Isle of Wight SUP Circumnavigation

Paddling around the Isle of Wight has been on my ‘to do’ list for a number of years now. As a family we have holidayed there many times and living on the south coast there’s no escaping the Isle of Wight, sitting tantalisingly close, just 4 miles across the Solent. Paddling across from the mainland really appealed to me, as the ferry across is expensive and I’m a very tight Yorkshireman.

Paddling across from the mainland really appealed to me, as the ferry across is expensive and I’m a very tight Yorkshireman.

I’d planned the paddle a couple of times over the last few years, but for one reason or another had never followed through. So at the beginning of 2019 I decided this would be the year. You know what it’s like? Between work, family, weather and tide, time just seems to slip away. It was already July and I hadn’t made the commitment. I could see that if I didn’t make the move to do it now, it just wasn’t going to happen. So I checked the wind and tides and decided to go for it.
Saturday morning started with a 5:30am alarm call and a drive down to Lee on Solent, with a stop off at Tesco for some dried fruit, nuts and energy bars. High tide was at 9:30 so I planned to hit the water at around 9:00. Although my decision to paddle round was a quick one I’d already done quite a bit of tidal planning previously. Getting the tides right is critical for a paddle around the island. They flow pretty fast in some places and if you’re paddling against them, you’ll be going nowhere. I decided to take the Fanatic Blitz 14’ x 26”. A board I bought specifically for paddles like this one as well as downwind and beach racing. At 26” wide it’s got a bit more stability for those longer paddles, but with the glide and rigidity of a 14’ hard board. It was a great choice.

I hit the water on schedule and started the paddle across the Solent to Cowes. All of the high tide shipping movements had ceased by the time I departed, so crossing the shipping lanes was easy and setting off from Lee on Solent meant I avoided crossing any of the IOW ferry routes. The forecast was for a light North Easterly. It turned out a little stronger than Forecast, and enough to kick up a pretty evil short period wind chop hitting me side on. This resulted in a few wobbly moments and a lot, and I mean a lot! Of paddling on my left side!
After a short break at Cowes and having to wait for around 5 sailing boats and one Fast cat ferry to pass before I could cross the channel. I headed out past the Royal Yacht Squadron and alongside Princes Parade towards Yarmouth. The Sea state was choppy again, but I had the tide with me so made good progress, despite having a few dunking’s. I cruised past Yarmouth without incident. The IOW ferry was docked and loading, and I had plenty of time to pass in front of it. The tide was racing now and I paddled past Fort Victoria and Cliff end Battery pretty quickly.

That view across the bay to St Catherine’s is the type of view that will either destroy you, or make you determined to knuckle down and just keep pushing.

Getting up close and personal with the iconic needles has to be the highlight of any circumnavigation of the island, and they didn’t disappoint. Gleaming white cliffs towering out of the sea, and the small pebble beach at the base of the cliffs in Scratchells bay was really special. As I rounded the headland out of Scratchells bay I could see St Catherine’s lighthouse flashing in the distance, despite the strong sunshine beating down on me. That view across the bay to St Catherine’s is the type of view that will either destroy you, or make you determined to knuckle down and just keep pushing. Its 24km in a straight line and 2.5 km off the shore! The going was good, if a little monotonous.

I rounded St Catherine’s and headed on to St Laurence and Ventnor, stopping in at a lovely little spot we found whilst on holiday a few years ago called Steephill Cove. A little hidden gem with a café, beach shops and lots of rock pools. Thoroughly recommended if you’re ever over on the island on holiday. Steephill Cove took me past the 65km mark and after 9 hours of paddling it would have been so easy to find a quiet little beach and bed down for the night, but that’s not why I was there. I was there to paddle around in one hit. That was the challenge I had in mind and that’s what I was going to do.
I checked out my tidal flows and remembered that I only had around two hours to get to the lifeboat station at Bembridge. If I wasn’t there by 20:30, the tide would swing around and I’d be paddling against it. So I dug deep and paddled straight across Sanddown Bay as fast as I could. The barrel Jelly fish were out in force and they were BIG! I thought they were plastic carrier bags floating just below the surface at first.

