Broughton Island 14-16 February 2012


Broughton Island is part of the Myall Lakes National Park and is a major breeding location for the Wedged-tailed Shearwater (or muttonbird). It was first sighted by Captain Cook on May 11, 1770 and, thinking it was part of the mainland, he named it Black Head. It is positioned approximately 20km NE of Yacaaba Head at Port Stephens. These waters are reputed to be the birthing grounds for the Great White shark and are well-populated by juveniles.
I had been trying to get to out to Broughton Island again for many months; three times I had a trip planned and three times bad weather was forecast. Each time the forecast turned out to be accurate. Then in the latter part of 2011, NPWS suspended camping on the island whilst they upgraded the camping facilities. It was with delight I saw that Adrian Clayton was leading a mid-week, three-day, NSWSKC trip there. I quickly registered.

On the Monday I started go through my check-list and to assemble my kit. When it came to which kayak, Mirage 580 or Nordkapp LV, I chose the M580 due to its greater point-to point speed and gear carrying capacity. It is also fitted with a Flat Earth sail. However, the Nordlow would have been ideal at the island due to its fantastic manoeuvrability amongst the rocks and ability to handle bumpy conditions.

The trip was leaving from Jimmys Beach at Port Stephens. Joining Adrian (Nadgee) and I were Owen Kimberly (Mirage 530), Drago Pejic (Mirage 580) and Roger White (Wilderness Systems?). It was a good little group and it was comforting to know that we had two experienced instructors, Adrian and Owen.

The forecast update indicated clearing conditions, light SE breeze, calm seas, but with the chance of isolated thunderstorms. We had a briefing, made final checks and were ready to go by 0930. As we cleared Yacaaba Head and swung north we saw a storm up towards Broughton. We decided to push on assessing the situation as we went. I talked to Marine Rescue Port Stephens on the VHF who advised that they were watching it on the radar. Although it seemed “very wet” we could see no lightning, nor hear thunder; it also seemed to be moving further north. As we got past Cabbage Tree Island, Marine Rescue confirmed that it was indeed tracking away and lessening in intensity. We decided to push on.

It was a great but uneventful paddle to the island. Although the breeze was from a favourable direction for sailing, it was too light to be of any real assistance, so Drago (also carrying a sail) and I had to do it the hard way. Upon reaching the island, Adrian and Owen decided to see if it was safe to take the “shortcut” through Con’s Cleft at Looking Glass Island. Though quite bumpy, the all-clear was given. With the fully-laden Mirage and the difficulty of getting to my stashed-away helmet, I decided to go around, whilst the others safely negotiated the Cleft. All alone in the rebound off the SE corner, I was wishing I’d gone through the Cleft! We all met up again and continued on into Esmeralda Cove and landed at our campsite at Little Poverty Beach.

We were keen to check out the new campsites that have been recently completed, and which have to be booked and paid for in advance. They have built three raised timber platforms, based on a Tasmanian design used at Cradle Mountain, and two further grassed sites.

These platforms have some eye pads and eye bolts set into the surface to attach tents. Both Owen and Roger decided to give the platform a go. It took a bit of ingenuity and some additional scrounged cord, but they got their tents pitched and overlooked us peasants set up on the grass below. It is advisable to bring some extra cord in your kit to string between the pads and eyes, and then tie your tent corners to this.

After dinner we retired to our quarters for a restful and well-earned slumber. However the muttonbird chicks made this a bit of an issue. These birds, about 55,000 breeding pairs, return to Broughton each summer to breed in the thousands of burrows that cover the island. Each pair has a single chick and at this time of the year it is still burrow-bound. The adults go out each day to fish, returning sometime after dark to feed the chicks. As they get hungry, the chicks cry out for their parents and being camped there is like trying to sleep in a nursery full of babies crying, or inside a cemetery with a myriad of ghosts howling.

Wednesday arrived with absolutely perfect, sunny weather. We left the camp and set out to circumnavigate and explore the island. We could not safely negotiate the passage between Broughton and Little Broughton Islands as there was a bit of bump combining with a low tide, so we went the long way. As we approached Providence Beach, a seaplane flew low overhead, then landed and disgorged some day trippers. He flew off, but returned soon after with yet another load.

We decided to stop off at Providence Beach for a little break. As we lazed about on the beautiful clean sand after swimming in the crystal clear waters, one of the group commented: “Why do we go all the way up to the Whitsundays, when we’ve got paradise right here on our doorstep?” Amen.

We continued on, heading west towards the mainland and Dark Point, exploring the reefs and The Sisters on the way, picking up the occasional runner for a bit of fun. Our circumnavigation continued, exploring all the inlets and rock gardens near the stunning Coal Shaft Bay. Eventually we got back to Con’s Cleft and this time with the unladen boat and helmet firmly affixed to my head, I was ready to give it a go. Once the surge at the opening was negotiated and the passage underway, there was no turning back. Mission accomplished.

Upon return to camp, we were met by Broughton Island NPWS Ranger Suzanne and her work crew. They were there to do some maintenance, grass mowing and toilet cleaning. She was quite interested in our thoughts on the camping platforms. We had already discussed this and advised her that more pad eyes were needed and she will follow this up. She told us all about the Shearwaters and the other inhabitants of the island. She also advised that extensive eradication work had eliminated all the rats and rabbits.

On Thursday morning we were all packed and ready to go by 0900. As we cleared the island both Drago and I popped our sails ready to ride the nor’easter home. Unfortunately, again it was only blowing at about 4km/hr, so again we paddled all the way. We had a pleasant paddle to Cabbage Tree where we had a good look round, then crossed over to Yacaaba Head and had a bit of fun in the rebound and surge.

The sea had churned up a lot of foam and it was about half a metre thick and coated both our boats and ourselves as we passed through it.

Eventually we re-entered Port Stephens and were greeted by a welcoming pod of the local dolphins. Great trip, great weather, great company and the camping facility upgrade is certainly worthwhile.


Five Salty Sea Dogs visit Broughton Island


Five salty sea dogs set out from Shoal Bay ramp
To do an open crossing and a Broughton Island camp.
The sky was grey and cloudy and the rain came pouring down
But everyone was cheerful, there was not a single frown.
One salty sea dog lost his breakfast on the way
And a second tossed his cookies in the flat calm of the bay.
Two salty sea dogs lapped the island just for fun
The others went for walkies and enjoyed the evening sun.
Later, after sunset, the stars were burning bright
And the sea dogs enjoyed dinner with a healthy appetite.

