Over nearly 40 years I have run hundreds of British Canoe courses across all levels, in both coaching and personal performance but one of my favourites is the SUP Module. This Discipline Specific Module was introduced several years ago in response to the significant increase in the number of people taking up Stand Up Paddleboarding.
Over the last couple of years I have run quite a few of the courses, attracting paddlers from both on and off Jersey. What is interesting, is that as each course follows another, the level of the participants has steadily increased. As a result last weeks course was just a pleasure to run. With all the paddlers showing competency on the boards.
Conditions couldn’t have been better for the SUP Module. I remember completing my training course in Nottingham, wearing a dry suit and being absolutely frozen, trying to avoid going into the water too many times. This week it was warm, clear seas and light winds with every opportunity was taken to get into the water to cool off.
In the past it has been all to easy to be critical of British Canoeing courses but I think in this instance they have just about got it right. That day with the staff from Absolute Adventures, we had a really positive experience.
Although it was over 40 years ago I remember the excitement on opening a letter, within which, was the offer of employment at a centre in South Wales. I was never sure whether it was my kayaking or mountaineering experience, which secured my employment. I could barely contain my excitement as I headed west from London, along the A40 towards my life as an outdoor instructor. At staff training on the first day I still didn’t discover, which of my activities was the most important as I received a crash course in archery and spent the next few weeks introducing school groups to the finer points of shooting with a bow and arrow.
Not once did I get on the water or walk up a mountain, I just spent hour after hour on the archery field. My introduction into the world of an outdoor pursuits instructor wasn’t as exciting as I thought, so instead of returning to South Wales to further my career in the summer, I went to Chamonix climbing.
I did return to working in the outdoor world for a couple of superb years, in North Wales. Great days on the mountains or water followed by personal time with a group of highly motivated fellow instructors. Days off were spent on the crags at Tremadoc, unless it was raining and then we went paddling. Those two years working in a centre were the equivalent of the present day gap year.
This week I was fortunate enough to spend time with some young people who are just starting out on the journey to becoming outdoor instructors, looking to achieve qualifications in a number of areas so that they are able to work with groups in Jersey’s superb marine environment.
They all work for Absolute Adventures, who are one of the largest providers of adventurous activities to both locals and tourists. It was their first day trip in sea kayaks and the NE wind increasing force 6 ensured that in places the water conditions would be quite entertaining.
The first stop was La Cotte de St Brelade, one of the most important historical sites on the island, before heading towards Pt Le Fret, one of the most under rated headlands in Jersey.
We did manage to reach Portelet but ever wary of the increasing wind speed we decided to return back around Pt Le Fret, into the relative shelter of Ouasine Bay for lunch before looking at some skills in the shelter of the reefs.
It felt a real privilege to be on the water with three young people as they embark on their journey towards becoming full time outdoor pursuits instructors. Hopefully the staff training they received will prove to be more useful in the long run than my few hours of archery instruction. I haven’t picked up a bow since 1977!
The Bell Boat is a pretty unique paddling craft, which was designed by former Olympic racing coach David Train. Designed as a crew boat, to encourage co-operation, the Jersey Canoe Club decided to use them as a bit of training before the September Dragon Boat Racing.
Nine metres long, with two separate hulls they can take up to 12 young people and a helm, as none of us fall in the category of young we settled on 8 adults plus myself as helm. First introduced in 1992 we were using the Mk 3 version which has been in production since 2012. We borrowed them from the Air Training Corps, who had purchased them with the help of a grant from the One Foundation.
It is possible to become a qualified Bell Boat Helm with a course through British Canoeing, which was a course I really enjoyed doing a couple of years ago.
Despite the relatively strong north easterly wind we were soon heading towards Beauport, mostly in rhythm with each other, direction controlled by myself as the helm. A nine metre craft doesn’t respond immediately to the subtle changes in the helms oar. It requires some significant planning to ensure the bell boat maintains its course, as well as some appropriately timed group co-ordination.
We followed a circular route around some of the offshore reefs before returning back to St Brelade’s. It was a great evening and no doubt that when we have the next session in a couple of weeks time there will be enough members present to ensure that both of the bell boats can be launched resulting into some friendly racing across the bay.
The opportunity to get back on the water presented itself much earlier than expected as my ruptured achilles appears to be mending quicker than anticipated. My first excursion at sea, over the weekend, was on a sit on top as I worked out that I would be able to keep my foot straighter than in a closed cockpit boat. In addition, if necessary it would be pretty easy to place my foot into the cooling water.
