Five Go to Wilson’s Prom [60]

By Elizabeth Thomson, Paul and Leonie Loker, Dee Ratcliffe, Harry Havu

The storms that disrupted the 2004 Sydney to Hobart race also disrupted the Five skirting Bass Strait in their kayaks. In all, we spent four days paddling and four days waiting for the wind to drop. But we didn’t just wait and grumble, we hiked! We saw Wilson’s Prom down the middle and round the edges. Total number of kilometres travelled: 95 by kayak, 70 by foot.

The journey started at Tidal River heading south, then east around the lighthouse, turning north up the east coast, continued west through the entrance and across Corner Inlet to finish at Yanakie.

Day 1: Tidal River to Big Oberon (ET)

This was the biggest kayak trip in my experience. I was nervous because we had to be able to paddle non-stop a minimum of 25 kms in 15 knot winds in order to get around the bottom. No pull outs, lots of rebound and three direction changes. We had to be able to manage surf exists and landings, paddle into headwinds, handle a following sea and manage tail winds. Basically everything I learnt in Sea Skills 2 training was going to be put to the test. I was nervous.

Just after we launched through small surf, I felt sick. I thought it was just nerves, but by the time we landed at Big Oberon, thankfully just a 6 km paddle, I was nauseous, shaky and weak. The campsite was almost a km from the beach so the boat carry and gear carry was huge. By the time my camp was set up, I was dizzy. The rest of the day was spent asleep trying to recover. Meanwhile the others surfed, beach-combed and lazed around reading a novel. I was worried that I was going to be the liability of the group.

Day 2: Oberon Bay – hiking (Paul)

Unlucky. We awoke to strong nor-easterly winds, and a good swell. This area has strong tidal flows and when combined with high winds is a good place to approach with respect and caution. The first few km’s leaving Oberon Bay would be a hard slog, followed by sizeable rebound all the way to the lighthouse on South East Point. Not a good day to tackle the 24 km of cliff line to Waterloo Bay.

A unanimous decision was made to stay at Oberon Bay. It was frustrating for me – planning a day’s paddling and being caught out by the conditions. But it was still a warm sunny day, so we set off along the walking trails back to Tidal River for lunch, returning via the scenic coastal route. This enjoyable 20km walk kept us busy most of the day.

Day 3: Oberon Bay (Dee)

A look out to sea from the slight rise along the path to sea convinced Harry and I that we’d be able to paddle. Back to camp we informed the others, half-packed then fell in a heap when Paul cast his more experienced eyes out to sea and decided it was not to be. Another day at Camp Oberon, now beginning to look quite homely. Paul, Leonie and Elizabeth hiked over the saddle to have a look at Waterloo Bay. Their reports on return were sobering. If we had ventured out, the toughest paddling would have been for the last 5 km, when we would have expected some shelter from the westerly winds. However the wind was howling over the saddle and down into Waterloo Bay, churning the bay and sending white caps far off shore.

Camp fever was beginning to set in. We went to bed with Paul’s words for Christmas Day ringing in our ears, “To the lighthouse or bust”…. we were to see the Prom lighthouse, getting to it by foot if necessary.

Day 4: Big Oberon to Refugee Bay (Harry)

Our pod seemed a mix of feelings, from elated curiosity to cautious tentativeness, as we launched and then turned the corner at Oberon Point and the passage between Anser Island and South West Point came to view. To me, this was uncharted territory – and that’s the best kind. I paddled with a lightness borne from the freedom only us kayakers know, and yearn for when on land.

The sea was not forcing our decisions, and the winds were gentle. The pod glided along at a leisurely pace. The camaraderie of good friends and the slight expectation of adventure made it a perfect moment. In the south distant islands could be seen, tempting a keen paddler by their sheer presence. I didn’t know their names but wanted to paddle there just the same.

As we were entering the passage inside of Wattle Island, I caught up with Dee who had slowed down. It turned out to be good timing, as she then proceeded to lighten her load by transferring the contents of her stomach into the ocean. Amazingly, immediately after that, Dee promptly resumed paddling at twice the speed and vigour; this would last for the rest of the day.

Amid ooh’s and aah’s as we carried on past the most southern tip of the Prom, the lighthouse on the South East Point came into view. To some of us it brought back memories, to me it was all new and exciting. It must have been that excitement that left me in the path of ET, as we were just beneath the lighthouse. A shriek made me look back, only to discover our beloved vice president bobbing in the swell next to her upturned boat; a surreal sight, her feet seemed oddly tiny as they trod the green translucent water, rather without a result. A snappy comment emerging from the waterline woke me up from my dreaming, and I had my second moment of being useful that day, helping her back into the kayak. What a place to go for a swim – classic ET! We stopped at Home Cove, just inside of Waterloo point, to regroup and talk about the events so far. It was shaping up to be a really good day.

