Another couple of hours scanning some old slides has revived some great memories of sea kayaking in Jersey. It is clear that over the years the Jersey Canoe Club has been involved in a variety of entertaining events both in local waters and further afield.
In 1993 we paddled over 300 miles along the west coast of Greenland, from Sisimiut to Ilulissat. After several weeks paddling we called in at Qasigiannguit, in the south east corner of Disko Bay. Formerly known as Christianshab, the town was established in 1734, making it the second oldest town in Greenland.
It is situated in the heart of a rich archaeological region so not surprisingly there is an interesting museum. At the museum there was a traditional kayak and in conversation with the curator we asked if there were still any people hunting in the traditional fashion. He replied that possibly there were still traditional hunters around Thule, in the far north, but certainly not in the area that we were paddling in.
It came as a complete surprise, therefore to encounter this Greenland hunter two days later in the ice, on the southern side of Ilulissat icefjord. He was paddling up into the ice and then drifting back on the melt water current occasionally shooting a seal. This is a scene from 1993 which I doubt exists today, certainly in visits to the area since 2008 there have been no similar encounters.
Sadly they are now all unmanned but when we started to visit these offshore buildings a number were still manned and it was always a pleasure to take out the daily papers and some fresh milk. These small gestures often resulted in the offer of a hot drink and on a few occasions a guided tour of the lighthouse. Sadly these days are long gone.
“Read the Water” is a small booklet written by respected South Wales sea kayak coach, Nige Robinson. In full colour this is a useful addition to the library of an paddler who pursues their hobby on the sea.
The focus of the book is in helping sea kayakers acquire that almost indefinable quality described as a seamanship. There are chapters covering such diverse topics such “Fundamentals”, “Observing the water”, “Change”, “Wind and weather”, “Surf”, and “Moving Water”.
The book has a pretty unique approach to instruction, not so much telling you what you need to know but prompting you to question what you see. Encouraging you to try and make sense of what you are seeing and if possible to predict any possible changes. Experienced paddlers are always assessing their environment, the interaction between the water, air and land and deciding what is an appropriate course of action.
What do these clouds mean, what is the consequence of tidal change on the water, interpreting colour to decide what the sea bed and sea shore consist of. Once you have interpreted the data it is possible to make an informed judgement, as to whether the trip can continue or whether it should be amended or even abandoned.
In addition it encourages paddlers to use all their senses. How often have you heard experienced paddlers say “The tide is against us here”. They have developed a feel for what the water is doing and are able to come to a conclusion without being reliant on visual information.
This is a book to dip into on a regular basis, as opposed to just sitting down and reading it in one go. Look at a few of the photographs, interpret what they are showing and then head out on to the water to put it into practice. It is certainly a novel approach for a book but it is well worth pursuing. A worthwhile investment.
The book is available by mail order for £10.99 from Nige at Sea Kayak Guides,.
It had always been an ambition of mine to paddle around Gozo in a day but on every previous visit to the Island the weather had been too unsettled or I had been with paddlers who might have found it a bit too much of a challenge.
It was a surprise therefore after the winds of the last 5 or 6 days a narrow window of opportunity seemed to open up and so at 07.30 Thursday morning we found ourselves at Dahlet Qorrot, unloading kayaks and sorting kit for an 08.00 departure.
We were heading around Gozo in a clock wise direction so just after 08.00 we were heading for the easterly point before turning onto the south coast. As we paddled along we disturbed a short eared owl, which hopefully didn’t hang around on the Islands much longer as it would be at high risk of being shot! Just past the harbour at Mgarr, we came across a couple of hunters, who had decoys floating offshore, as they sat with guns at the ready. That probably goes someway to explaining why we saw virtually no sea birds all day.
We pulled back into Dahlet Qorrot at about 15.15, we hadn’t raced around but we certainly hadn’t just dawdled along. Apart from the extra time to go into Mgarr Ix-Xini we didn’t really stop and we certainly didn’t get out of the kayaks. Chris did have an appointment at 15.30 though so we were on a bit of a schedule.
