Monday, December 30, 2013

Corbiere Swell

There was a really stunning sunset this evening, with a large swell and high water combining to create the perfect atmosphere at Corbiere. A memorable way to finish the day.  An interesting observation is that some of the photographs were taken with a Nikon DSLR and others with an iphone.  Not easy to tell which is which.

Symposium Cliffs

Although yesterday dawned bright and sunny, for a change, prior engagements prevented me from getting on the water.  Not wishing to waste the best day for several weeks I did manage a quick walk along the cliffs of the south west of the Island.  This is the area where the 2014 Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium is going to be based, at the end of May.
Plans are well advanced for the event and approximately half of the places have already been booked but if you are thinking of heading to Jersey for what promises to be a great week of paddling then contact Kevin soon and start planning.
 The road to Corbiere, the next land to the west is Newfoundland.  This is a perfect place to find more challenging conditions, either because of swell or tidal flows, all within a few hundred metres of where the Symposium is going to be based.
 The Highlands Hotel.  This is the symposium HQ.  What a superb location with stunning views to the south and west.  Swimming pool, gym, bar on the terrace.  What more do you need after a great day of sea kayaking.
 The south west corner of the Island, how about a quick session of coasteering in the evening.  You will be able to walk to and from the start of the session, straight from the hotel in your wet suit.
 Also close to the hotel are the workings for the desalination plant.  There are some great jumps into the sea in this area.
 Fiquet Bay looking across to Pt Le Fret.  A number of the paddles which are being arranged will pass along this section of coastline.
 It is just over a mile to drive to St Brelade's Bay, where a number of sessions might leave from.  There are 3 launch sites which are closer though, all of which offer a variety of different kayaking.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Coffee in Greenwich

An early morning start was the order of the day because of the tide times.  We needed to paddle to Greenwich and be back at Tower Hamlets just after 12.00 otherwise we would be paddling against a significant tidal flow.  The river is always quieter on Sunday mornings so we were able to be more relaxed when it came to crossing over or to passing some of the river ferry terminals.
I always find paddling past Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs a nostalgic experience as I lived in the area in the early to mid 1970's, when it was a completely different place.  We used to be able to see ships from our kitchen window and there wasn't an office block in sight.
Arriving in Greenwich we found a small rubbish covered beach on which to land before a quick sprint for coffee and muffins.  These were consumed on the river bank as inquisitive tourists passed by.  In previous years we have had time to linger for lunch but today time was tight because of the earlier tide and all too soon it was time to cross over the river and head back towards the Canoe Club.
Another couple of great days paddling in the heart of London thanks to the hospitality of the Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.  We already have next years dates fixed but with a slightly different programme which includes an over night trip.  It should be interesting.
 Early morning calm as we headed past the commercial hub of Canary Wharf.  The river was uncharacteristically calm.
 As we were approaching slack water we were able to explore the remains of some of the derelict wharves, left over from when London was the greatest port in the world .  Urban caving.
 Landing places are not always easy to find in Greenwich.  This rubbish strewn beach seemed the best option.  It is hard to believe that something like this is allowed to exist in a World Heritage Site.  We were lucky as the day before there was a dead dog on the beach.
 Coffee and cakes were the order of the day, barely an eye brow was raised as we mingled with the Sunday morning crowds in our dry suits.
 As time and tide wait for no man it was important to head back towards Tower Hamlets.  En route we came across an Antony Gormley sculpture close to The Grapes pub.
Launching the day before required some imagination, today it was exiting.  Keeping hold of the kayak with a foot whilst climbing onto a ladder and then reaching down to grab the bow required a certain amount of co-ordination.
The final movement of the kayak out of the water was completed with several willing volunteers.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Capital City Kayaking

The annual Jersey Canoe Club visit to the Tower Hamlets Canoe Club is always an enjoyable weekend and this year was no different.  The contrast between the rugged coastal scenery of Jersey and the urban architecture of London is always fascinating and this was another paddle which was not to disappoint.
There is always something exciting about kayaking through the heart of London, particularly if you spend most of your life in a more rural setting.  It can be quite challenging due to the speed at which the tide flows and the density of the other river traffic but in terms of similar paddles this was quite relaxing.  For some reason there were very few boats moving on the Thames and because of the tide times we managed to complete the paddle in daylight, not always easy in the middle of winter.
If you haven't paddled through the heart of one of the great cities of the world then it is highly recommended.
Launching at Tower Hamlets can be very entertaining, depending upon the height of the tide.  At times some imagination may be required.
Approaching Tower Bridge.  It has been interesting to watch the Shard start to dominate the London skyline over the last few years.
This 1004 feet (306 metre) high building designed by Renzo Piano, can be seen from almost anywhere in London.  It is currently the tallest building in the European Union  and a visit to the viewing platform is on the list of things to do, in a future visit to London.
The Old Billingsgate Market was built in 1875 and at one time was the largest fish market in the world.  In 1982 the market was relocated to the Isle of Dogs but the original market remains a distinctive building on this stretch of the River Thames.
Paddling past Westminster and the Houses of Parliament is always a memorable event.
Chelsea was as far upstream as we ventured on this particular day.  Lunch was sought out at a local watering hole.  Very pleasant it was indeed.  You can't go wrong with a full English breakfast and a pint of good bitter.
 There are numerous bridges across the Thames on London, with some such as Tower Bridge having very distinctive profiles.  This one is Albert Bridge built in1873.  At the right hand end can be seen the former toll booths, this is the only bridge in London whose toll booths have survived.
 Built in the 1930's Battersea Power Station is the largest brick building in Europe.  I can't help thinking about Pink Floyd every time I paddle past Battersea as I was fortunate enough to see them in concert in 1977 on the "Animals" tour.  It featured on the album cover.
From underneath the derelict cranes, which were used to unload the coal which was transported to the site on colliers, from north east England and south Wales.  This must have been a busy location as at the height of its power production it was using more 1,000,000 tons of coal per annum.  Electricity finally stopped being produced here on the 31st October 1983.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Boxing Day Sea Kayaking

