The French Sea Kayak Symposium is being held, in April 2018, on the north Brittany coast. close to Paimpol and Ile de Brehat, which is a superb kayaking area. It follows the format, which many Symposium’s use, 3 days of workshops and an extended paddling programme for a further 4 days.
There are a number of experienced coaches from 6 European countries, who will be helping to deliver the sessions. If you have only attended Symposiums in the UK, many may be unfamiliar names, but all are experienced and passionate about various aspects of sea kayaking.
Why not consider the French Sea Kayak Symposium in your paddling plans for 2018, you are guaranteed a friendly Breton welcome and some of the finest sea kayaking available anywhere. There is further information on the kayaking opportunities around Ile de Brehat here.
There are a number of options available, which are inclusive of camping:
• Pack 1 – Symposium and paddling week: 250 €
• Pack 2 – Symposium: 130 €
• Pack 3 – Paddling Week: 120 €
• Pack 4 – Symposium + EPP Level 3: 330 €
EPP is the Euro Paddle Pass Level 3 ( which is equivalent to the British Canoeing 3 Star Award).
Whilst looking through thousands of slides last week, as I was trying to sort out a talk for a 60th birthday celebration, I came across a number of slides which brought back some great sea kayaking memories of the last 30 plus years.
Also makes me think about how sea kayaking images have been lost as we have all made the switch to digital. In an earlier post I looked at a few photographs of sea kayaking in the early days of the Jersey Canoe Club.
This post was one of the first that I wrote when setting up the original blog in 2010. At that time we were managing to go sea kayaking in Brittany on a regular basis. In fact most months during the year we would travel to northern France and generally go paddling. In recent years our kayaking interests have been in different geographical areas, 2108 sees a welcome return to this area though with a Sea Kayak Symposium being held near Paimpol in April next year. As soon as booking details are known I will post them here.
This section of the Brittany coast has to be one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in France, if not in northern Europe. It is well known from the tourist brochures and guide books and each year attracts significant numbers of visiting yachtsmen.
My favourite departure point is from Coz Pors at Tregastel, the paddling in either direction is memorable but last Saturday we decided to head east towards Ile Tome, an island of approximately 35 hectares whose spine runs north south. Situated off Perros Guirec, it has been uninhabited since the Second World War and the last few years have seen an active programme aimed to rid the island of rats to allow sea birds to breed, and so far it appears to have been successful.
One thing which we often talk about when out sea kayaking is what are the 5 best paddles that you have ever done. I think that every time I consider, which are my favourites I come up with slightly different ones although there are often a couple of the old favourites.
So when you are having lunch on a rock somewhere, sitting around the camp fire on a remote island or just having a pint in your favourite pub why not give it some thought and see what you come up with. What’s great about this is that there are no rules, apart from the fact that the paddles have to be on the tidal waters and ideally suitable as a day trip.
Here are my favourite 5 for today:
So that’s my five for today but I think that I have already got it wrong. What about Polyaegos and Milos, Sark, Ile de Brehat or even the south west corner of Jersey. This can lead to endless hours of discussion amongst sea kayakers about “what are your 5 best paddles”?
Palo’s Wedding is a classic film by Knud Rasmussen, who was born in Iulissat, on the west coast of Greenland, on 7th June 1879, the son of a Danish missionary. He was the first European to dog sledge the whole length of the North West Passage, one of the numerous expeditions that he undertook between 1902 and 1933. A number of geographical features are named after him, including the Knud Rasmussen Glacier in the far north west of Greenland and the Knud Rasmussen Range of mountains on the west coast of Greenland.
In addition he was honoured by the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Danish Geographical Society and the American Geographical Society as a consequence of his explorations in the Arctic.
Whilst making the film Rasmussen developed food poisoning, supposedly from eating kiviaq, which developed into pneumonia and he sadly died on the 21st December 1933 at the age of 54.
There are some short sections of the film available online but if possible it is well worth obtaining a full copy of the DVD. Palo’s Wedding makes for an interesting winters evening viewing for a kayak club.
In 1975 Colin Mortlock led a six man expedition along the arctic coast of Norway, covering over 500 miles from Bodo to Nortdkapp and slightly beyond. Many people see this as the first modern style sea kayaking expedition, with similarities to the mountaineering developments which were taking place in the Himalaya’s. There were significant developments in terms of equipment, not least the Nordkapp sea kayak designed by Frank Goodman but I also believe that the Wild Water 5 pocket buoyancy aid which was standard equipment for sea kayakers for years had its origin in this expedition. It was seen as such a ground breaking trip that it was serialized in the Sunday Telegraph magazine.
