Coasteering off Sark

, January 13, 2012

The thought of leaping off rocks into the sea has a refreshing appeal, a kind of baptismal adventure that is raw and natural. Recently I went coasteering off Sark in the Channel Islands, UK with local tour operator Adventure Sark to take the plunge.

At around 7am I joined a motley group of ten cheerful would-be coasteers outside the White Rock Cafe on the eastern shore of Guernsey. The group first fuelled up with a famous White Rock Cafe all-English breakfast, before sizing-up equipment for the day ahead.

Our plan was to head over to Sark’s West Coast, near to the Gouliot Caves. Loaded with climbing helmets, wetsuits, buoyancy aids and boots we took a boat over as our guide emphasised the importance to be attentive to safety issues and respect for the marine flora and fauna.

Upon our arrival on Sark we took the Toast Rack (Tractor Bus) to base camp to change into our wetsuits. With out gear on, we made our way across the Island towards the Pilcher Monument and then down the cliff to the moorings at Harvre Gosselin. There, we paired up in a ‘buddy’ system before being taught the vital signals and safety procedure and on what we were about to do.

First-timers in the group were given instructions on the art of jumping in – feet together, crossed arms and hold them to their chest, jumping out then holding yourself in the vertical position as you enter the water. After trying out a low ledge, the next practice leap was from 10 or 12 feet. From Havre Gosselin our explorations took us southward, up and over a couple of granite outcrops to jump into a couple of gullies – the most memorable one led to the entrance to Victor Hugo cave. After one more gully and then we clambered up to the highest rock of the day to stop for a drink of water and an energy bar and take in the views.

After the rest break we were back on our feet, clambering up and over more granite outcrops, jumping in to and swimming across gullies as we headed northward, eventually swimming past the moorings at Harvre Gosselin. We made our way to the Gouliot Caves, the final feature to explore during the day’s itinerary.

The caves were cathedral-like, with shafts of sunlight piercing the shadows while ambient light reflected off the walls from various other openings. Famous for the variety of sea anemones, a profusion of the classic deep red ones and green ones with a ring of bright blue at their base, small pink ones in their hundreds and white ones, apparently seen nowhere else in the world but here.

We explored several of the caves, sometimes re-entering the sea to do so. Eventually we made our final exit, climbing up out the entrance. With a boat to catch, it was time to go. We tramped back to base camp where we changed back into our clothes, feeling tired and satisfied after nearly four hours of continuous physical activity in one of the most beautiful parts of the Channel Islands.

By some strange quirk of fate, there was time for a couple of quick pints and then the bonus of some hot food once we got back inside. Crusty bread, beer and a fine mess of potage, what more could we ask for? Ten very satisfied explorers made their way back to Guernsey.

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