There is something about books on paddling around Ireland. Up until now, they’ve all been written by people from outside of Ireland. Jasper is different, he was raised in Ireland. Being well read with extensive world travels, he brings to Paddle what makes this land and people unique in the world.
First off, I can speak from experience that the summer of 2007 was a stormy year for going around. It made for an aggressive but doable trip for someone of Jasper’s paddling experience and health issues from the previous year. So expect to hear about misery, fear and uncertainty.
But also expect to read about a paddler who is gaining confidence. The West Coast was an unsettled place in 2007. The weather often changed 2-4 times a day. Jasper built his success by being conservative as he went. When the coast guard was busy with a couple of rescues due to stormy conditions, he was out paddling but in a way to intentionally minimize risk. That didn’t stop a boater from racing over and insisting on rescuing him. After refusing, he took off across a reef and around a small headland to loose the want to be hero. Soon the radio crackled with the boater talking to the coast guard – “He says he is alright. But the conditions are very bad out here … He’s paddled away now.” The coast guard responds “So what you are calling us to say, there isn’t a problem. [long pause] So would you clear channel 16 then?”
His near misses are frightening yet he leaves you chuckling at his honesty. Paddling after dark across a stormy Donegal Bay he talks of death by drowning, of other paddlers launching and not landing. Clearly he knows he has himself in a pickle. Relieved after he lands in a harbor, he works to get the boat up a boat ramp in the surging swell. When a swell lifts the kayak onto him and fatigued after six hours of stressful paddling, he lets loose with ” foul oaths – the majority having to do with procreative acts, some involving Jesus and the Mother of God”. Once up the ramp and out of the reaches of the sea, he realizes there in the dark is a mother with a six year old son. “Its forgiving of her to respond to my embarrassed Ah! Eve’ning’ with a cordial-sounding greeting.”
You hear about Ireland not from some soft eyed romantic foreigner but someone who knows its moods, its quirks and its humors. Even after being there for a summer and reading a bit on Ireland, Paddle still entertained me. Jasper describes a walk near Belfast where the Irish, normally curious about strangers, showed a cool restraint out of a cautiousness that comes from the Troubles. A farmer in the Aran Islands moves rocks around to open a path through a stone fence for his cattle instead of having a gate. And finally, he figures the value of free drinks given in pubs to the Australian who walked the length of Ireland with a stuffed toy donkey.
He is an Irish storyteller and writer of the modern era. Ireland is often painted as a quaint backwater by the tourist industry. Jasper has seen his homeland modernized by the wealth spread by the Celtic Tiger (what is now another Irish tragedy). That wealth has introduced many vehicles onto roads that in the 1970s were busier with foreign bicyclists than cars. Today, he deftly points out, one is safer on the sea than biking on narrow roads traveled by speeding SUVs.
We met at a place called Brandan Creek. It was a rainy, windy, miserable day and the evening wasn’t shaping up to be any better. Jasper knew of a pub, a few miles away. It was quickly decided to go grab a meal and a pint or two. Well, I can tell you it was four pints, a late night and a most enjoyable conversation. It was here that I noticed Jasper’s talent to put together history, current events and his stories in such a way that left you entertained and amused.
Paddle brings me back to that pub. It brings back the paddling with Basking Sharks the next day. It brings me back to watching him fish. Except with Paddle, Jasper has gone around Ireland and skillfully landed a modern Irish tale only a sea kayaker can tell.
Click here for the kindle version of his book.