Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If I Were God

Do you ever play the game "if I were God?" Sometimes, Doug and I look at each other and say "if I were God..." and we finish up the sentence with something that makes perfect sense at the time. Like getting rid of sugar or industrial seed oils. The first thing I would do, however, if I really was God would be get rid of advertising. As far as I can see advertising serves no purpose except to peddle goods and services to people who need neither but believe that their life will be enhanced by having both. 

Humans, supposedly the smartest animal on the planet, are rapidly destroying our oceans, forests, food systems, water, even air. We are literally killing ourselves in our pursuit of stuff. Stuff that we tire of remarkably quickly and just as quickly need to replace with the next new thing. 


I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate in not caring a whole lot about stuff. While I do like having a pair of rock shoes, a sea kayak, a rope and climbing rack, one of each is enough. I can't climb with four pairs of rock shoes on my feet, or paddle three kayaks at a time so why not simply have one? The less stuff I have the freer I feel. Any time I accumulate more stuff I begin to feel bogged down. Not only must I use this stuff, but I have to store it, maintain it, move it around the planet with me. It all becomes such a time, energy and money consuming process - I'm worn out simply thinking about it. 

It used to be that advertising was something that we passively consumed. We saw bill-boards, advertisements in magazines, heard them on the radio. With the advent of television, advertising became much more compelling as we humans are such visual creatures. But, there was always a divide. They - the corporate world - were trying to get us to buy something which they had to sell. Even the most naive consumer could recognize advertising for what it was. Then came product placement, celebrity endorsement, sponsorship, and the line between the advertisers and us became a little less distinct. Finally, in what sometimes seems to me the end of the rational world, came social media. And suddenly everyone is an advertiser, or, in current lingo a "content creator."


If you believe as I do that the accumulation of stuff puts you on a treadmill from which there is no escape the consumer become advertiser is simply another twist on the Stockholm Syndrome except that we have become our own captors. In a Machiavellian twist that must be the wet dream of the corporate world we are selling stuff, for which we have no real need and which will bring us no lasting joy, to ourselves. Walt Kelly summed it up on Earth Day 1970 "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Keep Your Head Down

I have been trying to learn to eskimo roll for a long time. Searching back through the Conspiracy Times archives, even I am shocked at how long it has been, and how much I have written on the subject (go here, here, here, here, here, here, how many of these should I link to?). I've been able to roll - with face mask on under perfect conditions - semi-reliably a few times only to lose the skill completely for weeks at a time. 

One thing people always say to you when you miss a roll is "keep your head down." It's a reasonable suggestion because, in all likelihood, the person is pulling their head up. But, it has never seemed to me terribly useful advice. How do I keep my head down? What active measure can I take to keep my head down? One book I have recommends pressing your head into the water, something I have never even managed to visualize let alone do. 

It's a bit like learning to ski tight trees. The instructor says "avoid the trees." The skier hears "trees" and can only see the trees not the spaces between them; then proceeds to pin-ball from tree to tree. If you can't relate to tree skiing, I am sure just about everyone can relate to dieting. "Don't eat junk food" the health experts say, planting junk food firmly in your mind so all you can think about is a bag of potato chips. 

Tree skiing in the Valhalla Range, BC, Canada

What the ski instructor should say is "look at the spaces between the trees." The skier now sees one, two, even a dozen lines that can be skied linking up the open areas between the trees. Similarly, the health experts should say "eat real food." This allows the dieter to think about all the food they can eat - fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, nuts, etc. without fixating on the food they should not eat. 

One day, a couple of weeks ago, after a particularly dismal practice session when, despite flipping the kayak about 50 times, I only managed two eskimo rolls, we were driving home wondering what on earth I could try next to nail this f**king eskimo roll when Doug said something about "pulling on the water knee." Sure, I had not tried that specific thing so why not. 

Turns out this is probably the most useful piece of advice I have ever received. Instead of thinking passively "keep your head down" which just does not translate into action (at least for me). I now say to myself "yank on your water knee." If I do that, I come up. Sometimes I am coming up so easily that I am not even sure how I did it. 

Heading for South Direction Island

Will it last? Who can say, certainly not me. My progress in mastering this skill has been anything but step-wise, unless you count steps backwards. But, it is working right now, I am coming up easier than I have ever done before and I feel cautiously optimistic.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Junk Miles: Sea Kayaking Mosquito Bay to Sunshine Bay

In running, junk miles are generally considered to be purposeless running. Of course, us non-runners could argue that all running is purposeless. Generally, however, if a person is aiming to improve at any sport, targeted practice beats gritting it out and simply accumulating time. Unless, perhaps you are aiming for mediocrity

I would like to get better at sea kayaking, and, yesterday I realized that simply paddling under easy conditions could be the sea kayaking equivalent to junk miles when running. Which is not to say that going out and having a pleasant paddle with engaging companions is inherently bad. After all, what attracted me to sea kayaking in the first place was the ability to go out into a wild environment and explore new places while being physically active. 

