Patrick Winterton


Patrick Winterton and Mick Berwick

There are those who say that all the great challenges have been done and all that is left now are obscure adventures in obscure places. Earlier this year Patrick Winterton and his friend Mick Berwick became the first people ever to sea kayak to the Faroe Islands from Scotland. This astonishing and inspirational sea voyage confirms that significant adventures are still up for grabs, even locally. The crossing fitted into a longer journey Patrick made from Wales and via south-west Ireland. Patrick and Mick used their trip to raise money for the RNLI and you can donate on their Justgiving page. I asked Patrick a few questions and here are his replies.

I gather that your journey was inspired by a route taken by Irish monks. Can you tell me how you came across their story and what it was that inspired you to attempt it in sea kayaks.
I think it is fair to say that the expedition was inspired by Dan and Karen Trotter who attempted the crossing in 1995. They failed by a mere 80km before climbing aboard their support vessel. We have debated the possibility of doing it unsupported since then. I read around the subject of links between UK/Ireland and the Faroes and came across St Brendan and hence the plan to follow his route from SW Ireland to the North.

How many days did you spend at sea on the crossing to the Faroes? Did you get much sleep?
The 360 km crossing itself from North Rona to Suduroy took just over 74 hours and we spent 3 nights at sea. Clocking up 5 hours sleep in total. the last 36 hours was non stop due to incoming northerly winds. We designed a kayak tent that could cope with force 4+ and is just like an emergency shelter. Would put this up every time we stopped and made a huge difference to temperature. Neither of us got cold at any stage. The weather was very calm for the first 4o hours, so calm that we heard an saw whales and dolphins a long time before we saw them. (Finn whales and minkhe). Despite their size these creatures have a calming effect and give a massive boost to the paddling.

How hard was the physical aspect of the crossing? Did you do any specific training? How well did you and Mick Berwick get along? How did you resolve disagreements?
Physically we were fine apart from sores around our hips and backsides. Mick and I had both clocked up 1000's of km's in preparation. We also did some big crossings/night crossings/ 24 hour max dist sessions to prepare. We benefited massively from all the mistakes we made along the way. Fatigue was a major problem but increasing winds and an urgent push to beat the weather showed what a wonder drug adrenaline is. Mick and I had fairly distinct roles on the crossing. He monitored progress, called the stops, I did the comms and made tactical/route decisions. We both shared the lead which caused a few problems as our compasses never agreed. 1-2 degrees makes a big difference over 20 mins. We paddled at pretty much the same speed and had no irritations on that front. Mick has 2 bad ears and never heard anything first time. I got over this frustration by insulting him first and when he said 'what' I'd ask the question. We get on best when times are hard and both seem to be very positive when it is looking marginal.

Can you recommend a journey in Scotland for someone new to sea kayaking? What was your first sea kayaking experience and how old were you?
I lived in Norway when young and was let lose at the age of eleven to paddle solo around the fjords. managed to pick up 6 sea kayaks from Raleigh International when I moved to Scotland in 1994 and started with a circumnavigation of Jura, an eyeopener of a trip with sound of Islay and Corryvrecken, which I still rate as one of Scotland's best. I go for the remotest parts and nothing can beat Mingulay for a long weekend or North Rona. Part of the attraction is that you can't guarantee to get there. For a first time trip it is as much about choosing the weather as the location. Avoid areas exposed to the Atlantic and those with big tide races, Island of Bute, Lismore or Summer Isles.

What type of food do you like to eat on your kayak trips? Do you have a favourite camp stove recipe?
Food is all about weight on a long trip. Spaghetti fits nicely into the bow, dried soups and dehydrated meals weigh nothing and even taste good after a long day out. If on a weekend paddle the emphasis is on catching/finding food. Scallops with wine take some beating.
What are the things you look for when choosing a campsite on kayak tours?
I generally go for solitude when choosing a site. Somewhere where I can play my whistle without being heard. A view from the tent door is also essential, I'd rather haul the boat up a steep rock than drag it miles up a beach and try and ensure there is a handy alternative for launching again in case the wind changes.

What is your favourite travel or adventure book? Which explorers and adventurers have inspired you?
The stories of Douglas Mawson's survival in Antarctica are a lesson for all and worth remembering when things get unpleasant. I envy and admire early explorers who had places to discover, in particular John Rae who discovered the north west passage.

What is the most extreme weather you've experienced? How did you cope?
Mick and I have been out in force 7/8 without too much trouble but very slow, or rapid, progress depending on direction. Tide races such as Rhinns of Islay can become unmanageable in force 5/6 as we discovered last month. It is essential that you are fitted to a boat and have secure spraydecks if you are to survive extreme conditions.

What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
Mick wants to continue to Iceland. I'm keen to combine skiing and paddling as well as exploring the Faroes. We meet this week to decide.

If you enjoyed reading this (and I know I certainly did) you might be interested in some of the other interviews I have done recently.

Richie Cunningham ~ Ultra runner extraordinaire.
Russ Haines ~ Dirtbagger.
Randy Fay ~ Hobobiker and webmaster of
Alan Kimber ~ Expert mountian guide explains snow holes.

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