Flotsam [69]

Chaos paddle called into question

The annual Chaos paddle has again hit the headlines after another serious incident again called into question this dangerous event. Often known as the sea kayaking version of the ‘Running of the Bulls’, this year’s Chaos paddle lived up to its name as a novice sea kayaker was left injured and bleeding on a remote south coast beach.

However, this year Snr Instructor Stuart Trueman was covertly assigned by the club to monitor the event after the incidents of recent years. Trueman set the scene for Flotsam ‘the entire group was obviously struggling after being made to paddle a long first day into a strong headwind, and then having to cope with gusting 35 knot westerlies on Day 2.’

Mr Trueman continued, ‘As usual our destination was unknown that day, as with Chaos tradition there was not one map or chart in the group. But the lack of knowledge of this coast lead to an unscheduled landing at Moruya Heads simply to look at a tourist map at the picnic area there.’

The actual incident occurred on at 4pm, after Trip Leader Lawrence Geoghegan reportedly ‘lost control of the pod’ after underpowered paddler Richard Styles was blown away from the coast in his stubborn Mirage 580. The subsequent group spread lead to an unscheduled landing for a rest break on the notorious ‘Dead Man’s Beach’ near Tuross Heads, tragically, only two kilometres from the intended Day two camp.

Snr instructor Trueman confirmed ‘it was a bad short beach …a broad sand bar 60 metres out, regular large sets steepened by the westerly, and a strong rip at the northern end …’

Thirty minutes later, Mr Pearson, a ‘novice paddler in an unseaworthy sea kayak’, was the last paddler off the beach ‘despite his lack of experience’. He was smashed by a big wave on the edge of the bar and, not knowing how to roll, he came out his boat. He then spent some minutes hanging on to his kayak before it was ripped away. As the boat headed out in the rip he was forced to swim after it, attempted to grab the deck lines but in doing this a dumping wave brought the hull down on his head. Andy Robards, who had returned to the break zone to monitor Mr Pearson’s situation, then towed the injured paddler ashore.

Indeed Mr Robards, a Chaos ‘blow in’ and a non member, not only then administered first aid to the stricken paddler on the beach, he paddled out to retrieve the abandoned paddle from the break zone, then landed again before swimming 150 metres through the surf to bring Pearson’s damaged and waterlogged sea kayak back to shore. Snr Instructor Trueman observed that Mr Robards did all this ‘alone, over a thirty minute timeframe’, while Geoghegan, Styles, Arunas Pilka and Ben Conroy ‘seemed to be holding an on-water committee meeting some distance away’.

Mr Pearson, who was air lifted to Moruya hospital with a deep wound, concussion and neck compression injuries, required 10 stitches, a blood transfusion and intensive head resuscitation from a young casualty ward nurse.

Pearson, who is still in a neck brace two months after the incident, is unable to work, and estimates he is out of pocket to the tune of $4000, closed by saying ‘that’s my first and last Chaos trip, definitely …I’ve got a family to think of …’

Snr Instructor Trueman is expected to deliver a damning report on Chaos 2007 trip management to the NSWSKC Safety Committee, with the very possible recommendation that the annual event be removed from the Trip Calendar.

Flotsam attempted to talk to Trip Leader Geoghegan, only to be told in no uncertain terms that he was tired of Flotsam’s ‘ongoing campaign of smear and innuendo’ against the Chaos event.

Meanwhile President Steinfeld is considering awarding a medal to Mr Robards in recognition of his ‘gallantry while acting alone and unsupported’ in assisting Mr Pearson.

Furore erupts over AGM Minutes

Flotsam has been bombarded with complaints about a small section of the 2007 AGM minutes. ‘The motion that fees be reduced to $85 for single members and $130 for families was passed with 21 for, 2 against and 2 abstentions.’

An angry John Wilde, leader of the ‘20 bucks is about right‘ coalition, a loose collective dedicated to reducing club membership fees, contacted Flotsam to say ‘I think we really do need to know who these four characters are! After a decade of steep price rises, can there be anything more chilling than the knowledge that there are some amongst us who would decline to vote or vote against paying less!’

