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.
It is hard to imagine that when I was 26 years of age, in 1983, along with a few friends, we arranged a two month sea kayaking trip to Svalbard. The plan was to paddle the whole of the west coast of Spitsbergen, a distance of over 600 nautical miles, when the out and back mileage was taken into account.
This was in the days before Svalbard had hit the tourist radar. Very few people managed to visit this lonely northern archipelago, in the last 4 weeks we only saw one other person and was briefly for a few minutes when he landed his helicopter! We didn’t even see any boats or ships in the distance.
The costs were quite phenomenal for the time and without considerable support from family and friends we would never have raised the amount of money required to put on such a trip. We had to ship out our kayaks, equipment and all our food. The price of flights was astronomical, I have paid less this morning to book flights to northern Norway in July 2018 than my flights cost in 1983.
Without doubt though this was one of the defining periods in my life, we had to be totally self sufficient, there was no satellite phone, GPS etc but we did need really powerful rifles as protection against the polar bears, which inhabit the region. One of us had tuition in how to stitch wounds, although the thought of letting somebody near us with a needle filled us with dread.
These are a few of the pictures taken in this arctic outpost over 34 years ago. Apologies for the quality of some of the scans from my old slides.
These are some further images of kayaking in the 1990’s which, I have scanned in from some of the thousands slides I accumulated over about 35 years. These are a selection taken in the United States in the mid 1990’s. Sea kayaking on the west coast and canoeing in the north east. Some great memories.
It has been a weekend of kayaking contrasts, Saturday was very windy and sunny so we spent the morning paddling off the east coast. Heading south from St Catherine’s to Gorey where we stopped for coffee and cake. This is a section of the coast that we paddle most weeks during the summer months as it is the location for the Jersey Canoe Club Tuesday evening training sessions. In contrast we rarely paddle along this section of coast during the winter but it is a couple of miles steeped in history.
For over 40 years the Canoe Club has paddled every Sunday morning at a variety of locations around the Island. For the last 10 or 15 years the focus has been on using sea kayaks, hardly surprising as Jersey is a superb sea kayaking destination. Today was a throw back to the 1970’s and 80’s as we used smaller play boats, as we headed out from St Brelade’s. It was good to get out in the small kayaks as it gave us chance to hone our skills. So it really was a weekend of kayaking contrasts.
Following on from the post a couple of days ago here are a few photographs of Brittany lighthouses. There are endless opportunities for viewing them from your sea kayak, and here are a few more. They are mainly from the north coast of Brittany. I might be biased but I think the lighthouses on the north coast generally look more dramatic than those to the south.
Sadly they are now all unmanned but when we started to visit these offshore buildings a number were still manned and it was always a pleasure to take out the daily papers and some fresh milk. These small gestures often resulted in the offer of a hot drink and on a few occasions a guided tour of the lighthouse. Sadly these days are long gone.
Situated in the Baie de Morlaix, Ile Noire lighthouse was built in 1845, with the keepers house added in 1879. Paddling in this area is always enjoyable with numerous islands to explore.
La Croix. Built in 1867 it is situated just to the south west of Ile de Brehat. In common with some many lighthouses in this area the Germans blew the top of the light as they retreated. It is always a welcome sight when paddling around Brehat.
Cap Frehel is the largest headland on the north Brittany coast and on clear nights I can see this light from near my house on Jersey. It is open to visitors a certain times of the year. The headland is spectacular when viewed from below in a sea kayak or whilst walking along the cliffs.
Sept Iles lighthouse is situated on Ile aux Moines, part of a delightful archipelago to the north of Tregastel. This was one of the last lighthouses in France to be manned by keepers.
The Port Navalo light marks to entrance to the Gulf du Morbihan. This is one of the finest sea kayaking areas anywhere, a mixture of fast tidal streams and world class historic sites. The lighthouse was built in 1892.
There is something special about Breton lighthouses , particularly when viewed from a sea kayak. This is a selection of some that I have seen over the years. Not all of the photographs are of the best quality as some were scanned from slides. That said Breton lighthouses are amongst the most unique maritime buildings encountered anywhere and it is always a treat to visit them by sea kayak.
Le Heaux de Brehat. To the west of Ile de Brehat on the north coast of Brittany it was built in 1840, although the top was blown off by the Germans in August 1944. Located on an offshore reef, the sea kayak is an ideal way to access this light. It is close to the end of the Sillon de Talbert
Ile Louet is situated in the Baie e Morlaix, near Roscoff on the north coast of Brittany.
25 nautical miles west of Corbiere is the Roches Douvres. The light was finished being rebuilt in 1954 after it had been destroyed by the Germans 10 years before. We raised the Jersey flag but the following morning it was a serious crossing of 25 miles in dense fog. I have to admit that we felt pretty isolated the night we spent on the reef.
