It was the final morning of our pre-symposium sea kayaking trip. We didn’t need to be away at the crack of dawn but we did need to be ready to catch the start of the flood tide to carry us towards Port Welshpool. From there we would be heading towards Wilson’s Promontory and the start of the International Sea Kayaking Educator’s Conference.
It wasn’t too early a start, which was in contrast to the previous morning. The sun had already taken the chill off the air as we headed north. I think that this was the first time that it registered, as we paddled away from Snake Island, that the sun was in the north. Clearly my geography of the Southern Hemisphere left something to be desired.
What was surprising, was for how much of the paddle we were in shallow water, which was quite fortunate as there were quite a few fishing boats heading towards the open water from Port Welshpool. Whalers first used this area in the 1830’s, whilst the town was officially named Port Welshpool in 1952.
We landed in Port Welshpool, and started the unloading of the kayaks. We had been out 4 days and covered just under 30 nautical miles. Not a great distance, but it was through an interesting environment, which also gave us the opportunity to observe some animals, which we would never encounter in the northern hemisphere.
More importantly the four day paddle gave us the opportunity to get to know some of the other people who would be attending the 2nd International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium at Tidal River in the Wilsons Promontory National Park.
We finally got the opportunity to paddle in flat calm conditions on the third day, the only problem was that we had to get up at 04.00 to do so. The way the tidal streams were working meant that we either started early or waited until the late afternoon. An early morning paddle gave us so many more options.
So at 05.50 we pushed away from the bank into a glorious Australian sunrise. It started off pretty good and just got better and better and for the first time in the trip we had mirror calm conditions and the tidal flow with us. Only just over a knot but that is better than nothing.
As we exited the Swashway Channel we gained our first reasonably good views of the north side of Wilson’s Promontory National Park, where we would be spending time at the International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium.
There was a reasonable amount of quite fast boat traffic moving up and down the channel towards the open sea. Fortunately the channel was relatively narrow with quite a few buoys indicating their route. It’s always good to know your buoyage when kayaking on the sea. Crossing the channel at right angles we reduced our exposure to the boats before turning south towards Wilson’s Prom. We were soon paddling alongside rocks and a shoreline that was more than a couple of metres high.
We stopped on a couple of stunning beaches with the opportunity to explore the shoreline or slightly further inland. We were in no real hurry as we waited for slack water in the channel to allow us to cross back to Snake Island, our destination for the day. Also it was only just after 09.00, always the advantage of an early morning paddle.
There was a discussion as to what time we should aim to cross back to Snake Island because of the tidal streams. As a sea kayaker I have never understood why people use different units of measurement in the same conversation. It could go along the lines of;
“We have a wind of between 13 and 15 mph from the south, the tidal stream is running at 3 knots and the distance we have to go is 10 kilometres.”
The potential for errors to creep into people’s calculations is huge. I just don’t understand why people don’t stick with one unit of measurement and if we are operating on the sea it should be the nautical variety. Knots and nautical miles. Information we need about tidal flows is always given in knots so why not stick with that unit. I admit that some people might find it difficult at first but I really think that it is worth the effort.
I know many people will find this strange but a couple of us were really getting quite excited by the prospect of seeing kangaroos. Living on an island where the largest land animal is the rabbit I get easily excited. We had been told that we were likely to see them in the evening but it was still quite a surprise when when 16 of them hopped out the bush. Linked with a few small deer wandering around and it felt like a wildlife bonanza.
One of the problems of jet leg is that sometimes you just can’t sleep, which was the position I found myself in on the second day. Taking advantage of this I got up reasonably early to walk along the spit. We had so painstakingly paddled along the previous day.
It was one of those moments that you truly appreciate. The morning sun rising over a reasonably calm sea to the backdrop of the Australian dawn chorus. All too soon it was time to head back, as the rest of the camp was starting to stir.
Whilst on trips, individuals often develop routines, especially around the campsite. Some people are unable to sit still and have to get involved with every aspect of the food preparation, often to the frustration of the person who is actually cooking the meal. I am more than willing to allow people to get on a cook the evening meal, they normally do a much better job than I do but I am happy to prepare breakfast everyday, which was the position I found myself in that morning.
I enjoy the opportunity to reflect on what lies ahead and to have the opportunity to chat to people. In contrast to the evenings when most people are around the kitchen area, in the morning people usually arrive individually meaning that the experience is much more personal. So that is one of the reasons I found myself preparing porridge on the south side of Sunday Island.
We were away reasonably promptly but the sea, which had been so calm on my dawn walk was starting to reflect changes in the weather. The forecast had confidently predicted reasonably light winds. They just didn’t seem to be able to get it right though, the days we were on the water.
