Training [63]

Debut Year – An Instructor’s Perspective

By Mark Sundin

Well, it’s a year since I gained my official Instructor’s certification and I thought it might be a good time to look back on what I’ve learned, observations about training in general within the Club, and to reflect on the broad range of experiences crammed into the year.

The overriding feature of training in the past year has been the sheer volume. A quick look back at my schedule reveals eight Sunday clinics (my own little bit of mayhem, all held at La Perouse in Sydney), four learn-to-roll days at pools from Wollongong to Homebush, seven full weekend training courses covering Sea Leaders, Intro Sea Skills and Sea Skills II, as well as the inevitable instruction on each and every Club paddle. With growing (literally) family commitments, my expedition plans are now in a holding pattern for a while to come, so it’s good to be able to put something back through these short, sharp, shocked instruction days.

From my perspective, it’s given me a terrific, intensive year to hone my eye to the vagaries of paddlers’ technique, as well as plenty of practice trying to find the best way to get your point across to people who might not actually know what you’re talking about. Now, what was I saying again..?

The training program we’re now teaching is very consistent about the basics, so I can easily identify a paddler who has already been to a Club training session by their overall skills, as opposed to one who has been to a commercial operator for training, or is self-taught. I think this is a crucial attribute, as it means everyone new to the Club is being taught the same basics of paddling in the same way, regardless of the instructor, rather than being swamped with ten theories from ten different people. So many novice paddlers I’ve come across this year have had their heads severely messed up!

The hardest thing to teach? Without a doubt, forward paddle. Any idiot can jump into a kayak and make it go forward, so developing your own forward stroke comes quickly, naturally, and almost without exception, badly. Once someone has a set paddling technique, it’s damned hard to get them to change – the horror of video analysis is usually the only way to get things moving in the right direction. The basics remain firm; good forward catch, rotation of the torso through the stroke, and a nice early exit. Remember, once you draw your paddle past your waist you’re going sideways!

My background in sport tells me it doesn’t matter whether you learn to tackle in Whakapapa or Toulouse, or to bowl an outswinger in Delhi or Birmingham, you’ll still be taught the basics of technique in the same way (actually, you might get taught to tackle a wee bit higher in Whakapapa.)

So it should be the same, in my humble opinion, in our noble sport of paddling (the consistency, not the high tackles). As for what happens once you’ve got the basics right, well, that’s up to the individual – get out there and emulate Doug Van Doren with your Greenlander paddle, set up a Tassie sail rig, or velcro your salty head to the back deck – you’ll have a good set of concrete principles on which everything else can develop.

I’ve preferred the informality of trip-based instruction, rather than the full-blown training weekends which we’ve run for the past couple of years, more from a self-centred angle, in that it allows me to engage my fellow paddlers and enjoy a bit of merriment as well, rather than just churning out an instruction service. It’s also the way I learnt to paddle, which helps. The recent RnR paddles out around the Port Stephens Islands were just about as good as it gets from the perspective of having a beaut day on the water, with a bit of skills training thrown into the mix. They combined a mix of variably skilled paddlers, sea conditions within everyone’s limits, a good long ocean paddle to get the blood pumping, and an hour or so of rescues and drills.

My La Perouse clinics have involved everything from forward paddle tune-ups, to rolling, to higher-skilled activities like bouncing around in rebound, effecting rescues, tows, and manoeuvring “in combat”. Awesome fun.

There have been a few clangers – the surf session at Greenhills involved me running about 85km up and down the beach fishing paddlers, paddles, boats, sunnies, muesli bars and pummelled gear out of the soup as my group learned how to brace into the surf, paddling perpendicular to the break. Harry Havu rode shotgun on the seaward side of the line-up, preventing any defiant boatless contestants from floating off to Norfolk Island. In the excitement a few decided to really give it a rip in the surf and the fallout kept everyone amused for the duration. I’m not too sure everyone is up for those sort of adventures in and out of their kayak, and I guess we need to be mindful of throwing people in too deep, but hopefully once the bruising had gone down and the stitches were out most of those guys were better for the experience. I know I couldn’t walk for a few days afterwards; my frame is built for comfort, not speed.

The breadth of people within the Club constantly keeps me amused. Where else do you get to drift along with a scientist, pilot, engineer, professor of English literature, marine biologist, baker, candlestick maker, you name it. It’s everyone’s fun time away from the pressures of their daily existence, so the experience is almost always positive, fun and damned interesting. We have to keep on making sure it is also safe, otherwise we’ll find ourselves legislated out of existence in this timid, scared, weird little world.

The buzz from getting someone to nail their roll for this first time is a definite highlight of any instructor’s day. In the year to date, I reckon I’ve had the pleasure of seeing more than twenty paddlers pass their rolling rite of passage. I feel a bit like a rolling midwife, without the blood, screams and gouged forearms. While rolling isn’t the panacea for all paddlers safety that some make it out to be, it’s a damned good feeling when you finally get a roll up, even if you do look a bit like a cock-head if you’ve learnt the Club version. Once you get it, you can stand on the beach, point, and laugh out loud at the recalcitrants doing the “lay back” and generally display a morally superior air about everything you do in and out of the water. So, keep at it, those of you who are yet to give birth to their roll.

For the year ahead, the program looks to be even more comprehensive, with all of the clubs instructors (Andrew Eddy, Rob Mercer, Stuart Trueman, Sharon Betteridge, Keith Oakford and moi) now aiming to add in their own trips-based sessions, while the dazzling, organised weekends remain intact. Mark Berry and Harry Havu are also looking to get their license to kill, so the gene pool is expanding. Make sure you get involved if you haven’t already – remember a small amount of information can be dangerous.

Editorial [63]

By Sue Webber

I hope you enjoy this issue of NSW Sea Kayaker. Ian Coles handed me the rudder a couple of months ago and it’s been a bit of a choppy ride while I’ve tried to find my bearings. Thanks to all the people who supplied articles, photos and advice at short notice. Apologies to anyone who feels they missed out with the short deadlines and for any mistakes in the magazine caused by my inexperience.

The next issue will be easier and on time. I’m looking for people who’d like to contribute to the magazine. As well as articles and photos about your local paddles and longer voyages I’d like to read articles on technical aspects of sea kayaking, reviews of products, hints and tips, so contact me about your ideas for articles and we’ll make the next issue bigger and better. The next deadline is 15 August for the September issue.

If you’re wondering where I’ve come from, here’s some background. I have been working as a writer and editor for the past 20 years, most recently as editor of Australian Cyclist magazine. I started to get interested in kayaking a couple of years ago to make a change from all that peddaling. While I still count myself as a kayaking novice, I’m enjoying my paddling more and more. Living on the north coast of NSW at Woolgoolga means I’m a long way from Sydney-based get togethers, however if any members are travelling north please get in touch and we can arrange a kayak in my local waters.

President’s Report [63]

By Elizabeth Thomson

Dear All,

Well, this is the last magazine before the 2006 AGM, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back at the year that was.

At Club level, we’ve had a number of ups and downs. The biggest downer was the resignation of our stoic editor, Ian Coles. His resignation in December was a real blow and we were left to struggle to get the December issue out without him. Thanks to the volunteers that stepped in and helped out, enabling us all to get it at RnR. The good news is that we now have a very experienced, enthusiastic new Editor, Sue Webber. So let’s support Sue and continue to send in our stories. We are looking for all kinds: trip reports, but also articles on equipment; on all things to do with kayaking and the world of water.

Another downer was that we thought we were going to be short on trip leaders for RnR. But the weather gods were on our side and many of our experienced trip leaders and instructors were available for RnR, making it a huge success. Everyone got the opportunity to go to sea as well as feed the fish and generally hang out and talk boats and swap stories. And on that note, I want to thank the sponsors, particularly Kayaking World for the Point 65 boat donation. A lot of people had a great time trialing the boats and mulling over the idea of buying one.

But apart from that, we’ve have had a great year.

Peter Osman put on great Water Aid Race despite the weather being unkind on the first attempt. We are going to do it again in 2007, on a bigger scale, sponsoring the only competitive sea kayak race in Australia (we think!).

The website continues to be a source of invaluable information for sea kayakers in general, but also specifically for members, announcing our club trips, training and other events. Speaking of events, the AGM this year will include the usual whale watching trips in the morning before the meeting and presentations by two of our kayaking legends, Mike Snoad and John Wilde following dinner. So put July 22 in your diary.

