The Wanderers Return [30]

By Doug Fraser (photos by Damon Howes)

In 1993 Damon Howes and his wife Deanne spent a year of their life near the Wanderer River on the South West coast of Tasmania, sponsored by Australian Geographic (Full details of their year are in Issue 36). While there, they constructed a hut in the wilderness and both had a strong desire to revisit the site. Damon developed a plan to return by seakayaks, however, as they now had a family it was not feasible for Deanne to undertake the trip. Damon planned the expedition in mid 1996, however, in October his paddling partner had to withdraw so he extended the invitation to me, which I gladly accepted.

We were to paddle south from Strahan 80km to the Wanderer River then upstream to the Campsite. The return trip would retrace this route. Due to the possibility of stuck on shore while we waited for conditions to improve we carried seventeen days food and fairly extensive safety equipment, including EPIRB’s and a HF radio. I would paddle my Pitarak for which I had just constructed a sail and Damon would paddle a Rosco which had a factory made spinnaker arrangement. We agreed that we would paddle as far as we could whenever we had fine weather but anticipated that we could be limited to 10-20 km per day if it was safe to put to sea.

Given the background to the trip there was inevitably some PR to be associated with it. I arrived in Canberra at lunchtime the day before we were to depart and planned to spend the remainder of the day packing, fiberglassing and shopping. Unfortunately I found myself spending hours with various media agencies trying to emphasise the fact that plenty of other people had paddled the area before. At sunset we found ourselves standing in our underpants looking like idiots who had lost their boats in Lake Burley Griffin. To add insult to hypothermia Jim Croft happened along and we new that there was no way we could keep this a secret.

The trip to Strahan was uneventful and the local Police were very helpful in ferrying our vehicle to a safe location. Recent massive seas had resulted in the destruction of a fishing boat with the loss of two lives and Damon’s local contacts were unavailable as they were involved in the search. The seas were still rough on that first night, however we thought we were safe at the Hell’s Gates camping ground. This was not to be the case, and at around 11 pm a drunken 15 year old, straight out of Deliverance, crashed through Damon’s tent breaking all his poles. When the rest of the Neanderthal adults from the camping party congregated around it was obvious that the only mature one was a 12 year old. Needless to say we did not sleep soundly that night.

The Trip

Day One: Sun 12 Jan – We awoke and were glad to see that our kayaks were still in one piece and that everything was still there. After the previous afternoon’s strong winds it was pleasing to see that the sky was clear, the sea calm and the winds were light. In keeping with our game plan we headed off at around 7 am and thankfully encountered no current at Hell’s Gates. We rounded Cape Sorrel after one hour and noticed that even in the relatively calm conditions there were strong surges and a particularly dangerous reef about 500m from the tip of the Cape. Due to the relatively calm conditions we were able to pass between the Cape and the reef. On rounding the Cape we encountered a leading swell of about 2m and light headwinds. Despite this we were able to maintain a speed of around 7 Km/hr. We kept about 1 km to sea as there were numerous reefs which we found to be accurately marked on the 1:25,000 maps.

About 12 km south of the Cape we passed Sloop Rocks which served as a useful landmark. By lunchtime we had reached Gorge Point (29 km) which was originally to be our night location. Despite being a good campsite we decided to head for Varna Bay (a further 18 km) and make the most of the good conditions. Varna Bay had many reefs and exposed rocks, and while the Southern end was safe to land, we were unable to find a satisfactory campsite. Although we were feeling tired we decided to head for Hibbs Lagoon making a total day one distance of 55 km. Hibbs Lagoon Beach faces the South West, hence it catches the full brunt of the swell. Rather than doing a surf entry we negotiated the relatively calm seas behind the rocks on its southern boundary. We set up camp on the beach and slept well.

Day Two: Mon 13 Jan — The second day saw almost unbelievable conditions for South West Tasmania with the seas being glassy flat. We headed off without incident, except for being plagued by mosquitoes which came for us even though we were up to 3 km offshore. We paddled around Hibbs Pyramid which is a prominent 79m feature at the southern end of Hibbs Bay. A further 5 km south we came to Niblin Point which is the home of a large and playful seal colony. We entertained each other for about an hour before it was time to move on. This was about the only sealife we saw on the trip except for a large white pointer which did not bother us as he said he was waiting for one of those Innuit Classics, as the were easier to catch and the contents were much softer. At around 1 pm we arrived at Christmas Cove which is guarded by outcrops of jagged yet picturesque rocks. The water in the Cove was brown from the tannin flowing from the Wanderer River, however the yellow sandy beach was an attractive finish to the southern leg of the trip. We pulled the boats through the mouth of the river and set up camp in the tea tree by the waters edge. Using a piece of abalone in a stocking Damon was able to catch a crayfish which provided a change from dehydrated rations for that night.

Day Three: Tue 14 Jan — Again the weather was fine and we decided that rather than having a rest we would go up to the hut site that day. The 10 km paddle upstream was a very pleasant wilderness experience as most of the river was a tranquil pool surrounded by spectacular fern and rainforest. After about 6 km we came to our first pebble races which continued intermittently for the remainder of the river. While they were not difficult to negotiate they did do a lot of superficial damage to the unwieldy sea kayaks. On arrival at the pull out point we then walked for about 3-4 km to the hut site where we set up the HF radio and Damon made a radio telephone call to his wife. For Damon this was an emotional homecoming marred by the fact that his wife could not be there with him. For me, I was just glad that it was him and not me that spent a year of my life in this place. The return trip to the campsite was uneventful, however we were tired after 100 km of paddling in the previous three days and decided to rest the next day.

Day Four: Wed 15 Jan — The weather finally turned and for the whole day it poured rain, bringing out every sort of bloodsucking creature ever invented. Obviously we were the only show in town so the day’s highlight was intercepting leeches and sending them to fiery death. Surprisingly, despite the change in weather, the seas were still relatively calm. By the end of the day however, the swell had started to rise. The weather forecast for that night predicted that the seas would begin to abate by midday the next day but predicted up to 30 kn headwinds the day after.

Day Five: Thu 16 Jan — It had stopped raining, however the seas had got bigger. Looking out towards the entrance of Christmas Cove could best be described as intimidating, with what appeared to be a continuous barrier of surf. Despite this we decided that we should venture out and try and make as much distance as we could before the northerly winds arrived. At lunchtime we put to sea, and despite our trepidation we were able to negotiate the breakers at the entrance of the Cove successfully. The swell was about 4m with 6m sets coming in every couple of minutes, however, there was no wind and virtually no chop so we decided to continue. Although originally only intending to do 10 km to the Spero River I decided that, from the amount of spray coming from the proposed landing point, it would be better to head to the known landing point at Hibbs Lagoon. Rounding Niblin Point we decided to forget the seals this time as clapotis had made the seas were chaotic. Even though we were 1 km offshore every second stroke tended to be a support stroke which slowed us considerably.

Finally we reached Hibbs Bay and the seas became more predictable. In hindsight it would have been advisable to check the landing points on the southern end of the bay as they would have offered some protection from the SW swell, however, we pressed onto the known landing at the lagoon. Hoping to get protection from the surf I decided to get a closer look at the area protected by the rocky point we had used three days earlier. As I was manoeuvring Damon let out a shout, and I turned around to see what appeared to be a 5 meter wave bearing down on me and ready to break. Frantically I backpaddled, just cresting the wave as it was starting to break. I had a rapid change of sentiment and decided that we would land on the beach, through the surf, in or out of our boats.

I picked an area which we had previously identified to be free of rips and I went in first. Surfing was out of the question in these monsters so I just broached and braced until the waves spat me out. I had rolled a couple of times and was making good progress when I decided that I could now surf a 2m wave coming for me. I picked it up well, however I saw the nose of the Pitarak disappear into the froth then I felt it hit the bottom and I was catapulted end over end. Rolling back up I surfed the next two waves backwards then found myself ashore. I got out of my boat and waved to Damon who now headed in. Knowing that it would be extremely unlikely that he would be able to stay in his boat I waded in as far as I could go ready to recover him. I was surprised to see that he successfully made it at least two thirds the way in before he finally came out. Thankfully his experience with surf skis meant that he was not fazed, however, instead of swimming the boat in he had to recover his $500 EPIRB which he found floating beside him. I recovered his boat and we pulled them up into the lagoon and its lovely camp site. That night we had a restless sleep, plagued by possums and thoughts of THAT wave.

Day Six: Fri 17 Jan — Damon was keen to head off, however the seas had not abated since the previous day so we agreed to spend the day exploring the lagoon and beachcombing. The northerly winds did not materialise but the weather forecast was still predicting their imminent arrival.

