NSW Sea Kayak Club – From the President’s Deck [75]

by Michael Steinfeld

Rock’n’Roll 2009 was ‘the best ever’. The weather was perfect, the location suited most people, the presenters Jeff Jennings from Tasmania and Larry Gray of Pittarak fame, imparted their extensive kayaking knowledge and experience to the masses. The company of other kayakers was great and even the inter-staters were well behaved.

Congratulations to Susan and Ken Day, the Rock’n’Roll Co-ordinators, for bringing it all together and making the event such a success. Thank you for the combined effort to all involved — to committee members, trip leaders, beach masters and all other helpers including those of you who loaned equipment, helped with registrations and sold raffle tickets.

Back in club land, kayaking activity is moving apace. Those of us who are gripped by the global financial crisis and have extra time on our hands need only to turn to the trips page on the calendar to find an escape. There is nothing more inspiring to the soul than feeling the moving water underneath, watching the shoreline ahead and leaving your worries behind. Why not plan a trip away — a great escape, something to look forward to.

Come to the AGM which will take place on Sunday 9 August 2009 at 2.30 pm at Bundeena RSL. There will be morning paddles, so be sure to check the calendar. If you have any resolutions you would like to discuss at the meeting would you send them to me via email by 18 July.

There will be a few committee positions falling vacant this year including the Secretary/Treasurer and the Rock’n’Roll Coordinator/s. If you would like to get involved in the activities of the club and give back a little of what other volunteers have given to you then come forward and help out.

I would like to thank the committee for an enjoyable and fulfilling year and trust that the membership appreciates the voluntary time spent by us to provide you with a safe paddling environment.

See you at the AGM.

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Melaleuca Revisited [75]

by James Johnson

The Bathurst Harbour/Port Davey area is a spectacular wilderness area and a wonderful playground for sea kayakers. Last edition of the magazine (Issue 74) described a trip with Roaring 40s, a tour operator running sea kayak trips which has a base within Bathurst Harbour. All the logistics are taken care of, the guides can share local knowledge and it makes for a very convenient trip.

But paddling with a tour group doesn’t suit everybody and paddling on your own has its virtues too. I spent a week in this area of the South West in January 2009 and the following are some thoughts to consider if going on your own.


I flew in to the airstrip at Melaleuca with a folding kayak with Par Avion, based in Hobart. The flight takes 50 minutes and costs $370 return, plus some freight ($3 per kilo). The freight seems a little flexible. A normal pack is included in the airfare, so providing your gear isn’t excessive, you will probably only pay for the weight of the kayak.

The South West is a “fuel stove only” area but you cannot take fuel on the flight. You can buy fuel (shellite, metho etc) from Par Avion before you go ($6 per litre) and take delivery when you arrive. Don’t forget to take your own fuel bottles — they decant fuel from their bulk supply at Melaleuca.

The put in point at Melaleuca Creek is a pontoon a short walk by duck board track from the north-western end of the airstrip. Both Roaring 40s and Par Avion have power boats moored at the pontoon here and Roaring 40s keeps its hard shell doubles nearby. There is a wheelbarrow at the shelter shed at the airstrip which makes moving gear easy.

You can travel by boat to Port Davey. I have heard of people with kayaks paying to be taken around by fishing trawler from Hobart. A 57 foot charter vessel operates from Kettering and will take kayakers and kayaks for $1100 return, $750 one way. You might be able to combine this with renting a hard shell kayak from Roaring 40s which is based in Kettering.

It is possible to paddle from Recherche Bay or from Strahan — not an undertaking to be taken lightly and one which is very much subject to the weather.

Background Information

One of the delights of my trip was reading a biography of Denny King, called King of the Wilderness — The Life of Denny King. It brought to life the places that I was visiting.

Water is everywhere, but knowing beforehand where camping sites can be found is important for trip planning. It was useful reading reports of old trips and talking to club members who had been there before.

At a pinch you could squeeze into spots just above the tide line if you had to, but with a group you might be pressed to find comfortable accommodation without doing a degree of harm to vegetation.

Spain Bay was great. Another favourite was the camp on the eastern side of Bramble Cove, an established campsite with deep water access, a view of the sunset over the Breaksea Islands, near a creek and with a comfy table and benches. Mind the marsupials though.

The hut at Clayton’s Corner was a pleasant surprise; clean, with a track up to Mt Beattie for a view and the perfect shelter when it rained and sleeted all night.


Finally, it probably doesn’t need to be said to members of a club which has such an emphasis on safety, but as well as leaving a trip plan with someone responsible, take the appropriate first aid and safety gear, including an EPIRB.

