South Coast News [27]

By Dave Winkworth

Aargh! The pressure is getting to me.

The ‘Hall of Shame” is always there like the Sword of Damocles! After the Editor’s latest fax I needed a drink….so I reached over at my desk, grabbed a bottle and slugged it all down in one gulp, It was ink, but it was all I had. I sat there blotting my teeth.

Well ,where to start? Down here on the far South Coast, river catchments are small and many coastal lakes would only be open to the sea say once every 2-3 years…that is if local councils would leave them alone. Sadly this is not the case. If your retaining wall or vegie patch at mean high water is going under, call the council and they’ll pull the plug on the lake for you no risk.

Recently, the Bega Valley Council opened Wallagoot Lake to the sea. This lake sits right in the middle of Bournda National Park and there are signs everywhere extolling the virtues of a pristinenatural environment. Not really bulldozer tracks are visible in the sand and commercial fishermen net it for 6 months of the year whether it is open or closed to the sea. During the prawning season, hundreds of amateur prawners trample the wetlands and seagrasses, carve new tracks through the bush and light fires in the sand all along the channel. What a mess! How are your local lakes fairing?

Still warm enough for a quick dip down here but only just! Water temperature last week was 18.5C and on the way down. The swell has returned to the south east for the winter and the south westerlies are picking up a bit. Still, we can look on the bright side! It’s only a few weeks until the winter solstice (shortest day) and the westerlies mean generally lower surf for practice. So get out while you can and practise those high braces!

Speaking of surf, Ron Mudie and I had a paddle recently together and we paddled along the beach right in the break zone which was something we used to do years ago for practice and it is good practice. You are guaranteed plenty of bracing experiences.

If you attended the recent Skills Weekend Surf Sessions, why not keep up on the skills you learned there. Give it a go at your favourite beach. Don’t forget to move out for the rocky obstacles!

I was browsing through some old Sea Kayaker Magazine (U.S. version) copies recently, and I came across the forerunners of today’s kayak tests which were actually done in the tank and not on a computer. This was in the pre-computer days of 1986! Anyway, the testers had a brief chance in a highly expensive tank to create waves and measure paddling resistance in waves as opposed to calm conditions. Guess what – at 3 knots, paddling resistance in waves from directly ahead of about 8″- 12″” height is virtually double the resistance encountered in calm conditions. Now you know why you are so tired after 20 kms of punching into a 15 knot nor easter!

Andrew Lewis called in recently after a lO day trip along the far South Coast. He said he and his group encountered lots of sea life, the most notable being a pod of Southern Right Whales and 2 decent sharks quite close to their boats. I believe paddling action for the group after the shark visits was brisk and high! Also sighted were penguins (Fairy or Little Penguins – same species) and numerous seals. The whales are on their way north to breed and will return in October and November if you’re interested in paddling with them.

Recently, I called in to the National Parks Office in Merimbula to have a chat with Lyn Evans. Lyn is the Ranger-in-Charge for Nadgee Nature Reserve. This reserve, together with the southern section of Ben Boyd National Park extends from Eden to the Vic. border. The section from Disaster Bay to the border is one of only three areas of coastline in NSW which is undeveloped for more than 10 kms. Understandably, it is a desirable paddling destination for sea kayakers. Lyn has encountered quite a number of sea kayakers in the Reserve, both club members and others. I went to see her with a view to finding out if NPWS are yet formulating any “official” policy on sea kayakers in this area.

I am pleased to say that official eyes have not yet turned onto sea kayakers. However, it could happen in the future.

Those members who have paddled in the area will know that it is a fairly exposed coast and that good camping sites are few. As such, kayakers and hikers have tended to use the same sites which of course puts extra pressure on small areas. Lyn is concerned that these sites will become degraded if not monitored closely. For this reason she has photographed, mapped and transected all popular camping sites to gauge vegetation and general condition over a period. I have seen her work folders for Nadgee campsites and she has certainly put some time and effort in to it.

Well, where does that leave us?

There is a moral and legal dimension to us paddling and camping in the Nadgee area…. as I see it….

Legally, NPWS are charged with the management of the Reserve. just a quick aside on nature reserves generally. They are usually harder to get to than National Parks and are quite often more sensitive to “people pressure” too. Thus they are managed more conservatively than National Parks.

NPWS Merimbula (now the Far South Coast Base Office) do this by restricting hikers etc to a max. of 20 at any one time. Walker registration is required at a charge of $2.00 per night. l’m told that this money goes towards rubbish removal and general management although it’s obvious that it wouldn’t even go close to covering costs. This $2.00/night chase applies to sea kayakers too ~ I’ll come to this in a moment.

So, that’s the legal position – what about the moral side? I suppose I should firstly declare my stance here…after having seen what Ranger Lyn Evans is trying to do in Nadgee, I intend to support her by registering each time I go down there and providing feedback where I can in the way of photos, sketches and notes, f would like to see the area preserved without it ending up like the popular spots in Kosciusko. I, lake most sea kayakers I know, have in the past just gone down to Nadgee whenever I wanted without NPWS notification. So, the moral position, as I see it, is to co-operate with the NPWS registration regime plain and simple.

Now, there are a few other little problems related to this “moral” position. Suppose you register or attempt to, and are told that on your upcoming-already organised and planned trip that there are no vacancies for your sea kayaking party of 4. What do you do? Well. that’s up to you.

Naturally you may also quite rightly argue that sea kayaking by definition means that the only pressure your group is going to place on the Reserve is at the campsites and the beaches! Walkers on the other hand place far greater strain on fragile areas.

Also, should sea kayakers have to pay the same registration fees as walkers when (1) we only use campsites and not the trails and (2) we have far greater carrying capacity in our boats for the removal of our own rubbish?

Another problem for sea kayakers is that we often do not know where we are going to camp or for how long, On this exposed coast we are at the mercy of the weather. These little gems, I leave with club members. Perhaps this topic would be a good one for campfire chats on club paddles. I, for one would like to know member’s feelings. Why not write a letter to the magazine editor?

The NPWS address and phone number at Merimbula is P.O. Box 656 Merimbula 2548. Ph. (064) 954130 Fax (064) 954137.

One more thing – whatever you do when you go to Nadgee, have a look for alternate campsites to take the pressure off the existing ones. Norm Sanders found a good one recently. Ply him with a glass of fine port and he might tell you where it is!

Sea Food [27]

By Chris Soutter

(In Magazine 26 the Old Sea Dog promised a packet of genuine Tom Yung Gum for any paddler who could relieve his culinary monotony on kayaking trips. Chris Soutter becomes the first recipient of this wonderful prize with these excellent ideas – Ed)

After years of camping and bush walking and seeking to advance from dried foods and lentils …and more lentils, I have come across numerous recipes that are quick and easy to prepare and have added a new dimension to the wilderness experience. Most recipes include a variety of fresh vegetables that carry well. Meat is generally difficult to carry on outings because it can be easily contaminated with bacteria and, if eaten, will make even the hardiest paddler crook. This problem is overcome if you paddle with Fishkiller or his apprentices who are a great source of freshly caught fish.

