It was a dark and stormy night…
Or, at least, it threatened to be. I had scheduled a trip to Broughton Island for Easter, but as Easter approached, it looked as if the conditions would not be favourable to make the crossing.
The Bureau of Meteorology predicted two metre seas on a four metre swell, with 20 knot winds for Good Friday. This would have been a shade over the recommended paddler grading for the trip.
The trip was to be an Advanced Sea Proficiency training weekend. Five people put up their hands to go, but they wanted to go to Broughton Island more than they wanted the training component of the weekend. It just goes to show how friends have the power to twist your arm. I resolved to sneak some attempt at training in anyway, just for fun!
So, we had Advanced Training and advanced conditions. Which would win out? Both!
We decided to wait until Good Friday was nearly over and to check that the conditions were abating before making the decision to go. The forecast for Saturday was for the weather conditions to abate for the rest of the weekend. A two metre swell, 1.5 metre seas and 10-15 knots of wind, all from the south-east would make for a tolerable quartering sea for the crossing, but still leave enough oomph for those of us who wanted to sail and run a few swells.
We had missed out on the Good Friday traffic jam heading north, so our Saturday morning drive passed quickly. We held our formal Club Trip Briefing in the civilized environment of a coffee shop at Shoal Bay, before adjourning to the beach at Fingal Bay to load the kayaks and launch.
It was a Woodie’s weekend. The wooden kayaks outnumbered the fibreglass and plastic four to one and one. It was all set to be a good weekend in good company.
I had suggested that everyone be self-sufficient for all supplies, including water for the duration of the trip, plus an extra day in case of contingencies. I had seventeen litres of water on board. This contributed to a gross displacement of 130 kilograms. I know that some readers will scoff at the idea of a sea kayak being overloaded at 130 kg, but I assure readers that my Baidarka was very close to its uppermost load limits! Rob and Sharon shared gear, so Sharon’s Baidarka was not so badly off. Salo shared gear with Sundra, so her Orca was OK, and Alan’s Mirage 580 SP was in its element with a near-optimum load.
Conditions were a little lumpy while we were close to land, but evened out into a good quartering swell. Grey skies and grey seas made for a sombre feeling as we rounded Shark Island and Fingal Lighthouse. Both Sharon’s and my Baidarkas were frequently awash, but we were still catching swells and sailing with the rest of the group. Alan pursued his usual method of maintaining his part of the group cohesion, by circling and zigzagging through the group at high speed. One day we’ll put a GPS on him and see if he can confuse it completely!
After twenty or so kilometres in a more-or-less straight line out to Broughton, Sundra was eventually worn out watching Alan, so he offered Alan the opportunity to practice towing for a few kilometres. That was a mistake! As we have measured more recently, Alan can tow another paddler faster than most of us can paddle (I have tracked Alan by GPS, towing at between 8 and 11 km/h).
We took a wide course around Looking Glass Rock, which protects the mouth of Esmeralda Cove, expecting a lot of rebound and a working bombora some way down the cove. No dramas – there is plenty of room – and the cove is long enough that the swell hardly produced any waves on the beach.
Considering that it was Easter, a four-day long weekend, there were few people on Broughton and no other groups were camping. We had the beach to ourselves. There was also no need to bring four days of water, as my companions pointed out. The spring at the northern end of the beach was running strongly. OK, so I was sprung foisting Advanced Lesson #1 on the group: fully self-sufficient preparation for a four day trip. Camping spots on the beachfront are very limited, however there is sufficient space for four tents on sloping ground and room for a few more if you bring along a couple of stakes to keep you from rolling too far.
We took the opportunity to walk to the other side of the island in the gathering dusk. One aim of the trip was to walk to the top of Broughton Island and we investigated possible access routes from Providence Beach and the rocky coastline immediately to the east. In between the shearwater holes there seemed to be no suitable camping spots at all on the northern side of the island.
