A Whale of a Time in the Whitsundays [58]

By David Whyte

Thump! A huge whale breeched not more than 200 metres in front and was coming straight towards me. Thump! 150 metres this time. Mark was yelling at me to get my camera out but I wasn’t game as I only had my SLR with me. Closer and closer it came and then at the last minute veered ever so slightly to my side and came crashing down not more than 20 metres away; so close I felt some of the spray from the splash. It then continued past and when it was safely away I got my camera out, but unfortunately I didn’t have the zoom lens on and the shots were a little far away.

This was the first day of another spectacular trip through the Whitsundays starting from Mackay and finishing at Bowen 2 weeks later. Five of us started and finished with none of the group spread we had last year. But it wasn’t incident free and the start of this trip had an eerie familiar ring to it.

Arunas and I drove up from Canberra with 3 kayaks on top of Mark’s car. Andrew drove up from Sydney by himself with Harry and Mark flying. We left on a cold Canberra morning and in one day managed to do 1600 km arriving at Mt. Morgan near midnight and stole a sleeping spot at the local dam. It didn’t take long before we arrived in Mackay the next day and while we were lounging around in a local café we noticed a car go past with two sea kayaks on top. As we didn’t know what sort of car Andrew drove and not real sure what he looked like Arunas ran out and waved him down. It wasn’t Andrew but two kayakers who had just done the trip we were planning. These two were to become known as Saint Dave and Saint John for reasons that will become obvious later. They were camped near Andrew in the same caravan park so we arranged to meet later for a meal.

First off Arunas needed to get some sand pegs but, strange as it may seem, these weren’t easy to come by in Mackay. Arunas attempted to explain what they looked like to one camping storeowner and finished by saying,

“You know, just like snow pegs”.

“Snow pegs eh, we don’t have much call for them up here”.

We drove around to the Caravan Park at Black’s Beach and a beautiful spot it was. In fact it was an ideal starting spot. Great campsite right next to the beach and the beach sloped enough so we could easily launch no matter what the tide. In fact it’s a perfect spot to start this trip. It’s just a pity it’s been sold to developers and next year it will be full of condominiums.

While Mark was still on the plane the rest of us decided it would be best to go a day earlier as the weather forecast for Monday didn’t look good. I could hear the alarm bells ringing as it was reminiscent of last year where the rush to leave early saw Matt head off with the car keys in his pocket. We rushed around reorganizing everything so we could do the car shuffle that night. This meant leaving as soon as Mark got off the plane and going on a 4 hour trip. John very kindly offered to follow us up in his car and drive us back, for which we were forever grateful. Mark arrived about 17.30 and Arunas said.

“Don’t worry about your gear, we got it out of the car, it’s by the tent. Dave has to leave straight way”.

So I set off again after having already done a few hundred kms that morning. John came up behind and Andrew went with John to help with the driving. Ray, a friend of a friend offered to look after our cars so we met him in Bowen around 8pm. Ray had been working that night for the Lions Club manning a food stall at the North Queensland Rodeo, which was on in Bowen that evening. Just before we left we asked him where we could get a bite to eat and his best advice was the Rodeo, so we followed him down. We must have looked a sight, and judging by the stares we got, we did, in our kayaking shirts and sports sandals lining up with all the Cowboys and Girls in their riding boots and Akubras ordering a Hamburger. Andrew wasn’t game to ask if they had any vegetarian ones.

It was nearly midnight when we got back to the caravan park only to be greeted by Mark who looked like someone had told him he had to paddle a Nadgee for the trip.

“We have a problem! There was another bag.. it’s got all my paddling gear in it – it’s still in the car. It’s got my gladiator hat (how could I leave with out it), cag, gloves and shorts.”

Now the hat wasn’t a problem as I carry several and lent him one of mine. Which he lost in an incident – more on that later. But there was worse to come.

At the crack of dawn Mark again appeared, this time looking even worse. “Dave,” he said with a slight quiver in his voice, “my skirt was in that bag, too – I have no spray skirt!” Mark had made this terrible realisation at 1am and had consequently not slept well at all.

We sat down and tried to come up with alternatives. For half an hour we had all our gear in front of us trying to work out how we could make a spray skirt. It was reminiscent of the movie Apollo 13 where a team at Houston was trying to design a way to fix a tank leak on the crippled spacecraft with a limited number of items.

Mark: “What if we cut a hole in the bottom of a refugee bag and put the straps over my shoulder?”

David: “What if we cut up all our underpants, take the elastic out and sew it to a piece of my spare fly?”

Mark: “No. But I have it; I will sew a Tshirt to my cockpit cover and use that.”

Then Saint Dave comes over. “John’s got a spare skirt.. I’m sure he’d lend it to you. Mark then tried it on, it fitted! Better still the two good Samaritans then gave him a pair of swimmers, some natty purple shorts and a beige business shirt. It was unanimous, Mark Pearson had never looked better on any trip even when he tried the G-string on – more on that later, too.

With the tropical morning gleaming off the calm sea we set off for Keswick. Mark and I had originally thought about catching a ferry across after last year’s slog but we were glad we didn’t. The proximity of the whales and their breeching made it one of the best paddling days I have ever had. There was one time, before we even saw the whales, when they were under us and our cockpits acted like speakers resonating with the sounds of their voices – awesome.

When we left the beach we noticed the huge amount of gear on the top of Andrew’s kayak.

“Andrew, we tend to put our gear inside our boats”.

“I can’t, it’s full of food”.

What would feed any other kayaker for month would only last Andrew a week.

But still, Andrew had to feed himself and his voice.

From Keswick we paddled the 16nm over to Scawfell Island, which I last visited as a young sailor in 1973 aboard HMAS Anzac. This was a deviation from last year’s trip but well worth the effort. A big bay sheltered from the SE made it a popular anchorage for yachts heading up from down south. It had covered tables, a water tank with water in it and hordes of blue butterflies that were so thick on the ground they were like a carpet. I was chatting to a German couple who had been sailing around for 10 years on their yacht. They were interested in how far you could go in a kayak so I told them about their fellow countryman Oscar Spec, who paddled from Berlin to Australia and was promptly arrested, as it was the start of WWII. I mentioned my conversation to the others and Andrew pipes up:

“I hope you didn’t mention the war.”

“I did, but only once and I think I got away with it.”

While we were at Scawfell the Rangers turned up for the first time in 8 months and checked our permits, which were a bit dodgy but they didn’t notice. Mark hooked a large fish which tangled up his fishing gear and he lost the lot and nearly capsized. Mark’s next incident would be a bit more dramatic.

The flow of the tides had an impact on my paddle to Cockermouth. I didn’t check the tide charts that day and Mark and I headed for the east side of Cockermouth and the rest to the west. Mark later changed and went to join them but as I approached the east side of the island I didn’t appear to be getting any closer and was moving away to the east. I was practically on Silloth Rocks before turning west and slogging straight into the current. The last leg of this 15nm crossing seemed like I was paddling in a time warp and not going anywhere. Although Cockermouth is a lovely island and has some of the best snorkeling just off the beach, the sandflies give you quite a pounding. We only spent one night there this time, as it was a bit cool for snorkeling.

On the day we were to leave Cockermouth a strong SE’ly was kicking in. Mark had been complaining about the lack of a decent sailing wind until now.

“I want some white knuckle sailing, the sort that makes you feel you’re alive.” Neptune picks up on comments like that. So we had a bit of group spread, the rest of us wanted to spend the night on Carlisle to try and find some hidden lake that Arunas knew about. Mark’s plan was to head to Goldsmith via the northern end of Carlisle where we would catch up the next day. Mark headed off and was whistling along like a Sydneyto- Hobart contender and was nearly out of sight in no time. Even the sail over to Carlisle was pretty exciting and a few times I put my sail back down but the wind was more side on for us.

