a pasty and a piece
of lemon cake from the beach cafe proved too much. I was conscious
that the tide was at full flow in my favour so I didn't want
to waste too much time. I was just saying cheerio to Ian when
Dave Grover,police diver and member of Bantham Surf Life Saving
Club ran past in his skimpy red speedos looking every bit
like one of the Baywatch crew. He had just swam across the
bay from Bantham - hard core !
Ian shook me by the hand and at the same time heaved me
seawards - he's a damn good bloke and a kindrid spirit. I
certainly hope to paddle with him again. The next stretch
to Stoke Point was fast, the pasty and cake settling nicely.
All the way to the Great Mew Stone I was flying. I stopped
on a little beach bar to rest my bum ignoring the M.O.D. signs
warning of live firing. I reckoned if it was safe for the
gulls and cormorants it was safe for me too. And then the
bit I had not been looking forward to.Across Plymouth Sound
against the tide to Rame Head. I had been expecting a bit
of a battle but I was able to follow a curious eddy line that
weaved its way into the lee of Penlee Point. Indeed there
was so much to look at in the Sound; the usual armada of small
boats, the impressive breakwater with its fortress, the historical
skyline of Plymouth and Dartmoor looming to the North East,
before I knew it I was rounding Rame. I had been able to see
it's distinctive outline from Bolt Tail. It had seemed so
far away.I could'nt really believe I was there already.
Rounding Rame Head against the tide was tough going and
once into Whitsand Bay progress was slow. I could not really
make out Looe Island and spent a frustrating hour trying to
decide where my destination was. I landed on a beach near
Portwrinkle, aptly named because as soon as I got out of my
boat I realized that dotted around the beach were large flabby
men displaying everything they had (not) ! One of them wandered
over looking at me with a strange arrogance. I decided that
perhaps I did'nt really need a rest after all.
I found the only boat wash of the whole trip past Downderry.
Only trouble was I could paddle faster without it. I rode
the wash as a matter of principle for about five hundred metres
but then got bored and over took it. At last I came into Looe.
I had never been to Looe before and did not really know what
to expect. I had initially planned to go up the river a little
way just to explore. I was very hot and very tired so instead
I landed on the beach at East Looe and walked into town in
search of water and a phone. It was 6.00pm and I had been
paddling for 9 hours. As I walked along the quayside I saw
that the tidal flow up the river was a good three knots. If
I had decided to paddle up the river I would have really struggled
to get back out to sea-good move! Looe is a happening little
place with river launches and fishing boats all competing
for attention. I had decided I needed a wide brimmed hat as
the sun was beginning to really burn my neck despite the cream
I was using and the high neck of my rash vest. I found just
the job for £6 and it soon became one of my favourite
possessions. I also succumbed to the all pervading smell of
fish and chips and troughed-out on the sea wall enjoying the
Having got my water for that nights stop I paddled on towards
Polperro. The rest had done me good and although I was still
paddling against the tide I made good progress past Polperro
and around Pencarrow Head. I finally decided to call it a
day as the sun disappeared behind the cliffs. I slid into
Lansallos Cove meeting my first seal, a big grey, just around
the corner. Well, if it was a good enough home for him then
it would be good enough for me for a night. As I grated up
the beach I had a sudden shivver attack. A combination of
a sudden drop in temperature and too much sun. As quickly
as I could I got unloaded and put on my fleece lined salopettes.
They had been a first prize at the inaugural Plymouth Sound
Sea Kayak Race and I have never won a more useful prize -
Whilst dinner bubbled away I had a shower in a waterfall
nearby. Essence of Freisan I think, but it was still cleaner
than I was! The sun was still warming the hill tops behind
so I scrambled up what I thought was a path which wasn't and
slid all the way back down again. I gave up and pitched the
tent. A cool breeze coming off the sea made me happy to get
tucked up for the night.
