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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have always had a soft spot for the islands to the north of Jersey, in particular Herm and Sark. Over the last 40 years I have paddled to both on numerous occasions always enjoying their coastline as well as the atmosphere on shore.
Sadly they appear to have become islands of contrast. Sark appears to have deteriorated over the last few years with numerous shops closing and in places the island appearing uncared for. Herm on the other hand appears to have gone from strength to strength and would now be my Island of choice.
Every year there is an excuse to visit Herm in both June and September, the Herm Beer Festival. What could be better, stunning sea kayaking and the choice of 50 real ales. Last year we paddled from Jersey to the June event, but this year that wasn’t an option due to the fact that I was in plaster, following a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in Gozo.
For the September Festival we decided to take to car to Guernsey and paddle from there. The alternative plan was if it was too rough to paddle across the Little Russell we could always get the ferry. We were determined to get to Herm!
The first issue was the cost of the ferry. I think that I am pretty tolerant but £330 for a car and 3 passengers from Jersey to Guernsey is pretty excessive. It’s only about 25 nautical miles, the crossing is about an hour. It’s always the problem when you are a captive market. We booked several weeks in advance but had to just bite the bullet and pay up.
We reached Guernsey and headed towards Bordeaux, our departure point. We had to stick to a schedule as it was the largest tide of the year so the tidal streams in the Little Russell were going to be running at a considerable speed. Selecting the appropriate tidal window was essential.
The crossing passed reasonably easily and we were soon putting the tents up before heading back to the bright lights of the Mermaid Tavern. The Herm Beer Festival is such a delightful event and we were fortunate enough to spend 3 evenings there as well as spending some of the days enjoying kayaking in the superb coastal waters of the surrounding islands.
All too soon it was time to head back to Jersey, but already thinking that next year we would be heading north once again to experience the charms of Herm.
There are a few paddles in Jersey, which visiting and local sea kayakers, should aspire to complete. One of these is to paddle around, what is referred to as “The Towers”. This refers to two towers, which are located to the south east of the island, Seymour and Icho.
The Jersey Canoe Club has run weekly Sunday morning sessions for nearly 45 years and this week it was the turn of The Towers, to be the venue. Weather and tidal conditions were such that quite a few members had guessed the venue several days in advance, well before the WhatsApp message was sent out, on the Saturday.
Seymour and Icho Towers
Of the two towers Seymour is the oldest, being built in 1782, the year after French troops landed nearby, which resulted in the Battle of Jersey. Our initial target was Icho Tower, just over 1 mile offshore. Low an squat compared to the older towers, it is based on the design of towers found at Mortella Point, Corsica.
They probably contained a garrison of 12 soldiers and a sergeant, but today they are largely the preserve of sea birds. Today it was curlews and sandwich terns but some winters a spoonbill has started to call Icho home.
From Icho we headed virtually east towards Seymour, the final push of the flooding tide ensured that at times our speed over the ground was nearly 6 knots. Seymour Tower has been refurbished and is available for rent from Jersey Heritage, accompanied by a guide. Today a family was in residence so landing was not an option.
Instead we turned offshore to visit Karame Beacon, which is one of the many navigation marks in the area. The tide was flowing with a degree of speed around the rocks, which provided some enjoyment. From there it was a ferry glide in excess of a mile into the coast at La Rocque, a small harbour with signicant place in Jersey’s history. Baron Philippe de Rullecourt, landed here on the 6th January 1781, with approximately 1,400 French troops. The subsequent Battle of Jersey, in the Royal Square resulted in the defeat of the French forces.
Returning from the towers, we followed the coast back towards Le Hocq. Conditions were just perfect, in fact quite amazing for the beginning of September. Conditions were such that we had to stop and roll, as well as having a swim in the crystal clear waters. It will be possibly 9 months, before we experience such conditions again. Great memories to help us through the winter months.
The Jersey Canoe Club Nordkapp meet got under way on Friday evening with a small reception and a photo opportunity at the Club premises at St Catherine’s.
There were 22 Nordkapp’s on showing, varying not just in model type but also in age. The oldest was an orange and white Nordkapp HM, which had been produced before the introduction of recessed deck fittings. This probably dates it to about 1977. The most recent kayak was a Nordkapp Forti, which was available for people to try.
The evening was an opportunity to look at kayaks, chat with friends about paddling and to meet Sam Cook, our weekend guest. In addition planning the paddle for Saturday, from Ouaisne around Corbiere and into the reefs near La Rocco Tower.
On the Saturday we were able to show Sam some of the most interesting paddling in Jersey waters, granite cliffs, tide races and lighthouses, offshore reefs and North Atlantic swells. A perfect backdrop to our Nordkapp meet. It was just amazing to see so many of the classic kayaks out on the water at the same time.
On Saturday evening Sam gave a talk on the 1975 Nordkapp expedition, which was fascinating. So many things that we take for granted came about as a result of that innovative trip:
Buoyancy aids (PFD’s) with pockets
Asymmetric paddle blades
It was a truly ground breaking expedition, which set the scene for so many more which followed. Without the Norkapp meet people would have not had the opportunity to experience and learn what an influence this sea kayak has had on modern paddling. There was still two days of paddling to go!
I was surprised to discover that the River Tay, in terms of volume of discharge, contains more fresh water than any other river in the United Kingdom. It shouldn’t have come as a shock as it has a catchment area of nearly 2,000 square miles, much of it mountainous. Downstream of Perth the river becomes tidal and it was this stretch of the river that we explored on Sunday morning.
The morning dawned damp and overcast. But we were keen to get on the water when we met in the small village of Newburgh, which is on the south shore of the River Tay. The tide had just turned and the plan was to use the ebb tide to carry us in the direction of Dundee and the famous bridges.
It was a journey of 11 nautical miles, a distance which slipped quickly past but didn’t seem to require too much effort. The tide seemed to be doing most of the work. I was surprised to see a number of seals. One in particular seemed to be enjoying his morning break, feeding on rather a large fish and in no hurry to move out of our way.
Coming from Jersey, I enjoyed paddling past relatively long stretches of wooded shoreline. An environment which is relatively rare on the island. The sight of deer running through the fields or walking along the shore was an added bonus.
The dominant feature of the paddle though was the Tay Railway Bridge. The original bridge was opened to railway traffic on the 1st June 1878. On the evening of the 28th December 1879 a violent gale was blowing. At 7.13 pm a train headed across the bridge but disappeared in the darkness. The exact number of people who died isn’t known but thought to be 74 or 75.
The events of that evening were described in the poem by Willaim McGonagall, “The Tay Bridge Disaster.” I remembering studying it for English A Level at school. So bad that it was shown to us as an example of how not to write poetry.
Paddling under the new bridge and seeing the remains of the old bridge, one couldn’t help but reflect on the events of that night, 150 years ago. It was a fitting place to complete our Sunday paddle on the River Tay. Thanks once again to the enthusiasm and knowledge of Piotr, the owner of Outdoor Explore.