Simon’s Epic Voyage [25]

By Simon Stenhouse

(story courtesy of Burley Griffin Canoe Club)

The NSWSK would like to advise it’s readers that the following article is rated MA – It contains violence (mainly against pigs!)

Mid-January, 1995

As the elbow pain from climbing increased, so to did the realisation that I must find a new sport. But What?

Then one day I saw an ad in the gym for a although the ad actually read: ‘K1 as used in Seoul Olympics, $400’. Sounded too good so I bought it, took it down to the lake and fell out of it.

Around this time, Nick, a good friend and I hatched a plan over a few beers to paddle around the tip of Cape York from Mossman, near Cairns, in sea kayaks. As the best weather doesn’t occur up north until around July, that left a few months for some hard training in the ‘K1’, if only I could stop falling out. One day while floundering around near the lake shore, I met the legendary Jacko who informed that what I had was a TK1.

‘Is that like a K1?’

‘No, the TK is very stable and easy to paddle.’

After 10 months I can start believing that!

I was put in touch with the BGCC who, as we all know, are an incredibly friendly mob who race the clock/each other every Sunday up the Molonglo.

After managing to stay afloat during the start of my first time trial, I promptly fell in at the first turn. This caused me great embarrassment but contrary to my thoughts that people would point and giggle at the guy who fell out, everyone pretended not to notice. How Polite! That first time trial took around 56 minutes and gave me two goals:

  1. Don’t fall out.
  2. Get under 50 minutes

I eventually got the hang of (a), but (b) eluded me until recently.

The next paddling highlight was the 24-hour TK1 relay. What can I say about that? You just had to be there to appreciate the effort put in by paddlers and land crew in such adverse conditions.

The weather became colder in Canberra which meant that it was time to head north to sunny Queensland for the winter. From my diary:

22 June: Left Canberra for the epic journey to Cape York. Camped at Myall Lakes

23 June: Paddled around Myall Lakes, fed a dingo a spoonful of honey, camped at Crowdy Bay National Park.

24 June: Swimming, surfing at Byron Bay.

25 June: Drove to Murwillumbah, paddled up the Tweed River. Went to Pub to watch the Kostya Tsyu Fight. Camped on Mt. Warning.

26 June: Climbed Mt. Warning, awesome views. Got lost in Brisbane. Swam at Noosa. Camped under railway bridge near Gympie.

27 June: Don’t EVER camp under a railway bridge. Drove to Mary River Heads and paddled over to Fraser Island and made camp. Learnt about sandflies.

28 June: Paddled back to the car and drove to Bundaberg for a tour of the rum distillery. Made camp at Miriam Vale.

29 June: Camped in a spooky place near Mackay. Dingoes howling all night and bats flying in ones face.

30 June: Drove to Airlie Beach. Had four steaks each for dinner and then went to the Pub for a gutful of lagers but left just before the wet T-shirt competition started.

01 July: Spent the day kayaking, snorkelling and spearfishing.

02 July: Went paddling in rough seas near Ayr. Practised eskimo rolling. Discovered that climbing coconut trees is not easy. Caught a mudcrab on a wallaby tail. Camped near Townsville.

03 July: Bought a shotgun in Townsville. Caught the Ferry to Magnetic Island to spend a few days with Sally.

04 July: Paddled part way around Magnetic Island. The sea was rough and Nick capsized. Later we discovered that we were paddling in a tiger shark breeding ground. Practised eskimo rolling. Got on the turps.

05 July: Bad weather, big sea. Went fishing. Surfing in sea kayaks until Nick crashed into a rock and put a hole in his boat. Went to the Pub to checkout the Cane Toad Races.

06 July: Caught the Ferry back to Townsville. Bought $129 of groceries. Swam at Jourama Falls. Camped near Hinchinbrook Island.

07 July: Swimming, bushwalking at Mossman Gorge. Patsy Norris, manager of the Mossman Art Gallery, volunteered to mind the car while we paddled north. Spent all afternoon trying to pack the boats.

