Parking: Parking is limited in St Aubin’s and if you do manage to find a place then it will only be for a limited period of time so the best option is just south of St Aubin’s at Belcroute. Leaving St Aubin’s and following the coastal road towards St Helier there are a number of car parks although they are not always convenient as the tide recedes a long way in St Aubin’s Bay. There are a couple of potential launching sites close to St Helier. Firstly on the slip close to South Pier, which is popular with the rowing club. An alternative launching spot is reached by driving on past the harbour onto the La Collette site. Turn right down one of the small roads just past the Driver and Vehicle Standards Offices, which gives access to an area known as the Fisherman’s Quay, with a slip nearby giving access to the water. This is a location favoured by many local boat owners. There is no parking nearby, it is best to drop the kayaks off and then park in the public car park close to the main road, it is probably a 5 minute walk at the most.
To the east of St Helier there are a number of parking places but probably the most useful from a kayaking perspective are the ones at Green Island and Le Hocq as well the La Rocque, which marks the end of this section of the coastline. Depending upon the time of the year, day of the week and time of the day you may have to pay to park in some of the car parks, so please check. The most convenient way to pay is by using the “PayByPhone” App.
Refreshments: There is plenty of choice in St Aubin’s and it is possible to land in a couple of places and walk up to the village. Around St Aubin’s Bay there are refreshment places close to the slipways but not all are open all year round. The Gunsite at Beaumont is convenient, with an easy landing on the beach. Around St Helier there are a few kiosks close to the harbour but in reality it is probably easier to look elsewhere. If the tide is in there are plenty of options between St Helier and La Rocque but from half tide down you are own your own. It is just too far to walk, back to the shore.
The paddle from St Aubin’s to La Rocque isn’t as dramatic as many other stretches of the Jersey coast, but there are a number of historical sites whilst the south east corner is virtually a unique coastal zone, due to the spectacular rise and fall of the tide. These combine to produce a paddle, whose charms are gradually revealed as opposed to being immediately stunning.
There are not many places in the Channel Islands where the kayaker has to pay particular attention to the buoyage but care is needed if you are undertaking a direct crossing of St Aubins Bay, in order to avoid wandering into the shipping lanes. Fast catamarans link Jersey with the other islands, France and the U.K. and will be approaching or leaving St Helier Harbour. Paddlers have far more flexibility when it comes to route finding than the average car ferry, so keep well clear of their channels. It is worth listening to the shipping movements on VHF Ch 14, particularly at busy times of the year, when approaching St Helier. I always check the arrivals and departures pages on the Ports of Jersey website if I know that I am going to be paddling in this area. Forewarned is forearmed.
The other option is to follow the coast and if the tide is high include a tour of St Aubin’s Harbour. Today is shelters a range of personal boats but in the past it was the main commercial port of the Island. In 1766 Charles Robin left St Aubin on a journey which was to lead to the establishment of the Jersey cod fishing industry on the Gaspe Peninsula, eastern Canada.
Offshore is St Aubin’s Fort, which is now run as an outdoor centre for the young people of the island. If the tide is in the Fort actually makes a great picnic spot if you are on a day trip. From St Aubin’s Fort to Elizabeth Castle is essentially a straight paddle across the bay, although at times perfect little surfing waves occur within the bay and the gentle gradient of the beach ensures that any rides are long and memorable.
Elizabeth Castle, which dominates the approaches to St Helier, is basically a 16th Century fortress with later additions. One of the earliest inhabitants was Sir Walter Raleigh, when he was Lieutenant Governor of the Island. The long breakwater is all that remains of an ambitious scheme in the late 19th Century to build a much larger harbour than exists at present. The plan was for this arm to almost join up with another arm, nearly three quarters of a mile long, which was to run out from La Collette. The designers though had underestimated the power of the waves, which can be generated during the winter storms. In 1874, 1875 and 1876 part of the harbour wall was demolished and as a result the project was abandoned. This was fortunate for sea kayakers because the reefs in this area provide some interesting paddling within easy reach of St Helier. A large scale model of this project was on view at the museum for many years.
Over a century later the whole area is again subject to change with extensions to the harbour and developments in the area to the south and west of Havre des Pas.
