Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gozo South Coast

As a break from the usual watery wanderings around the Channel Islands I thought I would cover a trip that I was fortunate enough to do a couple of weeks ago.  It was along part of the south coast of Gozo, Malta's northern and smaller neighbour. 
What Gozo and Jersey have in common is a sheltered coast, when the wind picks up.  On this particular day we were experiencing a north westerly force 6, so not ideal for two of the coasts of Gozo.
The obvious route was out from Mgarr Ix Xini, a narrow inlet, which several centuries ago provided a sheltered anchorage for galleys.  Today it is a popular location for diving, one of the mainstays of the Gozo economy.
The entrance to the bay is marked by a tower, which was built in 1661, from there we headed east along the coast, enjoying scenery which isn't as dramatic as elsewhere on the island but still entertaining.  
Our destination was Hondoq, a popular launching spot for kayakers, but where we were going to have lunch and take advantage of the cafe before returning to Mgarr Ix Xini.  This isn't a particularly long day trip but it is a recommended option when the wind is blowing out of the north.

Launching from Mgarr Ix Xini.  The sign warning of the nature of the slip was needed, several of the group fell over.
Heading out of the bay
From offshore the entrance to the inlet isn't easily seen, although the tower, which is just out of the picture is a bit of a give away.
 An old military institution, which is being re-developed for residential purposes, Fort Chambray, overlooks the channel between Gozo and Comino.  During the Crimean War the Fort housed 500 British troops.  It has also seen service as a Leprosy Hospital
 There were a number of caves along this section of coast, which are worth exploring.  The land behind is the island of Comino, a great day trip from Gozo.
 Our destination for lunch was Hondoq, with its popular cafe, which serves possibly the best banoffee ice cream anywhere.
 There were a number of offshore rocks to explore.  These are just outside the harbour at Mgarr, which is Gozo's main link to the outside world.
 In several places the authorities have thoughtfully placed some jumping platforms.  What a contrast to Jersey where the authorities seem intent on banning jumping into the sea.
The tower protecting the entrance into Mgarr Ix Xini, built in 1661.
Back where we started from and an opportunity to swim in the crystal clear water.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sark to Jersey

After a superb day and evening on Sark it was time to head home.  A memorable meal on the terrace of Stock's Hotel followed by an evening in the Mermaid Disco is something not to be missed.
It was a relatively early start as The Tower Hamlets Canoe Club members had flights to catch back to London and most of the Jersey paddlers had work on the Monday morning.
We chose an earlier departure time than normal and what a good decision.  The first two hours were relatively straight forward as we headed towards the Paternosters, although Brittany Ferries did pass a bit closer than I was happy with, paranoia from earlier crossings in my kayaking career.  Just to the north of the Paternosters we switched to a more south westerly track to take advantage of the tide, which helped push us along at over 6 knots.
Landfall in Jersey was just under 3 hours for the 12 mile open crossing and then we spent a bit of time was dawdling along one of the most spectacular sections of the Jersey coastline before landing at Stinky Bay.
A quick beer at the Watersplash was followed by a dash to the airport for our London paddling friends.  A delightful weekend.
 There are some things which make you realize that you are in Sark, including the size of the bank.
 The Avenue.  This is the main shopping centre in Sark.
 The Tower Hamlets Canoe Club members prior to departure.  What a great weekend to choose to come over from England.  Channel Island sea kayaking at its best.
 Just leaving Dixcart Bay looking along the east coast of Sark.
 Sark gradually starts to fall away.  We had left from Dixcart Bay, on the left of the photograph where the boats are anchored.
 Brittany Ferries from St Malo to Portsmouth did pass fairly close by, but its appearance out of the haze did help with our forward paddling speed!
 Landfall was between Grosnez Castle and Les Landes bunkers.  When we turned near the Paternosters, to take advantage of the tide, our speed increased to over 6 knots.
 Although we had been aware that there was a slight swell running as we crossed from Sark, it wasn't until we started to head through some of the reefs that we became aware of its impact.
 Just heading south past the Pinacle, one of Jersey's most distinctive physical features.
 Toby coming into Stinky Bay, a well named landing spot.  The decomposing sea weed, clung to our legs, clothes and kayaks with amazing tenacity.  Not the best place to land but a memorable arrival after a memorable few days.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Circumnavigation of Sark

