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.
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.