Thursday, 23 October 2014

Hawkesbury Time!


Two days to go to the 2014 Hawkesbury Classic, an event we are both sponsoring and competing in, Rob with Mark Hempel in an SLR2 Double kayak & me in my trusty V10.

Rob had more or less sworn off the hard grind of flat water racing, but the temptation to go hard with a guy as strong & determined as Mark has seen him relent & have a crack. I'm pleased they'll only be within earshot of me for a few hundred metres as they likely shoot past, because 2 hours paddling alongside Rob in flat water training can get very trying as he gradually succumbs to the grind & begins to complain loudly. 10 hours doing the same thing, in the same boat? Best of luck with that one Mark!

This year promises - in a very large set of inverted commas - "a much better tide" than the last two years where at least the later starters have copped two incoming tides. Considering BOM can predict a seriously complex East Coast Low such as the one that ripped through Sydney last week nearly to the hour, I'm mystified by the lack of accuracy in the forecast of a tide that methodically changes direction every 12 hours on nice little river. So, after cleverly devising my strategies around these tidal predictions for the past two years, despite Bob Turner telling me maybe 10 times that it was a dumb idea, this year I've resolved to trust only my GPS.

A few random observations from both Rob & I on training for the Classic, and applying that training to the actual race.

First, the monotonous pace of training for such a long endurance race has greatly eroded our ability when we get back out on the sea to accelerate. Weird as it may sound, all that training seems to have made us both go slower! It's simply explained by the gear change required to endure, as opposed to the interval-type paddling you naturally do on the sea, but a little unexpected. It's also hard! Paddling in the sea is so engaging, time flies, no two padle strokes are the same. On the river, it's relentless, mentally challenging, there are no free rides, no waves, a very tough exercise.

Second, we reckon you need to really gun it when the tide is going your way, because the difference in speed between trying harder against the tide, as opposed to trying hard with the tide, is substantial. Rob & Mark have noticed in Bob's flat-water specialist SLR2 that there isn't much of a difference in effort between going 9kmh into the tide, and 13kmh with the tide, whereas in my ocean ski, with a slightly deeper draft I really feel the resistance. They still find it hard to go any quicker than about 9.5kmh into the teeth of a tide though, which tells you something.

Third, with the foibles of the river bends & flow direction, a smart paddler will minimise the head tides by working out where those little back eddies are. In two attempts where I was well tuned into this phenomena I haven't managed to find out where they are. My advice on that one is if you see an old bugger going faster than you into the tide, even though he or she doesn't look to be trying harder, follow them! There is a lot to be said for experience & river-craft in the Hawkesbury.

Fourth, and thanks to Warren for pointing this out, the race is being held post-daylight saving this year, which means an extra hour of daylight & heat at the start. For me, with the forecast for the race start temperature close to 30C, I'll risk dressing lighter for the 60km to Wiseman's Ferry, and use a beanie to get me through the last hour or so to that watershed stop, when it nearly always gets very cold. A light paddle jacket from there should see me home.

Finally, assuming your form is good enough to propel you the 111km without injury, fuel is the key to a good performance. High energy, easily digestible food that preferably takes very little time to unwrap & eat works for all of us. A drink that you can stomach while exerting yourself that provides energy will also be much more beneficial than plain water. I've even gone to the trouble of filling gel dispensers rather than waste time opening individual sachets. The bad news is, if you haven't been training with this kind of fuel plan, it's too late, whatever you do don't deviate from what's worked in the lead up.
Mark's nutrition plan!
It's all very exciting, another Hawkesbury Classic to get my teeth into, and a first one for many, many years (not since he was 55) for Rob! This week I sent out a request for sponsorship, with a back story about my old coach, Barry Davison, who lost his battle with blood cancer earlier this year, which you can read HERE. I'm very humbled to report that friends & colleagues have contributed over $2000 to the cause, benefiting the Arrow Foundation. My target was $2000, so if the idea of further inspiring me towards pain & suffering brings a smile, it's not too late to donate through my sponsorship page HERE.