Talk with Par Avion ahead of time about getting flares in if you want to take them. It can get cold even in summer, the weather changes quickly and it is remote. Even if you intend staying in Bathurst Harbour and you don’t think you will need the club’s required minimum gear, you might, and if you do need to be rescued you will look less of a goose if you can show you were prepared.

NSW Sea Kayak Club – ‘Hot Rocks’ on Kangaroo Island [75]

by John Wilde

“Oh shit”, or words to that effect, from me. Then it was immediate action. Harry Havu, behind me had just yelled “Behind” and a look over my shoulder confirmed the worst — a big set had just formed and was about to break on me. I had also noticed that the beach of the sheltered cove that I thought I was going to land in was in fact studded with rocks. Out the back Keith Oakford had stopped to take a photo and behind him Alan Thurman was waiting to see if there was going to be any survivors.

The heavily laiden boat seemed to take an age to turn, despite my frantic efforts and then to get it to accelerate seemed almost impossible. I crested the first wave without problem, but out the back things were not looking good, as the second and third waves were bigger and even closer to breaking. A grunt over the second wave, but I realised the third wave was probably going to get me.

“Never give up,” as the wave started to curl above me, a final stroke and the whole boat fired almost clear off the back of the wave and somehow I was through, adrenaline pumping, no longer worried about cramped legs or tired arms, just glad to be back out on the open sea, beyond the surf line again. Kangaroo Island had just taught us a lesson.

This was the second day of a two week trip around the island and the previous day the four of us had crossed ‘Backstairs Passage’ from Cape Jervis in fine style to the wonderfully sheltered Pink Bay.

Today we were paddling part of the southern coast, renowned for its big surf, strong winds and lack of sheltered landing spots. It was certainly living up to its reputation. A little later, as the open sea was so calm, but the two metre swell was creating havoc along all the beaches we saw, we decided to stretch our legs by rafting up, releasing spray-decks and dangling our feet over the sides of the boats, the only stretch we thought they were going to get in a 60 kilometre day. In fact the island is full of contrasts and soon afterwards Keith found the most amazing sheltered cove for a lunch break, full of reflections and mirror images as we pulled our boats ashore in the middle of the basin, with cliffs towering on every side.

Our goal that evening was ‘Wreckers Beach’, not an inspiring name when you are looking for shelter, but in fact a series of reefs protect this area well and make it an easy spot to land in sea kayaks. We found this situation at many of our landing spots. A close examination of charts and maps allowed us to choose sheltered landings every evening, despite a pounding surf along the shore line in many places.

The third day, with slight south-easterly winds, we headed to Vivonne Bay, another 52 km hop, but we promised ourselves a rest day after this, as the forecast was for strong headwinds the following day and the one shop we were going near on the island was beckoning, so a walk, fresh orange juice and burgers were the order of the day.

Two days later we rounded Cape Du Couedic, to what is regarded as the crux of the trip — the west coast. The cape itself is quite dramatic, with Admirals Arch carving out a massive cave at the base of the cliffs, surf crashing high onto the rocks, a narrow passage between the Brothers Islands and the cape, large numbers of seals in all directions, leaping into the sea and bobbing to the surface like curious labrador dogs watching our progress. Keith was so affected by the scene that he had his camera out recording every moment, but shortly after this he realised that it had parted from his buoyancy aid and disappeared. (If anyone happens to see a seal with a shiny new waterproof camera, taking photos in this area, could you please contact Keith so he can go back and reclaim it!)

We approached West Bay — the only reliable landing on the west coast — with some trepidation as it is renowned for big surf. We had already paddled 50 kilometres that day and if the surf was too big for a landing we would have another 30 to 40 km before we could try elsewhere, but we almost laughed as we got in close, discovering a six inch ripple onto the beach and another fine camp just above the water line.

This section of coast is renowned for shipwrecks, so the following morning we explored the cliffs, caves and limestone formations just north of West Bay and felt pity for the ship that had sailed flat out into the cliffs, en route from Scotland, one stormy night, with the loss of all 25 on board. This day”s paddle also took us around Cape Bourda to the north coast, a much more sheltered area with many more landing places and habitation and suddenly we could see in our minds the end of the trip.

