The 1st December marks the start of British Canoeing Winter Challenge. It last 3 months and the aim is to encourage members of canoe and kayak clubs to get out on the water during the darker, colder days of winter.
Last year Jersey Canoe Club came top, in terms of miles covered, just about fending off a determined challenge by Portsmouth Canoe Club. In the 3 months the members of the Jersey club paddled a total of 4,108 miles, with 4 members paddling over the 300 miles. The highest individual total was 520 miles, which is quite amazing considering that there is no inland water in Jersey, so they were all completed on the sea.
Today’s forecast was less than perfect for the first day of the Challenge as 5 slightly enthusiastic kayakers headed out from Belcroute. The initial mile was fast and easy as the northerly force 5 sped us on our way towards Noirmont point, which was the gateway to more sheltered waters, under the cliffs of Portelet. Some large black clouds gave a suggestion of rain or sleet but surprisingly we stayed dry. At times even feeling the warmth of the low angled winter sun.
Nicky pulled out in St Brelade’s whilst the rest of us carried onto Corbiere, with its freshly painted lighthouse. The tide had started to rise quite quickly meaning we had missed the opportunity to land in some of the small bays, so we headed back to Beauport for lunch. Without doubt one of the most beautiful bays on the Island, but on the 1st December we had the beach to ourselves.
After lunch we headed east across St Brelade’s Bay as the clouds built in size. For most of the paddle we were reasonably protected from the wind but from Noirmont to Belcroute there was no respite. The wind was blowing at about 30 knots straight into our faces, which resulted in some demanding paddling conditions. When we landed our total mileage for the day was 60 miles, which despite the weather was a pretty reasonable start towards British Canoeings Winter Challenge .
It is probably true to say that we wouldn’t have normally gone for such a long paddle in the prevailing conditions but the fact that we did stay out there and put the miles in is evidence of the success of the Winter Challenge, which is to get more paddlers out on the water during the cold, dark days of December, January and February.
It has been a weekend of kayaking contrasts, Saturday was very windy and sunny so we spent the morning paddling off the east coast. Heading south from St Catherine’s to Gorey where we stopped for coffee and cake. This is a section of the coast that we paddle most weeks during the summer months as it is the location for the Jersey Canoe Club Tuesday evening training sessions. In contrast we rarely paddle along this section of coast during the winter but it is a couple of miles steeped in history.
For over 40 years the Canoe Club has paddled every Sunday morning at a variety of locations around the Island. For the last 10 or 15 years the focus has been on using sea kayaks, hardly surprising as Jersey is a superb sea kayaking destination. Today was a throw back to the 1970’s and 80’s as we used smaller play boats, as we headed out from St Brelade’s. It was good to get out in the small kayaks as it gave us chance to hone our skills. So it really was a weekend of kayaking contrasts.
The forecast for Wednesday was for southerly gales building during the course of the day, with the main impact being felt from about 15.00 onwards. Wednesday is the day when we try to go on day trips so we didn’t want to give up to easily. An option appeared to meet at Rozel, head west, use the tide, tuck in under the cliffs, eat our sandwiches and make a hasty retreat to the east before the full force of the gale struck.
What was a real surprise was the stunning November sunshine we enjoyed all day, it was only on the drive home, as the wind speed significantly increased that the cloud banks started to move in from the west.
Lunch was at Bonne Nuit, somewhere we hadn’t expected to reach when we set out from Rozel. Possibly the most interesting incident during the day was an encounter with a grey seal, close to Bouley Bay. The toggles on my Nordkapp are carved from reindeer antlers I collected on a trip to Svalbard in 1983. Clearly they attracted the attention of the seal, which was attempting to lick the toggles, sadly it was the rear toggle it was interested in. Meaning that it was difficult to see, let alone photograph. Still a memorable encounter.
I paddled out to the Ecrehous this morning, it was my 7th visit of the year so far but interestingly the 5th time I have been on a Wednesday. I have only visited once at a weekend and that was way back in January.
It would be interesting to conduct a scientific study and hopefully come up with some fascinating conclusions which indicate a correlation between the passage of areas of high pressure over the Channel Islands shipping area on the third day of the week. In reality though I think that the reason for the popularity of the Wednesday visits is due to the fact that a number of people in the Jersey Canoe Club had retired or are working significantly reduced working weeks. We have put Wednesday aside as our day of choice for day trips, hoping to go out somewhere every week.
Looking at the weather forecasts as soon as there is an indication that the winds might be reasonably light on the Wednesday our thoughts turn to offshore paddles. This week was no different, a quick WhatsApp on Tuesday and this morning saw 8 0f us paddling away from St Catherine’s towards the Ecrehous.
