Freesteel Blog » Skomer timed for the rain

Skomer timed for the rain

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008 at 7:27 pm Written by:

My long-planned visit to Pembrokeshire to see my old club UBUC on their annual Skomer trip was delayed by going to Mashed -08 on the weekend of Saturday 21 June, a canceled visit by a friend on Wednesday, and Becka’s sudden urge to review a paper throughout all of Thursday, punctuated by five-a-side football at lunchtime and the secretary’s leaving do in the afternoon.

We got away at 6:30pm, so it was no surprise we arrived in Marloes at mid-night completely knackered and cross. There didn’t seem to be anybody at West Hook Farm, the site of UBUC’s Skomer summer encampment for the last 30-odd years, as well as implied by the map on this page of their modern-looking but informationally-challenged website. The farm had changed hands and no longer did camping. But I didn’t know that, so we rolled a further kilometre down the road into East Hook Farm and moved into the late night arrivals field. I ran back along the bumpy Pembrokeshire Coast Path in the dark back to West Hook Farm and into the field just to check my memory wasn’t completely lost. The last time I’d been there was in 2003 — but many formative times before then because it was an annual migration.

I spent the whole of the next day (Friday) looking for where the f*** UBUC had gone. There were at least 20 of them, two boats, and everyone I spoke to recognized who I was looking for. The carpark attendant for Martin’s Haven said they always got here for an early start when they do. Perhaps they were over at Dale the bad weather diving spot in Milford Haven. No one was there either. I’d spotted the UBUC trailer on the beach of Martin’s Haven when I cycled to it in the morning, so they had to be somewhere.

During the day I implemented my own version of the Directionless by phoning up and bothering a friend at his computer on the internet and getting him to check out the dreadful, misinformative, and utterly useless UBUC calender website containing times but No Precise Locations, and he confirmed it was that bad. There were email contacts but no phone numbers. Great. No email reply was forthcoming during the day.

Now, the reason why I urgently needed to see UBUC was that they had their dive kayaks down on site, and it might have been the first time in 6 years of kayak diving that I would get the chance to kayak dive with another pair, apart from me and Becka. Why do I always get hooked on such astonishingly unpopular sports!

Between Marloes and Broad Haven there’s about a dozen campsites on the OS Landranger map. I checked them all.

It’s worth pointing out that the weather was also pretty windy, with a howling southerly gale and belts of rain the day before. Just so we got something done during the day, Becka and I paddled out of St Bride’s Haven round Nabbs Head and into the full force of a localized rain storm. This woke us up a bit and made us appreciate how small our problems really could be made if something went wrong. Especially when we turned around and it got much more difficult to ride on the downwind leg.

Back in Dale we had a cup of coffee in the cafe and the woman said, Yeah, that group of students were in here yesterday, wringing wet from the rain. I closed up at five and they all moved into the pub and sat there drinking pints of water all night trying to keep warm without spending any money. She thought they could be up at a farm called Hillside, which was not signed on the OS map as a campsite. Windmill Farm next door was not signed as a campsite either, yet I found a lovely laid out field with level plots and all. The farmer had seen UBUC on the beach when he took fuel down to the boat that carries tourists to Skomer Island, but didn’t know where they could be.

After dinner back at the campsite of West Hook Farm I cycled across the abandoned air field in the fog to Dale, double checking the fields around Hillside farm. The owner of West Hook Farm was convinced they’d be there, because that’s where he recommended they go after turning them down for his campsite. I had half a pint in the pub in case anybody showed up. To complete my perfect timing, Mr. West Hook Farm decided to phone Mr. Hillside Farm on our behalf and found out that the UBUC had f***ed off from Pembrokeshire that morning. He told Becka this news minutes after I had set off.


The weather was apparently really good on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It must have been the sudden shock of a day of rain that drove them away. Had it been drizzly for all that time, they’d have probably suffered it, because evidence suggests it was a very snap decision, possibly taken after I got there, but couldn’t find them.

