Pancake W/E [56]

Montague Return Via South Moruya Island

By David Winkworth

This base camp / paddle weekend is a great institution of the New South Wales Sea Kayak Club. Started by veteran paddler Arunas Pilka around the early nineties, it is held on the weekend closest to Shrove Tuesday, hence the pancake reference.

We camp at Mystery Bay among the spotted gums in the bush reserve and paddle out to Montague Island and back on the Saturday. More on the paddling in a moment.

Sunday breakfast is always a real treat. Arunas brings the ingredients for about 300 pancakes, paddlers produce fire-breathing stoves and proved pancake pans and we sit around in a circle beating egg whites and grating apples and knuckles. Once the pancakes start “rolling off the assembly line” it’s sometimes difficult to keep up! After gorging on pancakes, it’s usually time for some surfing at a nearby beach and a few gauntlets. The Mystery Bay shore is well endowed with boat scratchers!

Early on, Montague Island was managed by the Commonwealth and we were welcomed ashore on the island by various caretakers. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long…. The lighthouse was automated and the island handed over to NSW National Parks. Up went the “Landing Prohibited” signs, penguins were burned and the National Parks Corporation began to suck as much money as it could from boatloads of tourists. In one memorable year we were kicked off the island by an NPWS person who came roaring down on his 4 wheel motorbike to the rocky ramp where we’d landed: “You guys are a danger to the penguins. Get off the island.”

I’m always amazed at the difference between the non-welcome of Montague and the “Visitors Welcome” sign that greets paddlers at Gabo Island. I’m told Gabo, with it’s visitors and cattle is the largest Little Penguin rookery in the southern hemisphere, so it can’t be visitors that are allegedly hurting the penguins. Nope, must be the money.

Several approaches to the Narooma NPWS office for us to paddle out and land on the island have met with negative responses. We even offered to pay…..the answer was still no.

So now we still paddle out and “officially” we stay in our kayaks. It’s still a nice paddle out and around the island. The water in late summer at the island is warm and it’s just a great paddle. Some currents sweep around the island that can catch paddlers unaware. On more than one occasion we’ve paddled back to Mystery Bay in a huge J curve.

We’ve had a few dramas associated with the weekend that are now NSW sea kayaking folklore. Jacqui Shrimpton was rounded up by a school of sharks off the SW tip of the island…. We once did a long supported tow of a sick paddler from the other side of the island….and in a crash and burn spectacular some years ago, 3 kayaks were smashed up in separate incidents with not a drop of blood spilled!

So, after a hiatus of a few years, Arunas re-convened the Montague Weekend in 2004. Gary, Karen, Margot, Lippy, Peter O and Dennis K joined us from Sydney. From the south came Pete Provis and Ian Dunn. The ever-reliable Canberra pod was well represented too. Even the OSD, looking all of 45, was there.

The thing I like about the Montague paddle is the informality. Waivers are all submitted electronically….well, they must have been ‘cos I didn’t see any. In the pre-trip briefing, Arunas showed again that he is really is a man of few words: “Alright. Weather fine, forecast OK, there’s the island, sort of stay together, let’s go.” And we did.

The weather and seas were good this year so we took advantage of the conditions to do something we’ve never done before. We decided to paddle to Montague via South Moruya Island.

South Moruya Island lies in a strong current zone several kilometres SE of Montague Is. Not much more than a remote rocky knoll, it is surrounded by shallow fringing reefs which repel paddlers in all but the calmest seas and high tides. This year we all made it in and out across the reef without a problem. The relief on the faces of the paddlers in the accompanying photos is clearly evident. We sat on South Moruya, munched our muesli bars and thumbed our noses at the NPWS before circumnavigating Montague and returning to Mystery Bay.

A great weekend — thanks Arunas.


Murray River Odessey [56]

Part 1 of a 4 Part Mega-epic

By Noel Rodda

Perhaps I shouldn’t call our mini adventure an odyssey, however it was a longish and reasonably eventful trip. (5th Feb — 7th March 2003)

The great and wonderful Murray River flows 2,530km from the Australian Alps to Encounter Bay being fed by the rivers of Victoria, which drain the northern slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Waters from the north adjoin via the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan and Darling Rivers.

