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Friday, May 2, 2014

Easter Weekend on the Munster Blackwater

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This Easter Bank Holiday Weekend, I finally got to do a trip I’d been meaning to do for some time – the Munster Blackwater.

The Munster Blackwater rises on the Cork/Kerry boarder and flows nearly 170km to the Celtic Sea in Youghal, Co. Waterford.

It’s a big volume river but without a lot of gradient which makes it ideal as a canoe/touring kayak tripping river.

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We put on late afternoon on the Saturday just outside the little village of Ballyhooly, just upstream of Fermoy.  This was far from ideal as the road is elevated on both sides of the bridge which meant we first had to lower the boats over a high wall followed by all the gear.  If you are looking for a leisurely 2-3 trip, I would recommend starting further up (the next bridge upstream is in the townland of Monanimy and access looks a lot easier).  This is a lovely section of river with gentle rapids as the river flows around small islands.  If you were looking for a longer trip, you could start in Mallow or even near Millstreet which could give you a five day trip, especially if you were to go all the way to Youghal.

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Even though we started much later on the Saturday than we had intended, we made good time to Fermoy passing Michael Flatley’s modest mansion on the way.  If there is one thing the Blackwater has in abundance apart from great fishing and beautiful scenery it is a vast collection of stately homes and castles.

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For our first nights camp, we enquired at the local campsite in Fermoy, but they were closed to campers (don’t ask!).  After a bit of searching, we found an ideal, sheltered spot on river right, just before the town on the edge of a walking path.  There was plenty of space for our small group of 13(!) to spread out and Liam sparked up a roaring fire to keep us warm.  Personally I preferred this over a designated campsite as it felt more “wild” and in keeping with the trip we were doing.

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The following morning we had breakfast and decamped and ran the first of two weirs on the trip.  The first weir is just upstream of the main bridge in Fermoy, which is a long diagonal with knarly fish boxes in the middle (see photos).  We ran it half way along the diagonal, river left of the boxes which was the best line at this level (but still not the cleanest).  If in doubt about damaging boats and gear, then a portage would be advisable.

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A couple of miles of gentle paddling followed before we came to the second weir on the trip and pulled in for lunch.

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This is another big weir, with many lines and shoots and quite a bit of decay leaving some vertical metal spikes exposed at the base of the weir. 

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Spikes were most exposed running from river left side.

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Lowering the boats down the river left side.

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JP, being in the one in the most delicate kayak on the trip, was the only one to run the weir!

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Some nice stretches followed with small rapids around corners and islands before our next camp in Ballyduff.

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Cruising along in the fine weather.

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More castles…

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We pulled in under the bridge in Ballyduff just as the wind was picking up and the skies were darkening.  My plans for a massive bar-b-que would have to wait for another day (again).  Luckily there was a nice flat field just below the bridge on river right which the local land owner had no problem with us camping in and was only inhabited by some timid sheep.  With the weather continuing to worsen, some of us made a quick dinner inside the tents and hibernated while others found the local pub for some freshly caught dinner.

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The next morning we awoke to a stiff head wind and resigned ourselves to the fact that it would be a potentially long tricky paddle to our finish just past Lismore.

Thankfully it wasn’t as bad as it could have been but the river being so wide left little chance of shelter especially on the long straights.

It was head down and constant paddling all the way until we reached the broken weir above Lismore.

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The view of the castle coming into Lismore was worth all the hardship as it towered over us perched on the hillside.

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Coming under the bridge in Lismore.

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The view back upstream.

We continued the short distance on to a small picnic area about halfway between Lismore and Cappoquin.  We had originally intended to end the trip at least in Cappoquin (from where it is tidal all the way to Youghal), but with the weather conditions the way they were we played it safe and pulled in sooner.  We had a massive lunch at the picnic site where we tried to use up all our left over food and I finally got the chance to light the BBQWinking smile

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Club Champs–Freestyle & Boatercross Training Weekend

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The weekend of March 15th and 16th saw the running of the Freestyle and Boatercross Training Weekend for the upcoming Club Championships event on April 12th and 13th.

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On Saturday 15th we had glorious sunshine and a great turnout for the freestyle training day.  Over 80 participants showed up to demo the I-CANOE freestyle boats and try freestyle kayaking for the first time.  Water levels were high, but perfect for learning everything from the basics to the more advanced moves.

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There were over 10 experienced freestyle paddlers to supervise the participants – some of whom had not only not ever paddled freestyle before, it was actually their first time ever in a kayak!

