Entertaining the Locals at Bermagui [26]

By David Whyte

My birthday was coming up and it coincided with the club’s annual pilgrimage to Montague Island. Great, I thought, heres a chance to have a birthday I will remember. Jeff Luck and myself headed down on the Friday night , he was keen to give his new Tasman 19 a run.

The first sign of a bad omen was when we called in for fish and chips at Batemans bay. There was a sign in the shop ‘no fresh fish – seas too rough’.

Once we set up camp at Mystery Bay the night was quite calm and clear and looked promising for a nice day. Everyone gathered down at the Bay for a 9:00 departure but the conditions looked a bit rough. There were substantial waves breaking over the rocks and the chance of smashing some boats looked very good (a bit too good as it turned out). It was high tide and it would be much worse on the return journey.

Mystery Bay – just paddle out 10 metres, turn hard right through the rocky gutter for 20 metres, then hard left between those two pinnacles and then hit the main break …

Lots of humming and huhing went on, in fact for about 2 hours before two brave souls went out for a paddle to see what it was like. After much discussion three groups developed. One group to go to the island and back, one to paddle down to Bermagui with the others to drive down to Bermagui with the cars for some safe paddling. I decided to got for safe option to avoid damaging my kayak ( I can still hear the gods laughing). Seven of us headed off: a double Pittarak, Tasman 19, Artic Raider, Sea farer, Rosco and my Estuary.

The harbour looked quite calm as we drove past. We found a small inlet near the road. Before departing Mark Pearson asked ‘do you have somewhere safe for my car keys’. I had a small yellow canoe bag so I put them in there, nice and secure in my brand new VCP hatch. We put the canoes in and paddled down and out to the mouth of the channel. It was now quite choppy, so we sat watching it for a while. We were slowly getting dragged out with a sudden increase of current towards the mouth. By this time it was quite nasty and very choppy with short steep waves. Mark and I turned around and started heading back in. Most of the others already had, except Jeff who had continued out through the bar thinking the others were following.

The waves started following us in when one flipped me over and left me upside down in the middle of the channel. Shit, I thought, this is not a good place to be upside down in a kayak; especially when I cant roll. I did a wet exit and when I came up I realised then that it was very likely I would lose my boat. I made one attempt to get back in but, the boat was full of water and in the chop it was too unstable. The current started taking me out through the surf. I just needed to get clear of the waves and I could bail it out and re-enter , or move around the breakwater and onto the beach. But, alas, the current changed and I started heading for the wall.

I wasnt going to be able to bail it out in time before I hit the breakwater so I hung on and as the swell went up the wall I went up with it and left the boat, fortunately Im very agile on my feet and was at the top of wall before the next wave came. I turned around at the top and looked down, it was like leaving the family pet at the vets to be put down. The waves just lifted it up and smashed it on the rocks. Full of water it just broke in three and the drifted out the harbour around the corner heading for the beach. And there, out at sea, bobbing up and down like a little cork, was my yellow canoe bag with Marks keys in it.

By this time it seemed that the entire population of Bermagui was down at the breakwater watching. I swam out and retrieved the keys and then Neil Hockley and I swam out and pulled the kayak through the surf. It didnt look healthy. Meanwhile Jeff was still out past the surf wondering what had happened to everyone. He managed to skilfully surf back inside the channel but wondered why everyone was watching him with a hungry look in their eyes.

David Whyte and his modified Estuary

Jutta Caldwell’s modified Seafarer

We collected all the pieces together then the others went back for the cars. Jeff found a note under his windscreen saying.

‘To the unfortunate paddler, I captured your incident on video – if you would like a copy phone me in a week on … Darrel’.

While we were putting the remains of the kayak on the car a fellow turned up, saying his friends had just phoned him saying there was entertainment to be had down at the breakwater. He was a bit disappointed when he found out there were no kayaks being smashed. When I got back I found out that I wasnt the only one to break my kayak, just that I had done the best job.

I have since contacted Darrel and seen the video. The quality is good and there are some good shots of the group heading out. He had caught Mark, Jeff and myself near the entrance and when Jeff continued on out he followed him out until someone pointed out that one of kayakers was down. By the time he swung back I had already surfaced. He did capture me clambering up the rocks, the dying moments of the Estuary as it was smashed against the rocks, and Jeff risking his new boat coming back in. It was certainly a weekend Ill remember, especially as its now on video.

(Copies of David’s home video are available for $19.95 from the Club – all proceeds will go to buying a new kayak for David – Ed)