For the last few months we seem to have been subjected to one North Atlantic storm after another. The jet stream has been powering one low depression after another, creating unsettled weather. Days of being able to potter along the coast, exploring nooks and crannies have been few and far between. It is been a matter of trying to squeeze a few miles in, whilst trying to avoid the strongest winds, as they funnel around headlands.
On Monday of this week a slight glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon, light winds for Friday. That slight glimmer eventually turned into a window of opportunity so this morning saw us loading the kayaks for a quick Ecrehous visit, in late winter sunshine from St Catherines.
With low water at around 13.30 the plan was to cross towards the end of the ebb, a quick break on the reef and complete the return crossing at the start of the flood. It was good plan and it almost worked. The 5.5 nautical miles on the way passed quickly and easily. We saw one fishing boat but apart from that we had the ocean to ourselves. There weren’t even that many birds to distract us, the only one of interest was a great crested grebe.
As the tide was sill running north there was some slight disturbance as we approached the Ecrehous but once the reef it was calm and sunny, the perfection combination for experiencing the channels and islets. A quick lunch break and the inevitable photo opportunities and just over 30 minutes later saw us heading back to the kayaks for the return crossing to Jersey.
Unfortunately our paddling speed wasn’t quite what we anticipated and so we were more exposed to the influence of the tidal streams, than was ideal. What would normally take about 1 hour 30 mins took an extra hour and in contrast to the 5.5 miles going out we covered 8.5 nautical miles on the way back.
It wasn’t a serious issue but clearly demonstrates the impact that tidal streams can have on sea kayakers. In fact it was a bit of of blessing in disguise, as the extra miles that we covered meant that the Jersey Canoe Club went back to the top of British Canoeing’s Winter Challenge, although probably not for long!
Although slightly harder than anticipated it was well worth the extra effort for some Ecrehous sunshine.
The Jersey Canoe Club was formed towards the end of 1974, when a group of us got together. We had been paddling for a number of years, sometimes together and at other times in our small geographic groups. Most of us were too young to drive to be able to meet up regularly!
On August Bank Holiday 1974 we arranged a trip to the Ecrehous, a stunning beautiful reef of rocks between Jersey and France, which 44 years on is still my favourite one day paddle. For the first few years the Club was homeless, meeting at Highland’s College every Sunday morning before heading off to paddle a section of Jersey’s varied coastline. Thursday evenings during the summer months was always from St Helier Harbour, meeting at the Old Lifeboat Slip before heading off around Elizabeth Castle or the Dog’s Nest.
In the early 1980’s we found our first premises, a building behind the La Folie Inn, which we shared with a couple of other watersports clubs. It sounded a good idea but didn’t really work out, largely because no one Club seemed to have the overall responsibility for the building. So after a few years it fell into disuse.
Over the next few years there were a number of possible projects, at one point we had architects plans drawn up for a specific Club house at a potential site close to the water in St Helier. Unfortunately the Club was unable to negotiate a long enough lease on the land, so that project never moved forward.
In 1991 the Jersey Canoe Club was fortunate to be offered the original lifeboat station at St Catherine’s, an opportunity which was eagerly taken up. The building was, in many ways, in the perfect location. Sheltered from the prevailing winds and because of the slipway there is relatively easy access to the water at all stages of the tide.
In the last 27 years the Club house as been used in a number of different ways. The first Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium was based there in 1992 and then every 2 years up until 2010. During those 10 events many people who are internationally known in the kayaking world used the building. People such as Derek Hutchinson, Frank Goodman, Chris Hare, Scott Cunningham, John Heath, Gordon Brown, Howard Jeffs and Duncan Winning, to name just a few.
The building has also seen numerous training and coaching weekends right up to the highest level. In the early 1990’s I was able to run a modular Level 5 Coach course, over 5 weekends and coaches who came to assist in the course included Franco Ferrero ( a Jersey boy), Graham Wardle, Kevin Danforth, Dave Collins and Dennis Ball. In addition there were numerous other training courses at all levels. Plus every Christmas Day morning hardy members of the Club with family and friends meet for the swim at 11.00, followed by mince pies and mulled wine.
