Boating in Wales [79]

by Elizabeth Thomson

When Nigel Dennis visited the NSW Sea Kayak Club at Rock’n’Roll 2007 he gave a blanket invite to visit him in Holyhead, Anglesey, for a bit of Welsh kayaking. Well, little did he know at the time that I took the invitation seriously and when the opportunity arose, I would decide to visit.

And that’s how it happened. During July, I found myself on a quick work trip to the UK with one free weekend. There was no question about how I’d spend that free time. The only issue for me was how to get to Holyhead from Cardiff. And low and behold, there is a direct train!

So on Friday afternoon, I trained it to Holyhead and got an unexpected tour of Wales on the way. On arrival, Nigel picked me up and explained that I was to join an advanced course over the weekend. Advanced? OK. That’s when the anxieties kicked in. I quickly explained that I had a dodgy roll, had never been in tidal races and didn’t really know how to ferry glide across fast moving water. He said, ‘Well if you can surf, you’ll be fine’. I didn’t feel fine. I didn’t feel like I could surf anymore — well, I never could, really. But I faked it and put on a brave face.

I stayed at a cute B&B, The Beach Hut, where, by chance, the other advanced course punters were staying. The next morning Nigel picked the three of us up. Oley was from the Jersey Isles now resident in New York and Dirk was the real thing, a New Yorker, that is. The fourth punter was a local, Pete.

The plan for the day was to head out before the weather turned sour and play in amongst the races at Penrhyn Mawr (aka The Fangs).

These races work on the flood tide. We were going to be playing in the race towards the end of the flood tide with a ESE wind blowing at about 10 knots. I’m not sure how fast the tide was racing but the height difference between low and high tide was five metres that day.

Nigel gave me a brand new Romany to paddle. It had a black deck with a while hull and yellow tape seam. Very classy. This is the boat that features regularly in the This is the Sea DVDs by Justine Curgenven. I would suggest it is the signature boat of the Nigel Dennis Kayaks range. It is a rudderless, chine-less fibreglass boat. It can come with a skeg, but my little number was skeg-less.

Anyway, being used to the Mirage 530, I was a little apprehensive about paddling a rudderless boat straight into demanding conditions. But I’m proud to say I adapted quickly. The boat was very responsive; tracked nicely and was easy to turn. It was great to paddle.

So, back to the adventure… As well as the advanced punters, we also had two guys along who were being assessed by Nigel for their BCU Five Star Instructor ticket. Little did they know, they had a lot of instructing ahead of them as it soon became clear that I needed a lot of rapid and urgent advice. The plan was to paddle around the outcrops off Pen where the current cuts between. Through the middle of the outcrop were standing waves, with eddies on the either side close in to the rocks. The aim was to go through the waves, peel off into the eddy, and then pick our way back around to do it again by ferry gliding across an adjacent race.

As we approached the standing waves, I was reminded of Mark Sundin’s advice on surfing (in NSW Sea Kayaker Issue 59):

Are you the chicken or the pig? Are you committed or not? If you are, then go like the pig. Give it all you’ve got.

And so I did. I went straight at that wave, determined to conquer it. Over I went (the wave, that is), and then over the next one. Woohoo! The instructor, Gaz, is shouting at me to peel off and get into the eddy. OK. OK. I got there and rested, waiting for the others. Everyone got through, all of us with big smiles.

The pod then rounded the rock into the race to go up and around. All but me seemed to glide across the race. The rest of the pod clearly knew how to ferry glide. Despite some quick instructions on how to cross, I just succeeded in getting caught in the race, spun around then sent downstream. Instructions were shouted…

‘Edge into the current. Point your nose upstream. Look at where you want to go!’

None of it worked. I was just going south, paddling uphill. Solution? Paddle like stick. And, of course, in the stress of the moment, my fine torso rotation went south, too. I became the most pathetic paddler, fighting the elements with only my arms!

So anyway, after some effort, I got across, caught up with the others and we went at the standing wave again. Oley was in front of me doing fine in the wave. The next second, it was my turn and I was in the cauldron, not really watching her, just looking out for myself. Until suddenly directly in front of me there was a standing kayak, and a standing wave. Oley was paddling one second, vertical the next, then upside down and broadside in front of me. She was coming at me like a like a surfing log. OMG.

For a split second I worried about her, ‘Is she drowning? Will she roll up?’

But then my survival needs kicked in and all I wanted to do was stay upright and get away from her. I peeled off right, somehow got around her and exited into the eddy. As I turned to see how Oley was going, a big shout went up and there she was, wet, up right and pumped. She had rolled up. The pod hooted in support. It was very exciting.

And so around we went again. Me battling the ferry glide and getting a bit shaky, everyone else appearing at ease and loving it all. My third go at the wave seemed to be going well. Through two big lumps of water and then, facing down the third lump… I don’t know what happened… something got me. I was upside down. Oh! But I didn’t think about rolling up. I just wet exited. Survival instinct? Or folly? To add to the drama, my skirt was really tight and it took a lot of time and effort to get it off. So, by the time I was out, Gaz was right there. Without much discussion, we did a T-rescue. It was seamless. I was back in the boat — never more relieved. The Welsh paddlers don’t like paddle leashes so this complicated the rescue. Gaz had to retrieve my paddle and then give me both his and mine to hold (while I was holding on like a koala to the front on his boat, he was emptying mine). It did add a degree of difficulty to the process. But the good news (for me, anyway) was that I was safely back in my boat. Pooped.

Given the impromptu rescue, we got carried south. We worked our way back to the eddy beside the rock and waited for the others to come through. At this point Nigel decided it was lunchtime. He then glided across the race and slipped into a slot in the cliff face to our lunch stop.