I was fortunate that 11 years later in 1986 I was able to follow part of their route, from Tromso as far as Honnigsvag, a small town just past Nordkapp. In contrast to the unsettled weather experienced by Colin Mortlock and his fellow paddlers, we were really fortunate. For 26 days out of 28 we had light winds, higher than average temperatures and long hours of sunshine. Evenings were frequently spent sitting around in t-shirts although we were quite a way north of the Arctic Circle.
As we passed under the cliffs of Nordkapp (307 metres or 1,007 feet) in flat calm conditions it was hard not to think of the sailors who had traveled these waters as part of the Arctic Convoys which were heading too and from the northern ports in the former Soviet Union during the Second World War.This was a memorable trip with other members of the Jersey Canoe Club, we were fortunate with the weather, which we took full advantage of.
Next summer we are returning to northern Norway to paddle in the Lofotens, a stunning sea kayaking destination, which I have only ever seen before from an aircraft whilst heading further north. It promises to be a good summer.
I have paddled along Gozo’s south coast numerous times over the last five years but the beginning of November was the first time that I had the opportunity to walk along a significant portion of the cliffs and it is interesting to compare the experiences.
We took the bus to the harbour at Mġarr with the intention of walking to Xlendi. We had a number of guide books , which all recommended a slightly different route. Route finding turned out to be easier than anticipated as it was largely a matter of flowing the red dots and occasional arrows.
The scenery was superb, as we expected, with great views across to Comino and Malta. In one place we were able to look north across the Island and in the distance could see the coast of Sicily. I think that this is my 9th visit to Gozo but today was the first time that I had seen their Italian neighbour, to the north. As walked towards the west the small island of Filfla came into view away to the south. We also had clear views of the section of the north west coast of Malta we had paddled last week.
What did shock us though, was the sheer scale of the hunting which was being practiced in the area. As we walked along we realised that most of the background bird noise was coming from caged birds, which we were being used to attract wild birds so they could be shot. Goldfinches, Greenfinch, Linnets, Chaffinches and a number of other species were caged in their hundreds.
We didn’t want to get too close, or attract attention, as there were quite a few men sitting in the small hunting hides, complete with rifles. Along one section of the coast there were numerous nets, which were clearly used for hunting as well. I think that for most people the scale and impact of the hunting would have a serious impact on their enjoyment of the day.
Kayaking along this section of coast you have no idea what is going on above but walking does allow access to some of the more interesting historical features. The walk from the harbour to Xlendi was nearly 9 miles and took significantly longer to walk than it does to paddle.
For navigation we used the ViewRanger App, which is amazingly accurate and well worth getting if you have an appropriate phone.
How far can you see whilst sitting in your kayak? Knowing how far away you can see an object whilst paddling is a useful technique and a valuable aid to navigation. As a simple rule the higher up you are the further you can see. Standing on top of the Empire State Building, with good visibility it is amazing how far away the horizon is. Also the taller the object you are looking at the further away that it can be seen.
As paddlers it is not that easy to raise our eye level, our eyes are generally just less than 1 metre above sea level. At times in rough weather or when there is a swell running it is possible to take advantage of the extra elevation that results from being on top of the swell to increase how far we can actually see. Due to the movement up and down of the kayak, on the water, the distance off an object which is obtained should be seen as an approximation.
Clearly a further problem is caused by the rise and fall of the tide, which may well be significant in certain areas. For example on a chart a lighthouse’s charted height is given above MHWS. In certain areas of the world with a large tidal range the height above water of the light may vary by more than 10 metres, considerably affecting the distance away that the light may be seen from. If you want to be really accurate it is necessary to add the estimated height that the tide is below MHWS to the height of the land or the light before referring to the table.
An example of the effect of this from a trip to the Ecrehous, on a large spring tide, is as follows:
Maitre Ile at the Ecrehous has a height of 8 metres at MHWS, which in Jersey is 11.1 metres, but the tide on Saturday was 11.8 metres, it was bigger than a mean spring. This meant that at high water the maximum height of Maitre Ile was not 8 metres but 7.3 metres.