We introduced the logbook at RnR. This includes our Grade 1 and 2 assessment criteria, which enables paddlers to tick off their skills as they develop. I’ve had a couple of very enjoyable post-paddle moments over a cup of coffee filling in the logbook with others on the trip, giving each other a hard time and proudly filling in the details. The logbook is proving to be not only a sensible vehicle for recording experience and skills development but also is a great talking point building social connections between paddlers.

We sponsored a Snr First Aid course in April. The feedback has been very positive and we intend to do the same thing next year. In fact, the course will be tailored more specifically to the kinds of first aid needed by sea kayakers.

Our Club trips continue to be popular and incident free with flat-water and sea trips on offer. And of course, our training program continues on. The 2006 program has been designed around paddling weekends where trainees experience overnight trips and skills development in planned contexts. And of course, the pool rolling sessions continue to be popular. But every now and then we have ‘no shows’. This results in spots being unfilled at the last minute which means other people miss out on the opportunity. The training group has decided to have a ‘black list’. If you have to cancel and you don’t give prior notice, then your name goes on the list and you won’t be given a spot next time. Hopefully, this will reduce the last minute vacancies.

We introduced the e-newsletter to keep members up to date on Club developments and the work of the Committee. The feedback that I get is that you like it, so we will keep it up.

And finally, our membership continues to grow.

At the National level, things have been less stable. As you know, AC went bankrupt in December, which resulted in a nation wide review. NSWSKC put in a submission and lobbied for our position as sea kayakers at a meeting in April. The Australian Sports Commission report is expected at the end of this month. I will be reporting on it at the AGM.

Another, by far better, development of late is that one of our members, Mike Eggleton has been appointed at the Executive Officer of NSW Canoeing Inc. This is great news and marks a sea change in our relationship with the State Association. Sea kayaking will now get the attention it deserves ?.

So, that’s 2005/6 in a nutshell. And just before I go, I want to say thank you to the Committee and the truck loads of volunteers have worked hard for the Club this year. Without you, there’d be no club.

See you on the water.

Travels and Travails of Madeline [63]

Castle Rock

By Madeline Noonan, Kyrra-ann Reynolds and Karl Noonan

You get them – particularly spiritual days out there, and it happened on a winter’s Sunday. Out of the west a balmy wind washed across Middle Harbour waters. It was after the winter’s solstice, just before spring, during the Athens Olympic’s highs. The midday sun shone through black storm clouds on golden beaches, the water was crystal clear and big icy rain drops spattered our faces. Out of the heavens God gave us everything, all of it. Yes it was God’s country – Clontarf Sydney. Not far away Queensland, to where Kyrra will soon be leaving forever. I invited Kyrra for a day on the water that she would not forget soon. So I took her to my temple out there and to a place where Viking princesses go.

Kyrra and I, under Dad’s eye, ever watchful, floated off to Castle Rock Beach and to the other world, to find our other centre, the one out side ourselves just for a change. To our surprise it feels good. We are nutty teenagers, so Dad often says. Although we are novice teenagers, we are naturals. Good daddy; the clothes are on the floor at home and he will pick them up later. Momentarily all that is forgotten. For now, we are here enjoying ourselves.

We are unwisely dressed in our bikinis, not the recommended wetsuits for such an excursion. We are paddling river ‘Dancers’, kayaks that go around in circles. We don’t care. We look good and when a princess looks good she feels good. Going around in circles didn’t matter either because the wind pushed us all the way. We must have paddled twice the distance, laughing, to Castle Rock beach. The icy rain gave us ‘chicken skin’ as the Chinese call goose bumps and we didn’t care either. We still felt wonderful, warm from paddling in the bizarre, warm wind. The sun, wind and rain didn’t seem to matter.

Castle Rock beach had shells, a waterfall and rock faces to climb, scrub to scratch our newly waxed legs and of course, as you would expect in a far away place, a castle with a lawn on top. It is a place to climb, to park our Dancers and look over the moat at high tide. We posed and waited to be rescued, dreamt of charming guys and watched our scratched legs go red and complained to anyone who would listen. No one came to our rescue, no one wanted to know us. But Dad was there. Good old Dad. He listened and sighed. I think he has heard it all before. We posed again and Dad took a piccy of us in our Dancers. We were happy.

A modern woman can rescue herself, so not to be left starving we dropped the kayaks over the side of our castle rock and followed. (Check out the piccy.) We self rescued ourselves – how disappointing. Dad said that life doesn’t always go according to our wishes but wishes still come true because some day I will marry my prince. He just better know how to save me. A Viking princess wants to be saved. Kyrra, the wonderful, wants to be saved too.

Balmoral beach has a good café. Off we whirled. More rain spattered us. Kyrra went out to sea towards Sydney Heads, no matter how hard she tried to go straight. It was the Dancer – it had a mind of its own. I was patient. Dad wasn’t and did some laps to keep warm. I chased ferries but I’m not sure why – perhaps to amuse us.

Balmoral beach is always buzzing. People with their kids, dogs, friends, boyfriends, guys. My future prince was milling about somewhere, looking relaxed. The rain dumped on us. We ran for it to the Balmoral Lifesaver Cafe, bought some hamburgers and ice cream and avoided our school Principal who happened to be at the cafe; only because we were shy (maybe awed).

Back in the kayaks we headed for home.

The army zipped across the waters out of no where, direct to Castle Rock beach in three assault craft and waved to us on the way back….. and we are only teenagers. Too late to save us. What losers. Obviously our prince will never be an ‘army’ man.

We were content to paddle in and out of the shoreline running gauntlets. On one occasion the waters moved from under me and I was left a little high and dry. Each wave was to be the next to lift me off the rocks but in the end a fisherman set me free to paddle again. I good fisherman is worth more than a late mariner any day. Kyrra stayed a little way off learning to paddle a straight line. Paddling is fun like this. It wasn’t long ago I was zig zagging everywhere too.

Near Clontarf Point I capsized to check out the bottom. Middle Harbour is not deep and you can see the shells on the sandy bottom and you can dive to touch the sand. Pippis are everywhere on the bottom. Sydney oysters and mussels litter the rocks, a feast for Dad who loves them. Kyrra and I abandoned the kayaks on the beach and Dad towed them back while we collected shells for a collage. After walking about, along the beach wet, we were soon cold and the hot chocolate at home finished a perfect Sunday afternoon. How lucky to have such a beach near home. How fortunate are we to be able to get about in a kayak.

Places to see, places to play, both Kyrra and I felt like mermaids at times, not wandering Viking princesses. When Kyrra is in Queensland she will not forget her old home. Sydney is good too. No matter where we are, we will think of our castle in Middle Harbour waters out there under the heavens. When my fisherman becomes a Viking warrior he will be there for me. Princesses have dreams…. and castles and temples on golden waters in the warm breeze when the world is cold.

Life, The Universe and the New Club Logbook [63]

By Mark Berry, NSWSKC Trips Convenor

Throughout the past year the Club committee has worked on the development of several key initiatives aimed at improving the overall effectiveness of our training and trip leading programs. One of these initiatives is the introduction of a club logbook. Logbooks are used extensively throughout the world in both commercial and recreational activities to record information for later analysis. Sports utilising logbooks extensively include scuba diving, skydiving, gliding, flying, hang-gliding and various forms of kayaking. The NSWSKC logbook has been created in order to fulfil three main objectives:

  1. To provide individual paddlers with a personal record of their trips.
  2. To provide trip leaders with a quick and effective means of accessing background information on a paddler’s abilities and experience.
  3. To provide instructors with a simple and accurate method of recording and accessing details of a paddler’s progress through the NSWSKC grading system.

By now you should all have received your copy of the NSW Sea Kayak Club’s new Paddler Logbook. For club members who currently hold the Australian Canoeing (AC) Sea Skills qualification or higher the use of the logbook is voluntary – but please note that members wanting to attain a Sea Leader, Sea Guide or Sea Instructor qualification in future will be required to produce a log of trip leading and instructing experience in order to satisfy AC requirements.

