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the nomadic, cribby adventures in brandon bay, ireland. sept 2002.

It was to be 4 intrepid Nomads who were to set sail across the Irish Sea for foreign climes - Yea, to the land of wind and waves: Brandon Bay, on Dingly Dell.

Unfortunately, one member was rather too intrepid several weeks before the occasion, falling off her bike doing a radical gybe on a street corner in Bath and re-arranging the interior design of her leg in several places. So Ian & Neroli were out of the running, not to mention being slightly dischuffed. This left Al Donald & yours truly to hold the flag high as we ventured overseas. Al & I agreed to share the car & accommodation (in a totally platonic sense, I hasten to add!), taking my trailer to keep the inevitable wet, salty drippy stuff (ourselves excluded) out of the car. Although this cost us more on the ferry, it allowed us to take all the kit we needed.

We'd decided to go for a week's wave sailing class with Guy Cribb - his so-called INTuition Megastar, "intro to wave sailing" class. As others were so keen to go; as it was Brandon Bay (where I'd never been before & had threatened to visit many times); as it was wave sailing; as it is a reliably windy & wavy location - I'd booked before really discovering that it was in "intro" level class. Now I've been sailing in waves for the last 18 years - admittedly very badly, and without making much progress over the last 5 or 6 years - so was slightly nonplussed when I discovered it was an entry-level class. Ah well - on the positive side, it ought to be good for ironing out all the mistakes that have been hard-coded in the depths of the synapses for all those years, and going back to basics.

Despite my earlier assertion that Brandon has a commendable reputation for wind and waves, the forecast running up to our departure was entirely consistent with the previous month's weather - totally dominated by high pressure & looking very dodgy indeed for the first several days. "Never mind...", we happily reassured each other, "...the high's been around for so long now, it must break down over the next couple of days.". Despite this burst of positivism, I decided to play safe & take the AHD Free Diamond 77 and my two biggest sails - 7.5m2 & 9.4m2, respectively. Not exactly wave-orientated stuff, but just in case...!

Leaving at the crack of 6pm, on Friday, 20th Sept, we departed Thornbury - Swansea-bound. Despite the attempts of the M4 rush-hour traffic around Newport & Cardiff to thwart our journey, we arrived just in time to board the Swansea - Cork ferry. We checked-in & were escorted to our cabin. "Excuse me", I said, "we're not travelling business class", thinking he'd expect to be tipped handsomely for the guided tour. This elicited no response other than a slightly puzzled expression. We were to find out why later.

Nosh time, and a visit to the ship's cafeteria and our first mishap: Al was handed a plate of pasta & sauce on a plate so hot, he could do nothing else but release his grip. Gravity - being what it is - decided to intervene at this stage. When the plate hit the tray, the pasta sauce decided it was having nothing to do with this gravity stuff and proceeded to escape from the plate and redecorate much of the surrounding area, our clothes included. Al's protestations were met with a slightly puzzled expression. We were to find out why later.

After food - beer. This to be taken in the "Acropolis Lounge". At this point, we began to notice that all the signs on the ship appeared to be in Greek. Ahh - the crew are all Greek. Maybe that explains the odd expressions. Maybe it also explained the enormous activity behind the bar which seemed to result in no-one actually getting served. The queue got longer, the behind-bar activity wound itself up into a frenzy, and every so often, a drought-stricken customer would wander off with glass of ice-cold, black, fizzy stuff called Guinness. How bizarre - an Irish ship, sailing the Irish Sea, with a Greek crew? Actually, it was slightly more bizarre still, the crew turned out to be Polish. Work that lot out, if you can.

The cabin was not the height of luxury, situated right above the car deck, the efforts of one thoughtful car-owner right below the cabin to keep us awake with his alarm going off every 30 seconds were entirely successful. That and the heavy duty pump/compressor/winch or whatever which someone had cunningly concealed on the other side of the partitioning from my head. Fortunately, the absence of wind had a calming effect on the sea - not a ripple in sight.

Arriving in Cork at 07:30 on the Saturday morning, we were about the first to disembark & were promptly sprayed with disinfectant by the Irish authorities. Not sure whether it was because we'd come from the UK or whether it was because it was a Greek ship in the Irish Sea with a Polish crew!