If you decided to paddle out of the main harbour always keep to the right and obey the lights at pier head control. In addition remember to wait in such a position that it does not interfere with those craft, which are obeying the signals. From May 2016 there have been two extra sets of lights, which have been fitted to the western arm of the Elizabeth Harbour. They show the same pattern as those on the VTS tower at the entrance to the main harbour. They are:
3 RED Vertical – STOP, do not proceed
3 RED Flashing – STOP, emergency within the Port
3 GREEN Vertical – GO, proceed, one way traffic
2 GREEN over 1WHITE Vert – GO, caution two way traffic
Paddling south and east from the harbour interesting paddling is quickly found to the south of the reclamation site. The Dogs Nest, which for years was marked by a distinctive white beacon, was refurbished in 2011 and has taken on the characteristics of a west cardinal mark as well as now having a light on top. The area produces some superb rock hopping and there are numerous reefs to explore at both high and low water. This area is surprisingly exposed to the westerly swell and care needs to be exercised at times to avoid being caught out.
Just to the north of the Dogs Nest Beacon the remains of a ships engines are uncovered at low water. Numerous ships and yachts pass close by but once inside the rocks your only companions are likely to be the numerous birds, which frequent this area. During the winter months Brent Geese, Grey Herons, Little Egrets and waders are common whilst in the summer Terns are likely to be encountered. To the south east the Demie de Pas lighthouse is clearly visible but most paddling routes will pass through the gullies and reefs to the north of this light.
Underneath La Collette power stations chimney used to be one of the more unusual features of paddling in Jersey, known affectionately as the White Water Course. It was formed by the outlet from the power station and towards low tide the water ran down a gully producing small rapids. The thing, which made it unusual though was that the water was hot. At high tide the gully was covered but the sea water was warmed up making it ideal for rolling practice or deep water rescues. Unfortunately one of the phases of the reclamation process, which has been on going in this area for numerous years engulfed this somewhat unique paddling area.
Heading east from here the paddling remains interesting. Although the coastline is built up all the way to La Rocque this region has the feel of a real wilderness especially as the tide drops. The huge expanse of rocks, sand and shingle, which are uncovered produce a littoral environment which is almost unique in Europe. There are several other places where the tide goes out as far, such as the Severn Estuary, but in these areas it is largely sand and mud, which are uncovered. In the past several schemes have been proposed for this area, including a new airport, thankfully they have all failed and this area of Jersey has been left largely untouched. This area now receives the protection that it deserves as it has been designated a RAMSAR site
It is best to leave St Helier about two hours after low water as this means that it will be possible to paddle through most of the reefs. Leaving too soon will mean that many of the gullies are dry whereas at high tide many of the details are covered by up to 10 metres of water. The Demi des Pas lighthouse can be seen to the south but most paddlers eyes will be focused on Green Island or La Motte which is to the east.
This small island is grass covered but on its sides the yellowish-brown soils called loess are easily seen. These were blown to the Island by the persistent north easterly winds, which blew during the periods of European glaciation. To the south of this small island the tide runs swiftly through the channels and in several places man made obstructions funnel the flow further providing interesting conditions especially on Spring tides.
The expanse of rocky outcrops and gullies continues all the way to the south east corner of the Island at La Rocque.
The paddler’s thoughts will probably be turning towards the two towers, which can be seen offshore. The westerly one is Icho Tower whose upper parts are painted white. It was built between 1808 and 1814 to help guard the southern approaches to St Helier Harbour. Launching from Le Hocq a pleasant morning or evening paddle is to cross to Icho Tower and on the last of the east flowing tide continue to Seymour Tower before ferry gliding into La Rocque pier and following the coast back to Le Hocq.
Icho is low and squat when compared to its easterly neighbour, Seymour Tower. This is the older of the two and was built in 1782 as a result of the French landing at La Rocque the year before, which resulted in the Battle of Jersey. It is also painted white, largely as an aid to navigation.
If you decide not to visit the offshore towers follow a direct line towards La Rocque Pier, numerous reefs will obstruct your course, the exact number and therefore your route, depending upon the height of the tide. Paddling through this area, particularly during the winter months, pay particular attention to the bird life as all sorts of species may appear around here.
La Rocque Harbour is situated on the south east corner of the Island and marks the end of this section of coast.
TIDAL STREAMS: Along the south coast between Corbiere and La Rocque the tidal streams have a Spring rate of about 4 knots and the streams begin as follows (all times refer to HW St Helier):
Slack water occurs round about high and low tide. There are eddies at several places along the coast. The speed at which the water flows close to La Rocque pier at approximately high water, heading north east, often takes people by surprise.
Belcroute 49º 10.599’N 02º 10.095’W
St Aubin 49º 11.205’N 02º 10.003’W
Green Island 49º 09.760’N 02º 04.508’W
Icho Tower 49º 08.865’N 02º 02.817’W
Le Hocq 49º 09.972’N 02º 03.758’W
La Rocque 49º 09.876’N 02º 01.815’W