Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Sea Kayak Playboating

North Wales is blessed with impressively powerful tidal streams, the famous headlands of Penrhyn Mawr and North Stack are a testimony to the huge volumes of water that sluice past our coastline every day. This is clearly great news for sea kayakers who are prepared to seek a thrill in these offshore tide races. However, there are a number of other venues on Anglesey that can provide the eager paddler  with some great lunar-powered play spots, as highlighted recently by Justine and Barry's trip to the Swellies.

The Menai Straits divide Anglesey from the mainland, and the Swellies exist as the stretch of moving water between the Menai and the Britannia suspension bridges that span the Straits. The Swellies are notoriously hard to navigate because of numerous shoals, whirlpools and surges with tides that can accelerate to speeds in excess of 8 knots. The Swellies have been the scene of many mysterious shipwreck and celtic legends are abound. One of the most well known incidents occurred when the wooden training ship HMS Conway ran aground on the Platters Reef.

The great thing about the Swellies, which are spread out over a mile-long stretch of water, is that paddlers are presented with a number of accessible and enjoyable white water features that form and disappear according to the strength and height of the tide. The following is a brief summary of the principal information needed to enjoy a number of play areas including Swellie Wave (as pictured by Justine Curgenven).

Drive into the town of Menai Bridge, where a number of access points are available. The town slipway is convenient, but requires a ten-minute paddle to reach the Swellies. Better still, drive the narrow road that passes directly under the bridge on the Anglesey shore. With luck, you'll find one of the few parking spaces still empty. Here you can either scramble over the wall and launch directly under the bridge (a good choice at High Water), or from the beach 100 metres north of the bridge. If launching at Low Water, walk up the road away from the bridge in a southerly direction. At the brow of the hill, take the footpath that leads directly down to a muddy beach 200 metres south of the bridge.

The Swellies can be paddled on either the flood of the ebb - most paddlers aim to arrive at either of High or Low Water Slack, which occurs in the Swellies 2 hours before High Water or Low Water Liverpool.  The Flood tide runs in a north-east direction in this part of the Menai Strait (right to left when looking across to the mainland from Anglesey), while the Ebb runs south-west. 

On Spring tides, local High Water is usually around the middle of the day, while local Low Water is generally in the morning and evening. Thus, on Spring tides, locals can grab a paddle on the Flood before or after work, while visitors can enjoy the Ebb while everyone else is earning a crust.

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