Five salty sea dogs awoke to clear blue skies
The sea was like a mirror to reflect the bright sunrise.
They set off after breakfast to explore the northern shore
Then headed back to Cabbage Tree to rock garden some more.
The sea was smooth and glassy on a lazy eight foot swell
Which left one salty sea dog feeling really quite unwell.
The sailors raised their canvas vainly hoping for a breeze
But they had to keep on paddling on the limpid, turquoise seas.
They sneaked in under Yacaaba and crossed back to Shoal Bay
And landed on the beach to end a perfect paddling day.

Escape from the NSWSKC


It had taken me a while to realise. I had been sea kayaking a long, long time. Eighteen years. Hundreds of day paddles, dozens of long weekend escapes, and a good number of ‘expeditions’ that had taken me as far south as Fortescue Bay in Tassie and up to Cooktown in FNQ. But I was finding my favourite escape hobby was no longer so enjoyable. I wasn’t experiencing those special moments, wasn’t my usual self around the camp. Had even been a bit grumpy and irritable on recent trips. I went to a behavioural therapist about how I was feeling. She encouraged me to go through my sea kayaking history.

And so I did. The beginnings, joining the NSW Sea Kayak Club, learning to roll, scary surf, the rubbish leaking early boats. Making friends. Enjoying my first camping trips. The excitement of it all.

But then as the years passed the story darkened. I witnessed the emergence of the brand-based factions. The urbane but supercilious Mirage clique, the rather odd Pittarakers, the appearance of annoyingly smug Nadgee owners in the late 90’s. The destruction on rocks of my little Inuit Classic on 31 December 1999. Then on to the new century, the Flare Incident and the age of the Chicken Littles and the obsession with waivers, legal protection and TAFE-style certification. And throughout this period, the culture wars between the Cruisers, a large group of relaxed and psychologically well-balanced sea paddlers, and Bruisers, a sub-group of fastidious zealots obsessed with grinding out kilometres for no real reason. And how that even though I wasn’t a Bruiser I always seemed to end up paddling with them.

I then started to talk about the club members and how annoying they could be. The rough, tough, bearded Aussie blokes whose ‘sense of mateship’ was offended if you didn’t drink beer or camp within a metre of their tent. The dietary experts who always seemed to be smugly munching on a muesli bar to demonstrate their ‘glycemic index’ awareness. The electro gadget freaks crapping on about waterproofing pump switches and GPSs and Waypoints and carrying half a ton of batteries in a boat I would have to help carry. The nervous bloke who’d blow his ‘panic whistle’ if he had a stone in his bootie. The neat freak mummy’s boys with their colour-coded gear and expensive tapered dry bags designed to fit so snugly into the ends of their Mirages. The tough women paddlers with their coarse sense of humour and dirty laughs. That guy who seemed to be sexually aroused by John Howard PM! I found myself letting it all out.

It was a painful exercise, but recounting these memories was helping. And after several sessions, it was becoming clear. In over 200 paddling events since 1994 the number of times I wasn’t surrounded by members of my sea kayaking club I could count on one hand. My therapist finally put her finger on it: what I needed was a total break. Not so much from my favourite ocean pursuit, but from the human element of the NSWSKC.

So I went on to Google Earth to find somewhere far away. I zoomed in on the other side of the northern hemisphere. And there I found Skye, the largest of the Inner Hebrides islands on the west coast of Scotland. 57 degrees north. Mountainous. Rugged. Remote.

I then searched the web and found an outfit called Highland Ascent, and booked myself three days of sea kayaking complete with ‘wild camping’ on this famous island. It was done! Some 17,000 thousand kilometres from NSW, the haunting Isle of Skye would be the place where I would try to rediscover my kayaking mojo.

So physically I would be far away from my problems, but the therapist warned me that my NSWSKC trauma ran deep; the big challenge would be to keep repressed memories from invading my mind.

The Trip

And so it was that at Kyleakin on 20 July 2011 I met my guide Andreas. Andreas was a German who had arrived in Scotland in 1996, fallen in love with the place and six years ago had set up Highland Ascent as a mixed outdoor adventure business. So Andreas was now a German Highlander, which gave him a very interesting accent indeed.

It was high summer but even here was unseasonably cold thanks to a fresh northerly wind that had been blowing for a week. Because of this a large air mass had been sucked down from its usual home in the arctic circle a couple of thousand kilometres to the north.

Given the wind and the forecast, Andreas suggested a route on the southern side of the island. We would start at Torin in Loch Slapin, go south to explore some spectacular rocky headlands then turn west then north up Loch Scavaig to make camp at Camasunary. We would then head west to explore the dramatic Loch Na Cuilce and walk up to Loch Coruisk before heading southwest to the Isle of Soay for night 2. Day 3 would be circumnavigation of Soay and then cross over Loch Scavaig to Elgol and the waiting car. Bewitched as I was simply by the evocative names of these places I nodded in agreement. The route also skirted Skye’s dramatic ‘Black Cuillins’, probably the UK’s most dramatic mountain ridge. And 20kms a day sounded good to me to explore and enjoy a new coast.

… I’m discussing my plans. “60kms in 3 days!” growls the Bruiser with carpal tunnel scars on both wrists, “you could do that in a day mate!”

Andreas had brought two very decent fibreglass sea kayaks. He would paddle a very slick looking red P&H Cetus and me a black Island Kayak Expedition. As we packed he told me he had packed a spare midge head net. Such had been the wind I had forgotten about the renowned Scottish midge (Culicoides impunctatus), but I knew that the Aussie sand fly was also in the Culicoides family. I had suffered over the years at the hands of the little Aussie bastards and wondered how their cold climate Scottish relative would compare.

As we set off I did a stocktake of the conditions. The air temperature about 13°C, but the northerly wind chill was making it feel more like 3°C. Even though I was fresh out of a Canberra winter this was hard to take. But I had lugged my paddle and warmest paddling clothing over from Australia to ensure I was comfortable on the water. I wore a compression top, polyester short sleeve top, long sleeve Reed Chillcheater, heavyweight cag and Sea to Summit long pants. And I needed them all. For the first time since Tassie in 200I, I wore a beanie on the water. With the water temperature about 11°C, I decided early on not to practice any wet exits. I noticed Andreas wore no gloves which I thought was silly. But when my own gloves got wet I soon realised that bare skin in this wind was actually warmer.

