Fishguard Bay Ocean Race
Typical hey? It’d been months and months, possibly more than a year since I’d had even the slightest sniffle, but I woke up on Friday feeling a little Bleurgh! I had a sore throat and just felt a little weak, nothing too bad but not ideal the day before the first event of the year. Oh well, I wasn’t too bothered as I’m only racing as an excuse to do some training these days. The races aren’t that important, it’s the training in between that’s the fun part. On top of that, this was a Surf Ski Race so it was all about completing it rather than competing as I’m never going to be competitive in any single discipline event and certainly not a paddling one. More annoying was the fact that after the surf ski race on Saturday I was heading up to North Wales for a Quadrathlon training camp. I didn’t want the lurgy to stop me from enjoying that.
Fishguard Bay Ocean Race
I carried on regardless of my sub-par health and planned to head to Fishguard on Saturday morning. Friday evening was spent packing and getting ready for both the Surf Ski Race and the week long training camp. Nothing much had changed come Saturday morning, I was no better, but no worse either. The drive down along the coast was lovely with the sun sparkling off the calm waters of Cardigan Bay. I stopped off overlooking Fishguard Bay and could see that the wind was picking up from the North and whitecaps we’re now troubling the previously calm waters.
I soon arrived in Goodwick where familiar faces greeted me. Benjamin who organises the Fishguard Ocean Bay Race was busy setting things up. Martin and Richard were parked next to me so I chatted to them and we went for coffee and cake. There were now plenty of others that I know arriving as well. Surf ski is a relatively small sport in the UK so everyone seems to know everyone else and it’s always a nice friendly reunion type atmosphere at such events. Steve and Sam who I paddled with a few weeks ago were there, as was Stuart. It was good to catch up with everyone and share the usual banter.
The original race course had been changed due to the wind direction. Instead of heading out to the headland followed by a long downwind run past Dina’s Head and into Newport, we were now doing a slightly more convoluted course around the Bay with the hope of catching some runners on the way back in. The main advantage of this for me was that there was no need to organise a shuttle to get back to where we started from as we would start and finish in the same place. That was the plan anyway.
With the briefing done it was onto the water and then we lined up ready to go.
I actually had a really good start, I was into my boat and paddling quicker than anyone I think and therefore had the nose of my ski out in front for all of about 2 seconds. As soon as everyone else was mounted and paddling the speedsters overtook me and headed off never to be seen again. I was in a good position though and going well. The waters here were calm and the going was easy. We soon emerged from the shelter of the breakwater though and headed out across the harbour towards the outer breakwater. It was a little choppier here but still OK as I settled into a good rhythm. As we approached the outer breakwater it was clear that things would get a little more challenging beyond it. I eased up a little to prepare myself and headed out into the waves and confused swell of the open Bay.
Things were indeed more difficult out here with waves and chop coming from all directions. Not only was there a Westerly groundswell but also wind blown swell and chop from the North. This was further confused by the fact that this was all being reflected off the rocks of the breakwater in all manner of directions. A few bracing strokes were needed here and there and my strong, powerful, fluid paddle strokes (As if they are ever really any of those things!) became more tentative tickling strokes always ready to brace and never fully committed. I lost a bit of ground to Stuart and Benjamin in front of me but there were still plenty of people behind me including Sam, Martin and Richard.
As we neared the RIB off the headland things got a little choppier and one or two people started to pull up alongside me. I risked a glance to my side to see if it was anyone I knew. It wasn’t, so no need to pick up the pace. I could instead continue along at my easy but fairly secure effort. Things got a little tougher at the turnaround point and now we were heading out to sea, into the wind and at times through some larger rolling swells. Again, I held position and continued at a relatively easy pace but eventually someone else overtook me. By now I wasn’t racing, I was just padding. In fact at one point I decided that it was just time to enjoy it. The sun was shining, I was out at sea pretty much on my own in amongst the swells and having a good time. It was time to relax and enjoy it for what it was. Saying that, the yacht that we were aiming for didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Gradually, more gradually for some than others, it did start looming larger. Eventually I got to it, but it felt as though it was moving! Overtaking it required a bit of effort but I made it around. I then gingerly steered my boat around the yacht and sought out the landmarks far away on land that we now had to head towards. At last, the wind and waves were behind us. Time for some real fun. It never quite worked like that though. The runners were difficult to catch and once you did there would often be waves coming from a different direction trying to knock you off course or spin the boat. I did catch a few nice runs here and there. The increase in speed was both promising and addictive but all too infrequent. I was however catching two people in front of me. By the time we got close to the cliffs the nearest was only about 20 yards ahead of me. And then I fell in!
I was soon back on my ski without any problems but any gap I had closed had once again reopened. I didn’t look behind me to see if anyone was chasing. We turned under the cliffs and once again had difficult, choppy seas and waves from all directions to contend with. I was soon in the water again. Once again I remounted only to fall back in as I untangled my leash. I jumped back on and continued on my way hoping no one had seen me! The gap in front of me was once again widening so it was time to take it a little easier and just concentrate on staying upright. It was beginning to feel as though I was the last person on the water. What had happened to everyone else? I knew that there were still plenty of people behind me but somehow that didn’t feel as though it was the case. Thinking about this wasn’t the right thing to be doing at this time though. I had more important things to be concentrating on such as staying upright. Clearly I wasn’t doing that as I once again found myself swimming. This time I was in the wrong side (leeward) of my ski for an easy remount but I gave it a go anyway and with a little more effort was once again upright. I had a bit of a glance behind me as I remounted but couldn’t see anyone – was I really the last one out here?
I managed to stay dry as we picked our way between the cliffs and a rock. From here on things gradually got a little easier as we headed towards the shelter of the breakwaters. The final few hundred metres were in the calm waters of the harbour where suddenly everything felt easy.
I jogged up the beach to log a finish time and that was that. From here I could now see that there were still a few people behind me as they made their way across the bay. Richard and Martin were already on the beach though. I was a little confused as I was certain they were behind me. It turns out that they had been behind me but had abandoned the race. I think Richard pulled out not long after rounding the breakwater. He decided it was a little too rough for him so sensibly headed back into the shelter of the harbour and paddled around there for a while. Martin had been swimming a number of times and eventually decided enough was enough so had a ride on one of the rescue RIBS. Hearing this news made me feel quite good (sorry guys). Not because they had struggled with the conditions but because I had coped with them. I consider them better paddlers than myself so the fact that I’d completed the course was something of an achievement, especially as I’m in a fairly tippy boat. I may not have been fast, it may not have been pretty at times, but I’d made it. I wasn’t too slow either, especially when you consider that I stopped for a swim a few times!!
With post race analysis done it was time to refuel. Hot drinks, Bara Brith and flapjacks were all on offer. It wasn’t long before there were jacket potatoes, salads and chili con carne too. All consumed in the sunshine.
Prizes were given out, helpers were thanked and goodbyes said before I headed off to leave everyone else to it. I did rush off fairly quickly but I had things to do, still felt ill and wanted to get ready for the training camp. I did of course have plenty of time really, even with a stop at Tesco in Cardigan, Morrison’s and another Tesco in Aberyswyth I was still home way before dinner time. Anna and Morgan has been baking cakes for me to take away with me and we had a nice chilled evening.
These races are pretty relaxed for me, I’ll never be very good at them but today’s was a challenge in its own right, and I lived up to it. Job done.