Flotsam & Jetsam [49]

The Fishkiller Files

By Mark Pearson

Our committed reporters have yet again been out and about in the murky world of sea kayaking.

Hot on the trail of the BIG issues, fearlessly seeking out those hard to find grains of truth, and, in the great Flotsam tradition, magically transforming them into literary boulders for the enlightenment of members and their guests…

The Great Carbon Kevlar Debate — The Panel Deliberates

Carbon Kevlar… words that sound sexy, new, desirable. Who wouldn’t want a craft made of such an exotic material? But three years ago off the coast of South Australia a carbon kevlar (CK) sea kayak broke in two on a bombora. This was a big wave and the incident provoked little comment. Then, at Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania in January another CK boat sustained serious cracks in a surfing incident. And off the NSW far south coast in April, another CK has broken into three parts after being caught by wave off a beach. Although all of these incidents involved moderate to powerful surf, none involved any contact with rocks or sand… wave action alone caused the damage.

Given the worrying regularity of these and other incidents, Flotsam quickly moved to assemble a panel of leading industry experts to assess the suitability of CK kayaks for the rigours of expedition paddling. Unfortunately none of these experts were interested in talking to Flotsam, but luckily, we still managed to bring together the following characters in a back room of the Bulli RSL Club:

  • Dr Andrew Eddy, a senior research scientist with CSIRO, and also a BCE Senior Instructor with an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything about sea kayaks, including construction techniques;
  • Professor Gary Edmond, a legal academic specialising in criminal law, and a blunt speaking sea paddler well known for espousing forthright views around the camp fire, and, last but not least;
  • former President Dr Norm Sanders, a former sea kayak designer and industry commentator.

Flotsam:: “So, gentlemen, what are we paying extra to get into a CK kayak?”

Prof GE: “About $1,000 more than for standard fibreglass.”

Flotsam: “You’re kidding!!”

Prof GE: “I’m f***ing serious…”

Flotsam: “Err, please Professor Edmond, mind your language, this is a family column.”

Prof GE: “I’m so sorry…”

Flotsam: “And what do we get for this $1,000?”

Dr NS: “In theory, a very light, very strong kayak…”

Flotsam: “And what sort of weight saving?”

Dr AE: “Well, if I may chip in here, from my own extensive research, I estimate around 16.3% or thereabouts, this equates to about 4.256 kg in the average sea kayak.”

Flotsam: “And what about strength?

Dr AE: “Theoretically plenty of strength… there’s no doubt that synthetic fibres such as CK have a considerably higher tensile strength and modulus than fibreglass…”

Dr NS: “Ahhhh, but that strength is bi-directional at best…”

Dr AE: “Well, if you had let me finish, Dr Sanders! Of course I was about to add that there is some debate about how successfully CK weave counters sudden flexural and torsional fatigue…”

Flotsam: “In comparison to what?”

Dr AE: “Well, fibreglass may be slightly more robust in a more general sense…”

Dr NS: “That’s right… CK is strong in ‘controlled’ lab tests, but not as multi-directionally strong as ‘glass, and certainly not as strong as ply.”

Flotsam: “So you favour ply construction Dr Sanders?”

Dr NS: “Sure do… ply and epoxy… one of my ply Explorers was surfing with that CK boat in Tasmania and it’s no coincidence that it came out wondering what all the fuss was about… in this Club the only thing that has damaged a ply boat has been rocks… big rocks…”

Flotsam: “So if I read you correctly, you are saying that CK is strong, but that it may fail under unusual stresses.”

Dr NS: “Exactly… the sort of unusual and random stresses that often occur in surf.”

Flotsam: “If I might bring you in here Prof Edmond on the wider issue of the desirability of CK kayaks.”

Prof GE: “Well, to my mind I just don’t get it… here we have 95 kg blokes spending $1,000 extra for a CK boat, packing 30 kg or gear into them, then paddling off to remote areas thinking they’re OK… they’d be better off getting their fat arses down to Jen…”

Flotsam: “Please, Professor Edmond!”

Prof GE: “I’m sorry, I was just suggesting that they’d be better off better spending the $1,000 at Jenny Craig’s and buying a heavier but more robust kayak!”

Flotsam: “Would you agree with this Dr Eddy?”

Dr AE: “Well, I would say that this sport is largely about strength and endurance, so what’s 4 kg in the scheme of things, unless you are a flatwater racer, in which case CK might appeal…”

Prof GE: “My friend Dr Eddy is too polite… lets face it, anybody with wilderness ambitions who contemplates buying a light lay-up CK boat should take their hand out of their pants…”

Dr NS: “My friend Professor Edmonds is exactly right… you’d have to say those still attracted to CK after all that’s been happening are playing with themselves in a big way…”

Flotsam: “Dr Eddy?”