Just over 2 hours later, we tacked skilfully into Jamie Knox's lodge & nearly ran over Peter Hart giving lessons in car packing (next Harty article in Windsurf). I was quite surprised he remembered me as it must be 5 or 6 years since I last met him. Perhaps I'd nearly run him down then, too.

The previous week, Harty had been running a class and had had precisely no wind all week. It was still looking very dodgy, though the optimists were saying that Tuesday was looking good. As the previous week's occupants of Fort Knox departed, our host - Jamie himself - requested our assistance to move a climbing frame in his back garden. Climbing frame!!? This thing was made from solid 4" square timber, was over 8 feet tall, and nothing short of McPherson's heavy lifting equipment was going to budge it. Jamie was having none of it. With considerable danger to all involved, seven of us managed to lift it & stagger the 20 feet to it's new location. What was so good about it's new location compared to the old completely failed to become evident.

Guy Cribb arrived! It's a strange feeling having a demi-god appear in the same piece of space-time, though to have two (including Harty) is even stranger. There, before ones eyes, in flesh & blood & bloodshot, is the person one has seen pulling off all those moves in the mags. All the travel reports, all the technique articles, all the pics of & by his other half (Shawna). Time to get down to business - lunch at the Green Room pub & introductions to all the other lucky participants:

Besides Al & myself, there was Caroline (who knew Ian & Neroli & Al from Moon Beach where she worked until recently); Stephen Frankel (a one-time Bristol Nomad - though not currently - who I've known for some years) and his trusty hound, Danny; Steve's comrade in arms - Tim, from Exmouth; Chris Scott from Exmouth (who knows Ian & Neroli from Moon Beach or Dahab); Mike George from Stevenage (who normally sails at Brogborough lake in Bedfordshire - where I used to sail); and Thomas & Andrea from der Schweitz (who didn't know anyone else despite having been in Brandon Bay in their camper van since August). Isn't it amazing that almost everyone had some kind of connection with someone else? Worse still for Thomas & Andrea; they'd only managed to sail a couple of times since their arrival. The winds have been that bad, even in Brandon. Oh dear!

No slacking, we weren't there to enjoy ourselves. Travelling the few hundred metres to Scraganne (pronounced Scragorne) Bay, we were forced to dig our kit out - 6.0m2'ish sails - on the grassy area at the top of the beach & start some serious learning. With just the rig initially, we were shown the movements involved with short board tacks - foot placement, looking where you're going, etc. Amazing - I've been tacking long boards for years (though I've seldom managed to tack a short board) and never knew the 2 or 3 simple key points to tacking. When you've practised this 20 or 30 times on the beach (this is the muscle memory bit), it starts to feel correct. Next step - dig out a board, on the beach, plug the rig into it & repeat. Following this, a new move - sail 360. Again, following Cribby's precise foot placement & head movement directions, we were all soon flippin' & twirling' those rigs like experts (except Steve - he decided the wind was too light & headed back to his house to read).

Next step was to do the same on the water. It was a howling NE force 2 that saw the small group of new experts enter the water to hone their newly found skills. Not so easy there, though. Not even when on my AHD Diamond 77. The others were mainly on BiC Melody's or HiFly Magnum's (those who could carry or drag them to the water's edge, that is!) from Jamie Knox's school.

The fun had to stop, and arrangements were made to meet up in Spillane's (pronounced Spillans) for nourishment. Most of this seemed to be black, cold & liquid. The steak was good, though.

Spillane's pub

Never let it be said that I keep my views on beer to myself. Everyone bangs on about how much better than the UK version, the Irish Guinness is; brewed in Dublin rather than London's Park Royal brewery. It's simply not true, they are both equally thin, cold, frothy & tasteless nitrokeg fizz. The same has to be said for Murphy's, Kilkenny, Smithwick's, Beamish, et al. After the first 1 ¼ pints, the "romance" wears off & reality kicks-in. Except that reality is so elusive in terms of flavour. I never thought I'd catch myself saying this, but... these so-called beers are no better than the likes of Heineken, Carlsberg, Harp. In fact, I'd even say the Heineken was preferable (but don't quote me - especially not out of context!). The next piece of bad news is that every pub has more or less exactly the same (poor) choice of beers as every other pub.

