Training Report [65]

By David Hipsley

Well it has been a very active time since September with the following activities taking place:

Sea Skills Part 1 (2 days)

September we undertook the first stage of Sea Skills 2006 program, attended by 26 people. The weekend covered all the basic strokes, wet exits, towing and rescues followed by practise sessions. The weather was perfect and allowed a group to paddle down the coast landing at Marley Beach for lunch.

Sea Skills Part 2 (1 day)

This took place on the 14 October with the participants split into two groups and those getting closer to doing their sea skills assessment were sent off to test their skills.

We had some interesting surf skills training, with some trying and completing endo’s and then working on kayak repairs. (Always make sure you have some tape for the odd repair as you never know when you may need it.)

Some decided to try their luck at catching the biggest wave and the honour goes to Joanne, who showed off her kayaking skills by catching a two-metre-plus wave and surprising herself and the other in the group.

The second group concentrated on refining their skills learnt during stage 1 and playing in the waves off Bundeena.


Two sessions were conducted at (Homebush Olympic Pool and Hornsby Aquatic Centre) and were attended by about 12 people at each location. The group consisted of new paddlers trying to master this skill and some more experienced kayakers trying to find it again.

One thing we know for sure is you have too practise it!

Sea Leaders, Guides & Instructors

Rob Mercer ran a training day for the above group which consisted of training techniques and making corrections on and off the water. This was followed by a training sessions on the water with all of us critiquing each other. Everyone had a great day and came away with something to work on. Again thanks to Rob Mercer, Andrew Eddy and Keith Oakford for their time and encouragement.

New Sea Leader

Congratulations to Claudia Schremmer on obtaining her Sea leader qualification, and we look forward to some interesting trips with her in the future.

Flatwater Instructors Day

An introduction to kayaking day was held at Clontarf on 21 October where we had six trainee flat water instructors under the guidance of Mike Eggleton provide on and off water instructions, to 15 club and non-club members and although the day went well it was shortened by the poor weather.

2007 Training Program

This will be decided early in the New Year but if you have any suggestions about what you would like in 2007 please send me an email. The committee will then look at the options and resources for 2007.

Tasman Solo [65]

Andrew McAuley is planning to paddle solo from Australia to New Zealand

This is from his website

“For some years now, I’ve had a dream to cross the Tasman Sea in a kayak. I’ve been quietly working away on that objective by getting out there and doing lots of paddling, with recent trips including a non-stop crossing of the Gulf of Carpentaria (150 hours), Bass Strait Direct (35 hours) and a traverse of the Antarctic Peninsula coastline (8 weeks).

“I’ll be paddling from the east coast of Tasmania to Milford Sound, on the South Island of New Zealand. The paddle will be entirely below the 40th parallel (40 degrees latitude south).”

How far is it? “As the crow flies, it’s a shade over 1600km.”

Why? “I could write pages about this question. The short answer is, because I like paddling! I also enjoy sharing my experiences with others and inspiring people to reach for big, bold goals on a shoestring budget.”

What’s your experience? “The ocean doesn’t care what my experience is. When I’m out there, the Tasman will throw whatever it has at me regardless of how much paddling I’ve done. But I have done some paddling here and there. Here’s an abbreviated list of some recent kayaking trips:

  • 2006 Antarctica (approx 850km from Hope Bay south to the Antarctic Circle).
  • 2004 Gulf of Carpentaria crossing (530km crossing, seven days in the kayak non-stop. Except for sleeping!)
  • 2003 Bass Strait Direct (a direct, non-stop crossing from Wilson’s Prom to Boat Harbour, near Wynyard. 220km in 35 hours).
  • 2003 Bass Strait (western side via King Island, 300km. Includes a 100km crossing.)
  • 2003 West coast Tasmania (Strahan-Hobart, 400km).
  • 2001 Cape York and across Torres Strait (1000km).
  • 2000 Bass Strait crossing (eastern side via Flinders Island, 330km).
  • 1998 Paddling and mountaineering expedition in the Chilean fiords, Patagonia.

“I hold the record in the Murray River Marathon for the Open MRec class (404km). I have competed in the Hawkesbury Classic a number of times (111km), and I’ve won the Open Long Rec class twice. But flat water doesn’t count for much on the ocean! I’ve also done a spot of mountaineering around the place, which is a good way to get used to suffering!”

Has anyone else kayaked to New Zealand before? “No. There have been two attempts though, both by Paul Caffyn and partner.”

What kind of kayak are you using? “I’m fascinated by exploring the limits of what is possible in a conventional kayak on a low budget. My vision for this crossing is to use a stock model sea kayak with as little modification as possible. I’m using a widely available Mirage kayak with a few tweaks for safety and comfort.”

Will you use a sail? “No.”

What will it be like out there? “There’s no doubt that it will be very hard going. I have a fair idea of what to expect as I’ve done a few big kayak crossings before, and spent many nights sleeping in my kayak at sea. I’ve sailed to Antarctica and back, and seen some of what the ocean can do. I have an enormous amount of respect for this part of the Tasman Sea.”

Can we follow your progress? “Yes, there will be updates posted to the website during the paddle by my land crew.”

How long will it take? “This depends a lot on what sort of weather I encounter. With good conditions I’ll be looking at around 30 days.”

When are you leaving? “November. The exact departure date will depend mainly on weather and safety considerations. Keep an eye on this website for updates!”

S.L.A.P. — Sandy’s Long Australian Paddle [65]

Sandy Robson is planning to sea kayak around Australia

I plan to circumnavigate the coastline of Australia by sea kayak. My aim is to paddle as far as possible around the Australian coastline in one year.

For me this expedition is about living with intention, embracing challenge, following my dreams and making time in life to pursue those things that I love doing.

I have a passion for sea kayaking journeys, the marine environment and wild places. I often get to the end of an expedition and wish that I could just keep going. By undertaking this extended expedition I will be pursuing my own personal goals and I also hope to inspire others to live life to the fullest and chase their dreams.

Finally, I have noticed a lack of women out there on the water. I hope to inspire more women to conquer their fears and to get involved in sea kayaking.

