Sunday, October 30, 2011

An unusually large swell

When Magic Seaweed predicts a swell in excess of 10 feet with a 17 second wave period then you know that something pretty interesting is going to occur.  As I prepared breakfast there was a rumbling of breaking waves in the background and the car was covered in a light coating of salt spray.
It didn't take long to find out why, as I drove around the corner at Corbiere there was just line after line of huge surf approaching the coast and numerous people staring out to sea.  Large surf acts just like a magnet, attracting people to the shoreline.
The photographs don't give a true idea of the scale of the surf but I was in a hurry, so I didn't have too much time to compose the pictures, as I was off paddling at Bouley Bay.  Although the Bouley Bay was sheltered from the largest of the swell I have to admit that the conditions were still large enough that I didn't really want to take my hands off the paddle, hence no pictures of my time on the water today.  Suffice to say that we had a good time, although a few people did end up practicing their front crawl!

 Looking towards La Rocco Tower
 18 hours earlier there hadn't been a ripple on the sea in this area.  This would not be a good place to launch from today.
St Ouens Bay was full of lines of enormous surf.  Its difficult to judge the scale as some of the waves are a couple of miles away.
 It doesn't look too big but the offshore breaking wave is probably well in excess of 10 feet.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

South Africa via St Aubin

Members of the Jersey Canoe Club have a tradition of entering some of the world's more challenging kayaking races such as the Devizes to Westminster, the Yukon Challenge and the Liffey Descent but next year for the first time 4 people are planning to enter the Dusi Canoe Marathon in South Africa.
My role was to spend a few hours paddling with the group and then make a recommendation as to whether I think that are competent to enter the race.  This seems to be a common way of ensuring that paddlers entering these races have the experience to do so.  I had to find somebody who was prepared to sign to say that I had enough experience to enter the Liffey Descent.  This was actually quite strange because I had signed the forms for previous races for a number of other paddlers but I still had to get mine signed.
We went out from St Brelade's heading towards to St Aubin's with the opportunity to play in the tidal race off Noirmont, for Steve it was a real moment of achievement as he performed his first roll in moving water after an accidental capsize.
For the last Saturday in October conditions were ideal, warm, light winds and beautiful sunshine.  They were conditions which were perfect for exploring this unique stretch of Jersey's coastline. Interesting water conditions set against an historical backdrop.

 The stretch of coast between Noirmont and Belcroute is unusual in Jersey because the trees approach the waters edge.  At times it could almost be the west coast of Canada as opposed to the west coast of St Aubin's Bay.
 Belcroute Bay, a delightful east facing bay which unfortunately looses the sun quite early.  This is 10.30 in October.  In the past there was a superb diving platform on the rocks just to the right of the photograph, obviously in the days before Health and Safety took off.
The plan was to circumnavigate St Aubin's Fort before heading back to St Brelade.  The fort is just visible to the right of the rocky point.
 St Aubin's is one the most beautiful villages on the island.  In the 17th and 18th centuries the Jersey fishing fleet, which worked on the cod banks off Newfoundland, over wintered here.  Many of the houses were built by the merchants and ships captains.  For the older readers one of the buildings, the Old Court House, achieved fame as the Royal Barge in the BBC series Bergerac.
 Work was started on St Aubin's Fort in 1542 and wasn't finished until the Second World War, as there are a number of German additions.  Today it is used as an activity centre by Education, Sport and Culture, although despite its great location for kayaking the main emphasis is on sailing.
 The main tower was extended during the English Civil War, it now provides the main accommodation block for visiting groups.
 The entrance to St Aubin's harbour is marked by the white mark on the end of the southern pier, work started on this in 1754 with the north pier added in 1816.  Up until the building of St Helier harbour this was the principal commercial port on the island.

Friday, October 28, 2011

An early morning paddle

This mornings high tide was 38.5 feet or 11.7 metres and was the last really big tide of the year.  So Tracey and myself decided to head towards La Cotte de St Brelade to see just how close the water gets to where the archaeological excavations are taking place.
It was still dark as we launched the kayaks off the slip at St Brelade, before heading across the bay.  It was noticeable that a swell was approaching the coast from the south west, which combined with the clapotis created less than ideal conditions for photography.  It was still dark when we arrived but by  high water at 07.55 there was just enough light to obtain some rather mediocre photographs but they at least illustrate what we had come to see.

