The South Coast Cruisers Embark on a Voyage of Relaxation and Discovery
Many thousands of words have been written about hair-raising adventures in sea kayaks. Various intensely competitive paddlers, generally males, have circumnavigated continents, challenged icebergs and crossed ferocious straits.
Others of us, older, wiser, or, perhaps less muscular, are more in sympathy with Rats words in The Wind in the Willows “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”.
The previous summer, Nick Gill, Jacqui Windh and I had set out to paddle from Womboyn Lake on the far South coast of New South Wales to Wingan Inlet in Victoria. We thought we could at least get to Malacoota and back. It soon became apparent that Jacqui was more goal-oriented than we were. Four days of unremitting, howling northeasterlies pinned us down on the beach at Nadgee river. I was happy to go hiking and generally hang out. Jaqui fretted about our lack of progress. Nick, in the middle, suffered angst attacks. When the wind finally exhausted itself, we decided to head back to Womboyn Lake and end the trip.
Norm Sanders with the topsail schooner ‘One and All’ in Eden Harbour
This time, we made sure that everyone agreed that the goal was NOT to get anywhere in particular, but to have FUN.
Everyone turned out to consist of Nick Gill in his shiny new red Skerray, Jim Croft, a Puffin paddler, Jutta Mueller and John Caldwell in Seafarer Pluses (one an ex-Arunas Pilka craft which was familiar with these waters), and me in my big cedar stripper.
We had allocated some 10 days for the trip. Unfortunately, Jutta and John would only be able to spare a week because of job commitments. This made an already complex car shuffle even more difficult.
Undaunted, we soon came up with a plan. Nick, Jip and I would drive to Tathra, and prevail upon the ever-helpful Dave Winkworth to store our cars at his place. We would then take three days to paddle from Kianinny Bay to Eden, where we would meet John and Jutta at the Boydtown Caravan Park. From there, we would proceed to Malacoota where Nick had arranged for a bus to take us back to Eden. I rang Dave to seek his help. ‘Take three days from Kaininny Bay to Eden’ snorted that stalwart gentleman incredulously. ‘It’s only 40 kilometres. You could do it in a day’. I patiently explained that the whole point of the trip was NOT to do 40K in a day. He mumbled something about us being a bunch of wimps, then relented and more graciously offered to help.
But, as they say in the land of the haggis, “The best laid schemes o mice an’ men (I suppose it should be persons, but it doesnt have the same poetic effect) Gang aft a-gley.
On the day of departure, the wind was forecast to be a 20 to 25 knot southerly. A challenge to be surmounted? A chance to prove our manhood? Perhaps, but we decided to be at one with nature instead of engaging in confrontation. We simply changed our plans a bit, drove to the Boydtown caravan park where they cheerfully let us store our cars and paddle NORTH with the wind at our backs
In a single stroke, we had thrown off the shackles of modern society and returned to a less stressful era – a period where humans were in tune with wind and tide. It felt good. and was much easier paddling.
We left the Caravan park at 1440 on Sunday, 10 December. It was warm and overcast, with a 5 knot southerly wind blowing. As a part of my on-going campaign to convince the maritime establishment that sea kayakers aren’t just a bunch of salt-encrusted yobbos, I contacted Eden Coastal Patrol on the radio and informed them of our intentions. They were bemused, but friendly.
By the time we got to Mewstone Rock at the entrance to Twofold Bay, the wind had picked up to the predicted 20 knots from the southeast. The swell was about 3 metres with a one metre chop and occasional breaking crests. The clapotis off the rugged red cliffs added to the turmoil.
We were all fairly heavily loaded, with our full 10 days of supplies on board, but the kayaks were handling well. Jim used his rudder and Nick deployed his skeg. Being a crotchety old bugger, I have abandoned such frills.
Knowing that I would have a following wind, I loaded it stern-neavy (in marked contrast to the previous Nadgee trip where I had petulantly thrown 6 kg. of fruitcake into the bow of the boat)
Tigara tracked quite well, but I still found it easier to follow a zig-zag course, surfing down the crests and then turning across the wind for a few hundred metres. I was covering more water than the others, but keeping up. I was also having more fun on the surfing legs.
Long Beach looking north towards Quoraburagun Pinnacles
Our destination was Long Beach, to the north of Lennards Island. Dave had assured us that there was a good camping spot on level grass just behind the parking lot’. Um.