Mitch, Jim and myself had long talked about an extended kayak camping trip and of course with various other kayakers during snack breaks on our home waters of Pine Creek and Bonville Creek. Tentative plans were discussed and altered. Jim had been monitoring the river water levels for the last twelve months and February was looking pretty good. Smoke haze from the devastating bush fires was a concern, but several phone calls to Albury and Cobram indicated that these fires were now under control with the air clearing.

Jim was nominated navigator as he had cruised the length of the river by motorboat in two sections during the previous two February’s. We all had river maps, which also indicated the points of interest. Trial packing of my Pacific Tourer sea kayak was an interesting exercise especially as all my camping gear, food and water had to fit through 230mm x 200mm hatches. Mitch paddled a timber David Payne designed kayak which he had built and that turned out to be a real packhorse.

Jim used his Mirage 530 sea kayak, carefully trimmed. Packing and unpacking was a real learning curve. All up weights to push through the water that included kayak, paddler, food and water to last at least a week, camping gear and other perceived essentials weighed in at: Mitch = 182kg. Jim = 140kg. Me = 130kg.

On the trip from Coffs Harbour to the Hume Weir, Jim and I called in on a paddling friend who was building their new home adjacent to the waters of North Arm Cove. Peter wasn’t allowed to join us owing to all the work to be done, Sandy told him that she was a little tired of living on the yacht and that if he went with us he should just keep going. I don’t think she really meant it though…well?!

Jim and I made a day and a half trip arriving at the Hume Weir ready for lunch and a billy boil. We set up camp on the northern side of the river about 200 meters from the Weir spillway, not a bad spot at all.

That afternoon we arranged our kayaks, part packing them. During the evening meal of apricot chicken and rice a brush-tail possum decided that we were friends and as it eventuated he was a dedicated coffee drinker. I think it must have kept him awake all night as he could be heard scrambling around into the wee small hours.

Pitch black at 0500 when I had breakfast, made a coffee for Reynard and drove off for my 0800 rendezvous with Mitch and Jan at Cobram.

I’m very sure that Jim went back to his tent for some more shut-eye. After a two-hour run, I arrived with five minutes up my sleeve. I left the cruiser with Shane at Competition Kayaks, piled in with Mitch and Jan and we were back at the Weir loading up the kayaks by 1000hrs.

Mitch did a trial paddle to see how the load trimmed on the waterline. It was bow down, unbalanced and sluggish to carve a turn. The current swept him into an eddy where the backwash created a whirlpool effect. The suction on the heavy kayak was such that back paddling had little effect and he would still be there had Jim and I not come to his aid.

Visions came of a non-event if we lost the kayak this early in the venture. We tow-lined our two kayaks and I went in to the stern of Mitch’s kayak, hooked on and we all back paddled freeing him from the clutches of the water nymphs. Obviously, redistribution was required of the load.

Some repacking took place and several items were abandoned to the back of Jan’s car, creating a weight reduction of 6kg. Jan whispered to me, “Look after him and make sure he wears his PFD all the time”. I said, “right, but who is going to look after us?” Looking concerned she did some photo shoots and as we launched into the currents and washes cruising out of sight towards Albury, she drove off on her way back to Toowoomba.

Some background of our intrepid trio may not go astray at this point. We all have defense force backgrounds of which we don’t talk about much owing to the sensitive nature of our deployments. (Ha-Ha, sensitive?) Jim is a rather burley and rugged individual who has bicycled completely around Australia, camping all the way. He has also ridden the Simpson Desert and paddled a canoe down the length of the Darling River. Jim lives with his wife Patricia at Bellingen. Mitch is a stocky, no nonsense bluff sort of fellow. Somewhat of a disciplinarian and a yachty of local renown he revels in blustery conditions and loves getting out into Morton Bay for sometimes weeks at a time, with himself for company. He and Jan also spend time in the opal fields. They have made friends with the aboriginal people right round Australia and live in Toowoomba.

Me? Well its always-tricky writing about oneself so I guess the less said, the less trouble I’m in. Taciturn by nature, slight, but flexibly built and bloody handsome! A down hill skier, yachty, pistol shooter and level 2 coach. That’ll do. I live in Coffs Harbour with my gorgeous wife Elizabeth and dog Bonnie.

We all have several things in common, among them being our love of sea kayaking, flat and wild water. Jim and I wear beards, but Bill will shave every day come what may, even without a mirror. He reckons that he knows where his face is. We’re all 65 years old, but still young in our minds. And that can be dangerous, for us!

