Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Makai Cup 2020 – From a sea Kayakers Perspective

The Makai Cup is hosted by the Makai Paddling Society of the South Coast and is part of the Paddle Australia Ocean Racing Championships. This year’s race was a qualifier for the International Ocean Racing Championships in Portugal. It is primarily a surf ski race but is open to outriggers and sea kayaks.

The race was held on Saturday 8th February at Ulladulla on the NSW South Coast. A lot of the participants were South Coast paddlers. All the big names in Ski and Outriggers were there.
The forecast for the day was for Easterly winds to 30 KNOTS but the observations for the race put the wind to 19 knots swinging around from SE to NE in the one hour it ran. This might have been one of the reasons it was so messy. There was an ESE Swell of about 3 metres. The sea was awash with whitecaps and breaking waves. An outgoing tide and a massive low pressure system (which finally dropped enough rain to put those blasted fires out once and for all) all combined to make for a rough sea. Although the race is usually run as a downwinder the decision was made on Friday night to run it as a 2.5KM loop times 6 laps from inside Ulladulla Harbour and out to two marker buoys anchored about a kilometre off shore. It was supposed to be a bit further out but the motor launch charged with placing the buoys couldn’t get past the northern headland so they placed the outer one as far as they could. 

There were about 200 entries which turned into 174 entrants on the day (inc doubles), the vast majority surf skis and six out riggers. There were six sea kayakers, Rob Mercer, Nick Blacklock, Gary Forrest and David Linco in Audax’s, me in the new Azure and Paul Monaro in a Pace 17. Caroline Marschner entered the Makai Mini in her Pace 17 and was the only Sea Kayak in that race. Well done Caroline.

The Makai Mini ran prior to the main event and was a loop circuit around a buoy moored about a hundred metres out from the harbour. On looking out to sea quite a few of the main race entrants downgraded to enter the mini instead. 

At 12.30 the gun went off. My race strategy was to keep Nick and Rob in my sights just like I’ve done on so many Tuesdays. And to survive! Club stalwart Mark Sundin was also paddling but he crossed over and was in the front of an Epic V8 double with his power house mate Jason Hodder in the back. Check out Mark Sundin’s YouTube channel for a great video he put together of the race.
It was mayhem at the start as so many paddlers jostled for a good start. For a lot of them it was a waste of effort as the real enemy was not the competition but the sea that waited to trounce them outside the safety of the fortress walls (i.e. the harbour breakwater). I had visions of a medieval army charging forth - to their slaughter! I found myself letting out a bit of a war cry as the first wave smashed over my head. I yelled again as I rounded the furthest marker buoy and gave it all I had to get onto a big wave. Some of the rides were phenomenal and my GPS track hit a maximum speed of 25KM/H.

All the while there were capsizes going on and I must have paddled past at least a dozen. Most seemed to be around the markers where the skis were forced to go side on to the wind and sea as they made the turn downwind. I think even the best paddlers might have had to concentrate hard to pull those turns off without going over. 

A few of the elite paddlers went across to the northern bommie to get the maximum help from the bigger waves. I’m told the first guy, a well known Surf Ski professional, got it wrong and ended up on the rocks, ski smashed in two. A couple of the elites behind him did manage to make it work and surfed to the front of the pack on a big wave. These guys are not only very good paddlers, they’re brave as well! Unfortunately, the next group of paddlers, all on skis, weren’t so lucky (skilled?) and got creamed on the point and a mass recue had to take place. As I paddled out for lap two the IRB (Inflatable rescue boat) came in with five shell shocked paddlers on board – I have no idea what happened to their boats but I assume they all went into the pile of smashed ski’s – eighteen of them in the end.

By the third lap the field had thinned considerably and although Nick and Rob were in front, I did notice they were settling in which was perfect for me. I remember thinking I just needed to do three more laps and there wouldn’t be too many left in the race! Alas the rescue boat whizzed past yelling that this was to be the last lap – the race was cancelled half way through. 
Because it had been raining hard most of the morning a lot of the race stickers didn’t adhere and were lost. Some were also lost because the bow’s of the skis they were on got broken off and sunk! That and the fact the race was turned into laps made it a nightmare for the poor old time keepers and so the scoring was inaccurate. There were a lot of protests to say the least.

