Tasmanian Trip Report [51]

by Kevin Melville

Two Club members, Wayne Langmaid and Kevin Melville, paddled Tasmania’s south-west coast from Strahan to Cockle Creek during February and March last year. Matthew van Dorst (Avoca), Peter Rowlands (Devonport) and Geoff Morris (Burnie) also took part. The group covered 312 km in fifteen days including four and one half days lost due to weather conditions. Wayne and Kevin have paddled previously in Tasmanian waters including the trip around the Hunter Island group off the north west tip of Tasmania last year. In addition, Wayne crossed Bass Island in 1998 with Club member Doug Frazer and others. The pair report that last year’s south-west coast trip added significantly to their level of experience. This photo shows us rounding South West Cape in south west Tasmania during the trip. The water around South West Cape is notoriously rough but, for us, the weather and the sea were exceptionally calm. However, the sky in the photo shows signs of an approaching front and we lost the next day due to bad weather.

Rock’n’Roll [51]

By Ian Phillips

Once again Rock ‘n’ Roll was a resounding success, with kayakers paddling their hearts out and pizza shops baking themselves silly for another three day extravaganza on the NSW South Coast. Held once again at Glenhaven Caravan Village on 23-25 November 2002, the weekend attracted 140 kayakers and over 200 total attendees.

The three day weekend covered everything from rolling and drills to yoga and navigation to extensive day trips, with on-water and land-based sessions keeping everyone busy.

Strong attendance from the Victorian Sea Kayak Club and the Investigator Canoe Club (SA) allowed us a glimpse into their fantastic paddling worlds through outstanding evening presentations, and their members pitched in on enormous levels assisting with instruction and trips over the entire weekend.

A weekend such as this does not happen by itself, and a huge list of thanks is necessary.

Please read through the following lists and see how massive something like Rock ‘n’ Roll is to organise, to manage and to run. When you next see one of these folks on the water, give them a hearty thanks. A huge apology if I have missed anyone — my memory isn’t what it used to be (it used to be my knees).

All the Land-Based Session Presenters:
Don Andrews, Richard Birdsey, Robyn Harris, Stephan Meyn, Sharon Trueman, David Whyte and David Winkworth.
The Evening Presenters:
Phil Doddridge & the Investigator Canoe Club, Andrew Eddy, Larry Gray, Peter Provis & the VSKC and Rob Richmond. The Instructors and Assistants: Sharon Betteridge, Richard Birdsey, Adrian Clayton, Ian Dunn, Phil Doddridge, Andrew Eddy, Trevor Gardner, Nick Gill, Larry Gray, Mark Heggie, Sundra John, Dennis Maina, Richard McNeall, Rob Mercer, Mark Pearson, Peter Provis, Bill Robinson, Dirk Stuber, Carl Tippler, Stuart Trueman, David Winkworth and Phil Winkworth.
Chief Trips Convener:
Paul Loker.
Trip Leaders:
Rick Angel, Mark Berry, Vince Browning, Adrian Clayton, Michael Culhane, Andrew Eddy, Nick Gill, John Lipscombe, Arunas Pilka, Peter Provis, Rob Richmond, Julian Smith, Mike Snoad, Dirk Stuber, Margot Todhunter and David Whyte.
Race Organiser and Clock watcher:
Alan Whiteman.
Jet Ski Louts (I mean Rescue Craft):
Vince & Debbie Browning.
Admin Assistant Extraordinaire:
Kristin Young, who kept everyone in line at all times, including me.
Waterways:
Rob Moldovan from the local arm, who kept an ever-watchful eye and always had better one-liners than I did.
Coast Guard:
The local crew who supplied us with much entertainment during our flare exercise, particularly when one flare took off towards two unsuspecting kayakers.
Glenhaven Caravan Village:
Paul and the team once again provided far more assistance and help than we could have hoped for — truly a magnificent effort. The Local Pub, Pizzeria, Fish & Chip Shop and Bakery — I love you all.

Even though I have never set foot in one of your shops, the regular pick-ups for me by kind-hearted kayakers have always left me wanting for nothing.

 And of course a special thanks to the lovely girls who hovered around C1 when they realised I would single-handedly consume most of their charity chocolate supplies.

The most important thanks I leave until last, which go to my long-suffering, often less visible but always far more deserving fellow Rock ‘n’ Roll committee members:

Rob Mercer, our long-suffering President who holds the whole show together and provides us all with inspiration, drive and enthusiasm at every juncture. He also makes pretty good coffee, has an excellent CD collection and lets us drop pizza and wine on his floor.