DAY 3 Monday 7th July 1997. (50 miles,12 and a half hours
Destination the Lizard today. Again the distance seemed
daunting. I grew up on the south coast of Cornwall and I knew
how far it was to the Lizard from where I was now and it did
not seem possible that I was going to paddle it in one day.
I got underway by 7.45am. It was a journey of memories past
Lantic Bay where I used to bring groups on YHA holidays. Past
the mouth of the Fowey on which I did most of my training
to get to the Junior Sprint World Champs. Past the mystical
Polridmouth and Mennabily and the benign giant daymark on
Gribben Head that always features in my childhood memories.
Across St.Austell Bay the sea was glassy smooth. I cut straight
from the Gribben towards Dobman Point and soon I was a long
way out. But it was all right because my Mum would be watching
from the Carlyon Bay Hotel where I knew she was working that
morning. Missing Chapel Point and Mevagissey I came into picture
perfect Gorran Haven for a bum stop and to ring the Coastguard
(I had left Brixham's area and had entered Falmouth's). I
remembered a good cake shop that was still there and so were
the cakes. An iced Chelsea and a custard doughnut later and
I was off, fully charged! Past Vault Beach where I brought
Adey, my mate from college and his girlfriend only to find
the beach was naturist - when in Rome...!
Rounding Dobman Point was a big moment in the trip for me.
It had dominated the western horizon for so long and it was
good to get it behind me. I remember one sea trip I did as
a kid in G.P. slaloms when it took nearly an hour to get around
the headland against the wind. This time I cruised past in
minutes and quickly bore down on Nare Head and the huge Gull
Rock. There is an excellent slot in the cliff face of Nare
Head and I recall on the same trip Nigel Braddon getting slammed
into the slot head first by a freak swell. He snapped his
paddles and had to C1 back to Portloe.
From Nare Head to St.Anthony's was good hard graft churning
out the miles west. As I came onto the beach below the lighthouse
I disturbed a pair of Peregrines who hurled abuse at me, the
'emmet' from the east. St.Anthony's is the eastern gateway
to Carrick Roads one of the biggest inland harbours in the
world and certainly under-valued by successions of local and
national government. I blasted across without so much as second
glance at the beautiful Helford River. That was the downside
to this trip - not enough opportunity to explore. By the Manacles
the tide had turned but there was no sea running at all. I
kept in close but it was still hard going. Coverack looked
lovely and Black Head remarkably similar to it's namesake
in St.Austell Bay, but more beautiful. As I came onto a beach
at Beagles Point the water had become that unique turquoise
that told me I was really down west.
I had hoped for an anti-clockwise current in behind the
Lizard but I could not find it. I had planned on stopping
for the night on Kennack Sands but the beach was still busy
and I didn't fancy it. I pulled into Cadgwith, a timeless,
rare piece of old Cornwall. There was no possibility of sleeping
on the beach- it was full of fishing boats. I rang the Coastguard
to let them know how far I had got, filled my water bag and
purchased a bar of chocolate -naughty! I paddled off towards
the Lizard looking for a suitable spot to kip. There wasn't
anywhere and before I knew it I was underneath the most southerly
lighthouse on mainland Britain. A quick photo and then up
the eddies. Now it may seem daft to try to go around the Lizard
against the tide but I am not famous for my common sense.
Indeed I enjoyed the challenge despite the fact I had been
paddling for over 10 hours. I met a couple of seals - I would
have been disappointed not to. At one point I really had to
turn on the power to get through an upstream gate. It was
like a giant slalom course but the Inuk was more than a match
I have seen postcards of Kynance Cove but never visited
before. It is another magical place with huge cliffs, stacks
and caves with golden sand and deep clear emerald waters.
I found a little peice of beach linking the mainland to a
rock island. If the tide did'nt cover it then it would be
a perfect spot to stay the night. I wanted to catch the shipping
forecast so I landed and enjoyed some tortilla chips with
a spicy mexican salsa dip that I had been saving for just
such a moment. It was bliss but sadly my intended bed was
gradually being eroded by the incoming tide and I was forced
to carry on. Past Mullion and still nowhere seemed to fit
the bill. I really had to dig in as the swell had increased
now that I was west of the Lizard. Past Mullion with the tide
ripping through the gap between the harbour and the island.