As we were launching we met up with a young Kiwi bloke and his girl friend. They had just paddled a rubber kayak down from Tom Groggin to the Weir and were feeling a bit worse for wear, as the water level in the Weir itself was down to 5% and very sluggish. They had fun among the rocky and rapid sections higher up though. They were headed for the Murray mouth at Goolwa and were in no rush to get there.

Along the riverbank, starboard side about every 2km, markers indicate kilometreage to the river mouth so navigation in most sections is relatively straight foreword. Past Albury township and we estimated that the current here was around 4km, a big help, so we notched up 46km for 6 hours paddling including stopping for lunch, the odd swim to cool off and afternoon tea. We made camp near the 2178 marker.

A good quiet spot and things that were obvious on that first night were: Without a fly on the tents, one would wake up and see the beautiful clear sky with the brilliance of the stars and crescent moon beaming with clarity. Stillness and not a sound except the river gurgling by, going about its business, and the mist upon the water giving the whole scene a magical image.

The camp is active around 0545 and still dark, no one speaking except for the obligatory, “Morning!” Pack up tents, ablutions, breakfast, and clear camp and hit the water by about 0745. Evenings are still quite light till around 2030 and last night Jim spent almost two hours reorganizing his packing of food, water, clothing etc. The result was a sea kayak with clear decks, something for Mitch and myself to aspire to.

My decks weren’t too bad, with one pack on the rear deck along with a spare two-piece paddle. As for Mitch’s kayak, well we knew that he had to be there somewhere in the center. For all the gear he carried though, he could still belt out a powerful stroke.

One thing we noticed each morning was that the river level would fluctuate in height. In the calm of the morning the height could be 1-2 centimeters less than during the late afternoon. We put it down to wind surge, pushing the water during the day and easing off during the nights.

Next day was Saturday 8th Feb. and we had a smooth day’s run with the current, which had eased a little now. Temperature was fluctuating around 38 C, but on the water it seemed quite comfortable. We had travelled 68km and we were making sure to keep the fluids up, along with stops for stretching exercises, the odd swim and yarning. During the afternoon we took a chance on a short cut inside an island and found it very clogged with fallen trees and other debris, however we were still able to navigate through. Because the channel had narrowed considerably the current was quite a lot faster and this was fun. That is until I suddenly found myself sitting high and dry on a large log, having misjudged a turn and the strength of the current. Like a shag on a rock! Mitch had blasted ahead and Jim, having wisely taken an alternate route had no way of safely stopping to help. Mind you, that didn’t stop me from saying some unkind words to him as he maneuvered past. Finally, after being trapped there for what seemed like 30 minutes, but was probably only 5, I edged and worked the tourer off the log jamb and back into the deep current, just thankful that I hadn’t slipped in on the upstream side otherwise the pressure would certainly have smashed the kayak. The result was some scratches, a bent rudder and a bruised ego, all fixable. Our camp this evening was down river from Howlong, around marker 2110.

That night we absorbed a westerly wind storm which lasted for about 20 minutes. We estimated wind strength of around 60km. The trees were talking, then moaning and groaning with the odd limb of the River Red Gums crashing down. We always made sure not to camp beneath any of the gums as they sometimes just drop a branch for no apparent reason. After the wind storm the atmosphere became eerily quiet and sleep was patchy. In the early morning we were woken up by the raucous cacophony of at least a dozen kookaburras laughing and telling us and all other birdlife to get out their territory. Well, we did!

Morning tea was at a pleasant beach at Corowa, adjacent to a pretty lagoon near the Bell Caravan Park. Families with kids were having a ball on rope swings and speed- boats with skiers pretending to know what they were doing! Mitch walked the 1.5km into town to replenish his supplies, although we knew that he had enough food to sustain a normal male for the next three weeks tucked away in the depths of his kayak.

Now here the reader will have to use his/her imagination. I’ll try to describe Mitch’s attire. His hat was of the Arab sort, striped with a back-flap that he would adjoin in front of his nose using a plastic clothes peg. Thongs, very baggy long shorts and a loose tee shirt. This was the attire he wore up to the supermarket, and then into the pub for a thirst quencher to sustain himself for the walk back. I understand a number of shoppers stared and moved out of his way, so at least he was ushered through the cashier pretty fast. On leaving the hotel he was accosted by two members of the local constabulary who wanted to see some identification. After reassuring themselves that he really wasn’t a terrorist, as was apparently reported, the two police drove him back to us to verify his story. They were most interested in our journey. Tell you what though, the thirst quencher didn’t help Mitch with the afternoon paddle, he was a bit pooped!

