Category Archives: English South Coast

Book review: South West Sea Kayaking (+ Reeds Channel Almanac)

In a line
[SWSK has…] Loads of ideas and detailed information covering 50 paddling itineraries along hundreds of miles of England’s fascinating southwestern coastline.

What they say (about South West Sea Kayaking)

This revised and updated third edition provides guide to the entire South West’s coasts and islands. It is packed with great photography and detailed route maps, alongside descriptions and anecdotes unveiling the region’s rich tapestry of maritime scenery, wildlife, history, geology and culture
April 2021; 272pp; Pesda Press

South West Sea Kayaking and Reeds Channel Almanac

Review
Although I’ve only done a couple of routes, this is an essential and comprehensive handbook to safely plan a paddle along this complex but accessible and populated coastline. Or just browse through to get some ideas of what’s possible. Of the 50 suggested routes, 14 are grade ‘A’ for easy, 25 are ‘B’ and the other 11 are ‘C’, like Cape Cornwall, Lundy Island or the crossing to Scilly Isles which are probably outside the comfort zone of a solo paddler in an IK, even without a gale blowing. Any IK or even a packraft party could manage a B in ideal conditions – but of course even an A-grade paddle could get too lively at the wrong tide in nasty weather. That’s UK sea paddling for you; a lot of sitting about watching the weather forecast.

Suggested start and finish points are given with a postcode and OS map coordinates along with the given OS sheet. It would be nice to also have more easily copied and interpreted GPS decimal degrees (for example: 51.2025, -4.6777: tip of Lundy) which most people use these days over OS coordinates, even if they’re likely have OS maps in their phone or GPS.
Nearby tidal ports are a way of calculating the time of the tide in your area, and there’s a detailed paragraph on tidal times and what might be happening where and at what stage of the tide and how fast it runs during stronger springs. Some of this information was probably collected from a Reeds Almanac (see below) so it’s one less thing to buy or consult. As it is most of us will check and bookmark local tide times online before reception gets lost.
In particular the Pedsa book will point out where the water can get turbid at spring tides around headlands – important information you’ll struggle to find or interpret easily online and especially important in a less agile, if stable, inflatable.
A detailed description follows, you can tell most if not all the routes have actually been done by Mark Rainsley the author at least once, and that’s followed by Tide & Weather and Additional Information, all adding up to a comprehensive guide to what you’re taking on. In between you get boxed asides, most often describing terrible maritime tragedies or badly behaved smugglers with chime with the author’s sometimes dark humour, as well as background reading: that’s the sort of guidebook we like!

One annoyance in search of a clean design is putting the captions of the many colour photos deep in the gutter of this thick and thick-papered book that’s about an inch thick. Along with the uncluttered colour maps, most of these photos work well in visualising the region described.

I can see myself using this much more than Pesda’s North West Sea Kayaking guide I bought years ago and hardly ever used (as I mostly paddled in one small rea). Even if you just end up doing a handful of Southwest routes in your IK or P, you’ll set off well armed with what need to know and so won’t regret spending the typically discounted 16 quid. It’s a lot of book for that money.


It was sailer Barry who alerted me to the value of a ring-bound Reeds Almanac prior to our Jurassic paddle. I’ve heard of Reeds of course, but assumed it was strictly for yachtsmen.
In print since 1932, there’s loads of little value or interest to a fairweather sea inflationeer – the most useful thing kayakers want to know are locally intensified tidal streams and the Pesda book covers that better on the included routes.
Still, it’s reissued every year with annual tide predictions (easily found online anyway) so you can pick up a recent used edition, like the ‘Channel Almanac’ (south England and NW French coast only) for a fiver, ditch the tide and French pages, and learn all about harbour features, the meaning of buoyage and big-picture tidals streams in the Channel over the 12-hour span of a tide (below left).

Packrafting the Jurassic Coast (video)

See also
Sigma TXL Index Page
MRS Nomad
Rye to Hastings
Newhaven to Brighton
Chichester to Bognor
Hayling Island
Swanage Stacks
Studland to Swanage
South West Sea Kayaking guidebook

I’ve done a few IK paddles in Southeast England between Rye and Portsmouth, but the Sussex and Hampshire coasts aren’t that inspiring. So it’s about time I started exploring the far more interesting and much more extensive Southwest Coast. From the Isle of Wight to Cornwall and back up to the Severn there are scores of inshore excursions possible in an inflatable. Just as in the far northwest where I mostly sea paddle, all you need is a fair tide and paddle-friendly winds, the latter a bit less rare down south.

In a blobby packraft? You cannot be serious!

So in the face of predicted moderate winds I cooked up a 50-km Jurassic overnighter from Weymouth to Swanage in Dorset. I’m pretty sure they opportunistically rebranded the plain old Purbeck or just ‘Dorset’ coast as the ‘Jurassic Coast‘ soon after that 1993 movie and haven’t looked back since.
Like much of the Southwest coast, the beaches and country lanes become a logjam of holidaymakers on a warm summer’s day. On the water, our paddle would pass below sections of cliffs a couple of miles long and take us to the famed landmarks of Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door arch (top of the page) and Dancing Ledge. We could even carry on back north past Old Harry’s Rocks and across Studland Bay right into Poole Harbour to catch out trains home.

TXL at sea

Compared to using regular (solo) packrafts, my confidence in my TXL for sea paddling is a revelation. After all, it’s still just another blobby, single-chamber packraft. It must be a combination of the added size giving a kayak-like perception of security (as I found in my MRS Nomad), as well as the responsiveness and speed from a longer waterline and, I now recognise, the sometimes noticeable added glide from the Multimat floor. There’s also the fact that paddlechum Barry was up for the Dorset run in his similar MRS Nomad, making this untypical packraft outing less daunting.

