Xoc’d and Amazed [49]

By Andy Forester, Canada

Until recently nobody has been sure of the etymology of the word shark — the nearest guess until recently being that it comes from schirk which in the Austrian dialect of German is a sturgeon.

It is now widely accepted by specialists in the Maya languages that it comes from the Yucatec or Cholan Maya word for shark xoc (pronounced shok — the X in mesoamerican languages being pronounced as is sh in English).

The word shark entered English in the 16th Century and it seems almost certain that it came to England in 1569 with Sir (then Captain) John Hawkins after he and Drake had been beaten up by the Spanish on the coast of Veracruz, Mexico where Mayan was not the main language but was widely understood. z

Wonderful — I think it’s the only Maya word that has entered common English usage (Nahautl — the language of the Aztecs — has given us tomato, avocado, coyote and a few others).

Drake of course died of (probably) yellow fever and was buried at sea off Portobello.

‘Slung atween the roundshot… in Nombre de Dios bay… An’ dreamin’ arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe…’ as Sir Henry Newbolt would have it.

Presumably his remains were gobbled up by a xoc and he ended up as a pile of xoc xit…

Training Notes [49]

By Andrew Eddy, ACI Advanced Sea Instructor

Start of a New Era

The NSWSKC currently has a Memorandum of Understanding with Australian Canoeing, in order to allow us to offer Sea Proficiency Examination to members. This MOU comes to an end on 30 June.

In the calendar you will see that the last two Sea Proficiency Examination days will be held during June.

ACI’s new award system, a nationally recognised tertiary education system, comes into full effect for all clubs on 01 July. The actual skills and knowledge for Sea Skills and Sea Rescue are not substantially different from Sea Proficiency, but the assessment methods and instructor training are very different.

Under the new system, Sea Proficiency will be replaced by Sea Skills 2 and Sea Rescue 2. This will become the new standard for the NSWSKC paddler grading system’s ‘Grade 3’. Members who already hold a Sea Proficiency Award will not need to upgrade, as the old and new awards are deemed equivalent.

The complete competency standards for all of the new ACI system are available from the Australian National Training Authority’s web site, under the Outdoor Recreation Industry’s Training Packages. Ask your Assessor for details after 01 July.

The Club has yet to form an alliance with a Registered Training Organisation, for the purpose of documenting assessments. We aim to formalise such a relationship with the state body, NSW Canoeing, when they have achieved RTO status. In the mean time, we are investigating other possibilities, so that we can continue to offer assessments immediately the new system starts.

Costs of The New System

Since the new ACI Awards are part of the Australia-wide Vocational Education and Training system, there are substantial changes to costs.

At the Club Executive meeting at Callala Beach in March, the Committee voted that the Club would cease to pay for members’ Sea Proficiency certificates, from 01 July. The costs of certification under the new scheme are, as yet, unknown, but because of the extra layers of responsibility in documentation, costs will probably be higher than in the past. Members will have to cover these costs for themselves.

Under the new system, Instructor and Assessor training and certification will cost a lot more. So far, simple upgrades to the new system for several of the Club’s Assessors have cost several hundreds of dollars each. This has only included Recognition of Prior Learning for existing competencies and a few additional bits and pieces. At this rate, training a new instructor from scratch looks like costing up into the thousands.

Existing Instructors’ qualifications will remain valid until the expiry date on the certificate.

At the Callala Beach meeting, the Committee voted to use Club funds to cover the costs of upgrading existing Instructors and Assessors into the new system on the expiry of their qualifications and for training and assessing new Instructors and Assessors as the need arises.

This will apply, at the Committee’s discretion, to Club instructors who contribute their skills at several Club training sessions each year (regardless of any non-Club use of these skills). The Committee will need to watch the funds, here, and get good value for the training dollar! Additionally, Club funds will be supplemented by a special Instructor Training Levy of $20.00 per person per day on training events, except the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend. This should make it possible for the Club to continue to offer quality training to members.

The March TLTC

The NSWSKC Trip Leader’s Training Course, held in March at Currarong was better planned and executed than ever before — we’re getting good at this, even if I do say so myself! The March course was the first one at which we used a written exam as well as practical assessment. All examinees passed with flying colours.

Congratulations to Lawrence Geoghegan, Richard Birdsey, Alan Whiteman, Adrian Clayton and John Lipscombe. All five have been ratified by the Committee as Club Trip Leaders. Many thanks to all the attendees and contributors for much valuable discussion.

Before the next TLTC is held, the Club will carefully assess whether all or part of the new Australian Canoeing ‘Guide’ qualifications should replace or be adapted into our own TLTC, with the potential of having our trip leading qualifications become a nationally recognised qualification. A guiding qualification is probably still overkill, considering that Club Trip Leaders lead a group of peers, not clients and therefore take on a very different level of responsibility.

The Club’s TLTC is open to any Club member who wishes to lead Club trips, has Sea Proficiency or Sea Skills 2/Sea Rescue 2, has a current First Aid Certificate and demonstrates a willingness to meet Club methods and policies on the conduct of trips.

Club Trip Sizes

Australian Canoeing is set to revise its policies on maximum numbers of participants on ocean trips. If and when it does, the Club will follow suit. At the moment, Club maximum trip numbers are six participants with one Trip Leader or twelve participants with two Leaders. This has proven to be too many on several recent trips for grade two paddlers, so the Committee is not too unhappy about the possible changes.

The changes mooted are to reduce trip numbers to six participants with one leader and eight participants with two leaders. We will keep you up to date with these changes as they are brought in.

Training Calendar

This issue of the NSW Sea Kayaker calendar includes a program of training and assessment events covering the rest of the Club year. There are three training weekends aimed at improving the skills and knowledge of members towards meeting the requirements of the new Sea Skills 2/Sea Rescue 2 Awards. These qualifications (or the equivalent Sea Proficiency) will be mandatory for members to be considered grade 3 paddlers and participate in ocean paddling trips.

The Sea Rescue 2 skills are also highly recommended for paddlers who wish to verify that they are solid grade 2 paddlers.

All members are welcome to book in for any of the courses. Please contact the course coordinator for any course that you’re interested in. All of the Club’s training courses are run by ACI certified Instructors, with the assistance of a number of trainee Instructors.

Make good use of the opportunities that the Club provides. It’s still almost free!

See you on the water.

Sydney to Melbourne [49]

By Stuart Trueman

Well it was actually Jervis Bay to Melbourne.

Jervis Bay lies 90 km south of Sydney. I’d already paddled Sydney to Jervis Bay, so this with a previous trip from Sydney to Brisbane meant that I have now managed to paddle the coast from Brisbane to Melbourne.

My wife and 2 year old child left me at Honeymoon Bay on the north side of Jervis Bay, we said good bye and I set off south.

