From the president’s spraydeck [80]


Like all my experiences with the NSWSKC, I’m sure I will enjoy my time as President (pending elevation, like our previous President, to the status of Commodore). I have always admired the huge amount of work put into the club by the committee, the trainers and the trip leaders. Now it is my turn!

The NSWSKC offers a wide range of experiences for every type of paddler. As a relative newcomer to sea kayaking, I have found training a key element in my enjoyment of the sport. It took me a while (with more than my fair share of training sessions) but I was delighted when I finally got my Sea Skills Award. I had initially only planned on being a flat water paddler but now primarily enjoy ‘going outside’. I still have a long list of skills I would like to develop over the next few years. The sea will always have my respect but having a base level of skill has allowed me to go on some memorable trips around the South Coast, the mid-North Coast and chasing whales around Coogee. And I will never forget our circumnavigation of Sydney!

I urge all paddlers to participate in this training but more importantly to practice these skills when on routine paddles. The times I have been most grateful for this training were when totally unexpected incidents occurred. These remained minor incidents often because of the skills learnt in training.

My thanks to Michael Steinfeld who had three years as President/Commodore. As I reflect on his three years, the highlights have been an emphasis on safety, training and an increase in trips, particularly for Grade 2 paddlers. All with good humour, poise and a distinctive dress sense!

At the recent AGM, the other new faces elected to the committee are: Claus Busseler (replacing Rob Richmond as Rock‘n’Roll coordinator), Dee Ratcliffe (replacing Jacqui Stone as Editor) and Matt Bezzina (replacing Sally Jacobs as trips coordinator).  Thanks Rob, Jacqui and Sally.   Rock‘n’Roll, the NSW Sea Kayaker magazine and the wide range of trips were highlights for me over the last couple of years and I am sure for large numbers of members. Ken Day (Vice President), David Fisher (Treasurer), John Piotrowski (Training Coordinator) and Peter Kappelmann (Internet Coordinator) will continue on in their roles, with Peter Osman coming onboard as Minutes Secretary.

The club membership has now grown to more than 300, with a wide diversity of members. The impressive attendance at the AGM shows the high level of interest among members in the club and its activities. If you feel we are not dealing with the needs of a specific group in the club, please let me know or better still, get on the chatline and start a discussion.

It is time to update your BOM links. On 1 September, 2010, the Bureau of Meteorology went live with a major upgrade of its forecasting services and website.  Further details are included in this magazine.  Warning, don’t start exploring unless you have a spare hour, there is a lot to see.

Finally, please put in your diaries Rock‘n’Roll for 2011.  A booking has been made at Batemans Bay for the weekend of April 2/3, 2011.

See you on the water,

George ‘Raffle Ticket’ Jessup

From Aquaphobe to paddling in the Whitsundays [80]


The following account is for all those of you out there who have friends or partners who you know would love sea kayaking if only they would give it a go.  This is my short journey.  I hope it will inspire others.

It all started several years ago.  Rae took up sea kayaking with a passion.  I, on the other hand, would begin to panic if I was in chest deep water and could not touch the bottom.  Rae’s severely aquaphobic husband.  So what happened to change all this?

October 2009

In a moment of weakness, I agreed to land crew for Rae and Kate in the 2009 Hawkesbury Canoe Classic.  They crossed the finish line looking amazingly elated.  I thought perhaps I could overcome my fears and try to capture some of that for myself by competing with Rae in 2010.  What better way to spend our 30th wedding anniversary than 12 hours paddling through the dark night down the Hawkesbury?

On the way home the happy banter was about “Rae and Kate doing it again next year” when Kate suggested I should partner Rae and she would land crew.  After some thought I decided to give flat water paddling a go in the very stable double, with the view to doing the Hawkesbury in 2010.

November 2009

We launched the double at Kyeemagh for my first paddle.  Rae had explained the basics of the forward stroke.  We set off up the Cooks River into a gentle 10-15 knot breeze.  I lasted for about twenty-five minutes before my legs and feet began to protest at this extreme torture.  A couple of day’s rest and we gave it another go; similar breeze but lasted about forty-five minutes.  Each of these trips was fraught with anxiety, I can see why they call it the “divorce boat”.  Next time I was in the back, all I had to do was keep cadence.  Should be easy, right?  No it wasn’t, and then she wanted to “poke our nose” into Botany Bay.  Those 15-20cm waves were so terrifying that it took a while to relax afterwards.  I had been a bit freaked by it all.

Next Rae wanted to try me “in the ocean” so we put in at Malabar which looked very flat from the beach.  Off we went, heading out with a 20cm swell rolling into the bay. I thought the double was supposed to be stable but it seemed to want to tip.  We headed back in to the flat water where I calmed down a bit, then out we went again; stress levels rose rapidly so in I came again.  Not the outcome Rae was looking for.  I was okay when it was dead flat but anything disturbing the surface caused me to loose the plot big time.

