Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tuesday Night Light

A few shots from Tuesday night.
Great location, fine company and beautiful twilight.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lively Conditions Off Sydney Cliffs.

The two photos above are from the same general vicinity. I have included the first shot, taken on a gentler day, to give some sense of proportion for the second shot. As most paddlers know, it is difficult to convey a sense of scale when paddling in strong conditions and it never quite looks the same on a still image but I couldnt resist snapping a few shots last Friday when Chris James and I headed out for a short paddle off Sydney Heads and down to Diamond Bay.

With the ferry services cancelled due to the weather the only other watercraft was a huge tanker that bludgeoned its way through the waves and seemed to bounce around a lot more than our tiny craft as it headed for deeper water.

If you look carefully along the waterline in the left hand portion of the photo above you will see Chris's cap just above the wave.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Northern Epic - They made it.

At 6.30 last night Gary called from Gladstone - mission accomplished.
Before they even arrived back on the mainland the trio had traffic issues to negotiate, dealing with the big boats moving in and out of the Harbour. They used VHF radio to report their position to the Harbourmaster who plotted their course and relayed their position to shipping. Fortunately their communications were well received.
With the last big crossing behind them and their final destination in sight they left Facing Island after a quick break and headed into the Port in fading light for a very satisfying 65klm final day of paddling.
Last night they spoke of a day of contrasts: in the morning, surfing across coral bombies in water so clear that the well submerged reefs looked treacherously close to the surface and in the afternoon, dodging heavy shipping in a busy port.
The other notable comment from all the boys last night was how well they had been treated by the good people of Lady Elliot Island Resort and the Rangers, Marine Researchers and yachties they met along the way. I have the impression the kindness of these people will form one of the enduring memories of this big paddle.
So congratulations, to Gary, Eddie and Paul on your Unique unsupported sea kayak adventure out to the Capricorn Cays and back. I know there are many of us looking forward to hearing the whole story through your words and images sometime soon.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Northern Epic - Almost There....

One of the few mariners calculations that I remember is: "the square root of the height of an object in feet is the distance in nautical miles that it is first seen from the seat of a kayak". If the sea is flat you can add an extra three nautical miles (but this is hardly ever the case) so I just allow the extra as a margin for error.

So what has this to do with Gary, Eddie and Paul's big adventure? Well, by looking at high points on charts for the Capricorn Cays and the adjoining mainland it becomes obvious that on most days of this trip they have paddled on open ocean toward an empty horizon without the comforting visual reassurance of seeing land until their last few nautical miles.

Tomorrow however, they will be paddling to the mainland from Masthead Island. This tiny isle has only a few metres of elevation and is less than one nautical mile in length. Their destination for the day will be Facing Island off Gladstone. As they approach, the hinterland will appear as isolated high points like small islands and then slowly consolidate into the vast land mass of the East Coast.

When their boats grind up onto the sand of Facing Island and they look at the busy shipping lanes out of Gladstone Harbour what will they feel? My guess is a mixture of deep satisfaction at the adventure they have shared, relief that they have achieved their goals safely, and trepidation at how they will adjust to what we call the "real world". For a while traffic will sound louder, the air will smell heavier and everything will seem just a little too complicated. On the upside they will look forward to family and friends, and to sharing their adventure with us.

Tonight's update from Masthead Island included: another serious shark encounter for Paul; a chance meeting with a marine researcher who owns a vintage Nordkapp and lives on Heron Island; and a lunch break on Wistari Reef as the tide slowly reclaimed it for the sea. The guys were also pleased to add sea snakes to the lengthy list of wildlife that have been checking out their inaugural northern migration.

I can't wait to see the photos.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Northern Epic Continues...

When it became obvious to me that I wasn't going to make it to the starting line for this adventure I offered myself as weather monitor and land contact. It is not the same as being there, but I feel privileged to be offering forecasts and plotting their progress. This way I can share some of the adventure vicariously as the boys island hop through this remarkable chain of coral cays.

At Lady Elliot Island they were happy to stay put through a cycle of weather changes that included moderate to strong nor-easters and assorted offshore winds. With no need to force the pace to catch another weather window they used this time wisely, swimming with Manta Rays and reef fish in the pristine waters, refuelling and reflecting on the lessons learnt from their first big crossing.

When I spoke to Gary about the relatively ''short'' 40km hop to Lady Musgrave I could tell that he had really started to live and breath with the rhythm of the outer reef environment and was very tuned into weather shifts and how they would affect conditions.

On Sunday afternoon they easily made this crossing to Lady Musgrave and settled down to a couple of days of fishing, snorkelling and chilling out.

Last call was at lunchtime today from tiny Hoskyn Island where they had stopped for a break.