I popped into see Dave Winkworth who lives on the NSW south coast and who had lent me one of his Nadgee Expedition Kayaks for the trip. I thought it only fair that I stretch it and get a night’s accommodation as well so he could check out the kayak for scratches.

I left Dave’s place having been well looked after and had a day with 25 knot N-NE winds blowing me down to Twofold Bay.

As I was passing a headland before Twofold Bay the seas looked larger than the day’s regular swell. I took it wider than was necessary to avoid the worse of it but things were still big. I think it was due to a strong current and the 25 knot wind, but whatever it was the oceans forces were at play.

I got a stir when I looked round. I’m not sure how high things were but to see the wave coming I had to look up so high the back of my head was resting on the collar of my PFD. It was huge, a green multi story building heading towards me with its white roof falling off.

As I sat there like a stunned mullet, I was lifted up and as crest broke to port I could see through the tube of the wave. I woke up, briefly gave some thought to what the view would have been like if I was placed 25 metres to port then lit the fuse and got out of there.

I thought the coast of the south east corner especially the Nadgee wilderness was one of the most spectacular of the NSW-VIC coastline. I will return and explore at a more leisurely pace when I get the chance. I didn’t have to go far from the most populated areas of Australia to find an interesting coastline along which to set myself a challenge.

I got to Lakes Entrance on the supplies in the kayak and 6 extra Mars bars. The members of Lakes Entrance SLSC were very supportive and put me up in the club house and arranged for me to stay at the clubs of the other SLSC’s placed along 90 Mile Beach.

I find that the very good local information given by SLSC members is from a paddlers point of view which is of much more value than information given by non-paddlers who base their advise from experience using a motor.

In a kayak you get a good idea of the size of Ninety Mile beach. It took 6 days to get from one end to the other. This beach faces Bass Strait and is constantly taking the pounding created by the southerly swell. Always in your mind is the feeling of exposure as you creep down the coast with no shelter for days in either direction. If the weather should change or unseen storms develop far away a build up in swell could mean a bumpy ride to the beach. Or you could be unable to leave for days as the surf and seas build up overnight.

For most of the time the featureless coast of scrub covered sand dunes meant that navigation was done by dead reckoning. There were days when there was not even a slight variation in the view giving no clue as to your progress.

These are the problems facing a kayak tourer but the barren beauty of a coastline that has almost no evidence of man gives a glimpse of what the Victorian coast would have been like before we came along.

My last day on Ninety Mile Beach was from Seaspray to Port Albert.

The surf didn’t look too bad when looking down from the Seaspray SLSC club tower so I thought I’d pack the kayak and go and have a look. Then a man who had heard I was set to go came down to give a hand, so the pressure was on to perform.

From the tower it was obvious there were gaps in the breakers which stretched 100 metres out, all I had to do was break through the first set of shore dumpers then paddle through the gap.

I placed myself before a less vicious area of the dumping shore break and made the mistake of waiting to try and time the sets. While I was waiting the rip pulled me down the beach then out into a set, which played with me for a while before throwing me back to shore.

I felt a little more tired than I should have after that and needed to rest if I was to try again. The previous weeks had taken a toll. My helper seeing my predicament had stripped and held the kayak up to his armpits in freezing Bass Strait waters just before the dumpers. I just gave away the subtle art of timing sets and plowed into the bastards. To my surprise, which quickly turned to horror I was through.

The waves were breaking 100 metres out 4-5 metres high and rolling in, I saw a gap and paddled. The side rip was very strong and dragged me away from the gap onto the big back set of three. I got over the first one only just over the second as my arms were failing and then didn’t even try the third turning and running down the wave back towards the shore.

Just before getting to the shore dump I turned and saw I’d been dragged in line with a gap in the back set and headed out for another try, missed the first wave, clipped the second and got the kayak airborne on the third. I was out but totally done in!

An easterly swell, a south west swell and waves from the east caused very big and confused seas, which, when the combination of swell and waves hit I was in the air taking strokes without touching the water with my paddle. I had to keep away from the shore as waves were breaking well out. I realised my lack of strength meant that I had absolutely no room for error, I couldn’t be sure I would be able to roll and I stood no chance of swimming the 3-4 km to shore.

As I reached the Woodside surf club I realised the surf was too big, even the lure of a shower and bed couldn’t tempt me in.

I carried on to Shoal Inlet which I was sure would be navigable. Once there I couldn’t believe that the entrance was so dangerous, I got as close as I dare and couldn’t see a way in. I had no doubt that I was amongst waves that could kill.

I resigned myself to another 20 nautical miles to find a landing and set off. After paddling 10 minutes the waves died down to an acceptable 2-3 metres, so without any further thought I turned and made for the entrance. The sand bar had moved dramatically placing the entrance further along than was marked on my chart.

I could not help it and I shouted with relief at reaching the safe waters of Shoal Inlet after a trying day, then after a celibratory feed carried on to Port Albert.

From Port Albert I went to the idyllic Refuge Cove for the night.

I left Refuge Cove to round Wilsons Prom, the most southerly point of the Australian mainland. I got as far as the lighthouse and decided to wait for a while as the tide was not going my way yet and there was an ugly looking cloud forming out to sea.

It looked as though things could be changing for the worse so I headed back for the shelter of Waterloo Bay.

That was probably the smartest thing I’ve done in 3 weeks. Ten minutes later a 40 knot SE change hit and I was soon bracing into 4 foot waves.

I hid on a sheltered beach on southern Waterloo Bay but couldn’t stay when I realized that the weather was not going to improve as there was no water and the beach was covered at high tide. So I headed for the main beach where I’d seen bush walkers file into the bush. As soon as I left the shelter the 35-40 knot wind hit me. I landed on the beach with the grace and poise of a piece of kelp rolling up and down the beach, still, everything was in one piece and luckily nobody saw my crash landing. Then I realised I was not at the camp ground and had to walk my stuff 1.5 km round to Little Waterloo Bay.

After sitting out 3 days of strong SE winds I was up at 5 am with not much wind or swell evident from Waterloo Bay.

Swell picked up outside the bay and with the rebound off the cliffs things got rough. Steadily the wind picked up and the swell grew.

Just past the lighthouse I was paddling down a very steep swell of 4-5 metres. Due to the early hour the sun was low, so when a large swell was building up behind a shadow would be cast over me, which added to the serious mood of the morning’s paddle.

With almost no warning the stern would be picked up plunging the bow dangerously into the seas. To stop me being ‘endoed’ I zigzagged my way along.

I found out I had miscalculated the tide which must have still been running West to East and with 25 knots blowing from the East over the top I had a dramatic example of wind over tide.