A sincere thanks to Hamish & the team at Kingsgrove Sports Centre,  Lyall & my old club mates at the Randwick Petersham Legends, DavidPaulBryceStevenJasonPaul, Singhy, John, Greg, Tim, Fali, Dino, Ian, Peter, Tiernan, Mick, Rollo, Selim, Emma, Rodney, Jess & the team from Wentwest, Groucho from CE Chapman Lawyers, Suzie @ Popink, Harry from Promotional IT Solutions, Birger & his team at James Harvest Sportswear, and Rosemary & the guys at Bottles of Australia for donating to my Hawkesbury paddle!

My target time? Anything with a 10 in front of it will do me!

Monday, 20 October 2014

111 Hawkesbury KM's for Davo.

This Saturday night I line up for my sixth Hawkesbury Classic, a 111km overnight race from Windsor, all the way along the Hawkesbury River to the Brooklyn Bridge (the video above records some of the action from last year's race).

I've been racing in this event since 2002, when I punted down the river in a wide, slow old plastic kayak in the excruciating time of 17 hours, 34 minutes. I've said it before, but that first Hawkesbury remains one of the hardest things I've ever done.
The start of the 2012 Hawkesbury Classic.
The past two years I've set myself the target of beating 11 hours, paddling our fastest true ocean-going sea kayak, the Tiderace Pace 18. In 2012 I did 11.05 and last year 11.08, so both times I've been forced to race the whole bloody way with my eye on the GPS knowing I was ever so slightly behind my target. Not an easy way to spend 11 hours I can promise!

This year I've switched boats to an ocean ski. It's a new challenge as I'll be more exposed to the conditions on the night, paddling a craft with no deck, but one that should see me down the course underneath the 11 hours I've set my sights on for the past two years.

It's run for the benefit of a charity, the Arrow Bone Marrow Foundation, just as most of the big events thesedays are linked in with a cause of some sort. Whilst I'm always respectful of this essential fund raising source, it does get a bit bewildering after a few different races to even remember which one is for what, so I mostly resist the call to send out fund raising notifications on social media etc.
The life & times of Barry Davison.
Last year however, when I sent the link for my Hawkesbury Classic fund raising page, I was surprised by the speed and amount that was donated by my old cricket coach at Randwick, Barry Davison. Baz was a fantastic coach who came to Randwick when we could at best be described as under-achievers, and in three seasons  took us to numerous premierships, two Sydney Club Championships and had a hand in turning several good first graders into Sheffield Shield players. At his first training session on taking over, he started by saying 'You Randwick blokes have a reputation for being pissheads & womanisers, and that's all going to change'! He then asked us to split into two groups for some fitness drills, whereby one of the club characters said loudly, 'Pissheads to the left, womanisers to the right'! Guess which group was the biggest?

He posted a lovely note with his donation, pointing out that his quality of life and roller coaster ride of dire predictions followed by strong recovery was facilitated directly by the hard work & research of the good people at the Arrow Foundation. Sadly Barry's rare bone marrow cancer took him from his loved ones earlier this year. Happily, before he passed away we all had a chance to send him off at a brilliant tribute night where he received a lifetime coaching award from Cricket NSW, and made a lovely speech to the gathering which rounded out his community involvement in the game he loved with great dignity.

Listening to Barry's catalogue of treatment for his disease, the costs of the drugs, the time spent hooked up to various machines administering measured doses of what at times were seriously experimental treatments that the Arrow Foundation had a direct hand in creating. He was in awe of the dedication of their doctors & scientists, and was pretty stoked that my pain in the Classic was going to be for the gain of others suffering with diseases like the one he endured.
Feeling the pain at the end of 100km
That may have also been the idea that he wasn't able to inflict much pain upon me as a cricket coach, me not being the most umm, dedicated of trainers, so he was quite pleased to hear that karma hat got me....
So, this year, after speaking to Barry's wife Sandy & his sons & teammates of mine, Greg & Rod, I'm going to make a hoo-ha about the fund raising aspect of my race, to honour & remember the very brave & generous man that was Barry Davison. I've targeted $2000 as a good result, but it would be great to exceed that amount. The race is this Saturday evening, and you can donate to the Arrow Foundation cause & sponsor my efforts by clicking the link HERE. Times are tough and I appreciate any support you can spare, and I in turn pledge to race my ski like it was stolen!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Sharon Betteridge on the Lendal Cadence Paddle: The Little ‘Big’ Paddle

Some thoughts from Sharon Betteridge on the brand new Lendal Cadence paddle.

