Surfing Tales and Tricks [70]

By Mark Sundin

At a recent instruction day at Wanda Beach I was reacquainted with the joys and dangers of surfing for fun, in a sea kayak. This of course is in direct contrast to what we should all practise in sea kayaking, which is actually avoiding the surf, as our boats are simply not designed to deal with it.

Unfortunately, even if you manage to avoid surf for months at a time, there will inevitably come a time when you’ll have to negotiate this exhilarating and at times terrifying zone, so you should make sure you have the skills to deal with the basics.

Conditions were perfect on the training day, with a light offshore breeze, one to two metre swell from the east on an eight second period, and a rising tide. The group was John Friedman, Terry Walsh, Bruce McNaughton, Roger Boardman and Peter Levy.

We paddled out through the line-up at about 9 am after a briefing on safety, in particular a refresher on the importance of shoulder safety and correct high bracing technique. Landing through a good spilling six foot surf, the guys all tasted a bit of salt water, with Bruce and Terry managing to roll after being upended. Roger took on everything thrown at him, and braced into some terrific waves, often riding 100 m into the beach. Everyone fell victim to the ‘five yard rule’ — relaxing when on the landing and being dumped upside down by the shore break. That said, with everyone mindful of the need to tuck up, there were no more serious injuries than a few bruised egos.

John and Peter hadn’t previously been in moving water to this degree and both grew more confident as the day progressed.

The incoming tide started to make our spot a bit dumpy, so we relocated to a nice little break that formed about 100 m offshore on the rising tide and all caught some really good waves, before calling it a day after a solid three hours.

When it really mattered, paddling back in to a crowded beach at Wanda, everyone landed without incident, bracing beautifully into the shore break.

I also made sure I landed first and cleared a 50 m gap on the beach of swimmers, with the promise to them that they were very likely to see a bunch of old fellas smash themselves up. There were plenty of expectant cheers as a big shore dumper reared up behind Bruce, followed by admiring applause as he held a perfect brace and skidded up onto the sand. Just goes to show what a crowd can do for your concentration.

After the session, Roger and I took out a couple of surf kayaks for a blast, but the high tide and crowded line-up made it a futile exercise. At least Roger got a small taste of this awesome evolving sport!

All up, a good day out and enough adrenaline expended to ensure nobody needed any rocking on Saturday night.

A few old lessons were reinforced while reflecting on this great day out …

Surf is pretty uncomplicated, besides the fact that it is so difficult to control (if that makes sense). You need to master your boat control using proper edges to turn (rudders are next to useless, and will break in surf if left deployed), pick a good take-off spot, and either get off the wave while it’s still green or engage the whitewater with absolute commitment and good technique. This means a solid high or low brace, no over-extension of your shoulder joint. Then, if you do manage to get capsized, you have to have the grace under fire to be able to hold your tuck position, then roll up once the fury on the surface of the water has subsided. Rolling isn’t about being able to pull off a textbook manoeuvre 10 yards off the beach at Clontarf — it’s about developing a reflex action, which is your first instinct when you’re capsized without warning. When is this most likely? Of course, in a moving water environment like the surf zone. Once you can roll in a controlled environment, get out into some small moving water and play for an hour or so — I guarantee you’ll get capsized at least half a dozen times, giving you a perfect opportunity to test your new roll. Once you can roll in the surf, you can roll.

As for riding the waves, a good progression to remember is to move from your forward paddle stroke to catch the wave, evolving into a good, fully-rotated stern rudder with edges to hold your position and direct the boat left or right, a gradual low brace evolving from your stern rudder, with the high brace to finish when the wave impacts on your now-broached deck. I’m right handed and much stronger on my brace on that side, so I’ll generally look for a right-handed break, edge my boat as I gain momentum to direct the boat on a slight angle to the right with the break, then either ride the green water to its end, or be ready on my stronger side with a high brace. That said, it’s also a good idea to constantly work on your off-side support strokes so they’re merely less of a strength, as opposed to a weakness.

So, what to look for if you are heading to an ocean beach, as opposed to a bar break like Bundeena or Box Head? First and foremost, space. Boardriders and swimmers need to be given a wide berth, ideally a good hundred metres either side of your take-off spot. Ideally, you want to be riding the outermost break, so if you do get clobbered you’ll be upside down in deep water, and the wave will release you from its power, rather than drag you 200 metres in to shore upside down. Given that a wave will break in water around 1.3 times its height (so, a 10 ft wave will break in 13 ft of water), this means you’ve got to go looking for a sandbank formed past the beach break. If it’s bigger than four feet, with the odd bigger set, you should probably forget about a ‘fun’ session. It will more likely be an ‘experiential’ one. Look on the forecasts for wavelength, more than swell size. A long wavelength (10-14 seconds) will bring enough power to a 1 m swell to make it a very interesting surf, whereas a one and a half to two metre swell with a seven or eight second wavelength will have a lot less power. It goes without saying that any steepness in the formation of the waves is to be avoided. We can really only surf our clumsy sea kayaks in a spilling wave; dumpers are best left to the short boarders.

