The Ecrehous are a great place to visit at any time of the year but its always special to get a visit in during the winter months, when the reef is much quieter than during the summer. A mid week visit, to Les Ecrehous in February, is a great time to go if you are hoping for some piece and quiet.
The paddle out from St Catherine’s was relatively straightforward, the benefit of having drawn vectors to allow for the tidal streams always makes the crossing easier, with the GPS just used for back up and fine adjustments to the bearing. The 5 nautical miles took just over the hour, and soon we were drifting through the reef, as the first of the ebb tide started to run.
If possible we like to land on the French side of the reef as it is an easier carry, the only disadvantage is that your phone can suddenly switch to a French provider resulting in unexpected roaming charges. Always a good idea to switch your phone to flight mode before leaving the beach, in Jersey. That’s not a phrase that you have to use that frequently when briefing your kayaking group.
We always like to eat our lunch on the bench, I think that is mainly because of tradition. The photograph below shows the view to the north of the bench, which also helps to explain why its such a great picnic spot.
Another tradition is that when visiting the reef its important to go for a walk along the shingle bank, which is illustrated in this post. All too soon it was time to pack the kayaks and think about heading south west, back to Jersey. I always find it a bit more complicated heading back towards Jersey due to the tides. The last you thing you want to happen is to have to punch tide in the last mile or so. I am always surprised how often it happens though and the last mile or so is a real challenge.
We headed past Maitre Ile, to get a bit further south before starting out on the crossing back to Jersey. The largest island in the reef the island has a rich historical past, with the ruins of a priory. In 1309 the monk and the servant were responsible for lighting the navigation beacon. Interestingly over 700 years later there is no light on the reef.
So it was an ideal day to visit Les Ecrehous in February, perfect sea conditions and unseasonably warmth meant that we were able to wear our shorts for the whole of the day. An unusually early hint of summer without the crowds. We are looking forward to plenty more visits as the weather settles down.
It was the final morning of our pre-symposium sea kayaking trip. We didn’t need to be away at the crack of dawn but we did need to be ready to catch the start of the flood tide to carry us towards Port Welshpool. From there we would be heading towards Wilson’s Promontory and the start of the International Sea Kayaking Educator’s Conference.
It wasn’t too early a start, which was in contrast to the previous morning. The sun had already taken the chill off the air as we headed north. I think that this was the first time that it registered, as we paddled away from Snake Island, that the sun was in the north. Clearly my geography of the Southern Hemisphere left something to be desired.
What was surprising, was for how much of the paddle we were in shallow water, which was quite fortunate as there were quite a few fishing boats heading towards the open water from Port Welshpool. Whalers first used this area in the 1830’s, whilst the town was officially named Port Welshpool in 1952.
We landed in Port Welshpool, and started the unloading of the kayaks. We had been out 4 days and covered just under 30 nautical miles. Not a great distance, but it was through an interesting environment, which also gave us the opportunity to observe some animals, which we would never encounter in the northern hemisphere.
More importantly the four day paddle gave us the opportunity to get to know some of the other people who would be attending the 2nd International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium at Tidal River in the Wilsons Promontory National Park.
We finally got the opportunity to paddle in flat calm conditions on the third day, the only problem was that we had to get up at 04.00 to do so. The way the tidal streams were working meant that we either started early or waited until the late afternoon. An early morning paddle gave us so many more options.
So at 05.50 we pushed away from the bank into a glorious Australian sunrise. It started off pretty good and just got better and better and for the first time in the trip we had mirror calm conditions and the tidal flow with us. Only just over a knot but that is better than nothing.
As we exited the Swashway Channel we gained our first reasonably good views of the north side of Wilson’s Promontory National Park, where we would be spending time at the International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium.
There was a reasonable amount of quite fast boat traffic moving up and down the channel towards the open sea. Fortunately the channel was relatively narrow with quite a few buoys indicating their route. It’s always good to know your buoyage when kayaking on the sea. Crossing the channel at right angles we reduced our exposure to the boats before turning south towards Wilson’s Prom. We were soon paddling alongside rocks and a shoreline that was more than a couple of metres high.
We stopped on a couple of stunning beaches with the opportunity to explore the shoreline or slightly further inland. We were in no real hurry as we waited for slack water in the channel to allow us to cross back to Snake Island, our destination for the day. Also it was only just after 09.00, always the advantage of an early morning paddle.
There was a discussion as to what time we should aim to cross back to Snake Island because of the tidal streams. As a sea kayaker I have never understood why people use different units of measurement in the same conversation. It could go along the lines of;
“We have a wind of between 13 and 15 mph from the south, the tidal stream is running at 3 knots and the distance we have to go is 10 kilometres.”