I had to negotiate the ferry glide for a third time. This time though, with two previous attempts and a better understanding of the movement of the water, I, too glided across. Pointing the boat into the current and looking across at where I wanted to go, the boat just glided there. I was so pleased. I ferry-glided straight across the race, got to the slot and paddled into a beautiful grotto for lunch. It was a well-deserved rest.

As for the rest of the day? Well, thankfully it was the kind of stuff that I was more familiar with. A cruise, rather than a bruise. We headed off, back across the race, which by now was a spent force on slack tide, and then meandered along the coastline towards South Stack Lighthouse.

On the way we did a bit of open water bumping around, then snuggled into the cliffs to play in the rock gardens and admire the sheer cliffs standing before us. There was a castle folly teetering on the edge above us. And then there were thousands of Guillemots and Razorbills nesting on the cliff faces, squabbling, squawking and flying on and off the ledges, between and around us. A complete cacophony.

We timed our paddle under the suspension bridge to avoid the rocks and sucking sea before paddling around the island on which the lighthouse stood. Majestic.

By now the tide had turned and it was time to ride it home. We headed back down the coast, passing by Penrhyn Mawr which was now flat and harmless — no longer an adventure ride, just a bunch of rocks off the end of a point. I couldn’t believe it was the same place that three hours earlier had left me numb with nerves.

What a day. I’ll never forget it.

But, there’s more…

The enigmatic Nigel, apart from being a boat builder, sea kayak instructor and renowned kayak expeditioner is also a volunteer coast guard patrol pilot. Yep, that’s right. He drives rescue boats in the Irish Sea on Sundays! So, lucky me got an invitation to go out with the ‘boys’ on a patrol exercise.

I was decked out in the emergency kit and given a tour on the boat before we took off for a morning of official hooning. We were on the largest self-righting lifeboat in the UK.

What can I say? It was a lot of fun. I couldn’t get enough. I got to see the coastline again, this time at speed. We smashed our way through sea and swell and then went in close to the cliffs to spot the crazy rock climbers.

And then before I knew it, the adventure was over. I was back on a train heading to London, thinking I must tell my kayaking buddies about my Anglesey adventure. And so I am.

Thanks, Nigel.

Tassie Delights — Cherry Picking on the East Coast of the Apple Isle [79]

by Adrian Clayton

My appetite for an extended paddling trip in Tasmania had been whetted by a couple of factors. First, viewing some of Jeff Jennings’s DVDs of trips he had filmed dating back to the early 1990s (Jeff is a long-standing member of the Maatsuyker Canoe Club), and second, an eventful one-day paddle I did very early in 2008 out of Cloudy Bay to Adventure Bay along the eastern side of Bruny Island. This paddle was done following a chance meeting with one-time NSWSKC member Kevin Songberg and some of his friends.

Late in 2008 I mentioned the idea of a Tassie trip to a paddling partner of a couple of earlier expeditions, Bruce Baldwin, and he indicated that he’d like to join in. As it turned out, Bruce was able to coax his wife Maggie to come along as land support.

Work commitments meant that my time was limited to a little less than three weeks. Some of this needed to be set aside to catch up with some close friends living near Hobart. Bruce and Maggie had family commitments in Tassie so we reckoned on getting a fortnight or so on the water. Our plan was to start with a few shakedown day trips with empty boats in the region of the Tasman Peninsulaѣherry picking destinations that suited the conditions of the day. These were to be followed by a more challenging multi-day trip along the remote south coast from Cockle Bay to Maatsuyker Island and back. The foray was timed to start early in March 2009.

We took our own kayaksѡ Tasmanian-built Greenlander for Bruce and an ageing and lightly-laid-up Nadgee for me. The Nadgee seems to have an affinity with TasmaniaѰerhaps it’s the green colour of the deck. This was to be its third trip to the Apple Isle. The first was back in 2003 when Andrew McAuley, as member of a 19-day expedition with Paul Loker and Lawrie Geoghegan, paddled it from Strahan on the west coast around the three southern capes and up to Cockle Bay (visiting Maatsuyker Island en route). Immediately afterwards Andrew did a solo Bass Strait crossing via King Island (the harder route). In 2008 I paddled it along the east coast of Bruny Island and in Pirates Bay. My impression was that Tasmania can be a hard place on kayaks and in anticipation of a fair bit of hauling over rocks and sand I’d had a protective keel strip added.

The kayaks were transported on top of the Baldwin’s VW Kombi camper van. Maggie and Bruce left Sydney a few days before me. I flew down and they collected me from Hobart airport.

Our first day on the water was in Port Arthur. We basically did a circumnavigation of the port clocking up close to 23 kilometres. We put in at pretty Stewarts Bay and soon after paddled past the port’s historic penal settlement. The old sandstone buildings were bathed in the early afternoon sunlight and projected a welcoming warmth which belied their brutal past. The nearby Isle of the DeadѴhe last resting place for over a thousand souls (mostly convicts in unmarked graves)Ѳeinforced the port’s harsh history. We crossed to the eastern shoreline and out to the rugged form of Budget Head before recrossing at the mouth of the port and on to Crescent Beach for a short land break. From here we had a tantalising view of Tasman Island. It was on the beach that we saw the only dolphin of the whole tripѡnd it was dead! On the return to Stewarts Bay we had the benefit of a following sea breeze which allowed Bruce to try out his new sail designѡ bright orange winged shape that could be fully spread for sailing downwind and could fold over on itself at the mast when reaching.

