Return from Sark

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.

Return from Sark
A welcoming sign on arrival in Sark. We spent some time the evening before gazing at sky and amazed by the sheer quantity of stars visible.
Return from Sark
Heading down the path from the campsite. An early morning start on the Sunday.
Return from Sark
Looking across Dixcart Bay and realizing we had perfect conditions for the return crossing to Jersey.
Return from Sark
We were lucky to have about 30 minutes to explore some of the many caves, which punctuate this section of coast.
Return from Sark
Paddling along the south east coast of Sark before we turned south towards Jersey.
Return from Sark
Jersey was a vague line on the horizon, 12 nautical miles away but conditions were perfect for the crossing.
Return from Sark
Arriving in Jersey. We made lanfall near Les Landes, and followed the coast south to L’Etacq.
Return from Sark
Landing back in Jersey, what was amazing was the clarity of the water. It was possible to sea the sea bed when several hundred metres offshore. Conditions were more like the Mediterranean than the English Channel.

Sark in July

In the middle of last week the weather forecast was certainly indicating that a kayaking visit to Sark in July, was a definite possibility.  In fact, the forecast only improved as time went on, so on Saturday morning at 11.00 we were busy packing our kayaks at L’Etacq in preparation for the 12 nautical mile crossing.
The tide had just started to flow in a northerly direction and we used this flow to speed our departure from Jersey.  Crossings of this length are all about preparation.  Tidal vectors drawn in advance, key locations and times identified, followed by constant monitoring whilst on the water.
There was plenty of other boat traffic around, Channel 82, which is the reporting channel for Jersey Coastguard, was continually in use as local and visiting boat owners were taking advantage of the superb weather.  Although we were crossing a shipping lane we only encountered one large vessel, we did have to adjust our bearing to avoid a potential near miss with the ship.  This slight adjustment to our course, did cost us some time but we were really pleased with the 3 hours that the crossing took.
Sark is a truly superb sea kayaking destination, and a circumnavigation is a superb way to spend a day but this visit didn’t have enough time to explore the Island.  So it was a matter of sorting the equipment out on the beach, heading to the campsite before making the most of water Sark has to offer.  A meal had been booked at Stocks Hotel, and as usual we were not disappointed.
A great day but an early start was required the next morning to catch the flood tide home.

Sark in July
Leaving L’Etacq a couple of hours before high water, we received quite a push from the north flowing tide. Sark was about 12 nautical miles to the north.
Sark in July
In the middle of the crossing. The nearest land was about 6 miles away.
Sark in July
We had to adjust attract our track as we were on a potential collision course with a coastal freighter. I always assume that they haven’t seen us, so paddle accordingly.
Sark in July
Approaching Sark, it is always satisfying to arrive off the dramatic east coast of the Island.
Sark in July
Although there were plenty of boats at anchor in the bay there was plenty of room on the beach for our kayaks. Dixcart Bay is such a stunning location.
Sark in July
Unloading the kayaks on the beach. Despite the beach being really busy we were not concerned about leaving the equipment on the beach. It always feels really safe.
Sark in July
The Pomme de Chiens campsite is at the head of Dixcart Valley so it was relatively easy walking up to the field. Tents up and its time go and experience the best of what Sark has to offer, including a great meal at Stocks Hotel.

