Garvellach’s

In the 1990’s I was fortunate to be able to paddle regularly in the area around the Firth of Lorn. At the time there was a campsite next to the beach in Arduaine. It was possibly the best located sea kayaking campsite in the UK. A favourite paddle for many of the visitors were the Garvellach’s, a few miles to the west.

The campsite closed, other paddling opportunities arose and the last time I paddled there was in 2002. It is hard to believe that 17 years have passed. This summer the opportunity arose to paddle to the Garvellach’s and I seized it with both hands.

We headed out from Belnahua on a day of bright sunshine but reasonably large tides. A direct route wasn’t possible but the use of transits was the only navigational tool required. We left Belnahua in the crisp light, which is experienced after the passage of a cold front. The winds from the front were the reason why we hadn’t paddled the day before. Today though the Islands of the Nether Lorn were calling.

Behind us there was a steady stream of yachts using the southerly tide to assist their passage down the west coast of Luing. Ahead though, the sea appeared empty apart from the distant hum of a fishing boat. We were pushed south by the tide despite our best attempts at maintaining our course. Once in the eddy behind the rocks we were able to work our way back to Garbh Eileach. The most substantial of the islands in the Garvellach’s.

One of main memories of my last visit was of a magnificent stag standing on the cliffs at the north east end of Garbh Eileach. In the swirling mists of that July day, it struck a striking pose and amazingly on this visit there was a superb stag standing in an identical position. It didn’t look stuffed so one can only assume that it’s a popular location for the resident deer population.

Garvellachs
Heading along the southern shore of the Garvellach’s. There are magnificant views to the south towards Scarba and Jura.

The paddle along the Garvellach’s is always spectacular with plenty of evidence of sea level change, a geographers dream. There is always the sense of expectation as you approach Eileach an Naoimh, knowing that you are going somewhere really special. As we pulled into the small anchorage it was clear that we were going to have the island to ourselves, a first for me.

Island Exploration

Garvellachs
Pete by one of the preserved Beehive cells

We passed a virtually perfect couple of hours wandering around the amazing remains, which are to be found on Eileach an Naoimh. As the only people on the island we were able to let our imaginations run riot. On a warm June day with light winds it seemed an idyllic place to live but what it must have been like exposed to the full force of an Atlantic storm on a December night, is hard to imagine.

This is probably the best preserved early Christian settlement on the west coast of Scotland. It dates back to the 6th Century A.D. It may have been founded by St Brendan the Navigator, which was before St Columba reached Iona.
17 years had passed since my last visit but I am certain that it won’t be 17 years before I step ashore on the these islands again. Classic is a word, which at times is used far too frequently but there is no doubt in my mind that paddling out to the Garvellach’s is one of the classic sea kayaking trips.

Eithne's Grave
This grave is traditionally identified as the grave of Eithne. St Columba’s mother
Garvellach's
Me standing on the summit ridge of Eileach an Naoimh, looking back towards the mainland of Scotland. Mull is on the left.
Garvellach's
On the summit ridge in 1999. Nicky and Phil Harriskine. Gordon Brown has his back to us and Duncan Winning is still walking upwards in the white shirt.

A few more aerial photos

These are a few more aerial photos that I have taken recently whilst flying to various destinations. I am never certain why people request an aisle seat when the best entertainment is often looking out of the window. What I have noticed though is that more and more you are requested to lower the window blinds when in flight. At least on British Airways you are told to have them open on take off and landing.

I booked a window seat on a flight towards the end of last year. I settled into my seat and prepared for some great views, camera at the ready. To my amazement a passenger in the row behind reached over my seat and closed the window blind next to where I was sitting. I expressed my disquiet, opened the window blind and thankfully enjoyed some great views. Sadly accompanied by some grumbling from behind.
Below are a few more aerial photos taken, mainly during in the last 12 months.

