Salina – sea kayaking in the Aeolian Islands

Salina is the final island of our Aeolian Islands adventure. The crossing from Lipari to Salina is only a couple of miles but it is across waters busy with commercial traffic so it is important to be aware of the passage of the ferries and their intended routes.  They are fast and frequent so always be aware when crossing possible routes, if in doubt stop and allow them to pass.  We did have relatively close encounters with a couple of ferries on our crossing but the main distraction were the dolphins heading south.   As a group stay close together, it is easier for you to be seen.
We headed up the west coast in virtually perfect conditions, warm October sunshine and virtually no wind.  Stopping for an early lunch on the beach at Rinella, we took advantage of the warm water for a pre-lunch swim.  What was surprising was just how many ferries entered the harbour, for such a small town.  In little more than an hour this small village saw more ferries visit than Jersey in a whole day.

Salina
Approaching Rinella.with the dramatic cone of Monte dei Porri rising behind, rising up to 860 metres
Salina
Kayaks on the beach at Rinella. A lovely village for lunch and a swim.

As we headed up the north west coast of the island we witnessed one of the most memorable bird sights I have seen in a long time.   Numerous Eleonora’s Falcons were flying along the towering cliffs.  At times we reckoned that there were up to 30 birds flying overhead, and this was a spectacle that lasted for several miles.  It was impossible, therefore, to work out just how many of these amazing birds we saw.
The opportunity to watch Eleonora’s Falcons is one of the real pleasures of kayaking around some Mediterranean islands.  Nesting on sea cliffs they delay their breeding until the autumn so that they are able to take advantage of the southerly autumn migration.  Catching the smaller migrating birds to feed to their young.  Eleonora’s Falcons, themselves, then migrate heading across Africa to Madagascar for the winter. Superb fliers, it is always a thrill to see them cruising along the sea cliffs and this day was without doubt the best display I have ever seen.

Salina
The slopes rose steeply out of the sea for hundreds of metres. Above were numerous Eleonora’s Falcons.
Salin
The west and north coasts of Salina have some dramatic coastal scenery, some of which are only accessible by kayak.

This was probably the hottest day we spent on the water, whilst in the Aeolian Islands and at times it was refreshing to paddle underneath the cliffs, in search of shade.  The paddle around Salina from Lipari also turned into our longest distance, with 17 nautical miles covered. Our destination for the day was the main port on the island, at Santa Marina, as we had a ferry to catch.
Landing on the beach, just north of the harbour, on the east coast of Salina, we could see that we were less than 100 metres from the ferry ramp.  A relatively straightforward carry, as we waited for the car ferry, which was going to take us to Stromboli.  A relaxing beer and snack were enjoyed, whilst watching over the kayaks.  As the ferry approached, it was the large ferry which operates the overnight service to Naples, we moved a couple of the kayaks close to the ferry ramp.  My Italian is almost non-existent, but I eventually worked out from some passerby that the ferry was arriving on a different ramp to the one we were standing on.
What followed was the most exhausting 15 minutes of the whole trip, as we had to carry 9 fully loaded kayaks, 8 singles and a double, several hundred metres through the crowds on the waterfront.  Alex, in his usual style was not optimistic about making the ferry, Janet was saying that she would stand on the ramp and I was convinced that we would make it, but only just.  As it turned out we had plenty of time but it was 10 very sweaty kayakers who eventually settled down in the bar, for the 3 hour crossing to Stromboli.  As we sipped our drinks and tried to get our heart rates back to normal we were blissfully unaware that the following day we were going to experience some of the most dramatic sea kayaking of our lives.

Salina
Finally on the ferry. Stromboli in the distance with Panerea in the foreground.

Stromboli

The volcanic cone, of Stromboli, rising from the sea floor of the Mediterranean, dominates many of the seascapes of the Aeolian Islands. It is the volcano of children’s picture books.  We approached the island on the car ferry from Salina, calling at the small village of Ginsotra before carrying on to the main settlement at San Vincenzo. Today’s population of about 500 is significantly lower than the several thousand people who lived on the island at the end of the 19th century.
After an early breakfast, and a quick glance at the warning signs regarding tsunamis we headed around the island in a clockwise direction.  Agnes, our guide and friend from Planete Kayak, knows the area well and proved to be an ideal leader, sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for the area.

Stromboli
When you see signs like this you know that you are in an earthquake prone area.
Stromboli
Sorting equipment on the beach on Stromboli, whilst the volcano towers above.
Stromboli
Ash flows indicate the continued active nature of the volcano.

Onto the west coast we reached the small village of Ginostra.  About 40 people live year round in this small village with the only reasonable means of access being by boat.  The small harbour is supposed to be one of the smallest in the world although a larger one for the ferries was constructed in 2004.