December 2009

I had realised that trying to learn in the double was going to be hard work and frustrating for Rae. I needed a single so Rae could then show me what to do and I could see her do it. Also it would take away some of the fear of not being in full control.  We settled on a Mirage 580 as the most stable kayak, except they were hard to find second hand.

Next came learning how to get out of the boat underwater so off we go to Watsons Bay. Rae is going on a Tuesday night paddle with Rob Mercer.  Into the Impex Currituck in the shallows, now roll over and get out, okay I can do that.  Now try playing a tune on the hull before getting out, not a problem.  More importantly there was no panic,  it was even a lot of fun.

Meanwhile I found a Mirage 580 for sale in Brisbane Waters.  I rang at 4.00 pm on a Friday.  The owner was heading out for a twilight sail on Sydney Harbour but we could meet at about 9.30 pm.  Off we went, via the ATM to get enough cash for a deposit.  I was the proud owner of my own 580.

What next?  Perhaps some formal training might help. Time for a lesson with Rob in my own boat!  Now I was a Grade 1.  Dee and Adrian were running a doubles weekend.

The Doing it in a Double course was at Clontarf, with the first skills session held on the opposite bank, so across we go through the boat wash, a really strange feeling to have the nose and stern in water but none under me. I managed not to freak and we stayed upright (I will admit there was probably a pretty satisfying adrenalin rush on getting across the wake upright).

By the end of the course I has happy doing brace turns and edging.  A really positive learning experience.

The next major stepping stone was my first paddle with club members.  We got to Clontarf on a beautiful morning and had to choose a destination.  We could do the soft option of Middle Harbour or the more adventurous option of Middle Head to Chowder Bay. Andrew and Peter had explained that the water would be a bit rough around Middle Head.  I looked around at the others and could see they really wanted to go to Chowder Bay.  I took a very deep breath and agreed to give Chowder Bay a go.

Peter played nursemaid on the way around to Chowder Bay and Andrew played sea shepherd on the way back.  Off Grotto Point it got really interesting, a big boat wash to my left as well as my right, got through it without coming out but it was a bit touch and go.  I think the others had their hearts in their mouths for a few seconds until the wash settled.  Maybe I could do this after all.

Neil and Rae relax after rounding Middle Head on the return leg

January 2010

By now I was ready for Basic Skills and Grade 2.  You need to realise that the Hawkesbury was still the objective, but I had enough sense to know that I would need some paddling skills to have a chance of completing it successfully.

January 23 and I set off with my Mirage strapped to the car.  I had Rae’s flat blade, up until now I had only used a wing.  Initially I really struggled with the flat. I would miss Rae’s great support and encouragement but luckily I knew Kate and had been told that Stefan was a very good instructor.  The conditions were pretty ideal for Basic Skills. A southerly blow at about 10-12 knots the only real challenge on the final leg back to Clontarf.  Now I only needed two 15km trips to complete my Grade 2.

At this point I was fairly confident that I could manage reasonably flat conditions and could even manage with a bit of a breeze.  But any wave action over about 30cm was still pretty scary.

The next major step was a SOLO paddle, out into Botany Bay from Kyeemagh.  Conditions not bad, maybe up to 10 knots, but I was fairly sheltered and managed over 90 minutes. I had a tremendous feeling of accomplishment after this trip.

By this stage I really wanted to get my 15km trips done so Rae and I set out on a very blustery afternoon from Rodd Point to try to do the first with winds gusting to 15 knots, sea up to maybe a metre (really big for me).  Ended up getting to Mort Bay before slogging back to the car into a strong headwind, a really hard but mostly enjoyable paddle. The only trouble being that we covered 14.5kms, bugger!!!  The paddle conditions were the worst to date for me but because of the learning curve I had been on it seemed to be just a natural progression into bigger seas rather than the scary monster it could have been.

February 2010

Remember the Hawkesbury?  We did, so one Wednesday we headed for a Lane Cove River time trial.  12kms in 77.14 mins, at 9.33km/hr, not bad for our first serious attempt at going fast for an extended time.

My next major step was a short paddle across the entrance to Botany Bay in the double into a 2-3m swell.  This was not a nice feeling, I was not happy.

We sat down to analyse the situation when Rae asked the most critical question: “Which was worse, paddling into the swell or having it following me?”  When I answered that it was paddling into the waves, and that I found a following sea pretty comfortable, she pointed out that heading into a wave is the easiest part and that technically I was much more likely to come to grief with a following sea i.e. most of my fear was perceived, not actual.

Two days later I did my first paddle out to the Heads – a confused bumpy sea with about 1 metre swell.  On the way back I even helped out with a short tow.  The feeling of being “outside” was pretty daunting but because of the previous paddle I managed it pretty well.  Also managed my first 15km paddle.

March 2010

About this time Rae, Shaan, Mike and Guy began talking seriously about a Whitsunday paddling trip in August.  Whilst being more than happy for Rae to head off paddling with her friends, I was not looking forward to the time alone, feeling a bit jealous actually.  However I was resigned to not having the confidence or experience to undertake such a trip.