Lulworth tides – all or nothing (of not much).
Modest, two-metre tides off Purbeck

For some bathymetric reason – possibly the Atlantic tidal surge backing up in the Straits of Dover, plus hidden offshore shelves – the tides off the east Dorset coast are very odd: they can rise or drop all day, but have a range of just two metres, about as low as it gets in the UK. That ought to mean moderate ebb flows pushing up against prevailing westerlies, plus we were heading into neaps. And while often cliff-bound, if we stayed alert to escape routes we could easily bail and walk or climb out with our packrafts.

East of Lulworth Cove the Jurassic Coast‘s bucket & spade Babylon is interrupted by a 5-mile wide Danger Area – an army firing range. This was probably not one of UNESCO’s criteria for World Heritage status, but the SW coastal path also gets closed for a similar distance. Barry’s Reeds Almanac had a page or two on this (left), as well as useful tidal flow charts (drops to the west; rises east). I left it to Barry to call the ‘0800 DUCK!’ number, but imagined surely they’d leave the target practice to the off season. In fact they’re all it most of the time Mon–Fri, including an evening session 9pm to midnight: all we had to do was click this.

fishing.app – handy and similar toa Reeds Almanac but free
Early train to Weymouth

With a plan taking shape, I in turn bought a copy of Pesda’s South West Sea Kayaking in the hope of being alerted to local anomalies. I’m glad I did. It turned up with just hours to spare and identified that the run from Kimmeridge Bay round the Purbeck corner to Swanage was a grade up from the easy section from Weymouth. With headlands, submarine ledges and long lines of cliffs, without a foot recce I decided we may be better off skipping this bit.

It’s noon in Weymouth, but with offshores now predicted by late afternoon, we fast forward by taxi to Ringstead Bay, 5 miles in. That first section from Weymouth looks nothing special.
Put in at Ringstead. Ten mph westerlies blowing against an ebbing neap tide.
My Mk2 transverse bowsprit for a wide WindPaddle sail mount to limit swaying in stronger winds.
I’m giving the Multimat floor yet another go too, all the better to skim over the water.
We’re on the water at 1pm, hoping to reach Chapman’s Pool, about 21km away.
But around 5pm winds are said to veer offshore and strengthen, so we’ll see.
We sail at about 5-6kph – not much faster than paddling – but I note my TXL creeps forward about half a click faster than the MRS – must be the stiffening Multimat.
Propelled at paddling speed by his inflatable AirSail, Barry casually checks his investment portfolio.
The cliffs below Chaldon Downs. At times we paddled as we sailed to make less work for the wind.
Forty five minutes in, I pull in the sail and line the TXL up to thread Bat’s Head arch.
Note how the layers of chalk beds here have been pushed up to nearly vertical.
Give it half a million years and Bat’s Head will be as big as nearby Durdle Door.
Approaching the famous Durdle Door arch alongside a crowded beach.
The TXL still weathercocks a bit under sail; I keep having to steer hard inland, but the bowsprit ‘stick’ limits the sail’s ability to twist. Or maybe the wind’s bouncing off the cliffs and blowing us offshore a little.
Sitting further back to weight the back end over the waves may help.
Sunbathers watch spellbound as Barry smoothly ‘Durdles the Door’ – a Southwest kayaker’s rite of passage.
The Door has been durdled. Some claim ‘Dorset’ (formerly Wessex) was named after this famous arch.
In high summer young bloods jump off the 60-metre arch. Appropriately, it’s called ‘tombstoning’.
Near the entrance into Lulworth Cove things get choppy. Sat high on the airmat floor, if I feel unstable I can easily let it down. As we head through the Cove’s narrow neck a patrol boat circles back and instructs Barry we can’t carry on east; the army ranges are firing.
‘I thought you said you were going call them, Barry? You had one job to do…’
‘But you said they hardly ever do this on a balmy, July’s day!’
And so it went on…
A salty-eared boatman tells us the army pack up about 5pm, about 2.5 hours from now by which time the offshores may be on us as we cross the Kimmeridge Ledges mentioned in the Pesda book.
As we slurp a 99 with sprinkles the odd gust blows offshore.
We can’t even pack up and walk the cliff path; it’s closed too, and so is the B3070 road.
Barry wants to paddle on a 5pm, but I propose we bus to Swanage rather than risk being be left high and dry.
Tomorrow we’ll paddle north towards Poole – or as far as the predicted headwinds allow.
So a paltry 5 miles – but the classic stretch of the Jurassic Coast.
But there’s no campsite till August, so we pitch for free up in Durlston Country Park to the sound of beery revellers and Tuesday-night hoons doing burn-outs along the seafront. What can it be like on a Saturday night?
Six am next morning, a light breeze blowing from the northwest means no condensation ;-))
The Anfibio Multimat passed the sleeping test, too.
I walk a mile south to Purbeck’s corner at Durlston Head to inspect the tidal stream. Two hours before LW, it’s negligible, but further west, St Albans Head just out of Chapman’s Pool is said to be stronger. I must do that walk sometime.
Above, a ferry heads from Poole to the Channel Islands.
Looking back north you just see our tents on Peveril Point,
Ballard Down chalk cliffs and pinnacles stretch out beyond, and Bournemouth’s at the back.
At the cafe we meet Rach and Mark setting off on the final day of a staggering 630-mile walk along the Southwest coast from Minehead in north Devon. Their picture above taken a few hours later.
Meanwhile we prime our boats for the 6.3 miles past Old Harry to Poole Harbour Entrance.
We may carry on to Poole itself, but a strengthening wind may nix that idea.
No sailing today, Barry inches into the light morning breeze across Swanage Bay.
We reversed this trip a couple of months back.
Ballard cliffs in the wind’s lee at glassy low water.
Ballard’s spike, thought by some to be a fossilised Dendrosauraus tooth.
We approach the Pinnacles to the squawk of agitated seabirds.
Arches ripe for threading as far as the eye can see.
But this morning the tide is too low.
And it means there’s a lot of this string-weed floating about. It catches in our skegs but I have a solution.
Leaving Harry’s, Barry’s is a bit of a Lethargic Larry cutting across Studland Bay.
Halfway across, I remove a metre-long, kilo of Swanage string-weed caught in his skeg.
It’s all going nicely until 10.30am when the wind kicks up, then picks up some more.
But the GPS revealed we kept plugging on at 5kph, just with a lot more effort.
As Barry observed, it was a slog but good to know our packrafts can progress against this sort of wind.
With brain-out jet-skiers, sailboats, motorboats, working boats and the rattling Sandbanks chain ferry, we have to time our crossing across the busy vortex of Poole Harbour Entrance. Hitting 8kph, we cross a sharp eddyline where the incoming tide clashed with still-draining Poole Harbour. Barry hops out quick before the chain ferry trundles back. (Turns out it’s actually free for northbound pedestrians).
From Swanage to Sandbanks, followed by a 90-minute walk to Poole station for the train home.

