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Prone – North Channel attempt no.2

September 2023

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With David, Gerry, and Rhona on the Infinity support boat on my left, and the very enthusiastic and highly motivated Niall, (back to help guide me for the 2nd time), on my right in his OC1, (Ocean Canoe), we paddled out from a very calm Donaghadee harbour, but within a few hundred metres, I realised things weren’t good. My planned pace of 5.5-6.5kmph wasn’t looking very likely.
The weather forecast said almost zero wind and light cloud, which would keep the sun off my back. Almost perfect conditions. However, we hadn’t taken one other thing into consideration. The tide.
After this paddle I was told by several friends that not only was this a Spring tide, (apparently that is the big one), but on top of that, it was also a Supermoon. Thus making it probably the biggest tide of the year.
To cap that, I had asked for an early start, to utilise as much daylight as possible. This meant that slack tide was a long way away, and I’d be fighting the tide as soon as I started.
I could go on, but Niall very kindly wrote me a piece about the attempt from his angle, and I thought it made very interesting reading.

Niall
“I felt very honoured & trusted to be invited to join Dean on his crossing of The North Channel.
Dean is so committed & enthusiastic about all his challenges. He throws his heart, soul & body into the effort.
Dean was getting very excited & perhaps a wee bit nervous as our time window to cross was approaching.
“Are you planning to get a 3-hour OC session this week? As I said above, it would be really good to go out on a lumpy day, fully loaded. Also, have a go at changing clothes, (as if you are getting cold), to make sure you know how easy/hard it is.”
Although I had not been out on the outrigger for over a year I had been training hard on my SUP for 11cities on 13 September. My physiology doesn’t know whether or not I am on a SUP or outrigger. My preference is for training 0600 & whatever the weather just a pair of shorts. I know I was prepared & weather adapted for whatever The North Channel was going to throw at us.
Or so I thought!
During our time window we great debate about what would be the best weather conditions. The forecast for all our potential days varied every time we looked. Eventually, Saturday 2 September looked best with low wind speeds & wind direction in our favour.
I was picked up by Infinity Channel Swimming’s boat crewed by David & Jerry at 0500 at Portpatrick. We crossed the sea to Ireland very quickly accompanied by dolphins.
Arrived at Donaghadee at 0630 ready to start at 0700.
The water was very low in the harbour. I put together all the parts of the outrigger to prepare for the paddle. I started feeling some nervous energy.
I greeted Dean & Rhona. We are all eager to get on our watercraft and paddle. Eventually, we were on the water. We moved to the harbour entrance, and we were off.
Normally when you start on a challenge nervous energy propels you forward & some of the best times/speeds are achieved.
Something was off. It was a struggle to maintain 5kph. It’s early days so we ploughed on.
Dean has his gadget telling him speed, time & distance. I had no doubt he was asking himself the same question what was happening?
I said nothing. My thoughts were not positive. When Dean had a wee break for water, we stopped. I looked at my gadget. I was moving at more than 6kph without a paddle stroke being executed. WTF!

When we started paddling again this speed went down to 2kph. At the speed we were averaging it would take us 12 hours to cross.
During our paddle, I had plenty of time to look at the water. It was like a cauldron on full boil. Out of the sea, watery Matterhorns would build and then crash on top of us. They would attack us from all directions. Just as we thought we were through one patch they would assault us from a different direction soon after.

There was a pendant on the boat. It was limp, with no wind. If I hadn’t experienced it myself I would not have imagined this turbulent water was all caused by the tide.
I paddle on inland lochs. If this weather forecast was for that body of water, it would have been glassy smooth.
The tide, wow. We were attempting to go northeast averaging 2kph. It was a hard, painful slog. I could hear Dean’s thoughts. This wasn’t going to happen. It didn’t matter how strong a resilient paddler he was. There was nothing to be gained by continuing. Even if we could keep going for hours, the tide had beaten us.
While I waited for Dean to get back in the boat I watched my speed at 7kph when not paddling I thought a wee experiment was in order. I turned round & paddled with the tide. Within moments I was at 16kph with only 80% effort.*
When I looked at the map of our paddle, our position should have been towards the north. Our actual position was 5km south of where we departed from.
I admire Dean so much. He says he is going to do something & he does it. Not making it across The North Channel this attempt was another learning experience. We will regather our thoughts and return.”

 

Whilst stripping his OC1, Niall managed to slice his hand. When Rho was sorting out a plaster, she asked him if he was allergic to plasters. His reply was “no, I’m allergic to nothing”. There was a slight pause before he added, “apart from the North Channel”!
Will there be a 3rd attempt? Watch this space.
In the meantime, I’d like to say a huge thank you to David, Gerry, Rhona, and Niall. It was a really tough day, but everyone went above and beyond to try to make it happen, and I’m truly thankful to all of them!
I had hoped to complete the 35-40km crossing in around 7 hours, but after battling for over 3 hours, and having travelled only 12km, (and most of them were south, and not north east), I decided enough was enough. It was definitely my hardest paddle yet, and I was left a bit battered and bruised.


*
When Niall turned around and paddled back to the boat, in the direction we had been going, he struggled to get his OC over 3kmph, with the same effort.

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