This year marks the 28th year that the Club will be holding its training sessions at St Catherine’s on a Tuesday night. During that time hundreds, possibly even several thousand people have been able to enjoy sea kayaking, using the Club House as a focus for the activities. To mark this continued use it was decided to refurbish the upstairs in the expectation of encouraging even greater use by the members of the Jersey Canoe Club.
It was decided to run the Sunday morning session from St Catherine’s, not an area of the Island that we use that frequently for Sunday morning paddles in the winter. It is 2018, so we should have known that there was going to be a gale forecast, it might just be me but this winter seems incredibly windy. With the forecast, St Catherine’s was actually quite a sensible choice. In addition it would be a perfect opportunity to show the Club members the improvements upstairs.
The transformation of the Club House is a result of the hard work of Janet Taylor and her efforts were really appreciated by those people who turned up, either for the paddling or for the cake and coffee afterwards.
Today was a paddle of contrasts, at times sunny and flat calm whilst at other times we were battered by hail. All this against the historical backdrop of Jersey’s east coast. 16 members braved the conditions and we all completed 7 miles towards the British Canoeing Winter Challenge. At the present the Jersey Canoe Club lies in second place but we have struggled to get the miles in this year because it has been so consistently windy.
Sometimes when we are kayaking we focus on the big picture and miss out on some of the smaller and at times more interesting items.The Ecrehous, as many of you will be aware, is probably my favourite, all time sea kayaking day trip. Arriving at the reef, time is normally spent wandering around and admiring at the stunning seascapes whilst sitting on one of the finest benches in the world. On some recent visits I have spent time looking at smaller features including inscriptions on some of the Ecrehous buildings. What has been revealed is fascinating history of a unique environment.
Sometimes we are so concerned with the big picture that we miss the detail so next time that you are out kayaking adjust the scale of your view and you never know what will be revealed.
For what seemed like the first time in months the Sunday morning session of the Jersey Canoe Club took place in some bright February sunshine, although the temperature was modified by the strong north easterly wind. 11 of us paddled out from St Brelade’s heading towards Corbiere, the granite cliffs looking particularly stunning.
Although Corbiere was our destination, as we approached the south west corner it was clear that with the amount of water moving, due to the Spring tides, and the westerly swell, that we might need to cut our journey short. We didn’t really want an unplanned journey to Sark.
Close to the causeway, at Corbiere, a plaque commemorates the attempts of Peter Edwin Larbalestier, an assistant keeper of the lighthouse, who was drowned on 28 May 1946, while trying to rescue a visitor cut off by the incoming tide, who also lost her life. Many years ago I was landing on the slipway at Corbiere, after a Club session on a Thursday evening. I noticed the plaque and said to one of the people who was with us, “that’s funny you have the same name as the lighthouse keeper who drowned” his reply was “that’s not surprising he was my uncle and I am named after him”.
In the Corbiere Phare Restaurant there is a photograph of Peter Edwin Larbalestier, in his lighthouse keepers uniform. The likeness to Peter Larbalestier is really quite amazing. Sadly Peter from the Canoe Club passed away a few years ago but every time we look at the photograph of his uncle we are reminded of the good times we had with Peter kayaking.
The paddle back to St Brelade’s against the wind and tide was a bit challenging in places but that was largely irrelevant as we enjoyed our first sunny Sunday morning paddle of 2018.
For what seems like the first time in months we were able to have our midweek kayaking day trip off the south west corner of the Island. There have been numerous strong wind warnings this year, issued by Jersey Met, most of them appearing to involve some south westerly involvement. The consequence of this is that day trips, along the south coast have been few and far between recently. Fortunately today’s forecast allowed us the paddle from Belcroute to Corbiere and return.
