Training Notes [39]

By David Winkworth

Hi Everyone, another issue and another ‘Training Notes’ column. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to know what members want me to write in this column. Usually I just watch members paddling on trip weekends and see what can be said to help them with technique etc. Sometimes, at a training weekend there will be a few members with the same problem, so I write about that etc.

What I, and other club instructors need is feedback from members as to their training needs. We have attempted to guess this in the past and done pretty well I suppose but we do need feedback from you. Please let us know if you need any specific help.

Also, if any member wants to write an article of a ‘training’ nature, please feel free. There must be many members who have noticed different training methods from other parts of the world that would be of use to us. Each of the instructors in the club has a different way of teaching rolls, support strokes etc….and the more variations in these methods that we are exposed to, the better. No-one of us has all the answers. So, it’s over to you!

Body English

This is a term that motorcycle trials riders use to describe the movement of the rider’s body over the motorcycle (they are standing up) for balance and to help them make the bike do what they want it to. It’s also a term and a technique that I use in sea kayaking – but I don’t think anyone understands me!

Let’s think about our weight in a kayak. Suppose an average paddler weighs 75 kgs wringing wet. Exclude their legs and lower torso (because they can’t move) at about 35kgs and that leaves 40 kgs of moveable body mass from about the hips up…with a big heavy lump on the top called the head! If our paddler’s kayak weighs in at 20 kgs, that means that our moveable mass is double the weight of the boat.

Now that is really significant and yet we often see paddlers not taking advantage of this in their general paddling. Sure, it’s weird to be leaning way forward or back while paddling along but it does work (to varying degrees with different boats), and paddlers should include this as a supplement to their repertoire of strokes.

Before we look at some specific examples, you should note that your firm fit in your cockpit should extend only to your hips and to your lower back. This is where you pivot from, so if you are restricted higher up your body you will find the manoeuvres more difficult. If you are using a backband system, make sure that the band is able to move down as you lean back. Put your kayak out on the lawn, hop in and check your range of movement.

Most kayaks exhibit weather helm tendencies…that is, when paddled across the wind the boat will turn towards the wind. In this case we want to hold course across the wind. We’ll assume that the rudder is retracted. In addition to lean steer and paddle sweep techniques, you can lean well back while paddling to push your keel deeper into the water. Cars steer from the front – boats steer from the back. If your boat is rounded at the stern and carries it’s volume well towards the stern or has lots of rocker, the lean back will be of more use. Why? Because the rocker and/or high volume stern means that your rear end is not deep enough in the water to counteract the wind pushing on the stern. Next time you go for a paddle, give this manoeuvre a try.

Now, supposing the wind is blowing hard across your path and you wish to turn into the wind. Although the wind is acting on your stern to aid the turn, in very strong winds this is counteracted by the wind force on your bow to hinder the boat turning upwind and you end up in eqilibrium beam on to the waves. To make this turn, paddle FAST across the wind while leaning well forward with some outward boat lean and sweep strokes. The lean forward of your 40 kgs will lighten the stern so that it will come round more easily and also depress the bow to reduce the wind effect up there. Do not practise this stroke off the coast in a 40 knot westerly. You may end up in New Zealand!

Let’s combine these two leans now – the lean forward and the lean back. If you’re paddling in reasonable wind waves with the wind and waves on the stern quarter, you may find that your boat turns into a pig!….and just will not respond to your steering inputs. Why? In this case, roughly speaking, the lower part of the wind waves are trying to push your boat back up the wave and the top of the wind waves are trying to push the kayak down . Result: you end up broaching all the time with the odd capsize and generally do not enjoy the paddle. Kayaks are at their most directionally-unstable with the wind and waves on the stern quarter.

To counteract this, try leaning forward to catch the wave for a free ride, and then quickly and forcefully lean well back as the wave picks up the boat. At the same time you may need to use a stern rudder stroke on the up-wave side, and hard foot pressure on the up-wave footrest only. Keep leaning back as you do this. ‘Definitely a manoeuvre that needs practice.

If you’re on an overnight or multi-day trip the day’s weather forecast should tell you how to pack your boat. If you expect to have downwind conditions (paddling with the sea and wind) you should increase the weight in your stern hatch. Your lean-back will still be needed if the waves pick up though!

One last example where movement of body weight can assist is the ROLL. Two common faults for paddlers learning to roll is to keep their heads up and failure to lean well back or well forward. Not only is your head heavy,but it sits up there on top of your body for increased leverage AGAINST your roll succeeding! If our bodies ended at our necks, rolls would be a snap! To guarantee that your roll succeeds 100% of the time, keep your body and head as close as possible to your boat. Good Luck.

Storm Conditions

Last issue I wrote about storm conditions and posed the question for members: How would you sit out a storm? Although the responses were low, the consensus was to lie to a drogue and sit it out with the stern of the kayak towards to weather. I’d just like to throw in a few problems and possible solutions for future discussion round a campfire….because I certainly don’t have all the answers!

