The alarm went at 4.30 am, and I found myself awaking on the tarmac of the car park of Sennen Cove. It was light, but the sun hadn’t risen yet. I’d enjoyed just a few hours of sleep. Indeed, due to some fairly full-on times at work, I hadn’t slept for more than 5-6 hours in about ten nights straight and I was simply not fit for this undertaking. But that was precisely why I was determined to be right here, and not sleeping it all off in a comfy bed at home. I was claiming back my life!
Eurion and I were to paddle 48km from Sennen Cove (England’s most westerly beach, just beside Land’s End) out into the Atlantic and offshore to St Martin’s Island in the tiny Isles of Scilly. Our third team member hadn’t been able to escape from work in time. I had done this open crossing before, but in millpond conditions. A groundswell was running, and an inconveniently stiff wind was blowing across our course.
At 5.30 am we paddled out through the surf, rising and falling as the cliffs of Land’s End fell back behind us. The waves were exploding with force across the reefs around the Longships Lighthouse, a couple of miles offshore. We gave this a wide berth.
The wildlife was a revelation; in the first half hour we saw puffins, gannets, razorbills, guillemots, Manx shearwaters and fulmars wheeling among the swell in the pre-dawn glow. Then, the run rose behind Land’s End and backlit the spray-filled air around Longships with a golden haze. Fancy words can’t do any justice to such a sight, you simply have to experience it.
We had problems. Eurion’s boat was loaded more than he was used to, and he was struggling to keep on course in the crosswind and resulting chop. I watched him veering off repeatedly. He was straining himself with repeated sweep strokes on the downwind side, sweating at the effort. Given that we were looking at 7-8 hours on the water, this wasn’t going to work. An hour out from Sennen, I recommended ditching our trip, and in my head I was already guesstimating where exactly we would regain the mainland, allowing for the strong tides across our path. Eurion would have none of it (tough and determined chap!) and grunted for another half hour, whereupon I suggested turning back once more. He was insistent on continuing. Bloody stubborn Welshman.
After this first anxious 90 minutes, things now started going our way. The wind dropped away, and the sea calmed considerably. That was it, job done. All that remained was to count down the half hourly cake stops as the Isles of Scilly slowly crept into view and even more slowly, grew in size before us. There was nothing much to see out in the Atlantic, but it was anything but boring.
After six and a half hours afloat, we reached land, the fabulous Isles of Scilly. But before we could step ashore, a RIB came alongside and its occupant offered us a drink from his flask. Why not? We celebrated our safe arrival with hot coffee and a long civilised chat, before eventually crawling ashore and sleeping like the dead.