During a rash moment over Christmas I booked onto an Advanced Sea Kayak assessment. I thought, "March, It'll be warming up by then". Wrong! It was only the week of the "Beast from the East".
Even so, I travelled up to Anglesey after work on the Tuesday night, arriving at Anglesey Outdoors close to midnight, right in the middle of a blizzard. I had arranged to meet up with James Stevenson of Adventure Elements at 9am the next day for some coaching.
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It was very cold in the morning at -1C with lots of snow around from the night before. I met Lisa Greene (of Greene Adventures) who I would be paddling with along with James. James decided a trip out of Cameas bay on the north coast would be a good place to go. We arranged to meet up at the car park on the Llanbadrig side of the bay.
I was just getting changed when James appeared on foot. They'd gone to the Cameas town car park, as James was concerned about getting his van out of the car park I was already in. Thanks James! My thermometer on the van was reading now -2c despite the sun being out. It was also very windy. Looking out to sea there were some good surf waves coming in. So I launched, paddled out and caught a wave to take me to where James and Lisa were getting ready.
Back on the water, we paddled around the headland towards Ogof Gynfor. The sea was somewhat big, with James one minute being several feet below us and the next, several feet up above us, sat on a huge wall of water! I heard Lisa swear loudly and I could see why, I had been thinking exactly the same! Whilst the waves were large, we realised that being in an eddy, the conditions were likely to deteriorate further, as the ebb tide started to pick up. So we went back and sheltered behind a large rock near Llanbadrig point. James then set up various skills for us to practice out in the chaos, with us nipping out into the big stuff, before returning to the shelter of the rock. The light was amazing, especially with a snow storm cloud moving towards us from the NE. This storm cloud hit just as we went into Porth Padrig for some lunch, with snow falling and the winds whipping up around us. We didn't leave it long before we decided to get back into the boats and head back to Camaes. My fingers were pretty numb at this point and I had to get Lisa to do the buckle of my helmet up; I could not feel a thing.
At Camaes, the tide was now a long way out. James had warned us it was going to be a long carry back to the vans. I had my trusty trolley with me and set this up and set off up the beach. The snow was now a blizzard. James later said I looked like something from an Arctic expedition, dragging my boat behind me, lent into the wind with snow virtually obscuring me from view. I must admit I thought much the same for James and Lisa.
When I got to the van I rushed straight inside. My fingers were now completely numb and I couldn't feel anything. After a while, I got myself changed into warm clothes and decided to get packed up. The only problem now I would have would be getting up the hill out of the car park. It took me three attempts to escape, along with a great deal of slipping and sliding. Quite interesting in a 3.5 tonne van! But eventually I was free.
Arriving back at Anglesey Outdoors, I decided to have a go at getting on a hard standing in the field. The field was so frozen I had no problems at all. This was great as it meant I had easy access to electric hook up.
Saturday - Assessment Day
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The plan was to meet at the slipway at Menai Bridge and do skills in the straits. Whilst there had been little snow overnight, it was very cold still -2C. We looked at the straits, with the cold, cold wind whistling down them, and decided the most sensible thing to do would be to go to a cafe for a coffee. It was a busy cafe that morning!
I ended up working, as my one of my team members was off ill with Chicken Pox. I had thought this was likely earlier in the week and had taken both laptops with me, just in case I needed to work from my van. Friday night, I gave Phil Clegg a call to see if the assessment was still going ahead. It was. The conditions were going to be brutal.
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I made my way down to the Paddlers where we would be meeting up. I was really not looking forward to this, as the thought of doing rescues/skills in the conditions would be very tough. Also, my fingers still hurt from the frost nip I received from Wednesdays paddle. When we were all present, James and Phil said they had discussed running the assessment in the conditions and if any of us wanted to postpone until later in the year we could. It was a very tough decision, as I had already spent a lot of time and energy getting to the assessment, but I decided I had to postpone. Due to my diabetes, I have poor circulation in my extremities, something which probably explains the frost nip I received, while both Lisa and James were fine. I knew if I carried on my fingers were only likely to get worse. It simply wasn't worth risking my fingers for. I am a bad guitarist with the ones I've got, so I don't really want to reduce these further. I really wasn't happy about putting off the assessment though and felt pretty fed up. The other three guys decided to go ahead with the assessment. I texted one of the guys later and asked how it was going. I received a one word reply, "Cold"!
I later heard all three passed! Well done guys! Wow! In those conditions that is quite an achievement!