The Curse of the Winkworths [66]

By John Wilde

Take care if you must read this article, ’tis not for the faint hearted and may cause anxiety and adventure to feature in your nocturnal activities.

It was Dave Winkworth’s Christmas Bash and all the usual south coast suspects were there, as well as a few eager novices and even the children. Saturday was easy, a few assorted paddles around Twofold Bay, followed by a camp oven BBQ, courtesy of the host himself and a fine time being had by all as Saturday night progressed.

It was the Sunday morning paddle to Mowarry Point where the trouble began and it is a dark tale, though it began innocently enough. At 6am the sea was calm and the forecast good: a light nor-easter, no problem for our mixture of older and more experienced (read knackered, in fact some never made it out of bed) and newer aspirants. As the morning progressed a flat calm rounding of Ben Boyd tower lulled me into a false sense of security as I chatted with Derek, a very recent new comer to the sport.

Out front, Dave and Phil Winkworth seemed to have made it a challenge event as they eagerly chased each other around the bay, the rest of us being happy to enjoy the tranquil setting and the view of the lovely cliff line above.

So the assembled company finally arrived at Mowarry for breakfast, much to the surprise of the young couple who thought that they had chosen a remote and idyllic campsite for a romantic tryste as Dave fired up his trusty flame thrower for that early morning cup of tea.

My own plans were a little more complex. Instead of returning to Two Fold with the main pod, I had developed the idea of continuing south to explore Nadgee Wilderness a little more, basing myself at Merrica River for a couple of nights in the process. At a distance of about 35 kilometres from Eden this should not have been a problem however as we were about to leave the beach Dave noticed my sail, innocently furled up, on my fore deck. Now Dave has never been in favour of sails and is one of those unfortunate “purists” who feel they have to paddle everwhere, just to prove a point. Me, I’m a sailor, having begun rigging sails on my sea kayak about twenty five years ago in Tasmania, where every man and his dog have discovered the glories of surfing down countless waves at breakneck speed whilst covering huge distances without flogging the proverbial dead horse.

I hesitantly admitted to Dave that, yes, even though I paddle a Nadgee kayak, Dave’s creation and prodigy, yes, I did intend to sail if the winds were fair. Thus came the curse of the Winkworths, Dave taking a defiant stand at the top of the beach and raising his paddle in a most threatening fashion to announce in a grim voice, “Let there be a southerly”, followed by Phil’s immediate afterword “And if it’s a southerly let it be a strong one.” So the Sorcerer and his apprentice sealed my fate and how I was to rue the effect of these few words.

As I replayed the morning’s weather forecast, light nor-easters, up to 10 knots, little did I realise the grim drama that was about to unfold and as the main pod began to retrace their route to Eden I, feeling just a little lonely, continued my way south. Oddly, as soon as I left Mowarry I felt a light southerly brush my face. Just an aberration, I fondly thought, though by the time I was off Bittangabee I was heading into a steady 15 knot head wind and an uncomfy, short, sharp, wet chop. Checking out the campsite at Bittangabee, the vehicles, car parks, dusty roads and trashed BBQ sites, the memory of Merrica, with its lagoon, beautiful beach and lack of people proved irresistible.

Back out to sea and the wind was blowing a steady 20 knots. My “hatometre”, the point were my hat tends to take off on its own and needs regular ajustment, confirmed this fact, but it was only 6 kilometres to the tip of Green Cape, so I figured I could cope. Two hours later I crawled past the lighthouse against the now 25 knot wind, hatometre hanging from my neck on a cord, the seas now big and confused. In the tidal stream off Green Cape, big, breaking rollers off the point made life even more difficult, though not everything was having a hard time. A flock of gannets hurled themselves through the troughs on sturdy wings and a group of seals came over to check me out and play, diving, swirling and twisting more in the fashion of dolphins, as they revelled in the conditions.

Now, with the wind at about 60 degrees onto the bow, all I had was the crossing of Disaster Bay, Merrica a slight fold in the hills, still looking a good distance away. Though I usually have a strong roll, in these conditions, tired and cramped, it was not something I wanted to rely on, especially solo, so I kept my head constantly turned to 90 degrees to keep a watch for the big breakers that required a pause from forward paddling and a big brace as they shunted me sideways and slowly made ground.

So it was that after 9 hours in the boat during the day and feeling like I had just done a leg of a Bass Strait crossing, I finally staggered up Merrica beach, clutching a line off the bow and trying to relax my cramped buttocks and thighs. What luxury, lad!

So Dave, what will you throw at me next?

I might have known. The following morning I gave myself a slight break, but the 8am forecast was a 15 knot nor-easter, rising to 20 to 25 in the afternoon, not ideal for my plan of leaving camp set up whilst I paddled south in the morning and back to Merrica in the afternoon.

Another 25 knot head wind I could forego, though I did toy briefly with the idea of just heading south and going for it to do a Merrica to Gabo run and come out at Mallacoota the following day.

But that was hardly a relaxing tour of Nadgee. So given that Merrica is too good to rush, I opted for some yoga on the beach, a paddle up the lagoon to the delightful spot were the creek tumbles into the salt water, fresh oysters off the rocks and a chance to leisurely watch the sea eagles search for prey. What a great day.

So as to the return, the evening forecast gave me some concern. A 10-15 knot northerly in the early morning, changing to a strong southerly up to 33 knots in the late morning. Not the best for my lonesome paddle, but I had a plan and at 3.45 next morning I quietly made my way down the lagoon by the light of my head torch and made the break through the fortunately very small surf off Merrica beach. As soon as I turned off my light the pitch black night engulfed me but directly ahead the Green Cape light house guided me sure and strong and lines of phosphoresence trailed from my bow and explosions of sparks erupted each time I planted my paddle. Emblazoned light and sparkles accompanied me for the next hour and a half, till the golden glow of the dawn broke the horizon just as I levelled with the tip of Green Cape.

So the journey continued, with a flat calm, a brief break at Salt Water Creek for breakfast and a quiet crossing of Twofold Bay, finishing what had taken nine hours of paddling on Sunday in a pleasant five and three quarters on a quiet sea.

As I packed up and loaded the car I ruefully packed away my sail. Yes, the Winkworths had cursed well and long and I had paddled an honest trip, but next time I’ll make sure Dave does not see my sail before I head off, then perhaps I can have a real kayaking trip.

P.S. It was a great party Dave, thanks for bringing together such a diverse group of old friends and newcomers for a very special weekend.