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.
This is an article I wrote over 4 years ago after a visit to Gozo. Although I had been several times before conditions had never been good enough to paddle around to the Azure Window from the south coast. It was memorable day, which I repeated a number of times in the following years but one, which will never be the same again.
After a couple of kayaking visits to Gozo I still hadn’t managed to paddle the south west corner of the island, from Xlendi around to the Azure Window. It just seemed that whenever we were on the island the wind was just a bit to strong from the wrong direction so we were pretty pleased when a window in the weather appeared on one of the final days that we were there. We weren’t disappointed.
Dramatic vertical cliffs, with virtually no places to get off the water. The nearest land to out left is Algeria whilst straight ahead is Tunisia. It is easy forget just how far south Malta and Gozo are.
The Inland Sea, access to the open water is through the obvious cave. We popped in for a an ice cream and a quick swim.
Paddling under the Azure Window, not a totally relaxing experience because since a previous visit a fairly substantial area of rock had fallen into the sea and we hoping that there wasn’t a repeat performance.
Lunch was on the rocks close to Fungus Rock. Malta Fungus was discovered growing on the rock and believed that it had medicinal properties. The rock was decreed out of bounds in 1746, with a guard posted there to protect the plant.
At the back of the bay close to Fungus Rock there is cave with two entrances. The tunnel joining the two is particularly tight but there are some superb deposits on the rocks.
Heading back to Xlendi, it was only a short paddle but was full of contrasts.
Comino is the third largest island in the Maltese archipelago and a particularly special one to paddle around. Leaving from Hondoq, on Gozo, it is not a particularly long trip, just under 6 nautical miles, but it never fails to entertain. For today’s paddle we were fortunate enough to be able to use kayaks from Kayak Gozo and were really pleased that Chris, from the company was able to join us. It has been just over 2 years since I last paddled with him, on a particularly memorable visit to Herm.
Thousands of tourists visit the Blue Lagoon every day during the height of the tourist season and even on a Friday in November it was pretty busy. During the summer months it isn’t possible to paddle through the Blue Lagoon as it is roped off for swimmers, but the ropes were taken away a few days previously and so for the first time in over 5 years I passed through the Blue Lagoon.
There was some reasonably choppy water as we made our way around the south west corner of the island, past the small lighthouse. It wasn’t long though before we were surfing parallel to the south coast.
After stopping for a quick stretch of the legs we carried on until we reached the east coast. The kayaking is truly memorable with some challenging rock hopping at times plus some superb caves just waiting to be explored.
The weather wasn’t quite as good as on some previous visits but the circumnavigation of Comino is always something special. It didn’t disappoint today.
It has been a while since I have posted some aerial photos taken from commercial flights so here are a few from the last few years. They show some potentially great kayaking destinations from above. With views like these it is hard to understand why anybody would book an aisle seat!
Passing over Calshot when heading south towards Jersey. The site of the BCU Sea Touring Committee Symposiums in the early 1990’s.
Greenland West Coast. The island on the right is Uummannaq and the larger Salliaruseq to the left. The cliffs and the larger islands are over 1,000 metres high. This post documents the day we paddled between the two islands. This was taken whilst flying from Heathrow to Seattle, some years ago.
Final approach into Stockholm. It looked like a kayaking paradise. Little did we realize the frustration which was to follow after we landed
Take off from Jersey on a beautiful summers day. The aircraft is banking north over St Ouen’s Bay.
Sunrise over the Thames estuary. The south coast of Essex is clearly visible, just minutes after leaving Heathrow.
A few hours later the Essex coast had been replaced by the Turkish coast to the west of Istanbul.
Approaching Heathrow. The rectangular shaped water directly in front of the engine is the location of Tower Hamlets Canoe Club, an area we have visited regularly over the years as members of the Jersey Canoe Club paddling with kayakers from London.
There are some truly memorable urban sea kayaking destinations such as the Hudson River in New York and the Thames in London. Today we experienced a third, the Grand Harbour Valletta. A paddle steeped in history and geography.
Once again we were the guests of the Malta Sea Kayak Club. They have really convenient premises close to the Sliema – Valletta ferry, with a good selection of sea kayaks. Once we were kitted out what followed was 3 hours of memorable sea kayaking, explore the various areas of the Grand Harbour. Clearly paddling in such a busy commercial environment requires care and knowledge. Our local guides were, yet again, Ian and Andrea and it was a pleasure to be on the water with them again.
The history of the various locations around the harbour is well documented, ranging from the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 when the Ottoman’s tried to evict the Knights of St John, and the blockade of 1800 as a result of which, the French surrendered, enabling the British to establish rule over the islands. Possibly the most memorable military event was the relentless bombing of the island by the Italians and Germans during the Second World War.
