Wooden Boat Event [71]

By Trevor Costa

It all started with a conversation with Dick Johnstone. We were swapping ideas as to the best way to restore his modified Bear Mountain Design wooden sea kayak. This kayak can carry enough gear to supply an army and under sail could be a contender for the Sydney to Hobart, but it’s beginning to show the usual wear and tear from many weekend paddles and several extended expeditions.

Not long into the conversation, both of us realized we didn’t have a clue how to get it back into shape. I started raving about how wooden boat owners need to get together to swap ideas and techniques. Dick said he had often thought along the same lines.

The result was the wooden boat event held on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin on Sunday 20 April 2008. Canberra turned on a fantastic Autumn morning and besides a respectable fleet of wooden sea kayaks and Canadian canoes (Dick had just finished a fine example of a wooden stripper Canadian canoe), we had been lucky enough to snare the interest of the Traditional Boat Squadron of Canberra. Squadron members brought along an assortment of wooden put-puts, rowing skiffs and sailing boats. Included was the magnificent two-masted schooner of the Commodore of the Squadron, Iain Kerr. Iain had bought this vessel in New Zealand and had it shipped over.

Squadron members proved to be as colourful and full of character as their beautifully restored vessels. We were soon swapping stories. It was great to hear of their trips, including an extended journey down the Murray. Chugging down the great river in a restored put-put, camping on board; what a great way to explore a waterway. But not as good as paddling of course.

To join the Traditional Boat Squadron you have to meet certain criteria; your wooden boat’s hull must be of traditional design and/or the engine greater than 30 years old. Well I kind of figure the hard chined Greenland inspired design of my wooden kayak fits the hull criteria and the engine is definitely more than 30 years old. Can’t thank them enough for the support they so generously offered to make the event such a great day.

It wasn’t long before club member Matt Leonard brought out his Greenland paddles and after some shoreline coaching from Nancy Fitzsimmons on the finer points of paddling with a stick, I hit the water. While Matt ran circles around me in his furniture quality Shearwater kayak, I came to the conclusion those Inuits could have done much better with a carbon Mako. But as Matt and Nancy soon demonstrated, it’s much more about technique than strength.

Ultimately, the day served to demonstrate the camaraderie that can exist, if given the opportunity, between the owners and builders of different types of small wooden vessels. The only downside of the day was that everyone was so interested in checking out, and trying out, each others’ boats that the finer points of wooden boat restoration got overlooked. Dick’s kayak still needs work, but at least he now has some inspiration to continue the search for the right technique to finish the job. The day was such a success there is talk of making it an annual event.

A big thanks to all the club members who turned up on the day, including Virginia Buring, Helen Eddy-Costa, Nancy Fitzsimmons, Matt Leonard, John Lipscombe, Margot Todhunter and Terence Uren.

 

Whitsundays Touring With Kids [71]

What Were We Thinking?

By Cathy Miller

‘Can I go home?’ Mr Cool begged me. It’s day one. We’ve just arrived at a beautiful deserted camp spot on Henning Island after a glorious four hour paddle from Shute Harbour with almost no wind and near perfect conditions, and my son wants to go home. And this was a good day …

My husband Ian and I had been dreaming about paddling the Whitsundays for two years, never having been before. Just one small problem. We have two kids. Should we leave them at home, or take them with us? Could we combine our passion with kayaking with a family holiday? Let’s face it, the kids were not exactly champing at the bit to go kayaking with us at any other time. We had to make sure we could do the trip safely and we also knew that we risked turning them off kayaking forever.

After many chats to other sea kayakers and discussions with Neill and Hayley Kennedy from Salty Dog Sea Kayaking based in Airlie Beach, we decided to give it a go. If we could take the kids on a kayak touring trip anywhere, it seemed like the Whitsundays were ideal. Tropical weather, natural beauty, well serviced by boats, plenty of access to alternative routes and sheltered harbours should the winds blow up and if worst came to worst there’s Neill’s barge and other boats that could take us out. So we gave the kids the option. Come with us, or stay with the grandparents for two weeks. They chose to come. We knew what they were in for — they didn’t.

Day 1: A beautiful start

Shute Harbour to Northern Spit, Henning Island — 16 km, av. speed 7 kph

It was school holidays, mid October 2007. The deal we struck with Mr Cool (14) and Lulu (12)* was that we would kayak tour for six days then spend another four to five days at Airlie Beach in a ‘resort’.

So after a day spent buying food and packing, we dragged our two reluctant paddlers away from the hotel swimming pool and caught a maxi-taxi with all our bags to Shute Harbour. The reality started to dawn on them as we crammed the boats full. At the last minute, we ditched a bag of food that was largely full of snacks for the kids — a decision we came to regret later. To this day, Lulu still talks wistfully about the marshmallows and Oreo biscuits we left behind.

We’d hired two Eco-Niizh plastic doubles for six days with a scheduled water drop-off at the halfway mark at Whitehaven Beach, and a pick-up by barge scheduled seven days later from Crayfish Beach on Hook Island.

Neill and Hayley had been wonderful in helping us plan a realistic paddling schedule with kids and checked our itinerary around the tides, with suggestions for good places to paddle and camp. We hired a VHF radio and also took our mobile phones (we knew we had limited coverage, but they were useful on Henning Island). We allowed four litres of water per person per day, and had around 50 litres for the next three days. Salty Dog had supplied the water bladders and plastic bags, and we’d supplemented these with some of our own dry bags. We were able to leave all our suitcases and ‘land clothes’ in their safe storage at Shute Harbour.

We set off around 11.00 am, making the most of the perfect weather and spotting our first sea turtles as we headed out into the sparkling turquoise water. Ian and I were thrilled to get such good weather to start, but both kids found the paddling tedious and hard work. I don’t know what they were complaining about, Ian and I reckon they only did a single stroke to around a thousand that we both did. They got bored in the boats, and were happy to land. Lulu found the secluded campsite delightful and ran around in great excitement, enjoying the freedom of camping on a non-crowded beach with beautiful white sands. We even had a visit that evening from a tree kangaroo. Mr Cool however was feeling trapped — five more days of this!

Mr Cool wrote in my trip diary that night: ‘If you go on another trip like this, be sure not to drag me along (bring sails).’ Lulu’s comment: ‘Wuss’.

That night as we lay in the dark, there was suddenly a great commotion outside the tents — a very bizarre animal or bird noise. Lulu was fast asleep and didn’t even notice, but she awoke with a start as Ian ran around the campsite in his undies screaming like a lunatic, ‘It’s all right kids, everything’s fine. EVERYTHING’S FINE!’ We were off to a great start.

Day 2: Hell on kayaks

Henning Island to Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island — 21 km (4 km extra!)

