Having worked professionally around the Anglesey coastline from a sea kayak for the last ten years I have an intimate relationship and love for the island. Exploring the island from a stand up paddleboard over the last 12 months has been fun, exciting and rewarding. Here’s what I’ve learnt/discovered.
Words and pics: Roger Chandler
We took the last 90 minutes of the ebb tide out along the southern side of the island. There was a light north-easterly breeze and this gently impacted the ebb tide, off the far end. Yep, wind against tide and some excitement! Turning and now on the northern side, with a gentle breeze on my back, there was a different sea state and initial challenge. It took me three swims to get a feel for the change in swell and how best to work with it. We headed back across the sound, which was now close to slack and back up along the Menai Straits.
Puffin Island on the east coast of Anglesey is a magic spot and my first Anglesey SUP with moving water away from the shelter of a bank on either side. Across the sound is 1km and on a spring tide the current can reach four knots. It’s not surprising that it’s the Coastguard’s hot spot. It looks so close, with many birds taking to the air and water, seals galore and the occasional porpoise and even dolphins. What’s not to like?
The above was over a year ago now and with each paddle I have been given a fresh focus to work with and then back to the Swellies. To groove in and develop a more intuitive feel.
This was my first training venue (the area of water between Britannia and Menai Bridge). Why The Swellies? Easy to access, contained with a bank either side (like a river but salty), fairly quiet with few to zero other users and what I felt was a really good way to fast track my skills. The venue pushed my balance, thinking and reactions. It’s great for developing eddy turns, running down flow and working back up against flow. This is what I knew I would find on many coastal paddles and I needed to be able to manage what I may face.
Almost every sea kayaker’s dream paddle is The Stacks. On the west coast of Holy Island, Anglesey, with strong tidal flow, committing coastline and big cliffs. June 19th, 2017, was a perfect day and I was keen for an evening SUP. I had talked with Sonja about the possibility and likelihood. I had my paddle board in the back of the van, ready and by 1630 it was a go!
We got on at Solder’s Point and ran down through North Stack, with about 45 minutes into the ebb. A light north wind was across me and as I turned for South Stack it was now on my back. Yay, I was chuffed with the first crux and headed on. At South Stack I went for Annie’s Arch (the gap between the island and the mainland) as the flood was still against us. The wind was now freshening and assisted me further across the bay and past Penrhyn Mawr. Just Mini Mawr to deal with now. Thankfully she was sleeping and we headed on for Porth Dafarch, 12km and 2.5 hours away.
Cemlyn to Porth Eilian
Late August and with the feeling that Menorca was approaching fast, and I’d spent a lot of time sitting down sea kayaking, I needed to get out and put some distance down on my paddle board. Westerly light wind and 0.5 metre swell, the north coast had an attraction. Twenty minutes after leaving Cemlyn I saw a dolphin, then another – there were soon 15-20 Risso Dolphins clearly feeding and cruising along the coast. What a start!
My legs were soon working and it all felt new to me again. I locked up, I was rigid and I had to work hard to stay on the board. We crossed Cemaes Bay and on towards Middle Mouse. There was some rest in the tide here, yet further on I could see the surface of the sea beginning to boil again. I kept out, enjoying the vision the additional height standing up gave me. Crossing Hells Mouth and then into Porth Wen, also known as the Brick Works for lunch and a welcomed break. The sun was out and it was an idyllic day. Bull Bay, East Mouse, with some more chop and then into Porth Eilian, to finish.
It was the video clip from the above paddle that really helped me to learn. What I was doing or not doing effectively in my forward stroke. I looked tense and only using my arms. Evenings were now spent reading and watching further YouTube clips on effective paddle board forward paddling. Connor Baxter’s use of legs made so much sense, as this is a central and key element of effective forward paddling in a sea kayak. A couple of sessions forward paddling on Llyn Padarn, where the water was calm, and I could take time to focus on the stroke.
I then took this back to the Menai Straits for a couple of 18km paddles and then a further time on Llyn Padarn on a windier day with paddling into, across and downwind.
An island off the north-west of Anglesey with strong tidal streams running past it. January 11, 2018, was a neap tide and the wind was a light F2-3 and due to drop. The swell was bigger than I wanted at 0.8 metre and there was a significant fetch, which meant there would be more energy in the swell. I wondered how I would do, as it was the biggest swell that I would have paddled in. I was happy to give it a go.
I took the last 90 minutes of the ebb and made great progress. I was working hard and north of West Mouse the sea got more confused and I took a dip. In some ways it was a welcomed one as I was overheating! I paddled on my knees for five minutes to get through the rougher section and then I was back up again. Just under the hour to the Skerries and then with 45 minutes for lunch before setting out back to Cemlyn. Ninety minutes on the way back, another swim and a few board drops. My legs were really tired now so I decided to paddle on my knees for ten minutes. I paddled back into Cemlyn, called up the coastguard to say I was back safe, loaded my van and sat down to a welcomed flask of hot chocolate.
Moving away from the shore can be very rewarding, challenging and exciting. These following points I feel is what we can control as we begin to SUP on the sea:
- Choose a neap tide day – approx. 50% less speed than on a spring tide.
- Understand how to use tidal constants. Create a tidal plan with either the rule of thirds or 50/90 rule, so there is an understanding when maximum flow is likely.
- Understand the impact of swell, current and wind and how this may affect the paddle plan.
- Get familiar with forecasts that provide information on wind (strength and direction), swell (height, direction and period) such as www.windguru.cz; http://www.windfinder.com and the bigger picture to small http://www.windy.com
- Practice falling off, getting back on and paddling on your knees in chop and swell.
- Find the conditions inland on a lake or reservoir that you’re likely to get on the sea and work those skills.
- Have a good SUP team at similar ability or a sea kayak buddy who is very happy in the conditions, you’re going to encounter and bigger!
- Walk the paddle plan if conditions are not ideal, so time is well spent.
- Phone your trip plan into the Coastguard, as they are only beginning to see paddleboards out along the coastline and offshore.
- Carry various accessible methods of summoning help and be familiar with their use!
- Listen to your gut, if you’re not happy, get off the water. Remember it’s about having fun out there!
Roger runs www.coastalspirit.com a specialist sea kayaking company and can be followed via his blog and social media: https://twitter.com/CoastalSpirit www.facebook.com/CoastalSpirit. Anglesey www.coastalspirit.com/blog/03717f54e309592b09737869014c8294