Sigma TXL • Packrafting Swanage

Sigma TXL main page
Kayaking Swanage
MRS Nomad S1 main page

I’ve been looking forward to getting back to Dorset’s amazing chalk pinnacles near Studland which we paddled in the Seawave one calm morning back in 2019. Today the tide was right and the sun was out; it was just a bit chilly and on the windy side; a good day to see how my Sigma TXL might perform at sea.

A couple of paddlechums were also up for a pre-dawn departure; Barry rode down with his similar MRS Nomad S1, while Nimbus – yet to fully embrace inflatable paddlecraft – brought his 17-foot, plastic P&H Scorpio sea kayak (left). Even at ~30 kilos, it was a proper boat for the conditions and we imagined he’d run rings round our packrafts.

The plan was to paddle the four miles from Studland beach to Swanage town, leave the kayak somewhere then retrace the route over the downs to the vehicles.
Half the length, over twice the width, but a tenth of the weight of a sea kayak.

Early all-day parking is a problem at Studland as the car parks don’t officially open till 9am and anywhere else you’ll get towed and Twitter-shamed. But we slipped into Knoll Beach parking at 8 and were on the water before 9am.
By this time a one-metre tide was about 90 minutes after HW, and we set off into a steady onshore 12-mph northeasterly which would stop Barry and me running away with ourselves. By the time we turned the right angle at the Point for the run SSW along the cliffs, we ought to be able to put up our sails to catch up with Nimbus, except I forgot my WindPaddle. Oh well, I’d just have to paddle the full four miles and get medevaced out.

Swanage tides

The tides at Swanage aren’t the classic sine wave. Every other tide rises and falls normally, but in between is a mini low and high. Who knows how or why but I suppose the reservoir of Poole Harbour, plus the English Channel funnel have something to do with dampening every other surge. Either way, the range was only a metre today and is hardly ever more than two down here; not enough volume to raise any strong currents. Nimbus later calculated a southerly flow of around 1mph which may help explain our higher than expected packraft speeds.

Nimbus sets off for the Point, far right.
Could the packrafts keep up?

Part of the reason I got the longer TXL was to try more coastal packrafting, even if the extra bulk and weight (actually only 450g more than my previous Rebel 2K) might set me back on overnighters. This is not a paddle I’d have attempted in my backheavy 2K, even with a deck; it’s just too slow to be enjoyable. But having owned a 2.9-m Nomad S1 like Barry’s, I was fairly sure the TXL’s near identical length, buoyancy and similar ‘footprint’ would make a difference. There is something about sitting in the middle, not the back end of a boat, that makes it feel more reassuring.
Unlike my Thames paddle a week earlier, I decided not to fit the TXL’s inflatable floor pad in search of a better glide. As things were, in today’s wind and chop the stability from a lower seating position would be more important.

It was about 1.5 miles to the arches at Old Harry’s headland, so I set off directly across the bay, hoping for flatter conditions further out. That wasn’t the case; the odd wave was breaking, but the TXL moved across the water purposefully. Sure, it rolled, pitched and yawed in the side waves, but sat down low I felt completely at ease, maybe even more than in my Seawave IK?
Barry was clearly having the same bouncy fun in his MRS and I’d assumed the P&H would have raced off, if for no other reason than to maintain stability. But later Nimbus said the Scorpio felt a little on edge in the high-frequency chop and couldn’t have gone much faster than us on this stage.

You’d think the two long, light packrafts’ would have been blown about, but the central, kayak-like position and added buoyancy made them easy to control (with skegs fitted) and the high sides kept most of the water out. I picked up maybe a litre over a mile and a half and didn’t miss a deck at all (though I did appreciate the drysuit).

Swanage Bay sets off a tidal eddy

Even with photo faffing, we reached the stacks of Old Harry in about half an hour, and it hadn’t felt like any more of a struggle than in an IK. It was really quite a revelation how well the TXL (and Nomad) were performing with just an extra 50cm or 20% in the waterline over a regula packraft. The lightness of the boats must have something to do with it.
Round the outside of the Point the wind and tide were fighting it out in a tidal race. It made me realise how well timed our visit in the Seawave had been three years ago. We’d arrived here in much calmer conditions but also around mid-tide with a less nasty looking race. Going round the outside today may well have been doable but set aside unpredictable currents, waves can also stand up and break out of nowhere. It was more fun to slip through on the remnants of the outgoing tide between the mainland and Old Harry’s stack. Next time I come here, I’ll make sure to arrive at the top half of the tide so all the arches can be threaded.