My stomach twisted into a knot at 0600 when I heard the wind howling around through the tent. We’d planned an early start ahead of the wind change — the forecast was for 10/15 knots rising to 15/20 knots in the afternoon. But already we could see small white caps ahead. We packed up quickly, and decided to go on. I hadn’t anticipated that I would feel so anxious about taking my beloved children into this environment.

We went straight into a headwind, slowing us down to only 4-5 km/h. Mr Cool was miserable, Lulu cold but bearing up. It was tough paddling, but within our capabilities with the kids. It was never dangerous, but Lulu found Fitzalan Passage scary as we plunged into some small breaking swell. This was not what we had in mind! Thank God for the stability of the Eco Niizh plastic boats; I never felt in any danger of capsize. They may be slugs to paddle compared to our nice sleek glass boats at home but they were definitely the right boat for the job with less experienced paddlers on board.

We battled on with our unhappy passengers in the afternoon after a lunch stop. Unfortunately we’d made an error when loading the map data into the GPS, and overshot the campsite. This cost us an extra hour and several extra kilometres paddling at the end of the day. We had to double back to Chance Bay, battling the swell once more. We arrived quite late, then found the camping area was up the hill, so we had to lug everything up the steps. There are picnic tables, but no loo (going in the bush was ‘totally disgusting’ declared my daughter). To top it all off, Mr Cool moaned all night from muscle pain and just sheer misery. Ian ended up in the tent with him, and Lulu ended up coming into my tent with a stomach ache, so none of us got a good nights sleep. I think if the barge had turned up the next morning, we’d have all jumped on it.

Day 3: It can only get better from here …

Chance Bay to Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island — 8 km approx.

Day 2 had definitely been the low point of the trip. We acknowledged it was tougher than we expected, and we had a long talk about how a negative attitude guarantees that you will have a bad time — and about how camping and kayaking challenge you in so many different ways. Yeah, right, another lecture from Mum and Dad. The big question — if he can’t go home, can Mr Cool manage to have a good time for the rest of the trip stuck in a kayak with his parents without his electronic toys or creature comforts?

We got off to a slow start, leaving at 9.45, which put the tide lower than expected. This gave us an ‘exciting’ ride through some rocks, especially when Mr Cool stopped paddling mid-way through running a gauntlet while I was using a steering stroke in the back!

Solway Passage needs to be treated with care, especially if there are strong winds going against the tide. We had an easy run through with a rising tide and SE winds finally blowing us exactly where we wanted to go. We arrived at the beautiful but crowded Whitehaven Beach at around 11 am. It really is a magnificent spot, despite the crowds. The sand is 99.89% pure silica — thought to be due to a longshore drift depositing sand from the south — so pure that it was used in the Hubble telescope.

We set up camp while the kids swam and played on the pristine white sand. Even Mr Cool couldn’t resist his sister’s games when she asked him to help bury her in the sand, turning her into a sand mermaid.

Usually we like camping on our own, but strangely enough, the contact with other people was just what we needed. Having other people around helped ‘normalise’ the trip for the kids, and many campers expressed their admiration to the kids for having kayaked so far already. However, we were not on the beach when the Salty Dog barge came at midday on the high tide and dropped off two other campers. The barge left without dropping off our next 44 litres of water as planned. Neill may have intended us to share the water containers he dropped off with the other campers, but they thought it was only intended for them. We tried radioing Neill from a commercial operator’s barge, but no luck. We counted up our water — just 4 litres left — and there is no water available on any of the islands.

Just as we were wondering what to do, a fellow camper called Anthony came over and gave us 20 litres of water, saying he’d heard what had happened. That act of kindness from a total stranger completely lifted our spirits.

The real turning point for Mr Cool came when he and Ian decided to make a sail. They went ‘hunting’ along the beach and came back with a broken elasticised tent pole. Perfect for a mast and boom! They cut up the spare groundsheet, added ropes and somehow bound the whole thing together with tape. It was a miracle of invention, and Mr Cool was rightly proud of it. The kids were finally having fun!

Day 4: Rest day, Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island

We expected that Salty Dog would come back again this day with the water, but Anthony offered us another solution. He and his family were going out that day in his motor boat and he would need two trips to get his whole family and gear out. He gave us another 10 litres before he left, then he personally refilled a container with another 20 litres of water and phoned Salty Dog for us while at Shute Harbour to let them know and save them the trip. He’d now supplied us with 50 litres — plenty to last the rest of the trip!

Lulu wrote in my diary: ‘Anthony was really nice and he helped us out so much’. His kindness left a big impression on the kids and we were truly grateful. It was more than just the actual water — it was the boost to our spirits and morale.

After lunch, we paddled across to Haslewood Island to snorkel, giving Mr Cool and Ian a chance to try out the sail. It worked! Ian paddled and Mr Cool held the sail up and used the ropes (heck, he wasn’t paddling anyway!). We finally managed to find the coral. Unlike NSW where you find fish in bombies or around the rocks, the coral gardens here can often be found smack bang in the middle of the bay, where you’d least expect them. It was wonderful snorkelling at Chalkies Beach.

On the paddle back, we came across a whirlpool. Lulu and I paddled into it and it spun us a complete 360 degrees. That evening other paddlers from the ACT arrived in their Mirage kayaks (also NSWSKC members!). We had no luck again that night getting the weather forecast on the VHF radio, but tuned in at 7.30 pm with the other paddlers to their shortwave radio. The forecast for the next day was 15-20 knots SE. As the commercial operator said to us, ‘You’ll be laughing now, downwind all the way to Hook Island’.

Day 5: Downwind all the way!

Whitehaven Beach to Peter Bay, Whitsunday Island — 12 km

As promised, the wind was behind us. We had a rusty start, didn’t manage to get off until 10 am. The sail made a huge difference — Ian and Mr Cool flew down to the end of Whitehaven Beach, while Lulu and I slogged along behind. Mr Cool was quite the sail-master and it worked a treat!

We stopped at the end of the beach and walked up to the point to take in the picture-postcard views of Hill Inlet. Setting off after lunch, rather than paddle the more sheltered but longer route around the bay, we were confident enough to head straight to the next point, to take advantage of the following sea as the winds were only about 10 knots.

We arrived at Peter Bay as planned about two hours after the high tide. This beach can only be accessed at high tide, as it has a long low tidal flat. Any thoughts of snorkelling disappeared after Lulu counted 21 stingrays. We camped that night with two other kayakers, Sandy and Jordan. By now, the normally intrepid Lulu was covered in mozzie bites and having trouble sleeping, so she ended up in the tent with me again. In fact, I’m not sure if Ian and I spent a single whole night together in our tent the whole trip!

