Kayak Sailing [53]

Getting it up with Mike Snoad

Imagine sailing your kayak with about 30 knots of wind dead astern. Surfing wave after steep wave some of them over 2 metres high and breaking. The kayak is up on the plane a lot of the time and out of control with sheets of water peeling off the bow making it difficult to see. You are going so fast that the rudder has a noisy harmonic vibration and is threatening to self destruct.

Without warning a big breaking wave engulfs you. Your desperate brace is ineffective in the highly aerated foam. You make a forlorn attempt to roll up before wet exiting just in time to see your paddling companion surfing down the face of a wave directly towards you at great speed. There is fear in his eyes and his mouth is open, as he seems to descend from a great height towards you. Somehow he misses so you scramble back into the cockpit in a hurry. You are acutely aware that this remote spot well offshore near the top of Cape York is home to some very big tiger sharks and crocodiles.

This scenario actually happened and was the motivation for my subsequent experimentation in an attempt to find an effective way to roll back after a capsize with my sail up. The place was near Macarthur Island in Shelburne Bay. At that moment my wide-eyed companion Arunas was less than an hour away from his close encounter with a hungry crocodile (see NSW Sea Kayaker Issue 50).

Rolling back up after a capsize with a Tasmanian style sailing rig is no real problem. That assumes a hungry Great White is not shadowing you. Apparently you just reach forward and pull the mast out of its socket then roll up. However this is not possible with the hinged mast many of us use. It is possible to roll back up with the relatively small ‘Norm-Sail’ by un-cleating the sheet line then using a slow Pawlata roll. Not so with the larger sails and much higher masts many of us are using. The solution to this problem is surprisingly simple (especially if you have gills). All you need to do is un-cleat the mast up-haul line (not the sheet line) then set up and do your preferred roll. For me it is a screw roll. As you start the upside down scull stroke the kayak moves forward and the mast and sail starts to swing back towards the cockpit. By the time you get to the final hip flick the sail and mast will be folded back alongside the kayak and as you complete your roll it will be close alongside in the water. This technique is only marginally more difficult than a normal roll with no sail!

The only tricky bit is getting set up with your paddle ready to sweep without catching the sail and sheet line with your paddle. Practice with a diving mask helps. It also helps if you have a quick way of locating and un-cleating the mast up-haul line. The cleat end of my up-haul line is bright red and plaited to make it easy to locate. You could also use a small brightly coloured plastic knob.

Too easy!

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A Ramble From the Editor [53]

By Ian Phillips

The end is nigh. I feel like a traitor and it feels good. After devoting several years to my favourite pair of extendable underpants, the time has come to paddle with the group, not 14 km behind it.

My wobbly and foldable beast is sitting dark and dormant in the bowels of my garage; bent, broken, musty and forgotten as I prepare for the arrival of my newest toy. Cast aside under layers of dust, old PFDs and long-expired ratpacks, tension is mounting and nerves are shot as I grapple with the torment of discarding my favourite toy. But then I think of the dark, mysterious, soulless beast that is about to arrive, and, realising that I’m already there, I instead start to think about my new kayak.

It’s been a painstaking process that has tormented me for over 18 months, checking dozens of kayaks, paddling the handful that I can actually fit in, whilst all the time still dreaming of the perfect skin kayak. A good smack in the head was required to bring me back into line, and despite most fellow-Committee members offering on a daily basis I resisted until the necessary words infiltrated my feeble brain. Paddle… FNQ… month-long trip… FNQ… islands… month… hmmmm…

The brochure looked good so I signed up immediately. The experienced FNQers (now more well known know as the infamous ARSE Tourers) were planning another sojourn, they needed a Court Jester, and my name was in the hat.

Now I had a fast approaching deadline, a lot of paddling to do, a lot of skills to re-learn, a few more to properly learn and even more to actually learn, and I had nothing to do it in. I also had no kayak.

Well I still don’t quite have the kayak, the deadline is still approaching and I still have all those skills to learn but at least I’m now heading in the right direction. By Rock ‘n’ Roll 2003 you should all see me with a shiny new beast, as dark on the outside as your favourite Editor is on the inside. And although I never actually get time to paddle at Rock ‘n’ Roll, you’ll see my new toy proudly on display outside Rock ‘n’ Roll HQ, probably never paddled but primed and ready for my first ever Beecroft circumnavigation — the very instant Rock ‘n’ Roll 2003 is officially over.

And of course, being the obsessive shopaholic that I am, I couldn’t just get the kayak without all the accessories. Deeming it entirely necessary and completely unjustifiable, I proceeded to replace every bit of completely functional and perfectly good paddling gear I have ever owned.

I became a crazed loony, depositing large wads of cash into other people’s pockets as I walked away with new paddles, a new PFD, a new set of roof racks, new widgets, new gadgets, new hats, new tops, new bottoms, a new tent, a new stove, a new sleeping bag, mat & pillow and even a nifty desalinator for our FNQ trip next year (now I can pump out the cockpit in true style and even drink what comes out the other end)! I finally had to stop before I sold the car to fund a new drinking bottle, quickly realising that without the car I would have the sell all the gear again in order to afford the seaside house because I don’t have a car to get to the seaside. Life is a vicious circle. I’ll just have to live my old Platypus bag. I hope my new kayak can.

Oh well, the end of this column is now nigh, and despite my initial oath four years ago that I would never let a single fact pass through this column, I only have one thing to say in this, my second last column as Editor of the highly esteemed, highly rarefied and often highly rare NSW Sea Kayaker: Vote [1] for the new Training Coordinator at the upcoming AGM. See you all at Rock ‘n’ Roll 2003!

