From the President’s Deck [77/78]

by Michael Steinfeld

Having had a sneak preview of this double issue, Jacqui Stone, the editor and all the contributors have to be congratulated for producing a collector’s edition of the magazine. Stories including my trip to the Haida Gwaii National Park in north west Canada and John Wilde’s trip up north with Fishkiller will whet your appetite for adventure. Safety issues in kayaking are highlighted in the report from Ken Day, our vice president, detailing my faux pas whilst paddling from Broughton Island on a club trip and in Shaan Gresser’s gripping tale of her experience of a dislocated shoulder. And there is a whole lot more fine reading.

On the issue of safety, my incident on Broughton Island has raised a number of issues regarding club policy. Should paddlers on club trips enter rock gardens and gauntlets? Should helmets be carried on all club trips out to sea and put on when surfing and paddling in rock gardens and gauntlets? Where should tow ropes be stowed? On the deck? These policy matters are being reviewed by the club. So watch this space.

We are a 300-plus strong sea kayak club with Australia’s leading instructors, assessors and trip leaders, but with that comes an obligation to lead the sea paddling community and self-regulate. One way of keeping ahead of the game has been to ensure that all injuries and rescues requiring outside assistance on club trips are investigated to determine how we can improve our systems and educate the membership. After all, we all learn from each other’s mistakes. The days of yesteryear when you can head out to sea PFD or no PFD are truly gone. We must lead otherwise it will be done for us with unintended consequences. Remember that even paddling on your own brings with it a responsibility to the club, as any major injury is likely to force change on all of us.

Sea kayaking in NSW is not regulated except for the wearing of PFDs when paddling more that 400 metres from land and carrying a white light at night. However you cannot assume that this will always be the case.

As a result of the recent accident off Wollongong, when two sailors drowned as they were not wearing PFDs, NSW Maritime is now proposing regulations, which extend to kayakers, that a PFD must be worn when paddling on the sea or 100 metres from shore in sheltered waters. Our club couldn’t object to this as a PFD is worn from paddling day one. But 100 metres on flat water? If you paddle on say Tallowa Dam on a hot day, as one member emailed, why do you need your PFD if you are a competent paddler.

A couple of years ago, in South Australia, kayakers died crossing to Kangaroo Island. They should not have been attempting the crossing in the first place, as reports noted they were very inexperienced and they were completely unprepared and ill-equipped. The reaction by the authorities was to demand that paddling two nautical miles offshore requires a permit. This blanket approach is heavy handed and counterproductive. If you are unprepared for the conditions at sea what difference would 2nm make?

New Zealand authorities legislated in response to the death of kayakers when struck by motor boats at sunset. Kayakers must be more visible by dressing up their kayak and wearing bright clothing and lights, but what about boat owners? How many times have members of the club been “threatened” by a power boat? Would dressing up the kayak, e.g. putting up a big flag, make any difference? Maybe… maybe not.

On a different note, Freya Hoffmeister’s circumnavigation of Australia is a great achievement. She had a steely determination, a focus that was so intense that the seas just parted and the sharks and crocodiles became subdued in her presence. Many of us will miss Freya’s daily blog and remain in awe at her accomplishment, talent and determination to race around Australia.

Lastly, it is time to renew your membership and book your place for the Rock’n’Roll at Batemans Bay from 19 to 22 March 2010. Just follow the link on our web page. We have great guest speakers in Beau Miles and Ginni Callahan. There will be trips, instruction and lots of fraternization.

So until next time…

Michael Steinfeld
President

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The Lifuka Archipelago, Tonga [77/78]

by Terence Uren

The 171 islands of the Kingdom of Tonga lie between Fiji and the International Date Line, spread across some 700,000 square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. Within the kingdom, there are four main island groups: Tongatapu (which includes the capital Nuku’alofa); Ha’apai; Vava’u; and the Niuas. Within the Ha’apai group, the Lifuka Archipelago is a string of low-lying sand cays along the group’s eastern barrier reef, stretching approximately 45 kilometres from north to south.

We were at the northern end of the island of Foa, looking across the channel to the island of Nukunamo and chatting about our 10 day paddle through the Lifuka Archipelago that was to begin later that morning. We were speculating about what might happen to the current in the channel at turn of tide when, without warning, a two metre wave swept through the channel leaving the fringing reef behind it sucked dry.

The Tongans with us were at a loss to explain what had happened and it took a while for sombre news of a major earthquake in Western Samoa to filter through. What we had just witnessed was the first of a series of tsunamis that were to roll through over the next few hours. A tsunami alert had been activated and all schools and businesses closed until further notice.

What this meant for our paddle was unclear but any thoughts of disrupted plans were far from our minds as we dealt with anxieties about our personal safety and digested the first reports of chaos, destruction and loss of life that were coming in from the Niuas and Samoa.

As it turned out, we were extremely fortunate. The first and largest of the tsunamis hit Ha’apai dead on low tide and its fringing reef absorbed most of the impact. There was some minor local flooding and the causeway linking Foa and the island of Lifuka was briefly closed. All we lost was a bit of time and, later that morning, we were able to travel to our Lifukan launch spot in the town of Pangai. Our kayaks, which had been shipped down from Vava’u, had not been damaged and were ready for loading. This task drew an interested audience, its numbers swollen by children freed from school by the tsunami alert.

Everyone kept one eye on the ocean, which continued to surge and suck dramatically for a further two hours. When this movement appeared to have ceased, we decided to head off, although we figured it would be safer to paddle straight out to sea, rather than along the western shoreline of Lifuka as planned. Our first stop was the western end of the island of Uoleva. Like most of the archipelago’s islands, it was everything you expect of a tropical paradise: white sand beaches backed by coconut palms and surrounded by rich offshore reefs.

The weather the next morning was perfect. The prevailing trade winds were whipping up a fair surf on the outer reef to the east of Uoleva but paddling conditions on the leeward side of the island were ideal. Our plan was to head across to the uninhabited island of Luangahu, and use this as a base camp for two nights while we explored nearby atolls. There were, however, reports from local fishermen that it was infested with breeding sea snakes. They had counted 40 around their landing site on their last visit, not aggressive but very curious. By the time we’d completed the 10 km crossing, we’d talked ourselves out of camping on Luangahu and, after a brief leg stretch, we paddled on, heading for the village of Felemea on the island of Uiha. We picked up water from the village’s tanks (proudly labelled ‘Donated by AUSAid’), camped nearby and, the next day, paddled further south to a set of isolated islets known collectively as Uanukuhahaki.

The ideal conditions and our decision not to camp on Luangahu meant that we were now well ahead of our paddle plan. Not a problem — Uanukuhahaki is such a beautiful place so it was easy to stay on for a few extra days. There was plenty to do. Its four islets were each worthy of close examination on foot and in kayak; we needed a couple of hours each day to catch enough fish to feed ourselves; when we ran out of lures we had the hours needed to make our own; and the snorkelling was first rate — until we came across a school of 20 sharks off one of the islets. There was even time for the sculptor in our group to work on a ‘found materials’ installation. Our only problem was not quite enough water for a longer than planned camp but we were able to stretch our supplies by cooking in a mix of salt and fresh water and by drinking freshly harvested coconut juice.

Eventually, the water ran out. We packed up, returned to Felemea’s tanks, refilled our containers and kept paddling northwards to Uoleva. We found an even prettier campsite than the one we’d used on our outward journey and stayed here for another three days, with more moseying about in unladen boats, fishing, snorkelling, swimming and sculpting.