Actually we were all tired at days end. We’d done another 68km to river marker 2042 and at the first campsite that looked almost ok Mitch was up the steep bank and unpacking. Not a good site and Jim splattered into the water as he was getting out of his Mirage, floundering around in the deep. We found a better site about 200 metres further on. Noodles, pasties and peas for dinner washed down with copious quantities of red wine.

We had passed one dead cow and two dead sheep caught up in snags today. They floated well as they were very bloated with the hides stretching to bursting point. Paddling close to one of the sheep, I said to Jim, “Don’t touch it!” What did Jim do? He gave the carcass a shove with his paddle blade. The carcass burst with an explosion of foul air and maggots and took off, like a burst balloon, skimming the water for about 3 meters, leaving a trail of “yuck”. Fortunately we had decided not to drink the river water and that early decision was now justified. I reckoned that any bugs in the water would have been well diluted though. The cattle along the riverbanks are pretty ribby and will eat anything that is green, for instance the tips of bull-rushes and at one spot, the growth of what looked like bamboo, but is actually a river-rush.

Weeping Willow trees had been eaten and trimmed off neatly within reach height of cattle that reminded me of the fringe haircuts some girls used to wear. (Some blokes too!).

Continue with part 2

Getting The Most Out Of Your… [56]

By Larry Gray

The recent Getting the Most out of your Pittarak weekend saw more than 30 attend at Bundeena. The main reason for the gathering was for paddlers to experience the possible. Every kayak has unique qualities determined by the shape. Therefore the weekend was a great chance for all that wanted to expand skills specifically honed to the design. Techniques that everyone can benefit from and will be demonstrated to all that wish to lean this coming R&R include:-

1 Four-point bracing techniques

The ability to find a low brace at the bow and stern on both sides of the kayak., with either the back or drive side of the blade. This trains the kayaker to be aware that at any point of instability, there is an opposite energy to be utilised at any time.

2 Extended paddle maneuvers

The emphasis is on split second snatch and grab maneuvers to lengthen and shorten the paddle. The kayaker can gain tremendous control over a kayak with the added leverage gained

3 The light hands technique

Allows the water movement to train the paddler’s hands The paddler learns to understand how their own paddle responds through subtle movements when out of sight. Once understood, the paddler gains a quicker response to paddle set up when upside down. Rolling is improved, save strokes more immediate.

The storm brace

Allows the paddler great stability to relax, or even handle a fierce storm gust without so much as a flinch of the kayak.

Beach pivot

A move for when a laden or unladen kayak is washed side on while departing in heavy shore break.

Pivot turning. (Giving air to the keel)

Stationary, In three strokes, the ability to about face in a tight spot e.g. Among rocks or when a sudden breaker approaches on the beam.

Pivot turn at speed.

The ability to end-for-end in less than three strokes. Broadsides the kayak to avoid collision or to get off a wave.

Gearing techniques

The ability to slow the paddle rotation down to less than half the normal pace yet maintain a high speed.

Rock landings

There comes a time when a kayaker may find it essential

Off shore training

Selected novice paddlers are chosen to go beyond their comfort zone, well off-shore and cope with 15 20 knots on the beam, the bow and tail. A ratio of four comfortable paddlers to one inexperienced ensures safety and gives the novice the chance to test all kinds of bracing in real conditions.

Many more techniques went out for challenge over the weekend.

The feed back has been “Can I Come next time?”. So we’re planning to invite all to a “How to get the most out of a kayak.” Soon! Look forward to seeing you there.

Be Free In The Sea

(Larry Gray is a senior Instructor and a founder of the Australian sea kayak education grading system in 1987.)

A Few Racy Moments In a Black Nor’easter [56]

Journal entry 31 Jan 98 – Memoirs of a Solo Paddler – Sydney to Hobart

By Karl Noonan

As the host put it, I was a blow in to be their ‘celebrity guest’ on New Years Eve. Wollongong’s Lord Mayor was expected but had not turned up by 11 pm. ‘Meet Karl our celebrity guest’, the host was saying to the passing milieu. We had never met until that afternoon. Beautiful people were all about. ‘Karl came off the water and over the dunes this afternoon out of the Nor’Easter.’