On we paddled, through Waterloo Bay, past Cape Wellington and on along a beautiful section of the coastline to Refuge Cove – what a fantastic place, a fully sheltered bay, with a beach like on a tropical island, and a nice spot to camp to top it off. Sorry Santa – THIS was the place to be at Christmas!

Day 5: Refugee Bay to Tin Mine Cove (Paul)

It was a shame to be leaving Refuge Cove, but we had a good forecast of light SW winds, and needed to get back on schedule having already lost a few days.

We paddled past Horn Point, then stopped in at Sealers Cove for a quick look, and to fill up at the pipe diverting water from the stream.

Passing along Five Mile Beach, with a light tailwind was too tempting. The sails were hoisted, and we ended up sailing through the passage separating Monkey Point and Rabbit Island as a rafted group of five.

Approaching Johnny Souey Cove we passed by lots of fish, so we stopped for lunch and a bit of reasonably successful fishing. The afternoon plans were then determined by the BOM forecast which predicted strong westerlies to increase and continue for the next few days. The entrance to Corner Inlet has a reputation as a dangerous area to navigate, so we thought it best to push on and make the campsite at Tin Mine Cove while conditions were favourable.

We had a bit of a slog into the increasing SW headwind for the last section, then to our dismay we noticed kayaks on the beach as we approached in the failing light around 9pm. It had been a long day of 43km, and we weren’t keen to share the beach campsite. But we landed to a cheerful greeting from Ian Ribbons (Meridian Kayak Adventures) who had a small group out from Yanakie for a couple of days.

A good day of sea kayaking, we were now in the relatively safe waters of Corner Inlet, with the extra bonus of the girls having people to hear about their longest day of paddling.

Day 6: Tin Mine Cove – hiking (ET)

As predicted the weather changed over night. Facing west at Tin Mine Cove, we woke to 30-40 knot winds in our faces. Any paddling that day was going to be straight into a headwind all ….. the way home. And so, this little piggy ran all …. the way back to her tent. Even the fellas weren’t that keen. It would have been an interesting exercise in surfing/paddling backwards.

So to keep the heart rate up and stay warm, we hiked across the peninsular to Lighthouse Point where we had a picnic happily sheltered from the westerly and enjoyed the site of Harry trying to fish while basking like rock lizards in the sun between sun showers.

Upon return, our beach camp was still blowy and miserable so we adjourned to a secluded tea tree and melaleuca forest where we cooked dinner and recounted our day.

Day 7: Tin Mine Cove – yoga (Leonie)

…..still waiting for the headwinds to abate. A real rest day until mid afternoon, when we felt the need for exertion. So we ventured to our wind sheltered vista in the woods above our campsite. It had been our “dinning room” the evening before, and breakfast “nook” that morning, and now proved to be the perfect spot for a session of yoga.

Day 8: Tin Mine Cove to Yanakie (Dee)

The howling had finally stopped, the sun shone and we were in top gear again. Lots of smiles as we loaded and laughed while taking photos. We knew we had it in the bag, a short 14km paddle in pleasant conditions across Corner Inlet and the Circumnavigation was ours. We farewelled Ian Ribbons and his crew, gladly lessening their load of fruit drink and set out. The only feature en route was Granite Island, inhabited by many birds. The only possible difficulty was running into shallow water as the tide drained from the inlet’s three main channels.

In Yanakie car park we met a couple about to set out, hoping to do the trip in reverse. Watching them load brought out some envious feelings for what they were about to encounter.

My chest swelled with pride when a complete stranger approached asking to shake my hand and take a photo. He had learned of our feat and was very impressed. This acknowledgement of our adventure made me look at our team with an inner glow. I had become a sea kayaker.

Trip Details
  Launch Landing Distance Wind Conditions
Wed 22 Dec Tidal River Oberon Bay 6 km Light SW
Thurs 23 Dec       NE 20—25 knot winds
Fri 24 Dec       W 20-30 knot winds
Sat 25 Dec Oberon Bay Refuge Cove 32 km W/SW 10-15 knot winds
Sun 26 Dec Refuge Cove Tin Mine Cove 43 km SW 10-15 knot winds
Mon 27 Dec       W/SW 20-30 knot winds
Tues 28 Dec       SW 20-30 knot winds
Wed 29 Dec Tin Mine cove Yanakie 14 km SE Light

Thanks to Andrew Watkinson for collecting weather observations for the Prom during our trip.