I did my first crossing of the North Channel in 2013 when I piggy-backed on a group trip over on a sunny day in June. I don't know how long it took - probably about 6 hours or more. Ever since I have been wanting to go back and have a proper attempt - solo and as fast as possible.
The straight line distance from Donaghadee, N.Ireland to Portpatrick in Scotland is 35km but half the Irish sea empties and fills through this gap every 6 hours which causes very strong tidal movements and confused water. Paddling the distance is probably the easy part of this trip, getting your planning right is slightly more difficult!
The poor summer this year has meant that opportunities to do any crossing, and have time off, have been rare so when I saw a brief window in the forecast for the 30th of August I was keen on getting it ticked off. I had also just taken delivery of my new boat - a Zegul Sea Rocket and Iwas excited to give it a good run out. Unfortunately I had a cold all week and I wasn't that confident I would be in shape in time. I went out for an easy 10km on Saturday to see how I was feeling and made the decision to go for it.
On Friday I had gotten an unexpected message from Catriona Woods who has done the crossing a few times now. She'd seen the weather window as well and was also planning her own mission. Catriona had to be back for work on Monday so planned on returning by ferry Sunday evening, so this gave me a back up plan if I didn't feel up to paddling back from Scotland. This would be my first proper crossing and solo mission so I was not sure what to expect.
My aim for the crossing was to break the 4 hour mark, test the new boat and my tidal planning. Working out the various factors that will effect your progress can get a bit much after a while, so I decided to keep it simple and aim to be half way across for slack water. Unfortunately my planning didn't work out perfectly and I over shot my intended landing spot by about 2km. Getting on the water 40 minutes late and not adjusting my route enough to compensate was the error that got me into a frustrating battle with the tide within spitting distance of the finish. Lesson learned for next time!
I was tired when I reached Scotland and I felt achy during the paddle. Looking at my BPM readings I don't think I was over the cold I'd had. I had decided before landing I wasn't going to have the energy to make the return paddle and my arse was sore from the new seat in the boat.
After landing and getting out for a stretch I paddled down to Portpatrick harbour, got changed and went for lunch. I had barely finished lunch and walk around a bit when Catriona Woods landed in to the harbour after a very impressive 4;45 solo crossing and a new PB.
We went for coffee and cake in the Harbour House pub and met up with Willie our lift to the ferry. A gentleman who has been kind enough to drop many a paddler off in Cairnryan for the big boat home.
All in all a good day out and some useful lessons learned for future crossings.
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Kayak instructor, athlete, business owner and outdoor enthusiast from the west coast of Ireland.
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