Saturday, April 21, 2012

Back in Action

After nearly 5 weeks without sea kayaking or stand up paddleboarding because of my broken arm I finally managed to get back on the water today.  After a positive result from the doctor yesterday I decided to have a gentle re-introduction to paddling this afternoon.  The westerly force 5-6 and a low spring tide reduced the options considerably but I eventually decided upon a short paddle out from Belcroute.
It is east facing, so reasonably sheltered, and relatively steep so the carry isn't too strenuous.  It was just a pleasure to get out on the water after nearly 35 days of land based inactivity.
In the distance could be seen St Aubin's Fort, it was built in the 1540's to protect St Aubin's Harbour, which was the safest harbour on the Island at the time.  Today it is used as an Outdoor Activity Centre by Education, Sport and Culture for the young people of the Island.
It was just great to be out and I am looking forward to an active summer of paddling and hopefully no more broken arms! 
Looking across Belcroute towards St Aubin's Fort at low water this afternoon.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

May We Rant and Roar No More

Written by Michael Paul Samson and published in 2004 by “walktheline” sustainability project.

I received my copy of this book towards the end of September last year, which was an opportune time as I had just finished reading one book and was in need of some new stimulation.  I read some of the blurb on the back cover:

“I couldn’t put it down until I had finished it completely”
“I can’t recall ever reading anything else like it”

This seemed like my kind of book a relatively quick read and then onto the next volume but several months on and I am only just writing the review.  This is not due to laziness on my part but a reflection of the speed at which I read the book.  I was keen to read it quicker but the richness of the language and the description of the journey slowed me down.  This is a book to savour, not to rush through and then discard.  It is also much more than a sea kayaking book, it is a social commentary on a way of life and a community that is fast disappearing, largely as a result of mans insatiable greed with little thought to the environmental consequences.  He undertook the circumnavigation in 1997 and I am left wandering what further changes there have been in the intervening years.
This is also a book about sea kayaking though.  Newfoundland is big, just take a note next time you are crossing the Atlantic how long it takes to fly over the Province.  And it’s empty, if there are no clouds try to discern any settlements, or other signs of human activity.  There aren’t that many.  Michael paddled around the island but it was no simple journey, there are highly descriptive passages of the strong winds and high seas that he encountered.  
The most outstanding passage, for me though, is when a large whale accompanies him whilst paddling towards a significant headland and he encounters a group of feeding humpback whales.  This has to be one of the most memorable pieces of writing in almost any sea kayaking book that I have come across.
Although the book is written in the form of a chronological log it avoids the trap of falling into a simple description of food eaten, miles paddled and places camped, as so many books do.  Yes those facts are covered but we are introduced to the diverse range of characters who inhabit the more remote corners of the island.  Conversations are written in the style of Newfoundland accent, which is a bit of a challenge to the untrained eye at first but it gradually becomes easier.
If you are interested in sea kayaking, and I assume you are reading this blog then this is a book for you.  Read it and become absorbed in a journey through a human and physical landscape which is in danger of disappearing.
The only thing that I couldn't figure out is whether the title has its origins in the song "Rant and Roar", which I have heard performed by Newfoundland band Great Big Sea.

This is not an easy book to come by, it is available from Michael at, and is well worth the effort searching out a copy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