From The President’s Deck [53]

By Rob Mercer

We stand in a tight circle around Andrew McPhail as he outlines the options. The forecast 25 knot southeaster has arrived and the occasional stronger gust bends over the hill and cuts through us. The listed trip for grade 3 paddlers, from Kiama to Gerringong, will be reversed and upgraded to a 4. It would be so much easier just to cancel the paddle but Andrew has identified the risks and clearly explains how he proposes to deal with potential hazards. Andrew uses his local knowledge and understanding of the wind and tides to provide us with a very clear picture of the likely conditions. Ultimately all the members of this group have the skills and experience to make their own decision. The trip proceeds with just enough of a challenge to be interesting and enjoyable.

At the other end of the scale, the following weekend I helped Stuart Trueman at one of his excellent Club training sessions sharing thrills and skills with a grade 2 group, practicing boat handling and rescues in the light rebound off Jibbon Point.

The diversity of Club activities and the quality of leadership which you will find on these activities is the result of over a decade of commitment to skill building.

Club training ranges from formal classes in specific activities (such as rolling, boat control, forward paddling, navigation and risk management) along with general peer trips and experiential learning like Stuart’s recent Broughton Island weekend. These are all listed in the Club calendar. This is a dynamic document that requires constant upgrading. It was traditional for this to be designed and distributed in the Club magazine but, over time, the flexibility of the Internet has made the online calendar the most up to date version. So if you want to get involved check out the Club grading system and go online to get the latest version of the Club calendar and then you can see what activities are available for you. The members who offer these activities — people like Stuart and Andrew — are highly skilled volunteers who have achieved nationally recognised accreditation as Guides or Instructors. All Club Trip Leaders are currently ratified by the Club executive and the majority are working towards or possess Australian Canoeing awards in Leading, Guiding or Instructing. The content of these sessions is top notch and the personal styles of the individual leaders is what makes the Club programs so special. The Club is now a National Training Provider registered with Australian Canoeing. We support this formal training with a broad range of non-structured programs including more challenging Grade 2 trips where you will be ‘buddied’ with a more experienced paddler. So if you want to go on rewarding advanced trips like Andrew’s Grade 4 paddle or Stuart’s expedition training weekend you need to work out where you are now, where you want to go and how the Club can help you get there.

When you attend a Club activity which you have particularly enjoyed remember that the instructor/guide/leader is a volunteer and a short thankyou on the chatline or, even better, a trip report for the Club magazine can be very satisfying. But, by far the greatest reward is to see people improve and there is no clearer measure than to see kayakers extend their personal boundaries. Special congratulations to Mark Sundin, Jack Oakford, Carl Tippler and Keith Oakford who became the Club’s first Sea Skills recipients and Andrew McPhail and Paul Loker who became the Club’s first Guides under the new scheme.

There is a growing support among Club members for these programs. Calendar dates for more Sea Skills assessments will be posted soon and Guide assessments will continue during Club trips as leaders satisfy requirements.

Many of those on the way to becoming Guides will hopefully move on to become Instructors and lighten the load carried by Andrew Eddy, Nick Gill, Stuart Trueman, Sundra John and myself. I’d personally like to thank my fellow Instructors for supporting the demands of a growing Club. Thanks also to the growing number of Instructor trainees who also give their time.

For me personally the demands of instructing, leading trips, and having a life of my own dictate that I retire as President of the Club at the upcoming AGM. This is not the time and place for an extended list of acknowledgments — I will leave that to the AGM and subsequent magazine. Needless to say retiring as president will not dampen my enthusiasm for paddling or instructing with the Club. As my friend Andre ‘Grasshopper’ says: “You don’t paddle with the Club, you paddle with its people” and this is precisely what I intend to do.

Playing Poker with Davy Jones [53]

By Karl Noonan

The devil and the deep blue sea are Davy Jones’ Locker, which is where seafarers go to an unholy end, so says sea mythology.

You are never far from disaster if you are a paddler who ventures to cross open waters like Bass Strait.

I am not the one to play poker with the likes of Davy Jones but I do like a challenge. Methodical caution is the best insurance against the dangers as Davy has all the good cards and I play bad poker. Life does draw you into the mythology of the sea. I was lured into Davy’s game.

Just north of Wilsons Promontory, Victoria, is the Corner Inlet, home to a number of quiet fishing Ports at the northern edge of a tidal lake system. The Search & Rescue facilities are located in the relative peace of commercial fishing ports of Port Albert and Port Welshpool. Port Albert’s on-water facilities are excellent particularly the camping ground on the water for the early morning start. From here the paddle to Hogan Island, the first stop on the eastern crossing to Tasmania is about 70 km. It is 10 km to the mouth of the Corner Inlet, the remainder is open water.

Avid kayakers see Bass Strait as an achievable goal. They go, and many now have done the crossing. There is nothing like success to attract the avid adventurer. So kayakers will continue to follow those who went before them and I am no less an enterprising follower.

Some say it is the ultimate achievement. It is for the ambitious. Once crossed, the memories last for a lifetime. Certainly the relief is palpable and worth the tensions if you like that sort of experience. It is also, clearly, not for everyone. For me, it is a perfect kind of challenge.

In the mind of ordinary Australians, Bass Strait is awesome. Historically it is a seafarer’s graveyard and kayakers do get blown away too. With the dangers known then, why have so few kayakers perished? Because in fact, it is a new challenge and as you would expect paddlers are well prepared. There are high tech aids now, recognised safe island bivouacs, trip and weather reports and rescue services, not to mention the magic of these windy islands to draw us to this wild location. That is what makes Bass Strait a good challenge, albeit a dangerous one but one of the best. Given that so much is there in support, there is still no reason to believe that with fitness and skill success will be delivered.