It is possible to visit this remote archipelago just by jumping on a charter boat for a day or to take your tent and camp for a while, or even to hit the resort with nothing but a few clothes and a credit card; but I reckon there is something special about arriving and leaving by kayak, in your own time, on your own terms, with a sense of freedom and adventure worthy of such a place.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Sea Kayakers around Sydney are getting tougher or the clothing is getting better. Just last week I had an 8.00am rolling lesson with air temp at 7deg C and water temp 19deg C; and the Tuesday night paddling contingent continue to stop for a few deep water rolls in the inky dark waters off the cliffs of Sydney and Botany Bay.
Warm water and cold air are a great combination for Autumn/Winter surf training; the cold air keeps the swimmers away and the warm water reduces that slap in the face feeling when punching out. The lack of competition for small surf gives sea kayakers a chance to stretch out a bit.
With a clear and wide line to the beach I snapped the self portrait above practising reverse endos at lunchtime at a surf training day.
Why is it whenever I pull this stunt everyone is looking the other way?

This shot of Neil was taken the same day using a one handed low brace with camera in the other hand.

A couple of resilient Kiwis in OZ just to test boats. "We never get weather like this back home."
In the last few months I have hosted visits from USA, Canada, New Zealand, Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania,Victoria and from regional New South Wales. Some have come along to try boats but most have been here for tuition or some guided paddling in warm open water. It is very rewarding to be part of the global paddling community, to share ideas and proudly show off
the waterways that make up my "office"

Sharon leads the way around Point Perpendicular, The Beecroft Peninsula. On my day off from kayaking commercially I often find myself drawn to this part of the coast and when I get there I cant resist going for a paddle.

Sharon's Saturday morning paddle, rain hail or shine. This paddle has become a regular fixture for Sydney kayakers. I think the success of this paddle lies in the simple formula of regular exercise, supportive environment, friendly crew and fresh coffee.

Seals are where you find them, and this one was happy to stay put regardless of interlopers in kayaks. The cool conditions have brought a number of these Southern visitors up to the city for winter.
Around Sydney the urban paddler can expect to see more dolphins, whales, seals, sharks, fish and seabirds than ever before, there is even a couple of turtles if you know where to look. To find a time of more abundance in the waters around Sydney would probably predate our use of sea kayaks in the area. Maybe the seasonal visitors of my childhood including, hairtail and slimy mackerel will return in due course.
I know we can never do enough as a community to protect our natural heritage but we need look no further than the way sea life has bounced back as evidence that recent initiatives to manage the city fishery and water quality are helping. Imagine if we all did a little more....
Photo by Eddie Safarik of me checking out a rock garden just north of Sydney Heads. I can't wait to see Eddies pics from the Bunker/Capricorn Expedition when they have successfully returned. (see last blog)
Rae about to be engulfed in the soup. Another fun day with a small group and gentle waves on the Central Coast.

Gina surfs across the edge of the rock platform at Malabar. Things to remember when kayak surfing at Malabar:

  • Wear a helmet.

  • Tuck if you capsize.

  • Don't broach right.

  • Don't drink the water.
Colour photo of a monochromatic day.

Paul demonstrates some of his Greenland skills. This is a growing niche with more and more paddlers enjoying the physical and technical challenges of traditional techniques. The low volume Greenland style boats are great for getting the feel for these skills.

The boat and the paddle: just add water - If rolling is on the agenda these are the right tools for the job.
No, this isn't world renowned kayak instructor Ginni Callahan directing traffic while Ian takes a nap.
This is part of a workshop on Greenland Rolling and Ginni is describing the relative angle of the boat to the water surface. Meanwhile, Ian is showing how it works when your back bends the right way. (don't try this at home)

Ginni shows how it is done. Her flexibility and finesse were inspiring. Although her visit coincided with the end of the really warm weather many of us have persevered through the cooler months so I am expecting there will be some noticeable improvements in the gentle art of Greenland rolling by the end of this summer.

Gina backs into a sea cave off the Toll Gate Islands. With the occasional bigger set coming through backing in was a good strategy. As with many rocky play spots, good control forwards, backwards and sideways make the whole activity safer and more fun.

Sometimes your forward stroke is your best defence. Gina running a tight gap off Gorilla Bay, South Coast, NSW.
This is Danny Blackwell heading out with the Tuesday night group for one last paddle before heading off to Africa to paddle across Lake Victoria with a couple of his mates. Since this photo was taken the trip has been successfully completed.
Well done Danny. A big adventure to raise money for a very worthwhile charity.

Part of Sharon's Saturday group off Bradley's Head. The historic lighthouse marks the big left turn that all shipping has to make after on its way to Sydney Heads from port facilities further up stream. Kayakers get one last look for heavy traffic before heading North towards the outer Harbour.

Days are finally getting longer again and the city skyline is often still illuminated by the afternoon sun as we leave for our evening paddle.

The winter southerlies have provided some great opportunities for getting out in the breeze, riding the waves and practising skills in open and moving water. As local paddlers get more skilled and keener to advance they are realising that Sea Kayaking can be year round sport and there is no need to lose all that hard earned paddle fitness and skills just waiting around for summer.