View from above about three hours later. Low water but still a bit of a race off the point.

After a bit of promo filming for the new book, we turned 120° to the southwest and expected to have the wind behind us, but it remained a case of dealing with sidewaves plus cliff rebounds, so we kept out to sea. Despite the packrafts jigging about like popcorn in a hot pan, we managed to make progress south along the cliffs, the Scorpio now edging ahead.

After being jostled around, Barry decided to air up his AirSail, but even with two of us, pumping it up properly in the chop proved too tricky. For easy deployment on the water, the sprung-hooped Packsail (like the old WindPaddle) is a much better idea, even if it’s more bulky to carry.

We rounded Ballard Point where the cliffs turned into Swanage Bay, and with the wind now on our backs, the GPS recorded 6kph (see graph below). As usual though, it didn’t feel that fast as the boat squirrelled around from the stern. I thought about moving myself further back (relatively easily done in the TXL unlike the fixed solo Nomad) so the lightened bow trailed downwind, but it wasn’t really that bad, it just felt sloppy. Sailor Barry was now keeping up with Nim until we all rolled up on Swanage Beach, aired down the packboats and made a beeline for the cafe for a superb Full Swanage Breakfast.

The cafe let us leave the boat among their bins out back, but I was overruled on walking the four miles back over Ballard Downs back to Knoll Beach. Barry clearly had a liking for taxis which I consider more of an emergency service.
“It is not the Packrafting Way!” I squealed as he put a bag over my head and shoved me in the back. Nimbus kept a diplomatic silence.
Back at Knoll Beach, Barry roared off on his motorbike while Nim and I wandered back the way we’d paddled to check out at Old Harry’s from above. The tide was now at its extended low period and the wind had swung to the southeast, sheltering Studland Bay. Down below, a lone kayaker was just setting off.
“That looks fun, a. We should try that sometime.”

Judging by this outing, the TXL has proved to be just what I’d hoped: a dependably agile coastal cruiser with all the other benefits of a packraft. More sea paddles to come.

Kayaking the Sussex Coast

See also:
Seawave 2 Main Page
Newhaven to Brighton
Hayling Island
Seawave 2 rudder

Once we were let out in the Covid summer of 2020, we did a very nice coastal walk from Hastings to Rye along the Sussex coast. Hot, but not so windy, it would have been just right for paddling. Today conditions were similar for a westbound transit from Rye back towards Hastings.
High Water (and a spring tide too) was at a very reasonable noon in Rye, with a forecast of 8-14mph from the east and a bit of a kick at 3pm. I was hoping for the upper limit and a bit of splashy sport, so brought the WindPaddle I’d used on the packraft last month in Scotland in much stronger winds.

It’s only a 10-minute walk from Rye station to a boat ramp on the quay where the water was still inching up the concrete as I pumped up the Gumotex.

I was taking a gamble trying my untested new rudder set up. Because I expected it to play up, I fitted the stock skeg so I could lift a problematic rudder and carry on as normal without coming shore. To be without a rudder or skeg with a backwind at sea would not be ideal.
Being the ever recirculating goldfish, I forgot to try out my sail stick mount idea.

Rye hasn’t been on the coast since 1287 or so when, along with gradual land reclamation, the biggest of a series of 13th-century storms filled the adjacent marshy inlet with silt and shingle which finished off semi-abandoned Old Winchelsea and radically redrew the low-lying coastline where the Kent and Sussex borders meet. It was the same in Pevensey to the west.
The gif on the left from this interesting regional website shows how the coastline of southeast England was transformed in the late medieval era. Where the Rother river once flowed directly east to enter the sea at New Romney, the filled-in bay saw it diverted south below the old hill town of Rye, now stranded two miles from the sea.
The then important port of Winchelsea was rebuilt on its present site in 1288, but eventual silting saw both it and Rye’s maritime importance decline. What this area may lack in epic spaces common to the north and west of Britain, it gains in fascinating history. 1066 and all that.

I set off along the River Brede which wraps around Rye’s south side like a moat, and soon joins the Rother. It’s about 5km to the open sea.

I’m into the wind but the grass banks are under water and the wind turbines are spinning merrily; all good signs.

Rye Harbour. The tide is high and I’m moving on.

In 45 minutes I reach the old breakwater opposite Camber Sands where I recall bucket & spading as a child. The sea looks depressingly flat.

Seals at the river mouth (a few days later).

It’s nearly 10km to the distant cliffs, a two-hour haul. And with the breeze from behind, I’m soon streaming with sweat. I’m not sure my water will last.

Going with the Flow
A few years ago while planning Newhaven to Brighton, I learned an odd thing about Sussex and Kent tides. For the last two hours of the incoming (eastbound) flood, the tide keeps rising but reverses westbound along the English coast as it backs up at the Straight of Dover and spills back down the sides. That makes HW is around the same time in Folkestone, and 140 miles to the west, past the Isle of Wight, but HW at all the places in between lags behind.
Tidal steams are not that strong here – wind will have much more of a bearing on paddling – but this means you get only four hours eastbound flow with the flood tide and prevailing southwest winds. But if you time your run with a warm easterly off the continent and go westbound – as I did on this occasion – you get a much longer run with the tidal current; eight hours or more; maybe 45km all the way to Eastbourne. The question is: can you paddle that long.

