I have recently come across this advert for SABENA, the Begian airline that went bankrupt in 2001. It was in an old copy of a National Geographic magazine, dating from the 1960’s I think.
The paddles, that they are using are particularly impressive, as is the attention to safety, not a buoyancy aid in sight.
It made me wonder, in addition to SABENA, what other companies have used kayaking in their attempt to sell a product. Ed Gillet is well known as the person who kayaked from California to Hawaii, over 64 days in 1987. It is reckoned to be one of the greatest achievements in modern sea kayaking. Have a look at Canoe&Kayak Magazine for more details about this significant crossing. I was in his shop, near San Diego, in 1999, when I saw an advert on the wall from Continental Airlines, which made reference to his paddle to Hawaii. I can’t remember the exact words but it was along the lines that it was easier to fly to Hawaii than to paddle there
More recently McDonalds have been showing an advert of a kayaker losing his paddle and being carried down an artificial slalom course in a rather relaxed style.
As far as I can remember the first chocolate bar in the United Kingdom, which was produced in a waterproof wrapper was the Twix. This transformed what we ate on the water, it was suddenly possible to keep a chocolate bar in your buoyancy aid pocket without fear of it disintegrating. Interestingly the TV advert, which promoted the new chocolate bar, featured a shot of a car driving onto a ferry with a couple of sea kayaks on the roof. It would be nice to think that it was planned but I imagine that it was just a coincidence.
2017 has seen us undertake some significant warm weather kayaking but perhaps none as unusual as Mauritius. A winter holiday evolved into some great sea kayaking as well as running some British Canoeing courses.
A quick e mail to Patrick Haberland at Yemaya Adventures to try and arrange a day’s paddling, gradually evolved into something else. The initial offering of a sit on top tour through mangrove swamps was replaced by the opportunity to paddle in sea kayaks out to Ile de la Passe, off the east coast of Mauritius, in exchange for some days of training.
This was a perfect combination and allowed us to see some areas of Mauritius, which we might have missed if we hadn’t managed to get out on the water.
Our first experience of paddling in Mauritius was when we headed out from near Preskil Beach Resort on the east coast of the island. We passed close to Ile aux Aigrettes. This is a stunning nature reserve with close links to Jersey Zoo, so we had more than a passing interest in the island. Some of the species on the island have been part of a captive breeding programme so it felt a real privilege to see a Pink Pigeon in the wild as opposed to in Jersey.
We paddled across Mahebourg Bay towards Ile de la Passe. This was an area, which originally had been settled by the Dutch but was settled by the French in the early 18th century. We were headed towards Ile de la Passe, with its military fortifications dating from the 18th century onwards.
On the 20th August 1810, at the Battle of Grand Port, the French inflicted their greatest naval defeat on the British, a victory which is commemorated on the Arc de Triumph. The fortifications on Ile de la Passe were enlarged by the British during the 19th century and again during the Second World War, when Mauritius, despite its isolation was dragged into the conflict.
Against this rich historical background was some delightful sea kayaking. To the east the the southern Indian Ocean was releasing its energy on the reef, which fringes the east coast of Mauritius. Within the reef the water was relatively calm and in areas very shallow. We landed on Ile de la Passe before heading north to Ile aux Fouquets or ile au Phare, with its British built lighthouse, which has sadly fallen into disrepair. This was a completely different marine environment, to which we were used to paddling in but it was really memorable.
Salina is the final island of our Aeolian Islands adventure. The crossing from Lipari to Salina is only a couple of miles but it is across waters busy with commercial traffic so it is important to be aware of the passage of the ferries and their intended routes. They are fast and frequent so always be aware when crossing possible routes, if in doubt stop and allow them to pass. We did have relatively close encounters with a couple of ferries on our crossing but the main distraction were the dolphins heading south. As a group stay close together, it is easier for you to be seen.
We headed up the west coast in virtually perfect conditions, warm October sunshine and virtually no wind. Stopping for an early lunch on the beach at Rinella, we took advantage of the warm water for a pre-lunch swim. What was surprising was just how many ferries entered the harbour, for such a small town. In little more than an hour this small village saw more ferries visit than Jersey in a whole day.
As we headed up the north west coast of the island we witnessed one of the most memorable bird sights I have seen in a long time. Numerous Eleonora’s Falcons were flying along the towering cliffs. At times we reckoned that there were up to 30 birds flying overhead, and this was a spectacle that lasted for several miles. It was impossible, therefore, to work out just how many of these amazing birds we saw.
The opportunity to watch Eleonora’s Falcons is one of the real pleasures of kayaking around some Mediterranean islands. Nesting on sea cliffs they delay their breeding until the autumn so that they are able to take advantage of the southerly autumn migration. Catching the smaller migrating birds to feed to their young. Eleonora’s Falcons, themselves, then migrate heading across Africa to Madagascar for the winter. Superb fliers, it is always a thrill to see them cruising along the sea cliffs and this day was without doubt the best display I have ever seen.