Don’t fool around in shore break; it will eventually hurt you. As Dr Trevor cheerfully told me a few years ago, every time you surf a sea kayak, you’re one wave closer to the one that will bust your shoulder. Playing with surf that is likely to upend you onto hard sand with almighty force is only going to shorten that inevitability. Remember, the beach-side of your boat is a no-go zone, once you’re moving. A brace on the beach side will pop your shoulder like a cork, while exiting your kayak on the beach side will get you a set of bruised shins, at best.

A helmet is a must. I don’t buy the argument that they make you brave beyond your ability and thus likely to take on something you can’t handle. The simple fact is, if you don’t need a head, you don’t need a helmet. I have had numerous encounters with paddle/kayak/rocks/sea bed which would have left me dazed or bleeding without a helmet. Instead, I stagger out of the water with a ‘what the … ‘ look on my face and a few scratches on my shiny Gath. When in doubt — that awful feeling when you realise that you’re in the wrong spot on a big wave — put your foot down. Sometimes it’s safer to power down the face and have the whitewater engulf you, than being taken over the falls after you stop paddling or try vainly to back off.

Surf kayaking is an evolving sport and a different kettle of fish altogether. In a country like Australia where great surf is abundant, I can see a time in the not-too-distant future where surf kayaking takes over from whitewater paddling, and sea kayakers have a surf kayak as their fun-boat. Surfing in a surf kayak is pure joy, with a much broader wave type available to you, and much less dire consequences when you wipe out, as the wave has much less boat to ‘hang on to’ and smash around. You do, however need a good skill set and a roll that works under pressure.

Happy paddling.

(Disclaimer: Please don’t hold me responsible if you follow my advice and get cleaned up! Surf is unpredictable and even the most experienced paddlers are humbled more often than they care to acknowledge. Before you do anything, get good instruction on proper support strokes, etiquette and technique, surf in a group and watch out for each other and other beachgoers, wear helmets and use your common sense. You only need a two foot wave to have fun and get your skills base started in the surf.) ¦

Mark Sundin is a Level 2 Sea Instructor, surf kayaker and co-founder of Expedition Kayaks.

Editor’s note: This article was developed by Mark from his posting on the Club Chatline. To join in the discussion and/or see what others have said, see the thread ‘NSWSKC Surf Training’ under ‘Trip Reports’ started on 30 Jan 2008.

Goofy’s & Natural’s Introduction to Sea Skills [70]

A long, long time ago, instructor Keith Oakford peered into his crystal ball looking for testing conditions at Gerroa. He saw wind, waves, rebound and students struggling. The dates 19-20 January 2008 flickered.

18 January: Keith consults the weather gods, who foretell of showers and strong winds. And the gods of thunder and lightning are having a tiff — looks like a good weekend. Goofy and Natural pack for their first kayaking and camping weekend, or should it be camping and kayaking? (The tent is bigger than the kayak.) Despite pouring rain, all smiles, they head off from Sydney and some while later arrive at Gerroa Fisherman’s Club where they spend an even longer time ostensibly enjoying the expansive view of the curved beach, grey ocean and even greyer sky. Could it be that they’re lingering in the club, waiting for a break in the rain so they can pitch their tent? (They end up in a hotel.)

19 January: The group meets at the boat ramp at 0800, in the rain. Instructors Keith, Lawrence Geoghegan and Adrian Clayton introduce themselves and the local surroundings, in the rain. All kit up and ride thunderous rapids out to the open sea. Revision class begins with forward stroke, paddling backwards in Indian file (lost Indians) and sweep and draw strokes. Then it’s out past the northern headland into the rebound. Conditions test Goofy’s and Natural’s hip flexibility and bracing reflexes. The wind comes up to 15-18 knots so the group returns to the shelter of the leeward side of the headland. Two by two, paddlers go out with instructors to again test their skills in the rebound. When not involved in this activity, some practise sweeping, edging and paddling backwards with and against the swell, some fight seasickness and others focus on staying in their boat. All are pushed beyond their comfort zone. For some, the return to the beach is the first time landing through surf. Everyone eventually finds the beach, demonstrating varied techniques in dismounting their craft.

After lunch the group breaks out through the surf and practises towing — single tows, v tows and Indian file. Then it’s time to officially get wet, with everyone taking turns to do wet exits and recover, using whatever method works: re-enter and roll, or for the less posy, cowboy, or feet first. One of the group has a nifty deck pack which doubles as a deck float.

Curious dolphins arrive for the T rescue show and giggle in high pitched tones about the fuss and bother humans have to go to. Lawrence chooses this moment to demonstrate clever behaviour; he has his boat tipped right over with only his beard and face appearing above the water and then sculls back up to an upright position. The show continues, with Keith demonstrating how it is better to get your chest, not just your arm, over the rescuee’s boat for stability and to protect the shoulder. Goofy and Natural wonder what the dolphins make of that advice, while the dolphins depart the human preschool.

The skills practice is never-ending, just like the rain. In the second — and last — surf landing of the day, few except instructors have good timing, so many get caught in the dump zone with varying degrees of success and failure despite the small waves. One paddler is so happy to reach solid ground he kisses it (with his forehead).