Almost as soon as we headed along the channel the wind picked up and it was either a headwind or on our beam. This had resulted in some interesting discussions about packing the kayaks. Distributing the weight depending upon the direction of the wind, in effect trimming the kayak to suit the conditions. In reality how often does the wind remain the same all day? I always recommend packing the same kit in the same place in the kayak so when you arrive on the beach and conditions are far from ideal it’s a matter of being able to go to the right dry bags straight away.
Crossing over the channel to Snake Island the wind increased even further and it was clear we were falling behind the proposed schedule. We stopped for lunch on a possible campsite, The Gulf, as we considered the options. Two further campsites we possible and we sensibly selected the closer of the two.
We arrived at Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park Just as the tide started to drop and managed to avoid the worst of the carry through the thick oozing mud. Tents were soon up and meal preparation underway. It hadn’t been a long paddle but it hadn’t been straightforward either. The wind proving a pretty constant adversary.
Paddling in this area is in complete contrast to the waters at home. The islands are low lying without any obvious physical features, resulting in quite challenging navigation. If you didn’t remain focused on your chart then establishing your location could be an issue.
I have to admit that I had never been that attracted by the idea of a visit to Australia. This was largely a feeling based on ignorance as opposed to a decision based on facts. Therefore, when I saw the International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium advertised, I though this might just be the catalyst I needed to head towards the southern hemisphere.
What appealed about the Symposium and helped justify the hours spent on the aircraft reaching Melbourne, was the 4 day pre-symposium paddle. So with a degree of enthusiasm and some slight trepidation I signed up and booked my flights.
This was the story as to how I found myself standing outside the railway station at 06.00 on a cold Thursday morning in Frankston, to the south east of Melbourne. It is an interesting experience trying to identify other sea kayakers amongst the early morning commuters. The North Face bags and beards were a bit of a give away with the males!
So 6 prospective kayakers from 4 different countries found ourselves heading towards Port Albert. It was here that we met the other people who had taken advantage of the opportunity to participate in the 4 day paddle. In total there were about 20 of us, with a third from the UK, which I have to admit I found a bit surprising.
As with all trips some people were quicker than others at getting ready for departure, but straight after lunch we were ready to go. The big question was “Who had turned on the fan?” The early morning calm had been replaced by an entertaining breeze, which was significantly higher than forecast. Sitting still was not an option.
We fought our way west and south with a speed over the ground that most of the time was well below 2 knots. The wind was certainly taking its toll and producing a very low fun factor. Eventually after just over 5 nautical miles we decided to call it a day, the next possible camp site was quite some way off and so it was with some relief that we lifted the kayaks above the high water mark.
Not a glorious start to my Australian sea kayaking career but it was certainly an interseting experience and the relatively early finish allowed plenty of time to get to know the other people in the group.
What was even better was that the wind was due to drop off over night so as I dropped asleep on my first night in the Australian bush all my thoughts were positive.
I have always had a soft spot for the islands to the north of Jersey, in particular Herm and Sark. Over the last 40 years I have paddled to both on numerous occasions always enjoying their coastline as well as the atmosphere on shore.
Sadly they appear to have become islands of contrast. Sark appears to have deteriorated over the last few years with numerous shops closing and in places the island appearing uncared for. Herm on the other hand appears to have gone from strength to strength and would now be my Island of choice.
Every year there is an excuse to visit Herm in both June and September, the Herm Beer Festival. What could be better, stunning sea kayaking and the choice of 50 real ales. Last year we paddled from Jersey to the June event, but this year that wasn’t an option due to the fact that I was in plaster, following a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in Gozo.
For the September Festival we decided to take to car to Guernsey and paddle from there. The alternative plan was if it was too rough to paddle across the Little Russell we could always get the ferry. We were determined to get to Herm!
The first issue was the cost of the ferry. I think that I am pretty tolerant but £330 for a car and 3 passengers from Jersey to Guernsey is pretty excessive. It’s only about 25 nautical miles, the crossing is about an hour. It’s always the problem when you are a captive market. We booked several weeks in advance but had to just bite the bullet and pay up.
We reached Guernsey and headed towards Bordeaux, our departure point. We had to stick to a schedule as it was the largest tide of the year so the tidal streams in the Little Russell were going to be running at a considerable speed. Selecting the appropriate tidal window was essential.
The crossing passed reasonably easily and we were soon putting the tents up before heading back to the bright lights of the Mermaid Tavern. The Herm Beer Festival is such a delightful event and we were fortunate enough to spend 3 evenings there as well as spending some of the days enjoying kayaking in the superb coastal waters of the surrounding islands.
All too soon it was time to head back to Jersey, but already thinking that next year we would be heading north once again to experience the charms of Herm.