Once again, the emptying of our water containers was the signal to move on. By this time, however, we’d also run out of food and we had no option but to head back to Pangai. We landed by the town wharf to news of an earthquake in Vanuatu and a tsunami alert for the Ha’apai group. The monthly supply ship which had been due to unload later that day had heeded the alert and turned out to sea. There were to be no treats for us that night but it didn’t matter: the experience of paddling in the archipelago was more than ample reward for us all.

Trip Planning

Getting to the Lifuka Archipelago is relatively straightforward. Pacific Blue has twice weekly flights between Sydney and Nuku’alofa and Chathams Pacific runs flights between Nuku’alofa and Ha’apai on most days of the week.

Ha’apai is a designated conservation area. Permits are needed to paddle in the Lifuka Archipelago and it is illegal to camp in the area unless accompanied by licensed Tongan guides. Our guides were from the Vava’u based Friendly Islands Kayak Company. The company also provided our kayaks — ageing but well maintained Necky Arluks, Necky Tofinos and Southern Auroras.

Food provisioning for a trip such as this is problematic. The local lifestyle is based on subsistence farming and there is little surplus produce available for sale in local markets. Imported food is expensive, limited in availability and supplies are unreliable. Fish are plentiful but fishing in the waters adjacent to inhabited areas is restricted to locals. Fishing on Sundays is illegal.

There is no permanent water on any of the islands we visited and all that we used on the trip came from village rainwater tanks. The villagers were generous but their generosity should not be taken for granted. Donations of cash and materials to village schools are always welcomed.

The service provided by Friendly Islands Kayak Company was exceptional. Our trip was a private charter but the company also runs 5- and 7-day guided trips in the Vava’u group that would be worth considering for anyone interested in paddling in Tonga but unable to put a group together. A good description of paddling around Vava’u can be found in Paul Theroux’s The Happy Isles of Oceania.

Safety Review: Incident at Cons Cleft, Broughton Island [77/78]

by Ken Day

Following is an edited version of the review which was conducted by Ken Day, Vice President. Report Date: 10 November 2009

Date of incident

11 October 2009

Participants

There were five participants: David Fisher (Trip Leader), Paul Loker, Bruce McNaughton, John Piotrowski, Michael Steinfeld

Background

An overnight club trip to Broughton Island. On the return leg, Michael entered Cons Cleft alone, capsized, suffered a scalp wound and was successfully rescued using the combined skills of all the other participants. Michael didn’t require immediate external medical support but on return to Sydney he received three stitches to his scalp.

Cons Cleft is more commonly known as Conspicuous Cleft and is a feature of Looking Glass Island which is within 100 metres of Broughton Island. The parts of Looking Glass Island that are closest to Broughton Island are surrounded by rocky beaches and gauntlets. This area would not be accessed by motor boats and with big seas running can be quite treacherous. The cleft itself is about 3-6 m wide and 75 m long.

Scope

This report has been compiled from the NSW Sea Kayak Club Incident Report Form submitted by the Trip Leader and individual feedback from trip participants.

The incident

The group left Broughton Island after an informal and relaxed briefing. David, the trip leader, and Paul left the beach with the intention of checking the cleft to see if it was safe to paddle through. Bruce and John believed that this was the plan.

As the group approached the cleft Michael was out in front of the group and continued to paddle into the cleft whilst the others assembled near the entrance. With the sea conditions and waves washing a couple of metres up the wall of the cleft, David and Paul decided they would go through the cleft. Bruce and John decided to go around the island. David and Paul waited for a large set to pass before entering the cleft.

Michael decided to enter the cleft as it had appeared calm for the minute or so before he entered.

Michael had made it about two-thirds of the way through when a large wave picked up his kayak and carried it towards the southern wall of the gauntlet. It tipped the kayak on its side close to the wall and Michael fell in. Michael didn’t think about rolling because it happened on his wrong rolling side and he knew he had to get out fast to avoid falling into the shallow water beyond the wave.

Michael’s difficulty started when he was sucked backed in the same direction as he had entered the cleft. He thought he would just be pulled out by the waves. He grabbed his kayak thinking that he did not want to let go because it would give support while waiting to be rescued.

Michael tried to get his kayak towards the entrance but with each wave he had problems controlling the kayak. He now wonders whether he should have let go of the kayak and swum out. Michael remembers a large wave coming and lifting him up onto the side of the rocks and banging his head. Michael was aware that he could get knocked out.

David and Paul entered the cleft to find Michael in the water holding his kayak, bleeding from the back of his head. They agreed that David should move further out of the cleft as there was no room for three kayaks in the narrow turbulent area. Paul attempted to drag Michael and his kayak out of the wave area with him holding onto Paul’s rear toggle. There was too much drag with Michael’s inverted kayak having the sail and paddle bag hanging free, so Paul suggested Michael let go of his kayak.

After being tossed around repeatedly Paul also capsized. As he wasn’t sure of Michael’s condition he decided to wet exit. Paul thought that if needed he could be of more assistance to Michael in the water. They then swam partly out of the cleft supported by Paul’s kayak.

At this time David turned around to see both Michael and Paul in the water. David gave his towline to Paul who connected it to his kayak. David then started to tow Paul’s kayak, Paul and Michael out of the cleft. David asked John to help by connecting his towline to David’s boat to assist with the tow. John’s towline was in his day hatch and it took too long to get it out so David proceeded with the rescue without the additional towline.

Once Michael was out, David told John and Bruce to take him to the nearest beach. The tow was about 600 metres to a rocky beach.

Both David and Paul paddled back around the island to retrieve Michael’s kayak which had floated near the mouth of the cleft. David and Paul recovered one half of Michael’s spare paddle and towed Michael’s kayak to the rocky beach.

Michael’s injury was assessed as not requiring external medical support. First aid was applied and after suitable recovery time the group restarted the return journey. Michael was able to paddle unassisted to the landing point. There was little damage to the kayaks.

Weather

The weather was fine with slight winds. The sea state consisted of 2-2.5 metre swells from the SSE/SE. There were large and long period swells in the week prior to the trip. There were large infrequent wave sets paddling to Broughton Island.

Equipment

All trip participants’ kayaks were fitted to the club’s Grade 3 standards. Michael had a VHF radio; the other participants had mobile phones.

Michael was in the water for about 45 minutes from capsize to landing on the beach and was dressed for immersion. That is, he wore long 2-3 mm neoprene long pants, an insulated top with a singlet wetsuit top which helped protect him from hypothermia.

Review of Incident

Equipment

Some participants had their tow ropes in their day hatches. This resulted in increased time to conduct the rescue.

Michael’s sail wasn’t secured properly and became loose (still connected to the kayak), which increased the difficulty in carrying out the rescue. Michael’s spare paddle also came free from the boat and only one half was eventually recovered.

Planning

In the pre-trip briefing there was some discussion about entering the cleft; it was decided that the decision to enter the cleft would be made once the group was more familiar with the local current conditions. On the way to Broughton Island, it was decided not to enter the cleft due to the wave height. Prior to departing on Sunday there was some discussion about the return trip plan. This included some discussion about Cons Cleft although nothing specific was discussed in terms of the decision to enter.

Communications

On approach to the cleft, four of the group stopped to observe the conditions whilst Michael paddled ahead of the group and entered the cleft. David did not signal Michael to enter or not enter.

