Sea kayaking in the Channel Islands and further afield
Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands, situated off the northern coast of Brittany, France. The granite cliffs of the south west and the north west provide a superb backdrop, for sea kayakers of all levels. At times though the waters can be incredibly challenging as the west coast is fully exposed to the swell of the North Atlantic, whereas on other days it can be calm and friendly.
The south east corner is a unique coastal environment as the sea can retreat for nearly 2 miles across a foreshore of rocks, shingle and sand. This dramatic movement of water, at times up to 12 metres also results in some exceptional tidal races. A number of the headlands provide a rough water playground where some paddlers will find excitement and others the opportunity to learn new skills.
Visitors to the Island will always receive a warm welcome from members of the Jersey Canoe Club, who will be willing to show the visitors the best things about Jersey.
It is not just about paddling though, there is plenty of coasteering, cycling and cliff path walks for those whose interests don’t rest exclusively on the water.
2019 sees some particularly large Spring Tides, offering the opportunity for some rather exciting kayaking. The February tides coincided with a large swell, which presented its own challenges. The swell certainly created some interest during the course of the day but at least the decision to leave from Archirondel meant that we had a relatively quite start and finish to our paddle of north coast speed.
We paddled past the distinctive red and white tower, built in 1792 before hitting the main flow of the ebbing tide. We were on our way.
Our target for lunch was a small beach just to the east of Ronez, we knew that we would be able to land there almost regardless of the size of the swell. In fact we had eaten there a few weeks previously on another day with a large swell. We arrived off Ronez in less than 2 hours. So the options were a 3 hour lunch break, whilst we waited for the tide to turn, or head a bit further along the coast. We chose the second option and carried on towards Plemont, the next place we knew for certain we could land.
As we left Tour de Rozel, the influence of a large spring tide, was having a distinct impact. The figures on the GPS, were gradually creeping upwards. As we approached La Coupe, the north east corner of the Island we touched just over 10 knots, fairly surprising as we weren’t putting too much effort into our forward paddling.
The tide swept us onto St Catherine’s and into Archirondel. We have covered 24 nautical miles during the day but I can’t remember a time when a paddle of that distance had felt so easy.
Friday was a big tide, in fact a very big tide. The tidal range of 11.8 metres resulted in a significant movement of water. As it approached low tide we were able to go walking on the sea bed.
We met at La Rocque Harbour, the south east corner of the Island. Unfortunately the blue skies and sunshine from the west coast were replaced by an approaching fog. It was rolling in from the sea and obscuring all the physical features.
Icho Tower was about 1.5 miles away, the benefits of GPS ensuring that we had this information, but at times we could see less than a hundred metres. Heading so far offshore in the fog requires confidence in your navigation abilities. So for the first time in nearly 60 years of living in Jersey, when walking I had to walk on a compass bearing to ensure that we found our planned destination, Icho Tower.
Icho Tower appeared out of the mist, when we were less than 100 metres away, according to the GPS. The tower was built in 1811, part of the coastal defenses designed to protect the Island from possible French invasion. It is easily seen whilst driving along the coastal road at Le Hocq but visiting on foot is restricted to the larger spring tides. We decided to have lunch in the hope that the water retreated from the deeper gullies before we headed east towards Seymour Tower.
Seymour Tower is unique among the defensive towers, which are found around the coast of Jersey, in that it is square. It was built in 1782, a direct consequence of the 1781 invasion, which resulted in the Battle of Jersey. Today it is a unique place to stay overnight, with bookings available through Jersey Heritage. It lies at the heart of the RAMSAR site, situated off the south east corner of Jersey.
The screen shot above, really does indicate that we were walking on the sea bed. As the tide drops, particularly on the larger spring tides, a unique coastal environment is exposed. A great place to explore but somewhere, which needs accurate planning to avoid being cut off by the tide.
Whilst browsing through some of my rather large collection of canoeing and kayaking magazines I looked at some of the old adverts. They show how the sport has changed over the last 60 years. Prices were certainly considerably lower than today.