Several days later we were brought to a halt by strong headwinds just past Cape Cassini and opted to camp in a sheep paddock for the day. It was agreed that we would head off as soon as possible the following day if the wind had died, so we retired early, but I woke in shock at 6 am to realise the others were up, fed and packing, so after a quick breakfast I was scrambling to catch up, with Harry already on the water in the darkness. It was only as I unpacked my boat at the end of the day on Point Marsden, that I realised I had left my book, note book, maps, spare batteries and reading glasses in the darkness at the last campsite. Feeling very peeved, I considered paddling straight back to get it, but group discussion convinced me it would be better to paddle into Kingscote the following day and catch a taxi to our old campsite. Then, just before dark, there was a hail from the cliffs above: “Have you guys lost something?” and there was a local fisherman, who had found my bag, located a phone number, and phoned my wife in Canberra, who had informed him of our whereabouts. He then drove 20 kilometres out from Kingscote, walked several kilometres to find us and delivered my bag. I hardly had time to thank him before he was off again in the gathering darkness. To say this was a wonderful gesture is hardly enough.

The following day Keith and I paddled into Kingscote for a break and I bought the fisherman a slab of beer — the least I could do.

So now we just had the crossing of “Backstairs” again, so we decided on another early start and at 4.30 am on a pitch black morning, we set off. For Alan this was a particularly big event, his biggest yet open crossing, 40+ kilometres, roaring tides and a 20 knot wind. By the end he was glad to get off the water, as the final tide race seemed to last forever as we ferry-glided across the final rip into the shelter of Cape Jervis. For his first big trip this was a real eye-opener and although there were a lot of new experiences, he survived with a smile and that dry northern wit intact.

What more could you want on a trip: lots of challenges, an island full of interest and beauty, super-friendly locals and three great paddlers to be with.

And the ‘Hot Rocks’? Well they could have been ‘Remarkable Rocks’, a group of massive boulders perched on the edge of a cliff ready to tumble into the sea at one of the capes, or they could have been the sun-warmed boulders we lay on at Hansons Bay after a cold finish, or they could have been something else… “What goes on the trip stays on the trip!”

Kangaroo Island Trip Details
Location Destination Distance (km) Average Paddling Speed (km/h) Paddling Time (h) Total Time (h) Wind (knot)/Direction Swell (m) Sea (m)
Cape Jervis Pink Bay 26.63 6.1 4.22 4.22 5-15 SE 0.5 0.5
Pink Bay Wreckers Beach 61.07 6.4 9.33 10.35 5-10 SE 0.5 0.5
Wreckers Beach Vivonne Bay 50.61 6.3 8.03 8.55 5-10 SE 0.5 0.5
Rest Day           20-25 SW    
Vivonne Bay Hanson Bay 36.4 5.9 6.1 6.23 10-20 SW 2-2.5 0.5
Hanson Bay West Bay 44.3 6.4 6.55 7.21 15-25 SE 2-2.5 0.5
West Bay Snug Cove 45.54 5.7 8.01 11.23 5-15 NE 0.5 0.5-1
Snug Cove Stokes Bay 35.69 7 5.05 6.41 10-25 SW 0.5 1
Stokes Bay Point Cassini 16 5.7 2.3 2.3 15-30 SE 0.5 0.5
Point Cassini Point Marsden 28.8 5.5 5.14 6.17 10-20 SE 0.5 0.5
Rest Day Kingscote 30       0-5 0 0
Point Marsden Cape Jervis 45.05 6.9 6.3 6.41 10-25 SW 1 0.5
Totals   420.09            

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Flotsam [75]

Editor’s note: This online edition is an edited version of the printed magazine as some of the material relies on pictorial elements that are not able to be included on the website.

Flotsam makes Wikipedia!


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Flotsam (aka Flotsam & Jetsam) is a regular column in the quarterly magazine of the New South Wales Sea Kayak Club (NSWSKC) based in south eastern Australia. Flotsam & Jetsam first appeared in January 1993, with an initial focus on brief news items, snippets and some For Sale items.

In 1996, with the nomination of a new magazine editor, Flotsam began to expand its horizons. Noting that Australian east coast sea kayakers were amongst the world’s most boring essayists, Flotsam hit upon a formula to spice up club news and events, using an actual event as the core of a news item, but adding a twist or underlying theme to somewhat distort what had actually happened. Flotsam stories began to be told in a racy, breaking news style, complete with regular ‘quotes’ from the participants involved, e.g. Trip Leader Harry Havu told Flotsam “Mate, it was tough out there…”

Although the new Flotsam was assembled by a lone ‘Flotsam reporter’, ideas and photos began to be provided by a growing number of enthusiastic contributors from within the club. But Flotsam did not have to search hard for material during this period of the club’s history, as “incidents” during club sanctioned paddles were common — the official NSWSKC T-shirt from 1997 bore the motif It was a good weekend … nobody died.