But I am not, and never have been, one of those people who thrive on mindless activity. I'm more the "everything must have a purpose" type. Even if that purpose is simply following a trail to see where it goes. Of course, if I was preparing for a long multi-day sea kayak trip I would view accumulating time in the boat completely differently, just as an ultra-runner counts time on their feet as valuable.


Yesterday, three of us paddled from Mosquito Bay to Sunshine Bay and back via Black Rock. It was an easy, no drama paddling day. I didn't need a single corrective or recovery stroke. It was a lovely day out and I enjoyed the society of my companions. What would have made the day better for me would have been some more challenging paddling or going somewhere I had not been before. 

None of this was my companions fault, it was, in fact, fairly calculated. Initially, I had suggested a stretch of coast I had not paddled before but which required landing and launching through the surf. The swell was running around one metre with bigger sets hitting near two metres. Even a metre wave is over your head when sitting in a kayak and can be quite confronting if you have not launched or landed in these conditions before. To that end, changing the destination to somewhere that did not require paddling through surf seemed wise. 

One of the good things about the stretch of coast from Broulee to Batemans Bay is that all the headlands, islands, reefs and coves mean there is almost always somewhere easy to launch and land. We launched from Mosquito Bay which was easy, but I probably would not launch there again. There is a boat ramp, which some may consider a plus, but I find annoying as it means power boats are coming and going. With a big easterly swell running the ramp and beach would be quite exposed. 

From Mosquito Bay it is just under 1.5 km out to Black Rock. My companions found the crossing a bit bumpy so we stuck to the west more sheltered side. I suspect Black Rock is a lot like the Tollgate Islands when you get to the east side the current, clapotis and swell all gets considerably bigger. 

From Black Rock we paddled northwest to the prominent headland south of Wimbie Beach where we had short pit stop. Then we cruised up the coast to Sunshine Bay under easy conditions. I have to admit I was looking at all the rock gardening opportunities longingly, but I didn't think my companions were really into that kind of kayaking and it seemed churlish to play around while they waited. 


From Sunshine Bay we pretty much straight lined it back to Mosquito Bay. There was the usual but quite minor clapotis around the headlands but nothing to cause a single stroke to falter. Once back in the bay, I metaphorically girded my loins - which in this case meant putting a wet suit on - and did the obligatory eskimo roll practice. Ever since I have worked out - after Doug made a chance remark about it - that pulling up hard on the water knee is the key to keeping your head down, and easily righting the boat, I've had great success with my rolls. I still don't enjoy these practice sessions but they are a lot less painful when you come up first time and don't have to try repeatedly before bailing and dragging the boat in to shore to empty it out. 

It was a grand day out, and, a few short weeks ago, I would have been sublimely happy with our achievements, now, however, I am rethinking those junk miles.  A good stiff wind, some rock gardening, or even a big swell would be kind of fun. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Potato Point To Dalmeny Along Brou Beach

After lots of lots of kayaking it seemed like a good idea to actually use my legs for a change. Plus, it was windy with a big swell running and I had no paddling partners. I decided to walk Brou Beach between Dalmeny and Potato Point. The shortest drive for me was to start at the north end at Potato Point and walk south. This had the added advantage of me walking back with the wind behind me. 

Jemisons Beach, Point and Brou Beach from Potato Point

I parked up at the trig marker at Potato Point and walked back down the street to some steps leading to Jemisons Beach. This is a lovely little beach between two headlands that was completely deserted. The tide was high so I had to walk around Jemisons Head on tracks. A big group was camped right where the steps leave the beach and, to avoid bumbling right through their campsite, I went right (west) instead of left (east). This took me through a gorgeous gum forest and after some back-tracking down to the beach at Lake Tourarga. 

Gum forest

Brou Beach is about 6.5 km long and empty, completely empty, even on a holiday weekend. There were two groups of emus, probably about ten in total, meandering along the beach eating vegetation. I started taking photos when I was perhaps 500 metres away thinking that they would get spooked when I got closer. Strolling along, however, I eventually got within about 5 metres of them.
I walked all the way to Dalmeny because I wanted to check out launching a sea kayak from the beach. At least in a southerly swell it would be quite easy near Mummaga Heads as rocky reef blocks some of the swell and the beach is gentle giving spilling waves. 

