Monday, December 13, 2010
Brandon Bay, Ireland.
Thanks to the forced days of rest that my bruised rib is giving me, I finally found the time to publish the post about last October's Ireland trip.
Actually, I wrote the article back than on a plane, but I just never found the time to put it on the blog and select the photos... that goes to show how great of a surfing/windsurfing/blogging Fall I had as soon as I got back in Maui!
The readers of Windnews in Italy have already read the italian version on paper.
If there are other worldwide magazine editors interested in publishing it, my email is on the right.
Here we go, hope you guys enjoy.
If I had to use only two words to describe the Ireland trip, they would be: bloody awesome.
First, let's see why and how such a Maui enthusiast like me ended up in a far and cold water place like Ireland.
Well, first I always have a healthy pull towards visiting new places. "If you don't try new places, you'll never know how good it can be out there", says Levi in the Windsurfing movie.
But considering that there are plenty other places I'd like to visit, why Ireland that seems to be so off the track?
The reason is that our good friends Oly and Renata (who come to Maui often and also go at least once a year to Brandon bay) invited me and my lovely friend Sharon to join them in their early October vacation. "The place is beautiful and the house we're renting has a magnificent view on the whole bay".
You can't say they were wrong, can you?
I'd recommend to click on the photo... and thanks to Alex and Greg for the help in stitching it!
That's the backyard view.
"Allright", we thought, "in September I'm going to Italy to see my parents and Sharon is going to England to see her mum, so maybe we can make this work!".
Ryanair seemed to offer fairly cheap inter-europe flights (you just have to be careful with their "peculiar" check in rules...) and there we go: a few clicks and credit card transactions later, we booked a couple of convenient flights to Kerry (45 minutes drive to the spot).
With a remarkable strike of luck, we ran into a week that was going to offer some amazing conditions.
On our arrival on the late afternoon of Saturday October 2nd, the spectacle offered by huge waves even breaking on the outer reefs in the middle of the bay was at the same time magnificent and intimidating. Stiff offshore winds, frequent rain squalls and low temperatures made me think:"what da hell am I doing here? I can't even resist two minutes outside!".
No time (nor desire) to go sail or surf that day, we opted for a first visit to a local pub.
The Guinness beer is one of the Irish icons and the reason is a simple one: it is so freaking good! Nothing to do with the one we can drink over sea (just like italian wines, I guess it clearly doesn't like traveling!). Such a smooth taste and gentle buzz due to its mild alcohol gradation (4.2). We tried other stout brands, but nothing quite matched the unique taste of that divine nectar. A bit scared by the forecast that at the moment looked slightly violent, we all agreed that "the beer itself was going to be worth the trip".
Fortunately, mother nature had different plans for us.
Sunday we were expecting another friend to join the crew (the ever so lovely Melanie) and Oly (who had brought enough windsurfing/surfing gear for two people) went to go pick her up at Shannon airport at lunch time. Thanks to the fact that the wind was lighter and it wasn't raining anymore, with a couple of rented extra boards we all managed to squeeze a couple of surfing sessions in the morning and in the late afternoon.
I was wearing the 4/3 mm brand new wetsuit I had bought at an outlet in San Clemente with underneath an additional light tank top with hood. Oly had extra booties for me and I ended up being perfectly warm. The water is cold? If you have the right wetsuit, it's no big deal... really!
I'm not giving a shaka sign... my hand just froze like that.
We went to places that weren't particularly "proper" surfing waves (but that looked doable for all the members of the group), so I didn't catch any remarkable ride, but I had fun nonetheless. Typical beach break waves, without a clearly defined peak and very fastly closing, once steep enough to be caught.
Melanie shows the (wrong) way.
In my first session with a shortboard, I was never fast enough to ride enough of a face. I'll blame my lack of skill on beach breaks for that.
But in my second session I used a longboard and with that I could get in way earlier, and when the wave offered a decent shape, I could trim the board and walk to the nose. The offshore wind kept the wave up for quite a while, so that was definitely fun.
Once in a while there were sets that were still plenty overhead, but since they were not breaking top to bottom (it was high tide), turtle rolling (my 9.0 was too thick to duck dive) was never a problem.
As kook looking as one can get... but warm!
In general, the waves in Brandon bay seemed a lot softer than the Maui reef ones. I believe that that is because of the gentle slopes of the sand (clearly shown by the long exposed stretches of beach at low tide). And also because the period of those swells was around 10 seconds, so just a bit longer than a windswell.
In fact, for most of the time we were there (and I believe for most of the time in general), the west coast of Ireland was right at the end of W and SW fetches of wind created by the semi permanent Islandic depression. A quick tour to the open ocean of our last day of the stay (I'll talk about that later), clearly confirmed what I already had guessed: very rough active seas.
