Kayaking the Southern Edge Part II

(Follows on from Part I)

The first paddle was a bit of a doddle (if you’ll excuse the tongue twister). It was a 50 minute trip to a camp on Bathurst Harbour.

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Mt Rugby across Forest Lagoon

 

Day 2, Friday 7th April: Bathurst Harbour to Bramble Cove

This day was also short. It started in smooth water with a spectacular backdrop.

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Looking across the Celery Top Islands towards the Arthur Ranges

The kayakers went through The Bathurst Narrows, then between Farrell Point and Joan Point where the Davey Track crossed the harbour.

Map Bathurst Harbour to Spain Bay smaller
Larger map here.

They landed in Parker Bay for an extended lunch and a visit to the grave of Critchley Parker.

Critchley Parker was a “skinny, intellectual man who was short on bushcraft but long on dreams” (Rex Gardner, The Mercury, 2016.)  In 1944 he walked the shores of Bathurst Harbour hoping to establish a new homeland for the persecuted Jews of Europe, but the Tasmanian weather worked against him. He succumbed to pleurisy and died of starvation. You can read about him in detail in the Mercury article.

Within ten minutes of leaving Parker Bay, the expedition met a 25 knot wind from the west, but they reached Bramble Cove without any difficulty.

All in all, so far, pretty straightforward.

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Even tranquil.

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Sunset Bramble Cove, Breaksea Islands on left

Day 3, Saturday 8th April: Bramble Cove to Spain Bay

This was another short paddle, under two hours, west and then south to Spain Bay, with sightings of six sea eagles and close inspection of a blowhole on the Breaksea Islands.

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On arrival at Spain Bay, Reg took the opportunity for more training in beach landings, with practice sessions on the small waves.

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From Spain Bay, looking north to Mt Stokes

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From Spain Bay, a short walk south to Stephen’s Bay gave the first sighting of the Southern Ocean.

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South West Cape in distance

It was pretty clear that the wind was high and further to the south than Reg had hoped.

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The next day was to be the 46km paddle around South West Cape, heading largely south or SSE, which meant his expedition would be paddling almost directly into the wind.

Map Spain Bay to Ketchem smaller
Larger map here.

Reg was receiving nightly weather forecasts by satellite phone from Jenny in Hobart and she told him that a front was coming through. Reg hoped that after the front the wind would swing to the south-west.

He decided to wait and to spend a second night at Spain Bay.

Day 4, Sunday 9th April: Spain Bay

The extra day allowed time for more walking, and further exploration of Stephen’s Bay with its 8-10,000 year old midden.

It also left plenty of time for briefings.

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A briefing at Bathurst Harbour

“Tim suggested the motto of the trip should be ‘Be Bothered’. This is as opposed to ‘can’t be bothered’. Everyone should always make the extra effort to make sure gear was properly stowed, life jackets were done up and the necessities were handy. We should work to make sure the fleet stayed together and monitor each other’s health and safety.” Comments by paddlers.

Day 5, Monday 10th April: Spain Bay to Ketchem Bay

With a huge day ahead, the team got up at 4.30 am to pack the boats. They were on the water some time around 6:30.

The first incident was completely unexpected. Before they had even left Spain Bay a freakishly large wave started to break. The last boat paddled furiously as the wave started to curl, cresting it with no time to spare, spearing upwards and crashing down into the trough behind. Miraculously, the paddlers kept the boat upright. (Unsurprisingly there is no photo of this event!)

“Reg told us later that for him this was one of the worst moments of the whole trip.”

Once the boats had cleared Spain Bay they went past Big Caroline Rock and around Going Hill.  Now, for the first time, they were exposed to ocean conditions.

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“It was more challenging than I expected. The size of the swell and the heavy boats. It was more physical. And not being able to get out for hours — that was hard.”

There were virtually no white caps — no more danger of capsizing. But there was a 3 metre swell. And that meant the paddlers were confronted with what was to become one of the worst problems of the voyage: sea sickness. Some were badly affected, to the point where it impaired their ability to paddle strongly.

“On one of the long legs, Dave’s Strava recorded a total of 800m climb, entirely due to the rise and fall of the swell.”

The group aimed for Wendar Island, passed on the shore side of it and pulled up behind Sugarloaf Rock for a break, accompanied by seals. It was now two hours into the trip and everyone had been hoping to sit together, to eat and have a pee.