We’re talking in this example of winds in excess of a genuine 50 knots with stronger gusts. Making headway (if that is where land is) is not really an option. On the open sea this is going to generate big seas and lots of wind blown spray near water level (which is where we are!) Obviously, facing into these conditions is going to sap your strength very quickly but conversely, facing away from the weather means you’re not going to see all the big waves coming down on you. Some are sure to roll you over.

To the drogue – if you’re already rigged, do you have the drogue on the bow? Can you change it to the stern out there? If you have no drogue, you’ll have to make one from your towline and something from inside your hatch such as a drybag full of water or a rolled up jumper. Drogues need to sit under the surface to work …but not sink…so you may need to use an empty drink bottle as a float. Also, those who have used a drogue in strong wind will know that kayaks tend to yaw when lying to a drogue so you may need to attach another line to the other end of the boat to hold it steady This is getting difficult isn’t it?….. To do all this rigging or re-rigging on a raging sea means you’re probably going to have to get out of your boat!

If you do get out of your boat, there is a real danger that the wind and the next breaking wave will take your boat away from you so you need to attach yourself to the boat somehow. Also, once you’ve opened the hatch etc (if it is one you can safely open and close at sea) and rigged up the drogue, you’ve got to get back in the boat. If your kayak is NOT lying up-down wind, you’ll probably find a roll difficult as the wind may blow you over again. Your first shot is your best shot!

There is a obviously a limit to how long you could last in these conditions – especially if it was off the Tasmanian coast in cooler water temperatures. If you managed to get off a call before the storm hit on a radio or satellite phone and finally and miraculously you’re plucked from a watery grave, the first words from the rescuers may be the ultimate put-down line: ‘Does your mother know you’re out here?’

Australian Board of Canoe Education – new award scheme

For candidates and holders of Skills and Instructional Awards from the Aust. Board of Canoe Education…there is a new award scheme which is due to be implemented by 1.6.99

The new award scheme is seen as being necessary in view of Outdoor Rec. developments in Vocational Education and Training and the Outdoor Recreation Council of Aust. (ORCA).

Holders of current awards will retain them. There are four streams for sea kayakers:

  • Skills Awards: Intro to Sea Kayaking

    • Sea Kayak Skills Award (the existing Sea Proficiency)
    • Advanced Sea Kayaking Skills Award
  • Rescue Awards: Intro. To Sea Rescue

    • Sea Rescue Award
    • Advanced Sea Rescue Award
  • Guiding Awards: Canoeing Guide (Estuary and Protected Waters)

    • Sea Kayaking Guide (Inshore)
    • Advanced Sea Kayaking Guide (Offshore)
  • Instructor Awards:

    • Sea Kayaking Instructor
    • Advanced Sea Kayaking Instructor.

At this stage I have no details as to individual award requirements. I will pass on details for comment as soon as I have them.

The Sea Instructor Course set for 20-21st March is postponed till a date to be fixed due to the unavailability of another Sen. Instructor. I apologize to candidates. Keep paddling.

Arunas Pilka and I will be paddling in Northern Australia (Kimberlys) by the time you get this.

It’s been a hard day’s night … [39]

NSWSKC paddlers accompany Susie Maroney, raising awareness of Rett Syndrome

By Andrew Eddy

See also Sundra John’s story, “A night (and two days) out with Susie”, Robert Gardner’s story “A night out with Susie Maroney” and Robert Mercer and Sharon Betteridges’ story, “Desperately seeking Susie”.

The weather forecast was not good. There was a strong high pressure system over Tasmania, moving slowly eastwards. The resulting ESE winds were predicted to reach 15 to 25 knots, with 2 metre seas on a 2 metre swell and showers, with possible thunderstorms. This grade 3 “plus” paddle was shaping up to be much more than “plus”!

Only hours before the close of Issue 38 of the NSW Sea Kayaker, Susie Maroney’s support and publicity machine had been in touch with the club executive asking for kayaker support for Susie’s next ultra-marathon swim. We managed to include a brief letter in the letters page, but the changes to the calendar missed the deadline.

Susie had asked for paddlers to provide the vital eye-contact and company during the long and arduous swim. Kayakers produce no exhasut fumes or noise, but are able to talk to her, supply her, run errands and messages, and just be there. This would be Susie’s first long swim back in Australian waters since the Mexico to Cuba swim last year. It would also be Susie’s first swim for to raise awareness and money for others.

The swim originated in a request from a little girl with Rett Syndrome. Becky Lillis, through the Starlight Foundation, had asked to see Susie swim. Susie chose to attempt to swim from Newcastle to Sydney, a distance of 150 kilometres and to dedicate the swim to Becky. She estimated 28 hours, non-stop, overnight.

One club member, Robert Gardner, was impressed by the possiblities and pushed the NSWSKC into action, spurring a long round of phone calls. Other club members were willing, depending on conditions, to paddle with Robert for various segments. Most of those paddlers who were invited to participate were able to spare part of the weekend, night or day, Saturday or Sunday. The “grade three – plus” suggestion was meant to account for the likely distance offshore, the length of individual segments, the likely launchings and landings on unfamiliar surf beaches (perhaps at night), the need to paddle at night and the need to be self sufficient and not distract the rest of Susie’s support crew. Of course, the grading system requires modification of a grading with changing weather and sea conditions …

By the end of the preceding week, there were arrangements in place for paddlers to provide non-stop support. Robert was to paddle the entire trip, with at least two others on each leg of the trip, with the exception of the midnight-to-dawn leg, when Robert would probably be on his own.

