Getting moving again was such a great feeling and not only was I moving I was feeling strong and had fair conditions. Originally I had set Cape Clear as my target after Castletownshend but after a couple of days off I wanted to make up some time and set off for Crookhaven. This was a chance to start to get back on track and regain some lost miles and time.
A steady cruise along the cliff coast of west cork brought me past the entrance to Baltimore which I could have used to give me access to the narrow channels between the Islands and break up the boredom of what would otherwise be a long open crossing. It would also increase the distance and add the possibility of foul tides if I had my timing wrong. Feeling optimistic I declined this option and went for the bold choice of the Gascanane sound and a direct line for Crookhaven.
The Gascanane sound is legendary in these parts as a treacherous stretch of water which has many myths and legends attached to it. One of which is that on your first passing you must compose a poem, not one to insult tradition I may have mumbled a few words on my way through. Not that I would write them here, There once was a boy from Nantucket…
It is easy to see why the sound is treated with such respect as even on a slack and favourable tide it is a challenging place. The tide runs fast around rocky outcrops upon which swells surge and break and rebound, adding to the confusion. Relying on my years of river paddling I carefully scanned the water ahead and negotiated the obstacles with relative ease. I am slowly getting a feel for the boat and paddles and each time I encounter tough conditions my confidence grows, it is a totally different feel to a plastic river boat but I am learning.
Clear of the sound I evaluated my options, Crookhaven was a safe option with good facilities and good landing sites. It would however leave me 2 hours or more from the Mizen which I would have to face into in the morning. The other option which was less know was to head for Barley cove giving an option of 2 beaches tucked just behind the Mizen. These remote beaches would not offer any facilities and could mean I would have to land in surf, the increase in distance today 30 minutes the saving tomorrow 90 minutes, the decision was easy, Barley Cove here I come.
Looking across Long Island Bay towards my ultimate destination was at first reassuring as it makes navigation simple, point and paddle. Occasionally I would reference the Gps for speed and position and the compass for heading, this is an old habit from hill walking by knowing your bearing you can easily find your destination even if cloud or fog moves in, not a bad habit to have. 2 hours later and I began to wonder if being able to always see your destination is in fact a good thing. With each passing hour I would stop to eat, as is my routine at this stage, and stare into the distance to see if I could decipher any more detail to indicate a landing point or any hazards. After what seems like an eternity the detail of the cliffs finally became clear and I rounded Brow head to face into Barley Cove. Much to my surprise this remote beach hanging off the bottom of Ireland has a huge hotel and beach with lifeguards.
Sighting what looked like a sheltered corner I eased towards the beach, picking up a surprise surf wave along the wave and hitting 9knts (fastest speed so far). Not wanting to capsize this late in the day and in front of the on looking lifeguards and walkers I slowly landed and climbed quickly from the boat, almost text book. That was s relief and a success for my first surf landing.
Immediately into routine of drag the boat clear of the tide scope out a campsite I was surprised to see some familiar faces coming towards me. My cousin Cathy and her Husband John had been in Schull for the day at a triathlon and decided to pay me a visit. I immediately enlisted their Sherpa skills and John hauled the boat up the sand while Cathy helped carry my camping kit up to the dunes. It was great to see some familiar faces and chat for a while a very pleasant way to end what was a pretty pleasing day.
Mizen head, the most southerly point in Ireland, a place of legend and feared by sea farers far and wide. How tough can it be!
This was always going to be a landmark (pardon the pun) day in the trip for a whole range of reason but most of all because I had never been around the Mizen before and felt it was almost a rite of passage a kin in some small way to crossing the equator or rounding Cape horn.
I had never even stood on the Mizen but from what I read and heard it was a rugged outcrop battered by ferocious Atlantic swells and bent and twisted by tempestuous tidal currents. I had butterflies as I rounded the last cliff which had been blocking the Mizen from my view and as it came into view I was not disappointed, rugged does not begin to describe the incredible scene before me and this was a calm day. Sensing that this may be my only chance to get close, as I had near perfect conditions, I moved inshore between a rock awash with breaking waves curling in a white foaming cauldron and the headland itself, with only a small gap to slip through. Had I company on the water I may not have been nervous but on my own I was certainly pushing my limits but it was worth it, the rush of getting that close and for a brief moment knowing that I was further south than anybody on our fair Isle was a great thrill. As I paddled clear rather pleased with my achievement I began to adjust my heading north; a direction which will dominate my compass for the next 2 or maybe 3 weeks until of course I round Malin head.
Another big open crossing followed as I made for Dursey sound the far side of the Kenmare river. At this stage I knew that a 5 or 6 hour crossing was to be expected and for the first time broke out my HzO waterproof ipod to help break the monotony, a strange notion to think that this little device could be totally waterproof with no obvious protection, will it stand the test of 5 weeks at sea? For now it is good company with the radio playing and getting news updates and some build up to the big Ireland game I went into auto pilot.
I made my way through a small gap in the sea stacks which guard the southern entrance to Dursey sound cutting precious metres and time from my journey and safely arrived in the sound at slack tide making for a simple passage which included a quick pee stop and a few pictures of the cable car.
Again with options of where to conclude my day I took the long option and crossed the 10miles to Derrynane harbour. For the first time all trip I picked up a nice favourable tail wind which nudged me along making it a short 3 hour crossing. Once I had negotiated my way through the narrow harbour entrance I made my way safely onto a clean sandy beach dragged my boat above the high water line and set about the familiar routine.
A large part of the reason I made the additional miles to Derrynane was to give me the best possible opportunity to get to the Blasket Islands in one day, a big day which would prove to be my biggest test of mind a body.
Starting out by needing the pee bottle twice in the first couple of hours was not ideal as it is a time consuming and awkward process peeing in a bottle while sat in a sea kayak. With a gentle head wind I made slow progress to Bolus head but once around my speed increased as I moved north closing the gap on Puffin Island sound and I could clearly see the Blaskets on the distant horizon.
As I closed in on Puffin Island sound and watched the small groups of Puffins duck for food and fly off at the sight of the red and white sea monster I had to switch on the mental calculator and weigh up my options. To continue at this speed would mean at best arriving on Great Balsket at 10pm, with no water and no way to charge my now dead VHF radio. The other option make for the familiar town of Knightstown and perhaps make the crossing of Dingle bay tomorrow weather permitting but with water resupplied and batteries charged.
Decision made I bounced through the churning sound to be met with a freshening head wind and lumpy sea. From here the struggle began. The joys of the previous 2 days soon left me as I cursed and grunted my way into the wind struggling to hold the speed above 1knt. My left shoulder then gave rise to a sharp pain, each time I pulled the paddle through the water I grunted louder, it was then that my spirit began to strain.
The following struggle forced me yet again to question why I was doing this and for the first time I seriously considered if my body could hold up to this relentless pressure, or torture as it seemed, but not only that could my mind take it?
I arrived in Knightstown some hours later, broken, and then shattered by the news of more headwinds. Although I still had energy in my body unlike the first couple of days of the trip I was mentally – Cooked.
With a day to recover and re-evaluate in Knightstown I can put all of this into perspective and reflect on what I have achieved. It is this knowledge and confidence in my own ability coupled with the fact that I have amazing support and that I am “Living the Dream” of so many (although at times it feels like a nightmare) that gives me the strength to continue.
Tomorrow the goal remains the same, to move on in the right direction, how far? I do not know just yet…