In the late 1970’s I worked in an outdoor centre in North Wales for a couple years and we fortunate for the time to have a couple of sea kayaks, Anas Acuta’s. At the end of the 1980 season, just before I returned to Jersey to take up a teaching post I planned to cross the Irish Sea from Holyhead. We thought that this would be a suitable way to finish the summer.
We did everything that we thought was appropriate, visited the Coast Guard at Holyhead, arranged for my dad to travel on the ferry to meet us in Ireland and felt in good condition after a few months of training.
We launched just after dawn and headed west in perfect conditions, next stop Ireland. About 45 minutes after we left we heard the maroons explode, signaling a lifeboat launch. We made some flippant comment that we hoped they weren’t looking for us and continued to establish an efficient forward stroke.
Over the next hour we watched a lifeboat, some fishing vessels and eventually a helicopter search the sea to our south. Suddenly the helicopter swung towards us and started to hover. A winch man was lowered towards us but stopped just short. He gave us the thumbs up, was winched back up and without waiting about the helicopter was gone.
We hadn’t really noticed that the lifeboat had also closed in on us and soon we were in shouting distance. They checked that we were alright, gave a quick explanation of why they were searching and headed back to Holyhead.
Graham and myself had a quick chat and decided that our heart was no longer in the crossing so we did an about turn and four hours after we had left Holyhead we arrived back at our departure point.
We decided to visit the Coast Guard and when we explained that we were the sea kayakers who had left for Ireland they stated with a laugh “You didn’t make it then”, and then proceeded to tell us the whole story.
About 30 minutes after we had left Holyhead, the lighthouse keepers at South Stack had spotted two sea kayaks, the same colour as ours, washed up on the rocks. As a consequence a full search was launched, looking for two missing kayakers, wrongly assuming that it was us. It turned out that two kayaks, part of a much larger party, had been washed off a beach but the paddlers concerned hadn’t alerted the rescue services. It was just an unfortunate co-incidence.
I have never returned to Holyhead to complete that crossing and after 32 years I am aware that it is something which is missing from my education as a sea kayaker. Perhaps it is time for a return visit.
| Graham in Holyhead harbour just after dawn. A few hours later we were back here.