Whitecaps, Hammerheads & Destiny [48]

Sydney to Newcastle with Alan ‘Tirpitz’ Whiteman and Paul ‘Destiny’ Loker

By Richard Mcneall

Sydney to Newcastle looked like just the opportunity I needed to stretch myself. Alan now had 8 takers, and was keen to set a serious tone.

“You know this is a bigger deal than that Hawkesbury doddle. For a start, 6 km of ocean paddling is equivalent to 10 km of river paddling AND did you know that the length of the Hawkesbury course is overstated by 13 km! We measured it on GPS in August.”

I got the message! Anyway, time would tell.

Long Reef – Saturday 15 December

Paul: “Did you see from the headland – whitecaps everywhere!”

Richard: “Where is everybody???”

Alan: “Dropping like flies – worried about the 20-25 knot south-easterly – worried about the possible thunderstorms – worried about their paddle fitness. So it’s just the three of us.”

Paul: “Just as well we’ve been doing our Wednesday night time trials Alan!”

Richard: “What???”

So now it dawns on me – I’m alone with two time-trialling Mirage speed freaks, and a lot of coast to cover. Well it looks like the Greenlander and I have a tough weekend coming up!

So, off we go with a blustery southeast wind and swell behind us, initially making 10 km/h against the East Australian Current which is apparently strong at this time of year. At this stage we have a ‘see how it goes in these conditions’ approach to our Newcastle objective. The rain comes and goes, giving a great high-seas ‘feel’. Excitement too, going inside the reef at Newport – an adventurous ‘wave funnel’ ending in a somewhat confused area as the funneled waves intersect with the waves that have wrapped around the outside of the reef. Even more excitement for the Mirage Crowd as they back their precious machines into the Avalon sea cave. Apparently they have been inspired by the heroic antics of the South Coasters at Rock ‘n’ Roll!

Apart from North Head itself, Bangalley Head is the most prominent on this spectacular piece of coastline, and the point where the coast veers 45 degrees left (inland) towards Palm Beach and Barrenjoey. Therefore Bangalley is the point where you decide whether you’re going to have a Broken Bay day trip, or do the 15 km open crossing to Cape Three Points (and onwards to Newcastle). That’s what I thought anyway, but Alan had other ideas, showing a fierce determination to visit Palm Beach at all costs. This is where his propeller blade/Mirage 580/time trialling came to the fore, leaving Paul and I in his wake, and unable to argue as he forged ahead towards the sheltered southern end of Palm Beach known as ‘Kiddies Corner’.

Decision at Kiddies Corner

So why were we heading left towards Palm Beach, and committing ourselves to a north-easterly (crosswind) crossing of Broken Bay, rather than the more northerly (downwind) crossing available from Bangalley? We didn’t have to wait long to find out, as we saw Alan land at the extreme end of the beach and stride purposefully towards the toilet block!

This was, however, Alan’s finest hour. Taking out the mobile, he booked our cabin at The Entrance, removing all doubt as to whether we were Newcastle bound or not. “The closest one to the water,” said the caravan park owner. This left us to consider the unavoidability of entering The Entrance at the end of the day. ‘Dangerous Area’ and ‘Navigation of The Entrance is not recommended’ says the Waterways map. Paul, the only one who had experienced its terrors, helped out with this description:

“As you approach the surf line, you must pick the exact spot at which the water flows into the sea, which is really hard. The surf is quite big, standing right up against the out-rushing tide. You must ride it all the way without broaching so you can shoot into the exact spot. If you miss the spot, then you are in big trouble with quite a number of rocks about. Assuming you hit the spot, you will find yourself driving across the angled stream to the hazardous opposite side. At the precise moment to avoid this fate, you must execute a sharp left turn and paddle hard against the current, which runs at approximately 10-12 km/h. It is important to maintain good headway against this current until you’re up close to the bridge, about a kilometre inland. Then you’re home and hosed!”

That was enough stress and commitment to take on at Kiddies Corner. Next stop Terrigal!

As we suspected, the wind and swell were pretty well on our beam for the Broken Bay Crossing. Looking north from Sydney, Cape Three Points is the most seaward headland, a mighty buttress stretching from Maitland Bay to Avoca Beach. This was our point of aim for quite some time, as we each settled into our own rhythm, our decks awash, but not unreasonably pounded. A good opportunity to enjoy being a few kilometres offshore in the breeze and rain!

Cape Three Points did not disappoint! Grand in every sense of the word, and with some rebound seas to keep us on our toes, it took well over an hour just to go round the three points, controversially named (in the order we took them) Third Point, Second Point and… <suspense>… First Point!! A few good size bays too where Alan can use up some of his excess energy!

Another half hour had us rounding the Skillion to our late lunch spot at Terrigal. Obviously my two Mirage owning companions had been influenced by the recent Flotsam column, acquiring a taste for moaning and groaning at the slightest prospect of a Greenlander carry. This time, however, there seemed to be some justification, with the rear compartment taking on maybe 20 litres of water through its magnificent large hatch. Paul of course took the opportunity to repeat (and even enhance!) his dramatic word-picture of the upcoming challenge at The Entrance, now our next stop.

The Challenge

With more than enough daylight remaining, we enjoyed a pleasant downwind cruise. Or it would have been pleasant if my mind wasn’t playing on Paul’s terrifying scenes of The Entrance, painting them more and more dramatically as we drew closer! Finally, it was time to face the challenge!

Alan (negotiating the half-metre micro-surf): “Where are all the rocks?”

Richard (making comfortable headway against the 4 km/h current): “I think we’ve been tricked!”