Tidal River was as far as I got, I made the most of the facilities, washing everything, showering for the first time in 7 days and got some food as I was down to a handful of pasta. It was still a rip-off at $18 per night but as that represented my total accommodation costs of the trip I’m not complaining too much.

I didn’t get far after Tidal River and spent 3 days on the other side of Waratha Bay waiting for the weather to give in again. During my stay I met Geoff Sellman from VSKC who just happened to be passing and noticed the Nadgee Expedition Kayak on the beach. He was over the moon to find someone kayaking a Nadgee to Melbourne as he had one on order. The trip and my assurance that it was an excellent all round deepwater kayak confirmed that his kayak would be worth waiting, waiting, waiting… for.

After 11 days of less than average weather I was given almost perfect conditions on the last three days to get to Melbourne. Even the rip getting into Port Philip Bay behaved itself and I found myself at Sorrento having a pizza and coffee, wondering how I was going to get the kayak and myself back to Sydney. It didn’t turn out to be as difficult as the 31 days getting to Melbourne. I gave Geoff a ring who picked me up and arranged everything from his car phone. His family then looked after me as if I was a long lost relation until my flight home.

Kayakers who have plans for trips often ask me to paddle at my cruising pace. They soon see that someone with an average stroke and pace can keep up with me.

It would be unrealistic to estimate your paddling ability for a long trip in an empty kayak, while fresh, in familiar waters.

If you are thinking of a two week trip or longer try a week long trip with the others in your team to find what the group is comfortable paddling each day.

The daily averages for this trip are that on the 24 paddling days I covered 45 km and paddled about 6.5 hours. I don’t consider myself a particularly strong paddler.

Sting Ray Stung Stu [49]

By Stuart Trueman

In response to the article in Issue 47 of the NSW Sea Kayaker regarding stingrays I thought I’d write about my encounter so that others will be aware.

We chose to spend Christmas and New Year at Jervis Bay. Not a bad choice as we live in the Blue Mountains, which caught fire, coming within 300 metres of our house at one point. However we were not completely let off as the area around Jervis Bay also caught fire and the sun was hidden for days behind the clouds of smoke. To work off some of the Christmas Pud I paddled around Beecroft Peninsula. This is a great paddle with plenty to see along the way. As I was paddling downwind from some of the fires most of what I saw was floating on the water, dead and charred, including insects, birds and clouds of ash. I did see a live seal, but during the fires not one dolphin showed itself which was unusual as they are normally common in the area.

Back to the story…

My circumnavigation of the peninsula started at Currarong a coastal village on the north of the Peninsula. From there you head out to sea and down the coast before paddling into Jervis Bay. After which you follow the Eastern side of the bay before getting to Carama Inlet which is followed until it turns west where you carry your kayak across the road onto the beach for a surf exit then back to Currarong. A total of about 30 km.

I had done the trip a couple of times already during the week and knew the route, I also knew the tide would be low and running out of the inlet but thought I could walk up with out too much bother.

I hadn’t walked more than 50 metres before I trod on something, which moved powerfully underneath my foot, then it stuck me.

POW! Intense pain which quickly increased. I dropped to my knees and waited, unsure what had stung me. I waited for a snake to pop up. My fear was that the pain would spread and I would pass out, then with the inlet running out and the wind blowing 20 knots I would be taken into the open waters of Jervis Bay. That would definitely not be a good start to the New Year.

I saw a fisherman gathering bait 150 metres away. I was still on my knees in 2 foot of water waving my paddle in the air blowing my whistle but all I got in reply was an annoyed, “What do you want?” I could not manage to shout an answer so he went back to looking for bait.

I tried not to get exert myself or get excited so as not to help the poison get around my system. Despite this my plan was to crawl up to him and with the last of my strength place a flare up his arse, set it off and explain the ins and outs of emergency signals. I laid on the kayak and made for the shore by grabbing weeds and pulling myself along. As I passed by him I saw from the look in his eyes that the bait that he was failing to outwit had the higher IQ. Any discussion on the subject would have been a waste of time so I carried on to the mud flats where I continued crawling, dragging the kayak behind me. At this point another fisherman got interested and was a bit more helpful.

I took off my Neoprene boot and washed the wound with fresh water then laid on the beach with my foot resting up on the kayak.

I’m sure that I read somewhere something about reassuring the patient. Well after realising I’d been hit, the fishermen of the area gathered round and told horror stories of mates who were hospitalised for weeks or worse! Anyway they got serious when I started going into shock and shaking, it was not long before an ambulance was on its way.

I’ll try and describe the feeling should you be unlucky to experience the same.

  • The pain is instant after the hit. I was hit on the ankle; it did not spread past my shin.
  • It was so intense that I could not walk on it nor paddle far.
  • It was the pain of a broken bone being moved.
  • It lasted for 5 hours and did not lessen in its intensity.
  • I woke up with no pain or side affects (apart form a hangover).

The ambulance crew cleaned the wound and would have taken me to hospital for methadone pain relief if I hadn’t had other ideas. They advised me to immerse my foot in water as hot as I could stand and watch for infection.

However, I got a lift back to our accommodation which we were sharing with my in laws who had heard of my odd adventure but here I was, in agony, covered in sand and mud, trying to organise to go and get the kayak.

After collecting the kayak Sharon then took me back to the flat and left me to spent the evening rolling around the floor in pain with a small child and a bottle of scotch while she took her parents out for lunch. Another New Year I’ll remember.

Snake Island Retreat [49]

By David Winkworth

Last Christmas and New Year a few of us had a plan for a paddling trip — a good plan too.

Two groups would cross Bass Strait together — one group from the north, the other from the south.

We planned to meet on one of the islands in the Furneaux Group for a quiet New Year celebration. We had sat phone communications, three weeks provisions and more… we were set. If the weather was kind we were go! Early January wasn’t ideal for reliable Bass Strait weather but it suited everyone’s holiday timetable so the trip was on. If the weather was good, we would paddle. If not, we would drink a lot of tea!

Bass Strait weather during December didn’t give us confidence at all. Weeks of gales with very short periods of paddling weather seemed to be the prevailing pattern and then, just before Christmas the winds settled. It was looking better.

Peter Provis and I were the small northern contingent. The southern team of no less than eight paddlers were led by… who was leading guys? Anyway, they were starting from Little Musselroe Bay. We elected to start from Port Albert. This little town sits on the Gippsland Plain of Victoria to the east of Wilsons Prom and Port Welshpool. A vast shallow estuary separates Port Albert from Bass Strait waters. Once home to 33 commercial shark fishing boats, it now berths only seven. It was peak holiday time when we arrived, late in the afternoon — the pub was full of drinkers and the caravan parks were wall to wall fishkillers. We didn’t want to hang around there and besides, it was low tide and the hordes of sandflies were very hungry.