We blew down the coast enjoying small surfing rides. Having never rented a kayak before I was pleased with my boat. The seat was comfortable and it was reasonably responsive, even though as the wind increased I did need some skeg.

… I’m with a Bruiser come kayak designer. He owns his own business. He’s listing the deck design features on the ‘Hubris’, the new kayak he has put on the market. There are many features. It looks good. He wants me to buy one on the spot. Strangely, he doesn’t offer me a test paddle…

The rock formations got more and more interesting, some headlands resembling the sandstone and granite formations of the NSW south coast. We entered some spectacular caves where I encountered a species of cormorants that nested high up in crevasses in the walls. They didn’t move but bravely vocalised their warnings. Very unlike the skittish characterless creatures we see so regularly on local NSW waters.

Andreas stopped occasionally to point out coastal features or distant mountain ranges, most of which he had climbed. But in between times we paddled along with long periods of just enjoying the scenic experience in appropriate reverential silence.

… I’m paddling the southern Whitsundays. I’m with a Sydney paddler. He’s a commercial salesman. He’s good at talking. He talks and talks and talks. After thirty minutes I’m exhausted just listening. I’m forced to pretend my kayak isn’t tracking well and veer away. Five hundred metres away, I can still hear his voice…

Then half an hour later we close in on a series of larger caves on and over the water line, one of which was the famous spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie hid for some weeks after defeat at Culloden in 1745. Turning north we were full on into the northerly and I actually enjoyed the last seven kilometres of good honest grinding into tight packed wind waves on the way to the camp at Camasunary.

Camasunary was a nice bay with a spectacular valley/mountain backdrop. A river on the left was the outflow of Loch na Creitheach. At the other end of the beach was a beautiful stream strewn with little tumbling waterfalls. On the flat ground was an old crofter cottage, now a ‘bothy’ of the Mountain Bothy Association, which maintain these old cottages for walkers all over Scotland.

We set up camp. I was mightily impressed that Andreas pitched his tent a respectable 20 metres from mine, unlike so many in the NSWSKC, usually the bull snorers, who have absolutely no concept of personal camping space. I walked along the shore, trying to imagine what life would have been like for the crofters who would have lived here up to about fifty years ago. Two Tornado fighters of the Royal Air Force then flew over at a frighteningly low level, banking sharply to follow the glen as it curved to the northwest. Dangerous job even though you could tell they were loving it. A couple of days back I had passed a monument to two dead Tornado pilots near Glen Coe.

Returning to camp Andreas was preparing dinner. Hamburgers cooked on a neat little portable BBQ washed down with a bottle of French ‘syrah’. Not bad but I still prefer good old Australian shiraz.

… Shoalwater Bay. Alone with two Bruisers. It’s my turn to cook for one of them. I’m using his new cooking stove. The controls are fiddly. I burn food on the bottom of the pan. Offer to wash up. But the offer is coldly refused. By burning a new non-stick pan I have broken the Bruiser code. The atmosphere around the camp is strained. It is Day 2 of a 12 day trip…

Andreas was turning out to be an interesting companion, with a huge range of knowledge and interesting Germano-Scottish insights into the ways of the world. This was just what I needed, conversation that enlightened and entertained. I thought how refreshing this was compared to spending night after night listening to the opinionated bigots, techno fetishists and weed-smoking dribblers of the NSWSKC, whose boorish discourse had so often forced me to seek early refuge in my tent.

The conversation turned to climate change. I told Andreas that many Australians did not believe in it. That we had a politician called Tony Abbot who had a ‘direct action’ policy which I tried to explain. In his sophisticated European way, Andreas is both puzzled and amused at this.

… I’m talking to a Bruiser from Sydney. He owns his own business. He seems to be suggesting that climate change is a socialist-inspired conspiracy. I’m polite but hyper-ventilating. I realise that Shock Jocks and the Murdoch press are definitely winning. I decide to get drunk…

But even an interesting conversation couldn’t mask the fact that the north wind was blowing hard through that valley behind us, and despite our ‘full metal jacket’ clothing it was Andreas who eventually suggested we found shelter in the bothy. Here we found three young Belgian bushwalkers.

Now I had never met a Belgian before. I remembered a Monty Python sketch from the 70’s entitled ‘Prejudice’, where there was a TV competition to find a derogatory term for the Belgians. Mrs Hatred of Leicester said “Let’s not call them anything, let’s just ignore them!”, and a Mr John of Huntingdon said he couldn’t think of anything more derogatory than the term “Belgians”. But I digress. And I must say I was immediately impressed by the perfect English of these refined and knowledgeable young men. They were obviously well-educated, and I enjoyed learning about the origins of this slightly obscure nation state. As I retired to my tent I remember thinking what a shame it was there weren’t more of these sophisticated Belgians in the NSWSKC, the only Europeans the club seemed to attract were dour Germanic/Scandinavian types.

Going to bed at 10pm when it is still not even remotely dark is strange. But with my tent on the lushest green grass I’ve ever camped on I was soon asleep. I woke up just after midnight for the call of nature and was stunned to see that the sky behind the clouds still had a glow about it. Amazing.

The next morning I resisted the impulse to get up at the crack of dawn, as dawn was shortly after 4.15 am. I lay there truly thankful that I would not have to suffer a ‘Dawn Creeper’ walking around centimetres from my tent. After a pleasant second sleep I was flushed out of the tent at 7am due to a surprisingly hottish morning sun. We breakfasted on Aldi muesli with coffee before casually loading the boats.

… I’m packing my kayak. I feel I am being observed. I look up to see the Bruiser looking directly at me. He is a public servant, with a life so empty he has put many nights of thought into perfecting a camp dismantling/kayak packing method that only takes twenty two minutes. So he now sits on a rock and watches, his smugness enveloping my thoughts. He is waiting for me to make a mistake in my own haphazard routine. I pretend I am not aware of this, but my stress levels are increasing as I struggle to concentrate. And then it happens, I make the mistake…

We headed south west round the corner into the beautiful craggy bay that is Loch Na Cuilce. I see a tiny rocky islet at the entrance no more than 20 metres across and decide to land. It is difficult but I manage to do it without scraping Andreas’s kayak. I feel exhilarated to be one of only a few to ever set foot on this barren little rock. Andreas dutifully takes the photo.

