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.
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.
5th April 2018 is etched in my memory as the day that I ruptured my Achilles’ tendon, whilst kayaking in Gozo. It has been a difficult and at times frustrating 3 months but today I felt I made a significant step forward on the road to recovery. For the first time I went to the gym.
Although I wouldn’t place myself in the category of a gym fanatic I must admit that when the opportunity arises I do enjoy spending an hour or so in the gym, listening to some music and working up a sweat on some of the cardio- vascular machines.
My machine of choice has always been the Concept 2 rowing machine, for a couple of reasons. Firstly it seems to be the most suitable machine for maintaining my kayaking fitness and secondly it seems to give you an all round work out , without any significant impact on the body.
I started off gently on the bike and then the cross trainer, all seemed to be going well. So I thought I would try the rowing machine, managed one pull before having to get off, it might be some time until I get back on the Concept 2. The long road back to fitness might be slow and bumpy.
The gym I go to, the D-W Gym, must have one of the best views of any. Looking across St Brelade’s Bay to Pt Le Fret, the scene of some great sea kayaking in the past and hopefully in the future, once my leg has recovered.
The next waymark on my route a degree of normality will be when I manage to get in a kayak, that day may still be some time off, but you never know.
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.