Sharon Betteridge, our long-suffering Mrs President, whose skill as a primary teacher shines through as she steers us towards our goal whilst treating us all like 5 year olds, which is far more than we deserve.

Richard Birdsey, who brings a refreshingly rational thought process to our irrational discussions and is simply a damned hard-working dude who gets my highest respect, but he is still a bastard.

Andrew Eddy, long-term stalwart of the NSWSKC and completely obsessed Baidarkonaut, without whom we would virtually have no Rock ‘n’ Roll, who confidently predicted that the tide would be 5.435 centimetres higher this year, and it was.

Paul Loker, our extraordinary madman who has had laser eye surgery so he can go even harder into gauntlets without fear of losing his spectacles, and who pulled a big, fat rabbit out of a hat and gave us more trips than we could poke a stick at.

But seriously, the Rock ‘n’ Roll doesn’t happen without these people and numerous others I haven’t even begun to mention. All I can say is thank you — it has been a humbling experience working so hard with each and every one of you. Can we go paddling now?

A Ramble From the Editor [51]

By Ian Phillips

I think the general idea was to provide support kayaking duties at the inaugural Paddle Polaris rather than attempt a marathon distance effort into obnoxious headwinds. Well I’d better say straight up (for fear of a severe beating from my fellow supporting paddler, our highly esteemed President) that we did provide the support as required, but in addition we successfully drove the Waterways and SES crews barking mad as they found us at yet another obscure checkpoint, and in the process completed a respectable 49 km paddling on the first day. Regrettably the latter part of the day took its toll on my rickety lower limbs, and the last couple of hours was pure torture as we battled some decent headwinds and a welcome bit of chop on our trek to the Overnight Camp. Rob did his best to equal my pain by paddling around every available island 4 times whilst I slowly made my way past.

The weekend started exceptionally well, meeting at Rob’s house early Friday afternoon, where we carefully selected 24 fishing rods for every conceivable type of fish expected to be encountered, 427 differently coloured lures in case we happened upon colour blind fish, and 1,459 hooks in case the bottom was unkind and we lost the odd one. The space for all this essential gear was made available through the clever use of extreme summer camping gear and string bikinis in place of sensible polar gear that is highly desirable in the Snowy Mountains for basic survival. The trip down was calm and uneventful, mainly because Rob was driving and I wasn’t allowed to play my Megadeath CDs for driving inspiration. Instead we talked sensibly over the delectable sounds of jazz and blues (proof if ever it was needed of the mind-altering abilities of decent music). Back at the Overnight Camp, where Champion Polaris Organiser Huw made us camp high on a loft so he could amuse the general populace with my uphill waddle, the ‘acquiring’ of Dave Winkworth’s long johns was certainly a highlight on a ferociously chilly night, and although Mark Berry won the most inappropriately dressed kayaker award with his pink beanie stolen from an unsuspecting child, I did pretty well with the two-sizes-too-small long johns and the ensuing awkward gait (blamed conveniently on my meccano ankle). A nasty weather change overnight saw about 400 knots blowing through my tent (the equivalent of 15 Eddy-knots), which dashed Rob’s hopes of his gold-plated MacPac showing its true worth against my $50.00 No Frills tent. My sinister, rough-edged beauty held strong, with the tent completely horizontal as I slept soundly in Uncle Dave’s underwear. Hmmm… for fear of scaring old ladies and frightening young children I’d better stop this story right now…

But before I toodle off, I think it important to announce that 2003 will be my last year as Editor of NSW Sea Kayaker. Four years as Editor have regrettably taken their toll, to the extent that I barely kayak now, and when I do I feel guilty for neglecting the poor magazine. But I do not plan to go quietly, nor do I intend to stay quiet. Instead I hope to continue to abuse kayakers from the sidelines, and I may even get around to leading a trip one day. I was hoping a Grade 26 from Sydney to Christchurch — any takers? Stepping aside will also allow some new and enthusiastic people with much more vision than myself to infiltrate the system with their own style and fervour. And I think four years is long enough for you all to have put up with my snide and darkly sadistic messages littered throughout the magazine — you deserve a break!

