Building a Wooden Kayak [36]

By Murray Watt

I recently experienced a magical sea kayaking trip off the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, at play amongst the grey whales and running salmon. It seems everyone has a healthy appetite for the great outdoors there.

I reluctantly boarded the plane back to Oz. Weeks passed back in Melbourne town with a recurring nagging feeling that something was lacking in my life… of course! ….. a sea kayak.

Always one to make things difficult for myself, I decided to build rather than buy. Being a keen woodworker, naturally my chosen material was wood, inspired by some wonderful examples seen in Canada. I am no expert when it comes to boat building but what follows is a brief description of the strip-building process.

Western Red Cedar, Silver Quandong, and King William Pine were selected. Firstly for their strength and lightness, and secondly for the beauty of their colour and grainage.

After much deliberation, my chosen craft was a nineteen-foot (5.8m) Expedition Single, twenty one inches wide, and efficient for long distance paddling. Having moderately hard chines to help carve a turn, it is quite responsive for its length.

The stations attached to a ‘string-back’

The building process involved laying thin quarter inch thick and three quarter inch wide lengths of timber over a series of stations. These stations were spaced along a strong back (usually a long length of four by two). I cut my timber on a Triton sawbench, with a thin curved blade to minimise wood wastage. The timber needed to be supported at both ends as it is important to get a uniform and even cut. Dealing with twenty foot lengths of timber required a friend to help with the cutting. The strips were laid longitudinally along the “skeleton”, and adjacent strips glued to each other. The hull and deck at the shearline are not glued to each other at this point, since the “skeleton” will need to be removed later.

Part way to completion of laying the strips for the hull

Depending on how much time and effort one wants to expend, creative patterns can be achieved with the various timbers. Once the hull and deck were completed, and the timber planed and sanded to a fine finish, the exterior was coated with fibreglass cloth and epoxy resin. 1 used six ounce cloth on the hull exterior, and four ounce on the deck and interior. Fortunately as a young teenager, I’d had experience building two fibreglass fiat water kayaks with my father and brother (mould courtesy of Jack Miller). Once the epoxy had cured, openings in the deck for hatches and cockpit were cut out, and combings built for them. The framework was pulled out at this stage and the interiors were glassed.

The next stage, and at times, a difficult one, was joining the hull and deck back together with fibreglass cloth tape along the seam, inside and out. The hull and deck can distort from curing and shrinkage of the epoxy. Brute force, plenty of tape, and occy straps usually pull the join back together. End pours of epoxy and sawdust strengthened the bow and stem.

Wetting down the fibreglass cloth with resin

You should now have something that resembles a sea kayak. After much sanding and fairing of the epoxy, six to eight coats of marine varnish were applied, giving the kayak a protective coating and sheen. All the odds and ends take some time, but the hard work is all over. I used three inch thick foam, epoxied on both sides, for bulkheads. Foot rests, seat, deck fittings, and rudder (optional) are an individual choice and can be built or purchased.

Selection of timber is quite important, ideally you want timber slightly longer than the actual boat, although strips can be butted together. It should be knot free and straight.

I did not accurately record the hours taken to build the kayak, but all up, approximately nine weeks off and on from start to finish. This included having to build the framework and source my wood and fibreglass materials.

For anyone that is interested in building their own kayak, I highly recommend it. A couple of hours spent here and there during the winter months in a back shed or garage, and you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful craft ready for its summer launch.

The completed ‘Expedition Single’

There is a wonderful sense of satisfaction paddling your own hand crafted sea kayak with the wood giving it a very special character. So, if you happen to see a wooden sea kayak out on the east coast of New South Wales / Victoria… somewhere, paddle over and say g’day.

Murray Watt

For further info, see Guillemot kayaks

Quick Snaps [36]

Photos by Stuart Trueman

Long Reef

The Royal Banquet

The “Royal Banquet” is an overnight paddle down the cliffs of the Royal National Park. The Saturday night camp is a shared banquet at Era Beach. Yes, we eat well!

The aftermath of a deluge – we were on the water only an hour after a very heavy rainstorm and saw some tremendous waterfalls off the cliffs of the Royal National Park

A contemplative crew, Era Beach, Sunday morning

On top of all the wind-chop, the swell picked up

Norm’s stylish entry

Rovers go Sea Kayaking [36]

By Matthew Luttrell

Turramurra Rover Crew has a long history of both taking on challenging expeditions and doing things a bit crazily. Put these together, and you get a more than memorable trip. Matthew elaborates…

How to Destroy a Sea Kayak – A Step By Step Guide

The following description is just one of many fine methods that will cause irreparable damage to a $2,400 two-man Tasman sea kayak. I personally demonstrated its effectiveness on a Crew expedition back in July.

Step I – Get some really crazy people. I find that Turramurra Rovers are an ideal source. However, if hard to obtain, Sydney Uni Cavers are a suitable substitute. Our expedition involved five Turramurra Rovers (Brendan Elphick, Grahame Price, Patrick Mickan, Andrew Rennie and myself), one former 1st Turramurra Venturer (Sandy Smith) and one caver (Sushila Thomas). Make sure that no more than one participant has ever had open water kayaking experience. In our case this was Sandy.

Step 2 – Find somewhere nice to destroy the craft. We chose the Whitsunday Islands. We were to spend ten days paddling around this tropical paradise. We snorkelled, fished, bushwalked and camped at some of the most gorgeous places I have ever seen.