A break in the rain allows more tents to be pitched in the cosy riverside spot with sweeping forest views. Most end up in the club for dinner and the last wickets falling to India.

20 January: Goofy and Natural awake to beautiful birdsong, blue skies and a dry tent — bliss. The forecast is for a 15 knot northerly followed by a late southerly change. (We did check, Keith!) 0830: Time for wet wetsuits on and a review of surf skills including low and high brace positions for shoulder protection; the causes of and responses to broaching; the difference between leaning and edging; and how to punch through waves on the way out.

With paddlers in small groups, the instructors stand in knee then waist deep water, helping with low and high braces in up to one metre waves in the dump zone. Some students have their first experience high bracing into a tall breaking wave and surfing sideways. After a quick break on the beach Keith explains additional strategies to get ashore without catching a wave. For example, paddling on the back of a wave or paddling in backwards.

The group migrates south to find a secluded portion of beach to test new skills on bigger waves. The first view of the landing is from the sea and not the shore. Most negotiate the landing successfully. Adrian is at sea and Lawrence is on shore — gesticulating, encouraging and guiding. The unlucky 13th member of the party, while broaching heroically for an extended period on a particularly large wave, extends his high brace a bit too far and pops his shoulder. Cool heads prevail in recovery and first aid. Our fearless leader jogs the length of the beach to organise transport to the hospital.

In a more sombre environment and with military precision, instructors direct the now-more-cautious students back through the surf where everyone regroups before returning against a strong headwind. Like good ducklings, they follow mother duck (Lawrence) one by one into shore. After a debrief and an update on the condition of number 13 everyone says their goodbyes. Goofy and Natural head home.

Keith again stares into his crystal ball …

Postscript: The good news is that ‘Number 13’ could return to paddling within a week or two.

Hot tips

  • Keep those elbows in!
  • If you think you can do the drills, try them in the slop, then try them backwards in the slop, then…
  • Lean forward with your paddle flat to the deck when spearing through a wave.
  • When sweeping, keep your paddle (top hand) low.
  • The reception at the caravan park closes at 7.30 pm and the bistro at the Fisho’s club earlier than you expect.
  • It may be quicker to paddle backwards to your victim than to turn your boat around and approach forwards.
  • Scull slowly (whether in your boat or in the bar).
  • If you slather your face with sun cream, then put your sunglasses on, there’s a 5% likelihood that you will end up with a big red sunburnt stripe running up the middle of your nose.
  • Pack your triangle bandage.

Why ‘Goofy and Natural’? This refers to the way that you stand on a board (water-ski, snow/surfboard etc). A ‘Natural’ will stand with their left foot forward, using the right foot at the rear for balance and control. A ‘Goofy’ will control with their left foot. When taught to Eskimo roll to the right hand side (which relies on a right hip flick/knee lift), Goofy just couldn’t get it. (Normally Goofy picks up these coordination/motor skill activities quicker than Natural.) When Goofy tried on the left hand side — BINGO! Moral to the story: If you don’t seem to be able to roll, give the other side a try.

The 25th Anniversary of the Round Australia Kayak Expedition (RAKE) [70]

By Lee Killingworth

With a growing mob of some 200 gathering on the beach at Queenscliff at midday on fine and sunny Saturday 1 December 2007, one could sense the anticipation as the two highland pipers cranked out ‘Going Home’, a haunting Scottish melody, from Shortlands Bluff above the beach. Moments later two kayakers appeared in the bay and smiled and waved to the mob as they ran their Nordkapps on to the sand. Both paddlers were jubilant but it could easily be detected that one was far more emotional and reflective than the other. Twenty five years earlier these two then much younger men had just completed an amazing around Australia anti-clockwise kayaking adventure.

Paul ‘Knuckles’ Caffyn is both an intense and introspective character behind that increasingly craggy but cheerful visage that his peers have described as ‘magnificently dishevelled’. Others simply refer to him as ‘the Unmade Bed’.

Paul’s mate, Andy Woods, had accompanied Paul for most of the trip and when not paddling with him on some of the legs, drove and maintained the van with trailer that supported the adventure. One could sense that Paul was deeply embarrassed by the attention and applause from the crowd on the beach to celebrate the achievement of 1982. Solo around Australia expedition paddlers are far more comfortable with the company of crocs, sharks, sea snakes, stingrays, roaring tide races, tropical cyclones and desolate loneliness, than receiving accolades from their fans.

On the beach waiting for Paul and Andy to re-enact the original December 1982 arrival was the third member of the 1982 Expedition, Lesley Hadley, to celebrate with the now famous bottle of too-warm Brut de Spumante, by pouring it over their salty heads and kayaks. Now, 25 years late, the Brut was somewhat chilled, enabling the three adventurers to drink more than they spilled this time. Lesley was undoubtedly the true glue that held both Paul and the trip together emotionally and spiritually. In Paul’s darkest days of foreboding and doubt, Lesley was always supremely confident of his ability to overcome all obstacles and to keep plugging away over the tyrannies of distance, unknowns and terror.