There has been a lot of new growth of knee-high scrub and bracken since my last visit. We tried the direct route from camp to the peak on the following morning, but were stumped within two hundred metres. It turns out that, at low tide, we could have walked along the cove on the exposed rocks for about half a kilometre, scaled a short cliff and had an easy walk on bare ground all the way to the top.
Oh well, if we couldn’t walk, then we’d just have to go for a paddle. This was the ideal opportunity for Advanced Lessons #2, #3 and #4 – sea caves and gauntlets, surfing and navigation by compass. Oh well, despite the group’s dismissive mood, at least I can try.
Stuart Trueman had proposed that he would leave a trip he was already on and try a day trip out to meet us. Little did we know his Greenlander was already a metre and a half shorter that morning, thanks to a difficult ‘ender’ in surf at Seal Rocks. Advanced Lesson #5 had to be learned about retrospectively, during the following week.
The swell was down on the previous day, which allowed us to approach the rocks more closely. Around the cliff faces of Little Broughton Island, the wash was still exploding onto the rocks. Further around on the northern side of the island the sea was quiet enough to cut in very close, riding surges and the swell glanced along sheer faces and low enough to try running some shallow gauntlets. Advanced Lesson #6 (don’t follow another paddler into a gauntlet without sussing it out for yourself) was not planned, but no epoxy was lost. The tide was not right to try running the cave under Pinkatop Head back through to Esmeralda Cove.
I had never been out to North Rock. It’s obvious enough, about one and a half kilometres due north of Broughton. Since this was broad daylight without a trace of fog, there seemed to be little point in paddling a compass course … but it’s part of Advanced Lesson #7, so it had to be done!
Providence Beach is about one and a half kilometres long, but only the westernmost end was at all suitable for a lunch stop and some surfing. Alan, Rob and Sundra all had some short but good runs – enough to expend a little energy and keep their muscles warm so they could keep up with the rest of the group.
The western end and southern side of Broughton are rocky, with several stretches of short cliff. A few gauntlets are ready and waiting for the daring, so the daring tried them out. The Silk Sock Brigade (those group members who spurn the Gore-Tex sock as a macho affectation) maintained their poise and their distance. Let them, I say, they miss out on half the fun!
On the last turn before Esmeralda Cove, there were two choices of gauntlet or the long trip around. The gap between Looking Glass Rock and Broughton Island had a low surge coming in both ends, in shallow water. The passage right through the middle of the Rock, called Con’s Cleft, was out of the question. Then there was the long trip around – a true Silk Sock choice. Advanced Lesson #8 is something about caution being the better part of valour or perhaps ‘Silk Socks don’t go with sharp rocks’.
The following day was a different story. The swell was down even further at about one metre. Surges of up to two and a half metres were running through the Cleft, leaving cascades of water running down the rock on the Cleft walls. I saw the right opportunity and shot through. The side-to-side surge of water in the Cleft bogged me down in the narrowest point, allowing Rob and Alan to catch up and peruse the unusual view of the underside of my hull perched on a surge over two metres above them. Advanced Lesson #9… “Less than three should not go to sea” but gauntlets should be an exception.
The trip back to Fingal Bay was very quiet, thanks to the smooth conditions. With our boats weighing up to 25 kilograms less, they were much easier to drive along. Boondelbah Island offered a shot at a few gauntlets. One awkward narrow cleft, with a right-angle turn just inside the entrance was too attractive to pass up but too much of a washing machine to stay inside for long.
Our plan was to follow a course of 220 degrees (magnetic) to Fingal Spit and cross the Spit on mid-tide. The small remnant swell entering Fingal Bay curved around Shark Island and up north over the Spit, while also rounding Shark Island from the north and curving down over the Spit. The collisions between these waves looked a spectacle from a distance, but were quite easy to negotiate. Not quite the same as the heavy end-of-Easter traffic heading back to Sydney.
Was this trip really an Advanced Sea Proficiency Training? Only in the calendar. In reality, it was a fun trip out to visit Broughton Island, with a good group and lots of opportunity to try a few new things.