Sunday 24 August 2014

A few new experiences during a down wind run

I went paddling the other day. A big low system hovering around our local area meant tough conditions. It was very windy, the forecast had me expecting 25-35kn. The swell was big too, the forecast said 3m. All from the south. After I come back from the water the observations were: wind 15-20kn gusting to 30kn and the swell was on 4-5 meters with peaks of 8m.
Not the actual day but a good image anyway :-)
I have been in similar conditions before but on those ocations I was with paddlers that were as bad as I was, usually not as bad as me :-). This time I felt I was the most experienced on the small group, maybe I wasn't but I felt that way. While paddling, more than once I caught myself thinking 'I don't really want any windier or bigger than this'. I wasn't doubting myself but I felt I was 'responsible' for the others more than in other occasions and if something went wrong I was with more 'tools' to save the day than most.
'Similar conditions' is not as 'same conditions' and there were three things that I have not experienced before:
 -  When paddling out from the harbour where we launched from, we had the wind from the side. At one moment my boat was moved laterally so suddenly that my body remained where it was while the kayak 'landed' a good way at the side. That meant that my balance was totally out of line and if I hadn't braced I would have been upside down.
 - There were many white cups out there. In previous occasions the white water of the wind spilled waves had reached my cockpit or my belly. More than once during this paddle I found myself overrun by a swell where the white water was up to my chest, having to brace like in the surf zone while the wash passed me.
 - There was a capsize and it is the first time I had to perform an assisted rescue in these kind of conditions.

I have seen a video from a champion surf ski paddler not long ago. In the video, he was holding a head cam and was talking and showing how he was linking the waves, catching one after another. While I was paddling I was imagining I was that guy and was catching one wave after another after another until... I had to stop either because I was running our of breath or the others were falling too far behind.
It was hard work, first I had to ride a 'small' wind wave, then another of those and probably another one until I had enough speed to fall down the face of one of the big swells. When you start going down hill you feel the acceleration, the exhilaration and then you either sink your bow in the through in front or turn to keep your speed and jump on the next wave you see around.
It was a fantastic paddle, although a bit slow. It took us 3 hours to cover the 20km when I had expected to finish in 2hours, that late arrival worried our land contact but a phone call from the water just on time. It saved the tax payers some money on mobilizing the marine rescue.
We also experienced some problems of communication. Talking on VHF with the wind noise is not that effective. That resulted in a group spread too big for my peace of mind but I enjoyed the paddle a lot.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Sunset paddle

With the winter come short days and with each short day come a sunset on the water...


Thursday 29 May 2014

NSWSC Sea Leaders weekend

This year, within my rol of training coordinator for the club, I organized a weekend for the club leaders to hone our skills. Some of the responsability for the logistics was shared with Rae and Cambell who helped me to finish the details of booking a place to stay for the whole group and the meal for Saturday night. Thank you for that because with all the problems I had at work lately I was biting too much to chew.
It happened at Seal Rocks, around 4 hours driving from home. I took a ride with Matt and on Friday after midday, before the proper event started, we were on the water for a short paddle.
We met Josh on the water who also had arrived earlier and we all stayed paddling until the sun was beginning to set.

On Friday night most of the club leaders were there and on Sunday morning arrived a couple more.
I suggested as the theme for the weekend 'group management and crisis control'. We started with some revision of techniques and practised some rescues close to the rocks.

Then we let loose our mischief to make the life of Tony more interesting. He had 'volunteered' as the leader for a group of leaders who suddenly were newbies again. Lots of fun and I think we all learned or refreshed knowledge.

We then went back to the cars but I took a detour through some rock gardens and some surf


At night we had a communal meal cooked on a BBQ and salads. For desert we had some watermelon with a theory 'lecture' on caves and waves presented by Josh.
Sadly, on Sunday Matt had to go back early to work and I could not find a hike back on another car for my kayak so I returned with him and I missed the training of the day. I was told that they had some more fun along with new lessons for everyone involved. Well done to all who attended as it was a nice and informative weekend.

Monday 19 May 2014

Low swell, big rocks

Another glorious weekend playing very close to rocks. Low swell and no wind meant the sea looked like a lake. That is perfect to play on the spots where you cannot normally go.

It was me and Rhys (most of the photos were taken by him) and he had a good go at the overfalls and mazes of rocks. It is amazing how far he has improved. A year ago he was going through the surf for the first time and now this...
 And I was trying to see how much weight the kayak can support:

Saturday 10 May 2014

They are coming again!!