We anticipated that the most difficult facet of the trip was likely to be pressure sores from paddling so slowly over a long period. Susie’s on-water speed is only a few kilometres an hour, less than half a cruising kayak speed. But then that strong high passed over Tasmania …

Several paddlers, and their land crew, drove up to Newcastle on Friday night. We stayed over at the same hotel as Susie, some of her crew and Becky Lillis and her family.

The paddlers were nervous. By early Saturday morning, the developing weather pattern had already created winds and seas that were beyond sensible for night paddling, but manageable for daylight paddling. By the time that breakfast was over, nerves were even higher, but Susie was going to start, so the paddlers would too. Sundra John (see Sundra’s story) and Robert Gardner (see Robert’s story) entered the water, in front of the waiting crowd and TV news cameras.


OK, guys, show them how it’s done!


Show whom?

After Sundra gave the onlookers a little entertainment, with an attempt at a reverse pirouette then a short swim, they were out. The local surf lifesavers put on a similar show, capsizing an IRB with support equipment and one of Susie’s crew. Even the surf experts get it wrong whe the surf is rough enough!

The flotilla of vessels started out with a Water Police launch, two Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol vessels — “Harold Nobbs” towing the shark cage and another accompanying — a trawler, “Babs III” — for people, light and supplies — and a larger, very comfortable vessel called “Gemma” with further facilities on board. After the first hour the show was over until Sydney. “Harold Nobbs”, “Babs III” and “Gemma” stayed on, as arranged. An IRB with Susie’s crew remained tied to the shark cage for three quarters of the time, with Robert and Sundra providing the only human contact for about a quarter hour in each hour, and able to paddle alongside or run messages for the rest of the time.

Very quickly it was obvious that the conditions were not optimal for such a swim. The moderately big and confused seas were hitting all the vessels and the shark cage on the beam. All of the vessels, except of course the kayaks, were rolling heavily and wallowing badly. Despite that, the most serious threat, the closest that the paddlers came to capsize, was the news helicopter’s downdraught!

The first casualty was Susie’s mother, who broke ribs when the rolling of the boat threw her to one side.

After an hour or so the flotilla reached Redhead where several well-wishers were gathered in the drizzle. They looked so small out there on the ocean. The shark cage and paddlers were visible only in binoculars.


The little flotilla about a kilometre offshore at Redhead

The paddlers’ land support followed them down the coast, getting regular position updates by mobile phone and sometimes by sight and compass, all the while calculating speeds and likely arrival times at points down the coast. The mobile phone coverage was excellent, but the handheld 27 MHz marine radio and handheld marine VHF radio were so limited in range, that they were only good for occasionally receiving and not transmitting between shore and the flotilla.

Several more paddlers, came out through Swansea channel, paddled with Susie for an hour, then paddled back. They successfully proved that Mirages can go slowly — Susie’s speed-over-ground (ie., including the current) was just over 2 knots!

The next group of paddlers were due to start at dusk from Norah Head and paddle to Terrigal, but it was obvious by mid afternoon that at Susie’s present speed she would not pass Norah Head until about three hours after schedule — around 9 pm. This meant that the paddlers starting at Norah Head would leave the flotilla at 4 am, about 5 km offshore, then paddle in total darkness to a landing on a surf beach in Beaufort force six conditions. Hmm. No way!

Sundra had left a message, suggesting that he would land at Norah Head. Cabbagetree Bay is a well protected landing, with virtually no wave action or wind in a south-easterly. It is protected by “The Bull” and other shoals, rocks, bomboras etc, etc, etc. Wayne Langmaid stayed back until well into the evening while we developed a plan for guiding Sundra in through those hazards in total darkness. Meanwhile Sundra had decided to pull his kayak up onto “Babs III”. Phew!

By nightfall, the weather forecast had been upgraded to 20 to 30 knot winds and 3 metre seas on 2 metres of swell — Beaufort force six. And Susie was still swimming!

A large group of spectators, including many families and supporters of girls with Rett Syndrome, from the Central Coast had gathered at Norah Head. By phone, I had forewarned John Aldritt, the skipper of the boat towing Susie’s shark cage, that there would be a large group of spectators at Norah Head, so he had arranged to put on a light show on “Babs III”. As Susie passed Norah Head, then the cliffs of Soldiers Beach, the round-about communication between the spectators (flashing headlights, waving torches) and the flotilla (waving torches, static searchlights, chatting to a 2CCC radio announcer over the phone) and the radio announcer (broadcasting the phone interview to the car radios) led to a very excited atmosphere. But wait, what’s that out there? Susie’s still swimming … that paddle flash … Rob’s still paddling! In the middle of a moonless night, in Beaufort 6!