I was shattered and not before time I found the perfect spot;
Church Cove with it's - church (well chapel actually)! I picked
the middle of the beach and took up residence receiving curious
looks from the evening strollers. I rang Linda using the mobile
- as clear as a bell. I was already missing her alot - it
would be good to do this again with her, but perhaps not in
quite such a hurry.
DAY 4 Tuesday 8th July 1997. (27 miles,6 hours paddling)
This was a day I had been looking forward to. To Land's
End. The name still conjures up a certain magical feeling
of daring and romance, of myths and legends about wreckers
and smugglers. The Penwith Peninsular is Cornwall.
I awoke to a thick sea mist that had soaked everything whilst
I slept. It was only a short day today made shorter by last
nights efforts. I could relax and really enjoy it. To give
my kit a chance to dry out I had a lazy breakfast and soon
enough the sun burnt through. It promised to be another scorcher-
I was so pleased with my new hat. Made me look quite dashing
you know; a cross between Indiana Jones and Captain Pugwash
! I rang the Coastguard on the mobile and then Rob. We decided
on Sennen Cove as the RV point. The three-day forecast was
looking good apart from fog patches. They were definitely
coming down and if the crossing wasn't on then they would
paddle with me as far as St. Ives.
I got going for 9.30am - what a slacker ! I was off the
sea-fortresss of Porthleven by 10.30am. I was at Porthleven
the day after it was besieged and battered by the worst storm
in living memory. The remaining ground swell was still at
least 15 feet on that most famous of reefs. I have never surfed
Porthleven, although I remember watching Minnow Green and
Neil Peak shred it and get my ultimate respect. I cherish
the memories of my three years living in Cornwall surfing
my waveski every day that there was surf and often twice if
I could. Living in a tent at Gwithian through the summers,
in my van or in digs through the winter, with my mad dog Skeg.
Funny though, I'm more content now; good job, nice house,
smart car and the perfect woman. I guess these are the sorts
of thoughts that go through your mind when you're alone at
A rescue helicopter from RAF Culdrose was doing excercises
in the bay. Now that is a job I wouldn't have minded doing.
Having spent at least half an hour doing precision hovers
over the cliffs and sea the pilot must have decided he had
had enough of that and went blatting up the coast banking
steeply to follow the line of the land. About a mile from
me it did a 180 degree turn and came hurtling towards me like
a scene out of Airwolf. It could only have been ten metres
above me and to the side when the pilot banked the aircraft
such that I could literally see him grinning from ear to ear.
He gave me a mock salute and I returned it with a salute any
Traffic cop would have been proud of. I shouted with excitement
as the machine thundered past just above my head. What a buzz
! I was laughing to myself for miles after.
Mount's Bay was beautiful. The only marks on the surface
of the water were behind me as my wash fanned out to the side.
I kept a lookout for dolphins-I always see dolphins in Mount's
Bay, but not this time. I tracked straight from Cudden Point
across to Mousehole on the same course that we would have
raced this year in the West Cornwall Sea Kayak Experience
if conditions had allowed. Instead we had to do two laps from
Penzance Harbour to St. Michael's Mount and back which was
hard enough for everyone. I was beating the skis on the outward
leg but couldn't surf the easterly swell as fast as my mate
(and Adonnis of the Beach) Simon Lawrence.
The tide was sweeping through the Bay carrying me west and
south so I went on past Mousehole and into Lamorna Cove. Another
favourite spot of mine it was busy with sport divers coming
and going on their rubber boats with their fancy kit and peroxide
girlfriends. I bought a Magnum and watched the chaos. Sliding
off unnoticed I was now entering the mystical zone of crystal
waters and pink granite rock sculptures. I do not have the
vocabulary to describe the beauty of this land. You will have
to see it for yourself and believe me there is no better way
than by kayak. I found coves I did not know existed and even
the famous Porthcurno was as beautiful as the postcards suggest.