Step 3 – Pack some food. Noodies, peas, muesli, Deb, dried tofu and honey is about all you need. Try to catch as much fish as you can. We had great fun speaffishing for sharks with our paddles. I’m thinking of Operating a floating bakery for tourists up there in a few years time.

Step 4 – Get some kayaks. We hired one two-man mirage from Sydney Uni Canoe Club, borrowed a second from a friend, and drove these to the Whltsundays on the roof of a ten year old red Volvo. We found it especially exciting if the roof racks are half rusted through and make loud creaking noises during the whole drive. We hired a two-man Tasman kayak at Airlie Beach.

Step 5 – Practice your Eskimo rolls, low and high braces. We find resort swimming pools are ideal. They’re large and a nice depth. However, make sure all nuts and bolts in the cockpit are done up before you invert the kayak. We found this makes good snorkelling practice for the inexperienced.

Step 6 – Pack all your gear into the kayaks. We started packing on Airlie Beach just after high tide down by the waterline. After 2-3 hours we finally had all the gear in. Following a feast at the local bakery, we returned to see that the tide had dropped 3-4 metres from when we started packing. The result was a painful haul of three fully laden sea kayaks over 100 metres of coral beach. After half an hour we finally set off for North Molle Island.

Step 7 – Fish for breakfast. If you keep losing your hook and don’t expect to catch anything anyway, I find it’s just as fun to tie the line around the bait without re-hooking and just cast out again. Note, it’s not a good idea to accidentally roll up your sleeping bag with two day Old bait inside.

Step 8 – Watch the sun set behind Hayman Island. This was the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. It was shortly followed by the most amazing shooting star I’ve ever seen. The star burned for up to five seconds and had a bdght red flaming tail behind it. Don’t forget to make a wish! This is an amazing, fantastic place.

Step 9 – In the event of bad weather, accept a lift on a passing yacht. On Day 5 we had a 50kin paddle into 35 knot headwinds in three metre swell in order to meet Andrew, our seventh paddler, arriving on Hamilton Island with our food for the second half of the expedition. This was ,clearly impossible, so we tied the kayaks to the back of a nearby yacht which was also heading south. However, off the coast of Hook Island a rope snapped in three places and the Tasman floated off on the crest of a four metre wave into the distance. There was no way the yacht was turning around in the conditions.

I think it was at this moment that we collectively realised that of the three kayaks, only one was uninsured. Sure enough, it was the Tasman. Even more ironic, it was the Tasman that had the rescue beacon. It appeared that Grahame and Sandy had lost all their gear, not to mention the leftover food. We decreed that we weren’t to mention the “T” word any more, rather the lost craft was to be referred to with a hmmmm …. Someone would ask, “Where’s the can opener?” to be answered with a painful hmmmm ….. We spend the afternoon on the yacht with our new friends eating oysters, drinking wine and singing “Always look on the bright side of life”.

Step 10 – Make an emergency overnight camp. The yacht dropped us at the first safe inlet after the incident. This was aptly named “Refuge Bay”. Fortunately, we still had our tents and a small quantity of chocolate. However with six people and only two two-man kayaks we had to be rescued by the nearest resort. Irs just as well for by this stage we were cold and very demoralised. The expedition appeared over.

Step 11 – Eat a bloody huge breakfast. Scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, tomato, toast and coffee. At the resort we bumped into two fellow kayakers who had heard of our rescue. The story they heard was that one of our kayaks had tipped, and that in coming to the rescue the other two kayaks consecutively tipped over. It’s amazing the way news spreads.

Step 12 – Get stranded at the resort. Only one of our kayaks was still seaworthy so paddling back to the mainland was no longer an option. We spend the next two days trying to convince ferry companies to take our kayaks back. This was a highly frustrating two days. We did however manage to climb Whitsunday Cairn and play a bit of beach volleyball. It’s amazing though how boring resorts can be.

Step 13 – Return to Aidie Beach to negotiate a Settlement with the owner of the Tasman. It was salvaged after breaking up into pieces on Hayman Island. We got most of our gear back, except for Grahame’s pack which had mysteriously disappeared. The owner wanted a new kayak transported up from Brisbane plus lost earnings until it arrived. We convinced him to accept one of our Mirages, buying its owner a new one when we returned to Sydney.

Every problem we encountered brought a new challenge not to mention added stress, Overall it was an amazing experience (but costly). We got a hell of a lot out of it, mostly in terms of our personal development and the way that we bonded as a group in the times of crisis. We all decided at the end of the trip that we were in need of a holiday.

(For those unfamiliar with the scouting moment Rovers are the the oldest youth section of the scout movement ranging in ages from 18 to 26 – Ed)

NSW Sea Kayak Club Rock’n’Roll Weekend [36]

When we started the Sea Kayak Club’s Rock ‘n Roll Weekend concept 7 years ago at Merimbula, the idea was that sea kayak training and tuition for this weekend be solely aimed at “eskimo rolling.”

Things very quickly moved on from there to encompass all sea kayaking skills as the number of club members increased. We realize that not all members have the opportunity to paddle as often as they would wish and paddling is the very best way to increase sea kayaking skills. The various books, videos and magazines on sea kayaking from around the world all contribute to a person’s sea kayaking skills and knowledge but let’s face it……sooner or later you’ve got to get into your boat and do it!!!

At this weekend we have members who have paddled all sorts of kayaks in all sorts of conditions all over the world……and we want you to come along, get involved in the weekend and tap into this vast store of sea kayaking knowledge and skills.

It can only make you a better paddler….and who knows, it may be the embryonic stage of a major expedition for you!