Stromboli
Ginostra harbour, reputed to be one of the smallest in the world.
Stromboli
A solar powered boat winch in the small habour at Gionstra.  Solar power is the only source of electricity in this small, isolated village.

Leaving the harbour we turned north and approached one of the most amazing physical spectacles I have seen anywhere.

Stromboli
Sciara del Fuoco, a slope of ash and lava, rising nearly 900 metres from the sea. Although the sun was really in completely the wrong place to take reasonable photographs you couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the slope.
Stromboli.
Fairly recent lava flows at the northern end of Sciara del Fuoco

We continued our circumnavigation of the Island, landing back at the harbour, prior to catching the early morning car ferry back to Vulcano.  What is certain is that Stromboli is one of the most dramatic places that I have ever paddled and feel certain that I will return at some point in the future.

Stromboli
Leaving Stromboli on the ferry for Vulcano. We hastily left the ferry on Lipari, when the winds prevented the ferry docking on Volcano.

Lipari (part1) – Italian Sea Kayaking

From Vulcano we crossed the narrow channel to Lipari, our plan was to paddle north along the west coast and return south down the east coast later in the week. It seemed like a good plan, which worked, although not in the way that we intended as it actually involved rapid disembarkation from a car ferry.
The channel across from Vulcano is only a few hundred metres wide but does require a degree of caution when crossing.  It is regularly used by the high speed ferries which connect the various islands in the group. Both times we crossed we encountered ferries which necessitated in changes in direction. Approaching the south west corner of the island is like paddling onto the pages of a geography textbook.  Caves, arches and stacks all positioned in the order, which is depicted in the diagrams shown in geography books.

Lipari
Approaching the south west corner of Lipari, with its dramatic collection of caves, arches and stacks.
Lipari
Paddling through the arch which splits the large stack, Pietralunga, of the south west corner of the island.

There is one large beach on the west coast of the island, Spiaggia Valle Muria, with a small bar/cafe in a cave, which appears to have rather erratic opening times.  The remainder of the coast is a playground for the sea kayaker.   There were numerous geographical features waiting to be explored, which we took full advantage of, whilst en route to Salinas.
The east coast of Lipari, wasn’t necessarily on our agenda but a forecast of particularly strong winds encouraged us to book the ferry from Stromboli back to Vulcano.  Unfortunately the wind was stronger than forecast, which prevented the ferry docking at Vulcano.  Suddenly we were forced to abandon ship in Lipari Town.

Lipari
Unable to continue to Vulcano, on the ferry, because of the strength of the wind. We suddenly found ourselves having to make alternative plans on the harbour side.
Lipari
Looking south from the walls of the citadel.  We were to enjoy a cold beer on the harbour side later.

Our unexpected arrival allowed us plenty of time to explore Lipari Town. It is the largest settlement in the Aeolian Islands.  We were able to settle into our guest house, the Villa Rosa, a great find right on the waterfront.  The citadel proved to be an essential visit.  Walking around the narrow lanes and courtyards it was hard to imagine that Mussolini used the area to contain political prisoners.
The forecast for the following day was for lighter winds so we anticipated being able to paddle the east coast before crossing to Vulcano.

Vulcano – first experience of Aeolian Islands

Arriving on the ferry, at Vulcano, the first thing to strike you is the sulphurous smell, indicating that you have arrived on a volcanic island. The smoking crater, rising above Porto di Levante provides further evidence of geological activity in the area. The ancient Romans believed that the volcano was the chimney of the fire god, Vulcan.
The crater rises to a height of 391 metres and a walk around its rim should be on the tick list of anybody visiting the island, which is the closest of the Aeolian Islands, to mainland Sicily. Although I am fascinated by physical geography, the reason for our visit was to rent kayaks from Sicily in Kayak at the start of a 7 day paddle around the islands. As we disembarked the owner Eugenio was waiting with his distinctive yellow mini bus to transport us round the start of our journey, just in front of his premises.
After the usual delay as equipment was sorted, kayaks packed and provisions purchased we were were soon heading south along the east coast of the island.  Whilst packing we became aware of one of the more intrusive aspects of life on Vulcano, mosquitoes.  Some of the group reacting more than others, but everybody was finding them surprisingly active, if visiting be prepared.

Vulcano
Paddling through an arch on the east coast of Vulcano. Stromboli is just discernible in the distance.
Vulcano
The statue of the Little Mermaid, close to Punta Roia on the east coast.

