My first offshore sea kayak trip a long time ago….

My first 6 mile offshore sea kayak trip was in 1974 with Kevin Mansell to Les Ecrehous, a fantastic group of islets off the North west coast of Jersey.

I doubt we were the first to make this adventure crossing by kayak, but I’ve not seen any earlier reports (yet) so perhaps we were the first to deal wit the 5 knot cross tides on the crossing.

Sea kayaking 1974 style

We were well equipped with our BS3595 life jackets and Ottersport paddles (which weighed loads) and home built KW7 glass fibre kayaks.

My kayak clothing was state of the art. An old pair of trousers with a high wool content (not cotton), thin woolly jumpers x2 and a Peter Storm waterproof and a woollen hat On colder days I might wear a pair of long johns obtained from the local jumble sale. A lot of paddle clothing came form jumble sales as it was hard to get high wool content clothing which was warmer.

First crossing to les Ecrehous. Photo. K Mansell

My first trip to les Ecrehous in August 1974

When I look at this photo it makes me realise how things have changed.

I am sure that if someone did this trip with the same kit we were using back then there would be all sorts of negative comments-even from some sea kayakers. Instead, we got our photos in the local newspaper and compliments for being young people doing something challenging.

Over the next few Summers we certainly pushed our limits with 12 mile plus open crossings to les Minquiers and Chausey. All made with a home built

Angmagssalik kayak which tested my balance skills in a force 5.

There were a few close calls. We nearly missed les Minquiers in poor visibility -no GPS in those days. Just compass,chart and dead reckoning-. We only spotted the islet when we saw a Condor hydrofoil turn off the northern part of the reef. That’s about the only time I’ve been pleased to see a high speed craft nearby.

No mobile phone or water proof hand-held VHF or EPIRB, just an old PYE Bantam ‘brick’ sized VHF loaned by the harbour office. It needed to be kept dry and was stuffed in a hatch. The Harbour Master recognised we were going to do the trip so suggested we borrow a radio as a bit of safety backup.

Sea kayaking today

This year I met a couple Sit on top kayakers on les Ecrehous who’d paddled over. Their smiles said it all. Another time I got a call from Richard who’d solo paddled his Prowler 13 SOT across. He was a bit unsure just how high the 12m tide that day would reach to pitch his tent. On one of the biggest tides of the year that was some crossing.

The key thing was they all made sound decisions based on their knowledge and built up their experience around the coast of Jersey. I thought how some sea kayakers might be negative about their choice of kayak or deciding to make a solo trip. But what great achievements. The safety kit carried had moved on a long way since 1974.

Perhaps it’s not all about having the right gear, but also an awareness, knowledge and confidence to push your limits.

/h3