Several miles off the north east coast, a reef of rocks is gradually revealed as the tide drops. The are largely viewed from afar, their presence indicated by the breaking waves, unleashing their energy following their journey from the storms in the North Atlantic. This is Les Dirouilles.
It is a reef which I rarely visited until the last few years. It used to be somewhere we passed as opposed to a final destination. In recent years though we have paddled there as a destination in its own right. What has been a revelation is just how easy it is to get.
More than any of the other offshore reefs which surround Jersey, a visit to Les Dirouilles benefits from the tidal streams. The water runs almost directly from the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater onto the reef. The crossing is about 4.5 nautical miles and on our speed rarely dropped below 5 knots. There was a slight drift to the west, indicated on the GPS but it was pretty easy to compensate for, so we drifted gently onto the reef.
We probably arrived a bit too early, so we took advantage of our early arrival to explore some of the more detached rocks to the north of the reef. Moving into areas I had never paddled in before. After early 50 years of kayaking in Jersey’s waters it is quite amazing to discover small new pockets of coast, waiting to be explored. This was quite a fortunate development as we discovered an absolutely stunning lunch spot.
We were able to land on sand, always so much kinder to the hulls of the kayaks, with lunch being eaten on a raised flat rock, which gave exceptional views of the area. The coastline of France clearly visible to the east and north east, with the nuclear plant at Cap de la Hague shimmering like a mirage on the horizon.
To the south we could see the whole of the north coast of Jersey, stretching from our departure point at St Catherine’s all the way to Grosnez, the north west corner of the Island. To the north west Sark, was the dominant landmark, the location of so much great sea kayaking.
One of the pleasures of sea kayaking in Jersey is the opportunity to visit some of the offshore reefs and from our lunch spot we were able to see 3 of the 4 main reefs. To the west the Paternosters, were visible becoming bigger as the tide dropped. To the east was the Ecrehous and surrounding us was Les Dirouilles, all we needed was the Minquiers for a full set of the reefs but they are to the south of Jersey and therefore invisible from our picnic spot.
After lunch we launched off the small sandy beach, which had been revealed by the ebbing tide. None of us had ever seen this beach before even though it was within 5 miles of where a couple of the paddlers lived. We explored the southern edge of the reef before heading straight towards Tour de Rozel, the low water slack providing the opportunity for fairly rapid progress. At the start of the ebb we turned towards St Catherine’s with a speed over the ground in places in excess of 7 knots.
A thoroughly enjoyable paddle for the last Wednesday in September.
After the fascinating talk by Sam Cook the Nordkapp meet continued on the Sunday in less than perfect weather. Bouley Bay was our venue of choice as it offered the best chance of protection from the southerly winds, which were forecast to increase to force 7.
Initially the winds were light and we were able to explore the headlands between Bouley Bay and Bonne Nuit, which are the highest in Jersey. Clouds were clearly building from the south and the wind increasing towards the forecast force 6 to 7. Certainly the paddle back into Bouley Bay was what could be described as entertaining.
Although we had hoped for a day trip when we planned the Nordkapp weekend, the reality was the morning paddle on the Sunday was the best that could be hoped for in the conditions.
Monday morning dawned brighter and slightly calmer so we were able to plan a day trip from the Jersey Canoe Club premises at St Catherine’s. Around the north east corner of the island and along the north coast, before hitching a ride back on the first of the flooding tide.
It was amazing over these two days to see such a variety of Nordkapp sea kayaks on the water, performing perfectly in the environment they were designed to operate in. In the mid 1970’s Frank Goodman designed a sea kayak, with significant input from paddlers such as Sam Cook in particular.
The first kayak was produced in February 1975 and in the following 43 years it has maintained its position at the forefront of sea kayaking expeditions. Last weekend was a celebration of the Nordkapp and in many ways the early years of the Jersey Canoe Club.
Paddling Nordkapp’s members of the Club completed the first circumnavigation of Ireland, a circumnavigation of the Outer Hebrides, the west coast of Spitsbergen and our own Nordkapp expedition to name just a few. This was in addition to ground breaking exploration of the Channel Island waters by sea kayaks.
Members of the Club continue to paddle at a high standard in a range of geographical locations but these trips are no longer the preserve of the Nordkapp alone. Times have changed but we still maintain our respect for this iconic sea kayak, which has contributed so much to the history of modern sea kayaking.
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!
The Ecrehous are always special but the Ecrehous today was somewhere truly memorable. A paddle which I am sure will remain etched on the memory of those who went, for many years.
Although it was a Monday morning and people have work commitments we still had 5 people from the Jersey Canoe Club meet at St Catherine’s for an 09.30 departure to the Ecrehous. The ability to arrange group paddles at short notice has to be one of the major benefits of WhatsApp groups. This was was to be my first visit to the Ecrehous since February 2018.
What started off as a relatively cloudy morning with the hint of fog gradually transformed into just a perfect day with light winds and wall to wall sunshine. Enough of the rambling lets allow the pictures to describe the Ecrehous today.
