By MEGAN PRYKE
With a ratio of three sea leaders to two sea skills kayakers what could go wrong? All sea leaders were experienced Broughton Island veterans, being Dave, on his seventh visit, Matt and Claudia. It was all new for President George and I.
The forecast was pretty good for a Port Stephens launch. Abating southerly winds on the first day, then nor’easters on the second, and most importantly, the last day. Perhaps the only concern to be raised was whether the club president, in a bid to earn the extra stripes for the honourable title of “Commodore”, would dare enter into Broughton Island’s sea kayakers Hall of Fame, the famous Cons Cleft.
The shoulder strap haul of our vessels went without issue, until the last kayak. Dave had officially called off a tentatively proposed second night gourmet feast, but now we wondered what Dave had snuck into his Mirage. Only a small murmur of complaint was made as we extruded one foot out of quagmire while the other sunk deeper. We dreamt of potential frozen Magnum ice creams.
The sea reflected a steely grey sky. It was not the cheeriest of trips out on the ocean. Claudia suffered the most. Dave stoically supported the Pink Lady as Claudia disposed of her breakfast. It was good experience for me to know anyone can suffer sea sickness, even if rarely.
Lively seas rebounded close to Broughton Island, leftovers of previous strong southerly winds. I had envisaged Esmeralda Cove as a still water haven, but it was not without hazard. An active bombora occasionally reared up. Close to what looked like a safe, sandy beach a nasty rock stood. Tall enough to do more than tickle gel coat and just submerged when we arrived. Guided by the veterans we landed safely. Three out of five queasy paddlers had the vote and we were land lubbers for the rest of the day.
Sea gull squawks lessened as night fell, replaced by shearwaters. The track to the loo and the Optus mobile phone reception zone was now an obstacle course, littered with young shearwaters outside their burrows. Illogically they attempted to escape our footfalls by scampering along the track. Dimly lit by starlight, flying adult shearwaters gracefully circled. Their eerie cries informed us that this was their place.
Broughton Island is a special place, home to nesting shearwaters in the warmer months, and the most northern extent of little penguins who enjoy this predator-free island. We shared sightings of seagulls, shearwaters, turtles, oyster catchers, hooded terns, dolphins, an osprey and for a myopic moment George swears he saw an emperor penguin!
Also visiting Broughton Island were the Broughton Island hut-dwellers and boating people. One guy found it hard to comprehend that we had paddled from Port Stephens, asking Dave of the whereabouts of our mother ship then later asking me separately to confirm how we arrived.
A couple of National Parks employees had motored over to the island. We chatted about the reduction in prickly pear, the risk of rodent invasion and the pros and cons of a potential future permit system for camping on the island.
On sunny day two, we circumnavigated both Little Broughton and the bigger island. In the company of most, a gauntlet is a long glove. Sea kayakers who are accustomed to the language of the ocean, to the hiss, splatter, rush, splash, boom, swoosh, swish, whack sounds made as swell meets rock, the term gauntlet is used to describe rocky inlets that present a challenge. As surely as the sea breathes, gauntlets beckon. Progress around the island involved pausing to observe gauntlet behaviour, listening to its language and occasionally poking our bows and sterns in and out if we had deciphered its mood.
Although there were plenty of young mutton birds, Dave opted to eat the mammal species, cooking up roast lamb on day two. Alas no ice cream to share, but poppers which started out frozen to preserve Dave’s meat. Amazingly Dave baked fresh bread. Claudia cooked fresh popcorn and created yummy apple slinkies with a high tech, twisty gadget. Matt, reminiscing survival trips with Stuart Trueman, located and ate bush tucker: Vitamin C from edible pigface fruit. Having not caught a fish he found protein from a tender shearwater…err.. well, actually, he sensibly brought all nutritional needs in his kayak.
We were thankful for shade provided by Dave’s super fly sheet. It had little pockets to neatly store guy rope! Wow, what great design variations have been made to regular rectangular sheets with rivet holes.
As for Cons Cleft, only Matt paddled through on the bouncy day two. With lower swell conditions on the last day we all paddled through the cleft. Alas, George missed out on a Commodore nomination by staying away from rocky crags and remaining upright.
A NE wind assisted the paddle back and those with sails, being everyone but me, had a bit of extra assistance. Nonetheless, I had a great trip back pushed along by wind waves. Some of the benefit of sails was shared when the group formed a sailing raft and we discovered the turning power of synchronised kayak edging. Without the fetch of a nice following sea once in Port Stephens I allowed those with sails to tow me part way, a nice way to even out the effort and to provide towing training.
Great company, weather, destination and tail winds and following seas, we had all the right ingredients for a great sea kayak trip. Thanks to Dave! I look forward to returning as a BI veteran.