However, the beers are the only bad thing about any of the pubs we visited. Most of them are really warm & friendly places, designed for conversation (& serious drinking!). Not once did I feel that I was about to have a six-inch blade inserted between my ribs - most unlike the Thornbury pubs.

I'd also have to say that Cribby's dedication goes over & beyond the call of duty. He was with us every night, taking us to different places, booking special meals etc, despite having spent all day long with us.

After a good night's sleep at Fort Knox; breakfast! Knox breakfast cannot be faulted. As much as you like & then full Irish breakfast on top.

Then it was back down to Scraganne Bay for more serious learning, only now the wind was even lighter than yesterday's. Cribby cruelly forced us to rig up our favourite wave sails (North 4.7m2 Zeta, in my case) & wave boards & stand by for inspection. He checked downhaul and outhaul lines, recommending that most people replace theirs (too worn for risking in the waves). We then went over sail tuning, & how to make adjustments for different conditions, before turning his attention to our boards. Setting our footstraps wider than they've ever been on one side & just tight enough on the other side is the way to do it for wave riding.

After practising duck gybes followed by rig 360's on the beach, we all took the Knox school plastic logs & sailed out first to Doonagaun, then Illauntannig - two of the Maharee islands. On the latter of these, young Tom Knox (age 10, going on 25 - son of his father) gave us a guided tour of the medieval settlement, creating instant history for our benefit. Whilst there, Cribby took the opportunity to force us into doing one-handed rig 360's so we could practice them on the wobble back- yeah, right!

Evening at Spillane's (still pronounced Spillans), with an excellent grilled salmon & too much Guinness (well, I had to drink something, didn't I?). Funny how Steve is truant during the day but manages to turn up at the pub in the evenings!

The next day; another beautiful morning. But the wind is so dismal we don't even bother thinking about sailing. Cribby suggests a relaxing stroll up Brandon Mountain - the 2'nd highest mountain in Ireland (trivia time; Ireland's three tallest mountains are all on the Dingle Peninsula).

I don't know, maybe it was the previous night's Guinness, but I was definitely not keeping up with the others who seemed to be sprinting up the mountain, led by Caroline. This was not to be the last time I'd be impressed by her fitness & strength. She, Cribby, Mike, Chris & Tim (Where's Steve?) had to keep pausing to let me catch up.

There are some fantastic views from up there - right over Brandon Bay (that's why I was behind - kept admiring the view).
At the head of the valley, and before the final ascent, Al & I decided enough was enough - that next bit was a 45 degree scramble. Whilst the others forged ahead, we had a bite to eat & chatted to the occasional pensioner sprinting their way up the last bit.

Guess where we ate that night! Oddly enough, whilst waiting to get served, the chap sitting by the bar at my side leant over called me by name. It turned out to be a friend from way back - we'd learnt to windsurf together back in 1982 at Grafham & have expeditions out to the North Norfolk coast to find waves (this when I lived in Bedfordshire - pioneering days). He's now retired and lives about 150m from Spillane's pub. His invitation to stay is very likely to be taken up in the not-too-distant future.

Tuesday already, but there seems to be wind at breakfast - more than can be attributed to the sausages & beans. It seemed to be registering F4 on the various anemometers that got thrust aloft in disbelief.
We raced over to Scraganne Bay where - guess what? The wind died. By now, most of us had noticed this phenomenon of wind first thing in the morning - usually Easterly - which gradually died by the time we got to the beach at around 10:30.

Today, Cribby decided that we were going to do some more dry land simulation, followed by getting wet on big boards, then our intermediate boards (most people had brought something between 100 & 120 litres with them), and finally on our wave boards. The sight of nine people, submerged up their waists (or beyond, in my case) with their wave boards' skegs firmly stuck in the sea bed, in practically zero wind has caused questions to be raised in the Irish parliament. At least my new wave board has now got wet. Pity about all the indentations in it from the bottom of the Atlantic. Cribby had also decided that he was going to video us today, so as to highlight the errors of our ways.

In the afternoon, Chris & I decided to go for a bike ride up to Glanteenassig forest, South of Castlegregory. Cycling along a very narrow lane, a local who was standing in a ditch (not sure what he was doing there) offered some sagely advice as we passed: "You watch out for them there motor vehicles, now". I guess it must have been like this around the turn of the last century!

