The Eddystone Lighthouse has always held a mysterious appeal both from it’s dramatic history and its windswept remoteness that holds my eye when we pass on the Plymouth-Roscoff ferry.
The Eddystone challenge seemed the perfect way to ‘do’ the lighthouse-an expertly run and supervised gig and kayak race from Mountbatten breakwater round the rocks and back.
Only one problem-you’ve got only three hours to cover the fourteen miles to the light and that (for me at least) would be pushing it to the limit.
The omens weren’t good as my kayak was allocated the number 13 and I was the only loner without a ‘buddy’ to paddle with,which is compulsory.I teamed up with a very friendly pair of paddlers who didn’t look too competitive.
The hooter heralded the mass start of about 10 gig or rowing boats and about 25 kayaks. Past the west end of the breakwater we dug in for the long slog to the distant tiny stick on the horizon. I was fully aware that the force 3 occasionally 4 headwind was not favourable for maintaining the required speed. Every so often a breaking wave would come over the front and blast up my capacious nostrils. Worse still my vast slab of fruitcake had a split in its bag and turned to briny mush.
The flotilla spread out quickly and I settled in to the same speed as a bloke from Bath canoe club and two older gents in rowing skiffs! Watch out for that ferry!
Two hours in I had clocked up over eight miles and the light still seemed depressingly far off. And worse the wind suddenly increased a scale producing waves big enough to obscure the lighthouse. Come three o’clock it was turn around time and I was still a mile off. A pity but lets get back in one piece.
It was time to carb load so I shovelled in three huge chunks of salty fruit slab in quick succession. Alas the first one got jammed at the entrance to my stomach and the next two lodged on top, stretching my oesophagus so painfully I whimpered in pain and my eyes streamed. I hosed in some Lucozade sport on top and it just filled up the tube and refluxed into the back of my throat. (no,I am not a Lucozade sport type person…..this was an exceptional circumstance). I envisaged being the first person to call for help due to a cake log-jam in the gullet, but suddenly the obstruction moved on and I gaped with relief,hoping nobody had been close enough to observe my fleeting crisis.
I was expecting easy surfing conditions on the way back but the wind from the left as well as behind led to awking slewing and yawing. Messages over the radio from the safety boats steadily increased as paddlers succumbed to fatigue, pulled muscles and even injury. Most worryingly I heard the sound of a distant whistle, presumably from a capsized paddler, but the safety boat was soon heading in that direction.
Blimey I was pooped at the end-26 miles in 6 1/2 hours.And I didn’t even get to the lighthouse, along with most of the other ‘casual ‘ paddlers and several gigs.
But the pain of a long tiring paddle was nothing compared to the excruciating wait for a portion of fish and chips in Launceston on the way back. Why have they always just run out of potatoes when I arrive?
p.s. how’s this for a mega yacht?