2019 sees some particularly large Spring Tides, offering the opportunity for some rather exciting kayaking. The February tides coincided with a large swell, which presented its own challenges. The swell certainly created some interest during the course of the day but at least the decision to leave from Archirondel meant that we had a relatively quite start and finish to our paddle of north coast speed.
We paddled past the distinctive red and white tower, built in 1792 before hitting the main flow of the ebbing tide. We were on our way.
Our target for lunch was a small beach just to the east of Ronez, we knew that we would be able to land there almost regardless of the size of the swell. In fact we had eaten there a few weeks previously on another day with a large swell. We arrived off Ronez in less than 2 hours. So the options were a 3 hour lunch break, whilst we waited for the tide to turn, or head a bit further along the coast. We chose the second option and carried on towards Plemont, the next place we knew for certain we could land.
As we left Tour de Rozel, the influence of a large spring tide, was having a distinct impact. The figures on the GPS, were gradually creeping upwards. As we approached La Coupe, the north east corner of the Island we touched just over 10 knots, fairly surprising as we weren’t putting too much effort into our forward paddling.
The tide swept us onto St Catherine’s and into Archirondel. We have covered 24 nautical miles during the day but I can’t remember a time when a paddle of that distance had felt so easy.
Located to the north of Greve de Lecq, the Pierres de Lecq are better know by their other name the Paternosters. Small boats frequently pass by although people rarely land. I first visited the reef in 1979 and on every subsequent visit we have had the reef to ourselves.
Visits tend to take place on spring tides, in Jersey high water on springs is always in the morning and the evening, meaning that low water is around lunch time. Visits have to take place around low water, otherwise there won’t be anywhere to land. A consequence of going on springs is that the tidal streams will be flowing much faster so an understanding of tidal flows is necessary.
We headed east towards Sorel point as we were going to allow the tide to sweep us back to the west for what we hoped would be our arrival at the Paternoster’s. This wind and wave swept reef is formed from gneiss, a type of rock absent from the main land mass of Jersey. At high water there is virtually nowhere to land so it is best to arrive at mid tide on the ebb, which just happens to mean that you will be the crossing towards maximum rate. This always adds to the entertainment.
The Pierres de Lecq have become known as the Paternosters due to a legend linked to the settlement of Sark by some families from the parish of St Ouen in Jersey, in the 16th century. One of the boats was wrecked en route to Sark, with the women and children drowning. At times it is said that their cries can still be heard in the wind and so it became a tradition for fishermen passing by to say a Lords Prayer. On the day of our visit the only sound was the call of oystercatchers and herring gulls.
Although only a few miles from Jersey the reefs have truly remote and wild feel. All too soon though it was time to head back to the mainland. We used the flooding tide to carry us towards Plemont headland, the speed over the ground rarely dropped below 7 knots before returning along the coast back to Greve de Lecq.
Overall we only paddled about 9 nautical miles but what quality, any visit to the Paternosters or the Pierres de Lecq makes you feel that you have visited somewhere special.
The low cloud, mist and drizzle, which has been a constant since Wednesday morning continued over the weekend. Despite the gloom we did manage 2 north coast paddles.
On Saturday we headed west from Bonne Nuit along to Sorel and on the Sunday we headed east from Greve de Lecq towards Sorel. We are hoping for a bit of sunshine over the next week or so (although its not looking that likely) but in spite of the weather we had a couple of good sea kayaking trips on the two days before Christmas.
Whilst looking through some of my old slides I came across this one, which represents an interesting time in the evolution of modern kayak equipment, in particular dry suits.
It was taken in November 1982 on the beach at Greve de Lecq in Jersey. It was an unusually cold day, note the snow on the front of the kayak. I am the one in the paddling equipment, if you weren’t sure.
Wind surfing was becoming popular and a number of the participants were wearing this new clothing, a dry suit, prior to this evolution the dry suits were very basic items of equipment. We were fortunate enough to be lent a dry suit to try out.
One of the main concerns, which was doing the round of the paddling community was that in the event of a capsize, if the dry suit hadn’t been vented properly it was likely that the feet would fill with air and the kayaker would be suspended upside down. My role, no pun intended, in this exercise was to paddle offshore, do a couple of rolls before capsizing and hopefully swimming ashore with my head above water.
As I am writing this 35 years later it is clear that being suspended upside down with your feet full of air was an urban myth. So based on this rather unscientific experiment we ordered 6 dry suits and 7 months later flew out to Spitsbergen for a 2 month trip. As far as I am aware we were one of the first sea kayaking trips to use the modern dry suit, an item of equipment, which today is virtually essential for any self respecting sea kayaker.
The evening of Saturday 18th November is the annual dinner of the Jersey Club Club at the Prince of Wales, Greve de Lecq. A number of us decided to stay the night and so to take full advantage of the area we decided that an afternoon’s coasteering out to the Octopus Pool was in order.
The Octopus Pool is one of those places where generations of young people have gained experience of exploring the coast line of Jersey, jumping into rock pools and scrambling through caves. Over the last few years it has become increasingly popular with commercial groups. During the summer months it has probably reached full capacity on some days but on a Saturday in November we were fairly certain of having the place to ourselves.
Greve de Lecq is a popular venue with the Jersey Canoe Club because of the quality of the sea kayaking which is easily accessible but today the focus was on rock scrambling and swimming as opposed to paddling.
