Stern Rudders and STDs [50]

By David Winkworth

Ponder for a moment some of the Great Unanswered Questions of sea kayaking:

  • Why does your nose continue to dribble eight hours after your last roll?
  • Why do paddlers fit elaborate electric pump systems and just use them to pump out the slops on the beach?
  • Why do kayak sailors hoist their sails as soon as the wind speed hits 2 knots?
  • Two paddlers of equal skill and fitness and paddling similar boats: One pulls away from the other… Why?

Hmmm. That last question… I reckon the answer might be smoothness, efficiency and economy of effort. In just about any human endurance sport you can think of… marathon kayaking, long distance ski races, running marathons… you name it, smoothness, efficiency and economy of effort are key components. I think it’s the same with recreational sea kayaking too. The paddler who moves their boat most efficiently over the course of a day’s paddle will arrive at the night’s campsite in better shape than the paddler who races here and there, zigs left, zags right and so on. Perhaps you’ve noticed this for yourself on some of your outings.

I’m not talking about racing for sea kayakers here. What we are trying to do quite obviously, is move ourselves, our kayak and our gear safely and efficiently on the ocean for long periods in a wide range of conditions. This is, quite simply, the essence of sea kayaking for many of us. It goes without saying that we try to enjoy ourselves along the way!

In this article, I’d like to look specifically at Stern Rudder Strokes and STDs… or ‘Slow Thou Down Strokes’ (well, what did you think it meant?) as part of the answer to the question I posed above. Another member (Dirk?) might like to continue the theme with a look at Forward Paddling Strokes in a future issue.

Anyway, what is a Stern Rudder Stroke? (hereafter occasionally abbreviated to SRS).

An SRS could be described as the use of a paddle blade as a temporary rudder!

When do you use an SRS? Well, it’s mostly used to control direction in downwind paddling situations but the stroke is also used in surfing, mucking around in gauntlets and steering to come alongside other kayaks etc. If you have a rudder on your boat, you would probably use the SRS less than your mates paddling without a rudder. That means more practice for you because practice is the key to efficient use of any stroke! You also have to be able to control your boat if your rudder fails… mechanical devices and all that, which we’ve covered before.

Stern ruddering is an easy stroke to do. It can be used to hold a course or make a turn. Let’s have a look at a basic SRS and then I’ll cover some variations: Get up some boat speed, maintain your normal paddle grip position, twist your torso to the side as you would at the completion of a forward paddling stroke, paddle held parallel to the side of the boat and dip the rear blade as a ‘rudder’. Your rear arm should be straight or almost straight. For practice only, turn your head around and look at the turbulence around your blade—you should be aiming for minimum turbulence. Now, still with some boat speed, try alternately pushing the working blade away from the boat and then pulling it in to the side of the boat. Notice that the kayak changes direction? Do it again now, but this time instead of pushing/pulling the blade, try rotating the shaft in your hand—about 30 degrees each way— so that the top edge of the blade tilts away from or towards your kayak. Notice that the boat changes course with this little twist too?

You’ll notice a load on your rear arm in doing SR strokes. The faster you’re going and the tighter the turn you want to make, the greater the load. Be careful not to overdo it!

Grip locators on your paddle shaft will give you more ‘purchase’ for the rotation of the blade. I’ve been experimenting with 4 of them wrapped on with duct tape (one front and back on each side) and it’s given me much greater grip control. It’s a cheap way to get an oval shaft that the Americans pay big dollars for and it’s also useful for blade orientation when rolling at night.

Some variations now: Unlike a car which follows the front wheels around in a turn, a kayak in effect ‘skids’ around a corner, the stern of the boat stepping out. It follows then that the further back you can get your stern rudder in, the greater the effect. You’ll see paddlers in the surf doing stern rudder strokes with obvious rearward leans. It works too but takes you out of your paddling rhythm (which I’ll cover in a moment) and also exerts greater force on your arm so please be careful. You can slide your grip along the shaft to move the blade even further back if you like but this also mucks up any rhythm you have. Also, the further back your SRS in the surf, the longer it takes for you to get in position for a quick up-wave brace to avoid a capsize. This happens a lot and it’s fun to watch!

A tilt turn assists the Stern Rudder Stroke

Another variation is to tilt your kayak away from the direction of the turn as you perform a stern rudder stroke. I’ve covered lean steering in a previous issue which may help if you need revision. This combination of SRS/boat lean needs practice. It is particularly effective, especially in surf and good following seas but can invite capsize if you’re not careful because the SRS is usually done on (for example) the port side while you tilt the kayak to starboard! Use off-centre foot pressure and lift with your inside knee to aid the turn. Be ready to get the blade back up to where you can brace effectively if needed because your kayak may come around quickly.

Forward and aft weight transfer in assisting turns is something I feel not enough paddlers do. It is all too easy to just sit there and paddle but it’s an integral part of turning a kayak. Get your torso forward to lighten the stern for a turn or get it back to aid tracking, but most importantly get out on the bay and practise it with stern rudder strokes. Steering a kayak, with or without a rudder, can be very subtle and slight weight transfer can have a big effect. Learn about your kayak’s handling.

How much SRS do you need? Well, that’s another thing you’ll have to work out for yourself. You may find that you only need a touch here and there – perhaps a half blade only in the water. Why jam the whole blade in when a half will do? You may also find that 2 quick half-blade SRSs are better than one big dunk. With practice, you’ll also find that anticipation becomes a key to smooth efficient SR strokes—you’ll just KNOW when your boat is going to try to veer off course and you’ll be ready with your armoury of course-keeping measures.

Rotate torso, vary blade angle and amount of blade dipped to suit conditions

One really nice thing that I like about stern rudder strokes is that that they fit nicely into my paddling rhythm. I can do an SRS on the starboard side at the end of a forward stroke on that side, or stroke port, then SRS starboard (thereby skipping the forward stroke on that side). There is very little disruption to forward paddling rhythm.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned smoothness, efficiency and economy of effort. RULE ONE in the quest for Smoothness, Efficiency and Economy of Effort is KEEP THE BOAT MOVING! Once you’ve got your boat up to your cruising speed, use your course correction measures (SRS, tilt turns, weight transfer, rudder movement, etc) and your forward paddling technique to keep it up and on course. If you lose your speed you will have to work harder to get it back. If you’re in good following seas you may be zipping along at twice your flat water cruising speed so you may wish to ease back a bit on the forward strokes (economy of effort) while concentrating on course holding techniques. In good rebound conditions you may have to concentrate closely on both forward speed and course holding. Your kayak will be bounced this way and that and you have to correct for that while trying to surf down every sloping patch of water you come across.

