Return from Sark

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.

Return from Sark
A welcoming sign on arrival in Sark. We spent some time the evening before gazing at sky and amazed by the sheer quantity of stars visible.
Return from Sark
Heading down the path from the campsite. An early morning start on the Sunday.
Return from Sark
Looking across Dixcart Bay and realizing we had perfect conditions for the return crossing to Jersey.
Return from Sark
We were lucky to have about 30 minutes to explore some of the many caves, which punctuate this section of coast.
Return from Sark
Paddling along the south east coast of Sark before we turned south towards Jersey.
Return from Sark
Jersey was a vague line on the horizon, 12 nautical miles away but conditions were perfect for the crossing.
Return from Sark
Arriving in Jersey. We made lanfall near Les Landes, and followed the coast south to L’Etacq.
Return from Sark
Landing back in Jersey, what was amazing was the clarity of the water. It was possible to sea the sea bed when several hundred metres offshore. Conditions were more like the Mediterranean than the English Channel.

Sark in July

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.

Sark in July
Leaving L’Etacq a couple of hours before high water, we received quite a push from the north flowing tide. Sark was about 12 nautical miles to the north.
Sark in July
In the middle of the crossing. The nearest land was about 6 miles away.
Sark in July
We had to adjust attract our track as we were on a potential collision course with a coastal freighter. I always assume that they haven’t seen us, so paddle accordingly.
Sark in July
Approaching Sark, it is always satisfying to arrive off the dramatic east coast of the Island.
Sark in July
Although there were plenty of boats at anchor in the bay there was plenty of room on the beach for our kayaks. Dixcart Bay is such a stunning location.
Sark in July
Unloading the kayaks on the beach. Despite the beach being really busy we were not concerned about leaving the equipment on the beach. It always feels really safe.
Sark in July
The Pomme de Chiens campsite is at the head of Dixcart Valley so it was relatively easy walking up to the field. Tents up and its time go and experience the best of what Sark has to offer, including a great meal at Stocks Hotel.

Channel Islands Sea Kayaking

A few pictures of sea kayaking around the Channel Islands, mostly from about 30 years ago or slightly older.  The difference in shape of the images is because the earlier ones were taken with a Kodak Instamatic camera (remember those?) before I had a job which paid enough money to be able to buy a 35mm camera.
In all the time that we spent paddling around the Channel Islands in the 1970’s and 80’s I don’t think we ever bumped into any other sea kayakers, it really did feel like an era of exploration.