The conditions were rough. Those little craft were rolling heavily. Later in the night, about 1 pm, Robert pulled his kayak out onto “Babs III”. A short while later, after endless bouts of seasickness and a developing case of hypothermia, Susie pulled out too. By this stage Susie had been in the water for 18 hours and had covered about two thirds of the distance from Newcastle.

But the swim wasn’t over. A record might not be possible, however the swim was still dedicated to Becky Lillis. Becky would still see Susie swim into Sydney. NSWSKC paddlers would still paddle in with Susie.

The flotilla cruised down the coast, rolling heavily in the seas, with almost all people on board with varying levels of seasickness. Several times, the hawser between the towing vessel and the shark cage snapped, worn through. The relief towing vessel, the tiny Coast-Guard launch “Komatsu”, spent ages trying to find the flotilla in the darkness, off Bouddi NP.

At 5 am I called “Babs III” for an update on their position, so that a further pod of sea kayakers could find and accompany Susie down from Palm Beach. At this stage, we did not know that the record attempt was over. These paddlers were initially prepared to set out at dawn and follow a compass course up to 10 km out to sea, in order to meet with the flotilla. We adjusted to an 8 am start from Long Reef, where the flotilla would pass within sight of shore.

Not long after dawn I received a call, asking us not to come out. A pod of four paddlers would leave from Rose Bay and accompany Susie into the Harbour. Finding the flotilla turned out to be an exercise in itself and it was many hours before everything was arranged for Susie to swim from Bradleys Head to Darling Harbour.

That afternoon, Becky Lillis and several other girls with Rett syndrome boarded the Water Police launch “Intrepid” from Cockle Bay, Darling Harbour, at about 2 pm for a short trip to Bradleys Head. Susie was to restart the swim there. On the way back, “Intrepid” , Robert, Sundra and four more paddlers from the NSWSKC accompanied Susie right down into Darling Harbour.


“Intrepid” departs with Becky Lillis and some other girls with Rett …


but returns to a different wharf, while the pod accompanies Susie into Cockle Bay (the shark cage has two white banners)


Susie’s last few strokes – outside the shark cage

Then followed the “media event”. There were camera crews from the three commercial networks, many friends and supporters and hundreds of spectators at Cockle Bay wharf. They largely ignored the Coast Guard vessel Komatsu but gave all their attention to Susie.


Susie greets Becky Lillis


NSWSKC long-distance support craft and spectator pod


A very tired and cold Susie thanked two tired paddlers, Robert Gardner (left) and Sundra John (right)

After everything was said, done and photographed, we packed the two paddlers onto the car and found a place to sit down and eat a good meal. Kayaks are normally banned from entering this part of Darling Harbour and, of course, cars are banned from driving down to the water’s edge. Because of this event we were able to accomplish both — quit a treat!

Susie Maroney’s Swim from Newcastle to Sydney [39]

Information from: Bill Love, Advance Public Relations, Announcement date: 8 April 1999

Susie Maroney in Record Attempt Ocean Swim From Newcastle to Sydney This Weekend

Outstanding marathon swimmer, Susie Maroney, who recently eclipsed a world record distance swim between Cuba and Florida will try to break a new time record for a swim from Merewether Beach in Newcastle to Darling Harbour this weekend.

Susie will dive into the water at Merewether Beach at 9 am this Saturday April 10 and will reach Darling Harbour early afternoon on Sunday April 11.

The 150 km swim from Merewether Beach to Darling Harbour is Susie’s first big ocean marathon since returning from America.

The proceeds of this marathon, sponsored by Bankstown District Sports Club and Blue Haven Pools and Spas, expected to raise over $40,000, will be donated to Rett Syndrome Research at the new Children’s Hospital Westmead.

Susie Maroney, who is Patron of the Rett Syndrome Association Research Fund said she is doing this swim for seven year old Rebecca Lillis, who Susie says captivates the fighting spirit of kiddies suffering from the devastating neurological disorder.

Cheques will be presented to Susie as she emerges from the water at Darling Harbour on Sunday. (Expected 1.00 pm to 3.00 pm)

Swimming day and night, Susie will be accompanied by seagoing kayak crews from the New South Wales Sea Kayak Club, navy commandos and between six to 10 boat crews from various lifesaving clubs from Newcastle, the Central Coast and Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

Note: Media may join accompanying vessel Gemma early in the trip, progressively during the trip or as the vessel comes through Sydney Heads en route to Darling Harbour.

Contact numbers for Susie prior to and during the swim include:

  • Boat Captain John Alldritt
  • Gemma, Media Boat, Captain Peter Verrils

Further relevant links

Links to some of Susie’s swims

… and to paddlers’ stories after the end of the event

A Night (And 2 Days) Out With Susie [39]

By Sundra John

(see also the landcrew’s story, “It’s been a hard day’s night …” and Robert Gardner’s story “A night out with Susie Maroney” and Robert Mercer and Sharon Betteridge’s story “Desperatley seeking Susie”)

Robert Gardner and I took up the offer of accompanying Susie Maroney on her swim from Newcastle to Sydney. The purpose of the swim was to attempt a new record (150km), and predominantly to raise funds and awareness for RETT Syndrome. Andrew and Salo (our landcrew), Robert and myself met on Friday night and confirmed plans. Robert was going to do as much of the paddle as possible, offering support and company to Susie, especially during the lonely night section. I, not being experienced in offshore night paddling, opted for just the day sections, pulling out at Norah Head at nightfall to rejoin the boats at either Barrenjoey or Long Reef at dawn. At this stage we were also hoping for other paddlers to be joining us along the way.