We left our vehicles in a compound behind the Port Albert Hotel. The manager of the pub, Peter Beaton, was terrific and didn’t charge us for vehicle storage. He was unconcerned too about how long we planned to be away. Anyone planning to paddle from here can call him on (03) 5183 2212.

We set off at dusk for the 15 km paddle to the mouth of the estuary, arriving after dark and set up camp on the very eastern tip of Snake Island close to the bar. The sandflies were still hungry but at least we had weather protection in the form of banksias and ti trees. We found we shared the campsite with a nest of big and nasty bull ants but Peter wasn’t concerned. He soon had them trained to run up and down his arms!

The weather forecast that night was not good. There was a wind warning and front forecast to hit at lunchtime the next day. If we were going to beat it, bearing in mind we would have it on our starboard beam, we would need a 3:00 am start. We thought 3 hours sleep wasn’t enough to precede a 60 km paddle, especially after a 500 km drive the day before so we called a lay day, electing to explore the bar area in the morning. Besides, we were on holidays!

In selecting Port Albert as our start point, we hoped, if weather conditions were suitable, to paddle towards Hogan on 141 degrees and then veer to Deal Island at 150 degrees — not too much of a difference. The distance to Deal Island is 99 km but quite within reach in good conditions. We had also hoped to paddle a small detour through the Seal Islands which were visible from our campsite about 20 km off the coast. An advantage in starting from Port Albert was that we avoided a paddle around the Prom if we had started from Tidal River, or, if we had started from Port Welshpool, the paddle down the Prom to Refuge Cove. Refuge Cove (and nearby Waterloo Bay) are much used as starting points for north-south Bass Strait crossings.

The next morning we paddled out across the bar and clicked a waypoint on the GPS for the Fairway buoy which is the offshore marker for the Port Albert bar. As the islands here are all low, scrubby and hard to separate from a paddler’s perspective, the buoy would be a welcome sight for any paddler searching for the entrance in rough conditions. We wanted this waypoint in the GPS because we thought we may be entering here after dark on the return trip from Hogan Island. Incidentally, the light is lit and flashes white at 5 second intervals. Also interesting is that the buoy location, shown on our chart, has changed nearly 1.5 nautical miles, presumably because of shifting sands on the bar. It is now at 38 deg 45.2 S, 146 deg 42.57 E.

While on the bar, we found the wreck of the Clonmel. Well, just the boiler actually, visible in about 4 metres of water. The Clonmel was a paddle steamer en route to Sydney which was wrecked on the bar during the nineteenth century. The captain immediately dispatched some of the crew in a long boat to row to Melbourne for help and sixty eight non-stop hours later they arrived at Port Phillip Heads but were unable to enter the bay because of strong currents. They were eventually picked up by a ship off the Heads. Tough guys!

The change hit right at lunchtime and winds continued to build for the next four days during which time we sat tight on Snake Island with the nearby Wilson’s Prom weather station reporting a steady 49 knots. The guys coming from the south weren’t moving either. They had paddled out to Swan Island where the same weather stopped them there, 6 km of the Tassie coast. They eventually retreated down the east coast of Tassie for some paddling.

With no slackening of the winds forecast, Peter and I called our trip off and returned to Port Albert where we visited their Maritime Museum before heading to our respective homes. The museum is definitely worth inspecting if you visit this village — they have so much stuff, including information about sea kayaker Karl Noonan who left from here to cross Bass Strait a few years ago.

The Wilsons Prom to Port Albert area has great potential for sea kayak trips. The VSKC paddlers have done many trips in this area. I suggest you get in contact with them if you need paddling information.

Skills & Drills [49]

By David Winkworth

AUSSAR Telephone Number

AUSSAR, as you probably know is the search and rescue arm of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). If you ever have the misfortune to have to activate your EPIRB, the signal will be acted upon by AUSSAR. Your EPIRB will give them a signal only — it won’t tell them anything about the nature of your emergency. If, by any chance, you can get mobile phone reception, why not call them? By calling (02) 6230 6811 you will connect with the 24 hour Operations Room. Incidentally, when I called them one night to check the number I discussed with the duty officer as to who to call for maritime or coastal emergencies: AUSSAR or local Police? The answer was a most emphatic, “Call AUSSAR and we will delegate the response.” Might be worth sticking this number in your mobile phone directory.

Reserve Energy

Over the years we’ve had some tough paddles and some tough tows too, sometimes really working hard over a long period against headwinds to make our landing. I’ve made it a practice to look around at the paddlers to see who is looking really, really tired. Quite often I would ask these paddlers, “Could you paddle another 10 km today?” Or, “Could you paddle back to our start point now if you had to?”

The answers would often be, “No way, I’m buggered,” or a less polite, “Piss off, Dave.”

Fair enough maybe but I contend that exhaustion on the ocean is a very dangerous condition indeed. If you arrive at a planned landfall exhausted, to find surf too dangerous to negotiate, what are you going to do? You may struggle on or back in your exhausted state at greatly increased risk of making a wrong decision, perhaps hypothermia, who knows. Suppose you can negotiate the big surf — that requires lots of energy too. What if you make a mistake on the entry? Exhaustion in big surf is also very dangerous.

If you can paddle 50 km in good conditions, how far do you think you could go in marginal conditions? 30 km, 20 km, less? So, do yourself a favour and your paddling mates too. Develop paddling fitness and skills BEFORE a paddle, paddle often so that you know your limits and don’t rely on your mates to get YOU out of trouble… they could be having trouble themselves!

Lick, Lick, Lick

Ever wondered how surf photographers get such clear images of surfers — not a drop of water on the camera lens? The trick, I’ve recently found out, is to lick, lick your camera lens. Saliva, it seems, is the key. Apparently, when you’ve done it a lot the lens holds a coating and an occasional top up is all that’s needed. So what are you waiting for? Get licking and swim out there in the surf for those special out of control kayak pics!

Ripped Off Again!

I recently bought 3 sets of paddle blades, one set for me and 2 sets for some friends. I paid full price — no deals — that was OK. So imagine my disappointment when I unwrapped them to find four of the six blades had big in-your-face gelcoat blisters, one of which had broken, revealing a big air bubble in the laminate beneath. One of the blades had an obvious mismatched repair job done on it too. Most of the blisters were in the same place on each blade — on the spine of the blade face, indicating to me poor consolidation of the glass when laying up. Anyway, wondering how these blades got out of the factory, I called the manufacturer and got a response along the lines of, “Yeah, sorry, we’ve been really flat out.”

I could’ve sent them back but elected to repair the blades myself. If they were so busy, who knows what sort of repair job they may have done.

