On 30th August 2008 Jay Manning, Mark Slater and Stuart Ord-Hume embarked on a mission to circumnavigate the Isle of Sheppey. The Isle of Sheppey is an island off the northern coast of Kent, England in the Thames Estuary, some 38 miles (62 km) to the east of central London. Stuart explains all.
There is an annual race staged by the Isle of Sheppey Sailing Club, and this has been established since 1959. It involves a clockwise circumnavigation of the Isle of Sheppey by sail powered craft to cover the distance of approximately 40miles. The various craft set off at staggered times depending on their respective handicaps.
They allowed us to start at 06.00hrs.
- Jason Manning (38 years old, the spring chicken)
- Mark Slater (40 years old, so he tells me)
- Stuart Ord-Hume (58 years young and story teller)
I met Jason at Minster beach at 5.25 and we prepared our boards and equipment i.e. 2litre Camel Baks of water and food & drink strapped to nets on the front of our Starboard Cruisers. We had to set off before Mark arrived because, as you know, time and tide wait for no man, and we knew that Mark (Powerhouse) Slater would catch us up.
Wearing just shorts and rash vests we set off across the beach over stones, broken shells and sand to reach the sea which was at least 500m away being a spring low tide. We were knackered even by the time we got into 6inches of water and started paddling.
The time was about 6.10 and we started paddling in an ESE direction and sure enough the wind started to freshen from the SE which was exactly what we didn’t need. We paddled comfortably and passed Warden point on our starboard side (Clockwise circumnavigation).
Around 7ish we decided we needed a ‘bathroom break’ (you know what I mean) so beached under the cliffs and scrambled over rocks and seaweed to do what we had to do only to find we had an audience from the top of the cliff, at that time of day! Anyway we got under way again and we saw a figure coming out of the mist and 40mins later Mark was with us. He left over half an hour after us and went into Terminator Mode to catch us up.
By now the wind was 12 mph straight in our faces and we paddled pretty hard for the next 3hours heading SE and passing Leysdown, wind now 15 mph and finally reached Shellness and with some effort we paddled into the estuary about 12 miles from the start and turned to the Southwest for 3 miles and then into the River Swale heading West passing Harty Ferry.
This was now the best (easiest) part of the journey with a strengthening wind on our backs and the tide with us. The Sun was blazing and we were enjoying the views and taking photographs of seal colonies and other sights. This ‘so called’ easier stretch lasted for 6 miles before the river took a vicious turn to NNE and the wind hit us hard for a mile or so.
We knew that we had to reach the Kings Ferry bridge by 13.00 hrs because that was when the tide turned which would have been nigh on impossible against the wind and a strong rip tide against us. We dug in hard and turned to head NW with the bridge in sight and we arrived there by 12.55. Approx 23 miles covered.
I said to Mark and Jay that now we had no worries and all we had to do was guide the boards and the tide would do the rest. Never had I been so wrong!!
We left the bridge and only now the first Tornados, Hobie Cats, Darts and windsurfers, which were doing the race, started to pass us, all planing hard. They started their race at staggered times between 10.00 and 11.30. The wind was now a solid 20mph and we turned the next bend and had to go NSE for 500metres. That was agony, by now I was being slaughtered by ‘Tennis Elbow’ and struggling.
From here on in we were surrounded by dinghies, cats, yachts, windsurfers and every size of boat up to huge tankers in a really strong wind and rough sea. We found shelter and wacked in some energy drinks and bananas and set off in a northerly direction into the Medway and then NE with the wind slamming into our front right. We had to paddle so hard to reach the starboard bank i.e. Sheppey side, heading for Sheerness. This was a hard paddle getting hammered by huge gusts, swirling seas and dodging our way round massive boats, tugs and barges finally reaching the north end of the docks.
Thinking it couldn’t get much worse we approached Garrison Point with all the Navy guys looking at us with binoculars, obviously thinking we were quite mad. Then around 200metres from the turn we were rammed by standing waves up to 1.8m in height breaking over us from all directions and then horrendous whirlpools like I’ve never seen and mayhem in the water. I just hit the deck on to my knees, Jay survived two waves and he was down as well. Mark closer in was having his private battle. Apparently the sea here is 30 metres deep and is the meeting of the three rivers Thames, Medway and Swale, couple that with spring rip tides and a 20 K Easterly.
We then turned at last to head due East and under a huge metal gantry and piles of rocks to the right. I could not believe the sea in front of me, there was standing chop in all directions and it looked like a massive washing machine. Jay and I were on our knees holding the sides of the boards to stay on and paddling like hell just to make ground. Unbelievably Mark went by hugging the shore and he was still standing up, he powered on and ditched on to the first bit of beach he could reach.
Meanwhile Jay and I were spinning around all over the place and he was thrown off of his board and his leash parted from its shackle. He was dragged back away from his board about 5 metres and had to swim like a fish to grab it again and haul himself on. We then really dug in and 100m later we were piled up on the beach with Mark. Jason was now totally exhausted after that scare.
Credit to the IOS yacht club rescue boat though. They stayed with us for the whole of that ordeal, so thanks lads, whoever you were.
We now had 2 to 3 miles to go, so I said to the others ‘I’m off’. Jumped on my board, head down and paddled hard into the wind for 5mins, I then looked up and to my horror I was a couple of metres back from where I’d started, so back ashore again. Anyway the new plan was to paddle the rest of the way within 2metres of the shore to get away from the rip, so we did this having to keep balance in breaking waves ands finally made headway and after sometime, 2 miles and 3 or 4 rows with shore fishermen the end was in sight.
Jason was really struggling on this last bit after his scare at the Gantry. I had found my second wind and Mark was just charging on like the machine that he is. We got together with 100m to go and decided to cross the line together. Easier said than done into that head wind and literally with 2metres to go Jay was off. We waited and it took him 4 attempts to get back on, he was spent. Finally we all crossed the line where we got the official hooter from the IOS sailing club at around 16.15hrs receiving a massive cheer from the assembled gallery, which was so nice and I for one felt quite emotional with it all.
We went ashore for much hand shaking and back slapping and then had to get back on the boards for the final punch back, and another 400m walk with the gear to our vans. Arriving around 17.20. We had been paddling for more than 11 hours.
We were shattered to say the least and just sat there for a while before going back to the Yacht Club for our official Certificates of Circumnavigation of the Isle of Sheppey – supposedly 40miles.
Apparently the ‘Rounding Time’ record was shattered by a Tornado, 2 Formula 18s and a Hobie Tiger. That gives an indication of how strong the wind was.
We drove home exhausted but happy. Every muscle was crying out and we all looked like Popeye at the end of it. Well Mark looks like Popeye anyway!
I had to get back to Bromley but poor old Mark had to drive to Bournemouth. He only got 2hours sleep the previous night parked up by the M25 before coming to Sheppey. Like I said ‘he is a machine.’
We had been talking about doing this for sometime. Well we have now and I for one won’t be doing it again. Jay always said that he would do it!
Many thanks to the Isle of Sheppey Sailing Club, boat crews and rescue crews for organising and running it and letting us take part even though we left shore four hours early. It’s a great event for all types of watercraft.