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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The east coast of Arve Prinsens Ejland is a truly spectacular stretch of coast but it requires detailed examination of the maps to truly appreciate the height of the cliffs. Usually they are viewed from the coast opposite when heading north from Ilulissat. In places they rise almost vertically for about 2,000 feet, a feature which is clearly going to attract kayakers. At first the cliffs were not unlike other areas that we have paddled, in size, but as we headed north the scale shifted significantly. The size of the cliffs alters your perception so at times you thought I’ll just nip across this inlet. That inlet could be several miles across so if you are not careful you find yourself paddling offshore for an hour or so, rather than exploring the base of the cliffs, which was the focus for the day.
I had only paddled these cliffs once before, late one afternoon about 9 years ago, it was memorable but not like this time. Paddling them in the morning ensured that the sun was in the perfect position for highlighting the physical features and accentuating the texture of the rock. We considered stopping for lunch at the base of the cliffs but there was no protection from any potential stone fall, so we took the sensible option and paddled the 3 miles across to the mainland.
The lunch spot turned out to be rather pleasant and so we decided to stay there the night, something we were really grateful for as the wind increased significantly overnight and we ended up remaining there the following day. I have visited Greenland regularly in the last 25 years but this summer was without doubt the most unsettled weather wise. We lost 2 whole days due to strong winds plus had several late starts or early finishes. Other years I have been able to complete a 3 week kayaking trip without having to modify our plans because of unsettled weather.
Although today’s paddling had been spectacular it had been rather short, about 13 miles and so after lunch I took advantage of the sheltered bay to practice some rolling. Although we didn’t see any other kayakers this year on previous trips we had always seen other paddlers and I was amazed to see people not wearing dry suits. Many of the French, in particular, seem to avoid wearing dry suits, something which I consider to be rather irresponsible considering the water temperature and potential survival times. I did one roll, no problem, on my second roll I exclaimed about the pain in my head and after my third roll I was unable to speak and needed to hold my head. It was difficult to understand just what it would be like if you were in the water for any length of time. Once I had warmed my head and hands I thought a re-entry and roll would be a good idea, I am not sure anybody else thought it was. I was pretty quick and wearing a dry suit but I still found it rather challenging temperature wise, swimming after a capsize without wearing a dry suit just doesn’t bear thinking about.
For me the highlight of the campsite was a father friendly Arctic Fox cub, it didn’t seem in the least bit concerned by our presence. Returning several times during the time we spent at the campsite, clearly ignoring the advice of its parents who were calling from the hillside above. I just hope that he makes it through its first winter.
The following morning the calm of the previous day had been replaced by a significant wind blowing from the south, we clearly weren’t going anywhere soon. One of the tings that has improved in the last few years off the west coast of Greenland has been the mobile phone coverage. Although rarely have a signal when you land, walk uphill a bit and you can be quite lucky. Just remember to brief friends or relatives about what information you need in a forecast before you leave.
A half mile walk put us in a position where we could get a faint signal and the information that we received back was all very positive. Light winds, no rain and reasonable temperatures until we arrived back in Ilulissat. As we settled do we for the night little did we realise just how wrong that forecast was to be.
The day after we were forced to change our route in northern Disko Bay we headed west along the north coast of Arve-Prinsens Ejland. Passing between the ice to the north and the cliffs to the south, there was no real prospect of an easy landing, I always think that this a challenging stretch of water.
As we passed through the narrow gap to the west of Arve Prinsens Ejland we caught a glimpse of our first Arctic Fox. This is one of two land mammals that you might see whilst paddling in this area. The other is the Arctic Hare, which we encountered a couple of days later.
Once inside the gap it is advisable to stop, there is a nice sheltered beach and its probably been at least 3 hours since you have been able to have a toilet stop.
After lunch a quick scramble up the slopes behind the beach gives you a good view across to the small settlement of Qeqertaq and it is possible to assess the ice conditions for the crossing of the fjord. More importantly there is a really good mobile phone signal, which is great for checking in with home after 7 days out but also enables you to get a reasonable weather forecast. We have used Weather Underground, on recent trips and have found it to be pretty accurate.
Oqaatsoq, is the smaller island to the west of Arve Prinsens Ejland, and there is delightful campsite in a small bay on the south east corner of the island. There are some dramatic bird cliffs on the opposite side of the bay to the camp and we have seen whales on a regular basis. What better place to pass some time.