The NSW Sea Kayak Club looks forward to your company at the 7th Annual Rock’n Roll Weekend .

David Winkworth
Training Officer.

How to get there

Honeymoon Bay is located on the western side of Beecroft Head within Jervis Bay. It offers protected waters paddling and easy access to a surf beach , spectacular cliffs and ocean waters.
From Nowra, follow the signs to Currarong (about 35 kms). About 1 km before Currarong, take a right turn at the Point Perpendicular Lighthouse Rd and follow the signs to Honeymoon Bay (about 10 kms).

What to bring and what not to do

At Honeymoon Bay, toilets and rubbish bins only are provided. You will need to bring fresh water and a stove with you. Open fires are not permitted and please do not use trees to erect clothes lines.

Fees and camping area

The Park Rangers have given the Sea Kayak Club the exclusive use of the “Nowra Hill” area for camping at Honeymoon Bay. To find this area, drive through the camping area and turn in to the right after crossing the creek on a concrete causeway. We will have a series of information boards erected in the camping area. Please don’t camp near them if you like to turn in early!. This is the AGM/Guest Speaker area.

Camping fees are $10.00 per person per night for the first 2 people on a site and $2.00 per person per night for extra people. The Sea Kayak Club will collect camping fees from members for the weekend.

Note: As Honeymoon Bay is situated on Navy land, it is sometimes closed for defence exercises….as it will be until Friday 27th November. We have been assured that the area will be open for our use from Friday afternoon. However, in the unlikely event that it is not open, we will holding the Rock ‘n Roll Weekend at Currarong Caravan Park. The caravan park is on the left as you enter Currarong. It has good facilities including a kayak washing area and more importantly, creek access from where we can paddle straight onto the ocean.

Currarong also has a mini supermarket, newsagent, cellars, take-away food shop and friendly staff at the local service station.

If you’re coming in on Friday afternoon and the boom gate is down, please ask at the gatehouse if Honeymoon Bay will be opened that day. If not, proceed to the caravan park.

Program and Activities

Our program for the weekend kicks off at 9.00 am on Saturday but before I outline the topics, a note on a few things you may like to bring along. This year we’ll again have our BUY SWAP SELL board operating. Bring along your old/unwanted kayaking or camping gear etc and write it up on the board. Who knows!….someone may be looking for your stuff!!!

If you’re going to practise rolling, bring along a face mask and maybe a wetsuit although the water temp. is rising nicely at the moment. Also….help us to help you in paddling skills by making sure that you fit your boat well. Get some foam sleeping mat and a roll of duct tape and go to work on your kayak seat BEFORE the weekend.


Paddle stronger for longer

A Three Part session which looks at Boat, Body and Paddle, and what you can do to make your boat positively zing along for longer!……in all conditions. Presented by Dirk Stuber, David Winkworth and Mark Pearson.

GPS navigation for dummies

Find out what these little gadgets can do for you in sea kayaking navigation! Guaranteed “techno-speak free” presentation by Andrew Eddy.

New boats and products

Your 5 minutes of fame! If you wish to present in this segment, please see President Norm Sanders when you arrive and write up your entry on the information boards. Equal time for all.

Surf theory – entry and exit

Forget surfing on beach waves for the moment. In this session we discuss tactics to get paddlers safely through the surf to the beach and out again. If you’re new to sea kayaking or surf seems to be your stumbling block in skills acquisition, don’t miss this session! This theory session on the beach will be followed by an on-water skills session. Presented by paddlers who have endo-ed and backflipped in the surf and now know what not to do!

Bracing skills

Just how do you keep your boat upright in the surf and other difficult paddling environments? This on-water skills session will give paddlers something to practise in the surf in the afternoon. Valuable paddle stroke skills. Don’t miss this session. For doubles and singles alike.

Practical surf entry/exit session

Paddle to Target Beach and put the surf entry and exit skills learned in the morning to the test under the watchful eyes of experienced club paddlers. If surf work is a problem for you, attend this session!

Rolling skills and practice

In Honeymoon Bay, learn to roll you kayak and see your confidence in your boat soar!

Note: The above two afternoon sessions will be run concurrently.

Annual General Meeting

We know that club members detest formality….and would rather be paddling…… but we just have to have a meeting!
Please come along, participate and contribute to the meeting. Your input will determine the course of the club for the next 12 months. Drinks and nibblies provided and we promise not to keep you too long!

Evening session – guest speaker

What is the Adiabatic Lapse Rate? — Our Guest Speaker is well qualified to answer this and thousands of other questions about our weather!

Steve Symonds is a Publicity Officer with the Bureau of Meteorology (Dept of Environment and Heritage) and has been with the Bureau for 30 years.

Steve’s presentation will cover all elements of weather affecting sea kayakers on the NSW coast – southerly busters, east coast lows , dominant summer and winter weather patterns and more.
Steve will also leave with us an array of handouts which may help us all better understand the causes of the rotten weather we sometimes paddle through!

How can we spot and avoid nasty weather? Come along and listen to Steve and we’ll all find out! For committed and occasional sea paddlers, this is a presentation not to be missed!

Saturday night slides

David Whyte will be showing some slides from a 4 day trip down the Myall Lakes – a great place to start your first overnight trip. And slides from a Recent Bermagui to Tartha trip which was highlighted by many whale sightings.


Early morning paddle

If you can struggle out of your sleeping bag at dawn, come along on an early morning paddle out to Point Perpendicular or Bowen Island. This is always the best time to paddle. Paddle grade will be (2) and the destination will be weather dependant. Check information boards in the camping area.