Day Seven: Sat 18 Jan — We dragged our boats down to the beach, and with our hearts thumping we watched the massive breakers. The swell had dropped about 1m, however there were still 5m waves breaking up to 500m from the shore. So that I could assist in his launch and carry out a rescue if need be, I sent Damon off first. He paddled furiously but was quickly being carried to the south and the rocky headland. Thankfully he was able to break through the surf and after 10 minutes I could see that he was clear. I then set off trying to pick the areas where there was a gap in the breakers. After 10 minutes of furious paddling I too was clear and married up with Damon. I decided immediately that we would paddle well out to sea (2-3 km) to avoid the bomboras which were breaking up to 1 km offshore.

Map of Tasmania showing the sea kayaker’s route from Macquarie Harbour down the West Coast and up the Wanderer River to the hut location at Badger Box

Despite the conditions we were making good time and even more surprisingly, I experienced a strange and completely foreign feeling on the back of my neck, which I have since confirmed was a tailwind. After about 20 km the breeze got strong enough for us to agree trying out our sails. Both of us were apprehensive as I had not used mine on the open sea and Damon had capsized last time he had erected his. The sails proved to be successful and augmented our paddling efforts. With conditions as they were however, I decided that we would not put in for lunch, and as we passed Sloop Rocks we feasted on our supply of snacks. By this time the wind had picked up to about 15kn and the boats were travelling under sail only. At this stage Damon’s larger more stable boat proved an advantage, as I lost a deal of speed through having to use my paddle for stability and steering in the large quartering swell.

We were going so well that I decided that we would attempt to round Cape Sorrell instead of landing at Tiddy’s Beach to its immediate south, which appeared from the map to offer some protection. We were right to be cautious about Cape Sorell, and in particular the reef to its north we had previously identified as a hazard. The crashing breakers were impressive and intimidating with spray shooting over 100 ft into the air. We gave everything a wide berth and headed for an artificial harbour just outside of Hell’s Gates. Damon’s wrists were hurting, however surprisingly I still felt fresh after our 57 km paddle. We set up camp then walked over the ridge to examine the Tiddy’s Beach approach. We were horrified when we saw what we would have had to negotiate, which in essence was 1 km of chaotic white water interspersed with exposed reefs. We were glad to have given that one the flick.

Day Eight: Sun 19 Jan — Although only 3 km to the finish we encountered a fierce current flowing from the mouth of Macquarie Harbour and it took us almost 3 hours to reach our final destination. Again the local police assisted and ferried us back to our vehicle. Although difficult to validate, even the locals said that the seas were extraordinarily big which was a great relief as it had seriously tested our skills and judgement.

We had achieved our objective, set some personal distance benchmarks, handled large seas, made some sound decisions and had done it in less than half the time we had allocated. All in all a very satisfying paddle.

Advice For Future Paddlers

  • The best time of the year for paddling the SW coast is Feb-Apr. It can be ideal when a high is centred directly over Tasmania.
  • Although the area is remote the coast is plied by crayfishing boats which can be contacted by radio if need be.
  • The predominant swell is from the SW and its size can be totally unrelated to the prevailing weather conditions. As the locals say, “there is nothing between Tasmania and South America.”
  • Water is freely available and although tannin stained it is unpolluted.
  • Reefs and exposed rocks are accurately marked on the 1: 25 000 Tasmap series.
  • We brought forward our return date, however, the ferry was fully booked. Despite this we turned up and had no problem getting on.

Training Notes [30]

By David Winkworth

Last issue I said we would have a look at the Australian Board of Canoe Education Awards and standards for sea kayaking. I will have copies of the various awards at Honeymoon Bay if you’re interested so please come up and ask for them. Well, let’s see the aims first. The main aims of the Board are to promote safety in canoeing, foster understanding and knowledge and to encourage experienced paddlers to take a greater responsibility in training.

Now, the bit about experienced paddlers and training. Why should experienced paddlers spend their time in training? Why should they give up their weekends of open water paddling for training purposes?

Well I think we all like to see paddlers attain a level of skill sufficient for them to look after themselves on the ocean. Let’s face it, rescues – real rescues – are not fun! They are stressful for the rescuer because they are the person who has suddenly been lumbered with a huge responsibility, and they are often quite a traumatic experience for the victim because, for one reason or another, they are (pardon the pun) out of their depth.

I also think it’s human nature for people to help each other. It’s great to see paddlers increasing their skill level. You buy a sea kayak but you just can’t buy the skill level to match the boat straight over the counter. Skill is something we must learn and go on learning for years.

So, if everyone in sea kayaking got involved in this and passed acquired skills on to newer paddlers it would be terrific. Things are improving in the Club with more paddlers becoming involved in training and skills acquisition through the Board of Canoe Education Award Scheme. There are two award streams basically. They are Skills awards and Instructional Awards.

Skills Awards first this is where to start. The progression is as follows:

  • Introductory Sea Award
  • Sea Proficiency
  • Advanced Sea Proficiency

Each award requires a higher level of skill. You don’t need to have the Introductory Award to do the Sea ProfK:iency award. However, the Sea Proficiency Award is a pre-requisite for the Advanced Award. I don’t really want to get into great detail here about the nitty gritty of each award -it ~uld require too much space and in any case, the award requirements are freely available from any Instructor or Senior Instructor in the Club.

Let’s place them in relation to the Club’s own grading system.

For the Sea Proficiency Award you must be able to roll and possess a resuscitation award (usually a First Aid Certificate) So, this places Sea Proficiency Award holders at Grade 4 on the Club’s (pre-2000) grading scheme. Advanced and Introductory Award holders are therefore above and below this level respectively.

So, what if you’re say above Intro level but not quite at the Sea Proficiency level? How do you make the next step? Go on Club paddles, paddle your favourite areas, request some skills instruction, talk to experienced paddlers and read what you can find on the subject. We run weekends like “The Next Step” specifically for paddlers wanting to increase skill levels. When you think you’re ready for assessment at a particular skill level, let us know and I’Il organise an assessment day.

The progression in steps is logical. Paddlers know their level and, importantly the leader of a trip knows that paddler’s level too because that paddler has been formally assessed at that level. The leader knows that paddler X will be able to handle the surf at the next beach, or assist in rescues and towing if required. It makes sense!

The Instructional Awards in sea kayaking are:

  • Instructor
  • Senior Instructor
  • Diploma

Once again there is a logical progression both in skills/ knowledge and requirements. Please talk to Frank Bakker or myself if interested in these awards.

Well, that’s a brief outline of the Awards scheme. I commend it to you. It’s not expensive, it’s good fun and I guarantee you’ll learn heaps. You’ll pick up skills you can pass on to other paddlers in years to come. That’s what it’s all about!

Next issue, we’ll have a look at the effects of wind and waves. Hopefully I’ll get the article on Sea and Swell written for the magazine too – can’t do everything at once .At least I’m out of the Cave of Shame for now!

Rudders Study [30]

By Andrew Eddy

Many paddlers – you could call them purists – believe that sea kayakers should be able to handle a kayak without the added drag, mechanical complexity and “unreliability” of a rudder. That is: paddlers should learn paddling skills which do not rely on a rudder.

The opposing camp believes that a rudder, whil perhaps not strictly necessary, is a particular advantage in difficult conditions, especially quartering winds and seas. I have followed this ongoing debate with great interest.

Over the last 8 months I have run a series of tests in real paddling conditions, in order to objectively test the need for a rudder on each of my two sea kayaks. The important thing was to test in real paddling conditions and remove as many variables from the testing as possible. I collected my 24th data point last night and now feel that the data can stand some scrutiny.

I paddle the Lane Cove Valley Canoe Club’s Wednesday night handicap on most weeks. The course is on a tidal section of the Lane Cove River, over a 12.1 km (about 7 nm) out-and-back loop between Fuller’s bridge and Fig Tree bridge. The valley is narrow, is protected by hills to 60 metres (200 ft), and mangroves at the waterline, from all but northerly and southerly winds, both of which are rare as steady winds. The event is a more-or-less fun “race” ; for anywhere from 10 to 50 paddlers, depending on the time of year. Handicaps are estimated from the previous week’s effort, and judged so that everyone should finish at Wirong Flat at about 8 pm. “Competition” is often fierce, which has given me a good environment for speed trials of my kayaks.

The boats I used were:

the Feathercraft K1 Expedition, a 4.8 m skin-and-frame sea kayak, which I usually use on the ocean with the rudder detached and inside the rear hatch and the pedals locked in position;

the Arctic Raider, a 5.4 m kevlar sea kayak, loosely based on the Nordkapp, but with lots of rocker, the hollows removed from the bow and stern, no stern horn and a retractable rudder.

I have analysed 24 measurements of my handicap times, roughly spread over both boats, with and without rudders. Results are (mean kmh) +/- (standard error of mean). To convert to knots divide by 1.852.