Then we pass a small colony of Atlantic grey seals. These are shorter bodied and with rounder heads than our southern species. Noticing they would follow our kayaks but would dive when we turned to look at them, I paddled backwards. It worked, they would come within a metre of the ‘stern’, lifting their round heads high as they scanned you with large black inquisitive eyes.

We then paddled past some small waterfalls tumbling down the near vertical slopes of the Cuillins. A river dispersed with some force down some rocky ledges into the sea, the current making it hard to position the kayak for a photo. We landed and walked up to the steep sided and dramatic Loch Coruist immortalised by Sir Walter Scott’s description ‘For rarely human eye has known a scene so stern as that dread lake, With its dark ledge of barren stone’. Yes it was a forbidding place but I would have loved to carry the kayaks up over those falls and paddled up to the loch. One for the bucket list.

After lunch we paddled up to “The Bad Step” … a spectacular part of the coastal walking trail which gives pack-laden walkers some stress as they traverse a near vertical rock face above the cold azure water.

We reluctantly left this magical place turning west along the coast which would end at the peninsular of Rubha an Dùnain. With the weather improving to the extent that I was able to take the beanie and cag off, we explored another eight kilometres of picturesque cliffs and coves before turning east to cross the passage to Soay and our second night camping spot.

… we are on the Murramarang coast. My local coast. Day 2 of a trip. A visiting Bruiser from Wollongong seems to be assuming leadership without a mandate. He owns his own business. I suggest camping at Snake Bay, he ignores me, saying he knows a really good spot. I tactfully try to make the case for my suggestion. He brushes me aside as he would one of his indentured workers. Half an hour later the Bruiser proudly leads the group into Snake Bay…

Andreas was suggesting a camping spot in Soay harbour, a deep inlet that almost bisects the island “although ze midgies can be mur-durr in there” he said in his unique twang. With the wind dropping in the late afternoon I was alarmed at the thought and as we paddled towards the island I spotted a possible elevated site at the entrance to the inlet which would be more spectacular and less midge friendly than the inlet – but could we land?

After a few minutes we located a rock ledge and, standing in the freezing water, managed the tricky lift out. After this I was damp and cold and quickly got into dry clothes, always a golden moment in my sea kayaking day.

… I am with a Bruiser. We arrive back on the Tasmania mainland. It is cold and wet as we load the kayaks onto my car. Stuff is everywhere as we hurriedly get dressed into dry clothes. Now he is asking if I have seen his underpants. I say no. But then realise with dismay I have put on his! It is an awkward situation. Despite profuse apologies the damage is done. I had disrespected a Bruiser’s clean underwear. Broken the Bruiser code. The drive to Devonport is frosty with little conversation…

We set up camp on two grassy spots big enough to pitch our tents and enjoyed the spectacular view over a cup of tea from a comfortable rock platform. Then we walked up the inlet to the ruins of buildings that for a few years processed huge thresher sharks for their oil in the early 1950’s before thankfully going bankrupt. I had hoped to see one of these six metre creatures with their huge tail fin before the end of the trip, but time was running out.

Dinner was pasta with a bottle of shiraz I had brought along, our meal made slightly more exciting by the constant aggressive squawking of two tern-like birds who hovered above us. Their ground nest was nearby and they weren’t happy with the first humans ever to camp on this spot.

We marvelled at the sun descending slowly along the ridge opposite. Today had been scenic sea kayaking at its best. We were millionaires. Memorable.

Waking up next morning I was shocked to find no wind, a warm sun and glassy water with the spectacular Cuillins providing an amazing vista. But ten seconds later I became aware of thousands of ‘things’ in the air around me. The midges had arrived, and were hungry for a feed of human after a week of wind. And man, do these things mean business. No slow circling and sizing you up before gently settling on your skin like their laconic Aussie relatives, these were kamikazes coming in their dozens to land on your face and bite immediately. After killing many I desperately ran to the tent and grabbed the head net. It felt terrible and claustrophobic but I loved it. Andreas finally got up and we enjoyed bacon and egg rolls with tea, lifting our nets briefly for each surreptitious mouthful. Then the chill wind came up again and the midges disappeared back to their swamp. Never has a cold breeze been so welcome.

We packed up and headed off for a circumnavigation of Soay, a less spectacular shore line but still offering a number of sea caves full of colourful rocks and more bird nests. Looking up we saw the occasional wild ram observing us from the cliff tops. A couple of hours later we landed on an east facing bay for a toilet break. A gruff bloke with a Yorkshire accent appeared and invited us up to his half-restored croft for tea and biscuits.

Andreas and I swapped boats and I enjoyed the final seven kilometres paddling the very responsive Cetus to the picturesque village of Elgol. We unpacked and I sorted the gear while Andreas walked up the steep winding hill to get his car.

… the end of a four day trip. We land at Mallacoota. It is cold and drizzling. I stay to tend the kayaks and gear while three Bruisers head up the hill to get the cars which are parked at a local kayaker’s house. I stand and wait in the rain. And wait. Hypothermia is setting in. Sometime later the Bruisers return in their cars, relaxed and warm after enjoying tea and muffins courtesy of the generous host.

It was over. I had loved every minute of my first and hopefully not last northern hemisphere trip. But had I found myself? Had I lifted myself out of my sea kayaking depression? Only my therapist would know.

Footnote: Mark Pearson returned to Australia in August 2011. He has yet to paddle with members of NSWSKC.

Mental as Anything


Russ offers some ready-reckoning rules of thumb to assist with navigation on the spraydeck

Let’s face it, calculators get soggy and hard to read when you hang them around your neck on a lanyard and then go paddling. So here’s a collection of handy mental arithmetic tricks and rules-of-thumb to assist with navigating on the spraydeck, and save the need for that calculator.

I know, your GPS can do all this calculating for you. Depending on its map set, it can give you tidal heights and barometric pressure, as well as your position, course and speed. And there’s probably an iPhone app for many of these functions too! But we didn’t buy a kayak so someone else could do the paddling for us, so let’s aim to do our own navigational thinking.


If you know how fast you paddle, then you can figure out your distance travelled by noting the time you’ve been paddling. Using multiples of six-minute intervals is the easy way for working out speed and distance problems.

Six minutes is 1/10 of an hour, so in six minutes, you’ll cover 1/10 of the distance of an hour’s paddling. In six minutes at three knots, you’ll cover 0.3 of a mile. In 24 minutes? That’s four six-minute intervals: four times 0.3, is 1.2nm.

