Bristol Channel Crossing

The forecast was favourable for this time of year, originally easterly force 1-2.  Myself and Elan took the chance to do something a bit more exposed than normal.  There were two options when we arrived at Llantwit Major early morning. Cross the Bristol Channel to Heddon's Mouth, a trip I've done once before with Eurion in 2012, or a crossing of Swansea Bay linking the shipping buoys from Nash Point.

The forecast had since changed from my initial excitement three or four days before.  It was still a favourable force 2-3 but gusting force 4-6 later in the day.  The Swansea Bay trip was longer and would involve a direct head wind for the entire return trip.  Wind on tide (spring tides) was the only issue for the Bristol Channel trip, but even if the forecast was right it was nothing we couldn't handle.  Heddon's Mouth on the north Devon coast it was then... 

We left Llantwit Major half hour later than intended on a rough SSW heading.  I haven't paddled with Elan since June so we had a lot to catch up on and time flew by in pleasant conditions.

We spotted pods of Porpoise on four separate occasions and young guillemots circled often.

The light cross wind provided enough to give us a gentle push in the right direction...even when we stopped for a break.

Spirits were high as the sun broke through the clouds briefly.

St Athan SAR helicopter circled past us, probably wondering what we were doing way out here.

The white column of Foreland Point lighthouse and the square outlines of buildings at Lynmouth drew ever closer.  We were (thankfully) on target.

The V shape valley of Heddon's Mouth looked familiar, we were here.

Where the steep cliffs of the Exmoor national park drops off vertically here into the sea is very impressive.  I say it every time, but it does deserve some further exploration.

It's taken us about 3hrs15mins, a really good time considering we put in very little effort between our ramblings.

The beach was surprisingly busy considering the nearest road is 1.5km away.  By the time we haul our boats a short distance up the beach and and find a quiet spot to rest it was spot on low water.

There was no huge rush, the longer we leave it the faster the tide picks up giving us better assistance into the increasing easterly wind.  It shouldn't take us much longer than four hours, but our biggest enemy was the daylight, especially as the clocks went back today.

Cue the 'dramatic mode' on the camera.  As we packed our boats ready for the return trip, the conditions had clearly changed, quite dramatically.  We gently landed here not much more than an hour ago.  Now there was a large dumping surf dragging every last inch of water out to fuel its steep wall of water.  We waited...and waited...until there was a very brief break in the swell.  Picking up our boats we legged it to the waters edge, paddling like mad beyond the break line with our legs still draped over the sides of out boats.

In the relative shelter of the bay we flicked up our sails which were instantly filled with the crossing easterly wind, forcing me to lean heavily to my right to counteract the wind forcing the kayak over to the left.

It was instantly obvious that this wasn't going to be a simple three hour crossing back.
We flirted between 60 and 90 degrees.  60 gave us a better sailing angle drawing us nearer the Welsh coast, but 90 was more into the wind and drawing us further up channel toward our destination.  That would explain the erratic line on the GPS track above.  

The sea state was relatively lumpy with a strong side wind, nothing to dramatic in comparison to some conditions I've had to endure.  It was a battle however.  Everything ached from the constant leaning, correcting strokes and bracing. I was sitting in a puddle, water ran down my neck from some of the larger breaks, I was cold wet and miserable.

The English coastline didn't seem to be moving and when it did finally conceal itself into the cloud it felt more like we were mid Atlantic than the Bristol Channel.  Where was Wales? How much longer will this take? it felt like hours.  How is this fun?

Finally something emerged out of the endless sea.  As expected we would come across at least one ship making it's way up channel to one of the busy ports of Avon, Cardiff or Newport.  As it drew nearer we could see we were on a direct course with it, so we held back for a 5min break.
Shortly after our ship encounter there was a very small blink on the horizon coming from Nash Point Lighthouse.  Finally Wales was there.  The boost this gives you is incredible.  There was an instant change in my paddle stroke.  The conditions had let up also and the wind direction was slightly more favourable for my aching side.

Something else that put an extra bit of haste in my stroke was the setting sun on our back.  Nash Point lighthouse still looks a way off and I think Elan called out about 11 kilometers from his GPS near this point.  I was trying to work it our in my head.  11km, roughly 6 nautical miles, we were doing roughly 8km and hour....possibly and hour twenty I will be dark by then.  The harder I paddle the lighter it will be. 

The white walls of the coffee shop grew closer and closer as it drew darker and darker.  On a spring tide the beach presents itself like a wall and the deep swells will just carry you into it.  We waited patiently for a small set.  Set after set swept by as it got even darker.  There was no way of landing in this without trashing the boat or yourself. 

A very brief break Elan made a run for what was left of the slipway, I wasn't waiting around for the next one.  We both jump out as the wall of water picks up our boats and smashes them into the rocks with a painful scrape and a bang.  Onto the slipway our boats, full of water, are too heavy for our exhausted arms to lift.  We empty them quickly before the next wave sweeps in and we are finally on dry land.  

I loved it, I hated it.  I was happy, excited, free, alive, miserable, cold, wet, sore, aching.  That was an adventure.

Distance 73.9km  
Moving Time 8hrs25min
Total Time 9hrs38mins

Stuart Yendle, friend and regular customer of Up and Under, is a local sea paddler and outdoor enthusiast, having bought his first sea kayak from the shop. Known better on the interweb as Sea Kayaking Stuart, his blog of the same name has a big following, despite not being able to post quite as regularly as he used to (we're trying to change this!). Follow Stuart's blog here.

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