I had the best seat in the house as I passed the Minack
Theatre. One day we will get to see one of their productions.
A tide race was bubbling away off Gwennap Head but I was safe
on the inside admiring the cathedrals of rock and the lycra
clad gargoyles on gossamer threads of kermantle. I do not
think I have seen so many rock climbers in one place other
than Idwall Slabs in Snowdonia. Still, not a bad way to spend
a day. Below, the climbers were being watched by an audience
of seals, understandably envious of their agility on the rock.
A case of the grass is greener....as one flashed underneath
Rounding Gwennap the sea was starting to move, as the oceans
mixed. I could not see Longships and I couldn't really work
out why. A thick haze that had lined the western horizon was
starting to shift eerily. I realized that there was a fog
bank running down the North Coast. No major cause for concern
today but it did not look hopeful for tomorrows crossing to
the Scillies. As I got within half a mile of Land's End, the
hotel a beacon in the gloom, suddenly Longships appeared defiantly
out of the swirling fog and it's horn sounded jubilantly.
Within ten minutes and before I got there, the fog had gone,
retreating out to sea, waiting for another day. Land's End
as a landscape feature remains unspoilt despite the best attempts
of some notorious entrepreneurs. Indeed I would like to think
that the drama and significance of the place is just as important
now as it was when the first explorers left it to starboard
on their journeys into the unknown.
Through a couple of upstream gates and I had turned the
corner on my way North. Surely I wouldn't be lucky enough
to do the crossing tomorrow. I would be disappointed but then
Rob has been trying for nearly twenty years and has never
had it right. Into Sennen the crescent beach was still really
busy - it was only 4.00pm. I stayed clear of the flags marking
the bathing area and then surfed a two footer onto the sand.
Time for a spot of sunbathing but first I had to make a spectacle
of myself by dragging the boat up the beach as far as I could
and unloading my belongings. Asking a wrinkled old man, who
had obviously taken no notice whatsoever of the warnings about
too much UV, to look after my stuff I went off down the beach
to use the phone. On speaking to the Coastguard I mentioned
my concerns about the fog for the crossing. I was concerned
about us not hitting the Scillies. He was concerned about
something hitting us! You have to cross two shipping lanes
to get there and he reminded me that we were far too small
to show on any radar. I rang Rob in a bit of a panic. Rob,
calm as always, talked it through. As long as visibility was
a couple of miles it would be okay. If it was too bad then
we would just carry on up the North Coast and all I would
have lost was about 4 hours that evening and a couple the
following morning. They hoped to meet me at 10.00am.
I had a very pleasant afternoon frying in the sun, listening
to music. My Sports Sony Walkman had survived the trip so
far. As evening came the beach was still busy. I plodded up
the sandy hill at the back of the beach intending to get sufficient
height so that I could use my mobile. I met a slow worm on
his way down for a dip. I guess he used a belly board. I had
dinner watching the surf which had increased with the incoming
tide. It crashed onto the beach just a few metres from where
I sat above the high water mark. Back-lit by the setting sun
it was a special moment. People stopped and just watched the
natural light display, bathing in the tranquility, going home
richer for it.
I was just settling down for the night tucked up like a
chrysalis in my goretex bivvy bag when a woman's face appeared
from nowhere. Would I like to join her for some roast lamb?
Well I've never heard it called that before! She explained
that her boyfriend who I had been chatting to earler in the
evening had sent her down to invite me to dinner. She must
have known I would refuse because she had brought down a bottle
of Stella just in case. I could have hugged her! I supped
it whilst completing my diary and the unaccustomed alcohol
put me to sleep very quickly.