The remainder of the group agreed to split up with David and Paul entering the cleft and John and Bruce deciding to paddle around the island.

Considering the situation once Michael was found, it appears the group communicated well. Getting Bruce and John to get Michael to shore was probably the best choice due to Bruce’s first aid experience and David and Paul’s paddling skills.

There was only one VHF radio among the group, carried by Michael. The area of the trip is covered by Volunteer Coastal Patrol; the signal is weak at water level towards the island. There is a marine VHF base station on Broughton Island that could have been used to call for assistance if required. David distributed laminated maps to all participants which had emergency contacts printed on it. There is limited mobile phone coverage available on Broughton Island.

Injury to people should always take priority over recovering equipment. Whilst this decision may result in lost or broken equipment it must be the highest priority.

The decision to enter

Michael decided to enter the cleft as he had been through it before a number of times when there was little swell. He did not discuss his decision to enter with anyone. Michael entered the cleft at the wrong time without a proper consideration of oncoming large sets which were a feature of the weekend.

Trip participants must understand that the Trip Leader is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the trip. This is important where a participant may have better skills and would attempt something that the leader would not attempt (either as an individual or as a Sea Leader). It is also important that participants make their decisions based on the direction of the Trip Leader, the skills of the group and lastly on the skills of an individual in a group.

On approach to the cleft it should have been apparent to the group that they were about to change the level of risk associated with the paddle and conducted a rapid risk assessment. This should have consisted of watching the conditions in order to decide whether or not to proceed. Once the decision to proceed was made, a risk review and mitigation plan should have been conducted. This would have included:

  • group order to enter the cleft;
  • plans if something goes wrong;
  • requirement to wear helmets;
  • plan for the largest wave that may come through;
  • review of chain of command; &
  • check of equipment.

Inside the cleft

Michael may have avoided injury if he had left his kayak and swum out of the cleft. In the open ocean or any significant distance from shore (more than about 50 metres) kayakers should stay with their kayak. The kayak provides additional buoyancy and is easier to find by search and rescue organisations. Michael also could have been jammed between his kayak and the wall by a wave, which could have resulted in serious injury.

Michael did not use his whistle to attract attention. Had he done so it may have reduced the time to start his rescue therefore avoiding his injury. No helmet was worn by any participant.

The rescue

Rescuing someone almost always put the rescuers at risk. Before entering a rock garden or gauntlet or undertaking something that increases the risk of damage to a kayak or personal injury, a paddler should discuss rescue options with other paddlers. They should assume that no one in the group will be able to rescue them. They may find themselves having to swim out of a gauntlet, leaving their boat behind.

Bruce and John applied first aid to Michael. Once treated and the kayak recovered Michael announced he was ready to recommence the return journey. It was agreed to allow more time before starting the return trip. This allowed more time for Michael to settle down mentally and physically, allowed time for other symptoms such as concussion to appear. It also gave all participants the time to discuss what had happened, question what they did and talk about things they may have done differently with more time.

Conclusion

The incident occurred because Michael was too hasty to enter the cleft without consideration of the risks relative to his abilities and equipment. David, as Trip Leader, could have provided a more detailed briefing before leaving Esmeralda Cove to ensure that it was clear that the group would stop before the cleft and the Sea Leader would decide whether to enter the cleft.

Michael was lucky that his injury wasn’t life-threatening and grateful that other participants in the group put themselves and their equipment at risk to rescue him.

The sequence of the recue was appropriate, with reasonable tasks being allocated to the appropriately skilled participants.

Recommendations

  • Whilst members should be encouraged to improve their skills, any activity such as paddling in rock gardens and gauntlets which require special skills and a higher level of risk should only be done with the trip leader’s consent and knowledge. The trip leader will be unlikely to consent unless he/she is confident that they have the ability and resources at hand should a rescue be needed.
  • Large infrequent swell sets must be factored into risk planning. Among other things, Michael should have waited and observed the swell before tackling the gauntlet.
  • Additional emphasis should be placed on the importance of being able to rescue someone quickly and deploy tow lines during training and club trips. In practice most people who require rescue do so in difficult conditions when accessing a day hatch adds risk to both the rescuer and rescuee.
  • Additional emphasis should be placed on securing equipment on kayaks to avoid the post-rescue activity of collecting gear.
  • If there is limited safety or communications equipment in a group, each member of the group should know who has it and have at least some idea of how to use it.
  • Trip Leaders are reminded to conduct full trip briefings no matter who is on the trip and to obtain agreement that participants won’t go off into increased risk areas (or anywhere) without full group discussion, planning, etc.
  • No changes are required to NSWSKC policies and procedures.
  • An excerpt of this incident review should be published in the magazine so that all members can benefit from the lessons learnt from this event.

Hawkesbury Canoe Classic 2009 [77/78]

by several participants

Intro by Raewyn Duffy

The Hawkesbury Canoe Classic (111 km from Windsor to Mooney Mooney) is the city to surf for Sydney kayaking and many club members have taken part over the last 33 years. Each year about 600 participants compete in so many classes of boats and ages that the race is more about your own goals than competing against others.

It raises funds for the Arrow Foundation, provides a challenge, and for anyone who has taken part there are lasting memories of the fantastic organisation, jokes and camaraderie of participants, volunteers and crews.

The first wave starts at 4 pm on Saturday and the last boats come in about lunchtime on Sunday. Paddling through the night provides that extra element of adventure.

Seventeen club members competed and everyone finished — a fantastic achievement. At least six other club members crewed. Definitely a night to remember and in Rob’s words ‘every kayaker should do it at least once’.

Here are the participants’ reports.

Sarah Williams

Ladies open Long Rec 2, Mirage 730. 12 hr 28 min, 43rd on handicap

It seemed like such a good idea over that glass of wine. We bought a second hand Mirage 730, got excellent advice from Rob Mercer… started training… and…Justine got pregnant! Ah! Rozetta stepped up and we were back in business.

What a buzz at the start! Great fun chatting to the boats around us and people on the bank. We were ahead of schedule at Sackville and headed to Wisemans as the sun set. We picked up a few people’s wake on the way to Wisemans which helped as we got more tired. Distraction was good — Abba and the Black Eyed Peas were on our soundtrack!

We were still ahead at Wisemans, so I took extra time as my stomach wasn’t in good shape. Final advice for each of us from our wise land crew went like this:

To me: ‘Take it easy for a bit, just get your body back into it.’

To Rozetta: ‘Don’t kill Sarah!’

The last section was hard. It was surreal paddling in the dark — now and again we saw the glowsticks of other boats in the inky blackness — otherwise there was nothing. The GPS gave up so we relied on Rozetta’s great navigation skills and the channel markers. We stopped for food at about 3.30 am and we heard callouts from a passing boat… it was colleagues of mine! What a coincidence and a great lift!

We finished slightly over our target time, completely exhausted, but so pleased. What a fantastic event!. And thanks to our spectacular landcrew.

Gina Shannon

Brooklyn or Bust1, Epic 18. 13 hr 20 min, First Time

That was one long, dark, painful, AWESOME night. I have blisters the size of small planets on most of my fingers, and a great respect for Dee, who was obviously still able to raise her arms above her head at the finish…there was no way I could have managed it. Actually I think I was kind of delirious when I got out — thanks to Andrew Eddy for keeping me upright!