When it was my turn I had paddled down from Curl Curl Beach, Sydney, to be ready. On the journey down I had encountered a new lifestyle and enjoyed the rigours of sea life. I became confident and was prepared for an open water crossing. I also knew I had to have something in reserve as a solo paddler; the right mindset, one that did not rely on anyone.

There are closer departure points than Port Albert such as Refuge Cove and Waterloo Bay along Wilsons Promontory for an open water departure. But remember I was confident. Port Albert it was to be.

Chas, whom I met the previous day in the camping ground, was now my very good friend. He had great map skills and advanced technology. Armed with a laptop he was able to plot the crossing’s waypoints, all the way to Hobart, straight into my GPS. There were now open water waypoints that could be counted off when there were no distinguishing features about me, ever so helpful to understand the effects of tide, speed and wind influences. Chas also assisted me, at an ungodly hour to carry an 80 kg, Mirage 19 to the water’s edge.

This was my first solo open water paddle. It was February 1998. I recall the cold mist in the dark that morning when lowering myself onto my seat to settle in for the long day ahead, ever so careful not to overbalance down the greasy ramp. That was the first step in a very big day.

We waved to each other as I quietly glided away into the black.

The end of the flood tide was useful to help get me to the Corner Inlet entrance, at Bentley Point, Snake Island, a sand spit 10 km away. Over forty, barren sandy islands protected the Inlet. No fishing boats were leaving Port that morning to follow, so the lake’s beacons were pursued. The one-hour paddle was made easier by skirting the mangroves and skimming over shallow sea grass meadows and leap frogging to distant beacons. Years later images of a starry night, the chill of the cold wind, the splash lifting across the deck and the silent beacons leading me to Bass Strait remain vivid memories.

At Snake Island the safe waters meet the vagaries of the sand bars, surf and the open sea. The entrance to the Corner Inlet is surrounded by treacherous conditions, at times the map says it ‘breaks occasionally’ and ‘breaks heavily’. I alighted onto the sand spit for my last good stretch, breakfast and for the final VHF weather report. Not far off shore Seal and Cliffy Islands ominously sat as black silhouettes, islands I was told were difficult to access. Only in desperation would I use them in an emergency. They were probably useful for wind protection only, as I was informed landfall access was limited.

It was first light. The body was feeling good and the mind was settling on the biggest decision of my life — to go or to wait another day. The wind dropped. The sea settled.

Everything felt right and I too was calm. It was about a 10 hour trip. Only one hitch, the weather report stated ‘gale this evening’. In weighing the odds I concluded I would surely arrive mid-afternoon. I had come too far and waited too long in port to take more idleness. I was ready. Hogan Island was just out there in amongst cumulus clouds. Was it Davy Jones whispering in my ear!

I had seen Cliffy Island go by early in the morning on my starboard. Most of that time was spent working on a paddling cadence in a light breeze and gazing at the suns fracturing light in the rise and fall of the gentle swell. By mid morning ships plied the coastal route around Wilsons Promontory under a blue sky belying the calm. I kept staring at the thin band of cloud amassing across the horizon before me. It was keeping its distance.

Lunch was an uneasy ten-minute rare break. I now paddled steadily onward in a dead calm over the same gentle undulating swell. Wilsons Prom faded. At about this time I felt I was beyond the point of return. Another card was played, and another when the GPS stopped working in the humidity of the waterproof bag. With the clouds climbing the sky and with no waypoints my concern grew, my commitment didn’t waver. The deck compass became a focal point of attention. It was also quite apparent that the band of clouds and I were on a collision course. Hogan could not be seen. The notion of a real contest began.

The southwester was freshening by three o’clock. So now Davy Jones was playing his hand. Was I really so surprised! The predicted change was here early and it was too late to wish I were somewhere else. No paddler wants to be caught in Bass Strait weather so I paddled with that much more determination. I was playing my best hand. Hogan did appear at last and my spirits lifted. Perhaps it was an hour away or was it to be a long night on a wild sea?

White caps were all about. I sucked in air to paddle a little harder. My mantra, ‘Steady as she goes’, stayed me. The fear grew and I prayed and talked to a little girl back home and my kayak Madeline and wished a simple prayer to succeed.

“God don’t let me screw up.” I knew this was a race against time and a tiring body. There were still decisions to make and I would yell into the wind and it felt good.

“Stay steady,” I repeated often. I have seen bigger waves at estuaries, I reminded myself.

Every few minutes I reassessed my posture and seat position. The island began to drift in and out of the clouds like a phantom and each improved visual lifted my spirits. I chose the treacherous lee shore of the island to go around… the western shore line ran away into the distance… the southern shores appeared closer. The thoughts of being swept away were now real. Perhaps time would not allow me to swing in behind the far extremities of the island so it was to be the wind blown southern cliffs my fate would be determined. The Tasman Sea was vast and it was just as close.

Within 10 kilometres the sea was up; the breeze was stiff; the change quickened. At 5 km I was dropping into ever deepening, long lumpy troughs and rising over crests and trying to minimise the thumping descents. As the island’s cliffs grew higher and closer I questioned whether crossing under the rock strewn cliffs was really my best choice. At that time I thought I’d rather take my chances on the rocks than be swept away. Doubt prevailed until it was futile thinking about it. The sky and sea was grey and the wind blew stronger. All the portents of a serious situation worsened with persistent thoughts of disaster. Within a couple of kilometres some of those waves drew back into breakers.