From The President’s Deck [51]

By Rob Mercer

Rock ‘n’ Roll 2002 was our biggest yet with 140 boats on the water and over 200 people in attendance. When I arrived on Friday night I was amazed to see an almost full camping ground – kayaks and tents everywhere. Batemans Bay again proved to be an ideal venue for this event and I feel the biggest challenge for Rock ‘n’ Roll 2003 will be in finding a comparable venue. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Committee made some refinements with regard to the management of the event and the content and format of sessions. The weather was kind, Ian organised, Kristen diligent, the volunteers generous and the participants enthusiastic. Thank you to everyone.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend has become a celebration of the core activities of the Club: trips, training and communicating. Trips and training were focused at paddler grade 0 to 3, but there were no such limitations on communicating. Bill Robinson from the Victorian Sea Kayak Club rated the AGM as a ‘grade 5’. The issues of insurance, liability, affiliation and training presented themselves as a set of major obstacles for navigation and, despite considerable ‘group spread’, we managed a ‘hard landing’ only to find ourselves short of our ‘destination’. Like so many adventurous groups we know where we want to go, we just have different ideas on how to get there. We still want trips, training, website, chatline and magazine but we also need to know that our standards of practice are defensible and our volunteers and office bearers are supported by clear policies and adequate insurance. The greatest threat to our Club is not some overzealous bureaucrat in the AC office but the erosion of volunteer confidence.

So far the Club has not succumbed to the media hysteria surrounding negligence claims. You need look no further than the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend to gauge the strength of our volunteer spirit. The secret of this vitality is a ‘career path’ which reinvigorates the membership – novices join the Club to develop skills and confidence in a supportive environment; some of these hone their skills seeking open water on grade 3 and 4 trips and a few of these decide to ‘put something back into the Club’ by becoming Trip Leaders and, with further training, Sea Instructors. As an open association of volunteers, paddlers come and go but, so far, a steady balance between skilled leaders, instructors and participants has been maintained.

For many years the Club’s executives have strove to make the Club a safe place for volunteers to share their knowledge and skills. To this end the following initiatives have been developed and continue to evolve in a changing world:

  • Waivers are designed to protect volunteers from personal liability in the case of litigation. The waiver is regularly reviewed with valuable input from some of the Club’s legal eagles.
  • Insurance underpins the waiver, protects the Club, is essential for the granting of Aquatic Licences and is technically a prerequisite for the Club to operate in National Parks. At the AGM the majority of members voted in favour of allowing the executive to pursue affiliation with AC as a means of securing a more reliable and responsive insurance deal. We have until April to make a decision on insurance. In the interim other options are being considered and several members have volunteered to help the executive review alternatives.
  • Training – The Club offers training to build skills among participants and to help volunteers to run safe and enjoyable activities. It is likely that whether we affiliate or not, insurers and others may come to demand the appropriate AC qualification from our Trip Leaders and Instructors. Many of our Trip Leaders have already indicated a willingness to convert their Trip Leader training to the AC Guide qualification and the majority of our active Instructors are either current or seeking re-ratification of their qualifications with AC.
  • Grading ensures a better match between an activity and its participants. It is our method for linking paddler skill levels to any given Club activity. In 1999 the Club tied participation on sea paddles to the national training scheme. Four years later a different executive is coming to terms with a new national scheme but the principal of using an external standard to reduce the burden of responsibility on our volunteers continues to make good sense.
  • Policy is the latest initiative created to help provide clear guidance and certainty about what is required of volunteers and participants. It is the ‘big picture’ document which links all the above strategies into a consistent framework. It will be revisited for fine tuning on a regular basis and is available online. The final draft comes into effect in February 2003. If you require a hard copy please contact me by phone, fax, or email.

If you review the Club history through back issues of our magazine you will see that there have actually been thirteen years of unofficial research and development behind this policy document and I have been President for only two. The previous eleven built a solid base for our current approach. There have been no radical shifts in direction and the apparent acceleration in policy development is purely a response to external pressures. In 1999 the then president, Norm Sanders, lamented the Club’s loss of innocence in an increasingly litigious society. When all of the current arrangements seem too complicated I reassure myself that no previous committee was able to recapture ‘lost innocence’ or return the Club to ‘simpler times’ and I appreciate more than ever the challenges they faced and the solutions they provided.

