I set off on this journey in good spirits confident that I was well prepared mentally and physically. I waved off the last farewell boat containing my Dad, Brother and Uncle as I exited Cork harbour heading west with high morale and on target for my first day.
As planned I began to snack to keep my energy levels up, soon after I did the nausea began, before I knew it the energy drained from my body and I was left with a choice. Continue on for my rendezvous with an old friend or cut my loses and make for safe harbour. I struggled with this dilemma for a couple of miles but as my speed continued to drop and my body was failing more and more every stroke I had no choice but to make for land. Fortunately I was only a mile from Oysterhaven and as I entered the entrance I spotted a small cove and beached the boat, dejected, drained and utterly lost.
Had I bitten off more than I could handle, was I truly prepared enough, why did my body fail me so drastically and why now? Once I had gathered myself and set up camp I called Andree and let her know I was OK. I then had a well timed visit from Jon who I had been due to meet on the water later that day, a chat with him helped take my mind off what had happened on the water and my spirits began to lift.
I hit the hay or rather rocks early that night with intentions to be in good shape and positive to make my target of Galley Head the following morning. I rose early to rain tapping on the tent but determined to catch the tide I forced some food into my still nauseous stomach and slid down the rocky strand as the tide began to drop.
Although not feeling great I made good time to the mouth of Kinsale and kept a keen eye out for Jon who was set to join me before the old head. Increasing swell and dense fog made him difficult to spot and I paddled the east side of the head alone with a tidal eddy running against me. With my head down and energy levels slowly draining my spirit began to fail again and although not phased by the increasing swell I did again begin to wonder was I really ready for this, had I underestimated the challenge?
As I reached the tip of the Old Head the tide had began to run fast to the West and I was greeted by a confused sea, but underlying this was the Celtic Sea Express, a fast flowing tidal stream that picked me up and shot me west. For the first time on the trip the boat speed increased and my effort decreased, I was finally on my way, my spirits lifted.
As I quickly closed the distance to the Seven Heads I had to rely totally on my compass and GPS as dense fog restricted visibility to less than a mile. With total faith in my navigation ability I was happy to stay offshore in the strong tide with my ultimate goal of Galley head well within my grasp. Then it happened again, bang, every ounce of energy drained from my body, this time the decision was easy, get to shore now!
This all too familiar feeling of a ‘Bonk’ or ‘Hypo’ was most unwelcome and poorly timed. As I had still not been feeling well I had not eaten enough to fuel the previous 4 hours of paddling and it was inevitable that I would empty the tank.
My survival instinct kicked in and I forced myself to take an energy gel to raise my sugar levels, within 10 minutes I felt the sugar flow through my blood and I raised my head to make for Blind strand. With 2 miles to cover I summoned all my energy and dodging shallow reefs with breaking seas I rounded the head and paddle the final section of flat water onto the sandy beach. Delighted to be ashore I climbed from the boat and realised it was low tide, I would have to rest a while before I hiked all my kit up the beach to set up camp. A small clearing at the top of the beach would make an ideal campsite with the soft sandy ground making a pleasant change form the rocky shore of the previous night.
Contemplating my 2 days paddling I realised I had by now at least made my original landing site for night one and if I could make good time the following day I could get back on track, which, all things considered was not all that bad. A fine sunny evening and a surprise visit from Jon lifted my spirits and I was determined that day 3 would bring a new dawn and a return to full strength and health.
Being woken by rain in a tent is never a pleasant experience, especially when it is not even 6am but resisting the temptation to roll over I sat up and began to pack my kit and cook porridge. I force fed myself as much as I could before I began to gag and then finished packing the boat and moved off once again on the tide.
Moving out into a flat sea is always a nice way to warm up and as I rounded the first headland I made my way along the cliffs of the Seven Heads, retracing the strokes which had brought me ashore the previous afternoon, this time in much better shape. As I rounded the Seven heads and paused for a photo the clock struck 9 and I began the ritual of eating one snack each hour, on the hour, something I would continue for the following 10 hours; a fool proof plan to avoid the dreaded Bonk.
With the Seven Heads behind me I moved off to find the tide, not as strong as the previous day it helped me along none the less. Three hours later and with Galley head at my side I raised my hood and paddled through some heavy showers on flat calm seas. Once clear of the head I reset my heading and picked out High Island which gave me a direct line into Castlehaven my target for the day.
Within a couple of miles the gentle south-westerly breeze which had been building slowly, suddenly freshened, to create a choppy sea and this combination made the going slow and although still feeling strong I had yet again a decision to make. After toiling with my options and doing the speed and distance calculations in my head the smart choice was to make for Glandore and hope to make up the miles tomorrow. Happy my choice was the right one I adjusted my heading and made for harbour.
As I entered the sheltered harbour of Glandore I was greeted by a picturesque west cork village dropping steeply to the sea in calm deep water, but no beach to land a sea kayak and no sign of flat ground to pitch a tent. Not deterred I rounded the bend to Union Hall, a small fishing village which would surely offer me a safe landing and somewhere to rest my head. A landing site was easy to come by but it would not last long and as the tide was rising and the sheltered corner beach would soon disappear offering no space to pitch a tent. I contemplated my choices and after refilling my water I decided I would move off again to a beach I had spotted at the entrance to the harbour, a point from which I would be well set to launch an early assault on the following day.
Again happy with my decision and feeling in good shape I paddled out of the harbour moving between eddies to dodge the now flooding tide. As I moved smoothly out through the now flat waters it dawned on me that the wind had dropped and the tide had turned leaving the sea calm and perhaps Castlehaven was again a realistic end point for my day. With the mental arithmetic quickly sorted I made my move and working through the sheltered channel behind Rabbit Island I cruised along the shore making easy work of the 5mile stretch.
Arriving into Castlehaven I had a longing for some real food so I continued the short distance to the town of Castletownshend. As I approached I spotted an old stone slipway and some local kids gathering for rowing training and a swim, I landed to find a small flat strip of grass, ideal to pitch a tent. After enquiring with the locals I was given the go ahead to set up camp and with the added bonus that I could also use the rowing club shower facilities.
Camp made, showered and still smiling I walked the short lane to find an award winning Bar and Restaurant, “Mary Anne’s”. I did not even need a menu as the only thing on my mind was a big dirty plate of Fish and Chips, Fergus the proprietor duly obliged, he also kindly allowed me to use a couple of electrical outlets to recharge some batteries.
Fed washed and pretty chuffed with my day I returned to my tent hoping to get a small window in the morning to steal some miles towards Cape Clear before the impending gale. I awoke to a buffeting tent being clattered by rain and the news of Strong gales, I went back to sleep, time to rest now, Cape Clear will have to wait a couple of days.