However, this new style caused issues. A common scenario would be for a club member to enjoy a co-paddler’s depiction in a Flotsam news piece, only to then complain bitterly at his own characterisation in the next issue. In club circles, an appearance in a Flotsam story came to give a paddler the official status of “Flotsam Victim”.

To protect itself from litigious threats from seriously irate club members, Flotsam has to date avoided legal problems with this disclaimer:

In the event of a scarcity of genuine news, Flotsam reserves the right to publish partially or wholly fictitious stories for the entertainment of members. The individuals who appear in Flotsam are in all cases real persons. Where necessary, personality is added to provide additional texture.

With the culture change in the NSWSKC following the 2000 “Flare Incident”, and following complaints from some Australian sea kayak manufacturers about some Flotsam content, in 2002 the NSWSKC Executive assigned a “proof reader” to examine Flotsam drafts to ensure its content was not defamatory. As a result material from this point on was occasionally censored. Ironically, the material removed was most commonly truthful comments about known defects in popular sea kayaks (e.g. a true story about a lost rudder pin that fell out of a bestselling sea kayak when transported upside down, was censored in 2005).

In recent years Flotsam articles have become more and more ‘imaginative’ as real incidents on club-sanctioned trips became rare. Typical of a Flotsam piece is one from the December 2004 issue. After a prominent club member was warned for kayaking too close to a pod of whales in far north Queensland, Flotsam solemnly reported a trial of the ‘offender’ in the Mackay District Court charged with the serious offence of ‘guddling’ a juvenile cetacean.

Similarly, the simple fact of female paddlers outnumbering males on an expedition around Wilsons Promontory was enough to provoke a report on a tragic case of two tough male paddlers becoming victim to Male Empathic Period Syndrome (MEPS) while on the water, becoming physically and emotionally incompetent, and requiring rescue by their female colleagues.

However, many believe Flotsam’s high point was achieved in September 2004. On hearing a paddler complaining of ‘pins and needles’ in his leg after paddling a popular but notoriously uncomfortable sea kayak, Flotsam published a fictitious account of this paddler being struck down by severe Deep Vein Thrombosis after crossing Bass Strait, with a resultant leg amputation in a Melbourne hospital. The story was accompanied by the paddler carrying a kayak with a visible stump of a leg, and finished with the upbeat tone that the amputee intended to continue sea kayaking after the tragedy. It is believed up to 50% of the Club’s membership believed this story, many expressing admiration for the tragic hero on the club’s chat line.

With the increasing pervasiveness of the internet, in 2006 Flotsam received several complaints from single male members after several cases where prospective dates were ‘googling’ them, thus revealing less than flattering Flotsam depictions of their potential life partner.

Flotsam generally has an anti-authorisation stance, railing against over-zealous regulation, waivers, helmets and qualifications, and took a strong position against the NSWSKC affiliation (now ended) with the ‘dead bureaucratic hand’ of Australian Canoeing. The President of the NSWSKC also makes regular appearances, usually with some reference to his/her fictitious palatial HQ in a posh beachside suburb of Sydney.

Overseas sea kayaking clubs on occasion have asked to reproduce Flotsam, for example, the Flotsam take on the 1999 crocodile attack on Arunas Pilka.

Popular with some, irritating to others, the future of Flotsam remains unclear, with the column now appearing only sporadically in the NSWSKC Magazine. The author of Flotsam remains unknown, but is thought to be a reclusive type. He is said to have no kayaking qualifications, but may be a competent sea kayaker. It is rumoured that he too has been a victim of Flotsam.

See also

  • Sea Kayaking
  • Canoeing
  • Guddling

Flotsam News

Newcomer clinches award!

Talented paddler Shaan Gresser has told Flotsam that she is “over the moon” on the news that she has won the much acclaimed NSWSKC “Shoulder Injury of the Year” Award.

Shaan told Flotsam, “When I look back to all the other great kayakers that have won this award, like John Wilde, Matt Turner, Claudia Schremmer, it makes me so humble”. Shaan, who only took up sea kayaking two years ago, added “I really thought it would be at least five years before I would be good enough to do a shoulder!”

Shaan, who executed a perfect Grade 3 dislocation despite only modest surf conditions, is thought to have clinched the award by choosing to do it on the nearest remote beach to Sydney, thus requiring a helicopter rescue and gaining bonus points in the ‘drama’ component of the award points system. Shaan added, “I’d also like to thank Stuart Trueman for believing in me. He’s an amazing man…I would never have managed this without his leadership and support.”