The clock had just ticked past 20:30 as I reached Bembridge and I was treated to the spectacular sight of the sun setting behind the Lifeboat station and in time to observe the last of the large shipping movements out in the Solent. Those things are bloody big, even from a couple of miles away and I really didn’t want to get in their way.
So now it was decision time. Do I take on the Solent at Night, or do I sleep on the beach at Bembridge? To be honest with you, either one would have been fine, but I was so close it seemed a shame to stop now. I decided to go for it. I fixed my torch to the front of my board, strapped my flare within easy reach and paddled out into the twighlight.

The sky was clear and there was a bright moon, so it was pretty easy to see the water surface and anticipate the chop. As I reached the middle of the Solent and started crossing the IOW ferry routes, I don’t mind admitting I was a tad nervous. I was constantly checking all around me and mistook No Man’s Land Fort for a big ship on a couple of occasions. Prior to setting out from Bembridge I concocted an emergency plan for if confronted with a large vessel. My plan was to shine my torch at it and get out of the way. Failing that my final chance of survival was to light my flair and wave it like an absolute loon. Now I was out in the middle, that didn’t seem like such a good plan anymore. It the blood pumping though.
I could hear the Hovercraft, but couldn’t actually see it as it was blacked out apart from a small flashing light on the front, and I knew that the fast fat was at Ryde pier head as I saw it cross earlier. The IOW ferry did come pretty close, but it was easy to spot on account of it being lit up like a small town. I just let it pass in front of me and paddled well behind it to avoid any turbulence. I think that was the most vigilant I have ever been on a paddleboard.

You just can’t beat watching firework displays from the middle of the Solent, whilst listening out for the hovercraft, keeping an eye on the Fast cat and the Car ferry, looking out for other large ships and hoping not to get hit from behind by a stealth sailing boat. Who says men can’t multitask?

Though it was mildly terrifying, crossing the Solent at night was also a beautiful experience. The lights of Portsmouth look amazing from the water, with Spinnaker tower rising up from Gunwarf Quays, and the lights of Ryde shining back from the island. I recon there was a firework display competition between the Mainland and the island, with two displays on the Island and two on the mainland almost synchronised, a wonderful sight. You just can’t beat watching firework displays from the middle of the Solent, whilst listening out for the hovercraft, keeping an eye on the Fast cat and the Car ferry, looking out for other large ships and hoping not to get hit from behind by a stealth sailing boat. Who says men can’t multitask?

I arrived back at Lee on Solent tired, relived, but overall really happy, with a great sense of achievement! For me that’s the best part of endurance paddling, that great feeling that you’ve set yourself a challenge and completed it. It’s so addictive! I’ll definitely be returning to the island, but I think next time I’ll take it a bit easier and wild camp over a couple of nights. I can’t wait.

The Adventure Begins

Well what an amazing start to the trip. I’m sitting on the train to Gatwick and my phone pings at me. It the Easy Jet app telling me my flight has been delayed. This was going to be a late flight anyway, but now I won’t leave the UK until almost 11pm and won’t arrive in Palma until 02:17! I Think I’d better get as much sleep as I can on that plane.

So Just a brief blog post to tell you all how I’m feeling now that I’m on my way.

You know that feeling when it’s your first day at a new school, or a new job? or the feeling you have when you have to talk in front of a large group, or maybe in the car on your way to Uni? Well that’s the same feeling I have now. A real mixture of excitement, anticipation and nervousness. I get the same feeling before every SUP race I do, especially the endurance events and especially the Great Glen race. The Great Glen is 92km long often in strong winds and big waves, and a significant proportion of it in the dark. There’s a significant amount of prep required and a mad scramble in the early hours with everyone getting their stuff together, having breakfast and checking all their kit three times. The thoughts running through your head are numerous, will it be windy? What direction? Have I got enough food and hydration? What’s that twinge in my shoulder that’s appeared from nowhere? Who do I have to beat? Who can beat me? Have I got the right clothing? Where’s my leash? Those who have witnessed me in these moments will know that my stress levels rise and I just can’t settle. That’s exactly how I feel now. However all that prep pays off and you rarely forget anything and are usually more prepared than you think you are. As soon as that race starts though the nerves and anticipation are gone and I just go for it.

Well tomorrow the adventure starts. Do I feel ready? No. Will I smash it? Hell yeah!!


Weather incoming!