But Brandon bay faces north, and it's extraordinary how the waves can wrap around points of land and completely clear up the chop (the offshore wind does help the grooming process), yet still maintain a decent size and an amazing consistency.
Clearly there are still sets of bigger waves, but between sets there's no lulls. The waves are constantly breaking and that, together with the lack of channels and the flukiness of the offshore winds close to shore, makes it a bit of a challenge for the windsurfers to sail out.
On Monday the waves were a fun head to overhead high size and thanks to the perfect sideoff wind, we had a first very fun windsurfing session. I read it already in many places and I can now confirm it's true: thanks to the shape of the bay, you can pretty much find a sideoff spot for almost every wind directions, or at least for the predominant south to west winds.
Oly's gear proved to be absolutely top.
He's about 87 kilos (I'm 70) and so he "sacrified" himself on his 92l and I got to use the smaller 82. Both 2010 JP quads. I was immediately at easy on that board.
That first day I was on a 4.7 NP Combat (the other days of a 5.0 of the same model) and that's where I had the most trouble to adapt to. Don't get me wrong: they're great sails. But once you're addicted to the soft feel of a Superfreak, there's no other sail in the world that would make you as happy. The Combats had definitely a better low end power (and that is probably true for ANY full film sail), but the price to pay is the stiffness, the weight and the fact that pretty much everything is more difficult.
In my particular case, the maneuver in which I notice the most difference is the tack. Thanks to the fact that the two central batten of a Superfreak don't go all the way to the mast and that the sail is built with dacron, the transition from one side to the other is just smoother on a Freak. Mid tack, when you jump on the other side and throw the sail in the wind, the a Freak goes flat (full battened sail instead keep the profile) and there's no BANG (I don't know how, but sometimes I managed to do a triple BANG when tacking) due to the battens changing side of the mast.
In other words, I fell in the tacks way more often than I usually do. Damn, am I good at blaming the gear or what?
Enough gear talk, let's talk about the waves.
Thanks to Oly's local knowledge, we always ended up in places where the wind was quite a bit offshore (he loves that). As I said, difficult to get out sometimes (that depended a lot on the size of the waves too, of course), but once on the wave, I got to ride some of the cleanest wave faces I've ever seen windsurfing.
The lack of a downwind channel means that sooner or later the wave will close out on you. In small to medium waves, it was fun to keep riding them till the very last lip hit, but when the waves were bigger, I prudently chose to kick out just before the close out (making sure the wave behind wasn't bigger).
That one day practice of wave selection, paid back big time the day after.
That's when I came in to get rid of the hood that for windsurfing wasn't really necessary. I enjoyed it (together with the gloves) when surfing instead.
Tuesday October 5th, in fact, was the epic day of the week. The waves were logo to mast high (and 15 seconds period!) and Oly and I went out in a stretch of the bay that looked so intimidating that no other sailors were out. Let me tell you, it didn't only look tough... it really was! The good thing is that it's all sand and even if you get rejected, as long as you manage to keep the tip of the mast towards the breaking waves and hang on, sooner or later you just get back to the shore.
After a couple of serious rejections (and a serious thought of giving up), I saw that Oly made it to the outside and I got motivated to try again. This time I timed it better (or most likely I just got a bit luckier) and made it out too.
It was in the middle of a growing tide and quickly we realized that in that spot the waves were getting just too big and a bit hairy.
This is the view of the bay in the afternoon of that day.
Then he signalled to follow him and we sailed something like a mile upwind to a spot called Fermoyle. It was still big, but if you chose them carefully, the waves had a better shape and allowed quite a few down the line turns before the mandatory kick out (it would have been very hard to get out again, because the wind on the inside was extremely light).
And now I have to spend a few words about another remarkable feature of Brandon bay: the beauty of the mountains in the background.
They definitely reminded my of the Haleakala and the West Maui Mountain and at one point sun rays came out through a hole in the clouds towards the Connor pass and made the backdrop even more dramatic.
That's when (on two different waves) we both saw each other dropping in for a bottom turn on a mast high clean vertical wall of water, while surrounded by incredibly beautiful and wild natural elements. We both have clear mental pictures of those moments. If we could print them out, they would make the cover of any windsurfing magazine.
We also both have the even better memory of the feeling of BEING on those amazing waves, bottom turning into them knowing that there would be no chop to deal with and at the same time admiring a wave that seemed (and probably was) a mile long in front of us. Unreal. And the best thing of all is that it was just me and him. No one else out for at least a couple of hours, in which we both caught some very remarkable and intense rides.
This photo was taken on a different day at the east end of the bay (onshore wind), but that kind of light of the sun through a hole in the clouds was very similar to what I was trying to describe.
