Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sea Kayak Adventures

I was asked recently by someone who intends to visit North Wales this summer about potential sea kayaking trips that I would recommend and this got me thinking about the breadth of options available to them. As it so happens there were five trips I did over the winter that stand out to me as being some of the better ones to choose from. I list them here, not in any rank order, with some description of the location and tidal information. To assist with any planning, I would recommend getting a copy of Welsh Sea Kayaking by Jim Krawiecki and Andy Biggs, which is available direct from Pesda Press.

The Ormes

Great Ormes Head is one of the most identifiable landmarks on the North Wales coast, and can be seen clearly from the A55. The imposing limestone cliffs teem with bird life and contrast the somewhat flat features of Llandudno, a popular seaside resort established in the Victorian era. Further east across Llandudno Bay is Little Ormes Head, which can feel equally dramatic when paddling beneath it. Although a trip around these cliffs can feel serious because of long stretches without suitable egress, the tidal planning is straightforward and the currents are relatively weak. The trip can be a short one, from West Shore to North Shore or even extended beyond the Little Orme to Rhos on Sea.

High water occurs 30 minutes before Liverpool. The west going stream begins after 30 minutes after HWL, whilst the east going stream begins 6 hours before HWL. The spring rate is no more than 3 knots.

The Stacks

The western extremities of Anglesey are referred to as the Stacks and any trip around these noble outposts of pre-cambrian rock that jut into the Irish sea can be rewarding, breathtaking and at times ferocious. The Stacks are exposed to the most storm and tide, as well as possibly the highest wind and wave action.  As such, the coastline is popular with those sea kayakers wishing to advance their skills. Passage around the Stacks should be well planned to account for the tide races and overfalls that exist at North Stack, South Stack and Penryhn Mawr. Either that so they can be used to maximum effect for playing, or to ensure more moderate waters to allow for rock hopping and bird watching. Soldiers Point, east side of Holyhead and Porth Dafarch, east of Treardurr Bay are popular launch sites depending on which way round you wish to go.

High water at Holyhead occurs 50 minutes before Liverpool. High water in Penrhos Bay occurs 1.30 hours before Liverpool. At North Stack, the north-east going stream begins 5 hours after HWL, whilst the  south-west going stream begins 2 hours before HWL. At South Stack, the north-north-east stream begins  4 hour 50 minutes after HWL, whilst the south-south-west stream begins 1 hour 10 minutes before HWL. At Penrhyn Mawr, the north-west going stream begins 3 hours and 30 minutes after HWL, whilst the south-west going stream begins 1 hour and 15 minutes before HWL. The spring rate can exceed 6 knots.

The Skerries 

A trip to the Skerries is a North Wales classic. It is a committing offshore paddle that requires sound tidal planning, as well as good skills to deal with the ever present overfalls. The Skerries are a cluster of barren rocky islets exposed to the full might of the Irish Sea. They are overlooked by a prominent lighthouse on the largest of the islands and are a breeding ground for a variety of seabirds. Again, this is seen as an advanced trip due to the exposed nature of the paddling. Popular access and egress points include Church Bay on the west coast, below Carmel Head and Cemlyn Bay on the north coast, east of Carmel Head.

High water occurs 45 minutes before Liverpool. The north-west going stream begins 5 hours and 15 minutes after HWL, whilst the south-west going stream begins 45 minutes before HWL. The spring rate can exceed 6 knots around the Skerries and in Carmel Sound. 


The journey from Borthwen around Rhoscolyn Beacon and past the Head into Penrhos Bay is one of the most appealing trips available on Anglesey. An indented coastline offers up caves, arches and passageways than can provide a variety of options for those keen to explore. The cliffs are not too imposing, though at times landing or escape are not easy. Strong tidal movement can be felt in the Sound and overfalls are present on the southern side of the Beacon. Depending on the direction the trips takes you can end up with ice creams in Treardurr Bay or a beer at the White Eagle near Borthwen.

High water occurs 1 hour 30 minutes before Liverpool. Off shore from Rhoscolyn, the north-west going stream begins 4 hours and 30 minutes after HWL, whilst the south-west going stream begins 1 hour 30 minutes before HWL. In Rhoscolyn Sound, the north-west going stream begins 3 hours after HWL, whilst the south-west going stream begins 1 hour 30 minutes before HWL. The spring rate is around 4 knots at Rhoscolyn Beacon and Rhoscolyn Head

Puffin Island

The easternmost point of Anglesey is marked by a precipitous mass of rock that is home to a host of nesting seabirds including the much vaunted puffin. The island goes by several names but most refer to it as Puffin Island, though Ynys Seirol is not an uncommon reference. St Seirol established a monastery on the island, and folklore has it that he was referred to as the pale saint. The popularity of this trip stems from its ease of access, the wildlife that is present here and that it can be completed in a variety of craft. However, the Sound itself can provide interesting conditions depending on the state of the tide. It is possible to gain access from Penmon Point but a toll needs to be paid at the Priory, so many park and launch in the layby before it. One advantage of setting off from the shingle beech at the Point are the rewards available from the tea shop which is open in the summer months.