Before I reached the cliffs, twice I turned into the breakers to have a wave engulf me. I could swear a current was at play. The tide through Bass Strait is stated at around 2-3 knots but special effects occur in shallows and this would have a play around islands in the wind.

When I presented myself at the cliffs, I was say 100-200 metres in close, a turmoil of waves crashed against the rocks at my back and on my beam as I slipped and paddled away on a saw tooth course against the onrush of waves. The wind whipped around my face. Perhaps at home this would almost be fun, but not alone here in a laden kayak. Perhaps for a kilometre I ferried across the front of those cliffs, leaning into breaking waves. The clapotis sucked and shoved, many times I turned into bigger bludgeoning waves, the white water often pushing me back. It was surf at the rocks, stirred and shaken and I didn’t enjoy the taste in my nostrils and throat. At the end of the cliffs there was that palpable relief that comes so few times in a life. I lay back at this point and let the wind drive me before it to safety behind the island.

One hour later the sky was black and the waters were windswept… it was the usual Bass Strait 50 knot blow.

I often spare a thought for seafarers lost or the paddler who will not be coming home. So Davy Jones must have felt cheated that day. Soon enough Davy will again whisper in another ear or as I imagined, roar a gale of laughter at the end of another paddler’s day. I thank God I came up trumps on my visit to this windy island, Hogan stalwartly waiting, a place like heaven in the clouds.

It is hard to ignore the whisperings of the sea, never a gale. The anometer reading said it all and if you think either whisperings or 50 knots is your poison then Bass Strait is already in your diary.

Geoghegan’s Gauntlet [53]

Repairing the Pittarak

By David Winkworth

Occasionally we all do something silly in our kayaks.

It’s a bloody hole, mate!

For Lawrence Geoghegan it was parking his Pittarak on a rock in a nasty little gauntlet at Mystery Bay a few months ago and punching a big hole in the keel line just forward of the stern.

Lawrence made it back to the beach and rolled the kayak over for us all to see… on the beach we all stood around the kayak and shed a tear… you see, we wanted the bloody thing to sink!

Nah, just jokin’!

Cutting along the cracks to relieve fibres under tension

This article (and accompanying pics) shows how the damage was repaired. It may be useful for owners of composite boats who haven’t faced this yet! One of the good things about composite (glass fibre) kayaks is that just about any damage is repairable. Under my house is Mark Pearson’s old three piece Inuit Classic. It was originally a one piece kayak but it will be stuck back together one day without too much effort.

Back to the Pittarak. If this damage occurred during an expedition a liberal pasting with duct tape would most likely have been enough to seal the hole and complete the trip. Duct tape is good stuff for sea kayakers — always have some with you!

Preparation of the repair surfaces is the key to a quality repair job

OK, let’s have a go at this job:

The first thing to do is to clean things up and have a look at what needs to be done. It’s very, very important to ‘work clean’. This kayak may cross Bass Strait one day so the last thing Lawrence needs to deal with mid-Strait is a repair job coming away! I gave the boat a good wash in fresh water and dried it in the sun. Resin will not stick to salt-contaminated surfaces so clean it all up. I took all the gear out of the kayak (got a good price for it, too) and took off the hatches. When it was dry I vacuumed up all the sand that was in the rear hatch.

Planking over the hole along the lines of the hull

The hole was well back from the rear hatch so it wasn’t possible to look at the inside damage without sticking my head in the hatch. A retractable skeg is fitted to the kayak which further restricted access to the hole. A torch or lead light is useful for looking around inside hatches.

The damage: a big piece of keel line had virtually broken away from the boat. This piece itself was broken up a bit. I decided it was not to be used in the repair and removed it. In addition, there were several long cracks where the laminate had been flexed and broken but was still under tension — that is, it was pushed up a bit and the intersecting fibres prevented the crack from returning to the level plane. The fibres would have to be cut to allow the cracks to level out.

After removing the big piece I used a jigsaw to cut along the cracks. I carry a short piece of hacksaw blade for this job on trips. I then used my trusty angle grinder (wearing a dust mask) to round off most of the sharp corners. Coarse sandpaper was then used to ‘key’ the inside surfaces of the repair area. This is a very important part of the job. I vacuumed up the dust (work clean!) and wiped down the repair area liberally with acetone.

The repaired hull prior to filling of edges and flowcoating

I decided that I was going to repair the hole using 50 mm wide strips of chopped strand mat pre-wetted out with resin. The wetted out strips would be applied from the inside through the hatch with a small foam roller on a half metre long handle and would contact the ‘sound’ surface inside the hull at least half the width of the hole size all around.

Chopped strand mat is an ideal glass material for a repair like this. The fibres are random oriented so that there is good strength in all directions. The mat is easy to handle, cut and tear too. The fibres are held together by a resin-soluble binder. Once the mat is wetted out and applied, the binder dissolves, allowing the mat to be worked into complex shapes and into corners, etc. Chopped strand mat lays down pretty well too without too many annoying sharp edges to prick holes in dry bags.

I then ‘planked’ in the hole and cracks with several layers of masking tape along the boat. This ensured that the keel profile would be retained without too much sanding and shaping later. About four layers of chopped strand mat strips were applied followed by a light roll with a small metal roller to consolidate the layers.

Filled, masked up and sanded – and ready for flowcoating

When cured, the masking tape was removed and a filler used to fill in the cracks and to level up around the edges of the hole. I used Plasti-Bond but something like builder’s bog or similar would also do the job. A generous area around the repair was masked off and the whole area sanded smooth. Flowcoat (gelcoat containing wax) in a matching colour (in this case white) was then applied and the masking tape removed before the flowcoat gelled. The flowcoat/gelcoat is the waterproof and UV rays-proof layer in glass fibre boats.

