Sian Sykes 1000 KM SUP journey around Wales, UK.

16th May 2018

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On Friday the 4th May 2018 Welsh paddler Sian Sykes became the first person to complete a solo-unsupported 1000 KM circumnavigation of Wales, completed on her Starboard Touring Board.
Starting in March at the Welsh community of Connahs Quay, Wales, Sian’s route took her down the River Dee into Chester, along the Shropshire Union Canal, Llangollen Canal and onto the Montgomery Canal. After completing her circumnavigation Sian spoke to TotalSUP about her epic achievement.
Photo Credit: Eastwood Media

Hi Sian, how does it feel to complete such an epic achievement?

It was an incredible journey, loved every minute of it. I guess I would say it was a life changing experience. The trip went better than I imagined. I saw some stunning landscapes, saw plenty of bird and marine life, plus I was overwhelmed by the absolute kindest from strangers. I am so stoked that I have inspired people to make a pledge to find alternatives to single use plastics and raise awareness about plastic pollution.

What route did you take around Wales?

I started the journey in the north, at Connahs Quay on the River Dee, North Wales. I had wanted to start on Anglesey, Wales where I live however bad weather (the Beast from East) scuppered my plans so I launched inland on the estuary and made my way to Chester, England. I then went south on the Shropshire Union Canal, carried on into the Llangollen Canal and then to the Montgomery Canal. After a 4km road portage with my Starboard Touring board I entered the River Vyrnwy and onto the River Severn to Gloucester, then I jumped on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal before making my way out into the Severn Estuary, at Sharpness in England. From there I paddled around the complex and rugged coastline of Wales and I finished back at Connahs Quay on 4th May, a journey of 60 days, 37 days paddling and 23 days on land.

Photo Credit: Eastwood Media

Did you find any parts particularly difficult?

It was frustrating that the weather conditions prevented me from getting on the water, but in Spring the weather is so changeable in the UK. I took advantage of the rest days by beach cleaning, speaking to people about single use plastics, visiting the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), coastguard and National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) to gain local intel for the area. My time off also allowed me to finalise the planning for the next stages of my journey, sort out kit and charge devices such as my VHF, stretch, refuel, hydrate. I also took part in media interviews to raise the awareness about plastic pollution. So I kept busy when I wasn’t on the water.

Photo Credit: Eastwood Media

I know it sounds boring, I didn’t find it hard. Prior to the expedition I trained incredibly hard so I was fully prepared. Every day was different and I enjoyed constantly assessing the conditions of water, weather and possibly locations I could get to with options to bail if I needed to. I enjoyed the simplicity of my journey and the focus on just me and the decisions I made. I also really tuned into my gut instincts, it played a huge role.

When you are solo and unsupported it is just down to you and your ability to make the right decisions and be able to adapt to different conditions. I was never phased by it, I was invigorated, being on the water in such variety conditions I thrive from it. I had been warned about the Severn Estuary, Jack Sound, Ramsey Sound , Bardsey Sound, the 7 firing ranges, crossing Milford Haven and also the tidal races off headlands to. But I took each day at a time and prepared, ensuring I planned well to ensure success each day.

Were there any stand out days?

There are so many, each day was special such as meeting kind and encouraging people who would offer me a place to stay, baked vegan chocolate brownies, cheering me on with the welsh flag from the headlands and inspiring them to make a pledge against single use plastics. Being on the water during a stunning sunset, on a spring tidal race and seeing porpoise darting out of the water towards me. Completing the challenging sections of the trip successfully unsupported, a wonderful confidence booster that it was down to my ability and the decisions I made. Paddling an open crossing in pea soup (foggy) conditions, something quiet atmospheric paddling on a bearing and not seeing anything around you.
Photo Credit: Eastwood Media
 Monster big days such as 70km journey from Barry to Mumbles and from Both Sands to Aberdaron. I am one driven lady and pleased I could get the mileage in. Wild camping in stunning locations and watching dolphins in the bay. Bivouacking under a full moon

What was the goal for the journey?

Over the past couple of years, I have successfully completed the 1st SUP solo of the National 3 Lakes Challenge, followed by soon after 1st SUP circumnavigation of Anglesey. After that trip, I hatched the plan to aim bigger. This time with a deep and more meaningful connection, the aim of this trip was to highlight the massive epidemic we face, single use plastics. I wanted to raise awareness of this issue. I have always appreciated the stunning environment around me, however over the years I have seen an increase of single use plastics washing up on our beaches and discarded. The aim of this trip was to bridge the gap between urban areas and the coastline.
Photo Credit: Eastwood Media
What gets dropped on a canal or in a river ends up floating out to sea. Sadly a staggering 8 million pieces of plastic enters our seas every day. 80% of it is from land based sources. And I wanted to help do my bit by raising this awareness with others. To inspire and educate consumers about single use plastics, that’s where SUP Against SUP (Stand Up Paddle boarding Against Single Use Plastics) steamed from, to circumnavigate Wales, a 1000km journey along the canals, road, rivers and the sea. And Wales is a perfect country to highlight the connect between the waterways and roads into the sea. My mission was to make my expedition single use plastic free. A tricky task when you add into the mix my dietary requirements too. Luckily with a bit of research I hunted down alternatives. For example, I discovered expedition food provided in bio degradable bags, toothpaste in glass jars, suncream in a tin, shampoo and deodorant in a bar and toothbrush made from bamboo. During the journey I managed to raise close to £2000 for Surfers Against Sewage, North Wales Wildlife Trust and RNLI.

What is next on the agenda?

Got something planned for next year possibly, but looking at if it is possible and if I could do it solo and unsupported. I am restricted when I can have time off as I run a SUP business. But I have lots in the pipeline.

About the Author

Helen

SUP, OC1, V6, Surfski ... and field hockey coaching, Helen is a busy British mother of two who lives in Bretagne, France with a passion for all things Ocean. Helen runs Barrachou SUP, a SUP tour company specialized in excursions around Bretagne and Scotland.

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