Sea Kayaking in Fog. Be Prepared
Yesterday was a great day to get out sea kayaking in Jersey. A 5 nautical mile offshore trip to les Écréhous off the north east coast of Jersey in our fast sea kayaks looked a good idea. We set out from Archirondel off the east coast with a calm sea, good visibility with barely any wind.
“I can see some grey shadows over there” said Mick. The “shadows” turned out to be a small pod of Dolphin feeding about 1 mile south east of les Écréhous.
It felt cooler once we’d stopped paddling so the extra bits of clothing and paddle jackets we’d packed proved to be a good idea. I later learned that two kayakers dressed in light clothing had been rescued off the south east coast of Jersey after one had fallen in and could not get back into the kayak. On May 11th the sea temperature was 11.5 degrees. Without extra clothing you soon lose your ability to perform a rescue so dress -or be prepared- for immersion.
An evening snack while sitting on a bench looking back towards Jersey was a chance to enjoy the peacefulness of this wonderful place. We were the only people on the les Écréhous apart from a couple of yachts on the moorings.
As we sat on the bench Mick spotted another shadow. This time it seemed to be forming along the north coast of Jersey. Just a bit of haze we thought at first but as we watched it gradually crept eastwards.
After 20 minuted paddling the “shadow” had changed into a fog bank and visibility was less than 100m. At times Mick was starting to look a bit hazy so it must have been even less visibility. The last time I’ paddled in these conditions I was on a 5 hour crossing when the had been due to lift but instead remained around us for almost the entire trip. We could hear aircraft on their approach into Jersey airport repeatedly trying to land.
For the next hour we cruised across a mirror like sea on a compass bearing of 240 degrees which we’d calculated would allow for the south east running stream. Sounds of vehicles and aircraft drifted through the fog but they seemed to come from all directions. If you stopped for a moment our kayaks ended up pointing in all directions. Without a compass and a bearing to steer we’d have been in trouble.
We had a GPS was on board. However, we had a compass bearing, and knew our speed was about the same as usual. Some kayakers find there speed drops when they enter fog or head offshore so this is something which might alter the route plan and timings. In our case paddling in fog just added a nice dimension in what was still excellent sea conditions. There seemed little need to use the GPS until we were around or just past our estimated time of arrival. Jersey is also quite a large island to miss -though I know a few who have ended up well off course due to the tide streams and by not trusting a small bit of magnetised metal.
Finally the fog lifted 1 hour 20mins after it enveloped us. Directly ahead of us was our target, St Catherine’s breakwater.
Elsewhere around Jersey the fog was very thick while in other areas visibility was very good.
A superb trip which shows how important it is to carry a few basic bits of kit especially when heading away from shore. In these conditions even crossing a bay would have been a challenge without a compass. A compass was an essential item along with a spot of trip planing with a chart. A GPS was just an extra aid but with lots of previous paddling practice at night and in poor visibility it was just an extra safety device.
We had a VHF but were in the strange VHF marine radio “blackspot” that seems to be around St Catherine’s bay and missed a call from the Coastguard which we only learned about when we called in by mobile phone after landing. A good reason to carry a couple methods of communication.
A great trip so long as you have a compass and the right gear.
We run a range of intromediate and advanced sea kayak courses in Jersey