Global warming a ‘plus for sea kayaking’

In a recent press release, the NSW Tourism minister announced the NSW government will purchase the Queensland Great Barrier Reef marine touring fleet in anticipation of the death of the northern barrier reef and the growth of a new ‘southern reef’ in the warming waters off the NSW coast.

But with all the doom and gloom about climate change, opportunities have also been identified by forward-looking Club President Michael Steinfeld. Mr Steinfeld spoke to Flotsam: “There’s no doubt global warming does promise new features, not just additional sea water, for NSW sea paddlers — not only will spectacular corals appear off our local coast but with rising sea levels several new islands will be created, allowing for many more island camping opportunities”. Mr Steinfeld continued enthusiastically, “Just imagine, Broughton and Montague Islands will be snorkelling paradises…Broulee and Green Islands will be islands again. They will be ours…all ours!!!”

A spokesman for the Australian Conservation Foundation said the ACF was “disappointed” with Mr Steinfeld’s comments.

Flotsam Book of the Month

Another tempting morsel from the rich world of sea kayaking literature:

…as we paddled on the island ahead grew larger and larger. I could see a beach with a perfect camp spot beside a small creek. Soon we were passing the island to our left. An hour later I looked back, the island was getting smaller as we paddled east at an average speed of 7.8 km/h. My arse was now really numb…

An excerpt from The Joy of Long Distance Sea Kayaking by Laurence Geoghegan, available from all major book sellers.

Nick Gill nominated

Nick Gill has been nominated for the inaugural Flotsam “Judgement” Award by Senior Instructor Harry Havu. Mr Havu told Flotsam: “Well, after some uhhmming and ahhhing, Nick made the difficult and very late decision to withdraw from my group’s circumnavigation of Kangaroo Island in February, as he was worried about big surf and possible damage to his beloved Nadgee”.

Mr Havu continued, “And then, just three days into our trip, we get the news that Nick has paddled his Nadgee to an island just off Wollongong and smashed it into three pieces…we laughed so much we had to have a rest day!” Well done Nick!

Enquiry promised

In what was otherwise an uneventful 2009 Rock’n’Roll event at Umina, President Steinfeld has ordered an enquiry into why local marine emergency services were called out no less than six times over the weekend. President Steinfeld told Flotsam, “It appears one of the kayak manufacturers had the word HELP in large letters embedded in the hull gel coat as a safety measure. Unfortunately it appears that when some of our paddlers practised re-enter and roll exercises in these craft, our beach observers may have been a bit fast to initiate alert procedures, which soon got out of control.”

President Steinfeld hoped the enquiry would make recommendations to ensure a reduction of false alarms at future Rock’n’Roll events.

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Clean Up Australia Day [75]

by Cathy Miller

Towing skills, manoeuvring, draw strokes, tricky landings, rafting up , re-entering boats while adrift — these were all skills put to good use on Clean Up Australia Day, March 2009.

The idea was to use our kayaks to get into places that were not easy to access on foot. Setting off from Balmain, our group of NSWSKC kayakers cleaned up waterfront areas around Balls Head Bay and Berry Island Reserve. We cleaned up plastic bags, boat debris, and all sorts of litter washed up in the mangroves around Greendale Park.

As our bags filled, we put them on our decks or in the two whitewater boats we towed around as “marine rubbish skips”. We then towed the rubbish back to Mort Bay, Balmain, where the council had arranged to pick it up the next day.

We finished off with bagels and coffee, feeling that we had made a difference.

Come and join us next year. To quote Shaan, “It was the best fun I”ve had picking up rubbish!”

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Blown Away in Botany Bay — Almost [75]

by George Jessup

“I maintain that once a wind rises over 30 knots, paddling progress into the wind grinds to a halt.” (Paul Caffyn, NSW Sea Kayaker, Issue 26)

Our little pod jealously protects its reputation as a cruisy bunch. However, two paddlers in the group recently received ‘Sea Skills’ accreditation and the other paddler will soon follow. This created an unsettling dynamic. “Let’s try some real wind.” There is some debate within the group about whose idea it was. The group (for those who want to steer clear of us): George Jessup (Point 65 XP), Geoff Farland (Impex Force 4) and Neil Napper (Mirage 580). It has been agreed by a poll to blame Geoff for the trip.

The forecast was for a 1-2 metre swell with a WNW wind of 20-30 knots. The plan? Paddle from Frenchmans Bay to Bundeena for their world class hamburgers, a snooze, then return. (All our paddles revolve around hamburgers or coffee with toasted banana bread.)

