It was Christmas Eve and while most of the rest of the population were busying themselves with last minute preparations for Christmas Day I was heading towards Ballintoy for a Family Coasteering Adventure. The family on this occasion was a 50 year old Dutch woman who is volunteering at Corrymeela, her 20 something son and her son-in-law.
As I approached the harbour I could see that the sea was rough but not too rough. I can hear the conversation I had in my head as clear as day – “I’ve Coasteered here loads and have been out when it’s been worse. Yeah, it might be rough but there are always rough sea/weather routes to choose. This is going to be class! Hope they all like a bit of adventure.” I was also planning the session around the cold weather and icy-wind although it was nowhere near as cold as I thought it would have been. And with that I parked the jeep and got everyone kitted up in wetsuits, buoyancy aids, helmets and gloves.
From the car park it takes the guts of 10 minutes to walk to the start point, the local feature known as the Elephant. It is a huge lump of rock and from a distance one can clearly see the trunk, ears and eyes of an elephant – really cool! As we walked down to the beach for the standard safety brief and equipment my thought process about the session changed quite dramatically.
I could now see waves crashing over the first scramble that we use. For any of you reading this that have been out with us try and remember the V in the rocks before the first jump in to the pool – there were huge amounts of spray coming through here.
My eyes were busy studying this and the waves while I chatted to the group – evaluating and contemplating. Decision made, we can easily head up to the top and steer right – the waves and spray won’t reach us there – and I was right!
As we approached the top of the scramble we were all in awe at the powerful waves crashing in. “The washing machine” was completely washed out – there was absolutely no chance we would go anywhere near it! Again, I was studying the sea and after a while I was satisfied that we could do the first jump and then move right towards the plateau.
Everyone did the jump and we timed the scramble perfectly and moved right. As we moved across the rocks I pointed out where we were going and, as I usually do, threw my safety bag across the small inlet and on to the rocks high above the sea. I was somewhat shocked though to see a wave come roaring in and grab my bag.
So where were my thoughts at this stage? In the short space of time since we had reached the top of the first scramble I could see the sea getting angrier and more volatile. At the time of throwing my bag across I had decided that we would swim across to the plateau and escape from there to the safety of the shore (one of the many escape routes available which is why we like Ballintoy so much). As soon as my bag got swept away I decided I would retrieve it and then we would escape without going to the plateau.
I got the bag and got my three buzzing participants in the water and BOOM we were hit by a big wave and carried to the shore. From here I explained the seriousness of the sea and even though they were all buzzing they understood why I was calling an end to the session.
We had a good chat about it on the way back to the car park and agreed to heading out on Boxing Day before the lads went home. Incidentally, it has been postponed until another time as the sea was just as bad then!
Is there a moral to the story?
Of course! The group loved it and described the experience as exhilarating but they understood that their safety, and mine, was more important than the adrenaline rush. For me, I found it very interesting to get back to the harbour to find that the sea state there was the same as when we headed off – just goes to show how changeable the sea can be or how a few 100 meters can make a difference.
At no stage did the group feel that they had lost out, we arranged to reschedule and I know that they have even more confidence in our ability to look after them.