Kentish Sea Paddling the Return

Saturday 13th August 2011

In sea paddling terms can the Kent coast be compared to say Cornwall or Pembrokeshire or even Dorset for that matter?  No, possibly not but in its own way it is unique and even has some great paddling gems if you go looking for them and you get your tidal planning right.   Given our London base you’d think the Kent coast would feature as a regular trip destination – in reality though the Club had only previously paddled along sections of it twice before.   The previous paddles saw us paddle out of Sandgate (near Folkestone) to Abbot’s Cliff and meet Mungo Francis (quite accidentally as it happens) last summer and more recently in April we paddled 5 miles out and back from Herne Bay to the wind turbines.    I was responsible for planning and organising both those trips and as I have a bit of an affinity to Kent (I am after all technically a “Kentish Man”) I thought it was about time another was organised.  

For some time I’d had it in mind to organise a paddle along the eastern most tip of Kent from Ramsgate to Margate (or vice versa) – ok those locations are not particularly great but the coastline between the two takes in the seven sandy bays of Broadstairs.   Each bay has its own character – the northern most of these bays is Botany Bay and is famous for its chalk stacks, Joss Bay is a popular surf beach and more importantly Kingsgate Bay has a chalk arch (which can be paddled through if the tide is right!).   

After checking some local knowledge with Rob Davis I set about planning an outline trip – which was a 14km paddle round North Foreland from Ramsgate to Margate or the other way from Margate to Ramsgate with the aim of getting to Kingsgate Bay around high tide (or thereabouts) to go through its arch.  I then set about looking at the tidal information (tide times and tidal streams) for the best date – and Saturday 13th August it was with Ramsgate as the launch location!   The tidal streams were not completely perfect and after discussing things with Keith we agreed we had to be past Foreness Point by 2pm to avoid paddling against a significant current to the finish at Westbrook.   The weather was the other factor – the forecast was for SW winds at the top end of a Force 4.    If the weather and conditions got too bad during the trip the route had plenty of “pull off” locations.   Plan B was a skills session if the weather really kicked up! 

After a very early start we all eventually managed to rendezvous at a large carpark in Ramsgate (just north of the marina).   There were nine of us and as it happened it was also Mel’s first time on the briney blue and Abdul’s first ever Club trip.   The usual faff ensued as boats were unloaded and packed, etc and the drivers dashed away to do the shuttle – consequently we were about three-quarters of an hour late launching than planned.  It was also pretty miserable – cold, raining and overcast.   

We were launching into moderate surf with SW Force 3 winds (yep, Keith got his wind meter out to check).   I launched first through the waves to an area beyond the significant swell and each person in the group followed one at a time with Keith being the last to launch.   Although several white knuckles and interesting facial expressions were observed the launching was “incident free” and we were off heading northwards (rather quickly as it happens with the tide and the wind).

The coastline sped by and as we moved northwards the sea settled down and the sky became increasingly blue!   Paddling effortlessly we reached Joss Bay and saw the Kingsgate Bay chalk arch ahead in the distance.   Olwen and Keith checked out the surf in Joss Bay whilst the rest of us paddled on – fingers crossed I’d timed it right so we could pass through the arch – and luckily I had!

After agreeing the hand signals and setting up “lines of sight” most of the group took the opportunity to pass and re-pass through the arch timing the swell accordingly – a great bit of experience for several in the group.  

Paddling on we passed the famous chalk stacks of Botany Bay and looked for a landing site for a lunch stop – ideally one that would be less prone to significant surf.   We decided on an area just to the north of Foreness Point.   Richard, Jac and Keith also decided to have a bit of a swim having been enticed by the clean sea and shining sun.  

As we had around an hour to kill Keith proposed a skills session involving deep water rescues, self-rescues and rolling.   It is easy to forget that skills such as these will diminish over time if you do not regularly practice them and the chance to do this in warm clean water was a welcome opportunity that could not be passed up by most in the group.

The group rounded Long Nose Spit and headed west to the finish point at Westbrook (just beyond Margate).   Keith and I knew that we would have a bit of a current against us – nothing compared to what the group is used to as they all paddle regularly on the tidal Thames.  What we hadn’t bargained on was for the wind to kick round more to the west so the journey to the finish was a bit more of a slog than we’d thought.   But then Tim did say that the paddling had been way too tame up to that point – that’s karma for you I guess! 

Off the water we got changed and loaded the boats onto the trailer as quickly as possible and most of the group headed back to Ramsgate in search of fish and chips – which turned out to be amazing and to quote Jacquelin the “best she’d had since she’d been in the UK” – before heading back to London. 


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