A breeze picks up so I flick up the sail. I check my GPS and am doing 3-4kph, while I can paddle at around 5-6kph. Then the breeze drops away. I wasn’t really planning to paddle the full 30+ clicks to Cooden station, but I can always get off at Hastings, a few stops before.

At least the rudder seems to working as it should, though any quick response is dulled a little by the skeg. A rudder’s not really needed in these conditions, though it compensates for me being blown gradually onshore.
I’m trying a rudder lift-line only, not a rudder lowering line as well. But once in the boat I find I can’t turn enough to even see the lifted rudder to flick it down with the paddle, so I’ll probably fit a drop-line later.

I creep along the expanse of Winchelsea Beach. It’s hot work in a backwind. Eventually I reach the start of the cliffs where the coast turns more east-west, putting the wind directly behind me. But paddling at effectively wind speed, there is no cooling effect. More familiar with paddling at the other end of Britain, I’m not used to 27°C.

Then, as predicted, around 3pm the breeze picks up and I can get the sail up.

Paddling half a mile from the shore, initially it was hard to know if I’m moving and at what speed. So waking up the GPS screen was a handy way of telling if the sailing speed was worthwhile.
With the odd gust I reach nearly 7kph, but average less than 5kph, a bit slower than paddling, but I’m not dripping like a leaky tap or needing to drink. In fact I could nearly doze off.

The cliffs inch by. This is the sea end of the Wealden sandstone formation, less high and steep than the better known chalky Seven Sisters to the west, or Dover’s white cliffs to the northeast. Both chalk cliffs are part of the same formation or bed, but when the land was squeezed and uplifted to the dome or hump was eroded away to expose the older sandstone below. This is what they call the Weald, and near Tunbridge Wells, East Grinstead and Frant, the weathered sandstone ridge produces small outcrops where I started rock climbing as a teenager (right).

I pass the Stade, the east end of Hastings where the cliffs drop back down. A few souls are enjoying the last day of summer on the shingle beach.

I keep going to the pier and decide to have a leisurely take out there. It’s gone 4pm so another 10km to get the train 6.15 from Cooden would be a rush.

Landfall by Hastings pier.
Compared to the fabulous Summer Isles, for me these southeast coast paddles lack drama and interest, but are easy to reach if tomorrow’s weather looks good.
We walked Hastings to Rye again a day or two later; it took about the same time and was more enjoyable (though it was cooler).
The rudder foot pivot worked fine, though needed a bit of re-tensioning at the pier. Next time I can confidently leave the skeg off, though I can see a rudder would only be needed when sailing or paddling in windier conditions. That is all I have to say for now.

Kayaking the Swanage Stacks

See also:
Packrafting Swanage

swanmap

Ten minutes after a paddling away from a tranquil Swanage seafront bathed in a Turneresque light (above), we found ourselves battling a stiff breeze rolling off the Ballard Downs on the north edge of Swanage Bay.
The odd whitecap scurried by, a sign that the IK Limit was not far away. This felt like more than the predicted 10mph northerly. We dug onward, and once tucked below the cliffs the pounding eased. The northerly was probably amplified as it rushed down the south slope of the Downs and hit the sea. We’d paddled through that turbid patch – a bit of a shock before breakfast. What would it be like once out in the open round Ballard Point? Mutiny was afoot.

“Let’s see how it is round the corner, then decide,” I informed the crew.
“Aye aye, cap’n sir.”

We eased around the corner expecting the worst, but were greeted by a magical sight: a line of 200-foot high chalk cliffs receding to a distant group of stacks and pinnacles glowing in the soft morning light and all soothed by a gentle breeze.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was only a mile from here to Handfast Point aka: Old Harry, passing several stacks, arches, caves and slots. Ever the goldfish in its bowl, I’d got distracted before looking up tide times, but judging by yesterday evening’s paddle around Brownsea Island in nearby Poole Harbour, it was a couple of hours into its southerly ebb. We arrived at Harry’s about mid-tide but with still just enough water to paddle through most of the arches as well as some narrow slots which were already running too fast to tackle against the flow (below). A bit of a tidal race swirled past the Point, but nothing dramatic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve been planning to do Swanage for years and it was even better than expected. It must have been packed out yesterday on the bank holiday, but today, before 9am we had the place to ourselves. It’s a fascinating geological formation and all the better explored from a paddleboat.

Lit by a rising sun and on the top half of the tide must be ideal timing for a visit here. All up, it was only a two-hour roundtrip from Swanage seafront and in similarly good conditions would be easily packraftable from the north off nearby Studland beach.

Hope to paddle this again, one time.PS: Little did I know that this summer 2019 paddle would be out last sea paddle in the Seawave. Not since my original Gumo Sunny on which I learned and did so much, have I owned an IK for so long and had such fun times. What a great boat that was.

Kayaking Hayling Island

See also:
Brighton Coast
Rye to Hastings
Swanage stacks

hav - 6

Time to knock out a long-planned circumnavigation of Hayling Island near Portsmouth while this amazing summer lasts! P-Day came along and by chance, the weather and tides lined up: high 20s °C with a 3-m neap and a calm morning before a 10mph onshore afternoon breeze.

hav - 1

I’d ridden down and recce’d the harbour entrances a couple of years back and last year we’d tried to reach the harbour along the canal from Chichester, but that plan didn’t work out. You’ll find lots of useful descriptions online, but it pays to recall (as I learned on a run to Brighton) that on the English southeast coast the tide (which floods eastwards and ebbs to the west) turns eastwards from two hours before high water to four hours after. So while the water is still dropping the current reverses. The Brighton post explains it (and I’ve since found an interesting animatable graphic here) and it may also explain why we passed deserted beaches and got to turn north into Chichester harbour entrance surprisingly quickly, even if it was near calm. Occasionally a rogue wake rippled in from a distant freighter out in the English Channel.

haylingmap

It was soon clear that my estimation to cover this 22km lap was way too long. Shooting along the channels visible on the map above, mudbanks to left and right limited side exploration and we ended up under Hayling bridge (KM13.5) in just 2½ hours including lunch and a few drifts.