 Due to the effect of the high pressure the height of the tide was depressed by approximately 6 cm today.  This may not sound to much but this year the tide on the 21st March was 0.4 metre higher than this morning and if there was a low pressure system passing over the area it is not unreasonable to predict that the water might rise about 0.8 metre higher than today.  If this was coupled with a large swell then it is highly likely that the waves would reach the loose material at the back of the gully.
The white mark at the rear of the gully is where some of the recent excavations have taken place, so it is possible to imagine that it could be vulnerable to erosion if the appropriate meteorological conditions occurred with a high spring tide.
After having got up so early it seemed a pity not to make the most of the morning so we completed a quick circuit from Pt Le Fret to Beauport before returning to St Brelade's.  The shear volume of water which was starting to move was quite astonishing.  We arrived back at the slip way 45 minutes after high water but there was still no sign of the beach due to the height of the tide.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Some Magazine Treats

Through some on line auctions I have managed to purchase 12 issues of “Canoeing in Britain” which was the British Canoe Union magazine, from between April 1962 and March 1967 plus 6 issues of “Canoeing” from between January 1962 and January 1963 all for a reasonable price.  A few gems which help to illustrate the state of sea kayaking in Britain in the early 1960’s.
The September 1964 edition contained some interesting local information for Jersey, the small island where I live.  In 1964 there were 6 qualified canoe coaches living on the island, whilst at the same time there were only 5 coaches in Scotland.  How things have changed in the intervening years.
Surf kayaking was clearly developing, largely due to the efforts of Oliver Cock, with his annual surf weeks in Bude.  The December 1964 edition contained warnings of possible future problems with Wadebridge Council in Cornwall asking canoeists to avoid Polzeath during August because it is too crowded.  June 1965 saw the publication of a supplement to the surf beaches of England and Wales.  30 different breaks were described but Bude and Scarborough were obvious omissions.
One name which occurred on a regular basis was Chris Hare, which is hardly surprising as he was involved in the production of the magazine for a number of years.  In the December 1964 he reviews the “Clyde Special” sea kayak.  He describes it as “A first class attempt to make a sea boat that combines Eskimo qualities with adequate stowing space for sea touring.”  At 17 feet 6 inches long and a 20 inch beam it was good value at £28!
The double version of this kayak was used in a significant journey which was described in the September 1965 edition;

“In June this year, Scottish canoeists Hamish Gow and his wife Anne, made the first crossing from North Uist to St Kilda, some 54 miles out into the Atlantic.  Using a Clyde double fitted with a sail, they took 14 hours to reach Boreray, a cliff bound island where it was impossible to land.  Because of fog and approaching night, they decided to shelter off the 1,000 foot cliffs until morning.  Anne slept in her sleeping bag while Hamish kept the canoe upright, but at midnight Hirta became visible, and they set off to paddle the remaining 5 miles, arriving at 2 a.m.  Congratulations on a fine achievement.”

Those few lines describe one of the finest sea kayaking trips of recent years.
Chris Hare continued to maintain a position at the forefront of sea kayaking.  His description of a trip along the Northumberland coast in 1965 contains the first mention of a paddler who was to have a significant impact on sea kayaking throughout the world, a certain Derek Hutchinson.  
Chris Hare also paddled on the west coast of Greenland although this trip was not without its controversy.  In the June 1966 Canoeing in Britain he states one of his objectives on his return was to set up British seal hunting groups working around the coasts of Britain using the knowledge and techniques gathered at Igdlorssuit.  His article concludes “So if any reader fancies a crack at seal hunting or any other kind of kayak hunting off the west coast of Scotland …..”  This particular article not surprisingly, generated a heated response.
This issue of the magazine also contained information that a certain Frank Goodman had just passed his BCU Senior Instructor award.  This was the original Level 3 Coach.
What is interesting is how many names that are well known in sea kayaking circles first came to prominence in the 1960’s.  Derek Hutchinson and Frank Goodman have already been mentioned but Alistair Wilson, of Lendal paddles, was very active in the racing scene including the 1964 Olympics.  Duncan Winning, who is well know for his involvement in Scottish paddling was already involved in the administration of the sport as well as being involved in slaloms in the early 1960’s and contributing letters on kayak design.

