It is nearing the end of May and the past two weeks have seen strong southerly winds change to stronger cold northerlies and a lot of cancelled tours and training sessions. So on Sunday morning while driving to a race I was surprised to get a call about a proposed trip around Achill Head on Monday morning. I hadn't taken much heed of the weather forecast for improved conditions to move over the country Sunday night as its been so wild lately.
That evening when I returned home I was eager to get out my new edition of OILEAIN and see what it had to say about our proposed trip;
"This one day expedition round Achill Head has to be one of the foremost Irish paddling trips, to be grabbed when conditions allow and with caution"
So the plan was set to meet in Ballina at 9am and drive to Doogort on Achill Island. Myself, Helen Fairbairn and Michael Gallagher were joined there by a fourth member of the group-Vali. She kindly called in a favour from a friend and the shuttle was taken care of, so all cars could be left at the get out at Keem Strand.
I have been to Achill Head before. Last year myself, Helen and Colin paddled out from Keem to the Head. I recall poking around the Head and looking up at Saddle Head to the North West and remarking about how exposed and unforgiving it looked. Back to the trip. The forecast was for a small (0.8m) swell from the North West and a light breeze from the North East and this is exactly what we got. We got on the water at 12:20pm and paddled for approx. an hour and a half to Annagh Strand where we had planned to have lunch. This was the first leg of about 9.5km and it felt like a bit of a slog. Lunch was brief as we started to get cold. Back in to the boats and away we went. Not far away was Saddle Head. As we rounded the head a pod of dolphins came racing along side us. This really lifted our spirits and the pace as we paddled after them around the head land. We didn't take much notice of the sizable increase in swell and clapatous with all the action. There is a large slab of Saddle Head that is best avoided, we went outside it.
After the excitement of the dolphins it was back to the the task in hand with the Head now in sight-we were on the home run. The landscape along this section is not very interesting. It consists of shear and sloping cliffs with little punctuation and no exit points, so its probably best not to hang around anyway.
At this point the two ladies in the group fell behind a little so myself and Michael waited right at the tip of the Headland in some bouncy conditions before we all rounded Achill Head at 16:30. We were met by very strong tidal streams running west that surprised us all with their show of force. These were easily paddled past as we made our way along the last section of isolated cliff face to our exit point. The sea state on this side of the Island was flat, calm and a nice relaxing way to finish the trip. We pulled into the beautiful Keem Strand at 17:30 and we were drenched in glorious sunshine as we packed up for the drive home. A very enjoyable trip that was challenging enough to keep me interested and everyone working hard for the reward of completing it. Given its remote , exposed coastline and committing nature it is not for the inexperienced paddler and should only be done if weather allows.
Below is a map of our route.
Boat- Wilderness Zephyr
Paddles- Orka Outer wings
Outer wear- Immersion research cag, Kokatat dry pants.
BA- Astral Willis
Footwear- Astral Water Tennies
David Horkan from Paddle & Pedal. Posting info on various outdoor adventures in Mayo and around Ireland.