Jim and Nick had yielded to the subtle psychological proddings of Fish Killer, who was desperate to recruit the unwary young kayakers into being fellow practitioners of his pernicious habit.
Nick was using a hand line and Jim was creating a navigational hazard with a fishing rod mounted on deck. His line trailed a variable but generally large distance astern and was almost invisible. Both Nick and I had the unpleasant experience of having the silvery filament dragged across our decks as Jim paddled erratically back and forth — Nick even had the lure, hooks and all, flash across his face. Fish killing is a greater danger to co-paddlers than to fish, few of which were stupid enough to be caught.
Fish-killing Puffin, Jim and Norm, flathead and oyster, the plunder of the day
Not so a booby (actually an Australasian Gannet, Sula Serrator) which dove on Jim’s lure, sheered away at the last minute and got its wing entangled in the 1ine.
Jim and Nick bobbled about in the slop off Lennards Island, trying to free the panicked, pecking bird. They finally succeeded and joined me outside the surf line. The waves were one to two metres high and dumping. A crowd of surfers were further out on the point, revelling in the break. We slid up on the beach with no dramas at 1640 – 16 kilometres in two hours. Wonderful what a tailwind will do.
The parking lot was easy to find on the bluff overlooking the beach. 4 WD’s crowded the area. And, just as Dave said, there was a nice grassy patch behind. The only trouble was that we had to pitch our tents within about a metre of the road, which became a highway when all the surfers went home at dusk.
Nick was now reaping the reward for his generosity over the years when he paddled a Puffin and carried gear for people in less voluminous boats. Now that he had a Skerray, he had no space for such bulky items as stoves and tents, which Jim and I furnished for him.
There was a little stream nearby for water, which I treated with my Sweetwater filter to remove the Giardia. All in all, it was a good camp site and we settled in to enjoy the evening. We cooked up a (fishless) meal on my chip heater and sat around enjoying the convivial scene.
It rained during the night, but had stopped by the time we arose at 0700. I gave a position report to Merimbula Coastal Patrol, 15 Km to the north. The forecast was for more southerlies, which gave us food for thought as we had planned to paddle 15 Km south, past Eden to Mowarry Pt.
We tried to decide what to do as we ate our unusually sweet semolina and drank our totally exotic Milo. (The sugar hit and Milo were the direct result of closet sybarite Jim Croft’s participation in food procurement. At first, we were quite critical of the blatant luxury, but soon became addicted).
The recommencement of the rain decided for us. A 15 Km slog into wind and rain just didn’t appeal. We would stay at Lennards Island for another day. The fishkillers braved the elements for an hour or so, and were rewarded with two sea creatures:
Nick caught something fat and brown, while Jim landed what he called a salmon. Neither specimen was very large. We ultimately cut them up and made a kind of fish chowder with noodles. I longed for the simple Laksa dishes of the pre-fishkilling days.
We turned in to console our outraged digestive systems at 2000. It rained until about 0300 when the front passed and the skies cleared. The temperature dropped to 5 degrees, which caused Jim some discomfort in his lightweight summer bag. He stayed alive by “layering” in his unique, colourful, and copious collection of plastic underwear.
Tuesday, the 12th day of December, dawned with a burst of sunshine. A faint breeze ruffled the azure sea. However, the hourly coastal waters forecast on 2EC was threatening us with a strong and gusty southwesterly wind. It hit about 0900. We decided to dry out our gear and return to Eden the next moming. Nick and I paddled up Long Beach to the Quoraburagun Pinnacles, a collection of impressive fluted erosional features in the cliffs behind the beach. We scouted the area for good camping sites, but couldn’t find any which wouldn’t get flooded in a big sea. We pushed back against 25 knot gusts, just ahead of the squalls which came through all afternoon. It cleared again during the night. The air responded by rapidly losing heat until the thermometer dropped to 4 degrees, an occurrence which Jim took as a personal affront.
He responded well to treatment with suggary, hot semolina and we managed to be on the water at 0910. As befits those who flow with the natural rhythms, the Goddess provided a light northeasterly breeze, a warm sun, and sparkling water for our cruise along the spectacular rocky coastline. We had been here before, of course, but then we were hurtling along over a lumpy grey sea. Now we could enjoy the scenery.
