Midway through his solo attempt to circumnavigate Ireland, the scariest thing Sam Crowley had encountered didn’t involve big seas, surf or tidal races. It happened, in Crowley’s words, “on a two-way lane about the width of a bicycle path with a speed limit of 80 kilometres per hour.”
“In many ways it’s safer on the water than on the roads,” says Crowley, a sea kayaker from Marquette, Michigan.
Catching up to Sam by phone in July, it’s not hard to imagine the easygoing, soft-spoken Crowley sipping Guinness in an Irish pub as he talks (with a bit of prodding) about the first quarter of his 2,200-kilometre trip. Despite the fact that he’s been windbound on the southwest corner of the emerald isle for nearly two weeks—all told he’s paddled 18 kilometres in the past 12 days—he’s still optimistic he’ll complete his clockwise circumnavigation before the end of the summer.
If he ever gets back on the water, the next task is an arduous crossing to Skellig Michael, a cliff-bound island with an abandoned 1,200-year-old monastery. Crowley says getting ashore there will involve a “Derek Hutchinson-style seal landing on a concrete pier.” From Skellig Michael, Crowley will continue north up the west coast of Ireland.
If you can convince him to tell you about it, Crowley has an impressive paddling resume including countless British Canoe Union and American Canoe association awards. Crowley and his partner Nancy Uschold run a sea kayak instruction company in Michigan’s upper peninsula. But what really stands out are his many extended trips on lake superior, a crossing of the Baltic sea from Helsinki, Finland, to Stockholm, Sweden, and a circumnavigation of Moresby island in the Queen Charlottes of Canada’s pacific coast.
While Crowley says the Ireland trip was the culmination of five years of planning and “warm-up trips,” the logistics were quite simple: he shut down his sport massage business for the summer, picked up an explorer sea kayak from Nigel Dennis in Wales, took a ferry to Dublin and started paddling.
He says the biggest difference between paddling around Ireland and his previous trips are the people.
“I’m used to places where you don’t see anyone,” says Crowley from a barstool in the town of garnish. “Here you camp on a beach and it’s like a promenade. But the people are so friendly. Earlier tonight a fellow took pity on me and brought me up here for a pint.”
Crowley says the rural Irish people he’s met have taught him the most. “Mostly I’ve learned not to try to keep up with 70- year-old drinking Irishmen, even if they’ve had a head start.”
This article first appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.