Paul: “Gotcha!!!” (note Paul will probably deny saying this)

Anyway, after a 60 km day, it was good to be through with ease. Once in the lake, of course, a Victory Roll each, and off to the cabin. As it turned out, Alan’s ‘closest cabin to the water’ was actually closest to the sea, not the lake! This left us with a 600 metre portage, and plenty of opportunity to ‘discuss’ the relative portaging merits of 22 kg Mirages versus 32 kg Greenlanders. T-bone steaks, beer and wine flowed at the pub with Alan pleased to be experiencing the coast in reverse to his previous trip, Paul happy but mainly looking forward to his Bird Island ‘destiny’ tomorrow, and myself well satisfied with my most solid ocean paddling day ever. A bit of a bang too, as one of the local yobbos tossed a mega-bunger firecracker in our direction, certainly removing any complacency we felt about the trip!

Destiny Day – Sunday 16 December

A change of scene indeed! The deeply overcast sky replaced by blue, the rain squalls replaced by sunshine, and the blustery southeaster replaced by a gently wafting breeze. Still some swell though, and we were now deciding to launch mid-beach near the cabin, rather than mess around with the portage and lake bash to the sheltered south corner. Alan was good enough to offer me a boost into the surf.

Richard: “Just after this big one Alan””

Alan: …………..<silence>…………..

It looked like that was all the boost I was getting! Fortunately the ‘big one’ was not so big, and our various launches were drama free, with Paul, as ever, managing to extract his extra-deep style Mirage rudder from the grip of the sand. Paul’s rudder is so large for the size of the boat (530) that he can apparently catch a wave, steering and zig-zagging at will without a single paddle stroke!

Our mid-morning rounding of Norah Head was not super-clever, considering we had all been on Rob’s Norah Head trip earlier in the year. We fell for the trap of heading straight towards the lighthouse, then being forced SE to round the large field of various quirky bomboras. As a result it took forever to get around the thing. There is a strange psychology at work here. It is quite difficult to say to yourself, “I will clear this headland by one kilometre.” With your attention focused on the headland, the kayak will steer for the headland!

Once round, Paul was electrified with excitement:

Paul: “Look! Bird Island – wow!!!”

Alan: “Yeah, let’s go inside it this time. I went outside it last time.”

It turns out that Paul was a yachtsman for many years whilst living on the Central Coast. Every year, Paul competed in the Gosford to Bird Island race, and every year some fresh misfortune would prevent him getting any further than Norah Head. Now his destiny was on the verge of fulfilment, and he was not going to be stopped!! Foam sprayed from his paddles as he took off, going so fast that Alan almost had to exert himself to keep up (those of you who have paddled with Alan will get an idea of the speeds involved here).

Bird Island revealed a very disappointed Paul.

Paul: “I’d hoped it would be so much more.”

Richard: “It looks OK to me.”

Paul: “Small, flat, plain. It’s nothing compared to Lion Island…”

Anyway, my spirits were high. The coastline on this trip divides itself into ‘chunks’ of about 10-15 km each. This is a new style of travelling to me, and has a really purposeful feel to it. You immerse yourself in the current ‘chunk’, taking it all in and keeping a sustained rhythm. Then comes the transition, mostly on a grand headland, as you climax your sense of achievement from the last chunk, and awaken your sense of discovery for the next one. This flow from chunk to chunk forms the rhythm of the day, and the kilometres just fly by.

Wybung Head was the end of the Bird Island ‘chunk’. Paul by now had found an understanding travelling companion in the form of a 2 metre Hammerhead, which enjoyed cruising, for the most part, in Paul’s wake. Another feature to add to the numerous features of the Mirage – a sensuous wake!

After lunch at Catherine Hill Bay (watch out – just because it has a ship jetty doesn’t mean the surf is small!), we entered the ‘chop zone’, a kilometre or more of harmless looking coast with incredibly aggressive rebound, clapotis, etc. Not much over a metre or so in height, but really quite demanding. Has anybody else experienced this area? What is going on here?

More quirky coast (with a sea cave for the Mirages!) gave way to Swansea Inlet whose negligible current offered us an easy entry. We kept to the north of the channel for two reasons. Most importantly, so we could claim Belmont as the end point of the trip (to keep some form of Sydney to Newcastle credibility), but also to get the last 500 metre run on the waves gliding into the channel, and conclude with Paul (the official trip leader) doing his customary end-of-day roll.

And from me: “Thanks guys, great trip!”


Training Notes [48]

By Andrew Eddy

The New ACI Award System

On 01 January 2002, the new Australian Canoeing Inc (ACI) award system came into effect. ACI has had a paddling skills and instructor award scheme in place for decades.

ACI places itself as the ‘peak body’ in canoeing in Australia and organises the majority of competition canoeing. In the face of growing commercial activity in canoeing and kayaking (and rafting, too), ACI has revamped its award scheme for skills, instruction, guiding, coaching and officiating, to bring the award scheme into line with the competency-based training methods of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training (VET) scheme.

Most members will not notice much difference between the old scheme and the new. The most obvious difference will be that the old Sea Proficiency award becomes Sea Skills 2 and Sea Rescue 2. The requirements of the new awards have not yet been published by ACI, but they should be very similar to (even indistinguishable from) the requirements of the old scheme. Rightly or wrongly, these are still lifetime awards, hence the need for continual self-assessment, as set out in our grading system at the back of each magazine.

At ACI’s annual general meeting, their board voted an extension to volunteer clubs, allowing clubs like ours to continue implementing the old award scheme until the middle of the year. Last year we had a memorandum of understanding with ACI and the committee hopes to gain an extension on that MOU until the middle of the year. The NSWSKC will continue to hold Sea Proficiency assessments for as long as we can, until we can offer the new awards.

A greater impact on the Club of the new scheme is in the training and accreditation of new Instructors and Assessors. In the new scheme, this will be a far more complex and costly process, both for new Instructors and for the re-certification of current Instructors when they fall due. Several of the Club’s Examiners have already done some of the courses and paperwork to move into the new scheme as Assessors.