A low Support Stroke used to correct course is an STD!

Now despite your concentration and best intentions on course keeping, you’re going to get knocked off course occasionally. Check your compass… if the course deviation is of the order of 10 to 20 degrees I probably wouldn’t bother with too much in the way of an SRS. Remember: KEEP THE BOAT MOVING. Some boat lean and offside foot pressure will bring you back on course. If you have 50 km to paddle for the day, the odd meander is not going to add much to the distance! If you’re wandering all over the ocean however, then clearly you need to look at your course keeping techniques. You may even benefit from the addition of a rudder or skeg.

Now we come to STDs, the arch enemy of Smoothness, Efficiency and Economy of Effort. Even Forward Paddling Strokes can become STDs!
But stern rudder strokes are among the worst! Too many SRS detract from forward propulsion. If you’re doing too many SRS then you may need to look at your technique, transfer some gear from hatch to hatch etc. Look at your paddling mates to see how they’re handling the conditions—you’ll soon work out how you’re going. Efficient paddling feels good! Stern Rudder Strokes in downwind conditions that become Low Support Strokes with an outward roll of the wrist are classic STDs—I know because I’ve done heaps of them! Sometimes they are necessary, but do be aware of the drop in boat speed.

Now rudders! Yes, rudder movement can be an STD and even a neutral (non-offset) rudder in the water can be an STD!

Too much rudder offset – a classic STD

Next time you’re on the water, paddle close behind a friend in a ruddered boat. Ask him/her to actuate their rudder to the limit of travel (often around 40 degrees) and observe the turbulence created around the blade. That is an STD! Some paddlers I’ve watched routinely swing their rudders from lock to lock. If the rudder travel was limited to 15 degrees or less, the paddler would be working against much less resistance and the turn would still be made! Once again, anticipation and subtle use are the key to keeping speed up.

I was out paddling with Gordon Carswell the other day. Now Gordon uses a rudder on his TLC Stingray but he’s a thinking paddler and when he deploys his rudder he does a quick assessment of the benefit because a neutral (non-offset) rudder in the water creates drag and is thus an STD! If the course-keeping effect of the rudder allows Gordon to concentrate on forward paddling to catch more small wave rides, he leaves it in the water. If not, he lifts it out again… makes sense!

Practice is the key to smooth and efficient course keeping—but please practise it in conditions you can handle. Actually, light conditions can be more demanding because it’s harder to pick up rides. Try it down and across waves too—you’ll need to concentrate on weight transfer for these conditions. Take your compass, set yourself a course to the other side of the bay and see how far off course you deviate. See how close you can paddle beside a friend without bumping into each other. Avoid those STDs and good luck!

Moving Right Along Paddle [50]

By Mark Berry

Kevin Melville’s ‘moving right along’ paddle, held on Sunday 03 February, was the NSWSKC’s inaugural attempt at utilising a mentoring approach to prepare grade 2 paddlers for the Sea Proficiency assessment. Whilst Kevin organised the day to provide a series of challenges for the candidates, the weather decided to throw in a few challenges of its own, including strong southerly winds and 2 metre seas.

The end result was a great day’s paddling that highlighted the inherent strengths of the mentoring system and the club’s positive approach to training as a whole.

Kevin’s objective for his introduction of the mentoring system was to:

  • Introduce grade 2 paddlers to challenging but relatively safe kayaking conditions
  • Improve the skill levels of grade 2 paddlers using one-on-one tuition
  • Through the mentoring system, expose grade 3 paddlers who do not lead trips to some of the issues associated with trip leadership.

Nine grade 2 paddlers were coupled with mentors ranging in experience from grade 3 to instructor. Because of the forecasted southerly front Kevin left the choice of the final route until Sunday morning. We all met in the car park at Clontarf Beach just east of the Spit bridge at 8.30 am.

Following introductions mentors and their charges were paired off to complete boat and safety equipment inspections and to discuss expectations for the day’s paddle. Kevin then went over the forecast and the proposed route. Once we were all on the water Kevin’s Melville and Brennan demonstrated an assisted rescue followed by the grade 2s and their respective mentors. We then set off past Middle Head.

I am not a frequent Sydney Harbour paddler, however, I have been reasonably assured that on nineteen days out of twenty the harbour is a grade 1 paddle. With a south-easterly swell of 2mtrs and wind gusts reaching 29kts at North Head, Sunday provided the one day in twenty when conditions deteriorated to at least grade 3 on the seaward side of Middle Head. This created an interesting scenario. On the one hand it provided the paddlers who took conditions on the harbour for granted with a wakeup call not to become complacent about their preparation or abilities. On the other hand it provided the paddlers, who would not normally go out in these conditions, with an excellent opportunity to experience and learn how to deal with the combination of swell, wind and current whilst under the close supervision of a mentor.

We headed out around Middle Head and over to Manly Harbour with a strong tailwind and quartering sea making paddling interesting. A couple of capsizes and assisted re-entries along the way livened up the leg. Following our arrival at Manly Harbour and a group discussion on the severity of the conditions two of the group decided to withdraw from the remainder of the paddle. As conditions didn’t warrant pushing on out through the heads as was originally planned Kevin decided we should paddle back around to Clontarf and continue skills training in the sheltered water off the beach. Middle Head again provided us with some aquatic entertainment in the form of a howling headwind and cross swell which resulted in a couple more, real time, assisted re-entry practices. The final part of the afternoon was spent practicing skills in preparation for the grade 2 paddler’s up and coming sea proficiency assessments.

At one stage while we waited for a capsized paddler to right themselves off Middle Head, the wind, waves and current conspired in an attempt to push us back onto the rocks. In the middle of our struggle to hold station my paddling buddy, Rohan, turned to me and commented “you really need to be self reliant in sea kayaking don’t you?” I believe this was a particularly astute observation. Even in the relative safety of Sydney Harbour with a one-to-one ratio of mentors and grade 2 paddlers, managing group dynamics, capsizes and assisted rescues were difficult issues. On the open ocean in these conditions the same challenges would take on a whole new perspective.