I have visited the reef numerous times over the years, the last time was just a few weeks ago but always jump at the chance to go again. It was a relatively smooth crossing and a great lunch spot but it was the return crossing which was particularly memorable. The encounter with the pod of bottle nosed dolphins was as good as I have ever seen, they remained with us for probably 20 minutes, at times approaching within a metre before suddenly changing course and diving.
What a great way to spend a Wednesday in November.
This was an article which I first wrote over 7 years ago, referring to the only time that I have ever worked as a kayak model. At the time we had no idea of how the photographs were going to be used, or where, but amazingly they still keep appearing. The most surprising place that I have seen the photographs used is inside the local bus timetable.
The pictures appear regularly on local tourist websites but quite possibly the most public place is inside the arrivals hall at Jersey Airport. Above one of the luggage belts there is a picture of us paddling, which has proudly greeted arriving tourists for a number of years. I would like to think that it might have inspired a few visitors to pick up a paddle and head out to enjoy Jersey’s coastal waters.
This was our first, and probably last modeling assignment. Jersey Tourism were looking for some new images to publicize the island and sea kayaks, in front of some of the islands more iconic buildings, was seen as possible way forward.
So dawn on a Saturday morning, in 2010, saw Nicky, Katie and myself on the water at Archirondel posing for the cameras. We have seen a few of the results and they look great but we will have to wait to see which ones might be used in any marketing publicity. Its great though to see that Jersey is looking to attract more visiting kayakers to our beautiful island, or perhaps provide inspiration for visiting tourists to get out on the water.
I think that it is true to say though that I don’t have a future career as a professional model. This has proved true over time as I have never asked to star as a kayak model since.
Two new and recently polished kayaks waiting on the beach
The dawn light had a particularly special quality.
It was a reasonable turn out for the Jersey Canoe Club, Sunday morning session today. 17 kayakers of a variety of differing abilities gathered on the beach at St Brelade’s. It was an early start, the changing of the clocks ensured that everybody was there promptly. The plan was simple, head towards Corbiere and see what develops We didn’t realize that it was going to offer an excellent opportunity for some kayak coaching. The wind was possibly going to touch force 5 from the north west, which would blow us back, helped by the last of the flood tide.
Just before Pt La Moye the group gathered in a sheltered bay, whilst a couple of paddlers headed out to assess the conditions. There was clearly some movement off the point, which is the most significant headland between St Brelade’s Bay and Corbiere. Normally it is a magnet for shore based fishermen but today the rocks stood empty. Perfect, we could play in the waters off the point, without fear of becoming entangled in fishing lines.
The tidal stream in shore had already turn west in close creating some entertaining wind against tide conditions. One of the pleasures of paddling with a group from the Jersey Canoe Club is the cross section of paddlers, today four of the group were Advanced Sea Kayak Leaders (5 Star in old money), whilst for 3 of the group it was possibly their first time on the sea in a closed cockpit kayak. The other 10 paddlers were mainly 3 to 4 Star level.
Leading such a diverse group of paddlers can present its own challenges but Alex and Rachel, the designated leaders for the day engaged the whole group in a constructive and educational manner. Initially the group were taken into run off the point to practice turning and running with winds and waves. Then followed a couple of exercises around a rock with a few small breaking waves to introduce an element of spice. First of all simply paddling around the rock in reverse, how often do we practice reverse paddling in anything other than flat calm?
The second exercise involved working in pairs. It involved paddling around the rock again but one of the paddlers had their eyes shut whilst the other had to offer clear guidance on which paddle strokes to use and on which side of the kayak. Simple but effective one to one kayak coaching. It really made the people with their eyes open focus on future water, not just theirs but also that of their partner.
All to soon it was time to head back towards St Brelade’s, after all we had the Canoe Club Sunday lunch to attend. As the wind pushed us to the east we came across a group out coasteering from our friends at Absolute Adventures. The south west corner of Jersey is a real playground for anybody with an interest in water sports.
Located nearly 6 nautical miles north east of Jersey are Les Ecrehous. Now I might be biased but I consider a visit to this reef one of the finest one day sea kayaking trips possible anywhere. Last Saturday and Sunday as Storm Brian lashed the Channel Islands it seemed inconceivable that by Wednesday we would be heading out from St Catherine’s for a late October visit.
That’s is just what we were able to do yesterday. A reasonably early departure from St Catherine’s Breakwater, so us taking advantage of the high water slack to cross the current, which in a couple of hours time would be endeavouring to sweep us sideways. The tidal flow rates, weren’t going to reach the 5+ knots, that they can do on Springs, but they were still going to have an impact.