St Brelade’s was the chosen departure point and it had been some time since I had paddled there last. The hardest part of the whole trip was probably carrying the kayak down to the waters edge as I was so apprehensive about walking and carrying on the sand, multi-tasking was a pretty new experience. Once afloat though life became much easier and despite having relatively low aspirations we did manage to paddle all the way to Corbiere.
I have only been off the water for 3 months, which doesn’t seem too long, but flicking through my paddling log books I realized that it has been the longest time that I haven’t been paddling, since I started my log books in January 1979.
This was the first place I went kayaking, in 1969, and I still appreciate that it is a special section of coast. In the warm June sunshine, the red granite cliffs, fringed with vegetation and the blue seas combined to produce a coastline, more reminiscent of the Mediterranean than the British Isles. Just a great day to relaunch my kayaking career.
5th April 2018 is etched in my memory as the day that I ruptured my Achilles’ tendon, whilst kayaking in Gozo. It has been a difficult and at times frustrating 3 months but today I felt I made a significant step forward on the road to recovery. For the first time I went to the gym.
Although I wouldn’t place myself in the category of a gym fanatic I must admit that when the opportunity arises I do enjoy spending an hour or so in the gym, listening to some music and working up a sweat on some of the cardio- vascular machines.
My machine of choice has always been the Concept 2 rowing machine, for a couple of reasons. Firstly it seems to be the most suitable machine for maintaining my kayaking fitness and secondly it seems to give you an all round work out , without any significant impact on the body.
I started off gently on the bike and then the cross trainer, all seemed to be going well. So I thought I would try the rowing machine, managed one pull before having to get off, it might be some time until I get back on the Concept 2. The long road back to fitness might be slow and bumpy.
The gym I go to, the D-W Gym, must have one of the best views of any. Looking across St Brelade’s Bay to Pt Le Fret, the scene of some great sea kayaking in the past and hopefully in the future, once my leg has recovered.
The next waymark on my route a degree of normality will be when I manage to get in a kayak, that day may still be some time off, but you never know.
For what seemed like the first time in months the Sunday morning session of the Jersey Canoe Club took place in some bright February sunshine, although the temperature was modified by the strong north easterly wind. 11 of us paddled out from St Brelade’s heading towards Corbiere, the granite cliffs looking particularly stunning.
Although Corbiere was our destination, as we approached the south west corner it was clear that with the amount of water moving, due to the Spring tides, and the westerly swell, that we might need to cut our journey short. We didn’t really want an unplanned journey to Sark.
Close to the causeway, at Corbiere, a plaque commemorates the attempts of Peter Edwin Larbalestier, an assistant keeper of the lighthouse, who was drowned on 28 May 1946, while trying to rescue a visitor cut off by the incoming tide, who also lost her life. Many years ago I was landing on the slipway at Corbiere, after a Club session on a Thursday evening. I noticed the plaque and said to one of the people who was with us, “that’s funny you have the same name as the lighthouse keeper who drowned” his reply was “that’s not surprising he was my uncle and I am named after him”.
In the Corbiere Phare Restaurant there is a photograph of Peter Edwin Larbalestier, in his lighthouse keepers uniform. The likeness to Peter Larbalestier is really quite amazing. Sadly Peter from the Canoe Club passed away a few years ago but every time we look at the photograph of his uncle we are reminded of the good times we had with Peter kayaking.
The paddle back to St Brelade’s against the wind and tide was a bit challenging in places but that was largely irrelevant as we enjoyed our first sunny Sunday morning paddle of 2018.
For what seems like the first time in months we were able to have our midweek kayaking day trip off the south west corner of the Island. There have been numerous strong wind warnings this year, issued by Jersey Met, most of them appearing to involve some south westerly involvement. The consequence of this is that day trips, along the south coast have been few and far between recently. Fortunately today’s forecast allowed us the paddle from Belcroute to Corbiere and return.
It was just a few hardy members of the Jersey Canoe Club who congregated at Belcroute on Tuesday morning. Many of the regular attendees of the mid week day trip were off Island or unavailable this week. The aim was to use the last of the ebb as it flowed west, towards Corbiere, with the added assistance of the light north easterly wind. Amazingly as the tide turned and the east flowing stream started the wind also went around to the south west. It’s not often that you get both wind and tide with in both directions on a day trip. We were certainly getting our monies worth from environmental factors.
From Belcroute it was an easy run south to Noirmont Point, clearly identified by its black and white, early 19th century military tower. Although it wasn’t easily visible today because of the low cloud/fog. We used the last couple of hours of the tidal flow to assist our run towards Corbiere. This section of coast has to be one of my favourite lengths of the islands coastline, it is where I gained my original kayaking experience, starting in 1969.
