Toddler kayaks to Skomer Island

May 30, 2022

Toddler kayaks on a sea kayaking adventure.

Toddler kayaks to Skomer Island to see the puffins. Tristan loves puffins, ever since he was a baby Amy and I have been telling him stories and showing him pictures and videos of us paddling over to, and around, Skomer Island. He frequently gives us his cuddly puffin (made by Amy’s Mum) to take on trips with us so that “puffin can see his friends”. With that, it has been my intention to take Tristan in a kayak and paddle to Skomer Island to show him the puffins as soon as I believed it would be safe and possible.

couple with puffing kayaking

Tristan’s Experience

Tristan is a toddler who is well versed in kayaking and kayaks regularly, he has been joining me in a kayak since he was about 6 months old, to start with it was just a couple of minutes in the bay with him sitting on my lap but more recently he’s had a high level of patience and has been able to sit in the front seat of a double sit-on-top kayak for almost 2 hours enjoying the scenery and paddling occasionally.

Skomer Island

May is, in my opinion, one of the best months to visit Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire. The weather is starting to warm, the sea birds are gracing our shores busy building their nests and the wildflowers are out in abundance. Pembrokeshire becomes an abundance of life and colour. Within Pembrokeshire one of the best places to experience this glory is Skomer Island, this small island is just 1km offshore and in late spring and early summer not only is it blanketed in Bluebells and Red Campion but it also becomes home to an estimated 40,000 Atlantic Puffins, 350,000 Manx Shearwaters and tens of thousands of other seabirds like Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and more.

Difficult Navigation

The Island is however protected by strong tide flows with a tide race of up to 7 knots in Jack Sound (the stretch of water between Skomer and the mainland) so great care and careful planning are required to get to the island safely.

The Trip Begins

The paddle from Martin’s Haven on the mainland to North Haven on Skomer is about 2.5km and only takes about half an hour in a sea kayak (about 40 minutes in a sit-on-top) so I had no worries about Tristan’s ability to sit and enjoy the journey across without becoming bored and restless. To add to this Tristan has been taking swimming lessons since he was a newborn and is very water confident and comfortable swimming wearing a buoyancy aid.

In our line of work, we always have to keep an eye on the forecast and sea conditions. With that in mind, it was easy for me to find a potential day to make the crossing when not only the wind would be gentle enough, the sea would be flat enough and the tidal flow would be suitable. Also, both Amy and I would be free so I wouldn’t be taking him on my own.

Last Saturday the wind was a favourable F2-3 south-westerly making for a gentle headwind on the way over and a gentle tailwind pushing us home. The tides weren’t perfect but were what we considered to be manageable. It would be peak northerly flow through the sound at the time of our crossing to the island meaning we would have to paddle a wider route north past the sound to avoid the wave train, boils and swirls created downstream of the sound. The return journey was again more favourable being that we would cross back at the end of the northerly flow, just before slack water in the sound.

So, armed with all the safety equipment you’d expect from two professional sea kayakers, our toddler kayaks boldly into open water in search of adventure! The headwind and bits of exciting water on the crossing to the island made for a paddle that was about at the top limit of what I would be comfortable taking Tristan out in, Amy and I both agreed in hindsight that we need to spend a bit more time doing rescues and playing in and out of the kayaks with Tristan before attempting anything about that level or higher in the future. Having said that, Tristan was loving the excitement generated by having a bit of movement in the water around us – he truly is a man of the sea!

navigating to Skomer Island

 

The First Puffin

One of the highlights of the day was the sheer excitement in Tristan’s voice when he spotted his first puffin. We’d just made it across the sound and the birds were encircling us, swimming around us on the water and swooping and flying overhead. We cruised into North Haven, landed at the only allowed landing spot on the island, got changed into appropriate walking clothes, Tristan donning his puffin t-shirt (made by my Mum) that he’d picked out specifically earlier that morning, and we made our way up to the staff that welcomes you to the Island.

On Skomer Island

We paid our contribution to the Welsh Wildlife Trust, listened to the introductory talk, and reaffirmed to Tristan the most important rule of walking on Skomer Island – stay on the tracks!!! – and headed to the farmhouse in the centre of the island for some lunch.

After refuelling, we walked through the carpet of wildflowers to the Wick, an area near the southernmost point of the island where there are not only thousands of Razorbills and Guillemots nesting on a stunning sea cliff but also where the puffin burrows are located in a way so that puffins will walk, quite literally, right by your feet. Tristan was in absolute awe and we spent a good 15-20 minutes just watching the beautiful seabirds go about their business – the longest Tristan has ever stood still for in his entire life!!! – a second highlight of the day.

Toddler looks at puffins
Puffin
skomer island

The Journey Home

It was now time to make our way back to our kayaks to make sure we were passing Jack Sound before the tide turned south. We walked the track that took us around the south-eastern coast of the island, passing plenty more puffins, seabirds and wildflowers on the way. We suited and booted and made our way back to the mainland – the day’s activity and excitement had taken its toll on Tristan who was more than happy to be a passenger on the return journey. He even almost fell asleep a couple of times on the way back, something completely unexpected as he doesn’t even, and never has, slept in his car seat – it must have been an exciting day!

Seals

As our toddler kayaks around the corner into Martin’s Haven, the final highlight came we saw an Atlantic Grey Seal hauled out on a Skomer Marine Reserve rib. We paddled past quietly, keeping our distance so as not to disturb the seal from its slumber.

Seal on a boat

 

What a day to remember

What a fantastic and exceptional day out we had. With any luck, it could be one of Tristan’s earliest memories, a thought that fills me with great joy – and even if he doesn’t remember this particular day when he’s older, this certainly won’t be the last time we take him to see the puffins…

Here’s a thought!

Something that has since crossed our minds is if Tristan may be the youngest person to ever paddle to Skomer Island???

Let us know if you know of any other younglings that have made the crossing…

Disclaimer:

As experienced sea kayak coaches, we are not challenging you to take children into potentially dangerous situations in kayaks.

Tristan is a rare example of an expertly trained toddler who kayaks – please do not try this at home or on the sea.

 

Written by

Ian Jennings

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