But Rae was right about one thing — the reward of having finished far outweighs the pain (or at least it will in a day or two). I wouldn’t have had the will to keep going without the insanely committed support of friends and land crew. Running into fellow NSWSKC members on the river was a real buzz, and everyone had words of encouragement to share.

Yesterday, had you asked, I would have sworn that was my first and last Classic. Now, I’m not so sure. With a little more training up front, and better nutrition on the night (more gel shots, less muesli bars, better hydration system) and most of all — a real idea of what I’m up against, who knows?

What a fantastic experience!

Ian Vaile

Long Rec1 40+, Mirage 580. 12 hr 8 min, 6th time, 66th on handicap

This one was number six for me and with the combination of bad tides and no moon it was definitely a tough one. I dips me lid to the Brooklyn or Bust paddlers who had an extra hour of flood tide and heat to contend with at the start — well done! Congratulations too to our dedicated land crews, who make it all happen for us and who don’t have as much… fun.

Some reflections… this was the first time I had done it alone; it’s a different race in a single. It was quite eventful; I fished a paddler out of the water at about 7 pm, with a bit of help from a couple of others; I had intemperate words with a paddler who had a bright white light fixed to his bow, blinding everyone in front of him; I thought I would be cogitating and internally talking all the way but was struck by just how little I actually thought about once I was in the groove (no surprise to my beloved Cathy, I’m sure); I managed to prune a bit of a dead tree using my forehead by unwittingly cutting too close to the invisible right bank somewhere after checkpoint M, immediately followed by an arresting encounter with a big oystery rock that stuck out at right angles into the stream (I moved a bit back to the left after that!) and was entranced again by the phosphorescence — it’s like paddling through green liquid fire, an unexpected repeated morale booster in the depths of the night.

This time around I used a lot of those gels — I reserved a caffeinated one for 2 am, that was definitely another log on the fire. I had the iPod plugged in from Wisemans. I didn’t realise quite how much teenage-girl pop my daughter had put on it so there were some unexpected tracks, but it was also a great lift.

I remembered how disheartening the last five kilometres or so are, especially when the end heaves into view and then recedes furiously for an eternity… I made the last 10 kilometres powered by snakes — won’t mind if I don’t taste one again for a year.

I feel privileged and proud to be part of this club, and was really struck by how good all the club members I saw looked when they finished — not just handsome and comely in a raffish way (goes without saying) but in physically good shape, not shattered, hypothermic, or hypoglycemic, getting out of the boats with a smile and a joke. Dee’s picture captures that. I think it says a lot for the culture of the club that people paced themselves so well and took care of their water, food and warmth so successfully. ʊ

Matt Bezzina

Brooklyn or Bust, Mirage 530. 12 hr 53 min, 3rd time

When I ruined my Hawkesbury Classic 2007 T-shirt I knew I’d have to do the damn thing again.

This time it took me 31 minutes longer than last time but as I did it straight through without landing, didn’t take any drugs and finished in good shape I was satisfied nonetheless. Unfortunately I don’t like the design of the 2009 HCC T-shirt so I’ll have to do the bloody thing again next year.

Peter Osman

Brooklyn or Bust, Mirage 580. 14 hr 55 min, 5th time

My paddle was relatively relaxed although I did get a boost for a few minutes when Rae and Kate let me wash ride behind them and I tried desperately to keep up.

From 3-4 am was weird. There were no other paddlers ahead of me and it was very very dark. I got lost for about 10 minutes, then saw a green light flashing away in the distance. All the flashing lights: headlights, navigation lights etc played tricks with my never brilliant eyes and I started seeing optical illusions. These included aʧreat many bridges looking like aqueducts, the occasional street sign appearing and vanishing on the water and at one stage a whole field of wild waving grass on the water. Fortunately it was only my eyes and not my head so I had enough sense not to go for a walk on the grass! Unfortunately none of these optical illusions included mermaids — ah well, can’t have everything!

Well done everyone — what a night!

Anne Moore & Simon McGuire

Brooklyn or Bust 2, Mirage 730. 13 hr 6 min, First Time (Anne)

At the time of writing Simon was undertaking a paddle from Byron Bay to Newcastle, a distance of over 600 km. Simon completed half the Classic last year and teamed up in a double with Anne this year. This is Anne’s view of their Classic.

This was my first attempt and I thought this could be the toughest adventure I’d ever attempted. My husband Owen has crook shoulders so I had to find a partner for the Queen Mary (Mirage 730). Luckily I met cool dude Simon.

Unfortunately Simon moved from Lake Macquarie to Harrington so we didn’t get many opportunities to practise together. I found myself doing the familiarization paddles or setting off around Lake Macquarie by myself. Our one practice together in the Myall Classic saw us battling winds gusting up to 40 knots and big wind waves. Many boats capsized and the event was shortened to 36 km (from the scheduled 47 km). Nevertheless, it was a good practice paddle.

As the big day approached I started getting doubts — had I done enough long paddles? Arriving at Windsor I got excited and drawn into the activities of the day rather than trying to get some sleep.

The first 30 kilometres to Sackville, still being daylight, had a very social atmosphere. We chatted to all the paddlers as we passed them going down river, in relatively high spirits. I wondered if some paddlers would make it to the finish.

The lights of Wisemans Ferry were a welcoming sight but it seemed to take ages to reach. We were greeted by our cheery land crew with a warm pasta dish and hot coffee. I had difficulties walking so thought by the end of the paddle I might not be able to walk at all. This was further motivation for later not stopping at the low tide pit stop between Wisemans and Spencer, even though it looked most welcoming with a big roaring fire.

After our only pit stop at Wisemans, we pushed on at a steady pace, in the pitch dark and into the flood tide during the early morning hours, with no moon and few paddlers to follow or to talk to. This was probably the toughest part of the journey.

After paddling through Milsons Passage at approximately 5.20 am and seeing the lit-up Hawkesbury Bridge we decided we had to finish by 6.00 am. Believe it or not we still had some fuel left in the tank and sprinted, reaching the finish still in the dark at 5.36 am. A big thanks go to our land crew of Owen and Graeme who assisted us, whips and all.

Good preparation is the key. I had one blister on my foot from not testing out my footwear on a long paddle, otherwise I pulled up well at the finish and recovered in a good shape, with no need for a massage the next day.

My trick to get Simon over the finish line this year was to tell him some little untruths about the distance left to paddle to a checkpoint; that is we only had 10 km to go when really it was 15.

Simon is talking about attempting the paddle in a single kayak next year so I’ll probably be looking for a new partner to accompanying me in the Queen Mary — or will I go solo?

David Fisher

Brooklyn or Bust, Mirage 580. 13 hr 3 min, 5th Classic, Personal best by 2 hr 21 min

This was my first year going hardcore. It was also the first year that I felt I had done enough paddling and my forward stroke progressed enough that I could even attempt going hardcore.

Matt taunted me into not getting out and, aside from five minutes at Wisemans, that is what happened.

I had a dark hour in which my arms wouldn’t work. I couldn’t really tell how long it lasted. I was just trying to shake it away. I loaded up on Bounty bars, gels, a banana that I had forgotten about and a bread roll (that combo sounds great doesn’t it!) and some time later, presto my body was shaking with sugar and ready to roll. I just had to keep the gels up for the next 3 hours….and I powered to the finish at 5:03 am in the dark.