I suggest the Old Sea Dog try the following recipes.

Pasta Combination

  • Pasta
  • 1 green apple, chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • 10 snow peas
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • Optional: chopped egg (unshelled hard boiled eggs travel well)
  • Suggested dressing: mayonnaise

Boil small pasta spirals in water, with a dash of olive oil, until tender.

Rinse pasta in cold water, add ingredients and mayonnaise.

Some of my favourite recipes were originally supplied by Karen Tempest in a guide Cooking for the Bush. These include :

Asian Vegetables

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 zucchini
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup of spring onions, chopped (top & tail before leaving home – they are easier to carry)
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • Olive oil

Julienne (slice) carrot, zucchini and celery. Fry onions and ginger in a little olive oil. Add vegetables and stir fry for a few minutes (note for the Old Sea Dog – a trangia stove is suitable). Add sugar, soy and seeds. Toss. Serve with rice if desired.

Measure out the ginger, sugar and sesame seeds before leaving home and wrap in individual satchels of tin foil and place a sticker on each labelling the ingredients. Soy sauce and olive oil can be carried in small quantities in small containers available at most outdoor stores,

Michael’s Pasta

  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 large capsicum, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of snow peas, chopped
  • 4 slices of salami, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of chopped parsley
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 2 serves of pasta

Cook pasta and set aside.Fry garlic and capsicum in plenty of oil until soft. Add salami and peas. Cook for a few minutes. Add pasta and a little more oil and toss thoroughly. Add the parsley and toss well. Serve sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese.

Enjoy! Oops. I almost forgot a vital ingredient. If you can find room in your kayak, a bottle of Lambrusco goes well with pasta.

‘Arctic Raider’ Views [27]

By David Malcolm

This article is a reflection of my experiences with Arctic Raiders. I have owned three since Feb 1993 in which many ideas, enhancements and opinions have developed.

Mark 1 was a glass, large cockpit, large neoprene rear hatch combination fitted with a then standard rudder and decklines with screw down nylon toggles. It also had a sticker on the rear deck claiming design by Paul Caffyn!

This boat came to grief at the bow of a Mirage hurtling down a wave face. The point of significance was that although the boat was in two pieces, the hull and deck join showed no signs of further fracture along this usual weak spot. Ensure that you have both inside and outside taping of the hull and deck join. Following a quality repair, the boat was sold to a friend and is still in fine condition.

Mark 2 was immediately ordered following the crash. I opted for a small cockpit, three small VCP hatches, all round Kevlar and ugly deck lines through the surface mounted toggles. No rudder was fitted. Small hatches were chosen because I hated the leaky rear neoprene hatch cover and by default this included the small cockpit.

This boat was returned some time later after some hull delamination was spotted – Kevlar tends to float on resin. Canoe Sports built a new replacement.

Mark 3 was identical to Mark 2 but had no deck fittings and is my current boat. My perceptions are as follows:

  • handling – the hull is around 18 feet long with a beam of 21 inches. There is much rocker – I don’t know how to measure it relatively. Initial impressions suggest that it would be tippy (quick and easy to lean and roll), hard to keep straight (easy to turn), susceptible to wind (not too bad with a skeg or rudder) and fast (probably not as much as you may think).
  • there is definitely low initial stability; some paddlers have dropped the seat as a measure for improving this. Correct and adequate cockpit fitting will substantially improve boat control and offset some feeling of tippiness. I have glued triangular wedges of closed cell foam at the sides of the seat and beneath the deck for bracing and also added a backstrap. The aim here was to get the ‘finger in a glove’ fitting which gives boat control. Instability is now not a problem for my paddling.
  • quick turns can be very useful in tight situations and the boat performs this admirably. Yes it may sometimes turn too much, but a little leaning combined with a wider stroke is usually all that is required to compensate. Using this technique, as opposed to relying on a rudder, will improve confidence and boat handling skills.
  • side and headwinds can have a noticeable impact on handling. Surprisingly I found the larger cockpit model to be less tolerant to these winds – probably because of the lower foredeck height. Like most kayaks it is not impossible to paddle in wind situations but can be frustrating.
  • the small cockpit is really a misnomer as there is actually less room in the larger model. Coaming height is the telling factor; the coaming on the larger model sits lower and forces the paddlers legs wider (and lower) apart to be able to brace properly. A more roomy and comfortable option is with the small cockpit which allows a higher and more natural leg position. Above average sized paddlers would also have difficulty swinging their legs out from a sitting position in the larger cockpit – doesn’t this defeat the purpose ?
  • mark 1 was fitted with a rudder and after feeling and seeing the blade bend in a sea I was prompted to look at alternatives. Better quality rudders were expensive and/or complex which was not my ideal solution. After much investigation, discussion and deliberation I attacked my nice clean hull with a jigsaw and fitted a retractable skeg. I copied the basic design from VCP and shaped the blade from polyethylene (the white plastic used for kitchen cutting boards). I believe genuine VCP skegs are now offered as an option.
  • in normal light wind paddling, the skeg makes little difference but is handy to help in “point the boat and paddle straight” situations. Stronger winds and more difficult conditions highlight the skegs benefits – it holds its line much better than the rudder, becomes more sensitive to tuning adjustments and I think overall feels more stable than with the rudder. There appears to be much less of a tendency for the boat to wobble about on its tail with the skeg. The rudder is not missed.
  • downwind paddling is where the boat excels. I have vivid memories of being fully laden in a following sea and just had to lean forwards to accelerate down the wave face to enjoy 20-30 m rides ! Directional adjustments while on a wave can be easily performed by a little lean or combined with a stern rudder stroke for when a greater turning effect is required. Yes, with practice you can usually stop that broach.

The answer to the obvious question is yes, I would buy another one. The Arctic Raider is the most suitable sea kayak on the market to meet my requirements that is built to a quality standard. More importantly, I enjoy my paddling.

President’s Report [27]

By Dirk Stuber

Access to the Wilderness

In the last presidents report I discussed the issue of access and asked for a response from members. I’ve spoken with a few members and the issue was also discussed at the recent training weekend. The general consensus seems to be that sea kayaking is a low or no impact activity and therefore access should not be restricted. For example we should be able to land on the little beach at Montague Island and have some lunch, this would not cause any harm to the bird life or its habitat.

The other issue is that of monopoly practices. The National Parks and Wildlife service has given one contract only and that to a tour company in Narooma. If you wish to visit Montague lsland you must use the company’s boat and guide.

A similar problem occurs in The Royal National Park on The Port Hacking River. You cannot paddle a water craft on the fresh water section above the Audley weir. Why? Because the contract with the boat hire business at Audley includes provision for exclusive use of the waterway. There are signs everywhere: No private craft allowed. Premier Carr, when recently speaking about new national parks said The parks are for conservation and recreational use., He wants to encourage people to use the parks. Surely the two examples mentioned above discourage use and access. What can be done? At this stage David Winkworth is having a quiet chat with the ranger in charge at Narooma.

