edited November 2013 in Blogs & Trip Reports


The Pirates of the Causeway Coast invade
  When a plan comes together it
is a great feeling.
 On 27th September
2013 four paddlers from the CCKA laid down a marker by paddling their single
sea kayaks from Ballintoy harbour to Port Ellen on the island of Islay,
 The plans where finalised
under the cover of darkness in Robbin boat house, Ballintoy harbour.
 These four paddlers call themselves the Pirates
of the Causeway Coast.  Their names are John Vance under disguise as Jack
Sparrow, Martin McClenaghan as Captain Manic, Francie Ross as Captain Pugwash
and Stephen Smith as Captain One Eyed Willy.
 We arose at 0400hrs with only a few hours
sleep, packed our boats, had a huge breakfast and set off at 0550hrs under the cover
of darkness and paddled towards Rathlin Island with the Bull Lighthouse as our
  It was a lovely paddle; calm
waters, bright stars overhead, the half moon was glowing brightly with a halo
around it.
  Weather wise; winds were SE,
8-11mph with gusts 10 to 20 mph, no sea running.
  Tides were neaps, perfect conditions for
crossing these treacherous waters.
hour and half later we hit Rathlin.

water Dover was at 0600hrs.
departure time was to be 0500hrs so we could get the last hour of the East
going tide.  We left at 0550 hours which I knew would cause a small
 The flow plus the eddy started to
go West so we had to alter course to find a place to rest for 10 minutes before
we started the main crossing.
informed the Coastguard of our invasion on Scotland.
  Captain Manic always wanted to paddle to
Rathlin but not in the dark he chirped.
winds were strong on the Western side of Rathlin which is normal. The sea was
flat so we started off towards Islay.
The tides run clockwise around Rathlin no matter if the flow
is coming from the West or East.  We knew we would get help from the tide
but the wind was counteracting that assist.
We laid down a bearing of 035 degrees NNE.  The plan was to have a rest every hour for 10
minutes, check our position, speed, heading and alter our course as required.
  Captain Manic led the way with his deck mounted
  It was very important to rest
and refuel ourselves with fluids and food (jelly babies are the best plus
peanut butter sandwiches).
  Always drink
plenty of fluids when you are paddling and have plenty of snacks - I always
keep telling people that (you never know when the sea state will change and
bite you in the backside!).

Instead of
having 6 hrs of West going tide we only had 4.5hrs which was nothing to worry
 The East going tide would push us
towards Port Ellen.
  At about 4 to 6
miles into our invasion of Scotland the sea state changed from 3 to 4+ with a lot
of white caps.
  I made the decision for Captain
Manic to contact the safety boat (which was crewed by Barbara and Jim) to meet
up with us sooner than was planned just in case the weather deteriorated.
 We were on the edge of not having any phone
signal (For future expedition planning purposes, be aware there is limited if
not any mobile signal in the middle of the crossing).
  We took a vote whether to continue or not; we
all decided to go for it like REAL PIRATES. So off we went, hitting large waves
on our beam, adjusting our compass bearing as we went along.
  We could not see Islay as there was a big sea
mist covering it.
  4 hardened Pirates
looking at a compass bearing of 030degrees.
‘No Islay, no Rathlin, just four wee boats on a big sea,’ I said to
myself. The chat was good, the food great; Snickers and Mars bars.
  We were permanently sucking on jelly babies
as well.
  After a number of hours
paddling we started to see the shadow of Islay which give us a lift; something
to aim for.
  So we sharpened our paddles
which gives us a rock to our boats.
this stage the sea state was decreasing to around 2.
  Captain Manic and Captain Pugwash claimed
they saw a whale (the Pinocchio whale).
I didn’t see it but I videoed the sea so I could verify this later.  Having verified the video evidence on return,
I could see no whale, so presumably they were hallucinating from the stress of
the invasion!!
  Islay started to get
bigger and longer and longer as we approached.
Only 3 miles to go... the longest 3 miles of my life.  The safety boat arrived; all was fine so we
sent them on their way.
  We had VHF
radios on the deck of our boats (not good for reception).
  They need to be up higher in order to get
better reception.
  Also some form of
strobe lighting should be mounted up high so the safety boat can see us.
  Jim and Barbara had problems contacting and
seeing us when we were only 200-300 metres from them.
  I was going to suggest spec savers to them as
there is a special on!!!

We started to tick off land marks as we went along
keeping the mind focused.  We all crossed
the finished line together, 10 hours and 26 Nautical Miles later.  Getting out of the boats was funny.  The moans and groans were like the noises of
a seal colony.  After a few photos we
went to our B&B for a hot shower, a lovely meal in the Indian restaurant
(which was an eye opener – lovely place to eat) and obviously a pint or two.  


What can I say... 3 old dodgers and whipper
snapper called Captain One Eyed Willy made the crossing from Ballintoy to Port
Ellen going across the flow.  If we can
do it the rest of you can do it too.  We
all had different reasons for taking on this challenge.  I had been talking about doing it for the
past ten years but had never got around to it. 
To me sea kayaking is a lovely way of keeping fit; it cleans your
mind.  The people you meet along the way,
the friends you meet, and it all brings a smile to my face.  This crossing was a trail run. The next time
we do this paddle we will be in double sea kayaks along with a variety of
people who come from a diverse background, many of who will have disabilities.  We aim to paddle from Cushenden, Torr Head or
Ballintoy to Islay or the Mull of Kintyre and raise money for their respective
charities.  At the end of their trip they
will be presented with a pirates mask and initiated as a Pirate of the Causeway
Coast.  There are four already and we
hope there will be many more.  This is
what it is all about; many hours of training and paddling in all types of
weather and waters.  And with the right
people around you, you can accomplish a lot and at the same time have a lot of
fun.  The Isle of Man next; this time
sailing.  Well done guys!!



PS....photographic evidence has emerged of the seal that Captain One Eye Willie saw alongside the whale that Captain Pugwash and Captain Manic saw. What are the chances eh?!



  • Great blog John, pity I missed the trip but maybe next time. A welcome addition to the forum.
  • Great blog, fantastic achievement, loving the red bloomers Steve!
  • Steve, you should wear those bloomers to the next pool session! Then again....maybe not!!

    Would love an attempt at one of these pirate adventures!
  • Good job the lot of you!!  I think I may be on for the next one . . . . .  Poor Steve does look a little young for it though!  ;-)
  • Great report John.

    Captain One Eyed Willy did well to keep up with the old seadogs!!!
  • Sounds great! I would love to be on the next invasion
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