For the last few months we seem to have been subjected to one North Atlantic storm after another. The jet stream has been powering one low depression after another, creating unsettled weather. Days of being able to potter along the coast, exploring nooks and crannies have been few and far between. It is been a matter of trying to squeeze a few miles in, whilst trying to avoid the strongest winds, as they funnel around headlands.
On Monday of this week a slight glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon, light winds for Friday. That slight glimmer eventually turned into a window of opportunity so this morning saw us loading the kayaks for a quick Ecrehous visit, in late winter sunshine from St Catherines.
With low water at around 13.30 the plan was to cross towards the end of the ebb, a quick break on the reef and complete the return crossing at the start of the flood. It was good plan and it almost worked. The 5.5 nautical miles on the way passed quickly and easily. We saw one fishing boat but apart from that we had the ocean to ourselves. There weren’t even that many birds to distract us, the only one of interest was a great crested grebe.
As the tide was sill running north there was some slight disturbance as we approached the Ecrehous but once the reef it was calm and sunny, the perfection combination for experiencing the channels and islets. A quick lunch break and the inevitable photo opportunities and just over 30 minutes later saw us heading back to the kayaks for the return crossing to Jersey.
Unfortunately our paddling speed wasn’t quite what we anticipated and so we were more exposed to the influence of the tidal streams, than was ideal. What would normally take about 1 hour 30 mins took an extra hour and in contrast to the 5.5 miles going out we covered 8.5 nautical miles on the way back.
It wasn’t a serious issue but clearly demonstrates the impact that tidal streams can have on sea kayakers. In fact it was a bit of of blessing in disguise, as the extra miles that we covered meant that the Jersey Canoe Club went back to the top of British Canoeing’s Winter Challenge, although probably not for long!
Although slightly harder than anticipated it was well worth the extra effort for some Ecrehous sunshine.
It has been said that the best in-flight entertainment system is the window seat. I can never understand the person who selects the aisle seat when there is the option of observing the world passing by.
Below is a selection of some aerial photographs of potentially interesting sea kayaking destinations seen out of the aircraft window over the last couple of years. Whenever I get in an aircraft it always stimulates ideas of where else to go paddling. The to do list, regarding kayaking destinations, continues to grow.
Fort Regent overlooking the town of St Helier is a 19th century military base, which was converted into a leisure and entertainment centre in the 1970’s. It occupies a unique place in the nautical history of not just Jersey but the in the UK because it still has a working visual Signal Station.
The first signal station probably dates back to 1708 and was used to warn Islanders of the threat of invasion. Over the years a number of signals have been flown from the mast above St Helier, including such useful information as the fact that the mail had arrived in the Island etc.
Sadly financial cuts and changes in technology meant that in December 2004 the Fort Regent Signal Station, which was the last manned station in the British Isles closed down.
Fortunately in January 2007 it proved possible to hoist flags again, in a limited fashion including the T-flag, which signifies high tides over 38 feet (11.6 metres) and the strong wind and gale warnings. It was also possible to re-introduce hoisting a few other flags when appropriate such as Trafalgar Day.
Today’s high tides and strong winds meant that this morning the Signal Station was flying the flag and the ball and cone indicating potentially difficult conditions for those at sea and for people living along the coast. Driving into St Helier you very quickly get into the habit of looking up towards to Fort, treasuring our own slice of nautical history, and seeing if any flags are flying.
The signal station above Fort Regent at approximately 12.00 today. The T Flag is flying on the left hand side whilst the cone and ball indicates strong winds from the north.
As virtually everybody who is reading this post is aware, the Nordkapp, is recognised as one of the finest sea kayaks ever designed. Originally it was designed, by Frank Goodman, for the 1975 expedition to the most northerly point in Norway. This was a real watershed in sea kayak expeditions, if my memory serves me correctly the expedition was serialised in the Sunday Telegraph magazine.
The Nordkapp was used on other significant kayaking trips, such as the 1977 Cape Horn expedition and Paul Caffyn’s circumnavigation of the islands of New Zealand. It wasn’t just used on trips to distant shores, in 1978 they were used by 3 members of the Jersey Canoe Club on the first circumnavigation of Ireland.
I first paddled a Nordkapp in 1977, only briefly, returning to paddle one on a far more regular basis in 1979 before finally taking the plunge and buying my own kayak in 1980, once I had a “proper job” with a regular income. I bought my second Nordkapp HM in 1985, and it is still the kayak, which I paddle on a regular basis.
