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.