Sailing down the picturesque channel between Carlisle and Brampton saw us call in at Carlisle camping ground for lunch We were going to camp the night there but the day was still young and a beautiful breeze was going straight to the next destination so we said. “Bugger the lake” and set off for Goldsmith. “I bet Mark will be glad to see us.” Now Mark had a good few hours start by the time the rest of us eventually left Carlisle and therefore I couldn’t work out why I could see his black sail in the distance behind me as I neared Goldsmith. When we got to the campsite the epic came out. “Bad day on Tuross Bar” all over again. (Refer to NSW Sea Kayaker Vol. 25) Best we let Mark tell his tale …

“Well, there had been surprisingly little friction. I wanted to go to Goldsmith, the group wanted to go west to Carlisle to see some dumb lake. To me the wind said ‘north’, and also I wanted to stay ‘wilderness’ and keep away from Brampton resort and its motors. So I had politely told the rest of the pod that they really didn’t have a clue, that their island selection sucked, and that their so-called plan to waste such a good wind had flies on it. Even to the point when we set off from the beach I thought they would recognize superior wisdom and weaken, but no, they stuck doggedly to their crappy idea. I suppose it was all about pride.

Anyhow, the passage between Cockermouth and Carlisle was rough indeed.. An 18-20 knot southerly hitting a strong south flowing tidal current. I was a little tense early – not only had I not sailed for a few months, I had a new 2.07m wing paddle that I’d never even been in the surf with, and I knew it would not be as reassuring as the old flat Skee.

But after ten minutes of paddling my magnificent Inuit explorer, now confirmed as the most responsive sea kayak in the southern hemisphere, things were going OK. Rudderless & skeg-less, as that sort of blatant cheating is not for me, I soon got into my busy sailing rhythm, carving across waves, bracing left, ruddering right, surfing down some nice wind waves. The paddle was not as good as a flat but I was no longer thinking about it much and to me that was a good sign.

Then I realised I was getting cold. Waves were breaking over me regularly and with only a cotton business shirt the wind chill was getting me. I decided to close in on the northern end of Carlisle, find a sheltered spot, and put another top on.

As I got within about a hundred metres of the rocky tip of the island a much stronger wind gust, probably caused by the nearby cliffs, hit me hard. I leaned into a fast and radical brace. Then a second big gust.. The boat suddenly slowed and the wing paddle gave me little warning that its limited bracing surface area was inadequate for the load. I went over. This was a shock. In seven years of the practice, I have not capsized during ‘serious’ sailing, only when being a bit slack and getting distracted by seeing someone catching a fish, or seeing a lady rubbing sun tan oil into her ample breasts. Anyhow I was upside down, and there was no chance of a roll. I had the sail double tethered to stay up.

So I did the wet exit. Dave’s hat was gone – the first casualty. At this point I was a little worried by the situation. I had never rolled a boat with a wing paddle so that was an unknown. I was also alone, and knew that if I didn’t get sorted out here I was likely to blow away from Carlisle into rough seas.

So I started my self rescue routine. Glasses and sandals came off and were stowed. I tethered the sail and mast. Put my mask on, positioned the paddle on the right side of the boat. Slipped under the boat, head up facing the back of the cockpit, which was eerily quiet out of the wind. Then spent 20 seconds charging my lungs with air (at this point I remember thinking how absolutely weird this all was… here was I alone about 10kms from my pod, with my head in the hull of an upside down kayak..). Finally I did the somersault, grabbed the paddle and set up for the roll.

But where was the water surface? I reached and reached and wiggled my bum but it was simply not there. I tried a roll but of course it failed. Out I came. Again and again I tried but the same result. I re-emerged beside the Explorer … she was pointing towards the island, but was not lying straight in the water. The combination of wind and current was holding one side down. The side I needed to roll from (of course I can do an offside roll, but with a new style of paddle didn’t even think of it). A gnawing memory reminded me of the Bad Day at Tuross Bar, when I couldn’t roll that Dancer, and that day could have killed me….

I suppose I could have turned the boat round to point the other way but at this point I realised that the boat appeared to be drifting very slowly towards the rocks, so I decided to swim her in. This took a few minutes but I kicked and used my free arm with a grim determination.. After all these failures I was now very keen to get my feet on land!

Once I could stand on a submerged rock I managed with difficulty to right the Explorer and jump back in and start pumping. I’d also lost a sandal. I was now cold and tired. I decided to ditch my plan, and headed to the channel between Carlisle and Brampton, to rest up, get warm, and then find the others.

I found a little beach and lay in the sun for twenty minutes. Then I returned to the boat for something to eat. I looked up … three hundred metres away in the middle of the channel was the amazing sight of four sea kayaks, under sail and in line astern, heading at speed in the direction of Goldsmith. My companions appeared to have changed their collective mind.. perhaps they had missed me? I waved, raised my sail, but none of them, not one, looked over! I shouted a range of obscenities strongly linked to their inability to stick to a plan. Still no response. They were disappearing fast into the whitecaps. Even though I was still cold, I had no choice but to leap into the Explorer and give chase.

Mark and I didn’t get much of a look at Goldsmith last year so this time we stayed an extra day to look around and give Mark a chance to recover from his ordeal. A climb to the top of a hill gave us a magnificent view south from where we came and north to Thomas Island where we were going. And what do you think we found hanging in the trees but another G-String. Going by last year’s trip it appears the Whitsundays is littered with discarded G-strings. Mark couldn’t resist trying the tiny garment on. “Does my bum look big in this? Do I look as good as Trevor?” (Refer to End-Oh! NSW Sea Kayaker vol. 53)

I think I am going to have to seriously look at whom I paddle with in future.

From here we headed off to Shaw where we hoped to find some water in the creek. On arrival at the campsite Arunas said, “I like this place” so we decided to stop for an extra day. We had only been gone a week and we were into our third rest day. This was a real cruiser’s trip. There was fresh water in a pool good enough to rinse our clothes and bodies.

Paddling up the east side of Shaw we saw a bay that look interesting for camping but on closer inspection found it was too bouldery. A week or so later, when Diana and I visited the other side of this azimuth during our yacht hire, we found a beautiful sandy beach and shady campsites. At the right tide you could land on the eastern side and carry your kayak over. If you were low on water it was a very short paddle over to Lindeman to top up with the bonus of a climb to the top of Lindeman for some magnificent panoramic views.

Civilisation and hot showers beckoned us as we headed over to Hamilton Island to restock with food. It was packed with tourists and sailors, as it was Hamilton Island race week. Million dollar yachts everywhere – and they were the cheap ones. Mark managed to buy himself some sandals and as one of my Tevas had fallen apart he gave me the one remaining one from the incident. I looked a bit odd with the two different sandals but it worked. We stayed until evening for fish and chips then had a pleasant night paddle over to the north end of Henning.

An easy paddle the next day saw us at Whitehaven by lunch, and although it was badly infested with tourists by 5pm they had nearly all gone, with only a few campers left. We decided on a big day the next day and went from Whitehaven to Armit Island (60kms) sailing in some decent rain squalls on the way, which was a bit unusual. As I was the slowest paddler the others had to wait in the lee of the rugged cliffs of Double Cone Island, from there it was only a short hop to Armit. Armit had a wilder remote feel to it and it would have been great except for the burrs. I had taken a karrimat instead of a thermarest but I had forgotten how little padding they have and 10 years of thermaresting had made me a bit soft.

From there we went to Gloucester Island – again a lovely and imposing island with huge hills adding to its majestic beauty. We spent another rest day there to explore the island. The vegetation was interesting as there was very little ground cover although lots of trees and shrubs. This meant you could walk for miles through the scrub without much difficulty and every now and then a flash of brilliant colour as a scrub turkey disappeared into the undergrowth. We had another try at fishing, dragging lures along the shoreline but not much luck. Harry hooked a wolf herring which provided us with a great bit of entertainment as we watched a young sea eagle attempt to come down and swoop it off the shore right next to us. The kapok trees were in bloom displaying hordes of yellow flowers contrasting with the dry countryside. And there were no burrs.

