An exploration of the limits of the unprepared and overly ambitious on a Sup the entire lengthen of the Cornish coast.
Fact One – Total distance (minus repaddling in the wind) = 219 miles
Three hundred miles was not a figure that I could realistic grasp.
It was more a vague value with a few names tagged along its length to offer a small degree of reference. For example Sennen Cove to Fistral was nearly 70 miles
A near complete lack of experience Stand Up Paddling boarding only further clouded my knowledge of what was to come on a paddle and wild camping trip along the entire length of the Cornish peninsular, a coast not know for its benignity.
Like most surfers I felt that two unguided SUP sessions in the space of two years more than qualified me to load up my kit and stroke out into the blue yonder for a month of quiet exploration.
I could and would nosey about all the hidden coves and sneaky reefs Cornwall has to offer. In my head I would pull into a sheltered cove, set up camp and spend my afternoons surfing, fishing or generally being instagram-hipster cool in turquoise waters.
From the coastal footpath less cool cats would stop to tie their hiking boots and marvel at the wild and free spirit swimming through inaccessible waters below.
Along the way I would blog and write and talk, attempting to raise awareness of the plastic and trash littering our beaches.
To say I was being naive is an understatement. I had no idea how vulnerable, how exposed to the weather, how exhausting battling for every inch would become.
On the occasions when landfall saw me drag myself beyond high tide mark I was cold, sore and stinking. There would be no sirens for this Odysseus.
Fact Two – Number of days actually paddled = 13 out of 21
The British summer of 2016 will sadly be measure by the number of tragic deaths. Fisherman, tourists and even babies in prams have been snatched from dry land and swept out into the angry seas.
Of course when I set out there would be no knowledge the ocean would turn so hateful this August but on every day, with a single exception, there was a painful head wind to push through, chop to dethrone me and currents pulling maliciously every stroke of the way.
Fact Three – Number of days with a head wind = 12!!!
Days of cold rain and violent seas quickly turn this ‘quiet exploration of my home and a reconnection with the ocean’ into a battle more akin to sailing disasters.
The elements mocked and toyed with me from the first day, swells rose up suddenly and gales roared in along the nastiest, most exposed corners of the UK- Land’s End, the Lizard Peninsular and Cape Cornwall.
I was, without any exaggeration very lucky to survive some days. One in particular.
Fact Four – Strongest winds = 11m/s -21 knots (gusts of 18m/s – 34 knots)
The only day with a tail wind, the holy grail of Suping, nearly killed me. For three days the forecast had been for the swell to rise.
Leaving Marazion I expected to pass around Land’s End and reach Sennen with the swell rising. Nothing.
Pushing on to Carbis Bay the forecasted waves were still absent from Hayle when I pushed passed Gywthina the following morning.
Yet by the time I reach Portreath there was surf, by Porthtowan it was bigger than it was safe to return to the beach with the board loaded with kit.
By St. Agnes a friend texted to warn me that it was too dangerous to attempt a landing. By Penhale corner it was at least 6-8 foot and still increasing.
Twice I had to scratch for the horizon to escape wide sets. I was terrified beyond anything I had ever experienced. I didn’t want to land. I hoped I could stay beyond the peaks forever.
Or at least until the swell dropped to nothing. I hoped to sneak in beneath the shadow of Gull Rocks at Holywell. If not then Kiddies’ Corner beneath the Bowgie was possibility but both Vugger Cove and the Gannel were out of the question due to the low tide.
The same was true if I pushed on to the Harbour at Newquay. At the time the Cribber was breaking and I would have had to paddle a wide mile out to sea just to get past it and get safely into Towan.
Other than that I was looking at Harlyn Bay another 20-30 mile paddle on top on having already done that.
60 miles was way beyond what my scared and exhausted mind and body could take. It was as close as I got to calling the coast guard. And as close to tears as I’ve ever been in the sea.
Fact Five – Biggest swell = 6-8+ ft
There were some successes, things to be proud of…
Fact Six – Fastest section – Marazion to Holywell Bay – 60 miles in 3 days
My strength and knowledge grew with each challenge. The aches were replaced with muscle, as ten miles became 20, became 30.
There were many thing to marvel at …
Fact Seven – Number of sun fish = 12
Fact Eight – Number of dolphins = 7
The geology and wildlife of the coast is superlative. Rich seams rent and twisted by the tectonics and time. Shoals of mackerel boiling in numbers that counted in their thousands.
And something needed to be forgotten
Fact Nine – Number of mackerel eaten = too many
Fact Ten – Number of instant noodles consumed = never speak to me of instant noodles again! Ever!
But above all there is a sense of survival… and adventure, but mainly survival.
Originally I wrote that it would be ‘an audacious exploration of the limits of the unprepared and overly ambitious.’
That it would seem would be far too prophetic to by comfortable. I had hoped to reconnect with the ocean, what it gave me was a new respect. Also an admiration of the men and women who risk their lives to rescue us when we’re unprepared and over ambitious.
So let’s love the ocean. Let’s beach clean, surf, dive, fish and Sup the coast but remember she can be a stroppy cow, so be safe people.
Support the RNLI, please.