The next big step came two weeks later.  Rock and Roll was coming up, Cathy, Paul, James, Guy and Rae were going to paddle down to Batemans Bay from Jervis Bay.  Rae and I took a couple of the boats down to Currarong, in preparation for their trip, and so we could together paddle on the Saturday.  Guy joined us at Honeymoon Bay and we headed out towards Boat Harbour.

The first part of the paddle was fairly flat, with Rae giving me advice on how to improve my rate of going forward.  After lunching, we decided to head out in the direction of Point Perpendicular.  The sea was, for me, very rough, not big (maybe some sets up to 2m) but just confused, rebound doing its thing.  When asked about whether to turn around or keep going, I replied that I would be extremely disappointed to have come this far and not gone out beyond the point.

On looking up and seeing that I was outside, really in the ocean for the first time, I felt very tiny, but extremely elated.

Then came the very lonely week while Rae paddled to Rock and Roll, having a ball.  I reflected on my journey so far.  The conclusion was – if I truly wanted to spend more time being able to do the more adventurous paddles with Rae that she was into then I needed to strive towards Sea Skills – this final decision came as I drove alone to Rock and Roll.  My transformation was almost complete.

Waiting for Rae to arrive so I could tell her that I wanted to go on the Whitsundays trip, and wanted to try to get my Grade 3 was really hard.  When I finally got to tell her, her eyes sparkled, and a look came over her face that seemed to suggest that she had planned this all along.

April 2010

Between Rock and Roll and leaving for the Whitsundays I crammed in as much paddling as possible.  Challenging myself whenever possible.  I did a doubles weekend at Patonga which culminated in a wonderful surfing experience off Ettalong.  A double provides a few challenges as well as extra exhilaration, the extra speed on a wave is a real buzz.

May 2010

I had a surfing lesson with Rob at Umina – I love the surf.  I did get horribly trashed at the club Intro to Surf at Wanda though.  I did a navigation course with Adrian and Steve.  Keith’s Five Islands trip was also a real blast.

Neil edges at Umina

I did my first solo gauntlet where I realised that the Mirage rudder is not the best tool for learning boat control, it gives one a false sense of security and ability to turn.

June 2010

I now have a Valley Nordkapp as my day boat so that I can learn how to better control a boat in tight situations.  Oh – and I also tried out paddling in a 25 knot westerly just for fun.

July 2010

The rest as they say is history.  I joined Rae, Shaan, Guy, Mike and Dave on a two week adventure to the Whitsundays.  The most awesome trip, even paddled with whales.

Neil in the Whitsundays

And what of the Hawkesbury?  Well we might or we might not.  It is no longer a top goal.  Going back to the Whitsundays or ferry-gliding in Wales or perhaps Baja have much more appeal.

What advice would I give to someone starting out like I did?

Be patient, it will happen

Ensure you have patient teachers

Listen, watch, learn and practice

Start off small and work up to bigger things

Do it regularly

I guess that most important thing for me was that I was always paddling with people in whom I had implicit trust.  If I got into trouble they would get me out of it, or they would not take me into situations for which I was not ready.

A huge thanks to all who have helped me on my (so far short) journey.

LoCo 2010: A sea kayaking event and not a Mirage in sight! [80]


The LoCo Roundup is an annual sea kayaking symposium of which Ginni Callahan is the driving force.  The event takes its name from its venue: the Lower Columbia River which forms the border between the north-western USA states of Oregon and Washington.  This year’s LoCo was the fourth and extended over a full week during August.

I decided to attend the symposium after participating in a short training session Ginni ran for the NSWSK Club’s instructors soon after this year’s R‘n’R.  I got so much out of that session that I felt I would benefit greatly by attending LoCo.

The headquarters for LoCo is Ginni’s Slow Boat Farm, a 10-hectare rural property on Puget Island, approximately 60km upstream from the mouth of the Columbia River.  This year close to 60 kayakers from different parts of the USA and as far afield as Brazil and Australia camped on the property.

Experience wise, the mix ranged from novices through to British Canoe Union (BCU) 5 Star award (of which our nearest equivalent is Advanced Sea Skills).  High profile paddlers included Greenland Rolling experts such as Cheri Perry (who features in This Is the Sea 1) and her partner Turner Wilson and Helen Wilson (who has had articles published in recent editions of Sea Kayaker and Ocean Paddler magazines).

The focus of the symposium was skills development (both hard and soft) within the framework of the BCU award scheme.  Sessions catered for the full spectrum of those attending and were conducted in conditions ranging from benign flatwater (in the sloughs and river adjacent Slow Boat Farm and at the Skamokawa Paddle Centre approximately 15km downstream) through to 1-metre surf at Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast.

There were a couple of assessment sessions for those aspiring for various BCU awards.  Other on-water activities included some graded trips and a demonstration of Greenland Rolling.  The symposium concluded with a games session where some outstanding individual skills were on display (Ginni beat all comers in the stand-up Noodle Jousting Competition).

