Survivor Weekend [69]

By Matt Bezzina

Participants: Stuart Trueman (Leader), Paul Loker (2 IC), Mark Schroeder, Mark Anderson, Roger Boardman, David Page, Terry Walsh, Stephan Meyn, Matt Bezzina.

‘A weekend of tests to challenge individuals’ was how Stuart Trueman described and conducted this year’s Survivor Weekend.

Saturday morning saw us unloading boats and gear early as our brief included the line: ‘At 0859 you will be standing by your kayaks, cars locked, keys packed with nothing to do before getting on the water. Those running the weekend are not expecting to have to motivate participants.’

Not surprisingly everyone was ready early. We were soon heading out of Shoal Bay towards Cabbage Tree Island. On arrival we zigzagged over to Boondelbah Island and from there turned towards our day’s destination, Broughton Island. Stuart quizzed the group as to our ETA and as it was about 12km the estimates ranged from one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours. The conservatives got it because half way there Stuart had us tie bungee cords around the hulls of the boats to simulate a heavier load. This, on top of the sea water ballast we were carrying, really did make a difference. It wasn’t long before a couple of litres of sea water were poured into everyone’s front hatch as a test to make sure that everything was properly waterproofed.

Once we arrived at the island we all went through the obligatory Cons Cleft — and all got through without incident. It was the breakers over the reef across from Esmeralda Cove which gave one member a swim. Following this we had to

demonstrate our off-side roll which resulted in a couple more swimmers. As we approached the beach around the other side we were ordered to bail out and swim the boats into the beach. This resulted in mass swimmers! On landing we were given ten minutes to be changed into dry clothes and have a hot cup of tea in hand. After a written test we were free to find somewhere to set up our tents — easier said then done seeing we were on a beach that gets submerged at high tide and the top of the banks were infested with prickly pear.

On Sunday we were to be ready to go by 6am! This had us up in the dark packing away tents and trying to fuel up on breakfast. Stuart and Paul paddled around from their civilized camp spot on the other side and came up to the weary-eyed group. As he looked out at the dead calm and peaceful lee side of the island towards Myall Beach Stuart said ‘look at those huge dumpers — there’s no way we can launch from here. We’ll have to do a portage over the island’. And that was our morning, lugging all our gear and seven boats up the rough track over the top of the island and down to Esmeralda Cove on the other side where Stuart and Paul sat having breakfast and coffee. Once over there we made a call to the coast guard via the radio on the island and then headed off. The swell was up a bit from the previous day and Cons Cleft was looking quite hilly.

Mark Schroeder was first through with me following. A year ago when I first went through it was a scary experience as I copped a big wave while in there and got smashed into the side. I managed to stay upright but my boat took a bit of a beating and lost a lot of gel coat. This time it was probably just as rough but a year’s worth of experience made all the difference and I took time to look around and take in a bit of this spectacular feature. I came out and turned quickly to get a few photos of the others as they came out — all grinning from ear to ear.

As Terry Walsh came through so did a big wave. It reared up behind him and knocked him over. As I was thinking how best to conduct a rescue, as I’m sure were Paul and Stuart who were holding position inside the cleft waiting for the wave to pass, Terry rolled up beautifully and powered past — the happiest face imaginable!

After that we did a navigation exercise before landing just next to Dark Point on Myall Beach where we had lunch. After a surf launch we headed back. Once out past the breakers progress was good, a slight head wind but way short of the predicted 20 knots, a bit of rain and a nice swell. We were cruising along nicely when Stuarts dreaded whistle blew. We gathered round as he suggested we follow him in to the surf. Mark Schroeder, myself and Mark Anderson blindly followed. As he approached the surf zone Stuart did a roll which I think he does as some kind of preparation for battle.

The swell suddenly got much steeper and as Stuart and Mark Schroeder turned to seaward to avoid a big wave Mark Anderson and I found ourselves side on to a big breaker. At this point I decided to roll under it so as to avoid being pummelled into the beach but, as I leaned hard into it, I found myself in a perfect broach position, the lean became an edge into a high brace and I enjoyed the best broach ride I’ve ever had, all the way to the beach where I landed quite nicely. Mark didn’t have quite as nice a landing and ended up being pounded, eventually landing about thirty metres down the beach from where I was. We both turned our boats around and stood there on the beach staring at the quite solid surf in front of us. The feeling of jubilation I had from making it in unscathed was quickly replaced by feelings of anxiety as I wondered how the hell we were going to get back out!

Mark and I met for a discussion but there wasn’t much to say. We were in the best spot with a light rip going out in front of us but still there were breaking waves right across and they didn’t seem to be getting any smaller.

I went back to my boat and sensed a lull. I quickly got in and knuckled into the surf. As soon as I was afloat I paddled like hell — through the first small breaker and then through the next more sizable wall of white water. I saw a clear run and paddled with all I had. I thought I’d made it and tried to catch my breath as another wave appeared before me — a bloody big one. I paddled with all I was worth and just managed to get my blade over the crest to make it over. Next thing I experienced the biggest free fall I’d ever had as I dropped over the back of a now crashing wave, the laden boat adding to the impact. I paddled over to the group who were waiting patiently out the back. Mark hadn’t been so lucky on that last wave and had been collected and washed back to shore. As the group had now been waiting for some time Paul Loker went in to give Mark a hand. He was in and out in no time and made my whole experience a little anti-climatic!

A short time later Roger Boardman had his boat lifted out of the water by something big enough to lift his boat out of the water. He had teeth marks on his now bent metal rudder and Paul noted a large swirl. I had seen a shark the day before but it was too far away to make a positive identification. That sighting helped with motivation during the swim landing and after Roger’s experience no more rolling was done — except by Mark Anderson who’s obviously not afraid of sharks.

That was to be our last adrenalin dose for the weekend as we paddled back to Shoal Bay. Not so for Stuart who snuck between a rock and a lot of whitewater. On rounding North Head we were greeted by some dolphins.

This was a trip with a difference and one of the best things I’ve done with the NSWSKC club. I think the objectives of the weekend were well and truly met — that is to test yourself (and your buddies) in an expedition environment. It was a good bunch of blokes who worked well together and made it a truly enjoyable weekend despite (or because of) the Trueman-induced hardships.

If you’re thinking of doing a serious trip I would recommend you take this challenge on with anyone your planning to go away with — as someone once said you can learn more about a man by paddling with him for an hour then you can from a year of conversation.

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