Aerial photos
Take off from Jersey on a day when there is a westerly swell. There is some superb paddling along the cliffs to the north of the bay.
Aerial photographs
The Isle of Wight seen whilst flying from Birmingham to Paris There is quite a lot of high quality paddling potential in this picture.
Aerial photographs
Isla San Jose seen whilst flying north towards Phoenix. We had paddled the coast a few days earlier. The mangroves are just visible bottom left.
Aerial photos
Departure from Jeju, an island off South Korea. Behind is Hallasan, a volcano, rising to 1950 metres, and the highest mountain in South Korea. We had reached the summit a couple of days earlier. An amazing fact is that Jeju – Seoul is the worlds busiest air route. On the flight to Seoul it was clear that the coast of South Korea offered amazing potential for sea kayaking, sadly there was no paddling on this trip.
Aerial photos
The north coast of Jersey, with Bonne Nuit pier visible. One of the more popular places on the island to go paddling.

Isla Danzante

After an evening spent at one of the most easily identifiable campsites in the Sea of Cortez it was time to start our journey south. Initially we headed north along the shores of Isla Carmen as we wanted to cross to the northern end of Isla Danzante.
The views towards the hills of Isla Carmen were spectacular, as we started the crossing another kayak group left the larger island heading west. Our paths seemed to be parallel to each other but we were clearly heading to a similar point.

Isla Carmen
Heading north along the west coast of Isla Carmen. We were getting ready to cross to the northern end of Isla Danzante.

Eventually our paths crossed and we stopped for a talk with the group who were out of Loreto. It turned out they would be the only group we spoke to whilst on the water in the next 10 days. Baja might be a popular kayaking destination but you rarely encounter other groups.

Isla Dazante
Rachel paddling past one of the attractive beaches on the west coast Isla Dazante. There were a number of suitable places to stop, which offered the opportunity to some superb swimming.

The decision to paddle along the wext coast of Isla Danzante was based upon the fact that on every other visit to the area we had paddled the west coast. It was great to get a different perspective on a dramatic Mexican island. Rising to a maximum height of 1050 metres, the island is home to 16 different types of reptiles, including a number of snakes. Not being a fan of such things I enjoyed my time of the beach and snorkeling but resisted the temptation to wander around inland.

Isla Danzante
Crossing from Isla Danzante towards Punta Candeleros. This point marked the start of our journey south along the Baja coast.

Leaving Isla Danzante we passed on the inside of a number of small islands before reaching the headland of Punta Candeleros. In many ways this was quite a significant milestone as we would be following the Baja coast, in a southerly direction from there.
It was a really warm day so it is a relief to round the point and land on pebble beach, which we remembered from a previous visit. There was plenty of shelter from the midday sun.

Baja, Mexico
A delightful beach with some very welcome shade. 2 years ago we had watched whales breaching whilst sitting on this beach.

The afternoon paddle was relatively short and we were fortunate enough to have a light following breeze speeding us on our way. Camp for the evening was on the large beach of Playa Triunfo, perhaps better known as ‘donkey poo’ beach. We camped on the northern end of the beach, where there was plenty of evidence of visits by our four legged friends!

It was a perfect place to sit and sip our evening tequila after a memorable day on the water, which included paddling along the shores of Isla Danzante one of the more special places in this unique area.

Punta Baja

It’s a long way from La Paz to Loreto, could be the opening line of a badly written country song. In fact, it’s the reality of the shuttle north. Nearly 5 hours of driving through the Mexican desert, found us on the beach at Puerto Escondido, surrounded by piles of kit. Our destination for the day was Punta Baja, only just over 6 miles away so we were in no rush.
The sea kayaks we had hired, from Mar Y Aventuras in La Paz, simply swallowed our equipment food and water. We were carrying at least 30 litres of water each in addition to fruit juices and Sprite. Kayaking in a desert is thirsty work.
In less time than anticipated, we were floating the kayaks away from the beach, prior to jumping in and heading to the east. As we left the shelter of the bay we were greeted by Mobula Rays jumping, surely one of the most magical sights for the cockpit of a kayak. Dolphins swam past heading north whilst the bird life was something special.

