Thursday, March 29, 2012

Early Jersey Sea Kayaking

Keith Pyman has sent me a short report about the paddling adventures of two young Jersey boys around the time of the Second World War.  A glimpse into a world which has been lost under the weight of regulations, risk assessments and in many cases parental fear of letting their children out to have their adventures.  So over to Keith for the story:

Two good friends of mine, Bernie Robert and Mick Fosse who still live at Le Bourg, grew up together during the time of the occupation during the second world war. They first knew each other at the age of 6 when they attended St Clement’s School and during the time of the occupation, despite the restrictions had access to the beach where they had many adventures.  These included their first attempts at “boating” when they constructed a raft out of scrapwood and four oil drums , all being fixed together with nails and rope.
Their first “voyage” was in the local gutters at Le Bourg and not knowing anything about tidal currents they were somewhat surprised by the fact that once off the edge they had considerable difficulty paddling the raft in the chosen direction. They had been warned by Mick’s father about the currents but just thought the tide just came up the beach and back down again with no thought to the movement along the shore.
Not long after the construction of the raft, the pair came across a “drop tank” on the beach and quickly retrieved it and turned it into a much better craft. It had a rounded shape at the front and was able to be paddled very easily compared to the blunt raft of oil drums.
They got up to all sorts of adventures during this time and also trouble when they paddled out and did not get back to the beach before curfew and had to hide their craft behind some rocks and sneak off the beach, avoiding the German patrol’s.
Shortly after the end of the war, they were able to “acquire” some old wooden (plywood) potato barrels, some old flooring planks and some tarpaulin and together built perhaps one of the first Kayaks to be paddled off the shore of Jersey. They cut the cylindrical barrels lengthways so that they could be sprung open and constructed a keel and gunwhales to which they attached the barrels using some struts across the width of the kayak to form the shape and then using the planks to cover the deck with tarpaulin over to make it waterproof. They obtained some paint from Woolworth's and knowing nothing about these things mixed it with water to make it easier to apply. Unfortunately they soon discovered that this red paint when dry was quite happy to attach itself to their clothes, presumably much to the annoyance of their parents even though they had a change of “work clothes” from their school clothes.
The kayak turned out out be too deep to sit in and look out so they adapted some chairs and used these to have a good paddling position. They made single blade paddles, also from scrap wood and began their adventures in a craft that was much more seaworthy than their previous attempts although once they ventured out towards Icho Tower and experienced the swell from the west they realised how powerful the sea could be.

The pictures show them aged about 12 about to set off on one of their voyages up the gutters.
  Bernie Robert at the bow and Mick Fosse (who was still in his school clothes on this occasion)
  Returned safely to shore.
Although they are both in their late 70’s they still manage to get out to fish occasionally and are two of the increasingly rare “Jersey Boys” and great characters.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Historic Canoes and Kayaks

