This fill in stuff drives me nuts. I got to France 7th September and here I am nearly two weeks later still doing a 100 mile stretch to make up what I missed to meet the crossing booking.
We have had mixed days, one day good, the next bad, the next good, the next bad. It was a big relief to paddle into Dungeness to get the UK leg totally finished. The places that I paddled past were enjoyable, I just wished that I has paddled past Allhallows and not had to drag in through all that mud. Margate, Ramsgate, Dover, Folkestone, the white cliffs, Dover Castle, all significant names to me and just about everyone else. The view from the kayak is unlike any other and it was a privilege to be able to experience all of this.
As I went past Dover harbour where the big ferries come and go to Calais the waves rolled along the harbour wall. My stomach had been a bit queasy because I had been tossed around like a cork with a lot of sloppy waves on what turned out to be a significant swell. Although it didn’t manifest itself on the beach I could watch where the waves went on the wall and the difference between the crests and the troughs was about 2m. A 2m swell on the ocean is easy, rolling along until it hits land and makes surf but this was choppy, bouncy crap and I was amazed to see the 2m difference on the wall.
At first when I surfed down the waves my speed would climb to 5mph but when I slid off the back it would drop as low as 1.3mph. We knew that the currents along the coast don’t actually match the tide times and to the uninitiated they are a bit strange. However, I could pick what the current was doing by watching the GPS. Unfortunately Andrew didn’t have that ability being on land and out of site so a big problem for him was guessing whether I was fast or slow and where I would be at any given time. It seemed like whatever the situation I would be slow until I got the hang of the current and then I would speed up. When the current runs up the English Channel for instance, there is a loop that comes back down and that can be seen on some tide maps. With the loop coming back down there are big eddies, many miles long, caused by promontories or harbour walls. That means with a bit of experimentation you can figure out how far to be off the land to make it work. Of course the wind is the other main variable but sometimes you can catch small runners along a shingle beach if you are close enough so there are three things to work with.
We had a big day that I have yet to recover from and I think it might be my fault but not sure. Linus was crook at the same time so it could have been a bug. Anyway, there was some nasty weather closing in that I tried to race. When I first saw it I thought there was no way because I had an hour to go, but I gave it a shot just for something to do. It then appeared that I might make it to Broadstairs in time so for about an hour I went flat out. Hitting the beach I yelled to Andrew to get the car while I frantically dragged the kayak through the sand. Just as we were lifting the kayak onto the roof the first raindrops started and as it hit the racks the heavens opened. I was soaked from previous downpours during the day so Andrew sat in the car while I tied on, got changed and climbed in half dressed ready for the trip back to the caravan.
Back at the caravan park it was a hot shower, then off to the pub to watch England beat Fiji immediately after the rugby world cup opening ceremony. Four pints, some excellent pub grub, some healthy banter where a Welsh bloke and me thought we might have to deal with a pub full (that’s pretty even odds eh), and it was a well rounded day. The English were all happy. We didn’t care except that we were slightly concerned about how the bloody Poms managed to get the ball back when they kicked it. Wales and Australia are in the same pool, so I guess a strategy is being developed by our teams to deal with that.
It was a bad night after we went home. Maybe I had overdone it and hurt my stomach, maybe it was bad luck but the next day across to Dungeness was difficult. I simply couldn’t paddle hard for long and I was very relieved that the wind was favourable and blew me into the point for the last pick up in England.
From Andrew (some of his comments about me are a bit embarrassing). Andrew was a a great support and I am lucky it turned out that we could do this together)
Re established back at home now and Steve just gone off (at least he had when I started this on Monday) to Trevor’s (another ex Benghazi engineer) who is going to do the land support for him in France.
I got him to Dungeness which is where he set off on his Channel crossing a week or so ago. This was done out of sequence as he needed to book escort boat. He went to Boulogne so now has to work his way down the French coast to Le Havre and then up the Seine to Paris! He reckons about 3 weeks for that so with just 5 days I got the easy leg.
I’m absolutely in awe if what he achieves and the conditions he copes with. This is a very quick (was to have been!) summary of the time I was with him:-
Tuesday – leave home and take caravan to a site just east of Maidstone near Leeds castle. Leave van and head up to Erith ( a few miles west of Dartford). Launch around 2pm., weather sunny and moderate westerly wind in his favour and therefore able to use the small sail he has. I spot him about 2hrs later at Gravesend.
I get to pick up point at Allhallows (should be Allshallows!!) just west of the mouth of the Medway. Linus and I go for walk along salt marsh as tide recedes rapidly exposing extensive mud flats. Eventually I spot him about a mile off shore & about 4 miles before the agreed pick up point. Apparently, even out there he was only in a foot or so of water although I could see great container ships passing behind him. I finished up with the car headlights on trying to guide him into what remained of a very shallow channel with mud flats as far as the eye could see. The landing was in a caravan park and others had seen Steve out in the mud and called the Coast Guard. Steve wasn’t too pleased about this when we managed to make phone contact and by the time they turned up he had dragged the kayak over the deep mud and we were carrying it up the beech. Anyway, Steve made friends with the coast guard and gave them a copy of his book recounting his earlier Brisbane to Adelaide trip. We hosed him and the boat down and headed back to camp. Up to the last bit it had been a great day!
Wednesday was a wash out. Winds were easterly and very strong and tides were no good for launching at Allshallows. We did a recy for a better launch point at Sheerness and then went back to camp to sit out a days heavy rain.