By far the greatest impact on the Club will be the bureaucracy of the new scheme. Since the new scheme is a VET scheme, like TAFE courses, ACI will not be running it directly. Instead, the scheme will be run through Registered Training Organisations and National Training Providers. The cost and complexity of becoming an RTO is beyond volunteer clubs and is really only practical for commercial training organizations or large clubs with strong commercial aspirations, with their investment in office staff and record-keeping. We must, therefore, ‘form an alliance’ with a suitable National Training Provider.

In order for the NSW Sea Kayak Club to continue to provide training and assessment, of a quality endorsed by the ‘peak body’ of canoeing in Australia, the committee is committed to following the twists and turns of the new scheme, unless it either becomes too expensive or too difficult to continue.

For all our sakes, wish us luck!

The Tenth Annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Weekend

The Club held its tenth annual Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend at Batemans Bay in November. In order to prevent some of the problems encountered at the previous Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend, and to smooth the organisation and timetable of the weekend, we brought in a pre-registration system for paddlers wishing to attend and registration and class-size limits for on-the-water class sessions. Pre-registrations came from interstate paddlers and from as far away as Holland!

All of the feedback suggests that the hard work of the formal organisation paid off. Everyone seems to have been able to do most of the things they wanted, both on-land sessions and on-water.

We held almost-continuous training in rolling throughout the weekend, and parallel sessions in all of the required paddling skills and rescue skills for grade 2 paddlers. In addition, there were several novelty events, including a novelty handicap race and a rolling display by two Club experts followed by a rolling competition. Throughout the weekend and on the Monday, there were also half-day and day trips to various points around the Bay and out to the Tollgate Islands.

On the land, there were class sessions on injury prevention, boat fit-out, forward paddling techniques, kayak sails, and building a wooden sea kayak. In addition, there were slide and video presentations and a marquee with several retail exhibitors.

Over a quarter of the 117 registered attendees were also volunteers helping in one or more sessions. All of the on-water sessions were limited in class size by the number of available qualified Instructors, and the non-instructor volunteers were essential to keep up the momentum in these sessions. Many thanks go to all the volunteers who contributed to the weekend.

The NSWSKC has made a lasting good impression with the local authorities and businesses. This will stand us in good stead for any further training weekends in the area.

For those members who missed the weekend, you missed a good one! There will be further training opportunities during the year. Keep an eye out on the magazine and the Club’s web site at http://www.nswseakayaker.asn.au.

The 2002 Trip Leader’s Training Course

Early last year, new Club policy restricted listing and leadership of Club trips to members with the Trip Leader’s Training Course and ACI Sea Proficiency. Following on the success of the 2000 and 2001 TLTC, the NSWSKC will hold another Trip Leader’s Training Course on one weekend early this year. The location will be on the South Coast within easy reach of Sydney. See the trips calendar for date and contact details.

It is unlikely that we will be able to arrange the same level of luxurious accommodation as the last TLTC, but we will try!

The aim of the course will be to give proficient paddlers the knowledge and skills to lead groups of peers on enclosed and open waters. The course will be run as a series of presentations on the core skills, with each presentation followed by workshops to practice the skills. There will be day trips to put the combined skills into use with real groups on the water. The weekend will end with a written test. The course will be offered at cost.

The course is open to NSWSKC members who have their ACI Sea Proficiency (or the new ACI Sea Skills 2/Sea Rescue 2), and to members who aim to achieve these skills qualifications soon.

Special Grade 2 Trip Leadership

At a committee meeting on 03 January 2002, the committee voted unanimously for a six-month trial to extend trip leadership approval to some members who are currently self-assessed at grade 2. Such paddlers will need to:

  • demonstrate a certain set of seamanship and paddling skills (including a rapid self-rescue) to a Club Assessor;
  • attend and pass the Trip Leader’s Training Course;
  • be recommended to, and ratified by, the committee.

Ratification will last up to a year. During this time, they will be approved to lead trips of grade 2 paddlers in enclosed waters only.

The expectation is that these paddlers will continue to build their skills towards Sea Proficiency, and once this is attained, then be able to lead Club trips without restrictions.

Ten? [48]

By Mark Pearson

The pod arrives off Little River Beach on a magnificent June day.

We hardly ever land on this pocket-sized south-east facing beach. And there are reasons.

Steep, sloping sand at the water’s edge is evidence of regular assaults by powerful seas. But this is to be our camp for the night, a new destination on this rare winter visit to Nadgee.

So we are not surprised when a long continuous set of respectable waves rolls under us, breaking noisily across almost the whole length of the sand. We don cags and stow away vulnerable deck gear with half an eye on what is happening before us. I ask Mike if he is looking forward to it. He replies that no, he is not, that he always gets nervous landing. More so even than busting out through the surf. I am amazed!

“You’re kidding,” I tell him, before adding, “there had to be at least ten reasons why coming in was better than going out.”

The set finally settles down and we take turns making our runs into the beach with little drama. We portage the sand bar, paddle over the small lagoon, then chat to bushwalkers vacating the camp area before setting up our own.

That evening I mull on the issue of coming in versus busting out. I am usually reasonably relaxed about landings, even in biggish surf. Okay, so I’m lucky enough to have an Inuit Explorer, a boat that is less scary than most in the rough stuff. But I have to admit, that even after eight years of sea paddling, standing on the beach facing even moderate surf is always intimidating. And no wonder when you think of it; so many of my co-venturers have suffered horrors getting out.

But back to the ten. Surely the first reason is:

Coming in, the surf is, at the very least ‘helping’ you get in. But when busting out the ‘Surf Gods’ often seem malicious, intent on stopping you reaching the calm water behind the break zone.

