Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Video I filmed together with Fernando at The Tollgate Islands off Batemans Bay. Video by Fernando.



Fernando has really shaken things up with his fearless attitude and rapid aqusition of skills. I just hope he makes it to old age!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Cockle Creek to Bathurst Harbour Return. A South Tasmania Classic.



Stuart Trueman took a gamble and posted a proper expedition to the NSWSKC trips calendar. The trip was to follow the coast along the bottom of Tasmania from Cockle Creek on the East Coast to Bathurst Harbour on the West Coast and back. Fortunately for me I was on the list of starters.

Adrian, Michael, Campbell, Matt, John, Wade, Fernando, Stuart
Eight of us ended up on the beach at Cockle Creek with a less than ideal weather forecast. Any plans we had for a start on the day of our arrival were scuttled by strong winds. We set up our tents ahead of a storm and settled in for a rainy night at Cockle Creek.

The next morning we were off, pleasantly sailing out of Cockle Creek on a nice South Westerly, a wind that would turn from friend to foe before too long. Things started roughening up after Whale Head and by the time we approached South East Cape we had a serious head wind and rough sea to deal with. The group fragmented as I suspect we entered self preservation mode and it wasn’t too long before Stuart made his first leadership call and sounded a retreat. We turned and ducked back in to a rocky bay for cover. Although strewn with boulders, the bay was well protected and we landed, helping each other carry the heavy boats up the rocks.

Carrying the boats up onto boulders to regroup after our first attempt at rounding South Cape

Stuart wondering what he'd got himself into
We had lunch and set off again hoping things had calmed down. As we hit SE Cape it was clear they hadn’t. Estimates of wind strength varied from 25 to 30 knots. My own reliable wind gauge told me it was over 30, my hat blew off! We all put our heads down and resolved to just grind it out to South East Cape and beyond to our days destination at South Cape Rivulet. After slogging into the wind for another ten kilometres after the Cape all we needed to do was negotiate a single dumping surf break and day one would be behind us. The waves were surprisingly frequent and my own timing was not quite right as I was only just in front of a rather large breaker that just missed me, breaking behind me and side surfing me to shore. Everyone got in all right in the end even though that meant a swim for one of us!

Although the forecast was improving the previous day had taken its toll. Michael had struggled to keep up, his skeg boat simply not as efficient at dealing with the rough conditions as everyone else who had rudders. Wade had developed rather large swelling in his right wrist and Fernando had a relapse of a bad wrist he’d developed during our training paddles over the previous few weeks. Stuart announced that Michael had made a decision to turn back and make other paddling arrangements. I think everyone was surprised as he’d got through the previous day and I don’t think anyone was expecting it to get worse than that. In the interest of the group goal of making it to Bathurst Harbour, Stuart and Michael launched early and headed off back around the Cape. The rest of us launched and headed for Little Deadmans Bay.

Heading out of South Cape Rivulet - The weather was getting better
Not long before dusk, I spotted Stuart approaching. He’d gone back to Whale Head, turned around and bypassed Cape Rivulet to make it to Deadmans in one hit, the rest of us had taken two days and three stops to make the same distance. We were quietly in awe.

Adrian Clayton
Today we were set to bag a big one – Maatsuyker Island. As we were just about to head off Fernando raised the fact that thunderstorms had been forecast and he didn’t think an open crossing was a good idea. Stuart agreed and we decided to head to Ketchem instead. There was little said, but some of us were disappointed.
 
With only slight head winds and falling swell we paddled along taking it all in. I felt like I was inside a picture.


John goes over the days route with the group at our lunch stop at Louisa Bay
After lunch it was on to Ketchem Bay. The next day was going to be a long one so we all cooked up big meals and had an early night.

Ketchem Bay


And a big one it was, 42 km into a head wind and current. Thankfully the swell was low and we were able to sneak into McKays Gulch to land and have a break. We were all relieved to finally make it to Spain Bay where an early night was again the order of the day.