To say simply that Paul paddled around Australia is way too understated. Let’s all think for a moment what it would be like to paddle 40 kilometres, every day, for a year, in some of the most dangerous waters on this planet. My mind still boggles when reading The Dreamtime Voyage for the third time, at some of the paddling stages Paul undertook, including 36 hours along the Baxter Cliffs in the Nullarbor and 34 hours along the Zuytdorp Cliffs in WA. Let’s also understand that this RAKE exercise has been part of Paul’s previous and continuing life for the past 40 years, with other small jaunts including around both the North and South Islands of NZ, Japan, Great Britain (with 2008 R’n’R guest speaker Nigel Dennis), the Alaskan coast over three summers, New Caledonia and most of inhospitable Greenland.

Simply put, Paul Caffyn is the most famous and respected expedition paddler in the world.

This view is also supported by fellow NSWSKC members who attended the celebrations, Stu Trueman and Dave Winkworth, not inconsiderable adventurers in their own right. With the recent sad passing of that great Kiwi mountaineer and humanitarian, Sir Edmund Hilary, it made me wonder why Paul has not been accorded the same prestige as Sir Ed. It is hoped that he does eventually achieve his deserved recognition, given his many ‘Everests’ in the paddling domain and in his continuing global contribution to developing expedition sea kayaking.

In Paul’s own words: “I have had so much pleasure from sea kayaking. For me, it has never been about setting records, but in setting goals, something tangible that would give me focus and something to strive towards achieving”.

Congratulations go to the RAKE Celebration team from the VSKC and in particular the event organisers, David Golightly and Peter Treby who persisted and badgered a reluctant Paul to agree that the event could proceed and that he would attend on the nominated day. Paul had felt that as he was still alive, the 25 year anniversary was still too soon, but then came to the view that he’d be dead and therefore couldn’t attend if it was an event dedication!

The highlights of the event were:

  • the gathering crowd on the beach as the bagpipes played on the bluff with Paul and Andy paddling the kayaks into view;
  • the celebration and speeches on top of the bluff overlooking the beach with 300 attending on a glorious summer’s day;
  • the revealing of the bronze dedication plaque in a large basalt boulder that is now mentioned as ‘Historical’ in Victoria’s Melways road directory;
  • the emotive bagpipes assisting with the carrying of Paul’s kayak ‘Lalaguli’ to the Queenscliffe Maritime Museum where it is now on permanent loan;
  • Paul’s emotional speech in the museum where he expressed his overwhelming emotion and gratitude for the recognition and effort that was made to honour and celebrate the RAKE team’s achievements, an outcome that would not have been possible without Lesley and Andy;
  • the evening at Mordialloc Sailing Club with 80 attendees, including members from the Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers (KASK), WA and Tasmanian Sea Kayak clubs and where the ‘magnificently dishevelled’ appeared in a grey three-piece suit (true) and was joined by Andy and Lesley to chat about matters from the trip that weren’t in the book; and
  • Paul’s interview by ‘Macca’ on ABC Radio the following morning.

For me it was well worth the 3000 km road trip to attend, meet Paul for the third time and enjoy in sharing and celebrating this event. The VSKC and the Queenscliffe Maritime Museum are to be warmly congratulated for their efforts as without doubt, the sea kayaking community is all the better for having celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the RAKE achievements.

You are all encouraged to visit the museum when in the area and to see ‘Lalaguli’ and the memorabilia and the bronze plaque on the bluff. Sorry, but the pipers have left for a wee dram or two. ¦

Further reading

The Dreamtime Voyage: Around Australia Kayak Odyssey by Paul Caffyn. Published by The Kayak Dundee Press, Runanga, NZ, 1994, ISBN 0-473-02349-0 (paperback).

Note: According to the Queenscliffe Maritime Museum the two spellings of Queenscliffe are historically based: ‘Queenscliff’ refers to the town, while ‘Queenscliffe’ refers to the borough which includes Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale.

Lee Killingworth is our Club VP and is well known for his radical kayak cockpit modifications to accommodate big paddlers — no kayak is safe from his angle grinder. Therefore, as a paddler, he makes a very good yachtsman.

From the President’s Deck [70]

By Michael Steinfeld

I trust that you all have had a great Christmas break. New South Wales waters are warmer than they have been and it’s a great time to practise your surfing, rolling and messing around with your kayak.

Kayak safety has always been in the foremost of my mind. Paddling in the ocean is an unforgiving environment. There is little point in being a member of the Club without taking advantage of the excellent training program that is offered. Safety standards are reinforced in the stepped grading program which ultimately leads to the qualification of Sea Skills, an Australian Canoeing award. The Club program reinforces the need to paddle a kayak that meets grade 3 standards and encourages you to have additional safety equipment such as phones, VHF radio and a locator beacon, that will assist you to meet the unexpected on the water.

It should be the goal of every paddler to be able to self-rescue. That is, to be able to get back into the kayak after a capsize without the support of another paddler. Most learn to roll or use an assisted piece of equipment like a paddle float. But you must keep on practising. This became evident to me whilst paddling alone on the south coast and then reading the American Sea Kayaker (December 2007, pp 38-41) magazine’s account of the death of the president of the California Kayak Friends club. He was paddling solo when the winds picked up and he capsized. He was unable to get back in his boat. He did not have self-rescue skills and his ability to use the paddle float was marginal.