The key points here are knowing your limitations and practicing your skills. I gather all the grade 2 participants picked up on the importance of having a reliable roll because once we arrived back at Clontarf they went at it hammer-and-tongs for the next hour. Good paddling sense was also shown by the two paddlers, who acknowledged their limitations in the conditions, and pulled out at Manly.

As the group were crash test dummies for the mentoring system I emailed participants for their comments before writing this article.

Considering the conditions on the day, I particularly wanted to know how well everyone thought the system worked. The resounding answer was that mentoring was a really effective way of imparting knowledge and skills. The only negative comments related to the unwieldy size of the group. On most days on the harbour a group of 18 would not have caused any problems. Unfortunately with the prevailing weather conditions Kevin ended up working harder than a one armed bricklayer in Kabul trying to keep everyone together. Kevin has since told me that he is writing an article for the magazine on his thoughts on the complexities of trip leadership. Ultimately everyone said they had come away with a greater respect for the vagaries of weather on paddling conditions and considerably better prepared for their sea-proficiency assessment. Well done Kevin for a meticulously organized and successful training day.

A Ramble From the Editor [50]

By Ian Phillips

The idea had its merits. Another leisurely paddle in a picturesque setting, and so progressing a little further towards that almost forgotten friend — the open sea — far too long a distant and foggy memory.

After weeks and months of poring over ‘classic’ articles from the bowels of NSW Sea Kayaker, culling until we had but alas a select few (no doubt destined to become kayak lore after reprinting in the formidable 50th edition of the magazine), I had developed a massive itch that needed scratching (kayak itch, that is), and I was riddled with outstanding potential destinations for my selfish sojourn in place of actual Editorial work.

Broughton looked great, Tassie looked spectacular, south NSW looked sensational and New Zealand even scraped in a mention, but the omnipresent concerns over my pathetic paddling fitness crowded my mind and so it was David Whyte’s seductive photos of Myall Lakes that made the decision.

It was ideal — a luxurious destination with clear water and campsites, and, as a bonus, little chance of a bumpy ride which would give me half a chance in my port-weakened and drug-induced state. I should have read the fine print a little more carefully.

Nothing actually went wrong, and nothing outstandingly nasty happened, but the 3,000 knot winds for the 10 hour paddle back caught us slightly off guard.

Particularly after the ‘out of left field’ arrival of Professor Extraordinaire Eddy a couple of days before, with a subtle request for 400 dry bags for his trip to North Queensland. What me worry? I was about to paddle the serenity of Myall Lakes — surely no need for waterproofing?

With my dry bags doing far more worldly travelling than I, we set off in the darkness for a weekend of cruising, snoozing and boozing (Proof Reader – please find another word that rhymes with cruising and snoozing – make sure boozing doesn’t make it into the mag – this is a family publication and I have a reputation to uphold – Ed).

We arrived, built, packed and paddled (in that order), and a splendid day’s paddle was had by all. Fish flew and birds swam as we gulped port at our lakeside camp, blissfully content after consuming an entire kayakful of spaghetti bolognaise.

The salubrious day had involved some erratic circumnavigating of a few little bits of land and some not-so-erratic circumnavigating of a couple of bigger bits of land, then the expert directions of Presidents Mercer and Betteridge put us in an idyllic bay for the night with our very own beach, our very own soft grass campsite and our very own ‘No Camping’ signs.

The following morning was a feast of healthy, goodness-enriched bacon and eggs, washed down with lashings of espresso coffee, courtesy of our gourmet camping coffee-maker-thingy. Our arteries hardened and our hearts slowing we headed off, paddling blissfully into the morning sun. Until we rounded the point…

Well I’m sure you can guess the rest — we battled Hopi’s wrath for the best part of the day, punching waves and humungous chop and swallowing half of Myall Lakes until nightfall when we collapsed on a quiet stretch of sand back at our launching spot. Miraculously, the wind abated almost immediately (bastard Wind God).

Anyway, I thinks it’s time to introduce the 50th edition of NSW Sea Kayaker before I run out of space. I was trying to think of something really inspirational and memorable to say about it, but it never quite worked out, so all I can say is… Here it is! Enjoy!

From The President’s Deck [50]

By Rob Mercer

It’s 23:00 hours. We depart Sydney at 08:25 hours tomorrow, headed for Townsville. Between now and then I have to write this report (and hopefully get some sleep).

On Saturday 03 August the Club held a meeting to talk about all the big issues. Good will and ideas were in abundance. Thanks to all who contributed. The issues raised should be the focus of my report, but with the excitement of an expedition, and the satisfaction of presiding over a dynamic club about to release the 50th edition of Australia’s best sea kayaking publication, I’d rather lose some sleep talking about the NSWSKC magazine.

My earliest copy of the Club magazine is Issue 27. It is held together with masking tape and has dog-eared pages. It is no coincidence that this edition contains a seductive description of paddling in far north Queensland. After six years I am going to see what it is all about.

The overall quality of the magazine has for a long time deserved a colour format and, with the help of Trevor Gardner and Phil Mathewson from MacIMAGES Digital Design, this has become a reality. Ian’s contributions as Editor is obvious. What has been less apparent is the extent of his efforts in production and distribution. I assembled a team of a dozen members to pack, label and sort Issue 49 and arrange for its postage. We soon realised what an onerous task this must have been on top of editing.

Consistent with our Club policy of true editorial freedom Ian will have the final say over the shape of this issue but I have a couple of favourites from past editions which I believe are worthy of reprints. In Issue 41 we have Mark Pearson’s definitive parody of Club culture in A Cruiser Makes Mallacoota. If you are new to the Club and want to know about ‘Cruisers’, ‘Bruisers’ and the Nadgee Wilderness then this is essential reading. In the previous issue (number 40) we have Dave Winkworth’s chilling report of the croc attack on Arunas Pilka (save this one until after you have paddled in the tropics).

Between Issue 27 and now the magazine has been a document of many adventures both on the sea and for the Club as a whole. In Issue 51 we will cover the serious issues of membership fees, policy documents and affiliation with national organisations. In the meantime you may choose to speculate about the future directions of our Club. Just make sure it doesn’t use up valuable paddling time.