Courtesy of the Baldwins’ Kombi, we relocated to Fortescue Bay for our second day of paddling, which was a short run along the northern section of the Tasman Peninsula to Pirates Bayѡ distance of around 18 kilometres. This stretch of coastline confirmed that the Tassie trip was going to provide us with some memorable moments. It wasn’t long before we had the first of the many seal encounters we would experience over the next fortnight. A gentle swell and virtually no sea allowed us to paddle close to kelp-fringed cliffs, underneath arches, inside stacks and deep in to sea caves.

Our passage through Pattersons Arch provided us with a weird sensation. It seemed as though we were paddling up a steep hill of water to get in to it. The need to do a sharp right hand turn and then negotiate our way around a rock plonk in the middle added to the challenge of exiting this magnificent feature with boats and bodies unscathed. We paddled deeply in to the narrow 60 metre cleft known as the Devils Kitchen and poked our noses in to Tasman Arch and the blowhole at quaintly-named Doo Town. A landing through small surf at Eaglehawk Neck rounded off a very sweet day’s paddle.

The next day was to be more of a challenge in terms of distance: around about 37 kilometres from Fortescue Bay and back in to Port Arthur. Again we were blessed with conditions that would allow us to savour a stunning coastline.

A short time after exiting the bay we were approaching Cape Hauy (pronounced Hoy) and The Lanterns. The time-saving passage through the narrow gap where the famous Candlestick towers out of the sea beckoned. From a far distance it’s a very imposing sight; up close it’s even more impressive. A pod of fur seals was basking on a rock shelf at the entrance as if anticipating that we would come to grief if we dared take the challenge that the short cut offered. But this was rite of passage stuff so it had to tackled. There was enough white water in the passage to ensure that the adrenaline was pumping as we charged through.

Munro Bight separates Cape Hauy and Cape Pillar. Our research had revealed that the tall dolorite cliffs that border the bight (and claimed to be the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere) are studded with some great sea caves. We resisted the temptation to explore them because of time restraints. Besides, this stretch of coastline is dotted with shipwrecks dating back to the 1850sѳomething which tempered any sort of cavalier attitude we may have had.

Once past the fluted ‘organ pipes’ of Cape Pillar we crossed the channel to Tasman Island for more fur seal encounters at a busy haul-out. Our arrival coincided with that of a local sightseeing boat (a purpose-built rigid-hull inflatable with a bank of powerful outboards mounted on the stern). It was interesting to observe that the seals were not disturbed by the comparatively noisy tourist boat yet our presence seemed to spook them (perhaps they knew something about the history of our boats).

Tasman Island is over a square kilometre in size. Its cliffs rise 300 metres above sea level. The dilapidated state of the cargo handling structure perched above the haul-out and the wooden-railed carriageway leading up a steep incline from it indicate that the island would have been a harsh place in which to live and work. Its lighthouse, said to be one of the most isolated in Australia, has been unstaffed since 1976.

Beyond Tasman Island, the paddle in to Port Arthur continued to impress. The height of the cliffs and some of the geological formations made us feel very humble as we passed beneath them.

Our fourth day on the water was from Safety Cove in Port Arthur around the southern shoreline of the Tasman Peninsula and then northwards along its western side. Approximately half way up we entered Wedge Bay and pulled out at White Beach where Maggie was waiting for us. The highlight of the 35 kilometre paddle was Cape Raoul, a fascinating multi-fingered dolorite rock formation rising steeply out of the sea. A popular destination for rock climbers, the cape offers climbing challenges such as the Finger of Blame, Jihad, Pole Dancer, Poleaxed and so on. It was at Cape Raoul that we had another encounter with a big pod of fur seals. This time they seemed unperturbed by our presence and we were able to drift in amongst them as they lolled about not far from their haul-out (not a pleasant place of which to be upwind).

The next day we left the Tasman Peninsula behind us and drove north to the bustling tourist village at Coles Bay to prepare for our first multi-day paddleѡ circumnavigation of the Freycinet Peninsula.

In near idyllic conditions and with kayaks packed for a two-day paddle, we departed Coles Bay. This was Day Six of our Tasmanian adventure. A strong wind warning had been issued for later in the day but it was going to be aiding our progress rather than hindering it. Our paddle southwards was dominated by Mount Freycinet with its 620 metre high peak shrouded in cloud. Our first stopover was on the white sands of Cook Beach for morning tea. By the time we were back on the water the strong blow forecast from the north-east had kicked in. Bruce was scooting along under full sail hardly needing to paddle. I was working flat out to keep up with him, appreciating the good rides I was getting from the wind-generated waves.

We camped on Passage Beach on the inside of the peninsula and near its southern tip. Rain started falling as we were setting up camp and was to continue off and on throughout the night. Despite the rain, we were blessed with a magnificent sunset.

The next day we entered Schouten Passage, the channel that separates the island of the same name from the peninsula. A local kayaker had told us this was considered to be the most dangerous passage along the east coast of Tasmania, however, our journey through it was uneventful.

The east coast of the Freycinet Peninsula is markedly different to that of the Tasman Peninsula. The cliffs are not as high nor are the gradients as steep. The moody-grey dolorite which dominates the south-east of the Tasman Peninsula is replaced by a lighter-toned granite, sometimes in the form of massive rounded boulders which have tumbled down to the shoreline.

We explored a couple of sea caves and stopped to admire some cascading waterfalls generated from the rain of the previous night. An attractive feature witnessed for the first time on the trip was the rusty red lichen that covered many of the rocks and boulders along the shoreline.