09 July: Fishing in the morning, bream for lunch, mudcrabs for dinner. Swimming in Mossman Gorge.

10 July: Mailed two food parcels to Cooktown and one to Lockhart River. Started paddling for Cape York at 11:30. Pulled in at Snapper Island. Nick hit a coral reef. Coconuts for afternoon tea, fish for dinner.

11 July: Mossie nets are no shield from sandflies. Today we paddled past the most scenic coastline Ive ever seen. Beautiful sandy beaches overhung by coconut trees with a backdrop of rainforested mountains with their peaks shrouded in mist. Saw a reef shark. Camped at Pilgrims Beach, just north of Cape Tribulation.

12 July: 25 km. The sea was dead flat and glassy today. Made camp at Cedar Bay. Rainbow lobster and coconuts for afternoon tea. Feral pigs and feral people abound here!

13 July: 25 km. Saw 14 sea kayakers on a guided tour today. Camped at Archer Point. Met a couple of paddlers camped nearby. Mudcrab for dinner.

14 July: 15 km. Paddled into Cooktown with our two new friends, Andrew and Lisa from Daintree. Made camp in Cooktown Backpackers. Had a few beers with Andrew and Lisa in the Pub.

15 July: Picked up food parcels from Post Office. Packed the boats, watched the sunset from the lighthouse on Grassy Hill. Another night at the Backpackers.

16 July: 20 km. Left Cooktown Jetty at 9:00 am with a strong wind from ESE. Very choppy seas. Camped just S of Cape Bedford.

17 July: 25 km. Couldnt eat this morning due to crook guts. Decided to tackle Cape Bedford despite strong winds and heavy seas. Although we were never far apart, we could not often see each other due to the height of the waves. As we rounded the Cape, the waves started to reflect off the cliffs which made it very difficult not to capsize. Once around the Cape however, conditions became more pleasant.

18 July: Windy as buggery all day. We were both rolled by freak waves. Made camp at Cape Flattery Silica Mine.

19 July: 30 km. Very windy, collided with a turtle. Made camp near Lookout Point. Have to start catching food if we are to make it to Lockhart River. I caught two fish and Nick caught a 120 lb boar eating our Christmas Cake out of the kayak so he killed it with the machete and we ate a portion of its rump.

20 July: 40 km. Saw many stingrays, turtles and a dugong. Very windy. Camped at Jeanie Creek Point.

21 July: 25 km. 30 knot winds, waves 2-3 m high. Made camp on the sheltered side of Red Point. On the beach there was a huge boar, a feral bull and some crocodile prints. Tonight I will sleep with my machete, Bowie knife, Swiss army knife, shotgun and powerhead. Ate about 40 black lipped oysters for afternoon tea. Found some dugong teeth.

22 July: 28 km. Bloody windy as usual. Stopped at Barrow Point for a feed of oysters for lunch. Made camp at North Bay Point. There were two dingoes eating a turtle carcass on the beach.

23 July: 25 km. Paddled to Cape Melville today. The mountains here are composed entirely of granite boulders in piles up to 650 m high. We have now seen more turtles than seagulls. Five fish for dinner.

24 July: A pair of yachties came ashore and gave us a bag of over-ripe bananas. I ate 10, Nick ate 2. Very strong winds. It took us 2 hours to paddle 7 km in the morning. Nick was suffering from exhaustion this afternoon as he did not have the 8 banana advantage.

25 July: 10 km. An easy day out today in preparation for Princess Charlotte Bay. Bream for lunch, oysters for afternoon tea, bream and mudcrabs for dinner. Saw turtles, dugongs and some weird looking dolphins.

26 July: 54 km. On the water by 7 am for the big traverse of Princess Charlotte. We were quite nervous about paddling so far out to sea but after a while the nerves were replaced with the shits. Today was the first windless day since Cooktown. We camped on the Cliff Islands near a sign that said, Cliff Islands Nature Park. NO Camping. We you can slap my wrists and call me naughty because I am not moving. Saw many dolphins and sharks. Oysters and fish for dinner.