That night it rains solidly and a southerly blows hard for several hours. We awake to the sound of roaring surf. Very loud roaring surf. Uhhmmm, I had another reason:

The ominous sound of big surf can play serious mind games with you even before you’ve got out of your sleeping bag.

We do breakfast, pack up, paddle over the lagoon to the bar, carry our kayaks onto the beach and stand and watch. And watch.

It’s not good. A messy surf zone, with a right to left rip, and sets with waves of almost three metres breaking over a large area and right across the beach. There were some relative ‘lulls’, but this was going to be tough. To confirm my thoughts, the understated Arunas advises that ‘we are going to get wet’. We hesitate for a few more minutes, each of us no doubt thinking ‘whose idea was it to camp here anyway’. As I stand there trying to get my mind and body into gear, another reason comes to mind:

Busting out is invariably done early in the morning, when you often feel stiff/tired/hung over/full of undigested Cretebix, etc, etc.

Its time for somebody to have a go. Mike indicates that he is ready. His boat is sitting about 60 metres from the northern end. The rip is strong and Mike is into it. Within seconds he has closed in alarmingly on those rocks. We frantically wave and shout. He looks around, we point vigorously south, then he changes direction slightly only to be hit hard on the port side by surging white water. He straightens up for the next wave, and the next, but by doing so continues his inexorable drift north as he progresses out. Its dawning on us that there is a big problem here; to maintain position off this beach you need to paddle diagonally out against the rip. You also have to turn into waves to avoid being broached and carried back in. But as soon as you straighten to meet a wave, the drift north was fast. I had another reason:

Coming in you are only a few seconds in the zone and you will land close to where you expected. Busting out is a much slower process and can see you taking an ‘unplanned’ route out.

It’s starting to look really nasty. Mike is now 60 metres out but only 15 metres off the corner of the rocks, sitting at the edge of the rip and holding position. His boat looks small and vulnerable where it is; white water everywhere in front and a foaming black rock wall behind. A monstrous set had broken over that section only minutes before. We all panic at what we are seeing, all three spontaneously run along the beach towards the rocks. I don’t know what for, but guess we all feel the need to be near the body. Another reason:

When busting out you may have to watch a mate get into serious trouble, and there may be nothing you can do.

But at that moment Mike suddenly puts his foot down. We hold our breath as he surges out through the danger zone, climbing over some big ones on the way. He’s okay.

The Mike Show is over, at some cost to our own precious adrenalin supplies. Grumbling about his appalling demonstration we return to the boats and move them another 50 metres down the beach away from those rocks.

Soon I was ready. I sit in the boat for a couple of minutes, just looking ahead of me. Mentally I prepare myself. I know what I have to do… hold position, hold my nerve, and then time it. I adopt a mantra… ‘position and timing, position and timing’.

I sense the possible beginnings of a lull out in the deep and push off. The first white water hits. It’s powerful, drives me back hard. I nearly go over. Another reason:

Coming in, you’re already warmed up… already have the feel of the boat, the movement of the ocean, etc. Busting out in surf you are immediately into seriously testing conditions while still ‘cold’.

Nervous and desperate to get a good feel of the water, I wiggle my hips to assert some sort of control. Another metre of frothing stuff hits me. Crash through OK but half blinded. Now I’m moving well, angling to the southern end of the beach and only straightening seconds before taking on the next surging wall. Then right knee up, left hip down and back to the diagonal. I think good things about owning a boat that turns. I look over to the rocks… it’s good, they are no closer.

Now I’m close to the big ones. Brake hard as a green wall crashes into foam in front of me, then accelerate to meet that ferocious broken water. Three more big waves are coming now. Nearly got surfed backwards on that one. Hit hard in the chest. Half blinded again. Something hits me from behind, swings me round, an emergency brace. F***! A sneaky refracting wave has crept up on me from beach side. Ahead of me the set is finishing. I go to full power. About a hundred metres to safe water now. Water is now green but some worrying forms are just ahead. Suddenly I’m going faster, another outgoing wave is surfing me out. I reach two big scary humps as they start to steepen but get over smoothly. Fifty more metres and the battle is won. I pat the foredeck of the Explorer and make a mental note to thank designer Sanders. Textbook.

Mike and I make contact. Now the wait for Arunas and Dave. We are three hundred metres off shore, and due to the swell only get occasional glimpses of their progress. Arunas pushes off. We see his paddle tips working hard. Then nothing as another big set rumbles in. A couple of minutes pass and no sign. Is he holding in front of the break? It’s been too long. Dismay as we see Arunas sideways back on the beach. Minutes pass. He’s now dragging his boat south away from the rocks. Later to learn that he had been capsized twice and had hurt a ‘lat’ muscle during a roll. Another reason:

Going out, there’s always the chance of muscular injury due to over exertion of cold muscles. Then you’ve still got to paddle the rest of the day.

The two are talking. Talking for some time. There’s some arm waving going on. Are they arguing? Or maybe just warming up. Mike and I wonder if they are thinking of giving up. Should we go back in? We decide to wait. Another reason:

Going out, those who have actually got out may have to make a decision to go back in. This is not a nice decision to have to make.

I ask Mike if there’s a protocol? Can we leave them here and wait at Merrica? Are we two viable pairs. Does insurance cover us if we split? We agree that communication is a bastard in these scenarios.

Time passes. About half an hour since I got out now. Arunas is trying again. We see him cresting some good waves. But his timing is good this time and he eventually approaches us, complaining about his slothful Greenlander being broached several times because of its inability to turn. Now the wait for David. My stress level hits maximum now. If Dave gets into trouble there’s no question, we all go back in. I don’t envy his situation. Another reason:

The last man out has to take on the waves while being aware of overwhelming ‘pressure’ from the waiting group.