The expedition will begin in December 2006 on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. From Victoria I will proceed north up the east coast of Australia and circumnavigate the coastline in an anti-clockwise direction paddling approximately 200 to 250km per week.

My Mirage 580 sea kayak is set up for an expedition of this nature and has been rigged with a sail to take advantage of the wind wherever possible. Waterproof hatches and dry bags allow me to carry all of the camping equipment, safety gear, and provisions that I will require for the extended sections between re-supply points.

The journey will be largely a solo undertaking, although I will be supported at specific stages by fellow adventurous paddlers (paddling with me).

Logistical support will be provided by a network of people including friends, family, sea kayak clubs and interested volunteers. Please contact me if you are interested in offering assistance with trip logistics such as food drops, vehicle support, accommodation and contact details of other people who may be able to assist me along the way.

I purchased my first sea kayak in 1999 and got into expedition sea kayaking through my work as an Outdoor Education leader. My first expeditions were on the beautiful Ningaloo Reef in WA. Since then I have become an active member of the Sea Kayak Club in WA and worked as a volunteer instructor for West Coast Kayaks. This experience has encouraged me to hone my skills, obtain instructor qualifications and undertake some exciting kayak journeys including paddling from Perth to Geraldton.

When I am not out sea kayaking, I work as a professional in the Outdoor Education industry. I have been coordinating the Outdoor Education program at Penrhos College in Western Australia for the past ten years. I am taking a year off from teaching to complete my expedition.

Sponsors are partners in this exciting expedition.

They have vision and a passion for providing the necessary assistance to turn dreams into realities and I thank them for this sincerely.

I would like to thank the following sponsors for their support of S.L.A.P:

  • Mainpeak
  • West Coast Kayaks
  • Sea Kayak Club WA
  • Penrhos College

Sea Skills [65]

By Sue Webber

It’s day two of the Sea Skills course weekend. The second day of training is different: there’s a more relaxed atmosphere in camp; the excitement of the unknown is replaced by the slower pace of weary limbs and tent-rested muscles. The anticipation of refining stroke techniques is substituted by the knowledge that we will be wet again soon. And we’re resigned to that already because most of the gear is still hanging damply from trees and trailers around the camp. A cold damp bottom is enough to reduce an adult to infancy in a matter of hours.

Still, it’s another clear fine day with blue skies and the promise of warm air even if the water is cool. Bonnie Vale campground is masquerading as a little piece of bush on the edge of the city although the lights of Cronulla twinkle over the water at night and the planes jet in and out of Sydney airport all day. Despite this proximity to a four million-strong metropolis I can still look out of my tent early in the morning to see a group of spoonbills, ibis and egrets working their way through the mangrove mud as if the city had never been built.

Many years ago I walked from Otford to Bundeena through the Royal National Park, more as a training walk for an overseas trip than as a bush experience. Many times I’ve watched from the window of a plane flying south down the coast following the line where the park meets the ocean. Yesterday, I paddled those waters and saw the park from the sea. Looking up at the sandstone cliffs and down through the clear blue waters gave me a new perspective and in my kayak I felt I had the freedom to explore in a way I never did walking a track or sitting in a plane seat.

At the start of the morning, the beach at Bonnie Vale looked like a kayaking expo with a major leaning toward Mirages. Scattered among the 580s were a few non-conformists; a Greenlander, Nadgee, Nelo and even some plastic boats. I think my Q-Kayaks Tui took the prize as the smallest, and possibly widest, boat on the beach.

We split into four groups and each little bobbing flock was rounded up and chivvied along by an instructor. Mark Sundin and Dave Hipsley shepherded our little group to the mouth of Port Hacking and out to sea.

The weather was just about perfect for our needs; a light Nor-Easterly, a small swell and a forecast for more of the same. It looked like a beach landing would be possible.

Rolling is often cited as kayaking’s greatest mystery, something akin to the loss of virginity. The whispered question among the neophytes, “Can you roll?” is often replied in the negative but with a positive wish for the future. Rolling is one thing but I’ve begun to see the forward stroke as a greater mystery as I steadily work my way through all the things it is not on my way to discover exactly what it is.

I know it’s not about the arms and it is about the torso. I know it is about the box and it’s not about the chicken wing. I know it is about moving the legs and keeping the hands in place. I know that when I get it right it will be efficient and easy but until then I will use a great deal of time and effort remembering to do one part of the stroke while I forget to do another.

Unfortunately, the multi-facetted complexities of the great forward mystery kept slipping my mind as I simply enjoyed paddling south following the sandstone cliffs of the Royal National Park.

Our next challenge was a beach landing at Big Marley Beach. The surf was very small and my main concern was getting my kayak up the fairly steep beach and then keeping it out of the water as the tide came in during our lunch break.

Before heading home we practised our sweep strokes and I discovered that the Tui’s major strength is being able to turn in small circles while the longer kayaks perform ponderous circumnavigations.

Once back in the waters of Port Hacking we worked on our sculling draws and took turns to deliberately tip ourselves into the water for rescue practice. While it is jolly calming to have someone describe at length how they are going to rescue you, I soon decided I would rather jump on the kayak and get on with it instead of waiting patiently in the water while the rescuer described his honourable intentions to me.

The second day saw us regroup with different instructors. I paddled off behind Harry Havu but he soon spotted my forward stroke errors and had me concentrating on paddling with my knuckles along the horizon until I forgot what I was supposed to do with the rest of my body. Our main aims for the day were towing and rescues and we landed at Jibbon Beach for a tow rope inspection. Harry played the part of Goldilocks to our eight bears. He found that some tow ropes were too fat, some carabiners were too sharp, some kayaks didn’t have a suitable towing point but a couple of tow lines were just right. However, we paddled out to the mouth of Port Hacking and made the best use of our equipment towing one another through the swell singly and in pairs, until everyone had enjoyed the experience of dragging a large weight behind their boat. How I wished for the efficiency of a perfect forward stroke.

Back at Jibbon Beach we landed for a quick lunch. The bay was filled with millions of dollars worth of pleasure craft that didn’t look as if they’d been as far out to sea as we had. You could tell it was a classy spot as the flotsam included strawberries and a Cognac bottle label. It certainly made a cup of tea and a cheese sandwich look like a pretty low status lunch.