The Cote de Granit Rose is that stretch of the Brittany coastline, which is much loved by visiting British yachtsmen, and land based tourists.  Although the inhabitants have French passports they are regard themselves first and foremost as Bretons.  The coastline is deeply indented as a number of ria’s penetrate the countryside of Cote D’Armor and these inlets provide shelter during the periods of unsettled weather which can sweep across the region.  Along the coast a number of small bays and harbours are virtually enclosed by the large granite monoliths, which are widely spread providing a unique and dramatic seascape.
Against this background there is some superb sea kayaking.
It was an early April morning that we met at Ile Grande, the early season meant that car parking was not a problem.  Our destination for the day was the Triagoz lighthouse, about six miles to the northwest.  The tides in this area can run with a speed that can catch people unawares and to approach Triagoz meant crossing the tidal streams so we had chosen a neap tide to minimisz the effect of the flow.
As we paddled out from Ile Grande, along one of the many channels, which run in between the surrounding reefs it, became apparent that there was a swell approaching from the west.  As the swell began to feel the shallower water they steepened rapidly before crashing forwards in a surge wall of white, the unleashing of such power emphasized the need to steer clear of the reefs.
Triagoz lighthouse was built in 1864 and its light, 30 metres above the sea, is visible from 14 miles away.  On this day the early season mist, which hung over the water meant that the light wasn’t visible from 5 miles away and so, we headed out on a compass bearing towards an unseen destination.  After about 1.5 miles the Bar-ar-Gall west cardinal mark slipped by to our left and we entered deeper water.  The mean depth changing from under 20 metres to over 60 metres with a result that the swell settled into a more regular rhythm.  This was a swell, which had travelled from the open ocean, and there was a feeling of real power as we rose and sank a couple of metres at a time.
Eventually the lighthouse started to emerge from the haze and its face glowed gold reflecting the local rock from which it had been constructed.  The defensive ring of reefs was fringed white as the Atlantic swell was halted in its progress east.  We had hoped to land and to briefly explore the area surrounding the light, no more internal visits though, this light became automatic in 1984.  Unfortunately the ever-present swell prevented this happening.  We could have landed but this was not an emergency or a sea kayaking assessment, no need to risk the kayaks so we remained in deep water, savouring the atmosphere and taking photographs before turning east towards a known landing spot.
Les Sept Iles were six miles to the east but we had some tidal assistance for this section of the journey.  Barely visible in the distance we were being drawn towards them both by the tide and by reputation.  Located 3 miles north of the Breton coast they are a superb paddling destination in their own right.  Numerous vedettes travel backwards and forwards between the islands and the mainland but it is only possible to land on one of the islands, Ile aux Moines, the others are all part of the nature reserve.
The bird life in the area is truly spectacular.  On Ile Rouzic there are thousands of pairs of gannets, the most southerly colony on the eastern side of the Atlantic.  For the majority of the boat travelling tourists though the most exciting observation would be of a Puffin, which breed here in small numbers.  I would doubt if hardly any would become excited at the passage of a Manx Shearwater, which also breed in the area.  As we approached the archipelago a few of these birds passed close by and to me they embodied all that is interesting in a bird.  Complete mastery of their environment with a freedom of spirit to roam widely across the ocean.  As they glided past on stiffened wings there was the occasional tilting of the head as if in disbelief as to the type of craft they could see on the water.  The most common bird was the gannet, numerous individuals flying past on their regular commute from Ile Rouzic to the more distant fishing grounds.  Their numbers increasing dramatically during the last few hundred of metres, even if it was thick fog it would have been apparent that we were about to make a landfall.
As we approached the reef it appeared as if there was a line of mist across the rocks at the western end of the reef.  It quickly became apparent that this fog was in fact spray being unleashed from the exploding swells.  Clearly as we bore down on the islands it was going to be necessary to exercise a degree of caution to ensure that we weren’t swept into a maelstrom of exploding waves.  Le Cerf was the first landfall that we made, more of a large rock than a small island, we skirted north avoiding a number of dramatic reef breaks until we entered the calmer waters inside the reef.  We knew that there was a seal colony and were not disappointed when a number of inquisitive individuals swam out to accompany us on our exploration of the reef.
We landed on the northern side of Ile aux Moines for lunch, basking in the early April sun and savouring some of the delights of the Breton cuisine with a number of local paddlers.  Clearly a huge amount of military building had been undertaken in the past but for me the most dramatic man made feature was the lighthouse.  Its construction was started in 1854 and its powerful light is a key feature when approaching this coast.
We circumnavigated the two largest islands, Ile aux Moines and Ile Bono, encountering a number of the nesting birds, which have made these islands such an important ornithological site.  Time was pressing though and it was time to cross the channel towards the mainland.  On spring tides the streams run through the channel at speeds of up to 4 knots and with an adverse wind a significant sea can be generated.  Fortune smiled on us that afternoon and the ferry glide towards the perched granite boulders of the shoreline was carried out in flat calm seas.  We skirted the outside of Ploumanac’h, possibly the most picturesque harbour on the north coast of Brittany, and passed close to Tregastel, so popular with tourists during the summer months.
We threaded our way through the reefs back to Ile Grande, from where we had departed six hours and 20 nautical miles earlier.  Some of the French paddlers concluded their day with a number of celebratory rolls but I was more interested in remaining dry.  As we changed in the car park the full implications of the day’s paddle began to sink in.  We had visited two of the major lighthouses of northern Brittany and seen a diverse range of wildlife in a dramatic natural environment. 
 Rafted up close to Triagoz during one of the few lulls in the swell.
 Approaching Sept Iles.  We had been in the kayaks for nearly 4 hours at this point with just a few minutes break close to Triagoz.
Looking back through the reefs, close to Tregastel, a real jewel, on the Breton coast.
It wouldn't have been to healthy to have been caught inside the break at times.
 Heading along the channel back into Ile Grande, the following sea was certainly helping our progress.

