NSW Sea Kayak Club – Flotsam [62]

By Mark Pearson

This edition of Flotsam acknowledges the input of David Whyte, Harry Havu, Ian Coles and Peter Kappelmann and Mike Snoad.

Award nomination to go ahead despite near tragedy

Sea kayak designer Kevin Brennan’s ‘102%’ Sail design is being put forward to the North American Sea kayaking Innovation Awards event to be held in Seattle in February 2006. Brennan’s Sail, a development of the original gaff rigged sail introduced to the NSWSKC by Norm Sanders in 1995, has been nominated due to its “development breakthrough in its control line philosophy”. The sail is controlled by no less than 27 lines and cords, which, if coordinated efficiently, give a measured and impressive 2% performance increase over the standard two liner gaff rig!

But the nomination is not without controversy, as the high tech Brennan rig has it critics. Club member Dee Ratcliffe purchased a Brennan sail but complained to Flotsam that even after the five day course on how to use it, she still got confused about what each line was for, and which one to pull when. Yet another new sailor, Doug Taylor, complained that the control lines had become a ‘birds nest’ in strong but irregular winds and he had to pull ashore and spend the rest of the day unravelling “the biggest knot I’ve ever seen …”

In a more disturbing incident, Brennan sail enthusiast Claudia Schremmer was “almost garrotted” after two of the control lines looped around her neck and then tightened after the sail again caught air. While trying to loosen the stranglehold, the kayak all but capsized, and but for the intervention of Club Training Officer Harry Havu, a tragedy could have occurred.

Havu told Flotsam “Yes, it was terrible, one minute Claudia and I were whooping and hollering in the good wind having a great time, then suddenly I looked round and Claudia’s face was going red and she was all tangled up! Luckily I had my deck knife on hand to cut the line and help her out.. but I’ve got a Brennan sail myself and now I’m too scared to use it!”

In response, designer Brennan told Flotsam “that’s all rubbish, this rig is easy to use, particularly if my customers take the time to go through the Manual, which shows how to control everything in nine clearly written chapters!”

Asked about the garrotting incident, Mr Brennan explained “garrotting is easily avoided, and Chapter 7 goes into some detail on this … on a turn across wind simple ensure the upper and lower crosshaul lanyards are kept tight and away from the crossover cords, then just before the jibe, simply reverse the baton flex and reefer control lines and cleat down the uphaul main sheet .. it’s quite straightforward .. !”

Club Vice President Richard McNeall told Flotsam “We have heard nothing official about the incident, so are happy to proceed with the award nomination at this time.. however, if someone were to actually die using a Brennan sail, of course the Executive would have to reconsider the nomination …”

Flotsam attempted to contacted President Thomson for her views on the matter, only to be informed that she was “holidaying in Victoria.”

Controversial safety policy under fire

Flotsam can reveal that plans are well advanced for the introduction of a controversial safety policy which may be enforced as soon as 1 July 2006! The new regulation, which will require all kayaks to have a mid size esky strapped to the rear deck for club trips above Grade 2, is thought to have been influenced by an Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) report released in May 2005.

The AMSA report indicated that in boat sinking tragedies in the period 1995 to 2005, the recovery rate of the boat was only 25%, whereas the boat’s esky was recovered in 95% of cases! Club member and AMSA employee David Whyte told Flotsam “Given the strength of the statistics I informed the Safety Committee about the finding and they seemed very keen on the esky idea, particularly if it could reduce our high insurance costs. I guess the Committee’s thinking seemed to be that if the esky is nearly always found, then if there’s a kayak strapped to it that can only be good!”

However, the proposal is not without its opponents. Club stalwart Dave Winkworth was less than impressed, telling Flotsam “This typifies the Safety Nazi approach of the club these days .. what next?.. will we have to take inflatable life rafts? Add permanent sponsons, outriggers? And how do we teach people to roll with an esky strapped behind them? Will we have to call it the Eskymo roll? I urge the Committee to rethink this policy before its too late!”