Our lunch break was on the beach in the World Heritage-listed Wineglass Bay. From the water, the landing looked as though it would be simple. In reality, it proved to be difficult as we probably chose the worst spot on which to land. There was a pesky one metre shore break created by a steeply rising sea floor. Our landings were text book except that we were too slow getting out of our boats and we both ended up getting caught in some vicious suck-back. Given that the boats were carrying a fair bit of camping kit and other gear, they were pretty heavy. Flooded cockpits made matters worse. Bruce’s kayak ended up back in the surf as I struggled to get mine out of the danger zone. Ultimately, order was restored but we both suffered some embarrassment as the proceedings had been witnessed by a sizeable crowd of tourists.

Our circumnavigation of the peninsula (approximately 50 kilometres) was completed when we pulled out at Sleepy Bay later in the day. What then followed was an energy-sapping portage clambering over rocks and uphill to the car park where Maggie had the Kombi waiting for us. It was nearly two hours from the time we arrived at Sleepy Bay to when we had the kayaks tied down on top of the Kombi and all of our gear stowed.

Bruce decided after the Freycinet circumnavigation that he’d had enough paddling for a while. We rejigged our plans so that I could continue on my own and we agreed to rendezvous in Hobart in a week’s time. The plan to paddle to Maatsuyker Island was put on the backburner as I wasn’t prepared to do the trip solo.

We had a rest day in the nearby fishing port of Triabunna where I restocked with food and other essentials for the next part of the trip. The town has a memorial to ships that have perished along the east coast of Tasmania since the early days of settlement. There must have been more than 100 plaquesѡ timely reminder to me of how dangerous the area could be.

Bruce and Maggie waved goodbye to me at Rheban, a small settlement just south of Triabunna, and headed off to attend to family matters and explore the deep south-east coast of Tasmania in their Kombi.

Maria Island was my next destination. With the Nadgee loaded for a seven-day trip, I paddled across the Mercury Passage to Encampment Cove on the north-western fringe of Shoal Bay. Three kayakers from Hobartъeremy, Chris and ThomasѨad arrived not long before me and I was happy to take up their invitation to join them in a circumnavigation of ‘Southern’ Maria Island the next day.

From 1825 to 1832 and from 1842 to 1850, convicts were housed on Maria Island. It was a pleasant evening walk from my campsite to the extant ruins of convict cells built in 1845 and abandoned in 1850. Constructed of hand-made bricks, the ruins are in surprisingly good shape. The paltry size of the cells remains easily distinguishable. Another feature of the walk was a plethora of large kangaroos enjoying an evening graze and the occasional wombat scurrying over the heath land. That night I was joined at dinner by a little pademelon probably hoping that I would toss him a morsel or two.

The 27 kilometre paddle around the southern portion of Maria Island was very enjoyable. Again we were blessed with conditions that allowed us to take full advantage of what was on offer in the way of sea caves and gauntlets. The 250 metre two-man/two-boat portage across the isthmus of low dunes that link the northern and southern sections of the island proved easily doable. This was the first time that my paddling partners for the day had done the trip and they, too, rated it highly.

The following day I was on my own again as I did the 15 kilometre crossing from Maria Island to Cape Frederick Hendrick at the top of the Forestier Peninsula. Because of a stiff breeze and a following sea, this was the first and only time during the fortnight that I chose to deploy the rudder.

With the crossing and a stopover for lunch and a swim on a small beach in beautiful Lagoon Bay completed, I set off with great anticipation along the stretch that Jeff Jennings refers to as Tasmania’s Sea Cave Coast. I was looking for one cave in particularѴhe Deep Glen Bay cave featured in a couple of Jeff’s DVDs. I don’t think I found it but there were plenty of others that I was able to explore. Because I was on my own and in a fully-laden kayak, I was cautious in my selection of the caves to enter.

Such was the pleasure I was getting from this stretch of coast I tended to dawdle along it. The consequence of this was an arrival at Eaglehawk Neck rather late in the day, leaving me little time to find a suitable campsite.

A scout around determined that I would have to do the portage across the neck (about 150 metres) if I was to find a campsite where I could expect a decent night’s sleep. The portage route coincided with the ‘Dog Line’, so named because it was the place that savage dogs were used to round up convicts escaping from the penal settlement at Port Arthur. It took me about an hour to unpack the kayak, portage it and all my gear across the isthmus, repack and get back on the water. Daylight was fading fast and I was lucky to find a good campsite around 200 metres into the sheltered waters of Eaglehawk Bay.

It took me another two-and-a-half days in easy conditions to get to Hobart. I camped overnight at Lime Bay at the north-western corner of the Tasman Peninsula and on the small beach (shared with a group of students determined to jam all night despite some heavy rain) in Mary Ann Bay on the Derwent River. From there the rendezvous point with Bruce and Maggie at Sandy Bay in Hobart was only nine kilometres away.

I completed the last leg of the trip in drizzling rain and in a reflective moodѮumerous encounters with little penguins along the way a simple but effective reminder of the how wonderful paddling in Tasmania can be.

After 12 days on the water and close to 300 kilometres of paddling, I had seen some stunning coastlineѭaybe the best experienced in terms of rugged beauty (where, in NSW, the Beecroft Peninsula is the closest comparison I can make). We were lucky (some might say our planning helped) with the weather, able to paddle every day we had planned, experiencing only a few days of rain, with mostly a gentle swell and a benign sea. Sure, things didn’t go entirely to planѷe didn’t get to Maatsuyker. That can wait for another day. Even so, I would have to rate this trip as one of the most enjoyable I’ve done. I intend to get back there, soon (with the Nadgee, of course).

