Broughton Island [39]

By Stuart Trueman

I didn’t get any interest from other members for the NSWSKC overnight trip to Broughton Island. This was not that surprising after 5 days of storm warnings, heavy seas and a dismal forecast for the weekend.

I got to Port Stevens at 10am Saturday morning after leaving Sydney which was enveloped in another storm, but the sun was out with the odd dark cloud being blown north at Port Stephens.

I drove up to the volunteer coastal patrol station to get a weather forecast and sea conditions, 20-25 kn SE on 2-3 metre swell. That would see me on my way north, but I was a little concerned about getting back if the wind picked up for Sunday, but that looked good with a forecast of winds dropping to 10-15 kn SW.

The tide was on the way out as I set off for the heads. As I reached the south head a couple of fishing boats passed me and headed for the ocean but 5mins later they were heading back to the harbor, I didn’t think for one minute that they were worried about the conditions.

I pressed on and although the swell was quite high it was not breaking on the course I took. After passing the heads there was a confused sea and a north-south current to deal with before reaching the open ocean past Cabbage Tree Island.

Once I was exposed to the southerly swell and 20-25 kn. wind things really started to move. I found myself racing down 3-4 metre swells and wishing I’d put more weight in the back hatch to keep the bow out of the trough.

After a while I remembered I’d brought the sail along and set it up. Checking my GPS I was averaging 7 knots but reaching 10 knots with the sail. Without the sail up I was paddling along catching waves and it felt I was going faster than 10 knots but I couldn’t check the speed as all hands were needed on the paddle.

As I got closer to Broughton Island I gave the entrance to Esmeralda Cove a wide berth so I could have a good look before working my way to the safety of the harbor. To my surprise I could not see the bomie breaking but there was a very choppy, confused sea, so much so I couldn’t be sure the bomie wasn’t breaking but was hidden in the rest of the confusion. I made the calmer waters and headed for the beach. As I approached I was disappointed to see that the usual camp spots had been washed away, but a group of fishermen waved me over and offered me a coffee at their hut and a tent spot.

This was the beginning of the most perilous stage of the trip by far.

This group of eight had been on the island for 6 days and due to the weather had only managed one day of fishing from their boats, to make up for this they had been drinking constantly and were well sauced up when I arrived.

They were impressed with the kayak. They told me of at least three fishing boats which were expected at the Island that day but had turned back at the heads after a couple of attempts to get through.

As I was chatting with a few at the hut there was a commotion from those men fishing from the boats in the harbor I turned to see one standing on the bow of a row boat much the same as a scene from the Karate Kid. I found out when they came ashore that a couple had attached a rubber snake to a fishing line and as the ‘Karate Kid’ had rowed his boat up they pretended to catch a sea snake, then threw it into the row boat which caused the Karate Kid to run away as far as he could, the bow!

I was well looked after with a steak lunch after which they set me up with a fishing rod and off we went. It was not so bad standing on a rock being swamped by waves but as night fell I was worried about everybody getting back across the rocks then finding the path amongst the holes made by the mutton birds. It was no small reflection on their state that I, the complete novice, was the only one to catch a fish amongst a bunch of semi-professional fishermen. One announced that he could not make it back unless we emptied the beer bottles he had brought. So we sat down and helped him out, after that there were no worries about the walk back.

Back at the hut there was more help needed to reduce the weight of the boats heading back to Port Stephens the next day, so a huge feed and plenty of beer was in order.

It’s difficult to say when the next day started. It took a few coffees and a walk around the Island to get me to a state where I could think of getting back into the kayak.

The forecast was correct and the wind had died to 10-15kn SE with 1-metre swell. I used the radio to contact the volunteer coast guard and gave them an estimated arrival time. Apart from a cloud burst or two the trip to Cabbage Tree Island went OK. The ebb tide was at its height as I tried to get into Port Stephens. My progress was painful, I tried to reach the south head to avoid the main force of the tide. It took as long to get from Cabbage tree Island to inside the heads (2.5miles) as it took to get from Cabbage Tree Island to Broughton Island (6 miles) the day before.

Another memorable Broughton Island trip.

As I was leaving Port Stephens the previous day I was told by the man who I bought a coffee from, (who didn’t know my intentions) that “anybody who went outside the heads was asking for it.”

For the main part what can be achieved in a kayak can be a surprise to those who have not tried it and to those who have tried it you need a certain amount of skill, a sea worthy kayak and the correct attitude.

The fact that I managed to paddle to Broughton when others turned back and against the advice of the coffee shop man was because I made my own decisions based on what I knew the kayak was capable of. You are all owners of seaworthy vessels if you wish to take the time to learn how to use them to your ability. A good start would be attending a sea proficiency course run by the club.