Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Paddling in the storm

Christmas Eve... well the afternoon of that eve could have been my last... actually, any moment could be my last but that belongs to another topic and I better live it to philosophers. While paddling  trying to reach the shore, within the storm with gusts of over 30 knots, in my head resonated Stuart’s words “The weather will be your undoing.”, and it almost was... at least the wind was on my back and the joy of riding the steep and big wind waves helped me forget the other peril I was facing...

I was on holidays with family and friends in an area I didn’t know very well. The day before I had paddled against the strong wind for a couple of hours to be back where I started in a fourth of that time. It was an exhilarating ride back with the wind hitting my back and fresh wind waves taking me home, but it finished too soon!!! The forecast was similar the next day, Christmas Eve’s day, strong winds from the NE after midday and chances of thunder storms during the evening, although the last part didn’t stay in my head beause I was planning to be back well before evening.
I wanted to launch from the north of the bay and ride wind and waves all the way south. However to reach a point 10 km in straigth line over the bay you need to drive like 40 km on land. Instead, my wife would drop me as far north as she could without the extra detour, I would paddle against the ‘not so strong yet’ wind for 1 or 2 hours and come back. Around 3 hours in total. However, as is usually the case with me I didn't stick to the plan and improvised along the way. It is all about the journey and not the destination, right?

Around 11 AM I was paddling and probably 40 minutes into the paddle the wind started to pick up. After another hour of battling it I decided to land to eat something (point B) before starting to come back. I called my wife to let her know where I was and she told me that some of our friends were close from where I had landed (point C). I jumped into my kayak and paddled the distance against the wind to meet them... However when I got there the beach was deserted. After talking with them on the phone I discovered they were close to my previous landing point but in the opposite direction I had paddled to meet them!!! That was the first change of plans...
From the empty beach a very nice view
From where I was the coast would shelter me from the worst of the NE wind so I decided to change again my original plan explore the north of the bay instead of heading straight back to my landing point (point X). I knew it would add several km to my paddle but I really wanted to explore that area.

While passing by a rocky beach I spotted a big sign and l landed there (point D). The sign read “Beecroft weapons range open for public access”. The area belongs to the navy and they use it for military practice. Some areas are closed to the public with signs of live amunition. 
Nobody shooting
Besides the big sign was a smaller one of a fox eating a lamb. It is a warning that fox bait has been laid in the area to control fox population. The funny thing is that both fox and lamb were introduced by European settlers but one is considered plague and the other an asset :-)
Bon appetite
I went for a small walk inland and I felt transported. Bright green bushes, sun shining through tree leafs and a nice breeze to cool you down. I wanted to stay there for a while but if I did, it would be too late to explore the rest of the bay. I went back to my boat and kept going. I wanted to see Pt Perpendicular, the high cliffs in the peninsula, where I would be rock climbing a few days later.

Transported to paradise
I had been out for 4 hours already and the water I had didn't last me. I stopped at a camp site to beg for some water to drink (point E). Another idyllic place that called me to stay there contemplating the scenery...
Another bay inviting to stay
Same beach where I got water, taken a few days later while climbing and camping 
It took me a while to turn the corner and be able to see the light house on top of the cliffs. That extra time and distance was another mistake. In my head the corner was still well north from where I wanted to land and the paddle back would be with a strong tail wind. However when I checked the GPS to head back home I realised that my course back would put me in a direction receiving the already strong wind from the side. As I paddled and I got away from the coast the wind waves started to hit my boat as well, a few already breaking with white tops that went over the boat to find its way into my ears and mouth.
On the left the image in my head, on the right the reality...
The water being blown sideways, behind me some withe cups and Pt Perpendicular
Over my head it was still sunny but in the distance, over the place I needed to land it was raining. It didn’t worry me, the wind came from behind and the clouds were in front, the wind would blow the rain away, right? Wrong!!! The wind up there was coming from the opposite side and bringing the storm closer to the middle of the bay and to me. Soon I could also see the first lighting piercing the sky. I had paddled some 30 minutes with the wind on the side and when I saw the electrical discharge I wanted to be out of the water soon. At this point I had been out for some 5 hours and paddled 25km, a good part against the wind, and was starting to feel the effort. When you are tired you don’t think very well and my first thought was to get back to the coast I had just left. I turned the kayak around to face the wind and after 10 minutes I realised that all I had gained was probably 10 meters... I turned the kayak again and decided that it would be faster to reach the land I paddled with the wind. The distance was a bit longer but it would be a lot faster.
Paddling against this wind, a zero sum equation
That was a wild ride!!! The waves sometimes were over my head and I could feel the difference in the force of the wind hitting my back when I emerged from a trough to the crest. If I looked up I could see the black clouds above me with flashes of light. If I looked forward I could see the bolts of light hitting the ground. Instead I chose to look at the wave just in front of me to keep my timing with the rides and my mind away from the storm. It had started to rain on top of me too, with big fat raindrops that click-click on my helmet. I checked my GPS and it was another 7km until I could reach the safety of the beach. After 45 minutes with an average speed of 11 km/h (my normal paddling speed is 7/8km/h) and peaks of 20km/h I landed at a beach far from where I was supposed to be but glad to be safe back on land protected from the electric storm by the forest. I had to call my wife who came and 'rescued' me and soon was enjoying a nice shower.  A very nice paddle but I would leave Zeus toys out of the equation next time.

Black clouds above, lighting ahead and nice waves to surf
Two days later with a much more quiet forecast, this time I read carefully if there was going to be any chance of thunderstorms, I paddled straight to Pt Perpendicular and played around that marvellous rocky formations. The crossing alone was almost 10km each way so it made a total paddle of over 25km which didn’t really left much time to explore and play in the area, but that is good, it makes a good incentive to go back there.

Some caves in the marvelous rocky coast 
Some rock gardens with the light house on top of Pt Perpendicular
The light house from the kayaker side
As I mentioned before, I went rock climbing for a couple of days before coming back home. It was good but by no means as exciting and frightening as the crossing of the bay under a thunderstorm.
Framing the waves

Coming out

Coiling the rope with Bowen Is in the background

Focusing before the climb or saying farewell?

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