For new club members, and those who have not yet attained the AC Sea Skills qualification, the logbook will become a mandatory part of the club’s grading and trip participation process. This will come into effect following our annual general meeting on July 22nd 2006. From that date forward club members who have not yet attained the Sea Skills qualification will need to produce their logbook whenever they participate in club trips or instruction days. Prior to the July changeover the production of logbooks will not be mandatory for grade 1 and 2 paddlers; however, as Sea Leaders, Guides and Instructors begin signing off on skills from 11th March 2006 I recommend that you take the opportunity to complete the grade one and two criteria as soon as possible. Below I have included a detailed guide showing who can sign off your Grade 1 and Grade 2 criteria and a current list of trip leaders and instructors.

Whilst the NSWSKC logbook is primarily being introduced as a logistic aid for trip leaders and instructors, I believe it will also provide everyone with an excellent tool for recording and remembering your club trips and the great people you shared them with.

Enjoy your paddling.

Assessment Record

Appropriate Assessor
Skill Assessed Sea Leader Sea Guide Sea Instructor Flatwater Guide Flatwater Instructor
Grade 1
Perform Wet Exit
Perform 50 metre swim in PFD
Grade 2
Perform and assisted rescue (as rescuer and rescuee)    
Paddle at a speed of 5kph for 90 minutes
Demonstrate basic low bracing skills    
Demonstrate turning skills    
Tow (as tower and towee)    
Show an understanding of the BOM weather forecast
Present kayak to Grade 2 standard
Perform a minimum of two trips of 15km or longer (see below)      
Observation of coastal trip by guide/instructor      
Observation of coastal trip by guide/instructor      

Current Active NSWSKC Trip Leaders & Instructors, 2006

Sea Leader
Stephan Meyn, David Hipsley, Peter Osman, Mark Berry, Mike Snoad, Richard McNeall, Trevor Gardner
Sea Guide
Kevin Brennan, Adrian Clayton, Paul Loker
Sea Instructor
Rob Mercer, Richard Birdsey, Andrew Eddy, Mark Sundin, Keith Oakford, Stuart Truman, John Wilde, Wayne Langmaid
Flatwater Guide
Henry Van Der Kolk, Mike Eggleton
Flatwater Instructor
Sharon Betteridge

Local Waters [63]

By Trevor Costa

It’s around eight in the morning as I push off from the small sandy beach. There is still some fog drifting around Black Mountain Peninsula and the slight easterly breeze has blown two hot air balloons across the lake towards the finger of land. Flames flash from the top of the gondolas, sending a hushing roar across the waters. Both balloons rise in an effort to clear the peninsula. One doesn’t make it and bumps and drags to a stop in a clearing. The other shoots skywards caught in a thermal from the mountain and is soon way out of reach of the needle spire of Black Mountain Tower.

I like this lake. I read somewhere recently that in this age of the sea change society, it takes courage to stop longing for the elsewhere and genuinely embrace and appreciate your local environment. For a sea kayaker who longs for the briny blue but who lives on the wrong side of the Great Divide, it takes some courage to embrace the local inland waterway. When that local waterway is Lake Burley Griffin, the stoutest of hearts may falter. But for me (and scores of other Canberran paddlers) the lake is the only realistic paddling option for recreation and training between trips to the coast. There is no blue water, surf, swell nor endless expanses. This is inland paddling alright and for the hardier sea salts among us this article may not be your cup of tea, so I suggest you go feed your parrot and polish that wooden leg. For all others, Lake Burley Griffin should not be underestimated as a destination for a day or night paddle and if you are heading for our nation’s capital be sure to bring your boat along.

The lake shares the name of the bloke who originally came up with the idea to build it, way back in 1912. But it wasn’t until 1964 (2004 was the 40th anniversary of its creation) that Lake Burley Griffin, as we know it, came into being with the damming of the Molonglo River. At 15kms long and with around 40kms of shoreline and more than a kilometre at its widest point, it’s big enough for recreational and training purposes and offers the paddler a variety of scenery and interesting places to ponder along its length. Seeing many of our national monuments and important buildings from the water, can put a new slant on things.

It’s still cool on this autumn morning and the muscles don’t warm until I have done a half orbit of Spinnaker and then Springbank Islands. Springbank is the larger of the islands. Named after the property that now lies at the bottom of the lake, it has a jetty and picnic facilities. Spinnaker is smaller and lacks any facilities but is still nice for a stop over. From Springbank Island you can head to the northern shore to paddle up Sullivans Creek and check out the grounds of the Australian National University, or head around Black Mountain Peninsula for a paddle past the Governor General’s modest shack and on to Scrivener Dam. But not today – I’m only just getting into a nice paddling rhythm as I spin off Sputnik-like into the West Basin.

If this was sunset I’d be weaving my way through the sailing fleet that makes the most of the evening breeze but on this morning there is only a pair of Dragon Boats making their way out from the yacht club. They are racing each other, chanting out the strokes while on the shore a pair of sleek outrigger OC6s sit waiting their turn, trying not to look out of place. The Dragon Boats race noisily by, paddles flashing, team t-shirts and hulls bobbing to the synchronised strokes, 1, 2, 3, 4.

The lake is home to a variety of water craft and a few prototypes of now well-known brands of sea kayak undertook their trials on this body of water. As you require a permit to use powered boats, the scarcity of such craft makes the lake an ideal and relatively safe destination for the paddler. It’s well suited to a spot of night paddling. With most buildings in the eastern basins well lit and offering a colourful and spectacular scene from the water, at night the lake presents yet another perspective to view the city. The western basins have no buildings to illuminate the waters and on moonless nights the headlights of cars trace the distant shorelines and fog can add an eerie dimension.

As I come round Acton Peninsula, a few fisherman are trying their luck near the National Museum. Popular and not so popular fish species call the lake home. Large carp are not hard to spot at any time as they often work the more popular tourist spots. They make a living by shadowing cuter wildlife, like the black swans, which are favoured by visitors, and by snatching the bread crumbs missed by the beaks at the surface. The lake is also stocked by shyer fish that enjoy a better public image, such as Murray Cod and trout. Police divers have told of being surprised in the line of duty, as they come face to face with monster cod on the dark bottom of the lake.

In the morning light, the National Museum itself is surprising enough. Love it or hate it (I love it) you can’t help but be impressed by the unique structure. Ahead is Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and to the left across another basin is a small shop by the lake’s edge that sells a mean hamburger and from where a colourful fleet of hired paddle boats, canoes and kayaks set sail on all but the worst days.

Seems oversized Murray Cod may not be the only monsters to ply these waters. There are stories of a resident monster in the waterways that date back as far as 1821, when there were the occasional sightings of an unusual creature that inhabited the sandbanks of the Molonglo River. There were several reports of a cow like creature with flippers that would slip back into the river when disturbed by the amazed humans. Now dubbed the “Burley Beast”, there are still the occasional reports of unexplainable disturbances on the lake’s surface that appear to be made by something submerged, travelling at speed and very large.

Not today. There is nothing but the breeze and my bow wave disturbing the water as I come under Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and into the Central Basin. On the left towards the northern shore and just off Regatta Point is the Captain Cook Memorial Jet, a fountain that can pump a spout of water up to 147 metres high. On a hot day the spray offers a pleasing opportunity to cool off. But today it looks just great from a distance.

On the southern shores, are the National Library and newly-renovated foreshores with the rows of plaques honouring the Australians of the Year and further on, the new structures that sweep out into the lake and act as the tourist ferry jetties and a place where people can get close to the water without getting wet. A squadron of colourful hot air balloons are scattered across the morning sky above this scene.

Reconciliation Place is here with its unconventional architecture. This structure is even more curious when viewed from the water and as you paddle past the gap in the wall you cross the nexus between Mount Ainslie and the Australian War Memorial on the northern shore, and old and new Parliament Houses on the southern shore. I can see the majestic flag pole of New Parliament House, and momentarily as I glide by, Old Parliament House nestled at its bigger brother’s base. The National Portrait Gallery is around here and The High Court of Australia and National Gallery of Australia dominate as I paddle around the next bend.

Cutting across the lake I’m startled to hear overhead the roar of flames. It’s the same balloon I saw a few kilometres back, the one that cleared Black Mountain Peninsula in the morning light. It’s descended low over the lake now and is being blown back towards the Peninsula and Black Mountain. The winds up high must be blowing in the opposite direction to the easterly breeze low over the lake allowing the balloon to do a type of circuit. I can see the people in the gondola pointing and waving and taking pictures. I try to act nonchalant concentrating on maintaining my paddle rhythm, while realising I’ve witnessed some fine balloon piloting.