It is just over one year that Andrew McAuley was lost at sea while kayaking solo across the Tasman. The New Zealand coroner has presented his findings and I have set out the more relevant findings in my article in the magazine.

Now that I have got that off my chest, there are exciting times ahead.

Rock’n’Roll is almost here. We have special guests Nigel Dennis, seasoned paddler and kayak designer from the UK, and John Kirk-Anderson, instructor and photographer from NZ, and there is a great opportunity to come away with improved knowledge and skill.

This magazine has been produced by a new editor, Jacqui Stone. We wish her well in her new role and wish to thank Sue Webber for her past contribution to the magazine and to the Club generally.

It is always a great privilege to contribute to a Club which has so many members willing to freely contribute their skills for the benefit of others. So if you wish to volunteer, step right up, and in return you will find that you create new friendships and develop your kayaking skills along the way.

Until next time,
Michael Steinfeld

Old Crocs Tour 2007 [70]

Yepoon to Shute Harbour

By John Wilde

After the success of the ‘Old Crocs Tour 2005’ (see NSW Sea Kayaker number 62), Arunas came up with the brilliant idea of a repeat performance, the main aim of which seemed to be to investigate how on earth we had survived the previous one. A cast of thousands was drawn up, all the young and fit rejected, on the grounds that they might leave us for dead, literally, and finally a modest group was assembled. Out of these there were several late withdrawals, when they realised just how decrepit the actual group would be and finally we were left with the original team: Arunas Pilkas, Mike Snoad and myself.

A week before departure date things were not looking good. Arunas was in hospital after a major organ failure, I was recovering from jet lag and had torn a biceps muscle surfing, and Mike had such a collection of pills and potions to keep him alive that he had no room for any camping gear or food in his boat.

As well as paddling together regularly, the three of us share a lot more in common. One thing is a physio. Our trio has turned a mundane practice into a thriving economic miracle that has to employ extra staff every time we book in. What with crocodile bites, bad backs, dislocated shoulders, Arunas’s recent shoulder reconstruction and a multitude of other ailments, this guy is on a winner. We also keep him well supplied with a succession of hair-raising tales of survival, which most people would find difficult to believe. Unfortunately we have the scars to prove them.

Finally, on a frosty Canberra winter’s morning at 4 o’clock (Arunas likes to do things this way; I think the idea is if you start a trip feeling dreadful things can only get better), the three of us met with two cars to drive up to Yepoon. How three people drive two cars 1600 kilometres is a feat in itself, but without incident and strangely, according to plan, one and a half days later we were entertaining the sea kayaking fraternity of Yepoon with tall stories in the local pub. The next day was supposed to be easy, just the car shuttle. Arunas had neglected to mention that this was another 1,000+ kilometres, to Airlie Beach and back. Then I did feel stuffed.

The next day our impressive crew was ready for departure. Before we left the beach we had to be briefed by the local military, which controls Shoalwater Bay. This was quite reassuring. “If you find an unexploded bomb … Avoid that island ’cause there’s a lost torpedo in the area … Don’t step off the beach as there could be live ammo practice going on in the bush … ” Just those sorts of mundane facts that make life interesting when you are not worrying about strong winds, huge surf and sharks. It’s good to know that in the narrow margin of safety called a beach, your only danger might be to trip over an unexploded shell.

The local paper had also been forewarned of our departure and a windswept photographer was in attendance to get a photo ready for the obituary column. (When in fact this was not required for its original intention, they reluctantly published it on page two of the local rag, together with an article on how lucky we had been to survive the trip.)

So we headed off into a stiff south-easterly, definitely a headwind, for a 15 km crossing to North Keppel Island, which in choppy conditions took about three hours. Unfortunately we lost Arunas somewhere on the way and after Mike and I had landed at a beautiful cove that matched the description of just how wonderful tropical north Queensland can be, we had a conversation about what could have gone wrong. Of course it could have been that his recently reconstructed shoulder had packed up again and he was at the mercy of the elements. Or perhaps it was major organ failure again in which case he was probably already dead. Fortunately, shortly afterwards, Arunas appeared, looking tired but happy. He had not paddled for the previous 12 months, due to injury and hospital stays but now felt that he had done the training necessary to complete the rest of the trip.

On North Keppel there is a beautifully manicured national parks campsite, with lots of facilities. If you are ever in the area I suggest that you use it. We did not, but paddled on, to Conical Island just north of Keppel, camping in thick scrub and prickly pear.

The next few days continued windy and overcast as we made our way north along what was a spectacular and unspoiled coastline, due to the amount of unexploded ordnance that anyone foolish enough to land would immediately discover, probably to their great regret. Off Port Clinton we had a close call, as this section of the coast is not sheltered by reef and there was a big swell running. Arunas and I, paddling casually and chatting away, suddenly heard a big boom just behind us as a couple of massive rollers broke onto a submerged reef. That brought us back to reality, as we paddled further out to sea and began taking notice of the conditions again. With the solid winds behind us we settled into 40-50 kilometre days with ease and progress was steady.