As well as the back issues of Canoeing in Britain I have been able to acquire a number of “Canoeing” magazines from 1962 and 1963 and they contain some interesting pieces.  The August 1962 editorial concerned itself with the need to preserve a number of the kayak designs before they were lost for ever.  It would be interesting to discover how many other designs have been lost in the intervening 43 years.  The magazines contained some useful technical articles, as opposed to mere lists of results and would have been a source of knowledge for paddlers of the day.  Many of the techniques have stood the test of time although others would now be viewed with a degree of curiosity.
In relation to navigation it was recommended to carry a sounding line and there was a discussion as to whether it was more useful to carry a radio or a barometer!  Advice on touring paddles suggested that 8 feet was an appropriate length.
One interesting reference is to an article which appeared in the national press on 11th July 1962.  Apparently a French yacht had to pick up 25 members of the National Association of Boys Clubs who were trying to cross the English Channel and were caught in bad weather.  It doesn’t say whether they used a barometer or a radio to get their forecast.
Certification is an issue which has generated enormous debate over the last few decades but the October 1962 editorial was calling for an appropriate test for those paddlers who seek their pleasure on the sea.  At that time sea kayaking was not mentioned until paddlers reached an Advanced level.
 It is always a pleasure delving into the pages of paddling magazines, some of which were written when President Kennedy was still alive, the Beatles were still to record their first LP and life seemed far less complicated.  Although it is true to say that sea kayaking has progressed since those innovative times it is interesting to note how many of the individuals concerned are still active in one form or another in paddling.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Some More Aerial Shots

A quick visit to London gave another opportunity to see some great sea kayaking venues from the air.  Yesterdays flight to Gatwick was reasonably smooth but today's return flight was a bit different.  The sharp rain showers over SE England today created some initial turbulence as we climbed to our cruising altitude after that though it was the spectacular cloud formations which caught my attention.
So next time you jump on a flight remember to keep your camera handy for those unusual shots.  Just make sure that you don't repeat the mistake I made two years ago, flying out of Kangerlussuaq back to Copenhagen I managed to get a window seat for those stunning shots of the ice cap.  I think they were great shots but I never saw them as I left the camera in the seat pocket.  The most disappointing thing was that there were also 400 other photographs on the camera taken on our 3 week paddle in Disko Bay.  The moral of the story is always check that you have your personal belongings, just like the Cabin Crew recommend.

Bouley Bay on the north coast of Jersey.  It is probably the beach on the island with the steepest profile so its popular on spring tides as it is not too far to carry the kayaks.
Rozel Bay on the north east corner of the island.  The headland in sunshine is Tour de Rozel, the location of one of the finest tide races off Jersey.
Leaving the north coast of the island behind, climbing to the north.  The western parts of the island are covered in cloud.
Alderney, the most northerly of the islands.  The sea area below the island is the infamous Alderney Race.
Once across the Channel we started our descent into Gatwick.  This is the entrance to Chichester Harbour.  Note the area of confused water to towards the lower edge of the picture.
The disused airfield of Thorney Island is clearly visible from the air.
 Heading south this morning.  Although we were flying at 19,000 feet there were clouds towering above the aircraft This is mid channel, in the middle of the picture it is possible to see a ship, this is Condor Ferries from Portsmouth on its way to Jersey.
Cap de la Hague, the north western tip of Normandy.  The fast moving tidal streams in this area are clearly visible and at this time we were still well above 10,000 feet.
A low turn over the Ecrehous at low water.  It is only from the air that the full extent of the exposed rocks can be appreciated.
The southerly wind was blowing about force 5 with the waves breaking on some offshore sand banks.
Final approach across Jersey, this is the east with the magnificent sweep of the Royal Bay of Grouville and the drying area of the south east corner beyond.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Different Perspective