Ahead is Aspen Island with Kings Avenue Bridge in the distance. I swing into the channel between Aspen and its smaller islands and stop for a snack and a drink at the base of the National Carillon. The 160 foot high Carillon tower was designed by a Western Australian architect firm and was officially opened by the Queen in 1970 as a gift from the British Government to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Nation’s Capital. The Carillon’s 55 bronze bells chime every quarter hour. During special occasions carillonists will beat out crisp chiming renditions from high in the tower. The small bay at the base of the structure offers a perfect amphitheatre to sit in your kayak and listen to such recitals and attempt to name that tune.

Nobody’s at home this early, so I paddle along the channel that separates Aspen from the shore, under the footbridge and back into the basin leaving a scattering of spooked ducks and coots in my wake. To the left is Kings Avenue Bridge and East Basin. If the wind is up it can get a little choppy on this corner from the rebound off the walls at the bridge footings. All just a bit of fun and at times a welcomed break from all that still water paddling. Although conditions on the lake are usually within the capabilities of an experienced sea kayaker, things can get rough during strong winds and small boat alerts are not uncommon. In such conditions the shallow basins, such as East Basin can produce a short lumpy chop which history has shown can be fatal for the ill prepared. As these unfortunate few demonstrate, the biggest danger to boaters on the lake would appear to be from capsize, resulting in hypothermia and/or drowning.

During winter, prolonged immersion in the freezing waters could certainly ruin your day, so a paddler should be adequately equipped with good, warm apparel and be armed with self-rescue or assisted rescue skills. But the colder months can also offer some of the best paddling with its colourful autumn or frosty wintry scenes (a light dusting of snow on the Brindabella Mountains often makes an exotic backdrop), clear water and endless expanses of sky. As the cold conditions seem to deter all but the most dedicated water lovers, you can often have the lake virtually to yourself.

There are many good places to launch on the lake and the prevailing wind direction usually dictates the choice of where to put in. It’s always nice to have a wind at your back on the return journey. If you are driving to the lake and are trying to figure the direction of the prevailing wind, the flag flying on new Parliament House offers the most ostentatious wind vane in the country. For those with sails, the lake can also offer some exhilarating tail wind rides back to the car.

In summer just on dusk, wind direction can change in a matter of minutes from a hot north westerly to a cooling and much appreciated easterly (known locally as the Bungendore Doctor) as the coastal winds finally find their way inland. I have yet to find a better way to see out a hot summer’s day in Canberra, than to be on the lake and greet the arrival of that coastal breeze. If you time it right it means a tail wind ride both ways.

At the far end of East Basin is the entrance to the Molonglo River and a kilometre or so upriver is Molonglo Reach. Under the Lake Burley Griffin Management Plan the various boating interests, sailing, rowing and canoeing, are recognised with the designation of principle use areas. Molonglo Reach has been set aside as a principal use area for canoe training and includes a purpose-built canoe/kayak launch area. This site can be accessed opposite Plant Road that leads out of Duntroon Military College and off Morsehead Road. This is home to the Lake Burley Griffin Canoe Club and where they undertake their time trials.

This stretch of river is favoured by birds with quite a range calling the river and lake home. The Jerrabomberra Wetlands in particular are a waterfowl haven and can be found at the southern end of East Basin. From the Molonglo Reach, the river east of the Dairy Flat Road Bridge leads into a designated ski boat area. From personal experience, paddlers are better off avoiding this stretch. It’s very much the case of not enough river and way too many ski boats.

I decide not to enter East Basin but head for home and to take advantage of the slight easterly breeze to chase the balloon back towards my launch site, maybe in time to see it shoot skywards again.

Inland or coastal, our local waters play an important part of keeping a paddler in the sport, a place to keep fit and to recreate. And as the recent plans to develop the foreshore at Bundeena demonstrate, it’s worth taking an interest in their future if we are to have a say in protecting their values. It’s all too easy for familiarity to dampen appreciation, especially while counting the paddle strokes until the next big trip and longing for the elsewhere.


Recreational boating on the lake is regulated under the Lakes Act 1976, which can be found on the web at:

The regulations for navigation and avoiding collision are not too dissimilar to NSW Boating Regulations. The regulations also form part of the Lake Burley Griffin Management Plan. The regulations for the Molonglo River are administered by the ACT Government through Environment ACT, but again are fairly consistent with NSW Boating Regulations.

Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time [63]

The Trip of a Novice Outside Paddler

By Terry Renford

Well, the Easter Long Weekend was coming up. What a good opportunity to go for a decent paddle. Good Friday, it has a ring to it, don’t you think.

Living at South Maroubra I am only a short stroll to Malabar (or Long Bay as those unfamiliar know it as). I have just started to take the opportunity to paddle outside, down to Wedding Cake Island (Coogee) and back. This I have done about four or five times. So with a four day weekend coming up, why not take the opportunity to just keep going a little further. If when I get to Coogee I were to simply keep going North, I would be at about Diamond Bay by the time I would normally be back at Malabar. Hmmm, Manly is not that much further, and may be after a lunch stop there, I could even make it all the way to Long Reef for a decent day’s paddle. Yeah, seems like a good idea.

Now, if I were to plan this as a multi-day trip, I could continue through to Pittwater the next day, then on to Brooklyn the following day, where hopefully I might be able to talk my wife into driving up to pick me up, with the bribe of a lunch.

What a good idea.

I started planning. I laid out on the dinning room table all I intend to take in my kayak. Here goes the boss again. “Where are you going?”, “When am I going to get my table back?”, “Clear all this off from here!” Oh well, maybe, if I feign selective deafness, I can get away with it for a few more days. Am I dreaming! There was my camping gear – clean, dry clothes to allow for changes in conditions; toiletries; first aid bag; paddling gear; food; water; safety equipment; camera; weather forecasts and updates; maps. Maps! What maps? Where to get them? Tried the sites recommended by the club members, but I couldn’t get them to print. Secure sites, damn it.

Buy the GARMIN Blue Chart CD-Rom!

Now, produce maps to plan and plot a route and break up the distances. The Coastal Waters Forecast for the weekend (Broken Bay to Port Hacking): Friday, winds NW 5/10 knots tending NE and increasing to 13/18 knots in the afternoon. Sea rising 1 to 1.5 metres. Swell NE 0.5 meters. Saturday, winds early SW change 20/30 knots. Sea 2 to 3 metres. Swell S 1 to 2 meters. Sunday, winds SW 15/25 knots easing.

Tides (Sydney) Friday, high 08:33 – low 14:30. Saturday, high 09:10 – low 15:00. Sunday, high 09:50 – low 15:31.

It looked good for Friday. Saturday would be OK if I hugged the coast and allowed the blow to pass over me. There was little in the seas and the surf was quite small, so a beach landing would be OK if I decided I needed to. And by Sunday my plan was to be inside Pittwater, and on protected waters again.

I made my decision to go, so I began to pack up all the clothes, food and gear off the dinning room table. At this point my wife was walking around with a huge smile on her face, and even helping me pack. Strange, I thought she should be showing some concern for me going on this solo trip, or was it that she was just sooo happy to be getting her dinning room table back again? My son dropped me at Malabar at 08:15 Friday morning. What a magic day, it was warm and the sun was shining, the bay was like glass. Looking out through the bay, the outside looked calm. We emptied the car and I packed the kayak at the water’s edge, changed, filled the water bottles, grabbed snacks for on water, and headed off through the bay by 09:20.

I took a break off Wedding Cake Island (as usual) at 10:10. I had been looking forward to this. It was an easy start to the trip with the wind at my back and a slight following swell, but my back, arms and shoulders had been sore and aching slightly since I set off. Started up again after 10 minutes, hoping that the soreness would soon work itself out. Next break was 11:00 off Diamond Bay. Feeling great, all the aches and pains had gone, settled into a good, easy pace. I was really enjoying being on the ocean. This was a new sensation for me, being off the coast by myself in an area I had not paddled before, a little disconcerting at times, but mainly eye-opening, exciting and with a sense of self-satisfaction.

The paddle across the Heads was boring and seemed long and slow. Still seemed to be making reasonable time though, while not making too much work of it. Made Shelly Beach (Manly) for a lunch stop at 12:10. I was feeling rather tired and looking forward to a break out of the kayak and having a hot coffee and lunch. I phoned home to tell them of my progress, and then settled down for lunch.

