3 star sea kayaking in Penrhyn Mawr and South Stack, Anglesey (Day 3 of 5)

Wednesday. The forecast for today and the rest of the week was extremely kind – almost no wind, very little swell, and neap tides. Stuart decided to take us on Anglesey’s most famous paddling trip, a visit to South Stack via Penrhyn Mawr, which would be a far more difficult proposition if there was an Atlantic swell rolling in.

We launched from a pretty little bay just down the road from where we were staying, and while the others were sorting their boats out Zoe and I went out to see if Zoe could do a roll – she reckoned that trying it at the end of the day when she was tired was the reason it wasn’t working. After many false starts the magic finally happened and Stuart was around and watching to tick off the requirement. Yay! The ‘post-roll discombobulation’ then struck again as Zoe then managed to drop her hatch cover in the water while getting her sunglasses out. Turns out, these hatch covers sink. Oops. The water was fairly clear, but deep, and we couldn’t spot it. But we were only a few metres from the shore, so Stuart nipped back to the van for another one.

The geology on the way to South Stack was absolutely amazing – towering cliffs, complete with shrieking gulls and clattering climbers, caves, and rock folds in tight curves. We threaded our way between rocks and paddled below the bridge to South Stack island with its lighthouse,then out to the headland on the island and back battling the tide.

No, definitely can’t hold the camera still out here!

We learned the term “between a rock and a hard place” – if you go in too close to the coast you will hit the rocks, but if you paddle too far out from the rocks the opposing tide will be very hard work and could actually push you backwards. The bay to the south has a huge ‘back eddy’ – where the current goes in the opposite direction from the main tide – and we pulled in there to have our lunch in a secluded sun trap of beach only reachable by sea, to await the building of the Penrhyn Mawr tiderace. On the flood tide the water becomes “interesting”, in the “may you live in interesting times” curse kind of way. We paddled bravely out and enjoyed getting pushed hither and thither, with a handy eddy to rest in and watch the others surf up and down the waves. Nobody fell in. However, our coach thought it would be educational for us to do some rough water rescue, although there would only be time for each student to either jump in or be the rescuer, not both. Feeling uncharacteristically keen I volunteered to be the first to capsize in the middle of the rough water. It was a lovely warm day and I was wearing a buoyancy aid and drysuit, so what could possibly go wrong? I jumped in, fine, then a wave hit and I was suddenly very cold. And wet. My elbows were sloshing. I let go of the boat in surprise. I had unzipped my drysuit for lunch and omitted to fully close it again. I was drenched, and the force of the tiderace and wind was pushing the boat out of reach faster than I could swim, but it didn’t get more than a metre away before Zoe rescued it, and then me.

Lessons learned:
1. Check your dry suit is done up. Men have an extra hazard, the ‘pee zip’. Brr!
2. If something surprising like a cold water bath happens, the victim is likely to let go of their boat. The rescuer should be yelling ‘keep hold of your boat’ as they approach to try and prevent this. Zoe should have been bossier.
3. If the numpty still lets go of the boat, the rescuer should leave them behind and chase down the boat. Boats drift away faster than numpties. Come back for them afterwards.


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