By Conor Mihell
Just as Brit Jeff Allen and Irish paddler Harry Whelan were completing a rocket-fast 25-day circumnavigation of Ireland in early May, a solo sea kayaker from Northern Ireland was getting started on her own attempt to paddle around the Emerald Isle's 1,000-mile perimeter. Elaine "Shooter" Alexander, a British Canoe Union instructor and former world-class surf kayaker, is vying to become the first woman from Northern Ireland to complete the circumnavigation—albeit not quite at the same pace as Allen and Whelan's record-setting trip. Alexander launched just north of Belfast on May 3 and expects the expedition will take two months. (See Shooter’s website here, and her Facebook page here.)
Besides the personal challenge, Alexander, an outdoor pursuits instructor, is attempting the circumnavigation in hopes of raising £10,000 for the Share Centre, an outdoors facility for disabled and non-disabled people in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.
"If I had a pound for every person who had asked me why, then I would have raised my £10,000 fundraising target easily," said Alexander in email correspondence. "The money raised will go toward a fully accessible bus. I've worked [at the Share Centre] for years and it was actually whilst working with disabled groups at the Share Centre that I got my inspiration for this trip. It's a great way to give something back."
So far, Alexander has faced the same persistent headwinds that pushed Allen and Whelan's endurance to the limit. She's currently paddling south on Ireland's relatively easy east coast but has already been windbound on several occasions. On the west coast, she'll face full exposure to the North Atlantic, long crossings and sections of inhospitable cliffs. The challenging weather and an awareness of what's to come has made her even more impressed by Allen and Whelan's accomplishment. Still, she balks at the suggestion that her trip will be more "relaxing."
"[There will be] no speed records for me but I still wouldn't call it relaxing," says Alexander. "I'll be the first woman from Northern Ireland to circumnavigate Ireland by kayak and that will certainly be achievement enough for me. Records can be broken but only one person can be the first."