27 July: 14 km. Slept in, paddled to Exanson Point.

28 July: 34 km. Dropped into Port Stewart for some water from a hermit called Allen. He also furnished us with an army ration pack which really made our day as our rations are getting very low indeed. Camped at Roberts Point.

29 July: Strong wind. Damper and honey for lunch followed by a siesta. We awoke to find a mob of pigs rooting their way down the beach towards us. Nick crept over to the kayaks to assemble the shotgun. He shot a sow but it didnt drop, however we managed to catch 3 piglets by chasing them down the beach and kicking them over. Made camp near the Nesbit River where we saw a 15 long crocodile. Roast piglet for dinner.

30 July: 33 km. Rainy day. Had shot a huge boar but didnt drop it. Black lipped oysters for afternoon tea. Camped 13 km N of Cape Sidmouth.

31 July: 44 km. Big day today to get us closer to Lockhart River as our food has run out. Raining. Stopped at Old Lockhart River Mission which is deserted. The previous inhabitants just got up and walked off leaving houses, boats, tractors, generators just to rot. Camped nearby.

01 August: 36 km. Rained throughout the night. Paddled around Cape Direction which is very beautiful. Arrived at Lockhart River Community at 3 pm and went directly to the shop for a junkfood fix. I met a one-armed aboriginal who refused to believe that we were risking our lives with crocodiles for no money whatsoever. Camped on the beach.

02 August: Picked up our food parcel from the P.O. Lazed around on the beach.

03 August: 30 km. Paddled around the fantastically beautiful Cape Weymouth and into Portland Roads (Pop. 14). Met a lovely old woman named Barbara who cooked us barramundi for dinner and topped up our water supply. She also gave us some blessed healing cloths and warned us about the little people.

04 August: 10 km.

05 August: 26 km. Unusual coastline here. Mountains of granite boulders rising straight out of the sea interspersed with dense rainforest vegetation. It,s Raining. Nick’s boat is leaking and mine is also needing repair.

06 August: Yesterday’s fibreglass repairs have not set due to continuous rain and cool weather. Mudcrabs and oysters for lunch.

07 August: 35 km. Resin is dry although it is still drizzling in ‘Beautiful one day, Perfect the next,’ Queensland. Had lunch on a reef exposed by low tide, several kilometres from shore. Camped behind some dunes somewhere in northern Queensland.

08 August: 30 km. Porridge cooked in coconut milk is scrumptious. Strong winds and big waves made paddling a real bastard today until we rounded Cape Grenville and had the wind at our backs. Camped on the W end of Margaret Bay. Lesson for the day: Don’t cook your spaghetti in sea water.

09 August: 10 km. Walked inland in search of water. Found some in a swamp. Pulled in on a sandbar for morning tea and became trapped by the receding tide. In next to no time our boats were 400 m from the sea so we had to wait for the tide to turn in order to leave. Made camp at Joh’s Spaceport.

10 August: 35 km. Had morning tea under the biggest sand dunes that I have ever seen. White Point, on Shellburne Bay. Very windy. Rammed a turtle and bent my rudder. Camped just N of Red Cliffs.

11 August: 17 km. Gale Force winds all night, huge waves. Nick has been rolled four times this morning, once end over end and the fourth time, into the rocks, causing a fair bit of damage to the boat. Far too rough to paddle any further today. Camped 500 m S of Captain Billy Landing. Saw a 12 croc.

12 August: 22 km. A couple of campers gave us their left over supplies which provided us with some sense of relief as we were nearly starving. This afternoon I stood on a stingray.

13 August: Strong winds and rain all night. Fought through big waves all day. Camped at Usher Point.

14 August: 50 km. A lovely, warm, sunny morning. Light wind, small waves. I snapped my paddle getting into the kayak and got a palmful of carbon fibre splinters. Luckily I was carrying tweezers and a spare paddle. Had lunch on Turtle Head Island. After lunch we paddled past Jacky Jacky Creek to a campsite near Fly Point.

15 August: 14 km. Arrived at Cape York this morning.

Simon’s Epic Voyage will continue in the next issue of the magazine as we follow his adventures around the Cape and back to life in the city.