David has also spoken with the ranger in charge for the Nadgee area. Apparently there are many kayakers visiting Nadgee, some are Club members, most are not. She said the rules apply to all, ie only 20 people per night are permitted to camp in the reserve. So before you go give her a call or write and make a booking. She is aware that weather can effect the kayakers itinerary and we might not always make it to the reserve camp. However if you land at a camp Site reserved by others, we must vacate. We don’t want to get bush walkers off side. David has written about this in more detail elsewhere in the magazine.

The Club Calendar

We are always looking for people to organise club activities especially in the winter months. If you have a trip in mind and you want some company give Gary Edmond a ring. Please Note the last calendar lists a paddle for late September in the Wollongong area. The paddle has been cancelled.

I know many people are organising private paddles, this is great. A group of us are currently organising one to Torres Strait. However if possible, try listing it on the calendar as well. People say it is more convenient to organise a private trip, you can select your company etc. That is true but you can do the same through the club calendar, e.g. if you only want vegetarians say so up front. I can’t see how this could be a problem.

Broughton Island Paddle

I attended the paddle in March. It was an excellent weekend and I enjoyed The company of the Mirage boys and the passionate debates about rudder design and plastic versus fibreglass. It was unique in that it was stipulated that you should be able to paddle at 8 km per hour on calm seas. As some 16 paddlers showed up and not everyone could sustain that pace, a group A (fastest) and B was formed. I know some people are against splitting the group but I think a group of 16 can easily be split 3 or 4 times with safety assuming the necessary skills and experience are present in each group.

I hope Paul, the organiser, puts it on the calendar again next year, I’ll be back (I hope that does not give him an excuse to not run the trip). Also it is excellent to have some trips north of Sydney.

Boat Building

I have to congratulate the builders of the Mirage. I was very impressed to see that Mirage paddlers don’t put their luggage in dry bags. It appears to be the only make that is consistently water tight when it leaves the factory.

Running the Gauntlet

Unfortunately a kayak was damaged when leaving a gauntlet, this created some consternation and much discussion. For my opinion about paddling in gauntlet; see my article: Running the Gauntlet in this edition.

Paddlers Prayer [27]

While lone upon the furious waves,
Where danger fiercely rides,
There is a hand, unseen, that saves,
And through the ocean guides.

Almighty Lord of land and sea,
Beneath thine eye we paddle;
And if our hope be fixed on thee,
Our hearts can never tremble.

Though tempests shake the angry deep,
And thunder’s voice appal;
Serene we wake, and calmly sleep,
Our Father governs all.

Still prove thyself through all the way,
The guardian and the friend:
Cheer with thy presence every day,
And every night defend.

Power Paddler [27]

Feet pump, face is grim
Head locked over frantic limbs
Blade thrusts, dips and draws,
a hand grip like a claw

Pushing hard ’till lungs might burst
cannot stop to slake his thirst
eyes fixed forward, straight in line
knows distractions lose him time

Torso twists and shoulders strain
a mind set ignores the pain
in hostile races with his peers
it’s losing that’s his only fear

This automaton on the water
speed is all, so gives no quarter
blind to species, blind to drama
sees no awesome panorama

Power Paddler, what a loon!
to be so totally out of tune!
cut the chains, break the line
free your mind, take your time!

The Old Sea Dog’s Gear Locker [27]

By Norm Sanders

The OSD has been thinking a lot about paddles lately. Paddles are, after all, what makes the kayak move. (Some might argue that sails can also be used. The OSD rejects this recidivist concept with a contemptuous snarl and the observation that If you want to sail, get a Hobie Cat.)

The fact that paddles are essential to kayak progress should startle no one, but a quick look around at the devices actually in use reveals a lack of understanding of this basic concept.

The first paddle was, no doubt, a stick or small log. The Inuit developed this design into narrow blades, separated by a short shaft. For many thousands of years, the clever users of Qajaqs fashioned narrow un-feathered blades out of round driftwood, intuitively recognising the advantages of the flat configuration: easy to stow, less wrist RSI, less upsetting tendency in strong cross winds.

Now, says the OSD, wander into the paddle section of your favourite water sports shop. Most of the stock is comprised of HEAVY squat, plastic bladed, aluminium shafted, offset paddles. Why? Well, most of the staff, if they kayak at all, are white water types. They use the paddle for steering and balance. The river itself furnishes the motive power. They need a sturdy paddle for bashing rocks and occasionally cutting down small trees for firewood.

But, you may well ask, why the offset? Wouldn’t a non-offset blade be easier and quicker to position for quick bracing and rolls? Of course, says the OSD.

The OSD has lived many years on this planet and has learned that practicality often takes a back seat to fashion. He observes that there is one activity where an offset blade might be an advantage — racing into a headwind. (He has never been particularly bothered by paddle air resistance while slogging into strong winds, noting that the drag on his kayak and body were by far the biggest factors.) When a group of top racers go at it, milliseconds count. A SLIGHT advantage could mean the difference between glorious victory and ignominious defeat. One victorious jock somewhere no doubt modestly attributed his win to his feathered paddle and the rot started.

It takes a lot of courage to state publicly that not only is the Emperor naked, he is using the wrong paddle with his sea kayak. Fortunately, the steadfast and courageous ex-fisheries inspector Dave Winkworth is up to the task and has dragged many a young (and not so young) kayaker back out of the abyss which they have dug with their offset blades.

Having established the value of the paddle in the minds of the gentle readers, the OSD then turned his attention to spares. Many sea kayakers don’t even own a spare paddle, much less carry one. Tsk, Tsk! admonishes the OSD. He observes that even the most experienced of kayakers have broken paddles while attempting to extract themselves from their craft after having landed on an unruly beach.

O.K., O.K., so a spare paddle is a good thing. But what kind? Matt Broze, paddling guru for Sea Kayaker magazine, claims that the main attribute of a good spare paddle is that it shouldn’t scratch the deck where it is stowed.

The OSD dares to differ. He observes that the average aluminium-shafted clam shovel which is normally strapped to the after deck weighs enough to have Swarzenegger himself slumped across the cockpit after an hour or two.

Shouldn’t the spare paddle be just as light and efficient as the main paddle? The OSD asks reasonably.

Of course it should. This is why the OSD asked Alan Wilson of Power Paddles to make a two piece version of his popular and light (28 ounces) sea kayak paddle. The clever OSD suggested that Alan cut the paddle shaft off-center so that the two halves would be the same length when stowed.

Now, the OSD never ventures offshore without his Power Paddle spare — a paddle which he could happily use for days on end.

‘Ah,’ the reader is thinking, ‘But where can I stow the paddle?’ The OSD slips the blades under the bungee cords behind him (and on top of a bag of shade cloth which is itself part of a Dirk Stuber paddle float. Also in the bag is a V Sheet which can be used for signalling or as a tarp.) The paddle shafts are held to the aft decklines with bungee cords and olive clips. Foam wrapped around the shafts keep them from scratching the deck (this would please M. Broze) while still allowing the paddles to be pulled free from the cockpit.

This paddle location is convenient, but may cause problems with aft hatch access. The OSD and Fishkiller have solved this problem by putting VCP hatches in the aft bulkhead rather than on the deck. The OSD marvels that most manufacturers have not seen the advantages of this system. The exception, of course, is the well-designed Inuit Classic which will have this configuration.

