Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 highlights

There have been a number kayaking highlights over the last 12 months and it is always a pleasure to look back over the year.
Probably the best one day paddle was when we were staying on Lihou in June and paddled around Guernsey as well as managing to fit in lunch on Herm.  The weather couldn't have been better, the 12 members of the group were all pretty strong paddlers and the 25 nautical miles just flew past.
 Approaching the east coast of Jethou.  Herm is the land furthest away in the picture
 On the return leg to Lihou.  Heading down the west coast of Guernsey, Kim is just offshore from Cobo.
My favourite open crossing of the year was returning from Sark to Jersey at the end of July with some members of Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.  Due to flight timings we had to leave Sark a bit earlier, in the tidal sequence, than we would do normally but there seemed to be a small window of opportunity so we took it and it was ideal. Close to 13 nautical miles in 2 hours 45 minutes, I think I will probably use that departure time again.

Leaving Sark on the Sunday morning.  All of the anchored craft on the left of the picture indicate Dixcart, where we started.
 We did have a bit of company in the middle of the crossing which encouraged us to paddle a bit quicker.
Probably the best paddling event, and I have to admit some bias here, was the Jersey Sea Kayaking Symposium, held in May.  After a gap of 4 years I was encouraged to run another event but this time the structure was different.  It was based at the Highlands Hotel on the south west corner of the Island and attracted over 100 people to Jersey for a weeks kayaking.  Apart from the pleasure of the week the legacy is that the Canoe Club has been able to purchase 8 sea kayaks to place on the west of Greenland for paddlers to use in the coming years.
The view from the hotel lounge  There were views of both the south and west coast of the Island
These are the cliffs just underneath the hotel and they proved to be a popular with most of the participants.
My most memorable overnight paddle was the 10 days we spent in Baja.  It is difficult to describe just how special a destination the area is.  Remote beaches, stunning scenery, superb weather, incredible wildlife, the list just goes on and on.  We will miss out on not visiting the area in 2015 as we are heading north to use the Canoe Club kayaks in Greenland next summer.
Clear water, sandy beaches, hot weather - Baja
Some great scenery.  Along one stretch of coast the cliffs were over 1,000 feet high.
There have only been two paddling disappointments this year:
1.) I didn't go to the Ecrehous enough, although the visits I did do were as enjoyable as ever.
2.) I lost my luggage en route to a canoeing trip in Sweden so spent time hanging around Stockholm airport rather than canoeing through Swedish forests.
 Arriving at the Ecrehous in August.  Always a treat.
Looking north from the bench in September.
 Storm clouds over Karlstad in Sweden.  We spent 3 days in Karlstad and Stockholm looking for luggage, which meant that we missed our 7 day open canoe trip
So all in all another excellent year on the water.  Looking forward to 2015

Monday, December 29, 2014

Some Christmas activity

It has been a tradition for nearly 40 years to go for a swim on Christmas morning. Members of the Jersey Canoe Club have been entering the water at 11.00 on Christmas Day long before swimming increased in popularity.  Although some of the public swims on the Island now attract over 200 people the Club has never sought publicity but with word of mouth our only form of advertising we still manage to attract a good turn out.
This year the conditions were completely benevolent.  Light winds, warm sunshine, an ideal tide height and a water temperature of just above 11 degrees.  After a quick dip it was the traditional mince pies and mulled wine before heading off for a family Christmas.
Preparing for the swim at St Catherine's
A selection of the Canoe Club group just before 11.00
We didn't hang around too long!  It was 11 degrees but still felt pretty chilly.
Boxing Day has always been a paddle out of Ouaisne and this year was no different. Approximately 20 members of the Jersey Canoe Club gathered in the car park in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions.  Just after high water on a spring tide it was obvious that there would be an entertaining tidal race off Noirmont, so that's where we headed.
We were not disappointed, there were some delightful waves to surf, some interesting moving water and the deterioration in the weather conditions was delayed.  Two hours on the water followed by a pint in the warmth of The Smugglers was a perfect way to start Boxing Day celebrations.
Launching from Ouaisne
Heading along the side of Pt Le Fret in rather grey conditions.
Noirmont Tower from the east.
A bit of chop is always enjoyable.
The German Tower at Noirmont is clearly visible as we headed back towards Pt Le Fret and Ouaisne.
One of the great locations in Jersey, La Cotte de St Brelade.
By the morning of the 27th December wind had increased dramatically, gusting to 50 knots so looking down from the cliffs the sea state had deteriorated significantly since the day before, although the sun was shining down  and what had been a rather grey landscape.
 Ouaisne with some surf rolling into the beach, in contrast to the day before.
 The swell was starting to break against Pt Le Fret.
 Looking down in La Cotte de St Brelade.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Some maritime wanderings

Due to a variety of reasons I have not been able to get out in the water for the last two weeks but that doesn't mean that I haven't had a connection with the sea.  Visiting friends and family in the South East of the UK I have taken the opportunity to visit a number of places for the first time or to re-visit for the first time in a number of years.  Many of these places have a maritime connection, so here are just a few of the places, a number of which deserve a return visit with a kayak at a later date.
Sound mirrors or listening ears which are found on the north east side of Dungeness.  Located on an island they are difficult to get close to.  The 3 concrete structures were built between 1928 and 1930.  They were designed to pick up the sound of approaching enemy aircraft, up to 24 miles away, effectively giving Britain a 15 minute early warning system.  They quickly became obsolete as aircraft became faster and were certainly not needed after 1935 when radar was invented.

