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! 





3 comments:

Eastern Horizon said...

Matt
Congrats on completing this challenging section of southern ocean coastline without serious incident or mishap to the paddling group. Shows a great sense of maturity and sound judgement to leave Maatsuyker to another trip when weather conditions may be better suited for such an exposed ocean crossing.
L

Miamaria Padlemia said...

Great blogpost! No doubt it was a great trip.

Deesta said...

Great post Matt....loved reading about this trip in such a special place, and your journey. Great photos too. Thanks for sharing