Actually, the photo at the very top is a much better example.
Now try to imagine yourself bottom turning on a super clean mast high mile long wave with the sideoff wind throwing spray off the lip... that's what we experienced that day.
Later on, a couple of other sailors ventured out, but the tide was now full and that made the wind on the inside a bit too light (the higher tide makes the waves break closer to the shore and the wind gets blocked by the land more), with not quite enough power in the sail.
Nonetheless, my last wave was the best. It was for sure the biggest of my session (don't ask me how big, that thing looked huge) and even though I saw another big set on the outside, I was tired enough to decide:"I don't care, this one looks too good and I had enough. I'll ride it all the way to the inside and call it a day".
Since it was bigger than the others, it started feeling the bottom way more outside than usual and I started my turns pretty early. I have no idea of what kind of distance I covered, but I sure remember the exhilarating feeling the ride gave me. Surfers and windsurfers usually refer to it as: pure stoke. And when Oly came in right after me, that's exactly was his smile was showing too.
After that magic day, we had more fun wave sailing sessions for the next two days (what a week!), in which I ended up having somehow even more fun, since I could push my not so good port tack wave riding skills a bit more.
One more time, the magic light through a hole in the clouds.
Friday the wind was from an east-southeast direction and we went to a spot outside the bay called Inch. A beautiful and long beach, facing west-southwest (so normally exposed to the dominant winds) that must often see some pretty rough waves. That day instead the wind was very offshore and the waves, once again, were beautiful and plenty overhead. Three guys out, but the wind direction (just a bit too offshore) didn't allow for too many down the line turns.
Plenty of those gliders around. They take off on the beach towed by a car and once airborn the mysteriously keep flying for as long as they want before landing back on the beach. Little detail: no engine.
Windsurfing at Inch.
Totally satisfied with the week's action so far, we decided to rest and explore the surroundings a bit. What a great decision that was. The road that takes to the Blasket islands offered some breath taking views. Big rough seas and high cliffs. Green pastures dotted with the white of hundreds of cows and sheep. An astounding view of the bay from the Connor pass. I'm really glad not to have left without viewing all this beauty, that gave me an idea of how magnificent the rest of the Irish coast must be.
I mean, look at this!
And now I'm going to add a few random thoughts (some of which pointed out by Oly).
- all the other windsurfers and surfers we met were super nice, smiling and overall stoked to be there. I didn't experience a single problem of priority on the waves, also because, let's say it, there were not enough people for that kind of stuff! That is something I'm not used to. I mean, I usually don't have any problem in Maui either, but I'm aware of the fact that both Hookipa and Kanaha are very crowded spots and that takes a bit out of the experience. You're always looking for the other sailors. Upwind, downwind, down in the water in the impact zone, everywhere.
Being able to focus exclusively on the wave it's just better.
Sharon titled this photo: Guy Cribb and the Noeprenes.
- When you're out of the water, you're in a place that is definitely not the common surfing/windsurfing spot. I mean, you drive around and all you see is cows, sheep and tractors. Inside the pubs you meet the local people (everyone extremely nice and kind) who don't wear the latest board shorts or sun glasses and don't give a shit if you wear them either. There's nothing really about surfing or windsurfing and that's somehow refreshing.
- Our house was absolutely key for the success of the experience. Not only we could check the conditions on most of the bay just by looking out of the window, but once we decided where to go, we could wear our wetsuit at home, go to the beach, rig, sail, derig, and still with the wetsuit on, drive home and hop in a hot shower. That means that the cold factor was completely eliminated by the equation. As a side effect though, I didn't take a single photo at the beach and that's why I'm relying on others' shots.
Straight into the shower with a Guinness!
- Not many bikini shots opportunity on the beach. But I didn't miss my only opportunity!
- Thank god I don't live there, otherwise I'd have a beer belly in no time! No kidding!!!
In conclusion, thanks to the great conditions and the hassle free organization (THANK YOU OLY!!!!!), as I was saying earlier, my Ireland trip was bloody awesome.
I wave sailed on the cleanest waves of my life and I'm afraid that I'm now a bit addicted to sideoff conditions.
Well, if that's true, I just will have to look harder for them, in and outside Maui...
Big thanks to Guy Cribb who sent me some beautiful shots. His website is: www.guycribb.com.
Here's a video of their Ireland trip and here's a video of his latest Jericoacoara trip.
Big thanks to Sharon who took a bunch of great photos. She made four Ireland posts on her blog.
And big thanks also to a brand new blog sponsor, who just decided to invest some money into advertising here (check the banners!).
Cafe Mambo is a very cool restaurant in Paia.
The owners have a passion for classic movies. They're sponsors of the Maui Film Festival and they have free admission movie night at the restaurant every Thursday at 9pm.