Dean Dunbar – Blind and Dangerous

Dean Dunbar, is a Stand Up Paddler that we all should know, paddling for only 4 years, he has completed some incredible distance paddles, including  52 km paddle from the UK Scilly Isles to Cornwall, UK.

In 2017 he became the 1st person to SUP from from North Uist, in Scotland, to the remote island of St Kilda a distance of 70 km. Paddling through 3m of North Atlantic swells; already impressive? This is the reason we all forget that Dean Dunbar is also registered blind.

Dean Dunbar talks to TotalSUP about his epic crossing to St Kilda, his 11 city tour and his plans for 2018.

Where did the idea of St Kilda come from?

I was given a book by my father that sparked my interest in the island, St Kilda is a remote island 70 km off the coast of North West Scotland.  After I bought my first SUP in 2014, and I began planning SUP adventures, then St Kilda came back to mind, especially after a failed attempt to sea kayak to the island in 2009.

Can you describe the crossing to St Kilda?

I did the crossing with the aide of Sea Kayak Guide Patrick Winterton. We made plans to launch at 5pm on the 3rd of July, 2017. After 30 minutes I was faced with waves of 3 to 3.5m in height.  After 2 hours of paddling we made it to Helskier Island, a small rocky outcrop in the North Atlantic, where we spent the night. After a few hours of minimal sleep wedged between rocks, we started off again.

The 2nd day we paddled to St Kilda, the swell height was a little smaller between 2 – 2.5m, for much of this I was forced to paddle on my knees.  We set into a good paddle routine after some time and that day we paddled 55 km to St Kilda.

Eventually we arrived on St Kilda. Upon my arrival I was greeted by the very accommodating national trust of Scotland who allowed us to spend the night on the island (normally restricted), before I headed back to the mainland by boat in the morning.

What kit did you use?

I have tried several different iSUP brands, but I always come back to Red Paddle Co. Their boards are extremely robust, which is handy when you are a blind paddler, their stability and performance is second to none. I recently bought the 14 ft x 25in Elite and I’m in love with it! I like to paddle all year round, which in Scotland can be challenging. Palm’s kit (who have been sponsoring me for the last 2 years) is awesome, but the down side is that I can no longer use either “the cold” or “bad weather” as an excuse for a day off.

As a registered blind paddler, did you have any problems whilst you were paddling?

I only paddle in lochs as I paddle solo, it is important for me to have a safety net, the safety net is the other side of the Loch. Because of this, I spend at least 95% of my SUP time on lochs and lakes. I’m not that used to big waves, given the sea state of the crossing I was forced to spend a lot of time paddling on my knees.

During the crossing, I had an inability to paddle in a straight line due to my lack of sight, so with the aid of a whistle Patrick could correct my path. A communication system Patrick and I had established and practised before our trip. 10 km before St Kilda I could actually see St Kilda, therefore I was able to paddle straight, giving Patrick a break.

Finally, We had been given a tracking beacon, to enable the coastguard to track us, however this stopped working during the crossing. Fortunately we arrived in St Kilda just in time to contact them, thus avoiding a full search and rescue operation.

Any other adventures in 2017? and what are your future plans?

In 2016, Two great paddlers Alastair Swinsco, Ian Mcormack and I went on to do 3 SUP firsts: the 150km Argyll Sea Kayak Trail, the 3 Lakes Challenge, and the Magnificent 7, we will meeting up in January 2018, to make some plans for the year.

Joanne Hamilton-Vale and I competed in the 11-day non stop city tour, unfortunately after several hours, I was forced to pull out as my vision deteriorated.  I would not have been able to start the race without Joanne Hamilton Vale acting as guide, I owe great thanks to her. But I will be competing in the race again this year, but on a tandem with Allistair Swinsco.

Patrick Winterton and I will be teaming up to talk about the St Kilda paddle on Tuesday 5th June at Birnam Arts, just north of Perth, Scotland. I will also be doing solo talks about our St Kilda adventure throughout the year. Keep an eye on either www.extremedreams.co.uk or http://dean-talks.com/ for dates as they are confirmed.

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