Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dolphins Dolphins Everywhere!

Every day this week, I have been joined by pods of large dolphins within minutes of launching. They rise without warning, parallel our course with playful precision, arc smoothly through the water surface and then disappear without a trace, but long after they leave us behind, the smiles and high spirits remain. Either I am very lucky or there are a lot of dolphins along the coast right now. Watsons Bay,  Sydney Cliffs and Cronulla Beach have all hosted these wonderful encounters.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Destination Unknown

Destination Unknown

The idea was not to get hung up about goals and just see where each day would find us, whether driving, walking or paddling. We figured if we set no rules about our destination we would have the right mindset to make every day a real part of the journey.

Four days later as we walked along the rippled grey sands of Zoë Bay watching a procession of clouds climb the jungle slopes of Mount Bowen we were content to be on the paddling stage of our 2012 winter escape.

In the sand we saw another set of footprints on an otherwise pristine beach and then a single wavy line traced in the sand on either side of the one word inscription: “journey”. There were peaks and troughs, hearts and crosses all tied into the trace; it wound around the carapace and skull of a turtle that had remained unmoved since the creature’s demise; and then the eloquent graphic wound off into the dense regrowth. By tomorrow morning the thin line in the sand would be washed away and we would be tracing our own meandering course to Sunset Beach via Nina Bay.

When we launched out of Lucinda our only plan was to paddle north visiting some favourite locations from previous trips and also to check out some places that we had sailed straight past on earlier longer and faster trips.

From our first camp at Hinchinbrook, we walked through the rainforest to Zoë Falls and watched the Jungle Perch hunting in the plunge pool;

 and some very big snails chomping away on the forest floor. 

At Sunset Beach, under the forest canopy, we splashed around in a fresh water pool along with hatchlings of at least a dozen different species of fish including Mangrove Jack and baby Barramundi. Above us, a massive tree orchid in full bloom.  

Our camp had a wicker chair amongst the flotsam and Sharon quickly took up residence and assumed a regal air.

Goold Island offered an easy portage on a rising tide and a forest campsite close to the water. After dark a shallow drafted power boat headed up into the shallows with a large spotlight. It was hard not to think about the fact that they were looking for crocs in the mangroves adjacent to our camp, but we didn't let the possibility of being eaten by a large lizard spoil a cool starlit night.

A number of times we have paddled straight past Coombe Island trying to make extra ground en route to Cooktown and it always looked so inviting. This time, without a destination to drive us, the short day from Goold was just fine and left the afternoon for swimming and exploring among the very photogenic granite boulders that face southwest and reflect the setting sun.

Paddling to Stephens Island the clouds massed over the hinterland and the breeze lifted in strength for the first time, giving us a good push as we negotiated the obstacle course of jagged rocks and coral at the seaward end of King Reef.

Long before we saw it we heard the low pitched, gut rattling call of a humpback whale seemingly singing to us for the last couple of miles as we paddled over foul ground; the huge creature just effortlessly gliding through the hazards that seemed so close beneath our hulls.

We didn't really discuss staying another night at Stephens Island, we were just busy beach-combing and enjoying the view as it appeared and disappeared through low cloud and then it was lunchtime, so there was no decision to make. Rainforest bird-calls provided our sound scape.

To the southwest Clump Point provides a launch site for charter boats and itinerant yachts so it was no surprise when day trippers and crew from “Big Mama” sailed out of the gathering mist to shelter in the lee of our retreat. After exchanging notes on sources of freshwater, recent whale sightings, sharks, crocs and the prevailing weather, we left our day trippers to their own explorations; there was plenty of paradise to go around.

Later in the afternoon as the charter weighed anchor the Skipper came ashore with fresh mackerel fillets, kebabs and a delicious selection of freshly cut salads for our dinner. We had eaten all our good food and were steeling ourselves for our first unadorned dehydrated meal when this feast arrived ready to go; a fitting last dinner on the islands and a truly generous gesture by the skipper.

As we pushed off Stephens Island into the sea fog with a steady breeze and metre of running sea, all I could see was Sharon’s boat and the waves rolling in and out of our narrow field of view. Our vivid sails were the only relief in a monochromatic seascape.