The self rescue is a manoeuvre probably best attempted by the rolling adepts but Trevor Creighton was pretty keen to have a go at the “Cowboy method” and, after a couple of attempts, managed to straddle his craft and slip back into the cockpit. Harry showed us that elegance, style and a good roll is the essence of a successful self rescue and then set about telling us to fall out of our kayaks so other people could rescue us. Anyone watching must have thought we were the most incompetent bunch of paddlers on the water with people falling out in all directions. Harry bravely suggested that I rescue him and spent several minutes in the water crying for help more and more weakly as I failed to manoeuvre my craft into the correct position. I’m glad to say I did eventually assist him back into his boat while he requested a bit more commitment on my part.

Once everyone was completely wet and had been rescued several times we headed for home with thoughts of hot showers and hot drinks. With my Grade 2 checklist nearly completed I realised that this was a good opportunity for the 50 metre swim so I struck out boldly in my skirt and PFD to add another tick to the box.

The Sea Skill training takes three days and is designed to cover all the skills and techniques needed to attain the club grade three award.

Many thanks to all the trainers who made the Sea Skills weekend so enjoyable and rewarding.

To sail or not to sail? [65]

This may be the answer!

By Andre Janecki

The purists already have their answer. But for everyone else who already uses “technology”, such as a rudder or skeg, with or without the mighty propeller blade paddle (not to mention a cockpit size a fist bigger than their waist) adding a sail was never a question – only its size.

From this point, they may as well call themselves “hybrids”. The sailing idea was always going to appeal to them for many reasons. Usually they would experiment on a friend first and then quickly adopt the “unfair advantage” for themselves, in a format at least double the standard size.

Now the only problem is that this much larger sized sail is clearly visible and (unlike the rudder or the skeg) right in front of them! Knuckles are bruised and the hip flip roll isn’t the same. But more bad news is lurking near the surf zone. This is where the purists like to wait. Weeks later they can auction their collection of salvaged goods from the hybrids’ misadventures on e-Bay for a tidy financial reward.

For the past ten years I have remained pure. But recently things have started to change. Perhaps it was the week-long celebration of my 50th birthday or the two years spent constructing our new home/office that took its toll on my body, particularly my elbow. The bottom line was, that I had promised my partner

Catherine, a two-week kayaking experience of the Whitsunday Islands. And judging by her reaction after reading some of the horror stories endured by others up there, she in no polite way let me know what she expected of me. So I had to perform. The possibility of having to tow made me seriously think of staying at home at one point…have I mentioned my heart problem yet? That was when I knew I had to use the sail.

The more I thought about using the rig, the more attractive the whole idea became.

It would not only extend our cruising range but would leave me with more calories to burn later.

As the new premises and most importantly the workshop was now complete, I had all the time required to improve upon my previous commercially available sail.

Despite the popularity of the original design (based on Norm’s idea) I started with a clean sheet of paper. (For those who are unfamiliar with kayak sail history and design aspects, a good reference point is Andrew Eddy’s article The Why & Wherefore Of A New Design, which appeared in volume 44 of this magazine.)

The Design Challenge: Make a minimalistic and multifunctional sail using only the best materials available.

My previous sail was made out of three shaped panels with a fibreglass batten to maximise its area under tension. The shape of the sail was a proven and successful design, however even the best fabric didn’t last more then three years and the batten had a tendency to pierce through the material.

Research and development is an expensive process, yet irrespective of the costs, I needed to implement some drastic measures. After an extensive search I sourced a high tech fabric. It is at least 10 times stronger and more UV stable than the previous polyester cloth. It is also much softer, thus reducing creasing. Finally, due to the new proportions of the sail including a much shorter boom section and with the assistance of four new panels, the need for the batten was completely eliminated.

The original mast measured 1.2m from the base, which was relatively short. It didn’t impede on the cockpit opening, which was an important safety aspect but at the same time, its length was also its limitation. To address this issue, the new mast is now telescopic.

A truly successful design called for a furling option without being complicated.

By rolling and sliding the top section into the main mast, the size and shape of the sail is reduced by approximately 20 per cent.

When not on the water the whole rig needed to have other function/s as well, for example catching rainwater, providing emergency shelter and doubling as a “spare” spray skirt. It is also nice to know that the whole thing fits easily into an average size aft compartment and weighs around 850g.

In an attempt to cater for different kayak models, I have made the sail in two sizes: 1.65m (1.1m when folded) and 1.90m (1.25m when folded.)

There is also a choice between the economically priced marine anodised aluminium and the more expensive, maintenance-free fibreglass. Now the limitations are on you, your pocket, your kayak strength and the wind of course.

And what happened on the Whitsunday Island trip? Neptune must have been listening to me. He may not be a “hybrid” but he is definitely a pure man! Catherine was presented with a fab time with the bonus of staying at Haslewood and Border Islands. As for me, I was presented with the best September weather imaginable with the bonus of contracting sea lice (microscopic jellyfish larvae) from the Shute Harbour launch site, with the pain and irritation lasting for the entire trip.

Some say that a picture tells a thousand words.

So here it is, the World Premiere of the Hybrid Telescopic Kayak Sail.

Andre is part of the creative team behind Hybrid Pty Ltd. which specialises in technology, design and architecture. The name Hybrid Telescopic Kayak Sail and its design is the sole property of Hybrid Pty Ltd. Hybrid Pty Ltd is a Gold Sponsor of the NSWSKC 2007 Rock’n’Roll weekend.

Rolling Training Olympic Style [65]

By Audrey MacDonald and Elizabeth Thompson

Rolling, rolling, rolling… roll uuuuup. Woohoo!

Watch the paddle.

Crunch forward.

Sweep out and up.

Twist your torso.

Keep your head down

Chin to shoulder

Knee lift.

Finish position.

Keep practising.

