The 2015 Anglesey Sea kayak Symposium has been running for around 30 years, hosted at the Anglesey Outdoors Centre, just outside Holyhead. I had heard about this event many times over the years and thought it sounded like a good idea to get my self along to it. So on the first May bank holiday weekend of 2015, I set off for sunny Anglesey.
1st May 2015 Friday
I arrived at Anglesey Outdoors on the Friday night after a 5 1/2 hour drive in the Bank Holiday weekend traffic (it normally takes about 3 hours). I pitched my tent, registered in the centre and checked what I had put my name down for during the week was correct. There were lots of people from the continent here: France, Spain, Monaco, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Norway and Sweden. There was even a couple all the way from Czechoslovakia. There weren't so many Brits though! As it was a bank holiday weekend it started raining not long after pitching my tent.
My plan for the week ahead was to do a long trip on the Saturday, intermediate tidal races on Sunday, followed by Coastal Navigation on the Monday, BCU 4 star training on Tuesday/Wednesday and some more long'ish paddles Thursday and Friday.
I had a couple of pints and some really good food in the Paddlers Return bar, then went to bed. The rain was pitter-pattering on my tent all night long.
2nd May 2015 Saturday
A disturbed night - In the morning it is still raining and is fairly windy. As planned I went on the intermediate, supposedly "Long Trip". This turned out to be a very short trip from Trearddur Bay to Rhoscolyn and back. I have paddled this trip quite a few times now. Nigel was the coach, with a German helper at the back of the group (making sure none of us stepped out of line - or you "vill" be shot). It felt very much like we were being "nannied" around. We couldn't do anything just in case any of us, heaven forbid, "capsized"!!! Fine! But seeing as Nigel didn't really communicate with any of us before or even during the paddle, how the hell did he know what level we were and what we were capable of?
Lessons learnt: How not to run a trip. Always "Communicate" with the group. I was very disappointed with this trip and I never want to go on another paddle run like this ever again. Not sure how anyone is supposed to improve under these conditions! Or is that the point, keep paddlers at a crap level so you can keep taking their money... Not such a good start to the symposium week. It did however finally stop raining on Saturday night.
Not the best days paddling ever!
3rd May 2015 Sunday
I woke up to more rain and wind after another disturbed night. After the disappointment and frustration of yesterdays paddle, I scribbled out my name off the intermediate tidal races list and put my self down for the advanced tidal race trip and crossed my fingers I would end up with a good coach. Unfortunately, the weather was bad again and along with the tide times it was decided to go to the Menai Strait, to keep out of the strong SW wind. Also to avoid any nasty wind against tides out at the South Stack/North Stack/Rhoscolyn races. It was hoped that the wind against tide in the Menai Strait would produce some good waves, but when we got there the wind was far less evident than it was on Holyhead. We paddled from the Sea Zoo to Menai Bridge. The trip was led by Phil Clegg of Sea Kayaking Anglesey, who is an excellent coach. We ended up having a very nice paddle in the end, although it was not quite as we had expected.
I paddled the new demo Valley Nordkapp Førti I had been lent for the week by Jason Buxton at Valley. This boat caused quite a stir, especially surrounding its cream and brown "retro" colour scheme. Some people loved it, some hated it - a bit like marmite! As for the boat, it was very quick and slightly more tippy than my Valley Etain. It is however a fast boat. I was paddling at my normal Etain paddle rate and I kept finding myself having to wait for the group to catch up! I even managed a quick surf on the wave by the island before the tide dropped. The Førti was very maneuverable for such a long boat. I am buying one! My name is on one as I write!
The weather was not brilliant, but good company/coaching on the paddle made up for this. At least I didn't feel like I was being "frog marched" about. By the end of the day it had stopped raining and had brightened up considerably.