If any paddler would like to be assessed for Board of Canoe Education Sea Proficiency Award, this is a good time to do it. Don’t forget to bring your log book along if you have one and your first aid certificate. Please see David Winkworth or Frank Bakker on the Saturday.

Novelty events

This is what everyone is coming for isn’t it! A host of fun events and the possibility of seeing Mark Pearson doing a John McEnroe when he realizes we’ve half sawn through his sail mast!

John Foley’s novel (nearly winning) sail rig from R&R weekend 1997 (photo Jan Murrell)

More rolling tuition

Brush up on skills learned during the weekend – perhaps have a go at a re-enter and roll manoeuvre.

We hope you enjoy the weekend. If you have any questions, please call me on (02) 6494 1366 — business and after hours. During the week before the Rock’ n Roll Weekend, you’ll have to use my mobile: 018 511 697

David Winkworth

Product Update [36]

On the Princeton Tech Headlamp

By Norm Sanders

Some time ago, the OSD evaluated the Princeton Tec Solo Headlamp for the Newsletter.

He found it a neat, well constructed unit. He was very impressed by the fact that the headlamp was waterproof to a depth of 2000 feet. The OSD gave his Petzl Micro to his daughter and started using the Solo exclusively. (He had been uncomfortable with the French-made Petzl ever since the Frogs blew up the Rainbow Warrior and Mururoa Lagoon.)

To his dismay, the OSD found that the Solo was dim and went through batteries at a great rate. He sent off a letter to the Princeton Tec people in New Jersey. He immediately got a reply from the Vice President of Marketing, who said a new unit was in the mail, no problem. When he got the new headlamp, which worked beautifully, the OSD started experimenting.

He isolated the difficulty by swapping components and found that the metal gauze conducting strip on the back of the battery case had a high resistance. He fixed the unit with a piece of aluminum foil and sent an e-mail to Princeton Tec to let them know about the situation. The net result is that the OSD now has two Solo’s, Princeton Tec has rectified the manufacturing difficulties, and there is a warm glow all around.

It’s really good to find a firm that gives that kind of service.

President’s Report [36]

It’s AGM time already. The year has flashed by, punctuated by some excellent paddles. The calendar is bigger than ever, ably coordinated as it is by Andrew Eddy. I don’t know how much he had to do with it, but there are a lot more events in the Sydney area. This is good to see, as most of the club members live in region.

Unfortunately, the once hyperactive Canberra Pod seems to be wasting away. To be sure, they are still in evidence, but the fire seems to have gone out of their bellies. Some have given up completely and retreated to flat water paddling. (The Wollongong mob have dropped off the screen entirely.) Fortunately, Canberran David Whyte is still firing and hitting his stride as Newsletter Editor. The Newletter is looking very professional and has benefitted from a new scanner.

Another Canberra denizen, Doug Fraser, has managed to sandwich some epic sea kayak feats in between his jobs which involve managing the NSWSKC treasury and running the Army. He does magnificently at both tasks.

Further south, near Bega, Dave Winkworth holds forth as Club Training Officer. He has recently joined the 20th Century and bought a computer. You can now contact him on e-mail: If you do, he will no doubt reply with the sage words: “There’s no substitute for time in the boat.” Even as you read these pages, he is busy preparing the agenda for the Rock and Roll weekend. Dave’s effort is the force behind the success of the event. All the office bearers, including myself, will be up for re-election at the AGM. This is your chance to tell us about what you like about the club, what you don’t like about the club, and how it could be improved. You can even vote us politicians out of office. (No discussion of the GST will be tolerated.)

See you at Honeymoon Bay.

The Old Sea Dog’s Gear Locker [36]

Sail? On a kayak? A kayak is a paddle craft. The OSD sold a Hobie Cat and a stable of windsurfers because he wanted to paddle. Anyway, he has never found it particularly difficult to paddle downwind, the only direction kayaks are able to go without a dagger board. Then too, he thought sails required rudders, and he is unashamedly biased against such contraptions.Then he went on a trip to the Nadgee Wilderness Area and watched in amazement as Doug Fraser set sail and surfed away, steering with his paddle! (even though he had a rudder.)

OK. The lack of a rudder was obviously not a problem. The OSD studied Doug’s rig. Typically, the mast was stepped unstayed in a hole in the deck just in front of the cockpit close enough to be reachable. This meant that the boom hit him in the face during a gibe and there was no room to swing a paddle for an eskimo roll. Obviously, the mast needed to be further forward.

Sail rig dimensions

The OSD’s eventual solution was to pivot the mast on the foredeck on a universal joint (a standard sailing dinghy tiller extension fitting). Two Spectra stays lead aft to fittings on the deck. A forestay running through a small pulley at the bow forms a triangle with the stays to hold up the mast. The lines are tied to a saddle pop-riveted to the mast a foot above the base. The rig jumps up into position by pulling on the forestay line which leads back to a clam cleat on the deck near the cockpit.

The sail itself required some more thinking. The OSD rejected spinnakers immediately. They are cantankerous at best — at worst, downright dangerous. He wanted more control and settled on an ancient design called a “Sprit Rig” in which the quadrilateral sail is supported by the mast and a sprit (in this case, a windsurfer sail batten) which extends from the mast to the peak. Another batten forms the boom. The sheet is fastened halfway along the boom and leads to another clam cleat near the cockpit.