Some may argue that the after deck hatch location allows a larger hatch to be used. ‘Pshaw!’ snorts the OSD (and Dave Winkworth, who decked over the aft hatch on his Puffin.)

The OSD reckons that anything which can’t fit through a 7 inch VCP hatch has no business being in a kayak.

Fishkiller, incidentally, caries HIS spare paddle in the cockpit of his much modified Seafarer Plus, a practice which has earned him a despairing glance or two from the OSD. The OSD philosophically accepts FK’s aberration as merely another example of youthful rebellion.

O.K., fine. But what was this reference to the ‘Dirk Stuber paddle float’? ‘Ah,’ sighs the OSD approvingly. ‘A very clever piece of engineering by our President.’

The OSD observes that, while paddle floats are good things for self rescues by non-rollers, they cost a lot of money. The Dirk Stuber paddle float, however, is practically free. It consists of shade cloth sewn into a two compartment bag. One compartment holds an (empty) wine cask bladder. The other slips over the paddle blade after the bladder has been inflated by mouth. All this can be done while in the water, which is attested to by the OSD who owes his life to this marvellous invention.

‘Enough of paddles,’ the OSD cries. ‘On to higher matters — helmets, in fact.’

As in Harley-Davidson circles, helmets are sneered at by red-blooded sea kayakers, driven as they are by ego and testosterone. The OSD however, never one to bow to community pressure, will not set forth on ANY patch of water without a helmet on his head.

He reasons that, though drowning while unconscious might be a painless way to go, he is not yet ready to shuffle off this mortal coil. In addition, he hates the sight of blood, especially his own. He observes that paddles, rudders and Pittarak bows can cause grievous bodily harm.

Chris Soutter, a nice guy, even if he is a fishkiller, recently had two knocks on the head while touring the famous Nadgee area. In one episode, the rudder of his Puffin skidded viscously across his lid after a surf bail-out. He emerged unscathed, thankful that his scalp had been protected by the plastic shell of his helmet.

Helmets come in many shapes and price ranges. Surfers wear a Darth Vader type unit made by GATH which costs in the vicinity of $100. It is very strong and classy, but looks a bit confining and hot.

Whitewater helmets are lighter and cheaper, but seem TOO flimsy. The OSD wears a Bell bicycle helmet, which has the advantage of light weight, quality construction and price (which is free, because the OSD already owned it.)

He reports that the only disadvantage is that salt water pours on his head when he puts on the helmet to go bike riding.

Characteristically concerned with safety, the OSD has plastered his helmet with reflective tape for night visibility. (He also has patches of reflective tape on his paddle blades.)

He wears his helmet over a cap with a bill and neck protection. He also uses sunglasses with Chum straps attached. The OSD reports that the helmet holds the hat and glasses firmly in place, even in surf and during rolls. (Philip Winkworth, please note.)

The OSD senses the mutterings of the Editor, that harassed collater of verbosity, that this epistle is getting too long. So, knowing full well the dangers of alienating the person into whose hands his lovingly created words will be delivered, the OSD will leave you here. Next time, an on the spot report of North American gear. Is it really so flash or are we Antipodeans, in our own quiet way, leading the world?

Lessons from Nadgee [27]

By Mark Pearson

My friend Chris Soutter, raw sea kayaker but expert fisherman, gasped and trembled uncontrollably as I detailed the species of fish I had seen at beautiful Merica River in Easter ’95. To settle him down, I agreed that we should set aside a weekend in March ’96 for a 4-day paddle from Womboyn to Nadgee River, returning via Merica River. Planning for the trip commenced in January.

This wilderness coast was well described in ‘Going with the Flow’ (NSWSK No.26), so this report concentrates more on how the trip survived the CHIF (Critical Human Interaction Factor). For this area has witnessed several doomed paddling expeditions caused by either the failure of individuals to agree on objectives, or blend on a personal level with others in the group. This particular paddle was also one in which I learned many valuable lessons; about sea-kayaking, about myself, and more particularly, about the foibles of my paddling companions.

The following account is therefore based on actual events – names have not been changed to protect the innocent.


As we invited other paddlers to join us, the numbers rose to a possible seven paddlers. After the usual sundry withdrawals, we finally got down to four ‘definites’, Chris, Norm Sanders, John Caldwell and myself, and one ‘possible’, Jim Croft. The saga of Jim’s inability to decide whether to come or not is a story in itself, and there is not room in this magazine for all the details. Suffice to say that Jim, after changing his angst-ridden mind at least 18 times, finally secured leave passes from both wife and work with only one day to spare. Tragically (for Jim at least – for by now the mere mention of the word Jim’ caused our arteries to tighten), he then snatched defeat from the jaws of victory due to lack of suitable transport.


Chris and I drove down on the Thursday night to meet with John and Norm at Wonboyn. We found John near the local shop, and he directed us to a ‘secret’ camping area that Norm had found in nearby bushland. Our arrival flushed Norm out of his tent, complaining loudly about the headlights giving away our presence to the ‘inbred locals’. It was at this point that Chris and I realised, to our dismay, that our trip companions were quite drunk. They had evidently spent the evening swilling down John’s entire 4-day supply of sherry. Having heard of several incidents in recent months involving inebriated paddlers (one who broke his hand in a pool table argument with a Gallipoli veteran), Chris and I remained calm and ensured that nothing was said to provoke them. After a quiet and subdued cup of tea we retired for the night, hoping that they would be well enough to paddle in the morning.


Norm is a professional sea kayak designer and journalist, John a carpenter, Chris a financial adviser and I (at least at the time of writing) a public servant. Norm and I started serious sea kayaking together in January 1994 after a chance meeting on Tuross Lake. To my shame, he has since left me way behind in all facets of the sport – building three kayaks, earning his Instructor’s certificate and recently completing a PHD on sea kayaking equipment. John’s credentials were also impressive – he had only been sea kayaking for a year, but was already an accomplished expedition paddler with silky skills (he still holds the world record for learning to roll – 3 minutes 42 seconds at Mystery Bay, February 1995). Chris had only one decent paddle under his belt, the Royal Banquet of May 1995, but was picking things up well. Me, well I suppose I’ve paddled a bit, but my only (dubious) claim to fame is that I have been rescued more times than any other club member – once even by an official rescue boat! The group then, obviously contained two factions, one brimming with expertise and experience, the other handicapped by inexperience and incompetence (respectively).

