It was the evening of the 16th October 2013 when I logged onto AnglerAfloat.com’s forum page to see that I had a message from “Barto” aka Barry Robson – it was entitled “Proposition!!”. Hmmm? I opened it……
“Chris, When you get a minute, please would you give me a call as I have an interesting proposal for you – and no it’s not marriage !!
Cheers Mate , Baz “
My initial thought was immediately that he had a big paddle in mind as I had seen recently that he had paddled (or maybe I should say peddled in a Hobie!) a 22mile trip to the Shambles Bank. I picked up the phone and Baz outlined his plans in a clam and well thought out manner.
He said that he had noticed that I was paddling lots and would I fancy a long paddle….I said that I bet it was France, thinking that the 27 odd miles from Dungeness to Cap Gris Nez was tough enough but doable. He then calmly said, “Alderney…” He continued to say that he wanted to do this for Heroes On the Water which is a newly formed charity that provides Kayak Angling to help in the physical and mental rehabilitation of our wounded heroes including military, emergency services and civilians who have suffered while carrying out a public duty. Sessions are provided free to all participants. Coaching and equipment are provided free to all participants.
Having completed a few 30 milers in my Scupper Pro (sit-on-top kayak) and numerous other paddle trips I sat back and had a think…..”How far is it?”……..”About 100k? As the crow flies?”……”What about the shipping lanes?”…..”Don’t worry about that, I’ll sort it”……..”OK then, count me in”.
I slept on it, with loads of thoughts going through my mind. I was not aware of anyone having done anything like this, well certainly not on a Sit-on-top kayak. It was going to be a ground-breaking epic adventure of between 18-24hrs constantly in the saddle so to speak. Not a trip to be undertaken lightly…..
The next morning Baz phoned me up again to check if I was still committed after a nights sleep. Yep, 100%.
That was that really.
The 29th of October saw me down at Poole Harbour with my Necky Chatham Sit-In kayak and Barry had borrowed a Kazkazi Skua to try out. We had a quick paddle round and generally chatted about the potential trip. It was all still up in the air and so our first task was to choose a kayak. We were firm that it was going to be a sit-on-top or open cockpit style as that was what we preferred, felt safer in them and I personally also wanted to dispel any myths that they weren’t as sea-worthy as conventional “sea kayaks”.
We chatted about what to call the venture and was pleased when we agreed on my suggestion “HOWaboutAlderney.com” as I knew we needed something catchy and liked the twist that it had “HOW (Heroes on the Water)” in the title. I then went about buying that web name so we could encourage interest and note our training etc. I then spent literally hours and hours e-mailing potential sponsors to see if anyone would help either financially or with products. Boy was that tough and disheartening! Everyone seems to be inundated with requests!
I had decided that my motivation for doing this event would be to raise money for a Cancer charity. To be honest I am paranoid about this as I have seen too many good people lost. My sister-in-law works as the legacy manager for MacMillan Cancer Support so it was an easy decision to support them – I know that it’s not just those affected by cancer that need support, but their families too.
Our trials continued and we settled on a South African surf-ski. I opened up a Just Giving Page soon afterwards. On November 9th I had already put my much loved Necky Chatham up for sale and was pleased when I had an e-mail enquiry from a Mike Stroud cheekily asking if I would knock a few hundred quid off the asking price. Something in the back of my head recognised the name but I just couldn’t picture where. We agreed to meet at my house and that evening the doorbell rung and I was greeted by Mike. Again I thought I knew him? I showed him to the garage to see the kayak and enquired what he did for a living to jog my memory, “I’m a doctor in Southampton” was the reply. I carried on showing him the kayak which he soon agreed to buy. Once in my living room trying to sort out the payment by using his phone we had problems initially with it working. My wife suggested that he took it and sort it out later. As this was funding a new kayak for the trip and we were looking at more than £1000 I said, “I don’t care who he is, he’s not taking it till I get the money.” You do become cynical being in the Police! Mike said he understood and luckily the payment went through. I love helping people out so offered to send him some resources I had found over the years as he was very new top this sport and I could see this. As he was loading the kayak onto his car roof, my wife came running into the living room and told me exactly who this mild mannered and reserved man was! (by the power of Google I hasten to add)“You do realise he is the expedition partner of Ranulph Fiennes?!” THAT’S HOW I KNOW HIM!!!! Haha. He was still outside putting the kayak onto his car and I badly resisted the urge to run outside to ask him to endorse my kayak event. I myself hadn’t really talked much about it either (not like me!) as I was feeling modest and didn’t want to seem all blasé by telling him I was selling it to fund a trip never attempted before. That is how I met Dr Mike Stroud OBE!