There was one down side to the island. A family camped nearby had brought a generator and every night at 6 they started it up for a couple of hours. You wonder why people bother going camping if they have to take a generator with them.

The final day saw us up early for the last leg into Bowen. We all took bearings for the long crossing across the bay but Harry and Arunas misread where Bowen was and went way off to the east and for the first time on the trip I wasn’t the last in. We pulled into a grassy bank inside a marina, which had water, showers and toilets. The rest drove back south and I caught a bus to Townsville to meet my daughter and wife there. Diana and Michelle were on their way to a restaurant and one look at me with my kayaking clothes and odd sandals made them rethink where they were going to eat at. Diana and I came back to Airlie beach to meet some friends and hired a yacht for 8 days to go all over the Whitsundays again.

Although our trip was probably a grade 4, with the island hops and some reasonable size following seas, you could very easily make it a grade 2 trip. You would start from Airlie Beach and do a circular route around the Islands. Even though it’s the main tourist area I noticed enough small bays that are unsuitable for yachts and therefore had no one there.

And finally a special thanks to John and Dave.

Strong Men Falter on the South-east Corner [58]

By Angophora Kangchenjunga

This is a story about a little adventure – of the sea-faring, sea-kayaking kind. I hope it might interest those of you who did not come along on it, and those of you who did. It is about some travels along the Croajingolong/Nadgee wilderness coastline. It is also about some remarkable individuals who like being in the sea.

This stretch of coast still has some reasonably intact wilderness areas – places where humans have allowed nature to do its thing. And nature’s thing is amazing.

Stuart Charles Trueman, Paul Raymond Loker, Lawrence Anthony Geoghegan, Andrew Moonshine McAuley and Angophora Kanchenjunga (for that is how I will have to nominate myself, not being a current member of the royal NSW Sea Kayaking Club at the time of this outing) left across the closed inlet of Bemm River against a 20 knot headwind in October. I will try to convey some of the jewels along the way.

Have you ever been woken by a pair of white buttocks poking through your tent in the middle of the night? Well I was. They were Moonshine’s. And on them hung a little Nadgee tick that required plucking. Andrew, I will savour the sight of your tick-infested cheeks for the rest of my years. What did I do to deserve this blessing?

To me, it was a trip showing the good of wilderness and humans. We watched seals lolloping along behind us for many kilometres; poking their curious heads up to then dive down and swim around our boats. Whales broached. The beaches were empty. The rivers were clean. The bush breathed with life – all sorts of life, not just this monocultural reduction that we strangely seem to prefer in our human habitations. We caught fish, cooked them straight on the fire ‘black-fella style’, and ate them fresh. We lazed in the afternoon sun, warm, tired (well I was!), happy. We talked and ate together. We had long sleeps and woke up feeling rested. At each new campsite (including on the golf course at one town) there were places to explore – a pond of fresh water resounding with frogs and birds, a protected cove that provided shelter from the seas we had come in from, an area where nature was slowly reclaiming previous farmland – bringing diversity back to man’s monoculture, rock outcrops where hosts of seals lived and carried on jumping into the water in hundreds and teeming around us as we sat watching.

There was the paddling – sometimes easy with light winds making each stroke easier, cross winds that pushed you around – fighting to keep your line, headwinds where each stroke was fought through glue. And swells in all directions that acted as the medium over which to move – sometimes silky smooth, sometimes rhythmically undulating, and occasionally wild and full of spray.

And then there were the people – a ragged collective who all took to their confined spaces early each morning for their own different reasons – to be in the sea, its movement and sounds, its expanse and freedom, and the mysteries that lie beneath its surface; the inner adventure of seeing where it is possible for a little human to go – and it is incredible how far that can be; to play in the waves, explore the shores – the kelp and barnacles surging up and down, run the gauntlets between the rocks, to fall over and sometimes come up; to immerse ourselves in a world aside from ourselves; to go alone to places where we have to get it right or it could go very, very wrong.

And then we talked, and bragged and bitched. Oh Club what functions you impeccably perform – a pool for the wandering minstrels, a den of gossip and rivalry, an opportunity for altruism – to help others learn the ways of boats and seas, a chance to get away from the whole bloody mess. It was good to go there together – to laugh and play, over up-dog and down-dog, to give confidence to my quaking little legs. We mused over trivialities. Is there a moral difference between an action and an omission, between killing and letting die?

One day the wind howled, the seas sprayed, the waves rolled around us. We went for it – and had a hoot – chasing down the waves, rocking around to control our little boats, feeling the surge of adrenaline pump through our veins. As Moonshine said, “It’s days like this that you remember”. I’m not sure if he was referring to the ticks that were hanging off his arse.

All was on track, until alack (yippee!) one of the strongmen folded – we had to stop short of our target because his body just couldn’t take it anymore. Next time we’ll go a bit softer of him, the poor blighter.

And thanks to Nadia for lugging us all over the place. For all our female counterparts for womaning the forts while we were away mucking around.

The Skeleton:

  • Bemm River to Sydenham Inlet: 3km 20 knot winds OTN, no swell
  • Bemm River to Wingan Inlet: 49 km 10-15 knot winds UTC, 1m swell OTN
  • Wingan Inlet to Mallacoota: 30 km 30-35 knot winds UTC, 2 m swell UTC
  • Mallacoota to Nadgee River: 35 km 10-20 knot winds UTC, 1/2m swell UTC
  • Nadgee River to Bitangabee Cove: 25 km 10-15 knot winds UTC, 1m swell UTC
  • Bitangabee Cove to Mowarry Point: 10 km 10-20 knot winds OTN, 1m swell OTN
  • Mowarry Point to Merimbula: 35 km 10-20 knot winds AOTP, 1m swell AOTP

Code

UTC:
Up the cracker
OTN:
On the nose
AOTP:
All over the place

So what does wilderness mean? To me it means a place where humans are not, or not much. And that is vitally important.

Rock’n’Roll 2005 [58]

Hi folks,

Rock ‘n’ Roll is upon us again! Rock ‘n’ Roll 2005 is fast approaching so grab your kayak and get ready for the threeday Club extravaganza at Hawks Nest, Port Stephens, from Saturday 12 March 2005 until Monday 14 March 2005, with arrival and registration on Friday 11 March 2005.

As always, the focus of the weekend is having a good time with socialising off the water and various kayaking events on the water. Activities include:

  • Half-Day Trips (Saturday & Sunday)
  • Full-Day Trips (Monday)
  • Navigation
  • Yoga
  • Photography
  • Nutrition for Expedition Paddling
  • Kayak & Safety Gear
  • Rescues & Towing Approaches
  • Rolling Competition
  • Handicap Kayak Race
  • Saturday Night Buffet Dinner
  • Sausage Sizzle (Saturday and Sunday)
  • And much more!

In addition to these activities retailers will be setting up during the weekend to exhibit and demonstrate their wares for the benefit of members. Plus excellent Saturday evening entertainment!

Important Information

The weekend is being held at the Jimmys Beach Caravan Park in Hawks Nest, Port Stephens and is a three-day weekend, from Saturday 12 to Monday 14 March 2005 (with arrival and registration opening on Friday 11 March 2005).

Jimmys Beach Caravan Park has both camping and cabin facilities. We have reserved the whole Caravan Park for this special event. The range of accommodation includes Beach Houses ($138 per night), Deluxe Cabins ($107 per night), Ensuite Cabins ($57.50 per night), Standard Cabins ($44.50 per night), On- Site Vans ($38 per night), and Camping Sites ($11 per person per night). The first three have ensuite bathrooms while the latter two and the camping sites have shared amenities. Most houses and cabins can sleep 6 people, but we recommend 4 per cabin/van. All houses and cabins have to be booked for all three nights. For bookings, please contact Ken from Jimmys Beach Caravan Park on phone (02) 4997 0466 between 8:30am – 5:30pm and let him know that you are a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll happening.