Mark Gillett & Andrew Charlton

Long Rec 50+, Mirage 580. 11 hr 46 min, 3rd Classic, 54th on handicap resp. Long Rec 40+, Mirage 580. 11 hr 46 min, 5th Classic, 70th on handicap

Reflections on the journey down the Big H in Ocky Arrow…

Windsor: This was my third Classic in a row, but first in a single 580. Gee it hurts more, that extra hour without my Tail End Charlie (i.e. TEC = Andrew Charlton) in the rear power engine room of the 730. The first leg was hot-fast with a few duelling paddles, first the other 580s under Windsor Bridge, then those dream boats, the pushy 730s. Tagged on to a few conga lines for first 16 kilometres just behind TEC’s 580, then dropped off and struggled with the heat and wind. Lost my cream Legionnaire hat which I removed to cool down. If anyone found one please give me a call, it may have changed colour and maybe even glows in the dark by now.

Sackville: What a buzz is that night landing, manoeuvring and the river traffic virtually in the dark. I was boiling on arrival, too fast too early, almost pulled out, amazing what two Panadols, a sweet rub from my roadie (Anne my wife), a few encouraging words and stretching the legs for five minutes will do. We paddled non-stop to Wisemans Ferry last year but I recommend the Sackville quick pit stop to everyone.

Leaving The Sax beach, a double Vulcan was arriving but capsized 15 m from the shore and just beside The Ocky Arrow. I’m not sure if I contributed — hope not — Roadie reckoned I did. Tagged on to TEC — renamed Out Front Charlie (OFC) — who had waited a few minutes for me at The Sax, fresh as a daisy. I reckon he had a nap while waiting.

About halfway to Wisemans Ferry in pitch blackness an outrigger passes us and within a minute a great bang, swearing and two red lights slowly raised 2 m above the middle of the river, then a splash and numerous bodies were in the water. I stopped and turned on my torch to discover the outrigger had hit a thumping big unlit green buoy and capsized about 15 m in front of Ocky Arrow. I helped find the paddles, they righted and all was well. The stars and moon were brilliant and the temperature and wind dropped — ideal if not for the pain all over and the 730s gliding by effortlessly.

Wisemans Ferry: Wow, is that a great sight, but how long does it take to paddle to those tiny lights off in the blackness? It felt like a real fairyland, only the traffic was like Sydney Airport on a long weekend. Quick stop, rub, forced feed while standing and changing clothes and off in 15 minutes.

Met up with Gina numerous times on this leg; how good did you do for a first timer especially in this last leg. The water was bitter sweet, magic lit up with the phosphorescence but that tide — ouch! No capsizes sighted in this leg. With 6 km to go, OFC asked if I wanted a coffee. Out came the thermos and after a cuppa we ended up sprinting the last 5 km at 9.5 km/hr. Who said caffeine is not a stimulus?!

Brooklyn: Tide with you, no wind, no heat and the finish in sight, caffeine up. And that announcer, how good was he?! It was eerie just before and after OFC and I dead-heated at 5.13 am. Every second finisher was a NSWSKCer. Ohhh what a night!

Rohan Marshall

Long Rec, Mirage 580. 11 hr 55 min, First Time, 73rd on handicap

One day late 2008 I met two NSW Sea Kayak Club members at Palm Beach whilst taking a breather from falling off my surf ski. The husband and wife team had paddled their Mirages over from Ettalong. After talking to them for a while I paddled home and put my surf ski up for sale.

Soon, as the owner of a 580 I could paddle wherever I wanted without falling in. Great! I decided I needed a goal — something to force me to get on the water. The Hawkesbury Classic was the natural choice.

At first it seemed ridiculous to even think of doing that paddle but as time went on it became set in my mind. I did the first familiarisation paddle to Spencer and back and went OK. I also found out about Lyle Mead. He offers a coaching service and is an accomplished paddler. I figured some guidance would help if I was seriously going to attempt this paddle. So about three months before the race I started training according to Lyle’s program.

Although the longest paddle I did was the (cut short) Myall Classic, I felt confident about my fitness. My major concern was my seat. I had tried a few different options — all homemade foam seats to replace the standard 580 seat. Unfortunately the Myall River paddle revealed just how painful paddling can be in the wrong seat. So with a few weeks to go I made mark II, with a lot of help from others and Google.

Race day — fully loaded with carbs — such a lot of effort to eat ONE donut guilt free! Well rested and tapered thanks to the training schedule, we arrived at Windsor with enough Endura for four people. Down to the start, homemade hydration tube holder fitted, in I hop for a quick warm-up paddle.

The moment arrives and I am off, paddling like mad trying to stick somewhere near the front. I settle in behind a conga line of kayaks and watch the manoeuvring. Gradually we drift apart and I enjoy, finally, a little personal space. After two hours I feel quite bad pain in my right shoulder and my right lower back. After pushing hard every time a faster double passes, trying to grab a free ride, I realise it’s time to go easy or I’ll be lucky to make it to Sackville. I pause to take the first dose of Voltaren. Over the next 12 hours I end up taking 10 and I’m sure they didn’t work — the mental comfort is something though.

The sun starts to set and the river is glorious. This is why I wanted to do this paddle — such a wonderful sport, surrounded by great people who share the same emotions. Then, from the left bank… ‘Homos, you’re all homos,’ comes the cry from a water ski campsite. I just laugh, keep paddling.

Sackville comes and goes and then we are into serious night time. After more bends than I thought, finally the lights of Wisemans come into view. I hit the shore after six hours paddling, happy with my time, thanks to the tides, and start looking for my crew. After 15 minutes of searching I start to realise I am wasting time and running out of ideas when suddenly I bump into my surprised wife, closely followed by our friend and second land crew, both of whom seem a little caught out. I later found out they were having a rest in the car as they didn’t expect me — good lesson for next year.

Thirty-five minutes later I am pushing off into the darkness with dry clothes and full hydration packs. My good luck with the ferries ends and I have to wait at both. Then we are away. I follow the trail of fading Cyalumes and every now and then push on my GPS to see where the hell I am meant to be going. This bit was hard — dark, in pain, tired and a long way to go. On and on, then a nice surprise — low tide pit stop. I’ve taken in too much Endura and my body has given up processing it. A quick coffee by the fire and back in for the final stretch.

My goal was under 12 hours but by now I am totally complacent about it. I just want to finish. My back pain is excruciating and I SWEAR I will never do this again.

Paddle on and on — have a nice chat with a fellow NSW Sea Kayak club member — David I think. Talking to him is great — distracts my mind from the pain and the need to keep pushing to reach my goal. Finally the tide turns and a look at the GPS says 4:58 am finish. Right, paddle on and I might just make it.

Watching the minutes tick by, I slide across the line four minutes under 12 hours. I am pulled from the boat and stand up. Not jubilant or overawed, just really worn out and in pain. I hobble back to the car and take a l-o-n-g time to get changed. More pills, lie down in the car seat, pain still pumping. Never, never again.

Home. Hugs with family. Fight (yep — legal fight with my Dad) for more pain killers. GIVE ME SOME MORE. Bed. Sleep. Wake up…

Pain is gone. Feel pretty good. How was my time ? Could go faster next year…wouldn’t mind…wonder how much a faster kayak costs.

Now, a few weeks later, the memories of the pain have all but gone. It was a great night, A great atmosphere and wonderful people. A magical experience and certainly a great way to spend one of my nights on this planet. (That was one thought I actually did have on the night.)

Next year, they are saying full moon, better tides, maybe get a faster boat, train more, paddle faster, more donuts…

Hard to say no.