The slopes drop steeply into the Mediterranean Sea, although in places there appeared to be signs of some old terracing.  Ahead we could see the north coast of Sicily but what was really attracting our attention was the view towards the other islands, particularly Stromboli with a plume of gases rising steadily from its summit.  There is virtually no access to the east coast, with the first easy landing being Spiaggia Cannitello, on the south coast.  There was a bar, restaurant, sun beds etc but absolutely no sign of human activity.

Vulcano
The old lighthouse, just to the west of Gelso on the south coast.

The were a few people fishing off the jetty at the small port of Gelso then we were on our own again along the west coast of the island.  There are a number of amazing caves along this stretch of coast, including the Grotta del Cavallo, which is big enough to accommodate tourist boats.  As kayakers we will probably want to explore some of the smaller caves, which are just waiting to be discovered by the inquisitive paddlers.

Vulcano
On the west coast of the island there are some spectacular caves waiting to be explored.
Vulcano
West coast paddling scenery.
Vulcano
The black sand of the Spiaggia Sabina Nera, just to the west of the town.

Just before reaching Vulcanello are the black sands of Spiaggia Sabina Nera, its probably easy to identify because of the number of yachts at anchor in the bay.  There is a bar on the beach but it is a relatively short walk across the isthmus to the port area where there are more options for food and drink.  The isthmus was created in 1550, the last eruption of Vulcanello, which constitutes the northern part of the island.  Vulcanello appeared in 183 B.C. following some underwater eruptions. From the north coast of Vulcanello it is a relatively short crossing to Lipari or you could follow the coast back to harbour and your departure point.
Which ever option you chose you won’t be disappointed Vulcano is a pretty dramatic sea kayaking destination.  We were out for 7 days so our interest lay to the north and some truly spectacular kayaking.

Vulcano
Looking across to Vulcano from Lipari. The crater rim is clearly visible.  Paddling through the stacks was particularly memorable.

Short kayaks from Bonne Nuit

It was a distinct change today to paddle a short kayak, rather than the normal sea kayak. We launched from Bonne Nuit, one of the small bays on the north coast of Jersey.  Bonne Nuit is one of those bays which gives easy access to relatively deep water.
We paddled out of the small harbour which was built in 1872, to provide shelter for the local fishing fleet as well as providing a place for the export of stone from Mont Mado quarry which is located on the hillside above, whilst trying to avoid the fishing lines of the people above.
One of the more unusual aspects of today’s paddle was the size of the tide, there was only 3.4 metres of difference between high and low water. In a weeks time the height difference will have increased to 10.1 metres.  This meant that there was very little water moving so instead of searching for tide races we looked for rock gardens and swell.
Paddling short kayaks has a positive impact on our skill levels. Their manoeuvrability and lack of directional stability forces you to concentrate on improving your kayak handling and in particular the ability to paddle in a straight line. This can only be beneficial when transferred to the more usual sea kayaks that we paddle.

Bonne Nuit
Generally the swell was quite manageable which meant that there was plenty of time for woking on skills as opposed to trying to stay upright.
Bonne Nuit
There were plenty of gullies waiting to be explored some with entertaining flows. This section of coast changes significantly depending upon the state of the tide.
Bonne Nuit
Even more opportunity to work on skills.
Bonne Nuit
The blow hole near Wolf’s Caves was working quite nicely this morning.

Greve de Lecq – what a difference a week makes

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.

Swell
Leaving the beach was all about timing and the assistance of a couple of other paddlers. The important thing was to make sure that you weren’t the last person to leave the beach!

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.

Swell
In places the swell was breaking some way up the cliffs. It was clearly somewhere that you didn’t want to be caught out.
Swell
There was not going to be any paddling through the arch on Ile Agois today. What a contrast to 7 days earlier.

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.

Swell
John making it out through the waves off Sorel.
Swell
Heading back to Greve, we kept well offshore. A couple of large sets of waves did pass by on their way to the cliffs. Jim from Manchester Canoe Club, clearly enjoying himself despite the rain just starting.

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.

Jersey’s North Coast with Manchester CC.

Attracting canoeing and kayaking Club’s to paddle in Jersey has always proved a challenge. The concept of flying to a weekend’s paddling has been difficult to promote, although over the years Tower Hamlets Canoe Club have become annual visitors. This year at the Spanish Sea Kayak Symposium we fell into conversation with Jim Krawiecki and suggested that a group from Manchester flew south to warmer waters and experienced some of the paddling which Jersey has to offer.
After a quick paddle along the south coast yesterday using equipment courtesy of Absolute Adventures, today’ s focus switched to the north coast of the island. Meeting at St Catherine’s, were the Jersey Canoe Club has its premises, the plan was to head west on the ebbing Spring Tide before returning back to St Catherine’s as the tide started to flood. Along the way we hoped to be able to introduce the Manchester Canoe Club members to the delights of some of the Jersey tide races.
Remaining the tidal flow during the morning, we paddled from point to point, which meant that we were a significant distance offshore. The advantage was that our speed over the ground rarely dropped below 6 knots.  St Catherine’s, La Coupe, Tour de Rozel and Belle Hougue, one point after another, passed quickly.