Boxing Day almost offered some respite from the almost continuous storms of the last few weeks but we probably experienced all four seasons during the course of 2 hours.  Belcroute, on the western side of St Aubin's Bay was the chosen venue, mainly because it gave some shelter from the potential squalls.
Heading south we quickly reached Noirmont before turning and heading across the bay towards St Helier, experiencing some lovely rides on the following swell.  Half way across the bay it was clear that we were going to be hit by quite a significant squall.  The hail proved to be pretty painful but within 10 minutes the sunshine returned and we spent a very pleasant 15 minutes paddling around St Aubin's Harbour chatting to the stand up paddleboarders, who had clearly put some effort into their fancy dress.
This was followed by the inevitable visit to the Smugglers for a warming pint, a traditional that has been part of Jersey Canoe Club's history for 30 years.
Heading out from Belcroute.  There were some very dramatic clouds towering over St Helier.  These had already passed but others were on the way.
 The coast to the south of Belcroute is one of the few sections of the islands coast where trees approach the waters edge.
 Noirmont Point is nearly always entertaining, the westerly swell and wind meeting the opposing tidal streams.  From here we turned north east and ran with the wind into St Aubin's Bay
 This was quite an intense squall.  The hail was particularly painful.  The temperature drop as the squall passed through was particularly dramatic.
 Within a few minutes though the wind dropped, the sun came out and we paddled around St Aubin's Harbour in delightful conditions.
We weren't the only group out on the water, members of the Stand up Paddleboard Club were on the water in some quite spectacular fancy dress.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mousa Broch

Mousa Broch is probably the finest example of broch surviving today and is just over 13 metres high.  Built about 2,000 years ago it provided shelter and protection in troubled times.  It is probably in such good condition because situated as it is on a small island it was more difficult to remove the stones for more modern buildings.  The tower is formed from two concentric stone walls, which were made from local stone.  A narrow spiral staircase rises between the walls giving access to the top of the Broch, from where there are stunning views.
We visited the island one late evening in July, paddling out from Sandwick to ensure that we arrived at the Broch as darkness fell.  We explored the insides then sat and waited.  Gradually the whole area became alive to the sound of soft churrings as the Storm Petrels, which call the inside of the stone walls and the hollows under the surrounding boulders home, returned to their nests.  It was truly one of the most amazing experiences I have ever encountered.  The birds fluttered literally inches in front of our faces.
As we paddled back to Sandwick the short Shetland night gave way to a new dawn but it had been a memorable visit to a superb historic site.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gino Watkins - "Northern Lights

Numerous books have been written either about Gino Watkins or concerning his exploits in the 1920's and early 1930's prior to his untimely death in the waters of eastern Greenland, an area which very few modern paddlers complete with the equipment of the 21st Century venture into.  How much more demanding must have these travels been when undertaken in the equipment of the day?
Watkins is credited with being the first English man to be able to roll his kayak.  A  skill which he thought was essential to master if the aim was to supplement the food supplies with locally caught species.  It was this desire to live off the land which probably cost Watkins his life, although no body was ever found his kayak was recovered and is preserved today at the Royal Geographical Society in London.   
The book, which is probably easiest to acquire today, is simply called "Gino Watkins" by J M Scott.  It seems that most second hand bookshops, which are searched, will reveal a copy of this book. 
A less common title is "Northern Lights" by Spencer Chapman.  It was the official record of the expedition in the 1930’s, which was trying to find an air route from Europe to North America.  I had been looking for a copy for several years when I came across a copy at a bookseller in London.  The fact that it was store in a locked glass cabinet should have been enough of a signal that this was a book, which was out of my price range, but curiosity got the better of me and I needed to see exactly what it was like.  Once I had regained my composure after seeing the price, it cost more than some of the cars I have bought in the past.  It was a joy to behold though and as I opened the covers it only got better.  The author Spencer Chapman signed it, but more importantly it contained the original cutting from The London Times announcing the death of Watkins.  This was before the contents of the book were reached.  I knew that this was an important volume but one that I was unable to justify without discussing at home.  Marriages have probably fallen apart for a lesser sum!
I reluctantly placed the book back in the hands of the shop assistant and left with his card in my hand and hope in my heart.  After discussion at home it was decided that there could be no better Christmas present for the paddling bibliophile than this particular volume.  It was with some relief that I was able to order the book over the telephone a few days later.  Today it occupies pride of place on my paddling bookshelf.     

