Anglesey Circumnavigation 2016 (Trip Report)
September is a bit of a sentimental month for me. One big reason is that this Month back in 2015 was the when Myself and Steve Miles finished our lap of Ireland. Another big reason is September 2016 was when I did a lap of Anglesey Solo in under 12 hours.
Sit back, grab a cuppa and have a read...
After completing a team Circumnavigation of Anglesey in June 2016 with Jonny Eldridge in 13hr 14mins, I had resigned myself to the fact that my paddling adventures may have been over for that summer until I saw a perfect window in the forecast, which lined up with one of my next days off, light winds and a 10m tide. A thought had been floating around my mind since our June adventure, "Could I do it solo?"
At the time, I had a few questions that I kept asking myself:
- Could I do a lap without anyone else to confirm things with?
- Had I recovered from the last one? I felt somewhat dubious of my ability to push through, not physically but mentally.
- Could I motivate myself, alone and offshore? I knew I could when in training, but would that carry over to a longer challenge?
- Could I push on mentally when my body didn't want to go further?
I had been watching the forecast like a hawk, hoping that the window promising light winds wouldn't close. I knew I'd kick myself for the rest of the winter if I missed this chance to push my limits.
"That's it, I'm going"
Stephen Miles agreed to drop me off at Rhoscolyn on Tuesday 20th of September 2015. It was early in the morning, and as the forecast had said, there was barely any wind flat as a pancake. The perfect conditions were somewhat lost on me. I felt tired, unfit and doubtful. How was this going to go?
A nervous Dan left Rhoscolyn for the second time that summer, out again with the flood, well offshore, with sights set on the horizon, occasionally glancing at the GPS. Like when setting out each day on the Ireland Circumnavigation, I found my groove after the first 20 minutes and got into my rhythm. Allowing my head to drift off and my body to maintain the pace I was trying to set. I kept catching myself grinning, pleased with my progress, and laughing in the face of the anxiety and self-doubt I had been projecting.
One of the significant cruxes on the other Anglesey trip was the shipping lane, where Large Ferries go in and out of holyhead multiple times a day. I checked every few minutes in both directions, scanning the horizon and Holyhead breakwater for a tell tail of an approaching Ferry. I clearly remember my HR spiked and my stomach dropping as I caught a fleeting glimpse of some smoke rising from behind the Breakwater; it got thicker and darker….something was waking up. The big passenger ferry that had been dormant now began to slowly creep its way forward. I picked up the pace, keeping an eye on its progress towards the mouth of the harbour. I exited the shipping lane as it entered and swung around slowly onto its intended course to Dublin.
I breathed a sigh of relief. My flow returned again shortly after, but I had no time to relax. There was still a long way to go.
I carried on, passing the Skerries and Carmel Head with ease. My course was well out from the North coast and the Mice, trying not to let the eddies trailing in their wake slow my progress. Point Lynas came quickly, and I soon found myself someway offshore and heading South East, on time to my tidal gate at Puffin Island.
A pod of Risso Dolphins joined me for a while, their long dorsal fins drawing my gaze, but there wasn't time to stop. The wind had slackened right off now; I was paddling on moving glass. Like the last lap with Jonny, this crossing felt long, but I got through Puffin sound earlier than last time, meaning I still had some push from the dying flood. I was happy to see the boats of Beaumaris, signalling that I was entering the Menai straits and that I had firmly passed halfway. At this point, coming up to that quaint little Anglesey tourist destination, level with all the kids crab fishing on the pier, I hit my first wall.
Me flagging on the team circumnavigation with Jonny
I had been having small breaks every hour up to this point to get food and fluids in, but I needed a more extended rest here. One sausage roll later, and I was paddling again. My stomach muscles were hurting now, and I struggled to stay upright. On the approach to Menai Bridge, my head was playing games, still struggling to maintain good posture and doubting myself again. I still had such a long way to go. Something had to change.
Pulling my towline tight around my waist, I spun the bag to the back (I usually show it to the front), trying to make a taller backrest. Surprisingly, it worked! The pressure on my stomach was alleviated (a bit), and my mind bounced back into motivated action. I kept on paddling. The ebb was now well and truly in voice and was hurtling me down the straits. I managed 12 knots past the two bridges where the water gets squeezed. Plas Newydd and Plas Menai came and went. I kept getting second winds and dug deeper and deeper as I got to the southern entrance, and Llanddwyn Island came into view.
I knew from last time that this section would be physically horrendous. I tried to prepare mentally. Already tired and suffering, I wasn't fighting any actual conditions. The sea was flat, but the primary battle was still raging in my head.
Llanddwyn came and went slower this time than the rest of the milestone. The tide was slightly against me, but I had planned for that. What I hadn't planned for was the almighty wall that hit me minutes later. My head started to spin, and I was sick over the side of the Taran 16 (Jelly babies have never tasted the same since). It was grim. The pace was suffering now, and everything was screaming for a rest. I was so close to the end, and Rhoscolyn's beacon was on the horizon. As I set off across Rhosneigr Bay, I was sick over the side again. On the southern end of Holy Island, where I began, the little beach of Borthwen was creeping closer. I could make out the windows on the houses now, people on the shore. The closer I got, the more I pushed.
A ruined and salty Dan landed back in 11 hours, 20 minutes and 18 seconds. Almost two hours faster than the previous time.
The only photo I took of the day was at the end, looking back out of Rhoscolyn.
Rich Griffith Hughes came to pick me up. He gave a chuckle when he saw the shape I was in. Crusted salt everywhere, a bloody line where my HR monitor had been, not to mention some terrible tan lines.
I was pleased with how this one went; my food and hydration systems worked, and I read the water well. Self-doubt is funny; we set our limits, and, given the chance, our body and mind will smash them. This lap was not completed in any kind of record time, but I gained some valuable insight into my character, tidal planning and paddling solo. It did wonders for my confidence and has helped me with my more recent paddling adventures. It is definitely a "Must Do" for any North Wales based sea kayaker.