Flotsam & Jetsam [56]

The Fishkiller Files

By Mark Pearson

Bass Strait Drama

Flotsam is now able to reveal the real story behind the Bass Strait ‘separation’ in March; the infamous incident that resulted in one group member camping alone on an island 50kms away from his three companions.

At the post trip press conference in the face of an inquisitive world kayaking media, Rob Mercer, Paul Loker, Nick Gill and Laurie Geoghegan had put a brave face on it, claiming that the split was a “a gallant but failed attempt to beat the club group spread record of 82 km” (this set in September 2003 when a large Whitsunday pod led by Matt Turner disintegrated due to a combination of “headwinds and unseasonal personalities”). However, rumours abounded that there were other factors at play in Bass Strait that fateful day; that the schism was the result of a ‘misunderstanding’, ‘different levels of fatigue amongst the group’, or even ‘fog and strong currents’. But these rumours were not even close. Thanks to a persistent Flotsam operative, who lured the ‘breakaway’ kayaker Laurie Geoghegan into a heavy session on green ginger wine and some strange looking cigarettes, the normally reticent ex-Navy SEAL finally began to open up. And as the truth emerged, even our Flotsam man was slack jawed in amazement. It appears that the real reason behind the most dramatic Bass Strait story this year was the deteriorating condition of a dairy product!

Geoghegan, a big lump of a man whose mighty power stroke is famously fuelled by a huge supply of Bega Tasty Cheese ‘Energy Packs’, told our reporter “OK, truth be known, I was unhappy and had been for a few days. The main reason was the group .. it just couldn’t get away early each morning. I’m not mentioning names ‘cos I know what you Flotsam people are like, but  by the time we got going each day the sun was getting up and my poor cheese was suffering, sitting and sweating in a hot Nadgee when it needed to be on cold water! I tell you it was heart breaking watching a day hatch full of prime quality Tasty degenerating into Blue Vein and worse …”

As the cigarettes and potent wine weaved their magic, Geoghegan continued reflectively “you see Mr Flotsam, Geoghegan without Energy Packs is like Popeye without Spinach … everyone knows that.. everyone! So that day coming round Deal Island I had to choose between the pod or the cheese. It was a tough one but I chose the cheese …!

Two days later, on hearing about the Geoghegan revelations, Rob Mercer and Paul Loker agreed to meet with Flotsam (the recalcitrant Nick Gill, was “unavailable”). Here is the transcript of the interview:

Flotsam – “Gentlemen, thank you for talking to Flotsam. Rob, you’re aware of Laurie’s comments, so when did the problems start?”

Rob Mercer – “I think it was Flinders Island when I realised that the cheese issue was concerning Laurie. The weather had been unseasonably warm, and yes it’s true the group was generally a bit slow to get away in the mornings ..”

Flotsam – “the whole group?”

Rob Mercer – “well I guess I have to take the responsibility for most of the delays .. but in my defence I was trialing the new SLIC methodology when packing my kayak .. “

Flotsam – “SLIC?”

Rob Mercer – “its an Australian Canoeing initiative .. Strategic Load Inventory Control. It’s meant to optimise load balancing and generally streamline the packing process .. unfortunately due to the accompanying paperwork I found it was taking me an hour longer than usual to hit the water”

Flotsam – “and so when did things start to come to a head?

Rob Mercer – “well, at the Deal Island camp, it was clear to all that the Energy Packs were showing signs of distress. They were definitely looking mushie and putrid, and, just quietly, Laurie’s breath wasn’t the best either …”

Paul Loker – ” yes, you didn’t want to get downwind of Laurie ..”

Rob Mercer – anyhow, that morning we rounded the northern side of Deal and it was windy, a westerly. Consequently Paul, Nick and I wanted to land and rest up on the western side of the island before crossing to Hogan the next day. We knew Laurie wanted to go on. It was sunny and he was no doubt concerned about the cheese sitting out all day in an exposed campsite. So he just sort of disappeared ……”

Flotsam – “did Laurie say anything at all? There were rumours he shouted something like “Pussies, Pussies” as he paddled away, perhaps in relation to a perceived lack of adventure in the rest of the pod ..?”

