Crabs in the Cockpit [67]

By Cathy Miller.

With fibreglass-crunching names like Seal Rocks, the Sawtooth, the Gulch and Treachery Head, the Seal Rocks Lake and Ocean Antics weekend, 21-22 April, promised to be anything but bland. My mother-in-law added helpfully, “Seal Rocks? Out at sea? With all the sharks?”

As an experienced paddler but a “newbie” to the club (six months) this was my second trip away with NSWSKC, following on from the fantastic Rock’n’Roll weekend. The trip was full and I was waitlisted, but confirmed at the last minute with a ticket of leave from family duties for the entire weekend! But what was I in for? Rumour had it that on previous trips here there had been “a few tears” and “a few broken boats … “

Sixteen paddlers in all, mostly Grade 2 and a few Grade 3s, lined up on Boat Beach at 9.30 am on Saturday like a trusty flock of lemmings (small rodents known for mass death marches into the sea) to face the worst that Seal Rocks could throw at us. Little did we know that we would be blessed with divine weather, mild winds and a glorious day ahead exploring Seal Rocks’ nooks and crannies.

To be fair to our trusted leader, Adrian Clayton, we did indeed know the weather forecast and conditions. In the weeks prior to the trip, Adrian had emailed us in advance with the weather forecasts, planned routes, details of where to camp, who to pay and most importantly where the nearest food and alcohol supplies could be found. With so many paddlers putting their hands up for this trip, Kevin Brennan and Stephan Meyn volunteered to help Adrian count the boats and keep the Lemmings under control.

From Boat Beach, we headed for Treachery Head, cruising in and out of gauntlets on the way through the rock formation known as the Sawtooth. With S-SE winds averaging 8 knots and minimal swell, this was sea-kayak cruising at its best. The water was enticingly clear and we were able to get extremely close to the rocks without being washed up in the swell. A pod of dolphins swam up and leapt out of the water, just a paddle’s length away.

Turning north again from Treachery Head, our trusted leader’s mission was to get as many of his trusty flock of lemmings as possible into “The Gulch”, a narrow slot in the rocks. The aim was to break the current record of twelve boats, without breaking our boats. Seventeen boats fitted in easily and so we laid down the challenge for next year’s trip — beat that!

We braved small breaking waves at the beach which the locals have ingeniously named “Beach Number 3”. Several of the trusty flock did indeed find themselves acting like lemmings and falling into the drink while landing — but if you don’t fall out you’re just not pushing yourself. During lunch, several of the lemmings showed their appreciation and gratitude to our trusted leader by putting the only crab on the beach in his cockpit.

We watched the waves grow larger over lunch and they claimed a few more lemmings as we set out again. The biggest casualty here was Stephan who lost his glasses in the breakout, despite them being strapped on. After a fruitless search, we had to move on. Anyone who hadn’t yet been rolled still had a chance to swim on the next beach as we headed back when our trusted leader sent us all into the shore-break to practice some bracing strokes. Then we did some rolling practice in the deep before paddling back to Boat Beach. Paul and Kate both re-entered their boats underwater and put their skirts back on before rolling up — very impressive.

Before wrapping up, a few of us paddled out to Statis Rock (local wit has struck again, nicknaming this “Birdshit Rock”). We put on face-masks (or should I say some of us borrowed Paul’s), and rolled underneath our boats to check out the marine life using paddle floats as support. This was an excellent way to top off a beautiful day’s paddling — sixteen kilometres in all, another tick in the paddler’s log-book. The evening’s camp at Seal Rocks Camping Reserve was a great chance to socialise with the other paddlers and swap tales (some possibly true).

On Sunday, sixteen boats put in at Smith’s Lake for 10km of paddling, with sunny skies, W to SSE winds averaging 7 knots. Spotting sea-eagles and hawks along the way, we paddled to the Sandbar, which was actually open to the sea, a rare event. Our trusted leader counted boats again as the trusty flock of lemmings headed out to sea once more to throw ourselves against the breaking waves. A few swam, a few braced, and a few even rolled.

With thunder booming not far from us, our trusty leader was not looking forward to being the first leader to lose his trusty flock of lemmings to a thunderstorm, so with the promise of freshly-made coffee, we made a dash to the Frothy Coffee Boatshed at Smiths Lake for lunch. On the way back a few of us asked to get signed off on our towing experience. When Kate joined me for a girl-power double-tow, the tow line mysteriously got a bit heavier. I turned around to see at least five male paddlers hanging off the tow-line like true lemmings.

We finished up at around 3.30pm, in plenty of time to travel back to Sydney comfortably. But I didn’t want the magic to end. In my life BC (Before Children) I was a keen paddler. When we had kids, the paddling slipped away apart from the occasional slog on Sydney Harbour in a Dancer. Then two years ago, we discovered sea-kayaks. These beautiful sleek long boats that cut through the water and handle surf and chop are a true joy, and they’ve re-ignited my passion for kayaking.

Taking a weekend off to go paddling is a rare and valuable treat, and as a member of the NSWSKC I am privileged to have this opportunity. Thanks to our trusted leader and his able assistants and see you all at Seal Rocks next year (there’s a Gulch record to break).