Bravehearts: Sea Skills Training in July [72]

By Cathy Miller

Sea Skills training in July is not for the faint-hearted or the fair-weather paddler. It’s only for us tough, thick-skinned he-men and women, and penguins. Grrrrrr! Or should I say, Brrrr.

The July Sea Skills training was held over two weekends for Grade 2 paddlers wanting to progress to Grade 3. The first weekend, 5-6 July, was originally planned for Gerroa, but shifted to Jervis Bay due to the forecast swell. We stayed at the beautiful Greenpatch Campsite. The second weekend was based at Bundeena, camping at Bonnie Vale, on July 26-27 prior to the AGM. Both weekends were fantastic, and highly recommended to any Grade 2s for improving confidence and having fun.

Sat 5 July — skills training, Jervis Bay, (12 km, plus drills)

  • Instructor: Keith Oakford
  • Sea Instructor in training: Adrian Clayton. Assistance by Dirk Stuber
  • 7 participants

We put in at Iluka Beach, a short drive from the campsite, and paddled around to the northern end of Bowen Island where we practised our sea skills. The swell was around 0.5 m, with light N to NE winds peaking at 11 knots, and gusting up to 15 knots at 3 pm not long before we got off the water. We were all dressed for immersion.

This was a great day, focusing on improving our strokes. We ran some gentle gauntlets and drilled our sweep strokes, bow strokes, reverse sweeps and reverse paddle strokes, with plenty of practice in rafting up at sea. We practised our edging and leaning, using the crest of the swell to turn our boats efficiently. We also practised a host of different tows including the direct tow, V-tow, and paddler-assisted tow. At the very end of the day, we practised a few rescues, then quickly bolted back to the campground and into the hot showers. It was great having a roaring campfire, and we managed to last until 8 pm before the cold drove us to bed.

Sun 6 July — not surf training, Jervis Bay (20 km)

  • Instructor: Keith Oakford
  • Sea Instructor in training: Adrian Clayton
  • 5 participants

Keith and Vince watched the sunrise from the hill, while the rest of us packed and prepared for the surf. We put in at Summercloud Bay, with the intention of surfing at Caves Beach. However as soon as we paddled around there, it was obvious the surf was too high (Batemans Bay swell was measured at 1.5 m and it would have been over 2 m in the larger sets). So instead we paddled northwards around St George Point and along Cape St George to around one kilometre short of Steamers Beach.

We stopped to have a ball game on the sea, with two teams of three paddlers. You had to stop paddling when you caught the ball, and you had 10 seconds to offload it to a fellow player. You had to imagine the goal posts, which was tricky, but lots of fun and great practice in manoeuvring the boats. We only stopped playing because we saw whales!

This is a totally stunning bit of coastline, with sheer cliffs rising out of the water, and water cascaded off like waterfalls. We enjoyed reversing into some cracks and caves, testing out the skills we’d learned the previous day. This was a truly beautiful day out on the water with seals, whales, penguins and a stingray. It reminded us all why we love paddling so much, and how improving skills means we can get into stunning places like this with confidence.

Sat 26 July — navigation training, Bonnie Vale

  • Instructor: Harry Havu
  • Sea instructors in training: Adrian Clayton, Laurie Geoghegan
  • 12 participants

Armed with our navigation tools, this was mainly a theory day with a practical on-water exercise at the end of the day. Adrian and Laurie took us through the navigation theory, which is outlined in the Sea Skills manual, but it’s great to hear from experienced kayakers what they do in practice. Apparently the short-cut for remembering Grid Magnetic Subtract is ‘Grandma’s Socks’, not ‘Grandma Sucks’ like I’d been taught. We then we did some exercises, including a trip plan for a Bass Strait crossing based on the weather and tide forecasts.

One of the key lessons here was that kayakers need to do a lot of the navigation preparation before setting out, because we don’t have the luxury that sailors have of being able to lay out our maps and tools on a nice flat bench while on the water! It was also quite obvious how quickly you could start getting seasick with your head down in maps while on the water. For the on-water exercise we had to find points A and B which we’d marked up previously on our maps and Harry checked how close we got using his GPS. We then did the exercise in reverse, taking bearings off a point C and then working out where it was on the map once we were back on land.

Sun 27 July — surf training, Cronulla

  • Instructors: Harry Havu, Laurie Geoghegan, assisted by Nick Gill and Dirk Stuber
  • Sea instructor in training: Adrian Clayton
  • 12 participants

We set off from Bonnie Vale early with the plan of being back before the AGM, and paddled towards the northern end of Cronulla Beach, where we were sheltered from the big swell by Merries Reef. This is a perfect place to practise surf training, and on the day we were there, the conditions were perfect with a small in-shore break around 0.5-1 m. Under strict instructions to keep our elbows tucked in to avoid shoulder dislocation, we split into two groups for further instruction before we tackled the surf. We started in the small swell practising our low braces, then worked our way slowly up the beach, moving up to high braces as the surf got bigger.

This was fantastic training. There is always a fine line between being pushed gradually out of your comfort zone in a controlled situation so you can improve your skills, and getting totally trashed and losing confidence. I think most of us found it was the former and we all gained confidence and improved our skills, even though there were a lot of swimmers!

We had been briefed earlier about what to do in case of capsizing in a rip. When Rozzie fell out in a rip, we watched from shore as the text-book rescue took place. To Rozzie’s credit she immediately swam to the back of her boat, and once it was obvious she was stuck in the rip, she followed the instructors’ waved instructions from shore to let go of her boat and to let herself be swept out with the rip. There she was picked up by Nick Gill who was waiting out at sea. Nick paddled her out of the break-zone and Dirk went to his assistance to take Rozzie’s paddle. Nick then carefully watched the shore pattern and with Rozzie still holding on to the back of his boat he paddled her in towards the beach during a break in the waves and released her before the break zone so she could swim to shore. Full credit to all involved for a safe and well executed rescue.

The paddle ended just as a hail storm drenched the campsite, but not our spirits. We were all exhilarated from the training and I think our faces showed the instructors and organisers how grateful we were for this opportunity.

So how can we thank the club? I’ve asked a few instructors what they get out of running training courses, and the answer is quite simple — they love seeing us improve. The best way we can thank them is to practise our new skills and give it a go. As we improve, we too can pass on our skills to others. Thanks again to all involved for making this possible.