The wind picked up to 10 knots as we rounded the Mewstone and headed for Eden. We landed on a little beach just north of the harbour at 1115 and wandered into civilization for some excellent fish and chips. (The Fishkillers having failed again). We then paddled around to the harbour to admire the topsail schooner One and All.
Finally, we cruised back to Boyotown wlth a 15 knot wind behind us. We hao already had a delightful four days and looked forward to another equally satisfying week. Jim and Nick drove into Eden to get more sugar and Milo while I waited for Jutta andJohn who arrived late in the afternoon.
The Boydtown Caraven park people kindly let us camp right next to the beach — and our kayaks. We were up at 0600, ate our semolina and managed to be on the water bu 0830.
A perfect morning: beautiful scenery and a light southwesterly to break up the glare. Nick and Jim trailed their lines and paddled off, grim-faced and determined. The elegant Jutta skimmed across the water like a swan. John set to work in his typical no-nonsense manner while I dreamed along, gazing deep into the clear water.
The idyllic ambience was destroyed as we approached the spectre of the woodchip mill with its obscene mountain of shattered Australian trees awaiting their shipnment to Japan.
We paddled quickly past and were soon off Red Point (which was, indeed red, and very dramatic with the white water of the surging waves frothing on the rocks). Capping the point was Boyds Tower, a sandstone structure with ornate crenalations on it’s summit. It is a combination Olde English folly and watchtower, built by Ben Boyd as a monument to himself snd a place from which to spot the whales upon which he based his fortune. Ben Boyd and the rest of the whalekillers are lonq since aone, but the whales are cominq back
The wind had swung around to the southeast and increased to 15 knots. We paddled into Mowarry Beach and landed at 1045 to await further developments. We would have been quite happy to camp at Mowarry, but were keeping our options open. Mowarry is an old farm which is now part of Ben Boyd National Park. There is water in farm dams up the creek beds and a wonderful campsite on a grassy bench near the beach.
We explored nearby Farm Cove on foot. This cove offers more sheltered camping near the forest and huge goannas. We later paddled around and landed on the beach. The soft, green grass was dotted with clover blossoms and bathed in warm sunshine An afternoon snooze was irresistible.
By 1600, the wind had died to 10 knots and we reluctantly returned to the sea. Our goal was Bitangabee Bay which we reached at 1830 in a dead calm. We had paddled about 21 km that daq, with no stress whatsoever.
Bitangabee sports a huge National Parks campground, with water and even toilets. (Also lots of 4WD’s in season.) We wasted little time there, arising at 0530. Jim revelled in the overnight temperature – 17 degrees! The warmth made packing up easier and we were on the water at 0815. It was overcast with a light northeasterly wind which we enjoyed, reaching the infamous Green Point by 0915. This is the gateway to Disaster Bay. The point itself has claimed a number of victims, most recently the fishing boat Terra Star. Nick almost added himself to the 1ist.
We knew there were bomboras off the point and were giving it what we considered to be a wide berth. Nick was in the lead when a huge wave surged up and started to break in front of him. He paddled hard up the rapidly steepening slope and shot into the air as the crest collapsed behind him. The broken wave angrily dashed itself against the rocks on the point, annoyed at the escape of Nick and the red Skerray.
Once well past the point, we stopped for refreshments snd a natter. Nick was still running on pure adrenalin. Ahead of us was an open water passage of 10 km across the mouth of Disaster Bay. We would be 5 km from shore for most of the paddle. The wind obligingly increased to 15 knots from the northeast to speed us on our way.
We reached the beautiful haven of Merica River at 1130. The tide was running into the river and the surf was miniscule. We had an easy entry and paddled up the river in the sunshine after a delightful 18 km on the ocean. No 4WD’s here. The only access is by sea or foot. We set up camp and then took naps. Later in the afternoon, some of us paddled up the river to the fresh water pools to fil1 containers and take baths. The sheer rock walls reminded me of some sections ofthe Franklin River.
Meanwhile Jim was catching an enormous flathead which has caused his mentor, the old Fish Killer himself, to display alternate jealousy and disbelief. Feeling proud and vindicated, Jim cooked the Flathead along with a mess of oysters over coals that evening. Living was good (at least for us at the top of the food chain). We were in no hurry to leave this miraculous place.