I was a bit sick last weekend so I didn't paddle to recover and be able to work during the week. The week at work was the worst I ever had. This morning I woke up and I was still not feeling well. One ear blocked and my throat complaining... but I needed to relax and drain the bad week I had. I took the kayak and my idea was to go and drift... In the end I paddled. I worked against the wind first and when I turned I discovered I was being followed.
When I saw them they started to jump, probably to dissimulate they had been following me but I knew better :-)
It is early in the season and the water is still warm but here they are. I saw 2 travelling together on their North migration. Hopefully I will see more this winter.

I got a very short video, a bit shaky because I didn't have the camera holder and the quality is not good neither, not sure why it recorded so crappy...

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Surfing on the bar

Southerly swell at 3 metres and 9 or 10 seconds period. Low tide at 11.30 but the water keeps going out for another hour. I identified it as the perfect time to go to this bar inside a bay that points south.
The day looked horrible. Driving there in the morning with rain that required the wipers at full speed. However the rain had stopped by the time we were getting into our gear and at 11 AM with the sun forgotten above the cloudy sky we launched.

We surfed almost non stop until the tide brought so much water that the waves were not braking anymore. That was around 1 PM. We then moved to the beach and we kept our festivity of surfing. Around 2.30PM someone closed the tap and in a matter of 5 minutes all the waves disapeared. We were tired already so we packed up.

A couple of endos, a few good wipe outs and plenty of beautiful rides.

Thanks Rhys for coming and for taking the photos. I was so much enjoying myslef that I didn't shot the camera even once.

Friday 4 April 2014

Inspired to play

There are videos of many kinds. Many are boring or just to spend some time while you wait for another thing. Others I enjoy watching but soon after they finished I am the same as before. Rarely there is a video that inspires and motivates me.
Below is one of the best action videos I have seen for a while, and it inspired me to paddle harder and practice more.

Now that I got a gopro and inspired by the video above I put the camera behind me, not so high though.
I went to play in the surf and some rock gardens. The sea state was not big, swell of 1-1.5 m with our normal period of around 8-9 seconds. Some chop from a little wind on top. I was happy with my performance and with the play I had.

After it broke it reformed and when it broke again it took me for a bonus broached ride. A nice shot but someone reminded me it is not the best technique.
When I got home I checked the footage. I was very disappointed with myself and very impressed with Mr Sean Morley. The things he was playing with must have been HUGE!! While I was surfing, the faces were probably close to 2 meters, not so much when I was playing among the rocks but in my footage they all look minuscule!! Specially compared to Sean's video... Again, my helmet off to this guy.
Then I ran out of space in my hard drive and moving stuff around to try to extract a few more kb from the machine I lost the recorded stuff from that day. I went the next day and bought an external HD so I have space for awhile now, but the lost records are gone.
Anyway, during RnR I had my revenge, not with the machine but with the video. The waves still don't look as spectacular as in the video above and I didn't really surf anything but I enjoyed it and had the biggest run over rocks I have done so far.

I got a lot of raw material from that day because I could not turn on and of the camra on the back of the boat. That, plus the pressure from having done a good video for the Pogies Festival, was too much. I tried but I think my prevoius one from the Tollgates was better.
You have to decide. Enjoy it and leave me some comments with what you think.

Monday 24 March 2014

Fishing in the blue cave

I lead this trip the last day of RnR. I was leading Selim and Vincent. We went into many crevasses, over some rocks and some caves... One of the caves was reckoning moment for Selim.
We got to the 'blue cave' and there was a big group out of the entrance. Only their guides were entering the cave, I am not sure why. I asked my 2 guys to wait well out of the rocky coast while I went in to check how 'easy' or not was inside. When I came out Vincent decided to pass this one and Selim went in with one of the guides from the other group. When the other guide came out, Selim was still inside. I positioned myself close to the entrance to try to record him coming out and to monitor his state when a bigger set rolled in.
I screamed 'Wave' and then I just saw the wave smashing the entrance to the cave. When I finally could spy over the white water and spray, I could only see a boat... but no paddler on or around it. I put my camera away in my pocket without turning it off and went in to fish Selim. It was all saved for posterity. The Nikon in my pocket saved the audio while the gopro on the back of the kayak saved the image of what was Selim grand moment. Enjoy it, or suffer it :-)
My wife thinks I exaggerated a bit with the music. What do you think?

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Tollgates Islands and Rock and Roll

There is these beautiful islands. You are not supposed to land there. There is no fishermen hut or any sign of human contamination. They are close to shore, less than 5 km, and very exposed to the swell. There are plenty of rock formations around and inside the islands that make the place a treasure for paddlers and paradise for those like me that like to play among rocks.