We set out with a NW wind of 20 knots on a beautiful sunny Sunday on close to high tide. These conditions were giving the Maroubra SLSC Surf Ski training group problems in Frenchmans Bay but we paddled through the chaos secure in the knowledge that we had superior craft and superior NSWSKC sea skills training.

We decided to head out to Cape Solander to “have a look” and decide if we should keep going. It was a little bumpy getting across Botany Bay with small (0.5 metre) wind waves following and gusts catching the paddles, but when we turned around the headland — cruisy conditions. So much so that I got bored and was nearly severely embarrassed as I flirted with a rock platform and an unexpected wave. Off we went, close to the cliffs, minimal rebound, life is good.

When we rounded the last headland, Merries Reef was all white caps and spray with no hope of seeing the break in the reef so we chose to avoid it and take a straight heading into Port Hacking. OK, the wind had increased to 20+ knots WNW coming across our right bow quarter. Heading across Bate Bay was a bit of work and I got a lecture on group spread. No problem, we had made good progress and were going to be a bit early for those hamburgers so a slow crossing was not a problem. (The group spread issue has since gone into mediation.)

The only incident was when a NSW Maritime boat came out of Port Hacking and did a loop around two of the group (refer back to group spread above) about 0.5 km out. I had visions of a third party intervention and a full scale inquiry by the Commodore followed by stripping of my hard-earned Sea Skills qualification.

However, the supreme skill level of those stray two kayakers must have provided reassurance and the boat moved back into the bay.

We were assured by our alleged leader that the winds would abate, so as we headed for hamburgers, we noted the white caps in Port Hacking and were comforted by the expectation they would be gone by the time we got back on the water. The hamburgers were as advertised but the wind worsened. There were small wind waves as we crossed the entrance to Port Hacking, which increased to around one metre in Bate Bay with lots of white caps and spray. The trip back provided some test of skills with wind and seas on the stern left quarter. Good practice for our newly accredited skills of edging and bracing. We stuck a little closer to shore on the way back until Shark Island then around Merries Reef past Boat Harbour. Aaah — cruisy conditions again.

So far, the hardest part of the trip had been crossing Botany Bay at the beginning of the paddle. Maybe we should have taken note of that fact. As we turned past Cape Solander into the entrance of Botany Bay, it was tempting to head straight for the beach east of Bare Island. This would have been a mistake resulting in a longer crossing in more exposed conditions. Fortunately a large container ship was a couple of kilometres off shore and heading into port so we decided to paddle further into the bay while it passed — hard work but we made reasonable progress into the westerly. About 1.5 km in from Cape Solander we headed across to Bare Island and then around to our launch site in Frenchmans Bay.

Those last two kilometres were very educational. We had arrived back at Cape Solander earlier than planned and there was still a slight runout tide (about one hour left). The westerly wind was on the left bow quarter and seemed to keep increasing and the wind waves were up to one metre and washing over the kayaks. White caps and spray everywhere.

Where was that weathercocking when I needed it? I had the skeg fully up but with each wave, the wind would push the uplifted bow downwind. It was hard work keeping the kayak pointed away from the rocks. I was grateful for all the club training — edge, twist, good catch, use trunk and legs, sweep. I was edging and sweeping on the right so much that my right foot became numb. Things improved when I started to time my right forward stroke to when the bow was out of the water and about to fall into the next trough. I could feel my toes again!

The paddle past Bare Island was at a crawl, I reckon less than 0.5 km/hr. More than once I wondered if we were going backwards and that beach east of Bare Island looked very inviting. All this on Botany Bay when we were almost home! We later found out that the airport readings for that time were average wind WNW 29 knots, gusts 37 knots.

I initially didn’t want to document this trip because while we did a few things wrong, nothing actually went wrong. A bit boring really. Not one of the requisite disasters occurred: no capsizes, no rescues, no towing, no injuries, no holes from rocks (despite a good attempt), no lost paddlers, no popped shoulders, no emergency calls on the VHF. But — that last 2 km showed us how offshore winds can create a real hazard. Imagine being in a more remote location and no pullout spots? Imagine having to paddle more than 2 km in those conditions — how long could we have kept up the workload? Here we were within 100 metres of Bare Island and being pushed hard.