St Margaret's Bay is located mid way between Deal and Dover with the cliffs supposed to be the first place in the UK that the sun reaches everyday.  The beach is the closest point to France, which is only 21 miles away and is the place where Channel swimmers commence their challenge.  At one end of the beach is a house where Noel Coward lived for several years after the end of the Second World War.
Dungeness which consists of one of  the largest areas of shingle, in Europe,  is a cuspate foreland. An expression which will bring joy to the heart of any geographer.  We visited on a rather bleaknSunday afternoon but were amazed just how wild the area felt.  There is an old lighthouse, which was first lit on the 31st March 1904 but is no longer used as it is further away from the sea than it used to be and because from some directions it is obscured by the nuclear power station.  Much of the area is a National Nature Reserve and there is a bird reserve.  It was a fascinating place to visit and an area I will plan to return to either to paddle or cycle round.

I am always amazed by Greenwich in south east London, I can't think of anywhere else where there is such a tradition of maritime history.  We visited the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory where it is possible to stand with a foot in either hemisphere

Birling Gap, near Eastbourne in East Sussex is somewhere I have visited numerous times of the years since I first went there in 1977.  Today was like so many others with rough seas breaking against the chalk cliffs.  The erosion has been quite spectacular.  The first photograph shows 10 windows in 1977 by Monday of this week there were only 6 left.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Memories of warmer days

As the rain beats down on the windows and the wind starts to increase towards its predicted 55 knots is not too hard for thoughts to start to drift back towards the warmer days of summer.  Good memories and its only 4 days until the evenings to start to pull out.
 Agnes heading along the west coast of Ile de Brehat.  Waterproofs still on but it was the first weekend in May so still plenty of time to warm up.
 The west coast of Comino.  Mediterranean paddling is always a treat.
 Dawn in Baja.  The classic Mexican campsite.  The start of another great day in the Sea of Cortez
 Fascinating geology
 Always a favourite, the Ecrehous never fail to impress but it wasn't quite as pleasant a couple of weeks ago.
 Passing Gorselands on the south coast of Jersey.  A slightly different view of the cliffs to that a couple of winters ago
 The Hanois, off south west Guernsey, I don't think I had ever paddled out there when it was this calm.
 Approaching Jethou, off the east coast of Guernsey.  I think this day was probably my favourite Channel Island paddle of the year.
Sark never fails to deliver.  A pleasant way to spend a weekend in July.

Monday, December 08, 2014

A few days in the mountains

Last week we managed to spend a few days wandering around the mountains of Snowdonia, making a really pleasant change from being out on the sea, off Jersey.  I lived in North Wales for a few years towards the end of the 1970's, working in a number of outdoor centres and spending every available day meandering around the hills, from Cader Idris in the south to the Carneddau in the north.
We passed a relaxing day heading up Cnicht from the Gwynant Valley, with views stretching from the coast off Porthmadog to the crags on the south side of the Glyders.
Our second day involved a rising traverse from Cwm Idwal to the summit of Foel Goch, a mountain I have largely ignored in the past, followed by a reasonably steep climb to the snowy summit of Y Garn.  In retrospect snowy is too generous a term, it was more like closely compacted ice pellets.  Lunch sheltering in the lee of the summit cairn was as cold a meal break I can remember for years.  It wasn't a place to sit and savour the gastronomic delights purchased in Capel Curig.  As we headed down via the Devil's Kitchen I couldn't help but remember a bitterly cold January day in 1979 when all of the streams were frozen and we had a really memorable day ice climbing.
For the final day, there was only one real option, Tryfan by Heather Terrace.  I have lost count the number of times I have reached the summit of Tryfan, it must be in excess of 50 times, but each time it just re-inforces my belief that Tryfan is the finest mountain to be found almost anywhere.
Reading the walking magazines one gains an impression that British mountains are so crowded that it is almost impossible to find space for your feet.  In these 3 days we saw 4 people and only one was close enough to speak to.  So the moral of the story is if you want the hills to yourself then midweek in December is a good starting point.

 Moel Siabod from the car park at Tyn y Coed.  Lovely start to the day but not the best conditions for practicing navigation.
 Pete below the final slopes of Cnicht.  It must be one of the best little mountains anywhere.
 A perfect reflection in Llyn Gwynant.
 Heading up the final slopes of Y Garn, a bit slippy underfoot.
 The route from earlier in the day.  We followed a sloping route to the summit of Foel Goch.
 A picture from an earlier decade.  Cwm Idwal in January 1979.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

December's First Paddle

As the rain hammered down on the conservatory roof the easiest option was to roll over for another hour or so in bed but I was committed to heading towards Bouley Bay for the Canoe Club Sunday morning session.  It was only the really keen members who turned up but despite the rain, wind, low cloud etc we had a pretty good time for a bleak Sunday morning in December.
 The tide was running east with a south westerly wind so we turned back towards Bouley Bay and attempted to surf some of the swells.
 John just slipping off the back of a wave.
 In a few places the water was fairly lumpy, all adding to the fun.
 John just missing another wave, but in a reasonably spectacular fashion
 Belle Hougue really is a great place to play, as well as honing paddling skills
 After playing in the waves off Belle Hougue we headed west to Bonne Nuit, one of the small harbours on the north coast of the Island.
 Ruth near Bonne Nuit.  These buildings look as if there at risk of collapse as the cliffs underneath are crumbling away.
 We turned around Cheval Roc, tradition has it that young maidens from the parish were rowed around the rock on midsummers day in the hope of improving fertility.  We are still waiting to see if it had a similar impact on us.
 Heading back towards Belle Hougue, the tallest headland in Jersey.
 Passing just in front of Belle Hougue cave.