Day 6: Not all high tides are equal

Peter Bay, Whitsunday Island to Crayfish Beach, Hook Island — 12 km

High tide was at 6.30, and we’d estimated that we’d be OK, seeing as we’d arrived the day before two hours after high tide. Think again. High tide was at least half a metre less than the previous afternoon’s tide. At 6.30 Sandy and Jordan were already packing their fibreglass boat as the tide was rapidly disappearing. They were gone in half an hour. Ian and I just looked at each other and sighed. We knew it would take us at least two hours to feed everyone and get going.

The kids helped us shuffle dry bags and gear down to the disappearing water’s edge, at least 300 metres. Ian and I dragged the boats along the sand and packed them at the water’s edge. Even as we packed the boats around 9.30, the water kept disappearing and we had to urge the kids to hurry.

It was smooth sailing on the water again, with pleasant 10-15 knots winds behind us. It was so spectacular and beautiful, we were all in awe of the natural beauty. Hook Passage is another narrow tidal stream with strong currents, and a reputation for flukey winds and overfalls. The best time to cross is at slack tide, which in our case was at 11.30 am so our timing was perfect. At slack tide and with low wind, it was an easy crossing.

We stopped at Hook Island Resort to visit the underwater observatory and for a treat — bought lunch! We were also able to check the weather report. It looked good. That afternoon, we still had another six kilometres or so to go to Crayfish Beach where we were due to be picked up in the morning by Salty Dog. We offered the kids the option of camping at Hook Island Resort instead ($30 per tent) if they’d had enough. To their credit, they both opted to keep going to the end. I was so proud of them — Mr Cool had really swung around, and Lulu was displaying true grit despite being covered in bites.

The final leg was truly spectacular. With almost no swell, this was paddling at its finest. The turquoise sea and the dark volcanic rocks rising straight up were a landscape I hadn’t expected to see in Australia.

Crayfish Beach is tucked in on the south side of Mackerel Bay South. Neill had told us this was his favourite spot. On pulling in, I could see why. It really is the most magnificent harbour, straight out of Gondwanaland. We set up camp and had our best snorkel in the clearest water we’d seen yet with a huge abundance of marine life. The only downside was the ferocious march-flies — apparently they’d only just arrived the week before. Note to self: Next time kayak in September! However, it was such a beautiful spot, and a fitting end to our trip.

Day 7: Back to the land of the flushing loo

Neill’s barge arrived at high tide early in the morning and took us and some other campers out. Even the resilient Lulu declared she was ‘over it’, and looking forward to getting out. We retraced our entire journey on the barge, picking out our campsites and remembering our trip. When we arrived back at Shute Harbour, Hayley noticed the change in our kids. She commented that she’d often seen the same pattern with teenagers, who started off as reluctant paddlers on ‘Mum and Dad’s dream’ but ended up enjoying themselves.

Once in the apartment at Shute Harbour, no one wanted to budge except to go to the swimming pools. The kids raced around the apartment exclaiming in delight: ‘Water in a tap!’, ‘Flushing loos!’, ‘A pillow’, ‘A bed’, ‘A shower!’. They really had developed an appreciation of the home comforts they normally took for granted.

The verdict

The verdict on paddling with kids? Well, it was tough on them for sure, but I’m proud of how they dealt with it. Mr Cool really had to dig deep, but to his credit he dealt with the challenges and could finally see how the kayaks enabled us to have unique access to the country. The sheer beauty of the place won him over. Making the sail empowered him and gave him a way he could really contribute to the trip. Lulu showed real courage and resilience and we may yet make one sailor and one paddler from our progeny. Maybe one day they’ll look back on this trip and appreciate that they had quite a unique experience. After all, it sure beats going to Hamilton Island and spending a week in a resort swimming in pools, doesn’t it, kids? Kids?!

As for Ian and I, it was often hard work, and we were both a lot more anxious than we’d expected about taking our darlings out to sea. The constant anxiety took the edge off our enjoyment. The parental instinct is very strong, and more than anything else we wanted to protect them and ensure their wellbeing. We did feel we’d reduced the risks as much as we could, and we certainly didn’t put them in any dangerous situations. In hindsight I think we were very lucky with the weather, having only one blowy day the whole trip, but had the weather turned bad, we would have stayed put.

So would we recommend paddling with the kids? There’s no easy answer. But the bottom line is that we got to kayak the Whitsundays and we couldn’t have done that without them. We wanted to be able to offer our kids a unique experience that was completely outside of the normal type of family holiday, and we certainly achieved that. It was a great experience to share as a family and we enjoyed watching them both develop their resilience as the trip wore on. The Whitsundays is a mecca for kayakers, and we’ll certainly be back. Now for planning the next trip — in single kayaks and without our children.

Tips

  • Salty Dog Sea Kayaking were invaluable in helping us plan our trip, itinerary and supplies, and told us about the best snorkelling spots. Both Hayley and Neill went out of their way to ensure we had the supplies we needed, and we were able to hire stinger suits, gas bottles and additional camping supplies we needed as well as the kayaking gear. Being able to take the barge home also helped us plan a great one-way trip and gave us flexibility and (within limits) a safety net should the weather have turned.
  • We should have been waiting on the beach for the barge when it was due with our water drop-off midway through the trip. It was not critical at Whitehaven Beach as there were other campers and commercial boats around with water but as there is no phone communication there, it would have been better if we’d been able to speak to them directly on the barge itself.
  • The VHF radio was a good back-up for communicating should we have run into trouble, however we did not find it adequate for checking weather reports — this actually contributed a great deal to my anxiety. We were able to use our mobile phones on Henning to check the weather, and we got weather reports from other paddlers and from commercial boat operators at Whitehaven Beach. There was also a weather report available for all to read at Hook Island Resort. Next time however I’d take a VHF as well as a shortwave radio with an external antenna to ensure we caught the twice-daily BOM weather reports.
  • You have to plan your trip around the tides, especially beach access and crossing passages, and remember that it’s not just high tide, but how high the tide is that counts.
  • We put a lot of effort into finding interesting meals, not just bushwalking style dehydrated foods, and the meals were a real highlight of the day. Hot chocolate and chai latte sachets gave a quick lift on arriving at camp.
  • A scheduled rest-day in the middle of the trip gave the kids a much-needed break and a chance for us to relax and have fun.
  • We packed each day’s food in a separate bag, plus we had a ‘floating bag’ for the leftovers and the extras like snacks and hot drink sachets. Each night we only had to pull out the two food bags.
  • You need to store the food and garbage at night in the kayaks to prevent rats and goannas getting it.
  • Salty Dog supplied us with 5-litre and 10-litre water bladders, which we filled at Shute Harbour before leaving. We carried the bladders in our cockpits and when the water was used up, they packed down to a small space. We took our own individual water bottles and hydration packs for use on the boats and on land, which we refilled from the bladders.
  • A ‘soft bucket’ full of sea water was great at camp for washing. A second one would have been handy to dedicate to dishes. Other paddlers suggested adding a touch of bleach to the water to kill bugs.
  • We used an anti-bacterial hand wash religiously before all meals (doesn’t need water), and only had one incident where my daughter had an upset stomach.
  • You really do need to tie your boats up every night.
  • It would have been good to have had waterproof cases so the kids could each take their iPod on the boat.
  • Even though it wasn’t really stinger season, we didn’t want to risk it. We hired stinger suits from Salty Dog and used them every time we swam except at Whitehaven Beach where there were other people around.
  • The snorkelling was a real highlight of the trip. We took our own masks, snorkels and flippers, but there is the option to hire these if you don’t want to bring your own.