"Expedition Kayaks recently took delivery of the new Lendal NA Cadence paddles, and this week I have had a chance to try it out. Our current stock is the full carbon model so this review is based on this ultra lightweight premium build.

Weight:
On picking up the Cadence, my first impression was how light weight it was; and when I popped it on the kitchen scales it weighed in at a mere 615grams! This puts it in the premium ultra light class.

Blade construction:
The Cadence is beautifully made. It certainly looks sleek, being a flawless full carbon layup – with a satin finish on the blades and a matt finish on the shaft. 
The spine of the paddle blade is a raised ridge on the back face rather than a foil section like the Storm and X-range but the ridge is large and nicely tapered right out to the tip of the paddle so that although this makes the paddle more economical it retains the nice buoyant feel of it’s two larger foil back predecessors.

Shaft construction:
Although the shaft feels a little more flexy than the other Lendal NA paddles it retains the ergonomic cross section unique to these paddles, with the indexing moulded into the shape of the shaft. It is not just ovalised it is actually shaped to sit easily into a lightly closed hand. It feels great in my hands with its ergonomic shaft, and the ridge sitting comfortably under my knuckles.


On the water:
At 600 square centimetres I expected the blade to be fairly easy on the catch, and, as it is smaller than my current blade, I feared it might be too small. But when I took the Cadence out for a test I was surprised at the power of the catch. It has a good initial grip on the water, and the shorter wider blade allows quite a powerful catch, but the overall smaller blade area with its modern torque shape pulls easily yet definitely through the water giving plenty of power for an efficient forward stroke and allowing a good cadence for paddling distance. There is no flutter as the blade travels through the water and the exit is clean and smooth.
The ergonomic shaft is comfortable to hold and allows me to maintain a light grip and, with the defined ridge, allows feedback with blade angle when blending strokes for maneuvering, and for bracing strokes and rolling.


In summary the Cadence is a beautifully made, lightweight, well-balanced paddle that I a really enjoy using. Try it, I am sure you will impressed!"











Sharon Betteridge, October 2014.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Introducing Dolls Point Paddlers


Dolls Point Paddlers hold their inaugural paddle next Thursday, an event that will become a weekly twilight time trial run along the foreshore of Botany Bay.

Borne out of the idea of establishing a weekly paddle which encourages surf ski & sea kayak paddlers out on moving water, in typical summer sea breeze conditions, to foster friendly competition, and help participants develop rough water skills that they may not have the opportunity to develop on their own or with their regular paddling mates. 

That's the on-water bit.....! Additional to this athletic & friendly competitive handicap race, I've always considered the post paddle meeting place, the fostering of a community, and the development of something that attracted members because it was fun, to be an even higher priority.

So, the DPP have affiliated to the 87 year old Georges River Sailing Club, with their spectacular premises on the sand at Sandringham beach, and their sunlit open air balcony for a post paddle gathering.

The idea is to provide an early evening race, something you can drop into on your way home, paddle your race, have a cold drink afterwards & slap a few backs, and still be home in time to preserve the peace.

The races are free each week to Paddle NSW members, who cover all on-water insurance & compliance. A one year membership to the Dolls Point Paddlers, including membership to the Georges River Sailing Club  is $140. Membership of the club includes $35 in redeemable vouchers, use of the facilities including hot showers, a car park virtually on the beach, an excellent bistro with a mean $12 steak, and view to die for. Compared to playing golf or joining a gym it's a pretty attractive package....


The season program, at this stage running for the entire daylight saving period, will include several trophy races, novelty events & a monthly presentation after the paddle by a local paddling identity. DPP offers a single trial race for paddlers keen to try out the experience, which costs $10 (to cover insurance only), and then to take part in future races participants will have to join. Races will be run within strict safety parameters, including a sweeper boat to ensure the safe return of all participants. There will separate divisions for sea kayaks & surf skis, but all boats must be suitable for sea paddling. The DPP isn't an initiative of Expedition Kayaks, just something I & a few local paddling mates have decided to start up over the summer & see how it goes.