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In the afternoon we split everyone into their relevant clubs and ran off a practise competition.  Paddlers were scored on basic fun moves (waving at judges, blowing kisses and air-guitars) to proper freestyle moves (flat-spins, shuvits, enders, etc…).  It was a close competition with some aggressive paddling and in the end the top 3 freestyling clubs were: 3rd Lacken, 2nd Kilkenny and 1st Sligo.

On Sunday we ran the boatercross training day which mostly consisted of a number of practise runs followed by a practise competition.  The course consisted of 5 buoys laid out above, across and below the weir we had used the day before for the freestyle comp.

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Racing was tight and very enjoyable both for participants and spectators.  The course was technical enough to make it challenging for all competitors and ensured the most proficient, rather than the fastest paddler, had the greatest chance of winning.

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Racing was unpredictable (as it should be) with often the last person over the weir being the eventual winner in the end.  In most classes we ran preliminary heats, followed by semi-finals and then finals which meant by the end the eventual winners were very tired!

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The overall winning clubs of the weekend (combined freestyle and boatercross) were: 3rd Kilcullen, 2nd Rockhoppers, 1st Sligo.

Well done to all the participants and volunteer instructors on making it great weekend.

See you on Sunday April 13th for the main event!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Seannafarracháin


The Seannafarracháin is one of Ireland's best steep creeks if not the best. Located on the Galway Mayo border just east of Leenane and sitting next to the Srahnalong Valley it lies in an area with some of the best creaking in Ireland. Dropping an impressive two hundred meters in just 1.5 kilometers the Seannafarracháin is filled with endless slides and drops.

Like many of the rivers in the area levels rise and fall extremely fast , once the rain stops you can visibly see the level drop within minutes. The Seanafarracháin and other rivers in the area do not need particularly heavy rain to come up but merely consistent rain to give you enough time to finish the run. A southerly wind helps as it pushes the rain up the valley and coupled with consistent rain is a sure sign of a good day out here.

The video shows just over half the rapids on this incredibly run. This is one run that is worth the trip regardless where you are in the country.










One of the First rapids at the top of the valley
 The Seannafarracháin(left) & Srahnalong(right) valleys side by side
Bren Orton on another rapid towards the end of the river

Monday, March 10, 2014

Galway Fest

A week on since Galway Fest the waters of the Boluisce and Clare rivers have quietened once more after the massive influx of paddlers from Ireland , England , Italy & Spain. Water levels have been so good since the turn of the year and it was no different for Galway Fest 2014. Prime levels for racing on the Boluisce were met with perfect levels for going big in Tuam to set up the weekend for some tight competition. This year saw some international attendances with Bren Orton from England making his first trip to Ireland to take on Galway Fest.

Saturday morning saw a huge gathering of paddlers at the bottom of the Boluisce to kick off the third event in the Jackson Kayak Irish Whitewater Race League. After the race briefing the mass shuttle commenced to the caravan park and on to the bridge launch start. Over one hundred races took to the water again this year with the best water levels to date.

Early drama was had with Bren Orton completing the course without a paddle after an unfortunate incident with a tree just before the finish. Some tired hand rolls followed leading to the first swim of the day along with one of the fastest times!

As the day rolled on more and more fast times came in with Luca Dapra from Italy placing second in his first appearance at Galway Fest. I managed to put together the fastest run of the day in my Jackson Karma having clean lines through most of the course. The karma is proving to be the boat of choice for all round creaking & racing!

Saturday night followed a good days racing with what has become an event in itself. A quiet start in the Victoria Hotel finished with Galway Fest's own private bar in Karma. Saturday night at Galway Fest is one night on the kayaking calender not to be missed.


A slow start on Sunday morning brought everyone east of Galway city to the Clare river and Tuam hole. After some heavy rain early in the day the clouds cleared and the sun make an appearance for what was the perfect day at Tuam. All eyes were on Bren Orton for the freestyle having taking 8th place at the World Championships last year and he did not disappoint with some slick combo's and big air. Another Englishman in George Hayward Hill was no less impressive going huge on his mcnasty's and other tricks to take second place in the freestyle.
There was some great competition in the women's class with a welcomed surge in numbers for both freestyle and whitewater. Niamh Cleary took top honors on both days to secure the Galway Fest title once again. In the men's class things got very tight with a tie break coming into play for the overall winner. Bren and I tied on points after both event with the tiebreaker of fastest time in the whitewater coming into play to separate first and second giving me the win by the smallest of margins.

A big thank you to all our sponsors of Galway Fest for getting behind the event again this year. I-Canoe, Great Out Doors, Palm, Dagger, Wavesport, Adventure Technology & Kokatat provided some brilliant prizes for all involved. Hopefully we can bring back Galway Fest bigger and better then every next year!

Here are all the results for Galway Fest 2014 with the updated Jackson Kayak Irish Whitewater Race League Results here.