“Stop for a quick apple and orange drink. Paddle on in flat water. Stop for cake and try throwing a lifebelt onto a beach...”
“ Arrive Courtown at about 11.15 to champagne and a congratulations cake reception! A lifetime trip was over....”
Timmy Flavin’s understated diary entry on June 16th, 1991 was recorded after a 942-mile paddle around the coast of Ireland with his fellow kayaker Donal Dowd.
Enduring stinging armpits, swelling fists, cracked lips, missing Raybans, endless storms and unplanned capsizes, the pair set out from Courtown pier, Co Wexford on May 11th, 1991.
After paddling through phosphorescent waters to the Saltee islands, they spent their first night with an orphaned chick in a nestbox provided by the Irish Wildbird Conservancy – as Birdwatch Ireland was then.
The pair paddled an average of just over 31 miles a day until they reached Courtown again four weeks later. The log kept by Flavin - in his best broad Cork accent- has now been published as an illustrated book by his wife Bríd Farrell as a tribute to her late husband’s epic adventure.
Flavin records both indispensable details for the kayaker contemplating a similar circumnavigation, and memories of people that he and Dowd met along the route. As Dowd says, “the ever-changing sea provided us with both tranquillity and white-knuckle fear..”
There are the peaks and troughs of an Atlantic swell, and there is also much humour. Leaving Ballywalter for Annalong, Co Down, on the final leg down the Irish Sea, Flavin reached for his Raybans, couldn’t find them, “and nearly collapsed with shock...” Somehow he survived squinting in the bright sunlight. By the time they pair reach Howth, north Dublin, their fragile hands could grip a paddle but could barely hold a litre of milk or orange juice.
The log includes an equipment list with useful comments on what was and wasn’t required. A silk scarf was “invaluable and essential, while a helmet “ was never used, not carried from Malin onwards”.
“Loose leaves” from a diary were “posted home regularly”, Flavin wrote, and “postage-paid cards were used”, but there was no reading material packed – “no book, no space”. There is also advice on food in the “menu” section, where the nightcap was “white coffee, sugar, Ovaltine, biscuits..”
Timmy Flavin died four years ago of cancer, and the book includes moving tributes to him penned by Donal Dowd, Tony Noctor and by Michael O’Sullivan, a colleague in the ESB where Flavin worked.
“A gentle quiver of a breeze must have passed over the MagGillycuddy’s Reeks and across the Atlantic waters to the Sceiligs, Blaskets, Bull Rock and down the channel of the Blackwater on the 28th May 2015, when Timmy Flavin took his last breath on earth,” O’Sullivan writes, charting the career of a “giant of a man”, proficient at both kayaking and orienteering and a volunteer instructor at Cappanalea outdoor pursuits centre in Co Kerry.
It was at Cappanalea that his future wife, Bríd, met him. All profits from her late husband’s log are being shared between the Kerry University Hospital’s Palliative Care Unit, and the RNLI Valentia lifeboat station, in Co Kerry.
At the Water’s Edge: Two Boats – Around Ireland by Kayak by Timmy Flavin is priced €15 and copies are available directly from Bríd Farrell at email address: [email protected]