As one previous president said, “There is no substitute for time in your boat.”

30+ at North Head [50]

By Tom Parker

Father’s Day started out with low hanging dark grey clouds and the occasional drop of rain. The wind was 20 to 30 knots and gusting well over thirty.

Just before ten, Rob and I paddled out from Balmoral and headed towards North Head. As we came out of the lee of Middle Head the harbour started to boil with white caps all around and the wind gusting from the south making hard work of constantly paddling the Pittarak on the starboard side. The sea was up and Rob and I were the only ones on the harbour except for a single boat with several divers. We did not see anyone else during the whole trip.

As I hadn’t been paddling for a whole week I found it quite challenging to be in this boil, and the first 20 minutes were taken up in getting the really intimate feel of the kayak again… Rob was paddling Rob Mercer’s Coho and for him it was pure delight. He later said that the Coho was very stable and a very fast kayak. Pretty well how the other Rob sees it too.

The wind came whistling down from the southern part of the harbour and we had these constant gusts on our starboard while the waves moved around us in all directions. It was like this all the way across until we were in the lee of South Head which gave us a little respite until we got closer to North Head and then paddled through breaking waves inside the harbour.

Well we got to North Head and the sea was 4 to 5 metres, the waves were breaking and lots of white-water everywhere. It reminded me a little of the wilder days on my trip to Tathra earlier in the year, but the difference in confidence levels was obvious. Constant paddling for a few days tends to sharpen the reflexes and your support strokes come to you so instinctively that you know you could do them in your dreams. These water conditions provided an excellent opportunity for practising support strokes and as we rounded North Head and started experiencing the rebound combined with the gusting wind conditions it became even more challenging.

With the wind behind us now we caught some runs going north. I couldn’t see the waves breaking behind me and just took up Rob’s challenge to keep on surfing. The swell and the waves were still pushing the kayak all over the place and there was no way that I wanted to capsize in these conditions so did more bracing than racing. Rob, of course, did it the other way round. We got halfway to Bluefish Point and decided we had better turn around as the trip back would be into the wind and would take more out of us.

I turned around to face south and wished I hadn’t. The swells were rolling towards us and they were over 5 metres on the face and they were all breaking. The wind was well over 20 knots and all of a sudden I was punching into this big sea and howling wind. Whenever one of the larger swells would rear up and start to break, flashes of Green Island would come back to me and a shudder would go up my spine. I really didn’t want a replay of that again.

The spray was horizontal as it swept off the tops of the waves and hit us in the face. Familiar taste of saline in the back of the throat came to us both as the spray kept coming. Now it was a challenge to make headway in this sea. At times the gusts would push on the paddle and totally destabilise me. On one occasion I paddled up the front of a wave only to be stopped dead on its crest by an unbelievable gust. For a split second I was suspended in air and then pushed back down the wave by the gust.

At times, making headway was slow. Had to focus. Had to use all available energy. Couldn’t afford to waste any energy. I had been practising the Russian Twist in order to improve my body rotation technique and deliver more power to the blade. It required a lot of focus to pay attention to all the details and to implement them in these conditions but I tried and it helped. More power to the blade meant that you went forward faster. The problem was with the unexpected. Occasionally a wave would come from an unexpected direction and force a brace just to stay upright. Then back to attacking the headwind. All around the spray was driven horizontally across the water. The gusts were horrific. Later Rob reckoned that you couldn’t paddle into anything stronger than that.

Considering that it took me half an hour to paddle from Shelley Beach to North Head the previous week in 10-15 knot conditions, it took the same time to paddle roughly a quarter of the distance in these conditions. When the gusts were at their fiercest, it wasn’t possible to make headway for perhaps up to 10 seconds. When we got back inside the harbour the conditions were a repeat of the trip out, but with the wind on the port side. Now, however, the muscles had had an hour and a half of being well exercised and the return trip was much easier. Still, it was another opportunity to practise the finer elements of body rotation and get the shoulders and the arms where they should be during the stroke.

I was surprised that we didn’t see anyone else out there on the day as these conditions provide an excellent training opportunity for Sydney based paddlers. We all yearn for the attractions of the South Coast, however we do have a great venue and a great opportunity to build our skills very close to home whenever the seas are up. It was a great outing and I couldn’t wish for a better start to Father’s Day than to go for this kind of paddle with my son. At the end of it, my shoulders and back were well worked out and the cup of tea tasted just great.

On getting back from the trip, the BOM data showed the following for Sydney Airport:

  • 10:00 – wind 25 k, gusts 31 k
  • 11:00 – wind 27 k, gusts 33 k
  • 12:00 – wind 25 k, gusts 35 k
  • 13:00 – wind 24 k, gusts 34 k

A Mum on the Water [50]

By Julia Ansell

Although my experience in a kayak is somewhat limited at best, it is nonetheless very relevant. NSWSKC members are very ardent paddlers, hooray for them. For a single mum with a couple of dependents it is not always possible to get on the water every week, fortnight or even month but my experiences are just as relevant to the other women and men who ‘occasionally’ paddle.

12 months ago I purchased a piece of plastic from Ian at Jervis Bay. With a really great friend and experienced kayaker (recently Melbourne to Hobart, the ‘Loop Man’, etc) to guide me I started a very slow yet happy relationship with my craft. Previously I had been subject to paddling his old Dancers and going around North Head, which is an experience in itself. Dare you to try it sometime! Better off to take a friend though!

I had, however, progressed through that stage mindful of the fact that all that rudderless hard work pays off, albeit being very stressful on the relationship (not with the kayak but with my best friend).

I was now capable, I thought, of going it alone.

One of my first lone adventures was at the end of school term. I work with 500 smelly teenage boys each day. Therefore, I think I’m entitled to a little downtime now and then. I went to school that day with my red piece of plastic atop my roof racks. I was, however, not the only one who paddles at the school as I work with both the original Solo man and another international surfski paddler. So not standing out too much, as there are always other kayaks around, by the end of the day I was ready for a little light relief.

Working in Manly obviously has its advantages, as I was finished work at 2:30 pm and at Little Manly for take off in no time. I thought it would be a good idea to go to Balmoral Beach for lunch, as I do look at it from the classroom window every day! Doesn’t every inexperienced, lone, female paddler do that for stress relief after work?