Just got home from an epic few days in North Wales with my two boys. We decided to make the most of the last week of Easter holidays. We were wild camping in the van and hitting the mountain bike trails, walking and visiting some of the attractions. More on that in a future blog.

“don’t come, have you seen the wind forecast!?”

While laying in bed one night parked in a layby just outside Llandegla Forest, and with the sweet sound of one of the boys snoring in my ear, my phone pings. It’s a message from Ruben at elnino surf centre saying “don’t come, have you seen the wind forecast!?” oops!, too late, flights are booked and I’m almost ready. I jumped on my phone and checked out the Wind Guru forecast. What I saw was some awesome weather for windsurfing, but not so great for paddling 350km on an inflatable board. Trying to complete this challenge in seven days is hard enough without loosing one, two, or more days to the wind as well.

I can’t pull out now, Im still going and I’m still going to attempt to circumnavigate the island. I may just need to apply some imaginative thinking to the challenge.

The wind was always going to be the one element I have no control over. If I had unlimited free time or the ability to take holidays from work whenever I wished it wouldn’t be a problem. I’d just pick a weather window and last minute flight and go for it. However I’m an ordinary guy with work and family commitments, so that’s just not an option. I would take anything else, rain, cold, heat, snow or hail, but wind is a real problem.

So now the packing starts. I’ve got almost everything I need. I just need to get a few extras and start to pull it all together. Come back tomorrow for an update on what’s happening.

My Very Own Adventure

The formidable cliffs of the Cap de Formentor

I’ve fancied attempting a multi day SUP challenge for a while now, I’ve seen others set off on their own adventures and longed to be going along too.  Well, now I’ve decided that it’s my time and I’m off on my own adventure.

I’ve looked at London to Paris, but the paperwork involved was a real downer. Then I looked at the River Douro, but just didn’t have the time. I needed to find somewhere else, somewhere warm where I could start and finish at the same point. I have absolutely no idea where it came from, as its somewhere I’ve never been to before and does have a bit of a ’Brits abroad’ image, but it looks beautiful  and such an amazing place to paddle. Plus the flights are cheap, really cheap!

And the winner is…… Mallorca. That’s right Mallorca (Majorca) the Mecca for Brits abroad. Towns like Magaluf attract thousands of holiday makes, of which most only ever see the inside of a bar, at night. That’s not my plan, oh no, not at all. I’m planning to Stand up Paddleboard around it, all the way around it. Paddling for 350 to 550km, depending on how close I hug the coastline.

Mallorca or Majorca is the larges of the Balearic Islands

I can’t wait to discover this island and have my own adventure. Make sure you check back on the blog to see how I’m getting on.

Check out my route below.

Sleeping in a Bag

It’s around 02:00 on Sunday morning and I’m lying in a bag at the bottom of a soggy field. I’m cold and I feel like I’ve been awake for hours. It’s really not all that bad though, I’m gazing up at the clearest starry sky and I feel alive and free.

How did I get here and what am I doing?

Well I recently got involved with a collection of fantastically diverse dreamers; people who refuse to accept the ordinary and pledge to ‘say yes more’.  They are all members of the Yes Tribe. Their leader is a guy called Dave Cornthwaite, a guy who once picked up a skateboard and skated across Australia. He is now on a mission to complete 25 human powered journeys over 1000 miles each.  A few years ago he decided to see how many of his Facebook followers he could turn into real friends and organised a camp out to see who would turn up. Nineteen people did show up and the Yes Tribe was born.

The yes bus

Dave and the tribe have converted an old London bus into an inspiring  base camp in West Sussex. It’s just the type of place that you’d expect to find 10 like-minded people who think it’s perfectly normal to sleep outside in gale force winds and driving rain, protected by nothing more than a Tarp and a Bivvy bag.  They are all here to learn more about wild camping from Dave who has bedded down in some weird and wonderful places across the globe. I found several variations of the spelling for the Bivvy, but I’m gonna run with this one.

Bivvy bagshort for Bivouac. a collapsible bag made of weatherproof fabric that is used to provide shelter usually for a single person in the wilderness.

We started out in the bus at 16:30 by spending a short time introducing ourselves and learning more about why we are all there. Dave explained what a Bivvy was and introduced a basic itinery. Then we were outside for a walk around the site looking at possible sites to bed down for the night. We checked out fields, ditches, woodlands, disabled toilets, wood sheds and shipping containers, all of which have been used by our host over the years. I truly have never seen anyone get so excited about the prospect of sleeping on the floor of a disabled toilet in my life.