This was probably the hottest day we spent on the water, whilst in the Aeolian Islands and at times it was refreshing to paddle underneath the cliffs, in search of shade. The paddle around Salina from Lipari also turned into our longest distance, with 17 nautical miles covered. Our destination for the day was the main port on the island, at Santa Marina, as we had a ferry to catch.
Landing on the beach, just north of the harbour, on the east coast of Salina, we could see that we were less than 100 metres from the ferry ramp. A relatively straightforward carry, as we waited for the car ferry, which was going to take us to Stromboli. A relaxing beer and snack were enjoyed, whilst watching over the kayaks. As the ferry approached, it was the large ferry which operates the overnight service to Naples, we moved a couple of the kayaks close to the ferry ramp. My Italian is almost non-existent, but I eventually worked out from some passerby that the ferry was arriving on a different ramp to the one we were standing on.
What followed was the most exhausting 15 minutes of the whole trip, as we had to carry 9 fully loaded kayaks, 8 singles and a double, several hundred metres through the crowds on the waterfront. Alex, in his usual style was not optimistic about making the ferry, Janet was saying that she would stand on the ramp and I was convinced that we would make it, but only just. As it turned out we had plenty of time but it was 10 very sweaty kayakers who eventually settled down in the bar, for the 3 hour crossing to Stromboli. As we sipped our drinks and tried to get our heart rates back to normal we were blissfully unaware that the following day we were going to experience some of the most dramatic sea kayaking of our lives.
The volcanic cone, of Stromboli, rising from the sea floor of the Mediterranean, dominates many of the seascapes of the Aeolian Islands. It is the volcano of children’s picture books. We approached the island on the car ferry from Salina, calling at the small village of Ginsotra before carrying on to the main settlement at San Vincenzo. Today’s population of about 500 is significantly lower than the several thousand people who lived on the island at the end of the 19th century.
After an early breakfast, and a quick glance at the warning signs regarding tsunamis we headed around the island in a clockwise direction. Agnes, our guide and friend from Planete Kayak, knows the area well and proved to be an ideal leader, sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for the area.
Onto the west coast we reached the small village of Ginostra. About 40 people live year round in this small village with the only reasonable means of access being by boat. The small harbour is supposed to be one of the smallest in the world although a larger one for the ferries was constructed in 2004.
Leaving the harbour we turned north and approached one of the most amazing physical spectacles I have seen anywhere.
We continued our circumnavigation of the Island, landing back at the harbour, prior to catching the early morning car ferry back to Vulcano. What is certain is that Stromboli is one of the most dramatic places that I have ever paddled and feel certain that I will return at some point in the future.
Our second day on Lipari, started with a paddle north to beach at Porticello. On the way we passed the significant remnants of the pumice quarrying industry, which must have had a significant impact on the economy of the island when they closed. Their closure was linked to the Aeolian Islands being granted World Heritage Site status.
The afternoon was spent climbing to the summit of Monte Pilato, which gave superb views across the other islands of the archipelago. In addition it gave us our first views of Etna, which had remained shrouded in cloud since we arrived on the islands.
The following day we headed south in an increasingly strong westerly wind but were able to gain shelter from the high land. Amazingly just as we were about to cross the harbour at Lipari Town, we were stopped by the Coast Guard and told that we couldn’t cross the harbour. We would have to go around the west of the Island. This was a 13 nautical mile detour along the base of high cliffs, most of which would have been exposed to an onshore force 5 wind. All we wanted to do was paddle 200 metres across the bay.
We explained that going all the way round to the west wasn’t an option but the Coast Guard remained adamant that we couldn’t cross the harbour. We remained adamant that his detour wasn’t an option. Eventually he agreed that we could cross the harbour but had to mover further offshore. Bizarrely into stronger winds and with greater exposure to the path of the fast ferries. We did have to question his judgement as a supposed professional mariner.
Our final short crossing to Vulcano proved to be reasonably entertaining. The westerly wind was pushing a reasonable sea through the gap between the islands. It provided the opportunity for a bit of surfing as our course turned parallel to the coast. All that remained was the final short paddle back to Sicily in Kayak to return our kayaks.
From Vulcano we crossed the narrow channel to Lipari, our plan was to paddle north along the west coast and return south down the east coast later in the week. It seemed like a good plan, which worked, although not in the way that we intended as it actually involved rapid disembarkation from a car ferry.
The channel across from Vulcano is only a few hundred metres wide but does require a degree of caution when crossing. It is regularly used by the high speed ferries which connect the various islands in the group. Both times we crossed we encountered ferries which necessitated in changes in direction. Approaching the south west corner of the island is like paddling onto the pages of a geography textbook. Caves, arches and stacks all positioned in the order, which is depicted in the diagrams shown in geography books.