I’ve learnt to time the oncoming ferries and dodge a few rocks. The sun shone on my Autumn Day and I enjoyed my lunch. Well, not really, as I bought it from the school canteen! Do you remember how that stuff tasted? Yuk!

The little one hour journey was pleasant and uneventful, as I’m sure you would have expected it to be. Each trip gives me a touch more courage to try something more difficult or just the inner energy to just keep paddling. I’m convinced many ‘for sale’ kayaks are due to people just unable to find it in themselves to have a go.

My adventures continued but not until another 10 weeks later. Again the school holidays provided me with the time required to take off for a day ‘child-free’.

Having some care for my own safety I decided a longer trip in safer waters was going to be a nice little adventure. Again inexperienced, alone and still female, I set off from the ferry crossing at Berowra Waters. The gentle mist rose gracefully over the shadows of the other leisure craft on the water. I could see but not yet feel the sun creeping atop the sheer tree lined cliff tops that enveloped me. Only a single fisherman and the fluoro-vested council workmen standing against their shovels flagged my 8:15 am departure.

I had packed a little hastily and for that matter a tad meagrely as I had forgotten to take anything warm or waterproof (maybe you won’t print that bit as it doesn’t quite fit the NSWSKC code, but heck that’s just my inexperience showing). A simple fare of homemade bread, a billy, stove and tea bag and some water were going to see me fit for the day.

I had previously looked up the UBD for a general guide of ‘where in the heck I was going’. It proved to be enough. My paddling was slow but consistent and in no time at all I had reached Bar Island. At that point my memory of the map had faded and my UBD was nowhere to be seen. So I did the next best thing. I waited a while and watched the motorised water traffic cruise in and out of the area. I soon understood which way to go. Exit…stage right! I paddled on and in true girly style looked at all the houses on the way, checked out the colours and styles and unusual houses that grace the shorelines. Some of those places are really cute.

I landed just under the Hawkesbury River Bridge around lunch time and presently set up my stove for a warming brew. Lucky for me I take my tea black with no sugar (less to carry you see!). I rested about 30 mins then headed back. Whoops, forgot about the current. A slightly harder paddle was endured to get out of that little spot. But I had been told on other expeditions of a different nature that you just keep going. It doesn’t matter how fast, just don’t stop, one foot in front of the other or paddle as the case may be. Well, that advice was again sure and true and I arrived back in my little Berowra spot a total of 6.5 hours later after a 34 km paddle for the day in my little red Penguin.

It’s like being on retreat, on the water and exercising. I have had two car accidents and have an insidiously poor back but paddling is the best fix I can get, and it sure beats going to the physio at $40.00 per hour. So if I paddle for the 6.5 hours I save myself about $260.00 in physio fees; now that’s economical and much more enjoyable.

The Smallest One Was Madeline [50]

By Karl Noonan

City Tattler: “Hello Madeline. I have heard many fantastic stories of your travails, in fact I hear you were dragged across Sydney Heads once? How did that happen? Should we start at the beginning? Where did you start and finish? How old were you? That sort of thing…”

Maddie Noonan: “What is travails?”

Dad (Karl): “Maddie was just six at the time on a big adventure.”

Rob Mercer: “Maddie, travails means…”

Maddie: “I can speak for myself Rob, Dad. I remember very well thank you.”

City Tattler: “Yes, I see. Madeline, you were obviously very young. Weren’t you scared.”

Maddie: “Why don’t we start at the beginning as you suggested. Please call me Maddie. No, I was very wet and cold! And what is travails?”

City Tattler: “Sorry. Travails… it means physical toil or exertion, can be painful.”

Maddie: “Painful. I see. Dad put me in a buoyancy vest and a spray deck that grandma made for me that morning. It was yellow with an orange beak that I am supposed to pull to get out. I squeezed into the back hatch and Rob and Dad took me to Manly. I wanted to see the fairy penguins but it got rough and I got cold and very wet. Daddy and Rob haven’t stopped laughing. It wasn’t funny. I had water up to my neck. I kept telling Dad that I was cold and very wet. Dad kept saying we’ll get you warm very soon. You know it was really blowing and I was cold. Dad didn’t believe me until he looked back.”

City Tattler: “Thankyou Madeline.”

Maddie: “Maddie please.”

City Tattler: “Of course. Now Sharon, as a teacher and an experienced paddler would you see Madeline’s experience as a tad risky. What is your version of the day’s events?”

Sharon Betteridge: “They didn’t listen to me. What’s the point in explaining anything to you either. You men don’t listen at all. You’ll write what you want anyway.”

City Tattler: “Look, I’m just a reporter. Really, I’m listening. You tell me how it was. By the way, I’m not butch.”

Sharon: “Mmm. All right. Maddie’s father didn’t respect what I had to say. I told him a southerly buster was coming.

“We paddled off Rose Bay into a thick soupy, very warm Nor’easter. Anyway we were half way across the Heads and the southerly hit and the waves grew very fast. They were in a double kayak and I was trailing in my Mirage. The back end of their kayak went underwater right up to Maddie’s father in the rear cockpit and my Rob was definitely paddling uphill. He was working so hard my Rob. At about that time they realised what was happening. That’s when they both accelerated and the boat levelled up, took off and left me to catch up. The waves grew as they do in a 25 knotter. Anyway after emptying the boat and warming up on Quarantine Beach we moved over to East Esplanade beach.

“Maddie was soon her usual self in Manly Wharf’s ‘Tilt’. I gave Maddie $20.00 to play the machines and I held back the remaining $30.00 Maddie’s father gave us. She wasn’t going to get me to spend it all. I’m smarter than that. Anyhow Maddie was smiling all over again. The boys paddled back to pick up the cars. And that’s it.”

City Tattler: “Thankyou Sharon. I like the bit about the payoff to keep Madeline happy. Now Robert, how did you see it up front steering the kayak through a storm?”