We camped for two nights, with some of us paddling the 13 nm around the island, with empty kayaks. A real pleasure. What we saw to the north though didn’t inspire confidence for the future, substantial numbers of large bergs appeared to be blocking the route to Saqqaq, where we planned to replenish our food supplies. The future looked uncertain but there was nothing we could do as we retreated to the tents with a possible storm approaching across Disko Bay.
After a couple of days on any trip you start to settle into a daily routine. The start of our day had the simple mantra “7-8-9”. Up at 07.00, breakfast at 08.00 and on the water by 09.00. By the time we had arrived in northern Disko Bay, the routine was well established and most mornings we were away early.
Entering the waters of entering these waters is always an unknown, as regards ice. It is possible to obtain sea ice charts from the Danish Meteorological Institute but by the time you have kayaked to northern Disko Bay from Ilulissat they are likely to be out of date. If you encounter open water no problem but if there is ice it is matter of feeling your way forward and this may involve getting of the kayaks at times, climbing to higher viewpoint to scout for leads in the ice.
In the northern part of Disko Bay there are a number of glaciers which discharge into the fjords so it is impossible to predict how much ice there will be. What is important is to ensure that you maintain a safe distance between yourself and the ice front. The closest we approached was 3 nautical miles and we didn’t hang about!
On our journey through the area there were some significant areas of open water but in one place our intended route was blocked so we took a more southerly route. This actually worked out really well as we ended up camping in a delightful spot at the rear of sheltered bay. Our only concern was that in the distance we could see a number of really large bergs, which might have an impact on our need to reach Saqqaq, where we planned to replenish our supplies.
There are 2 small settlements in the northern part of Disko Bay, Saqqaq and Qeqertaq, both of which provide the opportunity to buy food, what was uncertain was which one it would be. As with any sea kayaking in Disko Bay there is a need to remain flexible due to the variations in the weather and ice.
July, saw a return visit to Greenland for 19 days kayaking with the Jersey Canoe Club. The Club is fortunate that it has 8 kayaks in Ilulissat, the main town in Disko Bay, on the west coast. This means that the logistics of paddling in this area are relatively straightforward. Book a flight, go to the supermarket in Ilulissat and start part paddling. What a complete contrast to my first visit to Greenland when we had to ship the kayaks out months in advance, plus boxes of food etc. That felt like an expedition, nowadays we go on holiday.
On our arrival at the hostel in Ilulissat we met Peter and Sue Bisset, who had used the kayaks before us. Peter runs the “Paddles with an Anas Acuta” blog and it was interesting to hear his description of their 4 weeks out kayaking. The weather had clearly been far more unsettled than normal, which had resulted in some exciting conditions. They experienced several days of snow, which is very unusual for July. It was good to catch up though and to hear of their experiences.
Within 24 hours of arriving in Greenland, we had sorted out the equipment, bought food and were heading north. Unfortunately as we headed away from Ilulissat the wind started to increase, which was to become a feature of our paddle north. The first day we had to cut short because of an increasing headwind, although we did manage to do some slightly longer paddles in the following days, which put us back on some sort of schedule.
The north west corner of Jersey offers some of the finest sea kayaking on the Island. Tonight it was particularly beautiful, with the stunning light and calm seas. A great Thursday night paddle with the Jersey Canoe Club.
Heading north from Stinky Bay
Le Pinacle viewed from the south. A cave system cuts through this headland.
Pete with the stunning north west face of Le Pinacle.
Heading towards the Gun Cliffs. The impact of the German occupation is clearly visible.
Alex heading into the bay to the north of Le Pinacle.
Typical north west coast scenery. The nearest land to our left is Newfoundland, this evening the North Atlantic is particularly quiet.
Underneath La Nethe Falaise. Even late on a May evening most of the cliff remains in shadow. This is “The Black Cliff” in Jersey French. It will have extra meaning for those readers who have an interest in the history of Welsh rock climbing.
Just to the east of Grosnez, some superb rock climbing routes.
Approaching Plemont Bay, a real gem.
Time to head back to L’Etacq.
The moon passing close to the summit of Le Pinacle. It is clear why there are Spring Tides at certain times of the month.
For various reasons over the last few months I just haven’t had the time to update the content on the site, partly because I have been fortunate enough to be out kayaking, several times each week. Things are changing and hopefully I will be able to add content on a more regular basis. In addition I have moved the content from the blog into a new format, which should give more flexibility with the updates.