All that needs to be done now is sanding of the flowcoat surface with fine wet and dry paper followed by a polish with some cutting compound… isn’t that right Lawrence?

Of Paddling and People [53]

From the Diaries of Sharon Betteridge and Rob Mercer

Thursday 08 August

I hit 101 on the mobile as I joined the tail end of the 8:30 am gridlock and opened my one new voice message. It was an elated Rob Richmond calling from a fisho’s cafe in Cooktown. I hit redial and enjoyed a short and colourful rundown on the highlights of Rob’s solo adventure (from Cooktown to TI) as I defended my place in the northbound tunnel underneath the world’s most beautiful harbour. Rob’s narrative skipped from incident to incident, but my questions were all about weather and sea state, and in particular wind. In just over a week I would be standing on the beach at Lucinda facing north Queensland’s famous South Easterly Trade Winds. These winds seldom abate from March through to October. Sometimes it’s a gale, other times a breeze, but it is almost always a sou’-easter. These are the winds which pinned Cook against the Great Barrier Reef. They played their part in the dramatic names which span the stretch of coast we had chosen for our adventure. Cape Tribulation, Weary Bay and Hope Island were but three of the many exotic places we planned to visit. Like Cook, travel writer and Klepper enthusiast Paul Thoreaux was intimidated by the wind in far north Queensland and quotes a local: ‘People up in Cooktown get crazed by the wind… one bloke who couldn’t take any more of it started screaming about the wind — raving actually. Went mad. Climbed onto the roof of his house and started firing his shotgun into the wind.’ (Paul Theroux in The Happy Isles of Oceania). When we cut the bubble wrap and cardboard air freight cocoons from our kayaks at Lucinda would we too be cursing the trades or preparing to harness their power for our 480 kilometre island hop to Cooktown?

Sunday 18 August

It was bitterly cold, dark and sleety when the taxi bipped its horn to take us to the airport. I had cursed the alarm’s piercing ring just thirty minutes earlier. The thermometer hadn’t yet climbed into double figures but four-and-a-half hours later when we disembarked at Townsville the heat rising from the tarmac took my breath away and the sun’s glare made me wish I had had more sleep the previous night. At least we were on time. By 2 pm we were playing phone tag. Sundra, Salo, Andrew and Richard had arrived in Townsville earlier and were anxious to know our whereabouts. Their boats and gear were already packed onto Lyndon’s trailer and 4WD and they wanted to get this trip underway.

Our kayaks had flown ‘standby’ over the course of the previous few weeks and were still in their bubble wrap and corrugated cardboard cocoons. Lyndon, a friend of Sundra, had picked the kayaks up from the airport as they arrived, stored them at his place, offered invaluable advise about the local area, provided accommodation, and drove us and all our gear to the start of our adventure in his troop carrier — complete with trailer. By 5 pm we were unloading all our gear at Lucinda — a small fishing village alongside the Hinchinbrook channel.

Monday 19 August

Wind and rain torments us all night. Richard appears to have spent all night packing his kayak. We wake up to his cheery call of ‘Good morning, campers’. The day is bleak so we adjourn to a large picnic area to pack. Carapark residents and locals stand by bemused. We hit the water at low tide and, to avoid the sand bars, are forced to paddle the full length of the 5.7 kilometre long sugar loading wharf before heading north to Zoe Bay. As we leave the wharf behind the sun comes out for a moment. Salo comments that this is indeed a good omen. Our journey has begun!

Tuesday 20 August

Our first night at Zoe Bay was wet, but magical. Under the rainforest canopy it rained continuously, while on the beach showers came and went. Robert, Richard and Sundra fish in the nearby creek. The barramundi jump around their lures, teasing their efforts. On dark it is the mozzies and sandflies turn to tease us.

Wednesday 21 August

Rain and brisk winds on waking. Wind stops and rain sets in. We paddle on in dream like ethereal greyness. We land at Hinchinbrook Resort for a water refill. Very hospitable people offer us coffee. We sit in luxury, check the weather and talk to guests. They are bored, we add a little colour to their day. Then off to Goolde. Beautiful sunset. Great relief to find a shelter shed and an idyllic sandy beach. 64 km in 3 days. Light tail winds all the way so far…

Thursday 22 August

The day dawned still, hot, humid and cloudless making the paddling to Dunk (Island) long and arduous. The island’s picturesque, the sky and sea turquoise, but the blazing sun did nothing to endear me to the thought of spending the evening at a resort island after four days to ourselves. We stopped at Wheeler for lunch. It was shady and well set up for camping, but the group were keen to push on while the weather was on our side. Arriving at Dunk was a culture shock — noise, ferries, planes, people — but the campsite was clean and well run and the beers from the resort bistro refreshing.

Friday 23 August

We are reluctant to leave the luxury of Dunk Island until the ‘zoo’ (ferry loaded with tourists) arrives from South Mission Beach. First forecast over 15 knots. We leave for the Barnard Islands with a building breeze. Humpback whales, Richard catches a shark, Manta Rays cruising…

Saturday 24 August

Up early we circumnavigated Kent (Island — part of the Barnard Group). From our watery vantage we could see a small beacon obscured by thick trees. Richard had tried to walk to it the previous afternoon, but his efforts had been hampered by thick undergrowth. This lighthouse is now automated, but the original lighthouse keeper and his daughters are enshrined in the names given to these islands.

