Chapter 15 – Journey’s End
Sunset, Gerran’s Bay
I spent the last night in my tent on a lovely beach west of Portscatho in Gerran’s Bay. The sunset was truly wonderful and I slept like a baby. Whilst I was just four miles from completing the circle the following day would not be the last day of my expedition. Having given folk who needed to know a date in advance for when I would finish, I had one more day to ‘waste’. So what do you do when you are about to complete a six month kayak expedition? A kayak race of course! It was the Helford River Race organised by Truro Canoe Club. I knew Linda and a bunch of my friends would be competing. The plan was to paddle across the entrance to the Fal estuary and up the HelfordRiver to Gweek, do the 8 mile race in my sea kayak, then paddle back down the HelfordRiver to a beach, stay the night in a nearby Bed & Breakfast with Linda and then paddle into Falmouth the next day, Sunday September 26th. It was a rather unconventional end to an expedition and meant I would technically have closed the circle once I had reached Pendennis Point but what the heck – folk had gone to a lot of trouble for me so the least I could do was finish when I said I would.
Ian Wilson and Shelley had made the journey south from Aberdeen with Mark Bragg and Suzie and I was shocked and surprised to see them. I don’t remember much about the race other than I think I won the sea kayak class fairly comfortably! It was great to see Linda, Ian and Shelley and hang out with my other kayak racing friends who were all very generous in their praise for my accomplishment. I hadn’t even finished the expedition and they all wanted to know what I was going to do next. Competing in the race certainly helped to re-sharpen my competitive edge and I was pretty sure I would be doing a lot of racing to make the most of my hard-won strength and fitness.
And so finally it was my last day and Ian paddled with me to Pendennis Point where we were greeted by a flotilla of paddlers in all sorts of craft, including Jim and Sarah Morrissey from Ireland! We were all escorted by the inshore and all-weather lifeboats and treated to a flypast by the SAR helicopter from RNAS Culdrose. As I paddled towards the same pontoon at the NationalMaritimeMuseum that I had left six months previously I performed three celebratory Eskimo rolls for the crowds and cameras on the quayside.
Before I could even get out of my kayak a microphone was pointed at me and a reporter started asking me questions. I just wanted to get out and give Linda a big hug.
It was a very special moment in my life. I had achieved my dream and I knew I was a very, very lucky man. After a very long day of celebration and hand-shaking it was time to drive home to St Erth. I was exhausted yet shaking with adrenalin and emotion. Unable to sleep I got in the car and drove to my favourite place to write this letter to post on my website:
It’s 4am and predictably enough for my first night back in my own bed I am unable to sleep. I have left Linda sleeping soundly – she must be exhausted having helped to organise a fantastic reception for me – and I have driven down to Godrevy with Handel to listen to the sound of the sea. It’s dark but the lights of St Ives are sparkling across the bay and Godrevy lighthouse is flashing reassuringly to my right. Handel is off chasing ‘bunnies’.
I am unable to sleep because my head is still spinning after the most tremendous day yesterday. I don’t do speeches and although I managed to bumble my way through a few ‘thank you’s there are lots of things I meant to say and probably should have said but didn’t. So hopefully this message will help to make amends.
To everyone who joined me on the water – thank you for making the effort. Not only was it a pleasure to have your company for the last part of my journey but it was also a great advert for our sport to see such a diverse range of craft and so many smiling faces! The cries of “Oggy oggy oggy!” where enough to stir anyone’s emotions.
(Handel has just found a tennis ball and is now expecting me to throw it and type!)
To everyone who came down to the Maritime Museum to welcome me ashore – thank you too. I had hoped a few people might be there but to see such a large crowd was staggering and the reception was quite overwhelming. I tried to join in with the Hayle Town Male Voice Choir who sang the RNLI hymn ‘Home from the Sea’ but I am afraid my emotions got the better of me towards the end. I have hummed that tune several times during the expedition when things were getting a bit hairy and it was very special to have it sung properly – thank you chaps.
Thank you to the crews of the Falmouth lifeboats – both the inshore and the all weather lifeboat escorted us in and we had several fly-pasts by the Search and Rescue Helicopter from RNAS Culdrose. Thanks guys! They were also doing some filming for TV and should have got some spectacular shots.
Many people had travelled a long way to come and see me in, including Ian and Shelley and Mark and Suzie from Aberdeen and Jim and Sarah from Galway. It was amazing to see you and thank you all.
I was presented with some wonderful gifts including a picture from Linda that Ian took of me departing from Ardnarmurchan on a beautiful summer’s evening – it wasn’t always as tranquil as that I can assure you. I received a plaque from the RNLI (their equivalent of a Blue Peter badge) and a gorgeous picture of a Puffin from the Marine Conservation Society. Shirley Hayes from the Hayle branch of the RNLI gave me a stunning stained glass picture of Godrevy lighthouse that she had made herself. It is exceptionally good and a lovely thing to have, thank you Shirley.