I work in nautical miles (and tenths of miles) because it’s convenient to measure distance off the latitude scale on the right and left hand sides of the chart. One degree of latitude (that’s 60 minutes) is 60 nautical miles. Your fingers make handy dividers, so you can guestimate (sorry, precisely measure with your calibrated fingers) distances quickly and easily, without searching for the kilometres scale (which according to the laws of navigation is always hidden under the folds of the chart in your map case).

The six-minute interval trick works just the same if you’re a kilometre paddler. If you paddle at 7 km/h, in six minutes you’ll cover 0.7 of a kilometre. 48 minutes? That’s eight 6-minute intervals, or 5.6km.

Bearings and Reciprocals

Here’s how to quickly calculate the reciprocal of a bearing or heading – very useful if you’re steering in one direction while keeping track on a transit or back-bearing astern.

Adding 200 and taking away 20 is the same as adding 180, but the math is much easier. Or adding 20 and taking away 200 – it still adds up to 180.

Reciprocal of 135? Why, that’s 335 – 20, or 315. Reciprocal of 057? 257-20, or 237.

Height of Tide – rule of twelfths

The Rule of Twelfths is a simple way of calculating the height of tide for a given time after high or low water. The rule approximates a standard tidal curve, and is as easy as 1,2,3. And 3,2,1 – a rule of thumb for how much the depth changes for each hour of its rise or fall. Here’s how it works:

Time interval – Rise or fall (as a fraction of range)
First hour after HW or LW – 1/12
Second hour – 2/12
Third hour – 3/12
Fourth hour – 3/12
Fifth hour – 2/12
Sixth hour – 1/12

Let’s pick a day, why not Saturday 26 May, when we’ll be (or have been, by the time you read this) at Lake Macquarie for the navigation challenge.

High water Swansea is three minutes before Newcastle, and the data is as follows:
Saturday 26 May
0549 0.53m
1159 1.36m
1727 0.76m
Duration of rise 6h 10min
Range 0.83m
Duration of fall 5h 28min
Range 0.60m
The rise:
We first calculate 1/12 of the range. Range 0.83 divided by 12 = 0.07m approximately (no point working to any more decimal places than two).

At the end of the first hour (0649), the height of tide at Swansea would be LW + 1/12 of range, or 0.53 + 0.07= 0.6m.

And four hours into the rise, it would 9/12 (0.63m) above low water, or 1.16m.

Try it yourself. Range of the falling tide is 0.6m. So 1/12 of the range would be?? And the height of tide at 1400 (Mickey’s little hand on the two, and his big hand on the twelve…), two hours into the fall? [See Answer 1, at the end]

A word of warning on the rule of twelfths. It assumes tides are regular, and semi-diurnal (that is, two full cycles a day, two highs and two lows, with roughly a six hour rise and a six hour fall) as they are on most parts of the NSW coast. But strange things happen in the north of Australia, and even stranger in other parts of the world, such as the south coast of England where you can get things like double low tides. In the north of Australia and parts of the Pacific (such as the Solomon Islands) tides are diurnal, with only one high and one low per day.

Strength of current

Average strength of a current over the period of its run (flood or ebb) is roughly two-thirds of the maximum rate. So a three-knot-maximum flood tidal stream over six hours (between slack waters) would have an average strength of two knots. So if you were paddling with that on your beam, you could expect it to displace you twelve nautical miles in the six hours of the flood (that’s 6 x 2 = 12).

If you’re making a long crossing, where you’ll face the flood and the ebb, then you can ‘boomerang’ it – steer the same course for both tidal streams. You’ll be pushed one way by the flood, and back on the ebb.

Angle off – radian or clock-face rule

Here’s a problem. You’re planning to maintain a three-knot average speed with that three-knot flood stream at 90 degrees to your direction of travel for the full six hours of its flow. How far do you need to aim off to counter the expected two nautical miles per hour displacement? Welcome to the radian rule!! The answer is 40 degrees. And here’s how we calculate it.

You’ll remember from school days (or your PhD in nuclear physics) that a radian is the angle at the centre of a circle that subtends an arc (a segment of the circumference) equal in length to the radius. A radian works out to be about 57.3 degrees – so that’s the angle of the pointy end of the pie-shaped segment with its three sides of equal length. Half a radian – subtends half the distance. And that relationship between angle and distance subtended holds right down to small angles.

To simplify the sums, we approximate the radian at 60 degrees, same as the number of minutes on a clock face, giving us a powerful and flexible tool for navigation. (And even digital watches have 60 minutes to the hour!!)

One radian, or roughly 60 degrees, at one nautical mile subtends an arc of 1 nautical mile. 30 degrees subtends half a mile (30 minutes on a clock-face equals half an hour). 15 degrees subtends a quarter of a mile, and so on until we get to 1 degree. It subtends 1/60 of a mile, or 30m.

(I nm is roughly 1800m, and divided by a radian (roughly 60 degrees) gives 30m. If you fancy more complex arithmetic, 1852/57.3=32.32m, which is near enough to 30m for kayaking… it’s best not to get too hung up on accuracy.)

Here’s a table to assist visualising – but the essence of this is to do it in your head!!
Degrees 1nm 5nm 10nm
1 30m 150m 300m
6 180m 900m (0.5nm) 1.8km (1nm)
12 360m 1.8km (1nm) 3.6km (2nm)
18 540m 2.7km (1.5nm) 5.4km (3nm)
24 720m 3.6km (2nm) 7.2km (4nm)
30 900m 4.5km (2.5nm) 9km (5nm)
45 1350m 6.75km (3.75nm) 13.5km (7.5nm)

Back to our aiming off problem. We know that our tidal stream will displace us a total of two miles per hour over the six hours of its run, that’s 12 nm. Paddling at 3 kts, we’d cover 18 miles in that time. So what angle do we need to steer to displace ourselves two-thirds of the distance we’d travel? The clock-face rule tells us that two-thirds of 60 is 40, so we’d aim off 40 degrees.

That’s how you calculate your ferry-glide angle. Try it yourself. You’re planning to cross a two-knot stream, while paddling at four knots. Angle off to steer?? [See Answer 2, at the end.]

