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 is not that often that we, as sea kayakers, are aware of the impact of atmospheric pressure but it was clearly demonstrated one October day, a few years ago, at St Brelade’s. At high water, in the morning, the atmospheric pressure was 993 mb, effectively 20 mb below the level at which tidal heights are calculated. This meant that the tide was much higher than expected and when coupled with the swell which developed over night it created some problems for those boat owners who left their craft on the beach.
The predicted tidal heights for Saturday, Sunday and Monday were much higher than the morning in question but they passed without incident whilst these boat owners were caught out by this mornings tide, with not inconsiderable financial costs as boats and engines were damaged.
Remember as a general rule for every 1 mb below 1013 mb the tide will rise 1 cm higher than predicted and for every 1 cm above 1013 mb the height of the tide will be depressed. We were affected on our paddle to the Ecrehous in March this year when due to high pressure the tide did not rise as far as we expected.
So the moral of the story is not to just look at the tidal height but take into account the pressure.
Whilst continue to look through my old slide collection I came across a number of photographs, which help to illustrate what informative and entertaining events the Jersey Sea Kayak Symposiums have been over the years. In addition they have attracted a number of paddlers who are well known throughout the sea kayaking world.
The next Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium will be held in May 2019, it should have been May 2018 but the organisers of the Scottish Symposium asked if they could use the slot and we readily agreed.
The 2019 Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium will be the 13th time that the event has been held over a period of 27 years and it all came about after Bill Small and Pete Scott had attended the Anglesey Symposium in 1991 and decided that Jersey Canoe Club could do something similar.
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.
A strong, cold northerly wind meant that it was cold as we changed in the car park close to the German Tower at Corbiere. This was our selected venue for our Wednesday coasteering as we knew that once we dropped down the cliffs we would be sheltered from the strongest wind.
Our initial plan was to swim and scramble out to the Jument Rock, the obvious rock, which is painted white as a navigation mark. To get there involved a couple of short swims, with the opportunity to play in some of the narrow constrictions, which were funneling the swell.
I must have paddled past the white rock, almost a thousand times in the last 48 years that I have kayaked in the area but today was the first time that I have climbed to the top of this unique landmark. This was quickly followed by another first as we swam into some narrow caves, which I had never explored prior to today.
Despite the strong northerly wind and low temperatures our Wednesday coasteering session was thoroughly enjoyable. What was particularly memorable was the fact that we were able to visit a couple of locations that I hadn’t been to before. I have lived within a couple of miles of Jument rock for over 40 years and for the last 15 years have lived within a mile of the rock but had never found a reason or the time to go there, before today .
Sometimes we travel thousands of miles in search of adventure, often costing hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. The reality is that there might be plenty of adventure and places to discover much closer to home. Many years ago we coined the phrase “adventure in your own backyard”, to describe the sea kayaking trips we were undertaking in the Channel Islands. In the last 18 months we have explored Jersey’s coast by kayak or swimming, several times each week, realizing that within a few miles of where we live there are so many special places.
My book on Coasteering, providing advice on techniques and safety is available for the Kindle from Amazon. Further information about the book is available here.
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.
It appears that we have merged into a Friday coasteering group. Heading out each to explore another section of the Jersey coastline at sea level. As with kayaking, living on an island has its advantages as it is almost always possible to find somewhere appropriate, whatever the weather.
This week it was a return visit to the cliffs just to the west of Portelet Bay. This section is always best to do just a couple of hours either side of high water. The tide has just started to drop as we hit the beach, which was perfect. In the middle of the bay is Ile au Guerdain, with its 18th Century fortifications. Often referred to as Janvrin’s Tomb.
After a short swim around the rocks in the middle of the bay we were soon onto the coasteering. A stretch of coast with a variety of jumps, caves, scrambles and swims. A perfect place to spend a couple of hours on a overcast November Friday morning. What surprises me about this coasteering route is that I have never seen anybody else in the area whilst we have been there or even heard people talk about it as a possibility for coasteering.
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.
Another couple of hours scanning some old slides has revived some great memories of sea kayaking in Jersey. It is clear that over the years the Jersey Canoe Club has been involved in a variety of entertaining events both in local waters and further afield.
The evening of Saturday 18th November is the annual dinner of the Jersey Club Club at the Prince of Wales, Greve de Lecq. A number of us decided to stay the night and so to take full advantage of the area we decided that an afternoon’s coasteering out to the Octopus Pool was in order.
The Octopus Pool is one of those places where generations of young people have gained experience of exploring the coast line of Jersey, jumping into rock pools and scrambling through caves. Over the last few years it has become increasingly popular with commercial groups. During the summer months it has probably reached full capacity on some days but on a Saturday in November we were fairly certain of having the place to ourselves.
Greve de Lecq is a popular venue with the Jersey Canoe Club because of the quality of the sea kayaking which is easily accessible but today the focus was on rock scrambling and swimming as opposed to paddling.
A great afternoon’s sport setting us up for a good annual dinner.
The cliffs of Grosnez mark the north west corner of Jersey, and it is an area rarely considered as a coasteering destination. Fully exposed to the westerly swell and with virtually no escape routes, this is not an area for the inexperienced. Today’s light winds and decaying swell drew us north in search of some watery entertainment.
We decided to travel west from Plemont to Grosnez, it meant that when we climbed up the cliffs we arrived at the cars, as opposed to having a 20 minute walk along the cliff path whilst wet.
This is a great section of the Jersey coastline for sea kayaking but today our progress was much slower but probably much more intimate as we scrambled along this remote section of the Islands coast.