McKays Gulch
The next morning was a slow one for me. John, always the early riser was keen to get going, take in the Breakseas and head to Claytons Corner about 20 km along the Bathurst Channel. Adrian and Campbell were rushing about packing but Fernando & Wade were going to take a couple of days off to rest and recuperate.  For a good ten minutes I struggled to make a decision. As the last of the group headed off I packed my tent. Although my body would have loved to have simply gone back to bed my senses got the better of me and I was soon in my eternally wet gear and paddling out of Spain Bay on route to Claytons Corner. I met up with the rest of the group a few kilometres later and we headed up the Channel. I had a great sense of achievement paddling into the harbour as it was in Bathurst Harbour that I’d first experienced sea kayaking. In the summer of 2000/2001 my then girlfriend (now wife) and I had walked the South Coast Track from Cockle Creek to Melaleuca. After the seven day walk we’d arranged to rent a sea bear double off the then owners of Roaring Forties Sea Kayaking tours. Although it took a lot of persuading there was a double waiting for us to take out on a self supported trip. We spent another seven days exploring Bathurst Harbour and Port Davey in the double. Although I was hooked it wasn’t until 2004 that I finally bought a sea kayak of my own and began my sea kayaking journey. To be paddling back past the same spots I remembered vividly, and to have paddled in from Cockle Creek rather than flew or charter boated in as most kayakers do, gave me a great sense of satisfaction. I’d come full circle.



At Claytons Corner is a well maintained hut which we quickly made home. The sun was out and we dried gear and settled in to a very comfortable night, John and I opting to stay in our tents due to a sign about the resident quoll who we thought might not be conducive to a good night’s sleep. In the late afternoon we had a visit from a group of Tasmanian kayakers who had chartered a boat in. A discussion was had about the injuries sustained by Wade and Fernando and an offer was made to take our two injured kayakers back on the charter boat which had plenty of room for a couple more paddlers and kayaks.

 
In the morning Stuart headed back to Spain Bay to let Wade and Fernando know they had an option to get out. The rest of us paddled into Melaleuca, where I again reminisced on my previous trip. We chatted to some bushwalkers, some volunteer rangers and a yachty and then went to see the Orange Bellied Parrots
Orange Bellied Parrots (True!)
I’m pleased to report that we saw quite a few feeding and flying around. We headed back to Claytons where Adrian, Campbell and I climbed to the top of Mount Beattie in the afternoon. Adrian, ever the machine, had no problem getting up and back, even though the guy has two titanium knees!

Everyone helped carry the heavy boats - because everyone needed help to carry their own
That night Stuart returned with Wade who had decided it best to get out as he would have  seriously exacerbated his injury if he paddled back. We had another peaceful night at Claytons and the next morning all went separate ways. Wade settled into the hut, Stuart headed off to Melaleuca, John went to climb Mt Rugby and Adrian, Campbell and I headed back slowly, making detours to visit the other kayakers camp, explore little bays and generally take in as much of this spectacular place as we could.
Having a drink
As we went past the spot where we’d seen a slight footpad up to Mt Rugby we spotted Johns boat. He’d obviously decided to go up and so would I. I headed up what soon turned out to be a hell of a bushwalk. After about ninety minutes of huffing and puffing I came across John on his way down. We had a brief chat and continued in our opposite directions.
John Wilde

The view from on top of Mt Rugby 773 Metres
Flashback - a photo from my first kayak trip back in 2001 at Bathurst Harbour
 
The bush is absolutley beautiful in SW Tasmania
After finally getting back to my boat some three hours later I cooked up a meal and took in a glorious afternoon, complete with sun shine and the spectacular back drop of the mountain I’d just climbed .  As soon as I left the little bay however, I was soon battling a solid headwind and had to put my head down for the paddle back out of Bathurst Harbour and around to Spain Bay.