Thankyous

  1. Dirk Stuber – Vice President; training throughout the year and at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend; delicate diplomacy; ‘the voice of experience’
  2. Alan Whiteman – a new look website; organisation of the Handicap Race at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend; ‘courage under fire’
  3. Richard Birdsey – Policy Documents; Aquatic License and Instruction at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend; ‘Presidential reality check’
  4. Andrew Eddy – Training; discussions with AC; co-ordination of training at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend; our Club rolling champ; ‘the big picture’
  5. Ian Phillips – Magazine; Rock ‘n’ Roll Coordinator; ‘110% implementation’
  6. Vicki McAuley – Secretary/Treasurer; going into battle with our insurer; ‘grace under pressure’
  7. Paul Loker – Created the first annual events calendar with regular updates online; coordinated trips at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend; ‘quiet achiever’
  8. Sharon Betteridge – Contributed to all of the above; ‘executive’s greatest asset’

And finally, thank you to all who participated in the Club’s first grade 5 AGM. Passionately held views didn’t give way to personal attacks and although not all were satisfied with the outcome, there was unanimity about the need to protect the unique character of our Club. As one of our snowbound US members, Peter Sanders, wrote: “I am envious of your Rock ‘n’ Roll event. Your Club is as precious as your seasons.”

Mr Neal’s South Coast Swansong [51]

… And The Ghosts of 1995

By Nick Gill

As I write, another stalwart of the Wollongong sea kayaking scene is about to depart. Adrian Neal is heading back to Brisbane and the delights of the waters of Moreton Bay.

Before he left though, he wanted one more south coast paddle, so off we went one Friday afternoon to do a car shuffle between Currarong and Ulladulla. This suited me as I hadn’t paddled most of this particular stretch of coast and was keen to do so. As luck would have it, the weekend forecasts were for a low to develop over NSW, bringing cool weather and strong winds with a westerly bent. We headed off regardless, agreeing to take it as it came. A rather unpleasant experience with strong westerly winds in winter 1995 (the ‘nobody died’ paddle) in this area relatively early in my paddling career, did however, play around (or perhaps with) my mind. Not having since paddled the cliffs around Jervis Bay apart from a little jaunt from Currarong part way down the cliffs in November 2000, I evidently had some kind of ghosts to lay to rest about this stretch of coast!

The forecast for Saturday was for WSW winds building to 20-30 knots. Saturday morning at Ulladulla saw calm conditions with a light SW but with significant mid-level cloud movement. We checked in with the Ulladulla coast patrol and arranged to sign out with them on Monday afternoon. We headed off into fantastic paddling conditions with about thirty kilometres to our planned destination in the Wreck Bay area. We made good progress northwards with a light wind more or less at our back. Moving past Lake Conjola, we recalled the Easter heroic trashing of Tom Parker on Green Island and were moved to recite in full his epic tribute to the power and majesty of the ocean and the strength of the human spirit — well, not really. Bobbing around in calm conditions we were actually in a good position to smugly speculate about what they were doing in so close and why weren’t they keeping a better eye out and why did… always a far more fulfilling exercise when you weren’t there.

Moving right along we landed just south of Bendalong for a break. After passing the headland we were looking across at a hazy Wreck Bay and St Georges Head. Having carefully worked out a bearing across this water, I had cunningly stowed a radio and various other metal things under my deck compass, rendering it useless. However, Adrian had some knowledge of this area and we had hand-held compasses so we could get a fair idea of where we wanted to end up. The question was whether to go straight across or not with the strong westerlies forecast. Conditions were good and the distance wasn’t huge so we took a middle course. After all these years and paddling in calm conditions with westerlies forecast, you would think I had learnt something. I was about to be taught again. All was well for a few kilometres, but as we left Berrara behind and approached Sussex Inlet, the wind increased from the west. We turned in, but it quickly picked up and soon was gusting strongly and we found ourselves in rough conditions even only a kilometre or two out from shore. I headed in more directly towards the rocky bit of coast just south of the inlet, Adrian took a more northerly course. As it turned out his course was more suitable. As I approached the shore south of the inlet, there seemed to be rocks and breaking waves to the north. I thought I could discern a path through rocks to the immediate south of the inlet into more sheltered water. It was only as I got close that I realised this was just a shallow sheet of water over a rock shelf. Maybe I do need some prescription glasses for paddling. Unsure of how the entrance was configured, however, I preferred to land rather than head back around the rocks into the breaking water I saw before. In the shelter of fringing rocks, it was easy to land on the gently shelving rock shelf and I moved my kayak into relative shelter and gave Adrian a hand as he came in. Unfortunately I did sustain some gelcoat damage here as my loaded boat must have been knocked around more than I realised as I helped Adrian. Never mind, some keel maintenance was due anyway and I’d just stocked up on sandpaper. It was then a simple matter of walking the kayaks through the shallow water into the shelter of the headland.