Do this, do that… that was what we heard on the night of Wednesday 27 September at the Sydney Olympic Stadium as we lined up four, five at a time in our boats for rolling instruction from Keith Oakford, Andrew Eddy, Mark Sundin and Harry Havu. The instructors spent two-plus hours in the water, totally concentrating on each person, either introducing them to the mysteries of kayak rolling, diagnosing bad habits or tweaking technique.

And how great it was to be able to practise in a warm pool without the demands of the weather and sea state encroaching on our ability to stay in the water and practise. No one got cold. Everyone improved. Some of us even cracked a roll, even a series of rolls! A great opportunity.

Thanks to the instructors for their time and effort and to David Hipsley, Training Co-ordinator for organizing it and doing a photoshoot! All was appreciated by the enthusiastic group of rolling apprentices!

Rock’n’Roll 2007 [65]

Rock’n’Roll 2007 is on at Bateman’s Bay from 24 to 26 March. We have an excellent venue at the Batemans Bay Beach Resort beside the beach with a large camping area and excellent accommodation for those wanting more comfort.

This is an excellent weekend to have a good time and socialise with other club members. There will be lots of organized paddles to participate in and off-water sessions where you can learn about many aspects of sea kayaking.

A special guest this year will be Justine Curgenven from the UK. Justine will show her new “This Is the Sea” DVD, give us a few talks and she is looking forward to paddling with club members.

Participate in

  • Half Day Trips
  • Tollgate Dash Race
  • Handicap Kayak Race
  • Saturday Night Buffet Dinner
  • Lots of Socialising
  • Night time Entertainment

Learn about out fitting your boat, making boat repairs, sails and sailing, how to use a GPS and much more!

Major Raffle

During the weekend we will have two raffles with many thousands of dollars of prizes kindly donated by our sponsors.

The main prize will be a Skye 17 Sea Kayak donated by our major sponsor Kayaking World Gosford

Important information for the Rock’n’Roll weekend

The weekend is being held at the Batemans Bay Beach Resort, 51 Beach Rd, Bateman’s Bay (turn left at traffic lights in main street and follow out past golf club, resort is on left past Bird Sanctuary). Please register early to save yourself money and make the job easier for us.

Batemans Bay Beach Resort is an excellent location with lots of camping and cabin accommodation available. We have done a deal with the resort so all NSW Sea Kayak Club members receive a 10% discount on camping and accommodation. I suggest you look up the website to see all the accommodation options available. Be sure to mention when booking you are with the club to receive the 10% discount and if you are camping in a small tent tell them you are sharing a site.

There are some excellent camp kitchens available. We have asked that all members be placed at the southern end of the resort that keeps us all together in a cosy bunch.

We recommend you book early so phone 1800 217533 and tell them you are a club member.

On arrival all members are asked to register at the Fairy Penguin cabin, registration will be available from 5pm to 10 pm on Friday night 23 March and Saturday from 7am.

Please bring your pfd when registering so we can attach your waterproof ID card. The ID card on your pfd is essential to take part in any water activities. There is a $20 security deposit for the ID card which will help you to remember to check out at Rock’n’Roll headquarters before leaving.

We have organized a Saturday night buffet dinner including a seafood entrée and desert for $25 dollars and there will be plenty of food this year. If you wish to participate please mark this on your registration form. Please bring your own plate and cutlery, BYO drinks. Tea and coffee will be available.

Check at the registration office early each morning to see what trips are available and put your name.

Only members of the NSW SKC are eligible to participate in the water activities of the Rock’n’Roll club registration forms can be found on our web site:

If you have any questions please email the Rock’n’Roll coordinators at rnr2007[at]

Volunteers Needed For Rock’n’Roll

Some help is required for tasks over the weekend. The more people who volunteer just a small amount of their time the more fun we will all have, so give us a hand!

To register as a volunteer please email us at rnr2007[at] with your name and contact details.

President’s Report [65]

By Elizabeth Thomson

Dear all,

Not a lot to report to everyone this magazine. However, the issues which have been occupying the Committee’s time of late are the organisation of Rock’n’Roll, and the NSW Canoeing/Australian Canoeing situation.

You’ll find all the paper work for Rock’n’Roll in this issue. It should be a great event, returning to Bateman’s Bay after two years at Port Stephens. The location is fantastic. The caravan park has been renovated, and it is convenient enough for members from around the state to get there…at least the Canberra mob will find it very convenient! So, see you all there.

NSW Canoeing Inc. has recently sent a letter to the Review Committee of AC rejecting the report on the grounds that it doesn’t address recreational sea kayaking in any meaningful way. How this will pan out is yet to be determined. NSWCI is having a meeting to update members on November 25. I’ll report back to members on the outcome of the meeting.

Also, AC has just renegotiated their insurance arrangements and changed insurers. The new insurer is an outfit called Willis. They have taken over the Sports Cover policy and, as it stands at the moment, nothing has changed. The arrangements and coverage are the same as the old policy. Thus again, it appears to be ‘business as usual’.

The Club is currently being assisted by NSWCI on the training front. They are running a Level 1 Flatwater Instructors Course for five club members to help our Training Group meet the novice training needs of new members. So, from 2006, we’ll have more instructors in the Club available to train.

By the time this issue is out, we will have had our Newbies night and met up with the Victorians at Mallacoota. These events will no doubt provide us with future interesting reading in the magazine. Looking forward to it.

So that’s it, really.

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and a restful, but paddling packed, holiday season. See you in 2007.


Port Davey [65]

By Stephan Meyn


Phone Rings.

“Hi How are you?”

“Fine — I am going on a trip to Tassie, Port Davey.”


“What a surprise, me too.”

“Oh, when?”

“January 5.”


“This is really a surprise.”

Having a good friend book the same holiday as yourself without either knowing of each other’s intention is a bit strange. But it makes for a much nicer holiday. More prosaically it probably was the flyer put into the club magazine by Roaring Forties Seakayaking with that stunning photo taken from Mt Rugby.

South West Tasmania

Paddling in SW Tassie is a unique proposition. Its remoteness has kept it out of most commercial activities. It has been declared a National Park and is part of the Tasmania Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Human activity before settlement consisted of two to three Aboriginal tribes who lived a nomadic existence in an area that is not only wild but also sparse in its ability to sustain life. They would venture out in bark canoes onto Port Davey and the coast. Trips to Matsuyker Island were not uncommon.