After having been kayaking with a number of archaeologists over the summer months, linked to the excavations at La Cotte de St Brelade, I have started to look at the island from a completely different perspective.
On Saturday we paddled around the north west corner of the island and as usual, swell permitting we entered a number of caves.  Previously I had always looked at the caves wearing my geographers hat.  What processes are at work to produce such dramatic physical features?
Nowadays I always think geography first but then I wonder whether the caves could have provided habitation in the same way that La Cotte de St Brelade did.
A number of academic institutions in the UK have combined in a project known as the The Quaternary Archaeology and Environments of Jersey project (QAEJ)It makes interesting reading and helps, us as sea kayakers, to understand the backdrop to the environment in which we spend so much of our time.

I had paddled into this cave numerous times but until Saturday I had never realized that there was a tunnel leading through another section of the coast.  The tide was too high to go through the tunnel on Saturday so another visit, towards low water is necessary.
 A beautiful cave, close to La Cotte a la Chevre, which was known to have been inhabited, thousands of years ago.  It would be interesting to see what is on the shelf, above the kayakers head, but access looks like a challenge.  Extreme coasteering?

 Another cave which is close to slightly above the present high water mark. Conditions look favourable for a return visit towards the end of the week.  Today we have force 7 gusting 50 mph mean this area would look slightly different to when this picture was taken.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A good holiday read

If you are looking for an interesting read the "And Now The Shipping Forecast" by Peter Jefferson will appeal to a whole cross section of people, particularly those with an interest in activities on the sea.
The soothing familiarity of the Shipping Forecast has been broadcast 4 times on day on BBC Radio 4 since 22nd November 1978, prior to that it was on Radio 2.
The structure of the broadcast remains the same, despite the weather conditions which exist at the time the broadcast is limited to 350 words, this because the time slot allocated to the forecast remains the same.  Gale warnings, area forecasts and reports from coastal stations all blend into a broadcast which is almost poetic in its delivery.
This books contains so much of interest to us as sea kayakers it can't fail to entertain and educate. 

On the subject of reading material many thanks to all of you who have purchased my two books "The A to Z of Sea Kayaking" and "The Channel Islands: A Sea Kayaking Guide" which are still available for the Kindle and other devices.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jersey's North West Corner

As the wind swings to the south east and the North Atlantic swell drops off any self respecting sea kayakers thoughts will turn towards the north west corner of Jersey.  Although there are many interesting areas to paddle around the Island this stretch of coast is as fine as anywhere.
Physical features set against an historical backdrop which stretches back tens of thousands of years, in relation to La Cotte a la Chevre, create a sea kayaking playground second to none.

 Le Pinacle, seen just after leaving Stinky Bay.  A stunning physical feature, a cave, whose entrance is seen just above the bow of the kayak, runs underneath the stack.  On the col at the base of the stack are the remains of the only Roman building on Jersey.
 Slightly further north the history is far more up to date.  The German tower was built during the occupation, which lasted from 1940 to 1945.  There are a number of these towers dotted around the Island.
 Grosnez is the north east corner of the Island is exposed to the full force of the winter storms.  Notice how little vegetation is growing on the cliffs, it is hard to imagine how far up the cliffs the waves break.
 There are a number of large caves between Grosnez and Plemont, which we were able to explore. They were largely sheltered from the low swell which persisted throughout the day.
  The north facing gullies and cliffs receive very little direct sunlight at this time of the year.  La Nethe Falaise, the largest cliff in the area will not see the suns rays until next June, when the sun sets far enough to the north to light up granite.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

General Election

In the 18th century the elections on Jersey were quite lively affairs, with two main political parties, the Charlots and the Magots.  In an attempt to secure victory the parties used to kidnap members of the opposition and place them on the Ecrehous for the day, to prevent them from voting.  There is no evidence that anything similar occurred yesterday, when there were combined elections for Senators, Deputies and Constables but on our visit last weekend there was evidence of the forth coming election in the form of posters.

