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.
It has been nearly nine weeks since I ruptured my Achilles’ tendon, whilst kayaking and swimming on the south coast of Gozo.
Today it was time for another visit to the hospital, to have my cast taken off, be seen by a consultant, with the possibility of a further few weeks in plaster. In fact was transpired was good news, no more plaster and the start on the long road to recovery. Physio has started and at some point in the next couple of months, hopefully the possibility of some low level paddling.
I think I can count myself fortunate that I have reached the age of 61, without having to have any part of my body put in plaster. The last 9 weeks with my lower left leg in plaster have been a complete revelation.
Simple everyday tasks take on a new challenge. Carrying drinks is virtually impossible unless they are put in flask or a jar with a lid on. I actually haven’t made a hot drink since my injury as I am concerned about the possibility of spilling boiling water.
Public toilets are a whole new challenge, normally access is relatively easy for those people with reduced mobility. The real hazard is the area around the wash hand basins. Normally there is a significant amount of water on the floor, which when combined with the normally slippery surface creates a real problem for somebody on crutches. Twice I have slipped on a wet floor, so now in the interests of personal safety I stopped washing my hands in public toilets.
Some shops are easier to navigate than others, one particular outdoor shop in Fort William was a nightmare. Steps with broken bricks to navigate and stairs inside the building making browsing the products inside the shop a major challenge. What I have developed over the last few weeks is a greater understanding of the challenges that some people have to face everyday.
Today though, instead of another few weeks in plaster, I have been given a modified boot, had my first appointment at the physio department and started on the rehabilitation road. Any form of normal activity is still many weeks away, my decision to cancel my paddling trip to the Lofoten’s in July is still justified but I feel confident enough to start to plan a short trip to Herm, in September, to coincide with their beer festival.
By the time I get back on the water, probably towards the end of August, it will have been 5 months since I have been out kayaking, which is quite possibly the longest time without going on the water, since I took up kayaking. I don’t think I will ever take paddling (or getting around towns) for granted again.
The updated version of my Jersey Kayak Guide is now available on the site. Hopefully both visiting and local kayakers will find some of the information useful. Starting at Corbiere, the guide takes you around the island in anti clockwise direction, which just happens to be the best place to start and the preferred direction of travel if you are hoping to paddle around Jersey.
As well as information about key places to visit there is guidance on tides and areas where challenging tidal races can develop at certain stages in the tidal sequence.
Over the coming months the aim is to add further paddling guides to certain areas, which will hopefully contain useful information for people visiting areas for the first. A guide to Belize has already been produced, and others are in the pipeline.
If they are useful please let me know.
It is amazing that the Scottish Symposium has hardly finished and already our thoughts are turning to events 12 months from now. Unfortunately arranging a sea kayaking event in a popular tourist venue is a bit like arranging a wedding. All the best locations get booked really early. So this is the first official announcement of the 2019 Jersey Symposium.
It will start on the Friday evening, 24th May 2019, and will run will the normal format. This is Saturday, Sunday and Monday workshops and paddles followed by 4 days of the extended paddling programme. Most evenings there is some form of organised activity, which ranges from the Keynote lecture, a sea kayaking quiz, BBQ in a historic fort and live music, just for starters.
We are hoping that, as usual it will attract kayakers from a wide range of European countries and further afield. Ensuring a true international mix of coaches and participants.
Jersey has a significant tidal range ensuring that there is plenty of opportunity for playing in tidal races, but the event is about so much more than rough water. Kayak handing skills, practical workshops, cliff jumping, open crossings are all topics that will be included in the final programme.
If you are interested in pre-registering for the Jersey Symposium please complete the form below, the first newsletter will be going out later in the summer.
The June 2018 issue of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker, a magazine published 8 times a year in Massachusetts, contains an article written by yours truly on sea kayaking in the waters around Jersey.
Each issue contains a range of articles, many not surprisingly with a focus on the sea kayaking opportunities of the north east United States but with others, which will clearly appeal to a wider audience. This issue contains a report on an event arranged by the Chesapeake Paddlers Association, the hazards of cold water, places to launch in Massachusetts and an article on fishing, amongst others.
Subscriptions cost $24 for a year in the US or $44, for international subscriptions. The online version is $15 a year and, in my opinion, well worth subscribing too.
When we are considering potential kayaking trips we always keep at least one eye on the weather forecast, wondering whether we are going to get that window in the weather to allow us to do that paddle we have been thinking about for quite some time.