* Not their real names

Notes on a Solo Paddle [71]

By John Wilde

It was a surreal moment watching the bubbles rise to the surface and realising that that is where I should have been. Added to this, the sight of the sail, no longer helping me skim across the water, but holding me, like a large sea anchor, firmly in the inverted position, despite my efforts to roll. Then the inevitable swim, a call to Mike for assistance, as he manoeuvred around in the choppy, breaking swell and strong winds, coming to my assistance with care. A short time later I was back in the boat, pushing away on the foot pump to remove water and gain more stability, ready to continue the trip, but this gave me some real food for thought. I was planning a 600 km solo trip along the Tasmanian coast in a few weeks time. What went wrong and how could I avoid this happening again somewhere in Bass Strait or beyond? In the long run, this capsize and the measures I took as a result, certainly made my trip much safer.

Firstly, some more on the given situation. Mike Snoad and I were camped at Merrica River for a couple of nights on a casual trip into the Nadgee region. Earlier that day, despite a strong southerly being forecast later in the afternoon, we left a standing camp at Merrica, and with empty boats intended to paddle as far south as we could before the southerly hit and then ride the winds back north. We reached Little River, about 15 km south and landed to check out this lovely spot when the southerly hit early, but we still expected a good ride home on the forecast 20-25 knot winds.

On the way south there had been a reasonable swell from the north, which, when hit by the southerly front, soon kicked up into quite an ugly sea, not big, but very confused and breaking all over the place. Added to this, unbeknown to us at this stage, the wind warning had been upgraded by another five knots, 25-30 with possible stronger gusts.

An empty boat is always less stable than a loaded one. Mike and I were also using our biggest sails and we were both hanging on, having a good ride, but close to the edge. As the wind was straight to our backs, I found myself regularly gybing, a quite unstable manoeuvre, as the sail flips from side to side. The boat was also pitching a great deal in the confused swell and I was having difficulty keeping a straight course even with the rudder. Of course, we should probably have dropped our sails at this point, but the thrill of the ride had infected us and we seemed to be flying. So suddenly I was sideways to a breaking wave, the wind howling in my sail and in an instant I was upside down.

Now the soul-searching began. Should I really be heading off on my own down a coast particularly known for its rough weather and inhospitable outlook? Well, I like adventure and the Tassie coast is well known to me. This is a trip I had wanted to do for some time. So now, how to minimise the risk?

Firstly, our sails were quite overpowered in the 30 knot winds. Mike makes two sail sizes. The smaller of these fits on a mast at least 30 cm shorter than my current mast and as well as giving better stability, it is much more suitable for regular strong wind sailing, so that was easy to fix with a change of mast and sail.

Secondly, for the last four years or so I have been using a propeller paddle, much more efficient for forward paddling, but hard to brace with and generally more unstable to use. Back to a standard, spooned blade, more stable for bracing into a breaking wave and generally more predictable to use when the going gets tough.

My boat, a Nadgee, has been fitted with a rudder most of its life, but, like all boats with a similar set-up, the stern is often out of the water in following swells and the rudder blade is regularly clear of the water. As a Christmas/going away present, Mike made me a much longer rudder blade, probably in the region of six or so centimetres longer than a standard blade. This bites much better in a following sea and is generally in the water, being much more effective than a standard rudder, so I have more control, particularly under sail in a following sea. (If you want to get technical, a rudder is probably best mounted further forward than the stern of the boat, but that raises lots of technical issues that have not yet been resolved.)

Next, the Nadgee I usually paddle is a lightweight version, the first production boat out of the mould and Dave Winkworth’s first use of carbon/Kevlar. It is close to 10 years old and I love it, but it is light and easily damaged in collisions or big surf. I seem to remember it weighed in at 18 kg when it first came out of the mould. My wife’s Nadgee is a much more recent version, still carbon/Kevlar, but a good three kilograms or so heavier and much more robust, so it was easy to change boats for this trip. My main thoughts were about dragging it up remote beaches fully loaded on my own, or landing in big surf but I am sure it saved me from much more damage, probably to my person, in the shark attack (see Issue 70) that I had not in fact allowed for in my preparations.

In calm conditions I regularly paddle with my buoyancy aid strapped to the deck within easy reach. I find paddling 60 km a day with good style really difficult whilst wearing two large pieces of foam strapped close to my body, especially in tropical conditions where heat can be a real problem. For the Tassie trip I kept my buoyancy aid handy at all times and also kept my HF radio, EPIRB and a flare in the back pocket.

Even if you subscribe to the Laurie Ford view that if you get yourself into a situation, you should be capable of getting yourself out on your own, if shit happens, in this day and age, someone is going to spend a lot of time looking for you and you owe it to them, if not your loved ones, to be found or assisted as soon as possible. As soon as it got rough, or the wind started to come up, my first concern was to don the PFD and emergency pack.

I was able to contact my wife virtually every day by CDMA phone and as she was staying in Launceston before picking me up in Hobart, it was easy to let her know my exact movements.

My phone was also in a waterproof pack, so contacting her in an emergency should have been easy. All the local fishermen were using CDMA for communication and hopefully ‘next-G’ will be at least as good.

Finally I bought a top of the line paddle float, something I have never used before as my roll is usually strong — and had it strapped to the back deck the whole time. It’s always handy to have an insurance policy!

So did I need all these preparations? As is the wont for Tassie, I regularly paddled in big breaking swells and about half the trip was completed in a BOM strong wind warning. If you go to Tassie this is what you must expect. On three occasions I had to take down my small sail as the wind was just too strong to sail in and the real danger was having my paddle ripped from my hands.

On one of these days, a 60 km hop due to big, dumping surf south of St Helens, the forecast the previous night was 15-20 knot NE winds. In actual fact it blew up to 30 knots from the north-east before a 60 knot westerly kicked in and although I was somewhat sheltered by the land, for a while it was touch and go survival paddling in probably 45+ knot, extremely gusty winds, to make it back to shore. In these conditions I was glad of every precaution I had taken.