Despite a very active on-water program there were plenty of things happening elsewhere.  The general format of the day started with a briefing immediately after breakfast followed by training classes mostly scheduled to conclude around 3.30pm but usually going well beyond.

Many of the on-water sessions were conducted in the waters around Ilwaco near the mouth of the Columbia River. This involved a reasonable amount of travel time getting to and from.  Dinner was followed by a slide presentation on different aspects of sea kayaking (Ginni’s presentation covered her trip to Australia earlier in the year and included her time at R‘n’R).

Meals for the event were prepared by a local caterer using local produce.  They were generous and wholesome.  Early risers could join a yoga class conducted by a seemingly rubber-boned Cheri Perry and paddlers feeling a bit stiff at the end of a day’s activity could have either a Swedish or Thai massage.  There was heaps of socialising and many friendships were formed.

My general observations and impressions of the event include:

The paddling environment

The Columbia River is the largest river in the USA to flow in to the Pacific Ocean.  Its headwaters are high in the mountains of the Canadian province of British Columbia and 2,000km from the ocean.  Its catchment is said to be about the same size as France (the waters of Australia’s longest river, the Murray, travel a little further but in a far lesser volume and at a much slower rate).  Large ocean-going cargo ships ply the Columbia as far as Portland, 170km inland.  At its widest the river is close to 14km and it flows in to the Pacific between two jetties (North and South) which are 3.5km apart.

The bar formed at the river mouth, where winter swells jack up to more than 8 metres, is often referred to as “the graveyard of the Pacific”.  The phenomena in the Columbia’s estuary give kayakers plenty to think about: fast running currents peaking near 5 knots in spring tides, very cold water (a dry suit is the most common form of kayakers’ outer wear, even in the summer months) and wind against tide.

As well as the cargo ships there are plenty of other  man-made hazards with which to contend: small recreational fishing boats abound; derelict wing dams, in the form of wooden pilings spaced closely together, act as dangerous strainers; wooden pilings, sometimes submerged during the tidal cycle, have the potential to capsize; long jetties (Jetty A has a notorious reputation) built from large rocks (we would probably refer to them as sea walls) constrict the tidal flow and generate tricky tidal races.

Place names within the estuary such as Dead Mans Cove, Shipwreck Beach and Cape Disappointment strongly suggest it is an environment not to be messed with.  This is where much of the LoCo 2010 on-water activity in which I participated took place.

The kayaks people were paddling and the kit they were using

It was interesting to see that British-branded kayaks dominated with NDKs (Romanys and Explorers) by far the most popular.  Other British kayaks included Valley (Nordkapps and Aquanauts) and Tideraces (paddled by Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson and yet to be seen in Australia).  Of the North American brands there were a couple of Wilderness Systems kayaks (I paddled a hired Tempest 170 RM), a few of Sterling’s Illusion model and a smattering of Current Design’s composite models.

One kayak turning heads was the Boreal Design-built Maelstrom Vaag which is soon to be released in Australia.

The Greenland Rolling fraternity mostly used skin-on-frame boats.  There were two beautifully crafted Cohos.  Boats built using composite materials formed the largest proportion and kayaks with skegs far outnumbered those with rudders.

A hands-free pump does not seem to be a requirement for sea kayaking in the US.  I didn’t see a kayak with an electric pump.  Most carried hand pumps.

The toggles on many of the kayaks were connected by a single strand of cord – a simple way of preventing finger entrapment in gnarly water and surf recoveries.

No one, besides me and a couple of novices, seemed to use a paddle leash.

The favourite Euro style paddles were Werners – mostly with a crank shaft.  There wasn’t a wing blade to be seen!  The incidence of Greenland paddles was much higher than we have in the NSWSK Club.

Body-mounted tow rope systems incorporating quick release buckles were the norm and thick (8mm) tow ropes were preferred.  I didn’t see any kayaks fitted with boat-anchored towing systems.

Coaches, instructors, assessors

The highest level coaches and assessors at LoCo 2010 were all BCU qualified.  It seems that the BCU award scheme is held in much higher regard than its American Canoe Association counterpart.  I participated in three different one-day classes as a student: Coastal Navigation, Performance Paddling (our Basic Skills), Foundation Safety and Rescue Training and a 3-day 4 Star Leadership Training class (our nearest equivalent being Sea Leader or Sea Guide).

I gained a lot from observing the teaching style and methods of the coaches involved and came away from each session with some very useful teaching tools and some tips on improving my own personal paddling skills.

I also had the opportunity to participate as an observer on the assessment process of aspirants for the BCU 4 Star Leadership award.  The exercise was conducted over two days and involved trip planning, risk analysis and on-water group and incident management.

Different assessors were used each day and at the end of the exercise they conferred to make their judgement on who would receive the award.  It was a pretty rigorous examination of the candidates’ trip leading abilities and of the four presenting themselves for assessment only two passed.

