From The President’s Deck [52]

By Rob Mercer

On returning from a recent paddle in far north Queensland it was put to me by a self proclaimed ‘purist’ that expeditions using sails should always note their reliance on the breeze. Any article or discussion of their efforts should carry a precursor warning the reader that it was wind assisted. Furthermore, any reference by a third party should list the trip with a large S in parentheses to warn of its un-athletic nature.

Personally, island hopping from Lucinda to Cooktown (S) was one of the highlights in my year of paddling. Richard and I enjoyed sailing rudderless but the others used rudders to varying degrees. So I suppose for them, the trip was RS. As I have now destroyed our expeditionary credibility in the eyes of the ‘purists’, I may as well reveal the whole truth. Yes, we also occasionally had a hot shower and a night in a cabin. So, I suppose, we must add an A for accommodation – which makes it Lucinda to Cooktown (ARS).

Yet, despite this disparaging acronym, we enjoyed every warm, challenging nautical mile of it. So, if enjoyment further diminishes the value of our little adventure then I’ll let the ‘purists’ decide where to put the E.

My point is really that we can’t afford to be too ‘precious’ about sea kayaking. It is a touring activity usually involving self sufficiency, resourcefulness, commitment and decision making. It is about travelling by sea for a morning, a month or a year. The only real timekeepers are the tides, changes in the sea state, and obligations back home. There is no-one standing on the beach with a stopwatch nor is there a rubber ducky or power boat support team to ensure your safety. There is no standard boat nor standard course for covering a stretch of coast or making a crossing. There will always be ‘cutting edge’ paddlers who want to be first, fastest or furthest, or simply want to bag the ‘trophy trips’ such as Bass Strait.

What is interesting is how eclectic many high level paddlers are. Far from purists they are often searching beyond the orthodoxy of sea kayaking for equipment and technique. In January 2003 Andrew McAuley capped his tour of south west Tasmania (with fellow Club members Paul Loker and Lawrence Geoghegan) by crossing western Bass Strait solo. This triumph was not sail assisted but his eastern Bass Strait and Port Douglas to Sabai trips both used sails and on all trips Andrew uses a ‘wing’ type racing paddle. He also draws on skills developed from flat water racing, whitewater play boating and surfing. His all-round outdoor savvy and navigational skills that he has developed through mountaineering, rock climbing and mountain biking no doubt also contribute to Andrew being one of the best all round sea kayakers I’ve met (even if he does use a rudder).

When faced with the most dynamic environment on earth you can’t be too strong, too skilled or too humble and that is why you will find many other expeditioners who have built on their strengths and overcome personal limitations through the challenge of other disciplines. In many ways sea kayaking is the ultimate form of kayaking as it requires a blend of techniques used in whitewater and flatwater along with a unique set of skills including mastery of a sea going vessel and all that entails.

I admit there are many fine sea kayakers who have never paddled a play boat, used a propeller paddle or tainted their kayak with a sail or rudder. Their’s is also a valid approach but I believe our Club is broad enough to support and celebrate the efforts of all who paddle a kayak on the sea. Sea kayaking is a pursuit that transcends the narrow boundaries of the so called ‘paddle sports’, yet still allows us to learn from them.