Monday, 21st September 2020
Sea Kayaking, The Swellies (Menai Straight) Written by Anneka Jones
Over the past couple of years Nath and I have done a little bit of sea kayaking, but with no real knowledge of the sea it’s been fairly off the cuff. Nothing too crazy - one out and back visit to Caldy Island (massive waves and swell?), Port Dafarch to South Stack (truly amazing birdlife at the right time of year), and twice around Puffin Island (once just the two of us and most recently with Penny where she got to meet the seals – and name them of course).
Although we’re both confident boaters and more than happy on anything moving, I was always conscious about our lack of knowledge and understanding of the sea.
I thought about booking some time with a professional guide, someone to take us to a new place, adventure and learn – also to try a boat we’d not experienced before. Why not invite the rest of PaddlePlus for the ride and make it a club trip…hummm…
So, with a few names already in the bag I got in touch with Sea Kayaking Wales to book our trip. My contact, Gethin, was so helpful and on the ball especially with the cancellation in June because of covid and the subsequent rescheduling and drop-outs/ replacement names and all the admin that comes with it. He provided a rough plan of some things we might cover but really left it open to see what our different groups wanted out of the day.
With our day trip planned for the Sunday, our group of 14 (me, Nathan, Laurence McDonagh, Shaun, Steve Chalmers, Sean, Vicki, Mitch, Naomi, Ushma and her partner Madeline, Neil, Katrina and Alice) arrived at various times throughout Friday and Saturday, most staying at Anglesey Outdoor Centre. I believe there was a beach visit, walk, porpoise and red squirrel spotting, shopping at Summit to Sea and an afternoon at the pub, The Paddlers Return. We managed to all get together in the evening for a meal at The Seacroft (different covid rules apply in Wales regards number at a table).
After breakfast at the Truckstop and our 9am meeting with the three leaders, we were told that due to the weather/ strong winds, unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to venture to the coast today. A disappointing start but a safe decision. Instead we would be heading to the Menai Straight which separates Anglesey from mainland Wales, it’s still tidal and displays many of the same behaviours as the sea, just without the vastness, magic and pretty rocks/caves etc. ‘The Swellies’ was described to us as a playground for people wanting to practice not only their sea kayaking skills but in any boat, even squirt boats were mentioned.
After a faffy move about with the cars, change and boat selection, we were put into our 3 groups of varying ability and confidence.
We were in the ‘Ninja’ group with Gethin. As we got used to the boats we paddled ‘upstream’ and were asked to ferry across the wide channel to land behind the bridge stanchion (Menai Suspension) on the other side. Following Larry we all ended up well above it, he blamed it on the boat, surprised by how efficiently it cut through the flow compared with a creek boat – I think he’s just not paddled in a long time!
Our next muster point was the Ynys Gored Goch island, where a small white cottage, now holiday home, oddly sits in the middle of the water overlooked by the busy bridge. We were told about the fish catching fence which in high tide is a great danger to kayakers.
We carried on up towards the next bridge (A55), where the Nelson and the Marquess of Anglesey statues proudly stand. The wind was rough and it would have been a struggle in our own boats battling against it, but with these bad boys it wasn’t so. Although you could feel the waves, quite big at times, moving you up and down, the boats seem to glide through, not hindering progress at all. We got together behind the middle stanchion and put into practice how we would rescue an injured paddler by them clinging on to the front of your boat, facing and edging towards you and paddling them along. A bit awkward with standard short paddles but not far off what you’d do normal kayaking, something good to try.
The next task was fun and fast! Paddling 'upstream', turning into position, paddling forwards and feeling when a wave is underneath you (keeping an eye on the dip of your bow between the wave in front), few quick paddle strokes and surfing along as far as you could - I loved this, it felt great when it worked. I've not surfed in the se for a while and had forgotten the feeling. Turning these monsters is a bit of an ordeal especially when you’re used to a creek or playboat that turns on a sixpence. The trick is to edge as you are turning and time it on the top of a wave to reduce your area of surface on the water (I think) – much like a WWR boat – I found many similarities, again having not paddled one in about 15 years.
Between our turns to surf and paddling back up next to the bridge, I took the opportunity to look up at the squeaking birds above, turned out they were a pair of Peregrines – I couldn’t see them (no zogs while paddling). There were also a group of Cormorants sitting on the rocks who were very nosey and watched our every move.
Tummies rumbling – time for lunch, under the A55 bridge (also something to behold) where we were reunited with the other two groups. They had been further down than us, getting used to their boats, battling with the wind and spotting seals (Neil’s group). Vicki of course was ready for her chocolate bar/s.
Gethin had come prepared for some tuition regarding the sea and had helpfully brought several different laminated maps to show our small group - OS, a road map and one that shows the depths of the sea and all sorts. I must admit that most of it went over my head. So much terminology I didn’t know which made it difficult to follow, but basically there’s a calculation between the wind speed, tide times and your location. I made a mental note to get a simplified breakdown from uncle Shaun afterwards who seemed to be taking it all in. He quite rightly said though, that trip planning for the sea could well take a full day in a classroom, plus practical experiences to get your head around it.
We could see the rising tide was starting to create a rapid around the rocks we had come past, so we quickly got back on the water not wanting to miss our playtime. It was interesting to see it rise and fall so rapidly, one run the waves would be bouncy and playful on your way across, then the next there wasn’t a lot there, just a flow. Shaun found a lovely move with a fast ferry across and a sweet S move back. Steve, although with a whole lot more experience than us in a sea kayak wasn’t so sure about the ‘rough bits’ and played with what he was comfortable with, while Nathan eyed up the mussels busy growing on the rocks. I enjoyed having the ability to go really fast through the water, bringing back some of my racing memories.
I saw after the trip that there was a capsize from one of the other groups round about here, but apparently it’s a secret who!? I’m presuming they were ok, I heard no drama of it as we all arrived back to the landing place.
A quick team photo to mark the day and back to our cars for the long drive home – school night. Thank you everyone for a really fun weekend, it was great to socialise with some different folk and we all had a new experience, I hope everyone enjoyed it despite the lack of actual sea – hoping to do another one of these maybe June next year so watch this space.
Anneka PS. If you’ve enjoyed reading my report and would like to write your own (I know I went off a bit, yours doesn’t have to be so long) then please go for paddle, write about it, send it to me in word and you’ll get a free PaddlePlus session as a thank you.