Baja, Mexico
Looking east towards Isla Danzante, a delightful island which lies between the coast just south of Loreto and Isla Carmen.

There was a slight northerly swell running, something I couldn’t remember experiencing in Baja before. Perhaps an indication of stronger winds further into the Gulf of California. Our aim was to pass through the narrow gap to the north of Isla Danzante.
The kayaks would float through the gap as long as there was nobody in them, so we split. 2 people opting to float and walk whilst 3 of us chose the longer and lumpier paddle to the north. The paddle was entertaining but the floaters were quicker!

Isla Danzante
Crossing towards Isla Danaznte. Within the firts 30 minutes we had already seen Mobula Rays and dolphins

Ahead lay Isla Carmen, the largest of the islands in the Loreto area and an essential part of the National Park. We had our wristbands and our booking for the campsite at Punta Baja. Without doubt one of the most recognisable locations in the Sea of Cortez, it’s the palm trees, which give a clue to its identity.

Punta Baja
Arriving at Punta Baja. It is one of the most perfect locations for a camp site, a great place to spend an evening.

As we were relatively late in the season daylight saving time had come into force, the extra hour of daylight in the evening allowing us to adopt a more relaxed approach to the proceedings. There was no need to multi task. There was time to savour the Tequila before starting on the evening meal.

Punta Baja
These were our neighbours for the evening. Brown Pelicans and their amazing powers of flight provide endless hours of enjoyment.

A superb first day, with a feeling that things could only get better over the next 10 days although we were aware that it might be difficult to beat the campsite as a location. We had been here before and all the memories were good ones, this time shouldn’t be any different.

Punta Baja
The tents are in place as the sunset sets behind the mountains of the Baja Peninsula. Its for moments like these that we go sea kayaking.

Les Ecrehous in February

The Ecrehous are a great place to visit at any time of the year but its always special to get a visit in during the winter months, when the reef is much quieter than during the summer.  A mid week visit, to Les Ecrehous in February, is a great time to go if you are hoping for some piece and quiet.
The paddle out from St Catherine’s was relatively straightforward, the benefit of having drawn vectors to allow for the tidal streams always makes the crossing easier, with the GPS just used for back up and fine adjustments to the bearing.  The 5 nautical miles took just over the hour, and soon we were drifting through the reef, as the first of the ebb tide started to run.

Les Ecrehous in February
Arriving at the Ecrehous is always a great experience. Chris just in front of Marmotier, before we paddled around the reef to land on the French side.

If possible we like to land on the French side of the reef as it is an easier carry, the only disadvantage is that your phone can suddenly switch to a French provider resulting in unexpected roaming charges.  Always a good idea to switch your phone to flight mode before leaving the beach, in Jersey.  That’s not a phrase that you have to use that frequently when briefing your kayaking group.
We always like to eat our lunch on the bench, I think that is mainly because of tradition. The photograph below shows the view to the north of the bench, which also helps to explain why its such a great picnic spot.

Les Ecrehous in February
Looking north from the bench, where we had lunch.

Another tradition is that when visiting the reef its important to go for a walk along the shingle bank, which is illustrated in this post.  All too soon it was time to pack the kayaks and think about heading south west, back to Jersey.  I always find it a bit more complicated heading back towards Jersey due to the tides.  The last you thing you want to happen is to have to punch tide in the last mile or so.  I am always surprised how often it happens though and the last mile or so is a real challenge.

Les Ecrehous in February
Leaving the reef. I was in a double with Janet. I have to admit that I have really started to enjoy paddling in a double. I know many paddlers steer clear of them but they bring a whole new perspective and skills set to your paddling.

We headed past Maitre Ile, to get a bit further south before starting out on the crossing back to Jersey.  The largest island in the reef the island has a rich historical past, with the ruins of a priory.  In 1309 the monk and the servant were responsible for lighting the navigation beacon.  Interestingly over 700 years later there is no light on the reef.

Les Ecrehous in February
Chris paddling past the largest island in the reef Maitre Ile, landing there was not an option because of the nesting cormorants.