On arrival at the Park all attendees should head to Rock ‘n’ Roll Headquarters in Beach House No 2 to complete their registration.

Saturday night dinner is being catered by the Rotary Club as is the sausage sizzle on Saturday and Sunday. Prior confirmation and payment for the Saturday night buffet dinner is required as indicated on your Rock ‘n’ Roll registration form. To save an ecological paper plate disaster you must provide your own plate and cutlery. It is BYO drinks.

Please note no pets are allowed in the Caravan Park.

Adrian Clayton has kindly offered to make available his Mirage Doubles for hire free-of-charge to Club members who would like to take their non-Club member spouses for a paddle at Rock ‘n’ Roll 2005, to be arranged on the day. Apart from this, all attendees must supply their own kayaks for the duration of the Rock ‘n’ Roll.

All Rock ‘n’ Roll attendees are required to register for the weekend (whether you are camping, staying in a cabin, staying elsewhere, or coming for the day) and all attendees are issued with a waterproof ID card for the weekend. Without the ID card you won’t be joining in any activities so you won’t be having any fun. Bring your PFD along with you to Headquarters to attach the ID cards to.

There is a refundable $20.00 security deposit for the ID card which will help remind you to return it to Rock ‘n’ Roll Headquarters before you check out.

After your arrive you can sign up for the various activities you wish to participate in. This is easily done at Rock ‘n’ Roll Headquarters at any time but be quick, as places are limited.

Registration prior to 15 February 2005 is strongly recommended as we need to produce a laminated ID card for each attendee and to do this on the spot for every member will cause l-o-n-g delays.

Only members of NSWSKC are eligible to attend Rock ‘n’ Roll. If you are not a Club member you will need to join prior to registering for Rock ‘n’ Roll. Club registration forms can be found on our Web site http://www.nswseakayaker.asn.au/about/join.htm.

If you have any questions or want any further details prior to the event, please email the Rock ‘n’ Roll Events Coordinators Claudia and Kevin at rnr2005@nswseakayaker.asn.au.

We hope to see you in Hawks Nest for the big happening!

Claudia Schremmer and Kevin Brennan

A Ramble From the Editor [58]

By Ian Coles

Every day I scan my inbox looking amongst the business messages for a distraction for 5 minutes – a message with pictures or an article for the next issue of the magazine. I am constantly amazed at the vast range of topics you come up with and the time and effort that is put into each project. It is a pleasure to put it all together in print.

This month we have several pictorial stories of just pictures and captions. It is a shame that we can’t do the material justice by printing on art paper . This will come when we have more advertising revenue to defray the extra production costs involved. It is one of my goals for this year.

Peter Osman should be commended for his well written and researched article on Short Wave Radios This article and recent technical articles on batteries by Stephan Meyn and Dave Winkworth are valuable to all members and I am pleading with you all for more articles like these for future issues. So if you have an idea and a bit of time, contact me now.

Once again the magazine is full and I have had to hold articles over until the next issue. I apologize to all who missed out and thank you for your patience. This issue is jammed full of interesting things. If you meet up with any of the contributors, take time to thank them for their article. A lot of hard work and many hours went into it and they deserve a pat on the back. Enjoy.

Short Wave Radio [58]

By Peter Osman

The farthest from civilization I’ve ever kayaked is within the Kent group of islands in the middle of Bass Strait. A wonderful wild place and easy to get to, We traveled there on a fishing boat organized by Vince and spent most of the Christmas break 2003/04 paddling around the islands. You can understand it was really important to track the weather. So what options were feasible?

Some sources of weather information

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) marine forecast is available: by telephone on 1900 955 370; by Internet on: http://www.bom.gov.au/weather/global/; on VHF radio; or as a shortwave radio service described at: http://www.bom.gov.au/marine/marine_weather_radio.shtml.

Marine & Safety Tasmania have a site with a list of marine radio stations including Mersey Radio, a very popular site with local fisherman and a valuable source of on water information during the discussion following each forecast. http://www.mast.tas.gov.au/domino/mast/newweb.nsf/

Weatherzone is a source accessible by telephone or Internet but not radio. http://www.weatherzone.com.au/.

Modes of access

  • Satellite telephone – works anywhere but is expensive
  • Shortwave radio – works anywhere but is inappropriate for use at sea
  • CDMA telephone – works most places
  • VHF radio – very patchy coverage, but allows you to call boats within line of sight.
  • Internet cafes – comes with coffee!

In the Kent group of islands the average mobile phone has no chance of getting a signal. A CDMA phone can work, but you need to climb a hill and wander about to receive a signal. Of course a satellite phone will operate anywhere and is likely to be the most effective option, but it’s very costly. Shortwave radio is relatively cheap, typically $250, its reliable and you have many options for sources of weather information. There’s also a deal of fun to be had in operating such a radio well. From here on I’ll just focus on the shortwave receivers. Note they receive but don’t transmit. They are straightforward to use, certainly easier then the average TV remote control, but there are some points worth thinking about.

SW Theory and Terminology

The term frequency is used all the time with radios. It describes the rate at which the radio signal vibrates in cycles per second or Hertz (Hz). A related term is wavelength, which describes how far the wave can travel during one vibration cycle. As radio waves travel at the speed of light the frequency equals the speed of light divided by the wavelength. Radios can be tuned to respond to single frequencies, each carrying a signal from a radio station, one frequency per station.

If a radio is tuned to a frequency between 3 million cycles per second (frequency 3MHz – wavelength 100 meters) and 30 million cycles per second (frequency 30 MHz – wavelength 10 meters) it is operating as a high frequency (HF) radio, or if you are old fashioned a short wave (SW) wireless. Within this range the electromagnetic waves carrying the signal can travel around the world, even with quite low powered equipment. This is because the signals bounce backwards and forwards between the earth and layers of electrically charged air called the ionosphere, which float 50 to 100 km above the earth’s surface. Electromagnetic waves with frequencies greater than 30Mhz, the upper limit of the shortwave spectrum, include: VHF and UHF radio, television, microwaves and light. These tend to shoot straight through the ionosphere into space. Frequencies below 3Mhz the lower limit of the shortwave spectrum, tend to hug the ground and fade away fairly quickly. A useful reference is http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Shortwave

Using A Shortwave Radio To Receive Weather Forecasts

Two important and subtle differences between using a shortwave and a domestic radio are: the single sideband control (SSB) and the ability to pre-select stations using push button tuning.

SSB is essential to receive BoM forecasts and many cheaper radios don’t have it, so its important to check that the radio you buy comes with this facility. What SSB does is cut out redundant information from the signal at the transmitter and then feed it back in at the receiver. This means the transmitted signal can focus its energy in a narrow band of frequencies; the focused energy travels further and is less likely to be interfered with by signals on adjacent bands. Anyway when you have tuned in the station you will probably find the announcer has a voice sounding like Donald Duck or a demon possessed. To exorcise the demon find the upper sideband/ lower sideband switch and set it to upper side band (USB) then find the SSB tuning dial and adjust it until the radio announcer sounds normal. This is worth practicing before you need it.

Digital tuning greatly simplifies finding the stations you are interested in. But it’s essential for a subtler reason. It allows you to allocate frequencies to pre-selected buttons. This is important because during the broadcast a signal may start to fade as conditions deteriorate due to weather, sunspots or the time of day. But as the signal deteriorates on one frequency its probably getting better on another, so it’s handy to use the pre-select buttons, to switch quickly between frequencies and find one that’s working. This can bring back the signal without any apparent interruption to the broadcast.

At the end of this article is a form I use to record weather information. At the top of the form is a simplified table, which gives times and frequencies for the BoM broadcasts. This helps if the pre-select buttons are accidentally deprogrammed or the broadcast times forgotten. The schedule is for the BoM stations, call sign VMC, which serve the east coast of Australia. Full details for all regions of Australia are given at http://www.bom.gov.au/marine/voice_services.shtml. You can request a small “mini-guide to these services from the BoM, which takes up next to no room packed in with the set.

