look at wiska.ie trip report

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chris ted
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Joined: Thu Jan 09, 2014 2:22 pm

look at wiska.ie trip report

Post by chris ted » Mon Aug 25, 2014 12:22 pm

5 of us hit for trip from bridges of Ross to Kilkee last sat and things did not go to plan..

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Re: look at wiska.ie trip report

Post by conorsmith » Mon Aug 25, 2014 10:27 pm

A great report, with invaluable lessons for all, copy as follows:

On Saturday last 5 of us set off from the Bridges of Ross near Loop Head at 10:00 sharp(ish…) Mission objective was to explore every crack, crevice and cave between there and Kilkee over the next few hours, of which there are dozens. On the team sheet were expedition leader Chris plus Emma, Ruth, Brian and yours truly in an under-equipped, recently purchased plastic aquanaut. This is a very committing paddle, over 20 km in distance and almost all of it along the base of sheer cliffs with only 2 or 3 get-out points along the whole route, so it’s wise to pick your conditions carefully. Chris had promised us calm seas and the omens looked good as we left the Bridges and headed east – blue skies and a light breeze (F2 – 3) from the NNW – what could possibly go wrong….?

Outside the bay the sea was choppier than expected. The swell didn’t seem particularly heavy, maybe 2 – 3 ft with the odd thumper thrown in for good measure, but it was very messy and with a lot of reflection off the cliffs plus waves slapping the kayak from several directions at once it made for a very bouncy paddle from the word go. This might have been the point when a more considered group would have said “Let’s give all them caves, cliffs and sea arches a miss and stay well out today, just in case..”, but then, well, when have any of us been accused of taking the considered, sensible option?

And so cave-hopping we duly went, attacking every feature and fissure along the spectacular north coast of the Loop Head peninsula with great gusto and plenty of whoops, hollers and even the occasional poorly-delivered Banner Roar. For anyone who has yet to explore this remarkable stretch of sea-scape it can only be described as breath-taking, with long stretches of imposing cliff faces pock-marked with caves and arches of all shapes and sizes. Some caves assault your ears as the heaving sea smashes against the back wall and fills the dark space with a deafening boom that has to be heard to be truly appreciated. Others are sheltered from the full brunt of the rolling swell and present a brief and very welcome oasis from the turmoil outside. All needed to be approached with caution, as the combination of swell plus clapotis made for some interesting conditions on the approach to each cave mouth. One particularly spectacular feature about 2 km east of Ross started as a barely noticeable notch in the side of a narrow headland, just wide enough for a kayak to pass through, before opening up into a natural amphitheatre where a cave roof had collapsed sometime in pre-history leaving behind a perfect bowl shape with sheer walls, crystal-clear water and sunlight pouring in from overhead. As if that wasn’t enough, a flick of the paddle and a right turn through 90 degrees brings you to a gap in the far wall where a picture-perfect sea-arch leads the speechless paddler back out to the open sea on the other side of the headland. Passing under the low roof of the sea arch, Chris (never one to be afflicted by speechlessness) observed that “sea kayaking doesn’t get much better than this…”

He spoke too soon. An hour and a half into the paddle a horseshoe-shaped cave was spotted with 2 gaping entrances separated by a big rock buttress about 5m wide, crying out to be explored. Emma went first, into the left-hand entrance and disappearing from view behind the rock face that divided the cave in 2. Chris and I headed for the right-hand entrance, Chris ahead of me by about 5 m. As we passed through the mouth of the cave we met Emma coming out against us in the other direction having completed the full loop through the cave. Passing us by she called out “Be careful in the back, it’s bumpy!!”, then she headed on out for open sea. I decided to keep going into the cave and paddled around the side of the rock buttress on my left, only to be confronted by the sight of Chris upside down in roaring whitewater at the back of the cave, his kayak caught between the breaking waves and the back wall of the cave. He tried desperately to roll and I saw his head come briefly up out of the water, but the conditions were treacherous and he went under again. He may have tried another roll – it was impossible to see clearly (and Chris doesn’t remember) but eventually he had no option left but to pop the deck and take a swim. From my vantage point across the cave it was obvious that this was going to be anything but a straight-forward rescue. Chris was pinned against the back wall by the relentless breaking waves while trying to hold onto his kayak with one hand and his untethered paddle with the other (Post-traumatic learning point No. 1: A paddle leash is your best friend at times like this). He was making an attempt to swim out of trouble but with both hands occupied and the breaking waves smashing both him and his kayak against the wall, he was making no headway. He badly needed help, but I knew that if I went in there as an inexperienced paddler and tried to attempt a rescue in those conditions I would in all likelihood end up in the shit as well, thereby doubling our problem. Besides which, I didn’t have a tow-rope and I had no clear idea what I would do even if I could get in as far as Chris. While all this was going through my head I saw Brian appearing at the far side of the cave, having come in through the other entrance. He saw Chris in trouble and headed into the breaking waves to try and help. I could hear Chris screaming at him to get out; I was shouting too but the booming noise of the waves was over-powering and Brian had no way of knowing what we were trying to tell him. The next wave that rolled in broke over his boat and capsized him, pushing him towards the back wall as he popped the deck and swam to the surface. At the same time I saw the wave pick up both Chris and his boat and, using the boat as an additional battering ram, slammed Chris against the wall where his head was hopped violently against an outcrop of rock. The situation was now badly out of control and there was no way in hell I was going to be able to rescue either of them without adding myself to the casualty list.