Wade about to run dry.
Last October I went there with Matt. We had envisioned to do a week long paddle on the area. However when the date arrived he was busy with work and me in bad terms with my boss so the week long was reduced to 4 days... But what 4 days!!!  
Lots of fun around.
We were invited to stay with Neil 'honey' at his home in Long Beach. He is a nice guy but 'honey' is not from that. He has some bee hives and produces yummy honey, if you are in the area make sure you get some :-)  
Mr Honey in his boat
Anyway, we slept at his place and went paddling the 4 days around the area. A good deal of that time around and inside the Tollgate Islands. We also managed to do some downwind paddle and one of the days there was a club paddle to the Tollgates which we also joined. The last night we declined the luxury accommodations offered by Neil we decided to camp in the national park, we are hard men of the wild after all :-) or that is what our wives think. We should have stayed with Neil because between both of us we came back with 5 ticks stuck inside our bodies.
Paddling inside the islands

And around the islands

Sometimes I run aground.
In the club paddle a guy came and almost drawn while practicing roll, right Joel?
Some of the locals came to check the visitors
We had lots of fun. We were recording all our movements in video while pocking into and sometimes against some of the rocks, I compiled it and didn't publish it until a week ago. I saved for the RnR film festival which was to be held in that same area.
I am happy to report I won the film competition although I think Marks film about his passion for budgie smugglers should have taken 1st place. He came 2nd though. Thanks Matt for being the cameraman for the video and lending me some of the photos above.

The Rock and Roll weekend, or RnR, is the premier event for sea kayaking in New South Wales. Paddling, honing skills, socialising, presentations and lots of fun. During RnR there were plenty of kayaks going to the Tollgate islands. Some like Josh posted his videos. After watching some of them I think I won not due to my editing skills but because of the islands. It is a magical place.

This year I volunteered as training coordinator for the club. Because of that during the RnR I was a bit busier than other years when off the water coordinating on water training. That made the weekend go away too quickly :-). I am also trying to become a sea kayak instructor so I helped running a couple of instruction sessions during the weekend.
One was helping Nick with a session called 'pushing it in the surf'. We had to drive a bit of distance to find some surf. However, despite calm forecast, we managed to have a good session in 'smallish' waves. The smaller size of the waves allowed the participant to focus more on the technique rather than the anxiety that is normal when you are about to be run by a wave. However the smaller size didn't give the participants the opportunity to overcome that anxiety that inhibits you sometimes when confronted with bigger surf. No matter how small the surf was, we all enjoyed the 'play' time and there were plenty of rolls, even a few swims. It is not that easy to stay upright when trying to surf backwards.
The next day I run a training session helped by Eddie. We focused on advanced rescues. It was lots of fun as we simulated situations for rescues close and sometimes among rocks. In one of those I was being rescued and it was going too smoothly. I decided to add some spice so I started screaming like I was being eaten by a shark. The guys were not sure what to do. I kept screaming until I told them my shoulder hurt. They eventually put me back in my boat. Later, during the debrief, someone said he was very anxious on that particular rescue due to my screaming and not being completely sure if it was for real or not.
The last day I run a trip to the islands. I stipulated you could only come with me if you were ready to scratch your boat. Only 2 participants came but that was good. We could become very intimate with the island and not many scratches were found on the plastic hulls.

Selim testing how hard the rocks can be
Vincent is decapitated by the water hole
Video of that day is being cooked. I hope I can maintain the standard of the previous one :-). Below is sequence of stills from the recorded clips of the day.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

SW Tassie Epilogue and video

I didn't mean it but it was perceived darker than I intended and worst than I felt it. I am talking about my recount of my adventure on the South west of Tasmania.
After I wrote the blog many people told me how dark it seemed and how bad was my experience. I reread the text a few times and I still don't find it so bad. However communications is as much about the received message as the sent one. It was a hard trip and after many hours of paddling my feeling was more of relief of having finished for the day than of fulfilment for having completed the leg. However it was a rewarding experience and I am richer for it. I will try to lift a bit that obscure aura from my previous writing.

The area we went to is beautiful, Matt said many times he felt paddling inside a picture and it really was like that. Amazing coastline, many albatross flying by, islands and beaches that looked like nobody before you had ever stepped on.

Were we the first on this beach? Photo Adrian C
Rocks big as islands and flying fauna everywhere. Photo Adrian C
Almost every day I saw features that I felt to stop and play around. With Wade we dreamt of coming back on a mother ship. We would seal launch from it and go playing with the countless rocks, some big as islands. Paddling empty kayaks we could surf the surges around them. When we felt satisfied or the weather turned bad we would go back to the big ship and sail to harbour... That is what you think with so many hours of catch after exit after catch of the blade into the water.
We fulfilled some of those dreams. Wade came back on a sail ship. I went through some of those cracks and features.