When using the BoM service be aware that they stick to Eastern, Western or Central standard times. They don’t use daylight saving times. If you work with daylight saving you may miss the broadcast by an hour. So check and practice before going on a trip.

Finally, early morning reports before setting out are well worth listening to, but I must confess to having been a bit of a wake up call to my mates. Using an earphone is not a bad idea!

Two Ways To Improve Performance

i) An External Aerial

The single most effective way to improve performance is to use an external wire aerial (antennae if you’re from America). Given two radios with different sensitivities you can almost guarantee that the unit with a decent external aerial will produce a stronger signal than the one without. The technical literature has much information on tuning aerials. For kayakers this is not relevant. Far too much wire is required for aerial tuning to be practical at the frequencies used by shortwave weather stations. A few metres of thin multi-strand copper wire held as near vertical as practical should make a significant difference. One end of the wire is connected to a plug for the external antennae socket in the radio, although you can often get away with using a crocodile clip to connect the wire to the telescopic aerial on the radio. The end not connected to the radio is tied with a length of insulating cord to a tree branch, pole or roof. Crocodile clips can be bought from any electronic hobby store (e.g. Dick Smith, Tandy or Jaycar).

Never use an external antennae in a lightning storm.

ii) Preset, Practice and Report Forms

Practice makes a huge difference to the quality of reception and reporting. Before any trip, it’s worth presetting the stations you will be using, listening to them and practicing to compensate for fading by switching between frequencies. You will notice a substantial difference between reception at dawn, midday, dusk or nighttime. It’s also worth becoming familiar with the SSB controls.

Preparation could include making a laminated card showing broadcast times and frequencies and a pad of weather report forms that can be easily filled in. An example is given at the end of this article. It’s worth developing a highly legible handwriting style and your own short hand for rapidly taking notes. These are typical of strategies used by radio operators in the 1940’s, before tape recorders and computers were used for report storage.

Always date the report. An undated or incorrectly dated report is a loaded gun It can be used by accident on the wrong day

What’s Important When Buying A Short Wave Radio For Kayaking

  • Ruggedness – unfortunately there are no truly rugged, portable, shortwave radios on the commercial market, certainly none that can be used on the water. I wrap mine in a towel, store it in a dry bag and keep it away from sand, when traveling.
  • Power consumption – A reasonable battery life for shortwave radios using alkaline batteries would be about 30 hours. This power consumption is more than for a regular radio because of the SSB facility and the digital controls. Batteries should be a standard size and readily available, preferably AA or D. During a three-week trip, Stuart Trueman manages with two sets of batteries for his Sangean AT 505. For much longer trips you might want to consider using a solar panel and rechargeable batteries.
  • A ‘Hold’ button or switch – This allows the controls to be inactivated so the radio isn’t accidentally reprogrammed or switched on while traveling. Just about every brand of radio used by kayakers has at some time been switched on accidentally when this facility wasn’t used and drained the batteries.
  • SSB capability – As mentioned before this is essential and is not available on a lot of commercial radios so it’s important to check that the unit you are buying has an SSB capability.
  • Push button tuning with preprogramming of stations – Again I believe this is essential to cope with fading during a broadcast. Quickly switching to another frequency can bring back the signal without interrupting the broadcast.
  • Adequate sensitivity and selectivity – Sensitivity measures the ability of a receiver to pick up weak signals and selectivity describes its ability to keep signals separate from each other so you don’t hear two or more stations at the same time talking over each other. Poor selectivity cannot be corrected by adding an un-tuned aerial. All but one of the radios mentioned below, have adequate sensitivity or selectivity.

Some Radios Suitable For Sea Kayaking

I won’t give a comprehensive review of shortwave radios – the magazine isn’t big enough. But I can recommend the Radio Netherlands web site http://www.rnw.nl/realradio/rx_current.html for a very professional survey of just about any radio you could ever be interested in. Another good web site is Ham Net http://www.eham.net/reviews/products/8, which gives reviews and user experience for each receiver. I wouldn’t bother with any of the commercial Internet based reviews.

It’s worth making a few points about four of the short wave radios commonly used by NSW kayakers. They are listed below and are all good units suitable for sea kayaking – just don’t operate them at sea – none of them are waterproof. I’ve also included a unit that is probably not much use for sea kayaking yet, but it’s tantalizing. The nominal prices shown are from the Radio Netherlands web site and don’t include tax, postage, packing and handling. Anyway you can do much better by shopping around.

Grundig Yacht Boy 400 – $267, http://www.rnw.nl/realradio/yb400.html

This unit is reputedly not quite as sensitive as the Sangean or Sony radios but should be adequate, particularly with an external aerial. It has very high quality sound reproduction.

Sangean ATS505 – $174, http://www.rnw.nl/realradio/ats505.html
Sangean ATS909 – $307, http://www.rnw.nl/realradio/ats909.html

Sangean – ATS505 and ATS909 These two units have very similar performance with the major difference being the availability of more memory for preselected stations in the AT909. Both are suitable for sea kayaking. The ATS505 is the model used by Andrew McAuley and Stuart Trueman. Peter Rattenbury uses an ATS909. Watch out for the tuning dial, which supplements the pushbutton tuning. It’s nice for general short wave listening, but could be a nuisance if it is accidentally knocked and detunes the receiver during a broadcast you really want to hear. However, this is a very minor issue.

Sony SW7600GR – $227 to $500, http://www.rnw.nl/realradio/icfsw7600gr.html

This is probably the best performing radio in its class, mainly due to a feature called synchronous detection, which means it has slightly better sensitivity and selectivity and less tendency for signals to fade than the units described above. But I’m prejudiced! Its also peculiar in that the price range is enormously variable. It could be worth searching the net or negotiating with the dealer if you want to buy this unit.

By the way all these radios will pick up medium wave and VHF as well as shortwave broadcasts from almost any country in the world. You don’t have to use them just for the weather!

ICOM – ICR10 at $800, http://www.icomamerica.com/products/receivers/r10/

Although its not suitable for sea kayaking, it’s worth mentioning the ICR10. This class of radio is used by various ‘three letter’ organizations around the world for short-range surveillance and testing applications. The next generation models have the potential to provide the ultimate hand held, robust, waterproof unit. It may be the way of the future but is not quite there yet. A good radio but probably not sensitive or selective enough for sea kayakers. I’ll be looking out for future models in this line of units from ICOM. A last vision for the distant future is Peter Rattenbury’s dream, an Australian ‘weather radio’ with the coastal radio transmit frequencies ‘hard wired’ in; as water-resistant as any electrical device we carry at the moment, and of a quality better than any SW radio you can buy. It would be the size of a cigarette pack and with a wire antenna rather than a telescoping whip, saving even more space and expense. These sorts of device exist in the states and if Peter has his way we may yet see one in Oz.

Quite a few people contributed to this article. Particular thanks to Peter Rattenbury, Stuart Trueman, Andrew McAuley, Terence Uren, Richard Birdsey, Stephan Meyn and Peter Treby. Also Vince for giving me a good reason to buy a short wave radio! Have fun!

From the President’s Deck [58]

By Richard McNeall

Wow! exclaims a member of the group as we round North Head into the Harbour, and I must admit that even after the umpteenth time, there is always something special about paddling in through the heads of your destination port after a day at sea. A Sea Eagle swoops over us, catching a fish in the midst of the group, as we round to Quarantine Beach for a few rolls. This is NSWSKC paddling at its best. On the bus back to Collaroy, we talk about paddling and talk about people. At one point the word “Chat Line” is mentioned, and my mind goes into instant turmoil….

Yes, there is a little turmoil here in the NSWSKC – time to say a sad bye-bye (or toodles!) to some of our beloved heritage, and time to expectantly embrace a fresh start.

