By Ron Chambers
Situated where New South Wales “bends” into Victoria, Mallacoota Inlet is some 580 km by road from Sydney and 490 km from Melbourne. The locals say that the weather here can be unsettled, and attribute this to it’s position on the boundary of the temperate and cool temperate zones – sort of perfect one minute, diabolical the next!
In Victoria, the 86,000 ha. Croajingolong National Park merges with NSW 14,000 ha. Nadgee Nature Reserve and 9,000 ha. Ben Boyd National Park, yielding over 100 kilometres of near- coastline stretching from the Cann River in Victoria to Twofold Bay in NSW.
Sea kayaking conditions are somewhat different from those prevailing around Sydney. The coastline is more rugged, the beaches are fewer and smaller and the weather is less predictable. There are far fewer people.
On December 15, 3 paddlers from the NSW Sea Kayak Club journeyed south to Mallacoota for a week of sea kayaking with 9 of their Victorian colleagues. It was to be a week of thrills, spills, challenge, learning, fun and friendship in a most beautiful part of Australia.
Lead by Frank Bakker, the plan was to spend a few days at Mallacoota to allow some of the less experienced paddlers to get their “sea legs” and to prepare all of us for the journey ahead.
Chris Mills and Ron Chambers (who had travelled from Sydney together) were greeted on arrival by everyone departing for a paddle from the Mallacoota camping area to a place called Gypsy Point, some 13 Km upstream, for dinner and a cleansing ale at the pub. Never backward in coming forward (especially at the prospect of a paddle to a pub), Chris had no sooner parked his car before he and his Nordkapp were in the water pointed in the general direction of the Gypsy Point Pub, (all in the name of preparation, of course!).
I decided to join Andrew Cope and drive a couple of the cars to Gypsy Point to bring back those paddlers who were too tired and emotional to make the return paddle which Frank had proposed.
As it happened, both the land and water contingents arrived at Gypsy Point at 1955 hours, with the cook refusing to take any orders after 2000, so it was a case of the land party ordering what they thought the water party might like. An interesting way to go to dinner! Of course, there was no problem whatsoever in ordering refreshments, so a good time was had by all.
The night paddlers (Frank, Bruce, Chris and Julia), hit the water at about 2130 for the return, whilst the remaining boats were loaded on the cars and returned to camp for a well earned rest.
I know the paddlers got back at about half-past midnight because I was awakened by the sound of someone peeing in a cup just outside my tent. Actually, it turned out to be Chris, Frank and Bruce pouring themselves a nightcap of cask port – something to make them sleep they said (likely story)! Anyway, they reported next morning that apart from not knowing where they were (no moon and no nav. beacons “just keep heading right until you hit something hard then ease a little to the left”, said Frank), it was an uneventful trip made very beautiful by the phosphorescence in the water. Julia also reported that Chris’s endless supply of jokes kept her spirits up.
Sunday, December 16 saw us heading South-West of Mallacoota looking for a suitable place to land for lunch. With three experienced paddlers with us (Frank Bakker, Andrew Cope and Colin Addison), this was the acid test; if we survived, we could go on the trip!
The first test was Mallacoota bar. An ebb tide was producing half to one-metre waves on the bar which made for an interesting departure; good timing was needed but apart from that, it was fairly straightforward. Andrew and Colin positioned themselves at strategic points in the surf whilst Frank made sure that only one paddler was in the surf at one time because an out-of-control boat could cause big problems in these conditions (as we were to find out on another day).
Once through the surf, it was an easy paddle with a 5 to 10 knot easterly breeze keeping us company. At around 1100, Frank, Andrew and Colin started to look for a suitable place to land, not easy on this part of the coast with a largish surf coming up on the falling tide. The leaders settled on Quarry Beach.
Quarry Beach proved to be difficult because of the very narrow (about 10m) beach area. All the otherwise likely spots had large and nasty rocks in the way. Everyone (except me, I’m afraid) made it to the beach without mishap, although it was a slow process, taking as long to land, as it did to paddle from Mallacoota (about 1.5 hours).
Through a combination of impatience and ignorance, I mistimed the break and got creamed right in the suds. By the time I had my boat upright, Colin was by my side to steady it for me whilst I made a quick re-entry and headed out to sea to drain the cockpit and try again. The Venturi bailer I fitted would not drain quickly enough, so Colin pumped me dry with his Henderson “Chimp” and buddy pipe (ie a long inlet pipe which can reach into another cockpit). Thanks to Colin for his quick response in difficult circumstances. Second go was no problem.
After all this excitement, we all enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the sun and discussed the finer points of staying alive in rough ocean water in a pitifully small and frail craft, (also known as sea kayaking).
The return journey was quite straightforward; even Mallacoota bar offered no problems, although the last of the ebb tide left so little water over the entrance that we had to drag the boats into the deeper water of the estuary. What was left of the afternoon was spent rolling (or trying to roll), practicing support strokes and saying farewell to Andrew, Colin, Julia, Ed. and Christine, with thanks for their help and good companionship.
Frank decided that we would be heading for Eden on the morrow, Monday December 17, after Alice Hesse and Mark Reeves arrived from Melbourne.
… To be continued so stay tuned for the next exciting episode