If you are planning a solo trip I hope that these notes will give you a few tips and help you to paddle more safely.

There is something very special about a solo trip on the sea if you know what you are doing, but in the end, much comes down to previous experience and matching your skills to the conditions. It would not be good to get this wrong, as the sea is an unforgiving mistress.

Cheers
Wildey

The Slowest…Paddle…Ever… [71]

By Stephan Meyn

I’d had my birthday that week and to celebrate it we decided we might look forward to some fishing. (I haven’t fished in yonks and generally am unsuccessful at that.) That at least was the tentative plan when the following message popped up on the club’s chatline:

‘Hello, My name is Daniel Esposito and I am writing to you to see if somebody in the Club can help our cause. I will briefly explain what we are trying to achieve. Currently I coach Kaise Stephan who is training to swim the English Channel this July, we have been well underway the past two years and we are in the final 10 weeks of our training program. We are doing a trial swim from Cronulla to Bondi, 35 kilometres in the next couple of weeks depending on conditions. However we are trying to find someone who can paddle a surf ski to accompany Kaise.’

Now I like helping people, so without much thought I dropped a line in response to the call for assistance. The next day brought more detail:

‘We are actually doing the swim this Sunday, 11th May’ and ‘We will be looking at starting around 5.30 am. Kaise will be swimming 35 kilometres, so we are looking at finishing around 6 pm; I am just making you aware of the time, as it is a long day for all.’

Yikes, it’s in two days from now and it’s 12 hours!

I suddenly felt I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I needed help so I started calling around my fellow lunatics to see who could help. Asking someone to come for a 12 hour paddle didn’t seem outright difficult — but on Mothers Day?

As luck had it I was successful on the third try; Tony Hughes, whom I’d just met on two previous paddles. His response was: ‘Twelve hours — yeah I think I can make that’. He was either deluded or he knew what he was talking about. Either way I was not going to let him get away! I probed a bit more:

Q: ‘We’ll have to get up really early to do the car shuffle, 3 am or so’.

A: ‘Yeah, I am fine with that’

Q: ‘We’ll have to do a surf landing at Bondi Beach. Do you know how to do surf landings?’

A: ‘Yeah, that should be alright’.

I’d run out of reasons for pulling out. I emailed Daniel and let him know we were on. We planned to paddle the distance with one paddler at a time tagging the swimmer and the other getting into the support boat to rest.

Daniel explained further: ‘The reason we need a canoe paddler is to tow a very lightweight shark shield, to constantly stay near the swimmers (two). Kaise has a support swimmer, Ryan Ainley, who is only 15 years old. He pooped his pants the last swim as we all saw a shark.’

Well this was getting more interesting, now I was going to drag a marine version of an electric cattle prod behind my kayak.

I called Rob Mercer, Chief Instructor extraordinaire, to see if he could give me some sage advice. His response was: ‘Twelve hours in the kayak? Well I think a major problem is going to be sea sickness’. God almighty, this was becoming as attractive as a cockroach on a cream cheese cake.

On Saturday night I tried to pack what I needed. Lots of water, food, dry bag for clothes at the other end and thermals. Marissa looked at the thermal pants and queried if I really wanted to wear long undies under board shorts. ‘What will people think when they see you at Bondi Beach?’

The next morning, the alarm went off at 3 am and I almost killed myself by dragging the light off the headboard while trying to silence the alarm. It could only get better.

I packed up and Tony showed up on the dot at the pre-arranged time.

We drove to Bondi where I dropped my car (untimed parking spaces are quite a distance from the beach there) then hopped into Tony’s ute and we were off to Wally’s Wharf at Dolans Bay. During the drive Tony suggested a change to the plan — instead of paddling together for 12 hours we’d do it in halves: him from Port Hacking and me taking over after Prince Henry Head. In his distinctive style he argued: ‘This is going to be boring as batshit.’ Well, he had a point.

We arrived at 5 am and the support boat was at the ramp being readied. We said hello to everyone and started preparing our boats. Slowly the rest of the team trickled in including family and relatives. They were all wonderfully warm people with such a positive attitude that it was infectious. Kaise showed up a little later and was getting prepared, which consisted of having white cream applied all over his body. This was to reduce heat loss and avoid tissue damage by water. In the end he looked like he’d jumped into an oversized jar of sun lotion.

Daniel explained the protocol. Since this was training for the crossing of the channel Kaise had to follow the protocol defined by the English Channel Swim Association. He wasn’t allowed to touch the boat nor the kayak. And every 40 minutes the coach would blow a whistle and Kaise would stop and be fed. The food would come out on a long pole with a cup. Drink followed in a squirt bottle which could be drawn back by a string.

It was 6 am and we pushed off. Tony had the shark shield attached to the kayak. The unit was the size of a small pouch supported by an orange pool noodle and a two metre long antenna at the end. I was going to tag along for the first hour just in case there were any problems. We paddled into the Hacking River towards Bate Bay. But at Gunnamatta Bay Kaise started turning into the bay. Having his head in the water he didn’t hear our shouts about his wayward course and he only stopped when Daniel blew his whistle. From then on Tony would also act as a guide, setting the direction.

When we left the Hacking River a beautiful sunrise greeted us. The waters were cool (17 degrees) but flat. Things were looking good. After the first hour, now in Bate Bay, I excused myself and turned back to drive to the changeover point. The bar had small spilling waves, giving me a quick ride on the way back. Even at these early hours there were surf skis and kayaks on the water — people doing their morning exercises.

Back at Wally’s Wharf I put the kayak on Tony’s ute and started it up. Before, Tony had given me advice on how to drive a vehicle of such sophistication. A quick look at the odometer revealed 250,000 km — or had it by chance gone once around and it really had 1.2 million km? Either way, it drives and it does it with a certain lassitude. Being an older generation it simply feels big — in comparison my Volvo now feels quite dinky. I also noticed that other people pay respect to such a venerable vehicle by giving it more space.

After a quick second breakfast I made my way to Long Bay, from where I would paddle to rejoin the group. At 11:45 the mobile rang and Daniel said they were an hour off Little Bay. I took off around 12 and slowly paddled out of Long Bay and southwards. The first thing I noticed was that the sea had become considerably lumpy.