I get the feeling that us Sea Kayakers are seen by a lot of the surf ski paddlers as slow and cumbersome try hards who shouldn’t even be at these types of races. They might have to take stock of that view in light of just how comfortable we were out in those conditions compared to the ski paddlers. We only had one sea kayak that didn’t finish whilst a good chunk of the field of skis didn’t make it to the third lap. The other thing is that we weren’t that slow and finished well up the field. There were a lot of skis coming in behind us. 

Credit where credit is due though. Some of the elites are absolutely incredible paddlers. I have a Fenn Spark which is considered an elite ski but I only paddle it in the harbour and even there I can have a hard time if the winds up and when ferries and big boats go by. There were a lot of Sparks in the race alongside other similarly tippy skis and I can tell you that to have these boats outside in such conditions speaks volumes about some of the ability within the ski paddling community. To me this is quite incredible. Some of these paddlers must be out every day to have that level of skill and balance. To the rest of the field and those who didn’t finish all I can say is they might not have the amazing skill of the elites but most certainly had the courage to go for it – even if they ended up with smashed boats. Such is the power of South Coast ski paddling culture I suppose.

I hope to go in more of these ocean races to fly the flag for us seafarers. Who knows, if enough of us enter these races and we keep proving ourselves we might even get a Sea Kayak class one of these days – I think we deserve that.
Caroline, Dave, Nick, Paul, Matt, Rob & Gary - Seafarers!

Marks Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AUIJRYuYM0
Official Makai video: https://www.facebook.com/makaipaddler/videos/1555440787966094/

Monday, October 14, 2019

Paddle Pirates Sydney
I've gone commercial. After 15 years of dedicated kayaking I have got myself qualified as a Paddle Australia Sea Instructor, got my RMS and AMSA permits, have my National Parks permit for landing on Goat Island, negotiated an insurance policy that didn't quite bankrupt me, bought a few double and single kayaks and can now share my passion for kayaking and our great harbour and coast with many more people than was ever possible before. I am especially grateful to the Sydney University Canoe Club, Sydney Uni Sports & Fitness and the Sydney University Rowers for accommodating my little operation from our much loved boathouse on Blackwattle Bay.

My harbour kayaking adventure takes in Blackwattle Bay, White Bay, Darling Harbour, Blues Point and the highlight, Goat Island (Me-Mel). Guests get to have a real mini kayaking expedition right at the heart of our magnificent harbour.

I'm not going to pretend that I am motivated by kayaking alone. I also need to make a buck, an honest buck. Not that I wasn't making an honest buck before but in my other business I needed to move stuff around with a car. Even though I do that with a Prius Hybrid its still a bad feeling and something that gives me no joy. With the kayaking I only use my bike (to get to the boatshed) and the kayaks to paddle out to the harbour and back. I can honestly say that my tours are 100% emission free and this is my main motivation.

Talking about the improving water quality of our harbour and letting people see for themselves the impact rubbish can have makes a difference. If  people have no connection with the natural world it's hard for them to know what impact they're having on it. Once they learn a little about how land drains into rivers and harbours it soon becomes obvious how much impact 7 billion of us are really having on our oceans. I don't go on too much about this stuff but I do point it out in the hope of raising some awareness. We pick up loads of rubbish from our landing spot on Goat Island and haul this back to the council bins to ensure it doesn't end up at sea. Nobody ever gets asked to do this, but people always get stuck in.

My daughter once came home from school declaring that "You should be the change you want to see in the world". It hit me between the eyes and now I kayak for a living, burning food not fuel, taking rubbish out rather than creating it and building awareness of the big issues facing us all.

Paddling on Sydney Harbour is something that our indigenous brothers and sisters have been doing for tens of thousands of years. To connect with the water, our harbour and our town with a paddle in hand is one of the most gratifying things you can do.

I hope you can join me on a kayaking adventure to Goat Island (Me-Mel) at the Heart of The Harbour


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Downwinder in a strong southerly - Malabar to Watsons Bay

This is a bit of footage from a go pro mounted on the front of Rob Mercer's Audax. The first part is punching out through the incoming swell to get enough sea way before rounding the rocky headland to then run with the wind. It's interesting to see just how much air I was getting over those waves.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Strahan to Cockle Creek Tasmania Trip

After paddling from Cockle Creek to Bathurst Harbour in 2014 I again found myself in Tasmania only this time with two new faces and a more ambitous plan to paddle a one way trip from Strahan half way up the west coast to Cockle Creek at the bottom of the Eastern side.

After a big drive from Sydney followed by a night on the ferry from Melbourne, more driving to Strahan and a punishing two day car shuffle across Tasmania by Stuart & Campbell, we were finally paddling out of Maquarie Harbour on a sunny day with a fair forecast.

