image (c) Conn Osborne Photography
That was more difficult than I expected!
Video here filmed by Causeway Media Solutions and Jamie Russell and edited by Rauiri Cunningham….
Pictures here are from my brother and Conn Osborne.
I had spent two months training specifically for this crossing. I normally do a lot of training for surfing anyway but my trainer Richard Robinson altered my plan to prepare for this. I knew all along the distance was never going to be the issue. It was only 25 miles as the crow flies and about 30 on the day. It was the currents caused by the tides that were always my biggest concern and trying to chose when to leave was crucial. For those of you who don’t know that channel of water too well, it is renowned for fast flowing tides and chaotic chop on the surface as the Irish sea and the sea of Jura meet the Atlantic. It was this unknown aspect which casued me most concern and a couple of sleepless nights prior to attempting the crossing.
Leah came with me down to the Causeway at 530am on Tuesday morning while Richard Connor, Howard Robinson, Joe Kennedy, Jamie Russell, Conn Osborne, Charlie Adjey, Tim MacDonald, Connor McClelland, Colin and my brother Andrew loaded up the support boats The Causeway lass and Chasers Surf Tours rib in Portrush harbour.
As they made their way to the Causeway to meet me I lay on the ground and told my self “When you get into the water, you are not stopping until you get to Islay”. Leah saw me off and I set off in the dark to meet the boats a few hundred yards off the coast.
I had planned for this to be in bad weather and freezing as it is March but it turned out to be roasting and I was sweating loads. The sea was choppy despite a light offshore breeze, it was unsettled and made standing on my board difficult. I managed to stay stood up for the first 12 miles travelling at about 4mph. It soon became counter productive to try and stand as the currents continually threw me off my board and I resorted to prone paddling. I’d trained for this eventuality as I knew it was fairly likely.
As I approached the middle bank; a huge rise in the sea bed, the wind went easerly against the flow of the current making the surface even more chaotic. My speed dropped to below 1.6mph and I began to become very demotivated. Huge tankers, trawlers and even an oil rig passed me. Richard was giving me a course and Howard was supporting me close by with Jamie. They were constantly radioing Richard for updates on time and distance as I was barely moving forward against the flow of the tide. I knew I had to fight the tide somewhere on route but by choosing to leave on this day in particular with neaps we thought it might be possible to keep pushing on but it was definitely a struggle. Hours 4,5,6 and 7 became a blur of constant paddling.
It sounds like a nightmare but to be honest was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I didnt once feel like stopping or giving in despite it being difficult at times and to be out there with such a good group of guys, most of whom are my friends was really good.
There was a fog at sea which meant I only saw Islay come into sight within about 10 miles of it. It just didnt seem to get any closer for hours. In my training 10 miles would have taken a lot less time but it seemed like I was going nowhere and the cliffs didnt seem to get any closer!
Richard Connor of Causeway Lass keeping an eye on me with Howard, Jamie, Conn and Joe in the rib
Finally I got to within about a mile from shore and the two boats came alongside me to support. Richard knew the last bit was going to be tough as there was a counter flow raging along the coast of Islay from east to west. As I got to within 500m of it it sucked me really quickly down the coast. All the guys were shouting and encouraging me and I raced across the flow and onto the rocks right below the American Monument which was built to remember soldiers lost nearby from two war ships.
image (c) Conn Osborne Photography
I was met by local surfer Marcus Covell at the base of the huge cliffs. I carried a gift for him donated by the Causeway Coast Surf Club so I gave it to him and he presented me with a gift to remember the occassion by (see below)
We were welcomed in islay by some locals in Port Ellen and lots of them made doantions to my chosen charity NI Chest Heart and Stroke.
Coming back on the boat was time to reflect on the mission. I knew it would be difficult but I didnt expect it to be that difficult.
I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has donated (especially the legend Finn Mullen!). Also a huge thank you to all the guys on the boats especially Jamie who helped me in my training a lot by sitting on the ski and keeping an eye on me. All the guys were so good to have there and were a crucial part in it all. Also thanks to Alan Simpson for drumming up support and donations for the crew and I. Also to Joyce Rankin and John Bustard. Thanks last but not least to Leah for helping me in my training and supporting me all the way through!
Connor McClelland and I on The Causeway lass
Thank you to everyone who sponsored me and the crew including…
Surftech paddle boards, Chasers Surf Tours, Causeway lass, Tonys Marine Service, Tommy Evans, Richard Robinson Personal Training, Coleraine Borough Council and The Mayor Maurice Bradley, Pure Krav Maga Causeway, Darkfin Gloves, Future Fins, Tim MacDonald Paramedic, BMCG Plant Hire, Little Green Fox Sun Cream ( I actually wore in March!), Causeway Coast Surf Club and Snugg Wetsuits.
So far over £2000 raised for NI Chest heart and Stroke. You can contine to donate via http://www.justgiving.com/TheGiantsCrossing-byAlMennie
Im so lucky to be a surfer and live by the sea and be able to take part in all these things I love.