At Pearl Bay, another superb haven, with a number of yachts anchored in the bay, fantastic views out to Split and Dome Islands and only a couple of signs warning us about the dangers of accessing the bush beyond, we began to feel quite at home. Here Mike produced a wonderful fresh vegetable curry, which we were just about to eat, when Arunas decided it was time to give us all the details of his latest, rather grisly operation, involving a re-bore of the nether regions, which as this is a family magazine, I will not detail. Suffice to say, the food did not seem so appealing, but such are the joys of comradeship in an isolated and beautiful environment.

A visit to Dome and Split Islands was high on the agenda the next day and we were not disappointed. At high tide and in calm conditions, local paddlers go right through the split, which would be spectacular, but in rough conditions we settled for a hairy landing on the pebble beach at the entrance to the split and some photos, before heading to Supply Bay. This is the site of one of the biggest signs in the world, true to form ‘DANGER, BOMBING RANGE’.

From here we had opted for the island route, involving a series of open crossings — through some of the most beautiful islands you could wish for — including Hexham, the Percy Isles, Digby, Prudhoe, Scawfell and the Whitsundays Group. The weather had also come to the party, with clear skies and gentle winds giving perfect paddling conditions.

All these islands were stunningly beautiful; many small coves, sandy beaches, beautiful grey-green water over coral and sand, and often hoop pines on rocky coastlines right to water level; whales and turtles for regular company.

There were a number of highlights, including some big tidal races that required being in the right place at the right time, as there were certainly places running at five to six knots, way beyond the speed of a kayak, in tidal streams around and through island groups.

At Middle Percy we came across a scene that could have been out of a movie on Robinson Crusoe. In a stunning bay, fringed by coconut palms and with some of the whitest sand you could imagine, is an old ‘A’ frame hut of magnificent proportions. This has been a popular destination for yachties over many decades and most have left a marker or exhibit of some form, listing the yacht name and crew. We decided that it was high time for a rest day here and spent a wonderful day exploring various beaches and coves, finishing the day around a bonfire on the beach with a number of yachties, who even donated us some fresh fruit and bread. On one late evening, Mike and I paddled around an island, just as the sun was setting and a full moon was rising. What magic.

Our biggest crossing was from Prudhoe to Scawfell, close to 60 kilometres, which we began at 4 am to make the most of what we knew would be poor tides, heading initially for the lights of 40 or more big coal barges lining up to go into Mackay — a surreal sight in the dark. Soon after dawn the current swang against us and we began a long slog, with virtually no wind, against the tide, which in total lasted close to 10 hours. But Scawfell was to prove well worth the effort. Generally quite a rocky island, there is one very sheltered, perfect campsite, with toilets and fresh water. Although Parks and Wildlife only visit the lonely island once or twice a year, true to form, they arrived the following day, checking our permits and being impressed with our gear and preparations. I paddled around the island. The cliffs, coral, fauna and flora were fantastic, including a pair of nesting sea eagles at the top of one of the most impressive cliffs.

Sad to leave this sanctuary and knowing that we would soon be on the ‘tourist path’, it was lovely to land at Cockermouth for lunch and see a humpback whale, playing in a tidal race just off shore, entertaining us for nearly an hour as it rode the waves, surfacing regularly to get back on the front of a wave. When we left, Arunas managed to get a surf on the same wave, with this majestic creature directly behind him.

That night we camped at Carlisle and figured we should check out the resort on Brampton, just across the way. All went well — though we paid a fortune for the smallest basket of fish and chips — until I decided to have a wash, my first in two weeks, in the sink at the gents. (Arunas described it as a full-on bath, perhaps that was the problem.) At this point it was realised that we were ‘non-residents’ and we were escorted off the island. As we settled down on our $4 a night campsite we thought we had the best bargain.

Several days later we also made the mistake of calling into Hamilton Island. About the muddiest, over-crowded, littered, building site you could imagine. Why anyone would go for a holiday there I cannot imagine. Mind you, the bakery and supermarket were very well received as we feasted on fresh food. My visit to the bottle shop didn’t impress Mike and Arunas, who were both on the wagon due to ailments, but hey, someone’s got to celebrate, though I did have a headache the following day to add to our list of injuries.

So, after 18 days, the ‘Old Crocs’ had triumphed again, Yepoon to Shute Harbour, approximately 600 kilometres, through some of the nicest scenery you could wish for, in the wonderful company of good friends who can still enjoy an adventure together despite decrepitude.

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Wobble’s & Plonk’s Introduction to the NSW Sea Kayak Club [70]

Weighty text by Wobble, humour by Plonk

Fifteen of us attended the Basic Skills course which was run out of Clontarf and scheduled over three Saturdays in October/November 2007. It was organised and run by David Hipsley, Mike Eggleton, Henry Van der Kolk and Stephan Meyn, with a cameo appearance by Katrina Keane.

Day 1: From Here Our Beginnings

After a brief overview from David, Henry showed us his amazing handbag (Mirage) and how and what to stash in it for a camping trip. He had neat stow bags for first aid and other safety kit, essentials, food and camping gear. Then Mike demonstrated forward stroke technique. What a revelation — there should be a lot happening under your skirt — hips and legs all engaged in time with upper body activity to perform the stroke.