Over the last few years a few people in Jersey have to appreciate the finer points of he Nordkapp and have spent time and money lovingly restoring them. Looking at the care which had gone into restoring these fine kayaks it was thought to be a pity that was an opportunity to see them on the water together. Hence the idea of a Nordkapp meet, here in Jersey, was born.
Many of you might remember the Nordkapp owners meets of the early 1980’s, arranged by Frank Goodman, and run from Nigel Dennis’s centre of Anglesey. These were to evolve into the well known Anglesey Sea Kayak Symposium.
The Jersey Canoe Club has decided, therefore, to run a Nordkapp paddling weekend at the end of August this year, to encourage paddlers to bring out their much prized kayaks. We will welcome all variations of the classic kayak, the HM, Jubilee, LV, plastic or Forti to the Island and are hoping to encourage visitors to the island as well as local paddlers to get out on the water.
It is a very simple concept, a few paddles at a variety of levels each day and some evening entertainment, including a talk from some of the most experienced Nordkapp paddlers from over the years. This is not a commercial event, but it has received very generous funding from the Jersey Canoe Club, so the cost is very simple. Free to all JCC members and a cost of £25 to non members. This covers 12 months as an overseas member of the Canoe Club and ensures that every participant is covered by the Clubs insurance. The £25 would also allow you to return to Jersey and participate in Club sessions in the following year as well as having access to Club equipment.
We are fortunate enough to be able to confirm that the Saturday evening talk will be given by Sam Cook who was on the original Nordkapp expedition in 1975. This is a great opportunity to hear a talk by one of the icons of sea kayaking in the 20th century. A couple of years later he went on what was possibly the first kayaking expedition to Svalbard, where, once again they used the Nordkapp.
If you are are interested in attending the event please send me an e mail, so that I can contact you over the coming weeks with more information. It would be really helpful to know what type of Nordkapp you have, or whether you are hoping to rent or borrow one, if we manage to get hold of some spare kayaks.
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.
In March 1981 we were heading back to Jersey on the car ferry from Weymouth, with quite a warm feeling inside. I was in the team which had just won the initial Home International Surf Kayaking Championships at Fistral Beach Newquay and as a result we felt that we were up for anything, so in the naivety youth of youth we hatched a plan to paddle from Jersey back to England. A Channel crossing but at the western end of the waterway, as opposed to the narrower and busier Dover Straits. Over the next couple of months the reality of the paddle began to sink in but we pressed on with the planning. In the end we decided to split the paddle in Alderney.
So early one Sunday morning in June 1981 five us loaded our sea kayaks on the beach at L’Etacq on the north west of Jersey and headed out, on our way to Alderney 33 nautical miles north, due to the speed of the tidal streams around Alderney our window of opportunity was quite small. So there was no time to hang about or to pop into Sark, as we passed by. In addition we were under added pressure as we had to catch a flight home in the afternoon.
6 hours after leaving L’Etacq we beached at Braye Harbour having made good use of the favourable tidal streams. We quickly stored the kayaks, rushed to the airport and in a matter of 15 minutes retraced our route back to Jersey, although with considerably less effort.
The following Friday night we flew back to Alderney, retrieved the kayaks and rechecked our navigation for the following morning. We aimed to leave at 06.00 so it was an early phone call to the Jersey Met Office for a current weather forecast. It couldn’t have been better, virtually no wind, sunshine and the slight risk of a fog patch. How wrong this turned out to be.
As we paddled out of Braye Harbour we disappeared into the fog and in the belief that it was a small fog bank headed north. Little did we realize that this fog stretched all the way to the south coast of England, 58 nautical miles away, if we known we might well have turned straight around and headed back to Alderney.
We kept to our bearing but in the pre-GPS days there was no way of confirming our actual position we just had to have confidence in our compasses. At times the visibility was less than 50 metres, although the fog couldn’t have been that thick vertically, as the sun was shining.
We decided to stop for lunch at 13.00 and as the top of the hour approached our thoughts turned to food. Suddenly at about 12.58 there was disconcerting rumbling sound to our right. Almost simultaneously John and myself shouted paddle as we had seen the bow wave. We were directly in the path of an enormous cargo ship, which was steaming west clearly unaware of our presence. As we sprinted forward we just cleared the ship. At this point fear kicked in.
