Over the years I have come in for some ridicule as I have kept a kayaking log book. My first entry was in January 1979 and since that date I have made a record of every time that I have been in a canoe or a kayak. Sometimes it might just be a brief note whilst at other times it might be a comprehensive record of where we parked the car, what the launch was like, any wildlife seen etc. Due to the fact that I have kept the log book going for so long it has now become almost impossible to stop The great thing is it is a record of how far I have paddled.
Early in 2012 I was wondering to myself as to whether I paddled the equivalent of the circumference of the earth at the equator? First of all how far is it around the equator. Plenty of places will give you the distance in kilometres and statute miles, it was only after a bit of searching that I found the answer in nautical miles, it is 21639nm. My log book records have always been in nautical miles so this was an important figure to find.
I then sat down with the log books and over a couple of hours completed a table. There were 5 columns, standing for year, sea kayak, sit on top, canoe/general purpose and total. I passed the magical distance on the 19th May 2012 whilst on a trip out to the Paternosters.
So if you don’t already keep a log book think about starting keeping a record of your paddling experiences, in a few years time it will make interesting reading. I don’t have a log book from 1969 to 1979 sadly, as there could be some interesting reading about a number of sea kayaking adventures, including being pulled of the water by Tito’s police in the former Yugoslavia, as we naively thought it was alright to paddle on the sea in communist countries.
I wrote this article a couple of years ago and since then my mileage has continued to increase and in the last 12 months, at an even faster pace. In October I passed the 26,000 nautical mile mark recorded in my log book.
A couple of weeks off the water with a rather persistent cough and cold had been somewhat frustrating. I had missed the kayaking opportunities and the possibility of contributing to the Jersey Canoe Club’s total towards the British Canoeing Winter Challenge. All that came to an end today as we managed to visit Les Dirouilles. Possibly the least visited of all the reefs, which are located in Jersey waters.
It was a reasonably late start for a winter paddle but at 11.30, we paddled around the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater and into the tidal stream, which was going to significantly assist our journey north. Most of the time our speed over the ground was just over 5 knots. Our destination kept disappearing from sight as the forecast fog drifted in from the west. This was a day of limited colours, the sea and sky changing between silver and grey. The only splashes of colour, in an otherwise muted landscape were the kayaks.
Even the birds appeared to be avoiding display of colour, there were a few Herring Gulls and Shags sitting on the rocks. The real pleasure was to see 7, very trusting, Purple Sandpipers as we had our lunch. No real surprise here as the swell washed reef appears to be a perfect habitat for such species. This is partly why the area has been designated a Ramsar area.
A great paddle to Les Dirouilles, which we managed to squeeze in just before Christmas, especially after the storms of the last few weeks.
Whilst looking through thousands of slides last week, as I was trying to sort out a talk for a 60th birthday celebration, I came across a number of slides which brought back some great sea kayaking memories of the last 30 plus years.
Also makes me think about how sea kayaking images have been lost as we have all made the switch to digital. In an earlier post I looked at a few photographs of sea kayaking in the early days of the Jersey Canoe Club.
This post was one of the first that I wrote when setting up the original blog in 2010. At that time we were managing to go sea kayaking in Brittany on a regular basis. In fact most months during the year we would travel to northern France and generally go paddling. In recent years our kayaking interests have been in different geographical areas, 2108 sees a welcome return to this area though with a Sea Kayak Symposium being held near Paimpol in April next year. As soon as booking details are known I will post them here.
This section of the Brittany coast has to be one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in France, if not in northern Europe. It is well known from the tourist brochures and guide books and each year attracts significant numbers of visiting yachtsmen.
My favourite departure point is from Coz Pors at Tregastel, the paddling in either direction is memorable but last Saturday we decided to head east towards Ile Tome, an island of approximately 35 hectares whose spine runs north south. Situated off Perros Guirec, it has been uninhabited since the Second World War and the last few years have seen an active programme aimed to rid the island of rats to allow sea birds to breed, and so far it appears to have been successful.
One thing which we often talk about when out sea kayaking is what are the 5 best paddles that you have ever done. I think that every time I consider, which are my favourites I come up with slightly different ones although there are often a couple of the old favourites.