For now we're limited to just 50 paddling members, so please feel free to get in touch or simply come along & give it a go. Last summer a group of stand up paddlers started a SUP Race from the GRSK on Tuesday nights, and it has quickly grown into a strong & vibrant club with a big membership.

As someone who always enjoyed the atmosphere of the post game 'dressing room', I'm personally looking forward to being part of a regular gathering of like minded souls, and doing the thing I love.

For now I'm the contact person, give me a shout at mark@talisman-marketing.com, or 0417 924 478. There is a FACEBOOK PAGE up & running & a website with full details coming soon. You can download the membership form HERE, but please note, you must be a member of Paddle NSW to participate in the races.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Sun's Out! What's Ahead for EK this Paddling Season

A short but wild Sydney winter has abated to the point that the fleece & Aquatherm can be kept in the fish bucket for all but the most crappy Spring days.

We use the quiet couple of paddling months each year to plan & allocate our time to a series of events & sponsored weekends & days among the kayaking community, and this year we have some hot irons in the fire.

First off, we are pleased to announce that we have full council & Waterways approval to conduct kayak & surf ski training on Botany Bay. These instruction sessions will include everything from calm-water boat control & stroke development, to forward stroke clinics, to intro surf ski, to lessons on rough water paddling in skis & kayaks, including the wonderful downwind training ground Botany Bay offers on a summer afternoon. Keep an eye on our website for details, launching later in the month.

We're also moving premises in early November, to a new warehouse in Sylvania that will give us an enhanced retail space for customers who prefer to come & have a chat rather than order online. It means the 'secret handshake' appointments at our current Marrickville warehouse will be consigned to history, and we'll finally have a physical appearance to match our leading online presence.

We have some great community events planned, including the excellent 'All at Sea' weekend with the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club (now in it's third year), our continued sponsorship support of the Hawkesbury Classic, and a number of single day events with local clubs & pods of paddlers, aimed at developing safety on the sea. I'm paddling the Classic again this year, and Rob has teamed up with Mark Hempel to have a crack in a double.


And perhaps most exciting, we've been busy helping with the formation of a new local paddling club, the Dolls Point Paddlers. The formation of this club has been driven by a desire for a local paddling hub, affiliated to a licenced community club, which facilitates a weekly social time trial in the early evening, moderate water of Botany Bay, with a place to gather post-paddle for a cold beer & a chat with like-minded people. 

Essentially it's going to be an 'on-the-way-home-from-work' once a week summer paddle which allows paddlers less confident on their skis or sea kayaks a chance to get out in a summer Nor' Easter & pushing their boundaries within the safety net of an organised event. Details of this venture are all but finalised, so again, keep an eye out for membership details. And yes, this will be a club that welcomes sea kayaks, with the near certainty each evening of some moving water to paddle.
It's great to see the sun shining & the afternoon sea breezes beginning to build, roll on summer....!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Knysna Jester Surf Ski - Entry Level Fun for Kids & Lighter Paddlers

My eldest daughter Kiri, perhaps due to 10 years of childhood exposure to endless Vimeo movies of paddling misadventures, is naturally drawn to any paddle craft I happen to pull off the roof.
She'll jump on a paddle board, hop into a kayak or ski and paddle it around at Swallow Rock, Dolls Point or anywhere else we happen to be having a demo or instruction day.

The problem is that none of them are actually designed for her small frame, and there isn't really any way she can get a genuine paddling experience beyond the simple joy of floating around.
Miss Kiri in her ski
A few months back I surprised her by buying a Knysna surf ski, a smaller design called the Guppie which is designed for lighter paddlers. It's entry-level stable, well made, and crucially, has cockpit ergonomics which allow paddler heights ranging from her diminutive 1.3m, up to 1.8m. We've enjoyed several winter adventures together paddling on the Georges & Hacking Rivers, always with an ice cream stop thrown into the mix, and being the adventurous little girl she is, we're now eyeing off the Bundeena surf break for a Daddy/Daughter surf session, once the water warms to a temperature acceptable to a tough 10 year old.