Channel Islands
This is returning to Jersey (visible behind the paddlers) from Sark in June 1979. Note the old style of Henderson screw hatches.
Channel Islands
Another image from the Sark paddle in 1979, in those days the only sea kayak which we considered having was a Nordkapp HM. If you could afford it you had Lendal Nordkapp paddles with wooden blades, if not you just used your standard Wild Water paddles.
Channel Islands
Heading north from Jersey, the island is Sark, which was our original destination but we changed part of the way across and decided to go to Guernsey instead. The paddler is Derek Hairon who now runs Jersey Kayak Adventures.
Channel Islands
Arrival at Bordeaux in Guernsey on our day trip from Jersey. What had planned to be a gentle paddle turned into a 40 nautical mile day trip. In the distance can be seen Herm (left), Jethou (right) and Sark just visible between the two. On the return journey we stopped off at Herm to phone through to our parents to let them know that we were going to be late home and the telephone box still had buttons A and B to press.
Channel Islands
The summer of 1982, I was getting married and so distant holidays were out of the question but we had a great two weeks paddling around the Channel Islands. This is Port au Moulin on the west coast of Sark in August 1982.
Channel Islands
Havre Gosselin, on the west coast of Sark This was on an Advanced Sea Assessment in May 1983. The Nordkapp HM still dominated the kayaks in use in the Channel Islands. This photograph was used on the front cover of Canoeist Magazine.
Channel Islands
Leaving Creux Harbour, Sark in December 1983. We left Greve de Lecq, on the north coast of Jersey, in the dark and crossed the 12 nautical miles to Sark. The idea was to purchase duty free drink for Christmas and we had a significant number of orders. Unfortunately the shops were shut so that part of the paddle failed. We did managed to find a toasted cheese sandwich before returning to Jersey and landing back at Greve in the dark.
Channel Islands
In the 1980’s I was busy running lots of training and assessment courses for the BCU Senior Instructor Award. This was December 1983 on the south coast of Guernsey. The paddler in blue is Ron Moore, a superb coach and legendary speaker who was based in Plymouth, who is sadly no longer with us.
Channel Islands
Another BCU training course in October 1984. This is at Havelet, just south of St Peter Port. Plastic kayaks had made an appearance, although Brian Aplin is still paddling what looks like a fibre glass KW7. It was Brian who I accompanied on his swim a couple of months ago, from Lihou to the Hanois.
Channel Islands
The Minquiers in September 1985. We visited this reef to the south of Jersey as a day trip whilst training for the Canoe Club paddle we were planning for the following summer when we kayaked from Tromso to Honnigsvag, around Nordkapp.
Channel Islands
In the 1980’s I ran a canoeing (kayaking) school in Jersey but we used to do lots of trips away. This is crossing from Guernsey to Herm in perfect conditions in July 1989.
Channel Islands
1989 saw the arrival of the Aleut II, designed a built by Howard Jeffs. I still have this kayak. It opened up a number of possibilities. Pete Scott and myself attempted to paddle around the Channel Islands but it also meant that some people could undertake paddles that they might not have done on their own. This is two of the younger Club members heading down the east coast of Sark in June 1990.
Channel Islands
I think this was still a Senior Instructor course, we hadn’t quite become Level 3 coaches. This is launching down the steep slipway in Saints Bay Guernsey in October 1990. I was amazed that we survived all these courses because nobody had heard of risk assessments etc. What I do remember was that there was always a huge element of fun.

Sark – an island not completely loved

I have loved Sark since my first visit in the early 1970’s. I first paddled up to Sark from Jersey in 1979 and have since returned on numerous occasions, often camping for several nights. A quick look through my log books has revealed that I have visited the island every month of the year apart from December. I even paddled north from Jersey for an overnight visit, in the 1980’s, when the schools were closed due to heavy snow. Whatever the weather and time of the year Sark has always occupied a special place in my heart.
This week we had booked a day trip to Sark with Jersey Seafaris, on one of their ribs. What a great way to visit, with a thoroughly professional company. Heading out from St Catherine’s we turned to the north west, with the crossing taking about 40 minutes. There was still the remnants of Sunday’s swell, which slowed us down in places but otherwise it was a perfect crossing. As soon as we moved away from the coast it was amazing the number of Shearwaters, mainly Balearic with a few Manx, we saw. Somehow as a sea kayaker I have always had a degree of empathy with Shearwaters, which are one of my favourite birds.
Arrival in Sark was at Creux Harbour, the older of the two harbours on the east coast. With the main arm being constructed in the 1860’s. landing was easy and we were soon on our way up the hill to hire bikes for the day. Avenue Cycle Hire, was visited and within minutes we were on our way.

Sark
Arrival at Creux Harbour.
Sark
A sign close to the harbour celebrating Sark’s unique achievement.  It is an accolade that was bestowed on the island in 2011.
Sark
Looking north from Port au Moulin, close to the spectacular Window in the Rock. A hole which, was blasted through the rock by the Seigneur in the 1850’s to provide spectacular views along the coast.  It shows just how great the sea kayaking is in this area.

After visiting quite a few of the main points around the Island I started to develop some uncomfortable feelings.  Perhaps I was looking at the past through rose coloured spectacles but Sark just didn’t seem quite the same.  There appeared to be quite a few empty houses, some of shops on the main street were closed, as were some of the hotels.  In certain areas, for example towards the Pilchers Monument the land appeared uncared for.