November 11th saw us gain a new member onto the team, Mark Harding. Barry had known him from his charter fishing days and he lived in Alderney which was one of the reasons he chose there in the first place. When he explained on the phone that he had been speaking to him and then soon after he’d rung back immediately asking if he could come I had mixed feelings. Barry then said he wanted to do it in a Hobie (I call them peddalos!) and I started to worry. Then he dropped the bombshell that he had Cancer. I thought that this would make me say a definite “no way”, but found myself saying the opposite. The reason I did this is that I know the resolve that people with Cancer have. Such amazing strength of mind which I’ll never understand. Based on my knowledge of this I agreed…..on the basis that if he got too far behind, like all of us, he would be in the safety boat. This was nothing to do with Mark, but more that the Hobie is a VERY wide kayak and an unknown quantity to me.
The next day, we published the 5 weather windows for the crossing. These are based wholly on Neap tides as it’s too dangerous otherwise. On the 14th November, having e-mailed Mike the resources I promised, I cheekily asked for his endorsement of the event so we could add credibility and try to raise more money for charity. His reply was
Thanks very much for the information on your planned kayak to Alderney. The target you have set yourself is a true challenge in every sense of the word and both ‘Heroes on the Water’ and Macmillan are two really worthy causes that deserve everyone’s support. I am more than happy to offer my full endorsement and please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.
Very best wishes
Dr Mike Stroud
I was thrilled that he would actually want to help as others hadn’t even had the courtesy to reply. I opened up a new Facebook Page and tried to raise as much money and awareness as I could. I literally spent 4 hour every day e-mailing and phoning people with literally one or two responses. Very disheartening but I refused to give up. The project literally took over all of my spare time. I laughed when MacMillan refused to help with posters etc as they said that it was too “Extreme”!!!
In December we settled on the kayaks we were going to use but were extremely worried about the time they would take to be made as they are handmade and imported. We were assured it would be fine. Around that time we also secured a support boat which was our second worry and Barry even went “back to school” as he wanted to plan the trip himself.
Christmas came and went and I was putting in some miles in my trusty Scupper Pro. I really was piling on the miles in some testing conditions, determined not to fail due to poor training. At one point I even nearly got hit by a full size glider as it mis-judged it’s landing at Daedelus, Lee-on-Solent, but luckily managed to safely land in a field next to the sea!
Newspapers started taking an interest and at the end of January I met Mark for the first time! We went to Poole and met over a hot-chocolate in MacDonalds where we spread out our charts to formulate our plan. It was good to meet such a positive man and he assured us that his scans were good which was great news! My paddle distances continued, thinking nothing of 15 miles in bad weather….Christmas cake being the main fuel!
February 15th 2014 and Barry called to ask if we could take on Ian Smith as a new team member. I had previously messaged Ian about a kayak he was building so knew who he was. I also knew that he was a dealer of the “Epic” kayaks, which originally we thought were too unstable for our task. I immediately agreed as I knew he had years of kayaking experience and would be good for the team. The next day we met up in Christchurch Harbour to meet Ian and were faced with the Epic V8…..blimey that is one serious kayak I thought. The carbon wing paddle was as light as a matchstick too. We had a lovely day out including Barry taking a swim just past Mudeford Quay Entrance….I chickened out and sat watching! Haha. Ian however was off, surfing in the waves which confirmed my decision to have him on the team was a good one. Training continued with me on my own in the Solent on the Scupper mainly and Barry with Ian on the Epics.