Later on the Huon Pine was discovered in Port Davey, resulting in a boom economy with about 1000 people living in the northern area of the port. However, once the pine trees had been cut down, the population disappeared and even the odd whaling station was a hard proposition. Slowly mankind disappeared totally from the area and it was so remote that in WWII there was a genuine fear it could be used by German warships as a hiding place — prompting the government to host an expedition there.

There is only one area where there is an ongoing settlement, at Melaleuka, between Bathurst Harbour and Cox’s Beach, is a set of tin mining leases that have been going since the early 1900’s. Here Denny King lived and worked. He pioneered much of the nature conservation effort and was a driving factor in the area becoming a National Park. Today Melaleuka is still being tin-mined by a family who took over the lease from Denny King.

There are three ways to access Port Davey. You can walk in either from Lake Pedder or from Recherche Bay — either way it is about a five day exercise. You can take a cray boat in, which takes roughly 24 hours. The fastest way is by light aircraft to the airstrip at Melaleuka. This airstrip today is busy with dropping off and picking up hikers for the famous South Coast Track.

Getting ready

Planning, as far as it can be called that, consisted of reading the materials supplied by the good people of Roaring Forties kayaking and organizing passage on the “Spirit of Tasmania”. Since I had bought a folding kayak earlier I was keen on trying it out — nothing beats being able to paddle your own craft. In order to get it in on time, I needed to freight it over in advance. A quick trip to Air Express and it was on its way to be picked up by the operator at Hobart Airport. (I love folding kayaks — they are made to travel like this).

A week later and I had arrived at Hobart. Kim had already advised me to be ready to fly in earlier so I would have a chance to get my folder unfolded and be ready when the others arrived. The trip was enjoyable — if you like flying in Tasmanian weather. When we took off we had a cloud ceiling of 1000 metres — Mt Wellington was just dipping into the clouds. The ceiling meant we couldn’t fly direct but had to hug the coast. Despite the clouds, Tasmania showed off what it had to offer: lots of protected waters around Bruny Island and the Huon River valley. All that started to change when we rounded South East Cape. Here the surf on the beaches told a different story — you don’t want to land here if you can avoid it.

As we progressed the cloud cover started getting lower. The pilot asked to another aircraft that had taken off 30 minutes earlier about the conditions ahead. The response came in a reassuring voice — just a few rain showers over Cox’s beach.

By the time we arrived at that spot we were down at 250 metres. The pilot turned inland over the beach. Down below we could see the hiking trail that is the start (or end — depending on how you go) of the South Coast Walk. Ahead of us was a white strip in the middle of the grasslands, the Melaleuka landing strip. A quick S-bend to avoid Half-Bald Hill and line up for final approach and a minute later we touched down.

On the ground we unloaded the plane. Toby, one of the two trip leaders, and I were to ferry supplies to base camp and then I could assemble Moritz.

Base camp was about 45 minutes down the creek and at first it looked incongruous, a set of platforms with tents on them that are large enough to stand up in, a kitchen and roofed dining area and elevated footpaths. Toby told me this is to ensure the environmental impact is minimised. At the end of the season all of it will be dismantled and then re-erected the following spring.

We returned to the airstrip and I unpacked Moritz. No damage, everything was there. The kayak looked tiny next to the Packhorse Doubles. Thirty minutes later I sat in it in Melaleuka Creek and was lazily paddling around when I heard another aircraft. The weather had improved and they had been able to fly direct over Tassie. We met the rest of the group — David, then a British couple, a couple from Sydney and a young woman from Alice Springs. Apparently it is the first time she has seen a sea kayak.

The rest of the afternoon was about settling in. Afternoon tea indicated that this is going to be a good trip.

“When you travel in Tasmania assume it will rain — that way you won’t be so disappointed” was the advice given to me. Truly, getting a mindset to deal with rain is very useful. Of the seven days, we had three days with rain and only two days with some sunshine. I had brought a pair of long overpants which I put on whenever I got out of the kayak to avoid getting hypothermia by standing in wet and windy conditions in my paddling shorts. At camp it was also a bit of a battle to avoid too much moisture creeping into the sleeping arrangements. I carried a hammock instead of a tent with me and its biggest advantage was that I didn’t tend to get puddles of wetness inside as tents sometimes do but the downside was that it took time to get into the right position in the swaying hammock.

Day 2 — Port Davey

We took off early morning with overcast skies but no wind. Paddling into Bathurst Harbour we headed for Mt Rugby which guards the entrance to the channel leading to Port Davey. The channel is at times quite narrow. Around a place called Balmoral it is at its narrowest. There are two dinghies at either side of the channel. This is where walkers coming from Lake Pedder on their way to Melaleuka cross the channel. To do this they must make three crossings, first get across, then row back taking the dingy found on the other side to the starting point and then across a last time to continue the walk.

Getting close to Mt Rugby we discussed what it would take to climb it. While it looks pretty steep the guides told us it can be climbed in six to eight hours. Maybe.

As we exited the channel and entered Pt Davey we saw the Break Sea Islands in front of us. They sit like a bar a few kilometres out from the channel, making it a perfect protection against the sea. We turned right into Bramble Cove, a big bay. This was where we intended to camp for the day. But unfortunately our hopes are dashed — there were two kayaks on the beach. The camping area was taken up by a couple of big tents. A small group of Melbournians had taken a crayboat out from Hobart and set up camp here.

It’s funny but here we are, with our tiny tents and tiny kayaks in these huge surrounds but somehow we feel cramped by the presence of the other group (and body language suggests the same there). So we set off again for another hour of paddling to Spain Bay. We arrived there and found the campground. It’s a large bay and you have to know where to look. Later I hear from others how they camped there and never found this spot.

We decided to stay here for several days. In the evening our guides cooked dinner including a chocolate mud cake with icing.

Day 3 — South West Coast

The weather was good and we decided to go outside. Paddling past the Eastern Pyramids, which are some jagged rocks protruding out of the water, we went out and south. The waves were low but a good swell was going. We could see the odd yacht outside but sometimes all I could see was the top of the mast.

