Letter to My Mate [53]

By Noel Rodda

Dear Mitch

How did the Hernia operation go, I take it that you’ve survived another knife attack? I’ve told you before, many times about lifting 30 kg sea kayaks, especially on windy days! Wheels, get wheels, they are a great invention.

Must tell you about my small adventure of yesterday, a fine sunny Sunday with a light breeze from the NE, 1.5-odd metre swells, and some fluffies on the horizon and small amount of strata up high.

11:00 hrs and I decided to just mooch around the Coffs Harbour outer Harbour in my Pittarak.

Ok, what did I do? Cruised straight out the heads and around Mutton Bird Island. Beautiful on the sea, so I set off for McCauley’s Head making good time. Split Solitary Island came clearly into my sight at 030 degrees, so away I went. Not much wild life around, but the sea was beautifully clean. Checked out the split and the cave on Split Solitary, took some photos. Too dicey to go right in of course.

I then sighted off on South Solitary Island at 060 degrees, checked on what the weather and seas were up to and decided that I had time and energy to get there and back to port with time to spare. Black Rock, just to the NNW of the lighthouse was breaking heavily, however I wasn’t going near there. I cruised around the western area of the island taking photos of the lighthouse, the two houses, the spider like pier with the concrete protection walls and the rough crack of the island. Certainly must have been a rugged, exposed and lonely existence for the two families of lighthouse keepers. There sounded the powerful engine of the Coffs Police launch slicing around from the north eastern side of the island and I thought, “Crikey, they’re surely not looking for me at this time, are they?” We waved and parted company.

Not having taken a watch with me, (retirees are not time conscious or time efficient, as you would appreciate), I estimated it to be around 15:00 hrs and time to make course straight lining it back to Coffs.

Watching ground covered by sighting known landmarks I soon realized that making real headway was pretty slow going. With the breeze picking up slightly from the NE and at my back I was wishing that I had finished making my new sail.

A small pod of dolphins were surfacing near by and on their way out to better feeding grounds.

This is where my little feat started to become uncomfortable to say the least. I had ventured out with only a container of lemon soda water and now was about to pay the price. A burning warmth started in my lower abdomen going into my legs and feet and naturally I felt real crook. I had to urinate, but with an odd quartering sea I was not about to take off my spray deck, so some clothing got somewhat damp. Feeling a little better I started putting in some good strokes and making better time. I could hear thumps on the water and stretching for a look over my left shoulder I could see the flukes of whales thumping on the horizon. That took my mind off the current problems for a while.

About halfway back realisation came that I was in the warm northbound current and I was going south. I reckoned that the current had to be around 3 km/h and if I was only putting in 4-5 km an hour then I wasn’t covering a lot of ground. It’s a long time since I felt so sick and I knew that it wasn’t seasickness, it was that blasted soft drink and not enough good old-fashioned water. Slight hypothermia was now also sucking the energy out of me. Over the next two-hour period, I vomited three times, although finally there wasn’t much to bring up except a clear slime. I had thoughts of not being able to make it back as I was now cramping fairly bad in the forearms, shoulders and under my shoulder blades. Also I could feel the coldness of evening creeping into my bones. Working through the pains I edged a little closer to shore now being say 3-4 km off the northern beaches. I could always come into one of the beaches, make a phone call home and be picked up. Thinking, “Why am I doing this?”

Well gradually and gratefully I edged around Mutton Bird Island where there was a confused chop as usual and slowly made my way into a beach landing. 18:00 hrs. I had been paddling for around six and a half hours without food or water. Crazy blighter!

I had been quite concerned about Elizabeth as I knew that she would be worried. As it happened she had been driving back and forth, walked the breakwall and jetty, then phoned the Police who indicated that she should phone back if I was not in by 20:00 hrs and Coastal Patrol who were going to put out an alert. This was about 17:40 and she phoned Phil Jenkin, you know him, one of our intrepid paddling partners. Phil came in to the jetty just as I was loading my kayak onto the racks. On his mobile I phoned Elizabeth and she called off the general alert. My son had driven out to McCauley’s Head to see if he could spot me and although I was somewhere adjacent to there, he couldn’t spot me. Boy was I exhausted.

Some lessons are always learnt the hard way. I should have stuck by my original plan no matter what. I should have taken adequate water and some food bars along with my mobile phone. My Pittarak is extremely seaworthy and as you know I am sea-proficient. I had a set of flares along with whistle, dive-knife, EPIRB and of course PFD and hat. I did what I always tell sea kayakers not to do. I must have been seduced into a false sense of wellbeing by the state of the sea and the weather, underestimating tide and current.

The small things in life are brought into proportion by these happenings. Like soaking in a hot bath with a big mug of hot chocolate, being warm and eating homemade soup. Some much larger things are more apparent too, like appreciating the care of a loving wife and being licked on the face by an adoring dog.

Well mate you will have time on your hands to read this as there will be no paddling for you in the next six weeks. You’ll have time to carry out some winter maintenance on all those kayaks. No laughing or you could split the stitches.