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On the way we passed a lot of moss-covered sailing boats, lots of birds including oyster catchers (didn’t know you get them down south) and up nearer Northney marina, a brace of SoTs and a young couple struggling to control an under-inflated (or leaking) Sevy K2. Our high-pressure Seawave glided smugly by.

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With less than half the tide in, there was already plenty of water to pass under the road bridge and between the stumps of the old railway span alongside. A huge rusting drum suggested a swing bridge to allow boats to pass; online later, sure enough, that’s what it was (left, see inset); a railway running from 1865 for just short of a century. When we drove off the island at about HW, it was the drum was only thing above water.
Chichester harbour is packed with parked-up sailboats (‘moored’ some might say), but Langstone is virtually empty, possibly because i’s shallower and with a much narrower entrance. These natural harbours formed after the last Ice Age and take about seven hours to fill, but drain in only five. And because they drain right down to unfathomable mudflats on which even a gannet in snowshoes can barely walk, exploring side creeks can only be done with the high water clock ticking.

To aim for Langstone exit channel from the bridge, head for two tall poles visible to the SSW. By now the wind was in our faces giving a greater impression of speed, but the tide was coming in for another two hours (or do I add/subtract two hours? My brain hurts). We were way too early to catch a roiling ride out the 250-metre wide Langstone channel back into the Solent. We’d have to hack our way out along the side, like a Maori war party.

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Long before we got there we could hear the intimidating wail of jet-skis haring up and down the channel. They have such a bad rep and the two-stroke din doesn’t help endear them. If they sounded like Ducatis or Bonnevilles we’d be queuing up for a go!
We passed the famous Langstone Pumpkin (above; a lost novel by Wilkie Collins), and soon after, hopping out to wade against the tide over the shallow Sinah Bank saw me sink into the vile black quicksludge which Collins used for the demise of his fickle heroine.

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Nearing the channel I sought to dodge the in-pouring current by passing under the gantry of the Hayling Island ferry. Then I announced ‘All hands on deck! Prepare for ten minutes of full steam ahead’.
That ended up more like twenty, because keeping close to shore was made trickier by frolicking bathers, parked-up jet skis and inflatable goofballs. To the right the tide streamed past way faster than we could’ve paddled, but along the sides we managed to inch forward at a stroll’s pace; a yacht motoring out mid-channel was no faster. I kept eyeing up points where the current might splay out, but it was getting on for a mile out over the East Winner sandbank before the effort eased, the seas slapped us about a bit and we were out in the Solent for a choppy paddle back to the beach (above), now packed with frolicking sunbathers, paddleboarders and inflatable goofballs. Quite worn out, we beached the kayak and jumped back into the warm sea to wash off the salt and sweat.


It’s fun to try new stuff and paddle on a sunny day, but overall I’d say around Hayling was a bit boring compared to a sunny day in the Northwest Highlands. Who wants to pass Funland and beach houses, mudflats, marinas and more mudflats? Reminds me of Darwin harbour but without the crocs and mangroves. I suspect west of here, the Southwest coast has more promise.
I still think the morning start anticlockwise from West Town is a good idea: knock out that exposed seafront stage before an afternoon breeze (and the concomitant rise in bathers, borders and hydrofoil kiteboarders hitting the sound barrier). But I’d aim to leave West Town 3–4 hours after LW. The unintuitive tide may be turning but once in the Chichester Harbour it gets you up and around to the Langstone exit channel around HW for a short paddle along the seafront back to West Town. There’s probably a formula for doing it clockwise from Eastoke and running the flood tide through the Langstone channel, but I’ll let you work that out.

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Chichester Canal & Pagham to Bognor

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We set out to paddle from Chichester Town Basin, down the old ship canal into the tidal Chichester Harbour at Birdham Lock. Lois and Austin in two do-it-all, drop-skeg Venture Flex 11s (left) Robin and Elliot in an old Gumo Twist 2 and a newer Nitrilon one, both of which fitted into carrier bags. Plus my Seawave lashed to a trolley.

Nearly two hundred years ago Turner depicted tall ships gliding serenely along the then new 4.5-mile canal (above). During the canal boom preceding the railways, it linked Roman-era Chichester with the huge natural inlet of Chichester Harbour and the adjacent naval fleet at Portsmouth. To the east was a canal to the Arun & Wey navigation (left) which was a short-lived inland link between London and Portsmouth commissioned at a time when Napoleonic fleets threatened the English Channel.

Our original plan had been no less napoleonic in its grandeur: a 15-mile lap of Hayling Island, but today the tides and winds were all wrong for that, and even with Plan B we’d arrive at Birdham at low tide to face an undignified, sludgey put in.

On Google maps the canal looked clear, with maybe a quick carry around a lock or two. But just two miles from the basin, a thick mat of Sargasso frogweed clogged the channel at the B2201 Selsey Road bridge (below), reducing speeds to a crawl. Worse still, over the bridge this unallied carpet of errant biomass ran on forever, and probably all the way to Birdham Lock.