I was at work chatting to a work colleague Keith about it all and Mike’s endorsement when he said to me, “You should get Stroudy to come along aswell.” I laughed, telling him that I’m sure he’d have far too much to do and wouldn’t be interested. Later that day it played on my mind so I returned home and wrote an e-mail within which I wrote something along the lines of, “Of course there is always space for you if you fancy joining us.” In fact this wasn’t technically the case! Our support boat was really only suitable for four of us….. I was taken aback when I read the reply that he would like to join us but was worried about his ability to roll etc. I couldn’t believe it really and quickly replied that it wasn’t necessary as it was on a sit-on-top and that we would train him up to speed. Barry, Mark and Ian were as excited as me when I told them it was a distinct possibility that one of the greatest explorers may be coming with us?!! I sent off the proposed dates and Mike said he could do a few but wasn’t sure on the others. We had our final team member and said that we really shouldn’t have anyone else!
Barry had bought an Epic V6 as he was sick of waiting for his new kayak and Mike was using a V8 which he took too really well. I remember the first time he met Ian. As Ian was trying to explain the secondary stability of the V8 and how to use the wing paddle, Mike just shot off! Haha. During mid-April I eve paddled the Scupper Pro from Warsash to Alum Bay near the Needles and back – a distance of 38 miles in under 8 hours which was a good confidence builder. Barry and Ian were also training hard including a trip from Weybridge to Richmond on the Thames. At the end of April my new kayak arrived. Mark and others on the Island had raised a staggering £2000 doing a “Braye Beach Ball” so we felt the pressure to raise some money too as donations were really hard to find. People struggled to afford anything or just weren’t interested so I was very happy when Mike suggested that he did a talk on his exploits to raise much needed charity money. I then spent literally hours and hours finding a suitable venue which eventually I did – Portsmouth University Park Building on June 4th was booked!
In the meantime I managed to get an interview on BBC Radio Solent with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. The most amusing part of the evening was listening to Robin talking non-stop for about 10 minutes about his exploits with Raulph Fiennes to Mike who like normal just sat there politely listening without interruption. Once Robin had stopped for breath, Mike just calmly said something like, “Yeah I know what Ran is like, I spent enough time with him when we crossed the Antartic together.” The lightbulb was almost visible above Robins head!
In mid-May, Barry, Ian and I paddled all the way round the Isle of Wight in one trip. Every direction we went the wind seemed to follow us and this culminated in a Northly wind on the last leg Southbound towards our start at Keyhaven. I struggled to believe that we would make it across the Solent from Yarmouth, but battling through the massive waves we made it. I got smashed in the chest by a ginormous wave which swamped me completely and I remember thinking that it was all good training and prayed it would be nothing like this on the trip to Alderney! 57 ½ miles was the final distance with a time of 12hours 22 minutes putting us in a respectable 4th place on the Performance Sea Kayak league table which made me proud considering we had stopped a few times for food!
Mike’s talk on 4th June eventually arrived and we were fully booked. 190 seats were taken and then night was a brilliant evening listening to what Mike had done. Awe inspiring summed it up and we all left feeling inspired. He even brought along 50 of his books to sign and sell for profit which were all snapped up within minutes. I remember thinking about our trip and saying to myself that it was all in the mind and anything is possible. That night we raised just over £1000! Brilliant. That night I was also aware of another team attempting to cross the Channel from Portland to Normandy in Kleppers (cockle shell hero style). I was a tad jealous but also apprehensive to see how they would get on. I knew that the weather was at least a Force 4 too, which made me wonder as some of the experts we had spoken to had told us not to do it if it even got near a Force 3?! My fears were confirmed when I woke the next morning to see that two out of the three double kayaks had sunk and all kayakers rescued. Gulp.
