Hamish reflects on his Irish circumnavigation

Posted on September 24, 2014 @ 12:50 PM in Canoeing

'If you are good enough you are old enough' is perhaps most associated with Matt Busby when referring to his all conquering Busby Babes, however this famous quote can now also be applied to 19 year old Castlerock native Hamish Wilkinson who recently became the youngest person to circumnavigate Ireland by kayak.


Hamish also became the first to do so in a traditional Greenland kayak with Greenland style paddle.  In a vote of confidence towards traditional techniques, Hamish built his craft with the assistance of his father John, a renowned local boat builder.  Known as a 'Selkie' this kayak is wooden framed with a nylon skin and bar a few brass and bronze fittings there is no metal screws, fastenings or modern glues and adhesives.

Following a few weeks rest and relaxation CanoeNI.com caught up with Hamish to reflect on his amazing achievement:

CanoeNI.com: What was the most exciting element of the trip?

Hamish: The most exciting element of the trip had to be the rough weather. Particularly off the west coast, where the swell was huge. Watching waves break in deep water was definitely a highlight, and a bit of a scare all in one. The most satisfying aspect was the changing landscapes throughout the trip. It was nice to be able to get in the boat somewhere in the morning and then get out in a totally different spot at the end of the day with the mornings campsite off the horizon.

CanoeNI.com: On the flip side what was the most arduous element?

Hamish: The toughest and definitely most frustrating part of the trip was the weather. I had northerlies most of the way up the west coast, something which really started to get under my skin, particularly as I had hoped to benefit from the tailwinds from prevailing southerlies.

The real seal on this being the most difficult part  of the trip came when I turned into Donegal Bay and the wind switched to an easterly! In my face again! Easy to laugh at now but at the time it was pretty demoralizing.

CanoeNI.com: What did you most miss about home?

Hamish: I easily missed my bed most of all! What crossed my mind a lot though, was that I missed the stability of land, you could stop and rest whenever and not move with the wind and tide.

CanoeNI.com: What piece of equipment could you not have done without?

Hamish: The most essential piece of equipment is a tough one. To be honest I don't really have a definite answer. The boat immediately springs to mind but that is somewhat obvious! I guess it would be my stove, a smaller version of the Trangia. Since it was smaller I was able to boil water and cook with a minimum of fuel. Very handy as fuel was not that easy to come by in the more remote sections.

CanoeNI.com: How satisfying was it to paddle a boat you had crafted along with your dad?

Hamish: The boat element was very satisfying. It had a real positive effect on me I think. Firstly because it, in many ways was a bit of home, but more so because the boat was built for me exactly. It was not a shop bought bit of 'one size fits no one' kind of thing-the measurements for the boat were astonishingly detailed, and when I paddled it, the difference was really extraordinary. 

Also it meant if something was going wrong I only had myself to blame!

CanoeNI.com: Thinking about NI in particular - what was your favourite section of coastline?

Hamish: The best bit of the NI coastline was hands down the Causeway Coast. Maybe sounds a little clichéd as it is my home patch, but I really found it was the most scenic for me anyway. My tastes have always lent towards dramatic cliffs. That said the Gobbins deserves a mention-sadly though reconstruction was going on there when I passed and the climbing ropes and building materials festooning the cliffs took away from the view a bit.

Outside of NI a few bits caught the imagination. The Dingle peninsula with the Blaskets, Sybil Point and Mount Brandon was stunning. The cliffs off north Mayo were craggy and impressive while Slieve League was majestic even with its head in the clouds.

CanoeNI.com: What's next?

Hamish: I am not sure! I have vague plans about Iceland, but may take the chance to do something land based next year instead. Whatever happens, I think it will be my last solo trip anyway! I will take someone along to help carry the boat next time!!

Hamish spent 70 days on this expedition paddling a total of 1600km / 1000 miles.

- 3 days awaiting tracker replacement
- 3 days for Kims wedding
- 64 days actually on expedition
- 52 days on the water
- 12 days on shore weather bound

An excellent day by day account can be found on his blog

Hamish is also fundraising for Greenpeace and Action Cancer

Chris Scott
Chris Scott

Having 'retired' from competitive sailing he is trying to find something new to fill the void. Currently mixing it up with 10ks, trail running and adventures with his two year old son.

2 comments have been posted in reply to this article

Posted by Robin Forsythe on November 17, 2014 @ 10:32 PM

Hamish's story was very inspirational. I have been aiming to just kayak the river Bann to Castlerock but life keeps getting in the way!

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