One of the pleasures of sea kayaking in Jersey is the ability to visit some of the offshore reefs. There are 4 named reefs, 3 essentially to the north and the Minquiers to the south. The most popular, by all variety of crafts, are the Ecrehous. They really are small piece of heaven, dropped into the sea between Jersey and France. The Minquiers are the largest in terms of area, in common with the Ecrehous, there are a number of small well-appointed huts. The least visited are the Paternosters and the Dirouilles, both of which you are likely to have to yourself if you travel by kayak.
Located to the west of Les Ecrehous, they share the same departure point, St Catherine’s but these are a much easier paddle than the more popular Ecrehous. There are no huts, no beaches and on all the occasions I have been, no people.
Once around the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater the tide will be giving you some significant assistance but don’t just point the kayak and go, you will need to work out a couple of tidal vectors or you are going to miss your destination.
The journey is much quicker than normally anticipated, due to the tidal flows, and as you arrive at the reef it becomes apparent that there is a relatively large lagoon in the middle. There are no really obvious landing places so I normally head towards the taller rocks in the west. There is an obvious deep gully, which runs north south through the reef, where it is relatively straightforward to land. Otherwise just select somewhere you feel comfortable and where landing is a possibility without damaging the kayaks.
Les Dirouilles have a totally wild feel, although if you visit during the summer months they can be a perfect place to pass a few hours. When leaving the reef we normally head south towards Tour de Rozel before picking up the south easterly tidal flow, back towards St Catherines.
The Paternosters or Pierres de Lecq are situated about two and a half nautical miles north of Greve de Lecq. At high water only four summits are left protruding from the swirling waters but at low tide an extensive reef is uncovered. Great Rock, which is ten metres high and Sharp Rock, four metres high, are the largest rocks and are situated in the middle of the bank.
The Paternosters are an interesting paddle from either Greve de Lecq or Bonne Nuit but care is needed when approaching the reef as the tidal streams may run faster in close than indicated in either the Pilot or on the Chart. (All times refer to HW St Helier):
The streams reach a maximum rate of about four knots close to the reef. At times quite a race develops a few hundred metres to the south of the rocks.
If arrival at the Paternosters coincides with high water and there is a large swell running it may prove difficult to land, if not impossible. One winter I visited them three times and was unable to land due to the swell and on each occasion had to return to Jersey. As the tide falls sheltered lagoons appear and landing becomes much easier. They are not suitable for an overnight stay unless you are a masochist or in difficulty.
Even at the height of the summer you are unlikely to encounter other people, on these, the closest reef to Jersey. They lack the charm and beauty of the Ecrehous and so do not have the same pull for the local boating fraternity. Their very harshness though is what appeals to many paddlers. Jersey takes on an interesting perspective when viewed from the Paternosters and although it is only two and a half miles away it seems very remote.
For the adventurous there is a very high jump into the sea from the highest rock in the group. A small nose just below the summit on the Jersey side is the take off point. It is certainly a very impressive location and one that many an experienced jumper has climbed back from. The overhang on three sides makes it appears higher and more exposed than it actually is.
Although close to Jersey they are geologically different with the main rock, being Gneiss, which is not found on the main Island of Jersey. They are far enough away though to take the sea kayaker into the domain of the more maritime species of bird life. Crossing from Greve de Lecq at most times of the year Gannets will be encountered as they travel to and from either their Alderney or Sept Iles colonies. These large sea birds as they glide past always evoke memories of paddles in more distant waters.
It is the birds, which are likely to be your only companions when you land on the reef. Over the last twenty-five years I have paddled close by and landed on numerous occasions but I have never encountered other human beings. Apart from the birds the only other living species, which, I have seen on the reef, were 4 Grey Seals on one memorable winter morning.
The origin of their name is said to be due to a ship on its way to Sark striking one of the rocks and a number of women and children drowning. As a result it became common practice for fishermen to say a Pater Noster or a prayer as they passed close to the reef. Although they have two names it is the Paternosters that has been accepted into everyday use. A more recent shipwreck occurred on the 16th September 1961. A Dutch owned vessel, the Heron, was en route to Portsmouth when it sank, with the loss of 3 lives. The wreck lies in about 30 metres of water to the south of the reef.
The isolated nature of the Paternosters and their exposure to the full force of westerly winds and swell is best appreciated during the winter storms from Grosnez headland. Even from several miles away it is possible to clearly see the chaos, which is caused as the elements unleash their fury
It is usual to return to Greve de Lecq or which other bay was chosen as the departure point but a good alternative is to head east and paddle through Les Dirouilles to the Ecrehous. This combines a visit to all of Jersey’s northern reefs with some unusual views of the Island. If this journey is undertaken most people will want to finish their paddle at St Catherine’s or Rozel rather than retracing their steps to Greve de Lecq. With some exploration of the reefs en-route finishing at Rozel gives a day trip of nearly twenty miles through some delightful waters and with appropriate planning significant assistance can be gained from the tidal streams.