Another early night was had by all as we knew what we were in for the next day. On the way back we followed Stuart & John to Wender Island where it was rumoured there is a tunnel all the way through. John found it and went straight through with Fernando close by and then Adrian. Stuart yelled out “this is not mandatory” as he too disappeared into the jaws of this nasty and narrow looking slot. I went ahead of Campbell and as I got to the narrowest part at the end struggled to paddle against the back pull as a wave built up behind. Giant bull kelp cushioned the boat from the rocks but made it hard to paddle. Just as I negotiated the final little reef Campbell got plonked on a ledge above me. We managed to get out on the next surge and blasted into a frenzy of excited seals, one of which bumped right into Johns boat as another one leapt clean over the back of Fernando’s. There were good numbers in the water and all over the island itself. I could even see some right up on the highest peak.
Campbell approaching the gauntlet, a narrow tunnel right through the island

Coming out the other side - phew!
After the adrenalin wore off we settled into our steady slog mode for the trip south towards South West Cape. A fishing boat came by, with Wade and the other kayakers on board. They headed way off to the west, probably to avoid the rebound and left us once again to our isolation and mediative long distance strokes. This was the most tiring leg of the trip for me, probably because of the Mt Rugby Climb and paddle the previous day. After our stop inside McKays Gulch and a good top up of my left over breakfast (porridge semolina mix) I had a new found energy and was again enjoying the paddling. I should have cottoned on that something was being planned when Adrian and Campbell cagged up at the Gulch. 

Rounding South West Cape
When we were just off South West Cape Adrian announced that it was rolling time. Apparently rolling off South West Cape is a prerequisite for the Maatsuyker Kayak Club and so it was that Adrian, Campbell and myself partook in this ritual. The cold water dunk did wonders for my speed and Campbell and I made short work of the remaining run into Ketchem Bay.

The plan was to head out to Maatsuyker Island in a good North Westerly, and then tac across to South Cape Rivulet the following day but Stuart announced the forecast had changed overnight and a major change was on its way. We needed to get out, fast. With slight winds behind us and a calm sea we did a 61 km day and paddled all the way back to South Cape Rivulet. The next day we were up at 4 AM and paddling out through the breakers before dawn. We’d been very lucky so far but with the forecast of a 30 to 40 knot Southerly along with four to five metre seas it was decided we’d be fools to push our luck any farther and so it was that we high tailed it back to Cockle Creek early.


On a wet beach we were greeted by Gillian Wilde, Johns Wife. Her cheery smile couldn’t hide the sling her arm was in or her black eye. Gillian had had quite an ordeal and had ended up getting helicoptered to hospital after taking a fall off some rocks and dislocating her shoulder. The fact that she was back at Cockle Creek, camping, and waiting for John, speaks volumes for the character of this true outdoorswoman. I hope Gillian makes a speedy recovery and gets back on the track again soon.

It was a real privilege to paddle in such a special and pristine area with such a great team. Adrian was an inspiration, approaching sixty nine and not one issue or complaint. Campbell got stronger by the day and was the fastest paddler overall. Fernando and Wade did well in dealing with injuries and I’m sure both those guys who haven’t really done big expeditions before will have learned a great deal from the trip. Michael made a difficult decision early on but went on to have a solid solo trip up the inside of Bruny Island and take in a few good bushwalks. John Wilde is a very experienced and highly qualified paddler and was a great asset to the group. I felt like a rank junior alongside John. I would like to personally thank Stuart Trueman for putting the trip together and for putting out so much for those who needed (or thought they needed) help. It was an honour to do this iconic trip with Stuart and I got an immense amount out of it. There is one good thing about the fact we didn’t get out to Maatsuyker, I’ll have to go down there again! 





Sunday, January 12, 2014

Yakima Roof Racks


Although I don't like endorsing commercial stuff The YAKIMA showboat is one product that makes loading and unloading my heavy sea kayak a breeze - especially after a big paddle! Lifting kayaks on and off cars causes a lot of injuries and if I'm going to get kayak related injuries I want to get them at sea, not in the carpark!