It was at this point that the cavalry, in the form of Emma and Ruth, arrived to save the day. Emma came back in from the right-hand entrance, ploughed straight through the white water to the back of the cave where Chris was floundering (but thankfully still conscious), clipped a tow rope onto his deck line and hauled boat plus a very battered Chris out of the cave and back into the relative safety of open water. At the same time Ruth arrived into the cave from the left-hand entrance and, shouting at Brian to abandon his kayak and swim out of trouble, she managed to get him onto the nose of her boat and then paddled against the breaking waves and back out to sea. While Ruth was rescuing Brian, Chris was being helped back into his boat, where, with the exception of the loss of one half of his favourite pair of sandals, he appeared to be none the worse for wear. (There is a theory that in the collision between rock and skull, the rock may have fared slightly worse from their mutually hostile encounter, but until someone gets a chance to go back and inspect the poor rock someday, that theory remains unproven).

All 5 paddlers were now safely out of the cave and licking their various wounds, but there remained the slight problem of Brian’s fibre-glass kayak, still abandoned to its own devices in the maelstrom at the back of the cave. Once again, Emma rose valiantly to the occasion. She turned and headed back into the dark mouth of the cave (where, I should add, I would not have returned to for all the tea in China) and once again disappeared from view. A few tense minutes later she emerged, towing Brian’s kayak behind her. How on earth she managed to retrieve that thing without getting herself sucked into the washing machine I will never know, but I remain in awe. (I found out afterwards that not only did she have to up-turn and retrieve the capsized kayak from the breaking surf; she also managed to collect Brian’s water bottle plus some other flotsam and jetsam that had been yanked off the decklines during the carnage).

We were over the worst, but this little drama had one last sting in the tail. A cursory glance at the tail of the fibre-glass Explorer was enough to tell us that Brian’s kayak had been severely damaged in the cave. Obviously constructed of lesser material than Chris’s skull, it had fared badly in its solitary battle with the jagged rocks at the back of the cave and a large chunk of the tail looked like it was ready to part company with the rest of the hull. A huge crack ran around the entire circumference of the tail section and the implications were clear; if that piece broke away Brian would have extreme difficulty keeping the boat afloat for long enough to get to a safe landing point (still several kilometres away). Yet again, Emma was not to be found wanting. Taking a roll of duct tape from Chris’s emergency stash, she proceeded McGyver style to effect an open-water kayak re-construction, wrapping layer after layer of tape around the damaged hull until it was sound. At that point the back hatch of Brian’s boat was popped and found to be flooded as expected; this was pumped out, stuffed with dry bags donated from the rest of the fleet to occupy as much of the free space as possible, and the hatch re-sealed. With that, we bade a shaken but determined course north-east, not passing go, not collecting €200 and absolutely NOT visiting a single other cave until we reached the shelter of Gowleen Bay where we could pull up and take a closer look at the damage. Hauling the boats up on the shore we could see another bad crack along the top of Brian’s deck; this was towelled dry, daubed with surfer’s wax from another corner of from Chris’s emergency stash (I’m not making this up) and sealed with more duct tape donated by Ruth. The tale section was given similar surgical treatment, and when the whole thing was finished it looked almost plausible that the wounded kayak would survive the journey back to Kilkee. Which indeed it did, and we completed the journey without further incident, other than encountering 2 other paddlers (Shane and Andrew) at the sea stack a few km outside Kilkee bay and regaling them with tales of our misadventures. The day was capped off 6 hours after we’d left the Bridges of Ross with a couple of practice rolls in the Pollock holes (where Chris expertly displayed what it was he had meant to do in the cave…), followed by a spot of pier-jumping in the harbour to compensate for the lack of excitement in what was, after all, a fairly un-eventful day out along the Clare coast….

Post-traumatic learning points, continued:
No. 2: Tow ropes save lives. Get one, learn how to use it, and never leave home without it.
No. 3: If you’re planning on visiting caves, bring a helmet (and wear it). You might just save an innocent rock from needless, wanton assault.
No. 4: Carrying duct tape and surfers wax in your boat is a complete and utter waste of time. Until you need them. Then you better bloody well hope you didn’t leave them at home!
No. 5: Fibre-glass kayaks don’t take kindly to caving misfortunes. If you’re going caving, go plastic!
And finally, post-traumatic learning point No. 6: Don’t go anywhere near the water without bringing either Emma or Ruth with you!! This simple rule WILL save your life!! A very special word of thanks to the 2 girls for showing us how it’s done, and for making sure that we can laugh about the peculiar mechanical properties of Chris’s skull around the next campfire on Eddy island……

The END.

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Re: look at wiska.ie trip report

Post by jasonnagle » Wed Aug 27, 2014 10:06 pm

Thanks for sharing lads!

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Joined: Thu Apr 24, 2014 8:09 pm

Re: look at wiska.ie trip report

Post by Rusyn » Sat Aug 30, 2014 11:59 am

Good to learn on someone else's mistakes.
I believe rescueing on rough water is more reliable if two paddlers come for the rescue together even rafted. Of course then in a cave it's a chance of getting more kayaks demaged. So maybe such things should be discussed in the group before starting the trip.

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