  • no rudder 8.45 +/- .03
  • with rudder 7.96 +/- .133

A two-sample T-test shows that these speeds are significantly different (p=0.0007). The Feathercraft is 0.5 kmh faster without the rudder (about 4 minutes in every hour).

Arctic Raider

  • no rudder 8.23 +/- .054
  • with rudder 8.53 +/- .067

A two-sample T-test shows that these speeds are significantly different (p=0.009). The Arctic Raider is 0.3 kmh faster with the rudder (about 2 minutes in the hour).

The Arctic Raider in its best configuration is no faster than the Feathercraft at its best (two-sample T-test: p=0.28, i.e., the difference is not significant).

It may come as a surprise that the sleek kevlar rigid boat is no quicker that the expedition-volume folding skin-boat, but I think a short explanation will cure that surprise.

The Arctic Raider design may have been based on the Nordkapp, but has diverged so much in details that affect the performance of the boat, that it could no longer claim more than distant kinship. It has a lot of rocker, so it catches waves well and manoeuvres with little effort but the penalty for this is that it does not track well. The slightest breeze from any direction but dead ahead, or the wakes of other kayaks, will force the paddler to expend effort on corrective strokes. Another feature is that the boat has a surprisingly rounded bilge and, although it is possible to initiate a turn by leaning, it is not possible to stop a turn in the same way and from then on it behaves like a white water boat; it continues to tighten the turn until it is almost into a spin. Not bad going for a 5.4 metre boat. This kayak is good fun in the surf, where (with the rudder duct-taped firmly to the deck) this manoeuvrability comes in handy. This should explain the above result: significantly faster times with the rudder down and used to aid tracking.

The Feathercraft is a very different boat to paddle. It is a skin boat, so it is hard-chined from close to the bow to close to the stern. It appears to have no rocker on land, but the flex of the frame and the weight of the paddler give it from 2 to 3 cm of rocker in the water. The hard chines and deep V of the keel give this boat the ability to both track well and steer with slight leans. The bow and stern are low, giving low windage, so the only time the wind creates problems like weathercocking is when the rudder’s own windage comes into play. So, leave off the rudder and you don’t need it, if you leave it on, you may well need it.

It is worth noting that towing the boats in a tank would not have given results anything like these. The Arctic Raider’s results are strongly affected by the paddler’s ability to keep the boat running straight. This would not have been shown by towing. The Feathercraft’s results probably would have been a lot closer to a simple drag measurement.

One day, it would be fun to compare a Nordkapp and other boats… but there is only one of me and collecting this data takes time.

President’s Report [30]

By Norm Sanders

Things are going pretty well for the club. The new trips convenor, Andrew Eddy, has been busy organising a schedule which has something for everybody. The Newsletter, under the able guidance of the surprisingly talented Fishkiller, gets better all the time.

The last three club paddles I attended were just that: Club paddles. Arunas Pilka’s Montague Island trip was noteworthy for absolutely perfect weather and the fact that the whole group stayed together. The same was true for John Wild’s Tollgate Toddle.

During my Barling’s Beach Bash, a number of paddlers learned basic surfing skills before the deluge struck on Sunday. Barling’s Beach was also popular with the families, which was good to see. Fortunately, the jet ski which had infested the area on Friday had left by the time club members arrived.

However, there is a cloud on the horizon for the club. Gordon Carswell learned that Waterways (the NSW body which administers boating activities) is considering drafting regulations for sea kayaking. We could be forced to stay close to shore and wear full lifejackets rather than PFD’s. Full lifejackets would be impossible to paddle with in safety. In addition, true safety items, like decklines and tow ropes, would probably be ignored. After consultation with Training Officer Dave Winkworth, I sent the following letter to Carl Scully, Minister for Ports, and John Quinlan, Acting Chief Executive, Waterways.

24 Feb. 1997

Mr. John Quinlan
A/Chief Executive
James Craig Road
Rozelle Bay, NSW 2039

Dear Mr. Quinlan:

I am contacting you in my capacity as President of the New South Wales Sea Kayak Club. It has come to our attention that Waterways is in the process of framing rules for Sea Kayaks.

The NSWSKC has long been concerned with safety on the water and has established guidelines for the necessary equipment. In addition, we hold training sessions to help our members to upgrade their skills.

A properly set up Sea Kayak, operated by a skilled paddler, is one of the most seaworthy vessels afloat. (I speak from many years of experience on the ocean, including a crossing of the Pacific in a 9 meter sloop, and a single-handed passage from Fiji to Hobart.)

A Sea Kayak, unlike the very dangerous Sit On Tops, offers protection to the paddler from the effects of heat, cold, and dehydration. We regularly surf with our Sea Kayaks, and are able to operate in conditions which close the bars to powered craft.

Our members have made passages of many days duration in Alaska, Canada, Baja California and the Pacific Islands. Members have also paddled across Bass and Torres Straits, and between Melbourne and Sydney. We regularly undertake unsupported trips up and down the Australian coastline.

The NSWSKC is the only organisation which is devoted entirely to sea kayaking. Other canoe and kayaking bodies are primarily white-water and flat-water orientated.

Our members are constantly coached on safety procedures, but, of course, not all sea kayakers belong to our club. We would be happy to share our expertise with you in framing realistic guidelines which would lead to increased safety on the water for all sea kayakers.


Dr. N. K. Sanders
President, NSWSKC
Certified Sea Instructor, Australian Canoe Federation

I recently got the following response from Mr. Quinlan:

Dear Dr. Sanders

Thank you for your letter of 24 February 1997 offering assistance in developing guidelines for organised sea kayaking.

At this stage little work has been done in developing such guidelines but any assistance you may be able to provide in the early stages would be welcome. The Waterways Authority’s contact officer for this matter is Mr. John Hickey, Policy Officer, who can be contacted on (02) 9563 8608. I have asked him to contact you to discuss how you may be of assistance.

Yours Sincerely,

J.V. Quinlan
A/Chief Executive

I’ll keep you posted on further developments. Happy paddling.

Pittaraks in South Georgia [30]

By Wade Fairley

The barometer was plummeting and a heavy sea mist had rolled up out of the South West quickly blotting out the sun and casting the world in a uniform steel grey light. Huge Southern Ocean rollers swept up in relentless rows out of the South West. Here at 56 degrees South, the Southern Ocean literally belts around the bottom of the globe and aside from a few tiny sub Antarctic Islands like South Georgia. there is no land mass to block the path of these massive waves. The huge Southern Ocean bommers gather momentum and power then explode with terrible force against South Georgia’s rocky cold shores.

We steered our Pittaraks through a thin channel between the cliffs of a small rocky island and the main land. A huge grounded ice berg partially blocked the narrow lead. To go around the island would add a couple more kilometres of paddling. so we opted to try and sneak by the grounded ice tower. The heaving swell burst against the glistening ice blue slick walls. Angus had the lead. the fastest of the three of us. We each paddled a five meter single kayaks. Angus and I in Pittaraks. The two boats that two years before we had taken to the Antarctic peninsular. And kayaks we knew we could thoroughly rely upon for serious expedition paddling like South Georgia.

Tentacles of kelp appeared on the surface, this meant the water was getting dangerously shallow and some of the larger rollers began exploding randomly about us. 1 Between swells I would see Angus I bobbing ahead so tiny against the power engulfing us. I saw him surfing down a larger roller its crest starting I to collapse into booming foam. As the wave steeped Angus picked up 1 too much speed. Already that day we 4 had paddled a very hard and I nervous six long hours, now tired he I was slower to react, he broached on I the steep crest and buried the i kayak’s nose. He corkscrewed and I cartwheeled as the wave broke : about him. The next moment he was over, on his side, head in the I freezing water.

This I thought was the dreaded moment feared. We’re all on our own I we had agreed, though we were three, a rescue in such rough seas would be impossible. It would need be roll or Angus foundered for a moment, the Pittarak’s high bow and stem keeping the kayak and him on it’s side rather than going completely up side down. Angus simply gave little more than a hard support stroke and he was up. We are all experienced kayakers and we’ve I rolled kayaks between us thousands I of times. But this was different -this I was too real, too serious.

The sea huge and exploding about us, the water temperature hovering just above zero and the shore line an impenetrable cliff line. I remember being frankly sceptical about Pittarak’s claim of being an almost’self righting’ kayak. But I had just seen a very timely demonstration and in that instance the craft’s very clever design may have saved our lives.

This was our second kayaking expedition in the Southern Ocean. Two years previously we had made the first unsupported kayaking expedition to Antarctica. Obviously equipment was a major concern to us for that expedition. We had a modest budget but needed to somehow get the best kayak money could buy. Many sea kayaks had sprung onto the market but after searching about it seemed to me that the Pittarak was a good bow length ahead in thoughtful design.

