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By Erik Rasmussen

Anglesey Sea Symposium

2nd – 9th May 2010

Ok – this was not my first sea symposium, not by a long way. I’ve been at three in Ireland, back in the early days: Connemara, Donegal and Ballycastle. All good fun, but the nearest thing we got to foreigners was having Nigel Foster give a talk. And his ex-wife, Sharon. But that’s for another time…

THIS symposium, on the other hand, has people from all over Europe and even a couple all the way from the USA. Dutch, Norwegians, Danes, Swedes, Italians, British, Irish, French, Estonians and even a couple of Swiss. Yes really – Swiss sea kayakers. There are hundreds of people for the main weekend and it’s a full programme of paddles, talks, workshops, courses and so on.

I arrived there on the Sunday evening just as things were beginning to quieten down, with none other than Harry Whelan from Cremorne. Harry is very well known in the sea paddling fraternity, and arriving with him is a quick route to fame. Or possibly infamy.

A curry in downtown Holyhead was his plan and we met up with quite a few mates of his; legends of the sea paddling mob. All that networking proved to be a good idea as one of the curry munchers turned out to be Chris Reed, who then gave me an excellent deal on a paddling suit the next day – the “friends and family rate”, further sweetened on hearing the news of Chelsea Kayak Club.

Sleeping arrangements were basic enough, and there was a fairly lax approach to registering and bed allocation, so I took pot luck and jumped in a room.  After a night of no sleep at all, thanks to some supersonic snoring (which eventually saw me giving up and sleeping on the floor of the shower room), I moved into a room full of friendly high tech Norwegians who were webbed, wirelessed and wideo-enabled to the max. And they hardly snored at all. They were serial sea symposiumers, and were in Anglesea mostly for the huge tidal races so our paths rarely crossed.  But I did learn to say “you are my hero” in Norwegian.  ”Du er min held”, as you ask. I wonder if it will do me any good in Sweden in August?

The rest of the week looked like this:

  • Monday - 26 k paddle to Skerries and back from Soldiers’ Point .  This was the “hard option”.  I nearly switched groups when I discovered that one of my co-paddlers was Freya Hoffmeister, who was just back from her solo paddle around Australia.  Yes, Australia.  All of it. Took nearly a year. But I stuck it out and was rewarded with a stunning day, sunshine, seals and a thorough explore of the lighthouse.
  • Tuesday – Day One of Four Star Training.  Led by two excellent coaches, Phil Hadley from Dudley and Jen Kleck from California.  Phil and I yapped away in Black Country dialect which was a good laugh. “Owroight?” “Ow am ya?” and so on.  Made the Norwegian seem straightforward enough.
  • Wednesday – Day Two of Four Star Training.  Led by another excellent coach, Trys.
  • Thursday – Did my Foundation Safety and Rescue Course with three others, led by Tom Thomas.  A small Danish woman called Mariete and I were also assessed at the end for our Two Star; the other two were not anywhere close to the standard in open canoes.  Happily Mariete and I both were and were signed off. Also went as a guinea pig on the night navigation on the five star assessment – which was particularly amazing as at the end of the night we were called on to take part in a real life search and rescue – flares, helicopters, lifeboats, the whole works.
  • Friday – a trip to South Stack from Porth Dafoch.  Pleasant day – sunny, lots of birds, a nice swell at the stack, time to explore caves and chill out.  Harry was on this trip too – and so the blackguarding started.  A bit of a tidal race near Porth Dafoch, just enough to get the idea of surfing.
  • Saturday – day one of  tidal races and overfalls.  Out from Church Beach to a point where it really got pretty big and lumpy, after some really good coaching from Phil Clegg.  Some advanced blackguarding from Harry – unknown to me he attached a tow line to the stern of my boat as I was launching through the surf and then he ran sideways along the beach.  I fell over, and as I hadn’t my deck on, I fell out.  In front of everyone.  Nice.
  • Sunday – day two of tidal races and overfalls.  I was ready for Harry this day, but he still managed to stick a couple of boulders in my day hatch.  Nice  again. I did get him back by towing away his boat when he was sat on a rock.  This trip went from Soldiers’ Point to North Stack and then around to Porth Dafoch. Harry also managed to press gang some poor Danish woman into attaching a throw line to my stern, but it was close enough to the cockpit that I could release it.  Then it sank.  Which was bad.  For him.  Oh how we laughed…

There wasn’t too much social life, just the same crowd drinking in the on-site bar, although on the Wednesday night there was some whisky-fueled competitive acrobatics and party games by a few of the coaches.  All good fun, and pretty impressive how strong and flexible some of the younger coaches are.  If Phil Clegg ever challenges you to a trial of strength or flexibility, be warned. I did have a go or two, just to try and raise the profile of the Chelsea Kayak Club.  It could have been worse, I suppose.  The things your Chairman does for you.

Then it was home time, carrying Harry’s lovely new Rapier on the roof and trying not to fall asleep.  This symposium gets a lot of repeat custom, and I can see why.  If you get the chance next year, go.

Andy

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