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.
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.
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 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.
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
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