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!”