After a brief rest and snack we headed north close to the shore, a route that gradually took us onto an ever more easterly heading as the coast north of Sussex Inlet eventually runs east-west out to St Georges Head. This put the strong wind behind us and we gradually moved away from the beach to head straight across to Summercloud Bay. It was a wild old ride, conditions were rough and we were moving right along with the wind (Ulladulla recorded gusts to 35 knots that day). Adrian was moving along nicely but, having been distracted by surf kayaking in rodeo boats, I haven’t done much sea kayaking this year and I was a little on the tired side and I fell behind him, unable to take such good advantage of the following conditions. Nonetheless, I had some good rides, and both of us managed to bury our bows as we came down waves.

We landed at Summercloud Bay and carried our gear and kayaks up to the picnic ground, planning to stay put given the conditions and time of day, even if it wasn’t a camping area. This didn’t prove to be a problem; we weren’t challenged by any rangers, although it might be a different story in calmer conditions and at times of greater visitation. Apart from the wind howling off the water, this was a nice place; trees, grass, taps and toilets. Adrian’s long-standing mysterious leak had flooded his day hatch and water had got into his dry bag, killing his (wife’s) mobile phone (I managed to kill mine the next day by spilling drinking water on it — my wife happened to have my water resistant phone that weekend). He was not a happy man. After warming up and having lunch in the shelter afforded by low shrubs and grass, we shifted our gear further back to get out of the wind. I tried to raise local coast patrols on the VHF to get any forecasts for the next day, but couldn’t get anybody which surprised both of us given our elevation and line of sight south. We rang Sussex Inlet coast patrol on my phone and the earlier forecast (before we left home) for lesser winds for Sunday had changed to a strong wind warning for W-SW winds, 25-35 knots with seas of 2.5-3.5 metres. Given the nature of the coast between us and Jervis Bay this didn’t fill us with joy, although Adrian was more confident than I. We agreed to wait and see what the morning brought.

I woke up and heard the wind still doing its thing. “Nothing’s changed,” I thought, and prepared to lie around some more. However, Adrian roused me with optimism in his voice and I struggled out of my warm and comfortable nest. What I saw, however, didn’t alleviate my concern about paddling an exposed, cliff-lined coast with strong SW winds — and with the reputation of St Georges Head rebound and my feeling of less then perfect paddling fitness to boot, I wasn’t happy to go. Adrian went along with this. After breakfast I left Adrian to his leak detection and walked the five kilometres or so out to St Georges Head. A nice walk and a spectacular rocky coast destination. It was, however, howling and the seas were very rough. I was happy with the decision to stay on land. Out on the headland I raised the Ulladulla coast patrol on the radio and got an updated forecast for the day — more of the same. Once I was back we had to decide what to do. We didn’t have time to sit it out and we didn’t know what the weather outlook was at that point. We thought that if we could get to Jervis Bay somehow, we would then have the option of getting to Currarong either along the coast, or across the bay via Carama Inlet if conditions remained poor. We tried for lifts at Wreck Bay and from visitors to Summercloud Bay. No luck. We then rang Ross and Janet Boardman at Erowal Bay. Janet was home and she assured us they wouldn’t leave us stuck. Later in the afternoon, Ross arrived and ferried us over to Iluka. Thank you Ross and Janet! We paddled off into the early evening and camped on the southern side of the bay. Ross had given us an outlook for Monday — something like S-SW winds to 20 knots abating to SE 10-15 knots. Perfect for the coast route to Currarong!

And that’s what we got. We were on the water by about 7 am with a light SW. We headed around the inside of Bowen Island as the gap looked a bit iffy and then out across towards Point Perpendicular. Seas were moderately rough and the wind was right at our backs — fantastic conditions. The wind picked up slightly as we headed north. Unfortunately, it was too rough to get in close and in fact the rebound made going a little slower than it might have been. This all calmed down as we proceeded, however, as the coast begins to angle to the west as you go north and thus we gained increasing shelter from the wind and seas. We made Gumgetters Inlet in good time and had a lengthy break before cruising the final kilometres to Currarong. Along here, I had ample time to recall the strife of November 2000 but given our conditions, it was hard to imagine. The last little stretch into Currarong was, of course into the moderate southerly — you can never have it all — and we landed about eleven. Adrian had a good ending to his final, for a while, south coast paddle, and I’d laid a few ghosts to rest — about time — I’ve done a lot of paddling since 1995 and after all it’s only about twelve kilometres of coast!

