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.

Regulations

Recreational boating on the lake is regulated under the Lakes Act 1976, which can be found on the web at: http://www.legislation.act.gov.au

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?