The Eternal Optimist

Day 82 – Dinas Head to Porthgain – 10th Aug – 15.7 nm

I'm not known as an optimist. I see myself more of a pragmatist, a realist, a glass-half-empty sort of guy. I'm not too upset by this. I think it keeps you alive.

The more I paddle the sea the more I find I tend to drift away from the optimistic end of the spectrum; in fact, I probably cultivate the pessimistic outlook a touch. You are less likely to need the help of a lifeboat if you decide to stay in the car-park.

When it comes to this game, sometimes I feel ‘Who Dares Wins’ should be looked at more from the ‘Who Dares Resorts To Flares’ point of view.

But human nature is what it is, and even the most devout pessimist has a slight streak of that eternal human optimism hidden away. Like it or not.

 And some days it can get the better of you. On a long trip, that’s probably not such a good thing.

We wake up to the wind, it’s blowing past by the ton. The snooze button is pressed a couple more times than normal. Shallow slumber stretches on, every extra minute is avoiding-reality welcome. But eventually the day has to be faced.

The campsite is still inside the fluffy bowels of a cloud, we can’t see the water. Nor can we get a forecast out here. The way the wind rattles the boats on the roof is a bit of a give-away though.

Down the hill it’s a westerly; I'm not too fussed up to Strumble Head but a little concerned about what lies beyond. The overnight blow may have brought some swell with it.

We take a drive to have a look, but time is tight and so are the narrow roads, the clock ticks and the results are inconclusive. It is windy to the west though, there is little doubt about that.

So, the plan is to leave the beach at Cwm-yr-Eglwys, go round Dinas Head, and then slog across towards Fishguard/Strumble. Hopefully Team Manager will have found a forecast by then and a decision on further progress can be made. Early stage options are straightforward; if it all goes to rat-shit before I pass Dinas then easy shelter can be found back in Newport Bay. Once around Dinas it is a case of heading for ferry-dodging sanctuary in Fishguard Harbour. Beyond Strumble the options are more limited.

Another beach beneath a grey sky. As the boat is prepped, a gent heads down from a pretty waterside house, on his way for a brief dip. Brave.

He’s intrigued to see what is going on. Australian by birth,he’s lived in the UK for a while, the house has been in the family for generations. We chat, comparing British August summer weather to that from the other end of the earth. He’s interested in the trip too and wants to know all details. There’s a shout back up to the house, and I suddenly find myself being prompted to give a motivational speech to an un-interested 10 year old,on the chilly beach. Not quite what I expected, or the boy either by the look of things

Off and away. It’s a short, easy paddle to the headland where it’s breezy on the corner. The ebb is running and the squeezed water gives a bouncy wind-over-tide race beyond the end. Fingers of swell sneak around Strumble and skim Dinas Head. The rebound from the wall adds to the confusion. Once around the corner I head a little S, working against the eddy, to gain a welcome easing of the conditions as the flow falls to the rear. Then it is the windy slog towards Fishguard. Hood-up, head-down, paddle.

I sit below the cliffs, behind the Fishguard Harbour wall and take a breather, the wind makes an effort to push me back out into the bay. Team Manger calls; she's managed to get a forecast, suffering umpteen hot chocolates for the cause.

Things don’t look brilliant, strong winds and swell to push around St David’s Head. We are on the edge of the swell picture, it’s not cut and dried how far in it will come.

I'm safe here, I can get out and call it a day. I know it will be unpleasant beyond Strumble, no doubt about that. But the optimist struggles, smiling, to the surface; if I get my act together and my arse down to Porthgain, then an 83 day finish is possible tomorrow. I make the decision to go – another one of those ‘we-can-always-turn-back-if-it-doesn't-work’ theories. Ha, not heard that one before...

Sneaking along the cliffs to Strumble, it’s sheltered from the wind along the rocky edge, the sun is out and things are pleasant. The low-lying lighthouse looms and then I'm around the corner. It’s suddenly windy and lumpy, the blow is gusting through the gap. But it’s not too bad, and I head along the cliffs towards Pen Brush, starting to grow a little uncomfortable with the rebound.

Now it all goes a bit shitty. We are perhaps a day or two from the end of the whole undertaking and here the coastline seems to want to give a summary of some of the ‘best’ bits. Armadale, Cape Wrath and even a 2012 Rubha Rheidh come briefly to mind. I realise now that the right angle along the cliffs is going to focus the wave patterns, convex-style, just like it did at Armadale. I start looking for patterns again – paddling zig-zag from one smoother oasis of interference to the next. It’s a handful. It’s not nice.

 In 2012 I used the eddy here to gain an hour of tidal–gazumping free miles, but today I pay my dues - I’m making less than 3 kts against the eddy. There is no respite and it’s going to take a while to get clear.

After a 1 ½ hrs of relentlessness I slide into the very welcome shelter of Abercastle. TFFT

Just before the Taran turns into the narrow gap the wind grows further in strength, but thankfully by now there is shelter from the cliffs. The wind is a bugger but the water is finally flat - not complaining now, oh no not me.

TM arrives and we sit in the sunshine, we’re not waiting for tide this time. We wait to see how the forecast pans out, hoping for the wind to dampen a little. As it blasts by the end of the narrow sanctuary, we watch a couple of girls come down from a house, Dad carries the sit-on-tops, and they head out. They are clad in buoyancy aids, track-suits and wellies – a top-end safety gear combination. You can do little but watch morosely.

Thankfully the evolutionary spirit is strong and after the wind gives them a concentration-enhancement or two, they turn back to stay in the easy bit, blissfully enjoying themselves. Relief.

17:30 is set as the start-time cut-off. If the weather allows, there could be an eddy-sneak down to St David’s Head, with a heroic, mile-grabbing finish at Whitesands Bay. Tea and medals to follow, with a realistic jumping-off point for a final-day finish. Easy-peasy.

The worst of the wind blows through, right on time, and then I head out of the narrow entrance at 17:30. It's a little breezy as I sneak through the gap at Ynys Deullyn, but things are fine. Dreams of St David's form.

However not much further down the coast and it’s time for another unpleasant convex-focus corner moment.The swell becomes unruly. Things get lumpy quickly and it dawns that St David’s may as well be on the moon. When we sat on the beach at Abercastle we watched the wind drop, but we couldn't see that the swell had come in, running along the coast. It's another reminder, that what you want and what you get, should be seen as quite different things - until proven otherwise.

A second is hastily grabbed to ask Mr Garmin to steer towards the invisible entrance of Porthgain. Life becomes a lumpy, boat-wallowing stagger, staying out and away from the cliffs now.

Closer to Porthgain I see the off-shore rowing club venture out of the low cliffs. It's a re-assuring lift to the spirits to have company on the water, but they soon have a couple of ‘moments’ and swiftly turn to head back in. Yeah, I can see the reasoning behind that one. Spirits drop again.

Nearly there, by Trwyn Elen, and the swell stacks up against the flow. What was unpleasant before, now becomes unpleasant and larger. The line has been crossed. Not -  happy - anymore. Again.

The pre-entered waypoints were time well spent though, the GPS steers straight into the gap, following the lead of the big blue rowing boat.

Now it’s another sudden contrast moment. The small harbour basks in warm, wind-free sunshine. People throng, relaxing and wandering about. The beer garden is full, the fish and chip restaurant is busy and car-park spaces are valuable. Such a difference from life only minutes earlier.

We tidy up and head off for somewhere to live for the night.

Today I relented and put my happy-go-lucky pessimistic nature to one side, to become an optimist for a change.

...And regretted it.

...Twice, in one day.

That’ll learn ya Fatboy.