Monday, April 16, 2012

English Channel Nostalgia

So more thoughts about earlier paddling adventures.

In March 1981 we were heading back to Jersey on the car ferry from Weymouth with quite a warm feeling inside.  I was in the team which had just won the initial Home International Surf Kayaking Championships at Fistral Beach Newquay and as a result we felt that we were up for anything, so in the naivety youth of youth we hatched a plan to paddle from Jersey to Weymouth.  It was only 91 nautical miles so it shouldn't be too difficult.
Over the next couple of months the reality of the paddle began to sink in but we pressed on with the planning.  In the end we decided to split the paddle in Alderney.
So early one Sunday morning in June 1981 five us loaded our sea kayaks on the beach at L'Etacq on the north west of Jersey and headed out on our way to Alderney 33 nautical miles north, due to the speed of the tidal streams around Alderney our window of opportunity was quite small.  So there was no time to hang about or to pop into Sark as we passed by.  In addition we were under added pressure as we had to catch a flight home in the afternoon.
6 hours after leaving L'Etacq we beached at Braye Harbour having made good use of the favourable tidal streams.  We quickly stored the kayaks, rushed to the airport and in a matter of 15 minutes retraced our route back to Jersey, although with considerably less effort.
The following Friday night we flew back to Alderney, retrieved the kayaks and rechecked our navigation for the following morning.  We aimed to leave at 06.00 so it was an early phone call to the Jersey Met Office for a current weather forecast.  It couldn't have been better, virtually no wind, sunshine and the slight risk of a fog patch.  How wrong this turned out to be.
As we paddled out of Braye Harbour we disappeared into the fog and in the belief that it was a small fog bank headed north.  Little did we realize that this fog stretched all the way to the south coast of England, 58 nautical miles away, if we known we might well have turned straight around and headed back to Alderney.
We kept to our bearing but in the pre GPS days there was no way of confirming our actual position we just had to have confidence in our compasses.  At times the visibility was less than 50 metres, although the fog couldn't have been that thick vertically, as the sun was shining.
We decided to stop for lunch at 13.00 and as the top of the hour approached our thoughts turned to food.  Suddenly at about 12.58 there was disconcerting rumbling sound to our right.  Almost simultaneously John and myself shouted paddle as we had seen the bow wave.  We were directly in the path of an enormous cargo ship, which was steaming west clearly unaware of our presence.  As we sprinted forward we just cleared the ship.  At this point fear kicked in.
We decided that staying alive was preferable to stopping for food so we carried on north with an extra sense of urgency to our strokes.  Amazingly at about 20.00 we popped out of the fog just underneath the old Borstal on Portland.  I would like to claim credit for some seriously accurate navigation but I think that it was more by luck than judgement that we arrived at our destination with such precision.
We landed on the beach at Weymouth just before 21.00 which gave us an average speed of nearly 4 knots for the previous 15 hours and we just missed the overnight ferry back home to Jersey.  So it was an evening exploring the night life of Weymouth (very limited) before heading south on the British Rail ferry the following morning.
It was an immensely satisfying paddle but whenever anybody asked since for advice I have always recommended that they don't repeat our journey.  Its not the distance but the risk of being exposed to the shipping something that it is impossible to imagine unless you have sat in the middle of the Channel.  31 years on I can still remember the feeling as if it was yesterday when that bow wave appeared out of the fog!    
Although I have taken photographs of sea kayaking since the 1970's I have none of this particular paddle, I was just to concerned to stop paddling.
Alderney in April this year.  Braye Harbour, our departure point, is clearly visible.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Barbed Wire and Babushkas

