“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.
A solo trip report written by Richard Janes – Photos by Geth (from a similar trip)
Richard (right) on another summers day at the Skerries
High Water Liv. (Gladstone): 0813 (8.1M)
Wind: NW F3-4
Saint Cybi was a 6th-century Cornish Bishop who worked in Wales. The Island is called
‘Holy’ due to the numerous religious sites on the small island and are a source of much interest.
However, the island’s history has not only been one of Religious tranquillity. The bustling Port and Town of Holyhead will have had it’s share of ‘Sporting’ events with ‘Home’ and ‘Away’ games, possibly started by Cadwallon Lawhir (‘Longhand’), who defeated Irish Pirates on Holy Island (c.500)
What to do on a Saturday when all your Mates are working, on holiday, doing domestic stuff or don’t fancy an early start?
The Circum navigation of Holy Island includes fast tidal streams, paddling which ranges from shallow water over sand/mud banks to massive exposed cliffs, great wildlife, busy harbour and Port, two tunnels and a precise tidal ‘gate’. All in all, an interesting way to spend a Saturday Morning!
The tidal gate for this trip is Stanley Embankment where the water rushes (floods) into the Inland sea and then drains (ebbs) to the North East. After around half an hour the water is travelling much too fast to paddle against and forms dangerous stoppers. The plan is to be there just before the turn of the tide. My plan was to paddle anti clockwise around the island to make best use of the tides.
My starting point was Porth Dafarch . The origin of Dafarch was probably from a persons name; ‘Tafarch’ but I prefer to believe the less likely origin, ‘Dau Farch; two stallions. Especially when considering the tide races of Penrhyn Mawr and South Stack!
I set off at 0530. Probably around half an hour too early but I’m like that. Besides, it was a stunning morning and the temptation to launch with an early sun and oily smooth sea was simply too great!
Having the West Coast to yourself is an extraordinary feeling but far from lonely. I enjoyed stunning displays from Shearwater and the occasional fly past from Fulmar with their silent, knowing stare. Paddling South towards Rhoscolyn Beacon was a joy. Whilst the flood was still running, I took a landward line and stayed in close down to the start of the Cwmyran Straits.
The paddle through the Cwmyran Straits to Four mile bridge is a peaceful delight! Heron, Egret and all sorts of wading birds within an environment which ranges from salt marsh to rocky shore. Getting lost is a real option here and another reason for my early start. The sea and air was mirror calm and the tunnel or what felt like a big drain to enter the Inland sea was surprisingly noisy. As my kayak took the drop, I seriously thought it might ‘ground’ but there was plenty of water followed by a wave train and tidal rapid.
Excitement over, it was a short paddle to Stanley and a long wait (over an hour) for the tide to turn and allow my exit from the Inland Sea. Stopping for a drink, I also felt hungry. Sadly, the soft sand of Porth Dafarch and a hungry seagull had earlier consumed my lunch. So I waited. And waited for what seemed like ages. My phone said about an hour, my broken watch said longer. A few times I tried to take the flow by storm but uphill paddling never was my thing and some stray pieces of rope dangling down gave me the ebegeebies, by the thought of getting tangled in them. Eventually, the flow gave up to my persistence and allowed me through.
The view now broadened to include the Skerries to the North East and my target, Holyhead harbour to the North West. A little further and I was talking to Port Control on VHF Ch 14. All very formal. I noticed he called me ‘Sir’, not been called that since I was teaching when I was called many other things besides. I had a good time window until the fast ferry was due but crossing the Harbour does make me feel strange. This is the World of proper big boats. Boats which don’t see you and with big propellers and stuff. So I paddled hard. Stupid hard, breathing a sigh of relief as I past the lighthouse on the end of the pier. Port control said they had been watching me on camera, so I waved. You can be a bit silly on your own. I’d already said ‘good morning’ to several seals and I’m sure the pretty one answered?
Phew! … Back on more familiar water, North Stack was a bit white and feisty. I tried surfing a few waves but they were too broken for whoops of joy. South Stack race was smooth. Oily, sexy smooth but not big enough for my enthusiasm. The cliffs and birdlife hereabouts are simply magnificent. The sea was littered with rafts of Guillemot, Razor bill and a good number of Puffins. I stayed offshore using as much push from the ebb as possible. Penrhyn Mawr came and went. A sleeping Stallion before his stable door would be opened?
Very soon Porth Dafarch came into view along with some good friends on the water (Steve Miles and Sarah) where I stopped for some of our usual intellectual discourse. And so back to the beach and a heavy, hot carry back to the van. I think it was about lunch time but my watch said the same time as when I left.
Biggest decision of the day. Sensible cup of tea or a cold beer. What would Cybi have done? What would Longhand have done…. and he did see off the Irish Pirates, after all!
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
On Sunday 27 August P&H dealer Manu Redureau, of Bekayak, Brest, France, joined me for a blast around the Stacks. This trip also gave Manu the opportunity to try out the Delphin MKII Corelite X in rough water conditions.
Our journey took us from Porth Dafarch to North Stack and back – similar to the route shown below from the ‘Welsh Sea Kayaking: Fifty Great Sea Kayak Voyages’ book. We enjoyed surf and rough water at Penrhyn Mawr, followed by some small surf at South Stack before lunch on the rocks in Gogarth Bay – the seal pupping season from August to November precluded us from using the beaches. After lunch we returned to Porth Dafarch by closely following the coastline and exploring lots of channels, arches, caves and rock gardens. The journey was both fun and a great work out. Thanks for a great day out Manu!
Geth Roberts, <a href=”https://seakayakingwales.com/”>www.seakayakingwales.com</a>
Wen Zawn and Cathedral Arch
A smaller Gogarth Bay arch
Below Elen’s Castle
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.