Motorcycles, Billy Carts, Kayaks [51]

Or Zen And The Art of Kayak Maintenance

by Trevor Costa

I’ve got a long way to go, but it’s constantly being reinforced to me that it is one thing to own and paddle a sea kayak, and another to learn the skills and attain the knowledge needed to truly paddle the craft. After giving up one of my greatest passions some years back (a story in itself), motorcycle riding and touring, I have been looking for something to fill the void. After some brief experimentation with new age religious sects, neo-Marxist groups and mind altering substances, thankfully along came sea kayaking.

Sea kayaking has fitted the bill for a number of reasons. Like motorcycling there is an element of risk involved (it’s exciting), you are the master of your own small mode of locomotion, you can tour and travel in a non-conventional, fringe element kind of way and you are exposed to the elements. In some ways the feel and a few of the skills you need to employ to stay upright are also similar. The camping gear is also transferable (my old Trangia lives again). In my ignorance, these similarities were comfortably reassuring as I pursued my new pastime. That was until the Tathra training weekend (Mucking Around in Boats) where I discovered a big difference. Over the last two training weekends under Dave Winkworth & Co’s excellent tuition, my kayaking skill levels have continued to increase. I went from a flat water flounderer to being able to handle reasonable surf and following seas without too much mishap. I had the brace down pat along with stern strokes and brace turning, but one concept had me buggered. Dave called it the billycart analogy. Dave explained that you can turn a kayak without a rudder by using the kayak’s foot pedals as if you were turning a billycart. Use your foot to push on one pedal (opposite foot to the direction you want to turn) while raising the other leg to transfer the weight and consequently lean the boat in the opposite direction of the turn. To a motorcyclist who had been used to leaning the machine into the corner to turn, this concept just didn’t make sense. Instinctively I found myself leaning the kayak into the turn. The billycart concept was useful but I needed more if I was to counteract my old habits. After a while I thought more of what the edges of the kayak were doing. The bleeding obvious finally clicked, it was just a matter of edging the kayak to carve the outside of the turn instead of the inside. This helped my attempts substantially, but then came the next hurdle. Even with my best attempts to visualise a billycart careering down a hill, coupled with the new edging insight, I was ultimately thwarted by my lack of fit in the boat.

Without cockpit padding in the Penguin, my attempts at weight transfer were pathetic. I flopped around inside the cockpit like a hyperactive anorexic at bath time. Although if I really persevered I could execute a rough sort of a turn it was coming at a cost. It took a lot of effort and with the skin and bone of my kneecaps rubbing against the edge of the cockpit cowling, it was neither sustainable nor enjoyable. But I was to discover that one of the best things about such training sessions is that other Club members usually have the same make of boat as yours and may have substantially more insight how to make the most of them. At a lunch break I borrowed Anne’s Penguin fitted with thigh braces and the difference in the feel of the boat was immediate. I felt as one with the boat, when I moved it moved. The difference was similar to swapping a touring motorcycle for a café racer. One has more room and comfort but the other is much better for connecting body with object and sensation and thus more exhilarating. First purchase after the Tathra trip were Qkayak thigh braces for the Penguin. I opted for the factory offered extra as it was readily available and reasonably cheap, but of course you can fit out a kayak just as well with strategically placed cell foam. The difference the alterations have made to the general feel of the kayak is nothing short of dramatic. It’s like I have a new boat and a whole new repertoire of skills to hone and refine. I may actually be able to seriously get the learning to roll campaign up and running this summer.

So to sum up, I found that when applied to kayaking, past experiences can help with mastering the basics, but come time to progress to a higher skill level, can also hinder progress. Analogies are helpful to grasp basic concepts and coupled with some further thought, can get results. But nothing helps like a snug fitting boat. And if you are like me and need to experience before fully accepting, then I strongly suggest you suss out the difference between a snug fitting kayak compared to the standard version whenever you get the opportunity (Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend?). So it seemed it was time to finally leave my motorbike riding days behind. But I have no regrets, as I have been billycarting all over Lake Burley Griffin ever since and can’t wait for my next coast trip.

Incredible Journey [51]

Part 2 of Oskar Speck’s Epic Journey From Germany to Australia

By Oskar Speck (As told to Duncan Thompson)
Reprinted With Kind Permission of Australasian Post Magazine

Back to part 1

My voyage was to last seven years. I rowed and sailed across the German-Austrian border, past Vienna, into Hungary. I reached the famous Iron Gate on the Danube! All the canoe guides are full of stories about it; all advise utmost caution. Here the Danube drives through grim, steep banks, and there are tremendous whirlpools to suck down any incautious rower. I kept a sharp lookout. The larger whirlpools I avoided. My kayak skimmed swiftly across the smaller ones. Luck got me through.

