19 August 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

By Veronica Corr

Elaine Alexander, returned to County Antrim Yacht Club on July 13th, a heroine after circumnavigating Ireland in a kayak, having spent over two months at sea. Ms. Alexander is the second female ever to paddle solo around Ireland and the first Ulster woman to have achieved this momentous goal.
Her epic 1,000 mile voyage around the rugged coastline began on May 3rd. Her trojan efforts have also raised £7900 for the Share charity thus far and the target is £10,000 —(see donation details below).
Elaine, now living in Lisnaskea but originally from Clonavarn, Monaghan, is daughter to Jack and Anna Alexander. Affectionately known as “Shooter,” Elaine is a former student of Monaghan Collegiate. She later went on to study Leisure and Tourism in MIFET.
When she finished her course, Elaine embarked on a Trainee Outdoor Instructor Programme at the Share Holiday Centre, Fermanagh. She went on to secure employment there and has worked her way up to become Outdoor Course Co-Ordinator.
Each year Share recruits 10 young people and trains them in the various outdoor activities. Elaine now heads up the programme she took herself. She loves her job and is grateful to her colleagues for all the support she has been given since undertaking this challenge and throughout her career to date.
Share is a registered charity and in 2011 it celebrates 30 years of providing outdoor activity programmes which promote the inclusion of disabled and able-bodied people in a wide range of arts, land and water based recreational activities.
The money raised during Elaine’s heroic trip will be allocated towards a fully accessible bus. Donations can still be made via www.canoearoundireland.com
This young woman’s voyage was not for the faint-hearted, as from the outset, as she had to contend with large swells, ferocious head winds, cliffs, headlands and tides.
But when the going got tough, the tough got going, and Elaine was spurred on by the support of over 1,100 fans, who followed her progress on Facebook and sent her messages of support.
“The Facebook page has really been a lifeline. There is nothing more motivating than coming off the water after a tough day to read so many supportive and funny comments from well wishers,” Elaine stated.
When asked what inspired her to undertake the epic journey, Elaine replied: “I wanted a physical challenge, after completing my Masters part-time over the last few years, I wanted another challenge. Doing something of this scale, I wanted to do it as a fundraiser for Share, as it celebrates 30 years this year and has given me endless opportunities to further my career.”
Elaine decided to get some more training under her belt and circumnavigate Ireland after paddling the Donegal coastline with friends. She also recalled being struck by the magnificence of the natural landscape — caves, sea stacks, cliffs and remote beaches.
It turned out that there was a lot of training and planning involved in order for the trip to succeed. Elaine gave us an insight into what was involved:
“Last year, I paddled around Ulster starting at the Share Centre and finishing there 26 days later. This trip gave me a good insight into the physical and mental challenges I would face going around Ireland.
“I had to source an expedition sea kayak (thanks to Valley) and other safety equipment from various companies and maps for the whole coastline of Ireland. Physically I trained hard over the winter paddling on Lough Erne before and after work four times a week. I also spent many nights last winter working out tidal information and putting it on the maps,” she continued.
As the old saying goes, “If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail,” but this clearly was not the case with Elaine. It’s a good thing too that she did her research because hell hath no fury like the Irish weather’s wrath!
The relentless bad weather almost pushed her to breaking point, as she was stormbound for a total of 21 days, with often only a small tent for shelter.
“I expected and had trained for the physical challenge but I don’t think you can ever prepare mentally. It has been a real struggle coping with the repetition of paddling, getting changed into wet clothes and packing up a wet tent every day. Especially on the windy days, it has been hard just to push on that extra few miles,” Elaine commented.
The courageous kayaker’s skills were tested to the limit on several occasions, one such moment was when a severe bout of sea sickness was brought on by large swell during a 12 mile crossing near Brandon Bay on the Dingle Peninsula:
“I was fully committed with a cliff face on one side and a long paddle to America on the other, so I had to continue despite being severely ill,” she commented.
Another such occasion was on a 25 mile crossing on Donegal Bay, which was visibility closed into only a few metres, so she had to continue on a compass bearing for a few hours until the mainland appeared from the mist.
The challenge hasn’t all been doom and gloom though, with highlights including Elaine being accompanied by a pod of six dolphins for over an hour near Easkey on the west coast.
As well as sampling extraordinary wildlife and scenery, it was the people she met along the way who left a lasting impression:
“The support from the kayaking community and local fisherman has been great. Kayakers have paddled stretches with me, met me with tea and biscuits, gave me warm beds and hot showers, shared invaluable local knowledge – I can’t thank them enough,” enthused Ms. Alexander.
Elaine Alexander’s trip was made possible thanks to the generous support from: Valley Sea Kayaks; Desperate Measures; Lendal Paddles; North South Marine; River Lake Sea; Yak; Brookbank Canoes and Kayaks; Signal Signs; Asda, Enniskillen; the Canoe Association for Northern Ireland and Blackthorn Design.
The trip took a total of 71 days, from Elaine left County Antrim Yacht Club, until she returned. Her arrival was heralded by throngs of well-wishers, who had monitored her progress every step of the way.
The gravity of Elaine Alexander’s voyage should not be underestimated, as she risked her life for a cause she truly believes in.

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