The next day as we stood in the rain at Flying Fish Point looking out into the same heavy grey overcast we started talking about Carnarvon Gorge and weighed up the benefits of another three days of paddling in the rain and fog, against a bushwalking detour to Carnarvon Gorge on our return leg……

Deep, cool, damp canyons : Carnarvon Gorge National Park

Camping under ancient Macrozamias : Carnarvon Gorge National Park

Taking a helicopter ride: Carnarvon Gorge National Park

"Three Sisters": Carnarvon Gorge

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Spice of Life - Autumn Winter 2012

Challenging and erratic weather enjoyed with paddling companions new and old; special overseas guests; a diverse training calendar; a weekend away and some interesting local wildlife.
These are just a few of the many reasons why paddling on the New South Wales coast is a year round endeavour.
 What the water loses in degrees it makes up for with variety. 
Matt and Chris about to climb a very steep hill ( wind SE 22-28 swell to 4m)

Matt and Chris about to hit the crest and lose the windbreak created in the trough.

Matt taking a picture of me......

 Josh enjoying the lively deep water that runs close to the cliffs at The Gap.  

Ken and the rest of the crew light up on the way out of Sydney Heads

Megan braves the elements for a cold and swelly Tuesday night. 

Rae and her trusty Nordkapp LV reflect the setting sun

Megan testing the Nordkapp LV around North Head

Chris enjoying the sunset during a lull

Wade watches on as South Head disappears in the mist, only Dunbar Head is visible

This is the third consecutive year that we have been privileged to have overseas instructors  visit Sydney and share their skills and knowledge. This year it was Turner Wilson and Cheri Perry; The dyanamic duo of  Greenland rolling.  As you can see from above image of Cheri presenting to a class at Watsons Bay, the emphasis is on graceful movement and effortless execution.

Cheri in Tuilik part way through demonstrating the entire Greenland competition list. Nothing is more persuasive to a  group of aspirants than a coach who can really show how its done. Cheri and Turner's ability to demonstrate all the moves with such elegant precision was a key part of their success.  

Land exercises and demonstrations allowed for a different perspective and lots of  opportunity for questions.

Teamwork also played a big part in keeping the pace of training brisk and engaging.

I personally learnt a lot about Greenland techniques and also developed a real liking for the storm roll with my euro blade     but the biggest personal benefit was being able to watch Cheri and Turner over an extended period and pick up some new presentation and coaching techniques that I can adapt to the more general sea kayaking skillset.  

After a record four attempts to align a suitable time with an acceptable weather window  Tony   (pictured above) and  Mark  guided  a group of New South Sea Kayak Club members on a two day return  trip from Sydney to Bundeena. I was attending in my role as assessor and despite the mischief that the group was able to create under my direction, both Tony and Mark were successful on two counts: They achieved their AC Guides Award and  also ensured we all had a safe, enjoyable couple of days on the water. 
Mark Sundin with a couple of ski enthusiasts trying out the Epic V10sport and V8 on Sydney Harbour .

Sharon enjoying the cool waters and scenery around Mystery Bay on the South Coast.

Monatgue Island, a tantalising view of this great one day paddling destination

Eastern Fiddler Ray. A resident of the shallow waters of Vaucluse Bay , totally unconcerned as I drift  overhead .

A very Cheeky penguin that I spotted chasing fish around my legs while I was  teaching rolling  a couple of weeks ago.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I sent out the call for starters for the evening paddle this week with the disclaimer "pond like conditions and a 1.5metre Easterly swell."
The wind was a gentle puff from the NE and after several days of zephyrs and calms there was little chance of a downwind blast.
On arriving at Sydney Heads there was no difference between observed and forecast conditions except that the swell was long and fast. As you can see in the photo above, the long wavelength is almost imperceptible in deep water away from the cliffs.
The one important number that the BOM forecast doesn't give you is wave period and these swells were often 10 -12 seconds; not big by SW Tassie standards but when these fat waves collide with the Sydney cliff line head-on then there is potential for a little bit of action.

Neil rounding North Head.

Chris approaching Bluefish Point and the rebound is a little more apparent.

Matt gets a shower.

As we rounded Bluefish point to the North. Matt announced that the "dragon was awake". We couldn't see the "dragon" but it's deep guttural roar and the mist and spray emanating from its den were pretty convincing evidence of a powerful beast in the low overhangs that smother the rising swell as it swings around the point causing these eruptions of spray and chaotic surface conditions.

Matt chasing his Dragon.

Mark enjoying a bit of a bounce.

I think this qualifies as "clapotis" i.e. industrial strength rebound.

It is truly bizarre to feel the force of all the water driving you away from the cliffs but this is what makes this spot relatively safe when the conditions are right. In the photo above Mark and I are pelted hard by the spray.

Above and below you can see Fernando surfing intersecting waves around the point

While the group waited their turn or just enjoyed bouncing around a little further out, there was still enough challenge to prompt a few unexpected rolls and plenty of support strokes and balancing practice.

In less than a nautical mile we arrived back at North Head just in time to witness a classic Sydney autumn sunset and put on our lights in the "pond like conditions"