He’s on his way, a minute passes while he awaits a lull in the wash zone. I see him crest a wave. He’s on his way. Three huge swells roll underneath us. Frighteningly quick. We watch and wait as the swells rise up as they touch bottom, the mighty greenbacks sparkling and shimmering as they reflect the morning sun. The Nadgee rises over the second hump, just one to go, the biggest one. Dave’s fully airborne as he climbs over the monster. He joins us, waterlogged and gasping, telling the tale of his epic climb up the face of Number 3. The visual similarity to that wave in The Perfect Storm. We don’t doubt the intensity of his experience. Arunas is sore but can paddle. We head north for Merrica River feeling good at our achievement.

And so another mini-drama in my NSWSKC career comes to an end, with more tales for the camp fire for that night and nights to come. I had only managed nine reasons. But maybe my next trip will give me the tenth.

Thursday Island to Darwin [48]

By Ben Eastwood

Ben’s follow on story from Andrew McAuley’s article Follow the Wind: Cape York & Torres Strait in Issue 47 of NSW Sea Kayaker:

After ferrying our kayaks back to Thursday Island on a barge, it was disappointing to say goodbye to Andy, as he had to return to work. My original plan was to continue paddling into Papua New Guinea. However, meeting the requirements of the Australian Customs proved very challenging especially in a kayak. They expected me to paddle 200 km from Thursday Island to Daru in PNG without stopping. Unwilling to accept this challenge and unable to negotiate around the obstacle without incurring substantial expense I quickly changed my focus to continue paddling towards Darwin.

With a food drop previously organized on Thursday Island it was not long before I was on my way paddling towards Weipa. Doing a solo expedition certainly has an element of increased risk. However, after just paddling 1,000 km from Port Douglas to PNG, I was feeling confident and still a lot safer on the water than driving on the roads.

After eight days of paddling from Thursday Island I arrived in Weipa. I was interested in experiencing the Gulf country, however I was glad I had arranged for a barge to take me across to Nullumbuy in east Arnhemland. While the Gulf country is interesting it is somewhat very flat. The landscape is flat, the tree line is flat, the beach is flat, even the fish are flat. There is little variation in the scenery on the west coast of Cape York. The main highlight during the 8-day paddle was watching a large sea turtle come onto the beach and lay her eggs.

When I arrived at the first aboriginal outstation Matta Matta in East Arnhemland I was greeted by three Aboriginal children practicing their spear throwing. I was well received by the community and had the opportunity to watch them hunt and prepare a kangaroo to eat. The following day I was invited to watch them catch lunch that consisted of spearing a small shark and stingray.

The kayak has a unique ability to break down any barriers when meeting people. I found that any cultural barriers were quickly dissipated when they heard where I had come from and that I was travelling in a ‘lippa lippa’ or canoe. Any apprehension soon turned to curiosity and they were inquisitive to learn more about the trip. The children were particularly excited as most of them had never seen such a small looking boat and were very keen to jump all over it.

Of the six aboriginal outstations visited, I was well received at all of them and was even provided with some cooked turtle eggs on one occasion. The aboriginal people in this region still rely heavily on hunting wild game and fishing for food.

The coastline throughout Arnhemland varied from mangrove coastline to spectacular white sandy beaches. The most noticeable difference between the coastline of Cape York and Arnhemland was the lack of rubbish washed up on the beach. Arnhemland was very pristine while Cape York and the Torres Strait was host to numerous foreign objects washed ashore by the Pacific currents.

Peering into an excavated turtle nest that had been raided by either pigs or a goanna on Melville Island, I noticed two baby turtles that were trapped by the short sandy walls of the dugout nest. They were not much larger than a fifty-cent piece. When I lifted them out and put them on the sand their little flippers kicked into gear as they raced down towards the water. Further excavation of the nest revealed a further four young ones at varying stages of tearing out of their shells. Altogether I released six babies into the wild world of water. The odds are so much against them that even one of my footprints in the sand proved too much an obstacle for one little turtle, I had to give him a hand out.

I was momentarily paralyzed as I sat bolt upright in my kayak. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The crocodile, that was not much shorter than my 5.8 metre kayak, did not appear to hesitate as it started swimming towards me. Fortunately I was close to shore. Unfortunately there were only rocks to land on. Keeping an eye on the crocodile swimming towards me I managed to catch a small wave into the rocks. When the cruel sound of gel-coat and fiberglass scraping off the bottom of the kayak brought me to a halt I quickly bailed out. When I turned around the crocodile was on the next wave in behind me. Using myself as bait I attracted the crocodile away from the kayak. When it seemed to lose interest in me, I ran back to my kayak and reluctantly pushed it back into the water. I had to keep moving so as not to run out of water. It was another three days before I reached South Goulbourne Island and spoke to another person about the encounter.

One of the most challenging days was paddling from Melville Island to the Vernon Islands on my second last day. It did not seem to matter if I was paddling with an incoming tide or an outgoing tide heading towards Darwin, the current was against me all the time. I left Melville Island at 4:30 am. It was very dark and I was conscious of crocodiles. With my headlamp on I checked the black water for eyes before sliding the kayak into the water. I had paddled in darkness for 20 minutes when I flicked on my headlamp and reached behind me to get my cap to stop water dripping in my face. Suddenly I was hit in the face by a wet slimy fish that had jumped up at the light. If I wasn’t awake before I certainly was now.

After seven hours paddling I had only covered 30 km. The current was against me most of the way and I had paddled through plenty of small eddies and whirlpools. The water around the Vernon Islands was going in all directions as the tidal variation for Darwin exceeds seven metres regularly. The strong wind had picked up from the southwest and was blowing me into the mangroves. Keeping a very keen eye out for crocodiles I decided to change course and make the most of the wind. All of a sudden there was a loud ‘BANG’ at the back of my kayak. My heart sank and I had a sickening feeling in my stomach, as I looked around expecting to see a set of large jaws crushing the end of my kayak. To my relief I could only see a dark shadow of a shark swim away from my rudder. My paddling speed picked up after that encounter.