It is normally a blaze of colour, the blue sea, red granite and green vegetation complementing each other but today the overwhelming colour was grey.
It was just a delight to be on the water without having to battle wind and waves, which have been our constant companions for the last few months. Corbiere was our turning point, the iconic lighthouse was first lit on the 24th April 1874 and over the years has been the scene of a number of dramatic rescues.
Lunch was on the small beach below the Highlands Hotel, before we took advantage of the easterly flowing tide and south westerly wind to assist our return. Overall we paddled just over 11 miles each, assisting Jersey Canoe Club’s entry into the British Canoeing Winter Challenge. Taking the Clubs combined mileage since the 1st December to just over 2,000 miles, a significant total considering the weather and the fact that because of geography we are limited to paddling on the sea.
I have written more information on the route between Belcroute and Corbiere elsewhere on the SeaPaddler site, so take a look for further ideas on places to paddle.
It is not that often that we, as sea kayakers, are aware of the impact of atmospheric pressure but it was clearly demonstrated one October day, a few years ago, at St Brelade’s. At high water, in the morning, the atmospheric pressure was 993 mb, effectively 20 mb below the level at which tidal heights are calculated. This meant that the tide was much higher than expected and when coupled with the swell which developed over night it created some problems for those boat owners who left their craft on the beach.
The predicted tidal heights for Saturday, Sunday and Monday were much higher than the morning in question but they passed without incident whilst these boat owners were caught out by this mornings tide, with not inconsiderable financial costs as boats and engines were damaged.
Remember as a general rule for every 1 mb below 1013 mb the tide will rise 1 cm higher than predicted and for every 1 cm above 1013 mb the height of the tide will be depressed. We were affected on our paddle to the Ecrehous in March this year when due to high pressure the tide did not rise as far as we expected.
So the moral of the story is not to just look at the tidal height but take into account the pressure.
The 1st December marks the start of British Canoeing Winter Challenge. It last 3 months and the aim is to encourage members of canoe and kayak clubs to get out on the water during the darker, colder days of winter.
Last year Jersey Canoe Club came top, in terms of miles covered, just about fending off a determined challenge by Portsmouth Canoe Club. In the 3 months the members of the Jersey club paddled a total of 4,108 miles, with 4 members paddling over the 300 miles. The highest individual total was 520 miles, which is quite amazing considering that there is no inland water in Jersey, so they were all completed on the sea.
Today’s forecast was less than perfect for the first day of the Challenge as 5 slightly enthusiastic kayakers headed out from Belcroute. The initial mile was fast and easy as the northerly force 5 sped us on our way towards Noirmont point, which was the gateway to more sheltered waters, under the cliffs of Portelet. Some large black clouds gave a suggestion of rain or sleet but surprisingly we stayed dry. At times even feeling the warmth of the low angled winter sun.
Nicky pulled out in St Brelade’s whilst the rest of us carried onto Corbiere, with its freshly painted lighthouse. The tide had started to rise quite quickly meaning we had missed the opportunity to land in some of the small bays, so we headed back to Beauport for lunch. Without doubt one of the most beautiful bays on the Island, but on the 1st December we had the beach to ourselves.
After lunch we headed east across St Brelade’s Bay as the clouds built in size. For most of the paddle we were reasonably protected from the wind but from Noirmont to Belcroute there was no respite. The wind was blowing at about 30 knots straight into our faces, which resulted in some demanding paddling conditions. When we landed our total mileage for the day was 60 miles, which despite the weather was a pretty reasonable start towards British Canoeings Winter Challenge .
It is probably true to say that we wouldn’t have normally gone for such a long paddle in the prevailing conditions but the fact that we did stay out there and put the miles in is evidence of the success of the Winter Challenge, which is to get more paddlers out on the water during the cold, dark days of December, January and February.
It has been a weekend of kayaking contrasts, Saturday was very windy and sunny so we spent the morning paddling off the east coast. Heading south from St Catherine’s to Gorey where we stopped for coffee and cake. This is a section of the coast that we paddle most weeks during the summer months as it is the location for the Jersey Canoe Club Tuesday evening training sessions. In contrast we rarely paddle along this section of coast during the winter but it is a couple of miles steeped in history.
For over 40 years the Canoe Club has paddled every Sunday morning at a variety of locations around the Island. For the last 10 or 15 years the focus has been on using sea kayaks, hardly surprising as Jersey is a superb sea kayaking destination. Today was a throw back to the 1970’s and 80’s as we used smaller play boats, as we headed out from St Brelade’s. It was good to get out in the small kayaks as it gave us chance to hone our skills. So it really was a weekend of kayaking contrasts.