Now with two committing kayaking expeditions behind us and our Pittaraks. the wisdom of that decision and the wisdom of the boat’s very intelligent design have become very evident. Though a very responsive and sporty kayak, for the South Georgia expedition we were still ab~ to load aboard enough food and equipment to travel self contained in a polar environment for some fifty days. The boat with it’s long keel-Iine tracks beautifully in even in strong cross winds and keeps a steady course even in rough choppy conditions. The recessed deck hatches offer litt~ windage or wave resistance when paddling in waves.

Our Pittaraks are left in storage in Chile and I look forward to more expeditions with them in the Southern Ocean.

Making a Superlight Greenland Paddle [30]

By Norm Sanders

Several years ago, I made a Greenland paddle to a John Heath design described in Sea Kayaker magazine. I enjoyed the feel of it and appreciated the Greenland paddling style, but used the paddle rarely — at 68 oz. (1.9 kg), it was far too heavy.

This was partly a function of the wood I used. I combed through the stacks of the local yards and selected the best timber available. I chose a clear but dense lump of what they call Oregon in Australia. In the early days, Oregon was the major area exporting Douglas Fir to the Pacific.

I later experimented with a lighter Greenland-style paddle with a Radiata pine shaft and 1/8 inch (3 mm) plywood blades. At 40 oz. (1120 grams), this paddle was about as light as I could go with the wood available to me. At first, I was very disappointed by the flutter. I accidentally discovered that the paddle became stable when I used the back of the paddle as the working surface instead of the flat front of the blade. The ridge of the shaft split the flow of water evenly and the annoying flutter disappeared.

I used this paddle more often than the solid Greenland version, but still preferred my standard 32 ounce (896 grams) fibreglass, non-offset model for touring and surfing. Then, as a result of adopting a more vertical, racing style stroke, I started having shoulder problems. I found the lower Greenland style of paddling far more comfortable. A superlight Greenland paddle started looking very good indeed.

Given my experience with my plywood-bladed paddle, I was pretty sure that a full-length, round shaft with glassed on plywood blades would be free of flutter. I decided to take a gamble. I ordered two 120 cm Epoxy Carbon Fibre shafts (170 grams per metre) and a split shaft insert from Pacific Composites in Queensland [PO Box 391, Archerfield, Qld. 4108, Phone (07) 3274 1099]. With shipping and air freight, the total cost was $76.25. Since I used scraps and a minimum of epoxy, the whole paddle ended up costing less than $80.00.

The two 120 cm shafts would give me the 240 cm length (almost 8 feet) I was after, while at the same time making the paddle easier to transport. As usual, this is a compromise. The insert weighs 3 ounces (84 grams). A one-piece paddle would be that much lighter, weighing only 25 ounces (700 grams).

While waiting for the shafts to arrive, I cut out four half blades from 1/8 inch (3 mm) exterior ply. They were 32 inches (81 cm) long, 1 9/16 inches (40 mm) wide at the tip, tapering to 1/2 inch (12 mm) at the inner end. This blade is 4 inches (10 cm) shorter than the John Heath design which has the same overall paddle length. I find that I occasionally like to grip the paddle a bit further out on the shaft.

Foam would also work for the blades, but the weight saved would be negligible and the plywood has greater strength. I also made a simple jig to hold the shaft while I positioned the blades. I nailed two pieces of 1/4 inch (6 mm) plywood on each side of the centerline to raise the blades to a position halfway up the 1 1/8 inch (29 mm) diameter shaft.

Morris the postman had scarcely putted off on his Honda before I had the shafts out of their wrappings. I first tapered the ends for about an inch and then epoxied foam plugs in place. I mounted the jig on a saw horse and strapped the shafts down with strips of inntertube. I use these strips for a multitude of clamping and holding operations and find them indispensable for awkward shapes. Then I stapled the blades to the jig, using little pieces of packaging band under the staples to facilitate removal and avoid scarring the wood.

Finished paddles. Left to right: solid wood Greenland paddle; plywood bladed, pine shaft paddle; carbon fibre ‘Superlight Paddle’

I sanded the shaft and then tacked on the blade sections with an ice cream stick-sized fillet of epoxy filler. When the epoxy had set up, I turned the paddle over and filleted the other side. Once both fillets were in place, the blades were secure enough to be given a final shaping and sanding. I cut the tips in a large radius curve as further insurance against flutter. Next, I cut and installed the foam plugs in the shaft ends.

Then I glassed the blades and shaft with 6 oz. (200 grams) cloth and epoxy, one side at a time. In the interests of saving weight, I filled the weave, but didn’t flood the glass with resin. After I trimmed off the excess glass, the only jobs left were to put plugs in the inboard ends of the shafts so they would be watertight and then epoxy the insert in place. I used a windsurfing boom spring pin to lock the shaft to the insert.

I had been weighing the bits and pieces as they went together and was anxiously watching the total get bigger and bigger. Now I took a deep breath and put the finished product on the scales — 28 ounces (784 grams) for a 240 cm Greenlander! If it passed the sea trials, this was going to be one fine paddle.

With potentially dangerous over-confidence I launched into the 1.5 meter surf in front of my house. I had a second to note that there was no flutter before having to punch into the break. I could get all the power I needed simply by holding the paddle more vertically — the entire blade surface was then in use.

Once outside the break, I found the paddle delightful for cruising. The relatively small blade area in the water when the paddle is kept low is still enough to keep the kayak moving at a good clip into the wind. There is a slight amount of slippage which is actually an advantage — it prevents me from overloading my tender shoulders.

Back in the surf, I was surprised at the ease of bracing into waves. It was far less strenuous than with my “normal” paddle. Traditional wisdom has it that short paddles are best in the soup. I don’t believe that anymore. After the inevitable trashing, I tried a roll. My first effort was pretty ragged. I was trying to snap the paddle too fast. I then made a slower sweep and allowed the length to work for me. Wonderfully easy!

I have now had a chance to test the paddle thoroughly and find it without vices. My other paddles sit forlornly in the garage and I feel deprived if I can’t use my superlight Greenlander. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, however. Many paddlers have been corrupted in their early years by deviant paddle salespersons who get the novices hooked on offset paddles. Friends who are thus afflicted return the Greenlander with, at best, a polite “Interesting.” Others, less bound to the convention of the moment, try it and race home to make their own. Where else can you get a magnificent 28 oz. (784 grams) carbon fibre paddle for under $80.00?

The Old Sea Dog’s Gear Locker [30]

By Norm Sanders

Thanks to modern science, the OSD has discovered a whole new oceanic world. No longer are his kayaking days just a blur. Cataract surgery? Contact lenses? No. Rain-X™!

His once salt-encrusted Glarefoils now glisten clearly in the sunshine, even after a trashing in the surf. Rain-X™ is an expensive liquid ($12.95 per 100 ml bottle) which is used on helicopter windscreens, car and boat windshields and motorcycle helmet visors with dramatic results. Good stuff. When applied only to Glarefoils, 100 ml goes a long way.

The OSD gratefully acknowledges the cleverness of Fishkiller who discovered Rain-X™ while searching for a way to keep his amphibious video camera free of water droplets on the glass of the housing.

Modern science has also come to the aid of the OSD’s paddling energy, which is much in need of assistance. He has learned from Marathon freak Jim Croft and others that carbohydrates are the key. They break down into the sugars which fuel the muscles. Mars Bars™, unfortunately, aren’t as good because they give you a sudden sugar hit and then let you down.

The OSD learned that bananas are an excellent source of carbohydrates. After further research he found that many grains are also good. “Why not,” he thought, “bake a bread of some kind which would be suitable for long kayak trips??”

So he did. The famous Carbo Cake™ was born. It has since been tested on a Nadgee trip and came through with flying crullers. (Pun) Most found it edible, some even pronounced it good. The frequently nibbled Carbo Cake™ certainly kept the OSD from getting the usual depleted, headachy feeling he ordinarily feels after a few hours of paddling. In addition, he found that a breakfast of Carbo Cake™ gave him all the nutrition and goodness of his usual semolina without cooking, thus saving a great deal of time. The public-spirited OSD has offered to share his secret:

Carbo Cake™

  • 2 Cups Wholemeal self raising flour (fine stoneground)
  • 1 Cup Semolina
  • 1 Cup Wheat germ
  • 1/2 Cup Buckwheat
  • 1/2 Cup dried paw paw or other fruit
  • 1 1/2 Cups milk
  • 2 Whole eggs

Add all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl and beat the hell out of them with a spoon. Take tablespoon-sized globs of dough and form into balls. Place on non-stick tray close together. Like their close relations, the rock cakes, they don’t increase in size while cooking. Bake in Hot oven for 25 minutes. If not used immediately, put in freezer for the next expedition.

Enjoy, energetically.

