Back in May 2016 Sian Sykes became the first person to complete the Three Lakes Challenge on a stand up paddle board. Having met Sian on some sea kayaking courses Roger Chandler, of Coastal Spirit, was inspired to follow in her wake and do the same.
Roger had only been paddle boarding for around six months and knew that he would have to do some serious preparation for the challenge. Here he tells us how he planned for and completed this fantastic achievement:
I run a sea kayaking company on Anglesey and love being on the water. However, I felt that I wanted to get out of the kayak at times and try something different on the water. Having been inspired by family friend, Jack Hewlett and Sian Sykes, who I had met on various sea kayak courses, I decided to give stand up paddle boarding a go.
On holiday with Jack and his family I managed to stay upright on the board for 50 minutes. It felt so good that I decided to buy my own paddle board and started to do some training on the Menai Straits and off Anglesey.
I had a block of days off coming up in late September/early October, which I had been carefully protecting for a sea kayak trip in Orkney or Skye, but the weather was so unsettled that I began to rethink my plan. That’s when I thought about taking on the Three Lakes on my paddleboard - could I really do it?
I only told a couple of people of my intentions as I felt quite vulnerable about whether I could achieve this. As it got closer to the Friday the weather was looking settled for all three lakes, so I started to prepare my kit.
I only live about an hour from Llyn Tegid and was keen to get there at first light but the forecast had other ideas; force 3-4 winds were due to blow down the lake first thing. I decided to listen to an old saying which a friend of mine often uses; ‘rub your nose in it and then decide’, basically, if you don’t get out there and look you can’t make a truly informed decision.
I arrived at the lake in pouring rain and with a cold wind blowing but I realised that I could sneak up the north shore and then use the tail wind for the return.
I chose to travel fairly light for this lake but still took a spare paddle, storm jacket, a hydration pack filled with water and a bum bag containing camera, flares and snacks. I donned my trusty Kokatat salopettes and paddle jacket and I was off! It felt exciting to commit to the decision to go and I had told myself that, if the paddle was too tough after thirty minutes, I could turn around and let the wind push me back.
As I paddled I set myself a point in each bay I could see and worked towards it, this way I could allow myself a rest when I reached my focus point. I had seen a different type of forward paddling on YouTube the night before and decided to try it out; I was pleasantly surprised to find it was effective and my shoulders were feeling good.
As I reached the far end of the lake the weather broke and the sun came shining through. I landed and had my lunch before heading back across with the wind at my back.
Two hours and thirty minutes after setting off I landed back and lake number one was in the bag!
I was heading to the Lake District that night, to stay with my parents, so I changed out of my paddling clothes, refuelled on tea and was off.
The following day I was up at 5.30 am once more and at my start point on Windermere before it was light. I carried more kit this time, with a full change of clothes, my paddleboard carry bag and more food for each hour.
As I set off there was a gentle breeze against me and I could only hope that it remained gentle and possibly turned to my favour at some point! I got into a rhythm as I moved along the eastern shore and hung back on my approach to Bowness in order to assess the situation with the crossing ferries. I chose to stick to the east side and worked my way through the moored yachts before crossing to the western shore, via the northern point of Belle Isle. It was wonderful to drink in the views of the various hills and peaks as the sun wakened around them.
As I squinted into the distance I could see the steam ferry heading for the top of the lake towards my end point. A few yachts were out on the water and, with the breeze having dropped right off, I was even able to overtake one.
After four hours and twelve minutes I paddled into a bustling Ambleside, pleased with my time and ready for a big mug of tea and a hearty jacket potato, before I packed up my board and caught the steam ferry back to my start point.
As I drove north to Scotland I did some calculations and worked out that I was moving at an average of 4.5 mph on the water. This meant that the best I could expect to do on Loch Awe, with breaks, would be around 10 hours.
I had booked into the Torran Bay Hostel, on the shore of Loch Awe, for the night and had made an arrangement with the hostel owner for them to pick me up at the end of my paddle the next day. I had decided to paddle south to north due to the predicted wind direction for the next day.
For a third day running I was up before daylight and ready to get on the water. The only new bit of kit I had added this time was a hooped bivi bag. If needed, my intention was to land overnight, put on my spare clothes and sleep in the bivi bag, on top of the board for the night. This was definitely seen as a last resort though!
As the forecast was good and because I had been too warm on the previous lakes, I changed into slightly lighter layers of clothing. I also carried an extra litre of water to refill my hydration bag.
As I set off my internal dialogue was filled with negativity and self doubt. What I had thought to be early morning mist turned out to be a thick fog and I found myself paddling into a damp, dark unknown. With only 100-150 metres of visibility all I could do was keep the shore in sight and head to any headlands I could see in front of me.
Three hours later and my persistence paid off; the sun began to reveal itself and gradually burnt off the fog. Soon the sun and the breeze were on my back and I was able to head farther from the shore. Finally I had conquered my nagging doubts was able to enjoy the journey.
A break for lunch allowed me to take stock of the distance remaining. I had lost some time due to having to stay close to the shore and, determined now not to bivi out, I needed to make up some ground.
Heading back off for the centre of the loch and the Black Islands, my shoulders were starting to ache but now I could see the end of the loch and this spurred me on!
A beautiful afternoon gave me stunning views across the water and to the mountains beyond. I was so pleased to be there as I paddled towards the bridge at the end of my journey in magical light, across the silky surface of the water. I had made it! Nine hours and forty minutes on the water meant I had come in under my estimated time - I was really chuffed!
Back in the Torran Bay Hostel for a second night it was a great relief to get in the shower and feel hot water on my aching shoulders. What an achievement!