Thursday 14 June 2001. About 11:30 hours. You wouldn’t be dead for quids, would you?
This was the exact thought that went through my mind! Then I repeated it aloud!
However there was no one there to reply and I reminded myself of the last time I had uttered that phrase. Keith Logue and I were having a yarn and he commented on the fine weather and I said, “Yes, you wouldn’t be dead for quids would you!” Keith is a local undertaker, but he did agree.
What brought this on was the fact that I was sitting out in the Tasman Sea; say 3 nautical miles off the Coffs Harbour outer harbour entrance. About 2 kilometres off, spumes of water were being exhausted into the air, which meant only one thing… WHALES! Sure enough as we came closer together I could easily make out the individuals in the small pod. Sounding, with massive humps breaking the wash and then the big broad flukes of the tail ker-splashing down to disappear, all to be repeated maybe 40 metres further along. I sat there, at peace and just watched. I was quietly thrilled! Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on their annual migration between the Antarctic and the warmer waters off northeastern Australia. Gentle elegant creatures. My hopes at that point were that they could avoid ending up in some wretched Japanese restaurant. They passed on about their business and I paddled on to the southeast.
I had been at home just fiddling around with my Guillemot design Night Heron, a strip timber sea kayak that I had built in 1999. I was just finishing the installation of a manual pump (I really don’t like drilling holes in my deck!). Normally I carry an electric Water Buster pump, but you do know about seawater and electrics, don’t you? The morning was one of the best, temperature at 23 degrees, no wind to speak of and just a few wispy cirrus clouds gambolling across the blue. Did I really need an excuse to get onto the water? Well with the minor alterations to the Night Heron and a new ballast system to test, that would do. Elizabeth headed for a yoga class and I put wheels under the sea kayak and headed for the outer harbour where the tide was on the last of the outgoing phase and the surf pretty flat.
Anchored in the outer harbour was the customs ship Botany Bay, so I paddled out, rounded up and said, “G’day, how yer doin’?” The crew were doin’ OK! It looks like a miniature battle cruiser and the same colour grey, although I think she is aluminium not steel. She was carrying two large speed duckies with twin 50 hp outboards at the stern. Our tax dollars at work, at least I think they were at work!
After the whale encounter; about a kilometre on and say 100 metres off my starboard bow, fins! Dolphins! A pod of about five, so once more I hove to. I drummed the kayak side to get their attention, but they were more intent on cruising northward than in play! I circumnavigated Korffs Islet (known as Pig Island), keeping my distance from the rocky outcrops and headed back, into the outer harbour, then a cruise into the inner harbour to check out the yachts. Nothing new in and looking at the numbers of fishing trawlers in the western sector, I reckoned that the water must have been at least a metre higher owing to the displacement! You know how bath water rises when you get in with your rubber duckie! What, you haven’t got one? Just send in your name and address along with your credit card number and that can be rectified!
Well, a quiet and dignified play in the mild surf of the outer Harbour and I was pleasantly weary, so a clean up and home for a late lunch. Oh yes, and for all you alert readers, I must say that the ‘test’ went very well. Ballast works and so does the new pump.
If conditions are like this tomorrow, I just may get out again, but this time to round Split Solitary Island! I mean, heck and gosh! Someone has to do it don’t they?
A fortnight later, while listening to Macca on Australia All Over on ABC radio, the 2IC of the good ship Botany Bay radio-phoned through. They were cruising off Nhulunbuy at the top of the Gove Peninsula. Now that is a beaut job. Adventure ahoy me hearties!
Tomorrow had to wait as the weather turned around and was pretty blustery. Split Solitary will still be beckoning though! Do we tell about our wipeouts? I’ll let you in on this one.
By the next Sunday the sea and weather had moderated somewhat. Jarde, my paddling mate, wanted (wanted is not the word, needed is more like it) to go out with his surf ski so I dusted the workshop debris from the Night Heron and arranged to meet him in Coffs Creek at the rear of the porpoise pool. He was late so I paddled out to the entrance, which was pretty shallow with the surf, nothing to be concerned about, out rushing tide.
Cruised though the first two breaks, piece of cake, third a little rougher and higher but okay. Oh! Augh! (and more groans like that), a soldier rose up and broke about five metres in front of me. No problem, lift the rate, reach over the top and through. But then marching next in line was ‘big brother wave’. I was taken by surprise and as my bow started on its upward lift the crest started breaking at what appeared to me to be at least two metres above and forward. Slow motion then kicked in as we were smoothly twisted onto a broadside and I calmly inserted my port side paddle into the belly of ‘big brother wave’ and leant into it.
To no avail! Up and over with my shoulder scudding along the sand. I came up all right but with all the froth, bubble and sand couldn’t orientate anything that might resemble a roll up. I did a quick exit and an undignified scurry to the beach; hell the water was only about shin depth! ‘Big brother wave’ had dissolved into nothing but frothy dishwater that gurgled happily around my feet and I would swear that it was giggling! The worst part in exiting in shallow surf is the clean up, emptying the cockpit and ever afterwards finding small instrusions of sand that contrive to get under one’s heels to abrade the skin.
Well, at this point Jarde came paddling out of the creek entrance, cool as you like through baby surf to wait for me beyond the swell line. We paddled for about an hour, but I was not comfortable with the lumpiness out there and so we came in through the confused surf line at the creek entrance. As Jarde said, “Well at least we got wet!” I certainly did and lost my good Murray River Marathon cap to boot, so if any of you Whitsunday paddlers find it on the northern current, please return it as there are many agonising memories embedded in it!
That’s all just now, but next time I’ll tell you about a new sail I’m making and give you the design. Should be better than my old one. Sailing a sea kayak adds a whole new dimension to the fun of sea kayaking. Hey, fun is what it’s all about, isn’t it!