Needless to say, I won’t be buying or recommending their product again. Caveat Emptor I suppose.

Kent Group National Park

Had a call from Craig Saunders of the Tassie Sea Canoeing Club recently. He told me that the Kent Group of Islands in Bass Strait (Deal , Erith, Dover and North East Island) are now a new Tasmanian National Park. If you were planning to buy one,.. well… you’re too late. Anyway, Gary Wilmot from Tassie Parks has been given the job of writing a management plan for the islands. He knows that sea kayakers are visiting the islands and is keen to know more of the usage patterns.

In particular, he would like to know what are the preferred campsites for arriving on and departing from the islands (from both directions), where paddlers have camped in the past and any problems they may have experienced (hope they don’t dismantle our bush furniture in Winter Cove).

Tassie sea kayakers have a good relationship with their National Parks people (as the next item shows) so if you’d like to add your input for a great island group, give him a call. I gave my thoughts to Craig but if you want to track down Gary Wilmot, I’d start with the Hobart offices.

Minimal Impact Sea Kayaking in Tasmania

No doubt about the Taswegians! Craig Saunders has just sent me one of a new brochure on minimal impact sea kayaking in Tassie… and it is just stunning!

Almost double A3 in size it is full colour on both sides and liberally splashed with superb sea kayaking photos taken by Jeff Jennings of the Maatsuyker Club. One side has a large colour map of Tassie accompanied by a key detailing seabird and seal breeding sites, seal haulout sites, marine reserves, historic sites and more, all of interest to sea kayakers. Twenty one species of seabirds are listed with a full 12 month calendar of their breeding cycles.

The brochure was prepared by a group representing recreational and commercial sea kayakers in Tassie as well as independent environmental groups and land managers. Check out the website at www.coastview.com.au for a more detailed version of the brochure.

Geez, maybe we could do something like this… now if only they’d let us paddle out to Montague!

Well done Tasmania!

Compass Battery Box Switch

In the last issue I wrote a piece about fitting a LED to a marine compass. If you intend a similar exercise, here’s a slight modification. Instead of fitting the switch so that it is ‘proud’ of the battery box, make it flush with edge or slightly below. I’ve found that rolling with a few items in the day hatch can activate the switch accidentally.

A Ramble From the Editor [49]

By Ian Phillips

Finally after all this time all was once again right with the world. All was bright… all was tranquil… all was calm… everything was back in order… and it was good.

What great revelation had caused all the world’s imbalances to suddenly right themselves? Had the ozone hole been repaired? Had pollution been stopped? Had the Editor been stopped from writing utter garbage? Nay… something far, far greater and far, far more important… your humble Editor had gone for his first paddle since keeling over nine months prior and assuming a remarkably awkward position that was as kayak-unfriendly as could be imagined.

Nothing special, nothing dangerous… just an exceptionally relaxed paddle around Dangar Island and through Broken Bay, with nary a wave or ripple in site and the winter sun beating on the back, it took a lazy 7.21 hours to paddle a lazier 23.012 km (thank the God of GPS for that statistic).

True, the trip was exactly explosive, it wasn’t exactly quick, it wasn’t even very long, and it certainly wasn’t particularly daring, but it did hold all the key ingredients for a damned good time — a bit of salt water, a crusty folding kayak and three bananas. What more could you ask for?

I’ve also now learned how interestingly difficult it can be to construct a folding kayak without using one ankle… a new record for this once relatively calm and easy process has been established — almost an hour, plus the requirement for a strong cuppa at the end of it and a little rest before paddling.

But before you all shout, “Hurrah, he’s about to come back from the dark side,” I’m more than happy to spend an hour setting up each paddling day so that I can enjoy kayaking the way it was intended (keep abusive replies to less than 4,000 words, please).

Alas, whilst my little paddle was incident and care free, my skills were severely below par and I made a complete goose of myself when a few braces, rolls and other what-nots were attempted. At least my paddling partner had amusement for the rest of the day as he attempted to capsize me at every pause in the conversation, for no other reason than the joy of seeing me flounder.

At least I can now make some use of the legendary tuition offered by the NSWSKC whilst I once again learn to roll, paddle, brace and generally prepare myself to once again go head-to-head with the tugboats and JetCats of Sydney Harbour.

And of course my mini-dramas didn’t end when the paddle ended. Carrying the soggy beast out of the water was a lengthy challenge indeed, but I eventually made it, soaked, sandy and sore, back to the house with all the right bits in all the right places.

For next time I’ve picked up a nifty kayak cart so I can happily trundle myself around until I go blue in the face. I’ve considered strapping the cart to the kayak permanently, turning the kayak in a bit of an army duck style creature, and then I can just keep paddling until I get to the car. I reckon the drag would be negligible seeing that I paddle at about one millionth of a knot anyway. The main problem seems to be the potential damage to my paddle blades as I paddle up the boat ramp.

Anyway, I’ll have to solve that problem another day. It’s already way after midnight and I haven’t started packing for my kayak camping weekend on Myall Lakes — just another relaxed, easygoing paddle… but gee it’s good to be back. Now where did I put those blasted bananas?

Proto 580 Expedition Mirage [49]

Review By Karl Noonan

First impressions — in all things — can be notoriously unsound. Take note first kayak owners.

Check out the Mirage 580. Its reputation within the club has taken a battering, albeit in mirth.

And the manufacturer doesn’t defend it, at least publicly. Yet it stands alone, sales keep rising; orders come from around the world. Why? Paul Hewitson, boat builder, says he ‘builds boats’ and they ‘speak for themselves’. Paul says they ‘win races and sales are good as a result’. Therein lies the problem.

If we believe the banter, then we have to believe it is too fast to enjoy!? Club sea kayakers enjoy their Sunday socials and weekend trips. And what about the expeditioners, is it too fast for them too? The coffee set has something to say about that as well. ‘Good for rivers, not designed for the sea’ and ‘There, I saw her go, a Mirage upon the sea’. It’s always a good laugh to hear their jokes. Moreover, ‘Mirage’ is on their lips and that is what matters. It amuses me as an owner of an old 19 and recently a paddler of the newly born Proto 580 Expedition. Paul is more sensitive of course; his heart is in his kayaking thoroughbreds and stable. Nevertheless this businessman smiles on his regular pilgrimages to bank his takings. And now Paul is banking on his new expedition boat to capture the high seas and your interest.

