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.
The Jersey Canoe Club was formed towards the end of 1974, when a group of us got together. We had been paddling for a number of years, sometimes together and at other times in our small geographic groups. Most of us were too young to drive to be able to meet up regularly!
On August Bank Holiday 1974 we arranged a trip to the Ecrehous, a stunning beautiful reef of rocks between Jersey and France, which 44 years on is still my favourite one day paddle. For the first few years the Club was homeless, meeting at Highland’s College every Sunday morning before heading off to paddle a section of Jersey’s varied coastline. Thursday evenings during the summer months was always from St Helier Harbour, meeting at the Old Lifeboat Slip before heading off around Elizabeth Castle or the Dog’s Nest.
In the early 1980’s we found our first premises, a building behind the La Folie Inn, which we shared with a couple of other watersports clubs. It sounded a good idea but didn’t really work out, largely because no one Club seemed to have the overall responsibility for the building. So after a few years it fell into disuse.
Over the next few years there were a number of possible projects, at one point we had architects plans drawn up for a specific Club house at a potential site close to the water in St Helier. Unfortunately the Club was unable to negotiate a long enough lease on the land, so that project never moved forward.
In 1991 the Jersey Canoe Club was fortunate to be offered the original lifeboat station at St Catherine’s, an opportunity which was eagerly taken up. The building was, in many ways, in the perfect location. Sheltered from the prevailing winds and because of the slipway there is relatively easy access to the water at all stages of the tide.
In the last 27 years the Club house as been used in a number of different ways. The first Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium was based there in 1992 and then every 2 years up until 2010. During those 10 events many people who are internationally known in the kayaking world used the building. People such as Derek Hutchinson, Frank Goodman, Chris Hare, Scott Cunningham, John Heath, Gordon Brown, Howard Jeffs and Duncan Winning, to name just a few.
The building has also seen numerous training and coaching weekends right up to the highest level. In the early 1990’s I was able to run a modular Level 5 Coach course, over 5 weekends and coaches who came to assist in the course included Franco Ferrero ( a Jersey boy), Graham Wardle, Kevin Danforth, Dave Collins and Dennis Ball. In addition there were numerous other training courses at all levels. Plus every Christmas Day morning hardy members of the Club with family and friends meet for the swim at 11.00, followed by mince pies and mulled wine.
This year marks the 28th year that the Club will be holding its training sessions at St Catherine’s on a Tuesday night. During that time hundreds, possibly even several thousand people have been able to enjoy sea kayaking, using the Club House as a focus for the activities. To mark this continued use it was decided to refurbish the upstairs in the expectation of encouraging even greater use by the members of the Jersey Canoe Club.
It was decided to run the Sunday morning session from St Catherine’s, not an area of the Island that we use that frequently for Sunday morning paddles in the winter. It is 2018, so we should have known that there was going to be a gale forecast, it might just be me but this winter seems incredibly windy. With the forecast, St Catherine’s was actually quite a sensible choice. In addition it would be a perfect opportunity to show the Club members the improvements upstairs.
The transformation of the Club House is a result of the hard work of Janet Taylor and her efforts were really appreciated by those people who turned up, either for the paddling or for the cake and coffee afterwards.
Today was a paddle of contrasts, at times sunny and flat calm whilst at other times we were battered by hail. All this against the historical backdrop of Jersey’s east coast. 16 members braved the conditions and we all completed 7 miles towards the British Canoeing Winter Challenge. At the present the Jersey Canoe Club lies in second place but we have struggled to get the miles in this year because it has been so consistently windy.
Jersey has some great cycle routes but not that many which are exclusively dedicated to two wheels. There is the classic St Helier to Corbiere cycle path whilst from St Helier heading east the coverage is very patchy. In the last few months there is a new kid on the block, in the form of St Peter’s Valley Cycle Path.
Completed at a cost of approximately £1.77 million it is clear that there would be a degree of disquiet from certain sections of the Island community. The usual statements that the money could be better spent elsewhere with very little consideration given to the benefits, to both residents and visitors, provided by such a facility.
It has taken some time for all the pieces to be joined together but we have now is an excellent facility for locals and visitors alike. Providing a fast and safe way from from the south coast to the north west parishes.
You leave the cycle path along the front from St Helier to St Aubins just before Beaumont, if you are heading west. There is a small car park (actually known as Le Perquage car park) and a pelican crossing, which gives access to the start of the cycle route.
The first section follows the long established Perquage path, which can be rather damp at times. At Sandybrook there is a couple of hundred metres along the road before reaching the new cycle path as it comes down St Peter’s Valley, close to Tesson Mill. This is one of the few remaining mills on the island and there has probably been a mill at this site since the 11th century. the present building was built in 1831 and it was purchased by the Jersey National Trust in 1996. Although part of the building has been converted into residential properties some of the main industrial elements have been retained and are open to the public in summer on Monday and Tuesday 10.00-4.00.
The red tarmac route starts to wind its way through the valley, following the route of the stream, which in the summer is barely noticeable but can become quite a torrent during the winter months. Pretty quickly you arrive at the only working mill which is left on the island, Le Moulin de Quetivel, also owned by the National Trust for Jersey. The mill was briefly brought back into use during the German occupation, after which it fell into disrepair, it was restored in 1976 and now is open to visitors during the summer months.
Ahead lies the Vic in the Valley pub where refreshments and and drinks are available, a small link route takes you from the main cycle track to the pub.