Of course, if you’ve got land ahead or astern when ferry-gliding across a current, you can use a natural transit on shore to see how well you’re doing holding the planned line. The calculation of course to steer to offset the current is just a rough estimate to get you heading in the right direction.

Clock-face rule to calculate distance off

We can also use the clock-face rule to estimate our distance off-shore, by measuring the horizontal angle subtended by a known distance off the chart (such as the width of an island, or the gap between headlands, and so on).

If you say ‘measuring the angle’ really quickly, it sounds simple! And really it’s not all that tough – using a kamal, a flash name for a stick on the end of a piece of string of known length.

Here’s the theory: if we make our string 57.3cm long, about an arm’s length if your arms are short like mine, then one-centimetre graduation marks on our stick will be worth one degree (the radian rule again). Hang the expense, we could even buy a metric ruler, and use the scale engraved!

Let’s assume we’ve made landfall on an island we see from our chart to be 1.5nm wide. We measure the angle between its left and right edges as 10 degrees. So how far off are we? Ten degrees is 1/6 of our clock face, so the width of the island is 1/6 of our distance off. So the object must be 6 x 1.5nm away, or 9nm.

We can also use the kamal and the radian rule for distance by vertical angle, providing the object’s close (there’s a problem of the earth not being flat, if the object’s a long way off).

And we all carry natural kamals on the ends of our hands: our fingers’ width is worth about two degrees (you can calibrate them with a kamal). So three fingers is six degrees – and the clock-face rule tells us that, for an object three fingers high (3 x 2 = 6), our distance off must be 10 times the height.

So what might look like a paddler giving the Maritime NSW inspectors two fingers could be an attempt to measure four degrees. That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it!

[Answer 1: 1/12 of the range is 0.05m. Two hours of fall is 3 x 0.05 = 0.15m, subtracted from 1.36, gives 1.21m]

[Answer 2: For every hour, you need to displace yourself across track by half the distance you’ll paddle, for as long as you and the tidal stream can maintain the pace!! So aim 30 degrees off.]

On Being a NOOB


It has been more than three years now since I started sea kayaking having had tandem sit-on top kayak with my 12 year old son for about a year. Soon I became obsessed with paddling, joined NSWSKC and started to learn.

As I am gaining experience lately and expanding my paddling circumference, I am kind of feeling I am losing that special feeling, forgetting about being a beginner, a newbie, or as my son calls it: being a NOOB. There is something so magical and accelerating about beginning a sport like sea kayaking, it is hard to put it into words. The ever-challenging nature of this sport is akin to the ever-changing surface of the water. Add to this the new people, new skills, new places and new perspective of experiencing wilderness from water level, you soon end up with a paddling fever that makes you think ‘paddle’ but nothing else.

My experiences so far have been so good I am finding myself resisting to let go the beginner phase. As if, if I do become experienced, I will lose this special feeling. But the call of the ocean is here and I am gaining experience regardless. Before I forget how it feels like being a NOOB though, I decided to describe my experiences in one-liners. Not all experiences below are my own, some are observed and some are just pure fantasy. Never the less though I hope you have at least one laugh and you share your own NOOB experiences too.

  • You are a noob, cause you are still wearing your cotton T-shirt and your rugby hat as a means of sun protection.
  • You are a noob, cause you finished a 9km paddle and took 90 photos.
  • You are a noob, cause you keep looking at your paddling photos for hours after you paddled. And your family can’t understand why.
  • You are a noob, cause you feel great and celebrate by drinking a bottle of champagne simply because you are now Grade 1. You are overjoyed by your successful wet exit and 50 metre swim.
  • You are a noob, ‘cause you paddled a creek around the corner but you feel like you are Bear Grylls from “Man vs. Wilde”
  • You are a noob, cause you drift away from the paddling group, not because you are so skilful or courageous but you are a noob, you just don’t realise the danger! You are drifting on water while singing “yellow submarine”
  • You are a noob, cause you ignore the instruction “down you go” in a club self-rescue training session as if you are deaf or not there.
  • You are a noob, cause when you find the sea kayaking forum for the first time, in your first post you sound like someone who has found his lost family after forty years. And everyone reading your first post is in tears.
  • You are a noob, cause you stop at a creek near MacDonald’s and go for a burger in your PFD and spray skirt and wonder why the girl at the counter is looking so terrified.
  • You are a noob, cause you enter a coffee shop with all your paddling gear dripping wet and everyone is looking at you but you somehow find you are really enjoying the attention. You can’t help but feel you are a paddler and they are just mere humans beings.
  • You are a noob, cause you drive an hour to an isolated beach just to practice bracing, away from anyone who may see you falling in.
  • You are a noob, cause you go to your first overnight trip and you feel like a number two but you realise you have forgotten to take some toilet paper with you and you go ‘ohh sh..t!’
  • You are a noob, cause there is a huge difference between your kayak’s capability and your skill sets but you really like the way your kayak looks.
  • You are a noob, cause your kayak still looks as if it has just been build an hour ago and there are more scratches on your feet than on the hull of your kayak.
  • You are a noob, cause you don’t seem to rinse your kayak after a day trip like everyone else does. But when you go home you wash your boat with shampoo and conditioner, dry it with softest towels and put some moisturising cream on it before you put it away with a “good night sweet heart” kiss.
  • You are a noob, cause you post a paddle photo on a website but your photo shows your kayak only and you think the photo is soooo good.
  • You are a noob, cause all of a sudden you realise some of your greatest boat customisation ideas are taken down by the weight factor called G Force.
  • You are a noob, cause you experience a cultural shock and contemplate if you should continue with this sport when you ask to an experienced paddler “what do you do when you feel like a wee during a long trip on the water” and he casually replies “You just simply piss into your cockpit and rinse it when you arrive at your destination.”
  • You are a noob, cause you are puzzled and wondering if paddlers do have any manners at all when you are advised to vomit all over your spray skirt if you become sea sick, not to the side of your kayak. That apparently prevents you from falling into the water. Now you start thinking to yourself “I will have to piss into my cockpit, vomit on to my spray skirt… what… sh.t next?”
  • You are a noob, cause you are very surprised to see how many blue bottles are in the ocean and you can’t stop swearing at them. For some reason it never occurs to you blue bottles are also part of the wildlife that you say you love so much.
  • You are a noob, cause you are so consumed by learning how to roll, you roll yourself off the bed at night
  • You are a noob, cause as everything you do becomes an opportunity to learn how to roll you also start rolling your partner in bed at night and your partner is really very confused about what you are trying to do. And then you really put your partner into a full spin of confusion when you try to explain yourself you are experimenting with a traditional technique called Greenland-style.
  • You are a noob, cause all of a sudden you have developed a deep interest in sharks!

