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.
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.
I managed to get out the other day for a couple of hours with a young man named Samuel. This was interesting from a couple of perspectives. Firstly this was the first time that I had been in a closed cockpit kayak since my accident three months ago and secondly it was a chance to get on the water before Samuel’s fund raising paddle in a weeks time.
Samuel spoke to us at Christmas about undertaking a project in memory of his dad who sadly passed away last year. Whilst his dad was ill he set him self the challenge of paddling around Jersey, when he got better. Unfortunately he never managed to complete his challenge and so Samuel has stepped forward to carry the challenge on.
He set himself a realistic fund raising target, which he has already achieved with the pledges that have come in so far but I am certain that when he completes the paddle next week, weather permitting his fund raising total will increase significantly.
At the moment the forecast for next week, although I know it is some time away, is pretty reasonable so we are prettyy optimistic that we will complete the paddle as arranged. If not there are plenty more opportunities before the end of the summer.
There is no doubt in my mind that he will achieve, what is a very worthwhile project, if you would like to support Samuel he has set up a Just Giving page. He might up end up with a few blisters and some numbness in his legs but he will complete the 30 nautical miles, and I estimate in about 7 hours 30 minutes.
Hopefully next week I will be writing about an enjoyable and successful circumnavigation of Jersey.
Whenever there is a period of north easterly winds my mind immediately starts to think about sea kayaking along the cliffs of the north west corner of Jersey, particularly those around Les Landes. Direct exposure to the North Atlantic swell means that at certain times of the year the paddling opportunities in this area are somewhat restricted, but when the swell drops, head to the north west for some of the best kayaking in Jersey.
Although Sunday morning is the usual paddling time for the Jersey Canoe Club, it seemed like too good an oppportunity to miss so we put on an extra session on Saturday morning. We had anticipated being sheltered from the easterly wind but in reality it appeared to be following the contours of the land, resulting in almost no respite. I suppose these things are sent to try us.
Our morning paddle actually proved to be quite entertaining. A slight wind blown chop kept us on our toes but the lack of swell meant we were able to paddle wherever we liked. Caves I probably hadn’t paddled into for 5 or 6 years revealed their secrets whilst we were surrounded by history.
The most recent is the evidence of 20th century German occupation, with guns at the base of the cliffs and bunkers above. Grosnez Castle, a ruined 14th century castle, which was occupied by the French in 1373 and 1381 was visible above our most northerly point. Whilst the oldest features were at the base of Le Pinacle, early Neolithic finds dating back to 4800BC as well as Roman from 200AD.
What is there not like about a Saturday morning with some great paddling set against a varied historical backdrop, followed by a lovely lunch at Jersey Pearl. I can’t wait for the next lull in the North Atlantic swell.
Underneath Grosnez there is this delightful circular inlet, which is normally a boiling cauldron. Today we were able to relax and enjoy the rock architecture.
Although it was over 40 years ago I remember the excitement on opening a letter, within which, was the offer of employment at a centre in South Wales. I was never sure whether it was my kayaking or mountaineering experience, which secured my employment. I could barely contain my excitement as I headed west from London, along the A40 towards my life as an outdoor instructor. At staff training on the first day I still didn’t discover, which of my activities was the most important as I received a crash course in archery and spent the next few weeks introducing school groups to the finer points of shooting with a bow and arrow.
Not once did I get on the water or walk up a mountain, I just spent hour after hour on the archery field. My introduction into the world of an outdoor pursuits instructor wasn’t as exciting as I thought, so instead of returning to South Wales to further my career in the summer, I went to Chamonix climbing.
I did return to working in the outdoor world for a couple of superb years, in North Wales. Great days on the mountains or water followed by personal time with a group of highly motivated fellow instructors. Days off were spent on the crags at Tremadoc, unless it was raining and then we went paddling. Those two years working in a centre were the equivalent of the present day gap year.
This week I was fortunate enough to spend time with some young people who are just starting out on the journey to becoming outdoor instructors, looking to achieve qualifications in a number of areas so that they are able to work with groups in Jersey’s superb marine environment.
They all work for Absolute Adventures, who are one of the largest providers of adventurous activities to both locals and tourists. It was their first day trip in sea kayaks and the NE wind increasing force 6 ensured that in places the water conditions would be quite entertaining.
The first stop was La Cotte de St Brelade, one of the most important historical sites on the island, before heading towards Pt Le Fret, one of the most under rated headlands in Jersey.
We did manage to reach Portelet but ever wary of the increasing wind speed we decided to return back around Pt Le Fret, into the relative shelter of Ouasine Bay for lunch before looking at some skills in the shelter of the reefs.
It felt a real privilege to be on the water with three young people as they embark on their journey towards becoming full time outdoor pursuits instructors. Hopefully the staff training they received will prove to be more useful in the long run than my few hours of archery instruction. I haven’t picked up a bow since 1977!
The Bell Boat is a pretty unique paddling craft, which was designed by former Olympic racing coach David Train. Designed as a crew boat, to encourage co-operation, the Jersey Canoe Club decided to use them as a bit of training before the September Dragon Boat Racing.
Nine metres long, with two separate hulls they can take up to 12 young people and a helm, as none of us fall in the category of young we settled on 8 adults plus myself as helm. First introduced in 1992 we were using the Mk 3 version which has been in production since 2012. We borrowed them from the Air Training Corps, who had purchased them with the help of a grant from the One Foundation.
It is possible to become a qualified Bell Boat Helm with a course through British Canoeing, which was a course I really enjoyed doing a couple of years ago.
Despite the relatively strong north easterly wind we were soon heading towards Beauport, mostly in rhythm with each other, direction controlled by myself as the helm. A nine metre craft doesn’t respond immediately to the subtle changes in the helms oar. It requires some significant planning to ensure the bell boat maintains its course, as well as some appropriately timed group co-ordination.
We followed a circular route around some of the offshore reefs before returning back to St Brelade’s. It was a great evening and no doubt that when we have the next session in a couple of weeks time there will be enough members present to ensure that both of the bell boats can be launched resulting into some friendly racing across the bay.
The opportunity to get back on the water presented itself much earlier than expected as my ruptured achilles appears to be mending quicker than anticipated. My first excursion at sea, over the weekend, was on a sit on top as I worked out that I would be able to keep my foot straighter than in a closed cockpit boat. In addition, if necessary it would be pretty easy to place my foot into the cooling water.
St Brelade’s was the chosen departure point and it had been some time since I had paddled there last. The hardest part of the whole trip was probably carrying the kayak down to the waters edge as I was so apprehensive about walking and carrying on the sand, multi-tasking was a pretty new experience. Once afloat though life became much easier and despite having relatively low aspirations we did manage to paddle all the way to Corbiere.
I have only been off the water for 3 months, which doesn’t seem too long, but flicking through my paddling log books I realized that it has been the longest time that I haven’t been paddling, since I started my log books in January 1979.
This was the first place I went kayaking, in 1969, and I still appreciate that it is a special section of coast. In the warm June sunshine, the red granite cliffs, fringed with vegetation and the blue seas combined to produce a coastline, more reminiscent of the Mediterranean than the British Isles. Just a great day to relaunch my kayaking career.