Beach going emus

There were far too many people about, however, so I turned and wandered back up the beach. The tide had dropped so beach walking was easier. At Jemisons Point I tried to scramble around the rocks but got stymied by a deep gulch and had to take the track back up onto the headland again. As I was heading along to Jemisons Beach a huge monitor lizard, maybe a full metre long, came swaggering down the track. Finally, back along the still deserted Jemisons Beach and back to the car. 

 Beautiful big monitor lizard

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Gardening Rocks: Square Head

Lately Doug and I have been doing a little easy "rock gardening;" a genre of sea kayaking that has nothing to do with dirt and plants, and everything to do with playing in surges and swells among rock features. Rock gardening is a lot like whitewater kayaking except you are in a big, stable, high volume and hard to maneuver boat instead of in a responsive low volume play boat. The other difference is that when you are rock gardening, the whitewater comes and goes and timing becomes much more crucial. 

John Lull, (this book is currently my bed-time read) one of the redoubtable Tsunami Rangers, says that paddling in rock gardens requires "precise boat control, surfing skill, and a reliable Eskimo roll." I'd like to say "check, check, and check," the reality is more like "not so much", "OK in surf under one metre", and, "I'm working on it." 

Wednesday was just another perfect sea kayak day on the south coast of NSW with light winds and a one metre easterly swell forecast. So, after reading all about bow draws, stern draws and side-slipping I settled on Square Head, between Long and Cullendulla Beaches in Batemans Bay as a good location to practice some rock gardening. 

I launched at the picnic area off Wharf Road just west of Pinnacle Point which was a bit of a mistake as the beach is very flat and the tide goes out a long way. The drag (not carry as I was by myself) was not bad at mid-tide, but as the tide dropped it got longer and longer. Dragging the kayak back was actually more strenuous than lifting it onto the roof-racks by myself. 

There are some easy rock gardens and gutters at Pinnacle Point and I spent a good bit of time poking in and around all the rocks and backing into the gutters. A shorter kayak and a shorter paddle would make this a lot easier. I also wanted to try paddling some pour overs, but, try as I might I just could not seem to get the timing right and I would inevitably end up high-centred on a rock teetering from side to side waiting for the next surge to release me. 

Out at Square Head there was more swell and I took more time to wait and watch the surge and swell. I didn't do any pour-overs but I did manage to cruise through the passage that I got high-centred on last time by waiting for the right moment to weave around the rocks. I only got that rapid heart beat once when I fell into a hole by a rock when a larger wave than usual sucked out, but, a quick brace kept me upright. 

Of course, a short paddle day means that you must practice some Eskimo rolls so on the way back I detoured into Cullendulla Beach. If you are going to do some rolling, this is a pretty perfect spot as the water is warm, clear and bailing out to the beach is easy. Since I have been working on yanking up hard on my water knee, I have been rolling more reliably and I managed to do another 5 or 6 rolls today. The trouble is, I have failed so many times that I have a terrific amount of mental baggage bumping around in my brain every time I try. I had to bail out once when I got the paddle all tangled up and I sure am looking forward to getting a shorter paddle. 

A very light - 2 knot - wind had come up which meant that paddling back to Surfside Beach the kayak was weather-cocking constantly. This is an extremely tedious function of Prijon Marlin kayaks, they weather cock in the slightest whisper of wind. Usually, I just pull the rudder down but today I had vowed to use only corrective strokes to turn the boat so I got lots of practice doing bow draws all the way back to the beach. 

 Just another perfect paddling day

Friday, April 15, 2016

Moruya Heads to Mossy Point With A Little Help From A Sail

We have had some adventures in kayak sailing before, but, mostly we only use sails on our kayaks when we are in waters without big swells. Now that we are getting more comfortable in rougher water it seemed like time to get some sailing practice on the open ocean. Thursday the forecast was perfect. Light winds in the morning gradually increasing to reach 15 or 20 knots in the afternoon. We could paddle north from Moruya Heads in the morning to Mossy Point, then turn around and kayak sail back with the rising wind. Not only would we get some sailing practice, but we could finish up our project to paddle the coast from Moruya to Ulladulla. 