We weren’t even on the water yet and I had already got my money’s worth — wait a minute — this was free too! We forward-stroked with perfection down to Clontarf Corner to be introduced to wet exits and the finer points of swimming 50 metres in full kayaking regalia.

At the first break, the instructors had whipped out their stools and camp stoves and were sipping hot brews before I even had my PFD off. In the afternoon we practised different strokes including the sweep, draw, and stern and bow rudder. The groups were small so the instructors watched us and gave us individual tips — it was a great mixture of theory and practice. We now felt confident enough to go on our first club paddling trip (to Grotto Point)!

Day 2/3: Aren’t We Having Fun/Putting it All Together

Day 2 had been cancelled due to a forbidding weather forecast so the final session was doubly action-packed. Purchase of fine cherry tarts would prove great preparation for our first trial: the 90 minute paddle. In formation, we headed towards Bantry Bay, with the GPS in the lead setting the pace.

Despite wind and waves, a broken rudder, and frequently broadcast average and top speeds, we stuck together and achieved our goal of an average speed over five km/hr.

Arriving pink-cheeked at Chinamans Beach, we huddled in the rain and devoured our morning tea. Refuelling over, we practised various strokes. Love those low bracing turns — YEEEEEEHA! Time to review wet exits, and recover with ‘T-bone’ and self-rescues. Paddlers vied to display the most unorthodox body positions on reboarding their craft.

Next was the towing trial — each paddler deployed and untangled their towline and towed their ‘victim’, then retrieved, repacked and tried to look capable of doing it all again. Weeks of practising throwing my towline 15 m so I could hit a chip out of a seagull’s beak were to no avail.

We returned to the morning’s launch point as hardened paddlers, ready to collect autographs from our fearless leaders (log books were signed off for grade 1 and 2 skills) and sign up for future club trips into the wide blue yonder.

Thank you so much to all the instructors for sharing not only their time but also their expertise. We learned so much and were impressed by the planning and excellent instruction. What a great introduction to kayaking and the NSW Sea Kayak Club.

Hot tips

  • Spear, rotate; spear, rotate… (entering past the toes, and exiting on the wake line).
  • Paddle slowly and correctly for the first kilometre to warm up and get your technique going right.
  • Practise smooth sequences of strokes, transitioning from the end position of one stroke to the start position of the next.
  • Connect your knife using old curly telephone cord.
  • Smooth clips on your tow rope make it a lot easier to unclip and clip.
  • It’s good to have done it for fun before you have to do it for real (swim, exits, rescues, tows).
  • Thou shalt wash thy boat or be laughed at.

Wobble & Plonk have recently joined the NSW Sea Kayak Club and this is their first article. Wobble is inclined to wobble but she doesn’t fall in (not much) or fall to pieces (not yet). Despite no sign of wobbles, Plonk was the first (& second &…) of the pair to need rescuing, although those days are now in the past. They both enjoy a glass of good plonk.

Report on the Inquest into the Death of Andrew McAuley [70]

By Michael Steinfeld

On 8 February 2008, the New Zealand Coroner, Mr Savage, handed down his findings in relation to the circumstances which led to the death of our club member, Andrew McAuley. The purpose of my article is to detail some of these findings and recommendations.

On 11 January 2007 Andrew McAuley set off solo to kayak from Fortesque Bay in Tasmania across the Tasman Sea, expecting to arrive in Milford Sound, New Zealand on 8 February 2007.

Paul Hewitson of Mirage Sea Kayaks constructed Andrew’s kayak, which was 640 cm long x 62 cm wide and weighed 60 kg. Its special feature was an Andrew-designed-and-built fibreglass canopy, or pod, named Casper, attached to pivot arms allowing the canopy to sit behind Andrew on the deck during the day but at night to be swung forward and locked over the cockpit. The pod was, when locked over the cockpit, designed to keep Andrew dry and allow the kayak to self-right.

On 9 February 2007, Andrew was 67 nautical miles off Milford Sound. At 7.13 pm NZ time, he relayed by VHF radio: “This is Kayak1 … I have an emergency situation. My kayak … about 30 hours from Milford Sound … I need a rescue … I need a rescue…my kayak is sinking … “. This radio message was received by the New Zealand Maritime Operations Centre but it was garbled and difficult to understand. It was forwarded to the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand, where time was spent confirming the identity of the caller, although they were aware of Andrew’s presence in the area.

The authorities spent time confirming that ‘Kayak1′ was a distress call from Andrew and they had to estimate Andrew’s location. They took into account the time elapsed from the last confirmed position sent by Andrew 24 hours earlier, the weather forecast and oceanic water movements and currents. An extensive search eventually located Andrew’s upturned kayak 24 hours later.

The Coroner heard evidence from Andrew’s family, Paul Hewitson the builder of Andrew’s kayak (the Coroner regarded Paul as an expert witness), the police, maritime authorities and Paul Caffyn from the Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers (also an expert witness). As well, he looked at Andrew’s photos, recordings and other documents and carefully listened to Andrew’s VHF radio distress call.

In his findings the Coroner determined: “Andrew died from drowning on or about 9th February 2007 when he became accidentally separated from his capsized kayak”. The Coroner pieced together the likely scenario based on Paul Hewitson’s evidence of Andrew’s likely fate.