No boat! Look as I might, I couldn’t see any boat out there. At that point my mobile rang. Had something gone wrong? My phone was inside my (waterproof) deck bag but I didn’t have it in an aqua pack. With the lumpiness of the sea I wasn’t game to get it out and answer it. So I turned around and headed for Little Bay to find out what had happened. At the beach I dragged the phone out and tried to get the voice mail Daniel had left. No luck — there was no mobile phone reception at the beach as it is surrounded by an escarpment 20 metres up with a golf club on top of it. So I hiked up the steps and stood on a fairway to be able to make a call. Daniel’s voice mail was apologetic. They had overestimated their speed and were going to be late. I hiked across to the ocean side of the golf club, hoping to see them from the cliffs. The first cliff revealed nothing; there were other obstacles (i.e. pieces of cliff face) protruding between my position and where I expected the team to be. I carried on trudging southwards and dodging golf carts. It took a while to realise that those golfers weren’t really used to someone walking around in a PFD and sprayskirt…

Finally I found a spot that gave me a view southwards. A few kilometres down, just north of Prince Henry Head, I could make out a white spot and a smaller red spot — presumably the support boat and Tony’s kayak. That meant they still had about three quarters of an hour to go. I waited for a few minutes to make sure the specks moved northward and that it wasn’t people just fishing out there.

Well I had some time, which was good because I had to do something about that lumpy sea state. The Labrador doesn’t have pronounced primary stability and I was going to have to manage following seas for the next six hours. I needed to ballast the kayak. That meant going down to the beach to do beachcombing. I got lucky and found a lump of concrete and a house brick. I tried to stick the lump into the day hatch but it was too big to fit in. So it went into the back hatch and the house brick into the front hatch. I turned my beautiful kayak into a dump truck!!!

(I spent some time wondering how to get rid of it at Bondi Beach without getting into trouble for littering. It later turned out that they have really big bins all over the beach.)

A quick test paddle and the kayak behaved better — not really stable but a clear improvement.

Meanwhile the team was starting to come into sight and I paddled towards them. Even at about one kilometre, they were hard to see from a kayak. Every once in a while, when we were all on top of a wave, I could make them out.

Tony looked relieved when I showed up. I quickly explained to him where I’d parked his ute: ‘Next to the loos’ brought a reaction. He must have been busting. We changed the shark shield over and he disappeared into Long Bay.

It was now my turn to stay in position to Kaise, a little to the side and a little forward. Close enough for what we thought the shark shield to be effective but not to get him electrocuted. (It does send out electric shocks as I found out later when I tried to turn it off at Bondi Beach and couldn’t find the switch.)

The paddle was really slow, a slow forward stroke every 10 seconds or so, interspersed with either a bit of sideways positioning or a little balancing or a brace when a following sea passed. Minute after minute after minute — and the coastline didn’t appear to move at all. Paranoid thoughts were popping up that I wasn’t going to make it — either I was going to die of boredom, suffer hypothermia, tire of balancing the following seas or get seasick. For a while I was envious of the people in the support boat but they didn’t look too comfortable either, the slow forward speed meant they had almost no steerage and every following sea started to broach the boat.

Every 40 minutes we stopped and coach Daniel provided food and drink for Kaise. Banana, ice cream, juices and Gatorade was the menu on offer. For me it was an opportunity to hold onto the side of the boat. Still uncomfortable but I could relax from the ever present balancing. I had my own food, but I really didn’t need much, a bit of apple and something to drink was sufficient.

Over time we worked our way northwards. Every once in a while Kaise would ask me where we were: South Maroubra, Maroubra, North Maroubra, Lurline Bay…I wondered if he was going to make it. Over time, boredom gave way to a kind of trance. I’d paddle, balance the following seas and keep my position to Kaise. Somehow the intervals between feed stops appeared to become shorter and Bondi started coming closer. At first I could see the Stinkpot at Ben Buckler, then individual houses, car roofs glinting in the setting sun and then little people figures on the beach.

Then Kaise let out a big shout. He’d looked up and for the first time seen Bondi Beach. You could feel how he was being energised by this. He started to re-invigorate his stroke as he set out to do the final kilometre.

It was past 5 pm and the sun had set. Slowly the light was receding. There were still people in the water. If I had to surf in I had to do it now while there was sufficient light. So a few hundred metres off the beach I peeled off my position aside Kaise, paddled over to the support boat and said my goodbye and headed in to the northern end. The surf looked quite manageable, but what do you know looking at it from the back. I picked my position, waited for a set to pass by and headed in on the back of the wave. Paddling fast past a group of surfies I caught a wave and started surfing. I am surfing Bondi Beach!! What a great feeling. But it wasn’t to last. A kid on a board decided it would be fun to catch the same wave as me. The kayak started broaching and no stern paddle was going to keep it straight. I started spearing towards the kid and even a shout didn’t seem to help. So I had to let go and drop into the water. ‘What an unstylish way to land at Bondi,’ I thought.

By now I was close to the beach in just half a metre of water so I got out and pushed the kayak in.

Some people came to help get the kayak further up the beach.

‘Where did you paddle from?’

‘Port Hacking.’

‘Where is that?’

English tourists I suspected.

It was getting dark, which was good. I took the lump of concrete and the brick out and unobtrusively (as you do in a yellow PFD and a sprayskirt) carried it to the next garbage bin and dumped it there.

Then a shout from the road. Tony comes bounding over the fence to help me. We carried the kayak up to the road and Tony brought his ute down (my car was several blocks away). I changed into dry clothing in front of a restaurant full of diners. Wonder what they thought.

We walked over to the North Bondi Surf Club. In there was Kaise and his co-swimmer Ryan getting showered and changed. Kaise looked as if he had just taken a walk in the park — no signs of weariness or exhaustion. The only marks were big eye bags caused by the goggles. His family was there, with his really sweet Mom taking pictures and saying ‘I don’t know how we can thank you guys’ several times until Tony quietly said, ‘You just did’.

It was a good day — a rare experience and the opportunity to help someone along the way to achieve a dream — not bad for spending the weekend of my birthday. Forget about fishing.

P.S. For those who wondered: My mother didn’t mind having her Mothers Day rescheduled to Saturday — she loves seeing me any day.

Another perspective — Tony Hughes

Like Stephan (Meyn), I am a sucker for helping out in a heroic undertaking, and swimming the English Channel is certainly that. Also, I have not spent much time in a boat for a while so I felt this would be a good test to see if I had got rid of my dead legs problem which had curtailed my paddling.

Stephan and I had only met Kaise (pronounced Case) Stephan and his team for a few minutes before we all started out. The team on the water were Daniel Esposito (trainer), Ryan Ainley (support swimmer), Ryan’s Dad and Matt (boat skipper). The Stephan family were there in force to support Kaise and they were so intent on thanking us kayakers over and over I had to remind them we had not done anything yet and they could thank us when we all got to Bondi.