It was calm in the morning. No wind and only a low swell. I began to think perhaps we should have gone back out to the Tollgate Islands to try for the blue cave again. It is good to be flexible, but sometimes I find constantly changing plans mentally fatiguing and I just can't face the drama, so north we went.
There was a lone SUP surfing the perfect wave off Moruya Heads - another inclination to change plans crossed my mind - and a dolphin swam past us as we paddled out beyond the breakwater and headed north. Incised into Moruya Heads are a series of rocky gutters good for playing in and turning south to see what they were like today also tempted me. 

So calm that paddling was actually a bit boring

On glassy water with a low rolling swell we paddled north up Bengello Beach to Broulee Head. It was interesting to paddle along the surf line and identify all the rips running out. As we passed each one I tried to work out whether landing through the rip would be easier than landing through the surf as rips often flatten out the waves. On some rips yes, others did not look any different, at least from the back. 

We had a very quick break in the little bay on the south side of the isthmus between Broulee Island and the mainland. Sometimes the swell comes right in this bay but it was calm and sheltered today. Around Broulee Island there was only a little bit of current, mostly it was extraordinarily calm. The north wind was gradually ticking up but we continued on to Mossy Point. Around the south side of Mossy Point there are more rock gardens that would be good for playing in. 

The little bay on the south side of Broulee isthmus

After a second quick stop just inside Mossy Point on a tiny beach accessed by a rocky gutter, we prepared the sails for the trip back. We have modified our Pacific Action sails so that you can reduce the size by one or two thirds. The full sail, at a metre square, can be a bit of a handful. As we knew the wind would only be rising, we took the top third off so the sail would be roughly 0.66 square metres. 

I hoisted my sail as soon as I cleared the channel off Mossy Point and, for the first time that day, got ahead of Doug. The kayak immediately felt lighter, but, also more tippy. Travelling to Broulee Island the wind was slightly quartering but once we got to Bruny Island we could point directly downwind to Moruya Heads.
Travel was a lot faster. We did two kilometres (roughly) less heading south than we had done heading north as we pretty much straight-lined the coast. Turns out, about 12 km heading south with sails up took us about half the time as 14 km heading north without sails. 

Super calm around Broulee Island

Sometimes for almost a half a minute, the kayak would actually sail straight down the following waves, but, most of the time I was using corrective strokes to prevent broaching. After three years paddling these boats (Prijon Marlin) I can say that they do not track at all. The slightest wind blows them off course and they broach almost instantly in a following sea. But, you paddle what you got, so I usually just think about what great practice I am getting. 

Near the breakwater at Moruya Heads we pulled the sails down. I had to keep mine up a bit longer than Doug to wait for a bit of a lull in the wind as I was too unstable to take a hand off the paddle and yank my quick pull-down cord. As soon as we dropped the sails the kayaks felt unaccountably heavy and slow, which made me remember my silly discussion with the guys last weekend about light versus heavy boats. Once inside the Moruya River, the wind swung around to get funnelled up towards Moruya and we could sail back to the vehicle. The wave off Moruya Heads was still pretty perfect, but I was ready to get out of the boat, and Doug was really hungry, so, we passed it up until another time. 

 Rip spotting along Bengello Beach

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Surfside to Caseys Beach Via Snapper Island

When Doug and I came to Moruya, we were keen to meet other sea kayakers so joined up with the Eurobodalla kayaking group. This is a very friendly group of people, but, we quickly realised that the main interest of the group was flat water paddling, while our main interest is ocean paddling. In my usual optimistic fashion, I managed to convince the group organizer that there was a ton of people on the email list (which is really, really long) who really wanted to ocean paddle but just had not got the opportunity. That made it only logical to put some actual ocean kayaking trips on the schedule. 

 Smoky sky but calm water

There were certain conditions, however, mostly that the paddles be in at least semi-sheltered waters such as those around Batemans Bay. After some discussions, two kayak trips around Batemans Bay made it on to the autumn schedule and the first of these was slotted in for the day after our trip out to the Tollgate Islands.

The weather forecast could not be better. Low swell, light winds, sunny skies. It was tempting to blow off the Eurobodalla paddle and head back out to Montague Island, but, after nagging J. to put these trips on the schedule, I felt duty bound to go. 

Cave at Square Head

The turn out was disappointing. J, one other fellow I had not met before, Doug and I plus Mr Honey from Long Beach. Of course, it could be that all the other paddlers headed out to Montague Island, but, I suspect that, at least for many folks, a new trip on the schedule was not the welcome addition I had imagined it to be. 

Mr Honey paddled down from Long Beach and proceeded to show us a series of fun and easy gauntlets, rock gardens and sea caves that you could paddle into. At Square Head, there are some rock gardens that you can run through, although I got the timing slightly wrong and ended up high-centred on a rock. After watching this, none of the others were game. A bit further around Square Head is a feature Mr Honey calls the "swimming pool" where a rocky reef runs parallel to the headland and allows some easy rock gardening. 