Sark is one of the truly special sea kayaking destinations and this weekend we were fortunate enough to be able to complete a circumnavigation of the island in all almost perfect conditions.  Parts of the island have been covered in an earlier post in relation to Mervyn Peake and Sark but there is a lot more to the island.
We launched from Dixcart Bay, a convenient bay on the east coast, which provides relatively easy access to the main facilities on the Island, via a wooded valley.  The circumnavigation was clockwise meaning that we headed south first. Unusually there was very little swell so we were able to wander through the reefs and channels off the southern tip with relative ease.
Possibly the most challenging, but also most rewarding, part of the circumnavigation is the area around the Gouilot Passage.  To the west lies the privately owned island of Brecqhou, whilst to the east are the Gouilot Caves, through which the tide runs at quite a considerable pace.  The ability to perform a hanging draw, in the semi darkness, is a vital skill in this area.
To the north lie a variety of coastal erosion features such as the arch at Port au Moulin and the stacks at Les Autlets, interspersed with a huge number of caves, the presence of which were document by the Latrobe brothers in the early 20th century, a copy of their book is essential research for anybody exploring the coastline of Sark, by whatever means.
Bec du Nez the most northerly point of the island was missed as it was possible to cut through a channel to the south of the headland.  Heading south along the east coast we passed underneath Point Robert lighthouse before reaching Maseline Harbour.  This was completed in 1948 and was designed to take larger vessels than the original harbour at Creux, in the hope of increasing the number of visitors.
Creux Harbour lies just to the south of Maseline and was the original harbour.  It was destroyed in the winter storms of 1865/66 so the present jetty dates back to 1868.  We popped in for a quick visit, noticing the rack of sit on tops belonging to Adventure Sark, a specialist outdoor provider based on the Island.
From here we threaded our way through some very narrow passages before arriving at Derrible Bay, the Creux, a distinctive geographical feature is at the back of the bay and a must visit location, particularly if the tide is in.
Dixcart Bay is next, our starting point 8 miles earlier.  A memorable 3 hours of sea kayaking behind us. 
In the evening as we walked from the restaurant back to the campsite there was an intensity to the darkness which you don't get in many places, which is why the island was awarded Dark Sky Status. The clarity and number of stars was quite exceptional.  Just another reason to visit this sea kayaking heaven located about 12 miles north of Jersey.
 The view south from Dixcart Bay.  L'Etac is the island offshore, that is the usual landfall when crossing from Jersey.
 Paddling through the cave, just to the north of La Coupee, the narrow bridge of land which joins Sark to Little Sark.
Moie de Breniere, off the south east coast of the island
The whole of the coastline is pretty rugged, with easy access to the water only possible in a few places.
 Heading towards the Gouliot Passage.  Brecqhou is the island to the left.  The tides run up to 8 knots in this area.
 Looking across La Grande Greve towards La Coupee.
Entering the Gouliot Caves, the tide was running north through the caves, with a speed which created some interesting conditions.
Looking across the Gouliot Passage towards Brecqhou.
Toby sitting under the arch at Port au Moulin.
Paddling through Les Autlets
 Creux Harbour on the east coast was the original harbour for the island.
Looking out from the northern tunnel in the Creux de Derrible.  The conclusion of the circumnavigation is only another few hundred metres.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Baja final day

