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?