Split Shifts – More On-the-Ebb Lessons

Going anti-clockwise means most of the time is spent paddling on the ebb, pretty much everything except the south coast really. This in turn creates a number of significant differences to going the ‘right way’ around. As mentioned previously, this means that the bays, rivers, estuaries and harbours are generally emptying, exposing the paddler to the, sometimes significant, downstream turbulence. Paddling on the ebb also means that the paddling day involves working most of the time against the prevailing swell, this would cause problems for me later – let’s talk about it then.

Another difference came down to the daily timings:

As we headed north we fell into a timing window that meant the tide was running early in the morning, too early to make a realistic start with the beginning of the tide each day. So we would de-maggot and head to the beach, where the one with the sun-tanned bald patch would paddle for a few hours to catch what he could. Then as the tide turned (and the wind changed) I would sit things out for a time until I could get on again later in the day to finish off. I quite liked the routine from the purely paddling point of view, it gave me a lengthy rest in the middle of the day, and this in turn really did charge my batteries for the second (or third) leg of the day – giving a mileage boost late in the day.

But of course there was a downside; the paddling day in its entirety could grow pretty long.  12+ hour days meant that it became difficult to fit in planning, kit-sorting, admin and diary writing around the paddling. Something would suffer: not-enough sleep meant that mornings were lacking in motivation, decision making became difficult and confidence became a fragile concept - faffing became a regular part of the day. But the alternative, going to bed having neglected The Plan for the following day would mean, at best an inefficient day and opportunities missed, at worst it could result in an unpleasant outcome.

There were other complications too: finishing late meant that sleep was often fleeting and difficult as there was too little time to ‘come-down’ from the stresses of the day. Interestingly this not only affected me, as the paddler, but also the Team Manager could be on-edge for a while.

 It was also difficult to get kit dry when finishing late in the day; Team Manager began driving around with a dashboard full of a variety of soggy and smelly items of clothing, drying it all beneath the greenhouse windscreen – once things passed the ‘crusty’ test we knew they were dry enough to go back in the bag.

It can be too late to cook a meal, so food suffers a little too - boil in the bags are dragged out of the box.

For Team Manager it also meant there was less time available to get the daily admin of food shopping and driving done, and in turn less time to doing something more interesting – viewing, visiting, body-boarding or cycling. After a stress-full paddling day, van-life could be a tense environment anyway, the last thing you need then is a Team Manager who feels neglected and under-appreciated. The whole paddling mentality of such a trip is, and has to be, a very selfish one – too much hum-drum shared unequally is not a good thing. Tired people don’t add favourably to this whole situation.

All said, all these factors were not super significant on their own, and in the early stages were just another buggeration factor of the trip. The odd long day was just one of those things. But later as the weeks progressed, this constant early/late routine began to grind me down – both physically and mentally.

Of course you would expect the tidal times to move forward each day, eventually we would emerge from the split-shift timings. Unfortunately we found ourselves just making enough progress each day to more or less negate the timing differences – Split-Shift were here to stay it seemed, get used to it Fatboy...