We had our briefing and were sitting in our kayaks in the dark on Dolans Bay and I was thinking that there should be a cannon shot or rocket flare to start off this gruelling swim, but Kaise just walked down the boat ramp, waded out a few metres and swam, and he swam like a machine for the next eleven and a half hours, stopping only for brief refuelling. The system we worked out was the boat crew would yell out the course to the paddler and we would paddle on that bearing till the next order, keeping station about three metres abeam Kaise so he would get eye contact with the kayak on his left when he breathed on that side. It is a good system and most helpful to the swimmer. As the time slipped by I just became more in awe of Kaise’s relentless pace and sheer determination and I lost myself in just doing my little bit as well as I could in helping his great effort.

Kaise Stephan is swimming the Channel to raise money for the Oncology Unit at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead. He has a very personal reason for doing this, which you can read about on the website http://www.channelcrossingforlife.com. They are serious, professional and exceptionally nice people. I believe they will achieve their goal and they will be great ambassadors for Australia. Many club members appreciate and understand the endurance athlete and I think this is a great cause well worth our support.

(Personally, I was a bit wobbly after spending eight hours in the kayak but I could feel my legs and didn’t fall over when I tried to walk so I guess I’m cured. I’ll rejoin the club as soon as I can afford a titanium knife, fork and spoon set. Mike Eggleton has told me it is a now a club rule you must have this before you can become a member. Is this really true?)

 

Rock’n’Roll Coordinator’s Report [71]

By Stephan Meyn

Rock’n’Roll 2008 has been run successfully. The weather gods were certainly helpful and many grade 2 paddlers were able to participate in trips to the Tollgates, something that at past events had not been possible.

On-water events

Overall we ran about 15 trips on Saturday and Sunday, with some trips having two leaders. There was also a fair number of private trips operating. In general these trips followed the suggestion of signing in with the beach master and signing out afterwards.

Land events

The land events were well attended. Holding them primarily in the afternoon (with trips in the morning) resulted in better audience sizes.

Dinner and evening events

We didn’t run out of food! The raffle turned out to be very popular, with 300 tickets sold. The first prize, a three-day trip for two to Port Davey from Platinum Sponsors Roaring 40s (worth $3200) was won by Phil Woodhouse, one of our Victorian visitors. The presentations by Nigel Dennis and John Kirk-Anderson were very well received.

The Gadget Competition was a great success, with many members contributing. It was the ‘New Inventors of the kayaking world’. It looks like there should be a repeat next time.

Next Rock’n’Roll

The location of next year’s event has not yet been decided. On offer are Batemans Bay and Port Stephens. Past experience shows a decision needs to be made soon as spots close out quickly.

Supporters

Many thanks go to the supporters: trip leaders, instructors, presenters, beach masters, ticket vendors and collectors and all the general volunteers. Also to Rob Richmond, Action Sound, the Lions Club and the operators of the Batemans Bay Caravan Park as well as our generous sponsors Roaring 40s Ocean Kayaking, Hybrid Australia, Expedition Kayaks, Pittarak Expedition Sea Kayaks, Gudu Kayaks and Rafta Kayaks.

Gadget Competition Official Winners

Best value for money

Laptop computer. Stephan Meyn.

ASUS EEE-PC. Weighs 920 grams. Solid State hard disk, hence shockproof.

Most useful

Crab net. Henry Van der Kolk.

The net frame is made from a twisty-type car sunshield.

Most unexpected

Hol(e)y drysuit! Mike Snoad.

A dry suit incorporating a day hatch.

From the President’s Deck [71]

By Michael Steinfeld

The 2008 Rock’n’Roll has come and gone. What a great event it was. For me the highlight had to be the gadget competition. What a laugh. I cannot recall a similar event that had a lot of the members standing up, talking and making people laugh. What a creative bunch we are!

So much experience and good humour was shared the entire weekend. The weather especially on the Saturday was ideal to paddle out and wander around the magical Tollgate Islands.

Nigel Dennis manufactures kayaks; he is also one of the UK’s top instructors. He was invited to Australia for the benefit of both the Victorian and NSW clubs and he imparted some valuable knowledge. At our Rock’n’Roll, Nigel watched the forward paddle technique of many members and advised mostly shortening the paddle length to avoid some shoulder and arm injuries. He also discussed similarities and differences between the UK and the Australian Canoeing award system. I thought that the substantial differences were few but our system certainly appears simpler. Both John Kirk-Anderson and Nigel provided us with wonderful media presentations of their paddling experiences and gave generously of their expertise informally to many members throughout their visits.

First aid courses are being offered by the club courtesy of Bruce McNaughton, an experienced St John Ambulance first aid trainer and club member. He is putting together a most interesting remote first aid course to be held over three days in August. Check out the calendar. You just never know when you will need to use first aid.

The Annual General Meeting will take place on Sunday 27 July 2008 at 3 pm at the Bundeena RSL Club, Loftus Street, Bundeena. We look forward to as many members as possible attending. Any resolution you would like to discuss should be sent to the secretary seven days before the meeting.

A number of the committee members will call it a day and here is your chance support our club and give your time and effort back. Outgoing committee members are: Adrian Clayton, who has led an excellent training program this year; David Hipsley, who has organised the great variety of trips available and in previous years was responsible for club training; and Stephan Meyn, who has been the pillar of the organising committee for Rock’n’Roll. Adrian, David and Stephan will continue to contribute to the club in various ways.

Lastly, I would like to thank the many members who volunteer their time and expertise to the club either as instructors, leaders, assessors or as committee members. Our club runs on the goodwill of its volunteers; don’t take them for granted.

Until next time
Michael Steinfeld

Incident at Maitland Bay [71]

By Michael Steinfeld, President

Earlier this year, a club trip leader led four paddlers on a grade three trip from Parsley Bay at Brooklyn to Maitland Bay.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecast for that morning stated that from Broken Bay to Port Hacking the winds would be south to south-east 15-20 knots, sea 1-2 metres and swell south 2-3 metres, abating during the day. The leader was aware that the group might not be able to land at Maitland Bay (on the ocean side), due to the swell and had planned an alternative destination at Lobster Beach near where Brisbane Waters meets Broken Bay. On the outward paddle the group made a safe passage between Gerrin Point and the bombora, through a deep channel in the reef and landed at Maitland Bay through a half metre surf.

There was discussion on the beach at Maitland Bay that it might be difficult to negotiate around the reefs on the way back and that the group should keep a wide berth on the seaward side of the reefs. One of the paddlers strained a shoulder when leaving the beach for the return paddle.

The group paddled approximately 150 metres seaward of the bombora. A large, swiftly moving wave appeared and lifted the leader’s kayak, causing it to collide into another paddler’s kayak, which was positioned on the front of the wave. Both the leader and that second paddler capsized and wet-exited.