So it was an ideal day to visit Les Ecrehous in February, perfect sea conditions and unseasonably warmth meant that we were able to wear our shorts for the whole of the day.  An unusually early hint of summer without the crowds.  We are looking forward to plenty more visits as the weather settles down.

Les Ecrehous in February
Jim returning from the Ecrehous. The blues of the sea and sky merging into one colourful backdrop.

Final morning

It was the final morning of our pre-symposium sea kayaking trip.  We didn’t need to be away at the crack of dawn but we did need to be ready to catch the start of the flood tide to carry us towards Port Welshpool.  From there we would be heading towards Wilson’s Promontory and the start of the International Sea Kayaking Educator’s Conference.

Beach
Preparing for a low tide departure from Snake Island.

It wasn’t too early a start, which was in contrast to the previous morning. The sun had already taken the chill off the air as we headed north. I think that this was the first time that it registered, as we paddled away from Snake Island, that the sun was in the north. Clearly my geography of the Southern Hemisphere left something to be desired.

Drinks Bottle
In common with so many other trips I have used my Water-to-Go bottle for daily drinks and have managed to avoid any stomach problems.

What was surprising, was for how much of the paddle we were in shallow water, which was quite fortunate as there were quite a few fishing boats heading towards the open water from Port Welshpool.  Whalers first used this area in the 1830’s, whilst the town was officially named Port Welshpool in 1952.

Final morning
Time to unload the kayaks before heading to Wilson’s Prom and the Sea Kayaking Educator’s Symposium.

We landed in Port Welshpool, and started the unloading of the kayaks.  We had been out 4 days and covered just under 30 nautical miles. Not a great distance, but it was through an interesting environment, which also gave us the opportunity to observe some animals, which we would never encounter in the northern hemisphere.
More importantly the four day paddle gave us the opportunity to get to know some of the other people who would be attending the 2nd International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium at Tidal River in the Wilsons Promontory National Park.

Early morning paddle

We finally got the opportunity to paddle in flat calm conditions on the third day, the only problem was that we had to get up at 04.00 to do so. The way the tidal streams were working meant that we either started early or waited until the late afternoon. An early morning paddle gave us so many more options.

Wilson's Prom
Leaving the Swashway Channel at first light. We had our first views of Wilson’s Prom National Park.

So at 05.50 we pushed away from the bank into a glorious Australian sunrise. It started off pretty good and just got better and better and for the first time in the trip we had mirror calm conditions and the tidal flow with us. Only just over a knot but that is better than nothing.
As we exited the Swashway Channel we gained our first reasonably good views of the north side of Wilson’s Promontory National Park, where we would be spending time at the International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium.
There was a reasonable amount of quite fast boat traffic moving up and down the channel towards the open sea. Fortunately the channel was relatively narrow with quite a few buoys indicating their route. It’s always good to know your buoyage when kayaking on the sea. Crossing the channel at right angles we reduced our exposure to the boats before turning south towards Wilson’s Prom. We were soon paddling alongside rocks and a shoreline that was more than a couple of metres high.
We stopped on a couple of stunning beaches with the opportunity to explore the shoreline or slightly further inland. We were in no real hurry as we waited for slack water in the channel to allow us to cross back to Snake Island, our destination for the day. Also it was only just after 09.00, always the advantage of an early morning paddle.

Rocky shore
Paddling along the northern shore of Wilson’s Promontory. Although this was our third day paddling it was the first time we had seen a rocky coast.

There was a discussion as to what time we should aim to cross back to Snake Island because of the tidal streams.  As a sea kayaker I have never understood why people use different units of measurement in the same conversation. It could go along the lines of;
“We have a wind of between 13 and 15 mph from the south, the tidal stream is running at 3 knots and the distance we have to go is 10 kilometres.”
The potential for errors to creep into people’s calculations is huge. I just don’t understand why people don’t stick with one unit of measurement and if we are operating on the sea it should be the nautical variety. Knots and nautical miles. Information we need about tidal flows is always given in knots so why not stick with that unit. I admit that some people might find it difficult at first but I really think that it is worth the effort.