How close can you be! Closer to trouble than here I thought.

The pitching and waving she- oaks and tea tree brush and the wind blown sand and a pitching tent would have been the course for this night. That would have been me up that high sandy track, tent pitched behind the lower second berm. Today was rough and I was still trying to figure it out. I was plenty shook up and only just getting over it. However my luck had got better.

My host explained it like this, ‘Meet my friend the kayaker’. This was the umpteenth introduction, the host was laughing and he was getting a kick out of it, as the intro’s were getting more flamboyant.

‘He’s a blow in, literally Andy. Karl is a kayaker; pitched his tent around the side for the night; came in from the beach this arvo. Karl’s paddling down the coast and he came off the beach in this nor’easter. He’s literally a blow in.’ I wasn’t sure I liked the attention. Mark was very happy. He wanted to explain but there was too much boozy excitement about and he wasn’t going to get it all out. His wife was pulling him away because midnight was very close.

The house was protected from the howling wind, it was well below the full height of the dunes. On the front verandah party goers were now loudly socialising and I was having a beer at my host Mark’s kind insistence. The cheerful din of the party about me said it was a good one. Andy shook hands, although we had already been talking for quite a while, on a subject of mutual interest, building. He had built this clever house for Mark although the architect had given it its shape, a curved corrugated roofline, a modern design reflecting the form of the sand berms and perhaps the waves. The work was very nearly finished. ‘Just collecting a little more dosh to finish the renovations,’ were Mark’s parting words.

He was very proud of how things were working out. Mark was sharing a night with his friends, all to witness the beach house, his home in the final stages of renovation. It was also clear he knew these people well, many who were small business people like him. The subject was houses and business. They also had boats, surf boards and fished. This was Culburra on the beach after all. And they were lazy days, summer in the heat and it was vacation time.

I had a number of adrenalin rushes that day, the drug of choice for a surfer and as it happens, for a kayaker. Now I was settling down and was having trouble connecting. The crowd tired me although I was enjoying myself. I felt doggone tired as I stood there wishing to leave. What’s more I felt a little lost amongst new friends at midnight, New Years Eve 1998. This was my reward for surviving, kissing the happy wives of friendly strangers at midnight.

It was going to be a black nor’easter, the one that blows for days; the one that leaves you idle. More of a curse for the time it wastes languishing about beaches. So I should make the best of tonight before turning in and be ready to move on first thing next morning, in the unlikely chance this wind abated. The next sun-tanned lady approached lifted me out of my gloom. How close can you be! How close can you get! The next kiss was held in close. It was a good long kiss. So that was it for the day. We both left a little shocked, I with my impetuous behaviour and that sweet thing catching a visible breath before her next encounter. I was then left to my reflections. When you’re on the water and enjoying an expedition the most unexpected situations do happen.

I crawled into my sleeping bag. I left Kiama slipway that morning moving downwind in a Nor’easter quite contented. At the northern end of Seven Mile beach the waves rolled on in to shore and a little further down the waves steepened in the freshening breeze. Half way down the beach, a kilometre off shore, in the rising wind, the waterscape changed violently. I was ripping down parallel to the beach, riding the swell in a sea of whipped spray. Sets of breaking wave trains passed before me further along and out. Then it was simply a matter of time and that thought I recall very well. It will happen to me! The wave that came was as high as a telegraph pole, as it seemed at the time and as I climbed its steep face, I began to slow and tip, pushed back, turning, unable to top it. The crash and brace came together and out of the foam I sped down that wave out into the green, spitting salt water and shedding sheets of it. The foam shrank away and the white bubble popped all over me. The water cascaded off the creaking, weighted boat. It was the steepest, fastest, monster a Mirage 19 has ever ridden I reckon. Then there was that split second staring up the mouth of the Shoalhaven before ripping up the great, green slope to safety. It was angry in there and it was big and wild outside. I had then headed for the sea praying to escape any more of it.

I had never ever met this situation before, the prospect of being swept into purgatory, battling it out in a gully or some treacherous limbo zone where the river ebb flow was up against the incoming wind driven surf. Crashing on Crookhaven Head’s rocky shoreline was in one of these two scenarios. I was so lucky to miss this situation by immediately paddling out beyond the Heads, fortunately without crashing out into more monsters. Soon after, further south I landed on Culburra Beach, somewhat bewildered by the rapid change in conditions.