I have heard lots of distances given for the circumnavigation of Gozo and most of the them also include the phrase “It is about”. It was good to be able to measure the distance on the GPS and confirm that our route was exactly 20 nautical miles. Spectacular scenery and good company combined to produce a memorable day out. I just hope that I don’t have to wait another 5 years before I repeat it.
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.
Comino is the third largest island in the Maltese archipelago and a particularly special one to paddle around. Leaving from Hondoq, on Gozo, it is not a particularly long trip, just under 6 nautical miles, but it never fails to entertain. For today’s paddle we were fortunate enough to be able to use kayaks from Kayak Gozo and were really pleased that Chris, from the company was able to join us. It has been just over 2 years since I last paddled with him, on a particularly memorable visit to Herm.
Thousands of tourists visit the Blue Lagoon every day during the height of the tourist season and even on a Friday in November it was pretty busy. During the summer months it isn’t possible to paddle through the Blue Lagoon as it is roped off for swimmers, but the ropes were taken away a few days previously and so for the first time in over 5 years I passed through the Blue Lagoon.
There was some reasonably choppy water as we made our way around the south west corner of the island, past the small lighthouse. It wasn’t long though before we were surfing parallel to the south coast.
After stopping for a quick stretch of the legs we carried on until we reached the east coast. The kayaking is truly memorable with some challenging rock hopping at times plus some superb caves just waiting to be explored.
The weather wasn’t quite as good as on some previous visits but the circumnavigation of Comino is always something special. It didn’t disappoint today.
There are some truly memorable urban sea kayaking destinations such as the Hudson River in New York and the Thames in London. Today we experienced a third, the Grand Harbour Valletta. A paddle steeped in history and geography.
Once again we were the guests of the Malta Sea Kayak Club. They have really convenient premises close to the Sliema – Valletta ferry, with a good selection of sea kayaks. Once we were kitted out what followed was 3 hours of memorable sea kayaking, explore the various areas of the Grand Harbour. Clearly paddling in such a busy commercial environment requires care and knowledge. Our local guides were, yet again, Ian and Andrea and it was a pleasure to be on the water with them again.
The history of the various locations around the harbour is well documented, ranging from the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 when the Ottoman’s tried to evict the Knights of St John, and the blockade of 1800 as a result of which, the French surrendered, enabling the British to establish rule over the islands. Possibly the most memorable military event was the relentless bombing of the island by the Italians and Germans during the Second World War.
It is possible to read about the history and to visit some of the excellent museums, but what we had today was a totally unique perspective on one of the great natural harbours in the world.
The coast of north west Malta was to provide an entertaining introduction to kayaking on the largest island of the archipelago. We launched out through the surf at Ghajn Bay before turning north with the intention of reaching Popeye’s Village.
As we paddled along the coast we passed Golden Bay, its beach dominated by the large hotel above. It is easy to imagine just how busy this area could be on a hot August day but on the last day of October it appeared relatively quiet. There were numerous opportunities for rock hopping along this section of coast but the ever present swell was creating some entertaining conditions.
Although the modern developments associated with the tourist industry are clearly visible on the cliffs above fortifications are an indication of the more turbulent past. Ta Ghajn Tuffieha Tower was the first tower that we passed, built in 1637. It was the second of a series of small coastal towers known as Lascaris Towers constructed when Giovanni Paolo Lascaris was elected Grand Master of the Order of St John.
The most northerly point of our paddle was Popeye Village, it started life in 1980 as a film set for the musical “Popeye” starring Robin Williams. A popular tourist attraction, it was fairly quiet and today and we were allowed to land on the slip briefly. A member of the staff from the cafe came down and took our coffee order, which was promptly delivered. Such excellent service.
From there we turned south, enjoying the lively water conditions, aiming for the large headland of Ras ir Raheb. The steep limestone cliffs were reflecting the waves straight back out to sea and the resulting clapotis provided some enjoyable paddling. Just to the south of the headland there was a large cave, which we managed to paddled into despite the sea conditions, although the noise was quite something.
We returned north to Ghajn Bay, enjoying the last of the 11 nautical miles that we had paddled along the coast of north west Malta. A great introduction to paddling in Malta with the Malta Sea Kayak Club.