The islands all had a covering of kelp along their sides. The kelp was a thick brown tough-looking seaweed with the consistency of the rubber material that conveyor belts are made of. For us it is as if the rocks have been coated with bumper bar material to avoid scratching the gel coat (or in my case — ripping the skin of my folding kayak). Nevertheless no one was game to try that theory out.

All over the place were huge areas of foam. At first sight it looks like some industrial chemical spill. However this foam is the result of essential oils that get washed off plants on the land and then act like a detergent on the water. You can paddle through the foam and all sound of water splashing on your hull is silenced. Behind the kayak you leave a trail of open water — like a miniature icebreaker.

We decided to land in a bay. All goes well until I go in and suddenly this familiar feeling of swell passing underneath makes me look back. There probably was no surf all day long but right then there is one coming at me. It picked me up just as it was about to break. The nose started to dig in but leaning back the kayak began to surf without a problem and I took a free ride all the way into the bay.

The beach on the bay looked like someone had emptied a giant garbage bin. All kinds of garbage has been washed up here, including a torn rubber ducky and a giant lobster pot. We took the lobster pot to try out the next day.

All along the coast there are caves big enough to paddle into. Because of the benign swell we get to see a lot of them. One is a double chamber cave, large enough to park a bus inside. <<caves image>>

Day 4 — Wallaby and Coffin Bay

This was a long trip. We paddled the length of Port Davey, from the south where we were camped up north. Before we left Spain Bay we planted yesterday’s lobster pot in a strategic spot. Wouldn’t it be nice to have lobster for dinner?

We passed the Breaksea Islands on the outside. Large swell that passes us hits the islands with impressive force, flinging the water 10-20 metres up into the air. They certainly deserve their name because breaking the seas is what they do well.

The northern end is well protected and we had lunch in a place with lots of little channels that can be paddled or traversed on foot. In the afternoon when we started our paddle back, a southerly sprung up, making it a slog into the wind. We tried to shelter behind the Breaksea Islands but it was still hard going. When we arrived in Spain Bay we were relieved. Unfortunately the lobster pot from yesterday came up empty. Back to lamb curry then.

In the evening the weather forecast was a bit worrying. The wind will be a 25kts northerly, turning to 40kts westerly from noon.

Day 5 — back to Bathurst Harbour

The forecast wind had come in. The foam on the waters was in streaks as if someone had given it a rough combing over. The streaks made it all look more dramatic. However the Judd, our guide, was relaxed. They have paddled in this before they assure us. We took off and paddled into the wind. At first it was hard going. Once we got into a little bit of cover from the Breaksea Islands it got better. We battled on to turn into Bramble Cove. What a surprise awaits us there. In the middle of the cove was a bloody cruise ship! How did that get in there? It turns out to be the “Aurora Australis” that has just come back from Antarctica. A friend of mine works on it but unfortunately she didn’t appear to look out.

We stopped at a beach. The wind had become strong and created driving rain and the moment I am out I needed to put on my long overpants. We started climbing the local mountain to take a better look at Port Davey. I gave up halfway. Mountains are no good for my knees. David made it up and enjoyed the fantastic views.

After a lunch we had another look at a seaman’s old grave. The plaque says he fell off the mast at the age of 23. Across the bay we visited what’s left of a whaling station. The vegetation, as slowly as it grows, has covered completely what’s left of it and you have to look carefully to see any indications of a once human activity.

We continued on through the channel. The wind had turned and was from behind us. While the Breaksea Islands have stopped the swell here completely the wind waves were coming from behind with a vengeance. They were short, just a little longer than my kayak, and it kept burying its nose into the back of the wave in front just when the wave in the rear lifted up the stern. As a result, for the first time in the trip, I had troubles keeping up with the doubles. At one point the kayak broached heavily and a wave broke right on top of it, stoving in the spray deck. For a moment I was stunned. Should I stop and try to put this **** sprayskirt back on? About 300m further on was the tip of the headland that protects Schooner Cove, our destination for the day. Everyone else was about there. I decided to make a run for it. After all, this thing has sponsons and floatation bags. It’s supposed to float! When I caught up with everyone I got some funny looks. Why I am so out of breath?

When we entered Schooner Cove the rain had finally set in. It hadn’t decided if it wanted to be rain or dense fog. Visibility was about 50 metres. Halfway through the cove we ran into a yacht that was anchored there. The thought of everyone in there having tucked in with some hot grog helped propel us eagerly to the shore. However we were disappointed as the campground was occupied by someone else?! Again?! What is this place? Bondi Beach on a summer weekend? Arrgh!!!

No-one was there but three tents, a mess tent and the biggest ice box I have ever seen in the wild. Garbage bins revealed lots of cans of beer. From several indications we deduced that this was the Department of Primary Industries — probably investigating a kind of tree root rot that has infested the area.

We debated if we should try to squeeze in or paddle back to base. The latter would mean two-and-a-half hours more paddling. But the prospect of having those big (and dry) tents standing there was persuasive. By then we were all nice and wet. We decided to push on.

We arrived somewhere at 7pm. Oh it’s so nice to stand up in the tent and being able to dry out. In the evening Toby made chocolate covered strawberries.

Day 6 — Celery Top Islands

Overnight the winds were howling but finally the front passed and in the morning specks of blue sky peeked through the cloud as if to say, “come out, it’ll be nice weather”.

We got into our kayaks. Unloaded they are so much easier to handle. We paddled into the middle of Bathurst Harbour. After yesterday’s effort we simply drift lazily around the Celery Top Islands. A sea eagle didn’t notice us until we were right under him. The islands got their names from the Celery Top pines that grow on them.

As we got around the top island and started heading back a dinghy came towards us. In front was a guy with a video camera — at first look the camera gave the impression that someone has gone a bit troppo on their hobby. But the persistence with which they followed us and filmed us soon gave a different picture. It turned out that Paravion and Roaring Forties Kayaking had sponsored a film crew to shoot a promotional video.