Darkness before dawn

Friday morning. Norm, as is his custom, awoke us at dawn with loud incantations for us to get moving. We headed for the boat ramp, cooked and ate our Semolina (the kayakers ‘breakfast of the 90’s’), and commenced loading. As we packed, I thought it might be prudent to visit the adjacent toilet given the five hour paddle that lay ahead. Typically, the facility had no toilet paper, so I returned to the ramp. As my supply was already packed away, John kindly produced a cigar sized mini-roll for me from his custom-built micro-toiletry bag. I did my business, and was pleased to find that were was enough left over to blow my nose. On returning to the ramp, John indicated that he too was going to the toilet, and asked me for his paper back! With horror, I realised that I had probably just used John’s entire 4 day supply! Self doubt now overwhelmed me as I realised how profligate my city habits were out here in the wilderness! Chris, a man of consummate inter-personal skills, saw my predicament and lent John his roll. He also gave me another roll as a spare. I was now terribly awkward about proceeding with the trip knowing that I was a figure of contempt in the minds of my companions. But it was too late to turn back – I had to tough it out in the hope that the incident would be forgotten. My first lesson here was to never again allow my toilet habits to be so brutally exposed. The second was confirmation of John’s gear philosophy. Even amongst sea paddlers – this man travels light!

Looking the part

As we departed the ramp, Chris and I couldn’t help but think that our experienced companions looked so much better than we did in their kayaks. They had similar gear, similar paddles and (Norm excepted) similar boats, but for some reason they just looked like they meant business. It suddenly dawned on us why – Norm and John both sported magnificent flowing beards, grey and black respectively, which added to their aura of storm-hardened sea veterans. Chris and I urgently nurtured our stubble to disguise our pathetically bland countenances.

Wonboyn Bar trauma

It was cloudy but still as we paddled up the lake to the dreaded Womboyn Bar. Norm’s and John’s blood alcohol reading was now about .07, so they were able to paddle in a reasonably straight line.

Chris had very little experience of surf conditions, so I was hoping that the bar would not be too challenging. But the growing roar of the surf indicated that there was going to be work to do. The beach was indeed lively, with regular two metre sets rolling in. We landed on a sand bank and made a plan – the exit order would be John, myself, Chris then Norm. John decided to paddle along the shallows and exit some 150 metres north of the bar, I went for the more traditional route straight out but nearer the rocks. The waves were slightly smaller here although there was more danger if I got into trouble. We both punched out on the same comparative lull.

Norm and Chris also decided to follow John’s route out. Norm was obviously on edge knowing that this was Chris’s first attempt at punching out through sizable surf. After studying the sets for some minutes Norm issued the order for Chris to paddle out. But Norm’s renowned seafaring judgement had been impaired by acute sherry poisoning! Two waves of Tsunami proportions were coming in, bearing down on poor Chris. ‘Go! Go!’ yelled Norm, anxious not to be held responsible for the club’s first fatality. Chris, deafened by the surf, hesitated and turned round, thinking Norm was calling him back. Switching instinctively to ‘Loud American’ mode, Norm fired off a stream of choice invective to further convince Chris to get moving. By the time he straightened up the two waves were on him, the first breaking just in front and the second rearing up frighteningly over his kayak. Thankfully, his momentum was sufficient, and John and I were treated to the great sight of the fully loaded Puffin shooting through the two metre wave wall, airborn, before landing upright. Chris was out, and had been blooded in big surf without injury. Mentally though, he was a quivering mess; not from the tsunami, but Norm’s verbal abuse. I explained to Chris that all who paddle with Mr Sanders go through this ordeal at some stage, and that he was lucky to get his over and done with so early in the trip! My counselling skills proved effective, and we were able to continue. My lesson here – in the surf, your fate can rest on the judgement of others. This is not a good thing.

Paddling South

As we turned southwards for the 23 km beat to Nadgee, the wind strengthened from the north. This was the main reason I had invited Chris – his presence seems to guarantee following winds. As we passed level with Merica River, John spotted a small seal chasing fish.

Two hours later we neared Newton’s Beach. For some reason I had thought that we would land at Newton’s for lunch, so I had no food handy. As we neared the beach Norm told me in no uncertain terms that landing had never been part of his plan and that, anyway, the conditions were such that we had to continue on. With that he paddled away authoritatively, munching on something substantial, and callously ignoring my pleas for food. Chris, again showing great inter-personal skills, gave me a small amount of scroggan, which in no time gave me a commensurate attack of indigestion. (I’m rapidly coming to the opinion that the only food that can be eaten during vigorous paddling is Semolina – the paddling supplement of the ’90’s). My lesson here – make sure that your plan matches the plan of the dominant member of the group.

The northerly was strengthening, and it was now possibly to catch some surfing rides. This activity helped me forget my simultaneous hunger and heartburn. Then, as I looked over my shoulder to check for waves, I noticed a shark’s fin a mere 10 feet from my stern. This was my first view of a shark from a kayak. Flattered by the interest of the creature, I slowed down for a better look. But the shark, sensing my hunger, dived to the safety of the depths.

Teamwork and individualism

Chris and I were impressed by Norm’s desire to keep the group together for safety reasons. When one of us lost concentration and threatened the tight shape of the formation, Norm was sure to paddle over and gently rebuke the offender. This was teamwork, and it felt good! However, after we had landed in an organised and planned fashion through tricky surf at Nadgee beach, Norm and John left us in their wake as they paddled up the estuary. The ‘bearded ones’ then grabbed their dry bags and sprinted up into the trees. Chris and I, still in our kayaks growing stubble, were momentarily bemused – until we realised that this magnificent display of hamstring power was all about preferred tent sites. Later that night, as I lay in wretched discomfort in my tent (pitched precariously on a rocky, ant-ridden slope), I mused on this last lesson of the day – teamwork stops at the surf line!

Fishing at Nadgee

Fishing was the only pursuit where Chris and I had status’. It was therefore an important psychological pursuit to combat our low self esteem levels. We had a rewarding morning session at Nadgee, catching and releasing a number of bream, keeping one each for lunch. Much to Norm’s disgust, John showed genuine interest in our little hobby, shadowing us unobtrusively and patiently as we fished, like a pelican would. And judging by the way he later devoured his fish, his throat bulging as each mouthful passed down his slender gullet, it was easy to imagine that John may actually have been a pelican in a past life!

Nadgee phobia

Saturday at Nadgee saw big seas at work and no chance of us getting away. It soon became apparent to the rest of the group that Norm wasn’t his normal self. This first became obvious through his more vitriolic attacks than usual on our innocent fishing activities. Chris and I showed excellent interpersonal skills in ignoring these outbursts. But there was obviously something wrong – he had a peculiar pessimistic, haunted air about him. Later that Saturday afternoon as Chris and I practiced our bracing skills inside the surf line, Norm could be seen further up the beach. An eerie solitary figure sitting on a washed up buoy, seemingly hypnotised by the 3 metre seas. He sat there for many hours, no doubt mulling over his past ordeal of being pinned down here for four days with a badly disfunctional group. We respectfully left him in peace.

The after dinner conversation that evening was the low point of the trip, with Norm, like a soothsayer of ancient times, speaking at length of his fears for the future of mankind. His doomsday outlook had a profound effect on our impressionable young minds. We retired to our tents, all but suicidal, to contemplate the futility of our remaining lives on this planet.

Thankfully, Sunday morning saw blue skies, a cold south westerly, a sizable but diminishing surf and everybody still alive. We broke camp and headed north for Merica. As we paddled clear of the surf zone there was lively conversation throughout the group. With relief we realised that Norm was himself again – plain old snappy, intolerant and argumentative. It was good to have him back!