After some discussion about the do’s and don’ts of wild camping, interspersed with the dangers posed by foxes, wild boar, the military and ticks……. I told you this lot were dreamers; Dave demonstrated several ways of setting up a tarp and Bivvy bag and discussed the technique for getting inside and what to do with all your other kit. We then got to work setting up our camp sites.  Some went for tents and others stretched their tarps over picnic benches.

The log in the middle is me

I found my ideal spot between two logs at the bottom of the field. I decided to go hardcore, no tarp for me! Once set up we retreated to the upper deck of the bus to shelter from the atrocious weather and to geek out on wild camping kit; hammocks, cookers, Bivvy bags, sleeping mats, apps, mapping, GPS trackers and emergency locators were all discussed. It was great.

Tarpa piece of material (such as durable plastic or waterproofed canvas) used especially for protecting exposed objects or areas.

After a spot of dinner, some birthday cake and a bottle of beer, we couldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to venture outside and climb into our Bivvy bags. The weather had calmed a little by this point and the torrential rain had eased to an annoying drizzle. I navigated down through the wet grass to my little camp nestled between two big logs at the bottom of the field. Here I met with my first dilemma. How was I going to get out of my wet gear and into a nice cosy sleeping bag without getting everything wet through? The answer was, with a load of wiggling, hopping and shuffling down into the bag while stripping off the wet gear as I went.

The experience of sleeping out in a bag was worse than I thought it was going to be, and I can be pretty hardcore.

The sleeping bag was pulled up to my shoulders and the Bivvy zipped over my head. Suddenly I was gripped by a wave of panic, I felt very claustrophobic and struggled to find the zipper to let some air into the bag.  The night basically went on like this, a bit of sleep, waking in a panic scrabbling for the zip then settling down again once I had filled my lungs with the sweetest West Sussex air. At around 02:00 the temperature dropped to below the 80C minimum of my two season sleeping bag, again kit selection, rather than the wild camping experience had let me down. I was bloody freezing! If I managed to get my arms under my body it wasn’t too bad, but it was bloody uncomfortable. I therefore had to decide between being uncomfortable and being cold. I could have got out of the bag and put my jumper on, but that was just a step too far at this point, so I decided to just go with it. During one of these frantic attempts to get some air I stuck my head out of the bag and looked up towards that starry sky, cold and uncomfortable, but happy.

Do you know what? The experience of sleeping out in a bag was worse than I thought it was going to be, and I can be pretty hardcore. But that was largely due to lack of preparation and poor gear selection on my part. Just goes to show that if you’re intending on wild camping, it’s worth getting in touch with the Yes tribe and asking for advice. I wouldn’t have changed a thing though. I had a great time and leaned so much in a safe and reassuring environment, with a nice warm bus, log burner and a lovely cup of tea to warm me up the morning after.

So if you’re interested in wild camping get in touch with the Yes Tribe and get your Bivvy on.


Helping set up a picnic bench shelter

Scavenger Hunters Assemble

Hi guys,

I’ve been very quiet on this blog over the last couple of years, and I’d like to correct that right now.  I’m going to start by telling you all about my latest experiment.

Scavenger hunt 1

As you know I’m not really a lover of the old Xbox, and hate the idea of people (especially kids) sitting at home, wasting the day away in front of said machine.  I realise that not everyone wants to, or is capable of, climbing a mountain or paddle-boarding across Scotland. Therefore, I decided to run a pretty low-key community scavenger hunt in my local town. I’m not really sure where this idea came from, it just sort of popped into my head, so I decided that ‘done was better than perfect’, and without any planning whatsoever, set up a Facebook event and published it to the world. Right! It was now out there with no going back, I had to get a shift on!

The first thing I had to do was attract some willing victims

The first thing I had to do was attract some willing victims/volunteers, in order to test out my idea. To achieve this I would have to do a bit of promo. Time was short so I contacted a couple of local community Facebook groups and asked if they could share the event page. One of them did, so a big shout out to Midhurst Rants for that one, thanks guys.  I also promoted on Eventbrite and ran a small, locally targeted Facebook campaign.  All of that was surprisingly easy to do.

