Alderney, is the Channel Island closest to both England and France. It also has the distinction of being the the most northerly island in the group. Well known for the strength of its tidal streams its not visited by sea kayakers that often.
We had been planning to visit the west coast of Canada this summer, in particular the Haida Gwaii. Quite early on in the planning it was clear that costs were spiralling out of control, so we looked for some where cheaper. Out of 8 in the group I was the only person to have paddled to Alderney, so a plan was developed. Let’s head north.
Instead of flying 4,000 miles we drove 5 miles. We spent 3 days paddling to Herm via the superb coastline of Sark to find ourselves on the small beach just to the south of the harbour on Herm. We were ready to go. It was an early start but light winds and sunshine were the forecast conditions.
I radioed in to Guernsey Coastguard, which is something I had never done before. Little did I realize the consequences. As we paddled north towards Grand Amfroque, which was to mark the start of our crossing to Alderney, things started to change. Unfortunately the sunshine and good visibility of earlier was replaced by pretty thick fog. Then I could hear the Coastguard calling me on the radio. What was my position, what was the visibility and what were our intentions? I gave our position and would confirm our intentions shortly.
The conditions above were quickly replaced by those below.
We spent a few minutes chatting about our options before contacting the Coastguard and confirmed our intention to continue the journey to Alderney. Their request was that we radioed in every 30 minutes with our location, the visibility and the welfare of the group, which seemed particularly strange. As we were using hand held VHF’s and were working at some distance from the nearest aerial the signal was deteriorating rapidly. In one 60 minute period over 15 minutes were spent on the radio. This was having a significant impact on our average speed and the accuracy of our navigation.
Eventually we lost communication with Guernsey Coastguard only to find Alderney Coastguard were calling us on Channel 16. Suddenly we went from using a duplex channel, where only the Coastguard could hear us, to broadcasting our information so that anybody with a VHF could listen in. Unfortunately we had to keep radioing in every 30 minutes. Our progress slowed even further. We were not happy paddlers. We were within a couple of hundred metres of the shore before we saw the first rocks. It had been a 17 nautical mile crossing in dense fog.
The coastline of Alderney is pretty dramatic, so once we were alongside the coast and the fog had thinned our progress slowed. This time not to talk on the radio but to savour the superb scenery. Alderney has a rich military history, with numerous fortifications dotted around the Island.
We paddled around the northern tip of Alderney before landing in Saye Bay, a perfect horseshoe shaped bay. Within 100 metres of the campsite. A great days paddle. 22 nautical miles covered, most of it in fog. From one delightful Channel Island to another, less frequently visited other one.
It was time for a celebratory beer and a meal in one of the harbour side restaurants.