Deck fittings

The OSD sewed a sleeve into the leading edge (luff) of the rip-stop nylon sail to fit over the mast and other sleeves for the sprit and boom. He made the length of the sprit and boom identical and the same as the dimension from the point of attachment of the stays to the top of the mast. When he drops the sail and furls it, all the hard bits are the same length which makes a neat package.

An unexpected advantage of the sprit rig is the ease of reefing if the wind comes up. The OSD sewed a webbing loop at the top of the sprit so that he can slip it over the masthead, to quickly cut the area by half. The sail is fairly small anyway, about one square metre. However, even this can be a handful in strong winds and a chop. In an excess of foolhardiness, Mark Fishkiller Pearson and the OSD once swept by the Gabo lighthouse in a wind which the keeper later reported as 39 knots. It was an exhilarating, if scary, ride.

The sail rig, as fitted to an “Inuit Classic”

In light winds, little steering is necessary. The forward position of the rig seems to balance the normal tendency for a boat to head into the wind (weather helm). As the wind picks up, a bit of stern rudder with the paddle is useful to counteract the occasional broach on a wave. Stern rudder combines with bracing as conditions become more severe. If things really get out of hand and the OSD finds himself upside down, he simply eases the sheet and uses a slow Pawlata roll to allow time for the sail to flow with the movement. There is plenty of room for the paddle to swing inside the sail rig. Once right side up again, The OSD pulls in on the sheet and continues on his way with a minimum of drama. Incidentally, the OSD finds that the rig won’t go to windward, but he expected that — the best he can manage is a reach.

Although the OSD hates to admit it, he enjoys sailing his kayak. The most idyllic kayaking experience he’s ever had was a downwind trip through the Barrier Reef off Far North Queensland. So much for prejudice. (But the OSD still doesn’t like rudders, or offset paddles, for that matter.)

The Old Sea Dog

Letters to the Editor [36]

Dear Editor
Gillian and I would like to sincerely thank all the paddlers; in particular the co-leaders Norm Sanders and Dave Winkworth, on the October long weekend ‘Whale watching’ trip (what Whales?) for their help and assistance when Gillian broke her wrist in a fall.

To me it really emphasised the benefits of paddling in a club environment, particularly with such a group of caring and thoughtful individuals. What could have been quite a difficult situation was dealt with in a very professional and thoughtful manner, with a minimum of drama.

Thanks again
John Wilde

Dear Editor,
I wish to protest rigorously at the behaviour of Messrs Winkworth and Pilka at the recent ‘Whale watching weekend’ organised by the former person.

When Mr Winkworth rushed up the beach on Saturday afternoon, excitedly gesticulating to the horizon, there was indeed a large water spout and a bulky form cavorting in the waters. However, closer inspection soon revealed the form to be wearing striped thermals and the game was up. No whale in its right mind would wear the style and colour that Mr Pilka prefers. The latters lame excuse that he was only looking for abalone did not calm the derisive crowd and an ugly scene could soon have developed if it had not been for the calming influence of Norm Sanders, our esteemed president.

The sight of Mr Pilka in full thermals should be a classified item and not suitable for a family show such as purported by the N.S.W.S.K.C. What we want is Whales!

Disgruntled Canberran

[now this letter came unsigned but the hand writing looked very similar to a previous letter and it was on a Canberra Grammar School letter head – Ed]


Dear Editor,
I refer to my recent article entitled “Mallacoota to Tallowa Dam” published recently in NSWSKC Newsletter 35. It has been drawn to my attention that, in my description of a typically colourful camp-site conversation, the impression may have been given that Mr John Caldwell was an active member of the political party ‘One Nation’.

I would like to fully and completely retract such an impression, and aplogise to Mr Caldwell and his family for any embarrassment caused by my unfortunate and clumsy use of the English language.

I would also like to state categorically that Mr Caldwell has no current or prior association with One Nation, is comfortable with Asian immigration, and definitely does not own a collection of Pauline Hanson T-shirts. In terms of political activity, Mr Caldwell is, of course, a well known member of the BPF (Bungendore Peoples Front).

Mark Pearson

Dear Editor.
As a keen kayak sailer I wish to express my outrage at the content of “The Old Sea Dogs Gear Locker” published in this issue.

This article, purporting to discuss sea kayak sail design, turns out to be yet another vehicle for the self-serving Mr Sanders to demonstrate his grasp of obscure marine terminology! And it’s bloody hard going! The poor reader is assailed with a never-ending barrage of forestays, saddles, battens, clamcleats, stays and reaches. But even that lot’s not enough for this particular author, who really turns the knife with “shroud” and “luff” – words probably last committed to print in the early 1780’s!

This style of writing may well give the likes of Mr Sanders a healthy ‘bowsprit’, but it’s a definite turn-off for the average paddler thinking of adding a sail to his/her craft. After all, who in this day and age wants to be ridiculed by you-know-who for confusing a shroud with a luff? In one fell swoop the appalling Mr Sanders has set back kayak sailing by 20 years!

Name withheld by request
Catcher of Fish

Kimberley Capers [36]

Part 1

By Graham Shaw

Day 1 – Monday 6th July 1998.

A small shark chased Rod’s Tasman 19 into a narrow steeply sloping beach on Myres Is just before dark. It was low tide so we staggered high up the beach with our boats and gear trying to guess the highest reach of the flood tide. By the time Rod and I had the tent up and the soup on a driftwood fire Hudson had caught a couple of good sized bream on crab bait.