Speaking to the local Knynsa Racing guys, they pointed out that the Guppie has been superceded by a newer, sleeker ski in the same genre called the Jester. I was impressed by the upgrade, and think it'sfantastic that there is now an entry level ski available for juniors, smaller men & women to learn the sport, that doesn't cost an arm & a leg.

I'm pleased to say EK are now selling the Jester, available in four colours, for $1750. If you want to get your kids into the sport, or have become frustrated by a lack of ski designs around that are stable enough for smaller-framed beginners, then this is one to consider.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

What is a Fast Tourer...?

In my exposure to paddlers from a wide variety of paddle backgrounds & disciplines around the country, at the various events & races we attend as competitors, instructors & sponsors, an increasingly common question is 'we see you have the Rockpool Taran, Epic 18X, Tiderace Pace boats, tell me about these fast tourers?'

I'm asked by surf ski dudes & dudettes who like the idea of using their good form & conditioning to actually go somewhere in their paddle craft, at the speed & style to which they are accustomed in their racing skis. I'm asked by old fellas with beards who are starting to feel the pinch & would like an advantage over their paddling buddies. I'm asked by new paddlers, who are time poor, who want a kayak as opposed to a ski, but want one that can be used for fitness as well as 'one day', that big expedition on their bucket list.

Trying to simplify my response has taken some thought, but here is my collection of the essential elements a good modern fast tourer has to have. 

First off, they have to have a terminal hull speed over 9.5kmh. That is, be able to sustain that kind of speed in calm conditions over an extended period, rather than just a short burst. That's not so much because you ever really push that hard or fast, more that if the hull does have those sorts of hydrostatics, it's probably going to be quite a bit more efficient than average at the 'touring' output levels most of us work at on the sea.


Second, they have to be stable. I'm a very poor judge of what others consider stable, but my test is to see just how much micro stuff I can get done on my own in rough water, without having to raft up with someone else. As a minimum, fetch a helmet from the day hatch, change over a water bladder below deck, sort out something which might be essential to my own safety, in bouncy water, without getting the wobbles.


And finally, they have to be able to go downwind. All the biggest days on the sea are done in following seas, and if the boat misbehaves, buries, squirrels around in fast downhill conditions, then your day becomes miserable. That might sound pretty simple, after all they've all got a rudder, but the subtleties in how they perform downwind is what separates the great from the ordinary, in my opinion. 


It goes without saying that as a tourer, they also need to able to carry gear with little or no influence on the performance of the hull.

Brit style manoeuvrability is a bonus, but not a necessary element, considering the job these boats are designed to do. That said, if you have a decent set of skills learnt in a gear-shift boat, application of the same set of core manoeuvring skills, in a well designed fast touring hull should get you the same boat control, just not as acutely. It's no coincidence that the pick of the crop have a rudder that can be fully retracted when manoeuvrability takes precedence over speed & efficiency. Think about when you need to manoeuvre in a hurry & you'll understand why this is such an important design feature.


The only skill you might have to hone is your ability to paddle aggressively downwind, if you really want to find out what a good modern fast tourer can do.

As to the designers, the very best fast touring boats come from a long heritage of rough water paddling experience. Think Aled Williams & the Pace series, John Willacy & Mike Webb & the revolutionary Taran, Greg Barton & Oscar Chalupsky & the 18X, and newer boats like Rob Feloy's Inuk. All of the fast tourers these guys have designed come from peerless experience in both paddling & boat making, and it shows when you get them on the water.

It's great to see so many of these boats coming onto the market in a rush. In my opinion it's already broadening our sport, making it more attractive to a younger demographic, and chipping away at the perception that sea kayaking is for grumpy old buggers with crook knees!

Monday, 15 September 2014

1000 Myalls Away......

"Estimated time of arrival 1.30 pm
Been up before the sun and now i'm tired before i even begin.
(now you're flying) i got so much work in front of me,
(really flying) it stretches out far as the eye can see."

Apologies to the Hoodoo Gurus.....