We are fortunate in that we are able to access a variety of forecasts, how often have you heard people say “I didn’t like that forecast so I will look for a better one”, normally they are joking but looking at the forecast for the next 48 hours in Jersey there might be some truth in that statement.
Looking at the variety of forecasts available it seems like we can expect almost anything to hit the Island. I have taken screen shots of a number of forecasts, which were published around 09.00 this morning.
So we have a complete range of forecasts, with one we would still be able to run a kayaking session for relatively inexperienced paddlers whereas with some others we would be tying down the garden furniture and heading out to sea would be the last thing on our mind.
This shows the need to check forecasts on a regular basis as well as maintaining a close eye on conditions whilst on the water.
It will be interesting to see what eventually arrives on Friday morning.
As mentioned previously, the Jersey Canoe Club is running a Nordkapp sea kayaking weekend in August. Starting the evening of Friday 24th August, followed by 3 days of paddles in the waters around Jersey.
There will be paddles at a variety of levels with hopefully the opportunity to visit some of the offshore reefs which surround Jersey, including the Ecrehous and the Paternosters. Over the course of the weekend the tides increase in size, on the Monday evening we have a spring tide of 10.63 metres, meaning that a number of the tide races which develop around Jersey will be working, offering great entertainment for kayakers of all levels.
The weekend is free to members of the Jersey Canoe Club or £25 for non members of the Club. This is the cost of 12 months overseas membership of the Club and it ensures that everybody has insurance cover over the weekend. All in all an absolute bargain.
The Saturday evening talk is by the legendary Sam Cook, who was on the original sea kayaking expedition to Nordkapp in 1975. This was a truly ground breaking expedition for British sea kayakers and was a route that was largely followed by a group of paddlers from the Jersey Canoe Club in 1986.
This is not going to be a huge event, we will be really pleased if we get 30 people on the water in a variety of different Nordkapps. As well as people from Jersey we have had enquiries from the UK, Switzerland, France and Guernsey.
This picture was taken in 1979, just to the south of Gorey, when it seemed that you could have almost any colour of Nordkapp HM, as long as it was orange. I think that the one red one is being held by Franco Ferrero from Pesda Press.
The summer of 1986 and a young Mr and Mrs Mansell just about to go around Nordkapp in their Nordkapp HM’s. This was on the Jersey Canoe Club trip of that summer.
If you would like, more information on what is going to be a relaxed but enjoyable weekend of kayaking, in all varieties of Nordkapp sea kayaks, please complete the form below.
If there was any evidence needed that this winter the weather has been far more unsettled than last year it might be, that today was my first coasteering session of the year. Yet last winter we were out virtually every Friday coasteering. Jumping, swimming and scrambling our way around the coast.
I am almost embarrassed to admit but I am not certain that I have left from Fliquet before on any form of activity, although I have passed the area hundreds, if not thousands of times before. It was clear that I was going to exploring some new territory and I wasn’t disappointed. An enjoyable day and an encouraging start to coasteering in 2018.
Going away on a kayaking trip is always enjoyable but there is always something satisfying about coming home. Perhaps it is because most times I return home it is on an aircraft, so it is a very direct transition from holiday to home.
Landing on Tuesday evening I had received my first invite to go paddling before we had arrived at the gate, the welcome vibration of a WhatsApp on the phone. In complete contrast to the weather before I had been away and whilst I was away, the forecast for Wednesday was pretty good. No “beast from the east” this week.
Wednesday morning dawned with light winds and cloudless skies, we were leaving from St Catherine’s, the home of the Jersey Canoe Club, and heading south towards Seymour Tower. This isn’t a section of coast, which screams of dramatic scenery. It is rather more gentle, with a fascinating historical background and then a unique coastal environment, which is exposed as the tide drops, particularly off the south east corner.
We headed towards Seymour Tower, which was built in 1782 in response to the invasion of Jersey by French troops in January 1781. It is now a unique place to spend an evening, with a qualified guide from Jersey Heritage. Lunch was a rather hurried affair as the tidal range was 9.5 metres. Not a particularly large spring tide but we were in the third hour after high water so the water was dropping at nearly 4cm a minute. Resulting in a potentially long walk!
Returning to St Catherine’s we meandered through the reefs towards Karame Beacon before returning north to our starting point. It was one of those days which hints of summer, light winds, blue skies and water of a surprising clarity.
A perfect return to my Island home.
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.