Dehydrated and exhausted after not sleeping the last four nights of the trip because of the heat and humidity and a skin rash developing under both arms, I paddled the final 26 km to Darwin on my last one litre of water. Tired and emotional after paddling 1,800 km around Cape York, the Torres Strait and Arnhemland I sat on the beach in Darwin reflecting on my experiences over the past three months.

Skills And Drills [48]

By David Winkworth

Dead Legs

You’ve just bought a brand new kayak and have taken it for its first paddle off a crowded summer beach. After an hour or so you return to the beach and stylishly ride that big wave right to the sand. Off with the sprayskirt, paddle down, you exit the cockpit and try to stand next to your pride and joy. Your legs refuse to cooperate and they buckle embarrassingly beneath you. You fall over! You’ve just become a victim of Dead Legs Syndrome!

Dead Legs – you hop out of your kayak and they just won’t work! Not cool!

Dead Legs Syndrome was discussed in several groups at the recent Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend so I thought it was worth raising the subject here.

So what is it? Dead Legs Syndrome is a temporary paralysis of your major leg muscles. Whether it is caused by interference with circulation or nerve impulses to the legs I don’t know but it results in a temporary inability to stand up without holding onto someone or something. Maybe someone in the Club with medical knowledge could help here. I sometimes wonder if sea kayakers who spend many hours in their boats are at risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis in their legs. Maybe we should change “Economy Class Syndrome” to “Sea Kayaker’s Syndrome!”

Anyway, it is potentially dangerous, not just because your circulation/nerve impulses are impaired but also because of this: Imagine landing through a vicious shore dump surf onto a steep beach. You have to be up and out of your kayak quickly to stop both you and your boat sliding back down the beach into that surf again. If your legs won’t work, how are you going to do this? You are going to get creamed!

The first general signs of Dead Legs is a creeping numbness and pins-and-needles in the legs and feet. I’ve found that particular seat styles in particular boats can cause Dead Legs for me and I now know what to look for when paddling other’s boats. I usually limit my paddles in these boats to a few minutes.

Dead Legs seems to affect paddlers of all shapes and sizes. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it although I suspect that larger heavier paddlers would be well represented in any sample simply because there is more weight bearing on nerves and muscle groups in their bottoms!

What sort of seat styles cause Dead Legs? I’ve found two seat measurements to be critical in avoiding Dead Legs: I modified the seat in a boat I owned and solved the Dead Legs problem instantly.

The first measurement is the fore-aft length of the seat (See Dead Legs Pic 1). I found that if this length was too short, Dead Legs would result. I make my seats with this measurement around 350 mm and I get good support under the backs of my thighs.

The second measurement is the difference in height between the highest and lowest points of the seat. Here’s where we come to the fun part! Stand up, bend over and massage your bum. You’ll feel a bony projection low down on each cheek of your bottom. These are called the ischial tuberosities and they should rest on the lowest portion of your seat. When you are seated, they will be well to the back of the seat.

Now, have a look at the seats in your car and maybe your favourite armchair. Notice how the base of the seat tilts back? Car seats and armchairs are comfortable aren’t they? They have to be because we sometimes spend many hours in them… and it’s the same with sea kayak seats. We may be sitting in our kayaks for 12 or more hours at sea. Any discomfort is going to impinge on your paddling performance and it is only your paddling performance that is going to get you home!

So, I reckon sea kayak seats need some fore-aft tilt to be comfortable. Not so much that it will restrict us transferring our weight forward and back to get the best performance out of our boats but enough for long day comfort AND for support under our thighs. I think it is the support under the thighs that is the second critical measurement in stopping Dead Legs. Remember that when we are properly seated in our kayaks, our thighs are braced up under the coaming and foredeck. That is, there is an upward rake in our legs from our bottoms to our knees. The backs of our thighs need support. I make the difference in height between the two points shown in Dead Legs Pic 2 around 40 mm. In boats with a relatively high coaming height, this could possibly be 50 mm.

Dead Legas Pic 1 - the fore-aft length of your seat is important

Dead Legs Pic 1 – the fore-aft length of your seat is important

If you suffer from Dead Legs in your kayak, you may want to modify the seat. By far the easiest way is to use closed cell foam. It is warm, easily worked with cutter and sandpaper… and if you make a mistake you can rip it out and start again. A word of caution: If you use contact adhesive to modify your seat, you may find it coming unstuck when wet. A stronger but messier adhesive is Sikaflex. You can get it at marine stores.

Dead Legs Pic 2 – a substantial difference in the height between the indicated points is important

While we’re on the subject of seat modification, at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend each year we always seem to instruct some paddlers who are just not firmly fitted into their kayaks. A firm fit in the seat is vital to the performance of your kayak. It must be able to respond to inputs from you! Let’s look at where you need to be in contact with your boat: The seat: a good snug fitting non slip seat is essential. Firm hip support a fair way up is also needed (See Dead Legs Pic 1). A backrest of some design is needed too so that you can push hard against the footrests and really lock in when you need to. The backrest should not be so high that it will restrict you leaning back when you need to.

Rolling requires a firm lateral fit in your seat. When you come around the boat should too!

Footrests should be solid. They are going to carry nearly all of the force you exert on the boat. If yours are the slide-to-steer variety, you might consider talking to senior Club paddlers about solid options.

Lastly, the thigh braces. These are important for hip flicks in rolls and for edging and steering the kayak. Thigh braces should be just that: a brace for your thigh muscles just above and inside your kneecaps. These are big strong muscles. Some paddlers at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend had their kneecaps in contact with the underside of the deck. Kneecaps are bone covered in skin only and are not suited for constant hard pressure. If your kneecaps are touching the deck, consider making up some foam pads to let your kneecaps float free. After a long day in a good sea they will love you for it!

