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