 Electioneering even reached the outer limits of the Baliwick of Jersey.
Maitre Ile, the largest land mass at the reef but the area which is least visited.  It is important for breeding sea birds, in particular Cormorants and in the last few years Little Egrets have appreared.
My first visit to the reef by kayak was August Bank Holiday 1974 and it is amazing how much has changed over the intervening years, not least our kayaking equipment.  Home made KW7 kayaks and paddles plus BS3595 lifejackets.  The paddler is Derek Hairon, who now runs Jersey Kayak Adventures. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

More Archaeological Paddling

Following on from this summers coastal kayaking with visiting archaeologists we concluded the season with another trip along some of the cliffs of the south west of Jersey looking for potential new sites.
In un-seasonably warm conditions we were able to explore sections of the coast which we hadn't been able to get close to in July, due to the somewhat disappointing summer weather.

Looking back towards La Cotte de St Brelade from near Pt Le Fret.  La Cotte is continuing to reveal its secrets and is one of the most important sites in the British Isles, if not Europe.  Re-construction of the landscape has shown that the cave was situated at the head of a river valley.  What look like granite stacks are probably the remnants of the valley sides.  

 Portelet Bay, with Ile au Guerdain a small island with a martello tower on top.  Built to help protect the island from Napoleonic forces.  We were looking for fissures within the granite which had been filled by head, material from peri-glacial environments.
Looking at a potential site.
On the western side of the bay, close to Noirmont it was clear that this fissure in the granite and been filled in, by loose material.  Could this be another La Cotte de St Brelade?
After a great last paddle for the season with Matt Pope who knows what next season will reveal?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another Ecrehous Visit

It has been a great year for visiting the Ecrehous.  Yesterday's trip was the 8th of the year, although it has not been a memorable summer weather wise, there have been a number of weekends which have co-incided with light winds.
A dawn start was required to take maximum advantage of the pre high water tidal window.  We were swept south on the last of the flood bit then carried north onto the reef, arriving just before high water.
As we sat on the reef we could see that whilst we were mostly in the sunshine Jersey was largely covered in low cloud.  Unusually we were the only visitors on the Ecrehous, apart from one other person, although we did share the surrounding waters with a few Grey Seals and a couple of distant dolphins.
As we ate an early lunch it wasn't hard to imagine that this was likely to be our last warm day of 2011, so we absorbed so warming rays before crossing back to Jersey.  A much easier paddle than anticipated, we were back at St Catherine's in just 90 minutes, celebrating another enjoyable days kayaking with the inevitable ice cream. 
 Sunrise en route to the reef.
 John and Derek heading towards the Ecrehous.  The French coast is just visible on the left hand side of the picture.
 The kayaks resting just above the high water mark. The waves on the tombolo were a slight disappointment today, the shape of the shingle bank had been altered from a few weeks ago, which probably accounted for the lack of waves. 
 As we sat in quite reasonable sunshine to the south west we could see the island was covered in low cloud.  We had clearly selected the best part of the Baliwick of Jersey to visit this particular Sunday.
We waited for the tide to drop to allow us to cross to Blanche Ile, where we had decided to eat lunch.
It was hard to imagine that we were half way through October as we sat in the warm sunshine.  Another memorable day on the Ecrehous.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A different few days on the sea

I have been lucky enough to spend the last couple of days on a 3 masted Baltic schooner.  The Fulton was built in 1915 and used on trade routes to Newfoundland and southern Europe.  It was one of the last ships of this size to be built without an engine.  Today it is used by the Fulton Trust as a sailing training ship for groups of young people and I was fortunate to be on board with a group of Danish students.
As we sailed along certain stretches of coastline I couldn't help but think about its sea kayaking potential, I last paddled in Denmark in 1981, perhaps its time to consider a return visit.

 This wasn't our ship but it was similar, it passed on the first afternoon.
 Meals were prepared by the students and taken on the deck.  The weather was surprisingly warm for October in Denmark.
 The last of the evening glow as we headed towards our anchorage off Jutland.
 Preparing to hoist the sails the following morning to take advantage of the westerly force 5 as we head north up the Little Belt.
 With the sails raised we reached 8 knots on several occasions.  Quite exciting on a 100 ton ship under sail.
 Looking north up the Little Belt.
 Although not much use at sailing I was at least useful when it came to navigation.
 The beautiful view along the deck of a ship under sail.
 Looking up the mast, note the student.