Later for a little retail therapy, I visited Howard Jeffs and Reed Chillcheater in the grounds of Anglesey Outdoors. I bought some dry trousers, fleece leggings and some long wading sock from Chris Reed at a very nice substantial discount to the catalogue price. Howard was selling his SKANA, various boat repair kits, some very popular Tuiliks (handy for all the rain) and a very nicely well thought out “Clean Line – Easy Stow” Sea Kayak Tow Line. See Howard's website for more details.
I followed this off with more excellent food in the Paddlers (and a beer or two) before hitting the sack.
Best days paddling ever!
4th May Monday
Coastal Navigation Training with Phil Clegg. And just my luck, the day I had booked a class inside, it turned out to be a lovely nice sunny day. Still I did manage to dry out some of my wet kit. Can't really say I didn't learn anything new I didn't already know. I was impressed with Phil Clegg presenting the course with just a white board and pen, following some IT/projector issues. Phil provides a very entertaining good delivery with the minimum of aids. I managed to sort the IT issues over lunch, so we could have "death by PowerPoint" in the afternoon. Actually, it was a very good course; just a pity I already knew 99% of what we covered. Still it ticks the box towards my 4 Star Award.
Things to take away: I could do with buying the Imray Cruising guide to Anglesey - not seen this before and it is very useful. Also the Imray charts are waterproof (but not as nice at the Admiralty Charts)!
Phil also demonstrated his visual trip planner. I had seen it before today on one of Phil's courses I took earlier in the year; its rather a really useful simple aid. Does just what it needs to do and can provide you with the info you need at a glance. I think I will adopt this planner.
Later I ate again in the Paddlers Return - fantastic food, but soon got fed up with hearing everyone’s tales of the lovely paddles they had taken part in during the day. Not jealous at all!
5th May Tuesday
4 Star Training Day. The weather was once again pretty awful and another disturbed nights sleep with a wet damp tent in the morning.
We ended up at Trearddur Bay being coached by P, who was being "observed" by H And Johan. There was a great deal of talking and not a great deal of doing. We spent the morning discussing the syllabus, before heading off to Trearddur bay in the afternoon. Later in the afternoon I wasn't always sure what was happening, or what was supposed to be happening. We would be practicing a task and then suddenly before finishing P was calling us in. There seemed to be quite a lot of discussion (or difference of opinion) between P and H in the correct techniques. All very confusing for a training session! Later in the day Johan admitted to me he too was bored and wasn't entirely sure what was happening.
To be fair we were a large group of eleven paddlers of mixed abilities and nationalities, so it must have been very difficult for P to manage us all. There were also a few "strong" personalities in the group who were not particularly skilled paddlers, but who thought "they" knew best... I learn by making mistakes, not by being told off when I do something wrong.
Things to take away from this day: need to practice rescues more, and maybe a little less so, practice some more towing techniques. Also learnt about CLAP, which stands for: Communication, Line of sight, Avoidance, and Positioning.
I must admit I felt like packing up and coming home after we got back to the centre and I questioned if there was much point in continuing with the 4 star training. If this is what BCU paddling is all about, then I don't think it is for me.
Plus the weather forecast for overnight/next day was for winds of 50+mph and more heavy rain. The campsite was looking like a very wet muddy Glastonbury... At least the toilets in the centre are not bad.
Not the best days paddling ever, but Carry on...
6th May Wednesday
Oh blimey! What an awful night and morning... When I finally looked out of my tent I was wondering how many tents would still be there. Of the tarps still standing the night before there were not many left in place. This probably accounted for much of the flapping tent noises overnight. Just about everything was damp. I extracted myself from the tent and headed into Holyhead to MacDonalds for breakfast and a much needed coffee.
