A comparison to the British Channel Islands

Gred Ward navigating heavy seas and buys in the UK.

Greg Ward navigating heavy seas and buoys in the Atlantic.

6 years ago I was lucky enough to move to Finland from Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands. I had come from a rich boating experience, spread over a number of years: learning from my father, then gradually sailing solo, later with friends and then my wife and son. The craft I have gained a love for boating from include: a 5m long-keeler, a 6m Felicity, a Cadet dinghy, a canoe , a Mirror dinghy, a Leisure 20, a Laser dinghy and an Enterprise dinghy. From these I have gained some good, some bad, some frightening and some wonderful memories. Finally, I had brought a Hanse 315 and in an unforgettable 18 day trip Uncle Pizza left the salty North Atlantic to make her new home in the brackish Baltic.

Over the years many people have asked me about the differences between Finnish waters and Channel Island waters; perhaps now with 6 years experience in the archipelago I can give a small evaluation. The first and main difference is the almost total lack of tide in the Baltic. I am aware there are some places where there is a tidal range and I also know the sea level changes over the year but a 1m difference cannot compare to a range starting from 7m and occasionally reaching 13m, happening in just 6 hours. This is such a fundamental difference which is perhaps hard to fully understand. Virtually all yachts are consigned to marinas, or drying berths which you can only enter or leave 3 hours either side of high tide. This doesn’t sound much but frequently we would need to out of the marina by 09.00 or forget it. Happily this is not a problem in Finland, if you forget something or are tired just you can go when you are ready. In a few selected places in Jersey there are some yachts, on swinging moorings, which can be accessed at all tidal states by dinghy. However, these cause sleepless nights whenever a storm is blowing. On one memorable September morning several yachts were ripped off these moorings, at St Katherine’s Breakwater and were smashed onto the shore.


OK, Finland is rather sheltered but perhaps not quite as sheltered as the gardens in Holland.

In tidal waters when you use your charts you need to draw vectors: your triangle will show the course you intend to go, the direction and strength of the tide and from this the course you need to steer. All this would be written out on charts (though of course now many people use electronic chart plotters; either to supplement charts, or in some cases, dare I say it, instead of charts) and then you needed to write out a passage planner along with details of estimated departure and arrival times and contingency plans for weather changes etc.

Tides can of course be useful if you plan carefully. Delivering Uncle Pizza to Jersey from Southampton meant arriving off the Alderney Race (the fastest tidal waters in the Channel Islands – up to 7 knots during extreme conditions) in the early hours of the morning. Even though the wind had dropped to about 2m/s it was immensely satisfying, if not surreal, watching flashing buoys, along with shore lights flashing by at 6 knots. The flip side to this is when even experienced yacht crews arrive at the wrong time and actually go backwards with the tide! Naturally, fighting a tide and wind is frustrating and often proved to be a last defence excuse, to be used against angry spouses, for returning home late!

Overfalls are a phenomenon not likely to be encountered in the Baltic. Where the seabed rises rapidly from deep to shallow and there are rocks that are under the surface of the sea, then violent waters are produced as the tidal stream, moving steadily over deeper water suddenly encounters the rocks blocking its path. These are marked on charts and can be spectacular when viewed from a distance; unpleasant or even dangerous when encountered directly.

Relaxing sailing with a small following breeze

Relaxing sailing with a small following breeze by Jersey.

By comparison you don’t need tidal vectors here but within the confined waters between islands I find it important to write out pilotage details: course to steer (if not tacking) and what buoys or transit boards there are on the route and dangers to watch out for as well as landmarks. If this is written down it is easier to concentrate when going to a new destination and all the land, well, looks just like all the land you have seen for the last 6 hours!

Arriving at a destination in tidal waters is also determined by tides; anchoring needs to be carried out carefully and you need to know how much water will be beneath the keel at low tide. Tidal waters are more likely to suffer from anchor drag than non-tidal waters: once off the island of Sark I put out 2 anchors at 450 to each other and it didn’t take too long for them to become entangled. However, one advantage of tidal waters is the fact that you can see rocks exposed at low tides and mentally absorb their location and size. In non tidal waters rocks remain submarine menaces which never become exposed but only announce themselves to the unwary…

The Channel Islands and adjacent coast of France are popular tourist destinations and in the summer it means that visitor’s berths in marinas can be very hard to get. So far, I am glad to say, that finding somewhere to tie up to or anchor in the archipelago hasn’t been a problem. People have gone out of their way to squeeze boats in to seemingly full jetties or if this isn’t possible another place can usually be found half an hour away.

Having an uninterrupted ocean stretching from the Channel Islands to the US can mean large swells or waves building up. This can make sailing more challenging and tiring; inexperienced crews may get into difficulties due to the sea conditions. A relatively flat sea and excellent wind conditions make for a perfect day’s sailing: however the same wind when blowing on a sea where the tidal direction has swung around 180° can cause short sharp waves to build up, amazingly quickly. Sailing inside the archipelago here means you meet smaller waves but experience more wind shift patterns due to interference from the land. I am still impressed at how much the wind can change direction and strength as it funnels down passages or edges around the land.

Finally: whenever boating I like to go for a swim, either before, during or after a sail. The sea here may start colder than Channel Island waters ( 7 – 19° C) but it warms up quickly and may reach 24° C and here’s the good news, I don’t need any goggles! So on the strength of this I am sure that Uncle Pizza will spend many more years sailing around these enchanted waters. Happy Sailing!

Happy sailing along a shltered waterway in the archipelago.

Finally: happy sailing in the Finnish archipelago.


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