Australia’s Greatest River – The Murray River Paddle

In mid March 2002, some of us are paddling along the Murray River from Echuca to Swan Hill over a week. Start date is Sunday 17 March. This is a Grade 2 paddle (see Club Trips Calendar). There will be no surf breakouts, whirlpools, tide rips etc. but you will have to do about 50-60 km per day. Total distance is 312 km. For those members with moderate fitness this will not be difficult as there will be some current assistance and your fitness will increase each day. This paddle is also good opportunity to wash your kayak!! It ain’t the ocean but it is different and the Australian inland river scenery is all around you!

This is a paddle-at-your-own-pace paddle. During the trip we will detail the next camping area on the maps each morning and you can take all day to get there if you like. In 2000 we did a higher section of the Murray like this and paddlers formed small groups and it all worked well. We will have a tail-end charlie paddler to deal with any problems you may have along the way. There are plenty of camping spots so we won’t all be crowded into the one area (or state!). We will pass through Torrumbarry Lock and a couple of small towns where you can re-supply as needed. Camping will be on the redgum forest banks of the river.

If interested, phone me for an information sheet on (02) 6494 1366 or email me at storm@acr.net.au

Navigation Skills Weekend

I originally had this weekend scheduled for Twofold Bay in late winter in 2001 but postponed it because of too few numbers to cover costs. It mysteriously reappeared in the Trips Calendar for late December but that was not my doing! I plan to reschedule the weekend for about May 2002 at Jervis Bay or Batemans Bay. A lot of people have expressed interest so it will be ON. Keep an eye on the Calendar.

Stowing Your Stuff

Another subject that came up in discussions at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend was carrying camping gear in your sea kayak. For those members new to sea paddling, there are a couple of principles that you would do well to keep in mind when packing for your next multi-day trip: KEEP IT CENTRAL

This just means that when packing your boat, the heavier denser items should be placed as close to you in the cockpit as possible. Items such as full water containers, stove and tent should be packed against the forward and aft bulkheads. If possible some heavier items such as water containers that don’t need waterproofing may fit in the cockpit. The important point with packing items in the cockpit is that they must be secure. Never underestimate the power of the surf to clean out your cockpit! Lighter items can be pushed up the ends of the boat UNTIL the heavier items are stowed. These lighter items should then be pulled back down the hatch to pack the heavier items in tightly.

Why are we trying to keep the ends light? Simply to make it easier for us to control the kayak. Lighter ends mean easier turns and less plunging and pearling in waves.

Keep it Light

We are lucky in sea kayaking – we can take that extra bottle of wine that bushwalkers would leave behind, and not notice the extra weight too much. It’s great to be able to take along a few luxuries and we all do it. It’s great. The extra weight can become a problem however when we overdo it with gear and we’re caught in tricky sea conditions.

Extra weight can dampen the response of your kayak to waves. This can be good if it settles a “tender” boat down in marginal conditions. It can however make your boat slower to respond when you need a reflexive brace and also make your kayak harder to turn.

Where we lose out with extra weight is, I think, in acceleration. In following sea situations, extra weight may mean not being able to get that last bit of speed to catch the waves. Similarly, in a head sea, each wave that your boat breaks through is slowing you down. You then have to accelerate your kayak back to your cruising speed until the next wave hits you… and so on. Acceleration is intimately linked to mass. Heavier boats are slower to accelerate and require more energy to do so.

So, next time you pack for a trip, consider the seas and conditions you are likely to encounter. Never ever leave any of your safety gear behind but do get out the kitchen scales and check the weight of a few of your items. You may be surprised!

A Ramble From The Editor [48]

By Ian Phillips

When I started this editorial I was 30… I am now 93. Alas this issue of the previously reliable magazine was disgustingly drawn out and delayed as life events overtook the ever-expanding editorial staff of one. I’d like to blame the entire editorial staff… in fact I will.

It’d be fantastic if I could impart some grand kayak tale that has kept me from my editorial duties, some mystically serene trip or some spectacularly heroic kayak pilgrimage, but instead we now have probably the only kayak magazine in the world with a non-paddling editor. Try as I might I have been unable to make the transition from land-hobbler to water-hopper, and the near future doesn’t hold out much promise as my poor, neglected Feathercraft gathers more and more dust poked away at the back of my garage. But I keep a candle lit for the sleek little beast, and soon we will terrify the harbour again. You have been warned!

No, it’s just copious amounts of tedious nothingness, droning away for months on end that has kept me far away from my dingy little office and the decidedly neglected magazine. Suffice to say, for the remainder of the year we’ll be boringly regular; we are back on track with sufficient grease on the wheels to keep it all rolling reasonably smoothly for another year, and you can expect a shiny new magazine every two months until the 2002 AGM.

So does anyone remember Rock ‘n’ Roll 2001? I had originally started this column with some glorious tale about the omnipresent Rock ‘n’ Roll Coordinator surveying the unwashed masses from the palatial balcony of the command and control centre… you know, the usual guff and ridicule with barely a fact in sight… but by the time the magazine actually hit the shelves the news was so old I was sure no-one would actually care any more, and especially not care what a deranged, power-drunk dictator thought of the never fazing, always amazing Rock ‘n’ Roll.

But then I thought stuff it, this is my column and I’ll write what I want. Then I decide I didn’t want to write about that anyway so I changed it into a good old whinge about nothing in particular, but then I changed my mind again and decided to chat about a kayak I have for sale (phew… finally got the plug in), but then I changed my mind again and didn’t know what to write.

A few gins later and I still had no idea, but at least I wasn’t as worried about it any more.