Why do we bother trying coming out diving when the weather is so bad? Becka asked. Well, I would have preferred to have got out on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Anyway, we got on the kayaks on Saturday (without diving gear) and paddled around Wooltack Point and down the length Jack Sound. No I didn’t understand any of the tides, I just pretended I did to give Becka the confidence I knew what I was doing. I was sure it was going to be flowing north — against us — but I didn’t have any idea how strong it would be. Nor could I predict how far we were going to get. Or that Becka’s greatest whinge was that her kayak’s knee straps were the wrong length. There’s always got to be something wrong; at least it wasn’t: Oh my god we’re going to die out here!

We ran into Robert Bailey as we carried our kayaks back up the beach.

Then we headed over to Abercastle for another bit of paddling. Becka had been reading the thoroughly excellent Welsh Sea Kayaking guidebook and decided we should aim for Abereiddy, a mere 8kms along the rugged coast.

Once again I faked it with the currents, but we were going into the howling wind, so I was sure we could just be blown back. It was wind against tide, as they say, so it was a bit of a roller-coaster ride and we got about a kilometre along and decided to turn back at the first corner. The waves are always worst at the corners. Going round the corner further meant we’d be up-wind of some rather rocky cliffs, and anyway I was beginning to appraise the rather brisk current going with us. More concerning to me was the two fully kitted out sea kayakers whom we passed in Abercastle Harbour after they had turned back owing to the weather on their trip to Strumble Head. I was absolutely sure they were going to call out the life-boat having just seen two clowns on sit-on-top kayaks disappear to sea and not come back.

In my experience, sit-on-tops are a lot more seaworthy and robust than anything else. They are the mountain bikes of the kayaking world — not suitable for racing long distances across flat seas, but better for the bumps. We surfed back briskly against the current to the harbour. Becka said she preferred Jack Sound. The sun was out. We camped in Trefin for the night.

We went back to Abercastle in the morning to complete one dive on the Leysian to prove a point. This is a huge silty wreck in 10m and we carried the anchor the whole way. My suit leaks so bad around the wrists I have to do something about it soon. (Un)luckily we won’t do any diving for the next two months because time has run out and we’re now into the caving expedition season.

Oh well.

We cased out a few likely kayaking journeys on the north Pembrokeshire coast from the sea kayak guidebook before declaring the weekend done and heading for home. Becka observed that not one of the photos in the book was of weather as nasty as what we’d been out in. We’ll have to come back at a better time. With whom? I wish.

This blog posting has been marked up with links to geographical articles in Wikipedia. This means that it contains a form of unique-ids common across the world, and could insert this post into a cross-sectional blog sliced up from everybody else’s and recreated timesorted per location as a common heritage. It’s all going to work well unless those stupid students carry on balkanizing the web with their useless Facebook log-in shite pages, and it’s eventually not possible to access anything useful on the internet unless it is produced by (a) a corporation, or (b) a “friend”.

I had to write the Jack Sound article, which someone out there can expand, put some pictures onto and describe other stuff to make it nice. I realized it was legitimate when I discovered an article for an insignificant rocklet south of Ramsey Island. Keener people could try and revive Wikiscuba with some content.


  • 1. Robert Bailey replies at 5th July 2008, 9:21 am :

    Hey Becka / Julian, thanks for following up

    Is nice to see Ocean Kayaks in the UK. Was always a good buzz back home, always found my drysuit a bit of a drawback, too tight on the carotids … really liked the idea of getting off shore on your own power and having access to some otherwise difficult spots to reach swimming or the hassle and expence of hiring a boat. I have followed a few of your links, some interesting pix in there, and some good tales. Will read more later.

    These days I’m minimalist, if you can say that being an underwater photographer. I am contstantly trying to ditch more kit. I think the extra equipment for a weekend out would give me a cerebral hemmorage.

    I appreciated your cynicism, had a good laugh scanning your blog over my morning latte. Spent a sleepless night looking for our bloody cat, only to come home at 04:00 ~ to find the little bugger had brought home a mouse, was no worse for wear, and expressed no guilt at all for his absense, like having a teenager in the house.

    Paula, will attend the BSOUP Splash-in Plymouth next weekend.

    Kind regards,


  • 2. Robert Bailey replies at 5th July 2008, 9:40 am :

    Spell check would be a nice feature … obviously more coffee is required … RB

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