Raising funds with every wave
Why would somebody leave a full-time job to kayak around Ireland? ÉIBHIR MULQUEENmeets the person with the answer
CIRCUMNAVIGATING IRELAND in a small canoe-like craft might seem a dangerous and lonely occupation but for Dubliner Barry Coscoran, careful planning has made it an exhilarating and relatively safe one.
A 28-year-old who gave up his job with the Blood Transfusion Service Board, he is making the trip to raise funds for Women’s Aid and has completed about half of the 1,200-1,400 mile journey.
He left his home village of Portrane on June 11th, heading south, and is now crawling his way up the west coast in a kayak, resting up in Galway for a few days until the weather settles again.
Kayaking around Ireland has become an increasingly popular endeavour. Coscoran says four people have already done it this year but that does not make the undertaking any less hazardous. A treacherous coastline, unpredictable seas and sudden weather changes underline the need for training, careful daily planning and an exit plan when things start to go wrong.
He is also in no particular hurry, happy to pull in when conditions are not right.
“I had originally set aside three and a half months for it. I will stop off to enjoy it. It is also fantastic that I have been able to catch up with friends in different parts of the country.”
Before starting out each day, he radios the Coastguard on his portable VHF, giving his route and his estimated time of arrival.
“They are watching my progress as I am going up the coastline and they give me the odd tip as well, and if there is foul weather coming in, they let me know.
“It is reassuring that someone else knows where you are if something goes wrong.”
Navigating with sea charts, OS maps and a compass, Coscoran also carries a Sat Nav, providing him with an accurate fix of his location in emergencies.
He can cover up to 25 miles over seven hours in good conditions but sometimes progress might be as little as four miles.
Given the Irish summer, he has sometimes had to sleep in a damp sleeping bag. “Just over the last couple of days the tent has been soaking in the morning when I was packing it up and fairly wet each evening when I was putting it back up.”
After paddling sometimes for hours, the pattern has been that he scouts out a camping site, cooks his meal, settles down and repeats the cycle the next day.
He has also stayed in the homes of friends and has been surprised at the kindness of strangers.
“I have received a lot of hospitality and made a lot of new friends. People who I have met on slipways have taken me into their houses. Those things have made a big difference.”
The kayak, a Quest LV, was made and sponsored by an English company, P&H Sea Kayaks. It has three dry box hatches and “even when it is fully packed, it is designed to carry all the gear”.
“If you were to see the stack of gear beside the kayak you would not be able to imagine how it would all go in there: tent, sleeping bag and inflatable camping mattress, pillow, stove, enough food for about five or six days, water for about two days, enough changes of clothes for a week, cooking pots.”
Factor 50 sun cream has gone by the wayside after he found it was not working. By switching to a zinc oxide barrier cream, he says his nose has now stopped flaking.
Fishermen have grown accustomed to seeing him in his yellow ocean-going hood with its high-visibility stripe and his “sparkly blue” kayak.
“When you come up out of the swell they get a bit of a surprise, this small thing out in the big ocean.”
While he has been joined by friends for short periods, mostly it has been a case of the aloneness, if not the loneliness, of the long-distance kayaker.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed being by myself. I would never say it has been lonely,” he says.
He chose Women’s Aid, which helps women and children suffering abuse at home, as his designated charity because of what he learnt through a friend working in a refuge.
“It really hit me when I heard a lot of the stories. It is not just women who are involved in that situation, it is children as well. It is quite a horrible situation for people to wind up in.”
Afterwards he hopes to find work as a freelance sailing and kayaking instructor. “I strongly believe that if your heart and soul is not in a job, it is not for you.”
Donations to Women’s Aid can be made directly to the charity, womensaid.ie, or via Barry Coscoran’s website: mycharity.ie/event/