Sometimes days are just so enjoyable and this was the case the other day with Absolute Adventures staff development. We left from St Catherine’s heading west on the ebbing tide. In virtually flat calm conditions we headed past La Coupe and Tour de Rozel.
Lunch was on a small sandy beach to the east of Bouley Bay, which is only exposed on low water spring tides. To the west we could see the remains of the SS Ribbledale. It was wrecked on the 27th December 1926, whilst en route from London to Jersey. Parts of the boilers were clearly visible just to the west. Further information is available here.
The plan was to return via Tour de Rozel, where we planned to play in the flood tide, as it accelerated around the headland. We weren’t disappointed, the water was starting to move to the east and accelerating quickly as the flood tide developed.
It was just the perfect place to look at skills and to work on strokes. I always find it such an enjoyable place to play and somewhere to practice those techniques, which are crucial to competent kayak handling. In terms of staff development it was perfect, challenging conditions in a safe environment, helping to ensure that those paddlers who are leading groups during the summer months have the appropriate skill level. Combined with the superb weather it was just a perfect way to spend a day.
I managed to get out the other day for a couple of hours with a young man named Samuel. This was interesting from a couple of perspectives. Firstly this was the first time that I had been in a closed cockpit kayak since my accident three months ago and secondly it was a chance to get on the water before Samuel’s fund raising paddle in a weeks time.
Samuel spoke to us at Christmas about undertaking a project in memory of his dad who sadly passed away last year. Whilst his dad was ill he set him self the challenge of paddling around Jersey, when he got better. Unfortunately he never managed to complete his challenge and so Samuel has stepped forward to carry the challenge on.
He set himself a realistic fund raising target, which he has already achieved with the pledges that have come in so far but I am certain that when he completes the paddle next week, weather permitting his fund raising total will increase significantly.
At the moment the forecast for next week, although I know it is some time away, is pretty reasonable so we are prettyy optimistic that we will complete the paddle as arranged. If not there are plenty more opportunities before the end of the summer.
There is no doubt in my mind that he will achieve, what is a very worthwhile project, if you would like to support Samuel he has set up a Just Giving page. He might up end up with a few blisters and some numbness in his legs but he will complete the 30 nautical miles, and I estimate in about 7 hours 30 minutes.
Hopefully next week I will be writing about an enjoyable and successful circumnavigation of Jersey.
Going away on a kayaking trip is always enjoyable but there is always something satisfying about coming home. Perhaps it is because most times I return home it is on an aircraft, so it is a very direct transition from holiday to home.
Landing on Tuesday evening I had received my first invite to go paddling before we had arrived at the gate, the welcome vibration of a WhatsApp on the phone. In complete contrast to the weather before I had been away and whilst I was away, the forecast for Wednesday was pretty good. No “beast from the east” this week.
Wednesday morning dawned with light winds and cloudless skies, we were leaving from St Catherine’s, the home of the Jersey Canoe Club, and heading south towards Seymour Tower. This isn’t a section of coast, which screams of dramatic scenery. It is rather more gentle, with a fascinating historical background and then a unique coastal environment, which is exposed as the tide drops, particularly off the south east corner.
We headed towards Seymour Tower, which was built in 1782 in response to the invasion of Jersey by French troops in January 1781. It is now a unique place to spend an evening, with a qualified guide from Jersey Heritage. Lunch was a rather hurried affair as the tidal range was 9.5 metres. Not a particularly large spring tide but we were in the third hour after high water so the water was dropping at nearly 4cm a minute. Resulting in a potentially long walk!
Returning to St Catherine’s we meandered through the reefs towards Karame Beacon before returning north to our starting point. It was one of those days which hints of summer, light winds, blue skies and water of a surprising clarity.
A perfect return to my Island home.
The Jersey Canoe Club was formed towards the end of 1974, when a group of us got together. We had been paddling for a number of years, sometimes together and at other times in our small geographic groups. Most of us were too young to drive to be able to meet up regularly!
On August Bank Holiday 1974 we arranged a trip to the Ecrehous, a stunning beautiful reef of rocks between Jersey and France, which 44 years on is still my favourite one day paddle. For the first few years the Club was homeless, meeting at Highland’s College every Sunday morning before heading off to paddle a section of Jersey’s varied coastline. Thursday evenings during the summer months was always from St Helier Harbour, meeting at the Old Lifeboat Slip before heading off around Elizabeth Castle or the Dog’s Nest.
In the early 1980’s we found our first premises, a building behind the La Folie Inn, which we shared with a couple of other watersports clubs. It sounded a good idea but didn’t really work out, largely because no one Club seemed to have the overall responsibility for the building. So after a few years it fell into disuse.
Over the next few years there were a number of possible projects, at one point we had architects plans drawn up for a specific Club house at a potential site close to the water in St Helier. Unfortunately the Club was unable to negotiate a long enough lease on the land, so that project never moved forward.
In 1991 the Jersey Canoe Club was fortunate to be offered the original lifeboat station at St Catherine’s, an opportunity which was eagerly taken up. The building was, in many ways, in the perfect location. Sheltered from the prevailing winds and because of the slipway there is relatively easy access to the water at all stages of the tide.
