2nd Aug 2020
Peer Trip Paddlers: Rob H, Pete G, Simon L, John G
The plan was to make an anticlockwise circuit from Roa Island, on an 8.3m tide with High Water (HW) around 11.15am. Again, in the Plan, we would ideally need calm conditions. Plan B would be to paddle in the inner channel to the north end of Walney and back.
The day didn’t look promising with the Sunday morning Inshore Waters Forecast predicting West or South West 4 or 5 occasionally 6 at first then veering northwest 3 or 4 later. Early morning wind and rain squalls on the M6 trip south seemed to fit with that.
In spite of the weather, we were all at Roa Island well before 10am. Early riser Rob had been across to the seaward side of the island and had news that it looked ok …. but maybe was a bit lumpy…. Sounds ok. We weren’t going to get those ideal conditions but then again none of us seemed to be idealists.
Keen as always to get going, we were all on the water and away slightly before 10.30am and benefitted from the strong northerly flood tide taking us up past the docks to the Jubilee Bridge.
In the sheltered inner channel, we clocked almost 10km/h over the ground at times, passing under the bridge after about 50mins and exactly at the scheduled high water. As we effortlessly moved past land marks, Rob was a mine of information and insight into the history and geography of the place. There was little wind, ample space and lots to see, so there was plenty to talk about.
With the mid-range tide, there was enough water to clear the Meetings and we had the additional northerly flow that runs very strongly to about HW+30mins. So, by 11.45am we were on the beach at North End Haws for the first break and a socially distanced brew. The usual wildlife was there but in the lee of the dunes it was a pretty quiet spot.
After half an hour, with the ebb starting to get underway, the overflows around the Scarth Channel were beginning to show. What looked like a distant windsock on the opposite shore was fully extended – maybe not so quiet there… The wind was still around F4 W and as Rob said, the sea state looked ok – just a bit … lumpy…. So a quick paddle around the top end, past a lone fisherman and through the overfalls (the Duddon was sleeping around this time, according to Rob) – we were on our way south again.
The rhythm soon got established: beam-on lumps of water every 2.5-3 seconds, some from a SW direction, intermingled with those from the NW, a good F4 W breeze and the odd breaking crest. Nothing too big, as long as we skirted the breaking surf on the scars.
After an hour of this, it was definitely time for another brew stop. It was just a case of catch your wave, get the wind behind you and surf in. Here, half way down the island, it provided a chance to ‘have a think’ and decide whether to continue southwards or to cross over the island into the channel and catch the ebb back to Roa Island. Predictably, we all thought it was worth having a look a bit further down. With a good load of carbs consumed, and half an hour’s rest, it was out through the surf again and back into the lumpy seas.
The beam wind and slacker current offered only a little help all the way down the outside so progress was slower – which was ok as there was no desire to arrive at the southern end at the height of the ebb. This stretch was a bit of a slog: one eye on the next incoming ‘lump’, the other eye on your nearest mate, and little time (or spare energy) to talk. Blackpool Tower slowly rose out of the sea in the far distance. The wind farms to seaward were slowly left behind – and the seals started to appear. After an hour and a half, with the South End corner just turned, the overfalls blocking the entrance to the channel and running against a F4 wind were clearly visible.
A unanimous decision for another half hour beach break by Hilpsford Scar allowed a chance to relax, catch up with the chat and consume yet more carbs. It also bought us time, so by 3.45pm (HW+4.5 hours) overfalls had subsided with the slackening of the ebb. The end of the trip was a gentle paddle along the coast to the S.E. Point, just outside the low water surf line to pick up the buoyed channel. This put a good distance between us and the seal colony, giving an easy paddle up the channel past Piel Island and back to Roa Island arriving at 4.45pm at almost slack water. Timing is everything.
Indeed, had we arrived just a few minutes later, we’d have been passing the foot of the massive lifeboat slip and been on the bruising end of a spectacular launch. It seems that a catamaran at the southern end of Walney was taking in water through a broken stern fitting and had run into the beach to avoid sinking. An impressive response, as always from the RNLI, saved the day.
Although the prospects for the circuit hadn’t looked good initially, the trip was simply excellent. The pace and craic was steady throughout with all four in keeping in close proximity in what were pretty lumpy conditions on the seaward side. And the timing and decisions? Thanks, Simon, Pete and especially Rob, they were all spot on!