I was lulled back to the Myall Classic, a festival of paddling that encompasses a 12km, 27km or 47km race along the beautifully scenic Myall River a couple of hours north of Sydney, with the promise that 'this year the tides are going to be great'. Last year's Myall was hard, 30km of 47km by my count, into the teeth of the tide, but this year, well one nameless bloke - Steve Dawson - even said it was going to be like a magic carpet ride home from the 23.5km turn.
Race briefing
Sure enough, the tide tables looked very nice, a strong flood tide to take us down the river to the turn, then a building ebb that should have been honking by the time we careened across the finish line, crowds lining the banks cheering madly while we sprang forth from our boats, did a few push ups & then went for a warm-down jog & a stretch.
Tony lines up the early start line.
Let's just say that three weeks of torrential rain into a lake system several times the size of Sydney Harbour, with one skinny little brown river outta there, should forever-more be a consideration when there are softies like me entering these things, unused to the brutality of an opposing flow for hours on end, and not a frigging wave in sight. 
The 9am 47km race start
I'd describe the journey in detail but my counsellor has told me to give it some time before I peer back into that dark place.....

My own race was a great shake down for the Hawkesbury Classic, & I'm now nearly certain I'll do that race in my V10. Comfort, ergonomics, and my hydration & nutrition system were all put through the wringer & came up green. One thing about paddling 47km under race conditions, you find out every likely cause of pain & anguish, and can then spend the 6 weeks before the Hawkesbury tuning them out. 

I had one incident about 2km from the end when I noticed a K1 paddler having some stability issues on the final stretch adjacent to Swan Bay, where a brisk easterly was tossing up a short beam chop. I changed direction to tail the boat and was only a hundred metres behind when the inevitable capsize came. No worries I figured, if there's one thing I know how to do it's an assisted rescue, but the complexity of the situation dawned on me as I rafted up. With no grab lines on my ski or the K1, it was a battle to get the kayak over my lap to try & drain it, and even when I managed that I realised I was no chance of emptying the flooded shell, not to mention actually assisting the paddler back into the cockpit. I figured the only thing to do was to set up a rafted contact tow & let the wind take us to a set of mangroves some 200m to the west. Lionel turned up in a sea kayak shortly afterwards & we managed to wrangle the K to the beach, whereby we emptied it & the paddler carried on with a pretty fearless attitude to the finish. I now know why most K1 races happen within short swimming distances from a safe shore!
The Dawson's ride the magic carpet home.
The marathon crowd themselves, maybe because their chosen pastime is one which less tests, & more reveals character, seemed to revel in the conditions. I moaned loudly to anyone within earshot during the event and was told to shut up & paddle, more than once, and fair enough too! While other racing disciplines around the place wax & wane in their popularity, marathon is positively booming, and I reckon it's because of what happens off the water. Paddlers are mostly affiliated with a club, the clubs seem to be built on the social side of the sport, and everyone works hard 'on the field' and celebrates each other's accomplishments on the river banks. The whole thing has plenty of soul.
Anne finishes.
Bob Turner, Tony Hystek & the crew from Paddle NSW did a great job running the event so smoothly, managing nearly 300 paddlers & keeping pained smiles (or maybe they were grimaces) on most everyone's dial. It's an event we're pround to be associated with as a sponsor & one for your bucket list.
Finished, looking a hundred dollars.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

EK Store Additions - The Joey Chair & NRS Paddle Bag

We've added a couple of great new products to our online store, the Joey Camp Chair & the NRS Split Paddle Bag

Following on from the great success of the Alite Mayfly Chair, we've got a higher camp chair in the same frame style, the Joey Camp Chair. It's a lightweight, packable camp chair, featuring a lightweight aluminum frame, shock cord system thus avoiding lost parts, and a compact size and durability developed from 30 years of camp chair manufacturing. It's under 1kg, with a drawn aluminum tubing shock cord system. It's the highest and largest seat in its class. Price is $109 including freight nationally.
We've also added the NRS Split Paddle Bag. This offers total protection for your 2-piece paddle, protecting against scratches and cracks that occur during road trips and airline travel. Features a padded and fleece-lined interior for the ultimate cushioned protection from all the hard knocks of traveling, while carrying up to three paddles at once. The heavy duty Cordura outer shell resists snags, rips and slices, a mesh inner pocket and one clear outer pocket hold accessories like nose plugs, paddle wax, car keys, plane tickets, etc, and the center carry handle and shoulder sling make carrying easy. Price is $99 including freight nationally.