It has certainly been a busy few months with sea kayaking in Jersey’s waters taking place on a regular basis. I have also been fortunate enough to visit some amazing paddling destinations which I am planning to write about over the next few weeks and months.
Greenland has featured again in our paddling adventures but so have some new areas such as Spain and Mauritius, both of which offered kayaking of a surprisingly high standard, with delightfully warm weather and water.
One of the biggest changes is that retirement has arrived which allows for significantly more time to explore Jersey’s local waters. It wasn’t until I finished work that I realized just how good the weather is during the week, enabling visits to our favourite reef, the Ecrehous to take place on the quieter days during the week. My finishing work has coincided with a number of other people coming to the end of their careers, which has meant that there is always somebody to go paddling or coasteering with.
Over the coming months there will be updates with useful information for those who wish to kayak in the Channel Islands, with suggestions of great paddling destinations further afield.
Other photographs of our more recent kayaking trips can be seen here.
A group of 29 sea kayakers is an impressive sight as they prepare for departure even more so when 6 of them are in the brand new orange Tiderace Vortex kayaks, which have just been unwrapped in the car park at Ouaisne.
This was the annual visit of Tower Hamlets Canoe Club to Jersey and the plan for Sunday’s kayaking was to head east from Ouaisne, have lunch on Elizabeth Castle before taking advantage of the increasing north easterly wind to aid our progress back. As it was the wind and tide slowed us down earlier than we anticipated with the result that it was sandwiches on St Aubin’s Fort.
That really didn’t matter as we had a really entertaining paddle along a lovely section of the Jersey coastline in conditions, which were quite interesting at times. As we paddled back into the bay you could feel the warmth of the sun on your face for the first time this year, it really did feel like spring had finally arrived.
Its Christmas, in March! Unwrapping the six new kayaks ready for our friends from Tower Hamlets Canoe Club to use.
With 29 paddlers in the group, a clear pre-trip briefing is pretty essential.
Angus just off Noirmont
Matt paddling in front St Aubin’s. Less than 72 hours earlier we had gone in the opposite direction on our night paddle.
Janet enter St Aubin’s Harbour. This was a pretty big tide so the water level was dropping at about 90 cm every 20 minutes, so we didn’t hang around. Within minutes it was dry.
Lunch at St Aubin’s Fort. Thanks Matt for this photo.
Approaching Noirmont, wind and tide with us. It was a pretty quick run back to Ouaisne, although a bit choppy off the point.
Nicky passing through one of the narrow channels off Noirmont.
Today was the first day this year that I have been out kayaking off the east coast of the Island. It was just a gentle paddle around the area to the south of St Catherine’s, the base of Jersey Canoe Club. The breakwater is the most visible reminder of a grand project by the British Admiralty in the middle of the 19th century. It was due to join up with the southern arm, which was due to be built out, from the coast, close to Archirondel. On the way south we passed the small cottage, L’Hopital, which was built as a hospital to meet the needs of the hundreds of workers who were employed on the construction of the breakwater. It has had a chequered history including being a tea room and as a private residence. Today it is a self catering property, helping to meet the needs of the tourist industry. It must be one of the best places to stay on the Island, if you are a sea kayaker. Continuing south the next obvious building also has a role to play in the tourist industry. Archirondel Tower. Built in 1792 as part of the Islands coastal defences against the French military it has recently been refurbished for basic accommodation for up to 10 people. The small headland between Anne Port and Archirondel is interesting from a geological perspective, providing evidence of some volcanic activity in the distant past. The columnar rhyolites are easily visible from the sea but are missed by the thousands of people who drive along the road above. Once past the rocks of the Jersey Volcanic Group we crossed Anne Port, a small bay, which must have seen more attempts at preventing coastal erosion than anywhere else on the Island. The authorities have used rock armour, cliff pinning, netting, beach replenishment, gabions and a sea wall to help prevent erosion, all is needed is a groyne and there would be pretty much every type of coastal protection.
L’Hopital is in a superb position, just above the shoreline.
The white building is the base of St Catherine’s Sailing Club. Originally it was the carpenters sheds whilst the Breakwater was under construction.
Looking into Anne Port. Some of the coastal defenses are visible at the rear of the beach.
Paddling past the columnar rhyolites at La Crete Point. There is a much better view from a kayak than from the road.
Arriving back at Archirondel. The end of a rather pleasant way to spend a March afternoon.