Paul Loker – “yes we heard about that, but we think Laurie was just saying “my poor cheese, poor cheese…”

Flotsam – “uhhmmm…”

Rob Mercer – “Anyhow in hindsight I guess as Trip Leader I should have given Laurie’s predicament more attention. But it has to be said that despite all the AC Senior Instructor training, I’m not sure I was well equipped to deal with a situation caused by a quantity of rapidly decaying protein …”

Paul Loker – “Rob, you did your best, none of us saw it coming …”

Rob Mercer – “thanks Paul. I guess it just shows the huge range of issues that can threaten cohesiveness out there. There’s absolutely no room for complacency .. I certainly won’t let cheese awareness cause friction in future trips”

Flotsam – “so Rob would you use this SLIC load process again?”

Rob Mercer – “no way! I’m going back to my tried and true method ..”

Paul Loker – ” .. that’s getting Sharon to pack the boat!” (laughs)

Flotsam – “and has Australian Canoeing been made aware of the risk factors associated with dairy products on longer expeditions?”

Rob Mercer – “Yes. Andrew Eddy, who of course is also a food scientist at CSIRO, has been tasked with writing a full paper on this issue, including separate chapters on salted and unsalted cheese, and even a section on exotic brands like Gorgonzola. It will be added to official AC Trip Leader Guidelines,”

Flotsam – “that’s good news. Thank you gentlemen”

Rob Mercer – thank you Flotsam for allowing us to set the record straight …”

Sock furore as commercial link exposed

In another Bass Strait related story, Flotsam has been tipped off that a senior club paddler received ‘financial incentives’ from a prominent southern metropolitan university to carry out research during his recent crossing.

According to colleagues, the paddler (who for ‘academic reasons’ can only be referred to as ‘Paddler X’) carried out “a study into the mental attitudes of long distance paddlers, including taped interviews” during the expedition. News of this arrangement quickly reached the august Bass Strait Sock Committee (BSSC), which convened an extraordinary general meeting to discuss the issue. Following the meeting BSCC Chairman Dirk Stuber contacted Flotsam to issue the following statement;

“Historically, all Bass Straiters have worn their Goretex Sock with pride after making this tough crossing on a purely amateur basis. The committee is of the firm view that it is important that this ethos be upheld; that the award of the Sock must be restricted to those paddlers who have made the crossing through independent physical and financial means. It is therefore the judgement of the committee that the Sock awarded to Paddler X be returned immediately.”

Paddler X, according to sources a Volvo driver from the Wollongong area, who has apparently ‘been wearing his Sock night and day since the end of the trip’, was ‘shattered’ at the judgement, but will not appeal.

The number of the beast

Following a tip off, Flotsam has been able to confirm that not only is Australian Canoeing’s P.O. Box Number 666, which according to the scriptures is the dread number of the beast, but the initials could also stand for the AntiChrist! Furthermore, in breaking news the membership number of the menacing and evil John Lipscombe has been revealed to be 13666, which could very possibly be a pointer to an Australian Canoeing ‘local call charge only’ Dial a Beast Information Service!!

Flotsam passed this information onto Pastor David Winkworth, a devout kayaking fundamentalist hailing from the Deep South Diocese of Kaluru, and a sworn enemy of AC.

“Aye”, declared Pastor Winkworth, “it is as written in Revelations, and as I thought, so it is revealed! The Evil One and his Apostates are now amongst us .. !! Armageddon is before the Club …may the Lord give us strength….”

Bruisers .. Lest we Forget

As every serious sea paddler knows, Rule No. 1 is not to forget your paddle or spray skirt. However some noted Bruisers are seemingly struggling to remember these basics. In January in Mallacoota, Mike Snoad, after loading an impressive range of high tech equipment into his kayak, left his paddle in his car (which was luckily parked only a kilometre away from the launch site). Then at the end of that same trip Laurie Geoghegan drove off leaving paddles and other gear near the boat ramp, their eventual discovery entirely due to a passing dog urinating on the equipment, thereby attracting the attention of the kind lady owner.