Sark
Lunch was at Hathaways Cafe just as the sun came out and the temperature soared.

After lunch we crossed to Little Sark for a swim close to the remains of the Silver Mines, the history of which is described in an earlier post.  The warm afternoon sun did provide an excuse to jump into the crystal clear water.

Sark
Lisa jumping into one of the gully’s close to the Silver Mines.

All too soon it was time to head back to the harbour and the RIB journey back to Jersey, but not before having the opportunity to admire the coastal scenery and learn a bit more about the history of this fascinating Island.

Brecqhou
Looking along the west coast of Sark. Brecqhou is clearly visible.
Sark
Memorial stone to those Islanders deported by the German occupying forces in the Second World War.

Sark really is one of my favourite places in the world and I will continue to visit it at every opportunity, sadly this time I came away with the feeling that it is a community, which isn’t thriving as successfully in the past.

Sark Silver Mines and sea kayaking

Sark, the smallest state in the Commonwealth and one of the last societies, which retained some aspects of feudalism, is a stunning destination for the sea kayaker.  There are numerous sites of historical interest with the south west coast of Little Sark showing evidence of 19th century ill-fated silver mines.  Cornish miners came to the island, virtually doubling Sark’s population, in this area.  Four deep shafts were sunk at Port Gorey and one extended 100 metres out under the sea.  It was said in violent storms the miners could hear boulders on the seabed rolling about above their heads.
There are a number of myths surrounding the mines including the story that a ship with £12,000 worth of sliver ore was wrecked off the north east coast of Guernsey.  There is no evidence of this actually occurring.  What is clear though that by the time the mines closed in 1847, having only opened in 1833, numerous people including the Seigneur of Sark had lost considerable sums of money.
The evidence of the industrial past is clearly visible as you paddle along the south west coast of the island and on days with little or no swell Port Gorey is a great place to stop for a swim as well experiencing the industrial archaeology of a short lived mining enterprise.
Chris paddling south close to the mines.
Looking west from near the silver mines.  Guernsey is the island in the distance.
The first ruins that you come across when visiting the silver mines on foot.
The water off Sark always appears to have superb clarity.
Port Gorey on a particularly calm August morning.
The silver mines viewed from offshore
A late afternoon paddle around the Island with members of Tower Hamlets Canoe Club, including passing the area of the silver mines.  No time to stop and explore though that afternoon.
The entrance to the Port Gorey smelter
Looking up the inside of the smelter.

Circumnavigation of Sark

Sark is one of the truly special sea kayaking destinations and this weekend we were fortunate enough to be able to complete a circumnavigation of Sark in all almost perfect conditions.  Parts of the island have been covered in an earlier post in relation to Mervyn Peake and Sark but there is a lot more to the island.
We launched from Dixcart Bay, a convenient bay on the east coast, which provides relatively easy access to the main facilities on the Island, via a wooded valley.  The circumnavigation was clockwise meaning that we headed south first. Unusually there was very little swell so we were able to wander through the reefs and channels off the southern tip with relative ease.
Possibly the most challenging, but also most rewarding, part of the circumnavigation is the area around the Gouilot Passage.  To the west lies the privately owned island of Brecqhou, whilst to the east are the Gouilot Caves, through which the tide runs at quite a considerable pace.  The ability to perform a hanging draw, in the semi darkness, is a vital skill in this area.
To the north lie a variety of coastal erosion features such as the arch at Port au Moulin and the stacks at Les Autlets, interspersed with a huge number of caves, the presence of which were document by the Latrobe brothers in the early 20th century, a copy of their book is essential research for anybody exploring the coastline of Sark, by whatever means.
Bec du Nez the most northerly point of the island was missed as it was possible to cut through a channel to the south of the headland.  Heading south along the east coast we passed underneath Point Robert lighthouse before reaching Maseline Harbour.  This was completed in 1948 and was designed to take larger vessels than the original harbour at Creux, in the hope of increasing the number of visitors.Creux Harbour lies just to the south of Maseline and was the original harbour.  It was destroyed in the winter storms of 1865/66 so the present jetty dates back to 1868.  We popped in for a quick visit, noticing the rack of sit on tops belonging to Adventure Sark, a specialist outdoor provider based on the Island.
From here we threaded our way through some very narrow passages before arriving at Derrible Bay, the Creux, a distinctive geographical feature is at the back of the bay and a must visit location, particularly if the tide is in.
Dixcart Bay is next, our starting point 8 miles earlier.  A memorable 3 hours of sea kayaking behind us.  The circumnavigation of Sark ticks all the boxes of a classic paddle.
In the evening as we walked from the restaurant back to the campsite there was an intensity to the darkness which you don’t get in many places, which is why the island was awarded Dark Sky Status. The clarity and number of stars was quite exceptional.  Just another reason to visit this sea kayaking heaven located about 12 miles north of Jersey.