Shelly Beach was very protected from the SW weather. Warm, sunny and a perfect place and distance for me for a decent break. I enjoyed the stay, but I could see Long Reef off in the distance and I was excited by the thought of getting there and completing my planned day’s paddle. I set off after a break of just over an hour with the weather still in my favour.

Approaching Long Reef, I was scanning for the breaking waves marking the large shallow bar off the middle of Dee Why and the reefs around Long Reef that are shown on my maps. I had been told by club members to give Long Reef a wide berth, particularly on the northern side. However, it was right on low tide so the reef was easily distinguishable, but I was still weary after the stories I had been told and I went very wide. Arrived at Fisherman’s Beach (northern side of Long Reef) at 14:40 very self satisfied, feeling fit enough and well enough that I could turn around and paddle back to Malabar. No, just kidding. I quickly resisted the thought and after settling my kayak in, I phoned home again to let them know I was OK, then checked into the SLSA Northern Beaches Communication Centre (next to the fishing club hut) to get the latest weather forecast for Saturday. They told me of the approaching south westerly blow expected for that night and accompanying rise in seas. I thought to myself that I had been getting the same predictions from the Bureau for the last three days. I decided to wait and see what the weather would bring the next day and take it from there. That done I walked to the hotel for a couple of beers and watched the football, before heading back to the beach for dinner and made a camp for the night. A pleasant end to my first full day’s solo paddle on outside waters.

The forecast south westerly blow did arrive during the night, but dropped off around day break. While having breakfast and packing up, looking north along the coastline the seas were smooth with no swell along the beach line and very small, if any, surf breaking on the beaches that I could see. I decided to go, initially intending to follow the shore line. I took to the water at 07:20 and the wind started to blow again just as I set off. I changed my plans and headed in a straight line north towards Bangalley Head instead of following the shore line. It was the shortest distance after all, I said to myself. I was starting to get a nice lift by the strong following wind.

Before too long I was getting a huge lift. I was out quite a way off the coast now. The wind was strong, the predicted 20/30 knots could possibly be right. There was a good deal of broken waves out there too, maybe the 2 to 3 metre seas and 1 to 2 metre swell predicted could also be correct. On some of them I felt I was riding some 40 – 50 metres, who knows, maybe more. Some swells I picked up were starting to get a bit too big; they threw me onto the wave in front, while others, even though they were fat, seemed too big to handle altogether and I pulled off them quickly. I had the wind, seas, and swell all in my favour. I felt like I was flying! What a rush! The adrenalin was really pumping; this was hugely exciting for me. I was out off Bungan Beach now and there was a yacht further to sea of me by about one km at maybe 20 past the hour. It looked to be sailing with only a reefed mainsail, even allowing for the angle of my view it still took 40 – 50 minutes to draw level and pass me. I was working hard now; I was off Newport Beach and I noticed a couple of boats lying inside the reefs in the lee of this wind and sea. My mouth was dry, but I was not game to take my hands off the paddle to take a drink or snack. I was more excited than worried.

There was a loud bang a little way off to my rear and towards the coast. It sounded so loud I thought it was a boat landing back on the water after jumping a wave. If it was a boat, it was too close for my liking. Had he seen me? I looked around; there was no boat, it was a just a wave breaking. The size of the following sea as I looked around took me by surprise, (understatement). I thought I was coping well enough; but this puts another dimension to being out here in these conditions and I told myself to not look behind again. A little later and without paddling with it, I was picked up by a wave, but instead of it throwing me over the top of the wave in front, it buried me into it and I popped out half-way down the front wave. I looked around again to see what was happening. I thought I had decided not to look around again I reminded myself; I was now thinking that if I came out in these seas, the way they were running, I could end up in Norfolk Island (What better incentive to stay upright did I need?).

Off Avalon a couple of fishermen were heading back to Fisherman’s Beach from the north. At about 500 metres or so to sea from me they noticed me and changed course to meet me.

“What are you doing out here? Are you all right?”, they ask.

“Yes, I am OK. I am just heading to the lee of Bangalley Head, I will be fine there.”

This was now less than two km by my reckoning.

“You must be pretty keen? Are you sure you are OK?”

“Yes. It’s not far to the Headland. I will be fine.”

We parted. Was I keen, as they said, or was I just a little silly?

My maps showed reefs around the base of Bangalley Head, so from somewhere off the Hole in the Wall, I kept a lookout for breaking waves to show their whereabouts. However, with the state of the seas I couldn’t tell the difference between breaking waves on the Bangalley Head Reefs and the seas generally. I decided to set a course that gave the Headland a wide mark.

Rounding Bangalley Head was like paddling into a lake, only better. Around to Whale Beach and onto Palm Beach, it was calm, absolutely no wind, zero seas and swell. Nothing! It was amazing the stark differences in such adjacent seas.

I arrived on Palm Beach at 09:10. In my initial planning I anticipated I would be by Palm Beach about lunch time. I phoned home to let them know how things had progressed so far, then made myself comfortable and had a snack. I had never been to Palm Beach before, so I thought I would take the opportunity to spend a couple of hours looking about this lovely part of Sydney. A walk up to the lighthouse affords a great view of the area and a chance to check out the conditions that lay ahead of me inside Barrenjoey. It was full of white caps, and a strong running outgoing tide. I thought I would leave this next leg for a bit and relax on this beautiful beach.

While on the beach I reflected on my morning’s paddle. I calculated the distance travelled from Long Reef and the time taken. I estimated I had averaged 9.8km/h. Not a bad average I thought to myself, when you considered I was probably bracing as often as I was paddling in the seas outside and then paddling on dead water once Banhalley Head was rounded.

With hindsight I guess it was not too bright of me being out there in those conditions by myself. However, at no time did I feel really threatened. It was all a new experience to me, a hugely steep learning curve and one that I have taken both positives and negatives from. I was steeled throughout in the knowledge that on the previous Sunday I had been paddling around in the Sydney Heads area and down through Middle Harbour (this was the day that there were massive waves closing all the eastern beaches and the Manly ferries were cancelled because of the rough conditions). In fact I had felt far more threatened and less safe on my Harbour paddle than I had off Avalon. Previously I would never have gone outside in the conditions I encountered off the northern beaches. I guess I only went out on this occasion because it was the next leg of an already started trip and I was able to ease myself into the conditions from the relative calm of the lee of Long Reef Headland. Also, I felt the safety of calm beaches was a good fall back and reachable at all times. Maybe I would not go out in similar conditions again. But at least I felt secure in the knowledge that this time I did handle those conditions by myself and with reasonable safety and could do so again if the need arose. I find that the best lessons are learnt by extending your experiences and your comfort zone. However, I think you should think of yourself as extending an imaginary elastic band and give yourself room to spring back into your comfort zone if things look like starting to go array. As for myself, although I was quite away off the northern beaches for most of the time, I always felt I was in touch with the beaches if things started to get out of hand and I needed to head to the safety of a calm beach landing.

After a pleasant two-and-a-quarter-hour stay at Palm Beach I headed off again, rounding Barrenjoey Head to do battle with the white caps and tide inside Broken Bay. I pulled into a small tidal beach almost under the West Head Lookout, Broken Bay. I was way early at this point, it was still only 12:30 and I originally thought I would get there about mid, to late afternoon. I had planned to stay my second night at this point.

I decided on a change of plans. There was still plenty of daylight left, so I phoned my wife letting her know where I was up to and asked if she could pick me up that afternoon if I were to continue on to Brooklyn. All was fine, so I set off for Brooklyn. It was hard work paddling against the outgoing tide in Broken Bay. I had been paddling for what seemed like hours and should have seen Brooklyn much sooner. I pulled up to a dingy, asking which bay leads to Brooklyn only to find out I had misread my maps and continued along Cowan Creek and through into Jerusalem Bay. Shit! This mistake had just put about 10km extra on my paddle, not to mention the tide factor. It was now almost the tide change and I had about 45 minutes to get around to the Hawkesbury River before it changes to incoming and I was paddling against it again.

My wife phoned to ask where I was in Brooklyn. I told her I had misread my maps and I was still in Cowan Creek and could be another 45 minutes to 1 hour before I was there. Well, this was another notch on my learning curve. Next time I would lay my maps on the deck displaying the direction of travel.