I had taken my new kayak out a few times and I will skip most of this as it was a negative experience needless to say I had to return it for numerous quality reasons. In the end my (very) understanding wife was brilliant. She said, “Do you need an Epic to do this trip?” to which I replied,”Yes”. Then get one she said. That was it. A very shiny, fast and super light kayak was soon in my garage. The only problem was that I only had a few months maximum to get used to it and the paddle and was now very far behind the others in “time in the bucket” (surf-ski slang for time in the seat). I’d never even used the wing paddle properly before. Oh well, I knew I had the right tool to do the job although I felt behind everyone else now.
I’d spent a far few hours in Mike’s company giving him pointers in training over this time and had really enjoyed his company. Taking people places they had never been before always makes it all worthwhile and to hear him say that he’d had a great time every trip made it even better. I will always remember that whenever it kicked up really rough and I would have said that it was bloody awful, Mike would say “That was interesting”. Hmmm, I’d like to see what he thought was awful!
The first weather window in mid-June went past as it was really windy all that week. The window at the end of June soon came and we geared up ready to go. Frantic e-mails were exchanged and we all set about readying ourselves for the trip. Mark came over from the Island with the kayak which costs a lot of money and it was great as Mike was able to make this. At the last minute our main safety boat was not answering calls and eventually we were all told that they were racing up North and the safety boat and crew were being used in the Round the Island Race. To say we were disappointed doesn’t even come close. How someone could promise us help for months upon months knowing that this would happen and not even give us the common courtesy to give us time to rectify this completely destroyed my already waning faith in people (I have censored myself!). We considered doing the trip with a Rhib but the only one we found at such short notice had a single engine and wasn’t big enough to take all the kayaks so Ian very professionally cancelled it. It was easy to say we’d do it anyway so it was a very tough decision, albeit the right one. Anyway, moving on (you can see that it is still raw even after this time) I thought we would never achieve the weather window as it was in my opinion about 5-10% chance of a sustained high pressure for the Neap tides we wanted. Hell, it was generally so windy all my training with Mike was close to crazy at the best of times so finding perfect weather would ne nigh on impossible! That Saturday we all decided to meet up and go out anyway and that too was a disaster…..As Mark turned up to meet Ian for the first time he pulled into the slipway and got out to say Hi. Ian’s son Adam suddenly froze and walked over to Mark’s car whereupon he retrieved my brand new full carbon Epic wing paddle worth over £300 that he had brought along to give to me…..that Mark had inadvertently driven over…… I remember thinking that I won’t let anything get in my way despite the hardships and it’ll only make me stronger. On a positive note we managed to get out and the weather wasn’t as perfect as we’d thought and it was good to get out together and see what the Hobie could do. Mike joined us later and we all had fun surfing around Mudeford in the sun.
We eventually sourced a support boat courtesy of Mark. The Valkyrie 7 is an 11 metre catamaran and has all the latest equipment. I was feeling much happier about this choice anyway as the deck space is amazing, I only hoped that it was as reliable as Mark said. He knew the owner so assured us that he had never ever been let down. He allayed my fears and all I worried about was the weather and more so as Mike had e-mailed us to say that he could only do the 22nd/23rd July window and not the last one two weeks later – due to his work commitments. No pressure then?! We all really wanted Mike to join us as he’d put in so much effort and was one of the team.
On July 18th I had to stop myself from going round the Isle of Wight in one go, so instead did a 32 mile trip from Warsash to Hurst Castle in 5hrs 20 minutes clocking up a 9.4mph maximum speed (on some lovely waves!) and an overall average of 6.1mph. I felt ready again for the next weather window of 22nd July and kept my fingers crossed for the weather…….
