Paddling with Dave [35]

By Margot Todhunter (Photos by David Whyte)

I had been looking forward to the grade 2 paddle on Lake Eucumbene, so was ready for a gentle, laid back weekend when I caught up with Dave at the Lake on the Friday afternoon. We found a sheltered spot to pitch our tents for the night – a place with a pleasant northern aspect to catch the morning sun. This weekend I had in mind lots of sun and paddle on a mill pond.

We even had time for an easy paddle in the late afternoon and, in the peace and quiet of dusk with a small fire and a tin cup of wine, I knew this would be a memorable weekend.

But, suddenly, just on dark I thought I might have heard a strange noise somewhere off in the distance. Dave heard it too. He cocked his ear towards the Lake and asked “Hear that?” [Come on Dave, I’ve heard better lines than that – Ed]

“Yes” I say tentatively, not wanting to admit to anything.

We both fall silent for a bit. After a while, Dave declares the noise to be “Only some exotic mountain bird”.

“Oh yeah”, I say to myself. Now that’s something I would never have thought of. But we’re both silent still … listening so hard we’re almost squinting.

“Yeah”, Dave declares even more forcefully now. “Definitely a bird.”

The more we tried to ignore these birds the louder they sounded. And after a time these noises in the dark start to sound like cries for HELP! But maybe they will go away, I tell myself, so Dave and I talk of other things for a while.

But these cries for HELP! Start to spoil the ambiance – and the taste of the wine – so I know something has to be done. “I’ve got a great idea, Dave” I tell him eagrely. “Why don’t you go and check it out, and I’ll risk life and limb by staying here to keep the fire going?” And he bought it!

So, Dave paddles off into the dark with only the light of his head torch and, by myself, in the shadows of the dying fire, the minutes tick by. The cries for HELP! become more anxious, and I know it’s time to develop a survival strategy. I can put the fire out, I tell myself, and hide in the bushes. After all, alone in the dark, surrounded by who-knows-what and someone or something out there in obvious distress, it’s every woman for herself.

Dave, meanwhile, had found the three intrepid sailors who, under the influence of alcohol, had successfully up-ended a 14′ run-about. They had managed to make it to the shore but, without a boat, in wet clothes and in this mountain chill, they were in big trouble. Dave lit them a fire, paddled back to his car and drove to the nearest phone to call the police for help.

I was even more alone now. In the middle of nowhere and in the dark – my new batteries couldn’t get my torch working (I will test it at home in the future). But I did have the company of the far-off light Dave had lit for the drunken sailors. Even so, strange noises now seem to be coming from every bush, and I had to stop drinking the wine lest I become completely delusional. It was a long couple of hours before Dave returned, and I was pleased to be able to start drinking again.

I found plenty of time during the night to contemplate camping. The wind had come up, turned cold and blew straight through my light summer tent. I guess it was around 2.30 am that I realised that a Four Seasons tent is not a brand name. I seemed to spend the whole night telling myself, “Camping is fun”. “This is living, Girl.” And “Get a Four Seasons tent”.

OK, so the water’s a bit choppy!

The wind was still howling on Saturday morning, and the gusts were so strong that water on the lake was going UP … high! Now, our task was to paddle back to the starting point but, in this weather, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Dave had actually suggested staying put that day and paddling back when the wind dropped – maybe dusk or pre-dawn. (I didn’t know people actually did anything “pre-dawn”.) But I really didn’t consider this a serious option. After all, this was to have been a grade 2 paddle. It really couldn’t be as bad as that.

We gallantly set off across the bay with the wind to one side. But paddling was almost impossible for me as the wind was catching under my blade and still I was paddling backwards to slow down most of the time. I thoroughly hated my feathered paddle.

Around the next point I was getting a sick sort of buzz from shooting between the trees, and using the paddle to brace and slow down and to avoid going sideways into a tree. I was imagining Dave thinking, “Oh, no, don’t hit the trees, Margot. I don’t want to have to do a rescue in this.” But later he did admit to going sideways as well.

We had one more bay to cross before we made it back to the cars. The wind was really howling down this one. To make matters worse, a group of would-be paddlers were waiting for us on the opposite shore. All I could think was “Oh, no, don’t fall in now. Not in front of all those people.” Oh and, yes, the freezing water was some incentive to stay afloat, too.

If ever there was a time to be with an experienced paddler, this was it. My limits were being pushed. Without Dave’s instruction, I would have been miles down wind … surfing. In all, it was a fantastic lesson, then a bit scary but even fun at times. (It also gave a whole new dimension to ‘how I got back to my car after a Friday night’.)

The paddle itself was called off as a grade 2 paddle. No surprises there! But it was also called off as a grade 3, 4 and grade 5 paddle. Although three brave (and very well dressed) paddlers did venture out (now, I’d like to see those photos!) [see photos this page – Ed]. The rest of us … ? Well, we just headed to cover from the wind for a cuppa.

Andrew Eddy sails on Lake Eucumbene in a strong gale
Note that, due to a fetch of only 200m, wave height is nowhere near predicted heights

Sunday morning, after a good sleep in a Four Seasons Cabin, the paddle on the lake at Jindabyne was more like a grade 2. The wind did come up during the day, but after the previous day, it was nothing.

Great paddle. I’ll definitely be back next year.