As many of you are aware the Ecrehous is one of my favourite, if not my favourite, sea kayaking destination. Visits to this delightful reef have been covered many times in the life of this blog. To gain a flavour of this small archipelago, approximately 6 nautical miles to the north east of Jersey have a look at some of these posts: Ecrehous Today. Ecrehous Sunshine. Ecrehous – First of the Year. Sunday morning at the Ecrehous.
To mention just a few.
Over the years there have been a number of articles published about the reef, but as far as I am aware only two books in English. The most recent is “Les Ecrehous” by Warwick Rodwell, which was published in 1996 and must be the considered as the definitive study of a small land mass. The information contained within the pages is amazing.
An earlier book was written by P. J. Ouless, “The Ecrehous” and published in 1884. This book contains five plates, which depict the reef in the second half of the 19th century. I thought that it would be interesting to take some modern photographs from roughly the same position to see how the reef has changed over the last 150 years.
So we headed out to get some modern Ecrehous pictures, trying to decide exactly where the earlier pictures were taken wasn’t always easy and clearly we must have had different size lenses! It was certainly an interesting exercise and encouraged us to look at the Ecrehous through new eyes.
This summer as everybody is aware has been perfect for kayaking and we have been fortunate enough to get in a number of paddles to the Ecrehous. The Monday one that I described here, is possibly the most memorable visit that I have ever had to this delightful reef, which lies nearly 6 nautical miles to the north east of Jersey. Some people expressed surprise at as us going to the Ecrehous again (3 times in 10 days) but with light winds and blue skies it is virtually impossible to beat as a sea kayaking destination.
The Ecrehous is a precious eco-system, which needs protecting, it is part of a RAMSAR site but generally people seem to totally respect the uniqueness of the area although at weekends it can appear rather crowded, with boat owners heading to the reef from both Jersey and France in significant numbers. During the week visitor numbers are greatly reduced and for complete isolation try a mid-week visit in January.
It is one of those special places, which deserves to be explored throughout the year so I am more than happy to visit the Ecrehous again and again. It doesn’t matter how often you go there is nearly always something new to be discovered and whatever the weather you are never disappointed.
An evening in Sark is always memorable, we had a superb meal on the terrace at Stock’s Hotel and spent some time taking advantage of the Dark Sky Island status. Staring of the night sky was very productive, shooting stars, satellites and aircraft passing overhead against the backdrop of countless stars. We couldn’t spend too long looking at the night sky though, as our return from Sark the following morning, back to Jersey required quite an early start.
The morning dawned with perfect conditions for kayaking and just after 8.00 we were heading down to Dixcart Bay to pack the kayaks and get on the water. Although a weekend visit to Sark is enjoyable, 3 days is much better. A day to paddle up, a day to paddle around the island and a day to return from Sark. The coastal waters are some of the most dramatic to be encountered anywhere.
This weekend we were only going to be able to explore a short section of the south east coast before we had to turn south and catch the tide back to Jersey. The accepted wisdom has always been to paddle to Sark on spring tides, whilst this weekend they were neap tides. In reality both crossings seemed to pass remarkably easily. The 12 nautical mile return from Sark was paddled in 2 hours 50 minutes, which is a pretty respectable time, perhaps we need to rethink, which tides we select for paddling on when we visit our nearest inhabited neighbour.
In the middle of last week the weather forecast was certainly indicating that a kayaking visit to Sark in July, was a definite possibility. In fact, the forecast only improved as time went on, so on Saturday morning at 11.00 we were busy packing our kayaks at L’Etacq in preparation for the 12 nautical mile crossing.
The tide had just started to flow in a northerly direction and we used this flow to speed our departure from Jersey. Crossings of this length are all about preparation. Tidal vectors drawn in advance, key locations and times identified, followed by constant monitoring whilst on the water.
There was plenty of other boat traffic around, Channel 82, which is the reporting channel for Jersey Coastguard, was continually in use as local and visiting boat owners were taking advantage of the superb weather. Although we were crossing a shipping lane we only encountered one large vessel, we did have to adjust our bearing to avoid a potential near miss with the ship. This slight adjustment to our course, did cost us some time but we were really pleased with the 3 hours that the crossing took.
Sark is a truly superb sea kayaking destination, and a circumnavigation is a superb way to spend a day but this visit didn’t have enough time to explore the Island. So it was a matter of sorting the equipment out on the beach, heading to the campsite before making the most of water Sark has to offer. A meal had been booked at Stocks Hotel, and as usual we were not disappointed.