No prizes for guessing where we ate on Tuesday night. The grilled hake was fantastic, mind. All the mob took off to the other room to watch Cribby's performance on TV's Fear Factor. This episode had Cribby & Timo Mullen being dragged along sand behind a 4x4 & placing scorpions on their faces. The things some people will do for money. Shawna put in a brief appearance before also going to watch TV.

Wednesday morning dawned bright & breathless just for a change. After breakfast, I suggested I'd rather like to go sail with Fungie the dolphin over in Dingle Harbour. Everyone else seemed quite enthusiastic about this, so that was the plan. Except that Caroline, Al & Chris suggested they'd like to cycle it. Now whilst Dingle isn't very far away, the only way there is via Connor Pass - a narrow road that rises to about 400m. I decided to compromise on the cycling: I took my bike in the back of Cribby's van & got dropped-off at the top to roll down to Dingle.

The plan was, we could each take one board, one mast, one sail. These were to be stacked in Cribby's, Tim's & Steve's vans respectively - along with the people. Caroline, Chris & Al departed as we were loading kit, to get a good head start.

About 10 mins after we left Fort Knox, we came across Al & Chris, but no sign of Caroline. They thought she'd turned off somewhere. After shouting directions to them for when they got to Dingle, we shot off ahead. About 2 miles further on, there was Caroline - already started the Connor Pass ascent!

We proceeded up the pass, stopping near the top to check out a Lough up there & then stopped in the car park at the highest point to take in the view. About 10 minutes later, Caroline rolled up, looking fresh as a daisy. Not even out of breath. How on earth does she do it? We hung around for another 20 minutes or so & could see Chris & Al coming up the road through the telescope. Caroline & I then set off on our bikes for the descent. Don't know what all the fuss was about - it was dead easy!

Once in the harbour, following lunch at Adam's bar, we caught glimpses of Fungie's dorsal fin around the tourist boats that were plying their way - dolphin-spotting tours. Rigging up the 6.2m2 I'd taken with me on the trusty Diamond 77, I set off for the opposite shore in the scary NW force 3 breeze. I was almost planing at one point. It was then that I saw this large missile shoot underneath my board at an insane speed. A couple of seconds later, I heard & more or less felt him take off just behind me - right out of the corner of my eye. I nearly wet myself thinking he was going to land on me. But he didn't - I heard a slight splash as he landed & then nothing for another 20m or so when he repeated the exercise. It was fantastic that he stuck a sort of cetacian 2 fingers up at the tour boats & came & played with us. He played for around 15 mins & then seemed to get bored & disappeared. Amazing that - after 30 years of putting-in multiple daily appearances, he's still as playful and inquisitive as ever.

After packing-up, we were off to explore the Dingle pubs, led by our trusty guide - Cribby. First pub was Dick Mack's - a former shoe & boot shop, still with all its wares on display, untouched since the 1960's.

The next pub was Foxy Brown's. This doubled-up as a hardware & bike shop. Bar on one side of the room, hardware on the other. The street windows had ads for Raleigh & Guinness.

Then rush back to Fort Knox, quick shower, then out to Annie's pub in Castlegregory where Cribby has organised curry followed by Banoffie Pie. The entertainment was a four-piece band down from Waterford. A totally eclectic mix of personalities & styles of music. Fantastic.

Annie's pub

Thursday. Absence of wind noted in passing at breakfast. Cribby provided some theory about bottom-turns & cutbacks. After lunch, I rigged up my 9.4m2 on the Diamond 77 & struggled down to the receding waterline, with the rather forlorn hope of getting planing. Alas, it was not to be. Returned to the beach where Cribby was showing all how to do duck tacks & boomerangs. After doing the muscle-memory bit for a while, I took to the ever-stilling water with the trusty 6.2m2 Tush Vulcan (which Cribby took delight in rubbishing!). Those duck tacks are a lot easier on dry land than on the water. Even when on an old, floaty log.

Just for a change, we ate at Spillane's where Guy had placed a special order of Irish Stew for us a couple of days ago.

