kayaking

Short Update; Mona Passage 7th Nov 2016

Short Update; Expedition HQ in the UK, 7th Nov 2016

Will and George have made landfall on the small island of Mona in the middle of the Mona Passage, having paddled for 15 and a half hours covering something over 50 miles. The ’50 miles,’ though is figurative given it doesn’t take account of the unpredictable currents and winds that torment sailors in this perilous passage where the Atlantic rushes in to meet the Caribbean Sea. It is in fact, as treacherous a piece of water as you will find anywhere. 

When Will and George write their blog posts they are necessarily sanitised. This is though, after some hard yards hacking up the Puerto Rican coast, the really tough stretch on which the success of the whole expedition rests. While a bad thing can happen at any moment during the three months, this phase is especially spicy. If the Anegada Passage was the Khumba Icefall of the expedition then the Mona Passage is the Hillary Step. After today they have another gruelling crossing to the Dominican Republic followed by many days paddling to traverse the north coast to their jumping off point for the 120 mile 36 hour leg to the Turks & Caicos. On reaching the T&C they will have broken the back of the expedition by being more than half way to Miami. 

I have chewed through my mouse today and will probably start on the keyboard tomorrow.

Thank you again for all your messages of support, all of which are passed to the boys when internet access allows.

Puerto Rico - On and On...

Well, since our last post we have made it into Puerto Rico, along it's South coast, up the West and made two failed attempts to leave - 165 nautical miles (192 miles) in total in the past week. We have slept on a driveway, in an attic, and been given a room on four other happy occasions. We have fled to shore after being caught out in lightening storms, suffered sun burn and dehydration, been molested by vicious mosquitoes and managed to hitchhike 5 miles to a supermarket and back. In the last week of hard kayaking we have moved about half a centimetre across the world map.

850 miles down.

It is difficult to know what to write in these blog updates. We are sure many people probably think we are just bouncing up the Caribbean from one nice resort to another. Our experiences of finding places to stay and the hospitality we have received (and not received) are the interesting parts for us... it is nice to switch off from the pain and misery of the kayaking... and so this is what we tend to write about. It is, of course, not the whole story.

Hitchiking back from the supermarket.

Hitchiking back from the supermarket.

Apparently, it is the kayaking (or our pain and misery to be more specific) that people reading want to actually hear about. We'll try and get a balance.

The newest addition to our kayaking knowledge is that of thunderstorms. Lightening is a hugely exciting phenomenon and of course is nothing new to us. We have seen many a storm while at home, driving along a motorway or in the mountains. The chance of getting struck by lightening is usually miniscule. However, when you are the only object sat above the surface in a massive expanse of water, the odds suddenly become somewhat less favourable.

In fact, being 2 miles out to sea (relatively close to shore thankfully), having a thunderstorm charging over the mountains towards you is terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.

This was the case on a couple of occasions during our days kayaking down Puerto Rico's South coast. At this point we hadn't researched much into thunderstorms or the advice for kayakers. It is not like being in a yacht, where the mast is a lightening conductor and will ground any shock to the sea. For us, the tallest point for miles around is the top of our heads... and we're holding carbon fibre paddles (conduct electricity brilliantly).

Rain heading for us. Just a light shower this time...

Rain heading for us. Just a light shower this time...

When you are fatigued, hungry and have a target mileage for the day the obvious decision - i.e. get off the water as soon as you hear thunder - suddenly becomes a difficult one to take. You can imagine us tired, hungry and getting pelted by rain watching this big cloud from 30 miles off.... 20 miles off... 10 miles off... wondering whether to keep paddling or not. What are the chances of it going wrong anyway? Eventually, on each occasion we decided to seek refuge on land. It was the right call every time.

Puerto Rico is different to the other islands we have moved along so far because of its size and its mountains. These mountains create two problems for us. The first is storms with the rain (miserable) and lightening (scary) they bring. The second is variable winds that can offset and often reverse the forecasted wind. If you have no interest in wind, skip the next paragraph.

There are two wind effects that affect us each day: 

1. Anabatic - As the sun comes up in the morning it starts to heat the cool sea air. As it warms up it becomes less dense and rises from sea level towards and up the mountains. This creates an on-shore wind which is a pain because we are usually trying to head away from land in the mornings and thus into wind.

2. Katabatibc - The opposite occurs as the sun goes down. The air starts to cool, becoming less dense and falls off the mountains creating an offshore wind i.e. straight into our faces as we are trying to get into land in the evenings. 

