Sydney to Queensland [35]

By Stuart Trueman

I found out about kayaking June 97 listening to an account of a crossing of Bass Strait and bought my kayak the following month. What appealed to me was that with injuries gained over 20 years of climbing and mountaineering my legs would no longer put up with the heavy rucksacks needed to travel for days and this seemed the answer.

Stuart on another trip – to Broughton Island (photo David Whyte)

For me an adventure is to find out about the unknown and having not spent any serious time at sea not having owned a kayak before meant that I would have to learn about kayaking and seamanship.

Nine months later I set off to paddle from Sydney to Brisbane to test myself out and learn.

I made my own plans and set my own standards of training and skills that I thought I’d need. I will set these out; my mistakes and lessons learnt.

I live near Botany Bay and would try and paddle two or three times a week for a couple of hours then practise rolling. Re-enter and roll was practiced every time as this was a situation I could see being serious but easily fixed if I knew how. Weekends would be a two day paddle down the coast, camping to ensure I would not forget anything on the longer trip.

What I neglected to do was paddle a fully loaded kayak for two days which would have made the trip planning more realistic given the difference the weight makes to handling and cruise speed.

Plenty of surf exits and landings but always on familiar beaches which make a difference. Swimming 1 km twice a week.

The first thing to plan was if the distance could be done by me, given the 26 days I had available. I thought it would be ok. I decided not to plan in so much detail as the weather and sea would dictate the day to day plan. I just established a general time scale. The actual figures were: 21 miles a day, over 5.5 hours at 4 knots as a daily average of the 19 paddling days and close to what I estimated.

I had never been further north than Broughton Island and didn’t know if food and water would be available all the way, so carried 20 days of food and had the ability to carry 2 days of water. This proved excessive as every place that looked like a good landing spot was a good place to launch fishing boats and so had a small population. But due to the trip budget and the difficulty in getting anything other than burgers the food stores proved to be invaluable.

Another consideration was to fix anything that could get broken or prevent the loss of anything that could get lost.

Some of the bits of kit that I found to be very useful were:

  • wheels to push the kayak around which helped to get the loaded kayak away from the surf zone and to a campsite,
  • an atlas of charts for $60 gives all the coast of Sydney up to QLD,
  • AM/FM radio to listen to for weather and after dark entertainment.
  • insect repellent as mosquitoes, sandflies, fleas and ticks all need sorting out.
  • the sun in your face all day reflecting off the water can be strong so cream, something to cover the face
  • sunglasses which apart from glare also save water going in your eyes.

Harbour bars are bastards! I did not think that a harbour that would have been designed to accommodate much larger vessels would pose a problem to a kayak. Over the years they have silted up and are no longer dredged in NSW. During low tide they have steep breaking waves and fast cresting waves sweeping across the entrance into the break walls which can be only 40 meters across. This means you do not have time to get in before a waves hits and pushes you into the wall.

After many surf exits I got a bit too confident in my ability but realised after a few disastrous attempts that I did not know enough about the surf to exit safely. I visited a surf club and read their surf manuals and books then studied the beach, found the rips, timed sets, watched for steep sand, rocks and got a healthy respect for the surf.

Surf landings are much the same but you don’t have the luxury of viewing the area before the attack, you are sat 3 foot above the water just outside the break zone trying to work out the hight, speed and how fast the waves are. In the end it was 50% luck and 50% guess work, you will get rolled during surf landings.

Although I paddled the trip alone I had help in preparation which made the whole thing possible. Sharon being a dietitian and used to packing food for climbing trips or bush walks prepared a menu and got the food together. More importantly she put up with my training and clearing off paddling every weekend not to mention being left for four weeks.

One of the more testing days was the day into Wooli.

As I was alone on the trip I had no helpful shove giving me a start through the surf. I had to stay amongst the breakers waiting for the break in the sets of large waves to make a try for the open ocean. As I was waiting for a lull in the waves on this morning the rip was dragging me along the beach towards some rocks, by the time the chance came for a break out I was almost on the reef so if I had miscalculated the waves there would have been an unpleasant crash.

The weather report didn’t reflect reality, a 25-30 knot wind from starboard created seas that were breaking over my head so I had to keep my eye .out or get tipped over. After about 4 hours of this I was contemplating an early finish when I lost a tooth while eating the handful of nuts I called lunch so, I had to carry on to Wooli and get to a dentist.

The way to Wooli was a minefield of reefs and sand bars which while easy to spot as huge waves and boiling seas were quite daunting and needed constant monitoring to ensure I wasn’t being dragged onto them by the current.

Then the last test of the day, Wooli Harbour. A narrow entrance with a dangerous bar but I had no choice, the tooth needed attention and was telling me as much!

I edged closer to the entrance to try and gauge the speed and height of the waves guarding the harbour and had just worked out they were too big and fast, was making a turn to head for the beach when the biggest wave that has ever hit me showed up. I threw my self into it and hung on to the paddle for a 50 meter ride which feels much the same as being in a washing machine while someone throws it down some stairs. I came up for air as the wave slowed and I noticed I’d missed the harbour wall by 6 foot and was trying not to contemplate the consequences of having hit it when another wave tipped me over.

For the first time that day I didn’t have the wind in my ear, all was quiet and calm…

I waited for the wave to pass and when I thought all was well up top I rolled up and made a landing on the beach.

All I had to look forward to now was a trip to the dentist!