English Channel Nostalgia

In March 1981 we were heading back to Jersey on the car ferry from Weymouth, with quite a warm feeling inside.  I was in the team which had just won the initial Home International Surf Kayaking Championships at Fistral Beach Newquay and as a result we felt that we were up for anything, so in the naivety youth of youth we hatched a plan to paddle from Jersey back to England. A Channel crossing but at the western end of the waterway, as opposed to the narrower and busier Dover Straits.  Over the next couple of months the reality of the paddle began to sink in but we pressed on with the planning.  In the end we decided to split the paddle in Alderney.
So early one Sunday morning in June 1981 five us loaded our sea kayaks on the beach at L’Etacq on the north west of Jersey and headed out, on our way to Alderney 33 nautical miles north, due to the speed of the tidal streams around Alderney our window of opportunity was quite small.  So there was no time to hang about or to pop into Sark, as we passed by.  In addition we were under added pressure as we had to catch a flight home in the afternoon.
6 hours after leaving L’Etacq we beached at Braye Harbour having made good use of the favourable tidal streams.  We quickly stored the kayaks, rushed to the airport and in a matter of 15 minutes retraced our route back to Jersey, although with considerably less effort.
The following Friday night we flew back to Alderney, retrieved the kayaks and rechecked our navigation for the following morning.  We aimed to leave at 06.00 so it was an early phone call to the Jersey Met Office for a current weather forecast.  It couldn’t have been better, virtually no wind, sunshine and the slight risk of a fog patch.  How wrong this turned out to be.
As we paddled out of Braye Harbour we disappeared into the fog and in the belief that it was a small fog bank headed north.  Little did we realize that this fog stretched all the way to the south coast of England, 58 nautical miles away, if we known we might well have turned straight around and headed back to Alderney.
We kept to our bearing but in the pre-GPS days there was no way of confirming our actual position we just had to have confidence in our compasses.  At times the visibility was less than 50 metres, although the fog couldn’t have been that thick vertically, as the sun was shining.
We decided to stop for lunch at 13.00 and as the top of the hour approached our thoughts turned to food.  Suddenly at about 12.58 there was disconcerting rumbling sound to our right.  Almost simultaneously John and myself shouted paddle as we had seen the bow wave.  We were directly in the path of an enormous cargo ship, which was steaming west clearly unaware of our presence.  As we sprinted forward we just cleared the ship.  At this point fear kicked in.
We decided that staying alive was preferable to stopping for food so we carried on north with an extra sense of urgency to our strokes.  Amazingly at about 20.00 we popped out of the fog just underneath the old Borstal on Portland.  I would like to claim credit for some seriously accurate navigation but I think that it was more by luck than judgement that we arrived at our destination with such precision.
We landed on the beach at Weymouth just before 21.00 which gave us an average speed of nearly 4 knots for the previous 15 hours and we just missed the overnight ferry back home to Jersey.  So it was an evening exploring the night life of Weymouth (very limited) before heading south on the British Rail ferry the following morning.
It was an immensely satisfying paddle but whenever anybody asked since for advice I have always recommended that they don’t repeat our journey.  Its not the distance but the risk of being exposed to the shipping something that it is impossible to imagine unless you have sat in the middle of the Channel.  36 years on I can still remember the feeling as if it was yesterday when that bow wave appeared out of the fog!

Although I have taken photographs of sea kayaking since the 1970’s I have none of the Channel crossing, I was just to concerned about the paddling to stop and take any.

Channel Crossing
An aerial shot of Alderney, with the harbour at Braye clearly visible. It was our arrival point from Jersey and departure point for England. The strong tidal streams, which Alderney is well known for, are visible running over the rocks off the tip of the island.

Channel Islands Sea Kayaking

A few pictures of sea kayaking around the Channel Islands, mostly from about 30 years ago or slightly older.  The difference in shape of the images is because the earlier ones were taken with a Kodak Instamatic camera (remember those?) before I had a job which paid enough money to be able to buy a 35mm camera.
In all the time that we spent paddling around the Channel Islands in the 1970’s and 80’s I don’t think we ever bumped into any other sea kayakers, it really did feel like an era of exploration.