Day 7 — Claytons Cottage, back to Melaleuca

In the morning we had the opportunity to visit Claytons Cottage. It was originally built out in Port Davey at Bonds Bay. But frequent storms had been threatening the boats at anchor, so they picked up the cottage and moved it to this spot. David and the others feel like walking — so they climbed up Mt Beattie and enjoyed spectacular views from Bathurst Harbour, Bathurst Channel to Melaleuka.

After lunch we headed back to Melaleuka. Somewhat sad to leave this magical place. We paddled through the narrows, where sticks with beer cans mark out the navigational channel to the airstrip.

When cleaning up my sea kayak a few boxes of eggs came out of the hidden ends of the kayak. Or should I say, the boxes came out, the eggs had turned into some kind of saltwater omelette (uncooked). It’s amazing how much you can store in this tiny kayak.

We spent part of the day exploring the area, including the cottages Denny King built for hikers and the observation area for the orange bellied parrot.

When the aircraft arrived we packed all gear into the smaller aircraft and sat in the larger one. <<I,age of luggage going into aircraft>> The take off was spectacular — we passed Bathurst Harbour. The wind had picked up and the foam streaked over the surface. We flew across Tasmania, looking down on rivers and mountain lakes that would take days to hike to on foot. Thirty minutes later we were back at Hobart airport where Kim greeted us. We slowly dispersed to our various spots to rest and recuperate, slowly building up a romantic view of our trip.

Postscript — Self Planned vs Guided Tours

The Port Davey trip was a guided tour, organised by Roaring Forties Sea Kayaking. Going either way, whether planning your own trip or booking guided tours, there are advantages and disadvantages. When you plan your own trip you have much more freedom, both beforehand and during the trip in deciding where to go (well, you still have to persuade the rest of the group). The extra effort in researching the trip beforehand usually pays off, because by the time you do the trip you usually already have a deeper insight in the area.

On the other hand, in a guided tour you benefit of the tour guides deeper knowledge of the area. In our case, when the weather forecast for day five was for 25 kts freshening to 30 plus for the following day. I would have cleared Spain Bay on the night before. The guides however could assess the situation better and knew we could paddle out on our own on the day.

Much however will rely on the quality of the tour operator and the guides. Their ability to gel the group and to offer something for everyone is a factor that you cannot predict. We were very lucky to be with this tour operator and the guides who really made it worth it.

Surf, Bears and Kamchatka [65]

By Justine Curgenven

I had a sick feeling in my stomach as I paddled tentatively towards the beach, craning my neck upwards to try to see where the waves were crashing down the least, then spinning around in my seat to search for any big sets creeping up behind me. The wild Pacific coast of Kamchatka is known for its pounding surf and I found myself asking why I had chosen to seakayak 640km along this remote shore. Twice a day for three weeks our team of three would have to cross this violent danger-zone, kilometres from any roads. Our expedition would be the second one ever to kayak this coastline.

Kamchatka is a wonderful 1440km-long jagged peninsula in far East Russia, with a backbone of active volcanoes, turquoise crater lakes and steaming geezers. I and another woman, Hadas Feldman, hoped to kayak north from the capital Petropavolvsk to the next town, Ust Kamchatsk. It was an ambitious plan as this stretch of coastline contains no roads, very few people and 10,000 hungry brown bears. Not to mention the surf.

As this wasn’t challenging enough, the authorities insisted we must have a Russian “guide” with us at all times. The only problem was that no-one in Kamchatka can seakayak so we’d be taking a complete novice with us.

22-year-old Alexey Sitnokov was an expert kayaker by Kamchatka standards – he’d kayaked on flat water twice and he held his paddles the right way up. He spoke only pigeon English. “Tank – yoo” he grinned when I told him he had the job, and I couldn’t help thinking how quickly that grin would be wiped off on his first surf landing.

Before the expedition I took Alexey for a few days kayak training. As we pulled up at the top of an endless golden beach my heart sank. Instead of the small introductory waves that I had hoped for, four or five lines of whitewater were battering the shore. I glanced at poor Alexey who was smiling a wide smile of ignorance and trust.

The practice session didn’t start off very well. The young Russian capsized practically the first time a small wave hit him, and swam three more times in an hour. Back on dry land, he was optimistic to say the least.

“For me, this expedition is crazy. But, I do it anyway.”

Early the next morning, we launched from Petropavlovsk in mist and drizzle. Hadas is used to a somewhat different climate in her home of Israel and she wore three hats to combat the chill! Even so, we all had beaming grins on our faces as we pushed off from the shore into the unknown. I felt my whole body relax as the safe rigidity of land was replaced by the dancing unpredictability of the sea.

We crossed the sheltered Avacha Bay and turned north into the open ocean. Immediately we could feel the dormant power of the Pacific Ocean as we rose and fell on the swell. I lost sight of Hadas and Alexey as the crest of a wave reared its head between us. Landing through the surf would not be easy.

After eight hours paddling and 30km under our belts Alexey was flagging. It was time to take on the surf. I went first in what I hoped was a break in the sets. It all went well until I was within spitting distance of the shore. A small wave started to break right behind me and turned my kayak sideways violently. Suddenly cold water hit my face and my ear was in the sea. I felt a sense of inevitability – the certainty that I’d now have to try to roll alone here in the breaking surf. But while my mind was trying to work out a strategy, my body kicked in with natural reflexes. One hip flick and I was upright again – no roll necessary.

With the panicked eyes of a wild animal, I bullied my way gracelessly to the beach. Once ashore I was shaking with cold, relief and nerves. This was only day one and Hadas and Alexey were still out there. I couldn’t see them anywhere. Ten minutes passed. Fifteen minutes. I cringed at the possibility that I’d have to fight my way back out through the surf to find them. Finally after about 20 minutes I caught sight of two yellow kayaks coming towards the beach. Alexey did brilliantly and was almost on shore when one last wave hit him and capsized him. He walked the last few meters to dry land with his kayak, but he was smiling. Hadas excitedly told me that Alexey had been capsized by an unexpected breaking wave way out to sea and she’d had to rescue him. So he’d swum twice on his first day!

