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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
Sark is one of the truly special sea kayaking destinations and this weekend we were fortunate enough to be able to complete a circumnavigation of Sark in all almost perfect conditions. Parts of the island have been covered in an earlier post in relation to Mervyn Peake and Sark but there is a lot more to the island.
We launched from Dixcart Bay, a convenient bay on the east coast, which provides relatively easy access to the main facilities on the Island, via a wooded valley. The circumnavigation was clockwise meaning that we headed south first. Unusually there was very little swell so we were able to wander through the reefs and channels off the southern tip with relative ease.
Possibly the most challenging, but also most rewarding, part of the circumnavigation is the area around the Gouilot Passage. To the west lies the privately owned island of Brecqhou, whilst to the east are the Gouilot Caves, through which the tide runs at quite a considerable pace. The ability to perform a hanging draw, in the semi darkness, is a vital skill in this area.
To the north lie a variety of coastal erosion features such as the arch at Port au Moulin and the stacks at Les Autlets, interspersed with a huge number of caves, the presence of which were document by the Latrobe brothers in the early 20th century, a copy of their book is essential research for anybody exploring the coastline of Sark, by whatever means.
Bec du Nez the most northerly point of the island was missed as it was possible to cut through a channel to the south of the headland. Heading south along the east coast we passed underneath Point Robert lighthouse before reaching Maseline Harbour. This was completed in 1948 and was designed to take larger vessels than the original harbour at Creux, in the hope of increasing the number of visitors.Creux Harbour lies just to the south of Maseline and was the original harbour. It was destroyed in the winter storms of 1865/66 so the present jetty dates back to 1868. We popped in for a quick visit, noticing the rack of sit on tops belonging to Adventure Sark, a specialist outdoor provider based on the Island.
From here we threaded our way through some very narrow passages before arriving at Derrible Bay, the Creux, a distinctive geographical feature is at the back of the bay and a must visit location, particularly if the tide is in.
Dixcart Bay is next, our starting point 8 miles earlier. A memorable 3 hours of sea kayaking behind us. The circumnavigation of Sark ticks all the boxes of a classic paddle.
In the evening as we walked from the restaurant back to the campsite there was an intensity to the darkness which you don’t get in many places, which is why the island was awarded Dark Sky Status. The clarity and number of stars was quite exceptional. Just another reason to visit this sea kayaking heaven located about 12 miles north of Jersey.
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.
Mervyn Peake is probably best known for his Gormenghast Trilogy of books but he also wrote Mr Pye, which is set on the Isle of Sark. It was turned in a mini series for TV in 1986 with Derek Jacobi in the lead role. In one memorable section Miss George is lowered into the Creux but the planned picnic was ruined by the arrival of a badly decomposed whale.
There were no sea mammals to distract us and it was too early for our picnic, as we entered the bay, but Derrible Bay is a great place to explore, either by kayak or on foot.
Mr Pye was first published in 1953 and in the subsequent half century plus this quiet corner on the east coast of Sark has remained virtually unchanged and as we explored the bay on a warm July Sunday morning it was possible to imagine the events unfolding, as described in the book.
There is a clear relationship between Sark and Mr Pye, so any kayakers who are fortunate enough to be able to be able to paddle to this delightful island should endeavour to read the book by Mervyn Peake, prior to their visit.
For the sea kayaker interested in literature Sark has other connections including the Victor Hugo cave on the west side of the island.