At the Bulgaria-Yugoslavia border I decided that the Danube was too tame. I wanted a new river to conquer, and just a short distance across country lay the Vardar River, which had never been navigated. Those upper reaches of the Vardar proved savage. The river plunges through steep mountains, with a succession of fierce rapids waiting to hurl the canoeist onwards and downwards through the gorges.

I reached Veles, in Macedonia, with half the kayak’s ribs broken. It was hopeless to go on. I sent the skin of the kayak back to Germany for repairs, and they made such a good job of it that when it came back to me, Macedonian Customs insisted that it was a new craft, and wanted to charge it as such. Then the Vardar froze over solid. Altogether, I was delayed five months in Veles.

It was spring when I finally got away. I crossed the Macedonian-Greek border, and landed on the opposite bank of the river from the Transcontinental Railway. On the railway side the river ran close beside steep banks.

As I erected my tent (I carried a small tent until it rotted and had to be discarded) a train passed across the river — what I didn’t know was that the train crew at the next station reported me as a suspicious character. Around midnight I was awakened by shouting, and I pulled back the flap of my tent to find myself looking into two carbines, held by two frontier guards. Their two horses were just behind them. We shared no language, so I showed them my passport. After muttering over it for a while, one guard signed to me to mount the second guard’s horse. Leaving the second guard behind, the two of us rode for two hours across the wild hills, when we came to a fortress, and I was presented to the commandant. He was a charming young officer. Directly he saw the Greek visa on my passport, he offered profuse apologies, and followed this by insisting that I should come into his room and drink coffee and wine.

At Salonika I faced the sea at last. With few incidents, my voyage down the coast of Greece was a kayakist’s dream, and at last I was beaching my kayak at Andros.I was scarcely ashore when two little Greek girls in white Sunday dresses came across the sand towards me, carrying a round loaf of bread with three coloured eggs sticking out of it. So it was Easter Day, and this was Andros’ welcome! Andros is a wealthy island, and I was taken to a dance at the Ship Owners’ Club, where lovely girls who spoke English better that I did danced with me. There you have the contrast which the kayak can offer to her master. At one hour you can be fighting against a head sea. You are dressed like a tramp, you are stung my flying spray, you are in real peril. The next hour, clad in clean, dry shore clothes taken from your water-tight tank, you are sitting in one of the windows of a magnificent club. There is music and girls, and the wines of the world to choose from.

On to Kastelorozo, the girls pay the men a dowry according to the status of the families. It is often substantial. A boy has to contribute to his sister’s dowry — it follows that a boy with a number of sisters will have his nose to the grindstone for many a year. But he must uphold his family’s status. It is the custom that, on the engagement night (which is very close to the wedding date) the engaged couple shall sleep in the same room for the night. But the young man must not so much as touch his future bride, to show that their union is an affair of the spirit, not of the flesh. Petting and necking are unknown terms on Kastelerozo, where a girl who was not a virgin would indeed be better dead.

By now I had decided that I did not want that Cyprus job (the cause of my starting the voyage). I wanted much more to make a kayak voyage that would go down in history. It was about now that I first said to myself: “Why not Australia?” I wasn’t so rash as to breathe that ambition to anyone else — yet. I sailed round Cyprus on the westward coast via Limassol to Larnaka.Since the kayak would have to be freighted either way, I decided that Suez offered a too well-beaten path — why not land on the Syrian coast and take the bus to Meskene, on the Upper Euphrates? That would be something!

There was no proper road to Meskene. That wreck of a bus just pick its own way across the desert, but it got me to my destination. The Euphrates is lined with date plantations. I saw many Arab men, but no women except the very old. At villages I would be invited into the men’s houses. There I would sit on the mud floor among a lot of Arabs. A great copper plate would be brought in and laid before us; on it the hard flat bread of the country, gravy, and meat of the goat or sheep. There are no utensils. You eat with your hand, but only with one hand, or you offend your hosts. In strange lands I bow to the local customs.

I made it a rule never to refuse hospitality — better a dirty meal and the lice and vermin of the men’s houses that a shot in the dark. And that is how the Arab expresses his resentment of hospitality scorned.

One night I was drifting down the Euphrates with the current. The current carried me first to this side of the river, in bright moonlight, then to the other, in black shadow. It was only necessary to paddle occasionally. I must had dozed. Suddenly two shots rang out from the moonlit bank.

