I saw my first whale! I've seen dolphins and seals. I've even seen porpoise, but I've never seen a whale before last week.
In all seriousness though, this section of the journey had moments of pure elation and moments of complete frustration. The wind has such a huge impact on whether paddling is pleasure or pain. I know this, trying to plan sections of coastline in accordance with the wind, yet sometimes you just have to get on with it, grit your teeth and tackle the headwind. It's frustrating, exhausting, and sometimes downright undo-able. It's these moments when stand up paddling can become dangerous. It's these moments when you are extremely glad to find an unexpected pier or landing site.
The Mizen is the most southerly point in Ireland, striking out into the ocean, the first point of land for thousands of miles. Next stop, North America! As such, the water here can be unruly and treacherous, or so all the locals warned me. "Make sure you catch it at the right tide or you'll be going backwards." But I knew what tide I needed and all of a sudden I had a window, an afternoon low tide with a light wind. I launched from Schull and started paddling west. The board felt like it was dragging a huge weight behind. I kept looking back, expecting to see a large clump of sea weed or my water container dragging off the back end, but no, the board just felt sluggish in the water for no apparent reason. I put it down to the slight headwind and kept paddling, enjoying the sunshine. After a few hours it started to take it's toll. I was nearing my mid way point for the day, Galley Cove just west of Crookhaven, later than I had hoped when I started to feel downright fatigued. I eventually reached the beach and pulled my gear on shore, an hour before low tide. I still had 8km to paddle before reaching the headland. There was no way I would get there in time. I had missed my window.
It was sunny and I was in a beautiful place so instead of being disheartened, I decided to enjoy the evening. I walked into town and had the most southerly pint in Ireland.
Later that evening, as I sat around my tiny, rather pathetic camp fire, a sodden man dressed in kayak gear came stumbling up the path. As it turns out, there were three of them! We all camped together and fell asleep early, paddling against a headwind all day will do that to a person. I wasn't sure about attempting the Mizen the next day, the tides were all wrong, according to the locals, but the kayakers were going for it, so I decided to join them, happy for a bit of company out on the water. I am so glad that I did!
It was a warm sunny day, the wind was a gentle breeze and we sailed around the headland. The seas were calm, a rich deep blue colour and the cliffs were extraordinary! It was a moment of pure elation. The first real test of my journey and as I rounded the corner and started travelling north I knew I could do it!
The three men in kayaks were called David, Ritchie and Rob and are currently circumnavigating Ireland in order to raise money for the RNLI. The kayak's superiority in windy conditions is proving extremely helpful for them. As I wait for the right conditions for Slea Head and the Blasket Sound, the three men in boats are already taking Mayo by storm and nearing their finish line. You can check their progress on their website.
Completing the Mizen with so little hardship felt like a real success and it gave me great confidence in rounding the next headland, the Beara Peninsula through the Dursey Sound. Getting the tides right here are even more important, with a strong current akin to a river that changes direction every six hours. Yet every person I spoke to told me something different. "You have to catch it on an outgoing tide." While the next person assured me I needed an incoming tide. The next lad confidently informed me I wanted a slack tide while yet another man said it doesn't matter but "make sure it's mid tide." I knew they couldn't all be right.
I set out anyway because I'd already been waiting in Casltetownbere for nearly a week. It was time to keep going. Ed, in his magical way, got in contact with a fisherman who actually lived on Dursey Island. Finally, the day before the crossing, I knew what I needed to do. I was paddling into a strong headwind but the current was with me and it proved stronger. The wind blew from the north while the current surged up from the south, creating large waves and eddies, the water was positively swirling around. But the current was taking me north with hardly a stroke of the paddle.
The next day proved to be a real highlight of the trip so far. After a few hours of slogging against yet another headwind and an outgoing tide the wind started to die just as the tide reached it's lowest point. The entire bay turned into a dazzling sheet of glass and the sun grew hot, too hot for my 4mm Sola wetsuit. As I was preparing to jump in to cool off I heard that unmistakable sound of a long held breath releasing. Out of the depths, next to me, came a large sleek black body. I quickly fumbled for my GoPro and turned it on pointing it out to sea, hoping the whale would surface again. It did, only this time is was only 10 feet in front of my board! This beautiful animal had seen me and wanted to find out more. Who was this alien creature floating around in their territory? Another breath and they were gone. It turns out it was a minke whale, by far the largest animal I have ever seen from atop my stand up paddle board. I was the guest in their land. I felt honored to have encountered such a creature. Seeing wildlife is amazing, but it is only truly magical when it happens on their terms.
After my first real day of paddling in what felt like ages, covering 32km, I was lucky enough to get a night of rest at the luxurious Parknasilla Resort and Spa. Relaxing in the hottubs after a long day of paddling felt like a real treat and I was able to reflect back on the journey so far. I am honored to have the opportunity to do this thing and I am humbled by the fact that nature is so huge and all encompassing. We humans are such a tiny piece of the puzzle and yet we are impacting those amazing lives around us in such hugely negative ways. For the sake of those mighty creatures and the small, we must do better. We must clean up our act.
These are the waters where we run our camping trips and SUP retreats. It is a magical area with stunning beauty and abundant wildlife. These trips give you this same sense I am talking about. Paddle out with us in Kenmare Bay and experience the true exquisiteness of nature!
I started making real progress after that. Covering another 100+ km in a matter of days. Valentia Island, with the amazing Anna and Orla was pure delight. I even met the Coastgaurd! I've been calling in to them everyday of my journey and I wanted to put a face to the name. I'm sure they were curious to see me as well, the crazy girl taking on the Wild Atlantic Way on a small board no bigger than a table. I've been in their control room now, I've seen the work they do. I was so impressed. These men and women are genuinely saving lives on a daily basis. They deserve our respect, our thanks, and our praise. (This is a map of Ireland with markers where all of the coastguard boats are currently located.)
I set off the next morning amidst fog, rain, and wind. It was cold, it was wavy and I didn't feel much like paddling. The wind was behind me and the tide was with me and I knew that if I put one more long day in, I would be back on the Dingle Peninsula. So I put on my damp wetsuit and rain jacket, armed with coffee and Origin Bars and I set off for home!