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.
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.
The Jersey Canoe Club Nordkapp meet got under way on Friday evening with a small reception and a photo opportunity at the Club premises at St Catherine’s.
There were 22 Nordkapp’s on showing, varying not just in model type but also in age. The oldest was an orange and white Nordkapp HM, which had been produced before the introduction of recessed deck fittings. This probably dates it to about 1977. The most recent kayak was a Nordkapp Forti, which was available for people to try.
The evening was an opportunity to look at kayaks, chat with friends about paddling and to meet Sam Cook, our weekend guest. In addition planning the paddle for Saturday, from Ouaisne around Corbiere and into the reefs near La Rocco Tower.
On the Saturday we were able to show Sam some of the most interesting paddling in Jersey waters, granite cliffs, tide races and lighthouses, offshore reefs and North Atlantic swells. A perfect backdrop to our Nordkapp meet. It was just amazing to see so many of the classic kayaks out on the water at the same time.
On Saturday evening Sam gave a talk on the 1975 Nordkapp expedition, which was fascinating. So many things that we take for granted came about as a result of that innovative trip:
Buoyancy aids (PFD’s) with pockets
Asymmetric paddle blades
It was a truly ground breaking expedition, which set the scene for so many more which followed. Without the Norkapp meet people would have not had the opportunity to experience and learn what an influence this sea kayak has had on modern paddling. There was still two days of paddling to go!
As many of you are aware the Ecrehous is one of my favourite, if not my favourite, sea kayaking destination. Visits to this delightful reef have been covered many times in the life of this blog. To gain a flavour of this small archipelago, approximately 6 nautical miles to the north east of Jersey have a look at some of these posts: Ecrehous Today. Ecrehous Sunshine. Ecrehous – First of the Year. Sunday morning at the Ecrehous.
To mention just a few.
Over the years there have been a number of articles published about the reef, but as far as I am aware only two books in English. The most recent is “Les Ecrehous” by Warwick Rodwell, which was published in 1996 and must be the considered as the definitive study of a small land mass. The information contained within the pages is amazing.
An earlier book was written by P. J. Ouless, “The Ecrehous” and published in 1884. This book contains five plates, which depict the reef in the second half of the 19th century. I thought that it would be interesting to take some modern photographs from roughly the same position to see how the reef has changed over the last 150 years.
So we headed out to get some modern Ecrehous pictures, trying to decide exactly where the earlier pictures were taken wasn’t always easy and clearly we must have had different size lenses! It was certainly an interesting exercise and encouraged us to look at the Ecrehous through new eyes.
This summer as everybody is aware has been perfect for kayaking and we have been fortunate enough to get in a number of paddles to the Ecrehous. The Monday one that I described here, is possibly the most memorable visit that I have ever had to this delightful reef, which lies nearly 6 nautical miles to the north east of Jersey. Some people expressed surprise at as us going to the Ecrehous again (3 times in 10 days) but with light winds and blue skies it is virtually impossible to beat as a sea kayaking destination.
The Ecrehous is a precious eco-system, which needs protecting, it is part of a RAMSAR site but generally people seem to totally respect the uniqueness of the area although at weekends it can appear rather crowded, with boat owners heading to the reef from both Jersey and France in significant numbers. During the week visitor numbers are greatly reduced and for complete isolation try a mid-week visit in January.
It is one of those special places, which deserves to be explored throughout the year so I am more than happy to visit the Ecrehous again and again. It doesn’t matter how often you go there is nearly always something new to be discovered and whatever the weather you are never disappointed.
The Ecrehous are always special but the Ecrehous today was somewhere truly memorable. A paddle which I am sure will remain etched on the memory of those who went, for many years.
Although it was a Monday morning and people have work commitments we still had 5 people from the Jersey Canoe Club meet at St Catherine’s for an 09.30 departure to the Ecrehous. The ability to arrange group paddles at short notice has to be one of the major benefits of WhatsApp groups. This was was to be my first visit to the Ecrehous since February 2018.
What started off as a relatively cloudy morning with the hint of fog gradually transformed into just a perfect day with light winds and wall to wall sunshine. Enough of the rambling lets allow the pictures to describe the Ecrehous today.
Located to the north of Greve de Lecq, the Pierres de Lecq are better know by their other name the Paternosters. Small boats frequently pass by although people rarely land. I first visited the reef in 1979 and on every subsequent visit we have had the reef to ourselves.
Visits tend to take place on spring tides, in Jersey high water on springs is always in the morning and the evening, meaning that low water is around lunch time. Visits have to take place around low water, otherwise there won’t be anywhere to land. A consequence of going on springs is that the tidal streams will be flowing much faster so an understanding of tidal flows is necessary.
