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I was due to meet with two others on the evening Sunday 18th March for a couple of days sea kayaking on Angelsey and decided that whilst I was in the area I ought to register a time for the much coveted Menai Straits Challenge. I chose to do the long course.

On Satuday evening I studied the charts and worked out that I should start at 1609 if I was aiming for a time of around two hours.  The current best time for 2012 was 1 hour and 39 minutes on a 9.98m tide.  I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere near this as it was my first attempt, I didn’t know the Straits and the tide was only 7.9m.  After I had done all the hard work studying tide stream atlases, working out times from charts etc., I then found a start time calculator on the Performance Sea Kayak website that would have done most of this for me!  I was quite pleased with myself after using it and finding that my start time of 1609 was exactly in the middle for the start window on my tide.

Rockpool Taran Image
Rockpool Taran

On Sunday I had a four hour drive to Angelsey and seemed to have every tractor and 40ft truck in Wales on the road ahead of me.  I had organised to borrow a Taran sea kayak from Rockpool kayaks (thanks again Mike) which also needed collecting before I raced.  Needless to say I cut it a little fine but managed to be ready twenty minutes before my calculated start time.  I had missed the slipway opposite the Sea Zoo, probably due to my rushing and found myself talking to an fisherman from Manchester in the end of a pier.  He was keen to hear about what I was up to and helpfully pointed me in the right direction of the slipway.  It was about 500m away which was fine as it meant I was able to paddle and check that I had the rudder adjusted correctly.

I warmed up on the pier and then put onto the water and gently paddled up to the slipway, bidding farewell to my new fisher friend.  Once there I had about a five minute wait, paddling backwards to stop the flooding tide pushing me past the slipway.  This was hard work and I wanted to get on with it so actually started a minute early.

Slipway Image
Sea Zoo Slipway

I shot off the start line, helped by the tide flow.  I had a little breeze, around force 3 against me but the Taran didn’t seem to mind at all.  At first I kept edging and using steering strokes and the Taran didn’t want to steer as the rudder would keep it straight.  I think it was about half an hour or more before I started to get into the habit of using the rudder instead, but it was far from instinctive for me as I don’t usually have a rudder with my sea kayaks.  The gps showed my speed as around 10-12km/h.

As time went by I got into my rhythm, I was really looking forward to seeing the Britannia bridge now, how far could it be?  I seem to recall it coming into sight at around 45 minutes in and I was under it within the hour.  Although I was racing I needed to take on some energy and opened a mars bar, I had a bite and continued paddling, with more bites before I reached the Menai Bridge.  I was hitting 17km/ hour between the bridges, I wonder what the speed is on a spring tide?

The Menai Bridge Image
The Menai Bridge

As I approched the Menai Bridge I knew I was supposed to go through the big arch at some point and so decided I would go down through that arch and then back up through the smaller one.  As I went through there were people on the bridge above shouting down to me, I’m sure they were shouting “Go on Mike” but have no idea who they were. I made the turn really well and as soon as it was done I knew I was against the flow, worse than that the sun was in my eyes and I couldn’t see anything!  A quick at the GPS showed my speed now as only 3km so I hugged the rocks on the right hand side where the tide was less.  I made it round the next point and moved to the right again avoiding the worst of the flow.  I pushed on ahead and missed the gap between the rocks that would have found me further inside the eddy, that pesky sun was costing me, as I wasn’t making the best use of the eddy!  At times the GPS showed me as not moving at all although transits alongside me showed very slow progress.  I think it was over 45 minutes paddling the 1.5km betwen those bridges!  I was really glad to be through and making the ferryglide across the flow above the Britania Bridge, making easy work of it now I was getting used to using the rudder.

Britannia Bridge Image
The Britannia Bridge

Again flying down to the straits the tide was now slowing, I think the speed this time was only around 11km/h.  I was through the Menai Bridge for the second time and now looking forward to seeing Gallows Point for the finish.  It came into view quite soon after and it bought back thoughts of the Irish Sea Crossing whereby you can see something and keep paddling towards it but it doesn’t seem to get any closer.  I knew the tide was due to be slack before turning as I continued on and I recall watching every buoy I passed to see if it was still with me or not.  They showed a small tide in my favour still as I pushed on but not much.  The gps now suggesting a speed of around 9km/h.  As I got closer to the point the buoys showed no tidal movement but my speed remianed the same.  I saw Steve B on the slipway waiting for me to arrive and I continued to push on.

Final time 2 hours and 8 minutes, distance 19.9km, average speed 9.3km/h, maximum speed 15.6km/h.  Looking at the gps track I need to take the bends wider and make better use of the eddys in the Swellies next time.

A big thank  you to Mike Webb of Rockpool Kayaks for the use of the Taran and Steve Bunston for meeting me at the finish point.