During this exercise it was interesting to observe the general approach to on-water group management.  Because of the challenges presented by the environment, group spread was much tighter than we allow on our Club trips.  Other than a contrived incident, it rarely exceeded 50 metres!

Trip planning

So much of the trip planning in the Columbia River revolves around the current in the river and its estuary.  Vital information includes the times for slack water and when peak flow occurs and its related speed and direction (expressed in degrees).

Swell size, direction and period are also considered as are wind direction and speed.  In gathering this information, paddlers throughout the US are extremely well served by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (the equivalent of our Bureau of Meteorology).

I returned home from LoCo 2010 having achieved much more from the event than I had expected.  Apart from benefitting from watching other instructors at work, I picked up some BCU awards and credits which will encourage me to continue working my way up through the system.

Other commitments permitting, I intend to attend LoCo 2011 which runs from 9–18 September.  It would be great to have some fellow NSWSK Club members along with me.

Frozen Magnum [80]


Consulting Scientist: Professor Anne G. Lachlan 

Sheesh.  The buzz created by my article about the Outback Oven in the last edition was enormous, almost as long as the queue of people lined up to sample some baked delicacies.

As an addendum to that article, I can now add that I’ve since successfully baked pizza, more bread, sticky date puddings and biscuits in the oven.  All the recent baking was on remote Whitsunday beaches and my fellow paddlers helped me enjoy its output.

Anyway, back on topic.  People are salivating with anticipation from my teaser in the last magazine on how to keep a Magnum ice-cream frozen in a kayak.  So….the story goes something like this.

Some time ago, in mid summer, I froze two Magnums in a 2L block of ice and took it to Broughton Island.  We arrived on Broughton Island about seven hours after I had pulled it out of the freezer and packed it.  The block of ice was still rock hard with only a minimum amount of melted water in the bag.  I smashed the ice with rocks to extract the Magnums and my friend, Rod, and I ate them.  Rod and I thoroughly enjoyed our well-earned Magnums on Broughton Island and, in true style, ate them slowly in front of our fellow paddlers, savouring every last morsel.  Secretly, however, I confess that while the chocolate on the outside was in good shape, the ice-cream interior had the consistency of double cream rather than the typical ‘solid’ ice-cream you’d expect.  So the conundrum of finding a method to properly freeze a Magnum on a kayak trip was born.

The frozen Magnum quest was reinvigorated many months later at a meeting where I was with three of our Club’s finest scientists, Professor Lachlan and Drs Osman and Eddy.

I was informed that the problem experienced in my initial attempt was caused by a physical chemistry property known as the phase transition temperature.  Phase transition temperatures are the temperatures where substances change states between solids, liquids and gases.  For instance, the phase transition temperature for water from solid to liquid is 0 deg C.

When removed from the freezer, the block of ice is probably around -20 deg C, being the temperature inside the freezer.  With the ice now exposed to the ambient temperature, the frozen water steadily warms to zero, being the phase transition temperature of water.  At this point it will absorb a large amount of heat as it transitions physical states from solid ice to liquid water but it will remain at 0 deg C throughout the process.

This transition phase can take hours depending on the ambient temperature and the size of the block of ice used.  While the phase transition is happening, my Magnum was also at 0 deg C.    This was cold enough for the chocolate but not cold enough for the ice-cream.

We theorised that we needed to find a liquid solution that froze at a temperature below zero but was capable of being frozen by your average home freezer.  A briny solution was suggested to be the best option.  I then set about my journey to discover the science (thanks Google) and the recipe.

For the few readers who actually want the science (the real scientists) or maybe even need it (the wannabees), I’ve put that at the end of my article.  For the rest of the readers, the science will be a bit pedestrian so please jump straight to the answer, being…

Freeze the Magnum wholly within a solution of water and salt mixed up 200g salt to 800ml water (20% concentration).  Put the Magnum in a plastic bag first to protect it from the briny solution.  This concentration of salt solution lowers the freezing point to around -15 deg C and ensures that the various milk solid ingredients in the ice-cream stay cold enough.

For the people that want to learn the science behind the experiment, the long answer is…

I scoured the countryside in a comprehensive survey and I learned that commercial freezers in supermarkets, service stations and convenience stores had an average temperature of -24 deg C.  I figured I needed to freeze my Magnum at this temperature.  My research had indicated that a briny solution, when fully saturated, will freeze at -23 deg C.

I initially tried to encase my Magnum in a less than saturated briny solution that had a freezing point of -20 deg C as I thought it would be within the capability of my normal home freezer.  My test run indicated, however, that the freezer didn’t have enough grunt to freeze the briny solution so a lower target of -15 deg C was set.

How much salt (normal lay person salt here….sea salt, rock salt, NaCl) is required?