Actually this signals the end of your noobness! You are now working on your sea skills.

Are you a NOOB? You may be suffering from NOOB resistance syndrom”, embedded deep inside your subconscious. NOOBness, if not cured, can have severe health and safety risks for those who are not aware they are suffering from it.

ACT NOW! Write down your NOOB experiences and send them to mag’s NOOB CORNER. Writing and sharing your NOOB behaviour is the only known cure for this terrible paddling fever.

Rock ‘n’ Roll 2012 – Guests


Paul began canoeing at the age of 9 on the Brisbane River, but only took up serious sea kayaking in 1977. In the following thirty years he has notched up over 40,000 miles in his single Greenland-style kayaks.

Paul’s first sea kayak expedition was around Fiordland with co-paddler Max Reynolds. From Jacksons Bay, Paul carried on solo to complete the first kayak circumnavigation of the South Island. This trip was the subject of Paul’s first book Obscured by Waves. In 1979 Paul kayaked 1,700 miles around the North Island, another first, and completed the trip with a Cook Strait crossing. This trip was the subject of a second book Cresting the Restless Waves.
In August 1979, Paul teamed up with Max Reynolds again to cross Foveaux Strait and completed the first kayak circumnavigation of Stewart Island. Dark Side of the Wave completed Paul’s trilogy of his kayak travels around New Zealand.

In 1980 Paul teamed up with an English paddler, Nigel Dennis, to complete the first kayak circumnavigation of Great Britain. This 2,200 mile trip took 85 days.

In December 1981, Paul set out from Queenscliff near Melbourne and spent the next 360 days achieving the first kayak circumnavigation of Australia. This 9,420 mile paddle is acknowledged as one of the most remarkable journeys ever undertaken by kayak. Paul had to contend with a tropical cyclone which nearly swept him off a small offshore islet in the Coral Sea, raging surf, tiger sharks which frequently bumped into the kayak in the Gulf of Carpentaria, crocodiles, sea snakes and three sections of sheer limestone cliffs. To overcome the three 100 plus mile long sections of cliffs, Paul used Nodoz tablets to stay awake and Lomotil to keep his bowels dormant during these overnight paddles. The longest stint, along the awesome Zuytdorp Cliffs in Western Australia, took 34 hours of continuous paddling. After 10 years of trying to interest a publisher in a book about the Australian trip, in April 1994 Paul finally self-published his story as The Dreamtime Voyage.

In 1985 Paul completed the first kayak circumnavigation of the four main islands of Japan, 4,021 miles in 112 day.

With co-paddlers, in 1987 and 1989, Paul twice attempted to kayak across the Tasman Sea from Tasmania to New Zealand but was thwarted on both occasions by the Tasmanian authorities and bad weather.

In August 1991, Paul paddled into Inuvik, in the North-West Territories of Canada, to complete the first solo kayak trip along the entire coastline of Alaska. Commencing from Prince Rupert in British Columbia, this 4,700 mile trip took three northern summers to complete. Highlights of this trip were: a herd of walrus swimming around the kayak, a large brown bear ripping open Paul’s tent while he was asleep, being charged by a bull musk ox, and meeting the Eskimo villagers who are the descendents of the Inuit people who originally evolved skin kayaks in Arctic waters.

In September 1997 Paul, and Wellington paddler Conrad Edwards, completed a 550 miles circumnavigation of New Caledonia.
1998: 690 mile trip along south-west coast of Greenland, from Kangerslussuaq to Narsarsuaq; with Conrad Edwards.

1999: 700 mile paddle along the west coast of Greenland from Kangamiut to Upernarvik; with Conrad Edwards.

2001 – 2002: 610 mile trip from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to and around the island of Phuket, in Thailand; with Conrad Edwards.

2007: kayaking the Angmagssalik region of East Greenland, from Isortoq to Lake Fiord; with Conrad Edwards; 429 miles

2008: 691 mile paddle from Isortoq down the SE coast of Grønland, to Prins Christian Sund, then westwards to Narsaq; with Conrad Edwards. Probably the first westerners in single kayaks to achieve this trip.

Not only active on the sea, in 1991 Paul was a co-founder and the first president of KASK, Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers (NZ) Inc. He was president until 1998, thence Publications and Safety Officer. Since 1991, he has been the editor of The Sea Canoeist Newsletter, a bimonthly journal for New Zealand and overseas paddlers. Since early 2004 he has been compiling a sea kayak incident database; incidents involving fatalities, injuries or rescue by outside agencies.

Paul’s kayak Isadora, used for the New Zealand circumnavigation, is on permanent display at the Auckland National Maritime Museum, while Lalaguli (the round Aussie kayak) is on permanent display at the Queenscliff Maritime Museum in Victoria.


Stuart’s life pre-kayaking involved climbing, backpacking around the world and generally avoiding the traditional responsibilities of modern life.

Inspired by a story of crossing Bass Strait in a kayak, and to save his knees which were buggered after climbing and mountaineering for twenty years, he started kayaking in 1997.

He made plans for a Bass Strait crossing which included paddling from Sydney to Queensland as a warm up before committing to heading across eastern Bass Strait.

After that he managed to paddle from Sydney to Melbourne and along the western coast of Tasmania.

He was then part of a three man team, with Andrew McAuley and Laurence Geoghegan, who paddled the length of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Stuart explored other routes to and from Tasmania, with a western Bass Strait crossing followed by a direct line crossing of 230km from Wilsons Prom in Victoria to Stanley in Tasmania.

Then in April 2010 Stuart commenced his epic circumnavigation of Australia by kayak.


For this expedition paddler from Western Australia, sea kayaking is all about living with intention, embracing challenge, following her dreams and making time in life to connect with nature and wild places.

She says, “Nature puts on the show – you just need to paddle your kayak to the front row. If you’re out there enough and in the right places, you will get spy hopped by a whale, you will lose count of the turtles you see, and you might be surprised by a sunbaking sea snake, a snoozing penguin or a sea lion demanding your catch. Be inspired, conquer your fears and get out there in a sea kayak – and don’t think I haven’t noticed the lack of women out there on the water. If I can do it, you can do it too.”
Sandy Robson just wants to be a sea kayaker. In 1999, she was working as an outdoor education teacher when she purchased her first sea kayak. She joined the WA Sea Kayak Club, started doing regular expeditions and ended up planning to paddle around Australia.