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to visit an exhibition on historic canoes and kayaks in the southern Brittany town of Douarenenez.  This delightful Breton town was the centre of the French sardine industry in the 19th Century, and at one time it was the home port to over 1,000 sardine boats.  Although fishing still takes place on boats based in the port, the town itself is possibly now better known because of its maritime museum, “Le Port-Musee”.
The exhibition was called “Canoes and Kayaks la decouverte d’un nouveau monde”.  There were over 150 exhibits, ranging from an early 19th Century painting to a modern sea kayak. It was essentially a history of paddling in France from the late 19th Century pioneers up to the present day including recreational and competitive developments.
The museum would have been well worth a visit even if there were no canoes and kayaks. as  there is a  wide range of traditional craft from a wide variety of European countries plus the added interest of a number of larger craft which are moored on the river.  These include “Northdown” which is a traditional Thames barge and the “Saint Denys”, a tug built on the Clyde, which spent most of her working life based in Falmouth.
What was there of interest though, specifically for the paddler, in the Canoe and Kayak exhibition?  One of the most modern items was one of the Catchiky’s which was paddled around Brittany in 1980 by Loik Bourdon and Franco Ferrero amongst others.  Franco, from Pesda Press, was clearly making an appearance as an honorary Frenchman!  This kayak certainly showed its age and the use it had been put to over  25 years.  It is a model of kayak which is still in production and there was a new example of the type, from the manufacturer Plasmor.
There were a number of short films shown at various times and for me the most interesting was probably Christian Gabard’s film of the 1959 white water racing world championships.  An interesting item shown in the film was an inflatable spray deck.  Does anyone know whether they caught on?  In the days before we became obsessed with risk assessments, it was interesting to see that some of the competitors didn’t wear helmets and others chose not to use buoyancy aids.
There were also a number of paintings and photographs which depict the historical origins of both canoeing and kayaking.  Possibly the largest oil painting was by C. Giraud.  Painted in 1857, it shows the Prince Napoleon taking part in a seal hunt off the west coast of Greenland.  The use of kayaks for hunting is a theme which occured in a number of other exhibits.  There was also a selection of framed posters from the last one hundred years.  One in particular raised a slight smile although I am certain that the Hutchinson mentioned on the poster is not the same one who is practically a household name in sea kayaking.
It is always inspiring to see the standard of journeys which were undertaken in the past.  For example, Gustaf Nordin, a Swedish canoeist who paddled from Stockholm to Paris in 1905 and Captain Lancrenon who published a book, “Trois Milles lieues a la pagaie,de la Seine a la Volga” in 1898, were both commemorated either through photographs or items of equipment.  Lancrenan’s beautiful kayak, the Vagabonde III, was built in 1891 and broke down into two sections for easier transportation.  It was exhibited alongside the Bic sit-on-top.  115 years of progress!
The more recent trends were not ignored.  There was the inevitable Sit-on-top, plus white water play boats, racing kayaks, a slalom canoe from the Atlanta Olympics and winged paddles.  I must admit though that I have never really looked upon a sit-on-top kayak as a museum piece.
There were a number of older exhibits, including a 19th Century Greenland kayak which is normally housed in a museum in Nantes, as well as a most beautiful birch bark canoe.  The Greenland kayak was collected when the ship “La Recherche”, visited the area in 1835-6.  It appears to have come from the Frederikshaab region, prior to being presented to the Nantes museum.  In fact there were a number of canoes and kayak, which were like works of art as opposed to practical watercraft.
It was a fascinating exhibition and I wonder when such a collection of historic canoeing and kayaking artifacts will be on show again?
 Loik Bourdon's kayak in which he circumnavigated Brittany
The inevitable sit on top, although designs have become far more advanced since the time of the exhibition.
 A couple of superb canoes.  Absolute things of beauty.
"Emeraude" a mid 19th century kayak.
 Photograph of the Swedish paddler, Gustaf Nordin, who traveled from Stockholm to Paris by kayak in the early 20th Century.
 Surely not the famous sea kayaker Derek Hutchinson!
 One of several kayaks from the 20th Century which were in the exhibition.
 Inuit kayak from the 1830's. Usually shown in the Nantes Museum
 A selection of paddles - new and old
 Drawing of 19 Century paddling
 One of many posters depicting the development of the sport
C. Giraud 1857 oil painting of the Prince Napoleon hunting seals
 Drawing depicting the hunting of seals
Captain Lancrenan's kayak built in 1891 which broke down into two sections.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cap Frehel

On a clear night when I stand close to Corbiere a light can be seen, in the distance, flashing twice every 10 seconds.  It is the lighthouse on Cap Frehel, 30 nm south of Jersey.  It is located on possibly the most dramatic headland on the north Brittany coast and a superb sea kayaking destination.
On the headland there are two lighthouses, the main one built in 1950 replaced the original one which was built in 1685.  Approaching by road across an area of wild heathland is quite dramatic but nothing compares to kayaking around the base.  I have been fortunate enough to paddle in these waters several times in the last few years and I always find it awe inspiring.  The vertical cliffs, swift moving tidal streams and frequent westerly swell combine to create great sea kayaking.
So next time you are heading through northern France, possibly heading towards the better known waters of Ile de Brehat or Morbihan why not consider stopping off here for a days sea kayaking.  You are unlikely to be disappointed.
On this particular day we left from Erquy, to the south of Cap Frehel.  Lunch was on a secluded beach with Cap Frehel just poking above the reef.
It was a delightfully calm day as we approached the headland.  We were using the flood tide to assist our passage.
 The cliffs are 60 metres in height and almost everywhere vertical.  There are a number of caves along the western side in particular.
 Both lighthouses are visible, the tallest is the most recent and the one which is currently in use.
 Chris and Christian under the cliffs on the eastern side of Cap Frehel.  During spring and early summer there will be a considerable number and variety of seabirds on these cliffs.
The main light seen from the south.  At certain times it is possible to climb to the highest platform.  The views are well worth the effort.
Looking down the internal spiral staircase, lighthouses are surely one of the most beautiful of all buildings.
It was a quick return to St Malo for the return journey back to Jersey.  As the ferry pulled out from the port the sun was setting behind Cap Frehel several miles to the west.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Passage to Alaska

