Day 63 Cowes-Studland, Poole

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Full English and a warm send off from the guys at UKSA. That place is fighting the good fight, getting thousands of kids a year on the water, opportunities they may not otherwise have had.

The mizzle was a common theme for the day but to start with at least, any wind was being dampened by the dense woodland which spills into the sea on the Wight coastline. This gave me a great chance to clock early miles hassle free.

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I crossed a few groups of paddlers which seems to be very rare and soon enough caught sight of Hurst Castle. Here I met Jes who has come to support me right back to the finish line.

The crossing was awesome. As I broke out into the flow of the west Solent, I caught the tide which was cranking through the bottleneck like a river. With the Needles in view I flew across and like on Coryvreckan day, had the illusion of the mainland spinning on the spot such was the speed I was going.

After a short coffee and sandwich break I pressed on cutting at 90 degrees to the southerly wind. Through the soggy weather to Bournmouth and beyond.

Approaching the entrance to Poole harbour I didnt think too much of more tidal assistance. That was until on crossing I realised I was being dragged into the harbour. That would have left me stuck until the turn of the tide so I paddled my nuts off to stay sea side of it….only just made it.

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So a bit of excitement to end a great day. Feels rather good to be moving again. The wind has let up and should do so till Falmouth. Not wanting to jinx it or anything.

Jes hooked us up with a night at Chez Postill, home of some local river racing friends. Wonderful company, a late entry and front runner for best (most powerful) shower round Britain, and because they hadn’t done enough for me already, they donated £30 to the cause which means I’ve made my fundraising target!

The generosity of people continues to amaze me. Sincere thanks to Vince, Anne and Harry Postill and to everyone who has donated to Surfers against Sewage, it’s a great cause and I’d obviously love the money to keep coming in.

Some pics on the way plus todays post including Portland Bill, stay tuned…

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Day 62 Selsey Bill-Cowes

A day of hard graft and harder decisions. The weather almost identical to yesterday, the outcome much better.

Winds like this seem only to push or pin (mostly pin) but for my first session of the day, the run up the western side of Selsey Bill, I enjoyed tailwind. Then the first sticking point. I’d run out of space to go north and was now being pinned to shore. My right side screaming as I laboured to get away from the beach. Tide was running in my favour but only serving to rile up the conditions, at times force 6 wind against tide and some dicey wiper outers rolling in. So I landed on Hayling Island and hid in an unlocked beach hut because it was bloody cold.

Some soul searching later, I looked at the map and considered that soon I’d be under the wing of the Isle of Wight and could expect it to calm down. So I put my iPod on full blast (which always drops the wind by a force) and pushed on. Past the unambitious Southsea pier/Portsmouth and then a scary little crossing to Gosport, scary on account of the Wight Link ferries which do not move slowly.

At Gosport the second crux. Visibility down below a mile and faced with 3 options; 1 crawl along the mainland still being pressed by the wind and going the long way round, 2 call it for the day, or 3 make the crossing to Wight through headwind and ferry lane and poor vis but the payoff huge.

More soul searching then a gamble. I just went for it. Lady luck shone as I had only one close call with a yacht who probably just enjoyed winding me up. 2.5 hours across then….windless, flat, tranquil. Quite a moment and such a release.

The paddle on to Cowes was glorious. The pouring rain fell vertically and I could hear noises again. I wanted to paddle for hours but I was shredded and my back not happy. Plus, Cowes gave a good landing vibe. At 7pm I pulled in and was directed to a UKSA sailing centre. £32 a bit of a budget stretcher but if I was to design a somewhere to land, it would look like this, and the bed absurdly comfy.

Looking back on the day I’m as proud of it as any day previous. Another timely reminder that the measure of a day is not in the mileage.

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Day 61 Littlehampton-Selsey Bill

More headwind and more frustration. I’m being robbed.

I took on a 1200kcal breakfast. I’m not suited to this high resistance stuff and it is draining me. Getting going in the morning is so hard when what lies ahead is a day of slogging and continual soakings.

Paddles on short setting, I gladly left Littlehampton and got to work in the solid force 5. Working in 90min-2hr bursts I only hit Bognor Regis after 3 sessions. There was a sailing competition running and lots of capsizes to keep me entertained whilst I munched my cheese toasty.

After negotiating the Bognor Spit (why is this not marked?) I got a brief, brief moment of shelter behind Selsey Bill. I reminisced fondly on what normal paddling felt like and was reassured that I haven’t just forgotten how to paddle.

Rounding the Bill I had fingers crossed for the wind to be in my favour, at least a side wind? But no. With the wind and flow wrapping around the Bill I was fighting for every metre. So I called it at Selsey. To be fair 8pm is a reasonable finish.