Heritage Item I – The “Old” Chat Line

By the time you read this, our new webbased “Forum” style Chat Line will have been up and running for a couple of weeks. And I expect we will all be seeing the very real benefits. However, we are still in the “grieving” period for the old Chat Line, and I think it’s fair to say that many members feel we have overreacted by making an instant change.

However, I can honestly say that we have made the best decision for everybody, and offer you the 5 issues that would just not go away…..

1) Dividing the Club

“Email has a unique potential for escalating misunderstandings.”** Over the last few years we have seen opinions get personalised on the Chat Line, and the outcome is two aggrieved members backed by two equally aggrieved groups of supporters. The reality of email is that ANY criticism, even “constructive” criticism, beamed to 160 inboxes across the state and across the world becomes personal. The problem is the mass email medium.

2) Liability

“Risk management doesn’t stop at the high water mark.”** How many times have people threatened legal action or sought legal advice over Chat Line issues?

The answer is quite a few, and with increasing frequency.

3) Reputation

We like to think that what gets said on the Chat Line is just between ourselves, but it isn’t. Many NSWSKC members are members of other organisations, and word gets around. How many times do we hear the chat that the NSWSKC is full of infighting and politics? It can’t be good for our membership numbers either.

4) Volunteers

Volunteers appreciate appreciation. Having observed many of the Club’s volunteers at close range over the last year, I can assure you that, no matter how tough they look, any criticism takes a cumulative toll on their commitment. And mass email has such an amplifying effect that something intended to be a helpful suggestion can end up being incredibly demoralising. This might be difficult to believe – after all we are hardy sea kayakers. But it is true, and again, the medium is the problem.

5) A Better Way And maybe there are better ways of achieving our objectives anyway, where postings are grouped and always accessible, where your inbox is uncluttered. And so… thanks to our mega-guru Peter Kappelmann – Vive la nouvelle Web-Based Chat Line!

Register now on http://www.nswseakayaker.asn.au/about/chatline.htm.

** Can you guess the source of these quotes? Answer next issue!

Heritage Item II – The Remarkable Ian Phillips

Richard: “Do you want a hand packing up all this R’n’R stuff ?”

Ian: “Thanks but don’t worry. I’m fine doing it myself. I’m staying till Wednesday so I have time to pack up properly”

That was my first experience of the remarkable Ian Phillips – an incredible powerhouse for the Club – Editor, Rock’n’Roll Coordinator, fill in Secretary/Treasurer, President, and most recently Training Coordinator – many times tackling 3 of these positions at once!

Ian is leaving us as Training Coordinator and we wish him all the best. Toodles, Ian. The highly successful Sea Skills 2 program was his crowning achievement. All you SS2’ers, you now owe it to Ian to get through your assessments!

Rob Mercer has offered to act as interim Training Coordinator until we find a replacement. Thanks Rob.

One thing we will definitely be doing is continuing our highly successful National Training Provider relationship with Australian Canoeing.

On all other fronts we are full steam ahead! In 2004, all 4 mags out on time, lots of trips, RnR on track, Show and Tell at Bundeena, Great Legends’ Night (Paul Caffyn and Andrew McAuley were awesome) and merchandise virtually sold out in one hit.

Membership renewals are coming in on the new “individual expiry date” system. Check your card or mag envelope for date. Etc… Etc…

Anyway enough from me. Hopefully smooth waters from this point. I’m doing my Sea Leader assessment in a week, so I’d better get my log book up to date !

And I’ll see you over the summer…..

A “Classic” Prelude [58]

Paddling for a good cause

By Adrian Clayton

About two years ago I acted as an impromptu overnight host to Chris Dey, hitherto an unknown paddler. Seeking advice as to the whereabouts of the local camping ground, he had knocked on my door at Elizabeth Beach which is approximately 250km north of Sydney. Chris was on a solo paddle in a borrowed Mirage 17. He had left Sydney a week earlier with Yamba — approximately 600km away — as his objective. It was only three months since he’d taken up sea kayaking. He didn’t have a roll but was a seasoned skiff sailor and possessed excellent seamanship. I was impressed that a guy with such little sea kayaking experience would take on such a big challenge. At that stage I’d been paddling a kayak for about three years and had never contemplated anything so bold. Therein lies the origin of a recent paddle I did between Sydney and Forster (a major holiday destination on the mid- North coast of NSW) to promote the Paddle for Life Myall River Classic.

The idea of paddling between Sydney and Forster (or the reverse) appealed to me. To do the trip on my own seemed out of the question and so about a year ago I suggested to a couple of my paddling buddies in the Club that they accompany me. “Yeah, we’ll come” was the response but diary clashes meant we couldn’t get our act together and the plan was abandoned.

The need to take on a paddling challenge kept gnawing away at me and at the beginning of this year I decided to do the trip solo. In the scale of paddling epics, a 250km Sydney-Forster paddle wouldn’t rate However it would help lay to rest a self opinion of being a paddling dilettante (and perhaps even qualify me for a long-cherished Goretex sock rating). When he heard of my plan, Mike Eggleton, a fellow NSWSK Club member living at Hawks Nest, said he’d like to join me. Now Mike is a real goer. He’s ex Special Forces, has dived extensively, paraglided (until he did his back in), and spends a lot of time in sea kayaks. He’s an AC instructor and the president of Just Paddlers. He’s also the initiator of The Myall River Classic. Mike saw the Sydney-Forster paddle as an opportunity to promote the Classic (and the Cure for Life Foundation that it supports) and started organising the related publicity.

As part of our preparation we’d been paddling together a bit over the last three or four months and had recently done a return day trip from Hawks Nest Surf Club out to and around Broughton Island. Mike was also putting in a lot of paddling in testing conditions, against wind and current. We had one planning meeting and a couple of lengthy telephone calls sorting out the logistics. Mike had also done a recce of the Central Coast area to suss out landing and camping sites. Seven days had been allowed to comfortably complete the journey and we added an extra day as a contingency for bad weather. Mike also organised for a couple of the regional tabloid newspapers to print half-page articles about the trip and for the local mayor to welcome us when we got to Forster. Chris Dey had kindly lent us his charts and given us tips on landing points. I’d also picked up knowledge from trip reports published in the Club’s magazine and from some Club members with extensive experience in some of the waters in which we would be paddling. The short- and medium-term forecasts looked reasonably encouraging and so it was all go.

We arrived at Sydney’s Balmoral Beach around 7.30am on Saturday, 24 July. Some members of our respective families were there to see us off. The banter was amusing but hardly inspiring. Questions were asked about the whereabouts of wills, insurance policies, lost marbles, etc. Dane and Lynne Snelling arrived to paddle with us out to North Head.

It was at 8.15am and we were on our way. Maitland Bay, 40kms away and on the northern side of Broken Bay, was the first day’s objective. The forecast was for 10-15 knot winds from the north west, a 2-metre swell out of the south and seas around 1 metre. There was a bit of work to be done. As we approached North Head, Alan Whiteman ranged up alongside us on his ski and put the brakes on for a short chat before accelerating off for Shelly Beach. The rebound from North Head was pretty healthy and the sea quite confused as a result. We were both pleased to be wearing cags. The rebound didn’t prevent a couple of ski paddlers from passing us much closer inshore. Somewhere along Manly Beach I noticed that Mike was dropping behind. I asked him how he was travelling and was getting the expected response of “Okay”. It was around Curl Curl that he indicated that he wouldn’t mind stopping for a shore break at Long Reef. I started to realise that he wasn’t in good shape. All the colour had gone from his face and, as we approached Long Reef, there were times when he was bent over almost with his head on the apron of his skirt.