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hans Lindemann - Atlantic Crossing

Whilst searching through my kayaking literature last week I came across my copy of "Life" magazine from 22nd July 1957.  I managed to find a copy a few years ago through the wonders of ebay.  A seller in Miami just happened to be selling something which I had been trying to find for years.
He left Las Palmas in the Canary Islands on the 20th October 1956, in his folding kayak, Tangaroa, eventually making landfall 72 later on St Martin.  
During the crossing there were numerous incidents, a chance meeting with a cargo ship half way across the Atlantic, capsizing and clinging to the upturned hull throughout the night, another capsize in daylight, hitting a shark with his paddle etc all while fueled with tins of condensed milk and beer.
It really is one of the most significant sea kayaking trips of all time, if you haven't a copy of Life Magazine then search out a copy of "Alone at Sea" which describes the crossing in some detail, leaving you wondering "why on earth would you do it?"

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ecrehous Sovereignty

It was 60 years ago today, 17th November 1953, that the Sovereignty of both the Ecrehous and Minquiers was awarded to Jersey by the International Court of Justice.  These are two delightful reefs off the coast of Jersey.  The Minquiers, the larger of the reefs are approximately 12 miles south of the Island whilst the Ecrehous are about 5 miles north east of Jersey.
Both reefs are superb sea kayaking destinations But I can't help but wonder how different things might have been if sovereignty had been awarded to France, with all of the restrictions that have been placed on our sport by the French authorities over the years.
There was a half hearted attempt by a few renegade French men to invade the Ecrehous in the 1990's but that has faded away.  Today both these reefs remain as exceptional sea kayaking destinations for Jersey paddlers and visitors to the Island.
 Looking to the east, the French coast is just visible.
 Exploring the reef on delightful summers afternoon.
 Looking to the west.  Jersey is just visible.
Its days like this, which make the Ecrehous such a special place.
It is only when seen from the air that the full size of the Ecrehous reef can be appreciated.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sea Kayaker Magazine

It was with some sadness that I received the news today that Sea Kayaker magazine is ceasing publication after the next edition.  It was launched in the Spring of 1984 and I managed to get a copy at the Crystal Palace Canoe Show that year.  If my memory serves me correct John Dowd was there in person.  Initially it was published quarterly before moving to its current schedule of once every two months.  Since then I have looked forward to receiving every copy, and over the years they have contained some superb articles.
In the first edition there were articles by paddlers who were stalwarts of the sea kayaking world.
George Dyson and David Zimmerly both had articles on the Baidarka.  Derek Hutchinson recalled some incidents in the BCU Coaching Scheme.  Rosalind Rickard and Greg Blanchette were interviewed about their journey along the Northwest Passage whilst David Burch wrote about basic navigation.
In that first edition there were far less adverts than are found in today's magazines.  Ocean River Sports in Victoria took out a half page advert, Feathercraft Kayaks made an apperance, whilst Werner Paddles were presented by Pacific Water Sports.  Patagonia took out a full page advert with what looks like Yvon Chouinard surfing a very substantial wave in what looks like a Perception Mirage.
Over the last 30 years sea kayaking has changed beyond all recognition but throughout that time Sea Kayaker has been a constant source of information and inspiration.  It will be missed but thanks for the memories.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Baja Sea Kayaking

It would be easy to run of adequate descriptive words to describe our sea kayaking trip to Baja this year, it was just great and if you haven't been to this area start planning, you won't regret it.  
Hopefully the photographs will stimulate your interest if you haven't visited the region before.
When heading out on a trip it always helps if the hotel where you stay the night before has a map on the wall.  We paddled south from Loreto to La Paz.
Just one of the many stunning camp sites we used as we paddled through 150 nautical miles of dramatic coastal scenery.
 At lunch time it was necessary to seek out shade as the temperature climbed into the mid to high 30's.  There was only one day when we were unable to find natural shade.
 If there was a list of great lunch spots in the world, this bay must surely be in the top 10.  Isla San Francisco.
Popping on a snorkel and looking under was full of memorable surprises.
 As well as the wildlife the geology was pretty spectacular
 From this beach it was another 6 days before we could get a mobile phone signal.  How often do paddle in areas which feel that remote.
 It was the sea kayaking we went for and it surpassed our expectations.