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.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Expedition Time

Barnabas and I will attempt to paddle from Bemm River to Eden. You can follow our progress via Barnabas's SPOT TRACKER 

This should be a good test paddle for my new PACE 17!