It was during the quiet months of the winter when Natalie noticed that the Eddystone Challenge was going to go ahead once again after a few years gap. For some reason she finds paddling out into the open sea exciting and tempting, and decided to sign us up. And of course, it had to be done as soon as the booking opened. So when we received an email saying, we were the first ones, we thought: great!. However in the same email we were surprised to read that unlike all the other crafts, single sea kayakers must have buddies. Which was fine by us, until we read that we had to paddle together.
Here, we had to admit to our selves, that this idea made us feel quite uneasy. After years of paddling together, we couldn’t see how paddling together to a lighthouse would differ from our everyday paddling together, and where would the challenge be.
Of course, it didn’t take Natalie long to sort this out. While she ditched me completely and told me to sort my own buddy on the day, she asked Esther, her friend from a club, to join to form a girls team. I’ve been considering options of how to paddle independently and not to be disqualified, especially after Paul from Seaborne offered to lend me a Pace 18.
Weeks and days prior the “Challenge” went as expected, they were filled with attempts to train (some more or less successful), and planing which cars and boats are going to be used, especially after Alastair decided to join us, too. Everything went well until Thursday early morning, when my tooth decided to wake me up. So, instead of focusing on upcoming paddling, I spent the time between swallowing painkillers and attempts to get dentist appointment. On Friday I was lucky, the painkillers in combination with the antibiotics and a beer in the evening started to work.
On Saturday morning the Mount Batten pier was lively with gigs, kayaks, ocean canoes, surf skis, rowing boats of all sorts and their crews running around, getting themselves and their crafts ready for the inspection. At the pre “challenge” briefing at 11am organisers spilled the beans and told everyone that due to incoming weather it wasn’t safe to go ahead with course all the way to Eddystone. It was changed to an alternative course in more sheltered water. Which was fine, until they said that due to sea kayaks not being as seaworthy as all the other crafts, they would follow a shorter, more sheltered course inside the breakwater, while the other crafts would go outside of it. I have to admit to feeling slightly insulted for a moment and almost handing back my identification bracelet and walking away. The only thing which stopped me, was, that at the same moment they got a phone call to scrap longer variation and put us all on the same course.
At first the idea of the new course wasn’t very exciting, around 13nm zigzag with a loop inside the breakwater. On the other hand it had its advantage as well, as nobody no longer insisted on buddy system, and so everybody could push as hard as they wanted. And seeing different boats managing the conditions was quite interesting, too.
The first leg of the race took us to the east end of the breakwater and to my surprise I was keeping up with all other singles despite still familiarising with the Pace 18. Unfortunately as soon as we turned directly into the wind, it became clear that there are lots of guys much stronger then me. My only strategy was not to loose too much and hope that others wouldn’t last. Then, as we turned corner around the yacht Arabesque, the headwind turned into tail wind. Even with much of the swell coming from the right side, I could soon start to appreciate the kayak I was sitting in. Wind across swell started to create small peaks which could be run; here the paddling turned into being quite technical. This worked to my advantage and as we were turning into the wind for the second lap, I managed to gain back most of what I had lost previously.
Next leg into the wind was almost a repetition of the previous one. Now, there were three kayaks in front of me, two skies and Nick in Taran, and this time, they started to push even harder. As we were turning around Arabesque for second time, I was third, loosing several hundreds meters on Nick and almost unable to see the first ski. At this point the winner was almost clear. The only question I was asking myself was, how much had Nick left in his tank and would there be enough bumps to surf to catch him before the finishing line?
It was incredible to see how the gap narrowed every time I got a wave, in the same time it was starting to be increasingly harder to catch one. It felt almost absurd in last few hundred yards of the race, but Nick and I were paddling side by side. There were perfectly surfable waves passing under my hull, yet I couldn’t get on them! My arms were shaking, I couldn’t do any acceleration strokes. I don’t know if in the end I managed to convince myself to slow down and paddle more with the sea, or if it was just pure boat performance but somehow, I got few waves and crossed the line. I came in second place. Job well done.
Although I felt completely whipped out in the finish, it was strangely satisfying.
It was nice to see others as they crossed the line. It was great to see Natalie beating Alastair. It was good to know that I gave it all in last the two and half hours.
Maybe we should do this more often.