High water occurs 30 minutes before Liverpool. The tide goes north through Puffin Sound and then runs north-west 30 minutes before HWL, whilst the south-east going stream runs 5.30 hours after HWL. The spring rate is no more than 3 knots.

If you wish to have a guided sea kayak experience, either on any of the trips listed or wish to visit some of the more esoteric gems on the Anglesey coastline such as Llandwyn Island (above), then get in touch.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Incident Report

A kayaker was rescued from the sea off Redcar by RNLI lifeboat after he capsized, leaving him clinging to the upturned craft.

The alarm was raised just after 4pm when the kayak was seen to be upturned by waves, approximately a quarter of a mile from the lifeboat station on the Esplanade, Redcar. 

Coastwatch Redcar contacted Humber Coastguard who requested the launch of the Redcar RNLI inshore lifeboat Jacky Hunsley. 

The man was quickly found and brought ashore to the lifeboat station where crew members and the RNLI doctor gave first aid and carried out medical checks. 

Dave Cocks from Redcar RNLI said: 'The man was picked up about a quarter of a mile out from the lifeboat station. The incoming tide was causing a bit of a jumble of waves and his kayak was hit side-on by a wave, making it overturn. 

'Luckily he was spotted and the lifeboat was quickly on scene. 

'He was shivering violently and he told the crew he had inhaled some seawater, so we called for our doctor to give him a check-over. Fortunately his lungs were clear.' 

The man, aged 55 years from Middlesbrough, told the RNLI crew he had been fishing from the kayak when the wave struck. He had been immersed in the sea for around 10 minutes, clinging to the capsized kayak, before he was able to right it and climb back on board. 

Dave Cocks added: 'The man was well equipped as far as wearing a buoyancy aid and wetsuit, but he only had a mobile phone to raise the alarm and that had become waterlogged. 

'We always advise anyone who goes out on the sea to take a waterproof marine VHF radio to raise the alarm, and to get proper training in how to use it. The radio puts the person in trouble in direct contact with the coastguards who can then direction-find their location, making rescue much more straightforward.'

Support the RNLI by becoming a member or making a donation.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

BCU 5* Sea Award - Thoughts

As I work towards what is possibly the last component of becoming a complete BCU Level 5 Coach, that being an endorsed 5* Trainer and Assessor, I thought it might be good to pencil out a few on-going thoughts. Whilst the BCU 5* Sea may seem to be the least defined of all the awards, there are ways of passing this award comfortably.

Know the area where you will be tested. Paddle it a few times in different weather/tidal conditions. This does not have to be a stressful on-the-spot scouting test, your chart is there as a backup not as your primary means of knowing your location. 

Be aware of the Assessor's agenda, they will have their own! Some like a lot of chartwork, some like weather, some like silly tricks performed inverted, some like paddling for miles and miles at 6 knots. The rest is down to judgment and skill. All Assessors will have scenarios and locations where they like things to happen. 

You need 'plans' in your head at any one time: a 5 min plan, a 30 min plan and a 1 hour plan. You'll be implementing the 5 min plan, working towards the 30 min plan, and keeping the 1 hour plan in perspective. Some scenarios are unfeasible; accept ones you can cope with, decline silly challenges. you’ll be debriefed at the end on whether your standard is acceptable for this grade. 

If you are 'experienced' then it stands to reason that you will draw confidence from having built up a breadth of personal experience, thus enabling you to make sound judgment calls as and when they are required. An Assessor will be happy in the knowledge that you have a good perspective over the whole proceedings.

If you are not so 'experienced' then you need a bombproof game plan or live on your wits – scary! You need to dress-rehearse all the scenarios. This is the hardest way of passing; a good Assessor will detect a candidates lack of flexibility and adeptness and will try to force judgment calls, and potentially forcing mistakes to be made. After all, they need to see if a candidate is safe in any situation. 

Don't be put off by other candidates making a right hash of things, stick to what you know and how you want to run things. When the other candidate makes a 'fluff' and you have to take over, brief the Assessor with your account of the situation and what you are planning to do next. Stop the rot, and take decisive action, don’t accept a bad inheritance. 

Remember, you may need to use your towline more than once, often in quick succession. Sort out an effective roll and be ready with a quick re-entry; this is a set piece and really highlights good paddling skill, or lack of. Make sure the kit you have is functional, accessible but also easily stowed or secured.

