2017 has seen us undertake some significant warm weather kayaking but perhaps none as unusual as Mauritius. A winter holiday evolved into some great sea kayaking as well as running some British Canoeing courses.
A quick e mail to Patrick Haberland at Yemaya Adventures to try and arrange a day’s paddling, gradually evolved into something else. The initial offering of a sit on top tour through mangrove swamps was replaced by the opportunity to paddle in sea kayaks out to Ile de la Passe, off the east coast of Mauritius, in exchange for some days of training.
This was a perfect combination and allowed us to see some areas of Mauritius, which we might have missed if we hadn’t managed to get out on the water.
Our first experience of paddling in Mauritius was when we headed out from near Preskil Beach Resort on the east coast of the island. We passed close to Ile aux Aigrettes. This is a stunning nature reserve with close links to Jersey Zoo, so we had more than a passing interest in the island. Some of the species on the island have been part of a captive breeding programme so it felt a real privilege to see a Pink Pigeon in the wild as opposed to in Jersey.
We paddled across Mahebourg Bay towards Ile de la Passe. This was an area, which originally had been settled by the Dutch but was settled by the French in the early 18th century. We were headed towards Ile de la Passe, with its military fortifications dating from the 18th century onwards.
On the 20th August 1810, at the Battle of Grand Port, the French inflicted their greatest naval defeat on the British, a victory which is commemorated on the Arc de Triumph. The fortifications on Ile de la Passe were enlarged by the British during the 19th century and again during the Second World War, when Mauritius, despite its isolation was dragged into the conflict.
Against this rich historical background was some delightful sea kayaking. To the east the the southern Indian Ocean was releasing its energy on the reef, which fringes the east coast of Mauritius. Within the reef the water was relatively calm and in areas very shallow. We landed on Ile de la Passe before heading north to Ile aux Fouquets or ile au Phare, with its British built lighthouse, which has sadly fallen into disrepair. This was a completely different marine environment, to which we were used to paddling in but it was really memorable.
Salina is the final island of our Aeolian Islands adventure. The crossing from Lipari to Salina is only a couple of miles but it is across waters busy with commercial traffic so it is important to be aware of the passage of the ferries and their intended routes. They are fast and frequent so always be aware when crossing possible routes, if in doubt stop and allow them to pass. We did have relatively close encounters with a couple of ferries on our crossing but the main distraction were the dolphins heading south. As a group stay close together, it is easier for you to be seen.
We headed up the west coast in virtually perfect conditions, warm October sunshine and virtually no wind. Stopping for an early lunch on the beach at Rinella, we took advantage of the warm water for a pre-lunch swim. What was surprising was just how many ferries entered the harbour, for such a small town. In little more than an hour this small village saw more ferries visit than Jersey in a whole day.
As we headed up the north west coast of the island we witnessed one of the most memorable bird sights I have seen in a long time. Numerous Eleonora’s Falcons were flying along the towering cliffs. At times we reckoned that there were up to 30 birds flying overhead, and this was a spectacle that lasted for several miles. It was impossible, therefore, to work out just how many of these amazing birds we saw.
The opportunity to watch Eleonora’s Falcons is one of the real pleasures of kayaking around some Mediterranean islands. Nesting on sea cliffs they delay their breeding until the autumn so that they are able to take advantage of the southerly autumn migration. Catching the smaller migrating birds to feed to their young. Eleonora’s Falcons, themselves, then migrate heading across Africa to Madagascar for the winter. Superb fliers, it is always a thrill to see them cruising along the sea cliffs and this day was without doubt the best display I have ever seen.
This was probably the hottest day we spent on the water, whilst in the Aeolian Islands and at times it was refreshing to paddle underneath the cliffs, in search of shade. The paddle around Salina from Lipari also turned into our longest distance, with 17 nautical miles covered. Our destination for the day was the main port on the island, at Santa Marina, as we had a ferry to catch.
Landing on the beach, just north of the harbour, on the east coast of Salina, we could see that we were less than 100 metres from the ferry ramp. A relatively straightforward carry, as we waited for the car ferry, which was going to take us to Stromboli. A relaxing beer and snack were enjoyed, whilst watching over the kayaks. As the ferry approached, it was the large ferry which operates the overnight service to Naples, we moved a couple of the kayaks close to the ferry ramp. My Italian is almost non-existent, but I eventually worked out from some passerby that the ferry was arriving on a different ramp to the one we were standing on.
What followed was the most exhausting 15 minutes of the whole trip, as we had to carry 9 fully loaded kayaks, 8 singles and a double, several hundred metres through the crowds on the waterfront. Alex, in his usual style was not optimistic about making the ferry, Janet was saying that she would stand on the ramp and I was convinced that we would make it, but only just. As it turned out we had plenty of time but it was 10 very sweaty kayakers who eventually settled down in the bar, for the 3 hour crossing to Stromboli. As we sipped our drinks and tried to get our heart rates back to normal we were blissfully unaware that the following day we were going to experience some of the most dramatic sea kayaking of our lives.