We were on Merewether Beach at 8am Saturday morning greeted by a solid and messy 2 metre surf. We packed our kayaks and got down to the water for a 9am start. Robert was paddling his trusty Storm and I was in an Orca (taken from Salo yet again). Our launch off the beach provided a bit of sideshow entertainment for the hundred odd spectators. I was pirouetted out of my boat by a large wave. Robert rolled up on the same wave and punched his way through to the back-line. I had another 2 attempts before getting through. I quickly joined Robert, who was now with the 2 support boats (Gemma and Babs 3) and the Coastal Patrol tow boat.

Susie was soon off the beach, in her shark cage and we were on our way. We were paddling alongside the cage at 2.4 knots into a light S.E. wind with a 1.5 to 2m swell. We had 2 squally spells of gusts and rain lasting 15 minutes each before midday. Susie is one determined person. Her attitude was an inspiration to both of us. She frequently got seasick, but was smiling a minute later and powering on. Off Swansea, we were welcomed by 4 paddlers who came out to meet us. They stayed with us for an hour before heading back.

At this stage I informed the skippers that I was pulling out at Norah Head. We were instantly offered accommodation aboard the trawler, Babs 3. Robert and I quickly discussed the situation, took up the offer and notified our land crew. The crew were happy to have us around as we provided constant company to Susie, her crew and frequently communication between the cage and boats. As the afternoon wore on the wind strengthened and swung to the N.E. which unsettled the sea. By 5.30pm we were off Bird Island with Norah Head in view ahead. I helped Robert light his cylumes and I decided to use just my torch, as I would only paddle for another hour. I then discovered my torch had flooded (I had another and 2 cyalumes) and decided to pull onto Babs 3 at the next stop.

By 6.30pm I was on the trawler (kayak too) in dry clothes, the Coastal Patrol had headed back to Newcastle and Gemma had taken up the tow. We were expecting a Coastal Patrol boat from Sydney to intercept us at Terrigal to continue the tow. I soon discovered it was more comfortable sitting in the kayak than on the trawler. The trawler rolled like a dog in the 2m steepening swell and I quickly lost my appetite. I dosed off in the cabin, awakening every hour to check on our progress. At midnight we were off Bateau Bay, Susie and Robert were still going strong, but conditions had worsened. The wind and swell had increased and things were starting to look nasty. I again admired Susie’s determination knowing she would now be cold, tired and definitely swimming against the odds. By 1am (Sunday) Robert was showing concern about the still worsening weather and starting to get cold. He soon pulled out south of Bateau Bay. I awoke at 3.30am to hear that Susie had to be stopped due to hypothermia and was now recovering aboard Gemma. She was pulled out after 3am south of Terrigal. There was now a 3m swell with a 20 knot wind and the back of the trawler was constantly awash.

The crew now went to plan 2. This was to get Susie to Sydney by 10am so she could swim into Darling Harbour and meet the awaiting kids suffering from Rett Syndrome. At daybreak we were south of Barrenjoey. Babs 3 had taken over the tow and still no Coastal Patrol in sight. Gemma had steamed ahead into the harbour to get Pauline (Susie’s mom) to paramedics and prepare Susie for her swim. Pauline had a fall on Gemma and had suspected fractured ribs. The tow in the poor conditions was slow. We arrived at the North Head at 10.30am greeted by 4 eager kayakers. Robert and I soon joined them in the water by seal launching off Babs 3. Susie continued her swim at Bradleys Head accompanied by 6 kayakers, police boats, coastal patrol, media, and pleasure craft into Darling Harbour. We said our thankyous and goodbyes to our newly made friends, rejoined our dedicated land crew and got something to eat. It felt good to be back on solid ground.

The End

Life’s an education – Lessons learnt from this trip:

  • Ensure everything is tied down when launching through surf. I lost a small bag of snacks, the only thing that was not tied down.
  • Buy quality gear that will not only be waterproof but also ‘surfproof’. My waterproof torch flooded and Robert damaged his mobile phone which was in a Coleman dry pouch.
  • It was comforting having Andrew (and Salo) on shore when I got trashed in the surf, as they quickly got me back into the kayak and provided the right advice. This gave me the confidence to try again and eventually get through.
  • Ensure reliable communication with land crew. We had no problems as our mobile phones worked well, but the portable 27Mhz radio I gave Andrew was useless.
  • Try not to get lost at sea. Without an EPIRB, wetsuit, flares, and the compulsory safety gear, you have little chance of survival in the conditions we were in.

1999 Sea Kayakers’ Get-together [39]

By Akino Ogawa, 10 years old

On Sunday 30th May, 1999. Me, my family and my friend travelled to Rose Bay. It was raining. Then, when the rain stopped, we got the canoe and kayak off the roof of the car and started paddling. My mum paddled the kayak and my dad, my sister and I went in the canoe.