Rob: “It’s not a long paddle from Rose Bay. Like Sharon said we expected the southerly. The clouds were so dark rimming Sydney in the south. Given we were experienced paddlers that wasn’t the problem. Maddie sounded OK. She just said she was getting wet and cold. Only when she said she was getting very wet did her father look back. Well I guess we were stunned to see the water flowing around her chest and to realise the cargo hatch was engulfed. Yes, I knew from the moment we were paddling uphill and pointing up while moving down the other side of the wave crests that the angle of the boat and trim was severely compromised. We decided to paddle like hell and that fixed the problem. Speed enough to surf. You know the rest.”

City Tattler: “Not knowing what’s going on so far up the front can be a problem. Thanks Rob, I like the way you put it. Now Dad, what really happened. What state was Madeline in when she landed on Quarantine Beach?”

Dad: “As Maddie said she was cold and wet. I can see you are angling for a drama here. You know you guys have a reputation for taking matters out of context. Look, you don’t need to put that on the record. Maddie has had a memorable trip and we are still amused by it, very amused. The day didn’t work out the way we intended it to but in hindsight it was memorable with a smile.”

City Tattler: “Thankyou. Madeline, you are a brave girl.”

Maddie: “Maddie pleeease. Geez…what a travail!”

Incredible Journey [50]

Part 1 of Oskar Speck’s Epic Journey From Germany to Australia

By Oskar Speck (As told to Duncan Thompson)
Reprinted With Kind Permission of Australasian Post Magazine

You might think that it has taken the Melbourne Olympic Games to introduce the kayak to Australia.

You would be (understandably) wrong. Mr Oskar Spec, citizen of Hamburg, Germany, introduced the kayak to us in 1939. He paddled it here — alone!

For seven years he paddled it, from Ulm on the Danube, to Australia, skirting the wrath of great seas and oceans, slipping from island to island, in a craft never designed for the sea.

That you did not hear of his arrival was either his fault nor yours.

For Speck chose a wrong period in world history for his amazing voyage — 30,000 miles in a frail frame-and-canvas canoe. For the kayak, the longest way round hugging the coastlines of the world is the only way home.

Germany was at peace (and in poverty) when Speck left Ulm in 1932.

Seven years later, in September 1939, he coaxed his kayak through the surf and on to the beach at Saibai, an island 60 or 70 miles north from Thursday Island. Officially, Saibai is Australia proper. At his bow, often smothered in the flying surf, fluttered the tiny Swastika which he had brought from Germany with him.

Three Australian police were waiting for him to berth his kayak. If this was the German invasion, these cops could handle it. “Well done, feller!” they said, shaking his hand warmly. “You’ve made it — Germany to Australia in that. But now we’ve got a piece of bad news for you. You are an enemy alien. We are going to intern you.”

They did just that.

Speck went behind barbed wire at Tatura, Victoria. Security seized his Leica and films — he has got most of his films back since. Censorship clamped down on the story of his voyage.

So that is why you have never heard of Oskar Speck.

In this issue, POST has the distinction of commencing the story of the man’s seven-year saga.

Here it Begins…

Originally, it wasn’t my intention to write the story of my voyage. I only wanted to tell Australians about Faltboots (folding boats), which are the modern version of the ancient Eskimo kayak. But would Australians recognise my authority to speak about it?

In Germany, I was a recognised kayakist before 1932. As my voyage progressed and reports of it went home from Cyprus, from Greece, from India, I became acknowledged as the most experienced sea-going kayak expert in the world.

My old paddle was a trophy to the winner of the Marathon Canoe Race, Carl Toovey, who rowed 100 miles on the Hawkesbury River, NSW, in 18 hours, 32 minutes.

Sailing men in Australia know me — I have been elected an honorary member of the NSW Canoe Club, and the kayak in which I arrived here has been presented to a member of the River Canoe Club.

But the mass of Australians did not know me at all — except, perhaps, as a name appearing from time to time in local newspapers which briefly recorded the progress of the earlier parts of my voyage.

Only a fuller account of the voyage will introduce me. I hope that it will convince you that I am a skilled kayakist — if I weren’t, there were many perilous occasions on the voyage when I should have perished. But I am lucky, also.

Only with luck was I allowed to survive to acquire the skill which brought me through hostile seas in the later parts of the voyage.

The original, primitively shaped kayak was used by the Eskimos for many centuries. More modern, streamlined kayaks, made of solid timber, have featured in the sport and recreation of Europe for many years. But these were no use to city dwellers. They could not cart a great boat home with them and park it in their town flats. And in Europe to hire a small boatshed or even to store a boat is too expensive for the ordinary man.

What was needed was a oat that would not only be safe for shooting rapids, and light for porterage, but which would collapse into a small bundle, easily carried by train or bus to the scene of the weekend’s sport.

The inventor of the faltboot kayak fulfilled all these requirements. It consists of a framework of very light, pliable timber stays, over which the fabric of laminated rubber and canvas fits like a skin.

So ingenious is its design that, once put together, it becomes as rigid as its all-timber prototype. Taken apart and packed, it can be stored in any odd corner in house or flat. There are single and two-seaters, weighing 40 and 65 pounds, respectively.

Continental railways cut freights for faltboots, to bring this recreation within the means of the masses. During summer, faltboots in the tens of thousands swarm over the rivers and lakes of Europe.

Dimensions? My double-seater kayak (I took the second seat out) weighed 65 pounds, was 18 feet long with a 33 inch beam and a freeboard of 9 3/4 inches. It carried a load of 650 pounds. With a good wind and a quiet sea it can do up to 6 1/2 knots. Loaded, and propelled by a lone paddler, it can do three knots.

Currents, of course, affect these speeds. Its sail measures 16 square feet, but a strong wind makes sailing risky. The rudder is worked by the feet, wire lines linking rudder to the foot control.

For my voyage I carried a spare paddle, a prismatic compass, sea charts, and ‘coastal pilots’ which show every landmark, every depth, every tiny inlet and cliff. I had two large waterproof brass containers for my films, cameras, and clothing. Fresh water went into small tanks shaped to the sides of the kayak — they held five gallons.

Fresh water, did I say? In many tropical places on my route the ‘fresh’ water was lurid green. So I also carried young coconuts, dependable for a germ-free drink; and condensed milk.

I have given the specifications of the faltboot. But my kayak proved to have qualities which even the maker never claimed for it. It won me friendships right across the world.

It was a first-class ticket to everywhere. A little restricted while one was actually travelling, more than a little perilous, but it brought me privileges which your passenger in an ocean liner’s de luxe suite can never know.