It cost me nothing to read and listen and to chuckle as an ‘object of mirth’ being a paddler of a Mirage. Long ago my ego had been satisfied. The boat has spoken. The Mirage boats have taken me from Sydney to Hobart 4 years ago and this February from Melbourne to Hobart and cruised the waterways around Sydney… circumnavigated the waterways around Sydney in fact, up over the Cambelltown divide and back to Manly town from whence I started, a 380 km round trip. There is no shiny gel coat left on my old 19 now. It has done a lot of work. Obviously it is not a suitable fibreglass boat to climb the races and rock gardens of the upper St Georges River. It is a sea kayak not a rock hopper. The real point being the ’19’ did it on our rivers, along our coastline and on open water. And this is an old Mirage model, clearly it was built to last.

Enough said about what is already known about the Mirage stable. You have already formed your opinion and own a boat.

What’s this! What about this Proto 580 Expedition you ask! Sounds awful doesn’t it, so instead I called it the Viking Princess after my adventurous daughter and I was immediately happy again. It’s a prototype model, born to be in open water. It will be officially re-named soon in some pagan ceremony with Bass Strait waters captured in a bottle just last month.

The test drive across Bass Strait was uneventful. It is the same tried and tested 580 kayak in current production with new features in support of its promise to be something of a wild thing in a rush… a thing of beauty too.

There are so few kayaks that are demonstratively different, such as the ‘fold away’ types (Klepper) with leg room for instance. You can sleep in those and some very noteworthy expedition successes have been achieved. My interest is in ‘point to point’ kayaks, that is, landfall stops each night, when sleep outs on the water are taken under duress. Most expedition kayaks fall into this category.

The Viking Princess and has been developing over several years for the serious expeditioner that paddles point to point. It is as slow and fast as you want to make it go. Nice to know you can get out of trouble quickly and land on the beach first out of that blow. It is a lazy boat too; one or two strokes and other paddlers are working their boats, three, four, five strokes to catch up. The Club’s ‘cruisers’ really haven’t missed this point over all these years have they? Perhaps they really want to go slow. I’d rather do the hard work where it really matters — staying out of trouble.

Whilst crossing Frederick Henry Bay near Hobart town in a strong following nor’easter wind and under sail (2/3 sq metres of sail) and paddling, the kayak achieved 19.8 km/h (GPS reading) and the boatload was 105 kg. The white manes of the wave crests raced this little princess home that day. The open water from Deal Island to Cape Frankland, Flinders Island was paddled and sailed in a diminishing 3 metre swell, with a 5-10 knot cross wind in 10 hrs, that’s 8 km/h over 80 km. Some regular 70-80 km distances per day during an expedition of this magnitude are satisfying for a 47 year old.

This production boat will eventually be special for rather different reasons. Four years ago I recommended a number of improvements for an expedition boat. For those that are familiar with the 580 these upgraded features listed below will grab your attention.


The boat was toned and muscled up to 27 kg of 3 ply Kevlar/fibreglass sandwich that included a bilge pump, deck compass, battery and solar panel. The standard 580 weight average is 23 kg (without solar panel) depending on the paddler’s requirements at the time. There is Kevlar in the rudder now and the rudder bracket is bolted on to a thicker fibreglass wall. It is built to take on a white pointer attack and remain afloat so I am told.

Kevlar won’t even hold the shark teeth to souvenir for the yarn at the campfire, should it happen to you. Try to believe it. It has actually happened. Non believers will say its another Mirage/fish story.

Yet this boat is heavy and can take a reduction of glass off the deck, perhaps as much as a kilo. However the deckline and sail fittings must maintain their strength.


On occasions while loaded up, under breakers, sea sick and washed up on beaches, Sydney to Hobart, Melbourne to Hobart and around Sydney I have not gone over. That’s stability for you. Enough said.


Mirage’s rudder is rather unique for a sea kayak particularly for an expedition model. The integrated rudder remains part of the contoured boat and the boat is stiff. The rudder is a stand out feature and remains for good tracking and as a directional fin to improve wave riding. With such a rudder more time is spent paddling than braking while on a wave and no sweeping strokes are necessary in the wind or currents. That means fewer arm and back related injuries. Club ‘bruisers’ appear to seriously want a boat without a rudder. As a left field thought, a simple solution is to fix the rudder in either a locked or unlocked position as preferred on the occasion. Control of this rudder as it is for steerage could be managed from the paddling position. As I say it’s a left field thought.

Like all rudders this rudder sustained damage when a roller rammed me, broaching 100 metres to Scamander beach on Tassy’s east coast. The gel coat cracked and the bracket bent but the rudder continued to function normally for the remainder of the long voyage. For those that want the rudder off, it would be like asking Porsche to put the engine in the front.

Rudder Pedals

The fibreglass foot pedals have been reinforced. It is easy to move/remove and adjust on the pin and slide rail. Some heavy duty adjustment to the stainless steel cabling has been earmarked for standard equipment in the final model.

Solar Panel & Electrics

The really new feature is the solar panel mounted under a clear section of deck at the rear, not prone to damage. It provides power for a range of 21st century duties. Recharging batteries allows an isolated kayaker to power batteries for mobile phones, laptops, cameras, radio, GPS and lights. What was provided was a success although there were teething problems. As a standard in built feature it is potentially opening a wide range of innovative possibilities mostly in and around camp. There is more than enough power. Maintenance and the skill to repair this electrical system will require knowledge and a repair kit in the demanding salt environment to maintain reliability. The electrical contact points on this prototype will need to be refined to improve dependability. At this point a range of changes is required to include a regulator, fuse and diode for 12 volt direct current.

I was able to supply power to my mobile phone and use a 12 volt fluoro light in the tent for 6 weeks without using a domestic source. Why, even a heater could be used for cold winter nights in the future!

Deck Hatches

This is another great improvement when little things matter most. The rear ‘valley’ oval hatch has replaced the neoprene and fiberglass storm cover. It is water tight and now easier to remove. The same good access remains. The boat is as watertight as hatches can be. The problem of equipment snagging on the screws remains and is fixable. I understand this problem will be overcome in the production model. I will be very pleased about this, as so much watertight equipment has been damaged from these screws snagging.

Carry Grips

Paul has resisted carry handles on his boats; perhaps it has disturbed the smooth lines of the 580’s deck. At last they have arrived and needed for a 100 kg loaded expedition boat. No more do you have to handle a slippery bow point or jamb the hand against the moving rudder. The grips are located on the top deck, not flopping over the bow where at times they’re difficult to get a clear grip. A small point but it counts.

Spare Paddle Locators

Currently you can easily make good with the deck lines and some added shock cord and the spare paddles will quite easily be accommodated. Still, no specific home has been devised for the essential spare paddle.

Deck Netting

The standard shock cord is provided, limited in its use. A professionally applied netting to the shock cord would be helpful to trap small items on the deck. It is so easy to do and is invaluable.


Sail Fittings

The popular sail used now sits on the deck just in front of the front hatch and remains in place at sea. My rig springs into place and retrieved on shock cord when released from the cockpit. New deck fairlead fittings, which could be part of the deck line fittings, can be installed should the manufacturer provide this innovation. It would be very neat and convenient to assist a sail installation.