Getting ready to head out to sea (Photo by Shaan)
The weather for our fist day seemed great, no rain, temperatures around the mid 20's and light NE winds which was all good. It was that underlying and pretty much constant South Westerly Swell that was going to be the issue as once we turned the corner and started to see bomboras (offshore reefs) explode around us without warning at least some of us, me included, got a bit rattled.

Discussions were had about what we'd do if we found ourselves on top of a Breaking Bommie as we constantly scanned the sea for the humps of water which might give a clue to the presence of one of these underwater hazards. Although I had the latest chart on my GPS, many of these reefs were not marked as much of this part of the Tasmanian coast remains unsurveyed. I'm told the most up to date charting in some places down there was done by Captain Cook!

After 41km we arrived at what was to be our first landing, Birthday Bay. After looking at the waves going into this reefy little beach I was steeling myself for another 40km to the next possible landing! Luckily Stuart Trueman had been here before and armed with that all valuable experience and a weatlh of intelligence gained from the likes of Matty Watton, Jeff Jennings and Laurie Ford, Stuart assured us it was going to be fine as long as we made a dash for a big rock, got behind that without getting cleaned up on the waves hitting the outside of it, wait for a break in the sets and go hard across some rocks before turning 90 degrees and going straight into the beach. The landing went well overall even though Mark got rolled and Campbell had to capsize to stop himself from a hard smash into some rocks on the North side of the beach.

The next day we paddled to a small cove on the inside of Hibbs Pyramid where we had lunch before heading off again to land at Hartwell Cove, which was about the only place I'd picked out from Google Earth that we could actually get into to! After negotiating a few rollers and breakers on either side we paddled through a small gap into a magnificent amphitheatre of a bay. This was a wild and pristine place - problem was there was only a very small clearing for our communal area and it was difficult to find tent sites. Despite this I was thrilled to be there.

Mark, Shaan, Stuart & Campbell - They didn't seem to have the same feelings for Hartwell Cove as I did!
The next day Stuart and I explored the option of paddling up The Wanderer River but like all the rivers down here there was a shallow bar and and it was a real mess with incoming swell against outflowing river with a smattering of rocks. It could have been done with a landing on the beach to the side of the river but would have meant a portage and with our heavy boats and lack of group enthusiasm for the idea we turned around and headed out to sea, destination Mainwaring Inlet.

Mainwaring Inlet, one of the best camping spots of the whole trip (Photo by Campbell)

As we'd only paddled 20km to reach Mainwaring Inlet we set up camp and went up the river to explore this magnificent area. A Tassie Devil ambled along the shore as we paddled almost silently to find the head of the river and collect some fresh water. The next day we did another 40km to Mulchay Bay but as usual the swell was big and most beaches were simply not an option so again Stuarts knowledge of a little slot was invaluable and so we paddled past a few reefs and breaking bommies to find an easy landing.

A good camp and safe landing in a slot that I would never have picked as a safe landing (Photo by Shaan)
We used an Eaton SSB short wave radio to get our weather forecast as of course the whole SW is totally off the grid so we were aware of a big blow headed our way so we had to make it into Port Davey before it hit so although the forecast was for strong winds to 30 knots they were from the North West and as we were heading South East we were all go - I was looking forward to this. We hit the water and soon had the sails up and were blasting along. This is the day that most of the paddling footage in my video was taken. The wind was building and we were making some really good time.
Unfortunately things got a bit too strong and Stuarts sail ripped at about the same time his rudder pedal failed. We had to down sails to keep together and so couldn't take full advantage of the conditions. It was exciting none the less and as we paddled passed The Coffee Pot things were really lively and just as I mounted my camera on the back of Marks boat I got picked up by a steep breaking wave and engulfed in the wave face, I braced hard. The wind, now at around 30 knots, just caught the tip of my sail and along with an almighty stroke I managed to bring the bow round and shoot down the face of the wave, the last thing I saw was Marks boat with the camera pointed right at me. This was going to be some awesome footage - too bad the memory was full and we got none of it!