The Yakima Whisbar System can take conventional cradles or J-Racks
Instead of lifting your kayak off you simply slide out the rear roller bar to the side
Place the stern out onto the extended roller

Lower the bow (if your not on sand just throw down a towel)

Four effortless steps and your kayak is ready to drag into the water.
To put it back just drag or carry your boat to your car and reverse the steps. I find its not so much the weight of the kayak but the height of my forester (and lack of height of me) that makes loading and unloading difficult. This system makes it really easy to load and unload the kayak on my own and because I'm never lifting the full weight I can leave safety equipment, pump batteries and other bits and pieces in the boat instead of having to completley empty it every time I need to get it on and off the car.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Smelly Shorts Conditions

29th October 2013. Me & Mark Hempel paddled from Coogee Beach to Watson's Bay in a 30 to 40 KNOT southerly. I'm going to start keeping a record of conditions to help calibrate weather predictions with actual conditions at sea.

The official BOM forecast was for Southerly Winds of 25 to 35 Knots with a 2.5 - 3.5 metre Sea on top of a 1.5 to 2.5 metre SE Swell.  
Sea Breeze Key: Red 0-12, Yellow 12-18, Green 18+ Brown is 35+ (smelly shorts) Grey are gusts.

Observations were showing 36 to 49 KNOTS at the Airport and although I usually go on Little Bay I think that station would actually have been a tad protected by the true Southerly, Little Bay was showing 30 to 40 KNOTS at 2 PM which is about the time we launched from Coogee Beach and muscled into it.

On the water it was amazingly rough. There was a ghostly mist of spray being blown over the surface of the sea and we were dealing with a lot of white water. Communication was difficult and we had to get close to hear each other yell. I found it tough heading into the wind as we battled outwards to get as much sea way as possible before turning to run with the wind. I estimate we paddled straight out for about 45 minutes before we ran with it. Every time I crested a wave my bow would get caught by the wind so I would have to bring it back 10-15 degrees. Wasn't too bad with the rudder.

Once we made the turn we both experienced some very long and wild rides. At one stage I was engulfed by a breaker and braced into it for about ten seconds before I caught a steep wave and got shot down the face in absolute blinding conditions as spray peeled off the bow making it impossible to see anything but white. As soon as that ride ended I looked for Mark and couldn't see him. I turned into the wind immediately and started paddling back into it to see Mark mount his kayak and renter using the cowboy. It failed and I was soon next to him. I suspect he was being blown towards me faster than I could paddle upwind. Mark did another cowboy and succeeded unassisted. I was a bit worried that his capsize and reentry might have rattled him but he was totally unperturbed and if anything was paddling more offensively than before and I had to work hard to keep up as he torpedoed forward.

Though it seemed like mayhem to us it was business as usual for the birds and we came close to at least two albatross, a few gannets and some shearwaters. There were also countless tiny flying fish launching out from in front of the bow, something I've never seen happen in such great numbers.

The reality with these conditions is that it would be hard to take a photo, even harder when the camera was stashed in my hatch! We'll have to wait till the next gale to get some footage.

I'm grateful for the excellent tuition we received from the best Sea Instructor in existence - The Sea!








Monday, May 27, 2013

Point Hicks (VIC) to Eden (NSW)

The first time I felt winter this year was last Saturday night when we got out of the car at Bemm River in cold and rainy conditions after driving straight through from Sydney. We went to the pub and arranged a cabin. After settling in and cooking up dinner we went back for a drink. I asked for a Carlton, Barnabas made things a bit difficult by asking for a Pilsener, and Paul, Barnaba's friend who was helping out with the car shuffle really pushed it by asking for a Baccardi & Coke. "What?" says the barman. "We have beer and what's in those bottles" he said pointing to three bottles, Scotch, Southern Comfort and Gin. When Paul pushed the matter he was told in no uncertain terms "This is Bemm River mate! Its what you can see or nothin". I liked this place already.

