Monday, May 21, 2012

Channel Islands Nostalgia

Following on from some previous nostalgic postings, this one describes a paddle that Peter Scott and myself undertook in August 1989.
The catalyst for the idea was the arrival of a sea worthy two man sea kayak on the market, the Aleut, designed by Howard Jeffs.  The aim was a non stop circumnavigation of the Channel Islands, a distance of approximately 125 nautical miles.
Just before dawn on an August Saturday we launched from Corbiere, the south west corner of Jersey.  Heading along the south coast of the island until we were able to head out towards Les Ecrehous.  We passed in between France and this delightful reef before picking up an energetic, north flowing tide, towards  Alderney. The 30 nautical miles were covered in just under 5 hours.  
From the Alderney Race we passed to the north of Alderney before heading west towards the Casquets.  There was a huge volume of water heading south, creating boils and overfalls, which added some spice to the paddle.  Navigating only with a Silva compass as we passed the Casquets we were ahead of schedule and starting to feel slightly optimistic, after 9 hours on the water, that we would complete the circumnavigation.
Unfortunately visibility wasn't that great, and this was pre-GPS, so it wasn't until we arrived off the northern tip of Herm that we realized we were east of our intended track.  We had to cross the Little Russel and head back to the northern tip of Guernsey before starting down the west coast of the second largest island in the Channel Islands. 
As we head south, after over 14 hours of sitting in the kayak and becoming mentally and physically tired we realized that the time lost heading south from the Casquests meant that we had missed the tidal window to cross from the Hanois back to Corbiere.
Reluctantly we headed to shore, after having covered approximately 90 nautical miles.  As we climbed out of the cockpits we discovered that our legs had decided not to work and had to crawl part of the way up the beach.  Fortunately we had landed in front of a local pub so were able to revive our spirits as we called home to check in.  The first contact for nearly 15 hours, this was pre-mobile phone as well as pre-GPS.
As we recovered from the exertion of the day trip we were able to look at the route in an analytical fashion and learn from our mistakes, the plan was to return the following year and complete what we started but weather windows and time off didn't coincide so it is an unfinished project, for Pete and myself at least. 

John Richardson and Ian Hamon finally became the first paddlers to complete the non stop circumnavigation of the Channel Islands in June 2000.  This was taken on their arrival back at La Pulente.  To this day there are the only sea kayakers to have completed the unsupported journey around the islands.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A downwind run

It is hard to believe that it is May, low cloud, heavy rain and a cold northerly wind, gusting up to 21 knots.  So there are limited choices of activities, but a downwind run, across St Ouen's Bay seemed a real possibility.  Launching from L'Etacq it was just under 4 miles to La Pulente, ideally the northerly wind was going to assist the journey down the bay.

 Leaving L'Etacq at the start of the down wind run.  Our destination is lost somewhere in the murk.
 It was important to settle into a steady rhythm and to try and use the following wind.  There were 11 of us on stand up paddleboards, a pretty good turn out considering the conditions.
 La Rocco Tower appearing.  Our route would take us in between the tower and the shore.
La Pulente appearing out of the gloom. I had only taken 4 swims up to this point.  Not far to the first pint!

OK the pictures aren't great but it was a thoroughly miserable day and I think we made the most of it.  It's hard to imagine an alternative activity which would have been as enjoyable on such an afternoon.  Stand up paddleboarding is a great way to train for sea kayaking, it maintains fitness but more importantly it improves balance and gives a better understanding of motion in the water and the effect of waves.  The other advantage of SUP is that it is not so demanding with time, we were only out for 45 minutes but I can't remember the last time I felt this tired as a consequence of paddlesport. 
Give it a go you won't be disappointed.
The plan had been to load the sea kayaks onto the RIB on Saturday morning, head up to Sark,  be dropped off and then picked up on the Sunday evening, allowing two days of kayaking around our sister isle.  Unfortunately the wind forecast for Sunday afternoon was too high for the boat to operate, so on Saturday morning at 06.30 an alternative plan was quickly hatched.  A visit to the Paternosters, off the north coast of Jersey.
 We headed east from Greve de Lecq, exploring a number of the coastal features, including Devil's Hole. It is not that often that it is possible to paddle as far back into the cave but there was no swell at all.
 Once the tide drops at the Paternosters there is a delightful lagoon which offers sheltered landing, although today sea conditions were such that it would have been possible to land just about anywhere.
 Considering it is the middle of May it was a pretty grey day.  Contrast this with our visit in February.  It is hard to believe so many of the group selected dry suits to paddle in.
 Heading out of the lagoon, about an hour before low water, hoping for some reasonably light tidal streams.
 The tide was already moving from left to right, it is just discernable behind Gary and Pete.  It was nothing that a bit of ferry gliding wouldn't compensate for.
 As there was no swell we took advantage to explore the western margins of the reef.  For some of the kayakers, although they had visited the reef many times before this was the first time that conditions had allowed them to paddle through some of the channels.
 Leaving the reef for the north coast of Jersey,  it doesn't get much flatter than this.
 Approaching Greve de Lecq.
 Nicky checking the distance on her GPS, it was just under 8 nautical miles.  Jersey's beaches shouldn't look this bleak in May.