Scavenger hunt

Next on the list was to decide on a format. I was initially thinking about a treasure hunt, but what I really wanted was to get the vict….,  volunteers to actually go outside and interact with people on the street. I didn’t just want them searching for clues; I wanted them to make connections and actually speak to others in the town. I devised a cunning plan which involved my volunteers following cryptic clues, leading to specific locations where they had to photograph or video themselves performing silly stunts. The idea was to create an event that appealed to the whole family. I then assigned scores to each activity – the more difficult the activity the higher the score.  Five points for a video of someone in the team eating a disgusting sweet;  fifty points for working out the location of a specific house based solely on a twenty digit code! See, I told you, something for everyone. The evidence was to be either posted on the Facebook page or shown to me at the end.  I also roped in some of the town’s shopkeepers to give me a helping hand. Big shout out to those guys later.

I woke up having literately no clue whatsoever if anyone would actually turn up.

The morning of the event arrived and I woke up having no clue whatsoever if anyone would actually turn up. A couple of people had accepted the Facebook event and I’d given away a few tickets on Eventbrite, but entry was free and it was RAINING! So my expectations were low.  I was delighted to see one couple already waiting when I got there and then a rapid succession of friends, families and couples walking through the doors of the Grange Community Centre to join in the fun. Enough people to form five teams!  I gathered everyone together, explained why I was doing this, introduced some basic rules and sent them out into the town with one instruction: “Have Fun!”.

Scavenger hunt 2My plan was to settle down in the cafe with a coffee and watch the evidence come rolling in on the event page. It was so much fun following the guys around the town through their posts. At one point I watched a video of a kid eating a Double Salted Liquorice sweet, that made me physically laugh out loud. This drew very strange looks from my fellow coffee drinkers. By the time I’d finished explaining what we were doing to the family on the next table, they were asking me for the date of the next hunt. Watch the video here

‘I loved getting out and about, meeting people and learning more about the town’

All the teams were back within the hour and a half time limit and the scores were totalled up. None of the teams had achieved scores of 100%, but all the teams had 100% fun! They all asked when I would be organising another.  The feedback was excellent, with comments like, ‘I loved getting out and about, meeting people and learning more about the town’‘The questions were set at a very good level, with a good range of difficulties’ and, ‘We found it fun squeezing into the phone box’.     Mission accomplished!


Scavenger hunt 3

And the results?

1st Team AAAS

2nd The Three Musketeers

3rd Bear Hunt

4th Team Fred

5th The Sausages

What did I get from this? Well I learned that organising something for the community is so rewarding, and I just loved the responses from all those who had so much fun. So much so that the Community Scavenger Hunt will return! Like and Follow the Facebook Page  to keep up to date with what’s happening. I have a feeling that the attendance will be much higher for the next one. 

Shout out to those shops who helped out by allowing the scavengers to enter there shops to complete tasks. You are all stars.


UK SUP Clubs Great Glen Challenge

Well that was a pretty EPIC Weekend! FULL ON!!!
A few weeks a go I found out that a race I never even knew was on was being cancelled and rearranged by Joanne and Pete Vale (UK SUP Clubs) and Tony Bain (Green Dragon Activities).  I’d been looking for a new challenge for some time and had eyed up the Great Glen before, so I quickly cleared my calendar for that weekend and paid the reduced £30 entry fee. Now all I had to do was show up and paddle.

Some of the finishers and support crew.

I decided to take the day off work on Friday so I could drive the 600 miles up to our accommodation and base at Fort Augustus, with a slight detour to Widnes to pick up my new friend Tony Bain. Driving from Southern England to the Scottish Highlands really does put the size of the British Isles into perspective, setting the scene for the epicness of the weekend to follow and setting us on a journey in more ways than one.

The initial plan was to start the paddle from Inverness at 5:30am, however with still an hour and a half of journey time left and with an ETA at Fort Augustus of 10:15; we were called by Pete and told that everyone else had gone to bed and the new start time would be 3:00am.  It didn’t take a brain surgeon to work out that we would have to be awake at 2:00am and as a result only get around 3 hours sleep!! We could have started later, but felt that this was an event where we should all start together.