When the eye of the observer is 1 metre above water level an object 8 metres high is visible from 7.8 nm away but when the height of the object drops to 7 metres it is not visible until you are within 7.4 nm. When we left La Rocque, Maitre Ile was 8.3 nm away. This meant that even in excellent visibility we would have not been able to see our destination when we left.
On a spring tide when the water level may drop by as much as 11 metres the highest point on Maitre Ile is now 19 metres above the water level. This means that the island is now visible from 10.9 miles away for a paddler whose eye is 1 metre above the water.
The lesson is that objects will be visible from much further away when you approach them at low water, particularly in an area with a large tidal range, such as the Channel Islands.
The table below shows the distance at which, an item becomes visible depending upon its height above water. This is based upon the observers eye being 1 metre above the level of the water.
Clearly there are number of variables which impact upon the accuracy of the above table such as sea state, the exact height of the paddlers eye above sea level and the height of the tide but it is a useful tool in helping the sea paddler to locate their position. For example 12 nautical miles to the south of my nearest beach is the superb reef of the Minquiers. The tallest rock on the northern edge is only 3 metres high, which according to the table means that they only become visible when they are 5.5 nautical miles away. Therefore there is no point in even starting to look for the reef until you have paddled for over 6 nautical miles or have been underway for over an hour and a half.
Using this technique as a way of assisting navigation is particularly satisfying but it is a method which is gradually slipping into obscurity. Today the vast majority of us simply turn to the switch on the GPS to receive far more accurate information about our position than we could ever obtain by using the above method. That said there is a degree of satisfaction from being able to navigate using the more traditional methods and you never know if the batteries are going to run out!
The Cote de Granit Rose is that stretch of the Brittany coastline, which is much loved by visiting British yachtsmen, and land based tourists. Although the inhabitants have French passports they are regard themselves first and foremost as Bretons. The coastline is deeply indented as a number of ria’s penetrate the countryside of Cote D’Armor and these inlets provide shelter during the periods of unsettled weather which can sweep across the region. Along the coast a number of small bays and harbours are virtually enclosed by the large granite monoliths, which are widely spread providing a unique and dramatic seascape. Against this background there is some superb sea kayaking.
It was an early April morning that we met at Ile Grande, the early season meant that car parking was not a problem. Our destination for the day was the Triagoz lighthouse, about six miles to the northwest. The tides in this area can run with a speed that can catch people unawares and to approach Triagoz meant crossing the tidal streams so we had chosen a neap tide to minimisz the effect of the flow.
As we paddled out from Ile Grande, along one of the many channels, which run in between the surrounding reefs it, became apparent that there was a swell approaching from the west. As the swell began to feel the shallower water they steepened rapidly before crashing forwards in a surge wall of white, the unleashing of such power emphasized the need to steer clear of the reefs.
Triagoz lighthouse was built in 1864 and its light, 30 metres above the sea, is visible from 14 miles away. On this day the early season mist, which hung over the water meant that the light wasn’t visible from 5 miles away and so, we headed out on a compass bearing towards an unseen destination. After about 1.5 miles the Bar-ar-Gall west cardinal mark slipped by to our left and we entered deeper water. The mean depth changing from under 20 metres to over 60 metres with a result that the swell settled into a more regular rhythm. This was a swell, which had travelled from the open ocean, and there was a feeling of real power as we rose and sank a couple of metres at a time.
Eventually the lighthouse started to emerge from the haze and its face glowed gold reflecting the local rock from which it had been constructed. The defensive ring of reefs was fringed white as the Atlantic swell was halted in its progress east. We had hoped to land and to briefly explore the area surrounding the light, no more internal visits though, this light became automatic in 1984. Unfortunately the ever-present swell prevented this happening. We could have landed but this was not an emergency or a sea kayaking assessment, no need to risk the kayaks so we remained in deep water, savouring the atmosphere and taking photographs before turning east towards a known landing spot.
Les Sept Iles were six miles to the east but we had some tidal assistance for this section of the journey. Barely visible in the distance we were being drawn towards them both by the tide and by reputation. Located 3 miles north of the Breton coast they are a superb paddling destination in their own right. Numerous vedettes travel backwards and forwards between the islands and the mainland but it is only possible to land on one of the islands, Ile aux Moines, the others are all part of the nature reserve.