In the days of GPS and electronic plotters I am not sure how many people are still going through the process of laying off a course, producing vectors, using Portland Protractors and dividers etc every time they head out. Certainly as kayakers operating in Channel Island waters it is a process that we have to go through every time we embark on an open crossing. The chart work had produced a course of 25 degrees and the GPS was just used to monitor our possible drift.
The tide was running swiftly as we paddled around the end of St Catherine’s but the crossing to the Ecrehous reef seemed remarkably straightforward. The 6 mile crossing taking 1 hour 20 minutes. We had been hoping for some autumn sunshine, unfortunately it was a rather grey day. The real bonus of the of the visit was that we had the area to ourselves for most of the time that we were there, in complete contrast to a visit on a summer weekend when the reef can feel really crowded.
Heading back to Jersey the tide had a bit more impact on our progress but we still made it back, in plenty of time, for the inevitable coffee at St Catherine’s.
I first started logging my canoeing and kayaking trips in January 1979, when I was starting to work towards a number of British Canoe Union Awards. Sea Proficiency followed by Inland and Canoe Proficiency before moving onto Senior Instructor and Advanced Sea. A logbook was a pre-requisite for most assessments, as is some form of documentary evidence today.
I found that once I started documenting my paddling experiences it became more and more difficult to stop. It has eventually developed into a series of notebooks documenting my paddling adventures of the last 38 years. It is a record of not just my paddling but includes details of where we parked the car when visiting new areas, any unusual weather, birds and animals seen etc.
One thing that I have recorded is the distance covered and have watched it gradually increase over the years. The initial thought was “had I paddled around the distance of going round the earth at the equator”? According to Google the circumference of the earth at the equator is approximately 21,640 nautical miles.
A pleasant morning was spent, several years ago, sorting through my logbooks and compiling an annual total. I discovered that I had passed the circumnavigation distance a couple of years earlier but have carried on keeping a record of my paddling journeys.
Kayaking around Stromboli was a memorable paddle, not only from the scenery but because I also went past 26,000 nautical miles in my logbook. The location was in the channel between the main island and the small stack of Strombolicchio to the north east. After watching the GPS tick over to record the distance we paused for a few moments reflected on 26,000 nautical miles and carried on paddling to our landing, close to the harbour. We had a volcano to walk up!
It was a distinct change today to paddle a short kayak, rather than the normal sea kayak. We launched from Bonne Nuit, one of the small bays on the north coast of Jersey. Bonne Nuit is one of those bays which gives easy access to relatively deep water.
We paddled out of the small harbour which was built in 1872, to provide shelter for the local fishing fleet as well as providing a place for the export of stone from Mont Mado quarry which is located on the hillside above, whilst trying to avoid the fishing lines of the people above.
One of the more unusual aspects of today’s paddle was the size of the tide, there was only 3.4 metres of difference between high and low water. In a weeks time the height difference will have increased to 10.1 metres. This meant that there was very little water moving so instead of searching for tide races we looked for rock gardens and swell.
Paddling short kayaks has a positive impact on our skill levels. Their manoeuvrability and lack of directional stability forces you to concentrate on improving your kayak handling and in particular the ability to paddle in a straight line. This can only be beneficial when transferred to the more usual sea kayaks that we paddle.
After the near perfect conditions for exploring the coast to the east of Greve de Lecq last weekend, this Sunday was a complete contrast. Magicseaweed and Jersey Met had been predicting the arrival of a swell and they weren’t wrong. The one positive note was that the beach was reasonably protected, although there was still some dumping surf on the beach. It was what was going on outside the bay that created the talking points. The Paternosters are approximately 2.5 nautical miles to the north but waves could be clearly seen breaking on the reef, whilst along the coast the swell could be seen breaking some way up the cliffs. This was clearly not going to be a day for exploring the caves along this stretch of coast. What made the swell even more impressive was its wave period, somewhere in the region of 15 seconds.
Once afloat there was very little opportunity to approach the cliffs and cave, which make this such a great stretch of coast to paddle. A week earlier we had been able to go pretty much where we liked on a flat calm Sunday morning.
We paddled as far as Sorel lighthouse but in most places we needed to keep several hundred metres out from the shore, there were just a couple of places where it was thought possible to approach a bit closer.
The landing back at Greve de Lecq was as difficult as anticipated. The dropping tide meant that we had a bit more shelter than anticipated. There had been 21 kayakers on the water with Jersey Canoe Club and only one person swam on landing. We thought that was a pretty good success rate.