It is possible to read about the history and to visit some of the excellent museums, but what we had today was a totally unique perspective on one of the great natural harbours in the world.
The coast of north west Malta was to provide an entertaining introduction to kayaking on the largest island of the archipelago. We launched out through the surf at Ghajn Bay before turning north with the intention of reaching Popeye’s Village.
As we paddled along the coast we passed Golden Bay, its beach dominated by the large hotel above. It is easy to imagine just how busy this area could be on a hot August day but on the last day of October it appeared relatively quiet. There were numerous opportunities for rock hopping along this section of coast but the ever present swell was creating some entertaining conditions.
Although the modern developments associated with the tourist industry are clearly visible on the cliffs above fortifications are an indication of the more turbulent past. Ta Ghajn Tuffieha Tower was the first tower that we passed, built in 1637. It was the second of a series of small coastal towers known as Lascaris Towers constructed when Giovanni Paolo Lascaris was elected Grand Master of the Order of St John.
The most northerly point of our paddle was Popeye Village, it started life in 1980 as a film set for the musical “Popeye” starring Robin Williams. A popular tourist attraction, it was fairly quiet and today and we were allowed to land on the slip briefly. A member of the staff from the cafe came down and took our coffee order, which was promptly delivered. Such excellent service.
From there we turned south, enjoying the lively water conditions, aiming for the large headland of Ras ir Raheb. The steep limestone cliffs were reflecting the waves straight back out to sea and the resulting clapotis provided some enjoyable paddling. Just to the south of the headland there was a large cave, which we managed to paddled into despite the sea conditions, although the noise was quite something.
We returned north to Ghajn Bay, enjoying the last of the 11 nautical miles that we had paddled along the coast of north west Malta. A great introduction to paddling in Malta with the Malta Sea Kayak Club.
In the summer of 2000 I took a group of young people from Jersey to paddle the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in northern Maine. I remember sitting on the shore of one of the lakes watching a float plane come into land and drop off a solo paddler. I made a note in my journal to the effect on the 23rd June. Several years later I came across a book “Canoe Trip” by David Curran, in which he describes his solo trip down the Allagash after having been dropped off on Umsaskis Lake on the 23rd June 2000. Although we were clearly on the river at the same time, apart from that distant view I have no recollection of seeing a solo paddler again on that trip.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, so was pleased when towards the end of last year I came across a second book by the same author, “North to Athabasca”. Once I sat down to read the book at the end of last week I quickly became hooked and finished it in a couple of days. With his friend Walter they decide to paddle a river, significantly more challenging than the Allagash. Flying north into Saskatchewan their aim was to paddle the MacFarlane River, a rarely paddled river which flows into Lake Athabasca.
Actually getting to the launch site was a major undertaking and once on the river they were effectively in their own, although as is the case with many remote trips today they did carry a satellite phone.
The river flows through a pristine wilderness with all the challenges that traveling through such an area entails. Through David’s writing we gain a flavour of what they experienced, ranging from the wildlife encountered to the physical challenges involved in paddling in the Canadian north. They were clearly at home in such an area but I do have to say that I questioned their behaviour with one particular bear, if it had been me I would have been paddling flat out in the opposite direction.
At the end of the book, besides thinking I would always take a GPS with me, my overall feeling was one of envy.
It has been nearly 15 years since I last did a long canoe trip and reading “North to Athabasca” made me realize that it has been too long. It is an easy book to read, the ideal scenario would be on an aircraft en route to a paddling trip.
Just be prepared to start planning your own adventures.
Malta and its smaller neighbour, Gozo, have been a rich hunting ground for my sea kayaking journeys in recent years although I first visited Malta in 1971, when on a school cruise. We disembarked at Valletta, had a coach tour of the Island, of which I have virtually no memory, re-embarked on the ship and headed for Lisbon.
It wasn’t until 41 years later that I returned to the archipelago, drawn by the prospect of potential sea kayaking. I had been taking groups of young people kayaking in the Greek islands on an annual basis for a number of years but I needed somewhere a bit more accessible and that didn’t require an extra nights stop in London, both the way out and the way back. One of the disadvantages of living in Jersey are flight connections.
A quick search of potential sites produced a company called Gozo Adventures. They were able to offer the complete package and the flight timings were pretty much ideal. A booking was made for June 2012.
I strongly believe that if you are working with groups you should really have paddled in the area beforehand otherwise how can you acquire the knowledge, which is necessary for the group to gain maximum benefit from the experience. It is simple things such as, where do I park the car, which café serves the best ice cream and where are we going to stop for lunch? Getting these little things right can have a significant impact on the quality of the experience of the group members.