It is hard to offer what a typical day looks like for us at the moment. Back in the Caribbean islands our program tended to follow a cyclical pattern, starting with arriving on the South coast of an island. One day paddling up the West coast. Leave at 1am to get to the North coast, have a leg stretch and breakfast on the North coast, then relaunch at 5.30am (first light) to start the crossing to the next island. Then repeat.

Kayaking around a marina looking for a place to stay.

Kayaking around a marina looking for a place to stay.

Now we always try to finish our days at around 4pm, so we have time to find accomodation or a camping spot before it gets dark. This means starting our day at any time between 1am and 8am depending on the distance we intend to cover, normally dictated by the next available accomodaton. 

On crossing from the Beachcomber Hotel, USVIs to Culebra - a little island that is part of Puerto Rico - we had nowhere organised to stay and little opportunity to camp close enough to the town where we could pick up the supplies we needed. Fortunately, as we were paddling down the big bay we came alongside a boat on a private dock to ask where we might be able to leave the kayak while we head to customs. The kind landlord, Luis, allowed us to tie up on his pontoon and what's more kindly offered for us to sleep on his drive.

We had an easy (ish) time getting through U.S. customs and immigration at the airport, found a small supermarket to restock, then had an entertaining evening as we tried to get to sleep on the drive... in full anti-zika attire... while the residents had a Friday evening celebration. I guess we chose the wrong drive.

Full anti-zika measures... going to sleep on Luis driveway.

Full anti-zika measures... going to sleep on Luis driveway.

The following day we made the crossing from Culebra to mainland Puerto Rico and down to Palmas del mar where we had been advised we would find a safe place to camp. Something definitely got lost in translation  because Palmas turned out to be a rather fancy and exclusive marina and plaza. While the marina offered us a complimentary 'berth' for the night inbetween two superyachts we had a very hard time finding somewhere to sleep.... as you can see...

Struggles.

Struggles.

Amazingly though, just as we were about to bed down in the marina loos to shelter from the rain we got talking to someone and through a couple of connections who must all remain nameless to protect their identities (and their jobs) got us a shower and a couple of beds right by the marina. Guys, if you read this, thank you!!

So after a quick snooze we were back on the water for 3am and making our way down the South coast towards Salinas. It was a llong and hot day with very little breeze, but we were accompanied most of the way by a small fish of some sort. You can imagine how I jumped when I put my feet in to cool off and it whipped out from under the boat to have a nibble!!

Gilbert in action.

Gilbert in action.

However, it turned out we hadn't picked the wrong drive to sleep on back in Culebra. Luis, the owner, also happened to own a restaurant in Salinas with a couple of rooms where he allowed us to stay and eat. El Dorado is a fantastic venue and well worth a stop over if you are passing by.. or even if you are not! We were taken care of fabulously by Alex, who brought us plate after plate of food and even sorted us a lift to the supermarket.

A real treat... our budget doesn't normally stretch to such delights.

A real treat... our budget doesn't normally stretch to such delights.

Carrying on along the South coast we soon had our mad dash to shore as our first thundrstorm came over. We sheltered in the mangroves for half an hour - well, George lasted about 5 minutes before deciding to risk the lightening over zika as the mosquitos came out to play - before continuing on to Cobada Beach House. Jorge, our host, kayaked out to guide us through the reef lining the beach, for which we were very grateful given our previous experiences with reefs and kindly sorted us out with dinner, breakfast and snacks for our next day! 

And more rain... bit of a theme for Puerto Rico so far.

And more rain... bit of a theme for Puerto Rico so far.

It was certainly a flying visit, and we were off again. However it was not long before more thunderstorms brewed and we were forced to sprint 2 miles into shore. We must have looked quite a state when we walked into the reception of Copamarina Beach Resort asking for them to sponsor us a night. Very fortunately some nice manager took pity on us and set us up with a room for the night. It seems odd walking into a nice hotel room but being upset we were not in a miserable campsite if it meant being 10 miles further down the coast.

We left early the next morning and kayaked again. Monotonous is the best word to describe the hours between 8am-4pm each day and there is really very little to write about. We will though follow up over the next couple of weeks with a series of 'how are we prepared' videos/posts to show you how we are dealing with some of the challenges such as navigation, the sun, sharks, eating, weather forecasting etc.

"But they said my arms would get bigger!..."

"But they said my arms would get bigger!..."

On the evening of the 3rd November after a night in a mosquito filled hell hole and a brutal kayak up the coast into wind and tide - one of our hardest yet! - we made it up to Rincon, where we have been accommodated by the wonderful and hospitable Carlos in his Blue Whale Beach Apartment (listed on AirBNB). We are now here, enjoying a rest day preparing for the "murderous" Mona Passage! 

