Anglesey Sea Symposium

Posted by Andy Waddington on 2014-05-19

Several members went to Anglesey in early May for the Sea Symposium, which proved to be a very international gathering. None of us had been before (as far as I know) and so didn't really know what to expect. Andy and Mary didn't commit too far, and just went for the weekend, whilst others wanted the benefit of the BCU award assessments which happened during the week. Since there were so many people (about 200) paddling, and so many different activities going on, none of us paddled with each other at all, and we found that we were typically in some very big groups on the water. The evenings were livened up by illustrated talks in the Ucheldre Centre - a building in Holyhead which seems very extensive for what is apparently an obsolete church, but seems very effective in its more sensible use as an exhibition and lecture centre. Unfortunately its just a bit too far for everyone to walk from the symposium base and the roads proves very thrutchy for the provided buses, which seemed a little reluctant to return to pick folk up.

The main action, of course, was on the water, and Anglesey is an unsurpassed location for this sort of thing. The bank holiday weekend was a couple of days after spring tide. Quite a big spring tide mind, so the tidal range was plenty big enough - as big as the range right on springs in June, for example. Thus Mary's group playing in eddy lines in the Swellies had plenty to think about, whilst those of us who had opted for one of the tide race trips found Penrhyn Mawr going very well.

The Outer Race is just bigger and more of it - with less fixed landmarks as you are beyond the last rocks

The "Advanced" group went straight out into the outer race, whilst Andy and the "intermediate plus" group (about two dozen of us) warmed up in the inner race before moving out to the bigger waves when the first group moved off to the stacks. The inner race actually proved more challenging in some ways, as there are lots of sharp eddy lines, perturbed by the swell, and boils to catch the unwary (as well as rocks that suddenly appear from nowhere). Andy found that rolling twice gave him a bit more confidence later on - part of the purpose of doing these things with a gaggle of coaches on hand to do any fishing required. There was quite a bit of rolling, but I didn't see anyone swim apart from one coach who had an aft hatch pop off and had to bail out to avoid sinking !

The waves get so high you can see the curvature of the earth...

There's a video of this trip which seems to have attracted more views than all my other videos put together !

On our second day, Mary went off to do "Incident management" which proved to be very educational, with lots of towing, swimming boats ashore onto rocks, applying patches without landing and so on. Andy felt that his rock-hopping session on the north coast from Bull Bay was a bit tame in comparison, though the group did have its own incident management when we found a sheep at the bottom of a zawn and managed to get it back up the cliff to some walkers who had been trying to find a way down to it. A lot of the folk doing rock hopping were there because, coming from places like Belgium and Denmark, they didn't get a lot of rocks at home! This meant that even though I'd picked the "do or die" group, some were a bit timid at first, but everyone got bolder after an hour or two. The swell on the north side was just not quite big enough, though being out of the force 4 wind was probably good... our brief exposure to that in crossing Porth Wen (for lunch at the brickworks) was quite hard work !

Just enough swell for a gentle lift

There were a couple of wooden boats in evidence over the week, one being paddled by designer Nick Schade, over from the USA. I thought there would be more (I'm used to seeing photos of American paddle symposia where the majority of the boats seem to be strip-built or skin-on-frame), and kind of regretted not having taken either of mine, but I wouldn't have wanted to go either rock-hopping or tide racing in them, so hadn't seen much point. I'll take one next time. Next time ? Oh yes, I think we all thought it was a worthwhile weekend and perhaps we'll go for the week next time !

Article, photographs and video copyright © Andy Waddington 2014

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