I arrived at Brooklyn to be met by my wife, unpacked my kayak and changed then loaded the car and headed home. All the way back in the car I retraced my trip in my head. I felt a mix of contentment and self-satisfaction. What I had initially planned as a three day trip, I finished in two days. This was the furthest I had paddled outside and was my first outside overnighter. Added to this, I did it as a solo trip. During the trip I put myself out of my comfort zone on a number of occasions and on each occasion there was plenty to learn. Though the most puzzling thing that occurred to me was that the more I experienced, the more I patently obviously needed to learn. When will this ever end? Never, I hope!

Well, when I was originally planning this trip, “it just seemed like a good idea at the time”. Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat. But given similar conditions, maybe I would prefer to share the experience with another/others. The company would be nice. Or could it be that it would ease my mind and be just a bit safer?

The Inaugural Water Aid Race for the Golden Sock Trophy [63]

By Peter Osman

Staggering towards me is a windswept rain-drenched President. There’s a storm warning and she’s clutching coffee as we survey a desolate beach. This was the 27th _ the day that wasn’t – the day the Bureau of Meteorology decided to call a storm warning for the inner harbour as 7 knot winds howled wildly around us!

“Lets #$@^$#@ paddle anyway”, ET says, and as we’re joined by a stalwart group of diehards, the storm has increased to no more than 11 knots. So off we go.

Well, that was the 27th – the day we cancelled the race. But now it’s 12 February and the sun is bright, the winds are non-existent and Sally and Stephan have duly set up Camp Temptation at Bantry Bay with numerous flasks of coffee and bags of muffins. It is their sworn duty to slow down or stop competitors – not by force but with seduction – it’s going to be a tough race!! A 10km sprint of pure hell as competitors dodge the ferrys, pleasure craft and each other, while trying to find every check point along the way, only to be confronted with a cup of coffee and a muffin at the halfway point.

So, what was this all about? Well, it was the Water Aid Race for the Golden Sock trophy (only Fishkiller understands the true significance of the Golden Sock Trophy. Refer to Issue #50 NSW Sea Kayaker). Water Aid Australia is a group that helps organize water and sanitation in remote communities. If you want to know how to set up toilet facilities for a 1000 AIDS orphans on a remote school-farm in Kenya, then Water Aid is one good place to go. And seeing that they have water as their theme and we have water as ours, it seemed like a good idea to have a bash at raising some money with a race on the harbour.

It was also a demonstrator to those shadowy figures that control Sydney Harbour that us innocent kayakers can organise events safely and without disturbing the local residents, racers, ferry captains, water police and the mermaid that sits around the corner from the Spit Bridge. You don’t believe me! I assure you she is there – take a careful look as you train for next year’s race!

Anyway it can’t have been such a bad idea as 28 competitors entered the race with five being one day members eligible for the Outside Challenge Medallion, while club members competed for the Golden Sock.

The race kicked off at 9:45 from Clontarf and finished with our guest star the Irish Pirate Queen, Granuáile, being plucked from disaster off a foundering ship by a bold Scotsman from the local coast guard. She then intrepidly walked the plank across a local swimming pool to finally reach the shore and awarded prizes to:

  • Mark Schroeder — Water Aid Trophy & Men’s Golden Sock Award with a time of 1:01:09 (handicapped at 0:59:52)
  • Kerrie Claffey — Women’s Golden Sock Award with a time of 1:15:07 (handicapped at 1:01:04)
  • Shane Mulholland — Outside Challenge with a time of 1:05:44 (handicapped at 1:02:54)

And last but bravest of all — Harry Havu — Most impressive hat!

Also honourable mentions to Rob Mercer and Claudia Schremmer who came in with the fastest times but both missed first place on technicalities. Talk about grace under pressure. Well done and better luck next year!

Kerrie, our Golden Sock Awardee, made the following analysis in a breathless interview following the race.

“How did you feel coming in first?”

“Well actually I didn’t come in first, Claudia did — was tempted to feel a bit guilty at first — but soon realised that Claudia had a HUGE advantage by saving all that drag caused by the PFD – and if I’d been given true credit (handicap) for my advanced years, then age, experience and cunning would have flogged youth, skill and dexterity anyway! So I totally enjoyed the wine, biccies, etc and a well deserved massage by Sally!”

MUCH LATER. “Can I please add that I finally had my massage with Sally (the highlight of the prize) last week and it was fan-bloody-tastic – she’s obviously learnt from all those years of massaging just how much pressure and where to apply it to give maximum benefit while stopping short of pain!”

“Your true and unbiased opinion of the hats?”

“Nice hats, pity about the colour! (actually all things have a place in life and given that my darling husband, Tom, just refuses to wear ‘nice’ colours, I always buy him the darkest, dimmest, murkiest item on the rack and he just loves it – so I just knew the hats would be a winner with him!!)”

“What did you think of the cancelled race?”

“Well, if it had to be cancelled, it had to be cancelled – but ‘real men’ would have paddled thru the storm!”

“How could we do better next time?”

“On a serious note, how about a ‘proper’distance? At least 20km like the State marathons – make ’em work for the prize! And a ‘proper’ start (not staggered) so we get the feel of ‘racing’ across the line!”

“The toughest part of the race?”

“Navigation – you need a GPS!!”

“The Coffee Temptation controversy?”

“OOOOH tough one — NEVER be lulled into that false sense of security that people are ‘not competitive’ and are only out there ‘for fun’ – hog wash! There’s nothing like a win, especially when there’s a massage at stake – so don’t expect many customers for the coffee!!”

Thanks for the analysis Kerrie!! The diuretic properties of coffee have been brought to our notice. Next year it will be lemonade and cucumber sandwiches with no crusts – you can’t say we don’t try!!

And thanks to everyone for participating. We wound up raising $1081.10 for Water Aid Australia also a $50 donation made to NSW Coastal patrol.

Many thanks to our sponsors:

Sydney Harbour Kayaks and Body Corporate Remedial Massage who contributed to the excellent prizes. The NSW Coastal Patrol who patrolled the course with their rescue vessel, Manly Council and Waterways who navigated us safely through the bureaucracy. And Mark Sundin who provided a wonderful line in sun hats from Talisman Marketing.

Finally and most importantly thank you to our volunteers:

Dee Ratcliffe, Elizabeth Thomson, Granuáile, Helen Muller, Henry Van der Kolk, Ian Coles, Marie Stepan, Mark Berry, Mike Steinfeld, Naomi Osman, Paul Fitzgerald, Paul Loker, Peter Kappelmann, Rob Hollow, Sally Jacobs, Stephan Meyn and all the NSWSKC Committee for their support and patience with this event.

PS. …And most importantly, the biggest thank you goes to Peter Osman. The race was his baby. Without his enthusiasm, creativity, bureaucratic patience and bloody hard work, the event simply would not have happened. So thank YOU, Peter.

Elizabeth Thomson

Paddle for Life [63]

Lismore to Ballina

By John and Pat Colquhoun

Most of the articles in our magazine talk about the things we dream about, tripping across Bass Strait, fending off crocs in the far north, or sailing at 30km/h down seven metre waves.

Pat and I are now in our 60s and, while on a calm day we may paddle out through Sydney Heads to have coffee at Shelley Beach, or Bondi, or paddle from Palm Beach to Pearl Beach, most of our paddles are in estuaries, rivers and impoundments.

Our most recent adventure has been a paddle from Lismore to Ballina, roughly 100km, down the Wilson/Richmond Rivers. This is a charity event, run under the umbrella of the Northern NSW Canoe Club at Lismore, and the principal organiser is Tim Limbert. The theme of the event is “Paddle for Life”, and raises funds for two charities: Summerland Early Intervention, a charity for children with disabilities and delays, and The Buttery, a counselling service for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

While we have done the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic a number of times, this is not in any way a copy – people have FUN!

The paddle was over a three-day weekend, which this year coincided with Anzac Day on the Tuesday. We drove on Friday with our long-term paddling mate, Dave Pratt, to the Coraki campground on the Richmond River, to set up our tents at what was to be the Saturday night camping stop. This had two advantages for us: firstly, we did not have to put up our tents after having paddled 40 something kilometres, and secondly, we did not have the weight of our camping gear in the kayaks.

The paddle is broken into five stages, and you can do any or all of these stages.

Day 1, Saturday

7am registration at Lismore under the bridge, and 8am start with a non-muddy entrance. There were 62 varied craft taking part, and while in our Dusky Bay double we felt clumsy compared to the K1s and K2s, we were definitely sleek compared to the canoes! Countdown to the start was from 10 down to 1, and a communal shout of “PADDLE FOR LIFE”.