We’d only just set up our tents when the peace was shattered by the rattling engine of a battered old tank ploughing across the dunes in a cloud of sand. It came to a sputtering halt besides our tents and eight soldiers with guns surrounded us. One of them asked Alexey to show them our documents. After a detailed study of our permits and a long conversation on his radio, the soldier told Alexey that we must break camp and take everything – including our kayaks – on the tank to their military base. I immediately imagined the three of us festering in a tiny room, unable to leave until we paid an outrageous bribe to a corrupt official, and I refused to go. Alexey’s wide eyes flickered from my steely face to the line of soldiers facing us, his gaze drawn directly to the eight guns casually but firmly held in their hands. “No,” I repeated.

I tried to empathize with Alexey. It was only the first day of the three-week journey, and he’d already paddled thirty kilometres and swum twice. Now one of the two foreign women who were meant to be looking after him was saying “no” to soldiers with guns. “Don’t be a soft touch.” I thought.

Eventually Alexey persuaded me we should go and, after half an hour bouncing over dunes on the tank, we reached a building and a lookout tower in an otherwise monotonous dunescape. Hadas and I sat on the tank under armed guard for three hours as discussions went on inside. Finally a smiling Alexey emerged saying that we could leave. The soldiers remounted the tank and drove us back to the exact spot where we’d landed. Apparently our permission was fine after all. Judging from the shy smiles directed at Hadas and I, I think the soldiers just wanted something a bit different to do on a boring afternoon.

On our third day we came face to face with our first bear. As we kayaked past a 200-metre-high cliff with a narrow beach at the bottom, I spotted what I thought was a barrel at the far end of the shore.

“Bear!” said Alexey.

“No way,” Hadas and I thought, “It’s at the bottom of a 70-degree cliff.”

We stared intently at the barrel and it turned and started loping towards us. The heat drained from my body as I realized the agility and resourcefulness of the Kamchatka brown bear. If they’d make the effort to teeter down a steep cliff face in the hope of a few scraps of food then I felt sure they wouldn’t think twice about unwrapping our fragile tents and helping themselves to the tasty treats inside.

We paddled up slowly and watched the magnificent creature turning over bits of seaweed with his giant paw. He was sniffing at something when suddenly he sensed us and turned his nose sharply towards the sea. Spotting the three yellow kayaks he immediately turned and fled. We stared in disbelief as the bear launched himself at the cliff face, powering his way up with his sharp claws, his giant bulk shaking as he somehow found purchase in the loose rock. I felt guilty that we’d disturbed him, but it was reassuring that this powerful creature was obviously so scared of us.

The days passed and as we travelled up the coast we got into a rhythm. We had to paddle an average of around 35km a day to reach Ust Kamchatsk in time, and we were typically on the water for between six to nine hours. Alexey had a few more swims in the surf but we often managed to find more sheltered spots to land. One day we found an old fishing net full of fresh salmon, which fed us for almost a week! The scenery was breathtaking – steep rocky cliffs, jagged volcanoes, green valleys and snowy patches. Alongside the many bears, we glimpsed whales, sea otters, sea lions and the rare Stella Sea eagle.

The sea showed us her power on occasions and one day Alexey was swept away by a freak wave that broke over a shallow reef. All I could see was wisps of white spray as the ridge of water rushed away from me. After what seemed like a minute I finally saw a startled Alexey sitting upright in his kayak. He was still in the danger zone, water dripping from his hair, and trying to manoeuvre himself to a limp red piece of material a few meters away.

“Leave your hat, Alexey” I shouted, “I’ll get it for you.”

He didn’t need telling twice and paddled hard out towards Hadas. I turned to shore to try to get his hat but three breaking waves in a row hit me and stopped me in my tracks. Stuff Alexey’s hat – I turned and paddled to the others as hard as I could. Once the big set was replaced by calm waters, Alexey told us that the wave had rolled him three times and it was like being in a washing machine. Amazingly though, the sea eventually spat him out the right way up. He was fine but he never did get his hat back.

We met a handful of isolated people along the coastline and shared some wonderful evenings learning a little about each other’s lives. We visited one lighthouse so isolated that the two elderly couples who ran it hadn’t seen any other people for eight months. They spoilt us rotten with hot meals every two hours and we were able to deliver them two letters. Both were six months old but it was a real pleasure to see the old man’s face as he read news from his son.

On day twenty, we woke up to sunshine, a calm sea and the knowledge that our destination of Ust Kamchatsk was only 35km away. We smiled to ourselves as we launched through the surf for what we hoped was the last time. It was a day of mixed feelings as we left behind the wild rawness of virtually unexplored Kamchatka and returned to a landscape tamed by man. Almost immediately we were paddling over massive fixed fishing pens and we could see managed woodland and shabby buildings. Our exploring had finished and I was anxious to get today over with, to reach Ust Kamchatsk and call our expedition a success. Alexey reached the shore first and threw his paddle down. “No more water,” he shouted forcefully, but his grin betrayed him.

We got out of our kayaks for the last time beside a massive rubbish dump and rundown boathouses. The pretty village centre, with colourful textile shops and throngs of people that I had imagined, were nowhere to be seen. In the distance we could see gigantic cranes and low-lying concrete buildings. A few busy-looking people stepped over the rubble and around grazing cows in what looked like their best clothes. Apart from a few curious boys wearing “Simpsons” t-shirts, no-one paid any attention to us. I got the feeling that there was no room for indulgent adventures in this working fishing town and I suddenly felt ashamed that I was hoping we’d end our trip with curious locals who wanted to celebrate with us. Instead, our last campsite was in a rubbish tip and we still had to arrange getting back to Petropavlovsk. It all felt like a bit of an anti-climax until Hadas noticed my glum face and gave one of her wonderful hearty laughs. I couldn’t help but join her and we both stood in the middle of that dump and threw back our heads and made some noise. That made the locals look!

Sponsors: Nigel Dennis Kayaks, Lendal, Snapdragon, Reed Chillcheater, Peak UK, the Welsh Sports Council, Extreme Vision Systems, Teva, Powerbar, The North Face.

Justine Curgenven

Runs Cackle TV and makes the “This is the Sea” DVDs. She will be a speaker at Rock’n’Roll.