Was it a high-summer frogweed bloom? The initial two miles are kept clear by rowers, paddlers and the 32-seater cruise boat which hooted past us with a lone passenger tapping at his phone. But nothing bar the Solent breeze stirred the canal west of the B2201, allowing the thick Sargassian spinach to fester and choke navigation for even the pluckiest of mallards. A picture from 2008 (above) shows less weed at the bridge and a rather squeezy thrutch through a spider-clogged culvert under the road.

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Abandon Plan B all ye who Venture Flex here. Austin called in an Uber: ETA 4 mins; ET back to his Volvo: 6 mins. Total elapsed recovery time: 16 mins, give or take. The internet of things – how modern! Soon the hardshells were lashed to the roof and the rolled-up IKs heaved into the spacious boot of the Swedish landraft with class-leading crumple zones.

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A quick map check and I proposed Plan C: Pagham Harbour just down the road and out of the rising southwesterlies. I’d never heard of this medieval-era port which was now a bird sanctuary-cum-sludge repository, but Elliot had been spotting here so knew the way to the chapel at Church Norton, thought to be the mythical 7th-C source of the overdue Christianisation of pagan Sussex.

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A 5-minute haul led to the shore, except the tide – which should have turned over an hour ago – was still way out, leaving only snaking channels accessible down muddy banks.  We ate lunch, waiting, like Al Gore, for sea levels to rise. But when the time came nothing but irksome clouds of marsh gnats stirred as we padded over the springy salt-scrub to the nearest channel (above).

All around, collapsed jetties, concrete groynes and other arcane structures recalled Pagham’s 19th-century heyday. Back then the sea had been successfully sealed off and the land reclaimed for farming until a storm in 1910 broke through the embankment, reflooding the harbour for fair and fowl.

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Another portage over a shingle bank got us to the main outlet leading to the sea and where the water was rushing out when it should have been filling. I realised that narrow-necked inlets like Pagham Harbour act like reservoirs, releasing their tidal fill gradually for hours after the sea tide has turned. In the tropical fjords of northwestern Australia’s Kimberley it can produce bizarre spectacles like the Horizontal Waterfall (left).

We drifted and boat-hauled through a strange, desert-like landscape of barren shingle banks speckled with forlorn fishermen and demure nudists until the spit spat us out into the English Channel like five bits of unwanted, flavourless chewing gum.

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According to images and video on Save Pagham Beach (left), it’s staggering how fast the spit has grown once shingle management ceased around 2004; part of a new ‘natural coastline’ [money saving] policy. The spit has repositioned tidal erosion eastwards and along the shore, accelerating the scouring of Pagham’s foreshore and endangering the homes immediately behind. Recutting the Harbour’s outlet to the west (bottom picture, left) is thought to be a solution, but may transfer the flooding risk inside the harbour. Add in the protected SSSI status of the Harbour and the ‘homes vs terns’  debate becomes complex. Who’d have thought we just went out for a simple paddle.

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Eastward along the coast, the assembled infrastructure of Bognor Regis rose from the horizon, while behind us the promontory of Selsey Bill kept the worst of the wind off the waves. With a helping tide and backwind we bobbed with little effort in the swell which gradually grew and started white-capping once clear of the bill. But as I often find, a sunny day and not paddling alone reduced the feeling of exposure and imminent watery doom. Only when a stray cloud blocked the sun for a minute did the tumbling swell take on a more malevolent tone. The buoyant Twists – hardly sea kayaks – managed the conditions fine and the lower, unskirted Ventures only took the odd interior rinse.

Talking of which, All Is Lost (right) was on telly the other night. Lone yachtsman Robert Redford battles against compounding reversals in the Indian Ocean after a collision with floating cargo container wrecks his boat. A great movie with almost zero dialogue.

Just near Bognor all was lost for real (above and left). Only a fortnight earlier, a similar, lone-helmed sailing boat had lost its engine and unable to sail, drifted onto Bognor’s serried timber groynes. Less than two weeks had passed and already the hull was now cracked like an eggshell and the masts were gone (maybe removed). But unlike the doomed Redford character, on the day the Norway-bound sailsman had been able to scramble ashore.

These groyne stumps – designed to limit longshore shingle drift – could also be a bit tricky in a hardshell if the swell dropped as you passed over one. And just along the shore was another wreck (above) protruding gnarly, rusted studs which may well have sliced up an IK. Mostly submerged when we passed, some post-facto internetery revealed it to be the remains of a Mulberry Harbour pontoon, one of many built in secret during WWII as far as northwest Scotland, then floated out on D-Day in 1944 to enable the sea assault on Normandy.

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Our own beach assault ended at the truncated remains of Bognor pier, proving the sea eats away at this whole coast. Bognor is a step back to Hi-de-Hi! Sixties Britain when we did like to be beside the seaside. All together now!
So ended a great day of paddle exploring. Uber!

Kayaking to Brighton

See also:
Rye to Hastings
Hayling Island

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Tuesday was set to be a scorcher – no less than 30°C predicted in mid-September (in the end over 34°C, the hottest September day for over a century; the new normal). No excuses then to try my first south coast paddle if the winds and tides lined up. It could be my last paddle this year.
With bands of chalk cliffs and the Atlantic getting funnelled in, the Sussex coast feels a bit exposed compared to northwest Scotland where I usually sea kayak. With little of interest, it’s not exactly a sea kayaking mecca, even though it’s highly populated. At least if you have a shipwreck, it won’t be far to a road or even a bus and I bet a mobile works everywhere.
Wind direction for Tuesday was ESE – an ideal onshore-ish backwind, if a bit breezy (for a lone IK) at 13mph. And by chance the tide was just right too: high at a handy 9am with a moderate 3.5m drop. (good tide times website). In five days time the spring tide would be nearly twice that. Clearly this was shaping into a westbound day. Anyway, that was academic as wind and tide made Newhaven west to Brighton and beyond the way to go. With lots of rail stations, I could go as far as the arms lasted.

doverI learned an interesting thing about Sussex and Kent tides while planning this run earlier in the summer. For the last two hours of the incoming (eastbound) flow, the tide keeps rising but reverses westbound along the English coast as it backs up at the Straits of Dover and spills back down the sides.
This makes a more usual easterly run with the prevailing SW winds a bit tricky (or short) on an incoming tide. The nearer the Straits the more skewed the tides. At Dover it falls for nearly 8 hours, but fills in less than five. At Brighton, where the Channel is four times wider, ebb and flow are equal but you still get that 2-3 hour backwash at the end of a high.