Several miles off the north east coast, a reef of rocks is gradually revealed as the tide drops. The are largely viewed from afar, their presence indicated by the breaking waves, unleashing their energy following their journey from the storms in the North Atlantic. This is Les Dirouilles.
It is a reef which I rarely visited until the last few years. It used to be somewhere we passed as opposed to a final destination. In recent years though we have paddled there as a destination in its own right. What has been a revelation is just how easy it is to get.
More than any of the other offshore reefs which surround Jersey, a visit to Les Dirouilles benefits from the tidal streams. The water runs almost directly from the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater onto the reef. The crossing is about 4.5 nautical miles and on our speed rarely dropped below 5 knots. There was a slight drift to the west, indicated on the GPS but it was pretty easy to compensate for, so we drifted gently onto the reef.
We probably arrived a bit too early, so we took advantage of our early arrival to explore some of the more detached rocks to the north of the reef. Moving into areas I had never paddled in before. After early 50 years of kayaking in Jersey’s waters it is quite amazing to discover small new pockets of coast, waiting to be explored. This was quite a fortunate development as we discovered an absolutely stunning lunch spot.
We were able to land on sand, always so much kinder to the hulls of the kayaks, with lunch being eaten on a raised flat rock, which gave exceptional views of the area. The coastline of France clearly visible to the east and north east, with the nuclear plant at Cap de la Hague shimmering like a mirage on the horizon.
To the south we could see the whole of the north coast of Jersey, stretching from our departure point at St Catherine’s all the way to Grosnez, the north west corner of the Island. To the north west Sark, was the dominant landmark, the location of so much great sea kayaking.
One of the pleasures of sea kayaking in Jersey is the opportunity to visit some of the offshore reefs and from our lunch spot we were able to see 3 of the 4 main reefs. To the west the Paternosters, were visible becoming bigger as the tide dropped. To the east was the Ecrehous and surrounding us was Les Dirouilles, all we needed was the Minquiers for a full set of the reefs but they are to the south of Jersey and therefore invisible from our picnic spot.
After lunch we launched off the small sandy beach, which had been revealed by the ebbing tide. None of us had ever seen this beach before even though it was within 5 miles of where a couple of the paddlers lived. We explored the southern edge of the reef before heading straight towards Tour de Rozel, the low water slack providing the opportunity for fairly rapid progress. At the start of the ebb we turned towards St Catherine’s with a speed over the ground in places in excess of 7 knots.
A thoroughly enjoyable paddle for the last Wednesday in September.
I was surprised to discover that the River Tay, in terms of volume of discharge, contains more fresh water than any other river in the United Kingdom. It shouldn’t have come as a shock as it has a catchment area of nearly 2,000 square miles, much of it mountainous. Downstream of Perth the river becomes tidal and it was this stretch of the river that we explored on Sunday morning.
The morning dawned damp and overcast. But we were keen to get on the water when we met in the small village of Newburgh, which is on the south shore of the River Tay. The tide had just turned and the plan was to use the ebb tide to carry us in the direction of Dundee and the famous bridges.
It was a journey of 11 nautical miles, a distance which slipped quickly past but didn’t seem to require too much effort. The tide seemed to be doing most of the work. I was surprised to see a number of seals. One in particular seemed to be enjoying his morning break, feeding on rather a large fish and in no hurry to move out of our way.
Coming from Jersey, I enjoyed paddling past relatively long stretches of wooded shoreline. An environment which is relatively rare on the island. The sight of deer running through the fields or walking along the shore was an added bonus.
The dominant feature of the paddle though was the Tay Railway Bridge. The original bridge was opened to railway traffic on the 1st June 1878. On the evening of the 28th December 1879 a violent gale was blowing. At 7.13 pm a train headed across the bridge but disappeared in the darkness. The exact number of people who died isn’t known but thought to be 74 or 75.
The events of that evening were described in the poem by Willaim McGonagall, “The Tay Bridge Disaster.” I remembering studying it for English A Level at school. So bad that it was shown to us as an example of how not to write poetry.
Paddling under the new bridge and seeing the remains of the old bridge, one couldn’t help but reflect on the events of that night, 150 years ago. It was a fitting place to complete our Sunday paddle on the River Tay. Thanks once again to the enthusiasm and knowledge of Piotr, the owner of Outdoor Explore.
Following the pattern of kayaking in cities, on Friday evening it was the turn of one of Scotland’s newest city, Perth. A quick search produced a number of options but we were really successful in that we selected Outdoor Explore, a relatively small company based in eastern Scotland.
We met the owner Piotr at The Willowgate, just downstream from Perth on the River Tay. Whilst we were waiting for Piotr, an osprey flew past, which we took as a positive sign. As soon as Piotr arrived we unloaded kayaks, added the final items of kit and in what seemed like a few minutes were ready to launch.
