Tuesday, November 1, 2011

6th UK Storm Gathering

This year the 6th UK Storm Gathering took place at Holyhead, in Anglesey. Organized by Mark Tozer, it was an unique opportunity to meet friends and to know famous paddlers, as well as to learn more about paddling in the strong tidal currents running around the island.
Me, from Catania (Sicily), and Mikael, from Billdal (Sweden), had a meeting at London airport of Stansted. By the way, I landed in Luton with a cabin baggage, a big rucksack with my paddling kit and two oversized PVC rolls containing the three sections of an Aretusa kayak! Digging my way across the airport I eventually reached the rental car park, under the worried look of the shuttle bus driver...

After a night driving to Holyhead, the small island in which the gathering was at its second day, we ended up in a wonderful breakfast in the Anglesey Outdoors, with the welcome of many paddlers. Instead a late sleep we launched for a Leadership class with Nick Cunliffe in a Force 6 southerly winds. The sea was pretty rough and we ended up with a heart breaking rock hopping session. Before going to bed, after dinner, we have been awake for 38 consecutive hours.

While for me the following day was due on the Open Water Navigation course with Howard Jeffs, for Mikael there was another gathering day, with the Incident Management class, again in force 6 westerly winds.

The weather forecast was all except good and another force 6 windy day was ahead for my 5 star training course, with Harold Jeffs and Phil Clegg, perfect conditions for the 5 stars, the night paddling included. Once back at the Anglesey Outdoor at 23:30 my friend Mikael did not resist to laugh at my view... I probably seemed a bit dismantled! For him it was the theory day of the Tidal Planning and Coastal Navigation course.

On 26th we drived north of Anglesey, to leave one car at Cemaes Bay and go to launch from Bull Bay. Of course, again force 6 southerly winds. We were on the sheltered shore but the current was at its highest rate being the spring one. Tidal races were running strongly around the small islands and along the coastline. Caves, arches, narrow passages give to all of us the possibility to test our leadership skills, under the guidance of two very clear coaches. The lovely dinner at the Paddlers Return Pub recharged our batteries.

After an uncomfortable night, thinking to our assessment, Mikael and I got up early to revise our trip planning. Axel Schoevers was our assessor for the first day and we went to look for the right conditions for the 4 star. Strange but true the wind dropped down to barely force 5 and meanwhile the sea flattened too, even into the tidal race around Rhoscolyn, where we found a not-too-rough situation. Again the dinner at the Paddlers Return fully recharged our batteries after a day of skill test, with rescues, rolls and rock hopping.

Kate Duffus was our assessor for the second day. She circumnavigated Anglesey just the day before, in the attempt of beating the record! In the morning the sea was in perfect conditions, but in the afternoon it turned to be well above the 4 star conditions, with southerly wind gusting at force 7 and building huge waves that we ride close to the rocky shore, into a chaos of rebouncing clapotis. Back at the base, we waited anxiously for the results, but everyone was happy to receive the congratulations of our assessors.

Leaving Anglesey we drove after Axel and reached Justine and Barry's house where a delicious meal
was quickly ready. A nice and international dinner, from five different countries after Paul Kuthe joined us. The next morning we got up early in order to drive to London. Barry was ready to prepare breakfast, and whiffs of fresh bread leaded us to the kitchen. It was the best way to leave this lovely country after a super paddling week.
Thank you friends!