We decided that staying alive was preferable to stopping for food so we carried on north with an extra sense of urgency to our strokes. Amazingly at about 20.00 we popped out of the fog just underneath the old Borstal on Portland. I would like to claim credit for some seriously accurate navigation but I think that it was more by luck than judgement that we arrived at our destination with such precision.
We landed on the beach at Weymouth just before 21.00 which gave us an average speed of nearly 4 knots for the previous 15 hours and we just missed the overnight ferry back home to Jersey. So it was an evening exploring the night life of Weymouth (very limited) before heading south on the British Rail ferry the following morning.
It was an immensely satisfying paddle but whenever anybody asked since for advice I have always recommended that they don’t repeat our journey. Its not the distance but the risk of being exposed to the shipping something that it is impossible to imagine unless you have sat in the middle of the Channel. 36 years on I can still remember the feeling as if it was yesterday when that bow wave appeared out of the fog!
Although I have taken photographs of sea kayaking since the 1970’s I have none of the Channel crossing, I was just to concerned about the paddling to stop and take any.
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.
I have loved Sark since my first visit in the early 1970’s. I first paddled up to Sark from Jersey in 1979 and have since returned on numerous occasions, often camping for several nights. A quick look through my log books has revealed that I have visited the island every month of the year apart from December. I even paddled north from Jersey for an overnight visit, in the 1980’s, when the schools were closed due to heavy snow. Whatever the weather and time of the year Sark has always occupied a special place in my heart.
This week we had booked a day trip to Sark with Jersey Seafaris, on one of their ribs. What a great way to visit, with a thoroughly professional company. Heading out from St Catherine’s we turned to the north west, with the crossing taking about 40 minutes. There was still the remnants of Sunday’s swell, which slowed us down in places but otherwise it was a perfect crossing. As soon as we moved away from the coast it was amazing the number of Shearwaters, mainly Balearic with a few Manx, we saw. Somehow as a sea kayaker I have always had a degree of empathy with Shearwaters, which are one of my favourite birds.
Arrival in Sark was at Creux Harbour, the older of the two harbours on the east coast. With the main arm being constructed in the 1860’s. landing was easy and we were soon on our way up the hill to hire bikes for the day. Avenue Cycle Hire, was visited and within minutes we were on our way.
After visiting quite a few of the main points around the Island I started to develop some uncomfortable feelings. Perhaps I was looking at the past through rose coloured spectacles but Sark just didn’t seem quite the same. There appeared to be quite a few empty houses, some of shops on the main street were closed, as were some of the hotels. In certain areas, for example towards the Pilchers Monument the land appeared uncared for.
After lunch we crossed to Little Sark for a swim close to the remains of the Silver Mines, the history of which is described in an earlier post. The warm afternoon sun did provide an excuse to jump into the crystal clear water.
All too soon it was time to head back to the harbour and the RIB journey back to Jersey, but not before having the opportunity to admire the coastal scenery and learn a bit more about the history of this fascinating Island.
Sark really is one of my favourite places in the world and I will continue to visit it at every opportunity, sadly this time I came away with the feeling that it is a community, which isn’t thriving as successfully in the past.
After the near perfect conditions for exploring the coast to the east of Greve de Lecq last weekend, this Sunday was a complete contrast. Magicseaweed and Jersey Met had been predicting the arrival of a swell and they weren’t wrong. The one positive note was that the beach was reasonably protected, although there was still some dumping surf on the beach. It was what was going on outside the bay that created the talking points. The Paternosters are approximately 2.5 nautical miles to the north but waves could be clearly seen breaking on the reef, whilst along the coast the swell could be seen breaking some way up the cliffs. This was clearly not going to be a day for exploring the caves along this stretch of coast. What made the swell even more impressive was its wave period, somewhere in the region of 15 seconds.
Once afloat there was very little opportunity to approach the cliffs and cave, which make this such a great stretch of coast to paddle. A week earlier we had been able to go pretty much where we liked on a flat calm Sunday morning.
We paddled as far as Sorel lighthouse but in most places we needed to keep several hundred metres out from the shore, there were just a couple of places where it was thought possible to approach a bit closer.
The landing back at Greve de Lecq was as difficult as anticipated. The dropping tide meant that we had a bit more shelter than anticipated. There had been 21 kayakers on the water with Jersey Canoe Club and only one person swam on landing. We thought that was a pretty good success rate.