Sounds exciting...

Storms coming over off the mountains.

Storms coming over off the mountains.

Feeling 22

What did you do on your 22nd birthday?

 

 

George's went something like this...

 

 

After waking at 00:30 we packed up our soaking sleeping bags and ponchos and readied the boat to leave by 1am. An early start for the big day that lay ahead. The previous evening (our last night in St Vincent) had been an interesting one... After being turfed out of the RVA Hiking and Diving Centre we were left to camp on the local beach in front of a makeshift camp of local fishermen. Worryingly, though, we had been warned against camping in the North of St Vincent, or even being out after dark, in case we were to run into any of the local 'farmers' who turn to opportunistic crime to boost their revenues. Tourists - or two young white guys with a load of expensive electronics gear - are obvious targets.

We find it hard to know who to trust. Perhaps we have just been lucky so far, however we have actually been overwhelmed by how friendly everyone we have met has been, especially the locals. Most are fascinated, albeit speechless, when we tell them what we are doing. Most have never seen a sea kayak before and many never left their island so our adventure is mindboggling to them. "Wooooo... *pause*... *deep breath*... You err veeery very breeve mon" is their usual response. 

Nonetheless after a short night bivving on the beach and a number of unexpected downpours we collapsed camp and pushed off into the dark sea. This was the first time paddling at night for both of us and what a treat! All was good; a clear sky full of stars, a smooth sea, a light breeze on our beam. We made quick progress and were soon joined by scores of flying fish shooting in all directions. The numbers would increase dramatically when we turned on our lights to scan the coastline for outlying rocks and to spot breaking waves over shallow reefs.

We were setting off for Owla on the North East corner of St Vincent mainland where we would come ashore, break and have breakfast before setting off to cross to St Lucia. This crossing, The St Vincent Pass, is renowned for its rough water and strong currents. We were told that out of the last four kayak expeditions to attempt the crossing, two turned back due to rough water and one was pulled in by the coast guard. We were feeling optimistic...

This is George feeling optimistic

This is George feeling optimistic

Then...  THWACK! A rather large flying fish shot straight into Will's side. A solid bar of muscle plummeting through the air. One cracked into the side of the boat... and another one on the back deck... then  George was hit. It was a bizarre scene where nature seemed to be fighting back. We had planned for stormy water, strong winds and difficult currents.. but not a bombardment of bloody fish. They were drunk - I am sure of it. Or maybe the farmers got the better of them.

Anyway we made it to Owla at around 4am, had an Extreme  Adventure Foods dehydrated meal for breakfast, chatted to some local fishermen about the crossing ("know it innya hart mon, ye joost goote belieeve it mon, bless" was the advice), did a final weather check then set off at 6. 

 

And everything went very well. ..

For the first five minutes... 

Then it started raining... 

 

Happy Birthday George indeed! We felt it was going to be a long day.

The rest of George's birthday was rather uneventful... we mostly just spent the next nine hours sat in the same position paddling hard while aiming the boat for Switzerland to offset the current. And to be fair, I think we did pretty well...

Track across the St Vincent Passage 

Track across the St Vincent Passage 

By the end of the day we were tired, hungry and dehyrated. Too tired to appreciate the epic leg we had just paddled... or really to take much notice of the crack that appeared on the front deck (we are working to find someone to blame for this..).

Crack in the boat!

Crack in the boat!

Nonetheless, all became good when we were welcomed to stay in a cottage on the Balenbouche  Estate. We were welcomed in like long lost war heroes (we felt like it after the crossing) and after a quick shower we were sat down on the verander of a beautiful cottage in the woods of the estate with a pot of tea in front of us, quickly followed by a big plate of quinoa and curry. Uta, Anitanja and Verena took such great care of us - we are so unbelievably greatful for their support and generous hospitalty.

The estate itself is an old sugar plantation, complete with 18th Century sugar mill, historic plantation house and grounds, which include fruit orchards, pastures, lily ponds and nature trails. More information on the history is available here. If you are ever in St. Lucia we thouroughly recommend you pay Balenbouche a visit, be it just for the day, to stay, or just to say hi to the Lawaetz family.

Balenbouche Estate plantation house. See more photos  here .

Balenbouche Estate plantation house. See more photos here.

Admiring the 18C sugar mill

Admiring the 18C sugar mill

One of the old out buildings, now employed as a yoga studio

One of the old out buildings, now employed as a yoga studio

After our fantastic night at Balenboughe it was back on the water at 6am to head up to Marigot Bay... seperate post to come on this!