We headed east towards Sorel point as we were going to allow the tide to sweep us back to the west for what we hoped would be our arrival at the Paternoster’s. This wind and wave swept reef is formed from gneiss, a type of rock absent from the main land mass of Jersey. At high water there is virtually nowhere to land so it is best to arrive at mid tide on the ebb, which just happens to mean that you will be the crossing towards maximum rate. This always adds to the entertainment.
The Pierres de Lecq have become known as the Paternosters due to a legend linked to the settlement of Sark by some families from the parish of St Ouen in Jersey, in the 16th century. One of the boats was wrecked en route to Sark, with the women and children drowning. At times it is said that their cries can still be heard in the wind and so it became a tradition for fishermen passing by to say a Lords Prayer. On the day of our visit the only sound was the call of oystercatchers and herring gulls.
Although only a few miles from Jersey the reefs have truly remote and wild feel. All too soon though it was time to head back to the mainland. We used the flooding tide to carry us towards Plemont headland, the speed over the ground rarely dropped below 7 knots before returning along the coast back to Greve de Lecq.
Overall we only paddled about 9 nautical miles but what quality, any visit to the Paternosters or the Pierres de Lecq makes you feel that you have visited somewhere special.
Over nearly 40 years I have run hundreds of British Canoe courses across all levels, in both coaching and personal performance but one of my favourites is the SUP Module. This Discipline Specific Module was introduced several years ago in response to the significant increase in the number of people taking up Stand Up Paddleboarding.
Over the last couple of years I have run quite a few of the courses, attracting paddlers from both on and off Jersey. What is interesting, is that as each course follows another, the level of the participants has steadily increased. As a result last weeks course was just a pleasure to run. With all the paddlers showing competency on the boards.
Conditions couldn’t have been better for the SUP Module. I remember completing my training course in Nottingham, wearing a dry suit and being absolutely frozen, trying to avoid going into the water too many times. This week it was warm, clear seas and light winds with every opportunity was taken to get into the water to cool off.
In the past it has been all to easy to be critical of British Canoeing courses but I think in this instance they have just about got it right. That day with the staff from Absolute Adventures, we had a really positive experience.
Sometimes days are just so enjoyable and this was the case the other day with Absolute Adventures staff development. We left from St Catherine’s heading west on the ebbing tide. In virtually flat calm conditions we headed past La Coupe and Tour de Rozel.
Lunch was on a small sandy beach to the east of Bouley Bay, which is only exposed on low water spring tides. To the west we could see the remains of the SS Ribbledale. It was wrecked on the 27th December 1926, whilst en route from London to Jersey. Parts of the boilers were clearly visible just to the west. Further information is available here.
The plan was to return via Tour de Rozel, where we planned to play in the flood tide, as it accelerated around the headland. We weren’t disappointed, the water was starting to move to the east and accelerating quickly as the flood tide developed.
It was just the perfect place to look at skills and to work on strokes. I always find it such an enjoyable place to play and somewhere to practice those techniques, which are crucial to competent kayak handling. In terms of staff development it was perfect, challenging conditions in a safe environment, helping to ensure that those paddlers who are leading groups during the summer months have the appropriate skill level. Combined with the superb weather it was just a perfect way to spend a day.
As mentioned in an earlier post we were due to paddle around Jersey, with Samuel, to raise money in memory of his dad, who sadly passed away last year. Well yesterday was the day, on which the round Jersey paddle was planned, but the weather decided not to co-operate fully. After days of virtually calm winds, there was the possibility of a force 4, but we were happy to give it a go.
Just after 08.00 we left St Catherine’s and headed along the north coast. With wide and tide with us we made pretty rapid progress, averaging well over 4 knots, Samuel was in the double with Jim, whilst John and myself were in singles. Sections of the coast, which we often spent hours exploring, slipped past quickly. The north west corner, is a particularly spectacular section of coast but no time to appreciate today as ahead lay the broad sweep of St Ouen’s Bay, which we knew would have potential crosswinds. The west coast wasn’t as challenging as we anticipated but as soon as we rounded Corbiere onto the south coast the headwinds kicked in.
The automatic wind broadcast from St Helier Pierheads was a pretty constant 11 knots, gusting 19 knots, although it did reach a rather inconvenient 21 knots of headwind on several occasions. It was a matter of simply putting our heads down, and covering the 8 nautical miles, with the least amount of discomfort possible.
As we headed onto the east coast St Catherine’s Breakwater came back into view so we knew whatever happened we were going to complete the circumnavigation. What had started as a vague plan for Samuel, at Christmas, had developed into reality. The 29 nautical miles were much harder than we anticipated due to the level if the wind but we were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd as we reached the breakwater and Samuel had his moment in the spotlight when he was interviewed by the local television station.
Samuel set out to raise £2,250 and even before we started the paddle he had more than exceed his total, which is great news. To find out more about Samuel’s project take a look at his Just Giving page to see how much he has currently raised.
It was a great day and as experienced sea kayakers John, Jim and myself were just amazed at the amount of effort Samuel put in on the day we paddled round Jersey.