So you might have seen a few Facebook posts about a recent adventure / mission paddle that Mark Slater & I have been planning.
We came up with the hair brained idea at the end of last year over a beer with Shaun Taylor. We ended up not being able to do it last year, but that’s a good thing as it gave us plenty of time to do some planning.
The mission essentially to SUP from our home break of Boscombe Pier (BosVegas) across & around the Isle Of Wight & back to Boscombe in 24hrs. It should set a new unofficial record for the longest distance SUP’d in 24hrs, but it’s very challenging waters. Many, many hours were spent poring over tidal flow charts, tide timetables & calculating distances, speeds & stop offs to make the route possible. With 4-6kt tides running around the channels and the island you have to be very careful on the timings (as we found out).
It’s hard to get a true distance but we estimated around 80 miles. We’d planned the stops (only 3 were possible with time & tide) and we’d picked the holding dates where the tide times were ok for an early set off (only1-2 days a month)
Our first holding dates came up as 14-15 April 2012. Now all we needed was weather. Watching the forecasts all week it was changing all the time, we knew it wouldn’t be perfect but we really wanted to get out there & give it a go, even as a trial run.
My wonderful generous sponsors Nutrichef agreed to plan a bespoke menu to help fuel us through the challange. Chi Drinks stocked us up with Coconut water, and Garmin kindly loaned us a couple of 310xt’s top track our progress.
So we were all set, an early start planned giving us 5hrs to get to our first stop in Brighstone Bay. 3.30 we met & got all organised ready to go. Marks other half Becca kindly offered to drive over to the Island to meet us & bring food supplies.
We hit the water at 4am sharp. It was a pretty cold morning around 3-4 degrees and a bit cloudy so not much moonlight to see our way. I was paddling Naish’s 14ft Glide, Mark on his 14ft Fanatic. Fortunately the sea was fairly calm so we set off on a steady pace towards Hengistbury Head.
As we got underway the skies cleared a little & before we knew it we’d covered the 5-6miles to Hengistbury, then we needed to head out into open ocean. Literally as we did so, the winds picked up & the sky became foggy, visibility rapidly disappeared in the dull light of the sunrise & impending sea fog. Fortunately we were prepared… we had a compas and set a rough bearing that should take us over to the Needles. All the way out as we hit more open ocean the wind increased making the going hard. Tyring to paddle in chop is hard enough but when it’s foggy & dull, even harder. We pushed on, snacking on Nurtichef Flapjacks & sipping hyrdo drinks.
After a couple of hours paddling into the fog, with only a compass to roughly direct us, we finally caught sight of the Needles lighthouse. We decided on a slighlty wide berth to be safe, as we turned East to come below the light house the wind really started to pick up. We put our heads down & picked a bouy just past the lighthouse to stop & treat ourselves to a 3rd Nutrichef Flapjack. The swell was growing, the wind increasing so be gritted our teeth and paddled on knowing our rest was coming. I looked up after a while to get bearings & couldn’t believe my eyes when we could no longer see the lighthouse let alone the bouy… we were getting washed out to sea, FAST! I shouted to Mark we needed to change angle to try & get out of the current. The wind & swell continued to pick up, smashing up & down the swell, then I fell in… S**t the bed it was freeeeeeezing. Quickly back on the board & head down Mark & I pulled together & tried to draft each other in turn up in to the wind to try & make back some ground towards the lighthouse. We didn’t speak a word to each other for nearly an hour & a half, just head down smashing it out, hardly the pace & effort you want to be exerting when you’ve got another 60miles to paddle, but we had no choice… paddle hard,or call in the rescue team. We got back in sight of the lighthouse & gave it everything to try & get back towards land but it was impossible. With 12+knots of headwind & 4+knots of current it doesnt matter how strong a paddler you are, you’re stuffed. We were both utterly exausted, and finally we spoke…
Mark “I think we’ve f**ked it”
Pete “f**k it we’re stuffed, f**k it”
We had to begrudgingly admit defeat. Mother Nature didn’t want us to make it round the island that day, we had to see sense & bail. We called Becca who was on the Island with brekkie ready & we turned to start heading home to land.
That paddle home was possibly the hardest bit of paddling I’ve ever done. Totally exhausted & wind howling on our side, side swell… it doesn’t get much worse… and then it did… we both fell in… fully under… GREAT!
A few boats came past & checked us out, they must have wondered what the hell these two idiots were doing out in such nasty conditions, right out to sea, wearing rather tasty fluro vests 🙂 Again we went silent, heads down. A couple of hours passed & finally we got sight of the coast & dry land. I still hadn’t taken a single paddle stroke on my right since leaving the Needles… It was starting to hurt, cold, tired we had to get back to land… we paddled on. We got our bearings, perfect placement we were heading towards Avon Beach. I was determined to be able to switch paddle sides before we hit the coast so I kept to the East of the destination hoping I’d be able to get the wind behind me for the last stretch. Avoiding all the local shipping boats & nets finally we got in towards the harbour area, turned & started to have some fun.
It was breaking about 3ft on the sandbars, swell going in perfect direction to our beach spot… yeeewwwwwww finally some runners & some 10miles later we could change paddle sides. I caught a couple of beauty waves, stood tall back on the tail, paddle catching the wind, riding the swell. The 14ft Glide was in it’s element, it flew in to shore, catching a wave the last 50meters or so we hit sand.
Boards dropped on the beach, a mighty man hug with The Slater… we’d made it back! We sneaked into the beach cafe & sat dripping & shivering in the corner until Becca made it to us. A quick change into some warm dry clothes & time for brekkie… a mountain of Thai Massaman curry… yum!
After stacks of food, coffee, more food & more coffee Mark suggested we had to complete the part of the mission…we had to paddle back to Boscombe. Having just got warm, I wasn’t keen, but knew it had to be done. We donned our 3:2’s this time & set off for the last 5-6miles home.
It was definitely the right thing to do for so many reasons… we cruised back, picking up the pace towards the end as the wind switched to our backs… a few laughs & jokes… we had survived & managed to still paddle a whopping 32miles.
We hit Boscombe beach where we had set off some 9hours before. Although we hadn’t completed what we set out to do that day we had still achieved a huge amount & had one hell of an adventure. We learnt a lot about the water we were paddling & have taken those lessons on board for the next attempt… Flat calm & sunny conditions only!
We didn’t take the paddle lightly. We had thoroughly prepared. had appropriate safety & communication equipment. We’d closely followed weather forecasts, but sometimes things just don’t come together. Weather can be so localised, there was certain nothing forecast in terms of fog. It’s important to have a healthy respect for the ocean we paddle in, it can catch you out when it wants, so always be safe.
There are holding dates planned for the rest of the summer so watch this space, we will make it round that damn Island 🙂
Garmin GPS records shown here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/167916382
Until the next attempt…