When we got to Shark Island my sister, my friend and I collected the landing fee. Then we had some lunch and played while the adults talked. Two people came from Canberra. Larry Gray couldn’t come because his baby and his wife were sick.

Owen [Hughes – Canoe Sports] did a talk on paddle techniques, he paddled a racing kayak. Colin [Debenet – B-line] brought lots of new safety gear and lots of people were interested.

I counted 54 kayaks and every one talked a lot about kayaks.

Sea Kayaking As An Individual In A Group [39]

or Picking A Daisy to Make A Daisy Chain

By Sarah Adler

The following exploration is twofold. Clearly group leaders have to fulfill certain requirements, to be effective, as discussed extensively in Ross Winters’ informative article (Sea Kayaker July 1998). Apparently less well understood are the roles and responsibilities of individual paddlers to themselves and equally importantly to the group, when embarking on a trip with other people, be it with the NSWSKC or not. After all a club is only as good as its members.

Having found an avenue to meet people who share my interest in sea kayaking here in Australia, I have been struck by the apparent inability of many to act responsibly. Since I do not feel this is intentional it must be because people do not recognise the special qualities needed for paddling with companions safely on the sea.

In contemporary society, people are falsely lured into thinking they can control their environment and what is more they are fairly indestructible. In view of the recent introduction of waivers within the club, it is vital to acknowledge the fact that on a club event you as an individual have a responsibility to yourself, the leader and the rest of the group. This means you must be aware that your actions directly affect others.

Assuming at this point that paddlers know what to wear and take on a trip, depending on the actual trip planned, and about boat preparation, they have already fulfilled some of their responsibilities. It is the next step however that concerns me since the inherent nature of the sea clearly shows we cannot control it and it must be respected.

I often describe sea kayaking as one of my passions. I love the moods of the ocean and the space. To glimpse the majesty of nature in good company, where I may choose for a while to paddle alone without talking or whilst conversing, is something I treasure. Sea kayaking is a holistic way of nurturing my physical, spiritual and emotional well being and I find it an effective way of setting new challenges and then attaining them step by step.

I have done some solo trips and many group trips over the past 7 years. I enjoy being with others and agree that:

“One of the reasons I paddle with a club rather than by myself is the safety margin that a group provides. But if you don’t stay together or work together as a group then you may as well save your money and not be a member of the club” (Ross Winters 1998).

Since a group by definition is more than one person there is a demand placed upon individuals to alter some part of their behaviour. If I paddle and behave in the same way on group trips as I do when journeying alone: It does not work.

I would suggest that this is where group dynamics in the NSWSKC at the moment are faltering most of the time.

Norm Sanders in his President’s report (July 1998) says;

“Like many sea kayakers I’m a bit of a loner. I enjoy the solitude of paddling … Strangely enough I also get a kick out of kayaking in company with others. I guess that’s why I’m in the NSWSKC.”

I would urge you at this point to consider why you choose to paddle with others in the hope that this may reveal some of the inherent responsibilities involved. Whether or not your answer in any way relates to the ‘safety margin ‘ it is up to you as an individual member of a group to acknowledge that: Your actions will affect the group effectiveness and safety.

The trip leader has a role to play here but so do individuals since they can add to or detract from even the most competent leader’s abilities. (As an aside I feel it is worth mentioning the idea that it is possible, indeed often desirable to lead a group from the centre or the rear and not just from the front. Having worked for a number of years leading groups I am able to alter my position according to the group’s needs at different times. I would also suggest that whether or not you choose to be leading groups on the ocean there is a lot of value which can come from exploring group dynamics. There are many excellent books on the subject).

Utilising the ocean as a medium it is imperative to be aware of the dangers that lurk there. The weather can change very quickly and contrary to weather reports. Even with extensive knowledge of the sea, which in reality is only possessed by a few people in the club, hypo/ hyperthermia are real risks, injury may occur, a paddler may become sea sick, gear may be damaged or lost and so on. These predicaments can be worked with effectively if a group is cohesive or may be magnified if the group becomes a number of selfish paddlers at sea. Strong words but after several trips recently where I observed an apparent lack of awareness or consideration for other club members I feel they are justified.

So what does it take to have a group which ‘ works’ as opposed to one that doesn’t?

By describing my experience on several paddles with the club I will illustrate how the behaviour of individuals actually detracts from my enjoyment and the group’s safety if they do not know how to function as a unit whilst sea kayaking. It is an assumption that adults will adhere to guidelines. It is false. However I strongly believe that the chances of people of any age doing what they have been asked to do increases if they understand why they are to do it. I suspect many people have not stopped to consider the differences between paddling as an individual alone and as an individual in a group.

At Currarong on ‘The Next Step’ weekend I rather apprehensively decided to take part in an early morning paddle. My uncertainty came from hearing rumours about the pace of club paddles. I knew I was fully able to complete the trip in terms of my ability. The scenery was potentially magnificent and the weather inviting yet for much of the journey I struggled to keep up with the pace, which meant that much of the pleasure of the paddle for me was lost.