Channel Islands
This is returning to Jersey (visible behind the paddlers) from Sark in June 1979. Note the old style of Henderson screw hatches.
Channel Islands
Another image from the Sark paddle in 1979, in those days the only sea kayak which we considered having was a Nordkapp HM. If you could afford it you had Lendal Nordkapp paddles with wooden blades, if not you just used your standard Wild Water paddles.
Channel Islands
Heading north from Jersey, the island is Sark, which was our original destination but we changed part of the way across and decided to go to Guernsey instead. The paddler is Derek Hairon who now runs Jersey Kayak Adventures.
Channel Islands
Arrival at Bordeaux in Guernsey on our day trip from Jersey. What had planned to be a gentle paddle turned into a 40 nautical mile day trip. In the distance can be seen Herm (left), Jethou (right) and Sark just visible between the two. On the return journey we stopped off at Herm to phone through to our parents to let them know that we were going to be late home and the telephone box still had buttons A and B to press.
Channel Islands
The summer of 1982, I was getting married and so distant holidays were out of the question but we had a great two weeks paddling around the Channel Islands. This is Port au Moulin on the west coast of Sark in August 1982.
Channel Islands
Havre Gosselin, on the west coast of Sark This was on an Advanced Sea Assessment in May 1983. The Nordkapp HM still dominated the kayaks in use in the Channel Islands. This photograph was used on the front cover of Canoeist Magazine.
Channel Islands
Leaving Creux Harbour, Sark in December 1983. We left Greve de Lecq, on the north coast of Jersey, in the dark and crossed the 12 nautical miles to Sark. The idea was to purchase duty free drink for Christmas and we had a significant number of orders. Unfortunately the shops were shut so that part of the paddle failed. We did managed to find a toasted cheese sandwich before returning to Jersey and landing back at Greve in the dark.
Channel Islands
In the 1980’s I was busy running lots of training and assessment courses for the BCU Senior Instructor Award. This was December 1983 on the south coast of Guernsey. The paddler in blue is Ron Moore, a superb coach and legendary speaker who was based in Plymouth, who is sadly no longer with us.
Channel Islands
Another BCU training course in October 1984. This is at Havelet, just south of St Peter Port. Plastic kayaks had made an appearance, although Brian Aplin is still paddling what looks like a fibre glass KW7. It was Brian who I accompanied on his swim a couple of months ago, from Lihou to the Hanois.
Channel Islands
The Minquiers in September 1985. We visited this reef to the south of Jersey as a day trip whilst training for the Canoe Club paddle we were planning for the following summer when we kayaked from Tromso to Honnigsvag, around Nordkapp.
Channel Islands
In the 1980’s I ran a canoeing (kayaking) school in Jersey but we used to do lots of trips away. This is crossing from Guernsey to Herm in perfect conditions in July 1989.
Channel Islands
1989 saw the arrival of the Aleut II, designed a built by Howard Jeffs. I still have this kayak. It opened up a number of possibilities. Pete Scott and myself attempted to paddle around the Channel Islands but it also meant that some people could undertake paddles that they might not have done on their own. This is two of the younger Club members heading down the east coast of Sark in June 1990.
Channel Islands
I think this was still a Senior Instructor course, we hadn’t quite become Level 3 coaches. This is launching down the steep slipway in Saints Bay Guernsey in October 1990. I was amazed that we survived all these courses because nobody had heard of risk assessments etc. What I do remember was that there was always a huge element of fun.

Sark – an island not completely loved

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.

Sark
Arrival at Creux Harbour.
Sark
A sign close to the harbour celebrating Sark’s unique achievement.  It is an accolade that was bestowed on the island in 2011.
Sark
Looking north from Port au Moulin, close to the spectacular Window in the Rock. A hole which, was blasted through the rock by the Seigneur in the 1850’s to provide spectacular views along the coast.  It shows just how great the sea kayaking is in this area.

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.

Sark
Lunch was at Hathaways Cafe just as the sun came out and the temperature soared.

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.

Sark
Lisa jumping into one of the gully’s close to the Silver Mines.

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.

Brecqhou
Looking along the west coast of Sark. Brecqhou is clearly visible.
Sark
Memorial stone to those Islanders deported by the German occupying forces in the Second World War.

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.