I will always remember meeting the Governor of British Baluchistan, Sir Norman Carter. A shooting party had bee arranged for him by the two local maharajahs, and a magnificent camp, complete even to triumphal gateways, had been erected near the beach.

It was just chance that I had landed on that beach a little earlier.

Sir Norman and his aides came walking down towards the beach. There to greet him, with colourful retinues and in all their regal splendor, were the Maharajahs of Kalat and of Las Bella. In turn, their names were announced to the Governor. He half-turned to his right, and bowed stiffly to the Maharajah of Kalat; then to the left, bowing just as stiffly to His Highness the Maharajah of Las Bella.

Then he saw me, dressed in informal shirt and pants taken from my watertight tank. Sir Norman hurried forward and shook my hand warmly. “Let me congratulate you, Mr Speck,” he said. “A splendid performance.”

He insisted on taking me to his marquee, and with his own hands served me with a drink which he listened to my story. Two jealous maharajahs waited outside for the shoot to begin.

Such welcomes are not guaranteed by the Pionier Faltboot Company, makers of my kayak, but they could be depended upon none the less. But let me get started on my journey…

In Hamburg I had been an electrical contractor, employing 21 hands. Then came the depression.

In 1932 my factory had no work, and I had to liquidate.

There seemed no hope for me in Germany. But I heard there might be work that I could do in the copper mines in Cyprus. I did not dream of going on the Australia then.

I had a little money – enough to equip my boat.

So, one morning I took my folded kayak and the supplies to Ulm by train. There, beside the Danube, I put the ash frame together, and pulled the rubber-and-canvas skin over it.

I loaded up, and, without any fuss or farewell from anyone, I set off to paddle down the river in the direction of the Mediterranean Sea.

By All Sane Standards, I Was Mad.

Faltboots are not built for the sea. If you must compare them with a land vehicle, there are most nearly related to the bicycle. On a bicycle you must keep pedalling and steering or you fall over. In a faltboot you may sail while the weather is kind, but you must be constantly active, constantly steering to bring the boat’s bow to the right position to meet every single wave.

Take just one wave wrong and your boat will spin sideways, you will turn over and be swamped. Your first capsize on the open ocean will be your last.

When the wind becomes strong you must take in your tiny sail and paddle. Sometimes I have had to paddle for 16 hours on end without a moment’s cessation.

Life becomes a dreary, endless monotony of paddling, arms and shoulders aching, and your whole body longing inexpressibly for one thing — sleep.

But you must not even doze for one moment. You must be constantly using the rudder, meeting each wave just right.

In larger boats, sailors pray when they get into difficulties. In bad weather in a kayak one also prays, but with both hands cramped around the paddle, both feet tense on the rudder bar. There are no long prayers, either — just one cry for survival, and how often this is repeated only God knows.

Praying for survival and working up an emotional fury against the elements — that is how one fights a storm. I had luck with the weather in the first part of my voyage, and only that luck enabled me to live to gain the skill and experience that brought me through the rest of it.

On my voyage I had 10 capsizes, but they always happened riding in through the surf, never at sea.

The kayakist learns that he has little to fear from oncoming waves taken at a right angle. But following waves must never come under the boat at a right angle. If one does, the tiny rudder will lift clear out of the water, control of the boat is lost, and it swings sideways and turns over. It is curtains.

Continue with part 2

Four Day Trip [50]

… – With a Difference



By Andre ‘Grasshopper’ Janecki

It was my 1st solo trip without my Mama…
No head winds, no currents, no big waves…
Plenty of food and water at call and a panoramic view all over Sydney CBD…
All legal and free… no need to even do your bed…
Not even a spare paddle or all the safety gear…
All I took was my Medicare Card!

Anyone interested ?

I would not like to stay another day in Sydney Hospital, but after all it was an experience on how to travel ‘fast & light’!

In short, what happened was that 7 days before my kayak launch I accidentally pierced my finger with a single, dry bristle that was coated in epoxy resin, which I carefully removed intact. For 6 days I noticed nothing, then 1 day before the launch, my finger suddenly turned into a Polish sausage.

As from today, I am back and my right index finger is in good shape too.

After all it resisted the surgeon’s knife, thanks to the rest of the body swallowing the following cocktail:

Benzylpenicillin: 1.2 grams, 4 times a day (intravenous poured)

Flucloxacillin 1.0 grams, 4 times a day (intravenous poured)

I will be kicking back more of these cocktails (in a tablet form), so no surfing for the next 10 days, hoping, that all of you like me, are ready for Arunas’ Hidden Valley weekend.

This looks like a good time where I can thank Master mixers like David and Dirk for their expert advice and recipes… without giving them the finger!

Flotsam & Jetsam [50]

The Fishkiller Files

By Mark Pearson

Survivor 2003

The ravenous paddler bit hard into the huge spider. A rear leg of the arachnid, still twitching, fell to the ground. Seizing his chance, the paddler’s watching companion snatched up the limb and stuffed the tasty morsel into his mouth.

Could this be the most revolting opening to a NSWSKC trip report ever? Well, it could well happen in Issue 53!

In a major scoop, Flotsam has uncovered a ‘Survivor’ epic currently being planned by a hardcore element of the South Coast Bruisers fraternity. A Flotsam reporter caught up with Trip Leader Gary ‘Deliverance’ Edmonds at his secluded training compound in the Wollongong hinterland, where he and his team are preparing for the expedition.

Edmonds told Flotsam, “The trip outline is simple… my group will kayak a section of wilderness coast in January 2003. What is different is that supplies on embarkation will be restricted to a small range of condiments and a reasonable amount of alcohol. The group’s mission will be to acquire enough food from natural sources along the way. It is a challenge but I’ve got every confidence in my lads.”

Asked about how the concept had got off the ground, Mr Edmonds, who has only recently returned from two years in the UK, said, “Well, even when in England I’d heard that the Club has had problems with controlling Homo Eroticism on longer trips… so I had the idea that if the guys were spending most of the time and energy paddling or looking for sustenance, there would be less temptation in, uhhm, other areas…”

Returning to the big issue, food, Mr Edmonds said, “It is hoped that seaweed will be the dietary mainstay as it is fairly slow moving so relatively easy to catch, even for us.”

