“So what’ve you been doing, Mum?” This is younger daughter. She’s washing up while she chats.
“Well I went to the dentist and…”
“No I mean what Interesting stuff have you done?”
“Well”…a moment’s excited hesitation ”..we paddled the Stacks…”
“Is that interesting?” And I can hear she’s bored.
“Well… there were some climbers there. We were in this big cave and there were loads of climbers. Tiny climbers. On a massive wall”
“Yeah?” Still bored.
“Dreaming of white horses? Or something.”
“A Dream of White Horses?” She explodes “But that’s an icon! That’s just one of the best climbs in the world!”
Well, so is paddling the Stacks. If Anglesey is recognised as one of the finest sea paddling destinations in the world then the Stacks are “the jewel in Anglesey’s paddling crown…North Stack, South Stack, Penrhyn Mawr. Names that trip off the tongue like honey.” That’s according to the UK Rivers Guide. Paddlers go quiet and reverential as they talk of muscular tides, gnarly tide races, massive overfalls. This is where only the big boys and girls can go.
The first time I’d hoped to paddle the Stacks was in July 2016. I was lucky enough to be one of a small group of women attempting to circumnavigate Anglesey with Justine Curvengen. Justine was awesome. We all made lasting friends and developed as paddlers. But the Wind Gods were very fractious. We didn’t circumnavigate the island and we didn’t “do” the Stacks. The next attempt was to have been in May 2017 with Geth Roberts. Would have been good but the wind was humungous. And then illness struck and my horizons shrunk to what I could see from a hospital bed and then from my sofa. The Stacks started to feel much, much bigger than me. Amanda and Anne Marie, my friends from the Justine trip, had done it but I never would.
But, thanks to Richard Janes’s coaching and confidence in me I got back off the sofa and into my boat. I found I could do more than I had ever thought. The Stacks started to be somewhere I could dream of once again.
Thanks to many a Wet Winter Wednesday with Paul Williams and Richard I have found that surfing is not actually beyond me. I always loved being out in big wind and sea but now I know how to use my body to better effect, how to connect with my boat, how to paddle assertively and how to read the water and understand why the wind can seem to maliciously change direction as you make it round a headland. Whoever would have thought that wind flows and eddies, just as water does.
When Richard, Amy Goolden, Lyn Mellina and I set off from Porth Dafarch for this iconic trip it was a quiet blue day. A silken sea merged into a soft blue sky. In the distance the mountains of Snowdonia were cushioned in sea mist. Penrhyn Mawr offered a little playful distraction, that’s all. Not so much a wild beast, more of a kitten. At Richard’s insistence we took it slowly, very slowly, soaking up the landscape. In these conditions the kayaker’s privileged view of the drama of the ancient folded rocks is heightened. The story the rocks tell unfolds before you. The folded fine silvery green cliffs between Porth Dafarch and South Stacks, described by the geologist Edward Greenly as “unsurpassed in Britain”, are simply enthralling. And then South Stacks itself with guillemots thronging the layers and galleries of the rocks and making impetuous mass forays into the sea around us.
And then, in silence, we floated in a cave with the massive proportions of a cathedral watching tiny climbers dreaming of white horses. The light cascaded though majestic arches into pearly green depths. It was, quite simply, awesome.
I am so very grateful that my first experience of the Stacks was on this blue day and shared with such company: Richard, Amy and Lynn. Would I take the chance to paddle it gnarly? Well yes, of course. But only in the right company.
What a wonderful spring day to explore and play on the sea!
Petr in white water.
Mirco coaching at Penrhyn Mawr’s Inner Race.
Petr enjoying the Outer Race at Penrhyn Mawr.
The steep waves were tricky to surf on this day.
Rachel after Penrhyn Mawr and on our way to South Stack.
Richard with South Stack and Paul behind him.
South Stack tiderace with lovely clean surf waves.
Paul and Rich at South Stack Tiderace.
Ynys Lawd Channel.
Steve Miles coaching on our return through Penrhyn Mawr.
Roswitha enjoying the sun at Penrhyn Mawr.
The Middle Race at Penrhyn Mawr.
Porth Rhuffydd and the amazing blowhole.
A great day! Thanks to – Paul, Rich, Rachel and everyone else we met today.
Photos by Geth
Saturday 17 February was a sunny day with a playful swell hitting the westerly shore. The tidal range was in the spring end of the spectrum and the wind was around force 4 from the South, backing West later in the day. The Ynys Gybi (Holy Island) circumnavigation seemed like a good plan.