Water is also essential for good paddling performance. Most paddlers don’t drink enough water. The human being is the only animal which doesn’t get thirsty until after there is already a water deficit. The OSD has been drinking lots more water than usual and benefiting therefrom. Adding a fluid and energy replacement like Isosport™ kills two birds (so to speak) with one stone. They recommend consumption at the rate of one litre per hour for heavy exercise, AND a litre during the hour after exercise to replenish supplies.

Of course, what goes in, must come out. If not as sweat, then as piss. The OSD uses his bailing bucket while at sea. At night, in the privacy of his tent, he utilises a plastic container to avoid that time of excruciating decision — bladder pressure versus leaving a warm, dry sleeping bag to venture out into the deluges which characterise NSWSKC outings. The OSD urges that paddlers make sure the bottle is big enough, or else the problem is just compounded.

So much for liquid effluent. The solids require a different approach. The traditional Aussie method involves walking a few steps into the bush with a wad of old newspapers, which are liberally strewn about after the act. More environmentally aware types carry neat little plastic shovels for digging cat holes and burning the used toilet paper. However, the US wilderness health gurus have other ideas. The OSD found that present thinking in Alaska is to shit in the intertidal zone, letting the forces of wind and wave break down the lumps. Popular camp sites were running out of cat hole locations. The OSD recalls seeing the natives of the Pacific Islands using the intertidal technique before (and indeed, after) the US Peace Corps arrived with their water-seal toilet projects. A fish called the Roi ate the turds and the islanders then ate the fish, which only seems fair.

When no intertidal zone is handy, the Yanks advocate the smear. It was long assumed that microorganisms in near-surface soil rapidly rendered shit harmless. But then came the turd-testers, scientists who purposely cat-holed, pathogen-impregnated excrement and dug it up a year later to discover some of the pathogens were still active.

Now they say that shit rots away to harmlessness more quickly if it is smeared over the surface to maximise sun and air exposure. If no good smear or intertidal sites exist, then the only alternative is to carry the shit home in plastic bags. Already, some of the more adaptable NSWSKC members have noted the new approach. “Well,” said Jim Croft at Nadgee River, “Guess I’ll go take a smear.”

While more or less on the subject of the US, the OSD spotted an item in Backpacker Magazine about how United Airlines is confiscating all fuel stoves and bottles. Official airline policy is to destroy all liquid fuel stoves, with or without fuel “To prevent the possibility of a detonation.” Travellers beware. Hopefully this pernicious Yank paranoia won’t spread to our azure and peaceful skies.

News Flash

REI is now Online!

The OSD’s ego recently got the better of him and he had his old (1954) membership number re-instated. REI now has some 4 million members. The OSD’s number is 00004863, which brings gasps of respect and awe from the REI personnel. However, the OSD is quick to add that the service was just as good when he was just one of the herd.

Gear rules, ok?

Lessons from Nadgee II [30]

By Mark Pearson

Nadgee again

It had been only nine months since my first trip to this wilderness haven, but it seemed much longer. My good friend Doug Fraser instigated this trip partially in preparation for a west coast Tassie trip he was doing in January. Eventually the dates December 19-22 were agreed and we set about inviting interested club members to participate. A group of six eventually committed to the trip.

Given my inability to do justice to the natural beauty of this area, the following account focuses more on the personalities of the paddling group and the all-important CHIF (Critical Human Interaction Factor) that can make or break this type of expedition. This was also to be the first trip on which I would take a video camera (in a waterproof casing) to record this interaction taking place…

The Group

Tony Peterson had been sea kayaking a mere three months, having drifted into the activity through fishing in his flat-bottomed Kakadu. In a rush of early enthusiasm he had driven all the way to Sydney to purchase one of those handsome Mirage 19’s. Within 2 weeks he realised that a rethink was in order because a) he really did not want to break any speed records and b) he would like a kayak that turned occasionally, especially in an emergency. There followed some further research into an appropriate replacement craft and the eventual purchase of an Inuit Classic. Since then, Tony had devoted much time to customising his new kayak, and to practicing rolls and support strokes in the Dickson pool. But Tony had had limited time for paddling in preparation for this trip. His longest paddle to date was only seven kilometres. So, armed with a good grasp of underwater manoeuvres and general theory, Tony was technically well prepared for the trip. Only time would tell how he would cope with the physical and mental examination that would be set by ocean, rocks, waves and, more particularly, wind.

Jim Croft is a recent convert to the fanatical ‘Pain and Suffering’ sect that operates covertly within the club, and had recently completed the Hawkesbury Classic without actually training for the event (due to atypical last minute decision to actually compete). The total lack of preparation had guaranteed Jim a unique 13 hour orgy of throbbing, mind numbing pain, the news of which caused latent outbreaks of jealousy from P&S sect members that had not taken part. On completion of the race, friends reported that Jim entered a period of deep depression as his body reluctantly adjusted to a state of painlessness. However, within days his spirits were lifted with the discovery that the race had left him a permanently bad shoulder! Jim’s goals for this trip were to abuse the new injury to ensure regular painful twinges, with hopefully the odd stabbing sensation that would make him cry out.

Doug Fraser had about 18 months sea kayaking experience, but substantially more in white-water. Doug, a robust Army Major, had thought sea kayaking a bit of a sissy game until the Point Perpendicular ‘paddle or die’ disaster of July ’95. Here he achieved instant fame by uttering le immortal words “I’m heading for Huskisson” as we fought for every inch against the screaming westerly under the cliffs. As he spoke, the 2kms remaining to our agreed destination of Target Beach seemed just humanly possible, the additional 12 kms to Huskisson unthinkable! Doug, of course, never made it. He was found later that evening capsized and washed up on the north-eastern shore of Jervis Bay by beachcombers. However, not only did his self-belief on this occasion earn him many admirers, this incident also instilled in the man the beginnings of respect for the physical challenge of sea kayaking. Now affectionately referred to as Doug Headwind, he has built a solid reputation for attracting adverse conditions whenever he paddles with the club.

Damon Howes was a new club member, whom I had briefly met at the Rock’n’Roll weekend, who was to partner Doug on the west coast Tasmania paddle in January. Damon was fairly new to sea-kayaking and had just been given a shiny yellow Rosco.

The final member of the group was Club President Norm Sanders. The personality of this individual was accurately described in Lessons 1 (see Newsletter 27).

Oh, and of course there was me. After my crisis of confidence during the last Nadgee paddle, brought about as my inadequacies were mercilessly exposed by Sanders and Caldwell (the ‘bearded ones’), I had re-grown my own beard after two years of shaving. It was not a real sea paddlers’ beard, but a neat compromise that could survive both paddling and office conditions. To further boost my confidence I knew that on this trip I would be more experienced (at least chronologically) than the majority of the group. So, would the combination of experience and facial hair at last accord me the respect that I craved? Would my new Inuit Classic hold all my gear? Would I be fast enough this time to claim one of the few good tent sites? These were the questions nagging at the back of my mind as I endured Tony’s raucous blues-guitar music on the drive down to Womboyn.

The Plan

The trip plan was to depart for Nadgee from Greenglades at the southern end of Disaster Bay (the more risky route though the fearsome Womboyn bar was considered but rejected due to the inexperience of some of the group), returning to Merica River and from there back to Womboyn.

There was one human complication. Renowned camp follower, Jeanette Mill, advised that she would walk in to meet us at Merica river on the third day (Saturday). If conditions forced a change to our plan, poor Jeannette would have to camp alone.

Setting out, Greenglades, Thursday morning.

Tony and I were woken up by Norm’s appalling rendition of Old Man River. Emerging from our tents we were surprised to see Jim’s Magna parked near us. We had assumed (as planned) that it was Andrew Eddy’s car that arrived at about midnight. It turned out that Andrew had pulled out of the long trip from northern Sydney after actually hitting the road, leaving poor Jim to drive down alone. I was quietly pleased that Jim, at last, had been the victim of someone else’s indecision.

The conversation over our first p breakfast semolina centred on the latest U.S. thinking on toilet habits in the wild. Norm informed the group that burying ‘solid waste’ was out, and that the trend now was for crapping in intertidal zones, or alternatively to leave it unburied and smeared around. Both methods meant a quicker breakdown of the material and less impact on the environment. Following this discussion, crapping techniques were to become a central theme of the trip, with some members of the group regularly announcing that they were “off for their morning smear” or, for those not averse to turning their back on danger, an eco-shit in the surging waters surf beaches.

In a display of precision borne of years of army discipline, Doug and Damon arrived 45 minutes late. While they quickly loaded their kayaks, the rest of us drove the cars back to Womboyn and from there paid the shop owner to cart us back to the launch site in his ute. As the four of us walked through the scrub back to the beach we stopped and, without a spoken word, all took a leak. I took this as a good omen for group synchronicity in the trials that lay ahead.