You can order both products through EK ONLINE STORE.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Rob, Matt & Gazza - Highs and Lows on the Capricorn Coast

Here's Rob's account of his recent trip around the Capricornia Coast with Matt & Gazza....

The Plan
The plan was to attend the Keppel Bay Kayak Symposium and then sneak an extra week out of our busy schedules to enjoy some paddling on the Capricorn coast. I would paddle with Gary and Matt with the stretch objective of reaching Mackay via some of the more remote Islands beyond Shoalwater Bay.

Meanwhile Sharon would explore the Keppels with Anne and Alan and maybe even get down to beautiful Hummocky Island in the south.


With such a tight time frame we had little slack for weather days and as the symposium drew to a close it became apparent that strong cross winds and heavy rain from an approaching complex weather system would likely require us to modify our plans as we paddled in opposite directions out of Keppel Bay.

Retirement Paddling
Matt, Gary and I launched from Yeppoon the next day into a strong and building SE wind. As we portaged over the foredune I saw the air was heavy with salt haze and I cheered at the densely packed whitecaps that filled the horizon. I have enjoyed many thousands of tropical sea miles surfing or sailing these short steep waves in my kayak and this was shaping up to be a lively start to our adventure. 

Matt had previously avoided paddling in the tropics on the basis that he would save the easy paddling for his retirement and as he punched out to set sail I couldn’t help but wonder if this was what he expected when I invited him along for a cruise.

Surf?
Paralleling the coast and heading north toward Corio Bay we became more exposed to the longer swells that sometimes sneak through the Great Barrier Reef. Locals explained to us at the Symposium that around a hundred miles east of Yeppoon there is a break in the reef between North Reef Lighthouse and a reef complex listed on the maritime charts as The Swains. With the right swell period and direction locals take their chances with crocs and sharks to surf the Corio Bar and The Big Dune Surf Reserve just beyond. Officially Agnes Waters well to the south of here is the end of any real surf on the North East Coast of Australia but the wave action on the outer bar at Corio Bay was way too fast and heavy to be local wind waves and we found ourselves beating out to sea to avoid some seriously high walls of water.

Beyond Corio Bay we were surprised to find ourselves being sidesurfed by a couple of big swells breaking heavily in the shallow water; camouflaged by the mess of whitecaps, these breakers seemed to be hiding in amongst the chop. According to my GPS we were sustaining speeds in the high teens for most of our second hour and hitting peaks in the high twenties (kmh)!

As five rocks emerged out of the afternoon glare we moved in closer to shore picking our way through the breaks and eventually surfing into the sheltered southern corner of the beach to investigate a leak in Gary’s boat. He had finished the day with his boat low in the water and his stern awash. In true Gary style he took this serious problem in his stride but we knew we would have to investigate this before heading out again.

The Worst Campsite Ever!
Camping at Five Rocks was a tricky business; the only spot sheltered from the driving wind was tucked under the dunes in the southern corner but on spring tides with a surf running this would be underwater. Fortunately we were a couple of days after springs and the water mark from the previous nights high gave us hope that we could camp on piles of pumice, driftwood and plastic flotsam without being swamped. The moon rose large over the tiny stand of twisted trees perched on five rocks bathing us in light.
There were a few anxious moments with the occasional bigger set sending waves within a metre of our tents but we all slept well as the water receded through to sunrise. Despite the shelter and the view both Gary and Matt rated this campsite amongst their worst ever!

By morning my tent fly was flogging in the wind so I knew our SE was now a fully-fledged Easterly and had ramped up another notch. The new day greeted me with a sand blasting as I exited my tent.  

With Gary’s boat to fix and spindrift dancing up the beach I moved my camp deeper into the driftwood and pumice pile and settled in for a leisurely breakfast.

The morning forecast was not too promising with a couple of days of heavy rain ahead and more strong easterlies (crosswinds) slowly moving to Northeast (headwinds).

By middle of the day Gary had isolated the leak to a wear point caused by a custom rudder he had retrofitted a couple of years previous. This was hard to find but easily fixed with epoxy putty and sail tape. The previous day he had taken about 30 litres on board through this fracture but with the repair set, Gary went for a surf and much to our relief the repair was watertight.

