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.
Here is another selection of old pictures, illustrating some of the places that we have been paddling over the years. It feels like it is time to pay a visit to some of these places again, its been nearly 40 years since I paddled some of these trips.
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.
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.
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.
Palo’s Wedding is a classic film by Knud Rasmussen, who was born in Iulissat, on the west coast of Greenland, on 7th June 1879, the son of a Danish missionary. He was the first European to dog sledge the whole length of the North West Passage, one of the numerous expeditions that he undertook between 1902 and 1933. A number of geographical features are named after him, including the Knud Rasmussen Glacier in the far north west of Greenland and the Knud Rasmussen Range of mountains on the west coast of Greenland.
In addition he was honoured by the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Danish Geographical Society and the American Geographical Society as a consequence of his explorations in the Arctic.
Whilst making the film Rasmussen developed food poisoning, supposedly from eating kiviaq, which developed into pneumonia and he sadly died on the 21st December 1933 at the age of 54.
There are some short sections of the film available online but if possible it is well worth obtaining a full copy of the DVD. Palo’s Wedding makes for an interesting winters evening viewing for a kayak club.
I have paddled along Gozo’s south coast numerous times over the last five years but the beginning of November was the first time that I had the opportunity to walk along a significant portion of the cliffs and it is interesting to compare the experiences.
We took the bus to the harbour at Mġarr with the intention of walking to Xlendi. We had a number of guide books , which all recommended a slightly different route. Route finding turned out to be easier than anticipated as it was largely a matter of flowing the red dots and occasional arrows.
The scenery was superb, as we expected, with great views across to Comino and Malta. In one place we were able to look north across the Island and in the distance could see the coast of Sicily. I think that this is my 9th visit to Gozo but today was the first time that I had seen their Italian neighbour, to the north. As walked towards the west the small island of Filfla came into view away to the south. We also had clear views of the section of the north west coast of Malta we had paddled last week.
What did shock us though, was the sheer scale of the hunting which was being practiced in the area. As we walked along we realised that most of the background bird noise was coming from caged birds, which we were being used to attract wild birds so they could be shot. Goldfinches, Greenfinch, Linnets, Chaffinches and a number of other species were caged in their hundreds.
We didn’t want to get too close, or attract attention, as there were quite a few men sitting in the small hunting hides, complete with rifles. Along one section of the coast there were numerous nets, which were clearly used for hunting as well. I think that for most people the scale and impact of the hunting would have a serious impact on their enjoyment of the day.
Kayaking along this section of coast you have no idea what is going on above but walking does allow access to some of the more interesting historical features. The walk from the harbour to Xlendi was nearly 9 miles and took significantly longer to walk than it does to paddle.
For navigation we used the ViewRanger App, which is amazingly accurate and well worth getting if you have an appropriate phone.
I always think that there is something special about urban kayaking and over the years I have been fortunate to dip my paddles in the waters of some of the worlds great cities.My first was probably Venice in 1972 when I paddled an early version of a Gaybo sea kayak. I have been struggling to remember the model but it’s name escapes me. In those days kayaks in the waters of Venice were an infrequent sight, so I generated a fair bit of interest.
Since then I have enjoyed the urban landscapes of cities such London, Paris, New York, Valletta and Seattle to name a few. Along the way I have paddled through towns and cities which may not necessarily have the same worldwide appeal but have their own unique charm. This includes such fascinating destinations as Leicester, Wolverhampton, Milton Keynes, to name just three. What is great about paddling through towns such as these you gain a totally different perspective of the urban environment.
This week we were fortunate to be able to paddle around the historic Dutch city of Utrecht. In terms of population it is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands so there was no doubt that we would be experiencing urban kayaking! There was plenty to see including football stadiums, prisons, old fortifications and possibly the most interesting from a sea kayakers point of view part of the University.
Christophorus Henricus Diedericus Buys Ballot attended Utrecht University before going on to become a Professor in Mathematics and Physics. He is best known though for his achievements in meteorology, with Buys Ballots Law named after him. It states that if a person in the northern hemisphere stands with their back to the wind the low pressure is to their left and high pressure to the right. Pretty much essential knowledge for anybody who wants to work as a sea kayak leader or guide.