There is one large beach on the west coast of the island, Spiaggia Valle Muria, with a small bar/cafe in a cave, which appears to have rather erratic opening times. The remainder of the coast is a playground for the sea kayaker. There were numerous geographical features waiting to be explored, which we took full advantage of, whilst en route to Salinas.
The east coast of Lipari, wasn’t necessarily on our agenda but a forecast of particularly strong winds encouraged us to book the ferry from Stromboli back to Vulcano. Unfortunately the wind was stronger than forecast, which prevented the ferry docking at Vulcano. Suddenly we were forced to abandon ship in Lipari Town.
Our unexpected arrival allowed us plenty of time to explore Lipari Town. It is the largest settlement in the Aeolian Islands. We were able to settle into our guest house, the Villa Rosa, a great find right on the waterfront. The citadel proved to be an essential visit. Walking around the narrow lanes and courtyards it was hard to imagine that Mussolini used the area to contain political prisoners.
The forecast for the following day was for lighter winds so we anticipated being able to paddle the east coast before crossing to Vulcano.
Arriving on the ferry, at Vulcano, the first thing to strike you is the sulphurous smell, indicating that you have arrived on a volcanic island. The smoking crater, rising above Porto di Levante provides further evidence of geological activity in the area. The ancient Romans believed that the volcano was the chimney of the fire god, Vulcan.
The crater rises to a height of 391 metres and a walk around its rim should be on the tick list of anybody visiting the island, which is the closest of the Aeolian Islands, to mainland Sicily. Although I am fascinated by physical geography, the reason for our visit was to rent kayaks from Sicily in Kayak at the start of a 7 day paddle around the islands. As we disembarked the owner Eugenio was waiting with his distinctive yellow mini bus to transport us round the start of our journey, just in front of his premises.
After the usual delay as equipment was sorted, kayaks packed and provisions purchased we were were soon heading south along the east coast of the island. Whilst packing we became aware of one of the more intrusive aspects of life on Vulcano, mosquitoes. Some of the group reacting more than others, but everybody was finding them surprisingly active, if visiting be prepared.
The slopes drop steeply into the Mediterranean Sea, although in places there appeared to be signs of some old terracing. Ahead we could see the north coast of Sicily but what was really attracting our attention was the view towards the other islands, particularly Stromboli with a plume of gases rising steadily from its summit. There is virtually no access to the east coast, with the first easy landing being Spiaggia Cannitello, on the south coast. There was a bar, restaurant, sun beds etc but absolutely no sign of human activity.
The were a few people fishing off the jetty at the small port of Gelso then we were on our own again along the west coast of the island. There are a number of amazing caves along this stretch of coast, including the Grotta del Cavallo, which is big enough to accommodate tourist boats. As kayakers we will probably want to explore some of the smaller caves, which are just waiting to be discovered by the inquisitive paddlers.
Just before reaching Vulcanello are the black sands of Spiaggia Sabina Nera, its probably easy to identify because of the number of yachts at anchor in the bay. There is a bar on the beach but it is a relatively short walk across the isthmus to the port area where there are more options for food and drink. The isthmus was created in 1550, the last eruption of Vulcanello, which constitutes the northern part of the island. Vulcanello appeared in 183 B.C. following some underwater eruptions. From the north coast of Vulcanello it is a relatively short crossing to Lipari or you could follow the coast back to harbour and your departure point.
Which ever option you chose you won’t be disappointed Vulcano is a pretty dramatic sea kayaking destination. We were out for 7 days so our interest lay to the north and some truly spectacular kayaking.
I have loved Sark since my first visit in the early 1970’s. I first paddled up to Sark from Jersey in 1979 and have since returned on numerous occasions, often camping for several nights. A quick look through my log books has revealed that I have visited the island every month of the year apart from December. I even paddled north from Jersey for an overnight visit, in the 1980’s, when the schools were closed due to heavy snow. Whatever the weather and time of the year Sark has always occupied a special place in my heart.
This week we had booked a day trip to Sark with Jersey Seafaris, on one of their ribs. What a great way to visit, with a thoroughly professional company. Heading out from St Catherine’s we turned to the north west, with the crossing taking about 40 minutes. There was still the remnants of Sunday’s swell, which slowed us down in places but otherwise it was a perfect crossing. As soon as we moved away from the coast it was amazing the number of Shearwaters, mainly Balearic with a few Manx, we saw. Somehow as a sea kayaker I have always had a degree of empathy with Shearwaters, which are one of my favourite birds.
Arrival in Sark was at Creux Harbour, the older of the two harbours on the east coast. With the main arm being constructed in the 1860’s. landing was easy and we were soon on our way up the hill to hire bikes for the day. Avenue Cycle Hire, was visited and within minutes we were on our way.