The weather cooperated in keeping us there. On 16 Dec, Saturday, Nick’s birthday, the wind was forecast to reach 30 knots from the southeast by 1030. We voted unanimously to stay put to better celebrate the anniversary of Nick’s arrival on the planet. John and Jutta eventually wandered up the river while Jim, Nick and I went surfing. Weary from our labours, we had a nap in the afternoon.
The birthday boy is allowed to sit on the sacred stool and expound on the virtues of his mighty Skerray to an enthralled John C.
The next day, we were up (most of us, anyway) at the customary 0530. The wind was forecast to be northeasterly at 30 knots. We got packed up in the sunshine and drifted out of Merica river on the outgoing tide at 0820. We were all very thankful to the river for the wonderful time it had shown us.
My logbook entry for that day says: “Lovely day. Wind light NE at first, then 15-20 knots. Arrived Nadgee River 1120. 18 kms. I didn’t record the rugged cliffs, sea caves, forested mountains and magnificent stretches of sandy beaches we passed on our way south.
Nick, Jacqie and I had spent four days previously at the “Nadgee Hilton”, an elaborate campsite buried in the coastal scrub at the south end of the beach. It was a good place to camp, but a bit gloomy. This Mme we landed in one metre surf at the river mouth and camped on the north side of the river.
Power-boated Fishkillers had been there before us and had strewn the area with plastic and tin cans, some still unopened and full of food. We cleaned up the site, added the food to our supply, and set up camp on the grassy terrace. A black snake ambled out of the rocks surrounding the fireplace as we moved in. We never saw it again.
We then paddled up the Nadgee River until we got stopped by fallen logs. In contrast to Merica, with its gorge, Nadgee was wide open and flat. “Different from Merica but very nice’ says my journal. The water at the lop jams was brackish and barely drinkable. We drifted back down the river and walked to the soak behind the ssnd dunes at the south end of the beach. Our track led us to the Nadgee Hilton where Jim, Jutta and John salvaged some rat-chewed blue foam sleeping mats, which they cut up for picnic seats
Nick and Skerray, about to do a log limbo at the navigable limit of the Nadgee River
There was plenty of water ln the soak, but it was seething wlth wildlife. My filter found it tough going. We still had ample supplies of water and knew we could get more by hiking up the river to Harry’s hut.
Nick, Jim and I prepared another fishless dinner, composed of noodles, Tom Yum Goom and dried bean curd. John and Jutta produced their customary culinary triumph of fresh veggies from their garden.
When we finally turned in, we were congratulating ourselves on our good fortune at being here.
The night was warm and moist. A northeast wind blew, strengthening towards dawn. Just the wind to take us to Malacoota! We were up at 0530. The forecast was for northeasterHes early, shifting to southwest later in the day. Go for it!
We launched into the river at 0815. The northeasterly had created a 1 to 2 metre chop, with waves close together. There were few lulls. Nick tried to get out first and got trashed, washing back up on the beach. John made it, then Jutta utilized impeccable timing to cruise out to sea, followed bg Jim and I. Nick got himself sorted out and tried to follow us just as a train of 2 – 3 metre waves arrived in the area. Nick accomplished a magnificent back flip and ended up on the beach again. We bobbed about offshore while he bailed out the Skerray and then appeared to be inspecting something on his boat very closely.
Nick and I both had 27 Mhz radios. I waved my paddle energetically until he got on the air to ask me why I was waving my paddle. I took the opportunity to ask him about his situation. He said nothing was broken, but he was tired. About this time, a big grey roll cloud pushed across from the southwest, hours ahead of the forecast.
There was no need for a discussion. We all managed to get back on the beach and paddled up the river to our old campsite. We were very happy to be on solid qround with the wind whistinq harmlessly overhead.
We decided to take the opportunity to go for a hike inland across the moors to Harry’s hut, an old farmhouse up the Nadgee river. Not all the party went. Jim elected to stay behind to kill fish, an effort which ultimately went unrewarded.
We carried water bottles and my filter to take adventage of the plentiful supply in the river. After an hour’s hike, we reached the hut. It was warm, we were salty, so we all stripped off and dove into the delicious water. I was standing knee deep in the river, surrounded by water bottles, when a 4WD lurched into view. A bearded man jumped out and proclaimed, “No skinny dipping in the National Park. You’re all under arrest!
My companions melted into the shrubbery to get their gear back on. I was encumbered by my filter and water bottles and took the full brunt of the events which fol1owed. I thought I was about to join noted miscreant Arunas Pilka, who among other things, had been booked for camping on the wrong side of a log at Jervis Bay.