 Heading over to the rocky islet near Snapper Island

Then there is the big cave, which is more of an alcove than a cave but fun to paddle into and, a couple of other rock features can be linked together for some more interesting paddling. Over at Snapper Island, the big cave on the north side is obvious and an easy paddle into via a long gutter. The rocky islet nearby features some other fun rock gardens as well as an arch right through this unusual island. 

Mr Honey and the cave on Snapper Island

At Caseys Beach there was a bit of a dumping swell which was easy to negotiate for most of us, but one guy did get a bit wet. As usual, the talk over morning tea was about kayaks and electric bilge pumps and the weight of different boats.
We paddled back via Observation Point which has some rocks you can weave around. Doug and Mr Honey headed over to Long Beach as Doug wanted to try paddling a Nadgee, while I returned with the two other guys to bring the car around. Both of them, paddling kayaks at least 10 kg lighter than mine wanted to tell me that once your kayak is floating the weight ceases to matter, but, as anyone who has paddled a loaded versus an unloaded kayak knows, the overall weight of the boat does make a big difference. 

There is another Batemans Bay paddle on the autumn schedule, perhaps it will garner better participation but, I am inclined to think my usual optimism was slightly, as it often is, misplaced this time. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Another Trip To The Tollgate Islands

Stories about the Blue Cave on North Tollgate Island are legend with local sea kayakers, and, the more Doug and I heard about the Blue Cave, the more we wanted to paddle inside. Last Saturday, the conditions seemed like they might be favourable for paddling into the Blue Cave and so we sent out a general invitation to the local kayaking crew, and six of us, headed out from Wimbie Beach to have a look. 

The wind was light, but an easterly swell of 1 to 2 metres was running and the tide was high. We paddled through the gap between the islands, and looped around to the north end. The little bay on the east side that we had ducked into last time was closed out with surf right across the entrance and none of us ventured in. 

John and Jillian were in a long double kayak and thus had the perfect excuse for not going into the Blue Cave. Paul and Jayne hung off shore, I got in as close as I could but the narrowness of the cave and the swells washing in also scared me off. 

We paddled through the easy little gauntlet on the north side of the island, and Doug and I poked into a long narrow gutter with a cave at the back that goes right the way through the headland. John thought that a plastic boat might just make it through, but I'm pretty sure the dry ledge at the back would tear up even a plastic kayak. 

Back through the gap between the islands, I found another gauntlet up against the cliffs at the east end of the south island and had an exciting transit through. The waves when I got right in seeming much larger than they had from the relative shelter of the bay, but, at that point going forward was much easier than going back. 

Around on the south end of the south island there is another impressive arch that goes right through the headland. This one has a higher roof than the tiny one on the north end, but the bottom is only covered during big waves. I don't know if anyone has ever paddled through it. There were big waves washing out the sheltered side on this day, but, if you could get through it would be really cool. 

Everyone seemed to have things to do in the afternoon so we paddled back to Wimbie Beach. Again, we didn't get into the Blue Cave, but, we paddled some new gauntlets and gutters, and explored a bit more of the beautiful Tollgate Islands. 


An Easy Day On The Water: Cookies Beach to Maloneys Beach

After paddling from Cookies Beach toKioloa, Kioloa to Ulladulla, and Tomakin to Malua Bay, the only logical thing to do was paddle from Maloneys Beach to Cookies Beach. Doug threw out an invitation to as many local kayakers as we could think of, but, when the day came, only Doug and I went. 

The first thing we did was lock the Razor (Doug's $10 tip shop bike) to a post at Maloneys Beach before driving back out to the highway and up to Cookies Beach. At Cookies Beach we launched the boats off the beach and paddled out to the passage between Wasp Head and Wasp Island. A group of surfers were trying to work a very small wave breaking on a rocky reef, but otherwise the coastline was empty. 

Doug paddling into Richmond Bay

This section of the coast is in Murramarang National Park and is a beautiful stretch of coast to paddle. Little beaches, mostly facing south, are tucked into deep bays, rocky islands lie off bluffy headlands, bomboras break off-shore in bigger swells. 

About half way down the coast, we landed in a small swell at Richmond Beach. There is a lovely little campsite right behind the beach. Back on the water, we continued paddling down to North Head. North Head Beach offered another easy landing spot, but we were nearly to Maloneys Beach so we wrapped around the bay to Three Islet Point. I had heard from local kayakers that there was a good "gauntlet" to run at Three Isle Point. We found the gauntlet, but the waves seemed to breaking right through the narrow passage continuously and neither of us were game to try it. 