From the President’s Deck [79]

by Michael Steinfeld

The kayak rolling competition held at this year’s Rock’n’Roll was an impressive affair. We all watched in awe as club members performed their pirouettes. There are many talented kayakers out there. Greenland paddling was all the rage. Ginni Callahan from the USA was on hand to instruct and was so impressed she is visiting us again in early February next year. We were again lucky with great weather. Thanks go to Rob Richmond and to the committee for making the 2010 Rock’n’Roll an overwhelming success. Batemans Bay is a great venue that caters to all grades of paddlers but if you know of a location that would be suitable for next year’s event please tell us.

Time moves fast and the next major club event is the Annual General Meeting to be held at 4 pm on Saturday 31 July 2010 at the Bundeena RSL Club. Paddles will be organised in the morning and kayaks will be available for test paddles in the afternoon. Following the AGM, we have invited Matt Bezzina and Mark Schroeder to talk about their recent Bass Strait crossing. (See their article.) We also ask members to bring along a CD or DVD with about 10 to 15 pictures of a favourite kayaking location so we can dream about the great escape.

The primary purpose of the AGM is for NSWSKC members to be provided with an update on the year’s activities, detail the club’s financial position and elect next year’s committee. So please come along — after all it is your club.

I have been president for the last three years and on the committee for six and will be stepping down. I understand that Sally Jacobs, the trips coordinator, Jacqui Stone, the editor and Rob Richmond, the Rock’n’Roll coordinator will not be standing again and their tasks will need to be filled. They have all done a great job. If you wish to give something back to the club that has provided you with a new direction in life, just put your hand up and volunteer.

It has been a pleasure for me to serve as president. In 2004, when Elizabeth Thomson became president and I joined the committee we had many issues to overcome. There was the infamous chat line, our rocky affiliation with NSW Canoeing, a paper based membership renewal system with different annual dates, no proper financial records and the need to implement Australian Canoeing training standards.

In 2005 the club voted to disaffiliate from NSW Canoeing, a decision which created a little heat but unified the club in other ways. The club has maintained its allegiance to the Australian Canoeing training standards and a new trip leader role was created and its limits defined. During 2007, the club mourned the loss at sea of Andrew McAuley and then in 2008 the untimely death of Kevin Brennan.

On the membership side, numbers have slowly increased to over 300. In the last few years the number of women who have joined has increased and their involvement in all levels of the club’s activities is great news for the club’s future. The club moved to a online membership form and the magazine ‘stuffing night’ is no more. On the OH&S side, the disclosure of mishaps was encouraged and a incident report form developed. The purpose of incident reporting is to bring to light common mistakes that could be avoided once the risks are appreciated. The appreciation of risks of injury in gauntlet paddling was exposed in my run-in with a rock at Broughton Island. As a result, common sense dictates that helmets be worn while paddling in these high risk environments.

The committee members have worked tirelessly. The magazine has maintained its high quality thanks to the skill of Jacqui. Mr Flotsam is still causing ructions, but I believe he has mellowed over the years. The trip calendar is full thanks to Sally Jacobs. Training, the backbone of the club, has provided many of us with the skills needed to feel confident out at sea. John Piotrowski has worked hard to try to meet the expectations of new members. The club’s web page is the front door of the club and Peter Kappelmann’s hard work must be appreciated. The club records must be maintained and David Fisher and Ken Day must be thanked for their hard work over the last couple of years.

My presidential work has therefore been a collaborative effort. I need to thank Rob Mercer for his invaluable assistance with policy formulation and direction. Likewise, it is the trip leaders and instructors who give so much of their time to the membership. I need to thank Audrey, my life paddling partner who has supported my every move. There are many others to thank but too numerous to name.

In the end it is your club which needs your input whether it is big or small. I will still around on the sidelines contributing… so until next time we meet…

Michael Steinfeld

Introducing the Outback Oven [79]

by David Fisher

Sometimes powdered mash potato and cold baked beans doesn’t cut it on a kayak camping trip. Sometimes, on short trips where space isn’t so much of an issue, you have the option of going gourmet. Now for some, gourmet means bringing a bottle of red. Others will bring cheese and crackers. Both are good options but I’d like to introduce a new(ish) tool in the gourmet cooker’s armoury, the Outback Oven (OO).

The OO is a 10 inch Teflon-coated pan with a snug aluminium lid and an insulating fabric surround. This all sits on top on your gas burner. There is a heat diffuser in between to prevent scorching. It is recommended to use a remote canister stove rather than a sit-on-top system which can suffer from downward reflected heat pressurising the gas canister. Also, a burner with a large round head with an excellent simmer controller is highly desirable. The OO also comes with a thermometer to help control the heat and aluminium heat shields.

If you are wondering what it can do, just think of your normal oven and you’re on track. Many of you have seen the OO at work.

My most successful output has included:

Garlic bread bought from the local supermarket comes in all shapes and sizes, most of them long. I found a short one that fits the OO and it worked a treat.

Bread rolls made from Laucke dry ingredients meant for a bread maker worked fine too. A little time was spent kneading the dough and proving it and then I baked it off in two batches. The first was half the loaf cut into three rolls (each a decent bread roll on their own); the second was the other half in one big bread roll. Both batches turned out fine. The three smaller rolls had some egg wash to make them go brown on top.

Roast lamb was a worthy challenge. I baked a couple of delicious 400 g mini roasts for 45 minutes while the potatoes, carrots and snow peas and the gravy were prepared. Although shared with Training Coordinator John Piotrowski, there were plenty of eager and hungry kayakers on that trip who also experienced this unique camp meal.

Triple choc muffins made from a packet mix bought at the local supermarket. Just add milk, an egg and a splash of oil to the packet mix and mix the ingredients well, put into the moulds and bake. It is pretty easy, tastes great and the clean up is easy too.

