A paddle around the Needles….

Yesterday morning I decided to try and retrieve my RIB (which is ironically a former RNLI RIB).

Because of my anchor situation etc et al I could not retrieve the RIB on Wight Cat. Luckily I have on board a kayak, well a racing surf ski to be exact, it’s has the word “Titan” on the kayaks’ side; I think “Titan” refers to the brand of surf ski as opposed to a name that has been given (by my brother Richard who owns said surf ski).

The obvious solution to retrieving the RIB presented itself with the use of “Titan”, or so I declared as I departed the lee side of the island ( ‘lee side’ is the side which is not windy (which would be the windward side). The windy side of any island occurs on the side of the land which has the greatest fetch (fetch is the term used to describe the distance over sea that the wind has to build up before breaking and hitting land).

The passage from current ‘temporary permanent ‘ mooring to retrieve the rib at Freshwater Bay, is one which is approximately just over 8 or so miles by sea around the infamous and often hazardous Needles stack of Rocks ( a world heritage designated site of outstanding natural beauty).

The plan was to paddle over to Freshwater Bay, attach A rope to the rib and then tow the rib back around the needles to Wight Cat; paddling Titan as the tug vessel, me as it’s engine.

Now my Rib is not your average tender (a tender is a word used to describe , the usually small, inflatable type boats that yachts carry with them to ferry the inhabitants to shore ), it’s massive (and wholly unsuitable to lug behind any sail boat to serve as tender by virtue of its size and drag ( drag being the resistance against forward propulsion (because of weight, surface area etc)).

The ribs about 18feet in length with a wooden floor and water ballast between the deck and hull; it’s not just big, it’s heavy.

Preparing for a long day paddling I packed with me in a dry box -which I duck taped to the stern ( stern is the rear of a boat) – some spare thermal gear, a hip flask of whisky (why not !) , and neoprene diving gloves ( I once got frostbite on a long distance kayak race and ever since then my hands lose circulation quickly and get cold even in hot weather) , and carrying on my person I had the handheld VHF radio and a couple of bananas, some sugary sweets and a litre of water.

As I paddled off I left the water on Wight Cat, not appreciating this fact for ten minutes or so. I contemplated going back to get it, but my impatience determined otherwise. I pushed on. Eventually I got to the needles though unfortunately at the same time as a pleasure Rib was passing the needles at speed, making the already choppy turning around the needles even more fraught. “Oh fuck a duck” I shouted out loud as I turned into the swell and began the torrent of the crossing through the needles in my small kayak.

It’s fair to say that I forgot how rough and scary this dangerous patch of water is, it being over 15 years since I last kayaked around the needles. I soon recalled the feelings of fright and horror as I approached the high rock stacks, compared to my low position in a kayak, it’ was daunting.

My intended course was to cut the corner of the needles, and to go through the middle of the rock stacks , as opposed to going around the stack of rocks. Stubborn as I am, I kept to that intended course, even when I had time to change course to the safer wide berth route which would go around the entire stack , giving the rocks a wide berth, not cutting through the middle. I don’t like defeat, and thought to my self , a change of course would be defeatist. “Man or Mouse” Henry , “man or mouse”, I said to myself in between repeatedly shouting to myself and Mother Sea, out loud, “fuck a duck, fuck a duck, fuck a duck”.

It was windy which added to the drama and swell, and I was alone , by my self, a capsize alone in chopping sea waters by the side of high sea cliffs , with no where to get out , was I thought, not what I wanted that morning. In super concentration mode I go, keeping a watchful survival eye on the situation all around me, looking out for where the next wave or swell was to come from, so as not to be caught out and pushed under.

I eventually make it to Freshwater Bay, unscathed, phew! But I had realised when I hit the windward side of the island as I passed the Needles that my plan of towing the Rib back was a non starter, completely. I chose to push on regardless of this realisation since I thought I would see what options may present for the recovery of the rib at freshwater bay.

At freshwater bay i assess the rib: the engine has gone, presumably stolen and the rib is semi deflated. I can’t find anyone in a boat to tow it back, despite making enquiries ( I went into the trinket shop at the bay to ask if they knew of any vessels heading my direction, the morbidly obese man whom I spoke to remembered me from the first RNLI rescue, he was keen to offer me his view (though not any help) on my voyage and he suggested, without any invitation, that I should give Wight Cat a Viking burial ( ie take it out to sea and sink her) , I respond by saying to this grotesque figure of a man, “not at all. Looks can be deceptive, looks can be deceptive”. I then leave the trinket shop thanking this creature for his opinions.

I formed a plan, that I would take the kayak back to Wight Cat and return by foot the next day, Inflate the rib and paddle it back.

By this time I’m cold and wet and dehydrated , having only had the whisky from the hip flask since I left at 10am (it now being 330) i decided not to paddle back but to walk with kayak on my shoulder , cutting across the island by foot is substantially shorter in distance back compared to going around by sea, although by foot the journey is, I discover, much much harder.

As I walk across the island with this massive – and heavy- kayak on my shoulder, sweat is dripping off my chin and forehead like a running tap. A couple of people offer to lend a hand , which I decline for their own sake. A number of people pass comment to me saying “that looks hard”; they don’t know it , I’m regretting this decision and aching like crazy. But I try and visualise the route to the finishing line of the shore (I had in fact earlier walked it back without the kayak as a recognisance trip to ensure I got the right route , before walking back to freshwater bay to pick up the kayak and take it back to Wight Cat ) .

Mid way I came across a load of blackberry bushes and stopped to feast, and hydrate al la blackberry ( having only had a small amount of whisky , no water, since I left that morning). I suspect that to an onlooker the sight of me picking blackberrys at speed and shoving them as quick as I could into my mouth, resembled a sort of starving cave man sight, I didn’t care, I still don’t.

As I approached the shoreline where Wight Cat is moored 500 metres off the shore I pass some road workers working in the road on the approach to Colwell Bay. The workmen physically applaud me, the three of them stop work, down tools and start clapping, they tell me that that drove past me at the other end of the island as I walked (struggled ) with the kayak on my shoulder and couldn’t believe that I continued the journey to where I now meet them again, the other side of the island. They ask me what Im doing it for, I replied ” the cause of stupidity”. They laughed.

The Needles in the distance .

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