I first started logging my canoeing and kayaking trips in January 1979, when I was starting to work towards a number of British Canoe Union Awards. Sea Proficiency followed by Inland and Canoe Proficiency before moving onto Senior Instructor and Advanced Sea. A logbook was a pre-requisite for most assessments, as is some form of documentary evidence today.
I found that once I started documenting my paddling experiences it became more and more difficult to stop. It has eventually developed into a series of notebooks documenting my paddling adventures of the last 38 years. It is a record of not just my paddling but includes details of where we parked the car when visiting new areas, any unusual weather, birds and animals seen etc.
One thing that I have recorded is the distance covered and have watched it gradually increase over the years. The initial thought was “had I paddled around the distance of going round the earth at the equator”? According to Google the circumference of the earth at the equator is approximately 21,640 nautical miles.
A pleasant morning was spent, several years ago, sorting through my logbooks and compiling an annual total. I discovered that I had passed the circumnavigation distance a couple of years earlier but have carried on keeping a record of my paddling journeys.
Kayaking around Stromboli was a memorable paddle, not only from the scenery but because I also went past 26,000 nautical miles in my logbook. The location was in the channel between the main island and the small stack of Strombolicchio to the north east. After watching the GPS tick over to record the distance we paused for a few moments reflected on 26,000 nautical miles and carried on paddling to our landing, close to the harbour. We had a volcano to walk up!
From Vulcano we crossed the narrow channel to Lipari, our plan was to paddle north along the west coast and return south down the east coast later in the week. It seemed like a good plan, which worked, although not in the way that we intended as it actually involved rapid disembarkation from a car ferry.
The channel across from Vulcano is only a few hundred metres wide but does require a degree of caution when crossing. It is regularly used by the high speed ferries which connect the various islands in the group. Both times we crossed we encountered ferries which necessitated in changes in direction. Approaching the south west corner of the island is like paddling onto the pages of a geography textbook. Caves, arches and stacks all positioned in the order, which is depicted in the diagrams shown in geography books.
There is one large beach on the west coast of the island, Spiaggia Valle Muria, with a small bar/cafe in a cave, which appears to have rather erratic opening times. The remainder of the coast is a playground for the sea kayaker. There were numerous geographical features waiting to be explored, which we took full advantage of, whilst en route to Salinas.
The east coast of Lipari, wasn’t necessarily on our agenda but a forecast of particularly strong winds encouraged us to book the ferry from Stromboli back to Vulcano. Unfortunately the wind was stronger than forecast, which prevented the ferry docking at Vulcano. Suddenly we were forced to abandon ship in Lipari Town.
Our unexpected arrival allowed us plenty of time to explore Lipari Town. It is the largest settlement in the Aeolian Islands. We were able to settle into our guest house, the Villa Rosa, a great find right on the waterfront. The citadel proved to be an essential visit. Walking around the narrow lanes and courtyards it was hard to imagine that Mussolini used the area to contain political prisoners.
The forecast for the following day was for lighter winds so we anticipated being able to paddle the east coast before crossing to Vulcano.
Arriving on the ferry, at Vulcano, the first thing to strike you is the sulphurous smell, indicating that you have arrived on a volcanic island. The smoking crater, rising above Porto di Levante provides further evidence of geological activity in the area. The ancient Romans believed that the volcano was the chimney of the fire god, Vulcan.
The crater rises to a height of 391 metres and a walk around its rim should be on the tick list of anybody visiting the island, which is the closest of the Aeolian Islands, to mainland Sicily. Although I am fascinated by physical geography, the reason for our visit was to rent kayaks from Sicily in Kayak at the start of a 7 day paddle around the islands. As we disembarked the owner Eugenio was waiting with his distinctive yellow mini bus to transport us round the start of our journey, just in front of his premises.
After the usual delay as equipment was sorted, kayaks packed and provisions purchased we were were soon heading south along the east coast of the island. Whilst packing we became aware of one of the more intrusive aspects of life on Vulcano, mosquitoes. Some of the group reacting more than others, but everybody was finding them surprisingly active, if visiting be prepared.
The slopes drop steeply into the Mediterranean Sea, although in places there appeared to be signs of some old terracing. Ahead we could see the north coast of Sicily but what was really attracting our attention was the view towards the other islands, particularly Stromboli with a plume of gases rising steadily from its summit. There is virtually no access to the east coast, with the first easy landing being Spiaggia Cannitello, on the south coast. There was a bar, restaurant, sun beds etc but absolutely no sign of human activity.