Sunday 25 August

Arriving at Flying Fish Point we surf across the river bar and venture up the Johnson River famous for fresh and ‘salties’ (crocs). Andrew asks several fishos as to the whereabouts of the local caravan park, but none speak English. Finally we arrive at the park, its banner boasting ‘The Best Fish and Chips in the Southern Hemisphere’, and meet George, the proprietor — has a staccato ocker drawl — talks first, thinks later. Richard aptly nicknames him ‘machine gun mouth’. George threatens in jest that they have something special lined up for the ‘rowers’ at that night’s karaoke. Flying Fish Point specialises in accommodating the retired travellers and we meet Rick and Rita, keen touring kayakers. They drive us to and from Innisfail so we can provision up for the days ahead. We sample George’s entire menu, Sundra repairs Salo’s boat as well as catching up with some friends who live in the area, and Andrew rests his injured shoulder.

Monday 26 August

Up early and we push off to the whirr and click of cameras. Well wishers from the van park line the beach, waving us off as we launch. George’s comments about selling the photos to the newspapers when we get eaten by the crocs was sobering…

The wind was well and truly blowing as we picked our way under the protection of the headland, but all too soon we faced the exposed crossing to the Frankland Islands. The sailing was exhilarating, with waves regularly crashing over the deck. This was our first really windy day. We kept close, but conversation was minimal as we concentrated to keep our tiny craft upright and on course. It was a welcome relief to pull into the lee of the island and begin the twice daily ritual of strap carrying fully loaded kayaks, one at a time, above the high tide line. Our ability to work as a team both on and off the water continued. The campsite, as usual, on the sheltered shore in a grove of tropical scrub. High Island is true to its name. Its elevation coupled with an upper storey of pandanus and palms protecting us from the ever-present wind.

Tuesday 27 August

The wind was up by the time we were ready to launch. Andrew rang the Ranger on Fitzroy Island using his CDMA phone to get a weather check. The wind had been downgraded to 25 knots — so we go. Another great day of sailing. I capsize and roll up without releasing the control lines on my sail. The seas are steep but over deeper ground, so are less confused. Fitzroy is run down. The Resort, Cairns Council and National Parks are all trying not to solve the problem of the camping ground. The ranger moves us from the camping ground to a hard coral clearing in front of the resort’s bunkhouse. We spend the afternoon bushwalking — beautiful views: we see High Island and a streaky wind blown sea. Richard calls Petra. He is homesick, but spirits are high and we have a good meal at the Bistro, but leave before the drunken backpackers start on a night of karaoke.

Wednesday 28 August

We wake unsure of the weather and speak to a yachtie who suggests we call VHF Cairns 81. With 20-25 knots forecast and a long haul across the vast embayment outside Cairns we agree to paddle around Cape Grafton, shelter at False Cape and reassess. We decide to extend our run to Ellis Beach and completely avoid Cairns.

Ellis Beach is a welcome sight but the camping ground, unappealing and buffeted by strong trade winds, means we opt for cabins. It rained all night and by the time we were ready to leave the wind was strong and I had second thoughts about leaving. But leave we did, and although I didn’t have my sail up I was clocking consistently at over 10 km/h as I lent heavily on a stern rudder stroke desperately trying to slow the boat down. Andrew zoomed past, his sail up. However he soon beached with broken rigging that would require some repairs in Port Douglas.

Thursday 29 August

My birthday! Wind forecast 20 to 25 knots. Andrew and I share concern about Alexandra Reef in possible difficult conditions. As we have done so much island hopping we are unsure how the wind will affect conditions nearer to shore. We paddle in strong gusty conditions with sails down, regrouping just before Pebbly Beach.

We surf the wind waves onto shore and have a stretch. Climbing a nearby headland we view the extent of the reefs that we were about to cross and the effect of the wind and tide on them. A group of guests from the beachfront resort approach and tell us to leave their private beach. We launch as the last of the ugly blue-black squalls blows through and continue our day’s paddle, the reefs posing no special difficulties.

We arrive hot and tired at the southern end of Four Mile Beach looking for the camping ground. Puzzled at its non-existence Andrew phones Directory Assistance and discovers the van park has been bulldozed and the only other one is at the northern end of the beach. We land through sluggish surf, Richard negotiates some cabins with the park owner while I speak to the President of the local surf club who also happens to be the Queensland fisheries guy who pulled the hook out of Rob Richmond’s hand when he was up here. Ian (the park owner) arrives with a box trailer and we load some of our gear for him to take the 300 metres or so to the park. He watches while we empty our water containers and then, smirking, informs us the local water supply is contaminated. Upon seeing the motley crew arrive at the park, Ian’s wife gives us a space to camp under the clothes lines, while the cabins remain obviously empty. The day starts to fall into place and we celebrate my birthday with a few beers at the local Thai restaurant.

Friday 30 August

Morning shopping in PD. Visit the very friendly and helpful staff of the Department of Conservation for maps and advice. Long portage with full boats takes 60 minutes. Spirits are up and there is good teamwork. A launching party watch us out through the surf. Arrive at Wonga and the ‘red carpet’ is hanging in the tree just as Celia promised.

Bill and Betty, a retired couple from Melbourne, meet us at the beach. Like a lot of retirees they come north every year to escape the southern winter. Bill has a note book and took our orders for tea and coffee (served on a tray in real china cups) as we portaged our boats to the camping area. They didn’t tire of listening to our kayaking tales and were keen to escort us to Snapper Island in the morning if the weather was favourable. At Bill’s recommendation we ventured along a dirt road dodging the ubiquitous cane toads until out of the darkness we came to a neon sign advertising ‘Daintree Resort’. Here we have dinner at the ‘restaurant in the middle of nowhere’.

