Moving water fun in Pembrokeshire: Caves, Rescues & Birds!

CKC Moderate Water Trip to Pembrokeshire April 2024

CKC Attendees: 

Fiona, Claire, Rich, John L, Tudor, Damian, Rachel, Jude, Gilly, Izzy, Mary, Mike L, Paul H, Steve D, Ingo, Andrew

In April, Fiona and Claire organised a fantastic trip to Pembrokeshire for “moderate water” Sea Kayak coaching with Sea Kayak Guides (SKG) who had coached CKC on a similar weekend in 2023. Pembrokeshire offers some wonderful scenery with access to some challenging moving water conditions. 

Sixteen of us converged on Trefin/Trevine, just off the Welsh coast path, on the Friday night, with several people bringing club and personal boats from London on roof-racks. We’d booked out the whole of the Old School House Hostel for the weekend, with shared rooms, a drying room and a communal kitchen stocked with copious breakfast foods laid on by the owner. After meeting up, most of us went to dinner in the Ship Inn just a few doors away. 

Saturday 20th

On Saturday we were up early and carpooled to Llanungar Caravan/Campsite to meet our coaches from Sea Kayak Guides Martin, Ben, Bramble and Pablo. It was bright and calm so we could sit outside to introduce ourselves and discuss our goals for the weekend and come up with a plan. (The trip required Explore Award or higher). After going over the tides and weather forecast we settled on putting in at Porthclais, southwest of St Davids, planning to head west to Ramsey Sound. 

The guides rented us additional boats and equipment and we loaded them up on their trailer before squeezing into as few vehicles as possible to get to Porthclais.  At Porthclais we unloaded at the bridge but because of a low tide, had a couple of hundred metres of pulling the kayaks down the stream before we could get in. Once on the water we gathered together and divided into two groups – one (with Ben and Bramble) intent on going to Ramsey Sound and the other (Martin and Pablo) spending more time to rock-hop along the shore.  

We paddled along the cliffs in beautiful, calm weather stopping to practise some strokes at a couple of points. Nearing the Ramsey sound, (site of a tidal turbine project) the coaches reviewed the tidal streams. There was a strong southward current at this state in the tide (peak flow, of up to 6 knots at springs, occurring at high tide). Bramble crossed the eddy-line to show how fast it was flowing. We were able to keep in to the shore and work North through the back eddy until we were ready to do a ferry glide across the current to the Bitches rocks by Ramsey Island. Bramble took up station downstream to be able to assist but we all made it across and into an eddy behind one of the rocks. Then there were a series of rocks with jets between and we paddled into them and enjoyed being able to ride the small standing waves after some strong paddling to overcome the initial flow. 

We paddled through an arch by the small harbour wall and then paddled back to the mainland and across to Porthlysgi beach for lunch, just as the other group was leaving. There we kept having to move the boats up the beach as the tide came in. On our way out we practised some strokes, rolls and rescues, then rock-hopped back to Porthclais where we were able to paddle all the way up to the launch ramp. 

We all went for another great dinner at the Ship Inn again and looked at weather forecasts and tides to outline some trip proposals for Sunday. 

Sunday 21st

Sunday’s weather was again great – sunny with little wind and swell. We met the guides again at Llanungar and decided on the trip options. We’d all put in at Whitesands beach, northwest of St Davids. We could all paddle round Ramsey Island, and then split into two groups – one group paddling round to Porthclais and the other returning to Whitesands, which might be a bit more challenging against waves and current. This required a bit more planning to get some cars to Porthclais. At Whitesands we put in and paddled with the current west to St David’s head before striking out to a rock off the north of Ramsey Island. There we sheltered in the eddy and split into groups to circumnavigate the Ramsey island anti-clockwise. 

As we paddled round, we visited a cave and spotted seals peering at us from the water while oystercatchers flew overhead. At the southern end of the island, our guides briefed us on paddling through the short tidal stream which was against us through the Midland gap. We broke through to the eddy on the other side and paddled up to have lunch at the harbour, the only permitted landing place on Ramsey, along with another group of kayakers.  After lunch we divided into groups again, with some paddlers heading back to Porthclais, and others returning to Whitesands, after playing in the now-northward tidal stream between the Bitches rocks. A couple of us did some assessments and self-rescuing before returning to the beach. 

Monday 22nd

Some returned to London on Sunday night, and a few people walked or cycled on Monday, so on Monday seven of us were paddling, and we met two new guides from SKG, Rich and Lucas (who had coached for CKC the previous year). We discussed goals and agreed that with the wind expected to reach a northerly force 4 in the afternoon, we should choose a sheltered route. They felt that while we wouldn’t be able to paddle around Skomer like last year, a trip along the lee shore would be possible, with some coaching and skills building as well as the chance to see puffins. 

This entailed a longer drive around St Bride’s Bay to Martin’s Haven. We unloaded kayaks near the slipway but parked cars higher up at the National Trust car park.  After getting on the water, while a dive team was shuttling gear to their boat, Rich (from SKG) had us practicing low brace turns. We then went round the headland and paddled across the southward tidal stream to regroup in an eddy behind a rock just off Skomer.  There Rich (from SKG) and Lucas coached us in entering and exiting the streams using the low brace turns. 

After playing at crossing the eddy lines for a while, we paddled southwest along the south coast of Skomer Island, and were soon paddling under hundreds of puffins, paddling out to sea to avoid the groups of puffins on the water. We rafted up while Andrew got into some dryer clothes and we had some lunch, then paddled back, catching nearly slack water in the channel but then paddling into the predicted rising northerly winds which made the last stretch quite choppy. 

Several CKC members stayed on in Trevine and took a two day first aid training course. 

First Aid Course

Overall we had a great weekend with excellent weather in a beautiful location. The Pembrokeshire coast had very interesting, challenging paddling with brilliant coaching from SKG, who ensured the challenges matched our individual abilities. Thanks for putting together such a great trip, Fiona and Claire! 

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