For its rugged, mystical shoreline, its friendly people and countless coastal pubs, Ireland issues a siren’s call to expert sea kayakers. Since Franco Ferrero, Derek Hairon and John Bouteloup completed the first sea kayak circumnavigation in 1978, about 60 to 70 paddlers have made their own journeys around Ireland’s 950-mile perimeter. Eight separate expeditions attempted to circumnavigate the Emerald Isle in 2015, including Mick O’Meara, who reclaimed a speed record he first set in 1990 with a blistering 23-day expedition, and friends Jon Hynes, 42, and Sean Cahill, 50, whose experiences have morphed into something bigger.
Working with videographer Cian Walsh, Hynes and Cahill documented their journey in the film above that’s debuting today. Filmed with GoPros, smartphones and a nephew’s drone, the footage is an inspirational testament to the friends’ passion for paddling. What’s more, Hynes and Cahill have established a website to assist other paddlers in planning their own Irish journeys.
We caught up with Hynes and Walsh to learn more about the expedition, the film and the website project.
CanoeKayak.com: Where did you and Sean get the idea to paddle around Ireland?
Jon Hynes: Both of us met each other in summer 2000 whilst I was running alpine whitewater kayaking holidays [in the French Alps]. Sean came along on one of our advanced courses and we just hit it off straight away and have been friends ever since. Both of us had been kayaking on the sea and rivers for many years prior to meeting. I suppose we both harbored private ambitions to circumnavigate Ireland by sea kayak. Some of our friends had taken the challenge many years ago and their stories had a major influence on us. So we were guiding a trip at the Irish Sea Kayaking Symposium two years ago we really spoke seriously about taking on the trip. In October 2014 we finally shook hands and put our heads down to train and prepare for it.
Does paddling around Ireland have a special allure? Seems like it’s almost a rite of passage for many paddlers.
Hynes: Most definitely, particularly as proud Irish men we wanted to connect on a deeper level with the coastline and people using our kayaking skills. It has a mystical appeal. You ask yourself, can I do it? What will the ocean and weather throw at me? I reckon 60-70 people have kayaked around Ireland now and it’s not that you want to join an elite club or anything like that. I guess it’s more of a feeling that you are complete. Yes it is a rite of passage for some people. Some want to paddle as fast as they can and that’s cool, whilst others want to putter along and examine every beautiful detail of this stunning coastline. For Sean and I, we simply wanted to take this once in a lifetime opportunity to celebrate life, health and well-being, experience a raw adventure and connect with Irish people with our story.
How did you get involved, Cian?
Cian Walsh: I have a background in design and video, but had been working in technology in a different part of the country. I decided that I needed a change of pace and moved down to a small coastal village called Kinsale in County Cork. After staring at the sea for a few months, I resolved to take up sea kayaking. It was Jon Hynes who was living nearby and helped me build up my skills on the water. When he told me about the circumnavigation and documentary idea, I jumped at the opportunity to help tell this story and repay some of his generosity. I then met Sean Cahill and both of us were shocked to realize we came from the same tiny village in rural Ireland. It seemed like a good sign!
What were some challenges you faced in filming?
Walsh: Everything about this documentary was dynamic, from the location to the weather. So coordinating with Jon and Sean involved a lot of phone calls from blustery headlands and tracking their GPS location to find the best point to meet and collect memory cards. We were very much a DIY production. Jon had a fishing rod GoPro mount on the back of his Taran kayak while Sean’s nephew pulled out his drone to help film a particularly dramatic section of coastline. This being Ireland, protecting cameras from the damp and sand was vital, but most of the equipment managed to make it back in one piece.
What was the most rewarding part of the journey for you, Jon?
Hynes: Speaking personally, the trip for me was about creating that connection with the sea. I have paddled for over 30 years—the Zambezi, Nepal, Alps, Irish classics, I’ve surfed Indonesia, South Africa, Mexico, Portugal, I have raced mountain bikes at a very competitive level, but none of those adventures even come close to the feelings I experienced by sea kayaking around Ireland. It was a joyous trip, but also hard at times and it stretched me mentally, emotionally and physically like no other adventure before. So to answer the question, being out on the water at dawn busting out the miles with my best buddy beside me, miles from anywhere with just the purest sense of adventure!
How about the hardest part?
Hynes: Blisters! Lots of ‘em! Even though I had trained really hard and paddled for over 30 years, the sustained assault on the hands of paddling all day every day took its toll on my hands. In fact for the first two weeks I had 17 blisters on my left hand. My fingers had swollen so much that we had to use an electrical snips to cut my wedding ring off on Day 7. Thankfully I have a very understanding wife! But eventually they settled down and I managed to get them to heal and now it seems like a small price to have paid for the huge reward of completing the trip.
What do you hope people get out of the documentary?
Walsh: We’d love to show as many people as possible the rich environment that is available here in Ireland. Nowhere on this island is more than 60 miles from the sea so to have an ongoing relationship with the coastline is entirely possible for everyone. It was the people rather than the headlands that stay in the memory and we know our international friends would get the same warm welcome from the coastal communities if they followed in Jon and Sean’s paddle strokes.
Sounds like the Sea Kayak Around Ireland website will be sort of a legacy item. Can you speak to what you hope it offers the paddling community?
Hynes: Yes, we want our documentary and the website to be there as a resource for anyone with an interest in sea kayaking. There have been some great books written and I feel strongly that more people should come and experience the pure beauty of the Irish coastline. We have some exciting new content coming to the website in 2016. Hopefully the site will act as a valuable resource for them anyone else planning to sea kayak around Ireland.
Everything Ireland—Read more about sea kayaking the Emerald Isle at CanoeKayak.com:
Raising the Bar – read more about Jeff Allen and Harry Whelan’s 2011 record-setting circumnavigation of Ireland. Their 25-day standard was shattered by veteran Irish sea kayaker Mick O’Meara, who completed the journey in 23 days in 2015.
Into the Wind – Go behind the scenes with filmmaker Vaughan Roberts on Allen and Whelan’s 2011 circumnavigation.
Alone Around Ireland – Elaine “Shooter” Alexander attempts a 2011 Irish solo.
Top Ten Books – American sea kayaker Chris Duff’s Ireland travelogue On Celtic Tides ranks amongst our favorite paddlesport reading.