Walking, reading and staying out of the wind were order of the day with dinner under Gary’s tarp as the drizzle set in and the tide trapped us again on our little patch of higher ground against the dunes.

Matt even tried his hand at carving some pumice.

Although it seemed our weather window would not open in time for us to finish the trip I still wanted to push North so that at least we could find a better camp for the heavy rain ahead and see a little of the beautiful coastline within the boundaries of the Shoalwater Bay Military Zone.

Matt and Gary are two of the hardiest sea paddlers I know but neither were impressed with my idea to head out to Freshwater Bay, especially as it seemed likely that we would not make Mackay in the allocated time. When we finally hit the beach I had a few doubts myself as I rolled up after being surfed backwards during a badly timed breakout. The next 4 hours provided some of the most engaging, technical paddling I have done in North Queensland with real clapotis and a few overfalls around the Island off Cape Manifold.  I had timed our launch to hit the Cape at slack water but arrived a little early only to find a fast ebb current working against the swell and across the wind.

As we paddled through the gap between the rocky spire and the islet that guards the southern corner of Freshwater Bay I looked up to check if the Sea Eagle nest we had seen in 2007 was still there, sure enough the big birds hovered aloft guarding the nest as we ran a couple of not so small waves into the relative calm of the bay.

Tough Decisions
Setting up camp we disturbed a death adder. Drawn by its beautiful markings but repelled by its potentially deadly bite we were glad when it decided to hunt elsewhere. During the rest of the afternoon and evening the rain was relentless with the only other noise being the occasional screeching and snorting of a big “razorback” boar rooting around in the undergrowth.

As we looked out to sea from our forested refuge, Quoin Island and the hills behind Port Clinton disappeared in sheets of driving rain and the readings on Matts barometer continued to plummet. We retreated to our camp to listen to the forecast on Matts SSB radio and make some tough decisions.

It was day four. We were camping where I had hoped to be at the end of day one. Without even listening to the forecast, we could all see from conditions beyond the bay that we would not be able to head north until the next day so we would not reach Cape Townsend until day five or six. It is at times like this that valuable lessons in humility are learnt or re learnt; the bravado of the fast short adventure that has minimal impact on life back home was clearly not going to work this time. I must admit I even wished we were trapped out on one of the islands with no choice but to wait for the weather to clear. Beyond Cape Townsend the only viable option would have been to sit tight and then keep heading for Mackay, but here so close to Keppel Bay with so few days left, Matt and I really couldn’t justify pushing on.

As we paddled back around Cape Manifold I reflected on the trip so far. We had paddled 3 of our first 4 days in strong conditions and although we hadn’t gone far we had experienced so many challenges on the water. We had managed wind, waves and tidal flows on all quarters and could still crack a joke or two at the prospect of surfing through the fog for yet another night at “that campsite”

Positive Energy
After another rainy night the next day dawned clear and cool with an offshore crosswind for a change. As the sun rose and clouds lifted I felt a little melancholy for the trip that might have been, but the positive energy of Matt and Gary soon had us sharing stories over breakfast out on the beach.

From here the trip took a very different tack. Gary, who had plenty of time, headed back to Yeppoon to pick up the rest of his journey out of Mackay, paddling solo through the islands further north. Matt finally found his tropical paradise and camped on Conical Island enjoying the solitude and beauty of a starlit sky on his own whilst I had a rendezvous with the lovely Sharon and her group over on nearby North Keppel.

Matt joined us the next day for a circumnavigation and cave exploration to round out a very diverse week on his first tropical paddle.


On returning to Yeppoon I felt satisfied that we had done our best with the constraints of time and conditions, we discovered later that other groups had travelled all the way up to Keppel Bay and not even launched. I was grateful to have the team and the techniques to paddle despite the weather and still not exceed our limits.

Back home, looking at the charts as I pack my gear away my eye is drawn once again to the remote, seldom visited islands north of Cape Townsend: The Dukes, The Percys and The Guardfish Cluster. Next time I will go back armed with more days to spare and a fresh determination to reach them and experience their solitude.

For now I have pictures to remind me of the beautiful places we visited and good times we shared, especially some of the views when the sun finally shone on the “worst campsite ever”: