Around Ireland in C-Trek 18s

Paddling 40 days and nights. Eating and sleeping on harbour walls, under boats, in Life Boat Stations, back gardens, and on beaches.

On 3rd June 2015, Geoff Cater and Andy Mullins set off on in their new lightweight C-Trek 18 kayaks, turned right from Rosslare, south east Ireland, and paddled until they arrived back at the starting point over a month later - an epic 960 mile round trip.

C-Trek 18 - Mullins and Carter

The pair met on an expedition round the Isles of Scilly in 2011.  Over a few beers, they convinced each other that they should paddle round Britain.  In 2012, they did just that, covering 2318 miles in 115 days.

Whilst the Irish coast is less than half the distance, the west coast is exposed to the full effects of the Atlantic swell and very unpredictable weather; Mile for mile, this trip is a far tougher.

Each day on the trip was like an adventure all of its own.  Perhaps the best way to illustrate that is to share with you what happened on one particular day.

C-Trek 18 - Mullins and Carter

Expedition Log : Day 26

Making our way along the north Donegal coast to get in a position to cross Donegal Bay.

We woke to the sound of rain on our tents - never a great way to start the day. The dilemma is whether to crack on and pack everything away wet, knowing you’ll be climbing into a wet tent the following evening, or to wait for it to pass and then be late on the water. 

We compromised and cooked breakfast (porridge) in the rain but packed the tents up when it stopped. 

We were away for 7.45am, but not before we chatted to some of the local fishermen heading out in their currachs and got their take on the weather.

As we paddled out to Downpatrick Head the sun came out and warmed our cold hands. All was good with the world again. The transition, getting off the water and settled, or packing up again in the morning and climbing into wet gear, is the hardest part of the day we find. 

C-Trek 18 - Mullins and Carter

As if to reward us for getting up and away on time, we met two basking sharks in the bay. One must have been 5m long.  Just amazing. We said before this trip that it was one thing we would love to see and now that’s our third.

We crossed Killala Bay and headed for Easky where we stopped for provisions and made some soup for lunch. 

The wind was picking up F5 gusting F6 (20 to 31 MPH) but still in our favour so we made the call to push on and cross Sligo Bay and head towards the Island of Inishmurray.  The last inhabitants of the island left in the 1950s but it used to have a monastery, cottages and even a school. The latter is the only building to remain completely intact but there is enough of the others to help you imagine what life must have been like.

Three miles into the fifteen mile crossing and the wind gusts were now strengthening – F7 (32-38 MPH). The swell was picking up too, but in the main it was wind chop.

We had set off on a compass bearing as Inishmurray is low lying and we couldn’t see it from the start. Indeed it wouldn’t appear for another three miles. 

As we approached the Island we could start to make out the ruins of the old settlement and monastery. The jetty we were aiming for was at the ‘sheltered’ east end of the Island.

The wind was now a constant F7 gusting F8 (over 40 MPH) and the sea getting a little lively.  We had to grip our paddles firmly in case the wind snatched them from our hands. 

C-Trek 18 - Mullins and Carter

We could see the jetty - it looked short. We both hoped it would provide enough shelter from the southwesterly wind and waves. As we rounded the end of the jetty, we realised the water was also low exposing some enormous rocks. It was clearly only a useful landing spot at high water. 

This was going to be difficult. Controlling an 18 foot kayak that fully loaded, weighs 80kgs, in swell, strong winds and around rocks, is pretty tricky.

We decided to take a closer look and see if we could pull alongside the rocks and clamber out for a short swim and haul the boats out. 

It wasn’t going to happen. The initial haul out would have been too high and the risk of injury to us, or the boats, too great. 

We decided to paddle round to the leeward side of the Island and take a look there. The swell was now wrapping all the way round the Island, but there was a small area of calm(ish) water.  Unfortunately the landing was to be on boulders the size of fridges. Perfect boat and ankle breaking territory. 

We had no choice. We climbed out of the kayaks and waded the last few feet up to our waists so we could control landing the kayaks on the rocks. We managed to get both out of the water balanced precariously. The plan was to empty the kit out and then come back for the kayaks. 

C-Trek 18 - Mullins and Carter

It was then we spotted the nesting sites above us. There were chicks moving around the top of the foreshore. We couldn’t risk disturbing them, so there was nothing for it but to paddle the kayaks back against the wind and return to the jetty. We left the kit on the beach to make them lighter and easier to handle. 

Same as before, we managed to get alongside the rocks by the jetty, get out and swim the kayaks in. All the time the wind and waves were buffeting us. A broken boat (or body) would have been the end of the expedition – as well as a difficult evacuation from an uninhabited island.

Fortunately, with a little less gel coat than they had that morning, we landed the boats. Geoff and I suffered no more than bruises. It took us a further hour to retrieve our kit from the other side of the Island and then pitch our tents before the wind picked up even more. That night we were buffeted by full gale force winds, but as ever, you always feel safe and cosy in your tent and very satisfied to have paddled 36 miles given the conditions.

Whether we could get off the Island in the morning given the conditions would be another matter.  We had figured we could be ‘comfortable’ for three days before food started running out.

 C-Trek 18 - Mullins and Carter

Our experience of the C-Trek 18

 Geoff and Andy asked Kirton to build them two C-Trek 18s for their successful expedition.  Here’s their verdict on the boats:

 “This is an incredible expedition boat.  It is fast, stable and comfortable."

 C-Trek 18 - Mullins and Carter

We had the pleasure, or perhaps misfortune, of being out in some serious conditions.  We were regularly out in Force 6 and 7 winds and 4 and 5 metre swells.  On a couple of occasions we were caught out in even bigger conditions. Not once did the boats feel like they couldn’t cope.  They provide the paddler with confidence that enables them to extend their comfort zone beyond ‘normal’ limits.

The use of a rudder rather than skeg, means much less wear and tear on the body – particularly for the aging paddler like us.  The extra pace (around 1 Knot more than other boats we have tried) and comfort was worth at least 5NM a day – maybe more.  We woke each morning feeling less achy than we ought to have done.

With the pivoting footrest steering system – the ample space in the cockpit allows the paddler to adjust position regularly and avoid stiff legs, heel pressure sores and the ability to get out of the ‘frog’ position and give the hips a rest.

The hull and deck shape deliver a deceptively dry boat when paddling into wind and chop. 

We would recommend this boat to anyone thinking about a serious expedition”

C-Trek 18 - Mullins and Carter