So we didn't make Sark, that is still to be re-arranged, but we did make the most of our disappointment.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New Stand Up Paddleboard

After a day at work there is nothing like heading down to the local beach for some paddle sport.  I have just got hold of a Naish Glide 12 feet 6 inches so was keen to get out on the water.  This evening we headed out from St Brelade's Bay along the south west coast in delightful conditions and it was amazing how many other people we saw out on the water.
I set my GoPro to take a photograph every minute, many were unusable, but it explains the strange angle of some of the pictures.

 Getting ready to leave from St Brelade's Bay.  Voted the second best beach in Britain by Trip Advisor.
 The water was really clear, as we headed out towards the pier.
 John Searson on his racing ski and Chester from Absolute Adventures, two rapidly developing aspects of paddle sport.
 The granite of the Grosse Tete was particularly colourful this evening.
 We did land to see if we could get through some of the caves close to Trespass Point but the tide was still too high.
 Derek Hairon from Jersey Kayak Adventures had also selected this area for his evening group.
 Another view of St Brelade's Bay.
Arriving back at St Brelades after a delightful 45 minutes on the water.  Pity the forecast for tomorrow is not as good.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

May on the Ecrehous

Last Tuesday a weather window for Sunday started to appear in a number of the forecasts, which was a real treat after the wet and windy last few weekends.  Plans evolved over the interim period and at 07.00 this morning 19 members of the Jersey Canoe Club congregated at St Catherine's ready for an early departure.
Visibility was exceptional with a light easterly wind but any paddle to the Ecrehous is always a pleasure because I am aware of what a great destination we are heading towards.
The Ecrehous has to be one of the great sea kayaking destinations and every time we go it feels like a real privilege.  If you haven't managed to visit yet then make sure its on your "to do list".

Arriving at the outer reef of the Ecrehous, the crossing from St Catherine's had taken about 1 hour 40 minutes
 Len and Georgina threading their way through the channels which dissect the reef at this stage of the tide.  Water clarity was exceptional.
 The classic Ecrehous view.  This must be the most photographed house on the reef.  On the left hand skyline the north coast of Jersey is just discernable.
 A good selection of sea kayaks on the French side of the shingle bank.  There were 19 kayakers in our group and we met a further 5 on arrival.  The Normandy coast of France is visible on the right had side of the picture. 
The north coast of Jersey as we approached the Island on our return journey.  Another memorable visit to the Ecrehous.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Jersey North West Corner

The north west corner of Jersey offers some of the finest sea kayaking on the Island.  Tonight it was particularly beautiful, with the stunning light and calm seas.  A great Thursday night paddle with the Jersey Canoe Club.

 Heading north from Stinky Bay
 Le Pinacle viewed from the south.  A cave system cuts through this headland.
 Pete with the stunning north west face of Le Pinacle.
 Heading towards the Gun Cliffs. 
 Alex heading into the bay to the north of Le Pinacle.
 Typical north west coast scenery.  The nearest land to our left is Newfoundland, the North Atlantic is particularly quiet.
 Underneath La Nethe Falaise.  Even late on a May evening most of the cliff remains in shadow.  The Black Cliff.
 Just to the east of Grosnez, some superb rock climbing routes.
 Approaching Plemont Bay, a real gem.
 Time to head back to L'Etacq.
The moon passing close to the summit of Le Pinacle.  It is clear why there are Spring Tides.