Other goodies I’ve also tried are cupcakes from packet mixes and baked pasta. The cupcakes were passable but not great as the paper cases were too flimsy and so they flattened out too much and tasted a bit cardboardy. I’ve not tried again as the muffins seemed to work well. The baked pasta was OK but it was too much volume (nearly killed me trying to eat it all) and took too long to bake.

Overall, the Outback Oven is a useful tool for those not counting every last gram that goes into their kayak and who enjoy a treat.

Hairy Racing Snakes Cross Bass Strait… The Long Way [79]

by Mark Schroeder

5 am, Sydney, sleepily loading a mountain of gear into the car. I’m standing with a spare rudder in my hand wondering whether to bother packing it… ‘Yeah, chuck it in. Why not?’ And with those words we break the ‘Sydney suction’, on the long drive to Port Welshpool. Nearly a week later that quick decision was to save our trip … But not before it had already been endangered by several other misadventures.

Ti-i-i-ime is on my hands, yes it is.

— The Rolling Stones

Twenty days, no less, it took us to kayak across Bass Strait from Victoria to Tasmania, perhaps a week longer than average. But here’s the thing: I wish it had been longer.

This journey takes you to some of the wildest, least trammelled and least impacted places you could ever hope to experience. I wonder about paddlers whose focus is simply ‘getting there as quickly as possible’; I can’t help feeling they deprive themselves of the best aspect of this route — a thorough exploration of these special, far-flung places.

Did we battle the famous five metre swells and gales? No, thankfully, we paddled in mostly balmy weather on calm seas. Doing battle with the worst of the elements in Bass Strait is neither advisable nor always necessary, so long as you give yourself the time to enjoy your journey and are not hell-bent on just ‘knocking the bastard off’ as quickly as possible. Bad weather provides just the excuse you need to stop and explore. When two stormy fronts passed us, we got busy enjoying first Wilsons Prom and then Deal Island over a few days, both magical places where I could happily spend weeks exploring the monolithic granite boulders and sensuously curved orange slabs, the shy seal pups and fearless fish, the brutally muscular and ever-inquisitive sea birds. These were not places I was in any hurry to leave.

This trip challenged our endurance, but not our big seas technique; the sheer sustained grunt required for the series of long crossings certainly pushes the paddler — plugging toward a distant island for five, six or eight hours is very different to hopping over to Broughton Island, I can tell you… that smudge on the horizon, almost imagined at first, never seems to get bigger. Of course you should have your rough-water skills at the ready — at an average depth of 50 metres, the strait arcs up almost instantly the minute the wind blows — and we did call on those skills briefly a couple of times.

Our first attempt at crossing from Wilsons Prom to Hogan Island (in a good following wind) was thwarted about 12 kilometres out by an unforecast but savage squall, thick with lightning forking hungrily seaward from inky black skies. The retreat back to land was a sustained battle into steep short seas, stinging wind and hard-driven monster-drop rain. (This event produced a damaging hail storm in Melbourne.)

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.

— John Steinbeck

Sitting out bad weather for the next three days after that retreat, camped in a perfectly formed, trackless cove, the next round of misadventures eventuated. First, during a quick fishing paddle in another squall, my mast snapped in half. At about 3 am the next night, I was shocked awake by fearsome roars, groans and gurgles which I did not identify as human at all for some time until I realised it was poor Matt being ravaged by severe food poisoning (suspected cause a Wrasse which we sunned rather too long before cooking).

It took a couple of days to get both back up to full strength (in the case of my mast a tent pole repair kit and a wooden spoon handle were pressed into service, Matt simply required rest and absolutely no mention of fish), until finally on day four the storms passed, and with considerable relief off we headed once more. After all the setbacks and hold-ups we were abuzz with excitement and anticipation; conditions were good and all was well…

… Until at around 12 kilometres I heard a ‘clunk’ and my steering pedals went slack. Glancing backwards I was sickened by the sight of my rudder hanging in pieces; I could see at once that the aluminium had completely sheered through and it was destroyed beyond repair. Setting off to cross Bass Strait in a rudderless Raider X is unthinkable — the boat’s a pig without steering. I was stunned and then furious, and Matt hurried over to see about my screaming obscenities, quickly grasping the implications of the problem.

Struggling forlornly back to Refuge Cove in a sizeable sea with an unsteerable boat, we gloomily agreed the whole trip was over without a replacement rudder, and debated whether or not we had packed it in the car; we couldn’t remember but in any case we figured by the time we got back there too much time would have been lost to continue with the trip. We were utterly distraught and the water never looked so cold and unforgiving.

However, pulling into the cove we spied a Parks Patrol boat moored close to the beach. We landed and putting on our sorriest faces we told the National Parks guys about our predicament…to our delight they offered us a lift in their boat back to Port Welshpool. We cached all but essential gear, crammed the kayaks and a tent onto the boat and motored off to the ‘big smoke’ where we were greatly relieved to find my spare rudder in the car. Over a welcome feed at the pub we sombrely considered our progress — after five days, we were back to square one.

A pre-dawn start saw us set off for the second time for Refuge Cove — 50 kilometres of unplanned paddling during which we attempted to re-establish a sense of optimism; surely nothing else could go wrong. We made good progress and that night we were treated to an on-board dinner provided by some lovely yachties. Things were looking up.