We continued the 4 star training and started off the day by heading to Trearddur Bay. But, as it was blowing force 5 and gusting occasional force 8, we went to the relative shelter of Borth Wen, Rhoscolyn. I have to say, the course was slightly better (not too sure why?) than the day before. I got stuck into performing rescues, being rescued, towing and towing towers. I was still not always clear what the tasks were supposed to be and there was still the occasional difference of opinion between P and H. In doing the different scenarios, I found it easy to concentrate on the task, rather than the scenario as "it would be", and so I did not always make the correct choices. Need to bear this in mind for future assessment. Johan was much more involved in a positive way today, offering plenty of tips and good insights. At the end of the day I managed to capsize and perform a self-rescue re-entry roll. I was very pleased; as this was my first ever go at doing this. Even the rain eventually stopped later in the afternoon and the sun came out. Most of group are going straight on to the assessment on Thursday/Friday. I don't think many will pass, or putting it another way I will be very disappointed with BCU if some of the others do pass!
Not a bad days paddling, I finished with a grin!
7th May Thursday
For once I woke up without the pitter-patter of rain on the tent. I paddled with a very large group to the tidal races at Penryhn Mawr, North Stack and South Stack on way back.
At Penryn Mawr we were split into groups. My group was led by Nico. It was a lovely sunny day for once with quite a large swell, presumably from the previous days storm. It was not so much a "nannied" paddle, but at times I felt a little annoyed with Nico; he would shout random instructions without explaining why. For Example, I was ferry gliding across the flow at Penrhyn Mawr and he started shouting at me to straighten up... err no, I am going over there! It seems he thought I would go sideways into him!! I don't think so! However, I did pick up some good tips from Nico on leading a group. He was good on signals and at getting everyone as a group to understand. It was just his coaching style that wasn't to my taste. Maybe it was a language thing with him not being from UK. At Penryn Mawr I ended up taking a swim in the middle race and made a right mess of getting back in my boat! I think I was in shock that my roll failed, and then everything just went out of my head! I have to say I am embarrassed how rubbish I was in this situation. Having got back into my boat with the assistance of someone, my boat was now full of water. I decided to get across the inner race to the small beach, so I could tip it out, but in doing so I capsized again. This time though, I remained calm and back deck rolled my heavy, very full of water, boat back upright. Need to practice being rescued more as I can't let this happen again, it puts others in danger.
After Penryhn Mawr we went up to South Stack and under the bridge to North Stack. We paddled for a bit on the North Stack tidal race, which was pretty messy, before heading home on the conveyor belt tidal race from North Stack to South Stack and on to Penryhn Mawr. South Stack was a series of massive/huge "friendly" waves. These are the biggest waves I have ever paddled on! What a roller coaster of a ride! Nico capsized and Luke from Belgium took a swim.
On our way to Penryhn Mawr, we could see the Rescue Helicopter practicing on the cliff top. Then the Helicopter came out to us with the winch man dangling just a few feet above the waves. At about 100m from us, the winch man spun himself upside down and started waving at us, along with the crew from the door of the heli. Even the pilot was waving away at us. We all waved back before the winch man was reeled in and the heli flew off. This was really good experience of being up close to a rescue heli and feeling the wind from the rotors and the noise. Back at the beach, we had a debrief with Nico asking what was good for us. This was certainly a memorable paddle for me with some good learning points.
Back at the centre I decided to pack up and go home. The weather for Friday was looking wet again and seeing as everything back at the tent was pretty much dry, it made sense to go home now and sort my kit out at home on Friday.
Best days paddling ever!
Would I go on the Anglesey Sea Kayak Symposium again?
Unfortunately I have to say, no. Now don't get me wrong, I really do appreciate the hard work involved putting this event on by Nigel Dennis and his many helpers. They all did an exceptional job, keeping everything organised with 150 paddlers and running everything so smoothly. Running this event, as smoothly as they do, is a fantastic achievement and I congratulate them and thank them for all their efforts.
For me, perhaps I was a little unlucky in my paddle/classroom choices during the week and the weather didn't exactly help matters. But being part of a large “BCU led" group isn't really for me. My paddling is about all about exploring the coastline, achieving my goals, staying safe and seeing nature at close quarters. You just don't get this in large noisy social groups on a symposium.
I must say though, I met lots of lovely people during the week and made quite a few friends. I also learnt quite a bit, some of it good and some of it not so good (that I will learn from). It was certainly a good experience and would recommend it to anyone.