We were due to be picked up, just after lunch, at Punta Coyote, which meant that we could have a pretty easy morning.  As it was we were still away at the usual time of just gone 08.00.  It's pretty difficult to have a lie in with these temperatures.
As it was a relatively short distance we had time to stop a couple of times and relax before our pick up. Gradually preparing ourselves for a more structured way of life.
Baja is a truly special place and although there are plans for developments in certain areas it is still possible to find solitude when traveling through the area by sea kayak.  Living in Europe it can seem that the logistics of visiting the area are pretty challenging, which at times they can be but the reality is that the experience is well worth the effort.  Start planning your winter sea kayaking trip now.
 Although we had the luxury of a late start we were still up before sunrise.  This has to be one of my favourite times of the day.  The island is Isla San Francisco, which we visited the day before.
 Heading south past the stripped cliffs.
 We had plenty of time so we pulled ashore on this long beach which was backed by some fairly tall sand dunes.
 We had plenty of time to explore the surrounding area, some of the cactus were surprisingly tall.
 Kate studying the remains of a turtle we discovered on the beach.
 Back in La Paz it was time celebrate another great trip in Baja.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Isla San Francisco

There are some places, which you have kayaked to, that leave you with vivid memories.  Isla San Francisco is one of those places, as you paddle into the lagoon you are reminded of what a dramatic location it is.
A crystal clear, horseshoe shaped bay with steeply rising hillsides on two sides create this distinctive feature of Isla San Francisco.  There were a number of yachts at anchor in the bay including ones from Switzerland and Hawaii, demonstrating the attraction of this area for mariners from far and wide.
We spent several hours sheltering in the shade of our simple construction before heading across to mainland for our final campsite, Arroyo Verde, before being picked up the following lunch time.
 Paddling along the eastern shore of Isla San Francisco, this section of coast always reminds me of the sphinx, in Egypt.
 If anyone was to write a book on the great lighthouses of Baja, it would be quite a slim volume, when compared to north west Europe.  This one overlooks the channel between Isla San Francisco and Isla San Jose, to the north.
The inevitable shot of the kayak pulled ashore on a tropical beach.
Shade is at a premium on Isla San Francisco so the more technical amongst the group managed to construct this effective shelter.
 Getting ready to leave, we were aiming to camp at the base of the mountains in the distance.

Looking north across the inland area of Isla San Francisco.  We had crossed earlier from Isla San Jose in the distance
Looking across towards the entrance to the lagoon, the mountains of Baja are behind.
 Kate crossing the channel towards the mainland, amazingly a light north easterly wind picked up and we completed the crossing at speeds between 4 and 5 knots.
Nicky and Tracey taking full advantage of the conditions on the crossing.  It was not hard to imagine what conditions could be like in this area in a strong northerly blow.
Our last beach, easy landing and camping.  Off the point there was some of the best snorkeling that we experienced on the whole trip.  It was here that Kate almost stepped on a rattle snake!

 Our last sunset of the trip.  Looking back towards Isla San Francisco.

Monday, July 21, 2014


There is something very special about kayaking through mangroves.  Living in Jersey it's not something that I get to do that often so we were eager to visit this special corner of Baja, repeating a section of the journey from the year before.
Entry into the mangroves wasn't that easy because of the outgoing tide but the ability to increase the amount of power into the forward stroke and a knowledge of ferry gliding ensured that we were able to overcome the power of the current, allowing us access to the serenity of the mangrove swamp.
What was immediately noticeable was the silence, there was some noise from the numerous birds in the area but almost nothing else, as we drifted through the narrow channels.
We spent a couple of hours in this rather special place before commencing the crossing to Isla San Francisco.  Sadly we knew that this was going to be our last full day on the water.
 Before we left the camp Kate had time for a bit of beach art.  There were hundreds of these huge shells littering the beach.
 Alex entering the mangroves, the current is flowing from left to right with deceptive speed.
 Paddling along the main channel.
 Looking back to the north.  This gives some idea of the width of the main channel
 Entering one of the narrower side channels.  Apart from the drip of water off the paddles there was almost total silence.
 Tracey reaching the end of a minor channel.
 Nicky heading out of the mangroves.  Our next destination is Isla San Francisco which is clearly visible over the top of the shingle bank.
 Crossing to Isla San Francisco.