Club morals campaigner Margot Toghunter had a different take on the development, thinking that the presence of a rear deck esky would only encourage male paddlers to take beer on trips. Ms Toghunter told Flotsam, “Providing male members with such easy access to beer would, without doubt, lead to an increase in lewd and libidinous behaviour. And we poor girls already have to put up with enough of that when the men are sober! The Committee must think again!”

Flotsam attempted to seek the views of Club President Elizabeth Thomson on the issue, only to be informed she was “paddling in Victoria improving her technique.”

Stiff competition in Mallacoota

Prominent Dodgee paddlers recently got together in Mallacoota to attend the Annual Mallacoota Dodgee Jamboree, the official annual celebration of owning the much revered sea kayak. But of course, being Dodgee owners, after a couple of lite beers things soon got competitive and very soon all were boasting that theirs was the best and biggest Dodgee of them all.

Event host Peter Provis told Flotsam “Well I was sure I had the biggest one, but we spent all day measuring length, girth and curvature, and blow me down they were all the same ..”


In a grass roots reaction to the ever increasing organisational, qualification and bureaucrat requirements associated with sea kayaking in the State of NSW, Flotsam can reveal that an alternative sea kayaking movement has evolved that is offering Club members a different style of sea kayaking ‘experience’.

Unofficially led by charismatic guru Laurie Geoghegan, the movement, known colloquially as CHAOS (Casual Hardmen against Officious Seakayaking) is gaining converts at a rapid rate.

Mr Geoghegan told Flotsam “Well, although some good things have come out of the Club’s conversion to control and regulation, I thought it was about time we took kayaking back to basics, to less structured times, when every trip was a venture into the unknown .. and judging by the response so far I reckon it’s a winner!”

Geoghegan’s latest adventure, a four day trip between Narooma and Eden, attracted seven experienced kayakers: Andrew McAuley, Stuart Trueman, Andrew Watkinson, Paul Loker, Richard Styles, Mark Pearson and John Tottenhoffer, all keen to sample sea kayaking under the new CHAOS doctrine.

Flotsam caught up with the some of the participants in a Sydney coffee shop a week after the completion of what was obviously both a physical and spiritual journey for the group.

First to talk was Andrew McAuley. Andrew had exemplified the unstructured nature of CHAOS events by going to the trouble of hauling a double Mirage all the way from the Blue Mountains, only to forget to organise someone to paddle it with him.

“Well at first I felt a bit silly,” said Andrew. “But Mr Geoghegan told me that it was OK, that I was already ahead of the other trainees in that I had to deal with an unexpected event even before getting on the water, so I thought about his advice and looked for the positives. I realised that the double had all this extra room, so I took a surfboard along and my kite surfing gear, and having fun with that stuff was great.. paddling a big double alone could be the way forward I reckon..”

On the expedition itself, Paul Loker said “Well, under Mr Geoghegan this was such a radical way of running a trip and it just blew me away… no forms, no briefing, no maps, no GPS’s, no compasses, no information, nothing! It’s all done on instinct .. everybody just getting out there and paddling roughly in the same direction to, errr, somewhere .. brilliant!”

Paul expanded “Like, on the first morning I think I heard we were going about 35kms to a place called Hidden Valley, and with a name like that obviously not an easy place to find! But the group spread was massive and I hardly saw anybody all day. I had no idea where I was or where to stop, and that feeling of uncertainty was just magic! And but for following some bloke’s black sail in the distance, I reckon I would never have found it. So I reckon it was a minor a miracle that seven out of the eight of us actually made it to the camp, and quite an emotional reunion when Richard eventually turned up the next morning. All in all a brilliant, enlightening experience!”

The deep thinking Richard Styles was also impressed with the new philosophy. “Mate,” said Richard as he sipped on a skim decaf Latte “I guess not finding the Valley, landing on an unknown beach and seeking refuge at someone’s property was the perfect introduction for me. I felt I was really experiencing Mr Geoghegan’s teachings first hand …”

Richard continued. “But it didn’t end there .. on Day 3 we had heard the weather forecast had been updated and that the wind was going to turn nasty and against us .. so I started to pack up immediately as I’ve been trained to do by the Club, but Laurie settled me down, rolled me a cigarette thingy, and showed me how to sit back and relax .. it was awesome how we dawdled and stuffed around that camp in defiance of that forecast ..!”