This is Bemm River Mate
Although we had planned to paddle out across to Sydenham Inlet the barman at the pub helped out with some local knowledge and informed us there was a road to the beach at Py-Yoot Bay. Around 9 am the next day there we were, looking at a very windy and wild stretch of coast. We watched the sets for some time and decided we could get out if we timed it right. I asked Barnabas what he wanted to do and he said he was happy to go for it. We started bringing the boats and ten days worth of food and kit down to the beach.

The launching spot at Py-Yoot Bay, about 10 km West of The Bemm River Mouth

We packed everything and I decided to go first. I sat in the soup waiting for a lull for a good twenty minutes trying to feel if I'd got the trim in my brand new boat right. It felt fine. What didn't feel fine though was the fact that the forecast was for 30 knot winds going straight through till the next day and intensifying later. It also concerned me that our intended landing for the night at Hicks Pt was completely unknown outside of maps so it was a bit of a risk as we could find ourselves having to land heavy boats in big surf that might or might not have rocks strewn around it.

I decided there were too many risks - launch aborted

We aborted the launch and later decided to have a drive to Pt Hicks to check out the landing and then try launching again the next day. Whilst I'd studied the maps of our paddle the driving was all up to Paul and I didn't realise it was 107 km and over two hours to drive from Bemm River to Pt Hicks. Its less than 30 km along the coast!

There is a light house at Pt Hicks which is a couple of km up the road from a locked gate, our intended put in/landing spot being a little bay on the eastern side of the small headland that is Pt Hicks. We walked up to the lighthouse passing Honeymoon Bay on the way and agreeing it was definitely doable although there were lots of rocks around and a couple of bombora's (reefs) off the beach which would need to be closely watched. Once at the lighthouse and out on the point we were very pleased we had aborted our launch as the wind had hit its full 30 knots and was gusting past that. The sea was wild and we would have had a very serious day had we got off the beach at Py-Yoot Bay.

View from Pt Hicks on the afternoon of Sunday 19th May
We went to the light house keepers cottage to see about getting a key to the gate and to arrange a camp spot for the night. Brian & Elizabeth invited us in, let me use their satellite connected laptop to get an updated forecast and instead of letting us camp down on the beach offered us accommodation in one of the lighthouse cabins! We happily took up their offer and once we drove up and got settled Brian came around and offered us the lighthouse tour.

Pt Hicks Light House

Lighthouse keeper No.1 Brian
After climbing to the top and learning about the history and operations of the lighthouse Brian invited us to his house for drinks. We were doing it hard.

The next morning, with a much improved forecast and calmer sea Barnabas and I launched and began our trip.

Honeymoon Bay, Pt Hicks
The initial plan was for a short day of around 21 km to a little Bay on the West Side of Wyngan Inlet which from the map looked as if it would be similar to the spot we just left at Hicks. When we arrived there were big sets hammering the beach and lots of seals in the water which rattled us a bit. I was still keen to land as the next landing from here was Malacootta over 35 km away and it was marginal whether we'd make it there by dark. Barnabas really didn't want to do a surf landing so we had a quick lunch stop on the water. I removed my cag and top so I was down to my summer paddling garb - this was going to be a flat chat run and I had no intention of letting up so wasn't worried about feeling cold. Conditions were good and we were averaging around 8 KM/h. It wasn't enough to beat nightfall and we found ourselves heading into Malacootta well and truly in the dark. There were rollers coming in and breaking in front of us and to our side where the boat ramp was supposed to be. I activated my GPS to see if I could find the ramp. It was 300 metres to our left, right about where the waves were breaking. We paddled tentatively towards the waypoint. "Breaker, reverse". There were waves breaking right where the GPS was telling us to go. We could see a port channel marker inside but although neither of us had ever been to Malacootta I knew it was a nasty bar and although very dark, there were most definitely waves breaking all through. We really didn't fancy negotiating the bar as it would have almost certainly resulted in a trashing.