Lunches each day were provided by service clubs, and the first was at a private property at Wyrallah. The owner had been cleaning up the river bank to assist the landings, and lost his bulldozer into the river in 11 metres of water. Needless to say, we passed the hat around to try and defray the cost of retrieving the bulldozer!

The river was interesting, the banks are reasonably high here, and the vegetation is thick, not much bank erosion, and lots of birdlife. We carried binoculars, but after settling into our stride with paddlers of similar ability, found no time to use them.

Stage one was about 17km, so with an outgoing tide, a comfortable two hour paddle. Then from the last arrivals, another hour before the start of Stage Two. This start was again a countdown from 10 with a “Paddle for Life” at the top of the lungs, but was not quite so well observed, and some of the slower boats were one or two kilometres downstream before the general start. This added to the fun, as we met and greeted all of those that we were able to catch. This second stage was about 28km, so the spread at the finish was even greater. The banks of the river had become less steep and we were able to see homes on the bank and adjoining paddocks. We were fortunate enough to see a wedge-tailed eagle and a Brahminy kite fishing the river. Dave found that riding our quarter wave was most effective, and that we clashed paddles every fifth stroke – interesting what can distract you from the repetition of paddling.

On arrival at Coraki, we were in the first half dozen or so, and with our tents already up, we had time to retrieve one car from Lismore, and place it at our Sunday night stop at Broadwater, not far from the sugar mill. On returning to Coraki, we found dinner was being served, by another service club. At 6pm it was all over, and some of the paddlers started making sleepy noises. We found the Coraki pub some 50 metres away most appealing, and managed to stay awake until about 9.30!

Day 2, Sunday

This was to be an easier day, the first stage from Coraki to Woodburn about 19km, so a 9am start, same details, same use of the outgoing tide by some of the shorter boats (some as short as 2.5m). By now it had become apparent that there were some participants whose competitive spirit was coming to the fore, and they would wait until the “Paddle for Life” call went up, then race off. We were not as fast off the mark, but by the end of the stage we would end up with the same group, and as we caught each one, they would join the washriding ‘snake’ – up to five boats behind us. The last 2km to Woodburn became a sprint, with much laughter at the finish, particularly at the “silly old buggers” who needed to compete!

Lunch at Woodburn in the sun on a grassy bank, provided by yet another service club, and then off to Broadwater, about 14km. Our hosts for the evening were participants, and to see some 30 – 40 tents in their front yard was something to behold. A BBQ dinner was provided, and much fun and fellowship, particularly with Ross, and his guitar!

Day 3, Monday

Numbers were slightly down, as some participants had to go back to work – the retired among us had no such problems. The wind had changed overnight to a sou’easter, and quite a number of sails appeared. Those who did not have sails were quite happy with this, provided they left their sails up all the time! The oldest competitor (at least 10 years older than us) lit up a cigarette just before the start. When asked if that was part of his training program, his reply was, “No, I just need to see which way the wind is blowing”.

The river was now parallelling the Pacific Highway, and with flat banks there were islands and short cuts and, as we found out to our cost, substantial sandbanks. This last day was supposed to be a “smell the roses” day, as there were a few underarm rashes from the previous day’s sprint. However, as the morning progressed, we found ourselves with the same group of boats, the “roses” were forgotten, and with the GPS showing 10.5 km/h, things were on for a competitive finish. Pat, in an inspirational moment, produced a bag of jelly snakes, and offered them around at drink break time. We then decided to collude and arrange a blanket finish, to save us all from the effort of competing with each other. We had ended up with two doubles followed by a gaggle of single washriders – just fine until we hit the sandbank. It did not look too far across, so out we got and dragged the kayaks – however in soft sand, 100m of fast walking was really tough, and a lone K1 had seen our plight, and paddled into the lead. Now the GPS was showing 12.5 km/h, we overhauled the K1 and offered him a place in the combined finish (we can’t actually sprint at 12.5 in slack water, there was still a great outgoing tide!).

What a great way to finish – seven kayaks in a row at Riverside Park, on a sandy beach, and all just upstream from the big RSL club on the river. We had moved one of our cars to the park on Sunday night, and having changed, packed up and lunched courtesy of another service club, it was time for the presentation. There were no trophies, as we were reminded that this was a fun and fund-raising paddle. Certificates of proficiency in various classes, all ridiculous, were handed out, together with certificates of participation – a lot of fun for all. Cheques of $5000 each were handed to representatives of the two charities (a huge amount from just one race!), and everyone set off towards home.

We were asked if we would be back next year, and would certainly like to, but have heard of another river paddle down the Gregory River (four hours north of Mt Isa), held on the same weekend, so will probably be camping and paddling there in North Queensland in 2007.

Ah well, that’s what retirement is for!

The next Paddlefor Life will be on Saturday 21 April to Monday 23 April. Entries from late January 07. The forms will be on the website

Swallowed by Fog [63]

Crossing Bass Strait South to North in Two Double Sea Kayaks

By Claudia Schremmer

In late February 2006 Kevin Brennan, Adrian Clayton, Bruce Baldwin and Claudia Schremmer set out to follow the magic Eastern route across Bass Strait.

Standing in the brightest of sunshine at the Deal Island lighthouse, fog extended all around us as far as our eyes could see. Kevin and I were concerned. The forecast allowed for two more days of favourable wind patterns before a strong westerly front (35 knots+) was predicted to hit this body of water.

But let’s start at the beginning. The vast majority of kayak crossings of the notorious Bass Strait between Tasmania and the Australian mainland are done north-to-south. However, we figured that there are three good reasons for going south-to-north, following the less-travelled path that four fellow Club members paved two years before. Firstly, travelling south-to-north and starting from Little Musselroe Bay in Tasmania involves the crossing of Banks Strait on the first day. Banks Strait is renowned for its quickly changing weather and strong currents over a very shallow sea bed. However, Banks Strait is only 24km wide. Once reaching Clarke Island, the next couple of days are always close to shore, allowing the paddlers to get used to the water and its temperament. Secondly, paddling northbound, the three longest hops (between the tip of Flinders Island, Deal Island, Hogan Island, and Wilsons Prom) involve the last part of the trip. By then, the boats are a lot lighter since a considerable share of the food supplies have already been consumed. Thirdly, Wilsons Promontory in Victoria is a high mountain range that is visible from far away. It is comforting to be able to see your destination sooner. Equally, at the end of the trip, it is nice to just hop in the cars and drive back home instead of having to figure out how to return to the mainland with the kayaks.

The trip took 11 days in total, nine days on the water plus two scheduled rest days off the water. Even though we never intended to, we believe that we can proudly claim the fastest ever crossing in the least number of hours on the water, with no forced lay days.

What distinguishes our trip from many other kayak crossings was our choice of two doubles. There are advantages and disadvantages to both singles and doubles. The biggest plus for singles is probably the sense of achievement at the end of the trip; being able to say that you have done it by yourself. Where with doubles it is a team effort and the team working together in one boat is tied together much tighter than a bunch of individuals. Also, a double kayak has approximately the same storage as a single, yet, you need to fit clothes and food in for two people. And finally, the paddling style, cadence, regularity of the stroke, rest pattern for eating, drinking, and stretching between team members in a double have to match. In spite all these drawbacks, we chose the doubles for their big advantages of speed and stability. I have had one shoulder reconstruction (left) and two shoulder dislocations (right), the second dislocation happened 16 months prior to our trip. In the double, Kevin did most of the bracing while I kept the forward stroke and so the forward momentum of our boat.

It was windy in Bass Strait. For the first five days on the water we were heading into strong northerly winds. The dash across Banks Strait on the first day saw us starting into a 10 knot north-easterly wind that allowed us to have the sails up at close haul. About 10km short of our destination, the wind changed to a more northerly direction and picked up to 20 knots, we were heading straight into it. Kevin, while still out on the water, optimistically said, “We are making headway at 0.1km an hour!” After we arrived on Clarke Island Bruce admitted, “For a while, I though we would have to go back to Tassie,” and Adrian agreed, “There is no way I can do this for 65km!”

It was rough in Bass Strait. Our boats were regularly washed over by waves. The rear paddlers, Kevin and Adrian, often had water coming up to their shoulders. The hand pumps we carried as a back-up system for our electric pumps proved extremely valuable in getting the water out that entered through our spray skirts.