But then a disaster! On reaching my waiting kayak I discovered an empty milk crate beside it which I had obviously forgotten to put back in the car! Memories of the last trip and the traumatic ‘toilet paper’ incident came flooding back as the entire group instantly forgot teamwork and cackled derisively at my error. Luckily our ute driver had hung around and I was still able to have the crate taken back to the cars. I cursed myself and vowed to lift my game.

The fleet was ready to go: Tony, Norm and I in Inuit Classics (Norm in his fibreglass ‘test to destruction’ boat), Jim in the plastic Apostle, Damon in a long, smooth-running Rosco and Doug in a Pittarak. The weather forecast was for south-south-westerlies varying between 10 and 20 knots -the ‘South Westerly’ part was OK, but too much of the ‘south south westerly’ would create problems due to the aspect of this coast. Given he range of experience of the group, we decided to stick to the plan to head south for Nadgee, with the option to turn back to Merica River if the wind really got up. Conditions were calm and pleasant as we set off, but as we left the shelter of Disaster Bay and turned south we were hit by some very unwelcome gusts. I attempted to shoot some very dirty looks in Doug Headwind’s general direction, however, he and his Pittarak had set off at a blistering pace and were already just a dot on the horizon. He slowed up some time later only to receive a thorough lambasting from Norm for breaking formation. A strong feeling of deja vu reminded me that former sea kayaker, John Caldwell had suffered the same fate on the last trip. Some time later I heard agonised groans above the noise of the wind. Jim, paddling hard some 80 metres away to my left, was obviously having a great time!

We plodded on. I followed Norm as he tracked closer to the long Newtons Beach shoreline to maximise land shelter. After much waving and encouragement, the tiring Tony was also coaxed into coming in closer for a bit of relief. Tony’s demeanour told us that he was not overfond of getting too close to land when afloat. Some time later Jim surprised everybody by catching a fish (a snook) with lure attached to unsportingly thick line and an ugly handreel. I immediately consigned snooks to the lower end of the fish intelligence spectrum. The remainder of the paddle was uneventful, with the wind staying at moderate levels thanks to the partial shelter of the cliff line. One notable feature was a recent rockfall from one of the cliff faces – something to think about for those of us who like to cruise near the rocks. Tony’s stamina finally gave out, about two kilometres from our destination (although it must be admitted that I was also pretty stuffed by this stage), and the gallant Norm towed him for about 35 metres before passing the line to the eager and energetic Doug. We landed in unusually small surf, much to the disappoint of my video camera. The paddle to Nadgee River took four and a I half hours.

After rejecting Norm’s secret upriver ‘camp site’, (which would have been great if we had brought machetes and had a couple of days to clear tent space), we eventually put to sea again and set up camp at the ‘Nadgee Hilton’ – a site in the teatree scrub at the southern end of the beach. This is a good sheltered site, with accommodation for 6 to 8 tents, but is a difficult and risky launch area if the surf is up. After lunch, setting up camp and a couple of hours of local exploration, we were ready for dinner. Damon had brought some hi-tech DEHI army food which he was pleased to let others sample. All had Trangias except for Doug, who had an MSR. As Doug’s other reputation was for exploding molten canned stuff over everything within a 10 foot radius, he was banned from cooking in the Trangia epicentre. And so it was that Doug, after wolfing down his canned stuff, then joined the group and commenced criticising our beloved Trangias and the delicious and adventurous dishes we were creating. Unfortunately, this dinner-time behaviour was to become Doug’s routine throughout the trip. As the conversation developed it soon became apparent that Damon was a really nice bloke with some interesting tales about his 12 months living deep in the Tasmanian wilderness.

After the meal, the Inuit Classic owners discussed the performance of the new kayak, particularly as this was the first time it had been paddled laden for any distance. Doug immediately interrupted to say he was not impressed by any feature of the new design and, still smarting over Norm’s reprimand, added hat he resented having to restrain his Pittarak from it’s natural ‘into the wind’ speed. The group was not too surprised by this outburst and did not retaliate. For it is well known in paddling circles that Pittarak owners are traditionally dismissive of other kayak designs and the Pittarak’s strong headwind performance so far had obviously increased Doug’s air of superiority. I quietly hoped for some beam, or preferably tail winds, to really show up some of the other characteristics of Doug’s vessel. We drank some Lambrusco before hitting the sack about 9 pm.

On Friday Morning, after slurping down more delicious Semolina (except for Doug, who had a preference or canned cereal), we decided to paddle down to Nadgee Lake, 3 to 4 kilometres to the south. Tony, fatigued from the previous day, took the opportunity for some restful fishing from a nearby rock platform. The wind was again blowing from the south west at about 15 – 20 knots, and we began the now customary plod into the chop and swell. At Nadgee Lake beach the surf conditions were reasonable benign for this fearsome place, with waves of about a metre breaking about 15 metres out from the steeply shelving beach. After I surfed the Classic in, I got ready to video Doug’s run. As the camera rolled I was pleased to see Doug confidently position himself to catch a good wave. And then, suddenly, his confidence seemed to evaporate and he backed off, obviously shaken. I guessed that Doug, after watching me surfing in so effortlessly in the Classic, had momentarily forgotten that his mount was a Pittarak, it’s meat cleaver of a prow poised to bite deep in the wave and hurl him out into the surf. A crestfallen Doug then slunk into the beach on the back of a small wave to a cacophony of boos I from the watching group.

The wind was really howling over Nadgee Lake so we abandoned plans to paddle it and went for a walk to locate a freshwater soak and yet another secret sea paddlers camping area. On return to the beach the wind was now so strong some of the kayaks had been turned 90 degrees from their parked position. Norm kindly gave me some of his ‘carbo-cake’ to give me an energy boost in the cold conditions. As I chewed and chewed the rocky morsel, my aching jaw muscles caused me to wonder if I was expending more energy on ‘eating effort’ than I would get from the food itself. I fully concentrated on the chewing in the hope of some rewarding flavour but, looking around some minutes later, found I was now I alone on the beach and my companions were on their way! I swallowed what I could and launched quickly.

Hitting the water earlier than we had planned gave the weather Gods insufficient notice to swing the wind round to the north. At last I had the chance to try out the new kayak in a tailwind. I wasn’t disappointed; the rudderless Classic took little effort to maintain direction and was regularly picking up long straight surfing rides. The lack of the sideways broaching common to longer kayaks meant I was making very good speed indeed. I was interested to note that having caught up with Doug (who was first off the beach but had to stop to drop his rudder!). I was very soon about 60 metres in front of him and pulling away. I was on the verge of developing my very own air of superiority when I thought that perhaps the speed was not due to my kayak but the turbo-boosting qualities of Norm’s carbo cake. Before I could analyse this further, Damon, testing out his spinnaker rig, capsized near me. Damon pleaded with me to help him back into his boat, but I explained that I had to film the action and that he would have to wait for rescue by the expert salvage team of Jim and Norm. After Damon was refloated we headed home and were greeted by the sight of an excited Tony jumping up and down on the rock platform brandishing a dead wrasse.

After lunch, during which Tony amused the group with his inept attempts at cooking on his new Trangia, we spotted three sea kayaks heading north about 500 metres offshore, making quick time with the following wind. We pondered whether one of them was well-known Mallacoota paddler Larry Gray, perhaps heading for Merica.

We had each brought about 8 to10 litres of water to last us two days at Nadgee. Jim, after swigging down and/or cooking away 7 litres on the first day, was perplexed as to why he was down to his last litre by Friday afternoon. Hearteningly, the group, rather than attack Jim for foolish profligacy, decided instead to take pity on his poor rationing skills, and donated enough water to keep him alive until he a could get fresh supplies at Merica.

We then scattered as various interests were pursued. Jim had dropped his hand line at Nadgee Lake and went for a walk to look for it. Damon went snorkelling, Doug waxed and polished his Pittarak and Norm ventured into his beard in search of ticks. Tony and I decided to head up river for a couple of hours fishing.

After catching a couple of nice bream for dinner we paddled back downriver to the bar to find the surf had built up as a result of the southerly. As we maintained our positions in the wash, Tony intensely studied the surf, glanced anxiously at the nearby rocks, looked at the surf again and then gazed longingly at our destination – four hundred metres away at the other end of the beach. So near and yet so far. I attempted to reassure Tony that his kayak would have little trouble in dealing with these waves, but having read the first ‘Lessons from Nadgee’ many times, he was loath to put his fate in the hands of anybody with experience. A larger than average set roared in and Tony’s decision was made. Alone, I then broke through the surf, paddled up the beach and landed in time to compliment the slowly approaching Tony for his world record beach carry!