At Richmond Beach looking south to North Head

Off the end of Three Isle Point, I paddled through a larger gauntlet after watching for a while to time a period of lower swells. Apparently, Doug thought I was a wee bit too close to the breaking swell on the rocks, but, once I had started, I wasn't going to turn back. Doug took the longer way around. 

Doug near Three Islet Point

The final stretch past Archeron Beach was a quick easy paddle and we soon arrived at Maloneys Beach. I practised some eskimo rolls, which mostly entailed swimming my boat into the beach, while Doug set off on the Razor to navigate a maze of roads through the National Park back to Cookies Beach. Eventually, after a couple of wrong turns, a bit of bike pushing, and some solid riding, he reached the car and drove back to pick me and the kayaks up. 

 Doug paddles into Batemans Bay from Three Islet Point

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Hot Day On The Moruya River

Really, we should have gone out to work on our eskimo rolls, but, sometime around the three thousandth failure, you kind of want a break from that, if not physically, at least mentally, so, on the last hot day in Moruya we decided to paddle down the Moruya River from the Kiora Bridge to the boat ramp in Moruya.  

I left the house first and rode Doug's $10 tip shop bike - the Razor - down to the boat ramp arriving around about the same time as Doug drove up with the boats on the roof.  We locked up the Razor - you can't take chances with a $10 bike - and drove out of town on the Aruluen Road to the Kiora Bridge.  We crossed and recrossed the bridge a couple of times trying to find an easy spot to launch as the banks are quite steep and finally settled on sliding the boats down the bank on the upstream side of the Kiora side of the bridge (aka the southwest side).  

The tide was ebbing, but there was not much current on the river and with a stiff northerly and the river running mainly north along this section, we certainly weren't flying along.  Doug found a sandy beach and we attacked the usual eskimo roll practice although I was not at all enthusiastic on this day.  

Now, wringing wet and uncomfortable, we resumed our journey.  I kept expecting to see Moruya around the next bend of river, but, it was not until we had been paddling almost two hours that the hospital and then the bridge came into sight.  By that time, the southerly change was blowing in and it was starting to feel a bit cool.

Once we landed at the boat ramp, Doug took off on the Razor to retrieve the car and I shivered in cold wet clothes in a gusty wind.  A pleasant paddle through pastoral country, worth doing once on a hot day.  

 On the Moruya River

Monday, April 4, 2016

Kayaking Is A Wet Sport: Some Easy Days at Tuross Bar

Quite a few sea kayakers have come to grief in Tuross Bar (go here or here). The first time I saw Tuross Bar was on one of the regular Friday Tuross Lake paddles when Wildey suggested conditions might be easy enough for some of us less experienced sea kayakers to paddle out. The regular group split, the flat water paddlers set off on the routine circuit of Tuross Lake while a smaller group headed out to the bar. There were seven of us, including Wildey, and we pulled up on the south side of the bar. The tide was flowing in, the safest time to exit these bars as, should calamity arise, you will at least get dragged back in to shore, rather than out. 

The flat water paddlers head off around Tuross Lake

We hiked up onto the sand dunes overlooking the bar and, I think I speak for everyone except Wildey, all took a collective step back. The bar looked frightfully rough. There was a constant stream of breakers coming in with no real gap, even across the tidal channel. Wildey said he would paddle out and assess conditions. He weaved expertly through breaking waves, exiting the bar not via the channel but via breaking swells to the south of the channel. Coming back in through the channel, he disappeared into a large breaking wave at one point, reappearing unshaken but wet closer in shore. No-one in the group stepped forward to follow. Instead we spent some time crossing and recrossing through the current well inside the bar instead and practicing eskimo rolls. 

A grainy image of Wildey heading out Tuross Bar

A couple of weeks later, Doug and I went down again to practice inside the bar. In the intervening period we had also been paddling in the channel where the Moruya River runs out to the ocean. It had felt relatively easy so we wanted to give Tuross Bar another go. The tide was coming in, of course, and we spent an hour or more paddling back and forth, sitting in holes created by the incoming tide. I had flashbacks to my long ago days whitewater kayaking, and all the correct leans and paddle strokes came easily back. Egress over the bar, however, still looked quite daunting and we did not try it. 