Dr AE: “Well, given we are talking here about expedition paddling and lightweight CK boats, I’d have to concur with my esteemed colleagues here, in that I think you’d have to be deeply into self love to wish to acquire such a craft.”

Flotsam: “Thank you, gentlemen, for your time.”

Flotsam Waiver: Any resemblance of the ‘panel’ participants to real persons, alive or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Explorer Gains Commercial Backer

After a long wait for a commercial backer, the poorly promoted Inuit Explorer now has the support of the resourceful sea kayaking entrepreneur Jasper Bloomey.

After test paddling the Explorer, Mr Bloomey contacted Flotsam to declare, “This is as fine a sea kayak as I’ve paddled, it’s selling well in Victoria, yet I’m told that not one NSWSKC member has actually bought one. So you have to ask, why is this?”

Mr Bloomey continued, ‘Although I’ve been told by various sources that Club members are conservative, that they may be in a time warp, even that they don’t know where to buy an Explorer, I have to disagree. I think it’s simply a matter of promotion and marketing. And of course getting customers to write nice articles about their kayak, like that Pittarak Perspective in the last magazine. Great stuff. That one even had me believing the Pittarak was a good boat!”

“So I’ll be coming up with a subtle campaign to encourage the membership to consider something other than just the usual Mirages, Raiders, Pittaraks and plastics when buying a boat, something just a little different…”

Flotsam approached Mark Pearson, the much maligned owner of the original plywood Explorer, for his views on why fibreglass copies have not sold in NSW. Obviously irritated by constant jibing about his solitary kayak, a slightly psychotic Pearson snarled, “Jasper’s right about the boat, but is being far too polite about the membership… or should I say ‘herd’, given it seems to have all the instincts of sheep when it comes to buying a boat. Baaaaaaaa!”

“And what an ‘Aussie’ herd it is, complacently pushing along in the kayaking equivalent of Kingswoods and Falcons, when there are Citroens just sitting there in the showrooms! Baaaaaaaaaaa! Give me a break! And you can print all that. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Membership Sting Hits Wollongong

Disturbing reports have hit the Flotsam desk of a possible membership scam connected to an introductory training day, run by respected paddler Nick Gill in early March. The day attracted several novices keen to sample the sport, although very few possessed either boats or gear.

One of the trainees, ‘Elizabeth’, told Flotsam, “I remember there was a very long pre-activity briefing, during which Mr Gill said something like, “Due to the events of September 11 and all that, participants would have to pay a full years membership before starting.” Elizabeth added, “But then I think he sort of looked away and mumbled something like, “The money would be returned at the end of the day… if requested.”

‘Patti’, another young and pretty victim, told Flotsam, “I really didn’t know what was going on… but Mr Gill seemed so nice and kind I didn’t for one moment think that something was wrong.”

However, at the end of the day, Mr Gill, an obsessive compulsive disorder type gear freak who averages over an hour to prepare or unpack his kayak even on day trips, somehow on this occasion managed to leave the scene unusually quickly, leaving several new ‘members’ $50.00 worse off and contemplating expensive personal loans to buy a sea kayak to make the membership worthwhile!

Flotsam contacted Consumer Affairs for advice on the legal protection offered to the trainees in this case. A spokesman commented that although, strictly speaking, Mr Gill had not broken any law, “His actions were at the very outer margins of commercial acceptability, particularly as no ‘cooling off’ period was offered.”

Further Flotsam investigations also revealed that Mr Gill has become a controversial figure of late, earning the nickname ‘Control Freak Helmet Nazi’ at a recent surfing weekend, after he forced all participants to wear helmets for three long sessions in hot conditions… several of whom got sunstroke due to the inability to wear a hat underneath.

Flotsam finally tracked Mr Gill down at his palatial inner city apartment in an attempt to get his version of events. After ignoring repeated use of the door bell, an angry Gill eventually shouted through the solid oak door, “I will not speak to you without my lawyers present, so go away. I warn you I have a helmet on and know how to use it…”

Four Men & a Woman

Menstruation… a word rarely uttered in kayaking circles and with good reason… most sea paddlers, bless ’em, wouldn’t have a clue what it meant.

But this fact of life is certainly an issue for our growing number of lady paddlers. One gorgeous, leggy lady paddler, whom we’ll call ‘Maureen’, called Flotsam to tell us of her shocking experience on a recent Club paddle.

“It had been a long day, and I had been in the kayak for over four hours, and really wasn’t confident that my, you know, protection, was still being effective. Anyhow, as I landed on the beach about four male paddlers rushed over to assist me out of the kayak, which of course was the last thing I wanted… all I can remember thinking was, ‘Just piss off and leave me alone, you creeps.’ OK, I know they were just trying be helpful, but what’s wrong with those guys… couldn’t they think for themselves that a girl might be having a heavy day?”

