140k to Jervis Bay [51]

by Richard Mc Neal

Also starring

  • Laurence (Rock Man) Geoghegan (Trip Leader)
  • Andrew (True Love) McAuley
  • Vicki (Now You See Me – Now You Don’t) McAuley
  • John (Marine Mammal Magnet) Bickmore
  • Richard (Midnight Erector) Stiles
  • Paul (Cave Man) Loker


“A grade 4 trip in grade 4 conditions,” said Laurie, and he wasn’t going to be wrong at that!

Kick-off Day

I had never been paddling with Andrew McAuley before, but at a glance, I knew exactly what to say: Richard: “What a lovely new Nadgee you have there.” Andrew: “Yes, it’s highly responsive, tracks well, is great on expeditions, and I’m really happy with its performance, but of course the critical issue was Vicki.” Richard: “Do tell.” Andrew: “Well, my old boat was too heavy for Vicki to comfortably assist with, and, as nothing is more important to me than Vicki’s health, my only honourable course of action was to buy myself this excellent new Nadgee.”

Richard: “Wow, true love does exist after all!”

As we were talking, the quirky islands of Bateman’s Bay were gliding past. We had failed to get on the water at Batehaven until well into the afternoon, but we were not too concerned, as the calm seas, gentle overcast and serene surroundings were keeping us relaxed. Our destination over 4 days was to be Currarong, 140 km to the north. Southerly conditions were expected soon, and we were anticipating a free ride. Laurence had set us a civilised but meaningful 26 km target for the first day and it wasn’t long before the trip started to get that excellent South Coast feel. North Head saw us on the ocean proper. Coastal national park abounds in this area, allowing us to cruise past a series of unspoilt headlands and occasional beaches.

At Murramarang, Vicki was feeling somewhat out-of-sorts, and started adopting a more terrestrial role. Working on the difficult logistics from that point, Vicki and Andrew sought to rejoin their car and civilisation. Would we see them again? Only time would tell.

Another 10 km, and tucked tightly behind a pointy reef, was Snake Cove, an unspoiled haven sloping up to high ground all round, and with a proper south coast style rocky beach where the rocks (30-60 cm) come in every known shape. Laurie was, of course, in his element here, landing his indestructible Pittarak through the mild surf and dragging it up the shore just like a Sydneysider would do on Palm Beach. The Mirage crowd (now including myself in a shiny new Kevlar 530) were less able to countenance this style of approach, stuffing around endlessly with half of us holding the Mirages in the waves, and others doing the carries. Even Richard Stiles, at the helm of a Pittarak, joined us on the shuffle (mainly in deference to his friend who owns the boat).

During this operation, Laurence had a comfortable opportunity to seize the one person campsite with a commanding view of the bay, leaving the rest of us to the bush, but by no means unhappy to have left the worries of the world behind and be out in paradise. Before long, Vicki and Andrew surprised us with a ‘pincer’ action, simultaneously arriving at the campsite by land and sea, and our little group was reunited.

Bruiser Day

5 October – my birthday! And a birthday I will remember for a long time.

The forecast southerly had failed to materialise, and 15 knot NE afternoon headwinds were now expected. As we were planning a very solid 50 km to Lake Conjola, we were on the water at 7 am and a purposeful crew indeed!

After a high hassle reversal of the landing process, the rhythm of the day set in, gliding from headland to headland past coves, beaches and bays, and putting me in a serene, almost trance-like state. The same was not true for Paul:

Paul: “Look, a bombora, let’s get some action into this trip!”

Richard M: “I’m feeling a bit cruisy at the moment.”

Paul: “Look, clean 2 metre waves running out into deep water before the beach!”

Richard: “You’re right, time for a shake out!” Paul: “This one’s yours.”

Richard (picking up the shoulder of a beautiful big one): “Thanks.”

It was a great ride – ahead of the break the water was mirror-like, giving a crystal clear view of the reef a few metres below. After a run out and re-form, I got another great ride. Wet but exhilarated, I returned to a complex and unhappy scene.

Paul: “What happened to my glasses ?!@#*?”

Andrew: “What happened to the waves ?!@#?”

John: “Why am I not catching any fish ?!@#?”

Richard S: “Can I borrow somebody’s wee bottle ?!@#?”

Laurie: “Why has everybody stopped ?!@#?”

It turned out that in his polite effort to let me have the wave, Paul could not escape as it broke over him, thus sacrificing his prescription sunglasses for my dream run (thanks). To add insult to injury, no more waves came for either Paul or Andrew. Anyway, thoughts of dream runs were soon abandoned as the northerly wind set in at 10 am with well over 30 km still to go for the day. Plugging away was to become the standard for the day. I was particularly pleased with my newly installed ‘Smart Shaft’ which has demonstrated the dramatic effect of shortening the paddle from its original 223 cm to 217 cm. Those 6 cm are the difference between a satisfying day and misery into the breeze!

At Lake Tabouree, we caught up with Andrew McPhail sporting a brand new vessel. I knew exactly what to say:

Richard: “What a lovely new Nadgee you have there.”

Andrew: “Yes, it’s highly responsive, tracks well…”

Andrew’s shiny new Nadgee was only two hours old. He had intended to paddle south to Bawley Point to halve the size of his only missing link between Terrigal and Batemans Bay. Instead, he was sociable enough to paddle to Burrill Lake with us, leaving him with two missing links instead of one! Burrill Lake was in full outflow, and we had an entertaining surf in for lunch with a couple of capsizes (Pittaraks and Mirages only). It is endlessly amazing how a tough headwind on the ocean is barely detectable when you paddle only slightly inland.