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I’ve got a decent set up again, good pub and a park with my name all over it. Forecast for tomorrow much the same as today but there are opportunities to find shelter. Yaaaay.

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Day 60 Shoreham-Littlehampton

Force 6 headwind. 12 nm covered. Maybe that can be the blog post?

Really horrid stuff, from leaving the sanctuary of Shoreham harbour through till landing here at Littlehampton.

I worked in bursts today. It’s impossible to sit in that stuff for 10 hours, if you miss a stroke, you’re moving backwards.

Creeping along at 2 knots I found Worthing and possibly every kitesurfer in the world. It was a great atmosphere passing through the whoops and cheers and airtimes etc. I had my knife handy though as their lines swooped ever closer to my head.

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On my first break I got chatting to a guy fascinated by the Taran (not a rare occurrence) I told him about the trip and how close to the finish line I am, he replied in his American accent “well what are you doing stood here then?” good point.

I kept working my way west, and finally hit Littlehampton, it’s not on the revisit list. I’ve found a curious little campspot. Just a garden attached to an odd little brick shelter. Praying now for no unsavoury characters.

Very frustrated with weather. I guess I’d had a generally good run of it bar Anglesey and the north coast but the last few weeks have been scrappy at best. At this point lost days can’t be made up for, they’re just lost days.

More headwinds tomorrow but after that looks better. I’ll believe it when I see it.

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Day 59 Brighton-Shoreham

The backpackers lodge overlooked Brighton beach and allowed me to keep a watchful ear (?) on the weather. The south westerly built through the night and howled like a dog in the morning.

I settled on a shorter, more concerted effort and enjoyed complimentary breakfast which was plentiful but hollow because, as I would later be reminded, no amount of rice crispies can fuel hard paddling.

Back on the number 7, morning news in hand, I commuted back to the Taran and was greeted by an unsurprisingly ugly sea state and a cheeky starfish.

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I got some strange looks as I left the marina in a force 6 but I saw safety in only being at furthest 3 miles from a harbour. Shoreham seemed a fair target, at 5.5nm, my shortest day yet, but that’s 5.5 closer to finishing.

Another landmark rudely ruined by the weather. No chance of sneaking under the iconic pier but I was able to watch punters getting soaked on the log flume. I could think of a much better way to do that.

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At Shoreham harbour I kindly let a massive ship go first (you’re welcome) and after 3 hours, yes, 3 hours for just 5 miles, I arrived at Shoreham sailing club. I asked if they knew somewhere I could leave the boat, admittedly angling at this point, for them to help me out. What I hadn’t banked on was a primo campspot with all facilities just metres from the slipway.

Feeling rather dejected with the faltering distances of late, I occupied myself with a full boat shakedown and was halfway through tea when a bunch of sailing types brought some cheer.

Sometimes it takes someone to be really enthused by it for me to wake up and remember how friggin awesome the trip is. I’m going to miss this when it’s over.

To John from Shoreham sailing club, thank you kindly for making this the easiest landing in 59 days and to the guy whose name I so rudely forgot and short sightedly didnt ask again, thank you also. Your encouragement will go a long way… maybe 200nm?

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Day 58 Hastings-Brighton

Rightly enough, the forecast had predicted the best of the day to be the morning. A rare easterly wind offering a helpful push and glorious sunshine sharpening up those tan lines. Half 8 launch, again an hour earlier would have been better, I could have just sat there and floated a few miles if I’d wanted!

I wasn’t too long to Beachy Head, stunning cliff face but hard to cast aside it’s dark history.

As often seems to happen, the wind turned as the tide did. The easterly swell that had built in the morning was now being jacked up by the opposing westerly and in the time it took me to have a quick coffee break at Deansgate, the sea had become lumpy and dumpy.

For the third day running I revised my destination and took the very safe landing of Brighton Marina. They “don’t normally do non-powered craft” but under the circumstances they were totally accommodating. I left the boat and caught the number 7 into town.

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Pretty chuffed to get a free potter round Brighton. I went on a mission to get my phone serviced and failed on that front but then met with an old friend from way back for a curry. Great to see you Mike.

Bargain bed for the night at the backpackers. My phone has come back from the dead so the blog is caught up, relief.

Steady mileage but a couple of blowy days ahead. At this stage I have to scratch every mile possible whilst conserving for better conditions. It’s a balancing act for sure. Feels like the same 10/12 hour efforts were producing such good mileage only a few weeks ago but I’ve finally come to measure the success of days relative to the conditions.

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Day 57 Hythe-Hastings

Rapid get on then a pretty odd morning. There was headwind from the word go and looking out toward Dungeoness there were banks of heavy fog loitering with intent. I planned to hug the coast as one does in fog and obliviously cut into a red flagged firing range.