The rugged Trip Leader added, “But one of my main worries is how the group will endure tough paddling conditions on a likely diet of boiled kelp and a few fried insects.”

To this end Mr Edmonds confirmed that, despite his personal unpopularity, Mark ‘Fishkiller’ Pearson had been offered a place on the trip, given his expertise as a protein hunter and trip reporter. However, Mr Pearson, at 82 kg and (according to some high-tech bathroom scales), only 16% of that in body fat, was apparently concerned at his ‘fitness’ for such a venture. On this, Mr Edmonds added, “Mr Pearson does have a point… the rest of the group probably has enough ‘love handle’ reserves to see it through the week without any food at all, but if the fish aren’t on, the skinny bastard might be literally starving within a couple of days…”

Flotsam attempted to contact Mr Pearson for confirmation of his involvement, only to be told by his Press Secretary that he was no longer cooperating with this column after the ‘distorted press’ he received in Flotsam & Jetsam in Issue 49.

All New!

The most unusual thing I’ve seen in ten years of kayaking, it curves and twists and sweeps as far as the eye can see… awesome… like something from a different time and space.

Just some spontaneous comments from gob-smacked viewers of Andre Janecki’s new and original design, Hybrid III. Triple-chined and with a ‘gondola’ like deck profile, Hybrid III may well redefine design parameters for sea kayaks in this new century.

Flotsam tracked down Mr Janecki and his devoted partner Catherine at his workshop in Surry Hills, where, over coffee and cake, he told our reporter in his delightful Polish lilt, “Well, my friend, I wanted to build not just a good kayak, but a very beeyyyuutifull kayak to honour my sweet Catherine. My new craft had to have a special shape… so I used my lovely lady’s flowing curves and fine features as the great inspiration for me and for my design… at first I was even going to call her Catherine but then I thought if this is so all the other men would be trying to take her out all the time and I would never get to go in her… so I called her Hybrid III… OK, not such a pretty name as Catherine but I like it and it is better for tax if you know what I mean… she will be a fine boat my Hybrid III, and I will love her on and off the water for many years to come I tell you, for she is beeyyyuutifull…”

A Flotsam Apology

On 03 August, the Executive organised a general meeting at Bundeena to discuss some crucial issues facing the Club. Although Flotsam had intended to publish a full report on this important event and its outcomes, this is unfortunately not possible due to the on-duty reporter falling asleep shortly after the first session.

Despite the reporter’s excuse that “sudden fatigue” had set in as a result of two glasses of wine and a long period of “over-stimulation” during the presentation by Amanda Whitaker, he has been suspended from duty forthwith. Flotsam offers it sincerest apologises to our readership.

Blown Away

One man who stayed wide awake, President Mercer, considered himself a lucky man after nearly losing some very precious items during the storm that lashed Bundeena that Saturday night.

On returning to the campsite after the meeting, our busy President was shocked to find his tent had disappeared. Worse still, there was no sign of his First Lady, the very petite Sharon! It took only seconds for the terrible truth to dawn… such had been the ferocity of the squall; the tent and its contents of sleeping bags, pillows and poor Sharon, had simply been blown away.

A concerned group of friends managed to follow the trail of pegs across the campsite, along a track, through a car park and down an embankment. There, half way up a tree near the water’s edge, they found Sharon, still in the tent but luckily unhurt!

A relieved Mr Mercer told Flotsam, “I thought I had it pegged down well enough, and with Sharon already in there, I thought there wouldn’t be a problem.”

But the rueful President added, “It was certainly a lesson well learned… I’ll be sure to lash her down more securely next time I leave the tent…”

Very Interesting

Meanwhile, Professor Andrew Eddy of Flotsam’s Science Department has carried out some interesting research after being inspired by the excellent BBC Production The Battleships recently shown on the ABC. Professor Eddy informed Flotsam, “Did you know that if you were to scale down the 247 metre German battleship Bismark to a sea kayak length of about 5.43 metres, its beam would be a whopping 79 cm, compared to the average 62 cm for our boats?”

“But,” Professor Eddy enthused, “the really interesting thing is, and I’ve run this through the computer several times, is that even with a steel hull, reinforced deck armour and complete superstructure, our Bismark sea kayak would still weigh less than a ten year old Greenlander!”

Tough Judgement at Tribunal

And there were dramatic scenes at the latest sitting of the NSWSKC Judicial Tribunal, where defendant Paul Loker was charged with contravening Club Regulation 28 XI (c) by Assisting a nuisance motorised vessel in distress. The incident occurred at Box Head in Broken Bay, where Loker apparently single-handedly towed a stricken speedboat out of danger after a wave swamped its engine.

Proceeding straight to sentencing after a guilty plea by the defendant, a sombre Judge Mercer delivered the following judgement; “I view this offence as very serious indeed; witness statements show that this motorised vessel was obstructing sea kayaks in their legal and proper attempts to ride waves, that the vessel was both noisy and smelly, and that the vessel was very probably being driven by a hoon of the marine variety. In essence, Mr Loker, your inexplicable action saved this craft from a fate that was well deserved!” “Therefore, it is beholden upon me, as Chief Justice of this Tribunal, to impose a penalty commensurate with the gravity of the offence. I hereby sentence you to 12 months paddling the Greenlander belonging to Mr Matthew Turner of Wollongong, NSW. Furthermore, I order that during this time you shall not seek assistance when carrying this craft to and from the water, or when loading the craft onto or off your vehicle. It is the Tribunal’s wish that the physical and emotional stress of this sentence serve as a warning to others who would so dishonour the core values of sea kayaking… take him down.”

Outside the Tribunal a shocked friend told Flotsam, “Of course Paul is devastated, and we shall be raising funds for an appeal… surely he didn’t deserve that sort of punishment for a first offence… just one moment of madness… he’s not a big bloke, that Turner boat’ll kill him.”

Later, a tribunal insider said that he thought that the harsh sentence was partly due to Loker’s membership of the renegade sea kayaking gang, The Sydney Push. The insider told Flotsam, “Two of its most notorious members, Stuart Truman and Alan Whiteman, have already served time for Jet ski sympathy offences in the past 18 months… Judge Mercer has obviously had enough of these people, and fair enough too…” .