It was just a few hardy members of the Jersey Canoe Club who congregated at Belcroute on Tuesday morning. Many of the regular attendees of the mid week day trip were off Island or unavailable this week. The aim was to use the last of the ebb as it flowed west, towards Corbiere, with the added assistance of the light north easterly wind. Amazingly as the tide turned and the east flowing stream started the wind also went around to the south west. It’s not often that you get both wind and tide with in both directions on a day trip. We were certainly getting our monies worth from environmental factors.
From Belcroute it was an easy run south to Noirmont Point, clearly identified by its black and white, early 19th century military tower. Although it wasn’t easily visible today because of the low cloud/fog. We used the last couple of hours of the tidal flow to assist our run towards Corbiere. This section of coast has to be one of my favourite lengths of the islands coastline, it is where I gained my original kayaking experience, starting in 1969.
It is normally a blaze of colour, the blue sea, red granite and green vegetation complementing each other but today the overwhelming colour was grey.
It was just a delight to be on the water without having to battle wind and waves, which have been our constant companions for the last few months. Corbiere was our turning point, the iconic lighthouse was first lit on the 24th April 1874 and over the years has been the scene of a number of dramatic rescues.
Lunch was on the small beach below the Highlands Hotel, before we took advantage of the easterly flowing tide and south westerly wind to assist our return. Overall we paddled just over 11 miles each, assisting Jersey Canoe Club’s entry into the British Canoeing Winter Challenge. Taking the Clubs combined mileage since the 1st December to just over 2,000 miles, a significant total considering the weather and the fact that because of geography we are limited to paddling on the sea.
I have written more information on the route between Belcroute and Corbiere elsewhere on the SeaPaddler site, so take a look for further ideas on places to paddle.
As virtually everybody who is reading this post is aware, the Nordkapp, is recognised as one of the finest sea kayaks ever designed. Originally it was designed, by Frank Goodman, for the 1975 expedition to the most northerly point in Norway. This was a real watershed in sea kayak expeditions, if my memory serves me correctly the expedition was serialised in the Sunday Telegraph magazine.
The Nordkapp was used on other significant kayaking trips, such as the 1977 Cape Horn expedition and Paul Caffyn’s circumnavigation of the islands of New Zealand. It wasn’t just used on trips to distant shores, in 1978 they were used by 3 members of the Jersey Canoe Club on the first circumnavigation of Ireland.
I first paddled a Nordkapp in 1977, only briefly, returning to paddle one on a far more regular basis in 1979 before finally taking the plunge and buying my own kayak in 1980, once I had a “proper job” with a regular income. I bought my second Nordkapp HM in 1985, and it is still the kayak, which I paddle on a regular basis.
Over the last few years a few people in Jersey have to appreciate the finer points of he Nordkapp and have spent time and money lovingly restoring them. Looking at the care which had gone into restoring these fine kayaks it was thought to be a pity that was an opportunity to see them on the water together. Hence the idea of a Nordkapp meet, here in Jersey, was born.
Many of you might remember the Nordkapp owners meets of the early 1980’s, arranged by Frank Goodman, and run from Nigel Dennis’s centre of Anglesey. These were to evolve into the well known Anglesey Sea Kayak Symposium.
The Jersey Canoe Club has decided, therefore, to run a Nordkapp paddling weekend at the end of August this year, to encourage paddlers to bring out their much prized kayaks. We will welcome all variations of the classic kayak, the HM, Jubilee, LV, plastic or Forti to the Island and are hoping to encourage visitors to the island as well as local paddlers to get out on the water.
It is a very simple concept, a few paddles at a variety of levels each day and some evening entertainment, including a talk from some of the most experienced Nordkapp paddlers from over the years. This is not a commercial event, but it has received very generous funding from the Jersey Canoe Club, so the cost is very simple. Free to all JCC members and a cost of £25 to non members. This covers 12 months as an overseas member of the Canoe Club and ensures that every participant is covered by the Clubs insurance. The £25 would also allow you to return to Jersey and participate in Club sessions in the following year as well as having access to Club equipment.