The ink is still wet on my ‘Sea Skills’ certificate so I am not qualified to make recommendations. But it is worth repeating some advice from a past issue of NSW Sea Kayaker. The legendary Paul Caffyn in “Those Deceptive But ‘orrible Offshore Winds” (NSW Sea Kayaker, Issue 26) recommended the following:

  • If an offshore wind is blowing at the launch site, be prepared to abort or shorten the length of the trip.
  • If caught in a sudden or gradual change to an offshore wind, turn tail immediately and run for the beach or nearest shelter. Sea conditions will deteriorate as the wind continues to blow offshore.
  • When faced by a wind violently funnelling out of a harbour or fiord etc, either return to the launch site or attempt to land and wait until the wind strength abates.
  • Patience is the order of the day. If there is any doubt, it is better to wait.
  • When caught on an exposed coast by a change to offshore wind conditions, hug the coast intimately, even if this adds considerably to the distance paddled for example by paddling around the curve of a bay.
  • Do not make straight line crossings of the narrow entrances to bays, fiords or harbours. Paddle upwind into the feature far enough before kicking out on the crossing. This is to combat ensuing wind and chop drift during the crossing and ensure reaching the far side safely.

I would add three other points:

  • Don’t underestimate the danger of fatigue. I found it no problem coping with the conditions initially crossing the bay. As we approached the end, I felt I had very little reserve left and would not want to deal with similar conditions out at sea for any extended length of time.
  • Even cruisers can end up in bruiser conditions and need to practise for those occasions.
  • Buy a beer occasionally for those leaders in the club who generously give their time to provide such an active training program for club members — even cruisers.

We are all glad we did the paddle, but next weekend we revert to a cruiser paddle to Shelley Beach. Hmm, coffee and toasted banana bread (no butter for me).


In the interests of fairness I asked for comments from the other paddlers.

Neil: “I’d add a new item number 10 at the end — never listen to a pod member (Geoff) who tells you strong morning winds will abate in the afternoon.”

Geoff: “I didn’t get to take part in the poll.”

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Antarctic Peninsula — the Civilised Way [75]

Kieron Potger and Christine James

It was a trip of a lifetime — kayaking in Antarctica. After over a year in the planning we finally found ourselves on the plane to Buenos Aires. We continued on to Ushuaia on the southernmost point of Argentina. When we disembarked the aircraft, we understood why the plane took so long to land — gale force winds! If it was like that here in Tierra del Fuego, it must be horrific in Antarctica itself. Yes, in fact at that time, the gale grounded a cruise ship, the MV Ushuaia, on the Antarctic Peninsula, and it had to be abandoned by its passengers and crew.

On 8 December last year we excitedly boarded the Polar Pioneer. It is a relatively small ice-strengthened ship fitted out with berths for 54 passengers. A few more passengers were squeezed in at the last minute to accommodate those travellers who had booked to sail on the now languishing Ushuaia. Polar Pioneer is a Russian ship that is chartered by the Australian company Aurora Expeditions. The crew is Russian while the staff is a mixture of Australian, British and New Zealander. After being shown our cabin we all met on the bridge for a briefing by the expedition leader; we were told to leave all our expectations on the dock, as what happens on this trip is to be dependent on the weather, ice and other conditions. At 6 pm we were on our way down the Beagle Channel. Eventually we bunked down while the gentle swaying of the ship yielded to pitching and rolling as we entered the infamous Drake Passage overnight.

The next two days were spent traversing the Drake Passage. Although we were not too badly affected by seasickness, the missing numbers at the dining tables at meal times attested to others having a more unpleasant experience. A big challenge was simply trying to walk, as the ship would lurch from side to side causing us to time our movements very carefully. Late on the third day we passed south of the South Shetland Islands and entered Bransfield Strait, seeing our first icebergs.

Early the next day we entered the Gerlache Strait, which separates Brabant Island from the Antarctic mainland. This was now the real Antarctica we had come to see — surreal beautiful sights, icebergs and snow covered islands, some dotted with penguins. After dropping anchor at Portal Point, we anxiously but eagerly donned our dry suits and collected all our kayaking gear. After climbing down a rope ladder to a Zodiac lashed alongside the ship we gingerly entered the kayak while each of the three vessels — ship, zodiac and kayak — moved up and down independently from each other. However, without too much hesitation we jumped into our awaiting kayaks and started our paddle into the lagoon. Cold hands were soon forgotten as we enjoyed the experience of gliding quietly through the icy Antarctic waters. Fantastic ice cliffs bordered the lagoon while amazing icebergs littered the waters. But the wind was picking up with an associated rising swell meaning a hasty return to the ship. After an undignified headfirst plunge into the awaiting Zodiac and a scramble up the rope ladder on the side of the ship we were both relieved and excited at having completed our first paddle in Antarctica. Shortly after a hearty dinner I was back kayaking with three others from the group along with the guide leaving the eight fellow kayakers on board. This time the conditions were perfect — calm waters, sun low in the sky and broken clouds resulting in a pastel and white magical world. The wind had calmed by this time.