On reflection the lesson was – beware of estuaries in wind blown corners of beaches at headlands. The lie of the shallow sandy bottom at the estuary meant more turbulence far beyond the Shoalhaven’s river mouth & beach. It is not evident when the waters are calm and the wind is still. The sand deposited from the river builds up out to sea to the end of the headland and creates a very dangerous mixture of breaking waves and currents in the ever changing tides and wind.

Tomorrow the 30-35 knot wind will not drop, probably not for a few days now, hence the name, a black Nor’easter. Tonight in heaven to sleep. My last thoughts – beware of happy married women. They too can lead you to places you shouldn’t go – up a river without a paddle probably. I considered dangerous thoughts as the party noises drifted away into wistful musings… To a day I still remember Culburra for golden ladies, popping bubbles and fast, glorious smooth waves. How close can you be! Closer to trouble than here I thought. So now be quiet my racing heart and let me sleep.

Kurnell Kruisin [56]

May 1st 2004, Kurnell to Coogee beach and return (35km)

By Ian Coles

We spent a pleasant 5 ½ hours on the water with an average speed of 6.5 kph . Winds; W/NW 10/15 knots freshening to 20/25 knots in the afternoon, seas 1 to 1.5 metres rising to 2 metres later, Swell: S/SE 1-1.5 metres

Our trip leader was Howard Cook and our pod comprised Howard and Ian in Pittaraks, Bob in a Mirage 580. We put in at Kurnell and paddled across to La Perouse to meet up with Paul, and Tim both in Pittaraks. I am a SeaSkills groupie. As we left Kurnell Howard asked me for my risk assessment of the trip. I am still struggling with this concept for SS2. All I could think of was:

  • High: Shipping entering or leaving port might run over us. Likelihood: high. Control: Go behind approaching vessels
  • Medium: a freak wave cleans us up rounding Cape banks. Likelihood: Moderate. Control: keep well out to sea
  • Low: the wind increases and blew us out to sea. Likelihood: Rare
  • Very low: eaten by sharks. Likelihood: rare

I mention sharks as this is still a worry being only my second offshore trip of more than 4 hours. On the previous trip also with Howard we had a close encounter with a large Mako which I reported to the SeaSkills group. From the emails received I have accepted the fact that I am more likely to have a car accident on the way to the boat ramp than be attacked by a shark.

Two ships left port and one arrived during our crossing of the bay, I was truly amazed how I underestimated the speed these ships travel. A ship sighted on the Horizon as we left La Perouse passed us before we cleared Cape Banks reinforcing our risk analysis never attempt to pass in front of one.

Our pod of five left La Perouse and headed out to sea, which was like champagne, sparkling and crystal clear. At the northern headland of Botany Bay, Cape Banks we met large swell some over 3 metres. On the southern headland at Cape Solander there are signs warning this is a large wave area. The chart shows a depth of 10 metres at Cape Banks and drops quickly to 40 metres within in ½ mile and 60 metres 1 mile off the coast. It is also the most easterly point on this section of coast exposing it to the prevailing SE swell. So it is wise to keep a sharp lookout for large waves if you paddle close to the cliffs. I could see kelp way below us as we changed course for deeper water. The swell decreased as we headed north to around 1-1.5 metres, an hour later we entered Little Bay which was like glass and nosed into the beach. It is a pretty place, the barren sandstone cliffs on the seaward side give way to rolling green grass of a golf course with Prince Henry Hospital in the centre.

After a short break we continued north intending to stop at Long Bay. Howard the pied piper of Port Hacking whistled up a large school of dolphin. Coming up from behind they surfaced between our kayaks often two at a time, others cut across our bows, so close that I was sure I would run into a tail before it sunk beneath the surface. Everyone one ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ as the show went on. The highlight was like a scene out of Top Gun, where Tom Cruze hauls his fighter on to its back and flies inverted cockpit to cockpit 1 metre above a Russian MIG. I looked down and watched a grey back directly under my hull roll over exposing its white underside and run parallel with me matching my speed and course. I am sure it was smiling. The same was happening to everyone. Just as suddenly they disappeared and we discovered in the excitement we had passed Long Bay.