We are fortunate enough to be able to confirm that the Saturday evening talk will be given by Sam Cook who was on the original Nordkapp expedition in 1975. This is a great opportunity to hear a talk by one of the icons of sea kayaking in the 20th century. A couple of years later he went on what was possibly the first kayaking expedition to Svalbard, where, once again they used the Nordkapp.
If you are are interested in attending the event please send me an e mail, so that I can contact you over the coming weeks with more information. It would be really helpful to know what type of Nordkapp you have, or whether you are hoping to rent or borrow one, if we manage to get hold of some spare kayaks.
As many of you aware any visit to the Ecrehous is special and even more so if you manage to squeeze a visit in during January. At this time of the year you are virtually guaranteed to have the reef to yourself, in complete contrast to weekends in the summer, when there is virtual stream of boats heading to the Ecrehous from both Jersey and France.
Late on Thursday the forecast showed virtually no wind on the Friday morning before it started to pick up around midday from the south. In addition it was a neap tide, with low water at 09.15, perfect for a quick crossing from St Catherine’s.
An early morning start saw us heading towards Les Ecrehous , in flat calm, with the promise of some sunshine. The sun still hadn’t risen, when we left. The journey out was pretty simple, our crossing coincided with the low water slack. The other advantage of crossing at low water is that the rocks stretch out towards Jersey so you actually feel that you have finished the crossing sooner.
As we expected we were the only people on the reef, we landed on the French side of the reef, the shingle bank is steeper on the eastern side and so it is a easier carry, today though we hardly had to move the kayaks as we weren’t planning to stay that long. We had a bite to eat on what is probably the finest bench to be found almost anywhere, with superb views in every direction.
Within 30 minutes of landing we were preparing to launch. The tide had already turned and the forecast from Jersey Met was for a southerly force 3-4 by midday. We paddled up the eastern side of the reef as we want to pass to the north before catching some of the southerly tide back towards Jersey.
What was amazing was the complete change in the weather, we had been comfortable sitting on the bench admiring the distant views but within 30 minutes the sky had turned dark, Jersey’s coast was becoming less discernible and the wind was starting to freshen. We weren’t surprised though as this was exactly what the Met Office in Jersey had forecast.
It was a fairly straightforward paddle back to St Catherine’s but as we landed the calm and blue skies of our departure were a distant memory.
It was a quick change and a retreat to the warmth of the cafe in order to savour the events of the morning. A January visit to the Ecrehous always feels a privilege.
After a brief respite from the gales yesterday, it was business as usual this morning at Ouaisne. The only difference to pretty much every other day of the year so far was that the gale was out of the east as opposed to the west. As we left the beach little did we realize what adventures were about to unfold with a couple of sit on tops.
Linked to the wind going easterly was the related drop in temperature, both real and wind chill. The apparent air temperature was probably close to zero, pretty rare for Jersey, so dry suits were the order of the day.
The large, powerful swell which had been running the day before had raised a few doubts in my mind about the sea state so I spent some time walking over Pt Le Fret, before heading to Ouaisne, so that I could scout the proposed route. It was clear that there was plenty of wind about but under the cliffs we would be reasonably sheltered.
So it was a hardy group of 12 paddlers from the Jersey Canoe Club, who left the beach, at Ouaisne, keeping close to the shore before reaching La Cotte de St Brelade. An important archaeological site, but today our focus was more on maintaining direction in the wind, as opposed to contemplating the activities of the mammoth hunters who used to live in this area.
Pt Le Fret was much calmer than we anticipated although there was some headwind as we turned into Portelet, one of the least visited bays on the south coast, although visitor numbers have probably increased in the last few years with the opening of the Pizza Restaurant.