The icebergs were beyond comprehension in colour and design — each one a unique piece of art that deserved closer inspection by kayak. Penguins and Weddell seals were observed and numerous photos taken. We were able to circumnavigate the small Enterprise Island. On the last stretch a few squalls and snow showers changed the mood of the experience, but too soon we were back on board. After a hot shower and hot chocolate drink, life could not be better.

On the next day our plan to paddle to Port Lockroy had to be hastily aborted. While all dressed and ready to launch the kayaks — one moment the bay was clear albeit windy, the next instant it was full of ice floes. The ship pulled anchor and headed south through the Lemaire Channel towards Pléneau Island. The sea ice became thicker the further south we went; it was fascinating to see the ship plough through the great blocks of ice. Eventually we ground to a halt at 65°09′ south when the captain negotiated with the expedition leader to turn around.

On day six we revisited Port Lockroy, a British base located in the middle of a Gentoo Penguin colony. After lunch in the Georges Point/Orne Island area we kayaked around a penguin colony and investigated icebergs and ice cliffs. We spotted a languid Leopard seal on an ice floe before dragging all the kayaks onto a flat iceberg and enjoying Cointreau and Baileys in the sunshine. This is living!

The following morning revealed a clear sunny day with little wind and calm seas — perfect for kayaking. After setting off to Paradise Harbour we checked out the Chilean base then followed the coast exploring icebergs, ice cliffs — which occasionally calved creating an almighty crash — and myriad wildlife: groups of penguins porpoising through the water, seals swimming past and various petrels, skuas and terns. After lunch we were back on the water kayaking again past the Chilean base and into Skontorp Cove. Again, we were able to closely observe a leopard seal which was on a small iceberg.

Another early morning pre-breakfast start saw us kayaking in perfectly calm conditions around Curverville Island. After breakfast we paddled at Hydrurga Rocks and after lunch I joined a small group in paddling again — this time in the Christiana Islands group. To save time on a lengthy circumnavigation of the island we dragged the kayaks across an isthmus. It was tricky relaunching the two double kayaks on the slippery rocks back into the sea amidst the swell and waves. Our guide Simon was able to manhandle our kayaks while in waist-deep water, ready to hoist us onto the water when the swell came in. Unfortunately, there was more sliding down the rocks than floating on the water for me — and out of the kayak and into the zero degree water went my paddling partner and me.

After the initial shock of the icy water we rapidly re-entered our boat with only our pride slightly hurt. We continued on the rest of our paddle, exploring amazing gorges and cliffs. The dry suits proved their worth; when undressing later in our cabin, only a small amount of water had leaked around my collar.

On day nine the ship entered the horseshoe-shaped Deception Island in the South Shetlands. Before breakfast, we were able to kayak back out into the open ocean via the narrow mouth opening — Neptunes Bellows — and explore the cliffs and caves on the outside of Deception Island in very calm conditions.

Deception Island was an old whalers station that has become inundated with volcanic ash, thereby preserving many old ruins — fascinating to walk around. After breakfast it was back kayaking for the last occasion. This time the ship had moved off Elephant Point, again in the South Shetlands.

We kayaked towards an elephant seal colony but as we neared land an inquisitive leopard seal swam up to our kayak. When his prehistoric-looking head rose out of the water just to my right I became (justifiably I feel) slightly anxious and (inadvisably!) encouraged Christine to paddle faster. This was like throwing a stick to a happy spaniel dog — the seal now wanted to play with us. He swam under us and around us, repeatedly emerging from the depths to look me in the eye and exhale over us.

Simon the guide came to our rescue, getting us to group up and slapping the surface of the water with his paddle. The seal lost interest and we were able to land on the beach amongst the grunting. roaring elephant seals and squealing Gentoo penguins with their hatchlings. It felt like being in the middle of one of those British wildlife documentaries.

The next three days were spent returning to Ushuaia across the Drake Passage via Cape Horn. In all we kayaked a total of 12 times, often three times a day. We were very lucky in having only one non kayakable day on the Peninsula, but it was not wasted as it made us appreciate a little of the conditions that are more often than not experienced here.

Kayaking allowed us to appreciate the beauty and magic of Antarctica on a very personal and physical level. The memories will be treasured for as long as we live, for it was such an honour to be in such a magnificent place.