IOPCC Trip Report

6th UK Storm Gathering Sea Kayak Symposium
Saturday 22nd - Monday 24th October 2011


Paddlers: Sue and Martin Spurling

Certainly did what it said on the tin. Don’t think the wind dropped below force 6 all weekend.

We had (thankfully!) booked a B&B, though as this overlooked Trearddur Bay, even on Friday evening we had an inkling of what we were in for with lots of waves smashing over the rocks and clouds hurrying overhead.

I will describe my experiences and Sue hers and maybe others may provide their points of view too, so you the reader may better decide whether to give this event a miss or not next time.

I’d signed up for tide races and overfalls on the Saturday but it did not require a level 2 coaching award to realise that these would be suicidal in the present conditions, so it was changed to rough water handling in Trearddur Bay instead.

The wind was blowing diagonally into the bay so allowing a sheltered entry onto the water on the south side, getting rapidly more exciting as one ventured further out. Initially we practiced turning into and down wind and on waves. I’d been thoroughly enjoying this and was feeling suitably overconfident. When it was suggested that we take a look at the problems associated with a particularly knarly load of rocks nearby, off I went. I thought that I’d observed that the problems really only happened at the down wind edge of the reef. Actually they just got a damn site worse there. To compound my own problems; in response to a comment that seemed to compare my trusty Lendal Nordkapp blades with a stone axe, I’d borrowed our instructor’s Gucci Werners with a 30 degree rather than about 85 feather. While I am sure Werners are superb, it is not sensible to try them for the first time in a howling gale and breaking waves. Bad, just got worse as the wind pushed me out into ever grottier water, culminating in a failed attempt to paddle up an overhang, a short back surf, a broach and a swim.

When I surfaced it was fairly clear that; a) nobody was going to be able to get in here to sort me out in the near future and b) if I didn’t get clear of this lot soon then both the boat and I were liable to meet land in component form. Luckily the combination of the wind and some fairly energetic swimming got us both round the end, only to be confronted by another lot of rocks the other side. At this point my boat panicked and broke free of my grasp making off towards the rocks and certain destruction, while I continued round the edge. I bade her a sad farewell and cursed the fact that I’d just given away the spare kit that I’d cut when I built a third kayak and that had been sitting around in my garage for years. About this time Justine of ‘This is the Sea’ fame turned up and invited me to climb on her back deck where I clung like Winnie the Pooh to his honey jar , till to my amazement my boat appeared unmarked and we were reunited. It had been washed clean over the reef and there was not a scratch on her (that had not been there before!).

Lessons learned: a) you can’t teach an old dog new tricks so stick to stone axes and b) let some other stupid idiot go first next time.

Next day I went surfing. It was still blowing a hoolie but the surf was really quite good and in the afternoon I was having some great rides using the skeg to help keep me running straight. All was well till a big one that had not read the book, broke far out before I’d got any forward movement and front -endering me. I considered rolling but realised a tomato in a blender stood a better chance and bailed out. A kite surfer stopped to ask how I was. I said ok thanks, but he clearly was unconvinced as he returned about 5 minutes later and offered me a tow. The novelty of having 2 tons of sea water dumped on my head every 10 seconds was wearing thin and I accepted, somewhat dubiously, as for the life of me I could not see how he could control that lot at all - let alone with me draped round his left leg. My doubts seemed to be confirmed as he promptly disappeared but he rapidly returned. After about 3 seconds experimenting, I grabbed his board, he grabbed the other end of my paddle (my boat had long since abandoned me) and we set off for the beach at a dignified enough rate for me to wonder to myself how the hell he held onto his board while doing the Mary Poppins impersonation so beloved of kite surfers.

Lessons learned: a) kite boarders have vastly more control of their gear than I do and b) In big seas and wind it may be impossible to hold onto one’s boat, so keeping fireworks and radio on the front deck means they may well not be to hand when needed most. I have since found that there is not enough length in the throw bag compartment of my buoyancy aid to accommodate a rocket or smoke flare but will carry my radio on me in future along with my strobe and mini flares.

On the Monday, having listened to Andrew Wallace extolling it’s virtues, I went rolling. Helen Wilson is I’m told a rolling champion. Certainly she seemed to be able to roll up just by waggling her eyebrows. Time will tell but she may have worked some improvement on my roll - albeit from a pretty low base. She is a good teacher- just can’t make silk purses from sows ears. Time will tell but I did win her video in the raffle and have a nose clip in my buoyancy aid!

My Wild Weekend – a tale of 3 very different days.

I had booked myself in for Incident Management on the first day of the Storm Gathering. I felt that while I am not a leader, it would do no harm to have session thinking about the causes, prevention and management of incidents. Apart from anything else, Martin and I often paddle just as a twosome. Our group eventually got on the water after delays due to poor communication of a change of venue to park/get on the water. I paddled out through the small break OK but as I had a minor wobble on top of two intriguingly close waves, a strong gust blew me over. Capsizing was OK but swimming proved interesting as I had been lent a pair of dry salopettes to wear under my dry cag but had failed to expel the air from them. My

feet were determined to get above my head. (Back to my good old wetsuit next day). After some turning in the wind exercises, the group split with most of them going round the corner of Trearddur bay “to have a look”. Bad idea. The 2 leaders went with them while the rest stayed in a quiet inlet. The next hour or so was spent managing an incident for real as a woman in our group was blown towards the rocks. After safe recovery of all except the lady’s paddle which had to be jettisoned during the rescue we had lunch then spent time towing and putting people back into their boats. I felt the day had not been thought through and an opportunity wasted. It must be said that conditions were very difficult though.

The second day dawned even worse. The rain hammered down while we got changed to go on the water and the wind was still 5-7. This day I went on an Intermediate Paddle. We had a very relaxed trip along the north Anglesey coast, keeping close in to stay out of the SE wind and enjoying the rock-hopping. We lunched amongst the remains of an old brick works on the beach and returned to the put-in with just a very short stretch against the wind. A lovely day, well thought through and well controlled to keep everyone safe.

The third day was Fundamental Boat Handling Skills. As the wind was still just as strong, our group, along with several others headed for the relative shelter of the Menai Strait. Unfortunately, no-one had been forewarned about the fair that was on in Beaumaris, making access all but impossible. However, our leaders did an admirable job of finding micro parking spots within reasonable distance of a good put-in. They gave some excellent tuition on edging and turning our boats, working both in and out of the wind. After lunch there was a short session surfing on the waves then off to the “Swellies” for some moving water skills followed by rescues. Our coaches were really excellent and very keen to give good value. They did a great job.
All in all it was a memorable 3 days. Definitely not for beginners but a good chance to paddle in difficult conditions with a moderate chance of survival.

Back to the Trip Report Index

Report: Sue and Martin Spurling



Paddling on the Jurassic Coast