We were, though, lucky enough to pass the Pitons as we went...

Paddling past The Pitons

Paddling past The Pitons

So from here it will be an early start and we are off to Martinique! Another tough crossing and a very long day ahead but we are looking forward to the challenge. If you like what we are doing and enjoy following our progress, please consider sponsoring us to help us raise funds for the Get Exploring Trust. Click here to donate through Virgin Giving

Every donation, whatever size (and we really mean that!), makes a tremendous difference to our morale. It gives us a big boost to know people are following and supporting us!

You can also donate by text....

Please sponsor us and spread the word!

Please sponsor us and spread the word!

"Extraordinary Sea Journey"

So for lack of a better story the Grenadian news company GBN have run a two minute feature on our trip that went out across the Caribbean a couple of nights ago. "An extraordinary sea journey" was how they described it! It was strange having a camera in your face at 0630 in the morning while still out of breath from carrying a 45kg kayak down the steepest hill in Grenada. There were definitely points for both of us where we ran out of words, or even knew what we wanted to say but our mouths decided no, we will not function today. Well that is our excuse for the tongue-twisted performance - enjoy...

After our fantastc stay with Annie and Phillip at Petite Anse we left mainland Grenada and it's friendly faces behind and pressed on for Carriacou. On this crossing we got our first taste of big(ish) waves (although we don't think the gopro footage does it justice) and we got to feel our kayak, a Seaward Passat, in rough water for the first time...

 

Particularly amazing over the past few days have been our Celtic Pro Sea and Touring 650 Paddles. They are super lightweight, efficient and powerful... we will post a few videos of our kit, equipment etc. over the next few weeks but for the moment you can see some of the awesome stuff we need to get us to Miami here. Most importantly our hands are doing ok.. only a couple of small blisters so far.

Tropical Storm Matthew over the Windward Islands

Tropical Storm Matthew over the Windward Islands

Meanwhile Tropical Storm Matthew is making it's way past just North of us and it looks like we will have to sit out for another day tomorrow. No danger to us though as we have the kayak safely secured in the Carriacou Yacht Club's boat shed and we are being very kindly hosted by Allison in her storm proof concrete house. Althouh just a few miles north in St Lucia they are experiencing 80kmph winds and 5.5m high swells! Allison in fact runs tours on the island and the surrounding area. She is currently fundraising to expand her project and is looking for support here.

TS Matthew and it's predicted course

TS Matthew and it's predicted course

 

Finally a massive thank you to everyone who has shown there support and become founding sponsors of the Get Exploring Trust by sponsoring us on this expedition.

Get Exploring Trust

What on earth drives two young blokes to cast away from sunny little England, great friends and cool beer gardens to spend three months working hard day in day out in the extreme heat with no shade during the day, enduring salt rashes, physical and mental exhaustion, large swells, reefs, sea sickness, sharks and large open water crossings?

Good question.

In fact, we have started to wonder the same thing!

Fortunately, we have a fantastic motivation that is pushing us forward with our planning, fundraising and ultimately the paddling. The Golden Arc Expedition is the launch pad for our fundraising to start the Get Exploring Trust (Charity reg number: 1166901).

GET aims to inspire young people from all backgrounds to get into the outdoors, to test themselves in different environments, and to push their limits. We want to help people develop their character through exposure to challenging, exciting and inspiring experiences. The Trust offers small to medium size grants to individuals who need financial support in order to achieve this aim.

Moreover, we want to support individuals who have engaged in outdoor pursuits in using them to enhance their CVs, have the confidence to discuss them in interviews and maximise their experiences to develop as characterful and employable individuals.

We passionately believe in this aim and hope that you will buy into the idea too. In an age when it may be most needed, adventurous training seems to be dropping further and further down the list of priorities. The potential for GET is vast, however it starts at a very basic level. It may be as simple as a grant to buy a pair of walking boots, train tickets to Scotland for a navigation course, or even a place on a British Exploring expedition to Greenland, the Himalayas or the Amazon.

More information about GET can be found here.

How can you help? I hear you cry! 

Well thank you very much, I am glad you asked. We will be open to donations on our Virgin Giving page shortly. We are currently just waiting to receive our HMRC number from Mr Taxman so we can claim gift aid on generous donations. In the mean time, please put a couple of quid, or more, aside so that when we are up and running we can go full throttle and raise a bit of cash. If 3 months and over 2000 miles of pain and suffering in a kayak isn't worth a few bob then please let us know what is and we will see if we can fit it in next year!