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The Newhaven train took me over and along the South Downs where sheep nibbled in the early morning sunshine. It sure was nice to get out, even in southeast England which isn’t exactly terra incognita to me.
On the steep shingle beach below Newhaven fort, the tide was topping out as I topped off the Seawave and the Dieppe ferry backed out of the harbour. These shingle beaches have steep ramps bashed out by stormy seas. At high tides this terracing kicks up the surf and means wading in can quickly put you out of your depth, as I recall well from childhood holidays on the Southeast’s shingle beaches. But probably more by chance, I timed my put-in on a lull, hopped in and PLF’d out of the surf zone.
As usual, alone on a new shore after a couple of months off, the first few minutes or more required managing an agoraphobic anxiety. I reassured myself the wind was blowing me along- and towards the shore, and the dropping tide would gradually expose beaches below the cliffs if I needed a break. On the beach I’d inadvertently pumped the seat right up, and in trying to deflate it on the water, the annoying sticky twist valve stuck and I was soon sat flat on the floor. Oh well, it will make me more stable if it all gets rough. I’d forgotten my rudder too, but wasn’t too bothered about that. One less thing to concentrate on.

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The trouble with backwinds is they give no impression of movement and soon I was dripping like a dewy fern at dawn. As you’d expect out here, the seas were jaunty, with occasional swells rolling by that looked higher than me. But there were no tell-tale whitecaps, the stern wasn’t pushed about, and half an hour in, a long concrete ledge/seawall below Peacehaven cliffs offered a way out if needed. That would have to be in extremis though, as at times the swell slapped hard against the walls and there were only steps to get out.

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No need for that yet. We were moving along probably faster than I felt. I tried to keep away from the shore so as not to get caught by a rogue swell – I saw one break up ahead way off the shore and steered well behind that point. There seemed to be no pattern to these choppier episodes. Was it a set coming through or just seabed related? Later, looking at an OS map and what the sat map below shows too, a wave-cut sub-sea platform of the soft chalky cliffs extends quite far out. Where the jade green sea turns blue is where it drops off? Who knows, perhaps it’s just the sea, but it created an uneven rhythm considering the linear nature of the paddle.
Another thing I noticed was that I drifted out to sea if I didn’t concentrate. It was probably the tide which not only ebbs westwards but goes out too. Hence the well-known expression and phenomenon: ‘the tide is going out’. Every once in a while a quick spurt inshore (but not too far inshore) put me right.

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A few miles ahead I could see the whitewashed conurbation of Brighton, but without a seatbase the old backside was now beginning to feel the strain. I passed by a couple of serious-looking sea swimmers heading upwind, then put in between some groynes at Saltdean, where another cliff-protecting concrete walkway ran all the way to Brighton; a fun cycle or hoverboard, I dare say. I timed my landing well enough, but after pumping the seat and a rest, re-entry required flipping the swamped boat a couple of times. Probably because getting back out between the surf can’t be done as briskly as coming in.

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Next obstacle: getting round Brighton marina where the seas really felt quite lively. The southeasterly swell was bouncing off the marina walls like Brighton revellers on legal highs. Nothing for it but to PLF; at least the wind was helping. Round the back of the breakwater all was calm, bar the odd oversized swell. I found a piece of coal and a child’s wet shoe. It was a good omen: follow the shoe!

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Up ahead lay Brighton pier and the effort and early tension of only a couple of hours was starting to show. I hacked away towards the pier, then decided I must pass underneath it with my new shoe if I was to reach salvation. SUPers were gliding by and wetbikers were gunning about, making a grating, aggressive din.
A surfy beach landing was performed ‘with aplomb‘ in front of the basking crowds. I recall an apocryphal American’s view of Brighton Beach
‘Beach? Where’s the saynd? It’s all stones!’.
GPS check: ten miles at 4mph average, peak 6.5mph. Quite fast really. Time to pull the plugs.

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In case you don’t know, Brighton is an unusually groovy and arsty enclave by English south coast standards; ‘London by Sea’ some call it. I met up with a young entrepreneur who was hoping to start-up an innovative coffee-by-drone delivery service. So far the response had been excellent and the odd sunbather who’d got a scalding espresso shower merely thought it was an amusing prank. If coffee-by-drone could work anywhere in the UK, Brighton would be the place. Apparently he’s idea is on an upcoming Dragon’s Den.

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As for the paddle. It’s good to get a salty tan while exercising, but the run was as ordinary as I expected, not like the wilds of the northwest or even the rural southwest, and without much intriguing geographic detail to explore. I bet looking down on the passing Seawave from the clifftops was a lot more alluring.

West beyond Brighton it’s built up pretty much all the way to Selsey Bill before the Solent. In the other direction Cuckmere Haven around the much bigger cliffs of Seven Sisters and Beachy Head to Eastbourne pier (8 miles) would be a good one on a calm day.
You can’t get lost – just follow the shoe.

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