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.
Sometimes when we are kayaking we focus on the big picture and miss out on some of the smaller and at times more interesting items.The Ecrehous, as many of you will be aware, is probably my favourite, all time sea kayaking day trip. Arriving at the reef, time is normally spent wandering around and admiring at the stunning seascapes whilst sitting on one of the finest benches in the world. On some recent visits I have spent time looking at smaller features including inscriptions on some of the Ecrehous buildings. What has been revealed is fascinating history of a unique environment.
Sometimes we are so concerned with the big picture that we miss the detail so next time that you are out kayaking adjust the scale of your view and you never know what will be revealed.
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.
As many of you aware any visit to the Ecrehous is special and even more so if you manage to squeeze a visit in during January. At this time of the year you are virtually guaranteed to have the reef to yourself, in complete contrast to weekends in the summer, when there is virtual stream of boats heading to the Ecrehous from both Jersey and France.
Late on Thursday the forecast showed virtually no wind on the Friday morning before it started to pick up around midday from the south. In addition it was a neap tide, with low water at 09.15, perfect for a quick crossing from St Catherine’s.
An early morning start saw us heading towards Les Ecrehous , in flat calm, with the promise of some sunshine. The sun still hadn’t risen, when we left. The journey out was pretty simple, our crossing coincided with the low water slack. The other advantage of crossing at low water is that the rocks stretch out towards Jersey so you actually feel that you have finished the crossing sooner.
As we expected we were the only people on the reef, we landed on the French side of the reef, the shingle bank is steeper on the eastern side and so it is a easier carry, today though we hardly had to move the kayaks as we weren’t planning to stay that long. We had a bite to eat on what is probably the finest bench to be found almost anywhere, with superb views in every direction.
Within 30 minutes of landing we were preparing to launch. The tide had already turned and the forecast from Jersey Met was for a southerly force 3-4 by midday. We paddled up the eastern side of the reef as we want to pass to the north before catching some of the southerly tide back towards Jersey.
What was amazing was the complete change in the weather, we had been comfortable sitting on the bench admiring the distant views but within 30 minutes the sky had turned dark, Jersey’s coast was becoming less discernible and the wind was starting to freshen. We weren’t surprised though as this was exactly what the Met Office in Jersey had forecast.
It was a fairly straightforward paddle back to St Catherine’s but as we landed the calm and blue skies of our departure were a distant memory.
It was a quick change and a retreat to the warmth of the cafe in order to savour the events of the morning. A January visit to the Ecrehous always feels a privilege.
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.
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!
I paddled out to the Ecrehous this morning, it was my 7th visit of the year so far but interestingly the 5th time I have been on a Wednesday. I have only visited once at a weekend and that was way back in January.
It would be interesting to conduct a scientific study and hopefully come up with some fascinating conclusions which indicate a correlation between the passage of areas of high pressure over the Channel Islands shipping area on the third day of the week. In reality though I think that the reason for the popularity of the Wednesday visits is due to the fact that a number of people in the Jersey Canoe Club had retired or are working significantly reduced working weeks. We have put Wednesday aside as our day of choice for day trips, hoping to go out somewhere every week.
Looking at the weather forecasts as soon as there is an indication that the winds might be reasonably light on the Wednesday our thoughts turn to offshore paddles. This week was no different, a quick WhatsApp on Tuesday and this morning saw 8 0f us paddling away from St Catherine’s towards the Ecrehous.
I have visited the reef numerous times over the years, the last time was just a few weeks ago but always jump at the chance to go again. It was a relatively smooth crossing and a great lunch spot but it was the return crossing which was particularly memorable. The encounter with the pod of bottle nosed dolphins was as good as I have ever seen, they remained with us for probably 20 minutes, at times approaching within a metre before suddenly changing course and diving.
What a great way to spend a Wednesday in November.
Located nearly 6 nautical miles north east of Jersey are Les Ecrehous. Now I might be biased but I consider a visit to this reef one of the finest one day sea kayaking trips possible anywhere. Last Saturday and Sunday as Storm Brian lashed the Channel Islands it seemed inconceivable that by Wednesday we would be heading out from St Catherine’s for a late October visit.
That’s is just what we were able to do yesterday. A reasonably early departure from St Catherine’s Breakwater, so us taking advantage of the high water slack to cross the current, which in a couple of hours time would be endeavouring to sweep us sideways. The tidal flow rates, weren’t going to reach the 5+ knots, that they can do on Springs, but they were still going to have an impact.
In the days of GPS and electronic plotters I am not sure how many people are still going through the process of laying off a course, producing vectors, using Portland Protractors and dividers etc every time they head out. Certainly as kayakers operating in Channel Island waters it is a process that we have to go through every time we embark on an open crossing. The chart work had produced a course of 25 degrees and the GPS was just used to monitor our possible drift.
The tide was running swiftly as we paddled around the end of St Catherine’s but the crossing to the Ecrehous reef seemed remarkably straightforward. The 6 mile crossing taking 1 hour 20 minutes. We had been hoping for some autumn sunshine, unfortunately it was a rather grey day. The real bonus of the of the visit was that we had the area to ourselves for most of the time that we were there, in complete contrast to a visit on a summer weekend when the reef can feel really crowded.
Heading back to Jersey the tide had a bit more impact on our progress but we still made it back, in plenty of time, for the inevitable coffee at St Catherine’s.
This is an updated version of an article I wrote in 2005 regarding the use of shoe polish to improve the look of my 1980’s vintage Nordkapp HM.
Polishing your Kayak Always one for the soft touch as I walked around the London Boat Show I was convinced, along with a couple of companions, that I really needed some leather balsam for protecting my shoes. I parted with my £10.00 and walked on my way. Some time later I stumbled across some fibre glass polish, now this was interesting as my 20 year old Nordkapp was starting to show its age. Whereas £10 seemed a huge amount for shoe polish I was far more willing to part with £40 to protect my beloved sea kayak.
I returned home with two types of polish with the aim of writing a review of the one for fibre glass. I followed the instructions and sat back to review my handy work. With my hand on my heart I felt unable to write a review as I didn’t want you, dear reader, to make the same mistake as me and part with their hard earned cash. The fibre glass polish was really disappointing.
Each week I used the leather balsam on my shoes never realizing that I held in my hand the key to restoring my kayak to some of its former glory. That is until Chris said, “Have you tried the shoe polish on your kayak?” Somewhat sceptically I applied the polish, it was quick and easy to do and the impact was amazing. Almost instantly scratches appeared to disappear and the colours were restored.
A photograph taken in 2005, which clearly illustrates the difference an application of Renapur polish can make to the appearance of a kayak.
Once the kayak was on the water the droplets glistened in the sunlight, it was just like paddling a new kayak. The great thing is that it only takes a matter of minutes to re-apply the polish, therefore it can be repeated on a regular basis ensuring that your precious kayak maintains its perfect looks.
Paddling around Nordkapp in August 1986. At this point the kayak was just over 12 months old. There has been a lot of water under the hull since then.
The Nordkapp on a beach in Greenland in 1993, still looking pretty good.
The freshly polished front deck. Unfortunately it wasn’t sunny, if it had been the water droplets would be sparkling. This was taken today returning to Jersey from the Ecrehous.
The product is “Renapur Leather Balsam”. Forget your shoes apply it to your kayak!