In the last 27 years the Club house as been used in a number of different ways. The first Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium was based there in 1992 and then every 2 years up until 2010. During those 10 events many people who are internationally known in the kayaking world used the building. People such as Derek Hutchinson, Frank Goodman, Chris Hare, Scott Cunningham, John Heath, Gordon Brown, Howard Jeffs and Duncan Winning, to name just a few.
The building has also seen numerous training and coaching weekends right up to the highest level. In the early 1990’s I was able to run a modular Level 5 Coach course, over 5 weekends and coaches who came to assist in the course included Franco Ferrero ( a Jersey boy), Graham Wardle, Kevin Danforth, Dave Collins and Dennis Ball. In addition there were numerous other training courses at all levels. Plus every Christmas Day morning hardy members of the Club with family and friends meet for the swim at 11.00, followed by mince pies and mulled wine.
This year marks the 28th year that the Club will be holding its training sessions at St Catherine’s on a Tuesday night. During that time hundreds, possibly even several thousand people have been able to enjoy sea kayaking, using the Club House as a focus for the activities. To mark this continued use it was decided to refurbish the upstairs in the expectation of encouraging even greater use by the members of the Jersey Canoe Club.
It was decided to run the Sunday morning session from St Catherine’s, not an area of the Island that we use that frequently for Sunday morning paddles in the winter. It is 2018, so we should have known that there was going to be a gale forecast, it might just be me but this winter seems incredibly windy. With the forecast, St Catherine’s was actually quite a sensible choice. In addition it would be a perfect opportunity to show the Club members the improvements upstairs.
The transformation of the Club House is a result of the hard work of Janet Taylor and her efforts were really appreciated by those people who turned up, either for the paddling or for the cake and coffee afterwards.
Today was a paddle of contrasts, at times sunny and flat calm whilst at other times we were battered by hail. All this against the historical backdrop of Jersey’s east coast. 16 members braved the conditions and we all completed 7 miles towards the British Canoeing Winter Challenge. At the present the Jersey Canoe Club lies in second place but we have struggled to get the miles in this year because it has been so consistently windy.
As many of you aware any visit to the Ecrehous is special and even more so if you manage to squeeze a visit in during January. At this time of the year you are virtually guaranteed to have the reef to yourself, in complete contrast to weekends in the summer, when there is virtual stream of boats heading to the Ecrehous from both Jersey and France.
Late on Thursday the forecast showed virtually no wind on the Friday morning before it started to pick up around midday from the south. In addition it was a neap tide, with low water at 09.15, perfect for a quick crossing from St Catherine’s.
An early morning start saw us heading towards Les Ecrehous , in flat calm, with the promise of some sunshine. The sun still hadn’t risen, when we left. The journey out was pretty simple, our crossing coincided with the low water slack. The other advantage of crossing at low water is that the rocks stretch out towards Jersey so you actually feel that you have finished the crossing sooner.
As we expected we were the only people on the reef, we landed on the French side of the reef, the shingle bank is steeper on the eastern side and so it is a easier carry, today though we hardly had to move the kayaks as we weren’t planning to stay that long. We had a bite to eat on what is probably the finest bench to be found almost anywhere, with superb views in every direction.
Within 30 minutes of landing we were preparing to launch. The tide had already turned and the forecast from Jersey Met was for a southerly force 3-4 by midday. We paddled up the eastern side of the reef as we want to pass to the north before catching some of the southerly tide back towards Jersey.
What was amazing was the complete change in the weather, we had been comfortable sitting on the bench admiring the distant views but within 30 minutes the sky had turned dark, Jersey’s coast was becoming less discernible and the wind was starting to freshen. We weren’t surprised though as this was exactly what the Met Office in Jersey had forecast.
It was a fairly straightforward paddle back to St Catherine’s but as we landed the calm and blue skies of our departure were a distant memory.
It was a quick change and a retreat to the warmth of the cafe in order to savour the events of the morning. A January visit to the Ecrehous always feels a privilege.
A couple of weeks off the water with a rather persistent cough and cold had been somewhat frustrating. I had missed the kayaking opportunities and the possibility of contributing to the Jersey Canoe Club’s total towards the British Canoeing Winter Challenge. All that came to an end today as we managed to visit Les Dirouilles. Possibly the least visited of all the reefs, which are located in Jersey waters.
It was a reasonably late start for a winter paddle but at 11.30, we paddled around the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater and into the tidal stream, which was going to significantly assist our journey north. Most of the time our speed over the ground was just over 5 knots. Our destination kept disappearing from sight as the forecast fog drifted in from the west. This was a day of limited colours, the sea and sky changing between silver and grey. The only splashes of colour, in an otherwise muted landscape were the kayaks.
Even the birds appeared to be avoiding display of colour, there were a few Herring Gulls and Shags sitting on the rocks. The real pleasure was to see 7, very trusting, Purple Sandpipers as we had our lunch. No real surprise here as the swell washed reef appears to be a perfect habitat for such species. This is partly why the area has been designated a Ramsar area.
A great paddle to Les Dirouilles, which we managed to squeeze in just before Christmas, especially after the storms of the last few weeks.