A good variety of food was prepared and consumed. Chris scored early points with a complex stir fry, as did John, having brought one of Jute’s delicious cakes. Norm plodded along with his patented rice, tuna and soy dish (occasionally showing versatility with a soy, rice and tuna combination). Chris and I had also brought a bottle each of Lambrusco, which, after their Wonboyn performance, we hid from the other two until required. For my main meal of the day, I tended to go for Laksa and noodles with some vegies. The packet of Laksa for my last dinner at Merica River was a different brand, a ‘gift’ from Laksa expert Nick Gill. Instead of the usual paste, I was startled to discover it was a powder that looked (and smelled) like raw tobacco. I pressed on regardless, still optimistic and with confidence in Nick; but as the acrid smell of the concoction started to dominate the camp, so did the complaints from my watery-eyed companions. Determined to get a meal out of it, I kept adding ingredients – brown sugar, soy sauce and finally, semolina (the meal rescuer of the 90’s) until, long after the others had dined, the dish was ready to eat. As usual in life’s little disasters there was a silver lining – there were no mossies round the camp that evening. My lesson here – never accept food from vegetarians – no matter how well-meaning.

Fishing at Merica

The fishing here turned out to be rather disappointing. The schools of fish I had seen 12 months previously were noticeable by their absence, and Chris was able to catch only one decent specimen to feed the voracious John. Later, Chris and I pooled our considerable knowledge in a discussion about the possible reasons for the scarcity of fish – water temperature, freshwater content, breeding cycles etc, etc. In the end we agreed that it was none of these, but a decidedly unnatural and shameful event. Bloody Jim Croft’s constant thrashing around the lagoon last December! Stressed, dizzy and exhausted in avoiding the ever circling Puffin and it’s accompanying anchor-sized lures, the wilderness fish of Merica had understandably fled to sea in search of a more peaceful haven!

Boat Loading

I was always the last to finally squeeze all my gear into my bulging Seafarer Plus. My sweaty antics provided at least half an hour’s free entertainment for the others after they had finished, during which they invariably held ‘smart comments’ competitions (‘why don’t you get a second kayak for a trailer’ etc’). I showed good inter personal skills by taking this treatment without retort. John was the most impressive packer – this sea-kayaking prodigy took on average fifteen minutes to dismantle his tent, pack his dry bags and load up. A true disciple of our Vice President. My lesson here, an important one, reduce the load and join the Smart Set!

The Return

Almost as we left Merica we could tell that conditions were unusual. A large wave refracted round the point and flipped John over as he entered the sea from the creek mouth. John showed his class by rolling up, but the group was aware that such waves were not normally a feature here – so what would they be like on the exposed coast to which we were heading. Our worries were confirmed by our first sighting of Wonboyn some four kilometres away. Massive waves were smashing into the rock platform adjacent to the bar, sending spray 30 ft into the air. This was the story for the entire northern half of Disaster Bay coastline as 4-6 metre swells in Bass Strait swung up the coast. Much to our relief, Norm suggested that we land at Greenglades, at the southern end of the bay, where the swell would be less awesome. From there we could then walk the 4 km to the cars. Norm and John, of course, would have preferred to demonstrate their mastery of the 3-4 metre waves at Wonboyn, but both suppressed the urge to test their manhood for the good of the group.

Greenglades was sheltered from the westerly wind and offered sporadic sets of nasty dumping waves. I volunteered to go first and landed successfully in a rather boring lull (paddling just about all the way in). Chris was next, dutifully waiting for Norm to issue the go ahead. Norm nodded and Chris began his run. Incredibly, Norm’s legendary seafaring instinct failed Chris again, perhaps this time due to the strain of constant leadership! (Or perhaps he wanted Chris to suffer for torturing those poor little bream – his memoirs may shed some light on this!). Anyway, a nasty 6 foot dumper loomed as if pre-arranged. Poor bastard I thought, as I waded into the surf with my camera at the ready. The dumper pounded down with horrible power on the hapless Puffin, with a shocked Chris managing to hold on for a couple of seconds before coming out. Having got my shots of his misfortune, I then helped him and his waterlogged kayak out of the water. Norm and John then came in during yet another long lull, much to my camera’s disgust. To make sure that Chris had fully learned his lesson this time, I made him write ‘thou shall not trust in others in the surf’ a hundred times in the sand.


This was a great trip. Interesting weather, some good fishing, wilderness everywhere and challenging sea conditions. Seas so rough in fact that it was all ours – we did not see a single power boat in the four days due to the ‘fatties’ fear of the dreaded Wonboyn Bar. And I got some nice photo’s too.

I was pleasantly surprised with my own performance on the water – my judgement in big surf was spot on, and I handled following seas and beam winds in my rudderless craft pretty well. In fact, I’m still at a loss why my customary incompetence deserted me for such long periods. Perhaps merely by paddling with those you idolise helps you lift your game somewhat!

And how did this group measure up in terms of the CHIF? – well, this one turned out to be a good one that had similar objectives, gave each other space when needed, and coped well with the mood swings of key individuals. In fact, despite some of the more embarrassing moments, I would gladly venture forth with them again to any destination. Unfortunately, after this candid account, whether they would choose to invite me is another matter!

This article was brought to you by Semolina — paddling food for the 90’s

Letters to the Editor [27]

Star Letter

Dear Sir,

I am surprised to note a change in editorial policy that allowed you to publish an article of fiction (GaleForce Kayaking by Andrew Todhunter) in the last issue. Although suffering from melodrama, the story is interesting in that it uses the clever ploy of reverse psychology to actually promote sea kayaks, whilst seemingly praising the virtues of surf skis.

I can attest only too well to this psychology as I recall my paddling a surf ski in 15 – 20 knot winds on Port Stephens in winter actually hastening my purchase of a sea kayak. It’s a pity the colourful, macho character in the story is not sustainable as his preference to paddle in a rubber suit would ensure his premature demise from acute fungicidal dermatitis and wheltinduced gangrene. On the other hand, this story is disturbing as it is part of an insidious infiltration of our worthy journal by yankee drivel. This has to stop. It’s just silly!

My, my, it’s remarkable how prolific a contributor Norm Sanders has become in just the last two issues. Any more prolific and we’ll have to change the title of the magazine to “The Sanders’ Sea Kayaking Weekly.” I do, however, have a concern about Norm Sanders’ feverishly flourishing quill and that is his incessant victimisation of anglers, referring to them as fish killers.

At first I presumed that Mr Sanders was wrong in his terminology. Perhaps he was really referring to those neanderthal types known as fish slaughterers who ravage the reefs in their stink boats and return home with fish brimming to the gunwales. But no, I was wrong. His taunts are aimed at honest fisher folk concerned merely with providing modest sustenance for themselves and their families. Worse still, among the subjects of his derision are socalled paddling companions. Does Mr Sanders cringe from killing things? In his own way, I think not. I have witnessed him cooking and it is a sight that would make even a hardened paramedic turn pale. Yes, Mr Sanders indulges in his own brand of killing – he is guilty of lentilcide!