The plan was for Nicky and myself to visit Gozo over the Easter period so that I could familiarize myself with the Island before arriving in June. Unfortunately 10 days before the visit was due to start I broke my elbow, whilst tying some Stand Up Paddleboards on the roof of the car. Fortunately I have a wife who is a strong paddler so the visit went ahead and I was paddled around in the front seat of a double. It did enable me to get some great photographs of the coastline and enabled me to prepare for the later visit.
In the 4 years that followed I made a further 7 visits, with groups of a young people, with members of the Jersey Canoe Club and to offer training to some of the paddlers who were living on Gozo.
In the intervening years I have welcomed Maltese kayakers to Jersey waters and even had one of the people who I trained move in with me, as he moved to Jersey for a short while to work as a kayaking instructor. Sadly I didn’t manage to visit the islands in 2016 and I wasn’t going to allow a repeat performance in 2017 so this morning we flew from London to Malta. We are really looking forward to the opportunity to explore more of this archipelago by kayak, hopefully starting tomorrow when we head out with some of the members of Sea Kayak Malta.
It was a reasonable turn out for the Jersey Canoe Club, Sunday morning session today. 17 kayakers of a variety of differing abilities gathered on the beach at St Brelade’s. It was an early start, the changing of the clocks ensured that everybody was there promptly. The plan was simple, head towards Corbiere and see what develops We didn’t realize that it was going to offer an excellent opportunity for some kayak coaching. The wind was possibly going to touch force 5 from the north west, which would blow us back, helped by the last of the flood tide.
Just before Pt La Moye the group gathered in a sheltered bay, whilst a couple of paddlers headed out to assess the conditions. There was clearly some movement off the point, which is the most significant headland between St Brelade’s Bay and Corbiere. Normally it is a magnet for shore based fishermen but today the rocks stood empty. Perfect, we could play in the waters off the point, without fear of becoming entangled in fishing lines.
The tidal stream in shore had already turn west in close creating some entertaining wind against tide conditions. One of the pleasures of paddling with a group from the Jersey Canoe Club is the cross section of paddlers, today four of the group were Advanced Sea Kayak Leaders (5 Star in old money), whilst for 3 of the group it was possibly their first time on the sea in a closed cockpit kayak. The other 10 paddlers were mainly 3 to 4 Star level.
Leading such a diverse group of paddlers can present its own challenges but Alex and Rachel, the designated leaders for the day engaged the whole group in a constructive and educational manner. Initially the group were taken into run off the point to practice turning and running with winds and waves. Then followed a couple of exercises around a rock with a few small breaking waves to introduce an element of spice. First of all simply paddling around the rock in reverse, how often do we practice reverse paddling in anything other than flat calm?
The second exercise involved working in pairs. It involved paddling around the rock again but one of the paddlers had their eyes shut whilst the other had to offer clear guidance on which paddle strokes to use and on which side of the kayak. Simple but effective one to one kayak coaching. It really made the people with their eyes open focus on future water, not just theirs but also that of their partner.
All to soon it was time to head back towards St Brelade’s, after all we had the Canoe Club Sunday lunch to attend. As the wind pushed us to the east we came across a group out coasteering from our friends at Absolute Adventures. The south west corner of Jersey is a real playground for anybody with an interest in water sports.
Its not often that I come across a kayaking or canoeing book that I haven’t already got so it was with some excitement that I found this little treasure in Canterbury, just before Christmas. What attracted my attention was the author, Gabriel Seal, I had read one of his other books “Canoe Touring Abroad”.
A quick perusal of the sleeve notes showed that it was about canoeing in France, so that was good enough for me to make a purchase, so in the bag it went. It wasn’t until the other night that I had time to sit down and start to read the little volume.
What the book described was not just France of 50 years ago, but what is possibly a nations perception of what teenage boys should be doing in their spare time. This is rip roaring yarn of two 15 year old boys convincing their woodwork teacher to help them build a two man canoe and their parents allowing them to head off to France in search of adventure. No sitting at home staring at computer screens for them or heading off on a family trip for the sanitised adventure of a theme park.
This is a description of the school Easter holidays spent hitching a lift on a barge, being able to paddle through Paris, some underage drinking, breaking into an ancient chateau, discovering prehistoric cave paintings, hunting rabbits etc It is a description of an earlier age, whether it is a true description on not is virtually irrelevant. It is a work of fiction, although the description of the paddling is fairly accurate as the author had canoed extensively in France. It was written for a teenage audience in the early 1960’s, when expectations were different. It was still the Watch with Mother generation as opposed to the Sesame Street one. Things took longer to develop, instant gratification wasn’t necessarily the order of the day. I cannot think of any teenagers I know today who would enjoy this book even though it was written for their age range. What I do know is, that as a young person from the 60’s and an active paddler today, I thoroughly enjoyed the couple of hours I spent reading the book. So if you come across a copy and are a male over 50 who goes kayaking then don’t hesitate, buy it, everybody else would probably better off saving their hard earned cash.