So when you are having lunch on a rock somewhere, sitting around the camp fire on a remote island or just having a pint in your favourite pub why not give it some thought and see what you come up with. What’s great about this is that there are no rules, apart from the fact that the paddles have to be on the tidal waters and ideally suitable as a day trip.
Here are my favourite 5 for today:
So that’s my five for today but I think that I have already got it wrong. What about Polyaegos and Milos, Sark, Ile de Brehat or even the south west corner of Jersey. This can lead to endless hours of discussion amongst sea kayakers about “what are your 5 best paddles”?
Palo’s Wedding is a classic film by Knud Rasmussen, who was born in Iulissat, on the west coast of Greenland, on 7th June 1879, the son of a Danish missionary. He was the first European to dog sledge the whole length of the North West Passage, one of the numerous expeditions that he undertook between 1902 and 1933. A number of geographical features are named after him, including the Knud Rasmussen Glacier in the far north west of Greenland and the Knud Rasmussen Range of mountains on the west coast of Greenland.
In addition he was honoured by the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Danish Geographical Society and the American Geographical Society as a consequence of his explorations in the Arctic.
Whilst making the film Rasmussen developed food poisoning, supposedly from eating kiviaq, which developed into pneumonia and he sadly died on the 21st December 1933 at the age of 54.
There are some short sections of the film available online but if possible it is well worth obtaining a full copy of the DVD. Palo’s Wedding makes for an interesting winters evening viewing for a kayak club.
In 1975 Colin Mortlock led a six man expedition along the arctic coast of Norway, covering over 500 miles from Bodo to Nortdkapp and slightly beyond. Many people see this as the first modern style sea kayaking expedition, with similarities to the mountaineering developments which were taking place in the Himalaya’s. There were significant developments in terms of equipment, not least the Nordkapp sea kayak designed by Frank Goodman but I also believe that the Wild Water 5 pocket buoyancy aid which was standard equipment for sea kayakers for years had its origin in this expedition. It was seen as such a ground breaking trip that it was serialized in the Sunday Telegraph magazine.
I was fortunate that 11 years later in 1986 I was able to follow part of their route, from Tromso as far as Honnigsvag, a small town just past Nordkapp. In contrast to the unsettled weather experienced by Colin Mortlock and his fellow paddlers, we were really fortunate. For 26 days out of 28 we had light winds, higher than average temperatures and long hours of sunshine. Evenings were frequently spent sitting around in t-shirts although we were quite a way north of the Arctic Circle.
As we passed under the cliffs of Nordkapp (307 metres or 1,007 feet) in flat calm conditions it was hard not to think of the sailors who had traveled these waters as part of the Arctic Convoys which were heading too and from the northern ports in the former Soviet Union during the Second World War.This was a memorable trip with other members of the Jersey Canoe Club, we were fortunate with the weather, which we took full advantage of.
Next summer we are returning to northern Norway to paddle in the Lofotens, a stunning sea kayaking destination, which I have only ever seen before from an aircraft whilst heading further north. It promises to be a good summer.
I have paddled along Gozo’s south coast numerous times over the last five years but the beginning of November was the first time that I had the opportunity to walk along a significant portion of the cliffs and it is interesting to compare the experiences.
We took the bus to the harbour at Mġarr with the intention of walking to Xlendi. We had a number of guide books , which all recommended a slightly different route. Route finding turned out to be easier than anticipated as it was largely a matter of flowing the red dots and occasional arrows.
The scenery was superb, as we expected, with great views across to Comino and Malta. In one place we were able to look north across the Island and in the distance could see the coast of Sicily. I think that this is my 9th visit to Gozo but today was the first time that I had seen their Italian neighbour, to the north. As walked towards the west the small island of Filfla came into view away to the south. We also had clear views of the section of the north west coast of Malta we had paddled last week.
What did shock us though, was the sheer scale of the hunting which was being practiced in the area. As we walked along we realised that most of the background bird noise was coming from caged birds, which we were being used to attract wild birds so they could be shot. Goldfinches, Greenfinch, Linnets, Chaffinches and a number of other species were caged in their hundreds.
We didn’t want to get too close, or attract attention, as there were quite a few men sitting in the small hunting hides, complete with rifles. Along one section of the coast there were numerous nets, which were clearly used for hunting as well. I think that for most people the scale and impact of the hunting would have a serious impact on their enjoyment of the day.