This isn’t about sea kayaking on the sea but it is about using sea kayaks for a substantial journey down one of the world’s longest rivers, the Amur.  It is likely that you will never have heard of this river but then again neither had the author prior to his quest to discover a river which would offer adventure as he paddled from its source to the sea.
4,400 kilometres long it rises in the remote highlands of Mongolia and enters the Pacific Ocean just to the south of Vladivostik and along the way flows through some of the most politically sensitive areas in the world.  Clearly paddling in such an area poses significant logistically nightmares, including having to navigate through huge quantities of red tape.
Just getting to the source of the river was an epic in itself but that was just the start of an entertaining adventure.  Although they passed through huge tracts of wilderness it was their visits to towns and the individuals that they met which provide the substance of the book.  This isn’t about hair-raising descents of monstrous rapids but often about being able to survive drinking prodigious quantities of vodka with a variety of Russians who had clearly had more practice than them.
It is also a description of a country, which is experiencing huge economic upheaval and perhaps, according to a number of its inhabitants not always for the better.  There was clearly a division between the Chinese to the south and the Russians to the north.  The former it appears were far eager to exploit the economic opportunities.    It is interesting to see though that even the poorest were often willing to share their food with out two intrepid paddlers, at times to their embarrassment.  It was as if refusal was likely to offend. 
They did paddle 4,400 kilometres in 107 days, which is a significant achievement but that is not the whole story. Grogan is an entertaining writer who has woven a tale of kayaking with encounters with gun slinging army officers, a New Zealand forestry worker, young Russian girls eager to practice their English and a Mongolian cobbler, to mention a few of the characters, into an enjoyable read.
They did receive financial support from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, which assisted them greatly so if this book triggers something then take a look at their web site, applications for 2013 open in May 2012.
So if you are heading away on holiday this year and require some in-flight reading or just staying at home and haven’t a book to read this one comes highly recommended.  I managed to read my copy in the time that it took to travel from Jersey to Malta.  I must admit that I was slightly disappointed when I finished, as it was one of the more enjoyable paddling books that I have read for some time.
(It is presently available on Amazon for the bargain price of £0.01 plus postage , or £0.99 on eBay so it is currently excellent value)

Barbed Wire and Babushkas by Paul Grogan
Published 2005 by Virgin Books
ISBN 0-7535-0938-5
Price £7.99

