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 forecast for the next few days is anything but favourable so we took advantage of today’s brief respite from the storms to get a paddle in, from Bouley Bay. Towards the north east of the island it is relatively sheltered from the strongest of the wind.
The most positive aspect of paddling at Bouley Bay, though is the gradient of the beach. Being relatively steep it means that the carry to the waters edge is always pretty short, this was certainly the case today as we only had a 4.7 metre tidal range. Although large compared to most places, for Jersey it was a small neap tide.
The plan was to head east towards Rozel, hopefully for coffee and cake at The Hungry Man before returning along the coast. A fairly easy 6 mile round trip, particularly when we added a slight detour towards Belle Hougue.
As with so many places, kayaking in Jersey is set against a backdrop of historical and geographical features. The small pier, at Bouley Bay, was built by the States of Jersey in 1829, as a small harbour for the oyster fishermen, who mainly worked off the east coast of the Island. The lack of flat land nearby prevented the development of a significant harbour in the area, although it was considered at times.
Heading east, if the tide was lower we would be able to see the remains of the Ribbledale, a cargo ship, which ran aground on the 27th December 1926, whilst en route to Jersey from London. Today we just paddled over her remains whilst heading towards L’Etacquerel Fort. Constructed in the 19th century to help defend the bay, it is now available for hire from Jersey Heritage, it is ideal for visiting groups.
From here we were carried on the tide towards Tour de Rozel, or White Rock. The location of many happy hours paddling by members of the Jersey Canoe Club, but today we didn’t hang around, we had more important things on our mind, coffee and cake at The Hungry Man, in Rozel. Fortunately for us it was open.
The return journey was slightly longer as we wanted to get an extra couple of miles towards the British Canoeing Winter Challenge. A very plasant 3 hours out from Bouley Bay, made all the more worthwhile when the weather forecast was updated this evening and is now showing winds stronger than shown on the forecast above. certainly a case of “seizing the day”.
Since the early 1980’s the Jersey Canoe Club Boxing Day paddle has always been arranged for Ouaisne. This is because we always used to announce the venue for the weekly Canoe Club sessions on BBC Local Radio, but on Boxing Day there was no appropriate programme, so the venue had to be decided well in advance. After some deliberation it was decided that Ouaisne was probably the best location on the Island, where it was to possible in virtually every wind direction.
Despite technical advances, initially a telephone messaging service before moving on to WhatsApp, we have have remained loyal to Ouaisne and the Smugglers Pub over the years.
Unfortunately this year the wind was particularly strong form the south west but we had the option, thanks to WhatsApp, of moving a few hundred metres to the east and benefiting from the shelter to be found in Belcroute.
A couple of years ago I wrote a more comprehensive post about the history of the coast in this area. It is stretch of coast,which isn’t the most dramatic to be found around Jersey but it is one which never fails to impress. I particularly like the stretches of wooded coast, something which isn’t that common in Jersey.
Despite the poor weather and a venue we had used quite a bit recently, 14 members of the Jersey Canoe Club still turned out relatively early on Boxing Day morning for a couple of hours on the water, a perfect way to burn off some of the Christmas excess.
The low cloud, mist and drizzle, which has been a constant since Wednesday morning continued over the weekend. Despite the gloom we did manage 2 north coast paddles.
On Saturday we headed west from Bonne Nuit along to Sorel and on the Sunday we headed east from Greve de Lecq towards Sorel. We are hoping for a bit of sunshine over the next week or so (although its not looking that likely) but in spite of the weather we had a couple of good sea kayaking trips on the two days before Christmas.
Friday morning coasteering has become a regular event for those members of the Jersey Canoe Club, who are free. Today it would have been so easy to stay at home, drink coffee and eat cake, with the mist and fog coming and going, interspersed with some heavy rain.
By 9.30 I had run out of excuses so it was time to head to Beauport, one Jersey’s prettiest bays. It was interesting to see how high the sand was, a reflection of the calmer seas of the last week or so. The most obvious item in the bay though was part of a large private boat, which was washed up on the pebbles. There had been a failed salvage operation this week as the authorities attempted to raise the wreck of a 62 foot private boat, that sank last month after hitting a navigational mark.
On what was a day largely without colour we headed along the west side of Beauport, a mixture of swimming and scrambling along the rocks. We passed underneath the cliffs, which mark some of the highest jumps on the Island before reaching a section of narrow gullies. The westerly swell was channeled through the narrow sections creating some entertaining conditions, requiring timing when entering and exiting the water.
The sea temperature was slightly below 10 degrees, and with the rather inclement weather, we limited the coasteering session to 90 minutes. Climbing up the cliffs and heading off to find a local hostelry with a warm fire.
A pleasant way to spend the last Friday morning before Christmas.
My book “Coasteering: A Practical Guide” is still available from Amazon, for Kindle.
Over the years I have come in for some ridicule as I have kept a kayaking log book. My first entry was in January 1979 and since that date I have made a record of every time that I have been in a canoe or a kayak. Sometimes it might just be a brief note whilst at other times it might be a comprehensive record of where we parked the car, what the launch was like, any wildlife seen etc. Due to the fact that I have kept the log book going for so long it has now become almost impossible to stop The great thing is it is a record of how far I have paddled.
Early in 2012 I was wondering to myself as to whether I paddled the equivalent of the circumference of the earth at the equator? First of all how far is it around the equator. Plenty of places will give you the distance in kilometres and statute miles, it was only after a bit of searching that I found the answer in nautical miles, it is 21639nm. My log book records have always been in nautical miles so this was an important figure to find.
I then sat down with the log books and over a couple of hours completed a table. There were 5 columns, standing for year, sea kayak, sit on top, canoe/general purpose and total. I passed the magical distance on the 19th May 2012 whilst on a trip out to the Paternosters.
So if you don’t already keep a log book think about starting keeping a record of your paddling experiences, in a few years time it will make interesting reading. I don’t have a log book from 1969 to 1979 sadly, as there could be some interesting reading about a number of sea kayaking adventures, including being pulled of the water by Tito’s police in the former Yugoslavia, as we naively thought it was alright to paddle on the sea in communist countries.
I wrote this article a couple of years ago and since then my mileage has continued to increase and in the last 12 months, at an even faster pace. In October I passed the 26,000 nautical mile mark recorded in my log book.
A couple of weeks off the water with a rather persistent cough and cold had been somewhat frustrating. I had missed the kayaking opportunities and the possibility of contributing to the Jersey Canoe Club’s total towards the British Canoeing Winter Challenge. All that came to an end today as we managed to visit Les Dirouilles. Possibly the least visited of all the reefs, which are located in Jersey waters.
It was a reasonably late start for a winter paddle but at 11.30, we paddled around the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater and into the tidal stream, which was going to significantly assist our journey north. Most of the time our speed over the ground was just over 5 knots. Our destination kept disappearing from sight as the forecast fog drifted in from the west. This was a day of limited colours, the sea and sky changing between silver and grey. The only splashes of colour, in an otherwise muted landscape were the kayaks.
Even the birds appeared to be avoiding display of colour, there were a few Herring Gulls and Shags sitting on the rocks. The real pleasure was to see 7, very trusting, Purple Sandpipers as we had our lunch. No real surprise here as the swell washed reef appears to be a perfect habitat for such species. This is partly why the area has been designated a Ramsar area.
A great paddle to Les Dirouilles, which we managed to squeeze in just before Christmas, especially after the storms of the last few weeks.
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.