It was approximately 11am when we both landed without incident on the Dee Why side of the reef . Mike discounted suggestions of sea sickness. There was something else upsetting him — perhaps a reoccurence of the stomach ailment he had been suffering recently. Anyway, we both agreed that his condition represented a safety risk and that it would be silly for us to continue the trip as planned. We weren’t in a good spot to pull-out and after a 30-minute break on terra firma Mike felt strong enough to paddle around to Fishermans Beach on the northern side of Long Reef where the portage to car transport would be much easier. Mike paddled strongly out through the surf and around the outside of the far-protruding reef. The local swell was such that the course we would need to take in to Fishermans Beach took the form of a wide arc. We decided to look for an alternative and headed off for North Narrabeen prepared to accept the prospect of a rough landing. Mike’s condition was deteriorating again and he reluctantly accepted a tow for the last twenty minutes or so. The tide was not far off its highest point of the day and we found a passage through the surf where the breaking waves were not a problem. A kindly current carried us well in to Narrabeen lagoon and up to a sandy pull-out point adjacent to a picnic reserve. Once ashore, Mike admitted to having experienced chest pains and, after a phone call to one of his daughters, he agreed to see a doctor as soon as possible. Geraldine, my long-suffering wife, collected us and our kayaks and Mike was admitted to the casualty ward at Royal North Shore Hospital around 5.30pm.

Well, what to do? Day One and my paddling partner was in hospital — who knows for how long Time to take stock and rethink. In my mind there was a lot at stake. What were the ramifications if at least one of us didn’t reach the objective? Would credibility suffer? Would failure harm the cause we were trying to support? Given that I had previously indicated that I was going to do the trip solo I had no real excuse or reason for not continuing with it. Besides, there was that Goretex sock rating I wanted.

A further day out of the schedule was lost as I reconsidered my plans. One of the upsides of Mike’s hospitalisation was that I was able to get my hands on some of his gear. His Aquapacks for my mobile phone and VHF transmitter proved to be a boon. I contemplated taking his 2-week old kevlar-hulled kayak but decided against risking being hospitalised myself should I cause the hull to be scratched.

Forty-eight hours after our original start Geraldine is waving goodbye to me from the Pittwater side of Palm Beach. Having lost two days I decided to make up some time. Bugger restarting at Narrabeen — the tidal situation meant that I couldn’t re-enter the ocean via the lagoon. I can complete that leg on a Club trip sometime. Besides, I’ve got a rendezvous with the mayor in Forster in six days. Can’t keep the man waiting.

Plan A had Norah Head as our second night stopover. It was now my destination for the day. The seas and swell had abated and I had a very smooth passage all the way to Terrigal. A slight increase in the pulse rate occurred around Cape Three Points when I saw a shark’s fin slicing through the water about 25 metres inshore of me. Fortunately, it was heading south and I didn’t hang about to check out the size or species.

I arrived at Norah Head around 3.30pm after 7 hours on the water. A 45km day or thereabouts of which the last 20 had been pushing in to a stiff north-westerly wind — mostly along a stretch of boring coastline. I set up camp on the northern side of the head, just below the lighthouse and was forced to retire early owing to rain which continued to fall intermittently throughout the night.

Day Two and it was after 6am before I was poking my head out the tent to behold an overcast day and an ugly looking sea with white caps everywhere and spume flying high in to the air as the swell crashed in to Bird Island about 6km to the north. The rain starts falling again so there is no chance for my ritual plate of porridge and cup of tea. An apple, handful of almonds and some dried apricots don’t really satisfy but have to do. A phone call to Geraldine for a forecast update off the B.o.M web site doesn’t improve my mood. There’s a strong wind warning for NSW coastal waters south of Seal Rocks; the latest Automatic Weather Station reading from Norah Head has the wind blowing out of the southern quarter at 25 knots and gusting near 40 knots. The seas are responding accordingly. What’s more, the forecast for the next day is similar. One of the locals tells me I’m well out of the wind where I am and that “it’s blowing a gale around the other side of the Head”. I observe two 30-foot cabin cruisers making haste towards the protection of sheltered waters around The Entrance.

Stockton is the day’s objective. A phone call to local kayaker Bruce Richards to suss out likely pull-out options beforehand reveals that there’s not much other than Catherine Hill Bay or Swansea. I log my plans with Lake Macquarie Coastal Patrol and am told that they have a boat in trouble off Redhead. The operator seems concerned that I’m about to take on the conditions in a kayak. Maybe I shouldn’t but then the prospect of two more nights at Norah Head doesn’t appeal either. I undertake to make contact again in two hours time. On the water at 8.30am and 200 metres out from the shore I look back and think about returning. There are a couple of people looking out at me and I wonder if they think I’m mad. Maybe I should go back; after all, I haven’t paddled alone point to point in conditions like these before. “Bugger it”, I mutter to myself “I won’t die wondering” and continue northwards. There’s a fair amount of water washing over the deck and sometimes I let the sea take me off course before correcting. I throw in the occasional brace, more for comfort than necessity. I am constantly looking to my seaward side and am missing most of the shoreside scenery. I spy some Little Penguins just south of Bird Island. A set of three big swells spook me but that’s about all there is to worry about other than it’s not a comfortable ride. After two hours paddling I still haven’t reached Catherine Hill Bay and, fearful that my Coastal Patrol buddies might be concerned about me, look for a place where I can go ashore from where to phone them. Deep Cave Bay is immediately before Catherine Hill Bay and the southern end is very well protected from the southern sea and that’s where I take a shore break.

Back on the water, I poke my nose in to Catherine Hill Bay but don’t stop. Swansea is the next shore stop and I get there in about an hour-and-a-half. Moon Island stands about 200 metres off the southern head at Swansea. There are waves breaking well out from the island and in to the channel between it and the headland. I look for a passage through the channel, the thunderous noise of 2- metre breaking waves — some only 50 metres away — is a little disconcerting. My approach is observed by the Coast Guard station on the headland — I don’t want to stuff up now.

After approximately three-and-a-half hours paddling since leaving Norah Head I am safely in the protected waters of the entrance to Lake Macquarie. I get a lift from a generous flood tide and arrive at the bridge at Swansea very quickly. I’ve decided to wimp out.

Swansea is to be home for tonight. A serving of fish and chips for lunch disappoints and I end up throwing half in to the bin. Having stayed at the lakeside camp ground earlier this year for the Arrow 24-hour Challenge, I’m familiar with the procedure. I register, pay my money and get my key to the shower block. One problem, my campsite is approximately 100 metres from the lake’s edge and so I have to do about half a dozen trips to and from campsite and kayak before I can pitch my tent and enjoy a hot shower.

The sky has cleared and the wind has dropped to a gentle air; the lake presents a very calm picture. I’m relaxed, chatting with my fellow campers. They’re all amazed about how much I can fit in my kayak. Brian and Janet are a couple of evangelical grey nomads from England via Victoria who have been living in the camp ground for over a month. They come through with a Good Samaritan offer — they’ll load up all my gear in the back of their station wagon in the morning and cart it over to the lake side.

Bruce Richards drops in and I tell him about my day’s adventures. He gives me some advice on how to deal with the Swansea bar if it’s running on my way out. I enjoy a good nights sleep and, thanks to Brian and Janet, leave the Swansea campsite at 8am. The conditions are no where near as bad as forecast the previous day. Blue skies above with a cloud or two. An ebb tide gives me an easy paddle down to the sea and it’s a straight forward paddle to Stockton.

The camping ground at Stockton is adjacent the beach immediately on the outside of the northern training wall that leads in to the port of Newcastle. I’m there after four-and-quarter hours paddling and kicking myself that I didn’t make it the day before. The management and staff of the camping ground are very helpful. I wangle an assisted lift of my fully-laden kayak from beach to campsite. It’s only lunchtime. I’ve got a bit of housekeeping to do before I take the ferry across to Newcastle for a look around and to stock up with some fresh fruit for my next day’s long haul across Stockton Bite and up to Fingal Bay.

