The Royal Banquet [46]

By Alan Whiteman

This annual Club event involves a two day paddle from Bundeena to Coledale, with an evening camp at North Era beach in the Royal National Park south of Sydney.

Having heard the old salts recount their Royal Banquet war-stories I approached this Club trip with some trepidation.

The tales were amazing – paddlers getting spat back onto the beach numerous times whilst attempting to negotiate an infinite line of breakers, even portages of fully laden kayaks across the mini-mountain separating North and South Era Beach to avoid the more exposed launch spot. And worst of all, the expectation that we would all have to contribute something grand to the banquet side of the trip. Up until this point my camping culinary adventures had extended to heating stroganoff-in-a-can. Little wonder, perhaps, that there were only six of us on the beach at Bundeena on the Saturday – Trip Leader Stuart Trueman, Andrew McPhail, André Janecki, Kevin Brennan, Paul Loker and myself. Unfortunately Paul was with us only to Garie due to a social commitment that evening.

The relatively late start meant no dawdling on the journey south to our campsite at North Era, though there was time for a little play in the bommie off Jibbon Point. This also provided an opportunity for André to assess our skills and determine whether we were worthy paddling partners! Stuart was obviously tempted to join us but having just repaired his boat after the last end-o, and with a mooted 12 month wait for his new boat, decided discretion might be the better part of valour. Fortunately he had the chance to stress test his boat repair later on in the day.

Lunch was a rather quick affair at Little Marley Beach where we were all impressed with Kevin’s Sue-prepared meals. All itemised, numbered, dated, pre-chilled and in precisely measured portions. Actually given the effort involved I was a bit surprised that he hadn’t asked Sue to pre-chew them for him as well! No time to dawdle so it was back out again, next stop Wattamolla for a brief visit. This was a little bit of coastline that Kevin, Paul and I all assured Stuart we knew like the back of our hands having recently sat for Sea Proficiency there. So just south of Wattamolla, having completely missed the bay, Stuart reminded us of our plan to briefly visit the spot.

Whilst Andrew and I procrastinated over whether it was worth the bother to land, Kevin decided that the point break would be rather pleasant to surf off. Unfortunately he made that decision just as the largest set of the day arrived and promptly capsized in front of the first wave as it tried to smash him onto the razor sharp rocks. I thought to myself, hello, scratch one Raider-X, and who’s going to organise the Gosford paddlers now? Suddenly André and Paul casually paddled into view 10 feet off the razor-rocks, smack bang in the middle of a huge set of breaking waves. In between braces they somehow managed to effect a tow and even with Kevin acting like the biggest sea anchor imaginable had them all quickly out of danger. André then went straight back into the danger zone to look for Kevin’s $2.00 hat. This man laughs in the face of danger!

The rest of the day was uneventful, with the sandstone cliffs serving as a beautiful back-drop to our paddling – similar to those around Botany Bay but without the blight of houses, units and oil refineries on every square inch of land. The illusion of being in the middle of nowhere worked until you glanced up and saw a stream of jets approaching Kingsford Smith, or looked to the right and saw the ant-like form of hikers clamouring along the cliff tracks.

Before long the surf landing beckoned, with André the Invincible going in first to provide the beach-based assistance. Once we were safely ensconced on the beach in a prime viewing position, our trip leader elected to demonstrate the Greenlander pirouette. This manoeuvre involves waiting for the largest wave of the day and timing it so that the curl is breaking right under the boat before forcibly driving the bow into the sand at near vertical orientation. Viewed from shore this advanced trick is most graceful. After a quick roll-up Stuart joined us and appeared greatly relieved that his old warhorse was still intact. As we tramped over to the camping area it occurred to us that a number of people had mistaken this pristine camping area for Pitt Street, with campers all over the place. None as well prepared as us though, with our fancy hors d’oeuvres, mud cake, numerous bottles of red and white vino and other enticing consumables. A bonfire on the beach rounded out the evening – there is nothing more pleasant than supping red wine around a campfire on a crisp winter evening after a day of paddling. André once again displayed his loyalty to group duties by electing to spend the night sleeping by the campfire on the beach rather than in the tent, just in case of flare-up.

The next morning we were on the water by 9:00 am with Rob Mercer, Sharon Betteridge and Andrew Eddy showing impeccable timing by joining us just as we launched. Before long Trevor Gardner and Nick Gill could be seen paddling north to join us; this being a useful demonstration of the effectiveness of fluorescent paint on paddle blades as Nick was visible from at least a kilometre away. We suddenly realised how keen André was to spot the promised migrating whales as he elected to paddle well out to sea to increase his chances of seeing one of these majestic sea creatures. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be and although we all took a stint paddling with him, none were spotted. Even his own patented burly couldn’t entice the creatures into visibility.

Andrew Eddy then pretended he needed a tow so Kevin and I could test a V-tow for the last four kilometres into Coledale. Wow, once Rob came alongside Andrew to simulate an incapacitated paddler it was almost impossible to make headway. I’d hate to attempt this tow in rough conditions and into a decent headwind. It’s as if someone is sitting in the water holding onto your rudder. Nevertheless all good practice and it’s great to try something new or different every time you’re on the water. Coledale was the perfect take-out with toilets, showers, and easy parking. The perfect finish to a perfect two day paddle.