Simon Padmore

Med Rec1, Tracer. 12 hr 56 min, First Time, 105th on handicap

During the lead-up to the race it was great to meet, paddle with and exchange ideas on the great race with people from the club. I was especially motivated by the people who had done it several times before and seemed totally at ease with the prospect of spending 14+ hours to complete the race. On race day I was stoked to be part of the NSWSKC team that met on the grass for the photo.

I mistakenly believed the night would be chilly (from past experience) and the brilliant day and hot winds would trick everyone into hypothermia. So I wore my warmest thermal pants and long sleeve thermal under my heavy long sleeve cag! As the race progressed I was literally on fire and while I was still in the leading group from my start I decided not to remove any gear to cool down lest I drop from the pack.

Red-hot, blue-hot, white-hot, I started to feel blissfully euphoric which fell away to a searing/blinding headache and vomiting then out of control dry retching — great!

I’d been dropped from my group and was having a pretty horrid time.

I pushed on and passed Richard Barnes’ wiggly tail. Richard, who was paddling a short white water kayak, told us all at the Hawkesbury race sea kayak dinner that finishing was ‘just a state of mind’.

I had trained hard and one member of my support crew had travelled from Tassie to see me finish. This was a turning point for me and seeing someone so happy to be out there made solid my determination to cross the finish line.

At Wisemans I could tell by my land crews’ faces that all was not well. It took me 50 minutes to change out of my sweaty spew-covered gear and into dry stuff. My chilly night had still not descended. I was only able to stomach a small cup of coffee and couldn’t even face a whole Tim Tam as a burning throat from throwing up prevented me from wanting to eat.

I set off again and soon after passed Richard’s waggly tail for the second time. Although hazards were some-times marked I still managed to crash into a few trees fallen into the river as well as running aground twice and scraping the bottom of my boat. I witnessed other boats struggling with obstacles, including a double kayak that T-boned a moored motor yacht at full speed — ouch!

I had sense enough to stay hydrated, forcing myself to keep taking sips of water despite the fact that it seemed to bounce straight back up. I only ate one of my expensive supercharged energy gels/bars the whole race. Determination to beat the sun saw me cross the finish line at about 5.40, just under 13 hours after I started the race.

During training I had been seeing a physio due to a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder. He has since ordered a new BMW for himself and no doubt when he hears I have broken my lower right leg and dislocated my ankle at the surf club last weekend will probably order one for his wife as well!

Andrew Kucyper

Brooklyn or Bust, Mirage 580. 16 hr 55 min, 3rd Classic

This year I decided to do everything possible to have great enjoyment and spiritual uplift while paddling.

I also decided to change my diet. Namely, instead of relying on liquid food only (Endura-Optimizer and Gatorade) I decided to experiment with Kelloggs Sustain cereals and ordinary (full cream) milk.

My land crew had a gas stove and at the pit stops (firstly at Windsor, before the start and later at Sackville and Wisemans) prepared for me a big bowl of cereal with hot milk. My total food intake, during the event, was two litres of milk with 700 g cereal at the pit stops and Gatorade during travel. Downstream of Spencer I also had a few rice bars.

As I was there for enjoyment only, I spent two hours at each of the pit stops.

I think that my goal was reached as I was not struggling at the last 10 km, and was not humiliated there by other boats passing me (as it happened during previous years). I enjoyed paddling under very bright starlight, with no wind, no fog and just-right air temperature.

Dee Ratcliffe

Ladies Med Rec 40+, Mirage 530. 13 hr 53 min, First Time, 41st on Handicap

Only twice for brief moments did I hit that ‘gee, this is good paddling and I am in the zone’ feeling. Most of the time it was just hard. But all the hours spent training paid off and my arms and body kept on paddling.

I never realised how many Mirage 730s exist! They seemed to overtake me all night long. For some mad reason at 4.15 am, I decided I wanted to finish by 6.15, so I paddled even harder! At least that shook me out of the sleep zone I was in at the time.ʠAmazing what little things kept me going — reaching a checkpoint and awarding myself with a brief stop to check the map and maybe eat some gel goo. The gels were fantastic, as I didn’t want to use time peeling bananas or reaching for food. My apologies to Rob for almost sending him into the river for a swim…oops!

My thoughts during so much of Saturday night were that anyone who did this more than once was crazy, stark-raving mad!ʠBut by the next afternoon I was contemplating what I will be doing next time…argh!!! The Hawkesbury addiction has struck!

Kate Nicholls (4th Classic) & Raewyn Duffy (2nd)

Womens Long Rec2 40+, Mirage 730. 11 hr 41 min, 17th on handicap

Kate: This was a tough, dark night and seemed longer and more challenging than last year. It’s the second Classic we have done together. Our training schedule was going well until I was whisked off overseas by my handsome new boyfriend. I was away during much of that very important training period — the six weeks prior to the event. Prior to leaving I assured Rae that I’d do some cross training whilst away. But the reality was that I didn’t do anything but eat, drink and have fun.

All in all our preparation was somewhat compromised so we were very pleased to achieve our goal — to beat last year’s time of 11 hr 50 min and therefore break the record for our age group.

Rae: We started at 4:15 pm and set off strongly, passing boats from the 4 pm start before the first checkpoint. While it’s light there’s a party atmosphere on the water, lots of chatting and things to see. Last year we paddled for a while with Frank and did so again this year (his 21st Classic); he was aiming to beat last year’s time (and did) with the trusted method of buying a faster boat.

Later two schoolboys joined us; they were in high spirits, singing along to their boom box. The music went off and we were surprised and delighted when they sang ‘Toreador’ from ‘Carmen’.

After dark it settled into a long, long night. It was much harder than last year and for most of the night I just wanted it to be over. This would be my last Hawkesbury Classic!

I thought about Gina in her single (so much tougher than a double). I’d told her the Classic was fun and encouraged her to do it. Would she ever talk to me again? We stopped for half an hour at Wisemans then headed out against the tide, determined to finish.

It’s interesting how the body just keeps paddling even when the mind seems to have deserted the process. It felt like that when our friends Greg and Craig caught up to us. They’d had enough and the company boosted morale for all of us. We benefited from their GPS with the course plotted while they enjoyed the music we had playing. We paddled side by side for nearly two hours, chatting and trying to distract ourselves, hugging the shore to avoid the worst of the tide. This was a great strategy until we ran into a tree, Kate lost her hat and I nearly fell out of the boat. By Spencer we were alone again but the end was near and the record still possible.

Reaching Brooklyn is an amazing feeling, a mixture of euphoria and relief. Our wonderful crew Neil and Dean were there to greet us. They’d had a long night but while we staggered to the physio tent they cheerfully cleaned up the boat and gear.

The Hawkesbury does strange things to the mind; within 24 hours we were considering next year’s event and Neil was so inspired that he’s started training too — an enormous step for an aqua-phobic who’s never been in a kayak.

Rob Richmond

Long Rec 50+, Mirage 580. 12 hr 27 min, 3rd Classic, 64th on handicap

It was a tough night. I think the tides had a bit to do with that and certainly much tougher than last year. Everyone who kayaks should do at least one Hawkesbury.

I am planning the training regime now for next year’s race — let’s see if we can entice more members of the NSWSKC to experience the elation after so much pain.

Next year I am sticking to my normal diet. I felt sick eating all those carbs. It took 20 km before I could breath properly, I was so carbed up. I powered between 20 and 60 km, then was sick again — thank goodness for the stop at Wisemans.