The potential for errors to creep into people’s calculations is huge. I just don’t understand why people don’t stick with one unit of measurement and if we are operating on the sea it should be the nautical variety. Knots and nautical miles. Information we need about tidal flows is always given in knots so why not stick with that unit. I admit that some people might find it difficult at first but I really think that it is worth the effort.
I know many people will find this strange but a couple of us were really getting quite excited by the prospect of seeing kangaroos. Living on an island where the largest land animal is the rabbit I get easily excited. We had been told that we were likely to see them in the evening but it was still quite a surprise when when 16 of them hopped out the bush. Linked with a few small deer wandering around and it felt like a wildlife bonanza.
One of the problems of jet leg is that sometimes you just can’t sleep, which was the position I found myself in on the second day. Taking advantage of this I got up reasonably early to walk along the spit. We had so painstakingly paddled along the previous day.
It was one of those moments that you truly appreciate. The morning sun rising over a reasonably calm sea to the backdrop of the Australian dawn chorus. All too soon it was time to head back, as the rest of the camp was starting to stir.
Whilst on trips, individuals often develop routines, especially around the campsite. Some people are unable to sit still and have to get involved with every aspect of the food preparation, often to the frustration of the person who is actually cooking the meal. I am more than willing to allow people to get on a cook the evening meal, they normally do a much better job than I do but I am happy to prepare breakfast everyday, which was the position I found myself in that morning.
I enjoy the opportunity to reflect on what lies ahead and to have the opportunity to chat to people. In contrast to the evenings when most people are around the kitchen area, in the morning people usually arrive individually meaning that the experience is much more personal. So that is one of the reasons I found myself preparing porridge on the south side of Sunday Island.
We were away reasonably promptly but the sea, which had been so calm on my dawn walk was starting to reflect changes in the weather. The forecast had confidently predicted reasonably light winds. They just didn’t seem to be able to get it right though, the days we were on the water.
Almost as soon as we headed along the channel the wind picked up and it was either a headwind or on our beam. This had resulted in some interesting discussions about packing the kayaks. Distributing the weight depending upon the direction of the wind, in effect trimming the kayak to suit the conditions. In reality how often does the wind remain the same all day? I always recommend packing the same kit in the same place in the kayak so when you arrive on the beach and conditions are far from ideal it’s a matter of being able to go to the right dry bags straight away.
Crossing over the channel to Snake Island the wind increased even further and it was clear we were falling behind the proposed schedule. We stopped for lunch on a possible campsite, The Gulf, as we considered the options. Two further campsites we possible and we sensibly selected the closer of the two.
We arrived at Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park Just as the tide started to drop and managed to avoid the worst of the carry through the thick oozing mud. Tents were soon up and meal preparation underway. It hadn’t been a long paddle but it hadn’t been straightforward either. The wind proving a pretty constant adversary.
Paddling in this area is in complete contrast to the waters at home. The islands are low lying without any obvious physical features, resulting in quite challenging navigation. If you didn’t remain focused on your chart then establishing your location could be an issue.
I have to admit that I had never been that attracted by the idea of a visit to Australia. This was largely a feeling based on ignorance as opposed to a decision based on facts. Therefore, when I saw the International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium advertised, I though this might just be the catalyst I needed to head towards the southern hemisphere.
What appealed about the Symposium and helped justify the hours spent on the aircraft reaching Melbourne, was the 4 day pre-symposium paddle. So with a degree of enthusiasm and some slight trepidation I signed up and booked my flights.
This was the story as to how I found myself standing outside the railway station at 06.00 on a cold Thursday morning in Frankston, to the south east of Melbourne. It is an interesting experience trying to identify other sea kayakers amongst the early morning commuters. The North Face bags and beards were a bit of a give away with the males!
So 6 prospective kayakers from 4 different countries found ourselves heading towards Port Albert. It was here that we met the other people who had taken advantage of the opportunity to participate in the 4 day paddle. In total there were about 20 of us, with a third from the UK, which I have to admit I found a bit surprising.
As with all trips some people were quicker than others at getting ready for departure, but straight after lunch we were ready to go. The big question was “Who had turned on the fan?” The early morning calm had been replaced by an entertaining breeze, which was significantly higher than forecast. Sitting still was not an option.
We fought our way west and south with a speed over the ground that most of the time was well below 2 knots. The wind was certainly taking its toll and producing a very low fun factor. Eventually after just over 5 nautical miles we decided to call it a day, the next possible camp site was quite some way off and so it was with some relief that we lifted the kayaks above the high water mark.