Hudson with two coral trout on Myres Island

We had left Walsh Point, 7 km to the west, an hour before and were at last on our way. Just to get to Walsh Pt we had already run an enormous gauntlet. A paddling trip along the Kimberley Coast presented great difficulties. Getting 3 compatible paddlers together for 4 or 5 weeks – placating families and work – obtaining information about water sources, the shark, croc and tidal rip threats and points of interest – organising food and gear for 4 weeks self sufficient paddling and transporting all this as far away as you can get in Australia from our homes in the Southern Tablelands of NSW/ACT. Then after driving 5000kms we had to negotiate the last 20kms of washed out track to the coast. Several tour operators had warned us it can be impassable or a car wrecker and it was my biggest pretrip night-mare. In the event the nearby Drysdale River Homestead-cum-tourist-operator had tidied up the track two months earlier and with my 4 passengers walking and guiding me through the roughest parts the over loaded Pajero only bottomed out twice. Somehow we finally packed the small mountain of food, water and gear by 4pm and were itching to put a paddle, at last, into Kimberley water. This meant stretching one of our rules even before starting – not to paddle in crocodile inhabited waters in the late afternoon or evening.

Peter and Denise, 2 hardy bushwalkers from Kununurra, had kindly offered to drive my car back to Kununurra after a few days exploring the Mitchell Falls area. In Kununurra my wife, mother and children were touring the local area awaiting thier return before driving down the Gibb River Road to meet us in Broome hopefully 4 weeks later.

Day 2

After walking around the island at dawn and a couple of coral trout for breakfast we set off east for another 2 kms to the Kimberley Coastal Fishing Camp of Rob and Liz Terry. A shark bumped Hudson’s rudder as we glided over the reef surrounding Myres Island. I had spoken to Liz by phone and was hoping to get as much info as possible about water sources, crocs, Aboriginal art etc. In vain it turned out – they knew the coast to the north but very little south of Port Warrender. Their water supply and time were also very limited due to the busy tourist season. After chatting for 40 minutes we left their camp between two medium sized crocodiles patrolling the mangroves at each end of the beach.

Rod Hudson heading north out of Port Warrender

That made 2 sharks and 2 crocs and poor water prospects in less than 3 hours of paddling! What would the next 4 weeks brings? Conditions were dead calm, not a breath of breeze on mirror smooth water. Where was the strong land breeze (south easterly) that blew every morning? – and would have helped us out of this giant bay. Our heavy boats and lack of paddling fitness meant slow progress. However the scenery was breathtaking, the sparsely vegetated ridges of an ancient sweeping shoreline, high cliff-lined flat-topped islands and warm turquoise water under a tropical sky. A pod of dolphins made the only ripples on the surface as we passed Crystal Head. A light headwind sprang up after we beached on Sheep’s Head Peninsular for lunch. Desperate for shade we stooped under a low overhang and made short work of a large tin of baked beans, a block of cheese and a loaf of bread. At 4.30 pm we reached Pickering Point and found a broad sandy beach with a narrow cliff lined gully in the rear. The lush vegetation in the gully invited a search for fresh water – in vain. Rod and I returned 400m to a small rocky beach near a patch of Pandanas Palm thriving above a rock platform. The weariness of the day’s paddle melted way when we found sweet water in deep grooves or cisterns in the rock platform under the palms. 20 metres behind them we explored some caves in low cliffs and filled our pockets with the plentiful ripe figs growing there. While cooking dinner we tried our distillation ‘turbo’ billy and managed approx. 300ml of fresh water after an hour. This was a simple distillation device Hudson had made to use as a last resort if our water searches failed. A tight fitting billy lid had 3 copper elbows soldered onto it. Our 1.9m aluminium masts fitted tightly into these and ran at a slight downward angle from the billy. With a wet cloth draped over the masts they acted as condensers for the steam generated by putting the billy filled with sea water on a steady camp fire. With a bit more fiddling we figured we could distil about 500mls/hour – enough to get us out of trouble.

Sea-water distillation apparatus

A reverse osmosis hand pump would have been an alternative but these are expensive and complex. I have spoken to a seakayaker and a fisherman who had both found these pumps unreliable when needed. Our spirits were high in spite of a hot breathless night when the mozzies and sandflies were merciless. At 1.30am dingoes howled nearby adding to the primeval feel of the place.

Day 3

At first light, 5.30am, we were up to behold a mirror smooth golden sea. I found a faded message in a whisky bottle dropped in Admiralty Gulf by a bored crew member (Darren Toons of Darwin) 5 years earlier.

At 8.30am we departed for Bigge Point. The shoreline was now much lower and it was difficult to distinguish headlands from the many islands in the distance. Bigge Point is a small rocky island joined by a short sand spit to a low rocky shoreline – great place for morning tea. The tropical heat of midday seeped into our heavy arms as we plodded west to the mouth of Admiralty Gulf. We almost nodded off several times until a rising NW headwind made us fight for balance and progress. In a small inlet just inside the gulf we had lunch of baked beans and salami on mouldy bread. Nearby pandanas patches on sand showed no sign of surface water. A sacred site to all sea kayakers, Krait Bay was just a few kilometres south of the gulf. Near the entrance of the bay I noticed a rusting metal object the size and shape of a World War II sea mine. It was half exposed at low tide on a reef under the northern headland. The bay was named after the Krait, a 27 metre Japanese fishing boat used in the famous Jaywick raid on Japanese held Singapore Harbour in Sept 1943. Six Australian and British Commandos left the Krait 50km from Singapore and island-hopped by night in 2 man sea kayaks. They managed to avoid detection by nearby Japanese patrol boats, observation posts and planes and Malay fishermen to place limpet mines on 7 heavily laden ships. These were sunk or severely damaged on 7 hour delay fuses. They then returned 80kms over several nights to rendezvous with the Krait. After 33 days in Japanese waters and 47 days and 8000kms after leaving Exmouth Gulf they returned unsung heroes. Krait Bay was used later by the Special Reconnaissance Department sailing the Krait on secret operations between the Bay, Timor and Darwin. The only evidence of their past presence were several piles of rusting five gallon drums and the sea mine.