The plan was launch and head upstream towards Perth in the hope that we would see some of the beavers, that have come to call this stretch of water home. Sadly we didn’t see the beavers although we saw plenty of evidence of their activity. We did see plenty of other things though, which would attract the attention of kayak tourists.
Piotr was so much more than a coach, he was a passionate leader, his enthusiasm and knowledge about the river and its surroundings was infectious. Our journey through Perth was so much more than a paddle. We did manage to push the current and we were able to get through the arches of the oldest bridge to span the river, the return journey was so much easier!
The biggest surprise of the trip was that we were on the water for over two and a half hours, we only really noticed how long we had been out when it went dark! We didn’t paddle that far but what we saw and heard was fascinating and all within the boundaries of what is know as “The Fair City”, thanks to Sir Walter Scott and the publication of his book “The Fair Maid of Perth in 1828.
Gothenburg is somewhere I hadn’t really considered visiting but when there were cheap flights available back to London on British Airways, it seemed like to good an opportunity to miss. Whilst in the Swedish city it was a great opportunity to get in some kayaking so I booked a two hour rental with Point65, before we left Jersey.
It was just our luck that on the morning concerned there was virtually total cloud cover, for what seemed like the first time in weeks. It didn’t detract from the paddling but meant that the photographs weren’t quite as dramatic as we hoped for.
The Point65 centre was on the water front, easily reached on foot, from the Central Railway station area through the Nordstan shopping centre and an elevated walk way.
If in doubt look for the largest sailing ship you have probably ever seen, the Barken Viking, which is slightly upstream from the Opera House, and should see the racks of kayaks.
We were quickly changed and ready to go. The staff were friendly and in contrast to so many rental locations, we were offered spray decks, without having to ask. On the dockside we were also offered a choice of kayaks, shorter and more stable, longer and with a rudder or even a sea kayak without a rudder. Without hesitation we settled for the latter.
Soon we were turning west from the marina into the main harbour, looking for the entrance to the canal network. On the way we passed a number of ships, including a submarine, which were clearly part of the maritime museum. We were looking for the entrance to the Gota Canal
Paddling through the centre of a large city is always enjoyable, offering a totally different perspective on an urban area, whilst proving to be an item of interest to the pedestrians on the bridges or canal side walks. The distinctive thing about the canal in Gothenburg was just how low most of the bridges were, it set me wandering if the waterway was still navigable. It was quite a surprise therefore to have a tourist boat, the Paddan tour boats, appear around a corner. A knowledge of the rules of the road is vital when kayaking in such restricted waters.
Possibly the most unusual aspect of our paddle around the city was the need to press a button to change the traffic lights. Construction of a new bridge was underway and there was a button, which it was necessary to press to obtain the green light to proceed. This was certainly a novel experience for me.
We entered the main harbour and although it was literally a couple of hundred metres back we decided to return the way we had come. The canal route was probably six or seven times longer and certainly more interesting. Once you have seen one large car ferry in the distance you have seen them all, as far as I am concerned.
Sadly we didn’t get to press the traffic light button this time, one of the tourist boats was heading in the same direction as us and the lights had already been changed, so we just tucked in behind.
On the return journey we did see “John Scotts Brewery” though. Probably my main paddling partner in the 1980’s and early 90’s was Peter Scott, whose dad is John Scott. We felt it only appropriate to go and have a pint in honour of Pete’s dad in his namesakes pub! A great way to celebrate a lovely mornings paddle.
An evening in Sark is always memorable, we had a superb meal on the terrace at Stock’s Hotel and spent some time taking advantage of the Dark Sky Island status. Staring of the night sky was very productive, shooting stars, satellites and aircraft passing overhead against the backdrop of countless stars. We couldn’t spend too long looking at the night sky though, as our return from Sark the following morning, back to Jersey required quite an early start.
The morning dawned with perfect conditions for kayaking and just after 8.00 we were heading down to Dixcart Bay to pack the kayaks and get on the water. Although a weekend visit to Sark is enjoyable, 3 days is much better. A day to paddle up, a day to paddle around the island and a day to return from Sark. The coastal waters are some of the most dramatic to be encountered anywhere.
This weekend we were only going to be able to explore a short section of the south east coast before we had to turn south and catch the tide back to Jersey. The accepted wisdom has always been to paddle to Sark on spring tides, whilst this weekend they were neap tides. In reality both crossings seemed to pass remarkably easily. The 12 nautical mile return from Sark was paddled in 2 hours 50 minutes, which is a pretty respectable time, perhaps we need to rethink, which tides we select for paddling on when we visit our nearest inhabited neighbour.