Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Tuesday Night Report

My Tuesday night crew looked unconvinced as I carefully lifted My shiny new Valley "Rapier" racing sea kayak from the roof of the car. At 6 metres long and 43.5cm wide it looks fast and 'tippy' even just sitting on the sand.

The Tuesday night paddle is a bit of a tradition and the diehards make a point of going out regardless of the weather 'just to get a taste of the conditions'.
Last night conditions were light with a 1.5 metre swell.
We like to cover a few miles and catch a wave or two at our favourite point break when there is no action along the cliffs and I think everyone was wondering how I was going to manage in such a long skinny boat even on a good night.

The Rapier is very efficient, it is so smooth through the water that you dont realise how fast you are going until you look around you. Fast paddlers in fast sea kayaks kept dropping behind and they were working hard while I just cruised along.
The big test occured when we left Sydney Harbour and headed North into the confused, rebounding waves between North Head and Bluefish point. Even in light conditions there is always some wave action here and I was thrilled with the seaworthiness of my new 43.5cm wide speedster. I could easily surf down the back of the southbound waves as we headed North.
I could also sit in the bumpiest section off Bluefish point and, with a light steadying brace, hold station while the rest of the group caught up.

With a high tide and a gentle swell "The Bower" was too slow for board riders so we had it to ourselves. Everyone in the group picked up some good rides and some of us had a little "rolling practice" ( I discovered the Rapier rolls well but doesnt like the steeper takeoffs).

At sunset we headed back to Sydney Harbour catching the swells with a big moon low on the horizon behind us and the city skyline slowly emerging from behind the South Head cliffs at our foredecks. I had to agree with Rod who announced to all present on landing: "it's all good"

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I long ago discovered that you paddle the sea conditions and not the sea forecast. Yesterday the bureau's promise of 10-15knot SSE winds always looked a little on the low side and as my group huddled in a picnic shelter planning their first ever open sea paddle they weighed the corners of our marine charts so they didnt blow away.

We launched from Frenchmans Bay with Long Bay as our objective.

By the time we reached our first checkpoint beyond Bare Island It was obvious that we were paddling into a building breeze and 'lively' conditions. The Bureau of Meterology observed wind speed for 9.00 am was: "SE14-18Knots" (recorded at Little Bay AWS).

Cape Banks is a classic 'hotspot' for wave action: the outgoing tidal current worked against the onshore wind to produce a fairly short steep sea and as we rounded the point a little rebounding swell added to the challenge.

We decided to move wider at this point to give ourselves more seaway and allow for the possibility of 'spontaneous rescue practice'.

The conditions were ideal and as the wind lifted ("ESE 16-22knots" at LB AWS) approaching Little Bay, the group's confidence also lifted to meet the challenge.
Tim earned two hearty cheers one for each roll after being hit by couple of bigger waves off Little Bay, Rob demonstrated a few very nice low braces in the rebound off Magic point and David and Rochelle drove their double hard over the steeper waves making it land with a resounding thud.

It was smiles all round when we landed for lunch at Malabar to a warm welcome from a group of experienced paddlers from the NSWSKC.

After lunch the morning breeze faded to a whisper and some fine mist settled on the entrance of Little Bay. We practised rescues, rolls and caught some of the remaining wind waves home.

Safety is always number one, but staged and careful exposure to some light to moderate wave action is essential.
Three of the four paddlers on this activity had been paddling for less than three months and all felt that the skills they had been learning on flatwater made more sense when they got to use them on the sea. Everyone felt had achieved something worthwhile and had a lot of fun doing it.

The only way you will learn to SeaKayak is to find a safe way out to the Sea.
If you stay on the bay it's just kayaking........

The Flying Fish Test

I am blessed to have one the worlds most beautiful workplaces. I instruct sea kayakers in Sydney Harbour. My students learn to roll, brace, carve turns and paddle in sheltered bays bounded by parkland and native bush and all of this set against the backdrop of Sydney's skyline.

Then we take these skills to the open water of coastal Sydney. Leaving the Harbour and the bold sandstone cliff lines of North and South Head, we find ourselves in a far wilder and less controlled environment.

Exotic visitors and charming locals accompany us on our lessons. Humpback whales come and go on their seasonal migration, casting a watchful eye over our deepwater rescues. At times Dolphins ride our bow waves and Penguins fish along the rocks making a little barking noise that helps us spot them as they "fly" under our boats.

One of my favourites are the less obvious but abundant flying fish which seem to be startled and take to the air as we surf across their path riding the afternoon Sea breeze .

These less celebrated 'locals' play a special part in my training programs. For the last few years they have been a regular feature of my open water paddling around Sydney, but not for everyone.

Paddlers new to the open sea environment are often so focused on the waves that they paddle in their own 'zone'. Engaging with the waves is all consuming and leaves little space in their line of sight for the transient skimming flight of these elegant creatures.

I have given up trying to point them out. On a moderate day the flying fish are more easily stirred into flight but seldom seen by the new paddler who is totally engrossed in staying upright and on course.

Having the composure and balance to scan the broader horizon is the first step towards
spotting the flying fish as they glide back to the surface.

I always smile when I hear the exclamations that usually accompany successful completion of "the flying fish test."