By 5.30 pm Doug and Damon at last had their hi-tech army radio, (including 200 d metres of aerial cable strung along the beach), set up to receive the evening news. The forecast was not what we wanted to hear – winds swinging round to the north at 15 to 20 knots. After all the sou’west and southerly winds, we had expected (and thought we’d earned) a reasonably calm day with perhaps an afternoon sea-breeze. At a gloomy dinner that night there was an inquest as to why we hadn’t departed that afternoon with the help of the now rapidly diminishing southerly. The bitter disappointment led to an outbreak of recriminations as inter-personal skills were totally discarded. Norm blamed Tony and I for fishing for too long, Tony blamed Jim for taking such a long walk, Jim blamed Damon for taking three hours to tune a radio, I blamed Doug for continuing to attract headwinds and Doug blamed the Inuit Classics for no apparent reason at all.

After everyone had calmed down we discussed the two options – a night paddle or a dawn start. It would be a three quarter moon so light would be OK but only Doug (as always the odd one out) had any experience night paddling. Caution dictated a 6am start – we again primed up our Trangias to make semolina and packed what we could.

It was still dark when we were awakened at 5 am by the loudest rendition to date of Old Man River. We packed the tents and sat down for breakfast. Tony, despite encouragement, forced down his cold (but still magnificent) semolina with a lack of enthusiasm that nearly earned him an official reprimand from the President.

The kayaks were loaded by 5.50 am and we made our final preparations. A horrified Doug suddenly pointed out that Norm had just brazenly eco-crapped slap-bang in the middle of the launch zone. In what was already a tense situation, our stress levels immediately soared. One by one, we pushed off from the shallows, meticulous about where we placed our hands, all haunted by the vision of something unspeakable washing up the foredeck, all silently cursing the Sea Dog and the habits of North Americans.

As we rounded the first headland we felt the first gust of wind. Unbelievably, the northerly had decided to commence at 6 am. I again shot the filthiest looks I could manage in Doug’s general direction. The group split. While Norm and I again reduced our exposure to the breeze by hugging the cliff line the others persisted in maintaining a course 400 hundred metres out amongst the whitecaps. Having by now become familiar with the foibles of my companions, I knew exactly why they were doing what they were doing. Jim was out there to extract the most pain out of his left shoulder, Tony to avoid any chance at all of hitting those nasty rocks, and Doug to maximise the physical challenge of it all. Damon was presumably following Doug in deference to rank (30 minutes later Damon risked Court Martial by joining the smart set).

As the paddle continued, the head wind increased to about 12 to 15 knots, at which it remained constant. About three kilometres from Merica, Tony at last acquiesced to Doug’s persistent requests to tow him. I landed first and filmed the group’s arrival at the inlet to Merica river. Norm was nearly taken onto rocks by a wave that must have been all of 14 inches! Luckily his Sea Instructor instincts came into play and he saved the day with a masterful capsize and roll.

We were soon all ashore, Damon pointed out a dark lifeless shape lying just above the tide line at the far end of the narrow beach. We surmised that it might be the carcase of a marine animal of some size, possibly a dolphin. We were hungry so decided to set up camp first, then returned later for a closer look at the unfortunate creature.

As the tents went up at the superb Merica camp area, three Pittaraks rounded the bend of the river. Doug smiled for the first time in days at the sight of possible Pittarak soul-mates, but they were heading out for the ocean and Womboyn. These were the kayaks that we had seen from Nadgee river – the paddlers were young Victorians who had hired the boats. I noticed that each kayak had a short surf board strapped to I the aft-deck, presumably so that the guys could take advantage of any wilderness breaks (or I mused, perhaps Pittaraks are now fitted with ‘lifeboats’).

Soon after we bade the Victorians farewell there was a shout as a figure approached from the direction of the beach. “It’s Jeanette!” we all chorused in unison. Jeanette explained that she had walked in earlier from the ranger station and had decided to wait for us on the beach, but had dozed off in the sun. We matched this information with earlier events and came to a disappointing conclusion -the ‘carcase’ mystery was I no more!

Late on Saturday afternoon, I reflected on the material I had mentally collected for this account. With a shock I realised that the central character of Nadgee 1, Norm Sanders, had been most un-newsworthy. In fact, almost annoyingly, he had been polite, calm, helpful and even-tempered throughout the entire paddle. I momentarily panicked as I faced the possibility of having no central character to weave a plot around. But then I realised this time I had Colonel Fraser.

For by this late stage in the expedition. Doug’s ‘Pittarak’ attitude had become intolerable. With each passing day he had become more and more dismissive of anything he didn’t have or couldn’t do; Inuit Classics, Trangias, nutritious food, having fun in the surf, catching fish … . All were part of a long list of equipment and activities ridiculed and scorned. To their credit, the group maintained advanced level inter-personal skills by not retaliating. But by Day 3 we started to wonder if there was some other factor at work. And then it hit us: it was Doug’s diet!

For not only had Doug’s inter-personal skills deteriorated, so had his appearance (the dark circled eyes, jaundiced look and bad breath were now too obvious to ignore – he looked awful!). Although none of us were medically qualified, we knew the risks associated with a hideous canned food addiction such as his. It could only be one thing – Doug was exhibiting the classic symptoms of scurvy!

From this point on we tried to get Doug to eat some fruit, though with little success. Hiding his can-opener was also considered, but this was thought to be too cruel given Doug’s strong emotional attachment to the implement. Sadly, we finally resigned to do nothing but focus on remembering the healthy, broad-minded Doug Fraser we once knew, and hoped for his quick recovery on return to civilisation and vegetables.

The last evening saw Doug and Damon packing their kayaks in preparation for a dawn start. Doug had to get back to Canberra early the next day to commence his family vacation. We sat down to cook our last dinner, only to be immediately disappointed. Whereas we had hoped for new supplies of exciting food and perhaps even some Tim Tams, Jeanette had travelled light indeed, her entire food supply amounting to two tea bags and a packet of Maggi noodles! Jeanette’s appetite had not travelled light however, and the group showed great generosity in sharing their last remaining provisions with the ravenous bushwalker.

Tony did his bit to raise our spirits with further disasters with his new Trangia – cleverly managing to transform an innocent looking pancake into a menacing primeval thing. We tried but failed to finish off our vast supplies of Lambrusco and then retired. The night was warm and balmy. I slept with the fly off my tent and was rewarded with a rare sleep under the stars.

Sunday morning saw the 6 am departure of Doug and Damon. Norm’s heartfelt and booming rendition of ‘Aloja’ only served to quicken their paddling rate as they headed away from us towards the ocean. It was the best morning yet – dead calm and sunny, and the Merica River lagoon had never looked better. The remainder of the group ate a relaxed breakfast before commencing the sad task of the last pack. As 9 am became 10 am and the loading still wasn’t complete, it was obvious that Tony (who vas by now ready and waiting on the water) was keen to get moving. As we prepared to paddle out, Jeanette’s impromptu photo shoot added further to his air of edginess. For poor Tony, already feeling unstable due to stress-induced hip-seizure, had added a headwind phobia to his growing list. Tony suspected the current lull would not last.

We eventually entered the ocean and experienced a rare half hour of beautiful balmy conditions as we paddled casually towards Womboyn, 6 kms to the north-west. Except for Tony that is – his anxiety bout ‘getting there’ had generated vast amounts of adrenalin, and he was soon just a flashing blade about a kilometre ahead. And he was proved right. About 2 kilometres from the bar, a strong northerly sprang up making the last part of our ocean work the familiar battle. The paddle ended with a little bit of excitement as a rare decent sized wave sneaked up on Jim and me as we entered the bar, and we somehow ‘crossed over’ on it’s face without touching.

My 2nd Nadgee paddle was over. The group had covered about 60 kms, 53 of them into headwinds of variable strength. But just being in such a remote area for several days had been an experience valuable beyond words. I look forward to returning already.

And what lessons did I learn this time? Well, bugger all really, except that a milk-crate will definitely not fit in a VCP hatch! On the water there had been no adrenalin-pumping surf or really nasty conditions to test me out, but my camping and boat-loading procedures were definitely more organised and hassle-free than earlier trips so I’ve obviously learned something. And the group, the CHIF and all that – would I venture forth with this particular collection of individuals again? Well they were a strange bunch really, but entertaining nevertheless, so definitely yes, even with Doug!

Chasing the Midnight Sun [30]

By Larry Gray

Pittarak is a familiar word in these columns. Norm Sanders is always (half) joking about Pittaraks nearly killing him. But how many of you know that it took a near-death experience to create the kayak in the first place?

In 1986, I completed an expedition to Greenland, an experience so powerful that it remains with me today. I nearly lost my life three times in two weeks. The first in an iceberg avalanche when I was trapped under a sheet of ice blocks with only a single breath. I managed to escape only with cuts and bruises and had just a handful of nuts and sultanas a day to eat, no stove and only a busted tent for shelter. The third time our large steel ketch was bowled over , after being b low n sideways for (42 hours in 280 kilometres of wind. The captain cracked his back, we had no power, sail, rudder or VHF radio, and the ocean was in a fury. In the darkness of night, the yacht felt like a floating chapel with all the silent praying going on.