Circumnavigation Of Sark
The view south from Dixcart Bay. L’Etac is the island offshore, that is the usual landfall when crossing from Jersey.
Circumnavigation of Sark
Paddling through the cave, just to the north of La Coupee, the narrow bridge of land which joins Sark to Little Sark.
Circumnavigation of Sark
Moie de Breniere, off the south east coast of the island.
Circumnavigation of Sark
The whole of the coastline is pretty rugged, with easy access to the water only possible in a few places.
Circumnavigation of Sark
Heading towards the Gouliot Passage. Brecqhou is the island to the left. The tides run up to 8 knots in this area.
Circumnavigation of Sark
Looking across La Grande Greve towards La Coupee.
Circumnavigation of Sark
Entering the Gouliot Caves, the tide was running north through the caves, with a speed which created some interesting conditions.
Circumnavigation of Sark
Looking across the Gouliot Passage towards Brecqhou.
Circumnavigation of Sark
Toby sitting under the arch at Port au Moulin.
Circumnavigation of Sark
Paddling through Les Autlets
Circumnavigation of Sark
Creux Harbour on the east coast was the original harbour for the island.
Circumnavigation of Sark
Looking out from the northern tunnel in the Creux de Derrible. The conclusion of the circumnavigation is only another few hundred metres.

Sark and Mr Pye

Mervyn Peake is probably best known for his Gormenghast Trilogy of books but he also wrote Mr Pye, which is set on the Isle of Sark. It was turned in a mini series for TV in 1986 with Derek Jacobi in the lead role. In one memorable section Miss George is lowered into the Creux but the planned picnic was ruined by the arrival of a badly decomposed whale.
There were no sea mammals to distract us and it was too early for our picnic, as we entered the bay, but Derrible Bay is a great place to explore, either by kayak or on foot.
Mr Pye was first published in 1953 and in the subsequent half century plus this quiet corner on the east coast of Sark has remained virtually unchanged and as we explored the bay on a warm July Sunday morning it was possible to imagine the events unfolding, as described in the book.
There is a clear relationship between Sark and Mr Pye, so any kayakers who are fortunate enough to be able to be able to paddle to this delightful island should endeavour to read the book by Mervyn Peake, prior to their visit.
For the sea kayaker interested in literature Sark has other connections including the Victor Hugo cave on the west side of the island.

Sark and Mr Pye
Derrible Bay, viewed from above. The Creux is on the left hand side of the photograph.
Sark and Mr Pye
Chris crossing Derrible Bay, whilst undertaking a circumnavigation of the island.
Sark and Mr Pye
Entering Creux de Derrible, at low water this entrance is dry.
Sark and Mr Pye
Looking up the Creux.
Sark and Mr Pye
The Victor Hugo Cave on the west coast of Sark.
Sark and Mr Pye
Looking out towards the entrance of the Victor Hugo Cave.