The sirens on the patrol boat were enough to make me realise instantly what I’d done. They (very politely) asked that I head 3 miles directly seaward and remain 3 miles offshore for 15 miles along the coast (about 4 hours!). Going offshore in the thick fog was strongly unappealing and perhaps the reason why the patrol boat escorted me 10 miles to Dungeoness where a second patrol boat turned up. They gave me 1 hour to make it a across the second range. Sure enough the shots were popping no sooner than I’d crossed the range line, I gave my thanks and goodbye to the patrol boys who told me they’d found the blog. Top guys.

So I’d missed a look at Camber Sands and had a fairly laborious morning but under the scrutiny made great time, headwind considered.

At Winchelsea I took lunch and said a quick (ish) bye to Jess who today heads back to Falmouth. The evening session was tranquil. Paddling past Hastings felt like watching a documentary, there’s something about that twilight hour…

I weaved my way through the eerily beautiful burnt out pier and made land. An earlier phone call to Hastings canoe club and a kind favour from Jason; board member and good guy meant that I could look forward to a warm welcome. I snapped up the shower offer and camped outside the clubhouse complete with all necessary facilities. Result.

Real thanks to the patrol boats and to Jason of Hastings canoe club. There is no way I could have done that distance safely otherwise.

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Day 56 Ramsgate-Hythe, Folkstone

Phone charger being held hostage by the campsite owners just another thing to hold up launch. I missed the tide by half an hour which would probably have been worth an hour in the afternoon.

At Kingsdown I met a prawn fisherman just working the shore with a net and he corroborated my weather and tidal predictions.

In no time I was gazing up at the towering chalky cliffs of Dover. I called in for clearance to cross the fairway and then sprinted over. Those Stenalines can move.

The headwind picked up earlier and blew stronger than I’d expected. It would seem that headwinds will be a theme of the run home to Falmouth. I’ll try not to get too frustrated when it inevitably robs me of a day or three.

Comedy moment of the day was a fisherman flying a kids kite while waiting for a bite. Rare.

I took a bad mooded break at Folkstone as my planned 1600 arrival became 1700. Some clown threw a plum sized rock down the 3 tiered beach not realising I was there. It hit the floor then my boat and tested the pacifist in me to the limit. I revised my end of day target to Hythe.

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Jess ran us to a backpackers lodge in Dover whereupon she did the culinary equivalent of turning water into wine on my jetboil. Class act start to finish.

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Day 55 Clacton-Ramsgate

An interlude between pressure systems offered a fine day to cross the Thames, and a fine crossing it was.

I staggered my launch to avoid the fading but still significant westerly winds and left the safety of the shore around 0930. I couldn’t see target land and instead my first checkpoint was the huge windfarm some 10nm offshore.

My IPod is a fine luxury for these crossings and I got through a few albums and podcasts by the time I’d reached the turbines. Enough slop on the water to prevent a mid-crossing relax so I just took a moment to grasp the scale of the turbines and pressed on.

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The late afternoon was a reminder that it is actually summer. Glassy water and sun beating down  breaking through the factor 50. In the flat calm I stopped for lunch and was joined at close range by a friendly seal who was unfortunately camera shy.

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(This bountiful harvest of scran provided by Clacton sailing club)

My line across the estuary would have been slightly curved as I swung west then east with the flow. All part of the plan though and I managed to miss Margate and hit the stunning Botany Bay.

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Jess had been exploring Margate but easily found me then just before I put in again for the evening session, 3 distant voices came into earshot. Fran, Lenny and Walsh the Kent contingent of my Bangor uni crew had come out to meet me, amazing. Thankfully they didnt mind putting the catch-up on ice for an hour as I paddled 5 nautical as fast as I ever have.

Great evening in ramsgate most memorable for the cake tin full of Lenny’s flapjack which I will now be working my way through. Thankyou guys.

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Day 54 Single Street-Clacton

It was a pretty rank morning of wet kit, gusting wind and intermittent rainstorms, between which I stole a nosey round Shingle Street.

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When it had all subsided sufficiently, I got moving, with a view to setting up the Thames crossing. At least Walton, but best case scenario, Clacton.

Past Felixstowe, across the Medusa Channel, then under the infinitely long Walton pier. More beach huts than you could shake a paddle at, then Clacton. Easy as that.

Jess made it a stress-free landing and had scoped out a campspot long before I’d arrived. I could get used to this!

The final act of day was a belter. I wandered over to the nearby sailing club to fill water bottles up. It was getting on for midnight and I still had tomorrows lunch to cook. At the sailing club I told of my trip and soon found myself in a world of scotch eggs, garlic bread and a table full of primo pasta salads. After filling my boots I simply couldn’t turn down their offer of a shower.
So a big thankyou today to Ben, Jackie and the whole team at Clacton Sailing Club.

Forecast looks like the crossing is on!!

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