There is light at the end and I don't think it is a train
We visited a seal colony and one jealous mother decided to visit me.
The wild life acting wild
Then there was the camping life. Talking about nothing or sometimes in silence. Sharing the camaraderie of like minded persons immersed in an activity we all enjoy.
We, almost all, laughed at the race someone in the group did as soon as he landed. Every time he would try to sprint the last few meters and get to dry land first. Unpack a couple of dry bags from the boat and claim the best spot to pitch his tent.
At cooking time we all had to stop talking when one of us was using his very antisocial cooking stove. It was like having a jet warming the engines in the campsite. We all, him included, laughed  when we had to halt our conversation every time he warmed some water.
Almost everyone had a nice compact chair to sit on. Stuart didn't have a chair but he had a piece of mattress. I was the only one with nothing at all to land my butts on. So whenever someone stood up I rushed to rest in his chair. All laughed at me hoping from spot to spot trying to rest my back.

It was a good trip, not the kind of trip I enjoy the most but something I am glad I did. In 2011 I spend a week of unsupported paddling and camping in the Keppel Islands. When I came back I told my wife I would not do something like that again. Almost 3 years later I put my name for this 'expedition'. When I came back I told my wife I will not do something like that again... Maybe in 3 years, who knows?

Enjoy the short video from images of the trip:

Saturday 22 February 2014

SW Tassie

My surroundings are shaking. I hear a voice commanding me to wake up. I open my eyes and darkness surrounds me.  I manage to take a look at the watch, it shows 4AM and I realise I am in a tent. Am I back in the army? A few seconds later I come around. The sergeant ordering me to wake up and shaking the tent is Stuart, the trip leader. I remember I went to sleep around 6 pm last afternoon. I had been paddling from 7.30AM to 4.30 PM the day before and I fell asleep before the forecast on the short wave radio at 7.30 pm was transmitted. Still half asleep I deduce that the forecast brought bad news and we need to move soon.
While we sleep in the tent the kayaks waited under the moon
Packing stuff and tent is done quickly after over a week of repeating the process and by 5 AM we are dressed with paddling gear, wet from the day before. We are ready to move the kayaks under the light of the moon. Today’s briefing is about “going one behind the other like ducklings following mama duck”, so if we capsize while sailing 25knots winds from Antarctica the one behind might be able to help us. We launch through the very low surf, still not stirred by the strong winds that were to come later during the day.

The light before the light. Ready to paddle in the dark.
The last forecast I had heard was for bad winds today and even worst tomorrow. We’d hurried the way back skipping a planned detour to Maatsuyker Island (the second time we plan but can't go to the mythical island) and a couple of overnight spots. That meant that yesterday’s paddle had been stretched to cover a bit over 60km, and that was after the 40 km of the day before. It was that or risk being stranded for days in a beach until the weather improved. At least a good part of yesterday's 8 hours of paddling had been sailing with moderate winds and some small wind waves to catch.
The long day with help of moderate winds.
Today is the last day of the expedition. Expedition sounds too grandiose? Well, it was for me. Hopefully this last day will become an exciting paddle with the promise of strong tail winds. By 5.30 AM I am completly wet after not being able to see in the dim predawn light a small wave that broke in front of me. It run over my deck to wash my face with cold salt water. Just what the doctor recommended to be fully awake. We paddled and paddled that day. All the time the sails deployed while we expected to fill them with the wind that never came. By 9.30 AM we were back where we had started a week and a half ago.

The survivors left to right: Fer, Adrian, Stuart, John, Campbell and Matt
For me it was an endurance trip. No, I don't mean endurance in the sense of a long resistance aerobic paddle, which it also was, but that I endured it instead of enjoying it. The first day we had head winds and half way through my wrist was sore. I was slowed down by that and demoralised by the fact that I would not be 100% the rest of the trip. It didn't help that the paddlers at the front disappeared over the horizon. John, Michel and me followed the direction were they'd disappeared until we realised we were paddling past the landing beach. We turned, put the sail up and the wind that had hinthered our advanced took us back to where we were supposed to be. The extra few kilometers paddled, being left behind out of sight from the rest plus arriving at the beach and see that it appeared that nobody cared and almost everyone was already in they dry clothes preparing their food and didn't offer a hand with the boats didn't help my morale.