The pedal was firmly pressed to the metal and we made good time, being greeted outside our digs by Pete at 10:06. We unpacked and hit the sack as soon as possible, probably drifting off around 11:00. “Three hours”, I thought, “that should just be enough”. Our roomies however had other ideas, a certain Bart de Zwart and his lovely wife Dagmar  were awake at 1:00am making breakfast and getting ready for the race. Two hours sleep to paddle across Scotland…… So much for preparation.

A very dark start in Inverness

We packed up in quite  a rush and headed off to the start line in Inverness. I was now the furthest north I had ever been in the British isles. We placed our boards on the water to a 10 min countdown from Pete and before we knew it we were placing the first few paddles of the thousands that would follow over the next few hours. The first few km’s along the canal were pretty hot with paddlers stripping off a little if they could. We portaged around the first lock and headed off towards the entry to Loch Ness, where Jo HV offered a wee dram of whisky to Nessie and asked for safe passage. The next 37km would test all of us and Nessie decided to throw up some pretty testing down-wind conditions, with half of the distance being covered in the dark, and boy was it DARK!!!  Thankfully daybreak arrived, the torches were turned off and we were able to enjoy the amazing downwind conditions on the Loch pretty much surfing the wind swell all the way to Fort Augustus, and our first support stop for over 37km. Bart arrived first with Jo arriving 25mins later and myself a further 5 mins after that. Bart and Jo spent minimal time on this stop, I however was offered a bacon buttie, an offer I just couldn’t refuse, so not surprisingly I took a little longer to get back on the water.  After refuelling I set out on the steady paddle along a short section of canal and on to Loch Oich, a beautiful little Loch, but not big enough to sustain a wind wave so no down winding here.

I cant remember which Lock this was. very picturesque though

I was really looking forward to getting to Lock Lochy and getting out into the wind again. The entrance to Lochy marks about two thirds of the journey from the Inverness end and I was told that there was 20km of Loch and 10km of canal left to the finish. Lochy did not disappoint. As we made our way down the Loch the wind strengthened and started to push some awesome waves down the 20km stretch of water. For me this was the best part of the paddle, real down winding with thigh high rolling wind swell just pushing us along to towards the end. You really had to work the board to link the swells and prolong the glides, just awesome!! and so much fun I actually forgot I was towards the end of a 93km paddle.

After Lochy the pace slowed somewhat as the exhilaration of the glide passed and was replaced by the last 10km slog along the canal into Fort William. This was definitely my lowest point. My lack of sleep the night before hit me like a train and I actually thought I was gonna fall asleep while paddling. My knees, back, calf, and shoulders were all aching and I knew I just had to get through these last few very bendy km’s . I finally rounded the last bend and could now see Neptune’s Ladder and the finish line. I crossed the line to cheers from Jo,  Pete,  Dagmar and Bart. It was Great that they could hang around for a bit after their finishes. I Paddled up to the pontoon i third place. Absolutely knackered, but with a great sense of achievement and was asked If I enjoyed it and would do it again, the answer to both questions was NO!!! However I’m already planning how I can beat my time next year and also thinking about what I could do for my next challenge.

Me just coming into Fort Agustus at the end of a dark, but pretty epic paddle along Loch Ness

I’d just like to shout out to all the guys, and gal  who completed this epic challenge. Really well done to everyone. It was fantastic that everyone finished and with times they were happy with too.  Bart de Zwart, Jo Hamilton Vale, Tony Bain, Allistair Swinsco, the blind and dangerous Dean Dunbar, Glen Parry (surf Ski) and Tom Wakeford. I actually never met the last two guys as it was a rush in the dark when we set off and I was sparko in a nice warm van when they finished. Sorry guys.

And a big thanks must go our to our support crews, we couldn’t have done it without you guys. Thanks a lot.

Also a big thanks to all those who sponsored me. I have managed to raise over £500 for the Save the Children, Syria emergency fund. Its not too late to add to this great cause if you wish.

Just click on the link below,  or text ‘ISUP97  £2’ to 70070

Just Giving



Here are the final timings:

Bart De Zwart.   10:50
Joanne Hamilton-Vale. 11:38

Phil Plume. 12:41

Glen Parry (surfski). 13:00

Tony Bain. 13:56

Dean Dunbar 14:47

Allistair Swinsco 14:47

Tom Wakeford 16:38

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