Saturday 31 August

As promised Betty provides a hearty breakfast — French toast, cumquat marmalade, fried potatoes and bacon — and we talk fishing, kayaks and boats with Bill (rumour has it he is 83!) over breakfast. We are waved off by a friendly bunch who freely admit that the weather is too rough for their tinnies.

Sunday 01 September

As is the case every day, Richard wakes us early with his cheery ‘Good morning, campers’. At least now the sun is beginning to light up the sky and I am waking before his call. Rob urges us to get going while the weather holds, but before launching I ring first Dad and then Alex (father-in-law) to wish them both a Happy Father’s Day. I have a few pangs of homesickness until Dad informs me that a severe cold front complete with strong winds, hail and single figure temperatures had just passed through Sydney. It is a leisurely day so we have time to explore a few creeks on the way to Noah Beach. However, our apprehension about crocs makes it hard to enjoy the beauty of the rainforest and the variety of the birdlife especially as Rob, Andrew and Richard had already had one too close encounter with a croc whilst exploring Coopers Creek.

Noah Beach is a well set out, but busy campsite. Signs hang over taps warning of contaminated water. During the evening we are brought back to the reality of modern life. A car had rolled on a nearby road and needed an ambulance. Sundra helped with First Aid while Andrew phoned the emergency number and I started to organise flares and strobe lights to illuminate the beach for the rescue helicopter.

Monday 02 September

We leave Noah to the hand painted combi set and backpackers. Soon after I land a one metre long Spanish Mackerel and have to take a rafted tow to the nearest beach so I can fillet the monster and pack it away for dinner. We arrive Cape Trib mid morning. Not too many tourists. It’s pretty, but heavily developed. Here too the water is unfit for drinking. The group splits and Sharon and I walk the 2 kilometres to the general store. The girl behind the counter is very helpful, calling ahead to Weary Bay. We buy a few provisions and return to the beach.

Blinded by the setting sun, we spread out looking for our camp. Thelma’s description is a good one and we find her waiting quietly, as promised, at the water’s edge. She strokes her small fluffy white pooch as she speaks. Thelma is a refined lady. Lady with a capital L — she appears a little incongruous in this wilderness setting. She drives all our gear back to the camping ground and assures us that the kayaks will be safe hidden in the scrub. Our evening’s accommodation is a brisk 10 minutes walk on a narrow winding track which we follow in the failing light. Back at her resort Thelma does justice to my catch, cooking it to her special recipe.

Over dinner we share some enlightened conversation with three Electoral Officers who are also guests at this quaint resort. Although their area covers the vast expanse from Townsville to Cape York, they are currently visiting the local Wudjil Wudjil people. Their perspective on the upcoming ATSIC elections provides a lot of interest and at breakfast we continue the previous evening’s discussions. We bid them goodbye and return to the kayaks.

Tuesday 03 September

We are fresh and cheerful. Although we could easily reach East Hope today I am worried we are rushing the best part of the trip so we take the soft option and head for Cedar Bay.

We carry the kayaks up the beach dodging huge holes dug by wild pigs in their frenzy to find food. Out of nowhere I could hear the strains of a violin. On investigation we meet Mark. He and his mates have been living here for some time and they are fully self sufficient. At sunset they emerge from the bush and spend the last hour of daylight successfully spinning for fish. Tonight we share a communal meal — Mackerel cooked four different ways — complete with pappadums, coconut milk, and green mango chutney. A full belly and the gentle lull of the sea puts me to sleep. Even the snorting pigs couldn’t keep me awake! Tomorrow we will be heading for the Hope Islands.

Wednesday 04 September

East Hope Island is a sand cay fringed by reefs. The tide is ebbing and we manoeuvre our way to shore. This place is truly paradise — sandy beach, turquoise water, reefs, coral, osperys, turtles, fish…

Thursday 05 September

In the morning we wake to the cries of the Torresian Pigeons as they leave their nests to fly to the mainland to gorge on rainforest fruits. At low tide Richard enlightens us with his extensive knowledge and experience in marine biology. At high tide we cook damper, go for walks and snooze. Occasionally a yachtie ventures ashore to share stories with us. A German couple are stranded repairing a broken rudder. This is the last leg of their journey that began in the northern hemisphere and took them through many of the Pacific islands. They work quickly to have it finished before the tide turns. A group of Wudjil locals in a tinnie try to spear some turtles. The transport is not traditional, but their hunting methods are. A sailor warns us of a resident croc on nearby West Hope Island. I think of Cook and how long he was stranded in this tropical paradise.

Saturday 07 September

All too soon it’s time to go. This is our last day of checking the weather and calling the coastguard. It had become a morning ritual as much as breakfasting, detailing our day’s paddle and packing and moving boats. Today we relayed with a yacht as our line of sight to Cooktown was obscured by mountains. Kiwarrick was more than happy to oblige. We had met at East Hope. He had sailed from Port Stephens and was heading further north, his next stop Lizard Island. He wished us well and we did likewise.

Our last day into Cooktown is a good one. It was cloudy and scuddy, much like our first day out from Lucinda. It seemed appropriate — we end as we began. Rain squalls came and went but the winds where favourable and gave us 45 km of brisk sailing. After negotiating the shipping channel safely we head north, stopping briefly at Rocky Island for a quick stretch. The wind here is cruel. It buffets the eastern side before encircling the island and blowing straight into our faces. It would be an uncomfortable camping spot in all but the calmest of weather — rocky and windy, with a narrow stretch of sandy beach supporting a lone palm. Half way up the stony hill an engraved rectangular slab of plain white marble marks the grave of one Edward White. I pondered the questions of ‘who’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ as I clamber back down to sea level.