I came to with a click, and started to paddle — fast. In my haste I was paddling the wrong way, upstream, but it was not time to argue, and I made for the shadowy side. There were several more shots, then all was silence. But I had to paddle back past those riflemen. I sneaked back on the dark side of the river, using the current, and touching the water with my paddle only once or twice. I heard men talking on the bank there, but there were no more shots. I never learned who they were, or why they had shot at me!

My trip down the Lower Euphrates from Felludgah to Basra did not reveal its lurking perils to me. Yet a few weeks later two Germans, May and Fischer, hearing of my trip, decided to follow my course. They were well-equipped far better than I. But, on the way down they made the mistake of refusing Arab hospitality — they just didn’t like fleas and lice. They were both shot dead in their tents on the river bank, and everything they had was stolen.

I could write a whole book about the next relatively short leg of my trip along the Persian coast to British Baluchistan — some day I will. I vowed then that never shall I visit Persia again. I say now that never will I so much as fly over that country lost in basest corruption.

Arriving eventually at the first tiny Persian settlement, consisting of a dozen mud huts, but no shops, no bazaar — I had to present my starving self to the authorities, represented by two barefooted policemen. They were quite friendly, and obviously very poor. A

fter inspecting my passport, which they held upside down, a fowl was killed, and with rice it was my first proper meal for weeks. How poor these people were was underlined when the bones that I threw away were snatched up by the village barber and carefully gone over again, the smaller bones being chewed up completely.

During the next 500 miles along the Persian coast to Bandar Abbas, I saw much of the life lived by the people of the Gulf. From the age of 12, all women wear masks made of black material.

Only once did I see a Persian woman without this mask, and she was the wife — the very temporary wife — of a Persian Customs official.

Wife Couldn’t Win

This westernised Customs officer already had a wife in Teheran. For the term of his contract to work in the Gulf, he married this local girl. She was 15, very pretty, but no match for her shrewd husband. To secure her, he had to pay her father 160 tomans (about £30). Half of this was paid cash down. But the balance was due when the official returned to Teheran. If she refused to follow him there, not only would the final payment of 80 tomans be revoked, but the original money would have to be refunded.It was a double-headed penny. She couldn’t go to Teheran. In Persia, apart from her husband, a wife only meets her own relatives. Others may not set eyes on her. When he returned to Teheran, no one except himself would see her again. Whether she lived or died only he would know.

One day I passed three Arab sailing vessels anchored at the entrance of a creek. They waved to me to stop — they wanted me to come aboard and drink with them. But I had a good breeze, and I sailed on. A shot rang out, and a bullet hit the water only a few inches away. Looking back, I saw the Arabs had launched a fully-manned rowing boat, which was chasing me. With that wind, I had no trouble out-distancing it. At that time the Customs was run by Belgian staff, under contract to the Persian Government. These sailing boats had been discharging a cargo of smuggled sugar.

Kayak Had Vanished

On from Bandar Abbas I pressed to Gwattar, on the Baluchistan border — never was sailor more anxious to shake the spray of these vile Persian waters from his kayak.

Here, on a beach surrounded by high cliffs, I landed as darkness was falling, and pulled my kayak well up on to the beach. I badly needed food, and had noticed as I sailed inshore two Arab sailing boats beached further along. I walked to them now, but found them untenanted — indeed, they proved to be dismantled wrecks. I walked back to my boat to find it — gone! Panic took me then. Here was I on an unfriendly beach, cast among a lawless race of cut-throats, thieves, and smugglers.

My boat was gone, and in it my money, my passport, my every possession in the world except only the shorts and shirt I was wearing.

Dawn showed me high cliffs enclosing the beach, and perched on top of them a few miserable huts. I climbed up the cliff, and found the huts occupied by some fishermen and two Persian police armed with carbines. They were not helpful when I told of the disappearance of my kayak, but I insisted that they should send a boat out. I said that I should go to the Shah in Teheran, and that I was his guest — and that moved them to requisition an outrigger boat, and in it the police took me to the border village.

There the captain of police was intelligent, and, of course, corrupt. When I told him that there was money in my boat and that I would give half of it to the finder, he said confidently: “You will get your boat back.”

There was great doings and discussion at the barracks during the night, and next morning the captain, his assistant, and I set out in another boat. Without great trouble we came upon a dhow, and there across its bow lay my kayak. Not a thing in it had been touched.

The sailors aboard explained they had found they kayak drifting, and had taken it aboard — actually, of course, they had stolen it, having watched my landing at dark. In my wallet, in various currencies, was about £80. I gave half to the police captain, but that was nothing, so happy was I to have my kayak back.

Continue with part 3 (conclusion)