The day we did the long crossing from Flinders to Deal (64km), Club members Andrew, Keith, and Harry enjoyed their second rest day on Deal on their crossing of the Strait in the opposite direction. They were surprised seeing us arriving via Murrays Pass since they didn’t think we would go in those rough conditions. I believe we got some credit points that day.

It was ‘wild’ in Bass Strait. Both towns, Whitemark and Killiekrankie, on Flinders sent out their local welcoming squadrons of dolphins to escort us into town when we were approaching. A very inquisitive octopus on Deal Island watched Kevin and I do the washing up after dinner. When we went swimming on Hogan, a curious shark checked us out (our only shark sighting, lucky us!). We had the tamest, most abundant wallabies on Flinders and Deal Islands. We slept amid thousands of noisy fairy penguins on Deal and Hogan Islands. One of the unsolved mysteries of this trip is the question, when do adult fairy penguins sleep? During the day they are out to sea trying to escape the great white sharks and seals. As soon as they come back home onto the island at dusk, their “teenage” young plead for food. The young penguins continue crying for food without any break until dawn, when the adults head out to sea again.

It was glassy in Bass Strait. On our rest day on Deal Island, we woke up to no winds with fog moving through the hills. The fog was slowly moving down to sea level, leaving the hills in bright sunlight and the water completely covered. Going in the opposite direction, Andrew, Keith, and Harry had chosen this day for the long leg to Flinders. We were wondering how they would do out on the water and how the visibility might be out there. After lunch, Tony, the caretaker, gave Kevin and I a free ride on the six-wheeler bike up to the lighthouse. Like us, Tony wanted to go up to the highest point of the island to check the visibility. Standing in the brightest of sunshine at the lighthouse, the fog extended all around us as far as we could see. Kevin and I were concerned. The forecast allowed for two more days of favourable wind patterns before a strong westerly front (35 knots+) was expected to hit this body of water. That westerly was expected to last for a couple of days and even after it had abated, the seas would still be chopped up. On the other hand, we had two more days to go to reach Wilsons Prom, and from there the high hills of the Prom might shelter us from the westerly. If we didn’t want to get stuck on our trip, we had to make it to Hogan the next day. The weather forecast didn’t really give us a choice, we had to go. But what about the fog? Sea sickness in the fog was our major concern.

The alarm went off at 5am the next morning. With our breakfast of muesli and milk powder with water, we took two tablets against sea sickness that made us feel drowsy and our throats, sore. By 7am we were on the water and visibility was less than 50 metres. We discussed how to find each other if we lost sight of the other boat. Two handheld VHF radios and exact positioning location via GPS were our answer, but really we didn’t want to loose sight of one another. Our two boats stayed very close together. From our camp site in East Cove on Deal Island, we set out to cross Murrays Pass to Erith Island (also part of the Kent Group) 1.6km away at 330 deg magnetic. The tide was coming in strongly, sweeping us sideways. When the headland of Erith Island lifted out of the fog 30 metres away, we realised that this was not the same headland we had targeted: we had already been swept off course by 900 metres (over just 1.6 km) Lost in Murrays Pass – this day might prove to be interesting! We followed the island around its northernmost headland and double checked our bearings for Hogan. By this time, the fog was thinning, eventually retreating completely, allowing us to enjoy a stunning morning on glassy waters, with a wall of fog all around us while we bathed in bright sunlight.

Behind us, the three islands of the Kent Group were surrounded with fog that was washing over the hills like water over a waterfall. A wall of fog to our left, a wall of fog to our right, a wall of fog in front. No wind, no waves, no swell. This paddle made Sydney Harbour look like a challenge. It was calmer than paddling in a swimming pool. For 90 minutes we enjoyed the most extraordinary conditions in the sun. Eventually, the wall of fog in front swallowed us. We had to rely on the compass course, with the occasional check with the GPS that we were still on track. A feature of our boat preparations helped us enormously: our doubles were equipped with dual compasses. If Kevin hadn’t had had his own compass, I bet the day would have sounded like this: “Claudia, are you sure that we are still paddling at 300 deg?” “Yeeeees Kevin, we are stiiiiillllllllllll paddling at 300 deg.”

In those glassy conditions, we had no trouble keeping the two kayaks together. Even though we had been discussing the option of putting out a security call for shipping on channel 16 (“securité, securité, securité, two kayaks at location x travelling in direction y at speed z”) we never issued such a call since we thought visibility was good enough to avoid container ships.

The first sign the we were near Hogan Island was the increase in density of penguins around us. By then, we had been paddling for almost five hours. The second hint of an island was the intense smell of bird droppings. We could not see anything at all. I was the guardian of the GPS and Kevin kept asking me the distance to go. “Another 5km to go. Another 3km. 2km.”

We never quite realised how little we could see. I saw Hogan lifting out of the fog at least a dozen times but each and every single one of my island sightings was just wishful thinking. Kevin was no better: every second minute, he claimed to see the island. But at 1.4km to go there was nothing to see, just the smell of bird droppings. At 0.8km on the countdown, Bruce comments that his GPS unit had passed the waypoint that he put in the night before. That left us with my unit and increasing pressure to find the island. We were all thinking: To what extent do we trust the technology? To what extent do we trust the digital maps that are on the unit, that ultimately determine our programming of waypoints? What if we don’t find the island?

At 0.6km to go, nothing at all. Then at 0.5km to go all of us heard simultaneously the slightest hint of water breaking onto rocks to our left. Mind you, we had a swimming pool under us, a mirror finish. Yet, there was water breaking. And then, finally, a God-sent Hogan Island lifted out of the fog. Not where we were expecting it, but 50 metres above us, with a massive headland revealing its beautiful contours. The last metres were surreal as we followed the contour of the island around to a little beach tucked behind “our” headland. My GPS said that we still had 320m to go north. We were confused: here is a beach, yet the technology points us elsewhere. Well, we might as well see what technology recommends, so we left that beach behind and followed the contour of the island along a couple of more rocks. At 120m countdown, a small harbour opened between the rocks to our left, and a hut lifted out of the fog. We had arrived!

Postscript 1: In the preparations for this trip, how often had we been paddling the NSW coastline, joking “That could be Hogan Island in the distance”! Now that we have done it, we can well and truly say that we have camped on Hogan Island, but we haven’t seen it. Wouldn’t it be nice to do such a trip and to see Hogan lifting out of the haze in the distance?!??

Postscript 2: We made it back to our cars just in time. The last day, when we paddled from False Bare Back Cove on Wilsons Prom back to our cars in Port Welshpool (43 km), the forecast westerly buster kicked in. Sheltered behind the Prom, we made it home, but only because we just didn’t want to get stuck within eyesight of a hot shower, flush toilets, and a steak with mushroom sauce. At times, we beat into a genuine 30 knots of wind. Bruce, Kevin and I agree that the roughest section of the whole trip was in Corner Inlet, 15km from Welshpool. Adrian thinks that the waters around Wrights Rock were the roughest. Anyway, this westerly wind chopped up the waters in Bass Strait to the extent that the Deal Island caretakers Linda and Tony, who were meant to finish their term that day, remained on Deal for another four days as no boats would go across to pick them up. Consequently, any one day delay on our trip would have resulted in at least four more days “out there”, if not more.

Postscript 3: A note on the trip logistics. Adrian and Bruce had taken their car with both kayaks on the roof and almost all our gear onto the Spirit of Tasmania from Sydney into Devonport, from where they were heading to Little Musselroe Bay. Kevin and I travelled with a basically empty car, empty roof racks, and spare straps into Port Welshpool from where we caught the taxi to Welshpool, the bus into Melbourne, the airport shuttle to the airport, and the plane across the Strait to Launceston where Adrian was waiting for us, after having unloaded Bruce, the boats, and all the gear in Musselroe. When we started the paddling, we had Kevin’s car in Port Welshpool and Adrian’s car in Musselroe. As it turned out, we met a guy on Flinders Island who offered to do the shuffle of Adrian’s car for us, which we happily accepted. Thus, when we arrived in Port Welshpool at the end of our trip, both cars were waiting for us.

Postscript 4: All four paddlers on this trip have extensive sea kayaking experience. We put over one year of preparation into it, including the production of purpose-built kayaks, equipment and knowledge research. We built up our strength and endurance with a lot of kayaking and cross training (running, swimming, and weight lifting). This trip should not be undertaken with any less preparation.