There are a few paddles in Jersey, which visiting and local sea kayakers, should aspire to complete. One of these is to paddle around, what is referred to as “The Towers”. This refers to two towers, which are located to the south east of the island, Seymour and Icho.
The Jersey Canoe Club has run weekly Sunday morning sessions for nearly 45 years and this week it was the turn of The Towers, to be the venue. Weather and tidal conditions were such that quite a few members had guessed the venue several days in advance, well before the WhatsApp message was sent out, on the Saturday.
Seymour and Icho Towers
Of the two towers Seymour is the oldest, being built in 1782, the year after French troops landed nearby, which resulted in the Battle of Jersey. Our initial target was Icho Tower, just over 1 mile offshore. Low an squat compared to the older towers, it is based on the design of towers found at Mortella Point, Corsica.
They probably contained a garrison of 12 soldiers and a sergeant, but today they are largely the preserve of sea birds. Today it was curlews and sandwich terns but some winters a spoonbill has started to call Icho home.
From Icho we headed virtually east towards Seymour, the final push of the flooding tide ensured that at times our speed over the ground was nearly 6 knots. Seymour Tower has been refurbished and is available for rent from Jersey Heritage, accompanied by a guide. Today a family was in residence so landing was not an option.
Instead we turned offshore to visit Karame Beacon, which is one of the many navigation marks in the area. The tide was flowing with a degree of speed around the rocks, which provided some enjoyment. From there it was a ferry glide in excess of a mile into the coast at La Rocque, a small harbour with signicant place in Jersey’s history. Baron Philippe de Rullecourt, landed here on the 6th January 1781, with approximately 1,400 French troops. The subsequent Battle of Jersey, in the Royal Square resulted in the defeat of the French forces.
Returning from the towers, we followed the coast back towards Le Hocq. Conditions were just perfect, in fact quite amazing for the beginning of September. Conditions were such that we had to stop and roll, as well as having a swim in the crystal clear waters. It will be possibly 9 months, before we experience such conditions again. Great memories to help us through the winter months.
After the fascinating talk by Sam Cook the Nordkapp meet continued on the Sunday in less than perfect weather. Bouley Bay was our venue of choice as it offered the best chance of protection from the southerly winds, which were forecast to increase to force 7.
Initially the winds were light and we were able to explore the headlands between Bouley Bay and Bonne Nuit, which are the highest in Jersey. Clouds were clearly building from the south and the wind increasing towards the forecast force 6 to 7. Certainly the paddle back into Bouley Bay was what could be described as entertaining.
Although we had hoped for a day trip when we planned the Nordkapp weekend, the reality was the morning paddle on the Sunday was the best that could be hoped for in the conditions.
Monday morning dawned brighter and slightly calmer so we were able to plan a day trip from the Jersey Canoe Club premises at St Catherine’s. Around the north east corner of the island and along the north coast, before hitching a ride back on the first of the flooding tide.
It was amazing over these two days to see such a variety of Nordkapp sea kayaks on the water, performing perfectly in the environment they were designed to operate in. In the mid 1970’s Frank Goodman designed a sea kayak, with significant input from paddlers such as Sam Cook in particular.
The first kayak was produced in February 1975 and in the following 43 years it has maintained its position at the forefront of sea kayaking expeditions. Last weekend was a celebration of the Nordkapp and in many ways the early years of the Jersey Canoe Club.
Paddling Nordkapp’s members of the Club completed the first circumnavigation of Ireland, a circumnavigation of the Outer Hebrides, the west coast of Spitsbergen and our own Nordkapp expedition to name just a few. This was in addition to ground breaking exploration of the Channel Island waters by sea kayaks.
Members of the Club continue to paddle at a high standard in a range of geographical locations but these trips are no longer the preserve of the Nordkapp alone. Times have changed but we still maintain our respect for this iconic sea kayak, which has contributed so much to the history of modern sea kayaking.
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.
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.
Over nearly 40 years I have run hundreds of British Canoe courses across all levels, in both coaching and personal performance but one of my favourites is the SUP Module. This Discipline Specific Module was introduced several years ago in response to the significant increase in the number of people taking up Stand Up Paddleboarding.
Over the last couple of years I have run quite a few of the courses, attracting paddlers from both on and off Jersey. What is interesting, is that as each course follows another, the level of the participants has steadily increased. As a result last weeks course was just a pleasure to run. With all the paddlers showing competency on the boards.
Conditions couldn’t have been better for the SUP Module. I remember completing my training course in Nottingham, wearing a dry suit and being absolutely frozen, trying to avoid going into the water too many times. This week it was warm, clear seas and light winds with every opportunity was taken to get into the water to cool off.
In the past it has been all to easy to be critical of British Canoeing courses but I think in this instance they have just about got it right. That day with the staff from Absolute Adventures, we had a really positive experience.
Sometimes days are just so enjoyable and this was the case the other day with Absolute Adventures staff development. We left from St Catherine’s heading west on the ebbing tide. In virtually flat calm conditions we headed past La Coupe and Tour de Rozel.
Lunch was on a small sandy beach to the east of Bouley Bay, which is only exposed on low water spring tides. To the west we could see the remains of the SS Ribbledale. It was wrecked on the 27th December 1926, whilst en route from London to Jersey. Parts of the boilers were clearly visible just to the west. Further information is available here.
The plan was to return via Tour de Rozel, where we planned to play in the flood tide, as it accelerated around the headland. We weren’t disappointed, the water was starting to move to the east and accelerating quickly as the flood tide developed.
It was just the perfect place to look at skills and to work on strokes. I always find it such an enjoyable place to play and somewhere to practice those techniques, which are crucial to competent kayak handling. In terms of staff development it was perfect, challenging conditions in a safe environment, helping to ensure that those paddlers who are leading groups during the summer months have the appropriate skill level. Combined with the superb weather it was just a perfect way to spend a day.