It seemed like the tide streams around Alderney wake up each day, roll out of bed, and decide which way to flow.
Say Alderney to many yachtsmen and expect stories of the 9 knot plus tide streams, tide races, overfall’s and a few stories of big swells mashing up the breakwater. They are not wrong.
Alderney is an exciting and challenging sea kayak destination. There are also some great paddling spots that do not require 5 star paddle skills.
The key thing is to be able to interpret tides, weather conditions and know what you might be letting yourself into. This is certainly not the place to drift around a headland just because it looks nice and calm. These tide races bite.
Getting to Alderney
I’d paddled to Alderney 35miles north of Jersey a couple times and also made a circumnavigation one misty dawn morning many years ago.
However, I’d not had time to really explore the coastline until Cara presented Mark with a kayaking weekend in Alderney for his 40th birthday.
First we needed to ship the kayaks and gear to the island. Easy. Turn up at the freight yard and stick the trailer into a container. Fine, until the loader casually remarked that high winds might delay the shipment which was not what I wanted to hear with flights and hotels already booked….
It’s worth going to Alderney just for the flight.
Wait for your name to be called by the ground crew who allocate seating based on size. They used to weigh you but are now pretty good a judging size. Then clamber into an Aurigny Airlines Trilander by flipping the seat forward.
A bonus of flying to Alderney is that you get a great view of the pilot who turns around and asks if you are on the right plane and then gets on with the job of flying.
Forget the in-flight movie. If you are in row 1 you can even tap the pilot on the shoulder and watch all the dials whiz around or observe your planned kayak route.
Look out for the rabbits darting about on the grass landing strip as you land.
Organising an off island trip has the potential for problems to occur with flights/freight/accommodation and weather. On this trip we ended up with two hitches. A few weeks before another airline stopped flights to Alderney. Luckily Aurigny sorted out new tickets.
The second was the towing unit on the trailer getting mangled in transit. Nothing an angle grinder wouldn’t cure followed by a bit of rope lashed round the tow bar and trailer to get us to the put in.
Alderney tide streams
Get the tide stream times right and Aldereny is a great place to explore with superb cliffs and sea caves along the south coast.
Coming for Jersey give us a bit of an advantage as our big tides (up to 12m) and fast water is common. However, Alderney tide streams do have a mind of their own. Repeating the same route along the south coast on the second day -departing at the same time after high water- found the streams running in the opposite direction.
We got the feeling that tide streams around Alderney wake up each day, roll out of bed and decide which way to flow.
Whatever the reason,expect a few surprises around the coast.
Imagine paddling a calm sea passing numerous British and Nazi fortifications. Then you notice the land is slipping by faster and faster and the sea ahead seems to drop away as a hundred metre wide drop approaches. In Alderney the ocean flows down hill and is a great place to practice ferry glides and break-outs providing you remember to lean downstream.
With tides this fast it is not surprising the water is very clear. Any bits of sediment are soon swept away by a twice a day tidal spring clean.
Circumnavigation of Alderney
Our first day afloat was based on a pretty loose plan to paddle the south coast from Longy bay with Mark and Warren who’d arrived first.
Rounding Essex castle the south coast quickly revealed caves, arches and a few overfalls for added excitement.
There is no feasible take out along the south coast unless you are into winching kayaks up a very dodgy cliff path at Telegraph bay. Luckily mobile reception made it just possible to tell Trudie (who was taking the shore photographs) not to progress further down the path. We could see the last 30m of rope dangling down a very crumbly cliff path, and the “Dangerous descent” sign lying at the base of the cliffs.
Across to L’Etacs, a huge Gannet colony with approximately 3000 pairs. There is some debate just how far these birds travel to feed but they can be seen around Jersey over 35 miles away.
The problem of headlands is that you always want to know what is around the corner. Reaching L’Etacs it seemed worth taking a peek at Fort Clonque. Once there it just seemed right to go a bit further, and then a bit further. Soon we were heading up the North coast and a round Alderney paddle looked on.
The Swinge is noted for having tide streams even faster than the
Alderney race. I’d agree with this as a strong South west stream was running. Even on a calm day a few boils could be seen across to Burhou island.
Time to work the eddies and hug the coast. A possible inshore route was blocked by a gravel spit near Corbet rocks with a very distinctive downhill flow of ocean pouring over. The offshore streams looked like one of those spots designed for those who like paddling against a brick wall or going backwards. It was time for a portage through a knee deep gravel bed.
Approaching Alderney breakwater we were lucky to have no swell. The breakwater was constructed I 1827 as a British naval base and was nearly 1 mile long. One third of the breakwater has since collapsed and now needs constant repair to protect the islands main harbour. We saw a taste of the power of the ocean two days later when huge waves crashed over the breakwater.
Forts and ruins
Looking like a Venetian fortification the ruins of Les
Homeaux presents a strange appearance. The arches and battlements remain isolated and are gradually disappearing into the ocean with each successive storm.
Except on the south coast cliffs there is rarely a moment when you are not in the field of fire of a British or Nazi gun emplacement. Wander ashore and this is a military historians paradise, full of fortifications and second world war defences.
The Alderney race- overfalls and tide races
Approaching Fort Houmet the tide flow increased. We were entering the Alderney race.
Even on a neap tide the south going stream of the Alderney race is formidable with downhill descents and some great breakouts. A seal popped up to watch our antics. Nearing Longy bay there was a great place to practice more ferry glides, break ins and to try and zig-zag our way back upstream.
The downside was the inshore eddy running north for the last half mile as we punched our way against the stream into Longy bay.
A bit more planning and we’d have probably hit the key points at the right state of tide to catch the conveyor belt around Alderney. But sometimes plans just unfold.