To do this, I need to use the Freezing Point Depression formula, being

ΔT = i . Kb . m  where

ΔT = the change in temperature, being 15 deg.  That is, as water freezes at 0 and I wanted a freezing point of -15 deg C, the change (or delta) in temperature T is 15.

i = the van’t Hoff constant which is 2 for NaCl.  I took this as a given as I didn’t really get it but it supposedly has something to do with two ions in the solution, the Na ion and the Cl ion.

Kb =  Cryoscopic Constant/

Freezing Point Depression Constant.  In this case for H20 it is equal to 1.858.

m = molarity which is basically the strength of the salt solution I was looking to produce in the first place.  That is, how strong a solution do I need so that it freezes at -15 deg C.

So then, with all variables of the equation known except m, I figured out using a bit of algebra that m (or molarity) = 4.04.

The mole weight of NaCl is 58.5grams so 4.04M = 236g of salt per litre of solvent (water).  This is a concentration is about 20% by weight.  That is, 236g ÷ 1236g  being the weight of the salt divided by the combined weight of the water and the salt.

So to make a simple 1L recipe of briny solution……use 200g salt, 800mL water and expect a freezing point of -15.9 deg C.

The final test case occurred on the FAD mission of March 2010 where I took a couple of Magnums frozen in the briny solution.  Peter and I plugged ourselves into a high specification Enjoyometer and I’m pleased to report that we red lined the meter and had to switch off the machine just in case we fried it.  The recipe was a success.  Yum.

Bumping into Stuff (and other hazards) [80]


Its calm, but warm currents mean the water is shadowy, and below the point where your paddle blade rhythmically cleaves the water you can see nothing. A heat haze confuses the junction of air and water and the horizon is shimmering, melting.

Several kilometres offshore you are paddling comfortably in these murky waters when a bump to the kayak snaps you into survival mode and you quickly scan the water around you for signs of the debris you have just hit. You see nothing.

You keep paddling, but when a second bump is so fierce it sends the whole kayak lurching violently sideways, forcing you to slam your paddle blade against the surface just to stay upright , you realise you are in the company of inquisitive and aggressive sharks. Black-tipped reef sharks, unhappy with the lack of clarity in the water and confused by your presence, are challenging your kayak to a duel.

Adrenalin floods your body as you await the hit that you may not be able to recover from, and in spite of your almost singular focus on remaining in your kayak you are still, unpleasantly, able to  visualise the outcome of a capsize in such hostile territory.

Upon landing later that day you discover that one of your submarine welcoming party has bitten a large chunk from your rudder, which will need to be replaced. Grateful that the only appendage you have lost is one that was attached to your kayak you set about making camp in the wilderness. You are understandably delighted that you had no need of emergency assistance in waters so remote that you would have been fully digested by the time help had arrived.

Welcome to the world of solo, long-distance paddling, on a scale that almost defies description.

If there remains a holy grail in solo kayaking then perhaps the circumnavigation of the Australian coastline, without the aid of a ground crew, is it.

It is a daunting and immense 16000 kilometre trek, in waters offering everything from the uninterrupted might of the Southern Ocean and the associated mountainous swells, to the tropical heat and notoriously unfriendly saltwater crocodiles of the Top End.

It includes three stretches of cliff line that do not offer a landing site for the two days it takes to paddle their length, and which must be tackled in a continuous run as the currents would drive you into the unforgiving land mass should you attempt to sleep. There are complex currents and tidal flows to accommodate and the everyday reality of beach-landings and departures and all the inherent risks they present.

Cyclones, electrical storms, a ridiculous number of venomous or large- toothed marine hazards, exhaustion, dehydration, the kayaking equivalent of bed sores, debilitating weight loss, freak waves -the list of potential problems is limited only by your imagination.

Add to this the staggering demands that paddling 6 to 10 hours a day for the best part of a year would place on the mind and body and you can begin to see the enormity of the challenge.

Only two people have managed the feat, with varying degrees of support or assistance, and are deservedly applauded for the remarkable achievement.

Paul Caffyn set out 27 years ago, at a time when satellite technology was something familiar only to NASA scientists and not the everyday, pocket-sized convenience we know it to be today.  He managed the trip in a staggering 361 days. Without the benefit of the safety devices and navigational aids we now take for granted it was a truly astonishing accomplishment and Paul has been the inspiration for many an aspiring long-distance paddler ever since.

More recently German uber-athlete Freya Hoffmeister completed the trip in 332 days with, in her own words, about 20% of the trip supported or assisted. It was an incredible effort by any measure and, with Paul Caffyn as mentor and friend, a fitting new chapter in the story of “Australia by Kayak”.

There remains, however, the question of whether the entire trip is possible without assistance from a support crew and as we speak someone determined to find out if it can be done is somewhere off the coast of South Western Australia, desalinating the Southern Ocean, bumping into sharks, frolicking with dugongs, communicating with whales and growing a fearsome beard.