Not a glorious start to my Australian sea kayaking career but it was certainly an interseting experience and the relatively early finish allowed plenty of time to get to know the other people in the group.
What was even better was that the wind was due to drop off over night so as I dropped asleep on my first night in the Australian bush all my thoughts were positive.
Bookings have been open for the Jersey Symposium and we are already over half full, which is great news. So if you are interested in kayaking in the most southerly waters in the British Isles, why not consider visiting Jersey next May.
The event starts on the evening of Friday 24th May, with a reception at the Highlands Hotel. The following 3 days will be a mixture of kayaking workshops, guided paddles and a limited number of talks. The focus is on paddling rather than being inside. There will be the usual workshops such as rescues and rolling, intermediate skills, leadership etc plus some Jersey specialities such as lobster fishing and sea caves and cliff jumping.
From Tuesday onwards there are further opportunities for exploring the local waters plus weather depending the possibility of visiting the offshore reefs or even some of the other Channel Islands. As the week progresses the tides become bigger give us the chance to play is some of the tide races.
In addition to the day time programme there are events every evening including lectures, symposium meal with a live band, quiz night, bbq etc. It really is full on from the Friday evening until the following Friday.
Condor Ferries operate from Portsmouth, Poole and St Malo whilst there are flights from most UK airports and there are a number of sea kayaks available for hire.
We ran the first Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium in 1992 and we like to think that in the intervening 26 years we have developed a format, which is successful and allows both local and visiting paddlers to experience the best of what Jersey has to offer as well as providing plenty of opportunities for learning.
So don’t delay in planning your visit to the 2019 Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium.
I have always had a soft spot for the islands to the north of Jersey, in particular Herm and Sark. Over the last 40 years I have paddled to both on numerous occasions always enjoying their coastline as well as the atmosphere on shore.
Sadly they appear to have become islands of contrast. Sark appears to have deteriorated over the last few years with numerous shops closing and in places the island appearing uncared for. Herm on the other hand appears to have gone from strength to strength and would now be my Island of choice.
Every year there is an excuse to visit Herm in both June and September, the Herm Beer Festival. What could be better, stunning sea kayaking and the choice of 50 real ales. Last year we paddled from Jersey to the June event, but this year that wasn’t an option due to the fact that I was in plaster, following a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in Gozo.
For the September Festival we decided to take to car to Guernsey and paddle from there. The alternative plan was if it was too rough to paddle across the Little Russell we could always get the ferry. We were determined to get to Herm!
The first issue was the cost of the ferry. I think that I am pretty tolerant but £330 for a car and 3 passengers from Jersey to Guernsey is pretty excessive. It’s only about 25 nautical miles, the crossing is about an hour. It’s always the problem when you are a captive market. We booked several weeks in advance but had to just bite the bullet and pay up.
We reached Guernsey and headed towards Bordeaux, our departure point. We had to stick to a schedule as it was the largest tide of the year so the tidal streams in the Little Russell were going to be running at a considerable speed. Selecting the appropriate tidal window was essential.
The crossing passed reasonably easily and we were soon putting the tents up before heading back to the bright lights of the Mermaid Tavern. The Herm Beer Festival is such a delightful event and we were fortunate enough to spend 3 evenings there as well as spending some of the days enjoying kayaking in the superb coastal waters of the surrounding islands.
All too soon it was time to head back to Jersey, but already thinking that next year we would be heading north once again to experience the charms of Herm.
Several miles off the north east coast, a reef of rocks is gradually revealed as the tide drops. The are largely viewed from afar, their presence indicated by the breaking waves, unleashing their energy following their journey from the storms in the North Atlantic. This is Les Dirouilles.
It is a reef which I rarely visited until the last few years. It used to be somewhere we passed as opposed to a final destination. In recent years though we have paddled there as a destination in its own right. What has been a revelation is just how easy it is to get.
More than any of the other offshore reefs which surround Jersey, a visit to Les Dirouilles benefits from the tidal streams. The water runs almost directly from the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater onto the reef. The crossing is about 4.5 nautical miles and on our speed rarely dropped below 5 knots. There was a slight drift to the west, indicated on the GPS but it was pretty easy to compensate for, so we drifted gently onto the reef.
We probably arrived a bit too early, so we took advantage of our early arrival to explore some of the more detached rocks to the north of the reef. Moving into areas I had never paddled in before. After early 50 years of kayaking in Jersey’s waters it is quite amazing to discover small new pockets of coast, waiting to be explored. This was quite a fortunate development as we discovered an absolutely stunning lunch spot.