Kayaks on beach
Arrival on Snake Beach. We were told that the campsite might be a bit “snakey”. That’s not the sort of comment that a paddler from Jersey wants to hear.

I know many people will find this strange but a couple of us were really getting quite excited by the prospect of seeing kangaroos. Living on an island where the largest land animal is the rabbit I get easily excited. We had been told that we were likely to see them in the evening but it was still quite a surprise when when 16 of them hopped out the bush. Linked with a few small deer wandering around and it felt like a wildlife bonanza.

Tidal range
Due to the tidal range we had to move the kayaks up off the beach. It would have been a pretty inconvenient to loose some kayaks at this stage in the trip.

Animal
I know these can be really common but when its the first one you have ever seen in the wild its a pretty exciting experience!

Increasing Wind

One of the problems of jet leg is that sometimes you just can’t sleep, which was the position I found myself in on the second day. Taking advantage of this I got up reasonably early to walk along the spit. We had so painstakingly paddled along the previous day.

Drum spit
Looking along the spit on Drum Island. A perfect location for an early morning stroll.

It was one of those moments that you truly appreciate. The morning sun rising over a reasonably calm sea to the backdrop of the Australian dawn chorus. All too soon it was time to head back, as the rest of the camp was starting to stir.
Whilst on trips, individuals often develop routines, especially around the campsite. Some people are unable to sit still and have to get involved with every aspect of the food preparation, often to the frustration of the person who is actually cooking the meal. I am more than willing to allow people to get on a cook the evening meal, they normally do a much better job than I do but I am happy to prepare breakfast everyday, which was the position I found myself in that morning.
I enjoy the opportunity to reflect on what lies ahead and to have the opportunity to chat to people. In contrast to the evenings when most people are around the kitchen area, in the morning people usually arrive individually meaning that the experience is much more personal. So that is one of the reasons I found myself preparing porridge on the south side of Sunday Island.
We were away reasonably promptly but the sea, which had been so calm on my dawn walk was starting to reflect changes in the weather. The forecast had confidently predicted reasonably light winds. They just didn’t seem to be able to get it right though, the days we were on the water.
Almost as soon as we headed along the channel the wind picked up and it was either a headwind or on our beam. This had resulted in some interesting discussions about packing the kayaks. Distributing the weight depending upon the direction of the wind, in effect trimming the kayak to suit the conditions. In reality how often does the wind remain the same all day? I always recommend packing the same kit in the same place in the kayak so when you arrive on the beach and conditions are far from ideal it’s a matter of being able to go to the right dry bags straight away.
Crossing over the channel to Snake Island the wind increased even further and it was clear we were falling behind the proposed schedule. We stopped for lunch on a possible campsite, The Gulf, as we considered the options. Two further campsites we possible and we sensibly selected the closer of the two.

Snake Island
The lunch break was taken on the Gulf Campsite on Snake Island. Although the wind had picked up it was still possible to head towards the next available campsite.

We arrived at Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park Just as the tide started to drop and managed to avoid the worst of the carry through the thick oozing mud. Tents were soon up and meal preparation underway. It hadn’t been a long paddle but it hadn’t been straightforward either. The wind proving a pretty constant adversary.

Camp site
Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park was where we spent the night. Half the group camping in the shelter of the bush whilst others decided on a more open site, close to the water.

Paddling in this area is in complete contrast to the waters at home. The islands are low lying without any obvious physical features, resulting in quite challenging navigation. If you didn’t remain focused on your chart then establishing your location could be an issue.

Low tide
Low tide and sunset in the Swashway Channel. A delightful end to the day.

