From part 1 you may remember that a group of us had been looking to prepare for a crossing of the English Channel from Alderney back to Poole. In preparation, I’d set myself two other challenges with other paddling friends. In the first challenge Jo Hamilton-Vale and myself took on the South Coast of the UK paddling from Bournemouth to Brighton and then getting stuck in to the racing at the Paddle Round the Pier Beach festival. We’d covered 80 nautical miles in three days and apart from crosswinds most of the time been pretty lucky with the weather. Challenge two would see me heading off to warmer climes.
I'd been asked to go out to the Island of Lefkada and Vassiliki to run some training by Flying Fish who run career and instructor training out there. This is where I got to hook up with Jay Haysey ( founder of Globalshots) who I'd raced with at the eleven Cities the year Before as well as Charlie Jones, Also Adam Chubbock who heads up Flying Fish in Vass and was no stranger to a challenge himself as he had taken on the Great Glen Paddle earlier in the year.
We would have a single day for a Challenge and that day was set so whatever the weather we would be on. Jay and Adam had done a series on things the year before including tag team a paddle round the island so was over to them for ideas they had been bouncing around.
Kefalonia is just visible from Vassiliki Bay, it sits around 25 km away across wat is a pretty busy shipping channel. It would also mean crossing out between the islands where if the wind did pick up we would be a at it's mercy. Hoping for light winds when your sat in a place famed for being windy is never the strongest plan but a crossing to Kefalonia and back (around 50 km) seemed realistic. The earlier we'd leave the better the chance we had of missing the wind at it's strongest on the return leg.
Paddling in the dark is always a surreal experience and we set off for the first part of our journey which was 9 km to the Lighthouse that sits at the mouth of Vassiliki bay.
Flat water, sun coming up and in a nice draft train it couldn't have been better with us cruising along at a pretty rapid 9 kmph. As we approached the lighthouse at the Cape you can see Kefalonia more clearly and alos the change in conditions on the channel that we were going to cross.
When we hit the lighthouse, where the Poet Sappho is thought to have lept to her death , you get you first feeling of being exposed. This is the Western most side of Greece and the usual tranquil looking med snarls it's way away from you. You also realise how the shipping route works here as ferry and ships hug the west coast and then stay tight to the lighthouse as they naviaget their way into the islands. This means that you get very little warning if anything is coming.
The wind was still light as we started to creep into the channel but the work of wind long since gone was still prevalent, a cross tail swell squewed us across the ten miles to Kefalonia. Taking a few of us down at times and splitting up what had been a tight pack. So much so that a pod of Dolphins popped up next to Adam to give us a bit of distraction from how exposed we felt.
We also weren't one hundred percent sure of where we were headed. We new the port of Fiskardo was to the North Eastern Tip of Kefalonia so we just aimed left a little and kept a look out for ferries. Even without much wind we were getting pulled by the current and ended up doing a lot of corrective paddling to maintain position. As we got within a few kilometres of land you start to feel less exposed, but not knowing your exact landing point was like chasing an ever moving set of goalposts. Fiskardo turned out to be tucked further round and into the island than we had initially hoped.
We crusied into Fiskardo, finally out the current and swell, the temperature had really started to rise at this stage and whilst a food break was needed the focus on getting moving again across that channel was at the forefront of our mind. What wind there was at the moment was a head wind and it was only going one way in strength, UP!
Leg three – uphill paddling
So we had made it we were on a different island, no land route back to where we had started and only the already fully loaded Globalshots media boat for company. we watched the last ferry leave Fiskardo for that day and realised the only way back was the way we'd come. However it was definitely going to be uphill.
With the fear of stronger and stronger head winds kicking in we got moving and teh adrenaline was 100% pumping. I set off at the front at what I can only describe as race pace as we smashed into the oncoming swell and head wind.
As the head wind creeped over the 10 knot marker and the water started to get choppier and increased swell we struggled to maintain the train and ended up pretty widely scattered across the channel, something we agreed we wouldn't do. A group of paddlers, even standing, was always going to be hard for ships to spot never mind individuals.
This time we could see exactly where we were headed as the Lighthouse stood out as a beacon on the Cape. It was at this stage that my experience of paddling to Brighton reasserted itself in my mind, large land marks will often appear closer than they seem. At this stage I had to trust my watch and not my eyes, we weren't yet more than 5 km into the return journey and we'd almost been going an hour.
We eventually crawled to the lighthouse after being back in the channel for over two and a half hours, the steadily increasing winds had pinned us back and Charlie's shoulder had caused him some problems along the way. At the lighthouse though we new we would flat water for the final 9km but this is where Vassiliki's party piece would come into effect.
Much of Vassiliki's attraction to windsurfers is it's strong afternoon wind called 'Eric'. Despite a high mountain to one side of the bay, due to a local effect Eric comes racing down the hill side and is often strongest right next to the mountain.
We would be huging the mountain all the way back and hoping that Eric wouldn't be in full force until our return. Mostly back together we cracked on now knowing we would definitely make it but just not sure how hard it would be.
Every time we had to cross a little bay in the hill side Eric would be at full force which inevitably leads you to getting pinned paddling on one side. I would say after a strong start to the last leg we limped the last sections back as we battled, heat, fatigue and Eric.
It was a massive relief making it to within site of our launch spot, the fuel in the boat had just about lasted, we were almost out of water and we had had to dodge a few ferries but we made it. Eight hours later we were back where we started after covering 53 km and we were broken.
Massive thanks to Globalshots and Flying Fish for all the logistics, as well as Suunto, Hey Dude Shoes and Red Paddle Co for the awesome gear. The Horizon shorts were yet again the gear of choice, I pretty much haven't taken them off this summer. Just one challenge to go, stay posted for part 3 ...