Stand Up Paddling the Haven Coast – Week 1 of My Wild Atlantic Way Expedition
As I was preparing for the launch of my unsupported paddle up Ireland’s West coast, I heard from various people, “that sounds like a lonely existence”. And the thought of it seemed just that. Paddling all day on my own, camping at night under the stars, on my own. It sounded peaceful yet lonely.
As I was preparing for my paddle up Ireland’s West coast, I was looking forward to seeing the epic cliffs and awe inspiring nature. I hoped to be lucky enough to see a whale, dolphin pod or basking shark as I made my way north. What I never expected, and what has proved to be a major highlight, was getting to meet so many fantastic, like minded people along the way.
The first 115km, that’s 71.5 miles for all you wonderful people back home, of my paddle proved to be the exact opposite of lonely. True, I paddled solo all day, sometimes for 9 hours at a time, but what I found when I came ashore was a host of generous, caring, and interested people. I was wined and dined to the point where I never got to test out my camping gear I had lugged along with me all the way from Kinsale. I can’t say thank you enough to Deirdre and Donal, Anders and Beth, Nathan and Carolann, and Paula and Richard. It was such a pleasure meeting each and everyone of you and I genuinely look forward to the next time we see each other. It was encouraging to speak to people who felt the same about our environmental crises. Anyone who spends real time outside sees what is happening and wants to do something, not exactly sure how but trying and willing to do the work. I’m sure I will forge lasting connections with a host of amazing individuals over the course of my journey. I felt looked after and cared for, I knew there were people there who had my back and understood why I was doing what I was doing. As I continue to paddle north, I look forwards to the other wonderful people I’m sure I’ll meet and the conversations we’ll have!
The landscape did not disappoint either. The cliffs were mighty, the seas the deepest shade of blue, the beaches plentiful and just back from the shoreline was green as green can be. The birds numbered in their hundreds. I found myself frequently being envious of their ability to swoop and dive, skimming over the waves just out of reach of the spray. I’d never seen a sea gull so up close before, as it flew by, only a matter of feet away from my head, searching the waves for a meal. I desperately hoped that next meal wasn’t a piece of plastic mistaken for a fish. Watching the little guillemot bob up and down on choppy water, far from land, gave me a new appreciation for the life of a seabird. They looked so comfortable and in their element, I greatly admired the intrepid little creatures.
On my fourth day out in the water, I hear a snort and a splash from behind me. I quickly turned around to look. There was nothing but bubbles. Knowing there was something there I waited and watched a bit longer. Sure enough, a little seal popped it’s head up above the water, only a matter of feet away from my board. Delighted, I kept paddling, glancing over my shoulder every few strokes. The curious little creature was following me! I had a few such encounters over the days and I expect I’ll have many more. I’ve always like seals. Maybe next time I’ll be quick enough to get a photo, as soon as the camera was out, the seal was gone.
I was happy with my encounter with the seal, but I still wanted to see a whale or basking shark. I was approaching Baltimore and I had heard that there were often sightings of minke and humpback whales in the waters near there. I kept my eyes peeled and kept paddling. In the distance I spotted the dorsal fin of a single dolphin but unfortunately, I was to go with out seeing anything bigger. I won’t loose hope just yet though. The whales and basking shark are still in Irish waters, and as my bother pointed out, I’m only about 5% done with my journey. I have a lot more coastline left to explore.
As I think back on my first week of paddling, I am left with a sense of excitement and delight. I can’t wait to get back on the water and continue my expedition. Although I have paddled around headlands, through caves, and near islands, I know I have barely scratched the surface of what is to come. The south coast is the easiest part of the journey. As I begin turning north, the coastlines become more exposed and the waters rougher. I fear I’ll spend a lot of time waiting for the right conditions. For now, all I can do is be ready to jump when the coast is clear. Next stop, Mizen Head!