Then I got back to Rock ‘n’ Roll 2001, and remembered with great fondness an absolute mass of enthusiastic volunteers that helped make this the best weekend ever for the 150-odd kayakers and friends who showed up during the weekend. Yep, those are official, audited figures taken by counting the legs of all attendees during the weekend and dividing by two.

Seriously though, the exhausting months of preparation paid off, with on-water instruction, paddles and demonstrations, land-based workshops, retail displays, outstanding evening presentations and some good old binge drinking from the fringe dwellers keeping everyone busy and entertained for the whole weekend. Even foul weather cancelling several instruction classes and paddles didn’t dampen spirits, with everybody simply moving on to another activity or opening another bottle of red. All in all a damned fine weekend, even if I do say so myself.

Anyway, it’s time for me to shut up (particularly as I’m running out of room). Take the rest of the week off, find a nice corner, put your feet up and enjoy the read.

From The President’s Deck [48]

By Rob Mercer

The left hand grips the paddle behind the torso at the lower back; the right hand grips the vertical shaft of the paddle behind the nape of the neck. This is the set up for a manoeuvre called the Spine Roll…

If you were at Rock ‘n’ Roll 2001 you were no doubt awestruck by the dexterity of our rolling competitors as they attempted the Spine Roll and other advanced techniques. With Sunday afternoon paddles cancelled due to blustery conditions, the rolling competition played to a capacity crowd. The previous sessions offered participation, this one offered inspiration. With Larry Gray as MC, Rob Parker and the rest of the competitors provided us with an entertaining reminder of just how far these skills can be developed. The rolling competition and demonstration was one of several gambles that paid off for the organisers of our major annual training weekend. The Committee approached the event with an open mind. Indeed, it was agreed early in the year that if it couldn’t be reorganised we wouldn’t run it at all. By July 2001, casual speculation which started the previous December had become more compelling. Would members tolerate the demands of registration? Would members bother with pre-registration? Would the retailer’s marquee work? Was the venue too far from Sydney? Would anyone want to watch a rolling competition? Would Waterways grant us an Aquatic License? Would the entire fleet disappear into a sea cave on the Tollgate Islands in a watery sequel to Picnic at Hanging Rock? To the Committee congratulations, you got the answers you were hoping for and you had them delivered by the Club membership with enthusiasm and goodwill. To those people who helped out or simply attended, the success of the weekend requires no further explanation. To the others, well, you just had to be there…

2001 AGM

Nick Gill and Stuart Trueman in alternate years have served as Trip Convener and Secretary/Treasurer, and both have worked on the Trip Leader’s Course and Rock ‘n’ Roll weekends. They have been valuable Committee members and determined supporters of the Club during a difficult but rewarding year. Both have resigned with enough enthusiasm in reserve to list Club trips and training weekends. Both are skilled paddlers and registered AC Sea Instructors. The Club is indeed fortunate to enjoy their ongoing support.

For me the highlight of the AGM was the unqualified applause for the award of Life Membership to Dave Winkworth. Dave has been the Club’s most strident advocate for skills development and his involvement in the Committee spans ten years during which time he has been President, Training Officer and Vice President. Thanks Dave!

New For 2002

It was surprisingly easy to fill positions on the new committee for 2002. I take this as a vote of confidence from the membership. Once again it seems the Club is lucky to have the right people in the right place at the right time. We welcome Vicki McAuley to the position of Secretary/Treasurer, Richard Birdsey as Statutory Liaison Officer, Paul Loker as Trips Convener, Alan Whiteman as Web Coordinator and Andrew Eddy as Training Officer. Dirk Stuber returns to the Executive after five years absence, this time as Vice President. It is good to see ongoing representation from the South Coast.

In this edition our new Trips Convener, with the assistance of Kevin Brennan, has put together an ambitious calendar for 2002. It is now possible to list trips beyond the date of the next magazine. Another feature of the new calendar is a wider range of Grade 2 paddles including training paddles. These are short open sea trips where grade 2 paddlers will be paired with a more experienced ‘buddy’ (see in particular Kevin Melville’s Moving Right Along trips). If you are aiming at Sea Proficiency for 2002 you should consider these trips for your logbook. To further streamline the trip listing process our new webmaster will update the online calendar on a monthly basis.

Senior Instructor Andrew Eddy, who must take most of the credit for the Club’s excellent website has now entrusted the website to Alan who has altered its appearance with the aim of making it a little easier to navigate. Now Andrew can focus on training, an area he excelled in last year. Along with Basic Skills and Sea Proficiency, he will again run the highly popular Trip Leader’s Training Course in February. This is a must if you wish to lead Club trips and share your skills, knowledge and passion for paddling with your fellow members and, after all, this is what the NSW Sea Kayak Club is all about.

Rock ‘n’ Roll 2001 Acknowledgements

In The Retailer’s Marquee

  • Pittarak International
  • Ocean Planet
  • Horizon Line
  • Batemans Bay Power & Sail and Australis

Prize Sponsors

  • Bennett Surfboards (super prize: paddle)
  • Canoe & Camping Supplies
  • O’Neill Wetsuits
  • Thule Roof Racks
  • Boat Books Australia
  • Ocean & Earth
  • Pro Kayaks
  • Forcefield
  • Belgian Beer Café
  • Whatsin
  • Paddle Planet (formerly B-Line Canoes)
  • Batemans Bay Power & Sail

Rob Moldoran from Waterways, Neil Watson from National Parks & Wildlife Service and Paul O’Brien and the team at Glenhaven Caravan Village.

Evening presenters Larry Gary, Andrew McAuley and David Whyte.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Committee: Ian Phillips, Andrew Eddy, Richard Birdsey, Dave Winkworth, Nick Gill, Stuart Trueman, Tom Parker and Sharon Betteridge.

All the Club’s volunteers: Instructors, workshop presenters, ground crew and Trip Leaders. Thanks!