The few days before the next weather window were really tough. I kept watching the weather every few hours, even when out and about to see if we would be in with a chance. I could see that there was a sustained high pressure over the whole of England and that the wind was mainly a North Easterly which is very uncommon. As with the other possible windows I started getting my gear ready and it reminded me of getting the overnight bags ready for when my boys were born. The plan was to paddle for an hour and have a 5 minute rest which worried me slightly as I like to have micro breaks when paddling by grabbing my water bottle. This keeps me hydrated and also relieves my arms for about 10 seconds every now and then. As I probably couldn’t do this I had to change my plans. Having seen the Devizes Westminster races I clocked that they were using water bottles strapped to their fronts with a long straw so set about finding one. Kirton kayaks had some for that purpose and when it arrived I set about sewing it to my buoyancy aid with a quick release buckle. At the last minute I also had concerns that I wouldn’t be able to see any waves in the dark and this was a big worry from previous experiences. The last thing I wanted was a dip in the middle of the English Channel, in pitch dark. My old system had been to cut down one of those window pane lifters and attach my “tektite divers marker light” to it and stick it on the rear of the kayak. Ian had taken the micky out of this about balance which had played on my mind and I hadn’t had time to do any sea-trials. My new plan was to stuff it into some electrical conduit which then went down the hydration bladder whole where I added some plastic waste pipe to form a “tee” at the bottom so it didn’t move. I was happier as it was 1) over the top of my head so was visible to everyone and would show the waves (I hoped) and 2) if I did fall in I would be immediately visible even in a swell.
I also set about making sure that I would have a GPS that had an unbroken track of where I had been, rather than rely on the boat that would have to blast off occasionally to maintain efficiency. I bought a cheap external power battery from Ebay and with some quick rewiring of the USB (when it was plugged into the GPS it thought it was being connected to a computer and the display didn’t show) by cutting the data wire, I used two Ikea double lock bags and duct tape to seal it up. That also meant I could keep it on all the time with a back light so I could see how far we had gone and how far to go. One thing that always bothered me was that I overthought what food and how much to take. I would spend literally ages researching marathon diets etc but realised that endurance kayaking was different. We are able to kayak for over 12 hours and talk all the time without being out of breath. Mike was amazed at this and I always likened it to walking rather than running. You just have to maintain the calories over that time. The figure given was 500 calories but none of us believed that and I also knew that our bodies could only retain about 70g of carbohydrates in an hour anyway, so all my food was based on that. I would get strange looks as I stared at chew bars and chocolate etc in shops to compare. Although Mike is one of the world’s leads in nutrition, I remember asking him what we should eat etc. I expected him to give me a complex answer but was surprised initially when he said, “Eat whatever you want to eat.” He wasn’t being flippant at all, but made the very valid point that you just have to eat and if you didn’t like it you wouldn’t! We had started to realise this ourselves anyway as I love sweets and chocolate but you very soon (within a few hours) get (literally) sick and tired of sweet food. I packed up three bags, each containing the following: Three wholemeal Warburton “Thins” with butter and cheese spread, one Snickers, one banana, two packs of something like Hula Hoops, about three cereal chew bars, double pack of light cake bars. To drink although I had been training with Lucozade, as I had experienced reflux and acid indigestion (only on the 60 mile IOW trip) I decided that water was the best thing so I took about 7 litres of which a few were 1.75litre bottles which I’d keep inbetween my legs. I packed my favourite thin gloves, sun tan lotion some paracetemol and Ibuprofen in a small dry bag. My clothes consisted of Neoprene socks and boots, Palm Journey overtrousers, Reed Chillcheater pre-bent shorts, a rask vest, cheap Decathlon cag (having sold my very expensive Goretex one to help pay for the kayak!) and a few hats, my favourite being a wide brimmed one. VHF, whistle, double sided safety knife were also all leashed to me.
A quick phone call to Ian confirmed the trip was set for the Tuesday and I mailed Mike to let him know we’d travel together which apart from being logistically sound, would help ease my nerves. Having been awake at 4am that Monday to go to work, I knew I would be tired. The Tuesday morning arrived and I triple checked my kit with a constant feeling I’d forgotten something! Mike arrived at Midday after a hectic morning as he’d had a flat tyre on his car! We travelled down chatting at first then gradually quieter as we started to focus a bit. We met up with the others and it was great to see Mark peddling over to say hi. After the pain of trying to sort the parking out to last for a few days, which is the last thing you needed, we had a quick drink and I had a sandwich at the café as I hadn’t eaten since breakfast so was worried I’d run out of fuel before we began. It was really hot which didn’t help either. Mike sat munching chips and the others had Toasties. Isn’t it funny how you can remember what you eat?!