Thursday – Steve determined to make up lost time. Forecast much better and sun shining. Launch from Sheerness just after 9am leaving a gap in his travel of about 4 miles but optimistically hoping to make Broadstairs, about 36miles and fill the gap later! We met on route at Herne Bay and then again just down the way at St Mary’s church Reculver. Next meeting was at Margate about 4pm, had a brief chat at the end of the breakwater and he was off again to Broadstairs where he arrived just over and hour later. Two good pints in the pub by the harbour and back to the caravan. The wind and weather were good but what a journey!
Friday – a completely different kettle of fish. Forecast atrocious with strong south westerlies and heavy rain. Steve not put off by rain but without proper (any) tidal stream info. decided to do the journey in reverse to at least benefit from the wind direction. Launched this time at Folkestone (from the car park area just before the gardens/promenade below the cliffs) in the pouring rain around 9am. Much to our surprise as we’re about to launch two swimmers go by about 100m off shore. They were heading west and Steve later thought we should have learnt something from that. There was a big swell and at times I could only see the top of Steve’s head and the sail even though he wasn’t far off shore. The rain eased momentarily so Linus and I took a walk on the shingle and he had a good romp with a cockerpoo (?). By the time I was back at the car I couldn’t see Steve and assumed he’d gone round the breakwater and was on his way to Dover. I then drove round to the harbour side and took another walk along the promenade (meeting up with a woman who was going to a wedding on the beach!!) expecting to see Steve heading off. No sign of him so I could only think he’d gone round the next headland. Thought I’d then try and spot him from the cliffs beyond the Battle of Britain memorial, but, even after waiting for a most horrendous downpour to finish, and having a very good view both east and west I couldn’t spot him. In view of the tremendous progress he’d made the day before I though he was ahead of me. Next stop was the NT site on top of the white cliffs. Again terrific downpour and when able to get out of car and look down on the harbour – no sign. We’d arranged to meet at Deal so I took off for there. Was feeling quite nostalgic now with all these familiar places.
Asked all the fishermen on Deal pier if they’d seen a yellow kayak pass but all negative. Even had the pier master(?) with his powerful binoculars looking but no sign. Waited around at Deal for about an hour beyond the expected rendezvous time. By then I thought he might be well ahead of met so set off for Broadstairs with a quick stop to take a look from the cliffs at Ramsgate looking over Pegwell Bay.
By this time weather seemed to have improved and actually had sunshine. Good walk along cliff tops at Broadstairs but no sign of Steve. Linus very much enjoying all these outings though. Eventually I got a call from Steve saying he was at Deal and reckoned on about another two hours to Broadstairs. I was very glad to have made contact as, with the sea and rain as it was, I was beginning to wonder if anything serious had happened. Anyway, eventually he came into sight ahead of the new ETA but huge storm clouds were heading towards us off the land and Steve was really going for it to get in ahead of the storm. The rain came as a deluge just as we got the kayak onto the car, Steve stayed out to tie the boat down, he couldn’t get any wetter than he already was anyway. No beer this time but straight back to the new camp. (Forgot to say, before setting off from Folkestone we’d move the caravan down to a new site just north of Folkestone).
Back to camp in time to check out that the local pub was showing the opening world cup match. Shower for Steve and then back to pub for meal and to watch very enjoyable game and result for England.
The explanation for me not spotting him along the way was that he hadn’t got round the breakwater at Folkestone as I’d assumed and had been fighting counter currents. Hence the comment re the swimmers who obviously knew which way to go with the flow.
Saturday – Steve had a bad night and thought he’d picked up a bug but I reckoned he’d over done the last leg yesterday to get in before the storm. Nevertheless there’s no stopping him and we were down on the water at Folkestone before 9am ready for the final leg to Dungeness. What a contrast in the weather! Lovely sunshine, off shore wind flattening the sea near the shore. It looked an absolute picture and the end was in sight from the start, i.e. the Dungeness power station. Did my usual attempt to spot him on route at Hythe and Dymchurch, no luck again but I wasn’t concerned as the conditions were so good. Having got through Friday this trip must have been like the vicar’s tea party.
I headed up to the point at Dungeness to check out where we’d agreed to meet which was by a groin just before what we took from Google Earth to be a Lifeboat Station. No groin now but the Lifeboat Station was there. However, what wasn’t there was water! Yet again, low tide was the problem with the sea some half mile off the shore, the only plus was that the beach was sand not mud. Left a phone message to forewarn Steve of problem and headed back to find somewhere to get a mug of tea and wait out the time as I was an hour or so ahead of the ETA. Tea in a marvellous local fish shop which was one of the very varied buildings scattered over the shingle bank. It turned out the proprietor was a member of the Lifeboat crew, he may have been the coxswain. Anyway, I gave him the full Steve story plus one of his cards so he’s going to follow up on the web. Also went to his look out (his bedroom window) with his powerful binoculars but no sign.
Finished tea and chat, headed down to the beach and there he was at the edge of the surf about half a mile down the beach. Great I thought, I’ll just drive round to the Lb. station. This took about 5mins and low and behold the man was just passing. I grabbed my hi-vis jacked and dashed over the shingle waving it like mad before he went too far! In he came , fortunately the tide had risen and there was a bit of an inlet to the Lb. station so he was able to float virtually to the edge of the shingle bank. Despite feeling pretty rough all the way, that was it, UK leg done, what a guy!