We all dug deep, especially Stuart as he now had no rudder, and rounded Vincent Point into the shelter of Port Davey. Now with a head wind we plodded onto Bond Bay where, again thanks to Stuart's intelligence, there would be a hut complete with bath waiting for us. We pushed on into a strengthening head wind until we were about two k's away and then, into the full force of what must have been in the vicinity of 35 knot winds arrived to a beach which was supposed to be where our hut was. We split up and scoured the coast. I saw a horizontal line through the bush so got out to take a closer look. There I found the ruins of some shack and the burnt out vegetation of recent bush fires. All in all a depressing place that I didn't think much of. I got back in the boat and went down the beach to find the others who were still looking for the hut. "How was it?" Stuart asked. "Depressing. We'd be better off camping in the bush" I replied. "So no hut then?", "No" I answered. "No bath either then" someone joked. "Well actually yes, there was a bath".

The right Hut - complete with bath (upturned and discarded in the bush) Bond Bay
The weather forecast for the next day was for 50 knot winds and 8 metre swells with a 100% chance of rain. We weren't going anywhere. We spent the next day cramped in the small hut chatting endlessly about very little, occasionally reading from Shaan's kindle and cooking and eating.
The next day, still with strong winds we headed up The Davey River as far as we could.
Up Davey River towards The Davey Gorge
The wind took us up and the current helped bring us back but the last few K's were still a very hard slug and and I was really struggling to make any headway. With strong winds and big swells set to continue we set off the next day to the Bathurst Channel. We stopped at Balmoral beach and met some paddlers that were part of an organised tour with Roaring 40's. We were told there was another group staying at Claytons Hut and as everyone gathered up and prepared to head up river I made the decision to simply stay where I was as I'd already been to Melaleuca twice, and I'd been relentlessly socialising with our crew for over a week now and just felt like spending time alone. Everyone headed off and left me in isolation on my own little beach. I cooked up some mussels I'd collected earlier, got my MP3 player to work through the speaker of my short wave radio and sat down to enjoy my rum and get pissed in paradise!

Mt Rugby - backdrop to my solitary two days at Balmoral Beach.
The next day was raining and windy - a perfect day to sleep off my hang over. The day after that I packed up and headed up river to find the others. Turned out they didn't stay at Clayton's as it was full but today the other group had left so we all paddled over to Clayton's and moved in. A Melbourne based yachtie, Bill and his friend Edna were moored at the jetty and joined us inside. Bill was impressed with what we were doing and especially impressed when we explained that Stuart Trueman had gone all the way around Australia. Bill and Edna were good company. The next day, again with strong westerlies, we headed back out to Spain Bay.

The strom passed. Spain Bay.
We headed off for the big one around South West Cape. It's a big day but thankfully we had good conditions with little wind and although the swell was still up it was back to it's 2 to 3 metres and so we were able to have a break at McKays Gulch. Soon after we rounded the cape and not long after set up camp at Ketchem Bay.

Ketchem Bay
Things had calmed right down, not only weather wise but also because we were on the lee side of South West Cape and although the swells are still big it had a slightly gentler feel about it, also helped by the fact I was now in familiar territory. We busted out through the surf, (the surf exit in the video is from Ketchem Bay) and were soon heading to - Maatsuyker Island!

Seals have taken over the dilapidated landing spot on Maatsuyker Island
Was hard work getting the boats up
A truly amazing place and an absolute privilege to visit
After an exciting landing we walked up to meet the lighthouse keepers and learn a bit about this magnificent island. We had some tea and cake and then forced ourselves to leave as we still had a solid paddle ahead to make it to Deadmans Bay before dark. Instead of launching one at a time we helped Shaan get off the rocks (see video for footage of this) and then passed all four boats to her to hold onto which she did by tying them together with her tow rope. Once she had all the boats we jumped in amongst the hoards of seals and swam out to scramble into our kayaks. I think it would have been better to just tye the boats together, swim from one side of the bay to the other tying the boats off at each side and just leave them afloat in the bay rather than trying to get them ashore which was dangerous and caused quite a bit of damage to some of the boats including Stuart's which had a big seal land on it after a misplaced jump off a rock. Although I was filming this I had to abandon the shoot and run to avoid being trampled by a large seal myself!

In high spirits and feeling on top of the world we headed off past De Witt island and onto Deadmans Cove where we had one of the highlight meals of the trip - seven abalone that was given to Shaan by some fisherman we met on the way.

Good landing and excellent camping at Deadmans
The forecast recieved that night was not good. Another system was building and we needed to move. The next day we punched into an ever increasing headwind past South Cape, South East Cape and finally into Cockle Creek. A big day of headwind paddling of over 50 km's we were met by Raewyn and Neil Duffy who had kindly brought one of our cars back and before we even got out of the boats had a cold beer in our hand. The yachtie's we'd met a week earlier, Bill and Edna were also there to meet us and added to the celebration by popping a bottle of champagne. We were soon enjoying a fine BBQ again thanks to Rae & Neil.