L’Ost Pic is located just to the south of Paimpol. Built in the 1890’s I have to admit that the last time I landed there I ended up swimming.
Phare du Paon is situated on the north coast of Ile de Brehat, this is ome of the finest sea kayaking you could find anywhere. It was originally built in 1860 but like so many lighthouses along this coast it was blown up by the Germans in1944. It was rebuilt in 1949.
Another lighthouse blown up by the Germans, this light, Le Grand Jardin, marks the approaches to St Malo. It was rebuilt in 1949.
I paddled out to the Ecrehous this morning, it was my 7th visit of the year so far but interestingly the 5th time I have been on a Wednesday. I have only visited once at a weekend and that was way back in January.
It would be interesting to conduct a scientific study and hopefully come up with some fascinating conclusions which indicate a correlation between the passage of areas of high pressure over the Channel Islands shipping area on the third day of the week. In reality though I think that the reason for the popularity of the Wednesday visits is due to the fact that a number of people in the Jersey Canoe Club had retired or are working significantly reduced working weeks. We have put Wednesday aside as our day of choice for day trips, hoping to go out somewhere every week.
Looking at the weather forecasts as soon as there is an indication that the winds might be reasonably light on the Wednesday our thoughts turn to offshore paddles. This week was no different, a quick WhatsApp on Tuesday and this morning saw 8 0f us paddling away from St Catherine’s towards the Ecrehous.
I have visited the reef numerous times over the years, the last time was just a few weeks ago but always jump at the chance to go again. It was a relatively smooth crossing and a great lunch spot but it was the return crossing which was particularly memorable. The encounter with the pod of bottle nosed dolphins was as good as I have ever seen, they remained with us for probably 20 minutes, at times approaching within a metre before suddenly changing course and diving.
What a great way to spend a Wednesday in November.
This is an article I wrote over 4 years ago after a visit to Gozo. Although I had been several times before conditions had never been good enough to paddle around to the Azure Window from the south coast. It was memorable day, which I repeated a number of times in the following years but one, which will never be the same again.
After a couple of kayaking visits to Gozo I still hadn’t managed to paddle the south west corner of the island, from Xlendi around to the Azure Window. It just seemed that whenever we were on the island the wind was just a bit to strong from the wrong direction so we were pretty pleased when a window in the weather appeared on one of the final days that we were there. We weren’t disappointed.
Dramatic vertical cliffs, with virtually no places to get off the water. The nearest land to out left is Algeria whilst straight ahead is Tunisia. It is easy forget just how far south Malta and Gozo are.
The Inland Sea, access to the open water is through the obvious cave. We popped in for a an ice cream and a quick swim.
Paddling under the Azure Window, not a totally relaxing experience because since a previous visit a fairly substantial area of rock had fallen into the sea and we hoping that there wasn’t a repeat performance.
Lunch was on the rocks close to Fungus Rock. Malta Fungus was discovered growing on the rock and believed that it had medicinal properties. The rock was decreed out of bounds in 1746, with a guard posted there to protect the plant.
At the back of the bay close to Fungus Rock there is cave with two entrances. The tunnel joining the two is particularly tight but there are some superb deposits on the rocks.
Heading back to Xlendi, it was only a short paddle but was full of contrasts.
The coast of north west Malta was to provide an entertaining introduction to kayaking on the largest island of the archipelago. We launched out through the surf at Ghajn Bay before turning north with the intention of reaching Popeye’s Village.
As we paddled along the coast we passed Golden Bay, its beach dominated by the large hotel above. It is easy to imagine just how busy this area could be on a hot August day but on the last day of October it appeared relatively quiet. There were numerous opportunities for rock hopping along this section of coast but the ever present swell was creating some entertaining conditions.
Although the modern developments associated with the tourist industry are clearly visible on the cliffs above fortifications are an indication of the more turbulent past. Ta Ghajn Tuffieha Tower was the first tower that we passed, built in 1637. It was the second of a series of small coastal towers known as Lascaris Towers constructed when Giovanni Paolo Lascaris was elected Grand Master of the Order of St John.
The most northerly point of our paddle was Popeye Village, it started life in 1980 as a film set for the musical “Popeye” starring Robin Williams. A popular tourist attraction, it was fairly quiet and today and we were allowed to land on the slip briefly. A member of the staff from the cafe came down and took our coffee order, which was promptly delivered. Such excellent service.
From there we turned south, enjoying the lively water conditions, aiming for the large headland of Ras ir Raheb. The steep limestone cliffs were reflecting the waves straight back out to sea and the resulting clapotis provided some enjoyable paddling. Just to the south of the headland there was a large cave, which we managed to paddled into despite the sea conditions, although the noise was quite something.
We returned north to Ghajn Bay, enjoying the last of the 11 nautical miles that we had paddled along the coast of north west Malta. A great introduction to paddling in Malta with the Malta Sea Kayak Club.