James Bonnell and Joe Andrews are now 5 weeks into their 5 month expedition around the coast of mainland Britain. Although the trip took a few months to plan, there has been a steady stream of unforeseen circumstances since they started back in Falmouth, and quite a few difficult decisions have had to be made.
Here is the outline of the last few weeks…
Weeks 1 & 2
The first few days after leaving Falmouth saw some incredibly good conditions for paddling, and we made rapid progress around the Lizard and Lands End, and then all the way up the north coast of Cornwall and Devon to Ilfracombe. 160 miles in the first 6 days was much further than we'd anticipated paddling, but given the high pressure weather system, flat calm seas, and not much wind, it seemed a good idea to press on as much as possible. After resting in Ilfracombe for a day, we crossed the Bristol Channel to the Gower in South Wales in calm conditions, and then continued westward to Tenby. Our first major problems started here.
Joe's arm had been aching for a few days, and what felt like tentonitis was beginning to become noticeable. We decided to give it three days rest in order to see how it responded to some time off; in hindsight, paddling 30+ mile days in the first week seemed a bit excessive, and this problem may have been avoided if we'd taken the first few days more easily. Additionally, switching paddles the day before the start was also not a good idea. It was a difficult lesson to accept, because since we left Cornwall, other paddlers on another expedition had experieced much more difficult conditions. Nevertheless, this time off the water allowed 3 days of media and fundraising activities, and we had various interviews for radio and tv, and had a production company come to film various aspects of the trip for a couple of days. The video is now available on YouTube. After these three days Joe's arm began to feel better, so we did two shorter days around to Milford Haven in order to see how it coped with paddling again. Unfortunately these two days were enough to convince Joe that he needed to get it properly checked out, so he made the very difficult decision to head home for a few days to receive some physiotherapy treatment.
Weeks 3 & 4
As Joe had his arm seen and treated at home, James pressed on up the coast of Wales into 10 days of northerly headwinds - which were usually extremely rare along this section of coast.
In North Wales, the next major obstacle was met: James' kayak and most of his paddling kit was stolen (though thankfully most of the Kokatat gear was safe in the support van). A police investigation began, and within a few hours it was on the news across the UK, on various Radio shows and on the front page of the main BBC News website. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/8682719.stm The local community in North Wales immediately clubbed together and kindly donated enough replacement kit to get James back on the water, but the very next day the original gear was recovered hidden deep inside a hedge near the crime scene, and astonishingly all of the gear was still in it! Ultimately, the only thing the theft had done was to waste three days of decent paddling weather, and this seemed a small price to pay for the massive media exposure the expedition received!
As James set off with his recovered kit, Joe headed back to Milford Haven to begin paddling again and to start the process of catching up.
The agreed plan had been for both of us to continue paddling solo at our own paces for a few days in order to assess how Joe's arm was before James stopped to wait. The trouble was that in the time since Joe had departed at Milford Haven, James had covered 350 miles, and after speaking with a few veteran GB circumnavigators, the feeling was that two weeks was too long to sit and wait, especially given the favourable conditions for continuing up the coast of Scotland. Joe had made good progress on his own (of course, without the support van) up the coast of Wales, but the chances of actually making up 350 miles of paddling looked small. For these reasons Joe then drove to Scotland and re-joined the expedition in Galloway, in order to tackle the more challenging conditions of Scotland together. The over-riding consideration in terms of completing the expedition in summer 2010 was that of getting around the remote and wild northern tip of Scotland before the weather becomes too rough. Once we are sure of getting back to Falmouth before the autumn weather kicks in along the south coast, we'll be able to work out how and when.