The path continues its way up the valley, with a number of interesting footpaths leading off to the west. A potential activity for exercising your legs in a different way to cycling. Eventually the path comes to a stop at the main St Peter’s Valley road. It is necessary to cross the road and drop down a small road to the left before reaching one of the most interesting sections of the whole route.
It is largely an elevated section with lovely views across the small reservoir, on which there are normally a number of interesting birds.
The cycle route comes to an end but a little bit of searching will lead to a small isolated valley, which will allow you to continue cycling towards St Mary’s Church. From here there are numerous options where to go next. Following one of the excellent numbered cycle routes from Visit Jersey, or designing your own journey along the numerous small lanes, which are found in the area.
During my ride through the February sunshine I was amazed at the variety of birds I encountered en route. The Brent Geese, were grazing on Goose Green Marsh and as I cycled up the valley I saw a grey heron, buzzard, marsh harrier, little grebe and little egret, whilst heard a water rail calling close the northern reservoir. These were just a few of the many species I saw in just a few miles.
The St Peter’s Valley cycle route is a valuable asset to the cycling portfolio in Jersey, a lovely surface to ride on, taking you through some of the finest scenery in Jersey’s heartland.
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.
For what seemed like the first time in months the Sunday morning session of the Jersey Canoe Club took place in some bright February sunshine, although the temperature was modified by the strong north easterly wind. 11 of us paddled out from St Brelade’s heading towards Corbiere, the granite cliffs looking particularly stunning.
Although Corbiere was our destination, as we approached the south west corner it was clear that with the amount of water moving, due to the Spring tides, and the westerly swell, that we might need to cut our journey short. We didn’t really want an unplanned journey to Sark.
Close to the causeway, at Corbiere, a plaque commemorates the attempts of Peter Edwin Larbalestier, an assistant keeper of the lighthouse, who was drowned on 28 May 1946, while trying to rescue a visitor cut off by the incoming tide, who also lost her life. Many years ago I was landing on the slipway at Corbiere, after a Club session on a Thursday evening. I noticed the plaque and said to one of the people who was with us, “that’s funny you have the same name as the lighthouse keeper who drowned” his reply was “that’s not surprising he was my uncle and I am named after him”.
In the Corbiere Phare Restaurant there is a photograph of Peter Edwin Larbalestier, in his lighthouse keepers uniform. The likeness to Peter Larbalestier is really quite amazing. Sadly Peter from the Canoe Club passed away a few years ago but every time we look at the photograph of his uncle we are reminded of the good times we had with Peter kayaking.
The paddle back to St Brelade’s against the wind and tide was a bit challenging in places but that was largely irrelevant as we enjoyed our first sunny Sunday morning paddle of 2018.
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.
For what seems like the first time in months we were able to have our midweek kayaking day trip off the south west corner of the Island. There have been numerous strong wind warnings this year, issued by Jersey Met, most of them appearing to involve some south westerly involvement. The consequence of this is that day trips, along the south coast have been few and far between recently. Fortunately today’s forecast allowed us the paddle from Belcroute to Corbiere and return.
It was just a few hardy members of the Jersey Canoe Club who congregated at Belcroute on Tuesday morning. Many of the regular attendees of the mid week day trip were off Island or unavailable this week. The aim was to use the last of the ebb as it flowed west, towards Corbiere, with the added assistance of the light north easterly wind. Amazingly as the tide turned and the east flowing stream started the wind also went around to the south west. It’s not often that you get both wind and tide with in both directions on a day trip. We were certainly getting our monies worth from environmental factors.
From Belcroute it was an easy run south to Noirmont Point, clearly identified by its black and white, early 19th century military tower. Although it wasn’t easily visible today because of the low cloud/fog. We used the last couple of hours of the tidal flow to assist our run towards Corbiere. This section of coast has to be one of my favourite lengths of the islands coastline, it is where I gained my original kayaking experience, starting in 1969.
It is normally a blaze of colour, the blue sea, red granite and green vegetation complementing each other but today the overwhelming colour was grey.
It was just a delight to be on the water without having to battle wind and waves, which have been our constant companions for the last few months. Corbiere was our turning point, the iconic lighthouse was first lit on the 24th April 1874 and over the years has been the scene of a number of dramatic rescues.
Lunch was on the small beach below the Highlands Hotel, before we took advantage of the easterly flowing tide and south westerly wind to assist our return. Overall we paddled just over 11 miles each, assisting Jersey Canoe Club’s entry into the British Canoeing Winter Challenge. Taking the Clubs combined mileage since the 1st December to just over 2,000 miles, a significant total considering the weather and the fact that because of geography we are limited to paddling on the sea.
I have written more information on the route between Belcroute and Corbiere elsewhere on the SeaPaddler site, so take a look for further ideas on places to paddle.
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.
The final paddle of 2017, for the Jersey Canoe Club, was from Bouley Bay. Once again the possible venues had been severely restricted due to the very unsettled weather. As it happened our time on the water coincided with a slight reduction in the wind speed, but this was due to luck rather than judgement.
In contrast to most Club paddles we decided to paddle in the small kayaks, as opposed to the normal sea kayaks. Heading west, initially, we reached the small Canoe Club cottage at Egypt and the headland at Belle Hougue. As soon as we arrived at the headland we started to feel the impact of the rather large swell, which was arriving from the west.
Returning back to Bouley Bay, we made a slight detour to try and see the remains of the ship, Ribbledale, which was wrecked on the rocks, just after Christmas 1926. Due to the swell it wasn’t possible to approach that close to the remains.
It was another grey day, the 12th in a row, if my memory serves me correctly. Although it was a very entertaining final paddle for 2017 lets hope that 2018 brings an improvement in the weather.