As it turned out, the bearded gentleman was just having a little joke. He was a biologist on his way to study the wily bristlebird. The driver of the vehicle got out. She WAS the Ranger. I was still standing in mid-river, clad only in a 1.5 liter PET bottle.
“You don’t need to filter the water here’ she said helpfully. “There’s no Giardia in the river — or the soaks”.
We exchanged pleasantries and then she asked me to wade around to find the most shallow part of the river so she could drive across. I did so. She got back in the 4WD and expertly ploughed through the water and up the bank to the hut, where she parked. Once fully clothed, we followed.
We told the Ranger we had found a bunch of trash at Nadgee river. Oh Dear; she said. I suppose I’11 have to go clean it up. I just had the place looking nice too”
“Never fear; said we “The campsite is as pristine as ever. We stowed all the trash in our kayaks. She expressed great gratitude. Chalk up another plus for sea kayak public relations.
The Ranger and the bristlebirder hoiked their packs out of the truck and started to smear Aerogard on their bodies. Ticks said the Ranger. There was a case of Lume disease at Pambula. This was bad news indeed. I didn’t know that the debilitating disease had made it across the Pacific from it’s home in the US. We had already plucked several of the little monsters from our skin.
They headed off on foot to the bristlebirding grounds near Nadgee Lake and we returned to camp I discovered three ticks dug into my dermis. I removed two myself, but needed Nick’s help to dislodge the third which was under my beard on the corner of my jaw. The tick infestations itched for weeks, but I suffered no further effects.
My log reads: “Got 1700 weather forecast for NE to NW to S to SW winds north of Gabo Island. South of Gabo — 40 knot SW, 4-E m. seas. North or South tomorrow? Womboyn Lake or Malacoota?”
Womboyn Lake was the closest place which had easy road access. The bar could be nasty, but was generallu passable.
By 0530 when we got up, the wind was belting across from the southwest. The forecast was for gales east of Gabo Island — where we were. The radio reported snow flurries in the mountains. Womboyn Lake was the only sensible way to go.
We paddled out of the river at 0830, 19 December — our ninth day. The waves were up to 3 metres high, but there were distinct lulls. Everybody had made it out during a quiet period. I left the beach at the tail end of the lull.
Something didn’t look right. There was a large black hole in my foredeck. I hadn’t fastened the hatch cover! I considered continuing on — I was almost out. Then I thought better of it and went back to the beach. The hatch cover was hanging on its lanyard. I snapped the shock cord over it and launched back into the surf. Unfortunately, the lull was over. I paddled furiously at the approachlng wave. I thought I was going to make it, but it walled up and broke. I remember seeing the bow of Tigara punch through the inside of the tube. The cascade of water twisted me around and I turned over.
I rolled up, thankful that I had practiced rolls with a fully laden boat before. The next wave came at me like a bus. This time, I shot over the crest and finally reached safety outside the surf line. I paddled excitedly over to the rest of the party to recount my escape. They listened politely and admitted that they hadn’t been watching.
We paddled north in the blustery wind, sheltering next to the cliffs. We were shielded from the worst of the gusts, but had to contend with the massive rebound created by the 3 metre waves. The wind became more of a factor when we hit the exposed sea off Newtons Beach. Finally, we reached the cliffs again and coasted into the welcoming waters of Merica river at 1230.
The place was littered with sea kayaks: 3 Greenlanders, 1 Pittarak single and, around the corner, Larry Gray in his Pittarak double. The Greenlanders and single Pittarak were from Eildon, Victoria. Two of the party had recently spent over three months cruising around the Kimberly Coast. All the kayaks had come out of Womboyn Lake.
We had lunch, boiled the billy, chatted, and finally returned to the sea at 1400. It would have been nice to spend another night at Merica, but Nick was very eager to get back to Canberra where the love of his life awaited him.
Once in Disaster Bay, the wind died, the swells disappeared and it started to drizzle. The Womboyn Bar turned out to be benign and we were standing at the launching ramp swatting sand flies by 1600.
We paid the owner of the caravan park $2 each for hot showers and $40 to transport us to Boydtown to retrieve our cars — on this trip, even the car shuffle was painless.
We soon regretfully went our different ways. We didn’t reach Malacoota, but nobody really minded. Goals are merely there for convenience. The journey itself is the real destination.