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sept Iles - Brittany

To the north of the Cote de Granit Rose in northern Brittany lies the delightful archipelago of Sept Iles.  In 1912 these islands received protection as a bird reserve and today the variety and numbers of birds are one of the major attractions for the paddler.  They lie about 3 miles offshore and landing is prohibited on all except Ile aux Moines, which is easily distinguished by its lighthouse.  The crossing of the channel from the mainland requires planning because of the speed of the tidal streams.
There are two obvious departure points, Ploumanac’h and Tregastel.  Ploumanac’h is a delightful anchorage a couple of miles to the west of Perros Guirec and every effort should be made to visit it, if you are in the area.  The water level is maintained in the harbour by a man made sill, so if the tide is dropping a short portage may be necessary.  Ile de Costaeres, with its distinctive chateau, guards the entrance to the main channel into the harbour but beyond lie Sept Iles, the object of the paddle. 
The tides run through the channel between the Cote de Granit Rose and Sept Iles reaching speeds of four knots on spring tides.  Overfalls can occur close to Basse Meur and Basse du Chenal but crossing over at close to slack water will help to avoid the rough water, unless of course you are looking for that particular brand of excitement.  The east going stream begins at about 4 hours before HW Roscoff and the west going starts at 2 hours after HW Roscoff.
Crossing over to the islands it is inevitable that numerous gannets will be wheeling in the vicinity of the kayaks.  Ile Rouzic, the most easterly of the islands, is the site of France’s only gannet colony, with thousands of pairs cramped onto the steep slopes.  Other birds may be seen such as Manx shearwaters, shelduck and the delightful puffin.  A number of these birds are on the southern limit of their range.
I tend to head towards Ile aux Moines, where it is possible to land for lunch.  On the western end are the remains of a fort commissioned by Louis XIV but not completed until 1729.  It was manned by a small garrison until 1873 and then again briefly during the Second World War by the Germans.  Today it remains disused as do the buildings on the northern side of Ile aux Moines, close to a slipway, which is probably the most suitable place on the island to stop for lunch.  The pools to the north are a popular haunt of the grey seals which frequent the islands. 
The lighthouse on Ile aux Moines was built in 1854 although it was destroyed on the 4th August 1944 by the retreating Germans.  Reconstruction started in 1949 and the light was switched on again in July 1952.  Today its light is visible for 24 miles and is one of the major navigational marks of northern Brittany.  It marks the dangers presented by the seven islands of the archipelago.
The most westerly of the islands is more of a wave swept rock than an island; Le Cerf is exposed to the full power of the Atlantic swell.  Swift tidal streams run between the rocks and can provide entertainment for those paddlers who seek pleasure in such areas.  Ile Plate, slightly to the north of Ile aux Moines often provides a green backdrop to the lunch spot.  The largest of the islands is Ile Bono, which is joined to Ile aux Moines at low water, rising to a height of 53 metres, it is the largest of the islands.  Its whaleback ridge provides a spectacular backdrop as one threads a path through the reefs on the northern side of the island.  The southern slopes drop far more steeply into the water. 
It is in the vicinity of Ile Bono that Puffins are most likely to be encountered.  As in so many other areas the puffin population has suffered catastrophic decline.  It was estimated that there were 7,000 pairs present in 1950 but by 1990 this had dropped to 170 pairs.  I would suggest that this is probably an optimistic number as I have never seen more than a handful in my visits.  In contrast the gannet population has undergone significant growth.  The first breeding was in 1939; by 1990 the population had risen to 7,700 pairs and then more than 15,000 pairs by 2003!  One thing is certain; a paddler visiting these waters will encounter large numbers of these majestic sea birds.
To the north east of Ile Bono lie the smaller islands of Ile de Malban and Ile Rouzic.  The latter is the gannet colony.  Care needs to be exercised when approaching these islands in order to avoid disturbing the birds and landing is prohibited at all times.  Human disturbance is the main threat to the diverse birdlife in the area although in the past the menace has arrived in a more unpleasant form.  The black tide of an oil spill affected the islands from both the Torrey Canyon (1967) and Amoco Cadiz (1980).
All too soon the need to cross back to the mainland arises.  Unless six hours are spent on the islands then one of the crossings will have to be made when it isn’t slack water.  The ability to ferry glide, use transits and increase forward paddling speed if necessary are essential skills for a safe crossing too and from the islands.  There are numerous pleasant bars in the coastal villages in which to savour a vin rouge or a pression after a great day on the water and to plan the next paddle.  What is certain that one visit to Sept Iles is probably not enough to satisfy the demands of the discerning sea kayaker. 
 Coz Pors at Tregastel.  Probably my favourite departure point for Sept Iles.
Heading across the channel.  Sept Iles are clearly visible.  What is not so obvious is the speed of the tidal flows.
The western end of Iles aux Moines.  The lighthouse is a significant feature along this stretch of coast.
A great lunch spot.  Seals are frequently encountered in the pool behind the paddlers.
 Approaching the gannet colony on Ile Rouzic.  Large seabird colonies are always an amazing sight.
 Pete enjoying one of the many of the days that we have spent around Sept Iles over the last 20 years.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Alaskan Nostalgia

With my arm still preventing me getting out on the water, I can only convince Nicky to paddle me around in a double so many times each week, I thought it was time for another backwards glance into my world of sea kayaking.  We have been to Norway, Svalbard and a few other places along the way but today I have been thinking about my Alaskan sea kayak trip.  We went for 3 weeks in 1999 and I remember being very excited as it was the first trip that I had been on which was completely arranged on the internet and via e mail.  We felt so cutting edge back then! 