Anyway a great night, let’s all do it again next year. You will, won’t you?

Kayaking in the Gwaii Hanaas, Canada [77/78]

by Audrey McDonald & Michael Steinfeld

Taking kayaks through Gwaii Hanaas was a special journey for Mike and for me. This National Park is located on the southern section of the Queen Charlotte archipelago 150 km west of the northern coastline of British Columbia, Canada, on the 52nd parallel. Its history, geography and isolation make it a great paddling destination, that’³ if the weather behaves. On our trip in July 2009 the weather did just that. We had a wonderful time paddling independently for eight days.

The Park is jointly managed with the Haida people so that the Haida culture can continue to develop and so that the unique plants, animals and historical sites which are scattered through the islands are managed. The Haida were a very strong rich nation for over 8000 years because of the abundant food sources, moderate climate and their cultural practices which included trading as far south as Mexico in large canoes. They were almost wiped out when the Europeans passed on smallpox in the mid 1700s. After that time, remaining Haida moved to two main areas in the north of the islands in order to survive.

We brought nautical maps, a VHF radio and food with us and arranged for kayak hire and drop-off/pick-up by Moresby Explorers, a kayak outfitter at Sandspit. We decided to upgrade our paddling clothing so we had layers for warmth and protection from wind and rain in case we ended up capsized in the 10 degree summer water. In Vancouver we shopped at Mountain Equipment Coop, a large outdoor retailer in Canada. We flew direct from Vancouver to Sandspit on Moresby Island.

On day one, we arrived at Rose Harbour in the far south after a three hour high-speed trip in a Zodiac and were dropped at Raspberry Cove in brilliant sunshine. We thought we had an enormous amount of gear but it all fitted easily in to the two Chinook Seaward singles. We could have brought more! We were supplied with something not used by kayakers in Oz Рbear spray. The black bears are the biggest in the world.

The maritime charts note that there is a large tidal effect of 5 knots in Houston Stewart Channel. We were hesitant to set off across the channel to Rose Harbour before slack tide but it was no problem. We paddled to the west and as soon as we turned south in the channel the fog came in. We could see not too far in the distance. It was a 10.7 km paddle to the Gordon Islands. This little collection of islands has a beautiful lagoon in the middle which gave us access to a small pebbled beach for camping. Time to eat and rest. You need to secure your food, cooking utensils, garbage and any other fragrant-smelling containers from bears. We practised hauling up all our food over a branch using ropes in a tree 20 metres downwind of our tent. This was our nightly entertainment.

The next day in the fog, using GPS and maps to locate the island, we paddled to SGang Gwaay, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site abandoned by the Haida after the outbreak of smallpox. The ancient poles remain today and from Haida Watchman who look after the island, we learnt about how the Haida lived off the riches of the sea and traded as far south as Mexico using their large canoes carved from one large cedar tree, as well as some of their customs.

The islands comprise temperate rainforest of tall trees, thick mats of moss on ground, an intensity of low conifer growth vying for light in amazing bonsai shapes.

We continued on to the exposed west coast. On a bad weather day swells of over four metres are common. The continental shelf on the west coast extends a kilometre or so out then it plunges 300 metres, providing marine life with rich sources of food.

With a favourable forecast, wind and tide, we paddled to Flamingo Cove, a distance of about 20 kilo-metres, passing large windswept trees of red cedar and spruce, bald eagles and sea birds, the high mountains mostly obscured by mist.

We camped for two nights. The weather was beautiful and paddling was easy. Gradually, the mist cleared to reveal the mountains of the archipelago.

On our return from the West Coast back to Rose Harbour we came across two humpback whales feeding on herring in the clear green waters. Attached to rocks were the large starfish coloured orange and purple and shell animals. Bull kelp surrounds the coast but its density has decreased due to the proliferation of sea urchins. The sea otter which had kept the urchins at bay was hunted to extinction by the European fur trade.

From Rose Harbour we paddled up the east coast to Benjamin Point. We had been warned that with a large current, winds and a reef, the point must be negotiated at slack tide. We were again lucky and had no difficulty. That day we paddled about 38 kilometres.

We camped on the log-filled beach supervised by a bald eagle and her chick. We securely tied our food to a tree as we were told that there was a visiting black bear. On the next day we paddled through seal colonies on the outlying rocks and on to Burnaby Narrows, where at low tide you see many invertebrates, sea grasses and starfish.

We continued on to Wanderer Island 45 kilometres away and camped. For breakfast we were treated to a whale performance then paddled onto Mutchinson Island another 35 kilometres away. The second last day we spent idling on Hotspring Island where we sweated in pools of 38 degrees. The air temperature must have been about 10¡.

On our last day we radioed our position to Moresby Explorers and were collected and transported back to Sandspit. We paddled about 170 kilometres in the eight days and we felt privileged to be in such a beautiful area with such good weather and cooperating tides and winds.

If you are planning a trip to North America a diversion to the Queen Charlotte Islands is well worth it and not that expensive. Moresby Explorers, our kayak outfitters, provide kayaks and transport and keep a watching brief on trip. Their cost is about $A1,700 for two (July 2009).

The national parks pass was about $400 for two and the flight from Vancouver to Sandspit was about $550 for two one-way (July 2009). You can always join an organised tour.

To complete the journey we continued by ferry from the islands to Prince Rupert on the mainland, then a further 15 hour ferry ride between the British Columbia islands known as inside passage to Vancouver Island. With clear weather we saw dolphins, breeching whales, salmon runs, but no bears.

It was a trip of a lifetime.

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Friday (Practice) on My Mind [77/78]

by Julie Gibson

Lately the Friday OANDORA paddles (led by Owen and/or Adrian on the club calendar) have become a time to hone skills and pick up some new ones.

Owen and Adrian make sure that we take advantage of any situation that comes up to test our skills with the objective of achieving better boat control and improved confidence. They also encourage us to extend our comfort zone and, as a result, we usually spend some time during a session wholly or partially immersed.

Up to now I have just avoided doing the things I’m not all that good at. Now with this new approach, everyone is patient, encouraging me on, while I struggle to improve my abilities.

Every potential course through the rocks is played with, not just the ones for the experts — I do the ones that I can achieve, too. We’ve paddled in swell — I’ve now been out to North Head and across to Watsons Bay from Little Manly a few times, gaining confidence from the sea kayaking skills I’m developing.

The philosophy is that even small skills need practice. Like opening my own day hatch to store my glasses while on the water, or stowing a tow line so that it will properly deploy when next used.

Today, Anne was getting ready for her Sea Skills assessment so the whole paddle was used for practice — a nice stiff southerly made it more challenging.

We covered manoeuvring , special purpose paddle strokes, turning 360 degrees by alternating forward and reverse sweeps (counting strokes to see if we were stronger on one side than the other) and then we made the comparison between turning in windy and calm conditions.

Adrian demonstrated the three degrees of edging and its role in achieving better boat control. I practised up to two degrees. Anne worked on her Eskimo roll while Adrian photographed her with his SLR camera which he is developing as a diagnostic tool.

On the way back to Clontarf we had the opportunity to practise catching the swell with wind behind us. This should prove useful when next we use Freshwater Beach to do some surf practice.