Fishing Rod Holders

Such useful hunter gathering tools were installed above the day hatch. Trolling is a successful method of catching fish and you are guaranteed to get a fish in a short time.

Metal Stem

A kayaker should land through a wild surf thinking foremost of survival not in preserving the gel coat and glass. A boat like this needs an abrasive resistant stem. Perhaps the manufacturer will accommodate. A metal stem would be ideal.

Storage Shelves

A storage shelf under the deck using the current available part for stepped masts is useful, particularly when you want to clear the decks on wild days.

Heel Pads

It’s a nuisance wearing booties. Professionally installed padding glued down under the pedals would be a help.

Flare holders

Beside the seat, space is available and flare holders were installed. The installation was difficult but the flares were so easy to remove in an emergency.

At the moment there is no production kayak readily equipped for an expedition yet a production model with standard features and options of the items above would give that opportunity to a well heeled buyer or a buyer needing the professional touch. Most importantly a fully optioned boat that this kayak has promise to offer would set the standard internationally.

Thoroughbreds stand alone for comparison. They are bred for specific reasons. This kayak was born to be in Bass Strait. This Viking Princess will be a beauty.

And my own viking princess will paddle it one day. The smaller 530 model can accommodate mums and small people; mums can share in the same wild child experience too or simply the wild side just waiting out there on a day trip or weekend away.

The final production model is available in May 2002. What will become standard equipment and features optioned will be announced prior to its general release.

By the way, did you here about the kayak that got away? Last seen lapping against a single palm tree on a desert island? A dog was pissing on it! Yeah, yeah, it was the Mirage not the tree.

Get a Club ‘cruiser’ or ‘bruiser’ and his dog to choose between a forest and a Mirage and they both will shake a leg on the kayak. Yeah…now if it was a Viking Princess?

From The President’s Deck [49]

By Rob Mercer

The daily press and electronic media regale us with tales of impossible insurance ‘hikes’, huge liability payouts and random ‘crackdowns’ by various government agencies. So far we have fared well. Our insurance bills are surmountable and only major activities such as the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend require application to Waterways, the NPWS and local councils. The core activity of the Club, the day or weekend paddle, remains of little interest to the authorities and the Club’s self regulation remains the same as it has for many years. There are Trip Leaders, waivers, a grading system (now copied by clubs around the country) and a strong tradition of self reliance. These arrangements continue to serve us well.

Sea kayaking is still a fledgling activity in Australia and our Club is in a prime position to take the initiative and deal with various authorities on our terms. State regulators tend to be most rigorous in times of crisis, real or imagined. For all its deficiencies, scuba diving has successfully self-regulated for a long time and risk management procedures that they have applied put them in a strong position to resist outside control and minimise insurance costs.

Australian Canoeing appear to be moving in the same direction. They have just launched a national competency based training scheme to replace the old awards. At the same time they have successfully established strong links with relevant statutory organisations including Waterways and NPWS. Whether we like it or not they are taking paddle sports including sea kayaking to the mainstream outdoor community. How we respond to the ‘self-appointed peak body’ in particular, and the growth of sea kayaking in general, is an issue for all to consider between now and the AGM.

To inspire some constructive debate the executive has been considering the idea of a midyear get together for some time. Last century there was a mini Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend called the Next Step. Given the size of recent Rock ‘n’ Roll weekends and the strong training focus of these events the executive have opted for a stand alone meeting to allow people to focus on the broader management issues. I hope to see you at the Bundeena Community Hall on Saturday 03 August 2002. Until then I offer the following for your consideration:

  1. Chatline — email has a unique potential for escalating misunderstandings. A recent chatline controversy lead to the closure of this service for several days and moderation of the line for a further week. The executive discovered ‘risk management’ doesn’t stop at the high water mark.
  2. Insurance — the Club insurance has just been renegotiated after many lengthy and time consuming discussions with the brokers (thanks Vicki and Andrew). The bottom line is that premiums have increased from around $2,000.00 for last year to $7,700.00 this year for over 200 members. In line with current standards for outdoor pursuits we have increased the public liability cover to $10 million (previously $5 million) and $2 million professional indemnity (previously $1 million). Fortunately good housekeeping by the executive over many years has allowed us to pay this insurance bill and still have money left to fund the magazine, website, etc. However, there is no surplus for projects such as publication of books and production of videos, this year.
  3. Fundraising — I believe that proceeds from fundraising such as raffles and sausage sizzles should be earmarked for special projects and development of skills. Insurance, magazine and website costs are basic services provided by the Club and membership fees need to cover them.
  4. Policies — Richard Birdsey has been working hard to revise the many good documents and procedures developed by previous executives into a coherent set of policies. In the last few weeks a sub-committee reviewed these. The drafts will be ready for comment by all interested parties prior to the 2002 AGM.
  5. Standards — Rest assured that the current committee has no plans to dilute Club standards. The Club has a long history of promoting safe, skilled paddling. In fact, the NSWSKC was the first sea kayak club in Australia to use the National Sea Proficiency Standard as a prerequisite for participation on open sea paddles. Despite the many obstacles that the new Australian Canoeing system has presented us, the committee are negotiating to ensure all future qualifications gained through the NSWSKC will be nationally recognised. Regardless of the outcome, our ultimate goal is to raise the standard.
Meeting at Bundeena
Who: All members
When: Saturday 03 August 2002
Where: Bundeena Community Hall
Time: Meeting will start at 4:00 pm sharp
Optional: 1:30 pm start for sessions on boat fit out (sails, pumps, seat, etc)
Note: Camping is available at nearby Bonnie Vale. NPWS entry permit required. Phone bookings can be made through the Royal National Park booking office on (02) 9542 0666.

Bundeena township has several cafes, a general store, clubs, and a service station. Access to the Bundeena township doesn’t require a NPWS permit.

For further information, check updates on the Club website at http://www.nswseakayaker.asn.au.

The Wizard’s Magic [49]

Power, Politics & the Future of GPS

By Richard Birdsey

You often see them on the beach.

A small group of kayakers huddled together, lovingly stroking their little black boxes and gibbering in a strange language punctuated with words like ‘waypoints’, ‘ephemeris data’ and ‘basemap options’.

Screen sizes are compared, submersion factors debated and upgrade options upgraded. Like Half-Orcs spellbound by Saruman the White (apologies to JRR Tolkien fans), the power of the Global Positioning System (GPS) appears boundless. Simply push a button and — zap — your position on mother earth is magically revealed. Sure there can be a glitch every now and again (like it doesn’t work), but the passion for these clever little machines is illustrated by the increasing number of them appearing on Club paddles. Having a GPS unit pinned proudly under deck lines or hung jauntily from your PFD is now de rigour for a ‘real’ kayaker.

