Waterford sea kayaker on course for speed record around Ireland
Already a record holder for the fastest kayak crossing of the Irish Sea, Waterford man Mick O'Meara is set to take the round-Ireland speed record by completing the 1,200km journey in 23 days
Mick O'Meara (49) preparing to get back on the water in Skerries, Co Dublin on Tuesday for the final four-day stretch to Waterford. Photograph: Gary Quinn
Waterford man Mick O’Meara is four days from setting a new speed record for a solo, unassisted sea kayaking trip around Ireland. Leaving Skerries in north Co Dublin on Tuesday, he is planning to reach his home town of Tramore by Friday evening. If successful, with 23 days at sea, he will be two days ahead of the current record holders, UK-based paddlers Jeff Allen and Harry Whelan, who completed the 1,200km trip in 25 days in 2011.
The circumnavigation of Ireland is increasingly popular among elite kayakers internationally as it offers a route which demands a high level of skill but can be completed at normal speeds in around six weeks, making it a manageable time commitment. At least five pairs of kayakers set out to attempt the circumnavigation in June and reportedly two have of these pairs have either abandoned or postponed their trip due to poor weather conditions.
The weather has been against O’Meara for most of the trip he said and he reported huge variation in tidal and wind conditions on the west coast, spending days paddling into fierce head winds and lashing rain. His longest day was a 10-hour, 120km paddle and to make best use of the tides he has been on the water some mornings at 3am. As an unassisted trip he has to carry all his own provisions and camping equipment. Assisted trips normally have a van driving ahead to carry provisions and to setup camp.
“I came off the water some days in a terrible condition,” he said. “Freezing cold, in pain, exhausted. Some days I had to ask myself why I was doing it and could I even continue.” Sleeping in tents and with his kayak stuffed with kit, he has encountered minke whales, dolphins, basking sharks and even a mini-tornado – a spiral of water rising up off the sea under sheer cliffs on the west coast. “There were frightening times,” he said “but exciting ones too. Ireland has an incredible coastline. It’s a fantastic journey to complete on your own but mentally it's very tough.”
49-year-old O’Meara already holds the speed record for an Irish Sea crossing with paddler Brian Fanning, completing the Wexford to Wales journey in 9 hours and 38 minutes. He has won the International Liffey Descent seven times and is a three time winner (with Jim Morrissey) of the 125-mile non-stop Devizes to Westminister canoe race, considered the toughest in the world.
Despite the predictions of a mini-heatwave the sea forecast this week is for strong southerly winds, putting a gruelling final few days between O'Meara and his final destination.