Channel Islands Nostalgia

Following on from some previous nostalgic postings, this one describes a paddle that Peter Scott and myself undertook in August 1989. The catalyst for the idea was the arrival of a sea worthy two man sea kayak on the market, the Aleut, designed by Howard Jeffs.  The aim was a non stop circumnavigation of the Channel Islands, a distance of approximately 125 nautical miles.
Just before dawn on an August Saturday we launched from Corbiere, the south west corner of Jersey.  Heading along the south coast of the island until we were able to head out towards Les Ecrehous.  We passed in between France and this delightful reef before picking up an energetic, north flowing tide, towards  Alderney. The 30 nautical miles were covered in just under 5 hours.
From the Alderney Race we passed to the north of Alderney before heading west towards the Casquets.  There was a huge volume of water heading south, creating boils and overfalls, which added some spice to the paddle.  Navigating only with a Silva compass as we passed the Casquets we were ahead of schedule and starting to feel slightly optimistic, after 9 hours on the water, that we would complete the circumnavigation.
Unfortunately visibility wasn’t that great, and this was pre-GPS, so it wasn’t until we arrived off the northern tip of Herm that we realized we were east of our intended track.  We had to cross the Little Russel and head back to the northern tip of Guernsey before starting down the west coast of the second largest island in the Channel Islands.
As we head south, after over 14 hours of sitting in the kayak and becoming mentally and physically tired we realized that the time lost heading south from the Casquests meant that we had missed the tidal window to cross from the Hanois back to Corbiere.
Reluctantly we headed to shore, after having covered approximately 90 nautical miles.  As we climbed out of the cockpits we discovered that our legs had decided not to work and had to crawl part of the way up the beach.  Fortunately we had landed in front of a local pub so were able to revive our spirits as we called home to check in.  The first contact for nearly 15 hours, this was pre-mobile phone as well as pre-GPS.
As we recovered from the exertion of the day trip we were able to look at the route in an analytical fashion and learn from our mistakes, the plan was to return the following year and complete what we started but weather windows and time off didn’t coincide so it is an unfinished project, for Pete and myself at least.
Channel Islands

Channel Islands
John Richardson and Ian Hamon finally became the first paddlers to complete the non stop circumnavigation of the Channel Islands in June 2000. This was taken on their arrival back at La Pulente. To this day there are the only sea kayakers to have completed the unsupported journey around the islands.

Autumn kayaking on Herm

Herm, is a delightful island, which lies several miles to the east of Guernsey across an interesting section of water, the Little Russel.  Today is almost perfect conditions we were able to explore, not just the coast of Herm but the fascinating reefs to the north.  A memorable paddle for the beginning of October.  There were very strong tidal streams flowing in the Little Russel, which tested the groups navigational awareness and our moving water skills.
Thankfully there was virtually no wind so we just had to focus on the moving water as we crossed to what is an absolute delightful destination at any time of the year.
 Jim just off La Rosiere Steps on Herm.  Once we arrived here we knew that we were out of the strongest tidal flow and we could relax to a certain extent.
 Lunch spot on the north east corner of Herm.
 Laurie off Shell Beach.  The Humps are visible to the north.  It is hard to believe that it is the fist weekend in October with conditions like this.
Approaching Godin. This small island is the largest  of the Humps, a fascinating area to explore to the north of Herm.
There are plenty of distinctive navigation beacons around Guernsey and Tautenay is no exception.  It provided a convenient resting place whilst crossing the Little Russel, back to Bordeaux.

Sark Silver Mines and sea kayaking

Sark, the smallest state in the Commonwealth and one of the last societies, which retained some aspects of feudalism, is a stunning destination for the sea kayaker.  There are numerous sites of historical interest with the south west coast of Little Sark showing evidence of 19th century ill-fated silver mines.  Cornish miners came to the island, virtually doubling Sark’s population, in this area.  Four deep shafts were sunk at Port Gorey and one extended 100 metres out under the sea.  It was said in violent storms the miners could hear boulders on the seabed rolling about above their heads.
There are a number of myths surrounding the mines including the story that a ship with £12,000 worth of sliver ore was wrecked off the north east coast of Guernsey.  There is no evidence of this actually occurring.  What is clear though that by the time the mines closed in 1847, having only opened in 1833, numerous people including the Seigneur of Sark had lost considerable sums of money.
The evidence of the industrial past is clearly visible as you paddle along the south west coast of the island and on days with little or no swell Port Gorey is a great place to stop for a swim as well experiencing the industrial archaeology of a short lived mining enterprise.
Chris paddling south close to the mines.
Looking west from near the silver mines.  Guernsey is the island in the distance.
The first ruins that you come across when visiting the silver mines on foot.
The water off Sark always appears to have superb clarity.
Port Gorey on a particularly calm August morning.
The silver mines viewed from offshore
A late afternoon paddle around the Island with members of Tower Hamlets Canoe Club, including passing the area of the silver mines.  No time to stop and explore though that afternoon.
The entrance to the Port Gorey smelter
Looking up the inside of the smelter.

