15 Oct Endless wind for the Endless Winter Tour 2018
After a ‘once in a lifetime’ summer for sunbathers and water-skiers, it was with some trepidation that I boarded the overnight ferry from Liverpool to Belfast to en route for 4 back to back wave courses in Donegal and Tiree. Would the breathless Mediterranean season continue?
I’d actually had a fruitful summer on the water. A constant dribble of marginal sea breezes in Chichester harbour had allowed me to indulge my new passion for foiling, which with all that pumping from the straps, is brutally physical and leaves you in good shape. But the truth was that I hadn’t ridden a meaningful wave since Kerry in May.
Why do I ever doubt Ireland?
As the first team of budding wave hounds rolled into Donegal, Magheroary beach was already caressed by 20 knots of sunny southerly and and small clean waves.
But what was most noticeable about that first day was the water. It was tepid. Ireland had also had a brilliant summer. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, this part of the North Atlantic never gets frigid, but above average temps make a big difference to energy levels.
There was a lot of pressure. Pia and Soren had driven all the way over from Denmark. The prospect of going to so much trouble and not scoring wind and waves was too horrendous to contemplate. The forecast looked promising …. but in this part of the world you don’t trust forecasts much beyond 48 hours. As it was, we needn’t have worried. In the end, they were begging for mercy. It was actually more of a ‘careful what you wish for’ situation. Windguru was a mass of stars and purple accompanied by a 6m swell! Luckily the predictions moderated.
One thing I’m always keen to dress on wave courses is that loads of wind is actually a pain the in the backside. It just encourages people to charge around. Hence they never develop the surfy tactics of slowing down, observing and manoeuvring into the right positions to take off on the right wave at the right spot. The perfect wind strength of riding is about 18 knots – allowing you get on on a sub 100 board and in the happy position of being absolutely in control of the rig. And that’s what we got most of the time.
The first week had some first time wave sailors. What is so special about this part of Donegal is the variety of beaches that allow us to flip from waves to flat water within a few minutes. Behind the beach of Magheroarty a huge lagoon fills up at high tide to leave an idyllic flat water, sandy-bottomed, waist deep training ground. Most issues with wave sailing refer back to problems with basic sailing:
– not being able to plane early enough
– no consistent way of turning round spontaneously to catch that wave
– dodgy gybes which are reflected in dodgy carving on the wave.
So being able to mix up the sessions is invaluable.
What I particularly liked about the 2018 tour was the mix of conditions.
For example, we started week 2 on the fabulous beach of Dooey where the 20 knot SE wind was side-off. Add that to a clean (but not too destructive) head high swell – and you had proper hero, ‘down the line’ conditions where EVERYONE had supreme moments of hooning along an unbroken face, turning off the lip etc. The mood at the end of the day was stratospheric as we relived the glory over a pint at Enya’s (the pop star) Dad’s pub.
But the next day the NW blew side on at out local beach – messier waves, less defined faces, harder to line up on. It brought everyone back down to earth before they got too cocky and reckoned they’d cracked it! But what they’d experience on that hero day, really helped them – they just had to work a bit harder.
Days to remember
Over the 3 weeks in Donegal, there were some really special days. For example when Strorm Ali blew through at 50-60 knots.
Some quite sensibly sat it out but half the group went for it. The wide sweep of magheroarty means in a SW wind, if you get into trouble, you get swept back onto a sandy shore. 3.5 was already too big but everyone who dared, did amazingly well and survived to tell the tale.
But everyone’s favourite was ‘Big Wednesday’ 26th Sept. It was perfect 4.7-5.0 weather – side with a little off blowing over gorgeous waves that were mast high in the sets. But because there was a little west in the swell and the waves had to bend into the bay, they weren’t too destructive.
Hearts were pumping!
It was a brilliant day because it highlighted all the key aspects of wave riding.
– a side off wind is always flukey so you had to really work to get out – time your run, not faff about.
– in true side off days when the swell is big, they found out that if you can plane easily on the way out, you’ll be over-powered on the wave face.
– It’s a lot of work for a few rides – but the rides are life-chabnging and make it all worthwhile!
A big thanks to all the Donegal faithful who made each week so memorable.
Check out a little action from Big Wednesday!
AND SO TO TIREE …
I was naturally nervous as the Tiree course approached. Last year a storm kept us landlocked in Oban for 3 days! This year I was ready to scramble early if necessary – but happily the winds abated and we enjoyed a carefree trip out through the Sound of Mull to the Uk’s little Hawaii. We arrived in Scaranish to be greeted by 30 knots of NW wind. Within minutes of docking, we were rigging up on the white sandy shores of Gott Bay for a fabulous warm up 4.5 session in waist high waves and sunshine.
The Tiree trip is special for so many reasons.
Although you can never guarantee anything, it is the windiest place in Britain
It’s an island – so you feel properly cut off (in a good way) from the rigours of modern life.
It is staggeringly beautiful – you have the feeling of dropping back in time to a place where everyone says hello and no one is in a particular hurry.
We stay at ‘The Hynish’ – a proper outward bound centre with shared bunk rooms and wonderful home cooked food on big communal tables, where we do that old fashioned thing of sitting around chatting to real people, sharing experiences and NOT burying our heads in devices!
And from a windy perspective, with it’s 9 beaches on all sides of the island, you have options in every wind direction.
It sounds like I’m writing a brochure – but it blew every day from a variety of directions – a scenario I favour as it allows you try out different venues, wave ride and jump on different tacks (now there’s a issue for some!) and it makes every day memorable.
Everywhere is amazing but my favourite beach where I have my best sails is the south facing Balephueil. It alway seems to provide … and I dont know why … but it always seems to be sunny there.
I think our last day (Friday) was best … because its was unexpected.
Many were completely knackered, especially those like Viki and Tim, Steve, Ronnie and Bill, who had followed me over from Donegal, and were ready for a rest.
There wasn’t much wind – but just as we were reaching for surfboards and SUPs, it steadily got up to 15-18 knots side shore – and a proper swell.
I was especially pleased for Greg, Niall and Ruth who hung in there till the sun went down and scored some of the best waves of their lives.
The big choice was whether to put a sail on a SUP or a regular big wave board.
Our 3 went for SUPs and a result got a load of waves and held station.
I went for my 115 Severne DYNO and also had an amazing session. The compromise of course was that with less float, you have to work harder to get out. I dont mind taking a few rinsings. The pay back is having a truly manoeuvrable board on the way back in.
It was a really apposite session. In the morning I had made up a video on the unseen skills of wave riding. The message was that the wave riding bit is relatively easy. But what you dont see is the pros teasing out tiny boards and sails through monster waves in very marginal winds, semi submerged, so they have the right tool to ride the waves with,
The week passed way too quickly.
There was a chance we’d have a bit of forced extra holiday – the next big storm was due to roll in at the weekend. Happily it delayed its visit until Sunday, allowing us on Saturday to steam through the gorgeous Sound of Mull over glassy, unruffled seas.
The storm did indeed pile in on Sunday, flooding Oban stopping the ferries for 2 days.
It’s all in the timing.
Dates for the 2019 Donegal and Tiree wave tour have yet to be finalised they will run roughly from 2nd week in Sept to first week in Oct.
Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll pencil you in.