Boring Sea Kayaking in France

The tides around Mont St Michel are described as rising at the speed of a galloping horse.  I am never sure whether this is true but clearly at times there is going to be a significant amount of water moving and this has the potential to create a tidal bore when it enters a river estuary.
Obviously a Spring tide is required to ensure that the bore works and we selected a Thursday morning when there was a tide with a co-efficient of 109.  We hoped that by choosing a Thursday morning just after dawn there wouldn’t be that many other people turning up to surf the wave.
The first problem was try and find the departure point.  We arrived on the evening ferry to St Malo and in the dark had to navigate our way through the narrow lanes of eastern Brittany, looking for somewhere near the Pointe de Rochtorin, where we could park up and sleep in the cars.  Eventually at about 23.30 after a number of false tracks we eventually decided that we were in the right place and settled down for a night of luxury on the front seat of my car.

Tidal bore
We were up before first light, getting ready to scrape the ice off the kayaks and with slight feeling of apprehension.
Tidal bore
Most of the group ready for departure.  It was a pretty cold morning although the sky gave the  promise of better weather ahead.

We were up before first light, preparing equipment and still not too sure that we were in the right place when suddenly a couple of stand up paddleboarders arrived and ran off down the path.  Confirmation that we were in the right place.  We followed quickly and selected a place for launching with the minimum amount of mud to wade through.  In the soft light and calm of early morning we then headed downstream unaware of what we were going to find.

Tidal bore
Agnes heading out in the early morning light. Mont St Michel is visible above the sand flats.
Tidal bore
Rising above the sands the monastery at Mont St Michel was clearly visible. There has been some form of religious settlement here since the 8th century AD
Tidal bore
These 2 stand up paddleboarders provided confirmation that we were in the correct area.

The first indication of something approaching was the flocks of birds taking flight, then there was the unmistakable roar of water when suddenly a wave appeared around the corner.    Not particularly large, between 30 and 60 cms high it stretched right across the river and was flooding the exposed sand banks.  As regards time it was now about 40 minutes before high water at St Malo.
We were soon on the face of the tidal bore and surfing upstream, the 6 of us in sea kayaks and the 2 people on SUP’s, were joined by a long board surfer and a paddler in a general purpose kayak.  That was it, 10 of us on the wave, a complete contrast to some of the carnage we had witnessed, on some of the films we had watched beforehand.
We surfed up stream for 5 nautical miles and were on the wave for 40 minutes, a couple of us rolled and one person swam but was surprisingly easy to rescue, it hadn’t occurred to us that the whole of sea was moving upstream behind the wave.  This meant that if you dropped of the wave for a rest, it was pretty straight forward to regain the face when you felt like it.
The French clearly knew where the tidal bore was going to finish as they had their cars parked ready.  The wave just disappeared so we pulled up on the bank had a quick coffee and within 20 minutes the flow had reversed and we were heading back to the cars and a well earned breakfast.
This was one of the most unique and enjoyable experiences I have had sea kayaking in recent years.  Surfing the tidal bore or the “mascaret” as the French call it is a unique and highly recommended activity.

Tidal Bore
With such an early morning start we had plenty of time to visit Mont St Michel
Tidal bore
Climbing to the top of Mont St Michel we had superb views across the exposed mud and sand banks. The sea wasn’t visible at all. No wonder that when such a huge amount of water has to return in 6 hours, it creates such interesting conditions.

A Brittany weekend: Canoeing in Dinan

A Brittany weekend: Canoeing in Dinan
The forecast for the weekend was pretty dreadful, we were questioning whether the ferry would be able to sail for St Malo, and even more importantly would we be able to get home on the Sunday.  As it was the ferry did sail on the Friday and the sea state was calm enough that most people were able to enjoy a beer or wine on the crossing.
The aim for the weekend was to enjoy a couple of days of canoeing on the inland waterways of Northern Brittany, with a few people having the opportunity to take their 2 Star, mainly as a pre-requisite for their Level 1 coach course in May.  Amazingly two of the people had their 5 Star (Sea) but not their 2 Star.  In Jersey there is no inland water, suitable for paddling, so it is very difficult to get the appropriate experience, you either have to travel off island or we have to start encouraging people to paddle canoes on the sea, something which sits uneasily with me, due to the size of the tides, exposure to swell and changeable weather.
We had arranged to rent canoes from the Canoe Club in Dinan, there were 16 of us and luckily they had 8 canoes in their spacious facilities.  We headed downstream, fully aware that the forecast on French TV was for winds possibly reaching 100 kmh during the afternoon.  Clearly we needed to exercise a degree of caution.
Shelter was found inside a small inlet where it was possible to work on a few skills and also by coincidence to receive a phone call from the ferry company informing us that the sailing on Sunday had been brought forward to hopefully avoid the rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, particularly the increasing wind strength.  We would get home but it meant that there would be no paddling on Sunday.
Lunch was taken further downstream before we had to fight our way back to Dinan.  It was a pleasant contrast to the sea kayaking that we normally experience in Jersey and most of the group felt that we shouldn’t leave it too long before returning to France to hone our single blade paddling skills.
 Louis and Lisa getting ready to head downstream from Dinan.  At this point the wind wasn’t too bad.
 We found shelter in a small inlet where we were able to practice a few skills such as rescues, as well as receive a phone call from Condor (the ferry company) that our ferry was leaving earlier on the Sunday due to the strong winds which were forecast.  The main consequence, apart from getting home, was that there would be no paddling on the Sunday.
 Tracey having a go at gunwhale bobbing.  Clearly the days that she spent canoeing down the Yukon has had a significant impact on her skill level.  She looked really competent.
 Once off the water there were a couple of choices, head to the local bar to watch a Six Nations rugby game on the television or head to Decathlon in search of kit.
 Sunday dawned sunny and still, a walk around the walls of St Malo was the option in the time that we had with the forecast of a rapidly increasing wind.
 Once on the ferry we headed out past Cezembre, a small island off the coast of St Malo, which is an interesting place to visit by kayak.
 Le Grand Jardin light marks the entrance channel into St Malo, for us as we headed out to sea it marked the start of a decline in the weather, with an increasing wind and a deteriorating sea state, but at least due to our early departure we made it home.

Morbihan – southern Brittany

Every year the Jersey Canoe Club arranges a weekend to Morbihan in southern Brittany.  Most years we are blessed with settled conditions and warm temperatures but this wasn’t the case this year, particularly on the Saturday.  Continuous rain on the Saturday was accompanied by increasing wind on the Saturday evening, resulting in a couple of the tents becoming damaged.
It didn’t stop us getting on the water, both days, it was just that we didn’t aim to paddle as far as in previous years.
Still a thoroughly enjoyable weekend away though.
Our first port of call, in rapidly deteriorating weather was Er Lannic.  The stone circle is thought to be approximately 5,000 years old.  Where else is it possible to paddle so close to such significant historic monuments, whilst playing in significant tidal streams?
 Our plan was to paddle up the river to Auray, one of the larger towns in Morbihan.  The southerly breeze considerably assisting our progress but also blowing in some very damp conditions.
 It wasn’t a day for the best photographs!
 Kayaks on the quayside at Auray  It was pretty miserable and we didn’t need much convincing that an afternoon in the bar was far more preferable than 8 miles into a head wind in torrential rain.
 Sunday dawned far brighter, so following a paddle around the islands in the southern part of the Gulf we returned to the play spot near Ile Berder to make the most of the waves which are generated on the flood tide.