At sunrise the next day we pushed off for Hogan Island, finally our first big section of open ocean. But some 20 km into the 50 km crossing our new-found optimism evaporated into the shimmering endless expanse when we realised that in our haste to get going we’d screwed up our reading of the tides, turning the crossing into an epic upcurrent and upwind slog. After 60 km and 11 long hours we stumbled onto Hogan completely depleted, however the unpopulated island’s remote charms revived us a little and soon we even got used to the smell of rats’ piss in the quaintly derelict hut that provided shelter. Matt still wasn’t 100% (the violence of his vomiting had pulled muscles in his ribs and back and he was plagued by a persistent and productive chest infection) so the next day saw us take time to recharge and enjoy the island and its dense, fearless wildlife… .magnificent Cape Barren Geese, albatross and sea eagles wheeled in the grey skies, marsupial rats so tame you could pat them dotted the tussock and chewed on every bit of plastic we had, and tens of thousands of penguins released an ungodly racket each evening, necessitating earplugs to catch any sleep at all.

At this point we had come to accept that battling for every step was the norm, so the next day when we were blasted across to Deal Island by 15-20 following knots and exciting seas, we were on a real high, although a sting in the day’s tail was added by a vicious williwaw (gale force wind funnelled and accelerated by land contours, a feature of Deal Island) and a nasty shore dump. Safely landed, we eschewed the usual camp area which was high on the smell of a nearby rotting whale carcass and instead set up on the hillside among the acacias and wallabies, a fortuitous decision because they protected us superbly from the next three days of SW gales (the acacias, not the wallabies that is).

Now if you want to be stuck somewhere truly remote, Deal Island is about as good as it gets. The place is paradise and full of history to add spice — we even got to mop out the colonial lighthouse which had been flooded by the storm. The cross at its base inscribed ‘baby’ was a sombre reminder of the harshness of the old lighthouse-keepers’ existence. Even a day of heavy rain was alleviated by sharing endless cups of tea and yarns with the wonderful resident caretakers, who paradoxically knew nothing of the sea but had spent years exploring Australia’s remotest deserts.

And so finally on day 13 we set off for the big one (60 kilometres) to Flinders Island, another long hard day of slogging towards a never-nearing smudge on the horizon, finally arriving after 10 hours … whereupon our whole trip seemed finally to turn the corner. Tired as we were, to our delighted surprise from that point on, everything went like clockwork and we took advantage of the calming effect of a huge high pressure system for the remaining six days of the trip to visit as many of the islands of the Furneaux Group as we could find the energy for, supplementing our dwindling food supplies with easy fishing bounty (pike and squid) along the way.

Finally, on day 16, fatigue caught up with us and we needed a rest day. So we paddled for 10 kilometres, jogged the five kilometres to the base of looming 2500 foot high Mount Strzelecki and climbed to the top for the most amazing views of our watery arena. Bloody strenuous for a rest day but literally the high point of the trip. Dodging copperheads on the way down, Matt and I decided there are two kinds of Bass Strait paddlers: those that summit and those that don’t!

After a brief visit with the incredibly friendly folk of the Aboriginal village on Cape Barren Island, the area’s most picturesque and well-tended settlement, we progressed easily for the next couple of days, camping on ever smaller islands, until our final camp site was selected. This tiny island — measuring perhaps 60 by 40 metres — was to be our jumping-off point for the last crossing. As we negotiated a rock landing, in the red light of sunset, a dolphin noisily slapped a fin on the water applauding our day’s efforts. There we spent our last cosy night among a noisy multitude of penguins, Cape Barren geese, shearwaters and thumb-sized ants, dreaming nervously about tomorrow’s paddle across notoriously rough Banks Strait, taking assurance from the fact that at least it was short at less than 25 kilometres.

Thanks entirely to luck rather than flawless planning, our stove spluttered and died empty of fuel just as the morning coffee boiled and we packed the boats for the last time. Though the fast flowing tides meant that accurate navigation was tricky, Banks Strait was very kind to us, smooth throughout. However, hazy fog reduced visibility to below five kilometres which meant that we were quickly out of site of all land. Quite disorientated, we followed a compass bearing and did our best to track the effect of the strong currents on our position and likely landing point. Being whited-out for the whole crossing was a little nerve racking and we played it safe.

We sighted Tassie with whoops of delight a few kilometres upcurrent of our final destination, where we were eventually met by a champagne-wielding angel from the Tasmanian Sea Canoeing Club who, taking one look at our scrawny frames and unshaved faces, immediately christened us the ‘hairy racing snakes’. After supplying a friendly welcome and delicious, luxurious refreshments, Cynthia drove us to the ferry terminal and we will be forever very grateful for her generosity.

And so, on the ferry back to Victoria we had our first wash in three weeks! Scrubbing away the brine and grime, I reflected on our superb journey: great people, amazing places, what a privilege. My feeling is that with the appropriate amount of preparation (including lots of fitness for those long slogs), the right approach (including lots of time to await the right conditions) and of course a great paddling partner, most adventurous souls could paddle Bass Strait. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

In hindsight, our mistakes look obvious: under-preparation. My boat could have been better prepared (I should have replaced the rudder before the trip), as could Matt’s body (he should have taken antibiotics to clear up his chest) and better prepared navigation skills would have helped us plan better for the strong currents… but hindsight is cheap and easy and preparation time is always limited. I wouldn’t change a thing; it was precisely solving these challenges as a team with perseverance, luck and determination that provided the real satisfaction of our trip. Doing so in such a beautiful if unforgiving setting only made it sweeter.

To rush it would be a crime.

A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.

— Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism, author of Tao Te Ching (The Book of the Way), 600 BC-531 BC

Instructors’ Training Weekend [79]

by John Piotrowski

Earlier in the year, club trainers had the opportunity to attend a weekend event which was held at Currarong.