Inside the bar but still in messy conditions

Next day, however, we had a message from Wildey that the surf outside the bar was very "comfortable" and we could join in with some other paddlers for a few hours surfing. The tide was supposed to be on the way in, but was actually still ebbing. Putting aside our misgivings - Wildey's "comfortable" surf was unlikely to be our comfortable surf, we thought the opportunity too good to miss and immediately cancelled our afternoon plans and drove down to Tuross.
Sea kayaking is all about conditions and, although there was a strong wind warning in effect, there was no wind and the smooth regular swell was only around 80 to 100 cm rolling in to break in deep water off the beach. Conditions really were "comfortable." 

Doug sitting in a small hole at Tuross Bar

Wildey and Peter were both out catching waves as we paddled easily out through the channel, no waves breaking across the main channel today. We got some last minute pointers from both guys, made sure our rudders were stowed away, hats and glasses secured, and then started to surf. 

Paddling out through small surf

It took me a few tries to get up the courage to get up onto the bigger waves, and, a few times I bailed in fear, back-paddling just enough to fall off the back of the wave, but, between Doug and I we caught a lot of waves. Without realising it, I was getting dragged south down the coast by the ebbing tide, and was constantly paddling out through surf instead of using the tidal channel that the other three were using. I was so absorbed in the surfing that I did not notice until Peter paddled down and pointed out how far I had drifted from the main channel. Paddling out through the surf, however, was good practice and every time I would get a drenching I would remind myself that "kayaking is a wet sport." 

Doug landing in small surf
I broached sooner than expected on the last wave I caught and dropped into a big hole as the wave crashed on top of me. I had to fight the urge to try to paddle out and instead hooked a high brace over the back of the wave, leaned into it, and held on. My spray deck imploded under the force of the wave and the cockpit filled with water but I did not notice until it came time to paddle back through the surf when I noticed the kayak felt sloppier than ever. Out behind the surf zone, Doug and I rafted up and I bailed out and reattached my spray deck.

Kayak surfing is a lot like eskimo rolling. You need to commit to it, and, you must do what feels completely wrong. In the latter, you must keep your head down even though instinct tells you to lift up your head so you can breathe. In the former, when you broach, you must lean into and embrace that wave that is trying to trash you. Only then will you come out the other side.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Not Chaos, Just Confusion: Durass to Kioloa by Sea Kayak

Driving to Cookies Beach in Beagle Bay I have the familiar knot in my stomach that I always get before climbing and kayaking trips. Inspirational instragrammers are always banging on about "moving beyond your comfort zone" but I always wonder if they realize that asking the barista to hold the soy on your Venti Soy Quadruple Shot Latte does not actually entail much in the way of consequences should things go wrong. Certainly nothing near the consequences of a sea kayak trip gone awry or zippering all your gear on some horrendously run-out sandbagged Aussie rock climb.  But, when we arrive, although the horizon is a bit bumpy, there is no wind, and, it looks like our trip from Cookies Beach to Kioloa should be pretty benign.

Soon, our companions arrive. Paul and Mark, veterans of way too many audacious sea kayak trips, and John, whose wife thinks he is flat-water paddling not going out on the ocean. Kayaks are unloaded, gear is stuffed into hatches, and the car shuttle plans are firmed up. I head off with the boys to leave all but one car at the Kioloa while Doug amuses himself by test paddling all the different kayaks left at Cookies Beach. 

On the way back, talk turns, as it always does, to other kayak trips. Paul began regaling us with stories of the Chaos paddlers. A splinter group of the NSWSKC who met every Friday night for a weekend of sea kayaking debauchery regardless of weather or conditions. Kayaks were routinely smashed upon the rocks in rugged isolated bays necessitating long walks to civilisation, boats and bodies were battered in five metre surf trying to leave beaches in the morning or land at night after 50 km long paddle days, many unsuspecting fellows had their first and last sea kayak experience, and, on one occasion, one poor fellow lost his thumb after a particularly trying battle of surf versus kayak in an remote and storm swept bay. In true understated Aussie style, all of these epics were barely worth mentioning and considered "an easy day out for a lady." I admit, the knot in my stomach grew a little.

Back at Cookies Beach, Doug had been fending off various fishermen in power boats returning from early morning fishing trips who declared the ocean "rough as guts" and questioned our intelligence in heading off in such small craft. Such warnings are common-place from power-boaters who seem to consider any sea condition other than as glassily flat as an indoor swimming pool cause to stay ashore and we have learnt to ignore them completely. 

I was anxious to get going, not just to get away from more tales of kayaking terror, but also to get a head start as I knew I would be at the back all day fighting to keep pace with the group. It was easy paddling north to Point Upright where the sandstone cliffs are threatening to become horizontal and the sea became lumpy after the previous days southerly change. 

