There is no better place in the world to train for an extreme endurance kayaking event than the Wild Atlantic Way! Being based in Kenmare we are lucky enough to have countless adventures/training opportunities right on our doorstep. Of course, being avid Star Wars fans, our favourite adventure is a visit to the Skellig Islands. I have been out there several before but I have never tried paddle around them (and back) in one go without getting out of the kayak!
Before we set off on a trip like this we have to make sure that the conditions are suitable; most importantly we need a calm day with little to no wind. We don’t mind swell as our background in Whitewater kayaking helps us feel very comfortable in the ups and downs of tidal currents on the sea. Of course, safety gear like VHF radios, mobile phones, warm clothing, spare food, etc. all has to be packed in the kayak.
Scotty and I loaded the car before the sun rose and started driving to the start point. The distance from the pier (our start point) to the Skelligs and back is 34km; we hoped to do this distance in under 5 hours.
It was Scotties first time kayaking out to the Skelligs and he was a very excited young man at the start. We started to paddle out towards the islands and immediately we realised that we had the wind to our backs and the swell was bigger than we expected; this meant that the paddle back was going to be much slower and tougher than the paddle out (not ideal because we are inevitable more tired on the way back!). We made a decision to keep going in the full knowledge that we would just have to be prepared for a hard paddle back... As we paddled out towards our distant goal the sea rolled around in many different directions and was so big that we would lose sight of each other and the Skellig islands themselves! This of course was loads of fun for the both of us and in fact gave us more energy to keep going.
When we made it to the skelligs, and began our paddle around them, the roar of the ocean as it slammed up against the side of the islands started to scare us. The feeling of being so insignificant was overwhelming and I could clearly feel my hands tightening around my paddle and my stroke rate increasing so that I could get around (and home) faster. Having completed our navigation around the islands we decided to stop for some food and water. The sense of calm you feel after experiencing power like that is incredible. Its hard to explain but you feel very alive, grounded and in the moment. I hung onto Scotties boat as he ate his sandwich and he did the same for me.
We started our journey back and, as expected, it was harder. We dug in and kept grinding away. After around 3 and a half hours of paddling we started to believe we were getting close. This of course was a cruel trick that your brain plays on you as you start paddle towards land. Can you imagine looking at where you are going for hours and feeling like you are not getting anywhere?! Friction, at this point, also became a major problem. Our hands, waists, underarms, elbows (basically anywhere that could rub) started to blister and it suddenly became very sore. Of course there was nothing we could do about it so we just kept our heads down and kept grinding away. When we got back we checked the clock and found that we had done the trip in 4 hours 40 minutes! We were very happy with the time we achieved and with the overall experience.
Lessons learned for next time: softer and looser gear, Eat more often and bring tape to protect our hands.
Colin Wong, co-director of Emerald Outdoors, is setting out on a journey with team mate Jim Kennedy to be the first Irish team to complete the longest kayak race in the world.
About the Yukon 1000
The Yukon 1000 is a 1000 mile kayak race down the Yukon river from Canada into Alaska. The competitors race for up to 18 hours a day and are expected to be completely self sufficient as they navigate the wilderness during the race. You can find out more on the Yukon 1000 website.