Anti-Clockwise Lessons

Day 26 – Frinton on Sea to Shingle Street – 15th June – 14.6 nm

One reason for paddling anti-clockwise this time around, was to compare and contrast the two opposing directions.  One major difference in 2015 was going to be paddling the majority of the route on the ebb, I knew this would change things a bit but I hadn't quite realised how significant this would be – today gave me a hint of what was to come.

It is a hurry-up-and-wait morning, part of another give-me-a-break day. The conditions are marginal with a stiff off-shore wind at Frinton, but I guess that north of the Naze it will be too much. So I faff and Team Manager writes her diary, while trying, not entirely successfully, to stay patient. But I know to trust my instincts, and I don’t feel ready to go. So I faff some more - Team Manager grows less patient. I stall with some zen-like prophecies of dropping winds at lunch time.

At lunch time the tide changes and the wind does too, conditions quickly settle, it feels right to go now. But I am caught out and have to hurriedly get ready - after sitting around all morning I still manage to be late.

After an easy launch, the pier comes and goes nicely, the Naze too and then it starts to get a little choppy with the wind rattling out of the river valleys – the Orwell and Stour. It is no surprise though and if it gets no worse I can handle this until I am across to Felixstowe. Knot-tying time once again.

But it does get worse; suddenly it all goes from choppy, through lumpy, into nasty and beyond. It probably only lasts a mile and a half, but jeez it really is quite unpleasant. Once I get across the Harwich channel things settle a little and I scratch, in a slightly dazed manner, along the coast - trying to avoid the wind and a bit of a swell from the north east.

I struggle against the wind and flow at the mouth of the River Deben, and make a complete cock-up of the line and have to sneak across a surfy, rudder-scrapingly shallow shingle bank to get back out. Eventually I've had enough, you can take your kayak and stick it.

I call it a day, just up the coast, at Shingle Street. It’s a very pretty place, if you have a thing for shingle, but I don’t, not any more.

The Team Manager’s diary sums it up – “John arrived exhausted and upset, he had an awful crossing to Felixstowe.” 

So what happened? Well I'm paddling on the ebb now, so all the rivers, bays, estuaries and harbours are emptying rather than filling. The extra flow coming out builds the conditions, significantly - especially if it is pushing against swell or wind. And of course this happens outside of the bay, harbour, estuary etc. – right where the UK Circumnavigator tends to route. On the flood this effect is not significant as any trouble is inside the feature, usually well away from the route – the paddler cruises across upstream of any trouble.

This effect was obvious on every major river crossing – Humber, Tees, Tyne, Tay and so on. The Tay was a memorable example; it turned gentle 2 ft swell conditions into an extensive spread of 6 ft breaking, with its own wind too – and that was 5 nm out from the mouth of the river. Similar effects were to be found at harbour mouths too, combined with a bit of swell and things could become quite unpleasant.  It was a phenomenon that was to be treated with respect.
Oh yes, one of the joys of going the wrong way around.