The bird life in the area is truly spectacular. On Ile Rouzic there are thousands of pairs of gannets, the most southerly colony on the eastern side of the Atlantic. For the majority of the boat travelling tourists though the most exciting observation would be of a Puffin, which breed here in small numbers. I would doubt if hardly any would become excited at the passage of a Manx Shearwater, which also breed in the area. As we approached the archipelago a few of these birds passed close by and to me they embodied all that is interesting in a bird. Complete mastery of their environment with a freedom of spirit to roam widely across the ocean. As they glided past on stiffened wings there was the occasional tilting of the head as if in disbelief as to the type of craft they could see on the water. The most common bird was the gannet, numerous individuals flying past on their regular commute from Ile Rouzic to the more distant fishing grounds. Their numbers increasing dramatically during the last few hundred of metres, even if it was thick fog it would have been apparent that we were about to make a landfall.
As we approached the reef it appeared as if there was a line of mist across the rocks at the western end of the reef. It quickly became apparent that this fog was in fact spray being unleashed from the exploding swells. Clearly as we bore down on the islands it was going to be necessary to exercise a degree of caution to ensure that we weren’t swept into a maelstrom of exploding waves. Le Cerf was the first landfall that we made, more of a large rock than a small island, we skirted north avoiding a number of dramatic reef breaks until we entered the calmer waters inside the reef. We knew that there was a seal colony and were not disappointed when a number of inquisitive individuals swam out to accompany us on our exploration of the reef.
We landed on the northern side of Ile aux Moines for lunch, basking in the early April sun and savouring some of the delights of the Breton cuisine with a number of local paddlers. Clearly a huge amount of military building had been undertaken in the past but for me the most dramatic man made feature was the lighthouse. Its construction was started in 1854 and its powerful light is a key feature when approaching this coast.
We circumnavigated the two largest islands, Ile aux Moines and Ile Bono, encountering a number of the nesting birds, which have made these islands such an important ornithological site. Time was pressing though and it was time to cross the channel towards the mainland. On spring tides the streams run through the channel at speeds of up to 4 knots and with an adverse wind a significant sea can be generated. Fortune smiled on us that afternoon and the ferry glide towards the perched granite boulders of the shoreline was carried out in flat calm seas. We skirted the outside of Ploumanac’h, possibly the most picturesque harbour on the north coast of Brittany, and passed close to Tregastel, so popular with tourists during the summer months.
We threaded our way through the reefs back to Ile Grande, from where we had departed six hours and 20 nautical miles earlier. Some of the French paddlers concluded their day with a number of celebratory rolls but I was more interested in remaining dry. As we changed in the car park the full implications of the day’s paddle began to sink in. We had visited two of the major lighthouses of northern Brittany and seen a diverse range of wildlife in a dramatic natural environment.
I always think that there is something special about urban kayaking and over the years I have been fortunate to dip my paddles in the waters of some of the worlds great cities.My first was probably Venice in 1972 when I paddled an early version of a Gaybo sea kayak. I have been struggling to remember the model but it’s name escapes me. In those days kayaks in the waters of Venice were an infrequent sight, so I generated a fair bit of interest.
Since then I have enjoyed the urban landscapes of cities such London, Paris, New York, Valletta and Seattle to name a few. Along the way I have paddled through towns and cities which may not necessarily have the same worldwide appeal but have their own unique charm. This includes such fascinating destinations as Leicester, Wolverhampton, Milton Keynes, to name just three. What is great about paddling through towns such as these you gain a totally different perspective of the urban environment.
This week we were fortunate to be able to paddle around the historic Dutch city of Utrecht. In terms of population it is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands so there was no doubt that we would be experiencing urban kayaking! There was plenty to see including football stadiums, prisons, old fortifications and possibly the most interesting from a sea kayakers point of view part of the University.
Christophorus Henricus Diedericus Buys Ballot attended Utrecht University before going on to become a Professor in Mathematics and Physics. He is best known though for his achievements in meteorology, with Buys Ballots Law named after him. It states that if a person in the northern hemisphere stands with their back to the wind the low pressure is to their left and high pressure to the right. Pretty much essential knowledge for anybody who wants to work as a sea kayak leader or guide.
Who says that Urban Kayaking has to be boring? There is a whole world out there waiting to be discovered and perfect when the wind is too strong to be on the open sea.