DAY 5 Wednesday 9th July 1997 (32 miles, 6 hours paddling)
I awoke a few times during the night, my subconscious mind
needing to check for the fog. It remained clear and the stars
were fantastic as was the crescent moon that rose slowly from
an Atlantic horizon that still glowed at midnight.
I caught the Shipping Forecast just before 6.00am. Sounded
good - the crossing could be on! I had a breakfast of chicken
noodles. It wasn't as bad as it sounds. I pottered about waiting
for John and Rob to arrive and with perfect timing just as
I had pulled my kayak up on the beach inside the tiny harbour
Rob's bus came bouncing around the corner. The Voyager double
sea kayak looked huge, like an aircraft fuselage. It was great
to see them and they were both in great spirits although I
sensed Rob was a little tense. His natural selection as navigator/expedition
leader putting an extra burden on his shoulders. I was just
there to enjoy the ride! I rang the Coastguard to let them
know our ETA for St.Martins, Isles of Scilly. I am not sure
the woman on the other end of the phone realized we were doing
the crossing in kayaks.
We left the harbour at 10.36am, and rapidly bore down on
Longships the tide surging southwards, boiling on the outer
reefs despite the lack of swell. 285 degrees from Longships
and soon we had passed the point of no return. We had the
helicopters and planes to reassure us that we were at least
heading in roughly the right direction. Visibility was superb.
No sign of fog. We had a following sea which was almost enough
to get the Inuk planing on the odd one. Rob played with his
GPS and told us we were doing six knots! We had to modify
our course slightly due to our better than expected speed.
We passed a bouy that was fighting to remain on the surface
due to the fast flowing current. A timely reminder of speed
of the tide and the necessity to get it right. The increasingly
sloppy following sea made it difficult to steer a true course
and we took it in turns to lead. John and Rob looked really
strong as I sat on their stern wash. My right elbow which
had started to ache the previous day became really quite sore
as I was forced to make constant adjustments to my heading.
Storm Petrels in groups of two or three fluttered past like
large moths. Manx Shearwaters came to see what we were doing,
Gannets continued to search for fish ignoring our passage
beneath. Seven Stones Lightship was visible and audible to
starboard. It's horn reminding us that the fog was'nt far
It was very hot.The slight breeze was on our backs, the
sweat was dripping off my nose, as I struggled to keep up
with the lads, following them like a faithfull puppy. Every
so often I would find a wave and with a sudden burst of speed
I could shoot past them but the effort required was taking
it's toll and I was needing a rest. Having crossed the first
of the shipping lanes into the separation zone we had a breather.
A chance to sit and contemplate the fact that the only thing
separating us from alot of ocean were a few rocky islands
somewhere in the distance. A fishing boat gave us an encouraging
'toot, toot' and we set off again. We were just losing sight
of the mainland which was remarkable since we had been paddling
for nearly three hours when I thought I could see something
on the horizon at 240 degrees. Sure enough, slowly but surely
the smudged outline of the Scillies appeared. Looking over
my shoulder I could still just see the mainland. The incredible
visibility was something I had not expected. Bearing in mind
the Isles of Scilly lie twenty eight miles off Land's End
and the true horizon when you are sat in a kayak is only about
four miles, to see both at the same time was amazing.
My confidence soared although I never doubted Rob's ability
to get us there. The St. Martins day mark soon became distinguishable
and we pointed just north of it. I was getting really tired
now. My elbow was starting to lock up and John reminded me
to rotate more to take the pressure off it. Ever so slowly
now the islands started to fill the horizon. We decided to
make our landfall on the nothern side of St. Martins and now
the race was on to get there, fast! We could see a strip of
golden beach beckoning to us and my bottom yearned for the
moment when I could stand on dry land. We finally entered
the island system and Rob called me over to use the VHF to
inform the Coastguard of our arrival. A husky woman's voice
acknowledged us. We passed the St. Martins day mark at 3.12pm.
A crossing time of 4 hours 36 minutes. A record? Who knows?