I am amazed at the visibility of the safety orange paddle caps some members wear. At first I thought it was a sail, about 2 klm up the coast as we gained ground a group of paddlers materialized. The orange hat turned into a paddler, I could make out the strong vertical blade and quick side exit. As an SS2 groupie I new this stroke having studied it for hours from every angle. So I bet the group ahead was Andrew Eddy’s. ‘You’re dreaming’, they said ‘we are mowing them down’. Tim backed my call and shortly after two paddlers detached themselves and paddled back to us, Rod Mercer and the black torpedo of Ian Phillips.

After a chat they set off at race pace to catch Andrew Eddy’s orange hat disappearing into the distance. We continued on to Wedding Cake Island, where Howard rolled after tripping while surfing a small wave wrapping itself round the island. We landed at Coogee Beach, which was flat calm with the westerly wind, and decided to head back to Long Bay for lunch as the wind was increasing.

Tim rigged his sail. I found this section of our trip the most difficult, the wind swung more to west, with wind gusts to 20 knots on our beam. I had to brace a few times and was convinced I would take a swim. The difficulty I found was edging the kayak to maintain my course, and exposing the raised edge to the gusting westerly. I gradually became convinced my Pittarak would not spit me out into the ocean after following in Tim’s wake for a while; he had no trouble trimming his sail and braced the boat comfortably in the gusts.

We pushed on to Little Bay for lunch and were all glad of the rest, Howard and Bob got stoves going Howard is road testing his modified Trangia and cooked waffles with it.

After lunch the short trip back to Cape Banks was easy until we turned into Botany Bay to meet the westerly head on. The bay was a mass of whitecaps and a short wind chop. We made good progress to La Perouse and even had enough energy left to all do some rolls before heading across the Bay to Kurnell. OK everyone else managed to roll; luckily I managed to push off from the bottom. The Bounty was moored off the oil wharf for the Kurnell Festival we paid her a visit.

A young woman leant over the Bounty’s rail and said ‘I saw you go off this morning, where on earth have you been’ we told her and she said ‘did any of you think to phone home’. We paddled off for a quick 500 metres down wind to the beach and phoned home. Can’t wait to do this trip again in June when the whale migration is on.

Dear Editor… [56]

American Pie I

Valparaiso Indiana, 30 July 2003

To Whom It May Concern,

I have greatly enjoyed and benefited from your articles in the NSW Sea Kayaking Club’s online magazine. They are not only entertaining to read, but also convey a fund of reasoned, reliable knowledge based on experience rather than manufacturers’ press releases (which last, alas, are the reason I don’t subscribe to, purchase or read kayaking magazines. I’ve little interest and even less use for article after tiresome article of gushing enthusiasm).

This requisite kuster-kissing now having been seen to, I can move on to the body of my correspondence.

I just finished reading Mr. Pilka’s article about the night paddle (vol 24). My first reaction was “What a bunch of suicidal nincompoops! Don’t these chowder-heads have families or pets or anything to live for?!” Then I remembered that y’all are Australian, which accounts for behavior like that, and considered the matter settled.

Still, one question continued to nag at me; namely, where were their radios?

I don’t know how it is in your country, but here in the States we can purchase any of several small, inexpensive radios, which offer limited range (a mile or so), are reasonably robust and require either no license at all, or the mere formality of filling out a form and paying a nominal license fee. I do know that you require a license to use the 11-meter Citizens Band. We don’t in America, and it’s a shame. It’s not without good reason that American Ham Radio operators refer to 11 meters here as “Children’s Band”.

Speaking of ham radio, I would recommend it (I am a ham myself — call sign KB9WFQ) for several reasons. First, the 2 -meter band which all hams are permitted falls in the same neighborhood as the VHF Marine Band, so it behaves similarly. Further, modern hand-held radios are now very small and very robust (Yaesu of Japan makes one the size of a credit card which they claim is submersible and can be connected to a GPS unit to report your position to others.).

Of course if you want to talk to the Coast Guard, or other ships you need a Marine Band VHF. But for night paddling in a group in crummy weather, gee whiz, you ought to have something. Mr. Pilka’s story could have ended just after Paragraph 10 had each member carried a pocket-sized two-way radio of but a quarter-mile’s range.

One other question I had, especially after reading the “Lessons Learned”, was, “Has no one there ever heard of the ‘rally point’?” It’s something taught to practically every soldier in every army, and most Boy Scout troops use it on their back country hikes. Kayak touring could certainly benefit from it too.

