Safety First

The Bitches will bite your bum! The information provided here is a guide only and must be supplemented by your own knowledge and skill. You are responsible for making your own decisions about whether you are competent enough for the trip.

There are plenty of fishermen's tales about The Bitches and it is rare for a first time Bitcher to come back having experienced what they were expecting. If you're dragged along 'because it's good for you', your eyes may well be out on stalks; but if you're an experienced paddler, you'll giggle at the lack of mermaids snatching your deck. You should take time to understand what the water in Ramsey Sound is doing and how it changes over the few hours that you are there.

Accidents do happen, so leave word of where you are going and when you expect to get back with someone that cares! Three is a safe minimum number of people to have in your group. If this is not possible, then try and hook up with others through the Facebook page to arrange paddle out times together. With decent tides easy to predict, there are usually others doing the same. Unless you are paddling with others that know the water, and have experienced it under a range of conditions, it is worth considering hiring a guide for your first trip: it can save a lot of tears and they can teach you a lot about the place. Check out the links section for a list of local & regular paddlers that know the water and are prepared to look after others. Some will require some form of payment - but not always money ;-).

copyright Cleverdog

Kit advice

As well as your usual paddling kit, make sure that you have a few extras, such as: First aid kit | Compass | Split paddle | Flares & whistle | Tow line | Water & energy food. Some well-respected paddlers have been left with epics on their hands. Fog sets in quickly, especially on days that are otherwise sunny and calm - in other words, ideal Bitching weather.

Getting there and back again

Park at St Justinian's (SA62 6PY, NGR: SM 72398 25242), making sure you follow parking directions displayed and make sure you don't restrict access for the lifeboat crew. It's a 25-minute paddle to the Bitches from St. Justinian's Lifeboat Station, and an ideal warm up. For the full experience, aim to be on the water and paddling out 3½ hours before local high water at Milford Haven. Before you go down the steps look SW across the sound and you'll be able to see the Bitches close to the farmhouse on the island. You may also spot waves on Horse Rock half way across; more about that on the way back. When you get on the water, you want to be aiming for the last headland south on the mainland, where Ramsey Sound is at its narrowest. When you get to the headland you should be able to see the current clearly; your route is a large S-cross. Once you're about half way over, change your boat angle and paddle direct towards the island and break into the eddy behind the first rock. Paddle back "upstream" to the rocks. Most of the action is closer to the island, so eddy hop your way across, making the most of the currents as you go.

Getting back

Ramsey Sound wants a bit more of you yet. The water in the Sound is squeezed horizontally by Treginnis Head and the Bitches reef; which accelerate its speed. Just a bit further north, the depth decreases rapidly from 60 to 0 metres as it meets Horse Rock, a spire of granite under the water. The water is thrown into a series of heavy waves and whirlpools, where it is believed to be the site of the only kayak related death in Ramsey Sound. Exercise extra caution here.

The normal return

To get back from the Bitches, under "normal conditions", eddy-hop to the last rock (which will be considerably smaller than on the way out). From here punch into the current aiming for land and paddling through a series of haystack waves. Soon there is smooth, calmer water but DO NOT RELAX this is the water heading for Horse Rock 800 metres on your left (north hopefully!).

Now turn the revs up and keep track of your sideways motion by watching the land. Once past the Horse you can slacken off, as paddling too far toward land will put you into the St Justinian's eddy travelling the wrong way. Aim for the cliffs west (left) of the lifeboat house. Just as they approach, a 'conveyer belt' eddy pushes back towards the harbour. Get out, shoulder your boat and run up the steps to straighten your legs out.

Alternative routes

If you have doubts that someone in your group can't make the route above Horse Rock, there is a second option. From the last "Bitch", head into the main current and follow this north without heading too far towards land. Once you are past Horse Rock (watch out for a strong back eddy feeding it), then paddle directly towards the cliffs and pick up the eddy close to the shore. It takes a little longer but is less stressfull for inexperienced, tired or nervous paddlers.

More options

There is also an option of paddling back to Whitesands Beach - 4 long kilometres in a play boat - or carry your boat over the Bitches and paddle back upstream a bit to ferry glide above the narrows or simply sit it out in Ramsey Island's harbour until the current slackens or conditions improve.

Tides and Weather

Traditionally, paddlers have used High Water at Milford Haven to predict paddle out and return times. This website continues to do the same. You can use HW in Ramsey Sound but make sure you alter your calculations to match, and note that the times, heights and ranges will be different. Periods of high barometric presure can reduce the height of the main wave. The basic tides are given here, but you need to confirm local conditions closer to the day and before you set out. If you're uncertain, ask one of the local kayak guides or boat operators.

copyright Ride Surf Kayaks

Ramsey Sound - more than just water

When you're out there, take a moment to empty your sinuses and have a look around you. Ramsey Island and parts of the Sound are protected as a nature reserve. Use your common sense when dealing with wildlife and make sure you have read and understood the Pembrokeshire Marine Code, adapted specifically for kayakers: www.pembrokeshiremarinecode.org.uk and check the maps.

copyright Paul Villecourt

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