Who says that Urban Kayaking has to be boring? There is a whole world out there waiting to be discovered and perfect when the wind is too strong to be on the open sea.
The 1st December marks the start of British Canoeing Winter Challenge. It last 3 months and the aim is to encourage members of canoe and kayak clubs to get out on the water during the darker, colder days of winter.
Last year Jersey Canoe Club came top, in terms of miles covered, just about fending off a determined challenge by Portsmouth Canoe Club. In the 3 months the members of the Jersey club paddled a total of 4,108 miles, with 4 members paddling over the 300 miles. The highest individual total was 520 miles, which is quite amazing considering that there is no inland water in Jersey, so they were all completed on the sea.
Today’s forecast was less than perfect for the first day of the Challenge as 5 slightly enthusiastic kayakers headed out from Belcroute. The initial mile was fast and easy as the northerly force 5 sped us on our way towards Noirmont point, which was the gateway to more sheltered waters, under the cliffs of Portelet. Some large black clouds gave a suggestion of rain or sleet but surprisingly we stayed dry. At times even feeling the warmth of the low angled winter sun.
Nicky pulled out in St Brelade’s whilst the rest of us carried onto Corbiere, with its freshly painted lighthouse. The tide had started to rise quite quickly meaning we had missed the opportunity to land in some of the small bays, so we headed back to Beauport for lunch. Without doubt one of the most beautiful bays on the Island, but on the 1st December we had the beach to ourselves.
After lunch we headed east across St Brelade’s Bay as the clouds built in size. For most of the paddle we were reasonably protected from the wind but from Noirmont to Belcroute there was no respite. The wind was blowing at about 30 knots straight into our faces, which resulted in some demanding paddling conditions. When we landed our total mileage for the day was 60 miles, which despite the weather was a pretty reasonable start towards British Canoeings Winter Challenge .
It is probably true to say that we wouldn’t have normally gone for such a long paddle in the prevailing conditions but the fact that we did stay out there and put the miles in is evidence of the success of the Winter Challenge, which is to get more paddlers out on the water during the cold, dark days of December, January and February.
Numerous books have been written either about Gino Watkins or concerning his exploits in the 1920’s and early 1930’s prior to his untimely death in the waters of eastern Greenland, an area which very few modern paddlers complete with the equipment of the 21st Century venture into. How much more demanding must have these travels been when undertaken in the equipment of the day?
Watkins is credited with being the first English man to be able to roll his kayak. A skill which he thought was essential to master if the aim was to supplement the food supplies with locally caught species. It was this desire to live off the land which probably cost Watkins his life, although no body was ever found his kayak was recovered and is preserved today at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
The book, which is probably easiest to acquire today, is simply called “Gino Watkins” by J M Scott. It seems that most second hand bookshops, which are searched, will reveal a copy of this book.
A less common title is “Northern Lights” by Spencer Chapman. It was the official record of the expedition in the 1930’s, which was trying to find an air route from Europe to North America. I had been looking for a copy for several years when, in the mid 1990’s, I came across a copy at a bookseller in London. The fact that it was store in a locked glass cabinet should have been enough of a signal that this was a book, which was out of my price range, but curiosity got the better of me and I needed to see exactly what it was like. Once I had regained my composure after seeing the price, it cost more than some of the cars I have bought in the past, I was able to savour the delights within. It was a joy to behold and as I opened the covers it only got better. The author Spencer Chapman had signed it, but more importantly it contained the original cutting from The London Times announcing the death of Watkins. This was before the contents of the book were reached. I knew that this was an important volume but one that I was unable to justify buying without discussing at home. Marriages have probably fallen apart for a lesser sum!
I reluctantly placed the book back in the hands of the shop assistant and left with his card in my hand and hope in my heart. After discussion at home it was decided that there could be no better Christmas present for the paddling bibliophile than this particular volume, “Northern Lights”. It was with some relief that I was able to order the book over the telephone a few days later. Today it occupies pride of place on my paddling bookshelf.