The were a few people fishing off the jetty at the small port of Gelso then we were on our own again along the west coast of the island. There are a number of amazing caves along this stretch of coast, including the Grotta del Cavallo, which is big enough to accommodate tourist boats. As kayakers we will probably want to explore some of the smaller caves, which are just waiting to be discovered by the inquisitive paddlers.
Just before reaching Vulcanello are the black sands of Spiaggia Sabina Nera, its probably easy to identify because of the number of yachts at anchor in the bay. There is a bar on the beach but it is a relatively short walk across the isthmus to the port area where there are more options for food and drink. The isthmus was created in 1550, the last eruption of Vulcanello, which constitutes the northern part of the island. Vulcanello appeared in 183 B.C. following some underwater eruptions. From the north coast of Vulcanello it is a relatively short crossing to Lipari or you could follow the coast back to harbour and your departure point.
Which ever option you chose you won’t be disappointed Vulcano is a pretty dramatic sea kayaking destination. We were out for 7 days so our interest lay to the north and some truly spectacular kayaking.
The A – Z of Sea Kayaking was the first book that I published for the Kindle. The concept was very simple, write down everything I knew or I could find out about sea kayaking. It was a fascinating journey, which changed direction several times in its development. At one time I was also going to include information on some classic paddling destinations. That idea was eventually put on hold but I did include information on such varied topics as coaching, skills, weather, navigation, personalities etc.
The finished product came out at just under 100,000 words and occupied several hundred pages on my Kindle, it is still the longest book I have completed. The latest title “Coasteering: A Practical Guide” has just under 24,000 words, although it does have significantly more photographs.
Over the last week I have been revising the book and rather naively I thought it was going to be quite a simple exercise. When I first published the title Sandy Robson was just setting out from Germany on a 5 year expedition tracing the route of Oskar Speck. Olly Hicks and George Bullard hadn’t even started to think about kayaking from Greenland to Scotland, something they achieved in 2016. Sea Kayaker magazine was still in production, as were other paddling magazines, which have since disappeared.
Other changes have seen of one of the most respected governing bodies in the sport renamed. The British Canoe Union has become British Canoeing. Sadly a number of the most influential and prominent paddlers of the second part of the 20th century have passed away.
So far I have added another 5,000 words and appear to have only just scratched the surface of the significant number of changes, achievements and developments in the sport. It is amazing to see just what has been achieved in the last six years, a true reflection of how dynamic modern sea kayaking is.
So what started as a simple project has grown significantly but the plan is still to have the new edition available before the end of the year.
After the near perfect conditions for exploring the coast to the east of Greve de Lecq last weekend, this Sunday was a complete contrast. Magicseaweed and Jersey Met had been predicting the arrival of a swell and they weren’t wrong. The one positive note was that the beach was reasonably protected, although there was still some dumping surf on the beach. It was what was going on outside the bay that created the talking points. The Paternosters are approximately 2.5 nautical miles to the north but waves could be clearly seen breaking on the reef, whilst along the coast the swell could be seen breaking some way up the cliffs. This was clearly not going to be a day for exploring the caves along this stretch of coast. What made the swell even more impressive was its wave period, somewhere in the region of 15 seconds.
Once afloat there was very little opportunity to approach the cliffs and cave, which make this such a great stretch of coast to paddle. A week earlier we had been able to go pretty much where we liked on a flat calm Sunday morning.
We paddled as far as Sorel lighthouse but in most places we needed to keep several hundred metres out from the shore, there were just a couple of places where it was thought possible to approach a bit closer.
The landing back at Greve de Lecq was as difficult as anticipated. The dropping tide meant that we had a bit more shelter than anticipated. There had been 21 kayakers on the water with Jersey Canoe Club and only one person swam on landing. We thought that was a pretty good success rate.
Attracting canoeing and kayaking Club’s to paddle in Jersey has always proved a challenge. The concept of flying to a weekend’s paddling has been difficult to promote, although over the years Tower Hamlets Canoe Club have become annual visitors. This year at the Spanish Sea Kayak Symposium we fell into conversation with Jim Krawiecki and suggested that a group from Manchester flew south to warmer waters and experienced some of the paddling which Jersey has to offer.
After a quick paddle along the south coast yesterday using equipment courtesy of Absolute Adventures, today’ s focus switched to the north coast of the island. Meeting at St Catherine’s, were the Jersey Canoe Club has its premises, the plan was to head west on the ebbing Spring Tide before returning back to St Catherine’s as the tide started to flood. Along the way we hoped to be able to introduce the Manchester Canoe Club members to the delights of some of the Jersey tide races.