We pull in near Archer Point looking for campsites, but there is nothing suitable. Four wheel drive tracks dot the landscape and every sheltered cove is taken, with striped canvas awnings heralding the claims of their occupants. East Hope Island had spoilt us.

From here the coastal vegetation changes dramatically and Cooktown’s aptly named Grassy Hill on its southern headland bears testimony to this. Lush rainforest quickly gives way to a drier scrubby grassland of the Savannah as if someone has deliberately ruled a line in the earth to separate them.

Out of the protection of Archer Point the sailing was fast. A few near collisions cautioned us to keep our distance, but once inside the Endeavour River we were able to paddle the last few kilometres together.

We pulled in at the boat ramp ahead of a yacht. It turned out the skipper was a one time neighbour of Rob Richmond and had caught up with him on his recent trip north. We spend a few minutes exchanging pleasantries before organising ourselves for the final boat carry and the celebratory photo in front of the monument to Captain Cook before Salo and Sharon negotiate accommodation at a nearby motel.

Epilogue

A few days later we flew back to Cairns. It took only 45 minutes to fly over the last section of coast that we had taken 10 days to paddle. The islands and reefs looked stunning in the clear early morning light. In Cairns we felt unsettled. We knew we would have to return and were already planning our next tropical trip… north of Cooktown… or south of Townsville… certainly somewhere on the sea.

Logistics

  • Salo and Sharon paddled Mirage 530s with Hybrid sails.
  • Rob and Andrew paddled Nadgees, Rob with a Hybrid sail and Andrew with his own original design.
  • Richard paddled a Pittarak with a Hybrid sail.
  • Sundra paddled a Pygmy Kayak Coho (a stitch and glue plywood kayak which he made himself) with a Hybrid sail.
  • The kayaks flew Sydney to Townsville and returned Cairns to Sydney using Australian Air Express (thank you Paul Hewitson for your contacts with the airlines).
  • The kayaks were road freighted from Cooktown to Cairns by Tuxworth & Woods.

Thanks to Lyndon Anderson for organising the pick up of our kayaks from Townsville and transporting us and all our gear to Lucinda.

South Pacific Ocean: One. Humans: Nil [53]

By David Winkworth

If, like me, you believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, you’ll know that deep down in the ocean’s depths, King Neptune runs a marine second hand shop.

I imagine this store to be stocked with thousands of hats, sunglasses and assorted bits of sea kayaks… but never a whole boat because they are very hard to sink!

In early April, my mate Ron donated the bow of his beloved sea kayak to the store.

It was early morning off Tathra Beach near the Bega River bar and Ron was paddling his own design sea kayak, outside the break… well, he thought he was!

He looked out to sea and saw the first wave of a huge set rearing up above him. No time to turn and sprint over it, no time to race shorewards past its break zone… Ron was in big trouble and he knew it!

Ron rolled over as the wave shadowed him in the early morning light, crunched forward, paddle hard against the side of his kayak…and waited. He felt himself being taken up, up, up… and dropped.

In incredible turbulence he felt the kayak flexing beneath his feet as he was flung this way and that. The water was deep and thankfully he made no contact with the bottom but cool water around his feet told him that something was wrong.

When at last the buffeting subsided, Ron, an ‘A’ grade roller, could sense from his boat’s orientation in the water that rolling up was not an option. He pulled the spray skirt tab and exited the cockpit to gasp for air. What he saw shocked him!

The bow of his sea kayak was gone… sunk, broken off at the front hatch, strong deck fittings ripped clean through the deck. A half metre section of boat, containing his front bulkhead/footrest unit was floating nearby. A Tupperware box containing his car keys bobbed in the foam (this is a good idea!). Ron grabbed the box and stuffed it into his shorts. The large jagged-edged section of his kayak rocked on the water beside him, cockpit awash and now with an opening at both ends.

Still holding his paddle, Ron saw the second wave in this giant set rear above him. He dived down to escape the wash and the sharp- edged pieces of his boat. Only partly successful, he was again thrown over and over and his spray skirt was ripped off by the turbulence. He held his paddle firmly and surfaced again. His boat was gone. He struck out for the beach which was still a long way away, but he was making headway and the smaller waves were assisting him shorewards.

Finally he made it to the beach and watched the pieces of his kayak wash up in the surge. Ron pulled the sections up the beach and sat to recover his breath before walking down the beach to his vehicle.

So, are there any lessons to be learned from this bust-up? Maybe. Firstly we should of course realize that no sea kayak is ‘wave-proof’. There is a wave developing out there somewhere right now that can bust any sea kayak. I always think of the power of waves every time I see a snapped surfboard. If waves can snap 1.8 metre surfboards, which they do, a 5.4 metre sea kayak is nothing.

Ron’s tactic before the wave hit of crunching forward, paddle along the boat and HOLDING this position seems to me to be spot on. This position puts a paddler in the most protective and pro-active position possible. If you are going to get creamed, protect your face — make yourself as small a target as you can, and with the paddle tight against the boat you stand the best chance of being able to hang onto your paddle for a roll-up when the wave lets go of you.

Ron builds sea kayaks and experiments with different lay-ups in glass and Kevlar. The broken kayak was certainly no heavyweight boat, the reinforcements being laid very carefully to provide strength where needed. The job now is to try to interpret the forces that broke the kayak and their orientation and to incorporate desired changes into the next model.

It would be a great help if Neptune would return his bow piece!