When It’s Time to Turn Back [40]

By David Winkworth

On the weekend of the 22 October , a group of very experienced club members came to the South Coast for an overnight paddle from Tathra to Hidden Valley and return in Mimosa Rocks National Park.

Hidden Valley, a terrific sea kayaking camping area (no vehicle access) at the northern end of the park is only marginally protected by Bunga Head from southerly and south-easterly winds and seas. It is a relatively short beach, bounded by a cliff on it’s southern side and a reef to the north. In big seas, strong rips set up at both ends of the beach and the landing/launch window becomes narrow and dangerous. A few years ago I watched a double Pittarak stand on it’s nose here — an awesome sight — as the paddlers tried to enter the beach in good conditions but in the wrong place. Walking out from Hidden Valley is possible but long.

Anyway, back to the story: the guys arrived Friday night, as the rain and winds moved in from the south. They hoped to paddle off Saturday morning. A cold southerly front preceded a strong slow moving high pressure system which would keep the winds from the south-east for the next few days bringing rain with it. The forecast for Sunday was S/SE winds 25 -35 knots and building seas — If this forecast came true, the beach would not be a nice sight to greet you for a surf breakout at Hidden Valley on Sunday morning!

Now, as we know, the folks at the Weather Bureau quite often get the forecast wrong… but it is quite reasonable for them to err on the side of caution because lives may, and often do, depend on their forecast.

On Saturday, the showers were light, and the winds, while from the south to ESE were fluctuating in strength. The weather and sea conditions on Saturday were more benign than forecast which could easily lead a group of paddlers to say:

“It’s not going to blow, we might as well continue as planned.”

Well, to their credit, the paddlers who came along this weekend went for a day paddle on Saturday, pulled out and went home.

Late last night, the predicted gale force winds DID hit the coast from the SE. This morning (Sun.) the Weather Bureau issued a “‘Large Wave Warning’ for the South Coast with waves up to 7 metres” forecast. On Sunday, Norm Sanders and I had a look at the coastal conditions at Tuross and Tathra respectively.

While there ddn’t appear to be waves of 7 metres, conditions were very rough. The wind strength was strong and holding and the sea state appears “fully developed.” Rain is heavy and constant, and for the south coast paddlers who elected NOT to go to Hidden Valley, let me tell you that the surf break at Tathra Beach today starts out next to the wharf! That would give you quite a few lines of surf to negotiate! The boat ramp at Tathra (Kianinny Bay) is a mess with huge breakers right across the entrance surging right into the bay and up the cliffs. Hidden Valley Beach would be closed out completely…you’d be walking out today if you needed to get home tonight!

In these surf conditions, all paddlers should ask themselves 2 questions:

  1. Do I have the skills to handle this stuff?…and
  2. Do I need to go through it?…..

If the answer is no in either case, then crawl back into your tent.

The point of all this?

Simply that the guys here this weekend made a correct responsible decision not to paddle. They could have landed at Hidden Valley on Saturday but there would be no paddling on sunday and probably not the next either — they would have been stranded up there for a few days for sure.

At our Rock’n’Roll Weekend last year, our guest speaker, Steve Symonds from the Bureau of Met, made a simple statement which has merit:

“When the weather forecast is bad, expect the worst.”

He’s right too.

Ahhh, Spring, a delightful time to paddle!