The coastline reveals itself to a sea kayaker in a special way. Moving just above the water level under hand power, it's still possible to be an explorer in an age where the whole world is charted. Whether rounding an imposing and remote headland or gliding silently down an urban river, the kayaker is constantly seeing new things or seeing the familiar in a new way. To travel by kayak for an afternoon or a month is an experience of simplicity and independence not easily found in modern life.
I grew up on small boats: dad’s skiff, mom’s daysailor, kayaking lessons after school. My dad used to joke that we have one rule in our family. “Don’t drown.” Obeying that one rule has always meant studying conditions carefully, heeding the forecast, and reading the water. As I’ve developed those skills over the years, my comfort zone has expanded, and so has my ambition as a paddler.
Taking a lap round Ireland
Later this week, I will set out to attempt my most challenging project so far: an unsupported circumnavigation of Ireland by sea kayak. It’s 1500 km through rough and committing waters, with views of some of the most dramatic coastal landscapes on the planet. Fewer than 150 paddlers have completed this trip. Success largely depends on the weather. If this fantastic summer weather continues, with lots of high pressure, I hope it will take about 6 weeks to get back to finish where I started, near my home in West Cork.
I will be unsupported, carrying up to a week of supplies at a time between food drops. Friends will be joining me on some legs of the trip, but I will paddle much of the coast solo.
A little over a year ago, I picked a rough start date for the trip and began training. Up until that point, I had approached paddling as a casual “weekend warrior” with no real training plan, drills, or performance benchmarks.
It was time to get focused.
I got to work building an aerobic base and training the kind of functional strength needed to endure long hours on the water day after day.
It wasn’t long before I came up against the limits of the self-taught approach. So, I sought out coaching and peer paddling opportunities through my network of sea kayaking friends and local outdoor centers. I studied navigation, meteorology, and seamanship. My pre-work and weekend paddles became more focused and goal-oriented as I worked to expand my comfort zone in open water and hone my technical skills.
But the most valuable lesson from all this training has nothing to do with tides or bearings or stroke technique… I went into this project thinking I had to become an expert, a nautical know-it-all. I learned quickly: that attitude is no good out on the water.
The real challenge was to become a student. I had to become a student of the coastline, a student of the forward stroke, a student of tides and moving water.
Approaching this trip the right way means coming at it from an attitude of humility and a willingness to learn–what a zen master would call “beginner’s mind.” I didn’t have any of that at first, but the North Atlantic has a way of letting you know when you’ve got a lot to learn.
I’ll be paddling to raise money for Parkinson’s disease research through the Michael J. Fox foundation. My mom was diagnosed five years ago, and it’s her unsinkable attitude that inspires me to do everything I can to help the people who are working towards a cure. She’s the most RESILIENT person I know.
There’s no chance this trip would be a success without support and instruction from the Irish sea kayaking community. I’ve been lucky to work with and talk to some amazing paddling mentors, including Ireland circumnavigators and k1 champions. They were generous with their time, answering my endless questions and offering tough truths, not hesitating to call out where they saw gaps in my preparation.
When I take my first stroke on Friday, it will be with a heart full of gratitude: for everyone who helped me get there and showed me the way.
Charlie Daly is an Irish/American sea kayaker, writer, and photographer based in West Cork, Ireland. In the summer of 2023, he will attempt to kayak around Ireland to raise money for Parkinson's disease research fuelled by Resilient Nutrition. To find out more about how Charlie has been preparing check out this short video on YouTube and follow the adventure at The Lap.