After visiting quite a few of the main points around the Island I started to develop some uncomfortable feelings. Perhaps I was looking at the past through rose coloured spectacles but Sark just didn’t seem quite the same. There appeared to be quite a few empty houses, some of shops on the main street were closed, as were some of the hotels. In certain areas, for example towards the Pilchers Monument the land appeared uncared for.
After lunch we crossed to Little Sark for a swim close to the remains of the Silver Mines, the history of which is described in an earlier post. The warm afternoon sun did provide an excuse to jump into the crystal clear water.
All too soon it was time to head back to the harbour and the RIB journey back to Jersey, but not before having the opportunity to admire the coastal scenery and learn a bit more about the history of this fascinating Island.
Sark really is one of my favourite places in the world and I will continue to visit it at every opportunity, sadly this time I came away with the feeling that it is a community, which isn’t thriving as successfully in the past.
The tides around Mont St Michel are described as rising at the speed of a galloping horse. I am never sure whether this is true but clearly at times there is going to be a significant amount of water moving and this has the potential to create a tidal bore when it enters a river estuary.
Obviously a Spring tide is required to ensure that the bore works and we selected a Thursday morning when there was a tide with a co-efficient of 109. We hoped that by choosing a Thursday morning just after dawn there wouldn’t be that many other people turning up to surf the wave.
The first problem was try and find the departure point. We arrived on the evening ferry to St Malo and in the dark had to navigate our way through the narrow lanes of eastern Brittany, looking for somewhere near the Pointe de Rochtorin, where we could park up and sleep in the cars. Eventually at about 23.30 after a number of false tracks we eventually decided that we were in the right place and settled down for a night of luxury on the front seat of my car.
We were up before first light, preparing equipment and still not too sure that we were in the right place when suddenly a couple of stand up paddleboarders arrived and ran off down the path. Confirmation that we were in the right place. We followed quickly and selected a place for launching with the minimum amount of mud to wade through. In the soft light and calm of early morning we then headed downstream unaware of what we were going to find.
The first indication of something approaching was the flocks of birds taking flight, then there was the unmistakable roar of water when suddenly a wave appeared around the corner. Not particularly large, between 30 and 60 cms high it stretched right across the river and was flooding the exposed sand banks. As regards time it was now about 40 minutes before high water at St Malo.
We were soon on the face of the tidal bore and surfing upstream, the 6 of us in sea kayaks and the 2 people on SUP’s, were joined by a long board surfer and a paddler in a general purpose kayak. That was it, 10 of us on the wave, a complete contrast to some of the carnage we had witnessed, on some of the films we had watched beforehand.
We surfed up stream for 5 nautical miles and were on the wave for 40 minutes, a couple of us rolled and one person swam but was surprisingly easy to rescue, it hadn’t occurred to us that the whole of sea was moving upstream behind the wave. This meant that if you dropped of the wave for a rest, it was pretty straight forward to regain the face when you felt like it.
The French clearly knew where the tidal bore was going to finish as they had their cars parked ready. The wave just disappeared so we pulled up on the bank had a quick coffee and within 20 minutes the flow had reversed and we were heading back to the cars and a well earned breakfast.
This was one of the most unique and enjoyable experiences I have had sea kayaking in recent years. Surfing the tidal bore or the “mascaret” as the French call it is a unique and highly recommended activity.
One of the highlights of my year was a visit to the Spanish Symposium, a sea kayaking event, which is held in the small town of Llanca, just south of the Spanish – French border. It was something we had thought of attending several times over the years but 2017 was the first time that it really possible, and we weren’t disappointed. A more friendly, well organized event would be hard to find.
The format was very simple but very effective. Virtually everybody camped in the grounds of the local secondary school, we did have to wait for the end of term before putting the tents up. Every morning members of the local kayak Club prepared a superb breakfast, which was always delivered with a smile.
The first 3 days of the event were based off the beach in Llanca, every morning several hundred paddlers would gather on the beach looking for coloured signs, which represented the various workshops. From what initially appeared like chaos, emerged order and a variety of sessions, which were all well received. Despite the variety of nationalities attending there always seemed to be a way of communicating, although my French was tested at times!
Following the 3 days of workshops there were 4 days of paddling when we were able to explore the surprisingly spectacular coastline of the Costa Brava.
The final day was particularly memorable as we headed north across the border to the French border town of Cerbere. We took advantage of the ice cream shops and I reflected on the fact that a few months earlier I had arrived in this town on my bike, having riding across France from Jersey over 2 weeks last September.
The Spanish Symposium was a memorable week, the organization was smooth and the members of Club who volunteered their were incredibly friendly. An event of this size makes considerable demands on the resources of a kayaking Club so it is not an annual event but start planning for the 2019 Spanish Sea Kayaking Symposium, you won’t be disappointed if you manage to get a place.