Bar-stool Paddling [77/78]

by John Wilde

And I thought that paddling with a full-time ‘Flotsam’ reporter was going to be hard! On the two-day drive up to northern Queensland I kept myself to myself. After all, you tend to keep quiet when you are going to spend the next three weeks with a guy whose nickname is ‘Killer’.

Even his text messages were sad. There was the one to Mike Snoad, who I had been relying on as a sane paddling partner for the trip, but who had to drop out, struck down in his prime by a hernia, diagnosed as being brought on by an over-enthusiastic female admirer. ‘And I hope she rips your stitches out with her teeth,’ were Killer’s words of sympathy.

On stopping at the dreaded transport cafe on the second morning, Killer found a soulmate. A casual conversation with a grease-stained truckie, ‘Where you from, mate?’, was interrupted by the truckie’s mobile playing the music from the ‘squeal like a pig, boys bonding’ scene from the canoeing movie Deliverance. Killer was entranced by his new mate. I knew my days were numbered.

Finally Yeppoon, no road rage, no violent attacks with a fishing knife. Perhaps ‘Killer’ was not up to his reputation. But then, suddenly, in the midst of suburbia, on our quiet Queensland campsite, surrounded only by three bar-stools, a cane table and our television, Killer showed his true nature. The call of the wild called and he raced off down the beach to ‘commando camp’, with only the sound of surf in his ears and an unsuspecting early morning beach jogger to molest, as the dawn crept over a peaceful Pacific Ocean.

Unfortunately I was absent the following day, as I had been dobbed in to do the car shuttle to Sarina, but as the police were not waiting on my return I took this as a good sign, and having no further excuses there, I was committed. Two solid weeks of tropical mayhem with a guy called ‘Killer’.

But my trials were by no means over. I had been chosen as the test pilot by famed kayaking guru, Laurie Greygun. The ‘Barnadg’ is a boat indeed. To quote the guru himself, ‘I have long felt that sea kayak designs have been stagnating. Every other designer seems to be worried about boat handling in rough conditions, easy rolling characteristics, rubbish like that. The “Barnadg” is designed for comfort, those idyllic, flat-calm moments when you really feel at one with the sea.’

So I was paddling the prototype and I knew that if I stuffed it up the ‘Flotsam’ reporter would not hesitate to ridicule me in that delightful fashion all readers of the column would instantly recognise. I’d never be able to look my sea kayaking mates in the eye again, never mind the hoots of derision that would accompany my feeble excuses. No, the kayak would have to be a success.

The Barnadg is certainly a revelation. Take its revolving (patent pending) leather padded bar-stool seating arrangement. You can look behind you at the flick of a foot, or even make those tricky reverse moves out of sea caves, when you realise you are about to be engulfed by the set you had not seen. Then it is worth its weight in gold. The added seat height is also of great benefit, as you can look down on all your mates with the disdain they deserve because they have not yet converted to the Barnadg…

There are still one or two teething problems however. The lightweight cane table on the front deck for drinks and snacks needs to be fitted with cup holders, as the glasses tend to slide around a bit in surf. Likewise the stereo system needs upgrading, as the speakers make a loud buzzing noise in big breaking swells.

The deluxe model also includes a bar fridge and a hot tub — ideal at the end of those long, cold paddling days. Unfortunately the television had to be removed for health and safety reasons, but newer models may include a DVD screen. Mr Greygun reckons they will sell like hot cakes once paddlers get used to the idea.

So there we were on day one, a light southerly on the beach at Yeppoon, me a little nervous and Killer foaming at the mouth in anticipation of fresh victims in secluded, idyllic tropical surroundings. The 20 kilometres to our first campsite at Corio Bay passed quietly, with the boats heavily laden for a two week trip. The Barnadg in particular seemed a little slow, though I had been warned that this might occur, given the small additions for comfort. At an unladen weight of 450 kg it had taken most of the morning to get it down to the water, but that is something you soon get used to and Mr Greygun assures me that he should be able to get a carbon fibre version down to 350 kg.

Meanwhile Killer was also struggling with his boat. He had managed to jam an errant banana into the inlet of his foot pump (this is not a word of a lie), rendering it useless. When I suggested that there were worse places to get a banana stuck — after all there are not many holes inside the cockpit of a sea kayak to choose from — he took this as a callous comment and went off in a huff, mashed banana dripping from his shorts.

Off Corio Bay, things suddenly picked up. A strong current of water ripping out from the bay against a 15 knot southerly wind and a two metre-plus swell suddenly had some big, nasty, dumping waves even a kilometre from the entrance. Slightly ahead, and with the Barnadg battened down for action, I observed several of these waves break just in front of me and considered the implications of a swim in this roaring, outgoing tidal race with the wind and surf whipping up the waves. I had just turned around to communicate this with Killer, when I observed him plunging forward on a big breaker, then being spun like a matchstick, 180 degrees to face back out to sea. In a heavily laden boat this was some feat and certainly not intended. Strangely he did not stop paddling, or turn his boat again, but continued paddling hard, back into the open sea. Several kilometres later, when I finally caught up with him again — Corio a speck on the horizon — we decided a more sheltered option would be the go.

On finally landing in small surf at a long, wide beach, Killer was set on going for a swim in the local lagoon. This was until we found the sign warning about crocodiles. A crestfallen Killer realised that there was something bigger and more vicious than himself in the near vicinity.

That night the versatility of the ‘bar-stool’ seating arrangement again showed its worth. With the quick flip of a couple of cam straps, the stool is easily released from the kayak so that you can enjoy those pre-dinner drinks around the campfire from a good height advantage and in great comfort whilst watching Killer grovelling about in the sand in his sad little camp chair.

Then there was the evening, sitting at ease on the bar-stool, Killer perched on a rather uncomfy looking rock, glasses of wine in our hands, on an idyllic beach right next to the water, watching the sun dip over the horizon, blood red rays spreading over the languid ocean, when a whale and her calf began the most wonderful display of synchronised swimming and breaching, just off shore. Killer was in his boat like a shot in hot pursuit.

When he finally emerged from the darkness several hours later, I immediately noted with relief that he was not towing a monstrous carcass behind him. Apparently in the rush to get in his boat he had forgotten to take his harpoon and all he had was some ‘lousy bits of video’ as evidence.

I could go on, but Killer has insisted that he write the trip report as the official ‘Flotsam’ reporter. No doubt he will embellish it with all sorts of half-truths and additions in true ‘Flotsam’ style. I wonder if it will sound like the same trip? Anyway, apart from the sandflies, mosquitoes, spiders, snakes, unexploded ordnance, stonefish, stingers, crocodiles, sharks — I could go on, but! You know sunny Queensland, beautiful one day, deadly the next…

Until next time, good paddling.


PS: During the trip Killer explained carefully that a true ‘Flotsam’ reporter should always embellish the truth to create a story. As you can see, I’m working on this.

PPS: Killer is in fact a very pleasant and entertaining paddling partner.

PPPS: The bar-stool not only made all of the 300 kilometre trip, it now resides in pride of place in my pottery shed.

PPPPS: Two days after the trip my beloved Nadgee went missing from its temporary home in Sydney (fortunately minus the bar-stool). Just as I was thinking that it might be gone forever, it was returned safely to me. Special thanks to Rob Mercer for his assistance with the recovery.