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Kit Guide

Race to Scotland Reflections: Epic & Dangerous!

By Ken Fowler 2nd October 2020

Reunited with my ground support crew later the next day, it was time to exchange our varying adventures from “Big Wednesday” and rescue the Aero from the sand dunes where it had spent the night after my rescue. The following day was an enforced day ashore due to shooting in the nearby Castlemartin military ranges. Finally launching from Freshwater two days after my arrival, I faced a traumatic sail through the strong tides, challenging winds and overfalls along this part of the Welsh coastline. Having survived this white knuckle ride I suffered the only boat equipment failure of the entire trip with the mainsheet block coming off in the entrance to Milford Haven. This resulted in two capsizes, but did have the advantage of leaving me a clear course behind the stern of the large tanker entering the port – every capsize has a silver lining! So after 5 days of Race to Scotland “crazy” and “dangerous” were the words most on my mind and it was definitely the low point of the trip for me. I was learning just how difficult sailing a small dinghy far out to sea is and starting to doubt my ability to make it to Scotland. The next two days brought rain and high winds stopping me dead in my tracks and further feeding my frustration and despair at the lack of progress. Finally the weather turned allowing me back on the water and two days later I was half way along the Welsh coast with another big crossing ahead, Cardigan Bay. Flashbacks of the Bristol Channel adventure were quick to mind, but having survived that adventure I had a renewed confidence, plus the security of RIB support for the majority of this leg. What a day, 64 miles, Bardsey Sound crossed off the list and the first day I’d sailed further than I hoped. We had momentum and, for the first time since launching at Sennen, I was at last feeling more optimistic that maybe we could reach John O Groats. A short hop to Anglesey the next day (well 4 and a half hours sailing was a short day compared to my average of 8 hours a day!) and I was ready for the next big hurdle – Anglesey to the Isle of Man.

19060113_1878274572431491_7930419286691351830_nIt was an epic day from start to finish. Rigging my Aero by street light at 4am was a new experience and not something I’d like to repeat, but to get the tides right for passing the Skerries it was the only option. With the Skerries well behind me I completely lost sight of land in all directions ‐ in a dinghy that is a very disconcerting feeling! Luckily I had Chris’s escort catamaran as a “Buoyancy Aid” for my spirits and despite rain squalls passing through I was making good progress. Just over half way to the Isle of Man, Michael and Helen, two more of the amazing people who helped make this adventure happen, turned up in their RIB to escort me to Port Erin. After just over 12 long hours I was at last safely on the Isle of Man and another big hurdle of this trip had been overcome. My hosts couldn’t be faulted and for the only time on the trip I felt like a tourist enjoying a tour of this stunning island, the TT race course and the comfort of a real bed! In fact it was all a little bit too comfortable - I knew I was going to miss this place when I left. Poor weather conditions on the Isle of Man meant much needed rest for my body, but losing two precious days sailing was something that I could ill afford – time was running out. Finally on the 23rd May I was back in the Aero on route for the destination this adventure was all about, Scotland. 18765716_1871647123094236_5229459360451525265_n After 12 hours on the choppy Irish Sea I finally lurched in to Portpatrick under the watchful eye of local fisherman Steve who had come out to help support my trip. The emotional release of finally reaching Scotland meant my video blog that evening was more like an Oscar’s acceptance speech, with lots of tears and blubbing - but I’d made it, Lands End to Scotland. I knew now I could at least walk away knowing I’d sailed a very small dinghy an immense distance, but the Scottish Islands and the places I’d dreamed of visiting still lay ahead. With 454 miles sailed I was half way to my ultimate destination – so no time to quit. People with cancer don’t have an option to quit and I remind myself that’s why I’m out here, to raise money for Cancer Research and Oakhaven Hospice. More sailing means more money, so time for a quick celebration beer in the local with Ian and Jane then back on the Aero early the next morning!

The following two days were fairly standard adventure fare with dolphins, fog banks, giant jellyfish and my second rescue by the RNLI as I was left becalmed 4 miles from Campbletown. Fortunately the RNLI were on exercise that evening anyway and, being the total stars they are, they even donated to the cause, so a massive thank you to the great RNLI team at Campbletown. Rescues just felt a “normal” part of life now, although I did make a mental note to myself that to be rescued for a third time would be seriously embarrassing, so try and avoid it for the rest of the trip! As I sailed through the Islands of the West coast of Scotland the scenery just got more and more amazing. Travelling north past Gigha and the fearsome Gulf of Corrvreckan whirlpool, I was rewarded with the most stunning sunset as I finally reach the idyllic Craobh Haven. A memorable end to 11 hours of stunning dinghy sailing.

18767359_1870837686508513_2319617523957569421_nRain and grey skies greeted me the following day as I navigated my way between more remote wild islands and whirlpools to picturesque Tobermorey - via a kindly tow from a passing yacht. Being bitten to death by the local midges whilst trying to de-rig the boat at the end of the day just about summed up the day! I was still making the daily progress I needed to reach John O Groats, but the long arduous days were taking their toll. I’d now sailed for 6 of the last 7 days and having only arrived at Tobermorey around 10pm I was feeling really jaded. The forecast for the next day was mixed across the varying weather websites and I think this is the point on the trip where I failed to spot the difference between amazing and crazy. Driven by the need to sail every day if I was to reach John O Groats, I went with the most optimistic forecast and launched early in the morning for my intended destination of Glenuig. As I emerged from the sanctuary of the inner sound the waves and wind increased significantly and I was struggling to plough through the towering waves. As I rounded the most westerly point of mainland Britain at Ardnamurchin point, I was now fully exposed to the turmoil ahead that was the Sound of Eigg. Surfing down 10-15 foot waves for nearly 4 hours was a terrifying experience that pushed my sailing skills to the limit. The wind finally died enough to enable me to navigate the ferries and harbour traffic lights into the safety of Mallaig harbour. Never has land felt so good! That was my “crazy” day. Lesson learnt. I’d misjudged that fine line between amazing or crazy and nearly paid the price. From now on it was all about getting as far as possible safely and parking the obsession with making it to John O Groats....to be continued.

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