Day 4

Heading south we rounded Davidson Point, a dark orange and yellow sandstone bluff typical of the Kimberley Coast, named after the leader of the Jaywick raiding party. Two kilometres later we set sail off Cape Voltaire – a dark basalt column headland – for Water Island 15kms to SW. The Coast Watch turbo prop passed low over us mid morning. We landed on an eastern beach and after an hour stumbling over loose boulders and prickly spinifex I found rock cisterns holding slightly brackish water on rock platforms 5m above high tide on the western side of the island. Explorer Capt. PP King noted these in 1820 when he named the island. “Gaiter Island” would be a more appropriate name but we were very happy to fill our water bottles. The water was less salty than currently popular sports drinks and if its good enough for elite athletes it was good enough for us. One of our party was having trouble with his rudder control lines as we pulled into an unnamed island just south of Cleghorn Island a little before dark. He managed a very good impersonation of Marvin the paranoid android in Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Moonrise south of Cleghorn Island

Day 5

Parrot fish baked on hot coals for breakfast. The sailing was pleasant as we headed SW towards the low spread of Bigge Is. on an easterly breeze. One of 4 dolphins playing next to Hudson nearly jumped on his lap – a hazard we hadn’t anticipated. At 3pm we arrived at a remarkable little beach on the SW corner of Capstain Is where Paul Caffyn camped on his circumnavigation of Australia by sea kayak. The headlands are sandstone but deeply honeycombed like limestone caves. Fascinated we explored these for a while but then decided to continue south into Scott Straight for a few kilometres to reduce the next day’s long crossing. At dead low tide on dusk we began a long gear and boat shuffle across wet sandy flats and then 100 metres up a gently sloping beach. We marvelled at the huge live nautilus shells and luminescent lights on the flats. An evening stroll 100m to the north to a mangrove fringed inlet revealed no red (croc) eyes in Hudson’s big Dolphin torch. We were tired but content.

Day 6

Away early on the rising, south flowing, tide to make Augereau Is at the exit of Scott Straight by 10.30 am. We had an early lunch hoping to cross the outlet of the Prince Regent River, the 20km wide York Sound. However the tide was now falling and therefore running against us. There was not a breath of wind. After 1 1/2 hours we had covered only 4kms and decided to pike and head west with the tide to Tournefort Is. The afternoon Norwester was late so the last few hundred metres gave us our first taste of a Kimberley phenomenon – a hard slog across a very strong current pushed up into steep standing waves by an opposing wind. I wrote up my diary under a shady tree looking out over a beach to Bigge and Lamark Islands. Dolphins played in the channel nearby. A little later Rod landed a 15lb cod which Hudson prepared as a wonderful (UHT) cream Tahitian dish. Time to take stock – 2 inflamed ingrown toenails, chafed knees and crotch, mildly upset tummy, tired lower back, shoulders and arms, a slight chest cold and a sunburnt face, but …….over and above all that….. an all pervading sense of well-being!!!

Day 7

A fresh easterly opposed a powerful ingoing tide creating short steep seas on our port beam as we headed south across York Sound. Our white water experience came through as we used bracing paddling strokes to help us cross a very confused sea. The contrast as we entered the calm of Port Nelson was dramatic. We rounded the first headland to the sound of cheerful birdlife enjoying the cool of one of the few patches of coastal rainforest in the Kimberley. After lunch the wind dropped and we plodded south 8 kilometres in the breathless heat to Careening Bay. It has a beautiful crescent beach surrounded by a steep amphitheatre ridge with a promising green gully in the middle. In 1820 Capt King beached his survey vessel the Mermaid here to carry out urgent repairs. We were unable to find the freshwater he described in a hole near the western end of the beach but easily found the giant Mermaid boab by following numerous tourist footprints.

Day 8

Found wonderful freshwater in grooves on a rock platform under lush pandanus just south of Cape Brewster.

The pattern of our days continued – paddling, exploring, camping, fishing. We saw no other people for 11 days. The isolation and natural beauty of the coast were broken only by a pleasant lunch (and banana smoothies!!) with the staff at Kuri Bay pearl farm and the wonderful hospitality of Geoff Parker at Freshwater Cove Fishing Camp. The whole coast was like a vast uninhabited Sydney Harbour with calm seas, inviting beaches, stricking islands and headlands. Geoff guided us on a bushwalk several kilometres inland to freshwater pools and remarkable Aboriginal cave art and gave us our prearranged food drop.

Wandjina (storm spirits)

We continued south to Montgomery Reef, stunning cliff scenery and freshwater spring below high tide near Raft Point and passed the whirlpools and enormous tidal rips in Yule Entrance at Walcott Inlet .

On Wed 22/7 we entered Talbot Bay and could immediately feel the change of atmosphere – steep enclosing ridges, mangrove flats and dark water. It felt crocy – this was their domain. Here we were not the top of the food chain but potentially part of it and there were only a few millimetres of fibreglass between our bums and their teeth.