Setting off around 4.30pm was a bit surreal, heading for nothing and being flanked my two support boats and the first few hours flew by. It seemed a bit weird to have a break in the first hour and I think we ended up going to nearly 10 minutes. 5 minutes is exceptionally short when you have to open the drybags up and find what you want before securing it all again. I remember wondering how I would do this every hour, so shoved some food into my PFD to save time. The sunset soon came and we all frantically mustered around to sort our night gear. I really appreciated Mark coming alongside as I managed to put my trousers, skin and neoprene socks all in in minutes as he held my kayak to stop me falling in. Mike pulled alongside too and I retrieved his drybag from his front hatch so he could do the same. I thanked Mark and was laughing out loud as I was so grateful to have warm feet again! The sun soon set and after a few hours of blindly trying to find our way in the dark we asked Zack on Valkyrie 7 to motor ahead a bit to give us some indication of what the waves were doing. It could have been a lot worse at this time however and I remember feeling vulnerable if the wind picked up. In fact I was praying it wouldn’t! We didn’t physically see many ships that night, apart from a few going North/South which made me a bit nervous as I watched them creep past in the dark, waiting for their wash to follow. We knew however that they were all around us as Zack was doing a brilliant job of calling their bridge to advise them. At one point we had massive discussions about what to do when one didn’t answer their radio and were on a collision course but in the end they did so we avoided moving too much.
I can’t remember exactly when, but during the night my wrists started to ache which was a first for me. I think that maybe my 32 mile trip the few days before hadn’t helped and maybe I hadn’t recovered enough but I had to ask Ian what he thought. He suggested changing the feather which I did – the only problem I had now was that I wasn’t as fast and didn’t enjoy the experience so had to swap back. Paddling in the dark is always disorientating so you try and switch off a bit and concentrate on an object whilst trying to see what the sea is doing around you. I had two MP3 players which I always use and it helped me zone out a bit although I did chuckle when Michael Buble started singing , “ I wanna go home” haha.
The night section seemed to go on for some time and I made sunrise my focus. I was trying my best to eat but wasn’t hungry at all and by about 3am was still suffering from acid reflux that burned my throat. The savoury food was as usual my savour which I still find bizarre considering how much I love sweets! Barry, Mark, Mark on the other safety boat and Zack were doing a brilliant job of navigating and to be honest I didn’t really get involved as I knew they had planned this very well and knew what they wanted to do.
When light appeared I had mixed feelings. I was glad I could see, but the wind was starting to pick up and that worried me a little. Knowing that Force 3 can be a show stopper I really didn’t want to quit this far into the game. We had been paddling for 12 odd hours now so had to finish this. My wrists had become extremely painful by now, every stroke really badly hurting. I had taken Ibuprofen and Paracetemol back to back which didn’t touch the sides. My answer to “how you doing now?” went from “fine” to “Hmm, Ok” to eventually, “just about manageable.” I locked the pain away as I wasn’t going to quit unless my hands literally fell off!
This part became a nightmare. I shouted out the distance to Braye Harbour every hour or so, but as we were on the flood curving around it, it took absolutely ages for the distance to creep down. It literally felt like hours to nibble a few miles off although we were still moving at a brilliant pace of easily 4mph average. I could not believe Mark was doing so well in the Hobie but was thankful to his mindset and his training was certainly paying off. We kept pushing on and although I was desperate for a break to relieve my wrists, Zack said we had ships coming our way and that we were still in the shipping lane so had to crack on……It wasn’t as bad as I thought as every paddle stroke meant not being run over by a massive container ship! My wrists could wait. The waves had worsened and although they were kind of behind us, due to my paddle stroke deteriorating due to pain, I found it incredibly difficult to stay upright and was bracing a lot. I hoped it didn’t get worse…but it did.