Get in touch if you are interested in starting you 5* pathway or just wish to look at your skills development in a boat.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Make A Donation

In light of recent events in Japan, you may wish to make a donation to show your support. One way this can be done is via Qajaq JPN who will ensure all funds go to the Japanese Red Cross -

Qajaq JPN is an association of traditional Greenland style kayakers in Japan and members of Qaannat Kattuffiat. Officers of this organization are collecting international money donations as well as supplies by mail. If you have any questions, please contact the Qajaq JPN President, Eiichi Ito:

Spread the word and build hope

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Ocean Has A Heartbeat

This blog entry, written by Helen Wilson, was first published on 27 September 2007 in the North Coast Journal's Off The Pavement section. An edited version has been reproduced here.

It was April 23, 2006, when I first realized that the ocean has a heartbeat. I was participating in a Godwit Days tour of Trinidad Bay led by Marna Powell, owner of Kayak Zaks, and Michael Morris, a local birder. I had been in a kayak before, but this was my first time on the ocean. As Marna pushed my kayak past the small surf break, I could instantly feel it, the rhythm of the sea. I was captivated by the intense pounding, and with each small swell I could hear it and feel it more, as if it were embracing me, and beckoning me out farther into its waters. 

I don’t remember seeing any birds that day, but I do remember hearing the sound of the water as it swished around the rocks, the thump of the kelp as it hit the bottom of the boat and the sound of water dripping off the paddle. I was in love. I had discovered a new world that I needed to explore and become a part of, which is why I was so thrilled to discover Explore North Coast, a local sea kayaking association.

Through Explore North Coast, I have met some wonderful people, many of whom I now paddle with on a weekly basis. These people introduced me to many of our local paddling areas, including Trinidad, which is a gem that we are blessed to live so close to.

One of the greatest things about sea kayaking is that the ocean is constantly changing. A set of rocks during low tide can offer colorful, tide-pooling opportunities. The same set of rocks during high tide might provide passages to move through, and exciting places to explore. The water moving between a set of rocks can be still and flat, or resemble the water in a washing machine. Often these changes occur instantly.... was a calm day, and a group of friends had decided to do a sunset paddle off the coast of Trinidad. Being new and naive, I didn’t hesitate to follow three of my friends through a narrow but long slot between a large split rock. As I made my way through I became mesmerized by the huge walls on either side of me, and suddenly I heard a noise. It was the sound of water being sucked away. I quickly realized that the water was dropping out of the slot, and starfish and sea anemones were being exposed that had been underwater seconds before. 

Instinct told me that the water that had left would come back in quickly, and it did. With the sound of rushing water I felt myself getting hit from behind, and I realized that I was surfing, directly toward the sloping rock on my left. I felt the front of my kayak hit and, in what seemed like slow motion, I rolled over to my right. I quickly grabbed the loop on my sprayskirt and tore it off, exiting the boat. Following my friend Damon’s instructions, I swam out of the slot, pushing the boat in front of me, and performed what is commonly called a T Rescue, an assisted rescue performed in deep water. 

This experience was humbling to me. The three friends that had entered the slot before me had not encountered any rough water, and after my rescue I didn’t see another wave move through in the same manner. It was a reminder that the ocean is not predictable and that its personalities cannot be ignored. I developed a deep respect for the ocean that day, and it was several months before I went anywhere near that slot again.

Sea kayaking is not just about the water, it’s also about the marine mammals that make the ocean their home. Harbor seals, river otters and harbor porpoises are common visitors to Trinidad, and although my friends and I are careful to give them their space, they often follow us, poking their heads out of the water just feet away. Stellers and California Sea Lions are common in the deeper water surrounding Trinidad Head. Looking at these majestic creatures I often feel both fright and wonder as they bark ownership of the rocks. Their presence is so empowering, that I, as a kayaker, often feel blessed that they allow me to paddle where they reside. 

Sea kayaking has changed my life. Whether it be for a calm paddle, an exciting experience or just a time to trap out the stresses that life often throws at us, I’ve found solitude in the ocean. I’ve learned to trust that the ocean is unpredictable, and have found comfort in this. I’ve also never stopped hearing its heartbeat, and I hope I never do.

Helen is a sea kayaker out of Arcata, California. She enjoys open ocean paddling in her skin-on-frame qajaq and can be found playing off the Northern California coastline and in the nearby lagoons several times a week. She is never far from water and enjoys being underwater as much as being on the surface.

Helen specializes in traditional paddling skills using traditional equipment. She competed in the Greenland National Kayaking Championship in 2008 (Qaqortoq, Greenland) and 2010 (Nuuk, Greenland), receiving five medals in four disciplines.

Helen’s website,, is very active and contains a popular blog that she uses to document her travels and a question and answer section that her students use frequently.