Kayaking along this section of coast you have no idea what is going on above but walking does allow access to some of the more interesting historical features. The walk from the harbour to Xlendi was nearly 9 miles and took significantly longer to walk than it does to paddle.
For navigation we used the ViewRanger App, which is amazingly accurate and well worth getting if you have an appropriate phone.
It is not that often that we, as sea kayakers, are aware of the impact of atmospheric pressure but it was clearly demonstrated one October day, a few years ago, at St Brelade’s. At high water, in the morning, the atmospheric pressure was 993 mb, effectively 20 mb below the level at which tidal heights are calculated. This meant that the tide was much higher than expected and when coupled with the swell which developed over night it created some problems for those boat owners who left their craft on the beach.
The predicted tidal heights for Saturday, Sunday and Monday were much higher than the morning in question but they passed without incident whilst these boat owners were caught out by this mornings tide, with not inconsiderable financial costs as boats and engines were damaged.
Remember as a general rule for every 1 mb below 1013 mb the tide will rise 1 cm higher than predicted and for every 1 cm above 1013 mb the height of the tide will be depressed. We were affected on our paddle to the Ecrehous in March this year when due to high pressure the tide did not rise as far as we expected.
So the moral of the story is not to just look at the tidal height but take into account the pressure.
How far can you see whilst sitting in your kayak? Knowing how far away you can see an object whilst paddling is a useful technique and a valuable aid to navigation. As a simple rule the higher up you are the further you can see. Standing on top of the Empire State Building, with good visibility it is amazing how far away the horizon is. Also the taller the object you are looking at the further away that it can be seen.
As paddlers it is not that easy to raise our eye level, our eyes are generally just less than 1 metre above sea level. At times in rough weather or when there is a swell running it is possible to take advantage of the extra elevation that results from being on top of the swell to increase how far we can actually see. Due to the movement up and down of the kayak, on the water, the distance off an object which is obtained should be seen as an approximation.
Clearly a further problem is caused by the rise and fall of the tide, which may well be significant in certain areas. For example on a chart a lighthouse’s charted height is given above MHWS. In certain areas of the world with a large tidal range the height above water of the light may vary by more than 10 metres, considerably affecting the distance away that the light may be seen from. If you want to be really accurate it is necessary to add the estimated height that the tide is below MHWS to the height of the land or the light before referring to the table.
An example of the effect of this from a trip to the Ecrehous, on a large spring tide, is as follows:
Maitre Ile at the Ecrehous has a height of 8 metres at MHWS, which in Jersey is 11.1 metres, but the tide on Saturday was 11.8 metres, it was bigger than a mean spring. This meant that at high water the maximum height of Maitre Ile was not 8 metres but 7.3 metres.
When the eye of the observer is 1 metre above water level an object 8 metres high is visible from 7.8 nm away but when the height of the object drops to 7 metres it is not visible until you are within 7.4 nm. When we left La Rocque, Maitre Ile was 8.3 nm away. This meant that even in excellent visibility we would have not been able to see our destination when we left.
On a spring tide when the water level may drop by as much as 11 metres the highest point on Maitre Ile is now 19 metres above the water level. This means that the island is now visible from 10.9 miles away for a paddler whose eye is 1 metre above the water.
The lesson is that objects will be visible from much further away when you approach them at low water, particularly in an area with a large tidal range, such as the Channel Islands.
The table below shows the distance at which, an item becomes visible depending upon its height above water. This is based upon the observers eye being 1 metre above the level of the water.
Clearly there are number of variables which impact upon the accuracy of the above table such as sea state, the exact height of the paddlers eye above sea level and the height of the tide but it is a useful tool in helping the sea paddler to locate their position. For example 12 nautical miles to the south of my nearest beach is the superb reef of the Minquiers. The tallest rock on the northern edge is only 3 metres high, which according to the table means that they only become visible when they are 5.5 nautical miles away. Therefore there is no point in even starting to look for the reef until you have paddled for over 6 nautical miles or have been underway for over an hour and a half.
Using this technique as a way of assisting navigation is particularly satisfying but it is a method which is gradually slipping into obscurity. Today the vast majority of us simply turn to the switch on the GPS to receive far more accurate information about our position than we could ever obtain by using the above method. That said there is a degree of satisfaction from being able to navigate using the more traditional methods and you never know if the batteries are going to run out!