Stuart Trueman is one of Australia’s most experienced adventure kayakers and has on his paddling resume several solo crossings of Bass Strait, (including one non-stop push) an 800 kilometre jaunt along the Antarctic Peninsula and countless weeks spent on the water in 6 metres of pointy fibreglass, honing his formidable skills.

At least 3 years of meticulous planning – involving logistics that would challenge the armed forces of a small nation- a workplace that is willing to take him back upon his return and a very understanding wife and children, have allowed Stuart to set off on this journey with the goal of an unsupported circumnavigation.

Travelling in a custom-built, Kevlar- reinforced kayak – courtesy of Laurie Geoghegan the water-craft wizard at Nadgee Kayaks – his fully-laden boat will support him for up to two weeks at a time without any need for re-supply.

In order to travel as light as possible a number of parcels, containing conditions- appropriate clothing and equipment, have been posted ahead to be collected as required. These include a desalination kit for the stretches where fresh water cannot be guaranteed, warm clothing for the wintry conditions, spare or replacement flares and batteries and additional dehydrated food packages for the stretch below the Nullarbor.

Stuart is carrying a radio for current weather reports, an EPIRB, and a GPS. He also has the use of a satellite phone until September, which he is using to send his coordinates each day so his progress can be monitored.

He has calculated that he needs to average 50 kilometres a day for every day that the weather permits paddling and has allowed himself about 16 months to complete the journey. A large portion of that may well be spent sitting on his calloused backside on dry land awaiting favourable conditions but he is hoping  that won’t prove too much of a problem.

The kayak-chomping shark encounter related above happened to Stuart in the unseasonably warm waters between Broome and Port Hedland. He did manage to replace the rudder. He has also overcome a serious case of heatstroke, struggled with a painful wrist injury, dry-tested his EPIRB only to discover it wasn’t working, lost part of a tooth and had a visit from the ‘Outrageous Beard Police”. Okay, I made the last one up, but the rest are definitely true.

With three-quarters of the journey still in front of him and the enormous challenges that the tropical north will present  many months away, there is no doubt that he will be pushed to his absolute physical and mental limits on this incredible trip.

Stuart set off on April 10th and has so far covered around 4000ks.  As I write this, on 29th August, he is a speck in the ocean at the base of the immense Baxter cliffs in South Western Australia, with a 160k non-stop paddle ahead of him before he can land again. He is predicting an excruciating 25 hour run on this occasion.

You can follow his progress via the link on the Nadgee Kayaks website, which is updated as often as is possible.  We all wish him luck and a safe passage.

Albatross Dreaming [80]


Bass Strait is often seen as a challenge, a ‘rite of passage’ for the serious sea kayaker. The chain of islands across the strait provide a means to an end: shelter, camping and protection from storms; it is only if the weather is inclement that any time is usually spent exploring the islands themselves.

This is a big pity, as the islands have a great deal to offer. They have a wonderful variety of fauna and flora, wilderness, beauty, isolation from the ‘maddening crowd’ and a rich history of aboriginal settlement, sealer, ship-wrecks and light houses.

One of my best experiences in Bass Strait was to use a charter boat to get to Deal Island, then spend two weeks with twelve other sea kayakers, exploring the many islands round about, walking at leisure on Deal Island itself and socialising with a merry group.

Thus, when Jeff Jennings, of Maatsuyker Canoe Club, invited Mike Snoad and I to join him on a club paddle around islands off the north-west of Tassie, I leapt at the chance. I had paddled in the area thirty years ago and had memories of big seas, strong winds and sheltering from storms. I was not going to be disappointed! Perhaps this time we would also make the fabled Albatross Island, one of the three Australian nesting sites for the shy albatross.

So to Denium Hill, mainland Tassie, just off Robbins Island. Maatsuyker club have a reputation for hard paddling and Mike and I knew that the honour of mainland sea kayakers was on our shoulders. Would we have to eat raw shark meat and sea weed to survive, no bar-stools or blow up armchairs on this trip. I even left my pillow behind.  Would we be able to take the pace against these hard men? Would we ‘let the side down’?

Four members of the club appeared and they seemed like nice blokes. Some of them even had wives and families. We got to talking, yes, we might be OK. As we loaded our boats I noticed one of them fitting in a case of beer. Wow, these were normal guys, not machines. I began to relax.

Leaving at high tide, so we could cross the extensive sand flats that dry out for kilometres at low tide, we had a fair wind and soon we were cruising along in relaxed style.

So to the first night to Stack Island. Unfortunately this was in the midst of a penguin and mutton bird colony and as dark drew on their raucous cries started to fill the air. Next squadrons of mutton birds [sooty shearwaters] started to crash into the bush all around us and somehow these distractions seemed to last all night. You would think a bird as graceful in flight as a shearwater would know how to land, but no, they must have missed that lesson.

Next day, somewhat sleepless, but raring to go, we headed out to Penguin Islet, a pelican breeding site, as well as the home of many other birds, then to Cave Bay, on Hunter Island, to camp and explore a cave which was inhabited by aboriginals 30,000 years ago. Wow, there is a lot to see around here!