Mr Wilde continued, ‘and all this despite the reduction in insurance levies and the existence of the club’s massive future fund! It’s time that the club got back to a fee structure that is not based on Sydney’s inflated real estate prices!’

New Club President Michael Seinfeld attempted to calm the situation, telling Flotsam ‘there’ll be no persecuting the individuals, as we are a democratic organisation …although I can confirm the four were all Mirage paddlers …’

Safety Committee aborts mission

The inaugural NSWSKC Safety Committee meeting on 7 November had to be cancelled after concerns about deteriorating conditions in the hired venue led to a rushed evacuation.

The day after the drama, Safety Committee chairman Stuart Trueman told Flotsam ‘the heating was on the blink and it was getting quite cold…almost too cold to hold a pen for the minutes, also the kettle looked a bit dodgy, the milk in the fridge was close to its use by date and there was no sugar. So I decided that it was just too risky to push on…very tough to keep a pod together in conditions like that.’

Fellow Committee member Andrew Eddy told Flotsam ‘it was a tense for a while. But Stuart was great in there… he took control, and we were really relieved when we made it outside and were safely back in our cars.

The next meeting of the Safety Committee is scheduled for January… weather permitting!

Car and Kayak Combo of the Year

Flotsam is pleased to announce the inaugural NRMA Car and Kayak Combo of the Year. This new competition recognises the importance of the relationship between our sea kayaks and the vehicles that carry them to the water, and was judged upon the appearance, presentation and performance of the presented car and kayak ‘rigs’.

First place was awarded to Mark Pearson’s Nissan X Trail and Inuit Explorer. Pearson’s rig, presented in stunning black and white, was commended by the judges for ‘a dramatic visual statement with an edgy presence’, ‘sharp and graceful lines that are both dynamic, functional and sexy’, and ‘a perfect match of Sports Utility Vehicle and Sports Utility Sea Kayak‘.

In second place was David Winkworth’s Subaru Forester and Nadgee. Judges’ comments included ‘conservative and stoic, a tough no nonsense statement‘, ‘low service costs and easy maintenance’ and ‘not a rig to get too excited about, but fit and finish are of exceptional quality’.

Although the judges were generally impressed with the standard of the NSWSKC entrants, two entries were singled out for the poor quality presentation.

Laurie Geoghegan’s entry, a Toyota Dyna truck mounted by a Sea Quest kayak earned but one positive judging comment ‘industrial strength but suitable for heavy, slow haulage only’. Other less flattering comments included ‘a log on a truck’ and ‘left a lingering aftertaste of manure and livestock’.

Voted last was Andrew Watkinson’s entry – a dirty 1992 Commodore mated with a tatty red and white Mirage 580. Judges were scathing on this effort, commenting ‘this combination redefines bog standard‘, ‘a sad display of ugly curves, unimaginative design and poor maintenance‘, ‘an aesthetic disaster‘ and even ‘a bloated orgy of clunkiness and mediocrity!

Got an awkward problem related to sea kayaking? The Flotsam Guru has the answers.

Dear Flotsam Guru,

I paddle a beautiful Mirage kayak, have a large house with Pittwater views, and I’m proud to say that John Howard is the best Prime Minister this country has ever had. But for some reason I am increasingly shunned by other club members, and never invited on overnight paddles. Please help!

Andrew Watkinson

Bilgola Plateau, NSW

Guru — I’m sorry Andrew, there’s nothing I can do for you.

Flotsam Letter of the Month

Dear Flotsam

I thought I would write to you about a close call I recently had while test paddling three Impex boats with Rob Mercer. As we tracked south west from South Head I decided that I wanted to try another kayak, and asked Rob if we could land on the nearest beach to do the swap. Rob immediately asked me to have a good look at the beach. It was only then I noticed that the beach patrons were all adult males, and on further inspection I noted that several of these males were not only strutting along the waters edge, but they appeared to be totally unclad!

Rob then explained to me his tragic mistake some years before when he landed there, only to be immediately surrounded by several very friendly male ‘naturists’, and all this while he was still sitting in his kayak! No man should have to experience what poor Rob saw that day.

I guess that awful experience is a warning to other male Sydney paddlers… mark this beach ‘Don’t Land Here’ in red and steer well clear!