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.

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.


Around Guernsey

Over the last 7 or 8 years we have visited Lihou, off the west coast of Guernsey on a regular basis, normally at least twice a year.  Amazingly every time I appear to have visited this delightful corner of the Baliwick of Guernsey the wind has being blowing particularly hard.  It has not been uncommon to have force 6-8 with a big swell.
It was somewhat surprising then when looking at the forecast about 7 days in advance, there appeared to be a weather window developing over the western English Channel.  As high pressure settled in the swell and wind died off and it looked like we were in for a perfect weekend.
My plan of paddling around Guernsey from Lihou seemed to be working and the tidal flows were such that lunch on Herm also seemed like a distinct possibility.  Plans were hatched, departure times agreed and expectations raised.
In the morning we launched from Lihou and headed south towards Pleinmont headland and then the south coast of Guernsey.  It had been a few years since I had paddled the south coast in its entirety and what a great stretch of coast it is.  Beautiful cliffs, intriguing passages through the rocks, limited landings and very little other boat traffic. It was also possible to paddle across to Herm, one of the most peaceful of the Channel Islands, for lunch and liquid refreshment at the Mermaid Tavern before returning to Guernsey to complete the circumnavigation of the island.
A memorable day out.

As elsewhere in the Channel Islands there is plenty of evidence of the German Occupation during the Second World War.  L’Angle Tower is an iconic feature overlooking the south coast was built as a direction-finding tower.
Further shots of the south coast.
The Pea Stacks are always an interesting place to explore.  The last time I was here we were swimming in slightly rougher conditions.  Renoir visited Guernsey and painted these rocks.
St Martin’s Point, the most south easterly point of Guernsey.  It marked the start of the 4 mile crossing to Jethou.
Approaching Jethou, with Herm behind.  We could almost smell the food at the Mermaid Tavern.  Crossing between the two islands there were 20 plus puffins bobbing around on the water.
On a day as sunny as this it was inevitable that the harbour at Herm would be a hive of activity.  Numerous ferries and private boats completing the short crossing between here and Guernsey.
Fed and watered we started the crossing to Guernsey.  It was only a neap tide but the current was flowing north, reaching 4 knots in places.  Sea kayaking in the Little Russel is always entertaining.
Ice cream stop on the north coast of Guernsey.
Heading down the west coast of Guernsey.  A flag is hoisted on this rock, off Cobo, every year and left in place until the following May
We arrived back at Lihou, 25 nautical miles completed, satisfied with one of the more memorable paddles for a few years.  It was Pimm’s on the terrace followed by a stunning sunset.