Remaining the tidal flow during the morning, we paddled from point to point, which meant that we were a significant distance offshore. The advantage was that our speed over the ground rarely dropped below 6 knots. St Catherine’s, La Coupe, Tour de Rozel and Belle Hougue, one point after another, passed quickly.
Lunch was on the beach at Bonne Nuit. The last of the ebb tide was still flowing west when we started our return paddle so we stayed close to the shore initially, passing things that we missed whilst heading in the opposite direction.
Our final play of the day was in the moving water at Tour de Rozel before we jumped on the tide and hitched a free ride back to St Catherine’s. Sprinting off La Coupe we managed to reach 8.3 knots over the ground, not a bad speed on what was supposed to be a relaxing days paddle, introducing some of the members of Manchester Canoe Club to the variety of sea kayaking that Jersey has to offer.
The tides around Mont St Michel are described as rising at the speed of a galloping horse. I am never sure whether this is true but clearly at times there is going to be a significant amount of water moving and this has the potential to create a tidal bore when it enters a river estuary.
Obviously a Spring tide is required to ensure that the bore works and we selected a Thursday morning when there was a tide with a co-efficient of 109. We hoped that by choosing a Thursday morning just after dawn there wouldn’t be that many other people turning up to surf the wave.
The first problem was try and find the departure point. We arrived on the evening ferry to St Malo and in the dark had to navigate our way through the narrow lanes of eastern Brittany, looking for somewhere near the Pointe de Rochtorin, where we could park up and sleep in the cars. Eventually at about 23.30 after a number of false tracks we eventually decided that we were in the right place and settled down for a night of luxury on the front seat of my car.
We were up before first light, preparing equipment and still not too sure that we were in the right place when suddenly a couple of stand up paddleboarders arrived and ran off down the path. Confirmation that we were in the right place. We followed quickly and selected a place for launching with the minimum amount of mud to wade through. In the soft light and calm of early morning we then headed downstream unaware of what we were going to find.
The first indication of something approaching was the flocks of birds taking flight, then there was the unmistakable roar of water when suddenly a wave appeared around the corner. Not particularly large, between 30 and 60 cms high it stretched right across the river and was flooding the exposed sand banks. As regards time it was now about 40 minutes before high water at St Malo.
We were soon on the face of the tidal bore and surfing upstream, the 6 of us in sea kayaks and the 2 people on SUP’s, were joined by a long board surfer and a paddler in a general purpose kayak. That was it, 10 of us on the wave, a complete contrast to some of the carnage we had witnessed, on some of the films we had watched beforehand.
We surfed up stream for 5 nautical miles and were on the wave for 40 minutes, a couple of us rolled and one person swam but was surprisingly easy to rescue, it hadn’t occurred to us that the whole of sea was moving upstream behind the wave. This meant that if you dropped of the wave for a rest, it was pretty straight forward to regain the face when you felt like it.
The French clearly knew where the tidal bore was going to finish as they had their cars parked ready. The wave just disappeared so we pulled up on the bank had a quick coffee and within 20 minutes the flow had reversed and we were heading back to the cars and a well earned breakfast.
This was one of the most unique and enjoyable experiences I have had sea kayaking in recent years. Surfing the tidal bore or the “mascaret” as the French call it is a unique and highly recommended activity.
One of the highlights of my year was a visit to the Spanish Symposium, a sea kayaking event, which is held in the small town of Llanca, just south of the Spanish – French border. It was something we had thought of attending several times over the years but 2017 was the first time that it really possible, and we weren’t disappointed. A more friendly, well organized event would be hard to find.
The format was very simple but very effective. Virtually everybody camped in the grounds of the local secondary school, we did have to wait for the end of term before putting the tents up. Every morning members of the local kayak Club prepared a superb breakfast, which was always delivered with a smile.
The first 3 days of the event were based off the beach in Llanca, every morning several hundred paddlers would gather on the beach looking for coloured signs, which represented the various workshops. From what initially appeared like chaos, emerged order and a variety of sessions, which were all well received. Despite the variety of nationalities attending there always seemed to be a way of communicating, although my French was tested at times!
Following the 3 days of workshops there were 4 days of paddling when we were able to explore the surprisingly spectacular coastline of the Costa Brava.
The final day was particularly memorable as we headed north across the border to the French border town of Cerbere. We took advantage of the ice cream shops and I reflected on the fact that a few months earlier I had arrived in this town on my bike, having riding across France from Jersey over 2 weeks last September.
The Spanish Symposium was a memorable week, the organization was smooth and the members of Club who volunteered their were incredibly friendly. An event of this size makes considerable demands on the resources of a kayaking Club so it is not an annual event but start planning for the 2019 Spanish Sea Kayaking Symposium, you won’t be disappointed if you manage to get a place.