Jersey
Paddling around the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater, some tide was still running north, contributing to our 7 knots over the ground.
Jersey
Passing White Rock on the ebb. On the return the tidal race would be running and the water would be slightly more entertaining!
Belle Hougue
There was still some movement off Belle Hougue, our final headland before lunch at Bonne Nuit. Sark is just visible behind the paddler.

Lunch was on the beach at Bonne Nuit.  The last of the ebb tide was still flowing west when we started our return paddle so we stayed close to the shore initially, passing things that we missed whilst heading in the opposite direction.

Jersey
Remains of the ship SS Ribbledale, which was wrecked on the 27th December 1926, whilst en route from London to Jersey.  This is visible just to the east of the beach at Bouley Bay at low water on Spring Tides.
Jersey
As the tide drops some isolated beaches appear around the coast of Jersey.

Our final play of the day was in the moving water at Tour de Rozel before we jumped on the tide and hitched a free ride back to St Catherine’s.  Sprinting off La Coupe we managed to reach 8.3 knots over the ground, not a bad speed on what was supposed to be a relaxing days paddle,  introducing some of the members of Manchester Canoe Club to the variety of sea kayaking that Jersey has to offer.

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.

Greve de Lecq: always enjoyable

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.

Greve de Lecq
On the beach at Greve de Lecq. Substantial clouds.offering the prospect of lightning are visible to the north.  We were deciding whether to head east or west.

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.

Greve de Lecq
This is one of the longest caves that I am aware of anywhere on the Island. At this point I was probably only a third of the way in.

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.

Greve de Lecq
Looking north from inside Ile Agois. The remains of the small settlement are to the right of the highest point.
Derek Hutchinson
The back cover of “The Complete Book of Sea Kayaking” by Derek Hutchinson. Published in 1994, although the photograph was taken in 1989. It shows Derek on the outside of the obvious arch, which cuts through Ile Agois.

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.

Greve de Lecq
Not the view of Devil’s Hole that most visitors get.

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.

 

Ilulissat – the final day

It was all so straightforward.  Paddle out of Pakitsoq, camp on the slabs at Anoritoq, have an evening meal in Oqaatsut and been in Ilulissat in time for lunch.  It just about went to plan apart from the evening meal bit.

Pakitsoq
Leaving the inner part of Pakitsoq. It was pretty important to make sure that we left around slack water.

There was no rush in the morning as our calculations indicated that the best time to pass through the narrows was at around 10.30, on this particular morning high water at Ilulissat was at 09.38.  It turned out that our calculations were pretty accurate and although we needed to do a bit of ferry gliding we escaped into the outer part of the fjord with very little effort.

Iceberg
There were a few intermediate size icebergs around but very little in the way of small ice, which might impede our paddling.
Arch
This large arch caused some concern as it looked pretty unstable.
Collapsed arch
Although there had been a few indications that the arch was unstable it still came as a complete shock when it collapsed. There is no doubt that if you had been paddling underneath it you would have been killed. Total proof that those pictures where you see kayaker’s sitting underneath an arch are completely foolhardy.

Our campsite for the evening was close to the slabs at Anoritoq, which is probably my favourite place to stay along this section of coast.  An easy landing, plenty of flat space for tents, a great stream and a never ending range of glacial features to explore.

Cooking
Sheltering from the wind whilst preparing food. eventually we had to move as the wind increased significantly in speed.
Solar chargers
One of the significant developments in recent years has been the use of more electrical equipment whilst out on trips but the current range of solar chargers means that keeping things topped up is pretty simple. All you need is sunshine.

The following morning the wind was blowing offshore and packing up was put on a temporary hold.  A temporary hold, which stretched in 22 hours.  Bit by bit the wind increased in strength until it was blowing offshore at about 50 mph.  There was clearly no way we were paddling in those conditions.
The consequence was that we had to miss out on our stop in Oqaatsut, and were still quite concerned about the possibility of strong winds but when we got up at 05.00 the storm of the day before had abated, so in perfectly calm conditions we headed south for the 13 miles back to Ilulissat.

Heading to Ilulissat
On the final day of our 19 day trip we woke to calm conditions and limited ice so we made quick progress towards our final destination, Ilulissat.

Landing just after 11.00, we unloaded our kayaks for the final time, we had been out for 19 days.  At times strong winds created challenging conditions but our journey through northern Disko Bay had been truly memorable.