Australian Sea Kayaking

I have to admit that I had never been that attracted by the idea of a visit to Australia.  This was largely a feeling based on ignorance as opposed to a decision based on facts.  Therefore, when I saw the International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium advertised, I though this might just be the catalyst I needed to head towards the southern hemisphere.
What appealed about the Symposium and helped justify the hours spent on the aircraft reaching Melbourne, was the 4 day pre-symposium paddle.  So with a degree of enthusiasm and some slight trepidation I signed up and booked my flights.
This was the story as to how I found myself standing outside the railway station at 06.00 on a cold Thursday morning in Frankston, to the south east of Melbourne.   It is an interesting experience trying to identify other sea kayakers amongst the early morning commuters.  The North Face bags and beards were a bit of a give away with the males!
So 6 prospective kayakers from 4 different countries found ourselves heading towards Port Albert.  It was here that we met the other people who had taken advantage of the opportunity to participate in the 4 day paddle.  In total there were about 20 of us, with a third from the UK, which I have to admit I found a bit surprising.
As with all trips some people were quicker than others at getting ready for departure, but straight after lunch we were ready to go.  The big question was “Who had turned on the fan?”  The early morning calm had been replaced by an entertaining breeze, which was significantly higher than forecast.  Sitting still was not an option.
We fought our way west and south with a speed over the ground that most of the time was well below 2 knots.  The wind was certainly taking its toll and producing a very low fun factor.  Eventually after just over 5 nautical miles we decided to call it a day, the next possible camp site was quite some way off and so it was with some relief that we lifted the kayaks above the high water mark.
Not a glorious start to my Australian sea kayaking career but it was certainly an interseting experience and the relatively early finish allowed plenty of time to get to know the other people in the group.
What was even better was that the wind was due to drop off over night so as I dropped asleep on my first night in the Australian bush all my thoughts were positive.

Australian Sea Kayaking
Preparing and loading the kayaks in front of Port Albert Yacht Club. Conditions were lovely at this time little did we realize how quickly the wind would pick up.

Australian Sea Kayking
Sheltering under the sand spit at the eastern end of Sunday Island. The sand was blasting over the top and some of the group decided that walking and dragging was easier than paddling into such a significant head wind.

Australian Sea Kayaking
Although we had hoped to get further this campsite was realistically as far as we could go on the first day. Pitching the tents in the bush gave some much needed shelter from the wind. We did tie the kayaks down due to the strength of the wind.

Jersey Symposium

Bookings have been open for the Jersey Symposium and we are already over half full, which is great news.  So if you are interested in kayaking in the most southerly waters in the British Isles, why not consider visiting Jersey next May.
The event starts on the evening of Friday 24th May, with a reception at the Highlands Hotel.  The following 3 days will be a mixture of kayaking workshops, guided paddles and a limited number of talks.  The focus is on paddling rather than being inside.  There will be the usual workshops such as rescues and rolling, intermediate skills, leadership etc plus some Jersey specialities such as lobster fishing and sea caves and cliff jumping.
From Tuesday onwards there are further opportunities for exploring the local waters plus weather depending the possibility of visiting the offshore reefs or even some of the other Channel Islands.  As the week progresses the tides become bigger give us the chance to play is some of the tide races.
In addition to the day time programme there are events every evening including lectures, symposium meal with a live band, quiz night, bbq etc.  It really is full on from the Friday evening until the following Friday.

The booking form for the Symposium is available here.

Condor Ferries operate from Portsmouth, Poole and St Malo whilst there are flights from most UK airports and there are a number of sea kayaks available for hire.
We ran the first Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium in 1992 and we like to think that in the intervening 26 years we have developed a format, which is successful and allows both local and visiting paddlers to experience the best of what Jersey has to offer as well as providing plenty of opportunities for learning.
So don’t delay in planning your visit to the 2019 Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium.

Jersey Symposium
The Ecrehous, roughly half way between Jersey and France is a classic one day trip. Hopefully there will be plenty of opportunities to visit this stunning reef.

Jersey Symposium
As the week progresses the tides become larger, allowing people to play in some of the tide races, which develop around our coast.

Jersey Symposium
With warm, clear waters and perfect granite rock, conditions can be ideal for exploring the coast and to challenge yourself on some of the local jumps.