A forced bivouac on a low rocky headland added to the feeling – shortly after a spectacular sunset over the bay a pair of red (croc) eyes cruised the water’s edge all night.

Unbeknownst to our paddlers, that was a crocodile making that wake between the left and middle paddlers

Next morning after rounding a headland on the way to “the Gaps” I saw a turtle approach Rod’s boat just ahead of me. It was coming towards us at a steady pace holding a steady gaze – very unusual for a turtle! Hudson came round the headland as Rod and I were steaming away. He could see the urgency in our strokes but not the crocodile. He followed our lead, instantly coming to the correct conclusion. The crocodile followed us for a few hundred metres and then disappeared. We kept up a pretty healthy pace for another kilometre before easing off and rafting up. We concluded that the crocodile probably wasn’t more than a couple of metres long and hoped his big brother was well up the creek where he was supposed to be.

The lure of the tidal surge through the Talbot Bay gaps was what drew us into this estuary. For more than two decades we had paddled the white water rivers of the Southern Tablelands and Snowy Mountains. We had recently taken to sea kayaks as a great way to explore remote coastlines. Here was a unique location for sea kayaking in breathtaking scenery where the white water slowly builds to tremendous power then gradually subsides and reverses every 6 hours. This phenomenum is caused by the 10m tidal surge through a deep narrow gap in two parallel ridges of ancient quartzite. As the tide peaks the inflow stops for a couple of minutes then surges back out again creating burls and whirlpools and heavy confused water for several hundred metres as the water tries to level again.

Where sea kayakers dare – shooting the “horizontal waterfall” on the tidal entering Talbot Bay

Timing our arrival at the Gaps was critical. We had to take the last of the flooding tide in, have a look around and take the ebb tide out before it became too powerful. The two crocodiles we had already seen in Talbot Bay had dampened our enthusiasm for taking on the tidal surge at full power. This was Spring Tide time and heavy sea kayaks are not ideal for Grade IV+ white water. The prospect of missing a roll in the heavy turbulent water, a swim and a difficult rescue was not appealing.

In the event the turbulence through the narrowest (2nd) gap within an hour of slack tide (and the first gap within 2 hours) was probably no more than Grade III. However it certainly was big volume with variable surface flows reflecting off the overhanging rock walls and sweeping sideways over the main current and many small whirlpools to leave a despairing brace unsupported.

We stayed a second day to try the gaps at higher power and were invited by Jim to the fancy dress “harvest party” at the nearby pearl farm pontoon. After congratulating ourselves on our good fortune we were turned away by the security conscious managers. Jim thoughtlessly hadn’t advised them of his invitation! More than half a million dollars worth of pearls had recently been stolen from farms closer to Broome. I didn’t think we looked any sort of a risk but on reflection it had been three weeks since we’d had a shower, Rod is a rough diamond and Hudson’s crotch rot did make him walk funny! More than a little peeved we headed back to our camp (which was their rubbish tip) at dusk, aggravation balancing concern about crocs.

Hudson was in deep gloom until 11am next day when Jo Paine, a crew member of the Coral Princess, invited us on board this big luxury tourist boat for beer, shower and lunch – as much fresh salad, cold meats and bread as we could eat!! Being quizzed by aged tourists was more than compensated by the hospitality of the crew and CALM Officer Warwick Roe as we exchanged information while pouring over maps on the bridge. And guess what? Jo runs a terrific sea kayaking hire company in the summer on the spectacular fjord indented Stuart Is off the southern tip of New Zealand – a wildlife and scenic wonderland Ph.NZ 03 2191275 Completley Southern Sea Kayaks Box 130, Stewart Is

Why did two experienced boatmen give wrong directions to Phil and Marion’s up Silver Gull Creek? What dangers lurk up Crocodile Creek? Will the expedition go sub-marine at Whirlpool Passage? Will Hudson’s nether regions ever regain thier former glory? Will we take the chicken run across the notorious Sunday Straight?

Get the next issue to find the answers to these and many other important questions.

Special thanks to Rob your for important help with water sources and historical information

Suggested Reading:

  • “Kimberley Experience” by Terry Bollands
  • “Kimberley, Horizons of Stone” by Alistair McGregor & Quentin Chester
  • “Crocodile Attack” by Hugh Edwards
  • “The Heros” by Ronald McKie
  • “Dream Time Voyage” (Chapter 11) by Paul Caffyn
  • “Discovery of Australia” by PP King

Continue with part 2

Editorial [36]

This is the last issue for this year and I hope to see you all at the rock and roll weekend. Heres your chance to complain about the editor. For those unfamiliar, it’s the big social-cum-learning event on the NSW Sea Kayakers Calender.

Paddle leashes in the surf

I haven’t had many letters to the editor so I am hoping to make a statement that may get some in. I have heard two quite different points of view about paddle leashes in the surf, both from experienced kayakers.

One states that you should never use your paddle leash in the surf it just too dangerous. It can easily get caught around your limbs or neck leaving you attached to a kayak being dragged along.

The other states that you should always have the leash on in the surf. If you paddle and kayak get separated there’s no way you can get them together to attempt a recovery.

I am interested to hear if anyone has any opinion either way, or have had an experience that made rethink about leashes.

Our magazine is getting far these days and we getting requests for some of our articles from as far away as Chesapeake in North America. We trade newsletters with quite a number of clubs and the friendliness of Sea Kayaking community make it very easy to swap articles.