The tragedy of Mr Sanders’ paranoia is that it has blinded both himself and the vast majority of club members to a much, much more serious threat, a threat made all the more evil and sinister because it comes from within our very own ranks! For you see we are being stalked by the Kayak Killers!

This small knot of perverse paddlers, commonly known as the Surf Surf Boys, camouflage their real purpose by pretending to frolic in the surf and wherever there is white water and foam amongst the rocks. But look closely and note how calculatingly they scrape, nick, crack, gouge and rent apart by excruciating degrees their kayaks and how they extract the ultimate gratification from their boats’ eventual deaths. Not content with killing their own crafts, the Kayak Killers prey on other, unsuspecting kayaks and lead them unto destruction. They have been particularly active lately. Talk to those paddlers who attended the club events at Mystery Bay and Broughton Island recently.

So, Mr Sanders, the time has come for you to wake up. Get real. Have the guts to kill the fish you eat (when you’re not eating disgusting baby foods such as pureed lentils and Farax). Shape up or get out. There’s no room for whimps in this club!

Finally, Mr Editor, I wish to make a request. Could you please publish this letter while Mr Sanders is away on holidays in the States. May the walrus herds prosper!

Nashnuk of the North
Lithgow, NSW

Nothing to be ashamed of!

Dear Ed,

I have developed a fancy for pink nylon, some even describe it as a fetish. I now have to keep a rolled up section on the foredeck of my kayak.

At the slightest excuse I am urged to unfold this pink delight, and watch it flutter in the breeze. The resulting emphoria causes my kayak to burst forth with increased velocity, and I leave my less fortunate comrades in my wake. This has caused some animosity, and I have been described as a wimp and not really a sea paddler at all. What should I do?

Deeply disturbed
Narrabundah, ACT

Don’t worry – you are a perfectly normal paddler and should feel no shame! Your so-called comrades are obviously puritanical types who believe that paddling should only be done in the missionary position (and preferably at night at that)! As an adult over 18 years old, you have every right to use whatever technique you choose to get you to your destination. I would suggest you seek out the company of more open-minded kayakers – the new Lonely Paddlers column might be a good place to start – Ed

Pain & Suffering

Dear Sir, At the recent Jervis Bay weekend I tried out a number of members’ kayaks in the surf.

I was shocked to find that many of these ‘beloved vessels’ had cockpit interiors so rough and unprepared I was very lucky to escape with only multiple abrasions and severe bruising! How can this be so? Have we been infiltrated by an obscure sect of masochists, or perhaps by a group of closet Fakirs, who, so in love with their beds of nails, seek to translate such features into their kayaks!

Thankfully there was one notable exception to this – I briefly paddled a white Seafarer Plus that was an absolute joy to be in. Such was the quality of padding I was instantly ‘at one’ with the boat. No matter how rough the ride, no part of my body ever touched fibreglass. This is how it should be. Unfortunately I did not get the owner’s name, but I commend him on his design and workmanship, and for showing me (and hopefully others) the way.

Skinned Alive
Croydon, NSW

Lonely Paddlers

Female, 26, fit, slim, seeks sensitive, good-looking, mature guy (please, no Pittarak/Mirage/Raider paddlers) for fun day-paddles with a view to full-on wilderness trips if compatible. Gear freak OK. (02) 9998 1234.

Male, 32, good physique, seeks cute lady to 28 to fill a big hole in my life and my double kayak. PO Box 25609, Sydney.

Couple, mid-forties, uninhibited, with double sea-kayak, seek like minded couple for crew swapping, kinky excursions etc. PO Box 87692, Newcastle.

This Kayaking Life… [27]

By Jacqueline Windh

Time has gone so fast…I can’t believe it has been over a year since I left Australia…

It all started when I received a job offer to work as a sea-kayak guide for the Canadian summer (1995), based in Tofino, Clayoquot Sound, western Vancouver Island, and made plans to paddle from Vancouver to Alaska the following northern summer. Later, the offer of an academic job in Montreal for the intervening winter cemented my plans: I would be gone from Australia for at least a year and a half.

Travelling to Canada was a challenge – I knew that in western North America, typical sea-kayaks are stable touring vessels (I get in trouble here when I call them tanks, but…), and that I would not likely find a boat to my liking here. Typical sea-kayaks here have a 24-25″ beam and cockpits with enough room for both you and your dog (I know – I have done it!). So I brought my beloved Arctic Raider with me, and it has been worth every cent of the shipping costs!

En route to Canada, I considered possible Polynesian stopovers. The island of Kaua’i happens to be a conveniently located between Oz and the Great White North, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to catch up with my paddling buddies there. The last time I had been there, Mike Malone and I had hoped to paddle from Kaua’i to the island of Ni’ihau and back, a four-day trip. A succession of hurricanes kept us from even departing, so this time we talked about trying again. However, I was only on the island for 5 1/2 days, and we realised that it just did not give us enough time to wait out the weather, if a storm blew up. So we decided to try to circumnavigate Kaua’i – at least it would be much easier to bail out if for some reason we were delayed. “Kayak Kaua’i”, where Mike works, provided us with gear. We paddled Dolphins, plastic sit-on-top boats that are ideal for the Hawai’ian conditions: warm water, and steep beaches with a dumpy break at the shoreline.

We started at Hanalei, on the north part of the island, and paddled clockwise. This would leave the Na Pali Coast, an isolated 25 km stretch of spectacular cliffs with cascading waterfalls and tiny surf beaches, as the very last segment of our trip. The entire trip would be 160 km. We made 100 km in our first two days, seeing a humpback whale leaping off Makapili Rock, and stopping our first night in Kapa’a, on the east coast, and the second night in Waimea, in the southwest. That night, listening to the weather radio, we heard that surf of 15 to 20 feet (5-6 m) was predicted to build over the north shore. This meant that we would have to do the remaining 60 km in one go, because we probably would not be able to land or launch anywhere on the Na Pali coast. Also, winds were predicted to be from the NW, turning to N later in the day. This meant that we would have to reach the northwest corner of the island before the NW winds came in – otherwise we would be battling a headwind as the northwesterly wrapped around the island, which might delay us enough that we would not complete the long day’s journey. If we could make it to Polihale, the northwest corner of the island, the northwesterly would wrap around the island and become a tailwind for us. We would be landing at Hanalei in the dark if all went well. Mike felt that he knew Hanalei Harbour (a world-class surf location!) well enough that he could guide us in between the breaking bommies in 20′ surf in the dark. I trusted him.

We were on the water by 8:15 a.m. The northwesterly hit us blowing 20 knots 15 minutes later. We fought it for an hour, but were barely inching forward. We realised that, at this rate, we would not make Polihale for many hours; it was still nearly 30 km away. There was no way we would complete our 60 km day as hoped… We turned our boats around and surfed back towards the south. After a couple hours, we pulled in to Port Allen and phoned our buddy Belinda to come and collect us. She wasn’t able to come right away, so we paddled on to Poipu, where she met us several hours later, covering in total another 35 km that day. The next day we drove to Hanalei, and watched the surfers get trashed on the giant breakers…

I arrived in Tofino, British Columbia, several days later. Tofino is located at the mouth of Clayoquot Sound, a labyrinth of meandering bays and channels, rocky islets, and majestic islands forested with old-growth cedar and hemlock. The cedar trees here are some of the largest known in Canada, some dated at over 1600 years old. This region is home to the Nuu-chah-nulth Indians, which, in Clayoquot Sound, include the Manhousat, Ahousat, and Clayoquot bands. Here, the natives have never signed away or sold their land. Most of the land is considered by the federal government to be crown land, but it was originally native land, occupied and used for millennia before the first Europeans arrived.