The crossing of Stockton Bite is the part of the trip I was most apprehensive about. Around 30km of boring sand dunes viewed from 5km out at sea. Somewhere along this leg represents the half way point of the trip. I’m back on the water again soon after 7.30am the next day. The manager of the camping ground helps me get my loaded kayak back on to the beach. Another fine day with little cloud about. The wind is around 8 knots and on my left cheek for most of the crossing. I reckon I have a micro sleep at one stage. At another point I have an “Oh shiiiit” moment when I paddle through a fish-feeding frenzy and have a sizeable snout come out of the water alongside my hand during a stroke.

The crossing is faster than I expect and I am approaching Fingal Bay around 1pm. What a beautiful part of the world to kayak in — must come back some time and spend more time here. The spit separating Point Stephens from the mainland is covered with water and I am able to paddle through it getting a wet ride due to clapotis created by opposing waves.

This is a pivotal moment of the trip for me. By stopping overnight in Swansea I had fallen a further day behind my schedule and I had resigned myself to arriving in Forster one day later than planned. Now I’m standing on the northern side of the spit of Point Stephens and beholding a marvellous vista. Tomaree guards the entrance to Port Stephens on my left — around 10 o’clock. I can see Jimmys Beach tucked inside Yacaaba — the Port’s northern headland. Cabbage Tree and Boondelbah Islands complement the near view and in the distance Broughton beckons. I’ve already paddled more than 40kms this day but the fast crossing of Stockton Bite has given me the opportunity to make up some lost time. I’m feeling strong and if I make Broughton by tonight I’m back on schedule. Go for it!

Before setting off again I give Mike a ring to find out how he’s getting on. He tells me he’s out of hospital and on the way home to Hawks Nest. After a series of tests including ECGs and an angiogram he’s been given the all clear. It won’t be long before he’s back on the water.

I’ve paddled to Broughton Island from the south on three previous occasions but never when it’s been bathed in the light of an afternoon’s winter sun. With strong tones of greens and russets mingled with hues of buffs and whites, it’s truly a wonderful sight. There’s a slight breeze on my back and I head directly for the cleft in Looking Glass Island which stands just off the south-eastern tip of Broughton. The sea and swell are gentle enough to contemplate a short cut in to Esmerelda Cove through the cleft. I take the short cut. As I paddle through the cleft the angle of the afternoon sun lights up the eastern wall and provides me with a new perspective of this outstanding feature.

There’s no one in residence in any of the fishing huts within Esmerelda Cove so I have the whole place to myself. I choose a campsite beside the huts — much flatter than the spot where kayaking visitors usually camp and offering less prospect of a repeat of the visit I had from Ratus ratus on my last overnight stay on the island. Also, there’s a 27mHz radio facility attached to one of the huts that I can use to advise Port Stephens Coastal Patrol of my safe arrival. Conserving my own battery power has become an issue as I can find no facility on the island to recharge. It’s only a small distance from the water to my campsite and my tent is up just as the dark sets in and light rain begins to fall. The awning of the nearest hut allows me to set up my stove out of the rain. I also use its protection to hang up some clothes and other kit to air.

I’ve paddled more than 60kms today and am back on schedule. Using fresh water from the hut’s tank, I reward myself by bathing mandi style and then tuck in to the best meal of the trip.

Occasional voices from the PA system attached to the 27mHz radio interrupt my sleep and I’m out of my sleeping bag and starting my morning duties not long after 5am. The morning light reveals a sea that has cut up a fair bit during the night and dense cloud to seaward. I use the 27mHz radio to pick up the latest (favourable) weather forecast and to advise Coastal Patrol of my plans for the day. I’m on the water around 7.30am.

Broughton Island veterans will know that the narrow pass between Broughton and Little Broughton Islands is not always navigable and can be a tricky manoeuvre at most times. However, by passing through it, one can save a fair bit of paddling. Today, there’s a fair amount of white water in the vicinity of the pass obscuring the rocks lurking underneath. The tidal situation is sufficient to allow safe passage so long as I don’t get speared in to the submerged rocks by a big wave. I line up my course through the pass and back-paddle to avoid being picked up by a 2-foot wave. A smaller wave follows and I use it to shoot me through. I feel a great sense of relief when I find myself safely beyond the pass and in the calm waters on the leeward side of the Island.

Seal Rocks, about 35km away, is the next stop. The 6- to 8-knot breeze is coming directly from the south and is on my port stern quarter as I track towards the Big Gibber. I am in familiar waters, enjoying being able to easily identify landmarks without referring to my maps. I get close to the mainland before altering course and paddling directly towards Treachery Headland. The wind is directly behind now and giving me a gentle push along. The lighthouse on Sugarloaf Point comes in to view and not long after that I’ve negotiated my way through the inner pass of the Sawtooth, where I see the first dolphin of the trip, and am paddling in to the calm waters of Boat Beach. There’s a pesky shore break which causes me to make a rather inelegant exit from my kayak.

One happy paddler arriving in Forster

I’m in home territory now and some building mates are working on a house adjacent to the beach. I persuade them in to take the bulk of my camping gear with them to my home on their way through to Forster after they knock off work. The tightness in the muscles beside the back of my neck has been causing me a fair amount of discomfort over the last few days. So much so that my ability to turn my head is severely restricted. I manage to scrounge a massage from a young woman walking along the beach with her boyfriend. He and I chat while she does some heavy work up and down my back. The relief is instant and allows me to set off for Elizabeth Beach in comfort.

It’s 3.15pm and I’m carrying what’s left of my gear up to the surf club at Elizabeth Beach where it will be stored overnight with my kayak. Another good day’s paddling. Around about 50km covered and in good time — just in excess of 6 hours on the water. I walk home and celebrate with a couple of cold beers.

It’s Saturday — six days since I set out from Pittwater. The 25km paddle from Elizabeth Beach to Forster is all that’s left to do. Some local paddlers, all in sea kayaks, have agreed to accompany me on what I refer to as the “ceremonial leg”. We’re on the water at 11.15am and are due in Forster at 3.30pm. The sea is glassy and there’s a slight swell — maybe half a metre. We’re halfway along Seven Mile Beach and about 1500 metres offshore when one member of the group tells me that it’s his first time on the ocean. We get to Cape Hawke and some one asks why the water has roughened up a little. I’m surprised by the question but answer by saying that it’s reflection off the rocks from the slight swell. It’s not long after this that the first-timer starts complaining about sea sickness. His condition slows us down and we take a break at McBrides Beach where he recovers. There’s still about an hour’s ocean paddling before we’re transitting the channel leading in to Wallis Lake. It’s a delightful stretch of coastline to paddle along — lots of gauntlets, nooks and crannies, etc — and I am drawn to it. My companions are much happier to paddle on open water and directly towards the channel. I reluctantly rejoin them. Our first-timer is experiencing another bout of mal de mer so I take on the role of nursemaid. He declines a tow so progress is now very slow. About 400 metres from the channel mouth and right in front of the Forster-Tuncurry Coastal Patrol’s observation point he rafts up on my boat and proceeds to dry wretch over my bow. I’m horrified by the prospect that any onlookers might be mistaking him for me!

The group manages to get in to the channel without further incident and the local rag has a photographer snapping away from various vantage points as we make our way up Wallis Lake to the final destination. There are more dolphins than people to greet us. We’re right on time but the mayor isn’t there. He’s been called away to something more important.

PS: A solo trip, for the most part, this may have been. Unsupported it was not. In fact, one of the highlights for me was meeting the people — complete strangers — who assisted me along the way. I also was helped enormously by the volunteers manning the various Coastal Patrol stations between Middle Harbour and Forster who tracked my progress and Geraldine’s regular updates on weather data.

Having had a small taste of doing a solo kayak expedition I can now appreciate that it takes a special kind of person to undertake larger scale solo trips on a regular basis. I am in greater awe of the solo expeditionary achievements of the likes of Andrew McCauley, Stuart Trueman, Karl Noonan and Mike Snoad.

PPS: Looking forward to catching up with you at this year’s Myall River Classic on 18 September.