Caernarfon to Conway

Caernarfon to Conway Bangor

Monday morning, a hurried breakfast and a short drive to Caernarfon Castle. It’s a cold early wind that greets us, as everyone gathers on the beach beside the castle. Phones are sealed out of reach, we’re really going off-grid for the week, the all-important tracker taped to one team member’s rucksack, Steve’s, this is crucial to keep us in the game.

Start Caernarfon Castle
Start Caernarfon Castle

Then to the castle grounds, the start is right in the centre of the castle and what a spectacular location. The photographers swapping bow and arrow for cameras as they peer through the slits in the tower, and modern day drone mounted devices buzz overhead, the eye in the sky.

Last minute briefings for team captains, route choices and changes, options and contingencies to deal with Bertha’s angry wake.

Some teams taking last minute selfies, ours included, fresh faces captured before the sleep-monsters transform us into craggy shadows of our former selves.

And the horn goes, or was it a bell I can’t remember now, two laps of the castle, early morning public looking on in stunned surprise and incomprehension. 8 am starts and running, with all that tension and apprehension is not my style, I’m at the back almost. But we have a plan and we’re vaguely organised, buoyancy and paddles, boat in, we’re not last on the water. The tide’s in the right direction, the wind variable, … distance, forget the distance just paddle!

Forgetting that this was just my first venture in a sit-on-top kayak in the open sea and that this was the Menai Straights, notorious apparently and that Bertha had been stirring things up, the scenery was just bloody epic. I wasn’t able to get a shot of the bridges from below or the sight of 70 odd boats making their way steadily down the straights together, looking very small amongst the waves and previously mentioned epic scenery; I was too busy paddling.

We’d been told that the plan was to get us out at Bangor pier, rather than paddle all the way along the coast to Conway. From there the organisers would make a decision based on the state of the sea, whether we’d then continue on to Conway or transition to the bikes and cycle to the castle. In the end they took the latter option, the swell once we’d got out beyond the relatively sheltered straights, combined with the wind, which by this time was gusting force 5-6, was just not ideal for kayaks.

Getout at Bangor Pier
Getout at Bangor Pier

It had been hard going and it was somewhat of a relief to get out at Bangor, our first “extra” transition. The change to the bikes gave us time to top up on water and food as well. As with all transitions on an event like this, there’s a tendency to take a little more time to catch one’s breath and take a rest of sorts. In reality with 10 transitions an extra 5 or 10 minutes or more at each one makes a significant difference and could be the margin between a final placing or indeed success or failure.