We were able to land on sand, always so much kinder to the hulls of the kayaks, with lunch being eaten on a raised flat rock, which gave exceptional views of the area. The coastline of France clearly visible to the east and north east, with the nuclear plant at Cap de la Hague shimmering like a mirage on the horizon.
To the south we could see the whole of the north coast of Jersey, stretching from our departure point at St Catherine’s all the way to Grosnez, the north west corner of the Island. To the north west Sark, was the dominant landmark, the location of so much great sea kayaking.
One of the pleasures of sea kayaking in Jersey is the opportunity to visit some of the offshore reefs and from our lunch spot we were able to see 3 of the 4 main reefs. To the west the Paternosters, were visible becoming bigger as the tide dropped. To the east was the Ecrehous and surrounding us was Les Dirouilles, all we needed was the Minquiers for a full set of the reefs but they are to the south of Jersey and therefore invisible from our picnic spot.
After lunch we launched off the small sandy beach, which had been revealed by the ebbing tide. None of us had ever seen this beach before even though it was within 5 miles of where a couple of the paddlers lived. We explored the southern edge of the reef before heading straight towards Tour de Rozel, the low water slack providing the opportunity for fairly rapid progress. At the start of the ebb we turned towards St Catherine’s with a speed over the ground in places in excess of 7 knots.
A thoroughly enjoyable paddle for the last Wednesday in September.
In the middle of St Ouen’s Bay, on the west coast of Jersey is La Rocco Tower. Although I think it is pretty safe to say that just about everybody who lives in Jersey will have seen it only a small percentage of residents will have set foot upon its ramparts.
Last Wednesday we paddled from Ouaisne along the cliffs of the southwest coast before running north to La Rocco Tower. Our picnic spot for the day. The initial problem is deciding where to land, there are a couple of suitable locations, the exact choice depending upon the wind and swell.
There was a brisk northerly breeze but fortunately only a slight westerly swell, which meant that selecting an appropriate landing place was not too difficult. We did have to take into consideration that the tide was rising so launching may have been an issue but we managed to find two sites, which offered sheltered landings and it wasn’t’ long before we were heading into the walls which surround La Rocco Tower.
It was built in the last years of the 18th Century, at a cost of £400 and was the last of the towers of this design to be built, the later ones more accurately being described as Martello Towers. In 1801 it was named Gordon’s Tower after the Lieutenant Governor of the time. The tower was badly damaged and restored to its present condition in the early 1970’s. Popular opinion states that it was damaged by German artillery during the Second World War but this probably not the case. Possible a stray mine breached the sea defenses when it exploded and the sea did the rest.
Lunch was eaten in the shelter of the outer walls, protected from the north easterly wind. The same wind that was going to surf us back towards Corbiere, when we launched. It was an entertaining day, with our picnic in a location that virtually every resident and tourist has seen but very few have walked on. Just another reason why sea kayaks are perfect for exploring our environment.
The tower is one of a number which are administered by Jersey Heritage and are available for rental but due to the location of La Rocco Tower there are quite a few restrictions depending on weather and sea state. It is a great place for a picnic it must be amazing to spend the night there.
The first Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium was held in 1992 and there has been one pretty much every 2 years since then. The next one is going to be held in May 2019 and bookings will be opening at the end of September.
So what can you expect at a Symposium in Jersey? First of all some superb paddling, take advantage of the large tidal range, superb coastal scenery and in places swell rolling in from the North Atlantic.
Secondly, great accommodation. For many years we used campsites but now we base the event at the Highlands Hotel. Stunning sea views from most bedrooms, a swimming pool on the terrace, small gym, great food, a pleasant bar and very friendly staff.
Thirdly, a comprehensive kayaking programme, lasting up to 7 days. There are skills sessions run by some of the most respected coaches in the UK plus plenty of guided trips, including, weather permitting, to the offshore reefs such as the Ecrehous.
Fourthly, a diverse evening programme including lectures, a meal with live music, photo sharing, a quiz night and a BBQ in a Napoleonic guard house.
The event starts on the evening of Friday 24th May, with a welcome reception with the on the water action starting on the Saturday morning. At any one time there is normally a choice of at least 8 different workshops and paddles.
The event is based at the Highlands Hotel, which is really comfortable and very convenient for the paddling, which is available during the week. The options for the following day are normally posted at the hotel the night before, between 7.00 and 7.30, once we have an up to date weather forecast. If you choose to stay at a campsite or a different hotel it will still be necessary to come to the HIghland’s Hotel in the evening to ensure that you are able to select those sessions you are interested in.
The feedback from previous events has been really positive and we are sure that this will continue in 2019. If you are interested in receiving further information, about the Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium, please contact me at, firstname.lastname@example.org, so that I can add you name to the mailing list.