Next we visited Three Hummock Island, where John and Bev, the caretakers at Chimney Cove, a 50 acre lease on the otherwise national park island, made us so welcome that, when we had completed a circumnavigation of the whole island over two days and were then stormbound again at the Cove, they allowed us to use the homestead next to our camp to cook and shelter in.

During the next few days we helped them install a 20,000 litre water tank and cut tracks on other parts of the island as part of their lease agreement with national parks.

Finally the weather moderated and we looked clear to try for Albatross Island. We were still uncertain if we would be able to actually land there, as there are no beaches and the only option is to land at the base of cliffs in a rocky gulley, often impossible in a decent swell.

A trip back to Hunter, then a 20 kilometre ferry against a current up to 4 knots, dodging ‘Dangerous Bank’, a break up to 4 metres in height, saw us draw near to the black rocks of the island itself and the first albatross, adult birds with a wing span of over 2 metres, started to hover over us.

At the gulley the sea was calm and Peter, the only one of us with a plastic boat, was persuaded to land first to help us drag our loaded, glass boats over the rocks.

There we were in a paradise of birds, seals and fish, on an island about one kilometre long by 100 metres wide, jutting out into the main current of Bass Strait like the prow of a ship cutting through the water at speed, as the currents sped past.

Our gulley was covered with pig face plants and a steep climb led us to a huge cave where the sound of seals below was amplified to giant qualities. Lastly a steep slope of several hundred metres took us to the top of the island and there they were.

Hundreds if not thousands of young albatross, patiently waiting for the adult birds to descend and feed them; above, dozens of mature birds gliding effortlessly with huge wings, swooping off the cliff face, riding the thermals and looking like gods. Now this really did seem like a dream, but no, this was for real.

For further details, check out Jeff Jenning’s video on YouTube: search for Albatross2010 or jeffdjtube. It’s worth the time.

Book review: Solo [80]


Andrew McAuley was a great adventurer and in 2007 he set off for New Zealand. It was the latest in a long series of sea kayaking achievements. He was the first to cross Bass Strait without stopping. He crossed the Gulf of Carpentaria in 6.5 days, learning to sleep at sea, coping with exhaustion and saltwater sores and all the while developing endurance and the mind set for extreme crossings. Then in 2006 he organised an expedition with Laurie Geoghegan and Stuart Trueman to the Antarctic, going further south than any kayak had been before. For Andrew it was also a training run for the Tasman crossing.

Many of us tracked Andrew’s progress dot by red dot as he left Fortescue Bay for New Zealand. We watched anxiously, admiring his courage, skill and determination in the face of all kinds of adversity: 40 knot winds, massive seas, in a capsule more cramped and self-contained than any space ship. He navigated a straight true course to Milford Sound, crossing 1600km of the southern ocean. And we remember the day his call for help was broadcast.

Few of us had the chance to learn of the training, boat design and preparation that led up to this voyage, or to understand the circumstances of Andrew’s last day. With her first book “Solo” his wife Vicki has cut through the confusion inevitable when the media try to explain such an event. She has written an account that is extraordinarily open. Her book shares insights into the mind and soul of an adventurer. I don’t know any book that has gone so far in this regard and with such honesty and understanding.

The first part takes you into a conversation with Vicki and Andrew. Vicki starts by describing Andrew’s background as she discovered it during their early days together. She blends his writing with her own, doing no more than change the typeface as they switch between each other. The effect is like being in a room with the two of them as they describe how they met, fell for each other, their early life and adventures and the background to the Tasman crossing. They give a wealth of detail: how the boat was designed, a map of its construction, fittings and gear layout; an equipment list; what failed and what worked. They describe his preparation and the arduous mental and physical training. This section is full of detail and anecdotes that had me either laughing or totally absorbed.

The second part covers more familiar territory, the Tasman crossing details that we followed assiduously on the web. It provides background to many of the events that we heard only in distorted fashion from the news or casual conversations. There is a description of the first attempt in December 2006, the bureaucratic issues that delayed the start, and later Andrew’s decision to turn back into strong headwinds having realised the potentially lethal effect of heat loss from an uninsulated hull. Then to the second trip in January 2007. The brief understated text messages and occasional images on Andrew’s web site were compelling enough at the time, now Vicki draws on Andrew’s log and the sections of video that survived and brings into sharp focus just how tough the expedition was on both of them.

And then the tale becomes hard. Vicki takes us through Andrew’s call for help, the circumstances of the rescue attempt and the impact on herself, Finlay, family and friends. She pulls no punches, describing her grief openly and frankly. This is compelling and not easy to read. Yet by the final summary it is clear that it is essential if one is to have any hope of understanding or reconciling Andrew’s nature as an adventurer, the tragedy that followed and what it should never cost. Only Vicki can really judge this and she does so wisely and clearly.

This book is compelling reading, full of information, wisdom and lessons, I thoroughly recommend it.