A great day but an early start was required the next morning to catch the flood tide home.
The Ecrehous are always special but the Ecrehous today was somewhere truly memorable. A paddle which I am sure will remain etched on the memory of those who went, for many years.
Although it was a Monday morning and people have work commitments we still had 5 people from the Jersey Canoe Club meet at St Catherine’s for an 09.30 departure to the Ecrehous. The ability to arrange group paddles at short notice has to be one of the major benefits of WhatsApp groups. This was was to be my first visit to the Ecrehous since February 2018.
What started off as a relatively cloudy morning with the hint of fog gradually transformed into just a perfect day with light winds and wall to wall sunshine. Enough of the rambling lets allow the pictures to describe the Ecrehous today.
As mentioned in an earlier post we were due to paddle around Jersey, with Samuel, to raise money in memory of his dad, who sadly passed away last year. Well yesterday was the day, on which the round Jersey paddle was planned, but the weather decided not to co-operate fully. After days of virtually calm winds, there was the possibility of a force 4, but we were happy to give it a go.
Just after 08.00 we left St Catherine’s and headed along the north coast. With wide and tide with us we made pretty rapid progress, averaging well over 4 knots, Samuel was in the double with Jim, whilst John and myself were in singles. Sections of the coast, which we often spent hours exploring, slipped past quickly. The north west corner, is a particularly spectacular section of coast but no time to appreciate today as ahead lay the broad sweep of St Ouen’s Bay, which we knew would have potential crosswinds. The west coast wasn’t as challenging as we anticipated but as soon as we rounded Corbiere onto the south coast the headwinds kicked in.
The automatic wind broadcast from St Helier Pierheads was a pretty constant 11 knots, gusting 19 knots, although it did reach a rather inconvenient 21 knots of headwind on several occasions. It was a matter of simply putting our heads down, and covering the 8 nautical miles, with the least amount of discomfort possible.
As we headed onto the east coast St Catherine’s Breakwater came back into view so we knew whatever happened we were going to complete the circumnavigation. What had started as a vague plan for Samuel, at Christmas, had developed into reality. The 29 nautical miles were much harder than we anticipated due to the level if the wind but we were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd as we reached the breakwater and Samuel had his moment in the spotlight when he was interviewed by the local television station.
Samuel set out to raise £2,250 and even before we started the paddle he had more than exceed his total, which is great news. To find out more about Samuel’s project take a look at his Just Giving page to see how much he has currently raised.
It was a great day and as experienced sea kayakers John, Jim and myself were just amazed at the amount of effort Samuel put in on the day we paddled round Jersey.
I managed to get out the other day for a couple of hours with a young man named Samuel. This was interesting from a couple of perspectives. Firstly this was the first time that I had been in a closed cockpit kayak since my accident three months ago and secondly it was a chance to get on the water before Samuel’s fund raising paddle in a weeks time.
Samuel spoke to us at Christmas about undertaking a project in memory of his dad who sadly passed away last year. Whilst his dad was ill he set him self the challenge of paddling around Jersey, when he got better. Unfortunately he never managed to complete his challenge and so Samuel has stepped forward to carry the challenge on.
He set himself a realistic fund raising target, which he has already achieved with the pledges that have come in so far but I am certain that when he completes the paddle next week, weather permitting his fund raising total will increase significantly.
At the moment the forecast for next week, although I know it is some time away, is pretty reasonable so we are prettyy optimistic that we will complete the paddle as arranged. If not there are plenty more opportunities before the end of the summer.
There is no doubt in my mind that he will achieve, what is a very worthwhile project, if you would like to support Samuel he has set up a Just Giving page. He might up end up with a few blisters and some numbness in his legs but he will complete the 30 nautical miles, and I estimate in about 7 hours 30 minutes.
Hopefully next week I will be writing about an enjoyable and successful circumnavigation of Jersey.
Whenever there is a period of north easterly winds my mind immediately starts to think about sea kayaking along the cliffs of the north west corner of Jersey, particularly those around Les Landes. Direct exposure to the North Atlantic swell means that at certain times of the year the paddling opportunities in this area are somewhat restricted, but when the swell drops, head to the north west for some of the best kayaking in Jersey.
Although Sunday morning is the usual paddling time for the Jersey Canoe Club, it seemed like too good an oppportunity to miss so we put on an extra session on Saturday morning. We had anticipated being sheltered from the easterly wind but in reality it appeared to be following the contours of the land, resulting in almost no respite. I suppose these things are sent to try us.