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.
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.
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.
There are a few paddles in Jersey, which visiting and local sea kayakers, should aspire to complete. One of these is to paddle around, what is referred to as “The Towers”. This refers to two towers, which are located to the south east of the island, Seymour and Icho.
The Jersey Canoe Club has run weekly Sunday morning sessions for nearly 45 years and this week it was the turn of The Towers, to be the venue. Weather and tidal conditions were such that quite a few members had guessed the venue several days in advance, well before the WhatsApp message was sent out, on the Saturday.
Seymour and Icho Towers
Of the two towers Seymour is the oldest, being built in 1782, the year after French troops landed nearby, which resulted in the Battle of Jersey. Our initial target was Icho Tower, just over 1 mile offshore. Low an squat compared to the older towers, it is based on the design of towers found at Mortella Point, Corsica.
They probably contained a garrison of 12 soldiers and a sergeant, but today they are largely the preserve of sea birds. Today it was curlews and sandwich terns but some winters a spoonbill has started to call Icho home.
From Icho we headed virtually east towards Seymour, the final push of the flooding tide ensured that at times our speed over the ground was nearly 6 knots. Seymour Tower has been refurbished and is available for rent from Jersey Heritage, accompanied by a guide. Today a family was in residence so landing was not an option.
Instead we turned offshore to visit Karame Beacon, which is one of the many navigation marks in the area. The tide was flowing with a degree of speed around the rocks, which provided some enjoyment. From there it was a ferry glide in excess of a mile into the coast at La Rocque, a small harbour with signicant place in Jersey’s history. Baron Philippe de Rullecourt, landed here on the 6th January 1781, with approximately 1,400 French troops. The subsequent Battle of Jersey, in the Royal Square resulted in the defeat of the French forces.
Returning from the towers, we followed the coast back towards Le Hocq. Conditions were just perfect, in fact quite amazing for the beginning of September. Conditions were such that we had to stop and roll, as well as having a swim in the crystal clear waters. It will be possibly 9 months, before we experience such conditions again. Great memories to help us through the winter months.
After the fascinating talk by Sam Cook the Nordkapp meet continued on the Sunday in less than perfect weather. Bouley Bay was our venue of choice as it offered the best chance of protection from the southerly winds, which were forecast to increase to force 7.
Initially the winds were light and we were able to explore the headlands between Bouley Bay and Bonne Nuit, which are the highest in Jersey. Clouds were clearly building from the south and the wind increasing towards the forecast force 6 to 7. Certainly the paddle back into Bouley Bay was what could be described as entertaining.
Although we had hoped for a day trip when we planned the Nordkapp weekend, the reality was the morning paddle on the Sunday was the best that could be hoped for in the conditions.
Monday morning dawned brighter and slightly calmer so we were able to plan a day trip from the Jersey Canoe Club premises at St Catherine’s. Around the north east corner of the island and along the north coast, before hitching a ride back on the first of the flooding tide.
It was amazing over these two days to see such a variety of Nordkapp sea kayaks on the water, performing perfectly in the environment they were designed to operate in. In the mid 1970’s Frank Goodman designed a sea kayak, with significant input from paddlers such as Sam Cook in particular.
The first kayak was produced in February 1975 and in the following 43 years it has maintained its position at the forefront of sea kayaking expeditions. Last weekend was a celebration of the Nordkapp and in many ways the early years of the Jersey Canoe Club.
Paddling Nordkapp’s members of the Club completed the first circumnavigation of Ireland, a circumnavigation of the Outer Hebrides, the west coast of Spitsbergen and our own Nordkapp expedition to name just a few. This was in addition to ground breaking exploration of the Channel Island waters by sea kayaks.
Members of the Club continue to paddle at a high standard in a range of geographical locations but these trips are no longer the preserve of the Nordkapp alone. Times have changed but we still maintain our respect for this iconic sea kayak, which has contributed so much to the history of modern sea kayaking.