John and Michael about to finish the first day.
The following days were not better for me. We had a good window of weather (side winds or soft head winds) and Stuart wanted to take advantage of it. We kept pushing west. I needed a rest day to recover my arm that ached more each day and to recover my strength. There was none of that. We kept relentesly pushing west, farther away from our cars. The third morning was my lowest point. I had not slept well. When we woke up I was a mess. I was tired, clumsy and disorganised. I spilled water on me a few times while filling my water bottles and had to repack the boat a few times because I had forgotten something out or I could not fit my bags in the hatches. Everyone was ready on the beach except me. I was still struggling to fit my stuff in the boat and my mood was sinking fast. Stuart confirmed the objective for the day. It was Maatsuyker Is. which involved an open crossing, the weather was supposed to be low winds and possible thunder storms. The possibility of thunderstorms was the tip that filled my glass and I voiced my decision of not going. My mental state, my clumsiness during the preparation plus my last experience with thunderstorms was too much to bear by my self. I told the leader I was not going on an open crossing on my physical/mental state and with thunder storms. They could go and I would camp there for a week until they were back was my offer. Stuart didn't accept that and changed the plan to go by the coast to the next camp site, leaving the island for the return leg. He added the condition that we would look shelter at the first sign of lighting. I wasn't happy but agreed to keep going. After another couple of attempts to put everything in my kayak we started the day. The place where this episode happened is called Deadman Cove, very descriptive of my state.

Everyone ready but me, lost in my own dark mood.
Another couple of days paddling 30-40 km and we finally reached the main objective of the trip, Port Davey. I finally could take a couple of days off and stayed at Spain Bay, the first camp inside the huge harbour. I stayed with Wade who was also suffering from an injury in his wrist. We did a nice bush walk over the hills to one of the open ocean beaches nearby where we climbed some big dunes and discovered several piles of shells, signs of aboriginal mounds. I also did a small paddle to check out how flat the water inside Bathurst Channel was and rested and ate a lot. After 3 days of that easy life the rest of the group came back. While I rested they went on paddling the flat waters of Bathurst Channel towards Melaleuca Inlet and Bathurst Harbour.
Wade and Campbell cruise along some peculiar rock formations

Adrian and some of the cliffs
A pitstop half way on a day. Look the breaks out of our little refuge.

Matt and John's head passing by South West Cape

Stuart going among... the 'small islands' or 'big rocks'?
Several heaps of shells left from many meals taken on the beach
Shells everywhere and the sea as a background, those were good meals
A rest at the end of the walk
The return was a dash to be back before the bad weather system arrived. I was feeling better after the rest days and with the knowledge that we were closer to the finish line with each stroke.

A panorama of Ketchem campsite in the afternoon after we arrived.
Ketchem Beach during the morning, just before starting the 60km day.
I must admit the area is beautiful, with very scenic and spectacular views. Islands like cones, cliffs that sink into deep water, channels to run between small islets, seals, etc. There were good moments of fun and camaraderie too. But all that was second or third concern during a trip that was all about getting there and back with very few possible landing points on the way and the threat of bad weather looming all the time. I got back with food treats that couldn't be consumed for lack of relaxed time. I learnt a few things and set 2 personal records I am in no hurry to break: my longest paddle in a day with 60.7km in almost 9 hours and the earliest paddling being on the water by 5.30 AM.

It is definitely not my style of paddling but it is something that I had to try at least once. I am happy I participated in this but I am not eager to embark on another expeditions of this kind. I thank Stuart very much for the opportunity and his effort in leading us in this adventure.

Some of the numbers from the expedition:
Carried 20kg of food plus water plus gear.
I paddled 8 days and rested 2.
I covered approx 260 km in about 43 hs of paddling.
We were 8 paddling the first day and 6 returned paddling the last day (1 returned paddling after the 1st night and 1 returned by sailboat at the half way point due to injuries).
We drove from Sydney to Melbourne, 10hs or around 900km. We took the ferry to cross Bass Straigh, 11hs or around 400km. We drove again from Devenport to Cockle Creek, 5hs or almost 400km.
Of course, all that in reverse to get back home... Well... Almost. Spirit of Tasmania, the ferry company was charging me 260$ to change the date of my ticket when the full return ticket had been 500$!!! I was sharing the car with Adrian and Campbell, but not the driving. When I tried to drive my shift I had discovered the car was manual, after almost stalling it I was spared the task. So after they had changed their tickets, and paying a good fee for that, I discovered that a flight ticket would be 170$. They both agreed that I could take the cheaper flight home instead of paying the rip off to change the ferry, so they dropped on the way to Devenport near the airport and we met back in Sydney.
About to take the ferry from Melbourne
Saying goodbye to mainland Australia for a couple of weeks.
All the photos were taken by the different members of the group, it was lost already who shot what. A video will come at some point too.

PS, the epilogue and video can be read and watched HERE