We landed on a deserted beach strewn with rock and weed
and a fair collection of flotsam and jetsam. The fact that
we had arrived in the Scillies, by kayak, started to sink
in as we climbed the hill to find John's favourite Tea Shop.
The view was breathtaking. I knew I was going to like the
Scillies - everyone told me I would. Places given that much
hype rarely live up to your expectations but the Scillies
did. The thousands of islands and rocky outcrops were laid
out before me like a map. The turquoise water matched by a
perfect sky. As we strolled along the lane we passed little
cottages with gardens the like of which I have only seen in
the tropical house at Kew. Huge succulents and wonderful flowers
dominated by dark green palms all growing as if we were a
thousand miles further south.
Sadly the tea shop had just closed and I felt guilty for
having dithered about on the way over. We found a post office
and I sent postcards to Dom and Liz and Mum. I got directions
to the one public phone on the island and rang Linda. I was
starting to feel guilty now. What had set out to be a test
of endurance was turning out to be a bit of a holiday and
poor Linda was stuck at school with a PTA meeting that evening.
I tried not to sound too enthusiastic about it all and promised
to bring her to the islands one day soon. We wandered back
to where we had left the kayaks on the beach. There is virtually
no crime on the Scillies - my kind of place. A fair breeze
had set in and the lads decided to try out their sailing rig.
I tried not to laugh as they put the thing up. Two paddle
shaft masts and about 12 foot of sail on each, the schooner
rig was remarkably effective and I got some great shots as
they sailed past. I was much quicker without a sail but we
were in no rush. We were on Scillies time now - about a third
slower than mainland time. We drifted over reefs through the
myriad of channels as we rounded St. Martin's and went on
past Tresco. Our destination was Bryher. Rob has a friend
there who he wanted to see. As we approached Bryher a beautiful
day boat approached us and I sat on its wash chatting to the
father and son crew. It turns out that the boat was built
by Rob's friend. It's a Plymouth Pilot with a wooden mast
and gaff rig. It blended in perfectly with the island sea-scape.
It seemed to sail well too. Arriving on Bryher, Rob disappeared
off to find his mate Barry. He came back without him - apparently
he was out sailing. We got our kit sorted and then Barry showed
up. Straight away you know he's a sound guy. Quitely unassuming
but clearly no fool. He runs a moderately successful boatyard
which he subsidises with sailing instruction, a water taxi
service, bed and breakfast accommodation as well as being
one of the island's fireman. I got the impression there wasn't
much occuring on the island that he didn't have a hand in.
He has built a large house that has a granite tor as a back
garden and a view of the channel between Bryher and Tresco
that is worth millions.
We arranged to meet up later and tottered off to find the
campsite loaded up with kit. I needed two trips. The campsite
is just up the hill from the Fraggle Rock Cafe which is a
strange little place. Bizarrely there was a young rock group
all set up under a small marquee in the garden and as I erected
my tent and got the dinner on I enjoyed their warm up routine.
Once fed we went back down to Barry's place and enjoyed some
home-made apple pie. Barry and his wife looked shattered -
must be a hard life on the Scillies. I listened as the lads
talked boats, soaking up the atmosphere of the place. We managed
to persuade Barry to come for a beer at the Fraggle. The band
were excellent and the place was happening. The beer at £2
a pint was flowing down nicely replacing the fluid I had lost
during the days exertions-or so I told myself. Three pints
later and the balmy evening was just starting to chill. There
wasn't much room inside the pub so we headed back to the campsite
a merry threesome. The Round Island lighthouse we had paddled
past earlier in the day was sweeping the night sky. John said
you could see 7 lighthouses from the top of Watch Hill above
the campsite. Well that had to be seen so we staggered up
through the gorse using my failing mini-maglite to shine the
way. From the top we could see Bishop's Rock, Seven Stones,
St. Mary's and of course Round Island. We could not see Longships
or Wolf Rock. Apparently it is possible to see Godrevy if
you are really lucky.
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