Alaska has a magnetic attraction for certain sea kayakers, with certain geographic locations being the main focus for this interest.  Although the fame and attractions of Prince William Sound and Glacier Bay have spread beyond the borders of continental North America it was another region, which attracted our attention.  The Kenai Fiords appeared to offer all the environments and experiences that four British kayakers could wish for.
The attractions of Homer, self proclaimed halibut fishing capital of the world, were forced upon us for an extra night due to my luggage failing to arrive on the same aircraft as ourselves.  It was with some relief the following morning that we boarded the boat, which was to transport us to outer coast of the Kenai Fiords.
The motion of the fishing boat as it encountered the waves of the north Pacific proved that being a good sea kayaker does not necessarily equate with being a good sailor.   One of party succumbed to the motion of the craft and sought solace in the rolls of toilet paper below decks. Climbing over the side of the fishing boat and into the kayaks was more interesting for some than others.  We had spent nearly 5 hours at 30 knots and now had 20 days to paddle back.  As the boat left silence gradually returned  to the inlet.  A gentle paddle took us back towards the open coast and lunch was taken on a small sandy beach.   
The beach was covered in prints but none of them were human.  It was a humbling experience to realise that we were in an area where we were not top of the food chain.  Living on an island, Jersey where the largest land mammal is the rabbit it can be a daunting prospect contemplating the variety Alaskan wildlife.
That first day was designed to be a gentle introduction to the Alaskan wilderness, even though we had been delayed for 24 hours due to the misplaced luggage, our bodies were also struggling to cope with the rapid transition through 9 time zones.  As we searched for the first camp site our thoughts were dominated by the advice that had been given regarding bear etiquette.  Our state of mind was not improved when we observed a bear casually wandering along the shoreline, exploring a whole range of crevices in search of food.
A small sheltered location was selected for our first night, with the tents pitched on a small spur, which offered comprehensive views of the surrounding area.  Our inexperience was shown in the length of time that it took to suspend the food bags from the trees.  The night was passed with a degree of uncertainty but we woke the next morning still in one piece, having survived the first of 20 nights.
The next few days were spent paddling the open coastline of the Kenai Fiords.  The area had the potential to be subject to some of the worst weather of the Gulf of Alaska, or to receive the swells from some distant storm.  We were fortunate to spend the days basking in bright sunshine and paddling on flat calm seas.  We didn't have again rain for the first 10 days, then it rained every day.
On the second day out we spotted a fishing boat offshore and conscious of the fickle Alaskan weather decided to paddle out to see if we could obtain an up to date weather forecast.  We were unable to find out what the weather was likely to do but as some form of compensation we were given 4 ice cold beers and a rather large fresh salmon.
13 years on I look back with a certain degree of nostalgia for out time spent in Alaska, the stunning scenery, friendly people, fascinating villages such as Nanwalek and endless variety of wildlife.  The 60 mph winds which struck in a 3 day storm, the camp site trashed by a bear and the difficult landings have faded into a blur.
We had a great time whilst in Alaska, it wasn't just the paddling, it was the whole experience from cooking fresh fish on open fires to karaoke bars in Anchorage, but I am not sure that I will head that way again soon.
 No weather forecast but beer and salmon are on the way down to Chris.
 We found some great camping locations.
 Bald Eagles were seen most days and I found them less worrying than the bears!
 Chris on the second day.  The weather and scenery were great, it was a pity that we couldn't say the same about the kayaks.  They were not the best design for a three week trip.

 The south coast of Elizabeth Island in the Chugach Islands.The closest land to our right is probably Antarctica. We felt privileged to have been allowed to explore this coastline before the weather broke. 
 Pete playing in Koyuktolik Bay.  We were stuck in an old logging camp for 3 days because of strong winds but had a great time playing on a quad bike and using a school bus to visit the nearest village.  All part of the adventure of sea kayaking in Alaska. 

Apologies for the quality of some of the images, my scans are not that great.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Atmospheric Pressure

It is not that often that we, as sea kayakers, are aware of the impact of atmospheric pressure but it was clearly demonstrated today at St Brelade's.  At high water, this 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 this morning 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.

Monday, April 09, 2012


Thanks to everybody who purchased the Ebooks I have written, "The A-Z of Sea Kayaking" and "The Channel Islands: A Sea Kayaking Guide" during March.  It has turned out to be the best month ever for sales.

They have been published for the Kindle and are available as a download from Amazon.  The Channel Islands book contains well over one hundred photographs and 45,000 words whilst the A-Z has well over 100,000 words, which is equivalent to over 240 pages of A4.  They are available for not much more than the cost of a magazine.
It is possible to download Kindle apps for PC's, Mac's, iPads, iPhones, Androids etc with the added advantage that the photographs, in the Channel Islands book, will appear in colour.