Dominic Miles from Icetea web design and Stu Elford from PDQ Comms gave me a trophy commemorating the first circumnavigation of all the inhabited islands of the UK and Ireland. It will take pride of place on my mantle shelf but I will gladly hand it on to the first person who can include the Channel Islands as well.
To all my sponsors I owe a huge debt of gratitude, I will not list them all now but there are details on the website and hopefully it has been worth their while. I will of course be writing to you all individually very soon.
To everyone who has donated money to the two charities – thank you – you can be certain that the money will be well spent. I am optimistic that by the time this is all wrapped up so to speak, we will have raised in the order of £10,000 which is fantastic.
I would not have been able to contemplate doing this trip without the support of Linda’s parents, Janet and Clive who have done so much work around our house that I hardly recognised the place when I got home yesterday. As for Linda well I am sure most of you think that she is completely daft continuing to work really hard whilst her husband enjoys a six month holiday. I have some serious making up to do so don’t expect to see me out there doing stuff for a good while (and if you believe that you’ll believe anything!) I must have been very good in a previous life to have deserved her love and believe me it is reciprocated.
This expedition had been about much more than recording ‘firsts’. Hopefully I have encouraged a few people to live their dreams, be it a day trip or a major expedition. I also hope that I have raised awareness of the valuable work that the RNLI and the Marine Conservation Society do on our behalf and the need to protect our marine environment. My work in this area is far from over and I will be making myself available to give presentations about the expedition and trying to get a book published.
Finally I just want to say thank you to everyone who has visited the website and particularly those who have joined as members. Your messages were what kept me going through the tough times and there were a few of those. I don’t think there has been a better example of what the internet can do, how it can create a community and I have very much enjoyed sharing the expedition with you and if you would like to use the ‘ExpeditionKayak’ website to promote your project then please do get in touch. I have always envisaged it becoming a portal for all kayak expeditions, large or small, and I will be happy to give you all the advice and support I can.
Bye for now,
You might think that returning to work would have been difficult but actually I was looking forward to it in some ways. Some of the folk who had sent me messages of support during my journey were colleagues from work, traffic and firearms officers from around the two counties of Devon & Cornwall. I had a good crew on my Section at Camborne Traffic Unit and they had all showed up at the reception. They said they were eager to get their ‘skipper’ back, so they could get more time off! And I had cleared my desk when I left so I had finally got on top of my paperwork – without doubt the most stressful part of the job for me. I could re-start my career with a clean sheet so to speak and embraced the challenge of getting back up to speed with all the changes.
I was shocked and surprised to receive an invitation to a Christmas Reception at BuckinghamPalace. It was a tremendous privilege to be in the home of Her Majesty the Queen, although I chickened out of speaking to her in person. The Reception was for those who had made ‘a significant contribution to National Life’ and I felt very humbled to be in the same company as famous sportsmen and women, explorers and mountaineers and people who have dedicated their lives to charity. The Palace looked beautiful, decorated for Christmas and Linda and I were encouraged by the Palace staff to wander through the various state rooms and admire their splendour. Fiona Whitehead was also there and it was great to see her again. It was a lovely evening and it was a nice way to say “Thank you” to Linda for making it all possible.
I was named ‘Individual Supporter of the Year’ by the RNLI and met another member of the Royal Family when I attended the awards ceremony and was presented with the award by the President of the RNLI, the Duke of Kent.
Each time I was asked to give a slideshow presentation about the expedition it was a great excuse to re-live the adventure and spread the word about the work of the RNLI and the Marine Conservation Society. I had raised a total of $10,000 which is no small change but both organisations valued the publicity as much as the hard cash.
So did I hang up my paddle and call it a day? Of course not! That winter I trained as hard as ever, determined to put the aerobic endurance I had developed to good use. And the following Easter I finally won the prestigious Devizes to Westminter Canoe Race (Men’s Single category), the race that I had first competed in twenty five years previously. In so many ways the circle was complete.
YAK – all my paddling gear
Kirton Kayaks – C-Trek kayak: “The Expedition Kayak”
Marsport / Lettmann – Nordic wing paddles
Wholebake – NRG and Nine Bars (Energy and protein bars)
Icetea.co.uk – website design and maintenance
PDQ Comms – media and public relations
SILVA – Multi-Navigator GPS and S12 handheld waterproof VHF Radio
McMurdo – loan of ‘FastFind Plus’ Personal Locator Beacon
Aquapac – waterproof cases
First Ascent – dry bags and ‘Platypus’ drink system
Dashmount – solar charger and battery pack
Marine Instruments – loan of charts, pilots, etc
Coleman – Cobra2 tent
Taunton Leisure – big discounts!
AS Watersports – even bigger discounts and a £250 donation to the charity fund!