The objectives of the weekend were:

  • to try and align the training methods and philosophy amongst the club’s instructors and trip leaders.
  • to gain tips and methods of training from others, expanding individual’s training methods.
  • to show support for those who contribute to training and trips for the club.

One land-based session was called ‘Building Confidence in the Surf’. It focused on dealing with paddlers’ lack of confidence in the surf — a challenge for all instructors. The group discussed a set of drills and techniques including:

  • teaching how to read the waves and wave dynamics.
  • teaching reliable bracing skills and developing drills.
  • body positioning in the kayak whilst on a wave.
  • forcing an early broach on a wave.

Group members took to the water in the afternoon to put into practice the techniques that were discussed in the morning.

Another workshop session was entitled ‘Rescues in Anger’. Instructors discussed appropriate rescue techniques for use in treacherous waters and ways to teach quick, safe and effective rescue skills that can be carried out under demanding circumstances.

They also looked at rapid deployment of tow ropes, swimming the boat out of a dangerous situation, the role of the rescuee and other paddlers, getting an injured or unconscious kayaker into the boat , looking after an injured kayaker on the water and techniques in ferrying a kayaker.

The weekend was well received by all who attended. I was worried about it being boring and the agenda being sidetracked, but the instructors and trip leaders ran with the discussion topics and then put it into practice on the water. One of the outcomes was that we decided on adopting a new rescue technique: the J rescue (I prefer to call it the legover).

There were lots of smiles and the mood was positive all weekend. Everyone enjoyed it.

Currarong was a great location. I would like to make this a bi-annual event as it is important to keep all our instructors and trip leaders fresh and keen.

I am open to suggestions for another event in September or October — location — topics — guest speakers. Let me know your thoughts and as always thank you for the effort you people put into making this club so satisfying.

Flotsam [79]

Selected lowlights from the Flotsam reporter

Commodore issues warning to ‘ageing males’

After a spate of hernias suffered by prominent club members in the past 12 months, Club Commodore Michael Steinfeld has seen fit to issue a warning to older males in the NSWSKC. Commodore Steinfeld told Flotsam: ‘We have done some research on the problem and it appears that this rash of pelvic and abdominal hernias is exclusively affecting middle age paddlers with a fit female partner who is 10-15 years younger’.

‘Medical advice has confirmed that an ageing male body will struggle to meet the demands of ocean kayaking while also trying to over-impress in the home environment. The NSWSKC strongly urges our older paddlers in such a domestic situation to exercise restraint where possible, maintain strong core strength through stretching or yoga, and know your limits.’

Meanwhile senior paddlers Mike Snoad and Dirk Stuber were unavailable to talk to Flotsam as they were apparently ‘recovering from medical procedures’.

Photographer wins coveted award

It is with great pride that Flotsam can announce that Rock’n’Roll 2010’s Most Unpopular Paddler (MUP) award has gone to the unique and individual Andre Janecki. Although Andre was not actually seen on the water in a kayak over the weekend, the indomitable Pole clinched the MUP by making hundreds of paddlers and their families pose for an estimated 9,356 photos for his high-powered camera.

Rock’n’Roll Coordinator Rob Richmond told Flotsam: ‘Yes, it was a well deserved award — and our decision was confirmed when we received a petition late Sunday afternoon, seemingly signed by everyone but Andre, demanding that photographers be banned from future Rock’n’Rolls! Apparently there were even some complaints to the Polish Embassy in Canberra, but Andre is an Australian, so he is our responsibility’.

A Flotsam reporter met with Mr Janecki to gauge his reaction to the award but he refused to be interviewed, instead forcing the Flotsam reporter into posing for an embarrassing and lengthy photo shoot in a very busy shopping mall.

Flotsam Presents — Tales from the Dark Side

It’s a fact that many bizarre events occur during sea kayaking adventures, and many of these off the water. This new Flotsam series allows club members to reveal, anonymously, the full details of weird and shocking incidents that they were never game to write up in trip reports.

Merrica River, 4 January 2009 — after a night of lively group discussion and some talk of a funnel web spider that had been seen on the last visit to this camp, the paddlers retire to their tents …

‘It was a hot evening so I stripped off all my clothes and lay on my sleeping mat. I was soon asleep but woke up about 2pm, and crawled out of my tent to answer the call of nature. The night was now cooler and, seeing my shorts lying in the external vestibule, I put them on so before getting back into the tent.

After slipping into my sleeping bag, a minute later I felt the sensation of something tickling my upper inner thigh. I casually brushed the area with my hand, but a moment later there was a strong stinging sensation. I grabbed my head torch and then peeled my shorts down, only to see in the flickering light something brown moving on my leg. Instinctively I lashed out at it and it was gone.

But gone where?

With dismay I realised that whatever it was could now be hidden in the deep folds of my sleeping bag. I didn’t like this — sitting in my tiny one man tent, having been bitten by something unknown, and with an injured and perhaps angry creature still in the small space with me making me not want to move. I slowly scanned the area with my head torch, looked into the corners of the tent space, then pushed the sleeping bag down carefully. But no sign of my attacker. I contemplated the unpleasant task of clearing everything out of the tent.

Then, in a moment of inspiration, I leaned forward and pointed the head torch beam straight down between my legs. And there I saw it! Dazed but still alive, and hanging precariously from my right testicle, it was a scorpion! I removed it with a sock and threw it out of the tent.

But was I dying? I had a vague memory that Australian scorpions were not dangerous — and the sting area was not that painful and not swelling. I didn’t want to wake my sleeping comrades, so just in case I wrote a note in my diary about what had happened. I woke up in the morning alive and well.’