Paul surmised that it is clear that Andrew capsized while paddling. The weather conditions at that time were described by a police officer as “south-westerly 25 knots, the sea trying, with a short sharp chop.” There was a full 10 litre dromedary bladder of sea water on the kayak’s foredeck which Andrew could desalinate manually within the cockpit. The bladder increased the kayak’s instability and made it more difficult to right. One of the pod’s arms had broken earlier in the trip. When the kayak tipped, the pod went into the water and filled, “making it difficult if not impossible to right the kayak”. Andrew, exhausted from his attempts to right the kayak, undid the rear hatch cover and retrieved the radio. As Andrew was not tethered to his kayak he would have held onto the kayak with one hand and the VHF in the other, until he was swept away from his kayak. “Andrew’s chilling last words were: ‘I’ve fell off … the sea, I’m lost … ‘.”

The Coroner found that Andrew was a very experienced sea kayaker who had completed a number of significant voyages, which included his 530 km crossing of the Gulf of Carpentaria when he had to sleep in the kayak. About the Tasman journey he found, “The journey itself, up to the point of disaster, so close to destination, was a remarkable achievement and was a testament to Andrew McAuley’s planning, fitness, skill, fortitude, and above all, mental strength.”

However, the Coroner adopted a number of criticisms made by the Australian and Tasmanian Marine Authorities and the police prior to the commencement of the trip. An operation plan and risk assessment was required and reviewed by the Tasmanian authorities. Andrew outlined that his primary mode of communication would be one daily contact at 5.30 pm (Sydney time) by SMS on the satellite phone and he would relay his location by GPS beacon. He also carried an EPIRB with GPS capability, a short range VHF radio, and a GPS tracking device.

However, the authorities reviewing his trip plan prior to departure commented: “No provision appears to have been made for on voyage support or rescue. (Escort/recovery craft). Once a day reporting seems inadequate, noting that he has no dedicated support, you can drift a long way in 24 hours; suggest more frequent reporting to his nominated contact list”.

Also, reliance on satellite phones and GPS all required backup battery power, which was insufficient to run such a long trip. The Coroner noted that Andrew did not use the GPS beacon appropriately to automatically send out his position, rather he turned it on manually every day, requiring him to remove the device from its waterproof container. (This was to save battery power.) The beacon broke after three days following a capsize.

Andrew should have had a radio call sign in his plan, which would have identified him easily and would have alleviated the confusion regarding the family’s initial doubt as to the caller’s identity. He did not use the international emergency call of ‘mayday’ to convey his urgent need for assistance. There had been a vessel a couple of hours’ sailing time away which could have provided immediate assistance.

Andrew should have included a complete list of equipment in the operations plan: “This became important, including whether a drysuit was carried, and this affected an assessment of possible survival times in water and was significant to rescue planning.”

The Coroner noted: “The EPIRB was not activated. Had it been activated the kayak would have been able to be pinpointed and identified within minutes. A helicopter would have been asked to undertake a mission within minutes of receipt of the distress beacon, and been at the location in less than an hour. One can only speculate as to why the beacon was not activated … “.

The Coroner canvassed other issues relating to the time delay in initiating the rescue, the disclosure to the family of part of Andrew’s distress call and the rescue process itself, and made a number of recommendations to be used by the rescue authorities in similar situations.

It is clear that having an emergency beacon or EPIRB which would have followed Andrew when out of the kayak, would have likely made all the difference. Paul Caffyn from the Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers gave evidence that when paddling in a remote area, emergency communication equipment (EPIRB, VHF radio, satellite phone) should be carried, either be attached to a life jacket which would be donned in deteriorating weather conditions or contained within a bale-out bag which could be attached to the life jacket or tethered to the paddler in deteriorating conditions.


Paul Caffyn adds his advice gleaned from Freya Hoffmeister:

“Freya … who completed a South Island kayak circumnavigation on 2 January 2008, carried her 406EPIRB, VHF radio, light and flares attached to her PFD. For launching and landing, Freya wore both a helmet and PFD, but in calm conditions the helmet was stored on deck aft of the cockpit, and her PFD forward of the cockpit. I learned a valuable lesson from Freya when I asked her for the reason why a carabiner was permanently attached to the tape loop release of her sprayskirt. When her PFD was stored on the forward deck, it was always clipped into this sprayskirt carabiner. In the event of a sudden out-of-boat event, the PFD remained attached to the paddler via the sprayskirt tape loop, thus contact was never lost with the EPIRB, VHF radio, light or flares.”

Paul adds: “Andrew’s PFD was an inflatable model and unless a PFD is inflated it will offer no support at all. In an inflated PFD, Andrew would have increased his chance of being found, even if he had succumbed to the cold. With a combination of survival suit and inflated PFD, his survival time in the water would have increased. Separated from the capsized kayak, without an inflated PFD, not wearing an immersion suit, with legs almost atrophied after 30 days in the cockpit, cold water wind, chill from the 20-25 knot southerly wind, and breaking chop, I believe 60 to 90 minutes would be pushing the limit for Andrew’s survival.”