The Pacific North West is a justifiably popular sea kayaking destination, with numerous paddlers from all over the world heading to this region each year.  Most are just able to scratch the surface of what this vast region has to offer.  Each year some kayakers are fortunate enough to be able to undertake a much longer journey and thereby gain a greater insight into the history, culture and environmental considerations of the area.
Tim Lydon is one such paddler and his 1996 journey with Bill Bastian is the subject of this entertaining book.  They left from Port Hardy at the northern end of Vancouver Island and finished in Juneau after paddling nearly 1,000 miles in approximately two months.   This is more than a mere paddling book it is also a description of an evolving landscape, as glaciers retreat, set against a historical background of exploration by such influential men as George Vancouver and John Muir.
One unusual aspect of the book are the narrow panels of information, which are to be found on some of the pages.  They cover such topics as “Low Impact Camping”, “Whitewater in a Sea Kayak”, “Protecting Bears from our Food” etc.  The panels cover in much greater detail a range of subjects, which would be normally dismissed in the course of a sentence.
The Inside Passage provides a relatively sheltered route along the coast of the Pacific Northwest but their journey reached a crisis within the first 24 hours, although they were fortunate to receive shelter at Pine Island lighthouse.  The weather clearly impacted on their paddle, day after day of torrential rain and a low cloud base dominating their voyage.  Clearly any paddlers venturing into this region has to be prepared for a somewhat damp climate!
Although this a sea kayaking book, the most interesting parts for me were the environmental and historical sections.  Tim Lydon clearly has an understanding of and empathy for the region.  Starting with the early explorations of Vancouver it leads to the 19th century gold rushes and the 20th century logging operations  this is a book, which will not only appeal to the sea kayakers amongst us but also the historians.

So whether you are planning to return to the area, visit for the first time or are an armchair explorer this is a volume, which will appeal to you.

By Tim Lydon
Published 2003 by Hancock House
Paperback 336 pages
ISBN 0-88839-523-X
Price £12.50 although there are a number of second hand copies around

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hidden Gems of St Brelade

Continuing the exploration of some of the Jersey coastline without my kayak today I walked along part of the St Brelade coastline and discovered some delightful gems.  Unfortunately the haze reduced the quality of the more distant views but there was plenty to see up close.
Having spent most of the last 43 years living in this parish it was interesting how much was revealed in just a couple of hours.  Too often we focus on the big picture and miss out in some of the more interesting details.
I joined the south coast cliff path which offered great views of the cliffs on the western side of Fiquet Bay.
 This is the Boot's family grave above the beach at Bouilly Port.   Jesse Boot moved to Jersey where he met Florence.  They worked hard to build up Boots the Chemist.  One of Jersey's main sports fields, the FB Fields are named after Florence Boot.  He died in 1931 whilst she lived until 1952.  They became know as Lord and Lady Trent.
 This section of road looks unlike anything else in Jersey.
Jersey is split into 12 parishes, each with its own church but the parish church of St Brelade has to be the closest to the sea.  At high tide on springs the waves lap around the base of the walls.  It is one of the oldest on the island, the origins can be traced back to the 5th or 6th century AD.
It was a day of activity on the water.  Stand up Paddleboards were racing, the end of the winter season.  The Polar Bears swimming club were in the water in nothing but their costumes and there were significant numbers of kayakers and sit on tops on the water.

In between all the modern development there is Jersey Round Tower.  It has been converted into a private residence and the front has been modified.
 I found this sign amazing.  I have lived in St Brelade since 1969 but I hadn't come across this person before.  It says:
 The magnificent sweep of St Brelade's Bay, voted the second best beach in Britain by Trip Advisor. A slow walk along this section of the coast revealed a rich and varied history and a beautiful March morning.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

