Paddling along a basalt coastline: Shellharbour to Gerroa

By MEGAN PRYKE

A week before this day trip the arrows of the Seabreeze weather website indicate strong southerly winds. As the week progresses the arrows turn anticlockwise, changing colour and decreasing in height. The final forecast is moderate to fresh northerly winds, thus our paddling direction is to be north to south.

Our meeting place is Shellharbour at the wee hour of 6.00a.m. Keith discusses car shuffle mathematics; the variables being the number of kayaks, cars, kayak-carrying capacity, people-carrying capacity, equitable driving obligations and kayak caretakers. My mind drifts. I scan for an open coffee shop. Alas, none. I have failed to absorb Keith’s result other than my own part which is to leave my car at Gerroa. The car shuffle completes and we launch by 7.40a.m.

Our paddling route meanders in and out of a jagged shoreline. Between Stack Island and the main shore the sea is choppy, due to shallow water and rebound. Keith sends out Tony as a probe and offers to paddle around the island if anyone is uncomfortable with the chop. We all decide to follow Tony and get wet from sea spray.

We arrive one hour ahead of schedule at Kiama. I down an early lunch to compliment the shockingly early breakfast. Thankfully there are open coffee shops nearby. We leave Kiama by noon.

The Kiama blow-hole looks more like a cave than a hole from the ocean side. Tony and Keith are the only ones drawn closer to the dark side.

The area is very picturesque and diverse with the rounded masses of Mount Saddleback, the sandstone plateaus of Knights Hill and the Southern Highlands, rolling pasture land, hexagonal basalt columns of Bombo quarry, and the blue-green ocean swells white-capping as they lap the shore.

The swell rebounds and intensifies with the strengthening afternoon wind, white caps are more frequent. I feel pretty comfortable in the clapotis just north of Gerroa. I am a grade 2 sea kayaker who cannot roll. I experiment with a few low braces, they seem a bit pointless when I can move with the waves. Subconsciously I note a steep wave on my left and decide it was not brace worthy. I dunk the right blade in for the next stroke. Suddenly white water washes over my bow and I am looking up through the sea’s aqua lens. Upside down I feel the drop as the wave passes by. I wet exit.

Fellow paddler Rob arrives to assist me. I know from intentional wet exit practice that people with prior shoulder injuries may prefer not to empty a kayak, so when Rob flips my kayak up without draining any water I don’t grumble. The foot pump is slow, the forward group are getting further away, frustrated I decide to set-off. The extra water in my cockpit proves more unstable than I anticipate, it sloshes about as my kayak rises and falls with the swell. I capsize again.

This time, after I wet exit, I pull along my upturned kayak to reach the bow, push the bow upwards and flip my kayak as most of the cockpit water drains away. I get back in cowboy-style, my kayak is much steadier than before. Keith paddles close by and compliments me on my self-rescue and suggests I paddle straight out to sea rather than aiming directly for the rest of the group. I appreciate the few minutes of not having to deal with waves and wind on the beam as I regain my nerves and balance confidence. We reach the rest of the group waiting behind the protection of a peninsula. Soon after we face our last obstacle, small surf at Gerroa. Heading in one by one our 35 kilometre trip is completed successfully.

It was a great trip, thanks to all and especially Keith Oakford.

Postscript: This trip occurred a couple of years ago. I have since achieved sea skills and learnt to roll on both sides pretty reliably. At the time of this trip, my roll was bad, however I was giving it a go and in the process of many failed rolling attempts I had a lot of cowboy-style self-rescue practice.

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