So why does the GPS cast such a spell? Probably because it, like many things in the New High-tech Age, now quietly underpins our lives both directly and indirectly. Planes fly safely, ambulances are guided to the sick and bombs drop accurately onto targets on the other side of the world, all thanks to the GPS. Originally devised for the US military in the late-seventies, twenty-four satellites orbit the earth at an altitude of 24,000 kilometres up. Each satellite has an atomic clock on board synchronised with a central clock stored in a US Department of Defence facility in Colorado. Each satellite transmits a radio signal giving its exact position and the time allowing GPS receivers on the earth to calculate the relative position of the satellite. The satellites broadcast two signals: one ‘civilian’ frequency and an encrypted signal available only to military receivers. In the past the civilian signal was ‘scrambled’ slightly to make it less accurate (to about 20 metres). The development of ground stations now ‘augment’ or ‘differentiate’ this signal making it pretty much as accurate as its encrypted counterpart. The commercial potential of this corrected is so vast that a diplomatic war has erupted between Europe and the United States. Moreover, important questions are now being raised about the social impacts and practical shortcomings of the GPS.

Beyond the military, GPS receivers are being used in a vast range of commercial applications all reliant on the stream of data flowing down from the 24 GPS satellites. Other well-established navigation systems such as radio navigation beacons are being phased out in deference to the power and low cost of the GPS. Yet — if you believe the hype — new GPS applications are just the tip of the iceberg. For example, multi-billion dollar urban transport projects are being developed in Europe where the location of public transport vehicles are tracked and coordinated with changing passenger loads. A wide range of other ‘smart’ integrated transport management systems are also being investigated. In Australia GPS chips are already tracking the movement of trains, emergency vehicles and trucks hauling hazardous waste and dangerous goods.

However, the potential invasion of our privacy by the GPS is coming under increasing scrutiny. GPS chips are now small enough to be inserted under the skin to track where you are. Some corporations that manage prisons in the US are looking at the potential to implant chips into prisoners to track their movements. Governments are also embracing the ‘personal GPS phenomenon’. The US Government has already passed legislation that requires all future mobile phones to contain a GPS chip which is activated when emergency numbers are dialled, effectively turning the phone into an EPIRB (another system that we rely on that uses the GPS). Governments or other organisations (e.g. marketing companies) could easily abuse this detailed information our movements. However, the European Union, not to be outdone, has passed similar legislation for their citizens’ phones. And it is the underlying problem of who owns the GPS that has started the Trans-Atlantic diplomatic war.

Unsurprisingly, the Europeans are concerned about spending billions of Euros on transport management systems and other projects that rely entirely on the goodwill of the US Department of Defence. The GPS is the property of the US Government and could be switched off or degraded to make it unusable at the flick of a switch. This could be done if the US thought ‘rouge states’, terrorists or the like could use the GPS to seriously threaten their security. Total reliance on the US system could potentially puts Europe and the rest of the world at a serious political and economic disadvantage. So the European response to this problem is simple: build your own GPS system.

‘Galileo’ is the deeply historic name given to the new navigational kid on the Euro-block. The system will consist of 30 satellites and is hoped to be operational by 2008. The system is civilian-only and will provide a number of ‘free’ and commercial access-only signals that are accurate to 2–3 metres. Like the augmented GPS system, the satellite signals will be checked for accuracy and consistency by ground stations. Research suggests an urban coverage of 95%, which is essential if it is to be a commercial success. Total cost for the project: about $7 billion.

Apart from breaking the US grip on the heavens and stoking European ‘can-do’ pride, what can Galileo do that the GPS can’t? Well this is where technical shortcomings of the US system come into play. How severe they are depends on who you listen to. Most reviews of GPS receivers talk about the problems of how long it takes to lock onto enough satellites to get a fix on your position. On top of this are problems with signal interference from vegetation, weather conditions, etc. Most of these problems stem from the limited number of satellites in the system and the extremely weak signal the GPS satellites put out (only a few microwatts). Because of the low power of the signal other radio waves from other radio transmitters can inadvertently degrade the GPS signal or jam it completely. While this is a minor inconvenience for kayakers (unless you are screaming ‘mayday!’ into a radio) it can be a major problem if you are piloting an airliner in busy airspace or dropping bombs on someone (see below for what can happen). There are an increasing number of spectacular reports of incidents involving ships and aircraft due to signal interference or failure of equipment.
Signal interference problems are further compounded when GPS receivers are used in urban areas (not their normal environment). Buildings, bridges, steel towers, etc all impact on signal quality and reflection. In addition there are a lot more radio signals being generated in urban areas that can drown out the weak GPS signal (though manufacturers of GPS receivers dispute the severity of this effect). Moving the receiver (say in a vehicle navigation system) will also create problems as the satellite’s signal will disappear and reappear around tall buildings, tunnels and other structures. Some studies suggest that only about half of many cities in Europe have useful GPS coverage. This is an important commercial consideration if you want to say, flog a super-duper street satellite navigation system to the prestige car market.

However, the Galileo system may not be the magic cure the European Union makes it out to be and the US is fighting back. While the Europeans say the signals from the two systems are sufficiently similar in frequency to compliment each other (i.e. there will in effect be 60 satellites to lock onto) the US is concerned Galileo will interfere with their own system. The US also argues that Galileo will only slightly improve total existing augmented and differential GPS coverage. A massive investment for very little return, they argue. Bear in mind though, there is also a great amount money at stake for US companies manufacturing and selling GPS systems: sales topped $US8.5 billion in the US alone last year. The competition posed by the rival Galileo system would certainly be unwelcome.

So the war is on with claim and counter-claim streaking across the Atlantic for supremacy of the skies. Hopefully the two sides will be able to work something out. The thought of 60 satellites beaming down from the heavens is a huge boon for commercial and recreational uses of satellite navigation alike. I suppose that one day I too will become one of the Half-Orcs on the beach, spell-bound by Saruman’s magic. Mind you though, I won’t be tossing my map and compass away just yet.

For more information see the May 2002 edition of New Scientist magazine, the US Department of Defence Website, the websites of manufacturers of GPS equipment and the European Union website www.europa.eu.int (search for Galileo).

The Ultimate Operator Error?

Recently in Afghanistan a US air-strike controller identified an enemy bunker and then seeing the battery in his GPS unit was low, changed the battery. Unbeknown to him, when he restarted the machine it automatically recalibrated itself showing the coordinates of his own position. Unfortunately the controller thought these were the coordinates of an enemy bunker he had identified and called an air-strike on his own position — killing himself and several allies