A third paddler entered the break zone and successfully helped the leader re-enter his boat. However, another large wave capsized the third paddler and the leader again while they were still rafted together, so that three people were then in the water and the leader’s and the third paddler’s kayaks were washed over the reef. After the last wave in the set had passed, the third paddler and leader managed to swim away from the area. The fourth kayaker came in and assisted the second paddler to re-enter his boat and together they went to help those who were in the water away from their kayaks.

Meanwhile, the fifth paddler observed the events and paddled south of the reef. When he looked back, the situation did not seem to have changed. He had noticed the Killcare Surf Life Saving Club tent on the beach and the houses around the headland. He let off a flare he had stored in his PFD. He then paddled back to the others to assist. Shortly after, the surf life saving boat came to the rescue, quickly followed by the Volunteer Coast Guard and Water Police.

The rescue was completed and all parties were grateful for the assistance. On the recommendation of the group, the club donated $500 to the Killcare SLSC and $300 to the Coast Guard, with a letter of thanks to the Water Police. Three kayaks were very badly damaged.

So what went wrong?

There is common agreement that the group paddled too close to the reef. While the conditions of the sea and wind appeared to be well within the group’s ability, it was the large long period swell combined with a low tide, which led to the capsize of the first two paddlers when paddling on a less obvious part of the reef, even though the water was over four metres deep.

For the trip leader, there were many challenges faced on the day. It was the leader’s responsibility to ensure that the group spread was controlled and directed away from the risk. As he capsized and did not self-rescue he was not in a position to lead the rescue. The other paddlers had to take over based on their perceptions of the risk.

What about the appropriateness of the use of the flare? All other members were initially upset that the fifth paddler had turned away and paddled into safer water. However, he saw three out of the five capsize, and with two kayaks nowhere to be seen decided his personal safety and that of the other members came first. So once clear of the reef, he elected to summon outside help.

As one of the group writes: ‘Initially I thought he had abandoned ship and [I] was a bit angry but in retrospect he did the right thing — DRABC (as taught in first aid) — Danger being the key word and he got as far away from it as quickly as he could. It was the single flare that got assistance on the scene so quickly. Turned out my mobile in the aqua pack was useless. The trip leader did have the VHF radio in his day hatch, due to its bulk, but separated from his boat that was useless.’

What can we learn from this?

  1. Marine weather has a ‘history’In judging suitable conditions for a trip, one must not only make use of the BOM forecast but also appreciate that the weather has a history and a trend. In this case, the large swell and strong winds had been a feature for the preceding three to four days. Although the swell and sea state were trending downwards, it was still a foreseeable combination of adverse tide, wind developed sea and prevailing long period swell from the south that produced the unusually large sets of waves.
  2. Look for warning signs and respond with simple navigation plansAll members of the group had paddled to Maitland Bay before and were very aware of the bombies but weren’t expecting larger waves to break on the extended reef. They needed to appreciate the immediate conditions of the day, the likely interaction of the swell, wind and tide as a result of the history of the conditions and how this could affect the wave action on the outlying reef.

    With this in mind, a trip plan appropriate for the day should have been prepared in advance or at the latest, prior to leaving Maitland Bay. It needed to include the setting of bearings and transits for the group to follow. This would usually require the use of a detailed map or chart. It would have ensured that all members paddled a safer heading to seaward of the reef on the return leg rather than using visual observations.

  3. Expect the unexpectedLarge and irregular reef breaks are typical of long period swells. They are not ‘freak waves’. They may only appear very occasionally but they are no different from any other wave in that they only break in water that is shallow relative to their size. On the day of the incident, offshore wave data for Sydney coastal waters indicated a significant wave height of 2.47 metres with a maximum of 4.67 metres with an 11.4 second period at 2 pm. These general heights, ranges and wavelengths were typical of data for Sydney for the entire day.
  4. ‘All kayakers are between swims’In challenging conditions, selected rescue and communications equipment needs to be accessible when in the water and maybe even away from the boat. Also the paddler needs to be sure gear can be used from a swimming position. One paddler tried to use a phone in an aqua pack from the water and found it useless.

    VHF radio might have worked to summon nearby boats or SLSC but would have had a short range from such a low position. The trip leader had 8 mini rocket flares in his PFD and has indicated that he would have used them if the paddlers/swimmers had not been able to regroup.

  5. Re-enter and rollUnless you were there it is too easy to theorise about rolling and re-enter and rolling in big conditions especially when the water is heavily aerated. No one can be sure they would have fared better. However, it would have changed the course of events if one or both of the original capsizes had been dealt with by a roll or a quick re-enter and roll. Paddlers need to practise in realistic conditions with support nearby.
  6. Dress for immersionAll in the group were well dressed for immersion so hypothermia did not become an issue. In colder water the amount of time spent in the water may have been more critical.
  7. ‘Don’t just do something — sit there!!’Although the third paddler came in and successfully rescued the leader in the danger zone, they both ended up in the water, adding to the seriousness of the situation. When planning a rescue, paddlers should always make sure that the conditions are safe so that they don’t become the next person needing help. The surf zone is a difficult place to attempt a rescue. One should be sufficiently skilled in this type of rescue before assisting a capsized paddler.
  8. Remain positiveThe group never gave in to despair. Instead they continued to use their skills and equipment to look after one another. By the time outside help arrived they had dealt with the immediate danger posed by the reef and had regrouped to support those who were still in the water.
  9. Don’t be afraid to call for helpThe use of the flare triggered an outside response and provided the group with the fastest and safest way out of their predicament on the day. Obviously where a leader was in control of the situation this would be their decision, taking into account the paramount safety of the group.

Finally

There are many ‘near misses’ that involve sea paddlers every year in Australia and most of them go unreported, giving a false sense of how safe and manageable our seas really are.

The group is to be commended for their willingness to provide honest and detailed accounts so all can learn from their experience. They no doubt fared better than an untrained group in the same predicament and all take away a strong determination to hone their skills and sharpen their judgement.

This is another reminder of just how unforgiving the open coastal environment really can be. It is hoped that we can all become better and wiser paddlers by learning from this incident.

Some Recommendations

  1. Club to develop training days to practise a broader range of rough water rescues and practise the use of communications and rescue equipment in the sea.
  2. Carry emergency communication equipment on a PFD or in a bale out bum bag, so in the event of an out-of-boat experience, life saving equipment remains with the paddler. Ensure emergency communication equipment can be used if you are in the water (VHF, mobile phone, EPIRB, flares) and practise or role play using it.

The club is grateful that no one was injured and that we can all gain something from this kayaking incident.

As the trip leader states in summary: ‘All of us know that any activity on the ocean is dangerous and we should not be complacent. We all learned a great deal from the event and I’m sure we will be honing our skills to be better able to deal with possible future incidents.’

I wish to acknowledge and thank members of the paddling group and the Technical and Safety Committee for their assistance in compiling this report.