A few of us from Wansbeck Club are particularly interested in expanding our skills out in bigger water and tend to get together every now and again to go looking for trouble (don’t worry, risks are meticulously calculated). This week has been one of those occasions and Andrew, Cara and I headed down to Anglesey in search of some tide race action. Not being wholly familiar with the tricky tidal movements down there we opted to enlist the help of some local guides and the other days we would stick to the places we knew, with maybe a little internet research where necessary.
Day 1: We had the day to ourselves and the wind forecast was looking intimidating at SW force 5-6, so a visit to the Menai Strait was order of the day. Our calculations from the guide book put full flow at around half two p.m. so we heading out early hoping to catch the increasing flow up to it’s peak. However, on arrival at twelve noon, we discovered that the water appeared to be doing something close to full flow already, and we had to hurriedly jump on to make the most of it. A bit of practice breaking in and out, before floating down to catch a few waves and have a little play in the Swellies. I’ve been several times to Menai now, once on neaps and twice on springs, but with all of us being seasoned white water paddlers, we couldn’t help feeling the Strait is a bit tame. Local legend tells tales of a promised almighty wave, which appears but once or twice a year – however we all agreed we would be reluctant to go back just to play; unless of course something special were to transpire.
Day 2: We met Richard from Môn Active at the Sea Kayaking UK Symposium in May and were really impressed by his knowledge, experience and awesome general attitude towards the sport, so decided to hire him for the day. Our request was very simple – take us to the tide races; Rich did not disappoint. The wind had dropped a little to a SW force 4-5 and the North coast of Anglesey looked the most inviting location to paddle. Getting in at Cemaes Bay meant we could float around for a nosy at Porth Wen Brickworks on the last of the flood. A quick bite to eat and some impromptu coasteering, whilst the tide turned, and we were fired up for some tide race play at Middle Mouse.
The race looked pretty fast and the opposing winds made the waves look fierce, messy and admittedly very intimidating. I normally quite like an upwind run in the tide, however the strong gusts just kept blowing my kayak off the crest of each wave, and I essentially ran most of the distance sideways with the waves breaking over my beam. The same thing happened when surfing downwind and we struggled to keep the kayaks lined up to surf straight. However, some excellent tips from Rich had me surfing wave after wave better than ever before. With a little less wind, this would have absolutely been the perfect day, but having said that, we still loved every minute regardless.
Day 3: The forecast looked rough with the wind back up to SW force 6-7 and the plan was to spend the day with Stuart from Sea Kayaking Anglesey. Unfortunately, the Menai Strait seemed the only place to sensibly paddle and the expectation was that we might get a good downwind blast, with some wind-over-tide waves to keep things interesting. However, on arrival at the get in, the air was decidedly still. Plan B was to head back to the Swellies and look at some coaching. My friends are incredibly talented free-style kayakers, but are relatively new to their long sea boats, so they were happy to spend some time looking at deep water rescues and turning long boats in the wind (which eventually did pick up). Myself, having done an extended period of development coaching with Stu previously, I decided to give it a miss and go instead on a mini adventure which involved ice cream and my learning (with help from an overhead barrier) that apparently the kayak on top of the car is actually just a fraction over 6 foot 6 inches tall. Who knew?!
Day 4: Another day to ourselves, and with new found rescuing confidence, we decided to investigate the tide race off Rhoscolyn Beacon. I had paddled some reasonable waves there once before, although after lots of talk about the perfect tide race ‘recipe’ we were cottoning on to the fact that the races are rarely the same time after time, and we might never know what to expect. Here we had an onshore SW force 3-4 and a forecasted 1.8m swell running perpendicular to the tidal stream, which wasn’t evidently flowing when we arrived, however the sea certainly looked lively enough for some fun. Carrying our boats down the beach, a passer-by offered a warning; He’d been chatting to a kayaker who had abandoned his trip before it began, having poked his bow out of the bay and decided the conditions were too big. With a smile and nod, the passer-by was thanked, and we skipped gleefully down to the water, rubbing our hands together.
Out of the bay, there was indeed some interesting water, with big walls of swell rolling in towards us. We had a couple of great downwind runs, surfing the following sea, and a paddle in amongst the islands, trying to avoid the boomers. A bit of rock hopping led us out behind the beacon where we could see occasional whitecaps breaking a hundred metres ahead. The day had already been pretty amazing, but now we had found the race! Huge, glassy waves, made of the multiple lumps and bumps of standing waves on top of swell, on top of wind seemed to be coming from all over the place, providing the weirdest, yet most incredible surfing experience, like none of us had ever experienced before. We slid, whooping and yee-hawing, down all aspects of these waves faces, and as the swell picked us back up high, we didn’t have to try very hard to slide down them all over again. Occasionally the crests were enormous and we took it in turns to tower over one another. As Cara describes it ‘this house just came for me out of nowhere! Then it went after Kate!’ Definitely the best day on the water (perhaps ever!) and the perfect way to end our trip.