Strange things emerge from disaster. When I got home, I had this overpowering urge to design a kayak that would handle the most severe conditions an ocean can spit out. I could think of no better name for it than the wind I had experienced. Over there it’s known as Piteraq. I Australianised the spelling but the name pays homage to this extraordinary phenomena.

Imagine a warm wind that drops off the ice cap, roars around 280 km/h, can last up to a week or more, yet is localised to only 20 kilometres off shore. To a kayak hunter this was absolutely terrifying. Driven by desperation to kill a whale, narwhal or a seal of two, they often spent 72 hours in the ocean in one sitting. They would read sky signs to determine when the wind was coming. Life’s so on the edge there that if a hunter never returned his wife would fling the children off a cliff one at a time, then herself. This was less cruel than watching them starve, freeze then die.

These stories are still very close to the locals. I made an instant friend with a man named Dikker. He comes from a lineage of great kayakers, the most reputable hunter and skilful kayakers known on the east coast. He taught me how to recognise the sky patterns to predetermine this wind. He spoke of the many names and qualities of ice. I still don’t fully understand but I remember mostly what directly related to me for the kayak journey we were about to undertake. It was a risky winter dash of 1200 km, days shortening noticeably, fjord and ocean freezing up around us as we travelled south as quickly as the sudden arctic storms which appeared from nowhere .

That expedition left me with an indelible, impression of the Arctic. So imagine how I felt as I departed once more last year -10 years on – knowing this time most of my kayaking would be solo. The purpose of the second journey was to make a film of Eric Philips and Ben Galbraith crossing the ice-cap. My partner, Mary, and I named this Chasing he Midnight Sun. I was to be the guide down the coast to a glacier called Bugbear Bank. Wade Fairley was the cameraman, Mary the co-producer and co-ordinator and Michael Balson the director.

Once the crossing was underway, my mission was to access stories to cut into the overall pictur. So I set out on a series of small expeditions. Being alone in the arctic, especially East Coast Greenland, is overwhelmingly scary, dramatic, historic – all those plus more. I can hardly describe such a s sensation. Humbled by absolute silence in a huge visual landscape. Then the sudden cracking roar of a collapsing iceberg. By 3pm, the fog pours over valleys between enormous rocky mountains, spilling sometimes hundreds of metres vertically into fjords.

There’s no escape, no beaches, only questionable rock landings once in a while. Most passages are totally committing and it’s very easy to mistake one fjord for another. Icebergs obstruct most line-of-sight landmarks and mysteriously shift position. They are like rudderless ships adrift. Thus a sense of, humbled pride, knowing that for 4,000 rears the Inuit masters must have travelled exactly through these routes. many lost their lives yet all of them were better kayakers; than we will ever imagine.

That was obvious to me on arrival at Isortoq, a village huddled on a pile of boulders. A local pulled out his seal-skin kayak. We couldn’t speak but we communicated through kayak language. People gathered around – hunters, huskies, kids everywhere. I thought if this were a competition I didn’t want to be involved! It turned out to be more of a comparison of skills. We were both scared of each other’s paddles as we swapped and changed. He rolled – then I would follow.

The first thought was “Oh Christ. this water is cold.” It felt like a steel band tightening around my forehead. Then he’d apply another type of roll. Even with my thermals and very best dry top jacket and shortie wet-suit underneath I couldn’t compete with his sealskin anorak, gloves and hood combination. The deer sinews laced through the hood of his jacket adjustable with seal vertebrae out-stripped all modem Goretex gear. He was totally dry.

He levered his splashcover over the cockpit rim with a special tool made from bone, one of the many tools a Greenland kayaker carries. It took him 20 minutes to gear up before he even pushed off. The kayak fitted like a precision shoe. He couldn’t get out in less than two minutes. He couldn’t swim, he never learned. There’s no point. You are dead in minutes in these waters. I learnt two new rolls out of this session. I am told there are over 60 ways to roll a kayak. I know only 10 or so. These people learnt to kayak firstly through rope gymnastics, an arrangement of stretched dried seal gut and tendons to gain balance on dry land before venturing offshore.

I left Isortoq and travelled through tight ice the size of bricks, pancakes and kitchen-tables cubed. It’s amazing how easily a kayak just parts this and slips through. The clunks, banging, scraping and rattling scratched the gelcoat and hull of my kayak. I thought back to two days after I made my boat in Sydney. A fax arrived from Greenland Air, stating “Sorry, sorry, sorry but mistake. Your Pittarak won’t fit on the aircraft. It’s too long.” It meant I that 24 hours before departure I had to take to my new double-skin 18oz Kevlar Pittarak with a hacksaw and cut it in two. I quickly made a double bulkhead arrangement to bolt it together, sandwiched in silicone.

My biggest worry was that I hadn’t tested it, let alone rammed it through pack ice. As a benchtest, jumped on the overhanging nose on shore and applied all my weight at various angles. That seemed good enough and was all I had time for.

This Arctic summer was exceptional. Mostly sunny days with a crisp bite in the air. I’m constantly amazed by the clarity of vision caused by that monstrous ice cap constantly sucking the moisture out of the air. It’s so deceptive that you can see such minute detail in distant headlands. I ventured inland up Sermalik Fjord to film thick clusters of ice blocks. I mounted my lipstick camera to the hull of my boat, relaying to the main camera fixed in my cockpit. This meant I could see underwater as well as above. Convinced I had shot some good stuff, I headed back to a small village, Tinitiqilaq. Mary was waiting there for my arrival. We pitched the tent in an old rock winter hut, collapsed by a century of Arctic storms. That night we wandered into the village and we were surrounded by a mob of hunters – one trying desperately to buy Mary.As he tried to forcefully walk her off into the dark, he threw money over his shoulder in my direction. His mate had his face half ripped off, I presume by a nano or ice bear. What features he had were immobilised and incapable of any expression. These hunters had dried blood on their clothes from various kills during the summer days. It’s a town where guns, knives and spears are a day-to-day sight. I don’t know how we managed to dissuade his advances, as he threw still more money to me. By this time, that side of it was starting to look okay.

At another village another hunter wanted to swap a complete bear, minus the insides, for my kayak. The thought of a modern kayak with pump and made from fibreglass seemed to really excite him. Arriving back in Angmagssalik, our base, time had slipped on three months, just time for one last excursion. As I punched south down the coast, I sensed a mood change in the sea. There was an energy, an ominous and familiar feeling with echoes of 1986. Pittarak meets Piteraq?

Letters [30]

Obviously all written by the editor himself

Dear Editor,

The quest for the origins of fibreglassing is one of my main obsessions. Last week, while eating a packet of potato chips, I took the time to study a particular chip in detail. I was immediately struck by the similarity of the fine multi-directional potato fibres to chopped strand fibreglass. I also noticed that these naturally limp fibres were bonded by the saturated fat to create a smooth curve of superb strength and rigidity. The parallels were uncanny! My hands then started to tremble as I realised, in the humble potato chip, I was surely holding the very inspiration for the science of fibreglass construction! I welcome other members’ views on my amazing new theory.

Greville T. Peabody
Crows Nest NSW

Star letter …

Dear Editor,

At the recent Barlings Beach club meet, I ventured out for ~alate afternoon surf only to find three helmet-headed members dominating the surf zone in stunted white-water kayaks. I quietly observed this group and their dicky little manoeuvres for some minutes. Whereas this experience was irritating enough, the accompanying intense and macho facial expressions of the unattractive trio gave me my first ever bout of nausea while afloat! In fact, although not a violent person, I was sorely tempted to unleash my speedy rapier-prowed sea-kayak on them, and so rid the area of these helmet-heads’! As it is patently obvious that such craft are merely the unpowered cousin of the hated iet-ski, I suggest that real sea paddlers press their local MP’s for the regulation of this new threat to our precious marine environment!

Name withheld by request
Duffy, ACT

Dear Editor,

Recently my partner developed some photographs of a NSWSKC long-weekend trip. Prominent in the ring of sooty and begrimed paddlers surrounding the campfire was a man in a white tee-shirt which appeared to become cleaner and brighter as the trip progressed. I have since discovered that everything Chris “Mr Clean” Soutter touches becomes cleaner and brighter. Rumour has it that welding glasses must be donned before his well-used but gleaming Trangia set is unpacked in direct sunlight. My partner is a messy slob and I am tempted to ask him to touch the hem of Mr Clean’s garment and hopefully become cured. Before he takes this momentous step have but one question. Is the loss of all hair pigmentation an inevitable consequence of this Hyper-Cleanliness?

Hopeful but worried
Chifley. ACT