Friday - no wind! Time to try some wakeboarding. Jamie Knox's power RIB was ordered out for the occasion & Sandy Bay was to be the place. After driving down there, messing around for ½ hr or so, it was apparent that the RIB was elsewhere. Quick phone calls followed, during which it was established that they couldn't get the RIB going. Oddly enough, just 2 days previously, we'd seen Jamie ordering his workers to clean down the RIB. There they were, blasting away at it with high pressure sprays. Probably never occurred to them to check the engine!

Aborting the wakeboarding plan, we took surfboards down to Gowlane in the afternoon where there was a huge, 2 foot, glassy-faced wave to be found. Before we were allowed to surf, Guy went through some shorebreak, damage-limitation techniques - fortunately with his kit, so we didn't need to rig up again! Afterwards, Cribby was to be seen ripping the waves on his 6 foot surfboard, really going down the line. One or two others in the group managed to catch a few waves & get up on the board. As for me with my 9 foot Malibu - The waves scarcely noticed my presence, leaving a slight, Farrimond-shaped indent in the crest as they flowed majestically on under me. I managed to catch one wave only, and I was on the way back in by that time anyway. After a few metres, the nose buried & I consequently managed the only aerial manoeuvre seen that week!

Later, Chris, Al & I went for a bike ride whilst the others went fishing - the plan being to meet up at Dumps for a beach BBQ. I have to say that Chris, Al & Myself were a little sceptical about their being able to provide sufficient fish for the group. In the end, they turned up with a huge bag of charcoal briquettes, bottle of lighter fuel, loaves of bread, tins of beer, bottles of wine & rum, and enough mackerel to feed a small army. Mike reckoned the fish were jumping into the boat of their own accord, following the sign saying "BBQ this way".

Lighting the BBQ! What is it about barbies that makes grown men take such a fervent, niche attitude to cookery? A committee of around 10 people all providing contrary advice about how best to get it going resulted in the whole bottle of lighter fuel being employed to no avail! Young Tom Knox tried to get it going by using the flame-retardant treated charcoal bag; loads of dry marram grass was sacrificed, the beach was scoured for driftwood, the beer was all drunk & eventually the embers began to glow.

Steve & Tim produced guitar & fiddle, respectively, and thus equipped, began to play a whole host of Bob Dylan songs for the rest of the evening. With young Tom & Caroline in charge of cooking, everyone got their share of mackerel of bread. The atmosphere was absolutely fantastic - there's so little light pollution, you could make out the Milky Way (no, not the chocolate variety) & more stars than you ever imagined, the music, the wine, the rum. Unforgettable. Made even more unforgettable by Cribby adding some 20 peat briquettes to the embers to give a roaring fire which kept us warm through the evening.

BBQ at Dumps

Tim & Steve

Saturday - the last day. Woke up to the unmistakable aroma of fish & burnt peat. Just what one needs to cure a hangover!

Today, we were to do some wind chasing: Down to the "beach with no name" near the Anchor caravan park: No wind, cross-offshore.

Leaving excess cars, vans, trailer, etc, we piled into 3 vehicles & headed up to Glanteenassig forest to walk round Lough Caum. I managed to avoid irreparable damage to the car, despite grounding the sump guard rather solidly a couple of times.

Back to the "beach with no name" - still force nothing, cross-off. Drove up to Scraganne, pausing for sandwiches at The Green Room. Guess what? Force 3, cross-off (with a forecast of slightly increasing wind). Like a fool, I rigged the 7.4m2 (why not my big sail??) on the Cross 110 (no - that's what it's called, not how it feels) and completely failed to get going.

And that was that. Al & I packed up the car and - accompanied by the overpowering aroma of fish & peat, despite the polluted clothes being at the bottom of our bags - we headed back to Cork & the ferry home - still with its Polish crew.

Despite the more or less total lack of wind, we still had a fantastic time. Guy's enthusiasm and commitment cannot be faulted. Where other "hosts" may have taken a view along the lines of "no wind today, go amuse yourselves", Cribby was always around, from 10:00 to very late most days, suggesting things to do, taking us places. And if you didn't want to go with the majority, he'd give help & directions with whatever it was you wanted to do as an alternative.

Now, I wonder if there's an opportunity to set up a real ale brewery over there...

Martin Farrimond

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