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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.