Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Penguins on Bicycles

Well here we are sitting in the Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, feeling rested and semi recovered from our race around Ireland. We apologise for the lack of information from the last three or four days; only because we had some massive obstacles to endure.

The weather Gods did not smile on us for this expedition, but because of this it does seem to make the achievement of having completed our,aim so much more satisfying.
Harry and I were sat in Kilkeel just north of the border with the Republic when it occurred to us that we may not make it back to Ardmore in time for our families who were arriving to welcome us home, always a gamble when the wind is around.

I said to Harry,

'We just need to do the maths mate and then see if we can dig deep enough to pull it off'

To which he replied,

'Well its about 340km from Kilkeel back to Ardmore and our families arrive on Sunday, to meet us at the finishing post'.

We set out from Kilkeel knowing we had to put in maximum effort; this was hard to envisage as the whole trip so far had been about pushing ourselves hard so how could we dig deeper at this point?

When we arrived in Bray, Harry had to help me out of my kayak and into my bag - because of low blood sugar levels and hypothermia. as we crossed Dublin Bay. We thought this leg into Bray was going to be our longest day at around 120km, but this was soon to be topped. We had 230 km left to do.

Over the next 54 hours and 15 minutes of paddling we had only four very short breaks. Once when we met with Vaughan to pick up our dry suits and get some Red Bull drinks to help keep us awake - which proved to be a valuable investment.  In Rosslare we had too much tide against us to be able to paddle through the channel so we pulled our kayaks onto the granite blocks and waited, 45 minutes later a steward was telling us to get lost as we shouldn't be there and there was a ship coming in. We made it through the channel and entered the south coast.

We stopped at Kilmore Quay, we were so drained by the wind and tide,  that a coffee and cake beckoned us. Our final short stop was on the beach at Ballyteige Bay, northeast of Keeragh Islands where we slept in turns for the next 60 minutes in case we didn't wake up. We now had 82 km left to go. We were both feeling more exhausted than we had ever felt before and felt we had to look at a contingency plan, we started to discuss options. Looking over Harry's shoulder I saw the white caps on the water start to diminish, the wind was dropping and the tide was turning and running south west of the Keeragh Islands,

'Harry, we're going home' I said.

Things for once looked in our favour, so we launched and before long were off Hook Head. We paddled into the night and we started to move in towards the shore, we hit strong tidal flow beneath the cliffs to the East of Ballyvoyle Head and it was here we also started to encounter serious problems mentally.  

Harry paddled over to me and said he couldn't focus anymore, he had a Penguin on a bicycle bothering him, I told him not to worry stay close beside me but don't interrupt me, I was trying to negotiate surfing my sea kayak through a bus shelter of old folks and kids, not quite understanding why my bow was able part the tarmac - we were both seriously hallucinating!

Looking back it was funny; in reality it was probably our most dangerous time of the whole journey; because nothing now was for real - including the football fields to our left, where I said to Harry we could land if the Penguin didn'nt leave him alone.

At first light the hallucinations diminished as the sun rose, but the coastguard appeared because no one had heard anything from us and we were 7 hours over our eta so Vaughan had triggered a search in case we were in trouble. Harry convinced the coastguard we were fine and we continued on towards Ardmore Head. Neither Harry nor I had any idea how long we had been in the boats for and everything seemed very surreal; the slog now to Ardmore seemed to take for ever. More hallucinations returned in the last few miles but as we hit the last stretch, these were pierced by the sudden intervention of bag pipes playing and people cheering. We suddenly realised we were home.

We have had an amazing journey and we will be continuing on with this blog for several days for those that are interested. We will be doing short reviews about the equipment we chose to use and Vaughan, who as you know will be making a DVD of the whole adventure, he will get a small trailer, to wet your appetites, together over the next few days.

Finally we have some huge thankyous to make....

Firstly to our sponsors, all who donated to Ovarian Cancer Action and to all the people we met, who assisted us in some way on the journey - Thank you.

Secondly to our families, Kathryn, Sally (my Mum), Betty (Harry's Mum) and Harold -  especially Harold, for being a chauffeur for the ladies and standing vigil during the night, endlessly searching for our arrival; and Betty for keeping order and everyone smiling through the many hours of waiting.

They do say when you really respect a person, you might want to thank their parents. I am not sure what you did with Harry in his formative years, but you bred into him a quality I have seen in few men - he was the perfect paddling partner, a good friend and is made of strong stuff.  Thank you.

Thirdly to Vaughan - you've followed us around the Emerald Isle, a 1000 mile adventure of your own no doubt, cheers for doing what you did for us over the last few days to make things happen and for supporting our families when they arrived in Ardmore. It started as an unsupported trip, but this changed on the day we arrived in Bally when you had to help Harry get me into my sleeping bag and then through to the end, good to have you around mate. Thank you

Fourthly to my wife, Lizzie, you helped us out from day one, obtaining sponsorship, food etc, supported and developed my training programme and also updated the blog daily from short indecipherable emails sent from my I phone in the wee hours you managed to update and keep people informed, Thank you, I love you very much and yes I will get my beard trimmed before I get home. Thank you.

Finally Adrian, from the Cliff House Hotel, you are a star - with no prompting at all, you made us welcome, even though we were complete strangers, you didn't know if we would succeed or not, but you dangled a very strong carrot our way in offering to host us at the end.
On the final few days you openly welcomed in our families in and treated them like royalty, a really big thank you to both you and your amazing staff.

I am sure I will have forgotten someone, please excuse me if that is the case, I will remember and make amends.......we are now off to meet Mick O'Meara and Dermot Blount for a few pints.

Jeff and Harry

P.S. I did forget, a very big thank you to Karel our weather man. Karel has been supporting sea kayak expeditions world wide for several years now, so we were very happy when he agreed to support us. You were rarely the bearer of good news Karel and we are sorry you couldn't get through to us the last day or two. Your information regarding that small weather window when we were on the South coast of Donegal Bay allowed us to move, if we hadn't our time would most certainly have been in excess of 25 days. Thank you.


  1. Keep writing when you can :-)

  2. Magic, Jeff - you guys freakin' rock !!!! Hope to catch you at the SLAC in September.

  3. congratulations! Fantastic achievement.

  4. you guys are amazing!Well done Harry and Jeff.I hope to see you in Israel...Maddy