Our morning paddle actually proved to be quite entertaining. A slight wind blown chop kept us on our toes but the lack of swell meant we were able to paddle wherever we liked. Caves I probably hadn’t paddled into for 5 or 6 years revealed their secrets whilst we were surrounded by history.
The most recent is the evidence of 20th century German occupation, with guns at the base of the cliffs and bunkers above. Grosnez Castle, a ruined 14th century castle, which was occupied by the French in 1373 and 1381 was visible above our most northerly point. Whilst the oldest features were at the base of Le Pinacle, early Neolithic finds dating back to 4800BC as well as Roman from 200AD.
What is there not like about a Saturday morning with some great paddling set against a varied historical backdrop, followed by a lovely lunch at Jersey Pearl. I can’t wait for the next lull in the North Atlantic swell.
Underneath Grosnez there is this delightful circular inlet, which is normally a boiling cauldron. Today we were able to relax and enjoy the rock architecture.
The Bell Boat is a pretty unique paddling craft, which was designed by former Olympic racing coach David Train. Designed as a crew boat, to encourage co-operation, the Jersey Canoe Club decided to use them as a bit of training before the September Dragon Boat Racing.
Nine metres long, with two separate hulls they can take up to 12 young people and a helm, as none of us fall in the category of young we settled on 8 adults plus myself as helm. First introduced in 1992 we were using the Mk 3 version which has been in production since 2012. We borrowed them from the Air Training Corps, who had purchased them with the help of a grant from the One Foundation.
It is possible to become a qualified Bell Boat Helm with a course through British Canoeing, which was a course I really enjoyed doing a couple of years ago.
Despite the relatively strong north easterly wind we were soon heading towards Beauport, mostly in rhythm with each other, direction controlled by myself as the helm. A nine metre craft doesn’t respond immediately to the subtle changes in the helms oar. It requires some significant planning to ensure the bell boat maintains its course, as well as some appropriately timed group co-ordination.
We followed a circular route around some of the offshore reefs before returning back to St Brelade’s. It was a great evening and no doubt that when we have the next session in a couple of weeks time there will be enough members present to ensure that both of the bell boats can be launched resulting into some friendly racing across the bay.
One of the pleasures of my week is listening to Paddling Adventures Radio, a podcast from Canada. Essentially Sean Rowley and Derek Specht chat about a range of topics related to all aspects of paddle sport. This evenings opening article on people wearing buoyancy aids (PFD’s) got me thinking.
My first buoyancy aid, which I had for Christmas at the end of the 1960’s, was filled with kapok, a vegetable material, which was used in life saving devices in the Second World War. I feel certain that it must have been one of the last buoyancy aids to contain kapok. Towards the end of the 1970’s, most paddlers in the UK were wearing life jackets, which met the specifications of BS 3595. They were designed to support an unconscious person in the water, if the inherent solid buoyancy had been topped up with air.
The only disadvantage, being that they were cumbersome and seriously uncomfortable. As a consequence many paddlers used to carry them under the rear deck elastics as opposed to wearing them on the person. As shown by the photograph of Nicky taken off the Ecrehous, in the summer of 1979. How that contrasts with the photograph taken last summer, off the west coast of Greenland, where everybody is properly equipped.
I can’t remember the last time I paddled to the Ecrehous, with my buoyancy aid under the deck elastics. It must be at least 20 years ago. Putting on a buoyancy aid is now an automatic reaction. The last time I remember consciously not putting on my PFD was on a seriously hot, flat calm day in Baja, when I judged that I was more at risk from heat exhaustion than from an unexpected capsize.
There is no doubt that equipment has improved dramatically over the last 50 years that I have been kayaking and the current buoyancy aids are far more comfortable to wear than their predecessors. So the best advice is to wear it.
Another point to consider is the explosion in paddle sports in recent years, it is rare to be alone on the water nowadays. Mid week in January, on a rainy windy day doesn’t guarantee isolation in 2018.
Regularly whilst out paddling we come across paddlers, particularly on sit on tops, and it is amazing how many of those paddlers aren’t wearing buoyancy aids. What is particularly scary is when you see 3 people, normally 2 adults and a child on a double sit on top, and none of them wearing buoyancy aids.
There are 2 potential responses, paddle over and have a friendly word, I have done this a few times as people on SOT’s have been approaching tide races, but my advice has always been ignored. The other response is to hope that by wearing the appropriate equipment you will be a positive role model and raise people’s awareness of the need to wear buoyancy aids.