Flotsam agrees… the four lads in question probably had their one dimensional minds full of details about the shelf life of NiCad batteries, or understanding compass bearings and vectors… leaving little male brain space for anything else.

However, as a result of Maureen’s terrible ordeal there is some good news… our very own Club President, Rob Mercer, widely acknowledged as one of the few men in the Club qualified for the task, will present a session on Understanding Female Physiology at future Rock ‘n’ Roll weekends, which all male paddlers (over the age of 18) will be obliged to attend.


A number of imaginary identities have swamped the Club Chatline in recent weeks according to our secret Chatline Watcher. ‘Anna Maria Umpalo’, ‘Woody Keelson’ and ‘Ed Garim’ are but three virtual members who, apparently, often espouse views and reveal character traits that their creators would never themselves dare put into the public arena. The Chatline Watcher told Flotsam, “The tragedy is that some of our lonelier male Chatliners have obviously fallen for Anna Maria and her Latin charms, and have engaged in some very public flirting with ‘her’ in full view of 100 or so other members…”

Despite the tawdry nature of these exchanges, Flotsam believes that the virtual identities can actually be a positive development for the medium, if only for the reason that none of them has shown any interest in installing and/or modifying an electric pump, a topic already covered 34 times in the last 18 months.

But the new identities have caused at least one case of severe embarrassment. After a query from one Robert J Head, the answer from the prominent Club member (who thought he was replying to a Rob Mercer ‘creation’), included the flippant comment, “You have done a great job on your surname by the way.” This was too much for Mr Head, who sadly, but understandably, disconnected from the Chatline a few days later.

Welcome Cindy Lou!

Flotsam is pleased to announce that another new contributor to the Chatline is real flesh and blood. So it’s a big warm Flotsam welcome to Cindy Lou Toothill. To help us get to know this most welcome new club member, Cindy Lou, a 19 year old Mirage devotee who hails from Manly, graciously agreed to answer a few questions…

Favourite kayaking attire: “I like to wear as little as I can get away with…”

Favourite sea kayak: “Any Mirage, I don’t find length is that important…”

Favourite sea kayakers: “Mirage paddlers, of course, they’re just so out there… well in Sydney Harbour anyway!” (giggles)

Least favourite sea kayakers: “I must admit I don’t like what I’ve seen of those rough South Coast types… not my sort of men at all.”

Favourite paddling food: “Bananas without a doubt… I can really put them away during a hard day.”

Favourite kayaking: “Going out on the harbour and paddling really fast with a hunky Mirage paddler or three.”

Greatest paddling ambition: “To go out through the Heads one day.”

From The SMH

“Jodee Rich and his finance director would both kayak to work, arriving together, clad in brightly coloured shorts, paddles under their arms, having walked up to the city from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, where they had left their kayaks under the trees. When asked whether he was worried about someone stealing his boats, Rich replied he could probably afford to lose a couple a year.”

Although the ‘paddles’ in question would obviously be propeller bladed efforts, Flotsam thinks that the above snippet begs the question, “What kind of kayak would your average high flying entrepreneur paddle to work?” Centrebet in Darwin has kindly offered the following odds;

  • Mirage 580 Evens
  • Mirage 530 2:1
  • Arctic Raider X 10:1
  • Pittarak 50:1
  • Nadgee 5,000:1
  • Explorer 10,000:1

LA Law Hits Green Island

A long standing Club member contacted Flotsam to “voice concern at the three day ‘cone of silence’ following the Green Island incident,” which, according to informed sources, was “a necessary hiatus while all those involved consulted with their lawyers.”

The Club member added, “Has it come to this… that after a scare nobody can talk about it until legally cleared to do so… shit, in my day these incidents were welcomed, just to give us something new to talk about…”

Sadly, Flotsam thinks this is now the case. But this begs the question, given that we can now as a nation clearly demonstrate the awesome achievement of rapidly dumbing down while simultaneously becoming more litigious, when does this country formally become the 51st State?

Club ‘Bard’ Does it Again

However, one good thing to emerge as a result of the incident was the talent of Tom Parker, awesomely revealed through his critical acclaimed epic poem Great Wave, Green Island. Much encouraged, Tom has been at it again, this time penning a lengthy and emotional tribute to his kayak, which apparently saved his life on that fateful day north of Lake Conjola:

Pittarak, my Pittarak by Tom Parker

Oh Pittarak, Pittarak,
Pittarak, Pittarak,
Joyous Pittarak,
I love you so.
Oh Pittarak, Pittarak,
Pittarak, Pittarak,
Wondrous Pittarak,
A love that will grow.

(etc, etc for the next 34 verses…)