Ramsey Island Tidal Race aka "The Bitches" 2022

A small splinter group of paddlers left the sea kayaking group and headed out to a tidal race near Ramsey Island for an adventure on the Saturday afternoon. The group of five experienced paddlers left the mainland at by the Lifeboat Station at St Justinian's and paddled towards Pen Dal-Aderyn headland, mainland Wales’ most westerly point, before crossing Ramsey Sound to a group of rocks called “The Bitches”. As the tide rises, the northerly flowing waters are squeezed between the island and the mainland and pick up speed.  The Bitches stand in the way and the water builds behind these rocks before tumbling over and around them, creating a set of waves, whirlpools and eddies. 

 

The long paddle out to the site was done at low water, when the tide was slack and there was relatively little flow.  Over the coming hours, the features grew to become large standing waves with increasingly turbulent and confused water below. We spent several hours watching the features develop and playing in the waves and flow, feeling like we were a 100 miles from civilisation, feeling very small on a massive surging and turbulent body of water.  

 

One of the large rocks formed a large eddy behind it which was the place from which to both try to catch the waves and take a breather. Even with only very small swell passing through, the wave and the route to it catch pulsed, rising and falling over a 10 to 15 second pattern. The technique appeared to be to wait in the eddy until the swell rose over a small rocket shelf and formed a stopper, at which point you tried to punch through and surf it across and paddle like fury to try to reach the glassy unbroken wave to its right. Too early and you paddled straight into the rock, too late and you missed the opportunity to ferry across the flow.The speed and volume of the water made this almost impossible though and we never quite did reach the main wave from the eddy, although Simon came the closest on several occasions. The eddy line here is the stuff of legends, with whirlpools opening that can swallow kayaks whole, and whilst it wasn't as fearsome as predicted, it certainly kept you on edge and claimed one swimmer from the group. Rhys was on hand to affect a rescue though and they were back with us just a few minutes later.

 

The small rocky island was covered in barnacles, ready to do some serious damage to any expensive cags or bare skin you even gently rubbed against it. It did however give a good spot to get out and stretch your legs to take a well-earned rest. Having exhausted ourselves over several hours, we took the decision to try climbing over the rock and launch from above, where we could ferry across the flow to try to reach the main wave by dropping in from above. Whilst treacherous in itself to climb over, it also had a sketchy launch point just a foot or two away from the flow of the water that was ready to smear you down either side of the rock if you were caught unaware. Getting on here though, proved much more successful and we managed to get a surf on the main feature, a lovely clean, unbroken wave. Once on the wave it was pretty friendly and stable and you could sit and surf as long as you liked with just the gentlest of dips of the paddle to adjust your position. In hindsight, we changed to this technique far too late when we were already exhausted. This caught Hugo out who capsized right in the centre of the main flow and disappeared off down channel with the flooding tide at around 6 knots, followed by Rhys in hot pursuit. The long swim and even longer paddle back up the rest of the group was probably a good 30 minutes and really signalled that it was time to call it a day.  

 

With our reserves empty, it was time to head for home. The choice of routes home was split by "Horse Rock", a submerged rock pinnacle directly on our route home that all the guides and information about the area declares "must be avoided at all costs". Without knowing exactly where it was however, it was difficult to know how to avoid it, but our options were; to try to ferry glide across the near 1000m wide flow into the sheltered water by the mainland, passing up channel of Horse Rock, or head down channel and cut across below Horse Rock. The second option was to head down channel, keeping Horse Rock well to our right and turning to cross the flow when we knew we were safely below it. The first option is the higher risk one, where we could have drifted down and onto the rock (as has caught out many paddlers before us). With empty tanks and heavy arms, we just weren't sure we could make it, instead choosing the lower risk route heading down channel. The risk with this "safer" route however was that by dropping down channel and crossing the sound below the infamous rock, that we might not make it into the bay we were aiming for and where our car was parked, before the tide washed us passed the headland.

 

So, we headed down channel scouring the route ahead for indicators of Horse Rock and were pleased to see it pass us way off to our right and gave us the confidence to turn harder right and make for the bay. Whilst it felt for some time that we could gently glide into the bay, it became apparent that for every metre we paddled towards the mainland, the tide was taking us several along the coast and it was clear we weren't going to get there. Having anticipated this, we eased off a bit and instead let the tide take us round the headland and into Whitesands Bay, a less fraught paddle, but one that did add an extra mile or two to the already long paddle. We landed about 19:30, some 5 hours after we got on and as dusk was starting to settle. Thanks to Simon who volunteered to walk up to the campsite and find someone to pick us up and take us to our car and thanks to Lydia for cooking up some dinner when we realised that there were no takeaways open in St David's!

 

Paddlers:

Rhys Powell - Trip Leader

Hugo Keene, Simon Hawker, Kent Fyrth, Steve Wilford

Stunning aerial photographs curtesy of Vale Paddle Sports

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