Collaroy to Palm Beach [43]

By Sharon Betteridge

Robert and I were starting to go stir crazy. We’d had two weeks of dismal winter weather.

Cold fronts alternating with low pressure systems, causing wind and rain. Storm warnings downgraded to gales and then to strong wind warnings had created big seas and five metre swells.

I thought it was the perfect boat building weather but having a five metre kayak under construction in our four metre by eight metre living area was starting to wear a tad thin. So, when Saturday’s weather prediction promised 5-10 knot NW winds, low seas, a reasonable swell and sunshine, nothing could keep us off the water.

An early start saw Dennis Kleinberg, Paul Loker, Robert Mercer and myself sharing the railing overlooking Mona Vale Beach with the local board riders watching sets of waves thundering onto the shore. The previous weeks’ huge swells had stripped sand off the beaches leaving behind deep gutters, a reasonable surf and a big shore dump. Our only way out was through a rip, and that was being used by the local board riders who wouldn’t appreciate the presence of our cumbersome craft. Paul made a hasty trip to the car, pulled out his street directory, and quickly thumbed through the pages, looking for another launching spot. I could see the relieved look on the surfers’ faces as we left our kayaks on the cars and beat a hasty retreat to the sheltered boat harbour at Fisherman’s Beach.

Our kayaks loaded, we pushed off and paddled north into a very gentle breeze. Robert caught a few waves off Collaroy Beach but we decided to continue paddling as the weather was looking good. The kilometres disappeared as we paddled and chatted. This was a sociable amount of group spread. Far enough apart not to crash paddle blades, yet close enough to talk.

With the lure of lunch and a rest we decided to land at Newport Beach. Dennis drew the short straw and surfed in first. A large wave reared up behind, spun him sideways and sent him high bracing to the shore in a white plume of foam. Thinking that Dennis had, in his usual style, chosen the biggest wave of the day, I went in next, broaching and bracing to the beach on a similar sized wave. Paul demonstrated a new technique for his landing. Coming in on a lull, he jumped out in waist deep water to avoid scratching his shiny new kayak. The next wave filled his kayak and as he struggled to shore with a boat full of water he discovered just how heavy a sea kayak can be when full, and may next time heed our advice! Robert waited and found a good sized wave which brought him in, high and dry.

It was certainly pleasant sitting on the beach enjoying the sunshine, but we still had several kilometres to go to reach Palm Beach. So we donned our paddling gear and pushed out into the surf, avoiding a rock which the outrunning tide had laid bare, and which would certainly add scratches to any shiny new kayaks that might get in its way.

We continued north passing golden beaches protected by large bulbous headlands. The houses dotting the shoreline became fewer in number and grander in style. I wondered what their occupants might think of us if they saw our small craft. Looking north I could see a landmark tower we used when we paddled from Barrenjoey to Maitland Bay and knew we were fast approaching our destination. We rounded the last headland and the low sandy isthmus joining Barrenjoey and the mainland emerged. We were running short of time so Cabbage Tree Boat Harbour had to suffice as we quickly touched base, then turned around and paddled south.

The sun was quite low in the sky and the rocky headlands cast long shadows across the water. Robert deployed his sail but whatever wind we had on our outward trip had now died, leaving him becalmed. The water had become glassy. We glided along, the swells passing under our boats. The splashes and drips off our paddle blades beating out a steady rhythm in the stillness before sunset. Every now and then we’d surprise a school of small fish and they’d leap out of the water in an attempt to escape our vessels.

We rafted up to share a snack and peruse the map. Agreeing to stay close together, and setting a compass bearing for Long Reef, we continued in fading light. Unfortunately the moon would rise too late and be too small to provide us with any illumination.

It was dark as our bows touched the sand at Fisherman’s Beach. What a memorable trip: no head winds, no-one trashed in the surf, no choppy seas, no group spread. A manageable rolling swell, a beautiful sunny day, a long, leisurely paddle exploring another part of Sydney’s scenic coast. I was possibly being too optimistic thinking that this could be repeated for our next rendezvous, somewhere on the sea.