Interesting tidal flows – Tidal Diamonds

Tidal diamonds are invaluable sources of information in relation to the speed and direction of tidal streams.  They are essential when working out bearings to follow on a crossing, by drawing tidal vectors.  Whilst away on a paddling trip earlier this year I came across, what must be an almost unique tidal diamond?  It is Tidal Diamond C on Admiralty Chart 808, East Guernsey, Herm and Sark.

49°27.5 N
2°31.4 W
Hours
Dir
Rate (kn)
  Sp           Np
-6
-5
-4
-3
-2
-1
HW
+1
+2
+3
+4
+5
+6
213
213
213
213
033
033
033
033
033
033
213
213
213
5.1            2.2
4.1            1.8
2.7            1.2
1.2            0.5
1.2            0.5
3.9            1.7
5.2                  2.2
 4.9            2.1
 3.3            1.4
 1.5            0.5
 1.3            0.5
 4.0            1.7
 5.2            2.2

The first observation is that the streams only flow in two directions, exactly opposite each other.  The tide is flowing approximately SSW and then it changes abruptly and goes NNE.  An exact 180° change.
Something else to note is that maximum rate occurs at high and low water, with slack water, if it can be called that, occurring at mid tide.  Many a sea kayaker and other water users have been caught unawares because they assume that maximum rate must occur at mid tide and have set out to cross the Little Russel on what they thought was high water slack.
The advice is to always double check your data and to keep your eyes open for interesting and possibly unique items of information as shown by this tidal diamond.

Tidal Diamond
The location of the diamond is in line with the two towers on the photograph and to the right of Brehon Tower, which is in the middle of the channel between Guernsey and Herm, the Little Russel.


Herm again

The plan had been to paddle across to Herm for an evening at the beer festival but the prospect of a north easterly F6 blowing against one of the largest tides of the year required a strategic re-think.  Get the ferry from St Peter Port.  This was a decision that was completely justified when we saw the size some of the areas of overfalls.
The beer festival was great event with some interesting music from local band Buffalo Huddlestone, I had not really come across Guernsey rap music before!  The following morning allowed us time to explore this delightful Island before heading to Guernsey on the ferry.  The only downside was that this time we didn’t get to paddle across but conditions on the Wednesday were just a bit too entertaining.

Herm Again
This is probably the most iconic view on Herm, Shell Beach but although I have been numerous times over the years I can’t actually remember seeing the beach at high water on a spring tide. It came as a bit of a surprise.
Herm
Many of the visitors to the island will follow the coastal path with the result that you miss out on some pretty good scenery and the opportunity to interact with some of the locals.

Herm

Herm
The common occupies the northern part of the Island. Sir Percival Perry, who was chairman of the Ford Motor Company, was tenant of Herm prior to the Second World War. He converted part of the common into a golf course.
Herm
The recently restored harbour crane is now on display in front of the White House Hotel. It was dismantled in 1997 and shipped to Guernsey where it was stored until recently. Built in approximately 1850 it was used to load Herm granite onto ships. The rock was used in the construction of Blackfriars Bridge in London as well as the East and West India Dock Walls. When time allows I should go through my slide collection to find pictures of the crane in use in the 1970’s and 80’s.
Herm
The south west of Herm, I have spent many a happy hour paddling these waters.
Herm
The Herm shopping parade built in the early 1960’s by a group of Italian workmen. It always surprises me that when I visit I can find something to buy.
Jethou
Looking south along the west coast of Herm. A ferry is alongside the small jetty, which is almost submerged because of the height of the tide. Behind lies Jethou, which was once the home of Compton MacKenzie, best known for his book “Whiskey Galore”. To the left lies La Grande Fauconniere and to the right Crevichon.
Crevichon
The small island of Crevichon, which lies just to the north of Jethou, is passed quite close by when heading from Herm back towards Guernsey. As can be seen from the profile there has been a history of quarrying on the island with the granite being used in the building of Castle Cornet in St Peter Port and possibly the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Brehon Tower
Sitting in the middle of the Little Russel and surrounding by some truly amazing tidal streams, is Brehon Tower. Completed in 1856 the tower was no longer needed by the First World although it was used by the German’s in the Second World War. Today it is the home of a small tern colony. behind and to the right of the tower are the chimney’s at St Sampson, which are an ideal navigation mark.