Mark Schroeder, Campbell Tiley, Shaan Gresser, Stuart Trueman, Matt Bezzina
This was a great trip with a really competent crew. Everyone in the group had worked very hard on their fitness and was well prepared. As a result there were no allowances made for anyone and we all travelled at a remarkably similar speed and had a common goal to get along and achieve our objectives which is what we did. I look forward to our next adventure.

Strahan to Cockle Creek including side trips to the Davey Gorge and Melaleuca

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A weekend in the wilderness - without leaving town!

Boat packed, trolley ready, time to get away to the wilderness for the weekend.  
Traffic was heavy getting out of town
Met Mark Schroeder on the way and we found a nice place to land, with an ideal campsite right next to the sea!
We set up camp in our remote cove and cooked dinner to the sound of waves and a chorus of frogs!  
Mark has a free standing tent
I don't
but my view from the bedroom was pretty good
We saw a whale, dolphins, a seal, albatross and a green sea turtle. The other bonus is there was no phone reception!
On Sunday we checked out another possible wilderness camp spot to the south of the heads before heading back to Sydney - even though we'd never really left!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Landing at North Head

On a calm day mark decided to land just around the outside of North Head. So we did...

lining up the exit
not to be put off by bad timing Marks powers on
in the hole
a quick self rescue by Mark and we were on our way

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A trip to Yakushima Island (Southern Japan)

Yakushima Island is located South of Kagashima in the South of the mainland of Japan. It is about 504 square KM with a population of around 13000 residing almost entirely around the coast. The island is mountainous and rises to 1936 metres at its highest point. A large part of the island is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its outstanding natural beauty, enormous trees and varied flora and fauna. As my wife loves the bush and I love the sea Yakushima was the perfect destination for our family adventure holiday.

It's about 140 KM all the way round and would be a fantastic paddle
We timed our arrival with that of a low pressure system and rainy weather but that was not going to dampen our spirits. As soon as we disembarked from our ship we were on a bus and heading to the start of the track that would take us over the highest bit of the island and over to the other side over three days.
About to dock at Yakushima - a notoriously rainy island
The lower areas were covered in moss and was some of the most lush forest I'd ever seen

Once we got above the tree line temperatures were around 0 and it was very wet
We made it across the top and after staying in the second of three bushwalking huts descended down the other side to where an old logging rail line has been converted to a walking track.
With three days of walking behind us it was time for Dad to go kayaking whilst the rest of the family went sight seeing
My wife, being Japanese, had found a keen kayaker on Yakushima that ran a small kayak guiding business. He used a local boat that he helped design himself called the Nanok. There was a 4.8 metre version a 5.3 metre and a double. As we were planning to paddle about 20 KM and there was a bit of wind forecast I decided on the 5.3. The boat I hired was in good condition, handled well and was a fast and maneuverable boat. I really enjoyed paddling it.

Besides hiring kayaks and guiding, Taeji also offers accommodation at his sea side location in this beautiful kit home he built himself.

Accommodation offered as well
As the weather was still less than ideal we simply decided to get in the van and go over to the lee side of the island - always an option when you live on a small island!

About to launch
calm seas and a spectacular backdrop
We headed north and soon spotted the first of five rather large sea turtles. We also saw a shark, which was following Taeji, lots of barracuda, cormorants and some flying fish. The water was warm, and the wind was almost non existent.

enjoying lunch
I was shown an excellent sea cave that could be paddled all the way through.
some coves led to small harbours and rivers
When we got home a local fisherman dropped a few flying fish over to Taeji. Here is his wife showing one off. I've often seen flying fish off our Australian coast but never got up close or seen them in a shop. In Yakushima they're a delicacy.
Yakushima is a kayaking and bushwalking paradise. It would be a bit hard organising things and getting around without being able to speak Japanese but there were a few foreigners about who seemed to be managing all right. The main tracks are well marked and the bushwalking huts are basic but well maintained and weatherproof. There's lots of deer and monkeys, one of which attacked us, as well as some rich birdlife. Yakushima also has quite a few frogs and salamander species but I couldn't find any of those on this trip although I did find a salamander a few years back in Hokkaido. Like all good holidays, I wish it could have lasted longer.