Making a Salt Water Distiller for Remote Area Sea Kayakers [77/78]

by David Winkworth

Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was in my head. It was 8 August 2008. My companion Ron and I were on the remote north western coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, midway through our paddle from Karumba to Darwin. We had just completed a rough crossing from Gooninnah Island to the mainland at Point Arrowsmith — a paddle of only 10 kilometres but one that took us two and a half hours!

Sitting on the beach in the shade of mangroves we realized we were in deep trouble! We’d taken on our last load of water at Groote Eylandt several days ago which was to take us to Nhulunbuy, but bad weather and severed thumb tendons — an injury I sustained while rockhopping — had seriously slowed our progress. It was very likely we were going to run out of fresh water.

My map indicated a building about 40 km inland. There was no indication of water tanks or occupancy there, so it was a risky trek and one I declined to tackle. Our other option was to dig for water and that’s what we did.

In a dry creek bed, we used a tent peg to dig holes about a metre deep. Four hours later we carefully scooped brackish seepage from the bottom of the holes. The taste was awful but it may have saved our lives.

Later in the trip, my plan to paddle to the northern tip of the Wessels Islands was aborted because of strong winds and daily water requirements. I sat on a beach on Marchinbar Island, surveying the waters of the Arafura Sea… all that water and none that I could drink.

On my return home I listed fresh water security as a priority project before my next expedition. The answer would be: carrying more water in the kayak, my reverse osmosis pump, or a saltwater distiller… but which one?

Fresh water is heavy stuff — I routinely carry up to 40 litres in my Nadgee for remote area paddling. This 40 kg load is in addition to perhaps four weeks food, gear and of course me! It makes for a heavy boat. I always carry some extra water as a safety margin but it would be nice to leave that ‘safety margin’ water behind and make it up another way only if needed. I ruled out carrying any more water.

Reverse osmosis watermakers are heavy too. I have one. With all its tubes and bits it weighs around five kilograms. It’s about the size of a large grease gun and it works — when pumped — by forcing saltwater through very fine membranes at a very high pressure. The makers claim it can produce five litres of fresh water per hour but my experience is well less than that. It’s hard work, some concentration is required, and if the pumping stops, it stops producing. But the biggest drawback for me is that the watermaker has to be used where the water is… which means sitting at the water’s edge in the tropical sun or stationary out in my kayak with the crocs. I ruled out the desalinator. (Incidentally Andrew McAuley used a desalinator on his Tasman crossing when his water supplies ran out. He had no other option of course but it can’t have been easy pumping water for hours on cold windy seas.)

This left the saltwater distiller — my D-SAL project.

When you Google ‘saltwater still’ there are many hits on the principles of distillation but nothing on small portable practical examples. This was going to be a ‘from scratch’ project.

My plan was to boil seawater in a lightweight sealed container, collect all the steam and hopefully condense it to fresh water. I figured I’d be able to do this in the shade of coastal trees, tending the fire and replacing the cooling water occasionally. It just might work.

My design points for the D-SAL were these: it had to be light, simple, robust and fit in the kayak through a 20 cm round hatch. It also had to produce a practical amount of fresh water. No sense boiling saltwater all day for one litre of fresh water.

For the Mark 1 D-SAL I used a 1.5 litre aluminium Sigg bottle — the largest size available. This tall and narrow bottle had a plastic screw lid which I replaced with an O ring sealed aluminium one to which was welded a 700 mm length of aluminium tube.

To the aluminium tube outlet I attached four metres of 10 mm ID ‘food grade’ plastic tubing which was coiled in a collapsible 10 litre water container (Sea to Summit ‘Kitchen Sink’.) This would hold the cooling water. The coiled plastic tubing connected to a condensate catch bottle. Another ‘kitchen sink’ was used to fetch more cooling water. So far it was ticking all the design point boxes. Testing was next.

I filled the Sigg bottle with a litre of salt water and lit a small fire under it. The bottle was in danger of tipping over, even with the water ballast in it so a stake in the ground near the fire and a cord tie to the plastic tubing steadied the whole affair. Boiling commenced quickly and steam moved along the tube and out at the catch bottle. However the temperature of the steam exiting the catch bottle told me that the plastic tubing in the water bath was not a satisfactory conductor of heat out of the system.

Worse was to come. The boiling activity in the Sigg bottle became so vigorous due to the tall shape of the bottle (low surface area to volume ratio) that some of the salt water was carried up into the aluminium tubing where steam pressure forced it over the top… and then to the catch bottle. The condensate was contaminated. Bugger!

The two problems with the Mark 1 D-SAL were: wrong shape boiling vessel and poor thermal conductivity of the plastic tubing. The consequence of those problems was that I would be drinking salty water… and not much of it!

I hoped the Mark 2 D-SAL would address these problems.

I believed the condensate recovery percentage and rate of recovery to be a function of the thermal conductivity of the condenser tubing and the boiler surface area respectively. I began the search for a wider boiler. After skulking around home with a tape measure in hand, I nicked an 18 cm aluminium saucepan from the kitchen. It was now destined for better things than boiling cabbage! My local engineer welded the lid on and also added two large diameter threaded hole bosses to the lid. One hole was for the tube cap from the Mark 1 version and the other was a filler hole with cap for replenishing the salt water without removing the unit from the fire.

The condenser tube now became a l.6 m length of coiled 10 mm copper pipe with short lengths of plastic tube connecting each end to the boiler tube and the catch bottle. The copper was a little heavier than I wanted but the total weight of the Mark 2 was a respectable 850 grams.

In set-up the wider saucepan was very stable and no stake was required. Half full in the saucepan was 1.5 litres of seawater. On the fire and steam began to flow very soon. But then something different to the Mark 1 unit’s performance happened: the steam was fully condensed in the copper tube and pure water was flowing full in the tube to the catch tank — a 100% recovery rate! The boil-dry time for the 1.5 litres was about 50 minutes. The D-SAL thus has the potential to deliver 12+ litres of fresh water a day.

The taste test showed very very slight contamination of the condensate but the water was in no way unpalatable or objectionable. I think that if super-pure water is needed, the condensate could be run through the system a second time. In future testing I may try an expansion chamber on the aluminium tube or a baffle at the base of the tube. I’ll also test the salinity with a hydrometer.

Future testing may include larger diameter tubing but as the tubing diameter increases, the ratio of circumference (tubing wall) to cross sectional area (steam) changes so I think I may already be using the optimal size tubing. I will test thin wall copper and aluminium tubing for the condenser which will reduce the weight of the unit to under 700 g, significantly less than a litre of water. The thermal conductivity of copper is much greater than aluminium so the weight saving may be balanced by reduced efficiency — has to be tried though!

Using this D-SAL unit I believe a remote area paddler could partly or fully replenish fresh water supplies on a daily basis. Seawater and firewood are all that is required, and I’ve only camped on a few sand cays where both of these ingredients weren’t available. If I could leave 30 or so kilograms of water behind, I could replace it with at least another 30 days worth of dried food! This for example, would make a crossing of the Great Australian Bight feasible without any re-supply whatsoever — no more reliance on water and food drops.

If there is a downside to this distiller, it is that the operator has to keep the condensing water fairly cool, necessitating regular trips to the ocean… well… in between cups of tea that is! There is also the chore of keeping a small fire burning under the pot.

So, there you have it so far. It’s not perfect, more refinement is required and it may only have appeal for a few paddlers, but it does open up possibilities for lengthy island stays in the tropics and elsewhere.

I’d be pleased to hear of any suggestions you may have to improve the operation of the D-SAL.