In 2007, Sandy launched Sandy’s Long Australian Paddle (SLAP). She set out to paddle as far around the Australian coastline as she could in one year. After a heart-racing encounter with a territorial crocodile and about 6,000kms of the coast behind her, Sandy returned to Perth with some new kayaking plans.
In 2008, Sandy started work as a sea kayak tour guide and instructor, swapping the classroom for an office on the beautiful Ningaloo Reef where turtle, reef shark and stingray sightings are a regular occurrence and days off can be spent paddling after humpback whales in the Exmouth Gulf. There was also time to think about her next challenge.

Someone told Sandy about Oskar Speck. In the 1930s Oskar paddled all the way from Germany to Australia by kayak. Sandy is retracing this route with a series of expeditions that she thinks will span five years. 2011 saw her launch in Germany on the mighty Danube, tackle the unknown territory and white water of the Vardar in Macedonia and Greece, cross the Aegean Sea from Greece to Turkey and complete her Stage 1 goal of reaching Cyprus.

What’s next you may ask? Well apparently Sandy is not afraid of pirates, but she is afraid of not having enough sponsorship. Sandy has returned to Australia to raise funds to execute Stage 2. In 2012, the mission is 7,000kms from Turkey to India.

Go to for further details.

Upside Down on the River Nile


As Guy wrote in his article about kayaking in Nepal in last June’s edition, you just need a taste for adventure, cold beer, warm water and a reasonably solid roll to consider a big whitewater kayaking experience.

The abduction of tourists by Somali pirates put an end to our planned visit to Lamu Island off Kenya in November last year but East Africa has lots to offer those with a taste for adventure.

Uganda has great cold beer, my favourite being Nile Special, which is also the name of the last rapid I kayaked down in the wonderful warm waters of the River Nile last November.

What an experience!

I did learn to roll those funny whitewater kayaks, trying not to spend too much time on set-up, not to move hand position and reaching out further, but I certainly did not have a bombproof roll. However, I did have a guide close enough to be there for the occasional bow rescue and also for an assisted rescue after a swim.

Guy also mentions in his article that “cutting in and out of the eddies” is a key survival skill – it is one that I didn’t always master and that felt counter-intuitive to me. You have to lean downstream as you enter the fast flowing water whereas I wanted to brace into it. Exiting the fast stream was also challenging. On one occasion where failure to get out of the fast water would have resulted in going down a waterfall, I hopped into the support raft!

The reason for being in Uganda was to holiday with Bob while he was working there. We had lived there for a few months back in 2008 and decided to revisit Jinja, the source of the Nile, for a taste of whitewater kayaking. Jinja is a well known whitewater rafting destination with some of the biggest rapids in the world. Backpackers are picked up for a day’s adventure from Kampala, the capital, and overland expeditions include a stop there. There are also opportunities for travelers to go on low-key cultural tours in local villages.

We kayaked on three days, staying at the same place each night, with excursions upstream and downstream for a few hours practice on days 1 and 2, in preparation for the big day 3.

Our base was the gorgeous Nile Porch overlooking the Bujagali Falls. There is a range of accommodation where you can meet and listen to the adventures of travellers from around the world. When we were there, a group of crazy young boys were celebrating their return from a kayaking expedition on the Congo.
A dam opened just after we left but the view with wonderful sunsets would still be spectacular and the kayaking is still available downstream. There is also the Hairy Lemon hostel downstream where keen whitewater kayakers gather from around the world.

Kayak the Nile was the company that organised everything: pick up from Kampala, booking accommodation, our Ugandan and overseas instructors and the connection with the rafting company. Andy from the UK instructed us for the first two days. Ugandan kayaker Geoffrey, who had been to Sydney in the Olympics freestyle team, accompanied Bob on a tandem kayak on day 3 and another Ugandan, David, was assigned to look after me. Our group on day 3 also included a rafting group and another tandem kayaker.

Not that I have anything to compare it with, but the rapids on day 3 were huge, with lots of water but also with reasonably flat sections where capsized rafters (and kayakers) could be picked up if required before the next set of rapids.

There were long stretches where you could relax, carried along by the current (keeping a watch out for the boils and whirlpools), enjoying the birds and monitor lizards, or hop into the support raft to eat freshly cut pineapple and chat to other travelers.

There is an amazing sense of inevitability as you approach a rapid. You can hear the roar, a foaming edge appears, the speed quickens, your heart pounds and there is no turning back!

We went through lots of rapids with wonderful names like Retrospect, Vengeance and Overtime. I walked around the Itanda Falls and the Bad Place. I kayaked two rapids, then cruised along in the support raft for two to rest up (and nurse my pulled hamstring) in preparation for the last big one.

The finale was the Nile Special, apparently internationally renowned for its standing wave. I didn’t have the skills to stop to play; my goal was just to get through it. There is definitely a very fine line between thrill and terror but the adrenaline kicked in and I somehow stayed upright. I then made the mistake of relaxing and of course capsized as I strayed across the eddy line into calmer waters. My roll didn’t work, David was too far to do a bow rescue so after a while waiting upside down I wet exited into the warm waters of the Nile. No drama as there was plenty of time to be picked up before the trip finished. I was happy.

Whitewater kayaking is great to try if you happen to be near the great whitewater rivers of the world. For me living in Sydney, ocean kayaking would still be my choice, we have such easy access to so many beautiful places. I wouldn’t choose to journey up to Penrith or to rivers in Australia with rocks and trees and the hassle of car shuffles. While rapids are exhilarating, so too can be the sea off Sydney Heads on a Tuesday evening or scary Garie Beach during sea skills assessment.

A few days later we flew to Juba in South Sudan, where we again saw the Nile as it travels downstream on its long journey to Egypt. Ending on the beginning theme of beer, we met a manager at the local brewery, Louis, and his family in Juba. Louis is a keen sea kayaker and was part of the first team to successfully paddle the entire length of the world’s longest lake, Lake Tanganyika ( He has a long term dream of kayaking all the rift valley lakes of East Africa. Lake Turkana will be the most challenging because it is still full of hippos and crocodiles. Louis had closely followed Stuart’s journey around Australia – it is a small world.