The crown has allocated logging rights to most of the old growth forest. Although Clayoquot Sound is one of the most intact stretches of temperate rainforest left on the planet, large areas of it have already been logged or are currently slated for logging. Some parts of it are protected, and logging in other parts, such as Meare’s Island, has temporarily been halted, pending resolution of the native land claims. The natives have declared Merae’s Island to be a tribal park, and if their title to the land is recognised, will leave it as is, for all to visit and use. Meare’s Island, and other intact parts of the sound, are home to deer, elk, wolf, bear, cougar, and countless smaller mammals and birds. In the sound, seals, sea lions, porpoises, grey whales, and orcas are regularly sighted.

Before starting my guiding job I was required to take an 8-day kayak Leadership course, and an 8-day Wilderness First Aid course. The Leadership course was run by Dan Lewis, a North American kayaking demi-god. He set up the well known Ecomarine kayaking school about a decade ago, and now lives on a little island in Clayoquot Sound. I was initially a bit disappointed that the course did not deal more with advanced paddling issues e.g. surf, rough water rescues. It focuses mainly on issues related to guiding, and since clients are not normally taken out in rough water and surf, it focuses much more on leadership skills and group management. It was a great learning experience, and we had a lot of excellent discussions, learning from Dan’s wealth of experience (which includes a stint in clown school in Paris) and doing spontaneous rescue simulations in the 10 C water.

I started guiding with Tofino Sea-Kayaking Co. in June. TSKC runs day-trips, 2- and 3-day trips based at a B&B lodge on a nearby island, and 4- to 6-day camping trips in more remote parts of the sound. As the most junior guide, I would be working mostly day-trips that summer. I started out assisting on trips, so I would learn the routine and the routes from the other guides. There are a lot of safety issues that have been very well thought out in BC, where sea-kayaking has been a popular sport for decades, and that are barely even considered in Australia. As a guide, where you are legally and morally responsible for people’s lives (and where the water temperature makes the implications of a capsize much more serious than it would be in warmer climes), these safety issues are taken very seriously. Clayoquot Sound has tidal changes of up to 4 m in summer, sometimes in the space of 6 hours. The sound has many inlets, bays and islands which funnel the water flow, and the currents can be extremely strong (well over 5 knots locally) – this is one of the things I really had to work in and learn about, since I had not had much opportunity to paddle in currents in Australia. Obviously, aside from the hard skills, e.g. eddy turns, a lot of thought has to go into trip planning, e.g. routes and departure times, when dealing with such currents.

I lived in a tiny cabin on Wickanninish Island, that my good friend Tasha kindly offered to share with me. The cabin is a 4 km paddle towards the open ocean from Tofino. Depending upon the tide and the wind and the swell, the trip can be a pleasant cruise or a hard slog. The cabin itself is tiny – just enough room for two foam mats on the floor, a little table, and a bench along one side to cook on. A cast iron wood stove kept us warm on cool damp nights. We collected rainwater from the roof, washed our dishes in seawater, and had oil lamps and candles for evening reading. My guiding days were long, and sometimes it was hard to get inspired to paddle back to Wickanninish in the dark, landing on the rocks….but it was always worth it, to wake up there with the sunlight streaming in through the cedars in the morning.

By early July I was leading day-trips on my own, and by early August was leading the lodge-based overnight trips alone. Guiding gives a totally different perspective on paddling. 90% of the clients are first-time paddlers. They have no feel for the boats, no arm strength, and no endurance. The pace we go is a snail’s pace (budget for 3 to 4 km/h) compared to travelling with experienced paddlers. Guides learn to perfect the “invisible stroke” – while waiting at the front of the group for the stragglers to catch up, if you stop paddling while you wait, for some reason everyone else will also stop. So by lifting your paddle up and down, doing the “invisible stroke”, from behind it looks like you are still paddling, and they will catch up! (The “invisible stroke” works a totally different muscle group).

I wondered if guiding would make me lose enthusiasm for paddling, but it hasn’t at all! It is just not the same as my own paddling. At best, it is gentle cruising, chatting with people, pointing out historic sites and wildlife, and acquainting them with some of the very sensitive environmental issues and the possible fate of Clayoquot Sound. At worst, it is struggling to keep groups together, feeling like mother hen clucking at people who want to do their own thing, as we cross dangers they cannot even see: crossing an eddyline that could capsize an unsuspecting single, or ferrying across the busy boat channel while a floatplane circles overhead… For the most part it is great – it is definitely hard work and long days, and the pay is not anything you would get rich from….but some days out there, paddling under the giant cedars, I feel that it is a miracle that I get paid to do this at all!

Last year, at the end of the season, my good buddy Tasha and I decided to paddle back to Vancouver, down the exposed west coast of Vancouver Island, then up the inside and across to the mainland, a distance of 400 km. In very trying conditions, we made it to Victoria (south tip of Vancouver Island) in nine days. We had had headwinds every day, and seas consistently between 3 and 5 m. Because of the rough conditions, we were only rarely landing, so were eating lunch in the boats and peeing in our wetsuits. Morale was low! On our final day into Victoria, finally we got a tailwind! Within 15 minutes of launching, the tailwind had built to 40 knots (gusting higher), and we were fighting a very strong ebb-tide current. The wind-against-tide conditions made for very steep breaking waves, and the entire paddle into Victoria turned into a struggle not to broach and capsize. We were surfing, catching rides that we did our best not to catch, rides of 100 m or more. In spite of the 40 knot tailwind, the current that we were fighting kept our average speed down to 5 km/h, and it took us over three hairy hours to reach Victoria. Turning towards shore was not an option; we could only travel straight downwind. Morale was already low, and when we finally reached Victoria our nerves were frazzled. We paddled together another 2 days, but opted not to cross to the mainland, and hopped on a ferry to Vancouver instead.

After a winter spent in Montreal, I decided to return to Tofino to guide again. The company I work for, Tofino Sea-Kayaking Co., is great, and my fellow guides are wonderful people who have become good friends. We work and learn together. Last year I managed to do many long solo trips on my days off, exploring the remote parts of the sound (which is about 50 by 50 km). This year I hope to do the same, and hope to be able to paddle a bit more with some of my friends here too, hopefully getting out to the open ocean more often (only a short paddle around the peninsula from Tofino to some good, rocky, surf-bashed coast). Long Beach is a 15 minute drive from here, and is a good surf beach – there are a few river boats around town, and I am keeping my eye out for any used Pirouettes.

After the northern summer, I will spend a month or two in Montreal, then, who knows….perhaps back to Australia for some warm-water paddling in January…