Our turning point for the day was in the small bay just to the west of Noirmont but as we entered the bay there appeared to be a splash of colour on the rocks, which isn’t normally there. As we approached it was clear that there were two sit on tops on the rocks, it actually turned out to be parts of three different craft. We decided that it would be best to tow them back to Portelet, so Jim and myself landed and got them down to the waters edge, but it was clear that they had suffered a real battering in the recent storms.
John managed to tow one around to Portelet but as soon as I put the tow on the second one it started to sink, it became obvious why a quick release tow line is important. There was no way that we could get it around to Portelet. The one thing that we took away from today is that sit on tops probably need some form of internal buoyancy. If they develop a large hole they will float semi submerged, at best. Perhaps not quite as safe as many people consider.
The return to Ouaisne was somewhat exciting as the wind appeared to be a bit more easterly that north easterly, resulting in the loss of some shelter but what was clear was that it had increased in strength. Looking at the statistics on Jersey Met, when we were relaxing over a pint once back at the beach, the wind had been touching 40 knots.
All in all a rather entertaining Sunday morning paddle and all that remained to do was to contact the Coastguard to inform them of the whereabouts of the sit on tops.
The final paddle of 2017, for the Jersey Canoe Club, was from Bouley Bay. Once again the possible venues had been severely restricted due to the very unsettled weather. As it happened our time on the water coincided with a slight reduction in the wind speed, but this was due to luck rather than judgement.
In contrast to most Club paddles we decided to paddle in the small kayaks, as opposed to the normal sea kayaks. Heading west, initially, we reached the small Canoe Club cottage at Egypt and the headland at Belle Hougue. As soon as we arrived at the headland we started to feel the impact of the rather large swell, which was arriving from the west.
Returning back to Bouley Bay, we made a slight detour to try and see the remains of the ship, Ribbledale, which was wrecked on the rocks, just after Christmas 1926. Due to the swell it wasn’t possible to approach that close to the remains.
It was another grey day, the 12th in a row, if my memory serves me correctly. Although it was a very entertaining final paddle for 2017 lets hope that 2018 brings an improvement in the weather.
The forecast for the next few days is anything but favourable so we took advantage of today’s brief respite from the storms to get a paddle in, from Bouley Bay. Towards the north east of the island it is relatively sheltered from the strongest of the wind.
The most positive aspect of paddling at Bouley Bay, though is the gradient of the beach. Being relatively steep it means that the carry to the waters edge is always pretty short, this was certainly the case today as we only had a 4.7 metre tidal range. Although large compared to most places, for Jersey it was a small neap tide.
The plan was to head east towards Rozel, hopefully for coffee and cake at The Hungry Man before returning along the coast. A fairly easy 6 mile round trip, particularly when we added a slight detour towards Belle Hougue.
As with so many places, kayaking in Jersey is set against a backdrop of historical and geographical features. The small pier, at Bouley Bay, was built by the States of Jersey in 1829, as a small harbour for the oyster fishermen, who mainly worked off the east coast of the Island. The lack of flat land nearby prevented the development of a significant harbour in the area, although it was considered at times.
Heading east, if the tide was lower we would be able to see the remains of the Ribbledale, a cargo ship, which ran aground on the 27th December 1926, whilst en route to Jersey from London. Today we just paddled over her remains whilst heading towards L’Etacquerel Fort. Constructed in the 19th century to help defend the bay, it is now available for hire from Jersey Heritage, it is ideal for visiting groups.
From here we were carried on the tide towards Tour de Rozel, or White Rock. The location of many happy hours paddling by members of the Jersey Canoe Club, but today we didn’t hang around, we had more important things on our mind, coffee and cake at The Hungry Man, in Rozel. Fortunately for us it was open.
The return journey was slightly longer as we wanted to get an extra couple of miles towards the British Canoeing Winter Challenge. A very plasant 3 hours out from Bouley Bay, made all the more worthwhile when the weather forecast was updated this evening and is now showing winds stronger than shown on the forecast above. certainly a case of “seizing the day”.