I found myself rushing from point A to B. By the end, having passed through every imaginable emotion I felt a sense of anger as well as having strained my body physically. I was “left” to paddle at the back most of the way and on that occasion could not go any faster. Nor did I want to. For me part of the pleasure of kayaking is to be in the moment not chasing a goal. The “front” paddlers did not stop during the entire trip to let me catch up.

The pace of the group is set by the slowest person not the fastest.

Potentially the strain to my body made me paddle less effectively and in that way can be seen as having a detrimental impact on the group.

For those of you who do not know what it is like to paddle at full strength for a whole paddle and still be at the back I suggest that you try and envisage another aspect of your life where you may have found yourself in a similar situation -struggling. It is very demoralising and there is no need for it to happen. It is not encouraging to reach the group as a ‘tired’ paddler just as they finish their break and paddle off again. This can lead to exhaustion. There is plenty of evidence to show that eventually people give up.

Perhaps it would be helpful for those people who always paddle fast to challenge themselves to change their pace or stop and just ‘ be’ on the sea as opposed to needing to ‘do’? There is always a lot to appreciate…the colours of the ocean, clouds, rock formations, smells and so on. It may also be a golden opportunity to practice stroke refinement or to share a few useful tips with fellow paddlers. At the very least I suggest paddlers develop the habit of looking back at the rest of the group regularly to remind themselves they have a key role to play in the group’s safety. If the rear paddlers are mere specks on the horizon you need to wait. At the end of the day individual paddlers need to make a choice about how accountable they want to be for their own behaviour ,acknowledging that in a group it has a domino effect.

It is relevant to mention here a comment made to me by a male club member at my first weekend:

“Oh it is good to see a woman here. They don’t stay long.”

Whilst I do not believe that my discussion of group dynamics is solely a gender issue, it does have some relevance. If you are someone who enjoys a challenge but can only see that in terms of speed or high risk and cannot appreciate the perception of fear and what it is like to feel terrified then perhaps it is time to broaden your awareness? Talking to other women in the club these issues are already causing individuals to ‘give up’ and choose paddles of a lower grade than their abilities allow. Is this also the case for some of the male club members? It may explain the ever increasing numbers in the club but the relatively small percentage of active paddlers? I hope this article will go some way redressing the balance.

On an overnight paddle from Kioloa recently it was suggested that the group stay within 500 metres of each other. For much of the trip that did not happen. The group finished not as a group except in numbers, at different times and with several very irritated paddlers. In this case’ time’ seemed to be setting the pace or trying to. It does not work as a sole incentive where people with differing paddle speeds are involved, which is always the case. I agree time is a realistic constraint but would suggest it is better to leave earlier than rush the whole way.

Another point, which has arisen on a number of recent paddles, is the need for rendezvous points with the aim of regrouping. If the group is operating as a unit, such a notion is redundant and if the group is dispersed over a large area, as was the case paddling into Batemans Bay recently through a major shipping channel, motorised boats may think they have passed the group and then discover fragments of the party paddling elsewhere.

During a paddle to Tuross in June there was a capsize in calm conditions. It was not possible to work as a group effectively to get the person back in his kayak since some people were too far away to hear a whistle blow and therefore didn’t even know what had happened. If the group is spread over a large area the leader’s attention is naturally divided. Had the sea been rougher their assistance may have meant the difference between an epic and a minor incident. There was no wind and I have a very loud whistle. Maybe it would be a useful exercise to try out effective whistle distances on a future training weekend in order to see whether they have any safety value?

In order for trips to go ahead through the club, leaders are needed. I surmise that what will happen with time and with increased fears of litigation is that people will not come forward to lead if the risks are too high. It is up to each one of us as potentially responsible adults to be responsible and to show respect where it is due to ourselves and our fellow club members.

To conclude …

Paddling in a group, ironically, takes self awareness. Individuals must select appropriate paddles to do and be aware of what they can do to improve their paddling ability, but more importantly as a member of a group they must also take on board the points raised if it is to reach it’s full potential.

It takes many daisies to make a daisy chain just as it takes individual paddlers to make a group. Having a few people in one place does not guarantee they are working as a group unless communication is effective and the links of the chain are formed and maintained. Having a pile of daisies will not automatically form a chain!

A Night Out With Susie Maroney [39]

By Robert Gardner

(See also the landcrew’s story “It’s been a hard day’s night …” and Sundra John’s story “A night (and two days) out with Susie” and Robert Mercer and Sharon Betteridges’ story “Desperately seeking Susie”)

I get the task of being the last one to write about the weekend’s outing with Susie. I’ll try not to re-tell the story completely.

Susie had recently returned from her record breaking swim from Florida to Cuba and a double crossing of the English Channel, so was confident on this new record attempt. She planned on doing it in about 30 hours although no one has successfully completed a Newcastle to Sydney swim before.