A great afternoon’s sport setting us up for a good annual dinner.
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.
By default I found myself arranging the Jersey Canoe Club Sunday morning session. Considering tide and weather I chose Greve de Lecq, a delightful beach on the north west corner of the Island. In actual fact it would have been possible to go almost anywhere but I hadn’t been from Greve for some time, a fact which helped to influence my decision.
You are spoilt for choice at Greve de Lecq, heading east and west there are sections of cliff, interspersed with numerous caves whilst to the north are the Paternoster’s, one of the reefs which are located around Jersey. Today there were some large clouds around with the possibility of thunderstorms so we selected the coastal option, heading east.
The great thing about this section of coast is that almost immediately there are numerous caves waiting to be explored and today the lack of any significant swell meant that we could wander almost anywhere.
Besides the caves there are numerous narrow channels waiting to be explored. Just over a mile to the east of Greve de Lecq is Ile Agois, one of the most dramatic physical features on the Island. Separated from the headland by a narrow channel the surrounding cliffs produce an almost totally isolated stack. Excavations in the 1950’s and 70’s of the summit area uncovered a significant amount of iron age pottery, plus the remnants of some small huts. It might also have provided sanctuary for a small community of monks. It is likely at that time the stack was joined to the headland, otherwise it would have been a very challenging place to survive.
I have fond memories of paddling in this area in the 1980’s with Derek Hutchinson, who at the time was probably the best known sea kayaker in the world with his televised expeditions as well as his crossing of the North Sea by kayak in 1976, when on a 31 hour paddle they were out of sight of land for 30 hours.
To the east of Ile Agois is another significant coastal feature, Devil’s Hole. The scene of a shipwreck in 1851, when the French cutter, Josephine, ran aground. One of the crew was drowned whilst the other 4 were rescued by Nicolas Arthur, the owner of The Priory Inn at the top of cliffs, plus a friend. The figurehead from the ship was washed into the bottom of Devil’s Hole, from where it was rescued, before being carved into the shape of the Devil, before being put on display, hence its name.
Before returning to Greve de Lecq we explored the narrow channels towards Sorel, coming across the rather strange breathing rock. A couple of hours on a Sunday morning is a great time to explore the Islands coastline with the Jersey Canoe Club and today didn’t disappoint.
Le Catel de Lecq is an iron age hill which dominates the headland to the east of Greve de Lecq, possibly the finest beach for sea kayaking on the north coast of Jersey. I must have paddled past it hundreds of times, in addition to passing by numerous times on the landward side. It wasn’t until this week though that I made the effort to climb to the summit.
It was well worth visiting it as it is one of the best preserved defensive earthworks on the Island. In recent months the defenses have been improved with the introduction of a number of very inquisitive Manx four horned sheep, so if visiting ensure that the gate is firmly closed.
The Paternoster’s are a wild reef nearly 3 miles off the north coast of Jersey which is always an interesting place to visit. Sunday morning’s forecast couldn’t have been more co-operative with a light southerly breeze to blow us out and then dropping off, with the sun coming out.
It was a slightly longer Sunday morning paddle for the Jersey Canoe Club than usual and it did involve taking sandwiches but it was well worth the effort. It is strange that we were only out for 5 hours in total but after a visit to the Paternoster’s you always feel as if you have had a break from the island.
The Paternosters are just visible, with Sark on the horizon beyond
Nicky and Kate leaving the north coast. Sorel lighthouse is just visible on the headland behind the kayaks.
Just approaching Great Rock from the north, landing would probably have been impossible an hour earlier due to the swell but the ebbing tide had produced some relatively sheltered areas in the reef.
Looking south west from the summit of Great Rock. Grosnez is the obvious headland behind. There is a great jump into the sea from just near here but with the temperatures that we were experiencing it was sensible to remain dry.
The view north. Sark is visible on the horizon. We had great memories of a delightful paddle back from Sark earlier in the summer.
Paul crossing one of the tidal flows, which contribute to making paddling at the Paternoster’s so entertaining. We were going to use some of the flow from this current to head towards Plemont headland before following the coast back to Greve de Lecq.
Just under 3 miles north of Greve de Lecq lie the Paternosters, a reef which for many sea kayakers offers their first opportunity for heading offshore. Although the tidal streams can run with surprising speed towards low water the crossing can be reasonably direct and straightforward, which is what we had planned for today. Leaving just before low water slack and hopefully taking a fairly direct route.
At high water only four summits are left protruding from the swirling waters but at low tide an extensive reef is uncovered. Great Rock, which is ten metres high and Sharp Rock, four metres high, are the largest rocks and are situated in the middle of the bank. Our plan was to have a drink and some food on the north side of Great Rock in the weak winter sunshine, taking advantage of a lull in the wind before the possible gales arrived in early evening.
The origin of their name is said to be due to a ship on its way to Sark, in the 16th century, striking one of the rocks and a number of women and children drowning. As a result it became common practice for fishermen to say a Pater Noster or a prayer as they passed close to the reef. Although they have two names it is the Paternosters that has been accepted into everyday use. A more recent ship wreck occurred on the 16th September 1961. A Dutch owned vessel, the Heron was en route to Portsmouth when it sank, with the loss of 3 lives. The wreck lies in about 30 metres of water to the south of the reef.