La Rocco Tower

My broken arm is preventing me sea kayaking but I am not going to let it stop me exploring the unique and beautiful coastline of Jersey.
Today as temperatures soared above 20 degrees we decided to visit a part of the island which I see virtually every day but which I hadn't set foot on for probably 15 years.  La Rocco Tower, located in the southern section of St Ouen's Bay, is a distinctive landmark, which it is possible to walk to at low water on spring tides.
The tower was built between 1796 and 1801 and was named in honour Lieutenant General Gordon, who was Jersey's Lieutenant Governor at the time.  If you were to ask anybody in Jersey today as to the location of Gordon's Tower I reckon 99.9% of the people would not know the answer.  It is universally referred to as La Rocco Tower.
It was the last of the towers of this shape to be built on the island but suffered considerable damage during the middle of the 20th century.  The common story is that the tower was damaged by German artillery fire during the Occupation but this is unlikely to be the real case.  Bob Le Sueur has written a much more balanced review of the possible reasons for the damage.  Whatever the cause of the damage was we do now for certain that the tower was rebuilt in the early 1970's because of the efforts of a number of islanders who helped to raise the necessary funds to restore this iconic landmark. 
So a broken arm is a major inconvenience from a kayaking perspective but it is allowing me to explore sections of the Jersey coastline which otherwise I might have ignored.
La Rocco in the distance, just before sunrise on a bitterly cold December morning.
Chris just to the south of La Rocco Tower on a much warmer day than the previous photograph.
The graceful curves of La Rocco Tower in the beautiful March sunshine
Looking back towards Le Braye slip.
These granite boulders would appear to be on the rocks as a result of the damage to the tower, from the 1940's onwards.  Not all of it as a result of German target practice, which is a popular story on the island.
Some of the granite blocks had clearly been worked on in the past by stone masons.
Steps had been cut into the shale outcrop to allow easier access on foot to the tower.
 Viewed from the south it is a beautiful fortification, which was thankfully restored in the early 1970's with many raised by public donations.  Without the support of the islanders it is possible that all that would have been left is a pile of granite boulders.
 Zooming in on the tower from the south on a day when there was a particularly large and aggressive November swell.
 Looking north along St Ouen's Bay.  The western slopes of the island are coated by an unusual snow fall
 Late afternoon as we walked around Petit Port headland we looked back towards La Rocco.  Where two hours earlier we had been able to wander freely over the rocks and up to the tower, most was now under water.  Spring tides in Jersey have a significant visual impact on the coastal scenery.

Corbiere Lighthouse

 Approaching Corbiere from the east.  This is generally the first view of the lighthouse when kayaking from St Brelade.

Corbiere on the South West tip of Jersey, is possibly the best known landmark on the Island as well as being a superb sea kayaking venue.  Although it is automatic it is still immaculate with the interior brass polished every week and the paintwork maintained regularly.
It is no surprise that there is a lighthouse at this spot, the jagged rocks pierce the sea and the currents are strong during both the ebb and flood, before it was built there were many wrecks and also many stories of wreckers luring boats in to shore by hanging lamps on the horns of their cows to simulate lights on fishing boats.
The lighthouse was built in 1874 at a cost of £8000 which also included the causeway and lighthouse keepers cottages on the mainland.  It is made from reinforced concrete blocks made on site with local sand and pebbles brought to the bottom of the lighthouse by a small railway built for the purpose. It is the earliest reinforced concrete lighthouse to be built in the world. It was designed by the consulting engineer to the States of Jersey Harbours and Piers Committee Sir John Coode and it was built by the States engineer Imrie Bell.
The original light was lit by paraffin and it can still be seen there today along with the brass ventilation panels around the light.  With reflectors this lamp could be seen up to 17 miles away.  Now this has been replaced by a 1000 watt electric bulb.
Before the fog horn was built ships were warned by a bell which still hangs from the top of the light.  The original fog horn was run from an engine room where compressed air was piped to the horns.  This was started manually by the lighthouse keepers.  This is now done automatically by light sensors and electricity. 
The original bell
The lighthouse was last manned in 1973, before this two keepers would do 2 days on and 2 days off walking back to the mainland during the low tide to the lighthouse cottages across the causeway.  This was not a job which would suit every one but for those who were lighthouse keepers it was probably the best job in the world and it was a sad day when they all became automatic.
On the slipway there is a granite plaque commemorating the tragic drowning of Peter Edwin Larbalestier, an assistant lighthouse keeper, on the 28th May 1946, as he tried to rescue a visitor cut off by the tide.  It is a clear warning to those who pass by.
During the Second World War the lighthouse was switched off for the majority of the time and it was re-lit on the 19th May 1945 and to this day it has remained an essential part of marine safety in Channel Island waters.

 Chris just to the south of the lighthouse, on a day when there was a bit of movement in the water.
 A calm summers evening with the ferry returning to England.
 The classic perspective from the land but in unusual weather conditions.
 A winters storm.  Not ideal for sea kayaking!
 Approaching Corbiere from the north just after dawn in December.  A winter anticyclone had suppressed the swell allowing us to explore the western reefs.
 Leaving Corbiere to head back to St Brelade.  There was a bit of swell running which created entertaining conditions.
Looking out across the causeway.  There is a horn to warn walkers that the causeway is about to be flooded.
The inevitable sunset shot.  This is why some evenings in excess of a hundred people may congregate on the headland overlooking Corbiere.