At one stop we had discussed our progress and although we had made excellent time, it meant that the line up to the Island would be affected. A quick discussion ensued and we agreed to alter course slightly so that we would get there earlier rather than wait for the optimal tide run into Braye. After what seemed like another eternity we saw a lighthouse in the distance that was the harbour although it took a while to grow larger. I checked our drift and we were doing 3mph on the GPS in a South Westerly direction. I told Mark who then had a quick chat to the boats. What happened next I do not know! One minute I was sat there wondering what course was next, then suddenly everyone started paddling! I was right at the back and Ian joined Barry to the left but about ¼ mile away. Mike was straight ahead by a few hundred metres and Mark off to my right. So much for coming together I thought! Later it transpired that we were perilously close to the split in tidal flow. By less than half a mile I believe. We didn’t have time to talk. Had we drifted too far south of this mark we would have been forced to the south of the Island. In fact too far north and we would have been in even more trouble entering the Swinge with ferocious tides that would have necessitated a rescue. Anyway as I started to surf my way down some predictable waves I was actually enjoying myself for a while, well kind of. Once we hit the 2 mile marker I was actually doing up to 8mph in the surf, hanging off the side to brace and I love the blade skimming across the waves. Mark and Matt in the second support boat were doing a great job of shouting out the transit lines to me, which was the lighthouse and what I thought was a concrete block (in the end I just followed Mark!). This soon changed to “head for the big beach” which was a welcome one. At this 2 mile mark I looked up and saw the biggest set of waves I had personally ever been in……They were about 6-8foot high, white topped and seemed to be in two directions. The main set were sweeping me into some ominous looking rocks, and the others were straight into Braye Harbour. I managed to stay on for most of it but when I hit the mile countdown the cockpit of the kayak was filled with water and I got hit by a barrage of cresting waves from two directions. At this time I could see Barry and Ian off in the distance to my left and they were crossing the tides beam on following the coast. Mike was with Mark and I felt a little vulnerable on my own especially as both support boats were with the others. A massive set of waves crashed in from my right and tipped me onto my side. I thought I’d be ok but my braced paddle got covered by another wave and I knew I was going in. I was so disappointed as I slid out of the kayak into the water. So close! I was not defeated but absolutely refused to be rescued. As the waves continued to wash over me my emergency drills kicked in. I still had hold of the paddle which is the first thing. I also still had hold of the kayak which was even better. I was leashed to the kayak for reference, and the paddle to the kayak also as you don’t want to be separated from either. I calmly found my whistle that was on my left shoulder and blew it a few times. As I did this I saw the support boat with Matt and Mark onboard suddenly turn around as to my surprise did Mark on the Hobie! I tried to get across the kayak but struggled on the first attempt due to the waves so pushed myself under the water to propel myself out of the water and across the deck. To be honest I had only done self rescues once before and it was never in anything like this! Without thinking I twisted and landed in the seat. Legs over the side and I knew I was ok. Thank god for that. The safety boat turned up and I told them I was ok but was annoyed that my new water bottle was drifting off! As Mark arrived I cheekily asked if he could get it for me. He cheerily went off after it like he was out on a jaunt on a lake! Haha. I struggled to get my legs in and bail the water out, but had ironically done the hardest part so really enjoyed surfing in again. I heard some whooping and hollering and saw that a Rhib was bombing around us cheering which lifted my already inflated spirit. The others had stopped in the entrance to the harbour and we all rafted up for a victory photo. Job done. When we to the beach I felt like I had been on a roundabout for too long, but was amazed how comfortable I was apart from my wrists which actually eased immediately. Upon reflection I thought that having done 77.3 miles in 19hours 21 minutes with around 55000 paddle strokes I hadn’t coped too badly afterall and my poor lady like wrists had an excuse! An astonishing fact too that I soon realised was that I had drank no more than 2 litres of water for the whole trip?! Mike was the same and I find it amazing what the human body can achieve. Mark by comparison had over 15 litres which is a testament to the immense effort he needed to keep with us.
What an amazing experience with such an amazing assortment of personalities that I am proud to call my team. To finish, one memorable moment on the beach was when someone shook my hand and said to me, “ Wow, I couldn’t have done that!”. All I could reply was, “You could have done, you just have to want to.”