On the Saturday morning at Newcastle when we set out from the beach, a good crowd of spectators and news crews had gathered to watch the departure. Sundra and I launched the kayaks while Susie distracted the crowd and media to minimise our embarrassment if we got dumped by the sizable surf. We did that in spectacular fashion anyway. While positioning ourselves to make a run out between sets we both got soundly barreled. I did a boring roll and paddled like hell to punch through the breakers while Sundra did a more adventurous double backward summersault with pike (in a fact he did it three times in case the cameras missed the first one!)

  • Lesson 1: Wait back at the beach for a set to pass, not in the middle of the soup!

Out at the escort boats, Susie joined us and we set off southwards. We ran errands, passed messages and generally let her watch us paddle. She stopped for a rest and something to eat every hour. We were all encouraged during the day to have the support of spectators on the headlands, the police launch and media helicopters as we pressed on.

  • Lesson 2: If a News Helicopter is hovering a few meters above your head taking close up pictures, keep a good grip of your paddle or at least try hitting the pilot in the head with it before the down-draft blows it clean across the ocean. Don’t even attempt to hold your hat on.

If anyone ever finds themselves paddling all day with a marathon swimmer, remember they go mighty slowly. I think we could still see Andrew Eddy and Salo waving us goodbye on Merewether Beach a good three hours after we set out. And if you think the next headland looks real close, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get there for at least another half a day!

  • Lesson 3: Additional items: Very comfy cushion, fishing gear or other form of time wasting distraction.

The squalls that had given us some degree of entertainment during the day became more frequent and intense during the afternoon. Sundra got on board the fishing trawler at nightfall as planned but I wanted to paddle on as far as possible out of sheer stubbornness.

About 11:00pm I was starting to regret having not put my wetsuit top on earlier. It was pitch black outside the immediate light circle of the shark cage, windy, raining and the waves were coming from all directions. If the seas were consistent it wouldn’t have been so bad but the squalls had created quite confused wave patterns. Being wet and not expending much energy on account of the slow pace I was getting very cold. Most of the time I stayed in the lee of the shark cage as every time I moved away to work the arms a bit, I got thrown around by waves that I couldn’t see. It was too late to put the wetsuit on now – I wasn’t putting my paddle down or taking my lifejacket off for nobody! It was heartening to see Susie was having as much fun as I was. She was vomiting regularly, getting demoralised and rapidly heading towards hypothermia. Throughout all this I must say my Storm (Current Designs) was handling extremely well and very comfortable to paddle. I never felt in danger of being tipped, it was just a struggle constantly bracing in the dark, messy conditions.

  • Lesson 4: Prepare for the cold, wet and dark before it gets cold, wet and dark.

About 1:00am I decided, stuff it, the last Hawkesbury Classic was a hell of a lot more fun than this, I’m joining Sundra on board the support boat.

  • Lesson 5: When getting a kayak on board a fishing trawler in lousy conditions, don’t approach from the seaward side or you will take a swim. When you soundly hit the trawler (which you will), you will turn turtle and you will not have room to roll up – been there done that and dragged the waterlogged kayak on board to prove it.

I soon discovered that warm though I now was, a kayak is a much more comfortable place to be in these conditions than a slow moving, wallowing trawler. Waves go under kayaks gracefully – not so with fishing trawlers. It was a matter of finding a tight corner, bracing oneself in and trying not to think about greasy food.

The rest of the story I think has been told. Susie was pulled from the water soon after with hypothermia and exhaustion. She joined her mother, who had two cracked ribs, on the cruiser and they set off to Sydney Harbour. The trawler that Sundra and I were in continued at a snail pace towing the now empty shark cage back to Sydney – the towline only broke about four times! We didn’t reach the harbour until mid Sunday morning sometime.

With Susie thawed out and swimming again and us paddling along side, this last leg was the highlight of the trip. It was great to get back onto the water again in a real boat, starting with a most excellent trawler mounted backward seal launch. It was an exciting atmosphere with an array of media boats, spectator craft and the Rett Syndrome girls on the Police Launch cheering Susie on. Even some of the Australian Olympic swim team were out there for a look. When she finally stepped out of the water at Darling Harbour there was a crowd of about 10,000 people there to welcome her.

Overall it was a great event. The conditions were awful but Susie did a great job getting as far as she did. It was a very worthwhile activity for NSWSKC to support and the Rett Syndrome Research Association were very grateful for our participation. The swim had raised over $40,000 towards research – not a bad effort. Seeing the little Rett Syndrome girls on the Saturday, who this was all in support of made it all the more worthwhile. The purpose of the swim was more to raise community awareness of Rett Syndrome than to break the Newcastle to Sydney swim record. Susie is Patron of the Rett Syndrome Research Association. Rett is a neurological disorder that effects young girls. Sufferers don’t usually live beyond 12 years old. Researches estimate they are 12 to 18 months away from identifying the gene responsible and hope to find a cure from there. So funds and community awareness are needed to continue the work.

And I’ve just received an e-mail from Susie. The re-attempt will be November or possibly New Years eve to see in the millennium. So if your kayaks are year 2000 compliant you are welcome to come along and join us. Of course it won’t be as much fun next time as there’ll be more than two club paddlers, we’ll all be fit from the Hawkesbury Classic and would have had more than a fortnight to prepare for it!!

Look forward to your company.