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But stopping was going to make the sea-sickness worse.

“A few people weren’t that hungry.”

Some boats paddled on and the fleet was dispersed.

Everyone had been issued with large yellow painter’s buckets (except for one paddler who had been presented with a hospital-grade urinal by his thoughtful family). Weeing wasn’t simple. They had to take it in turns, one paddler balancing the boat while the other removed his spray skirt and outer gear, manipulated his way into the bucket, then overcame stage-fright. Some members had practised this manoeuvre at home on a river.

Once that was all done and a few simple snacks had been eaten, the rest stop was completed.

“It wasn’t all that restful.”

A short while later, the boats most affected by sea sickness were hooked up to be towed behind other boats. This involved messing around with bags and ropes and for a while it actually increased everyone’s seasickness, but once they got moving things improved again, at least for some.

Everyone dug deep and fixed their sights on South West Cape.

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“It looked like that for about 8 hours. It never seemed to get any closer.”

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“That’s Antarctica over there, on the right.”

Around 1 pm the paddlers were hoping for a break, or even a possible landing, at McKay’s Gulch. Reg and the guides went closer to look but the swell proved too big for landing. They had a 5 minute break, regrouped and went on.

“Everyone was pretty knackered, actually. We just ate something and kept going.”

Eventually, they rounded the Cape.

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By this time they had been in the boats for over 7 hours. Some were exhausted and didn’t care what happened. Others thought it was pretty good.

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Tip of South West Cape

“Once we turned the corner, we still had 18 kms to go, but we seemed to do it in no time.”

About an hour past the cape, they were surrounded by dolphins — possibly thirty of them.

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Lunch, for those who wanted it, was around 3pm.

“We had felt woozy all day and the thought of food was actually disgusting. Up until then we had been surviving on muesli bars. Or nothing.”

Landing at Ketchem Bay

In photos of the beach at Ketchem, the waves look small, but the landing here was rough, and a real challenge after the huge day, with paddlers sore in shoulders and wrists.

There was one other option. If the beach landing proved impossible, they could choose to land on Ketchem Island, on the lee side where the sea is calm.

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Ketchem Island, lee side, taken the next morning.

But there was no flowing water on the island and the site was not as good for camping, so they decided to attempt the beach landing.

Everyone put on crash helmets. They had to steer as best they could and try to avoid getting side on to the waves. As rehearsed, two of the guides took their boats in first and one hung back in the ocean. The guides on the beach could see the waves and used their paddles to signal instructions: paddle hard, stop, paddle backwards.

“You can’t surf these boats in. The hull of a sea kayak is not designed for it. They are not fast enough and they skew sideways and tip. The trick to landing in surf is to let a wave go through, paddling backwards to avoid catching it, then to come in behind it, before the next one gets you.”

Despite everyone’s best efforts, two boats capsized and all the gear they had strapped to the decks went into the water, to be retrieved by the guides.

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But everyone was unharmed. And they had arrived in another beautiful place.

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There were further briefings (or post-mortems?) about landings on beaches and then they made plans for the next day.

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Once the camp was set, things were pretty comfortable. Reg and the guides prepared good food.

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Guides cooking another evening, at Little Deadman’s Cove

 

“The meals were excellent. Curries of chicken and paneer, and spaghetti with antipasto. There were wheels of Brie to have with the wine. Every breakfast began with fresh fruit and yoghurt and after that there was muesli, porridge or pancakes.”

The team doctor set about dispensing Stematil and anti-inflammatories.

There was fresh water flowing across the beaches all along the coast. Even the weather was favourable.

“As in Camelot, on this trip it always rained after sundown.”

And if the Ketchem experience had increased Reg’s anxiety about landing the boats at South Cape Rivulet, he didn’t let on.

Go to Part III.

Thanks to these people for the images

Tom Keith, Martin Baker, Jim Sloan, Reg Grundy, Dave Cromarty, Tony Smith.

The Paddlers were:

Jeremy Baker, Martin Baker, Dave Cromarty, Neil Grant, Col Johnston, Jim Sloan, Tony Smith, Phil Steele, and Andrew van der Vliet.

Guides: Reg (Mark) Grundy, Tom Keith, Tim Warren of Roaring 40s Kayaking.

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