Simply put, it’s where you go when everything goes haywire. It’s the infantryman’s answer to the “panic button”, and I believe that Mr. Pilka and his party would have benefited materially from this procedure.

It works like this. At various logical places along a route of travel, the group leader selects “rally points” where, if the group falls apart or a member gets separated, they (he) are to fall back to, to re-group, re-gain their bearings and resume their travel. Since the route is (usually) known beforehand, choosing easily identifiable places which an isolated, scared, probably disoriented and possibly injured team member can get to without undue difficulty. The soldier selects his rally points with certain additional tactical considerations in mind, but these need not concern us, as safety is our only desideratum.

The group leader points out the rally points twice to his group; once beforehand on the map, and again en route by pointing to the place as they pass it. In most armies this is done by twirling a pointed finger above the head, then pointing to the place. Ach group member repeats the signal, assuring the group leader that all hands know its location.

As many rally points are selected as necessary, and ea each is passed, it supersedes those before it. In this way everyone knows that it’s a short distance to safety, that their comrades will be there to help, ant that the group leader is looking out for their welfare.

If, as was the case in the story, conditions necessitate a change in plan en route, the leader chooses rally points “on the fly”, using his own best judgment.

I hope this brief outline of a simple safety technique informs and influences your thinking on the topic of group travel, and that ultimately you develop a system of accounting for and retrieving separated paddlers that is uniquely suited to kayaking,

One last item. Hiawatha was male. Perhaps Mr. Pilka had in fact wished to make reference to Sacajawea, the young, female Indian guide and translator for the Lewis and Clark expeditions. A somewhat more fitting allusion, all things considered.

Very Truly Yours,

Phil Simcich


Dear Mr Editor,

What’s with the sudden deluge of images of Ms Schremmer in the last two issues of NSW Sea Kayaker?  Never knew of the woman before issue 54 in which there were at least 11 photos (a new Club record?) of her (some of dubious taste, I might add) and only a few less (including a full-page IBC glossy!) in issue 55. What won’t the woman do to be photographed?  Is she the WOWSERS secret weapon or the Paris Hilton of Australia?  Has money changed hands (I hear rumours of you sporting a brand new kevlar-hulled Mirage 580SPX with KB Mainsail v.7.03)?. Maybe there has there been a shift in editorial policy (out with old (Mr Snoad) and in with the new) or perhaps you have introduced a new game “Finding Claudia” (as the inclusion of Ms Fizzy Thomson’s article in issue 55 might suggest)?  One senses that the rapid fire publication of issues 54 and 55 were a deliberate strategy to gain maximum impact for Ms Schremmer’s launch. To cap it off, she was the Photo of the Month for February on the Club’s website (goodness knows what she did for this).  The issue begs many answers and hopefully the Flotsam team are on the case.  I look forward to your response in the June (CF) edition.

Respectfully yours,


Now that you mention it, I am quite enjoying my brand-new kevlar Mirage 580SPX! – Ed.

American Pie II


I have only recently started to sea kayak here in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, USA. The village is located on the Mississippi Sound adjacent to Louisiana and we are protected from the Gulf of Mexico by barrier islands that lie about 10 miles off shore. I am 63 years old, retired and just enjoying life. I have a Perception Shadow 16.5 in which I paddle once or twice a week.

Your excellent magazine articles on your web site have been most helpful. I came back recently from a very hard paddle in 15 to 20 knot winds. I had a pain in my left thumb that felt like a broken bone. Thanks to David Winkworth’s article on “Common Arm Injuries in Sea Kayaking” I was able to understand the problem. David described the cause as though he was with me that very day.

Thanks for the help and the best to you and your fellow Aussies.


Tom Murray

More on “A Knock on the Noggin”

Dear Editor,

My experience on an unexpected knock certainly taught me a lesson. It happened some time ago at Wimby Beach in the Batemans Bay area. Wimby Beach is a small beach just south of Surf Beach. I did not regard it as providing a surf as the waves when they occurred were rarely over half a metre in height.

On the day of my incident the waves were very small. I had just landed after paddle and was relaxing for a few seconds, when the kayak and me were lifted up turned over and dumped down on my right shoulder. Following this unwanted experience my shoulder took a couple of weeks to recover.

Lesson: Don’t relax after a paddle until I am safely out of my boat!

Best regards,

John Hill

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.