We used the GPS to find deep water, 7.2 metres. We decided to head to Gabo which would probably not have a surf landing but would mean paddling another 12 KM. There would be no lights where the beach is but we did have GPS and there was one big light we could see from where we were, the Gabo Lighthouse. Just as we were about to head I thought I'd try calling the Coast Guard on the VHF. To my surprise it worked. I indicated our position and asked for some directional guidance to the boat ramp. The Coast Guard, Collin I think his name was, offered to drive his car to the ramp, a one minute drive, and we could then head for his headlights. We waited while he arranged this and when he called back he said he had a couple of local surfers, Trevor & Glen, who were happy to paddle out so we could follow them back in. I replied that the car headlights would be enough. We let a set go through and then gunned it for the headlights. We were soon pulling our boats up the gravel next to the ramp with the help of the few locals who had gathered around. We gave our heartiest thanks. The Malacootta boat ramp is not the best camping site but as the rain started coming down and the cold started to set in getting organised was paramount. When Trevor and Glen realised we were going to camp Glen offered us a night at his house. We left the boats, assured they'd be fine, and took our sleeping gear and clothes. Soon we were having a hot shower, a beer and a serving of fresh Abalone (Glen's an abalone diver) served up by Jade, Glens Wife, whilst being told all about fairies by their delightful 5 year old daughter Nina.

Three days in and we still hadn't set up the tents! Glen gave us a tour of Malacootta in the morning and by about 10.30 we pushed off to Gabo.

Malacootta Boat Ramp. The little breakwall on the right is what threw us as it was taking the breaks so that in the dark it felt like you'd paddle straight into the break zone. One needs to do a bit of a dog leg to miss the breakers.
The trip across to Gabo Island was fantastic. Solid 20 knots behind us, sails up and we were flying. My new boat, Tiderace Pace 17, was on fire, the thing fly's, catching every wave I went for responding to every move - all with a fully loaded boat. Poor old Barnabas was pushing hard to keep up and I had to zig zag to keep close. As we approached the island the sea was really picking up and it was hard to see if there was any reef amongst all the white caps and breaking waves. We dropped the sails and I caught a wave all the way to the bay and we were soon on the beach.

Lively conditions from Malacootta to Gabo
We got changed and were about to go up to the lighthouse cottage to see about paying for a nights accommodation in the lighthouse cabins as camping on Gabo is not allowed. The ranger came down on his quad bike and after a chat invited us up to the lighthouse for a fresh forecast - and a tour!

A young Humpback put on a great display not long after we arrived on Gabo
Gabo Island Lighthouse and cottages

Lighthouse Keeper No.2 Leo
With a calmer day forecast but more bad weather on the way we decided it best to make an early start. We headed around the bottom of Gabo and were soon crossing the VIC/NSW Boarder. Later that day we landed at Nadgee River for a quick break.

Nadgee River
Seas were calm but the weather was changing

Spectacular coast
At Merrica River

A special place
 
On the fourth day of the trip we left Merrica River and continued Northwards. The weather was deteriorating and the sea was again rough. We crossed Disaster Bay with the sea on our beam and rounded Green Cape. We were not going to get a tour of this lighthouse!

About to round Green Cape
We stopped in at Bittangabee Bay for lunch and then headed out into a solid 20 knot wind on a very confused sea. We were on high alert as we hammered home, sails up and going hard.

Tiderace Pace 17 - very happy with its performance on its maiden voyage

There were no more stops and we went straight on to Twofold Bay where we finished at Boydtown. We were home late that night to wives who were grumbling about us coming back so soon!

Barnabas is a competent expeditioner and strong and level headed paddler. This trip had lots of unexpected eventualities and situations, some of which had the adrenalin well and truly pumping. Its the unexpected, the rough conditions and the on edge paddling that can turn a trip into an adventure and this trip had all of those elements.

I'll be heading south again the next chance I get. The previous post has the Spot track.