Tough paddler John Tottenhoffer agreed. “Yes, that morning was incredible .. it was like, contrary to everything we’d been taught! We treated the weather with contempt by basically ignoring it, and this attitude was just so liberating … OK, the downside was we copped five hours of plugging into a bastard of a headwind and we were all knackered, but the freedom of giving the weather ‘the finger’ that morning was just so uplifting …”

Chiselled old timer Stuart Trueman was also challenged by the new ethos. “Well, we didn’t even discuss water as an issue so I didn’t take much, and never knew when to fill up, so I nearly died of thirst on Day 2. But Mr Geoghegan told me to relax and not worry about it, and in a funny sort of way it was just terrific not having to worry about regulating how much I drank and when, ‘cos I didn’t have any ..!”

Even at trip’s end the venture kept pulling surprises. RSVP.com addict Andrew Watkinson told Flotsam “Well, we were exhilarated by what we had learnt over four magnificent days, but of course I was itching to hit the road for the long drive back to Sydney and all those women. But then as he drove us north to our cars, Mr Geoghegan decided on the spur of the moment to try an alternative fuel for his truck! OK, so the experiment was an absolute disaster and we didn’t get home till midnight, but Laurie should be commended for keeping the uncertainty and thrills going until the very end ..”

Days later, Flotsam caught up with Mr Geoghegan on his sprawling south coast estate for his evaluation of the event. “I rate it as a great success! Things generally didn’t go to plan because there was no plan, and that’s how CHAOS works!”

Geoghegan continued “I found the task of influencing this new group to relax and chill out was a real challenge but it did start to happen, and slowing them up on Day 3 to maximise the headwind experience was really rewarding. Off the record I wasn’t happy with Mark Pearson for actually listening to the weather forecast in the first place. He was the only trainee in the group who continually went against the grain by showing an interest in the weather and sea state each day. With this new philosophy, weather and planning and destinations and stuff are not important and Mark needs to learn that or he’ll not be invited back …”

Mr Geoghegan concluded “But despite Pearson, for mine this was the most pure CHAOS trip yet. I credit a long list of incidents to the free and relaxed spirit of the doctrine that clearly resulted in personal growth and development … I forgot my tent, so gained valuable new skills in setting up a tarp shelter and mosquito aversion techniques. Andrew forgot his paddling partner, and so learned how to pilot a double all by himself. Richard made landfall on an unknown bit of coast and learnt to seek the hospitality of local residents. Stuart forgot water and learned he can survive pretty well without it. John scalded his torso after falling into his Trangia and learnt that baby oil is a burnt paddler’s best friend. Finally I had the courage to try an alternative fuel for my truck and learned that there is a limit to what an old diesel rig will run on .. all these rich experiences are purely due to the flexibility and unstructured nature of CHAOS philosophy.”

Although further CHAOS style trips are likely, it is not known when, where or who will be going on them, as that level of detail “goes against the spirit of the movement,” said Mr Geoghegan.

Members lose privileges

In breaking news Flotsam has learned that an administrative furore has broken out after NSWSKC Club members were blocked from accessing the Australian Canoeing website!

A memo from Australia Canoeing stated “with regret” that AC had had to “remove password privileges from NSW Sea Kayak Club members that allow access to membership details”. Club Secretary/Treasurer Michael Steinfeld told Flotsam “this is an outrage, and yes I am outraged!!”

Although details of why this action has been taken are not clear, a senior but anonymous AC source told Flotsam “who cares what the issue was .. you people must understand that we here in AC basically think you sea kayakers are smelly and uncouth, and but for all your lovely money we wouldn’t even be talking to you in the first place…!”

Flotsam attempted to get the views of Club President Elizabeth Thomson on the issue, only to be told she was “learning advanced skills in Victoria “.