Roger Chandler’s group on their way out to Rhoscolyn Beacon
Approaching Four Mile Bridge
Entering the Inland Sea
The 2 PM Ferry
Crossing to the break water
South Stack tiderace
A bit of a surf session with tired arms…
Approaching Penrhyn Mawr
Back at Porthdafarch
A fantastic wintry trip out from Porth Dafarch to South Stack on a 9m (Liverpool) ebb tidal stream.
The swell provided interesting rockhopping.
The big chanels between Penrhyn Mawr and Abraham’s Bosom.
Entering Abraham’s Bosom
Lunch at Abraham’s Bosom
Approaching South Stack Tide Race
Paul, Richard and Gary surfing
Returning to Porthdafarch
Snow covered mountains
The end of another great paddle
Paddling today were: Paul, Richard, Ed, Rachel, Lynn, Steve, Gary, Jan and Geth.
Peter Holshke, from Hamburg, joined me for three days of sea kayaking in the first week of August.
6 August – Menai Bridge to Indefatigable and back.
7 August – The Stacks, Soldiers Point to Porthdafarch
9 August – Rhoscolyn
13 August – Giovanni, Lorenzo, Paul, Ed and Geth Stacks trip
Thanks Giovanni, Lorenzo, Paul and Ed!
29 July Porthdafarch – South Stack, via Penrhyn Mawr, with Ed Loffill
2 August Soldiers Point – South Stack, via North Stack with Ed Loffill and Justine Curgenven
Sea kayak sailing/surfing at Penrhyn Mawr
Sea kayak sailing/surfing at South Stack
The sail was taken down for surfing steeper waves at South Stack
The sail back up to surf closely past South Stack’s headland
Beam reach sailing back to Porthdafarch
South Stack with Ed and Justine
The Delphin MKII Corelite X
The biggest improvement I found in the Delphin MKII Corelite X is the extra speed and responsiveness it has in surf. This is thanks largely to the greater stiffness in the plastic construction. The cockpit has also been improved to provide better comfort and connectivity. The day hatch is a welcome addition, as are the sailing fittings. In summary, the Delphin MKII Corelite X has all of the great features of the original Delphin but with some very useful additions/refinements and stiffer plastic for even more fun surfing.
Sea Kayak Sailing in Tideraces
It is a bit of a balance whether/or not to deploy the sail in a tiderace. When the waves are not particularly steep the addition of a sail makes catching waves far easier, increasing the number of surfable waves and the length of the runs. At some point the balance between fun and fear will probably tip towards fear, or at the very least uncomfortableness. It is now time to take the sail down as the surf has steepened up and you probably don’t need any more help catching the waves.
After paddling the Pyranha Octane surfski on Llyn Padarn I wanted to try it out at sea in wind, waves and moving water. My kayaking buddies for this trip were Ed and Abi Loffil.
The Pyranha Octane with the Flat Earth Sail fitted
Ed and Abi had a head start on the outward leg so I followed them 20 minutes after their departure. This leg had up to 10 knots of southerly wind with a slightly post spring tidal current to propel us on the flooding tide to The Skerries. Time of leg – 1.5 hrs.
Approaching Penrhyn Mawr
Approaching the middle race of Penrhyn Mawr
Rush hour in Holyhead Bay
Departing The Skerries
Surfing circuits at The Skerries
The return leg had 10-17 knots of southerly wind against the south flowing ebb tide. Time of leg – 3 hrs.
The rough journey back south
Taking a rest at South Stack
Sailing home to Porth Dafarch
The team returned at Porth Dafarch with our paddling friend Jan
Initial thoughts on the Octane
Previous to receiving the Octane I had never paddled a surfski. The closest speedy boat I had experienced to compare it to is the Rockpool Taran. The Octane, like the Taran, is great fun to paddle fast, especially in surf. At speed the surf ski is particularly stable, locking into its watery path. Its stability seemed further enhanced with the addition of the Flat Earth Sail, as this gave more propulsion. It is even better to sail than the equivalent P&H Scorpio or Delphin sailing kayaks as it is super quick and responsive to the rudder. With its open cockpit it felt a lot like a modern sailing dinghy, especially with the gurgling sound of the self-bailer.
Paddling downwind with swell was far, far better than the reverse into wind and waves. The former situation gave much greater speed than the accompanying sea kayaks, whereas into wind and swell the surfski was only marginally quicker, despite lots more effort from my core muscles. I probably need to improve my technique in these conditions.
The Octane is a very positive boat. It rewards good posture and technique with better performance. This feedback is proving really useful as I try to get better at paddling a surf ski.
Next time I want to try some more downwind runs!