Just north of Point Upright is Grasshopper Island, the first of several small islands along this section of coast. Half the fun of sea kayaking is weaving in and out of rocks, islets, and islands so Paul, Doug and I paddled through the narrow gap between the island and the shore, a passage which was not difficult if you avoided larger sets of waves. Inexplicably, Mark and Jon were last seen paddling out to sea around Grasshopper Island. 

On the north side of Grasshopper Island, the sea was calm for a short distance until we paddled back out into the swell and sea. We expected to see Mark and Jon turning back in to shore but no kayaks were visible. "Should we wait?" I asked Paul, the most experienced paddler on the trip. In true Chaos fashion, he replied "F**k no." And, so we paddled on. Halfway to Pebbly Beach, however, he had a change of heart and actually seemed quite worried, and headed swiftly back to Grasshopper Island to look for the missing paddlers. Doug and I followed slowly behind. I had been quite chuffed that we had taken the shorter inside route by Grasshopper Island as I thought it would allow me to keep closer pace with the rest of the group, now my lead was rapidly disappearing. 

We all bobbed about on the lumpy sea for a while scanning the horizon for the other paddlers, but, in these sea conditions it would be hard to spot two small kayaks. Paul raised his paddle vertically above his kayak in an impressive display of stability I would not have attempted which, apparently, means come to me, but no-one came. Doug and I rafted up and called Jon on his mobile phone, an exercise in futility as he is half deaf and cannot hear his phone ring when it is stowed away in his kayak. We left a rather odd message "We are north of Grasshopper Island, where are you?" Paul came back, and, with some difficulty we extracted his phone from his front hatch, buried beneath mounds of other gear, and telephone Mark leaving a similar message. I was feeling vertiginous from staring out to sea over the heaving horizon looking for kayaks. 

Finally, there seemed nothing for it but to continue on hoping to rendezvous with the missing paddlers in the little cove we had previously discussed landing in for morning tea. We rounded Clear Point and paddled straight past the cove that Jon and Mark would later land in. Despite having a map on my deck, my sense of scale was way off and I thought we still had an hour or more to paddle before we reached the series of three small coves which we thought would provide landing spots. While Paul felt we were paddling achingly slowly, I thought we were going terrifically fast. 

Paul actually knows this coastline very well as there used to be regular Easter kayaking trips from Batemans Bay north to camp in these secluded coves where, even over the busy holiday periods, kayakers could be certain of solitary camps as there is no infernal combustion access. We looked in the last of the three small coves on the way by and landing today would have been treacherous. No doubt the Chaos paddlers would have loved it, but, the swell smashing on rocks at the head of the bay looked perilous. 

Further north, we looked at landing on the beach near the O'Hara Islands, but, after hanging off shore for a short time the large dumping swell turned both Doug and I off this plan. We were now less than five kilometres from Kioloa so there was not much pressure to land. At Snapper Point, layered sandstone cliffs caused rebound and clapotis and we bumped past several fishermen perched on the sloping rock shelf. I wondered what they thought of us as we paddled past, bouncing around in the waves with only centimetres of freeboard between us and the ocean. Even Merry Beach was not very sheltered from the swell and waves were washing far up onto the beach. 

Rounding O'Hara Head, Paul called me further off-shore as he thought I had got dangerously close to a shelving reef which broke frequently. We paddled in past Belowla Island and pulled onto the beach at Kioloa dismayed to note that Jon and Mark had not arrived. Mobile phones were pulled out again to try to re-establish contact and we discovered that Paul had a message from Mark indicating they were having a rest in a small cove and would continue north. A couple of text messages went back and forth, the last "I hope you are enjoying this Chaos paddle." 

Doug and I took Paul's Mirage 530 out for a spin, finding it much lighter and more stable than our boats although the reversed foot pegs for the rudder were a bit confusing. The talk turned, as it does, from desperate kayak trips to gear, and, while Doug and Paul debated paddle length and style, hull design, and various other intricacies of kayak design, I packed away the kayak gear. Gear talk always seems to interest men more than women. 

Mark and Jon arrived shortly after. It turns out they had not paddled north of Grasshopper Island but, after heading out to sea to give the island a wide berth and realising we were not with them, they had gone back to look for us near Point Upright, eventually continuing north, landing for morning tea in the second cove, wondering where we were, getting our message, leaving us a message, continuing north, and finally arriving. It was not Chaos, merely confusion. 

 Looking out to Wasp Head from Cookies Beach