Now news has come in that two pods departed Eden on Good Friday with a paddler in each forgetting his spray skirt. In the southern group John Wilde (who also forgot his PFD) was lucky, with Peter Provis having a spare for his Nadgee. But Matt Turner, a junior member of the Really Tough Pod who went north into the wind that day, was forced into modifying a piece of thin blue plastic sheet into a temporary skirt.

Fellow paddler Michael Culhane told Flotsam “yes it was a real pain .. every time before we hit the water Mark (Pearson) and I had to ‘dress’ Matt, it taking some time to help him carefully into his fragile little plastic thingy, set the bungee cords carefully in position around his waist, then fit him into his kayak and adjust the lower cord around the coaming. I’d hate to think what the general public thought as they witnessed three blokes going through this intimate process on busy Easter beaches, but its probably set back sea kayaking ten years down there ..”

Training Officer Ian Phillips told Flotsam “yes, we’ve long recognised we have a problem with Bruisers forgetting things .. we are not sure if its their casual approach or a form of senility induced by too many paddle strokes, but I’ll be working on a program to help them through this …”

Man of Destiny?

Since the surprising investiture of Ian Phillips to the office of ‘Temporary’ President, some unease has surfaced about the events that lead to a junior Executive member rising so quickly to hold the most powerful sea kayaking office in the country.

A club stalwart told Flotsam ‘”for a big guy with a bung ankle he’s sure shown some fancy footwork to get where he is ..” Another senior club insider said, “yes, it’s been quite amazing watching Mr Phillip’s rise to power. Members have always known him as a brilliant but unreliable magazine Editor, a man with very good spreadsheet skills, with a penchant for red wine, and lately with God-awful taste in sea kayaks and colour schemes, but as Club President he’s got to be a bit of an unknown quantity .. I guess the jury’s out whether he’ll be our Boris Yeltszin or Vladimir Putin …”

However not all members were quite so relaxed about the new President, whose line of employment is veiled in secrecy but is rumoured to involve anti-terrorism services, with the occasional spot of nightclub bouncing when things are quiet. Chief Conspiracy Theorist Richard Birdsey thundered to Flotsam, “Temporary President my arse … well look what’s happened! Remember we had a new President in Andrew McPhail, then ‘suddenly’ he has to go to Brisbane, then we have a botched AGM initiative to elect a new one, then ‘suddenly’ the Vice President resigns, then Mr Phillips, coincidentally I might add the largest and most well-armed committee member we ever had, has the top job !! .. I tell you we need an enquiry, and we need the most high-powered enquiry there is – a Flotsam Royal Commission! That’s the only way all the facts are going to come out …”

Meanwhile President Phillips appears to be gaining confidence in his regular public appearances, even showing that he’s not afraid to slap members around if they step out of line.

Ambitious Mirage Groupie Elizabeth Thomson, after earning a spectacular black eye from Mr Phillips at a training weekend, told Flotsam ” wow, I’m only new, so what an honour to be hit by the Pres! I don’t suppose this makes me a Bruiser yet, but it’s a hell of a start …”

Flotsam takes out awards

And Flotsam has at last been recognised at the World Sea Kayaking Media Awards in Seattle, Canada.

Flotsam won easily in the two categories it was nominated; “Least informative column in a periodical” and ‘Least credible current affairs content”, the latter award in particular was, according to the Canadian event coordinator Howard T. Flotskrymer, “Flotsam first and daylight second”.

In response to the awards, magazine editor Richard McNeall, who rose to fame in 2002 after Flotsam revealed his habit of paddling around Sydney waters wearing nothing but racy Versace ladies underwear, said “if ever proof was needed, these awards show that Flotsam is a world leader in what it does .. and long may it continue!”

Note: this edition of Flotsam acknowledges the contributions, ideas and legal advice of Ian Phillips, Richard McNeall, Laurie Geoghegan and Dave Whyte.