I love being on the water and my job couldn’t be better; I own and run a sea kayaking company on Anglesey, North Wales, UK. I was looking for something different which would allow me to play, rest, be challenged and, yes, stretch those legs. I was working with Jack Hewlett on his British Canoeing 3 Star sea performance award and during breaks he was out on his SUP. He made stand up paddleboarding look so easy. After I managed to stay on the board for 50 minutes, I was inspired and wanted more.
I bought a SUP and over the next few months I started putting in some distance on The Menai Straits, Anglesey, and shorter sessions working in the tidal flow of The Swellies in The Straits. I like to have a purpose, so I had started to think about a longer journey and something that would challenge me.
I had a block of days off in early October which I had been keeping free. I was keen to go back up to either Orkney or the Isle of Skye with my sea kayak, but the weather was really unsettled. Then I thought, what about my Paddleboard? Could I do a trip on it? I was aware of the 3 Lakes Challenge set up by Go Canoeing, and I wondered if my six months of paddleboarding would be enough? I’d done many long sea kayaking days and expeditions, but what would it be like on a Paddleboard…
I live just over 1 hour away from Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala) in Wales, so I was keen to get there at first light, but the forecast had another idea. I was up at 05.30 and checked the weather forecast again, 12-17 mph and blowing down the lake. That meant a head wind!
There’s a saying my good friend Sean shared with me once - ‘rub your nose in it and then decide’. Which means the forecast is only a part of the bigger picture. I decided to set off and have a look. I arrived in rain, the wind blowing down the lake, and it was cold. But it looked like I could sneak up the North shore most of the way to the far end, and if I could manage that then I could use the tail wind for the return journey.
I set off lightly equipped, with a spare paddle, Kokatat storm jacket (which can go over the top of everything you have on to keep you warm), water in a hydration pack on my back, and a bum bag with camera, flare, personal locator beacon (PLB) and snacks. I wore my trusty Kokatat Gore-Tex bibs and paddle jacket. It was exciting, and committing to the decision felt good. I had decided that if after 30 minutes I wasn’t making any (or even much) progress, then at least the return journey would be a pleasure. I set myself a point on each bay, working towards the next headland and took a rest in each bay.
As I reached the far end of the lake the sun came out. I landed, had some food and then set off for the middle of the lake to make the most of the wind on the way back. 2 hours 30 minutes later I had paddled Lake Bala! I changed out of my paddling clothes, had lunch and a mug of tea and then I was off for the Lake District to stay with my parents for the night.
I was up early and at my start point before light. I had more kit this time, with a change of clothes for the other end, my paddleboard kit bag to transport the board back on the steamboat, more food, and I was wearing my lighter Kokatat Gore-Tex jacket.
As I set off there was a gentle breeze against me. I hoped that gentle was how it would remain. I soon found my rhythm as I moved along the east shore. As I approached Bowness-on-Windermere I watched the car ferry cross and hung back. I decided to stay on the east side and worked my way through the moored yachts and then crossed over to the west side, via the northern point of Belle Isle.
I watched the steam ferry heading for the top of the lake and I squinted into the distance. This was my end point and I could just make it out. A few yachts were out but the breeze, I was pleased to say, had dropped right off. A glassy glaze had been left behind on the surface of the water.
4 hours 12 minutes later I paddled into bustling Ambleside. I quickly looked at my watch and I had 20 minutes to catch the steam ferry back or get the one after that at 13.00. I went for the latter as it allowed me to change my clothes, pack my paddleboard away, and enjoy a big mug of tea and some hot food.
I had now paddled 18 miles or about 30 km and I was wondering how the 40 km of Loch Awe would go. I had maintained an average of 4.5 km per hour on the other lakes, so with breaks the best I could hope for was around 10 hours. As I drove North towards Scotland I had phoned ahead to stay at the Torran Bay Hostel. As the winds had an easterly then SE component I was planning to paddle south to north. This also meant I was going to stay right by the water’s edge.
My plan was to be up early again and paddling at first light. This would give me 12 hours of daylight which hopefully would allow for any setbacks. The only new bit of kit I added was a hooped bivi bag. If necessary, my intention was to put my change of clothes on, sleep on top of my board (on the land!) and have the bivi bag to keep me dry. I had enough snacks, but I choose to leave the stove, sleeping bag and mat behind. I wanted the thought of a bad night’s sleep to spur me on.
I had also thought differently about my clothing. With such a good forecast, I went with sandals, thermal leggings, my Kokatat Gore-Tex Boater Pants, a short sleeved thermal top and a mid-layer hooded long-sleeve thermal top. The hydration backpack had worked really well on Lake Windermere, and I had another 1 liter container of water on the board.
I left the jetty, and for the first time my internal dialogue was active and negative with self-doubt. The mist was drifting in and as daylight arrived I soon realized it was actually fog. It felt like I was really paddling into the unknown. It was cold and there was a dampness in the air. I had 100 -150 meter visibility and a very gentle breeze with swell towards me. All I could do was keep the shore in sight and as soon as I saw a glimpse of headland I would set a course for it. Focusing on my technique helped to settle my mind. Three hours later the sunshine began to break through, and the fog slowly burnt off. I felt the sunshine on my back and then a change in the breeze. I headed away from the shore and aimed for headlands further away now that I had the breeze on my back.
Time for some lunch and a break on land. I allowed myself 20 minutes, knowing this had to fuel me for the second half of the journey. I had been slower than expected, as the fog kept me much closer to the shore, so I had some time to make up. I wasn’t going to bivi out!!
I headed off more to the center of the Loch and towards the Black Islands, with the breeze just to the right of me. My shoulders were feeling sore now but the NE end of the Loch came into sight and this spurred me on. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the mountains and water looked stunning. I was very pleased to be out there on the water.
I paddled towards the bridge in magic light and on a super-silky surface. 9 hours 40 minutes was my time and I was really chuffed. I changed and deflated my board, packing it all away and carried it to the car park. I was staying a second night at Torran Bay Hostel, and once back went straight for a shower to get that hot water on my well-exercised shoulders!
43 paddle miles, solo, unsupported, in 3 days and only the second person on a stand up paddleboard to achieve it, with a total time of 16 hours 22 minutes.