Some more aerial shots

It has been a while since I posted some aerial shots but in the last week I have passed over some interesting kayaking destinations, although the visibility hasn't always been as good as I had hoped for.
Flying north from Jersey, just after sunset.  The silhouettes of the other Channel Islands, Sark, Herm, Jethou and Guernsey are clearly visible.  We will be paddling around all these islands at some time in the next 8 weeks.
Alderney, the most northerly of the Channel Islands.  The line of small islands and rocks stretching west are clearly visible.  Unfortunately I am not certain that time will allow for the northern isle this year.
St Paul's Bay, Malta.  Although we didn't get an opportunity to paddle on Malta, it looked great and Gozo nearby was excellent.
North western Sicily.  We were cruising at 38,000 feet so those waves breaking on the shoreline are quite substantial.  
 The south coast of France and northern Italy.  I first paddled along this section of coast in the summer of 1972.  I am sure the amount of building along the coast has increased significantly since but it remains on my list of places to return to.
 Heading south across the English Channel the Dorset coast stretching west.  The view of Swanage Bay brought back good memories of paddling in this area with Portsmouth and District Canoe Club last October.
 The northern tip of Alderney, the large spring tide was running south, causing some significant areas of rough water.  We were flying at 17,000 feet so that is some tide race.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Comino from Gozo

As sea kayakers we are fortunate to visit some impressive locations but every now and again we paddle somewhere which exceeds all our expectations and today was one of those days.  We crossed to Comino a small island between Gozo and Malta and the site of one of the most photogenic locations in the Maltese archipelago, the Blue Lagoon.  The whole coastline is appealing to sea kayakers with its complex cave systems, delightful beaches and memorable scenery.  Thanks again to Sea Kayak Malta and Gozo Adventures.
Leaving from Hondoq Bay, the building above the yellow kayak is a reverse osmosis plant which turns salt water into drinking water.  The south and east of England could do with a few of those at the moment to alleviate the drought problems.
Heading out across the North Comino Channel, it was just under 1 nm wide at this point.  Our target was St Mary's Tower, just above the kayakers head.  It was built by the Knights of St John in 1618 and restored in 2004, without doubt the most visible building on the island.
 The photogenic Blue Lagoon, the numerous post cards for sale on Malta and Gozo fail to do this sheltered bay justice.
 The western edge of the lagoon is defined by a number of small islands, including Cominotto.
 It is not just crystal clear water which attracts the kayaker but the cliffs, arches
 and caves.
Lantern Point Lighthouse, on the south west corner of Comino.  If anybody ever writes the book "Great Lighthouses of Gozo" it will be a very thin volume.
 Paddling along the south coast we passed St Mary's Battery which was built in 1715 to protect the South Comino Channel.  It was equipped with two 24 pounder and four 6 pounder cannon.
 Turning onto the east coast exposed us to a rolling easterly swell which unfortunately prevented us exploring the caves along this section of the island.
Lunch was a relaxing affair in the warm April sun of Santa Marija Bay.  Gozo was just a short paddle away across the channel.
 All too soon it was time to head back to Gozo, but I am certain that I will return.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Gozo Sea Kayaking

It was another short paddle but full of history and quality.  After leaving the Inland Sea we turned south through the distinctive Azure Window, one of the most dramatic sea arches that I have seen from a sea kayak.  To the south lay Dwejra Bay, at one time this was a cavern rather like Inland Sea but sections of the outer wall have collapsed leaving a sheltered bay where there were a number of yachts at anchor.
The largest section of the outer wall to remain is the distinctive Fungus Rock, the Knights of St John used to collect a rare plant from the summit. A native of Africa it is said that Fungus Rock is the only place that it grows in Europe.
Extracts from the plant are said the reduce bleeding, prevent infection, cure dysentery and ulcers and to treat venereal diseases, a pretty precious resource.  Fungus Rock was joined to Gozo by an aerial runway and the harvesters were sent across in a one man cable car.  The rock was decreed out of bounds in 1746 and it is said that the sides were smoothed off to prevent people climbing up.  Any trespassers who were caught risked having to spend 3 years as an oarsman in the Knight's of St John's galleys.  As much as I like being on the water even that seemed a bit excessive so we viewed the rock from sea level.  
We only covered 2 miles but what a couple of miles, sea kayaking with a geographical and historical backdrop.
The Azure Window is even more dramatic from sea level than it is from the land.
 Looking south past Fungus Rock to the cliffs of the south west coast.
I have wandered for years why we carry whistles on out buoyancy aids.  Today after over 40 years of paddling I found out why.  This fishing boat would probably have run use down, it was the use of the whistle that attracted the attention of the person at the helm.
 At the back of Dwejra Bay there was a cave system which is was possible to get through with a bit of pushing, pulling and leaning back.  The rock formations inside were certainly very special and not like any I have seen before from a kayak.
 A double exiting from the narrowest section of the cave.
 The way out lay ahead.
 Fungus Rock, standing guard over the entrance of Dwejra Bay.