Next stop – Ulladulla, Laurie’s “safest harbour in the world”. But first we had to negotiate Warden Head. To add adventure, the swell had come up to match the wind, giving us an interesting passage between the headland and the reef. Furthermore, not all of us were in synch:

Richard M: “I’m stuffed.”

Richard S: “I was stuffed, but that was before lunch. Now I’m post-stuffed which is much better.”

Richard M: “I’m looking forward to that.”

Onwards we went, with John doing a fantastic cresting exercise high on a wave that threatened to collect him sideways – very impressive. Ulladulla was indeed the safest harbour in the world. Vicki was there on the beach, adopting her new ‘merchant’ role, with beer and chocolate for some of the more desperate kayakers! Then it was onwards again for the final 11 km to Lake Conjola. There were more headwinds, but now I was post-stuffed and paddling really strongly! An excellent campsite by the stillness of the lake saw us sleep well (with a bit of Laurie’s special ginger wine/beer mix to assist), and with our alarms set at 5 am to catch the morning stillness.

Paradise Day

Leaving Andrew and Vicki for good, we were down to the thoroughbreds – two Pittaraks and three Mirages. Green Island was our first encounter, a peaceful serene place where nobody could possibly come to any harm! From there we were in no mood to mess around. We set our course way out to St Georges Head, 25 km away, hoping to get there before the breeze.

And get there we did. En route I discovered that the best course of action is to stick with John. Despite the fact that he never catches any fish, he is the best marine mammal detector in the galaxy. Dolphins, seals and even penguins appear all around him – brilliant!

As we closed on St Georges Head, our speed dropped from 7-8 km/h to what seemed like 4. The dreaded east Australian current had struck! Nevertheless, we found an idyllic sandy cove for a very pleasant lunch. Situated on the west side of the head, the view was panoramic, showing all the mountains we had passed, and interestingly no line out to sea. Not content with this outlook, John pulled on his wet suit and goggles to join his mammal friends.

Leaving the beach, we paddled over a couple of scuba divers in clear water about 2 metres below the surface. This is an extraordinary sensation. Anyway, with 10 km of cliff ahead of us, Paul was in his element, popping into every nook and cranny with great excitement. This southern headland of Jervis Bay is a dramatic place indeed, with 200 foot cliff lines which descend 25 fathoms under the sea, giving an amazing amount of rebound for the sea conditions. Sticking with John again paid off, as he located a huge seal colony in a sea cave near Steamers Beach. Somehow the seals manage to climb at least 10 metres up the steep rock, to their resting ledge.

With the wind and current both against us, we were again down to 4 km/h again for the final deep cliff section, and were very pleased indeed to take the passage inside Bowen Island and into the serene Jervis Bay, for another relaxed evening. Under clear skies, we had chosen not to put our tents up. With the help of my $4.95 bottle of port I slept well, that is until I was blurrily awakened to the surreal vision of a nude Richard Stiles standing astride me, silhouetted against the arc of his tent fly like some form of art-deco lamp. I later figured out that he was sheltering me from some overnight rain. A good Samaritan indeed!

Anxiety Day

Another 5 am wake up got us going for our final day. Time to tackle the infamous Beecroft Peninsula! An ocean fog grew thicker and thicker as we hugged the back of Bowen Island. For some reason it reminded me of bushwalking in Tasmania. By the time we were at the northern tip, we could hardly see anything. Paul’s quick weather phone call gave us no reassurance. 30 knot NE winds and big swell were expected in the afternoon. So here we were, about to plunge into zero visibility conditions, with a known current against us, heaps of rebound and the threat of a howling wind to drive us all the way back along the cliffs! That was enough to put a background of urgency into the whole day. Certain other members of the party deny also experiencing this feeling, but their actions gave them away as the day unfolded.

John and I, the only two with a compass on our boats, agreed on a bearing of 45 degrees for the 4 km foggy traverse to Point Perpendicular. No worries you might think. Why then did John and I keep splitting up? John appeared to be consistently pointing out to sea. This played into Paul’s hands, who wanted to induce the group even further to the right, as part of an extremely sophisticated strategy which I failed to grasp. As the minutes wore on, the effect of zero-visibility became quite disorienting. I was determined to follow our bearing at all costs, but had a lot of trouble negotiating with the troublesome John, and the even more troublesome Paul. Eventually we steered a very unhappy compromise between my interpretation of 45 degrees and John’s interpretation. I think Laurie and Richard enjoyed this part of the journey the most, savouring the atmosphere and feeling secure with a GPS sitting reassuringly in Richard’s day hatch.

Anyway, Point Perpendicular made its appearance, the fog soon cleared, and we were on our way along these northern cliffs. Rising to 300 feet, they were even more dramatic than yesterday’s, and still plunging to 25 fathoms, they were even more reboundy. WOW! This is just such a dramatic stretch of coast it’s incredible. As we progressed to the serrated Crocodile Head, with Paul ducking through the tricky arch, some of the supposedly less anxious of the group started expressing concern over our low perceived speed: “We’ve ground to a halt – we’ll never beat the 30 knot northerly!” Actually we were making 6 km/h. Not bad I thought in a very choppy sea with the current against us, but no wind (yet). South to north is definitely the way to experience this cliff line. As Drum and Drumsticks arrives, you get a massive and quickly revealed vista, not only of D&D and its mighty cove, but the whole arc through to Beecroft Head. A quick break in at Laurie’s special rocky slot near D&D (complete with our patented kayak shuffle rock landing process) saw us revitalised. A good thing too – as the wind was gaining strength. But it wasn’t gaining strength fast enough to beat us, and we made it to Currarong in still mild conditions.

Thanks a lot guys – a trip not easily forgotten!