On Thursday the 5th of April a dynamic selection of NWSK's enthusiastic paddlers met at the Liverpool terminal of the 'Isle of Man Steam Packet Co.' They were to find that the overnight fast ferry to Douglas would be over 3 hours late. The waiting room in the terminal was exceptionally grim with some unusual entry and (no) exit arrangements.
After arriving on the island shortly after dawn on Good Friday, we touched base with Keirron at 'Balabrooie' which is his family home and the base for his 'Adventurous Experiences' business. Freshly armed with some local knowledge we set off for a cooked breakfast at Port Erin to make preparations for the first leg of our Manx adventure.
The First Leg of Man (29km)
We decided to start at Port St Mary on the south coast. We found good parking near to a convenient slipway and a friendly harbour keeper who gave some helpful local information. We paddled west, under spectacular cliffs that led the way to Calf Sound.
Calf Sound has strong tidal currents which can produce spectacular overfalls but we had timed our passage carefully. Once through the sound we could begin our passage north along the rugged west coast.
Our first break was after around 4 hours at the loom and the pretty beach at Niarbyl would have provided the perfect setting if it weren't for the abundance of flies. Did we smell that bad already?
After our only break of the day we decided to look for somewhere to camp for the night just to the north of Peel. We found the perfect location with soft sand to camp on and plenty of driftwood. We had views of Peel Castle close by and the Mountains of Mourne, all the way across the sea in Northern Ireland. The ferry fiasco of the previous night left us deprived of restful sleep and after a wee nip of whisky our cradles were happily left un-rocked.
The Second Leg of Man (40km)
As dawn broke I rose to the familiar feeling of cold, thirst and hunger. Oh its great to be alive! Simon soon re-kindled the fire and before long had cooked up a stack of bacon butties. One of my trademark pots of strong coffee provided the essential boost and I was ready for anything. I should point out that I was around 10 minutes late on the water, which is a point that I am not permitted to forget.
After a short section of rugged rocky cliffs and intriguing kelp infested inlets, the coastline took on a soporific monotony. Miles upon miles of shingle beaches would leave us short of visual interest for much of the day.
The main highlight would be passing Point of Ayre, the most northerly extremity on the island. The underwhelming anti-climax was almost too much to bear, as there was nothing much there. I watched my compass swing round and point south along another steep shingle beach. After a long break for sunbathing, and some delicious eggy bacon baps from Mark's cast iron skillet, we plied our final hour (or so) along the coast to Simon's home town of Ramsey.
Kirstine had taken a flight earlier and by the time we all met at Simon's house she was getting well acquainted with local traditions and white wine. Simon and his wife Tracy made us very welcome amongst their family and friends and laid on a splendid garden party with plentiful food, entertainment and surprises all round.
The Third Leg of Man (36km)
After the previous 2 days of calm weather a strong westerly broke the relaxed mood and although we had shelter from the tall cliffs of the east coast we began to realise that we might have to add a fourth leg to our circumnavigation of Man. Mark's journey was unexpectedly curtailed due to an injury to his elbow but Kirstine took his place and carried his virtual baton.
As the amended team left Ramsey Bay and passed Maughold Head the winds swept along the cliffs and slowed our progress. We took a quick break at Laxey for ice creams amongst holiday beach folk in the sunshine, but we were soon on our way again.
The increasing winds slowed our progress and the skies darkened as we drew nearer to Douglas Bay. Over 3 kilometres of exposed, gusty paddling lay between us and a well earned lunch stop. With a breath of good fortune the wind rapidly decreased just as we passed the bay's northern entrance and by the time we reached the small beach beside the lighthouse, the sun came out.
After some quick sickly troughing of Eccles Cakes and Cadbury's Cream Eggs we were soon back on a breezy sea but now with a following tide. Simon is Manx and as such felt it was his destiny to finish this circumnavigation of his homeland in no more than 3 legs. After a cheery farewell he eased away towards the sinking afternoon sunshine and would soon become invisible in the haze were it not for the occasional glint from his paddles. He reached Port St Mary in plenty of time for tea!
The rest of us mere mortals chose to spend the night on a beach within sight of the Langness peninsula, which stood between us and the last 2 hours of our final destination.
The Fourth (and final) Leg of Man (18km)
We needed an early start in order to paddle round Langness before the tide turned against us. We made it on the water well before 8-00am possibly because whisky supplies were running low.
As we approached the southern tip, Langness Point there was little sign of the forecast westerly force 4-5, but just as we turned to cross Castletown Bay the forecast came true. Lenticular clouds smothering the tops of the southern Manx fells gave us due warning of increasing winds and the onset of rain.
Port St Mary lay only 3km to the west but paddling directly into the weather would be a futile exercise. Instead we paddled north, deep into Bay ny Carrickey and made a shorter more sheltered passage having stopped briefly on a beach to consume yet more confectionery.
It was a great relief to arrive in the shelter of Port St Mary and although our challenging journey was over we still managed to muster some enthusiasm whilst hurriedly packing our kit away. It was time to find a cafe for proper sit down meal.
Thanks are due to Keirron at Adventurous Experiences for his help, hospitality and local knowledge, and also to Simon and Tracy for a their hospitality and a wonderful party.