Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Long Weekend

Last weekend celebrated not the racehorses’ birthday but the Queen’s.

With three days we decided to do a bit of paddling. Forecast was chunky – 2-3m swells, 2-3m waves, 20-30kt SSE winds.

Headed to Ettalong, where at low tide the bar in the middle of the bay becomes a surfzone as the sandbar pushes up the water rolling in from the Pacific.  Cathy, in her shiny new etain (second time wet), Rae in her Nordkapp, and me in my Greenland T and my CF Greenland blade, eager to try them both in surf.
Cathy with her Etain...and my soon to be thrashed GT

Cathy and Rae - matching boats

We intended to play in the surf zone a bit. I was first in, and discovered as a vertical wall rose up behind me that the low-volume pointy nose of the GT preferred to bury deep in the receding water …and so over I went. Tried rolling three times, but failed.. the last time another big thumper rolled in over the top and I decided to exit . The boat was torn away immediately, no way I could hold on.

Spent a while in the surf, making my way back to Cathy waiting just outside the breaks at the side. She backed in and we did a back deck carry for a while, pausing only to avoid being run over by the high-speed ferry as it thundered through.  A little fishing runabout came up ,with three fishermen aboard,  and we asked for a rescue. They kindly spun about and presented the ladder at the stern, which I clambered up, but then as they gunned down the face of another big wave the driver accidentally hit the kill switch and we yawed sideways into the wave face. A scary moment as the broaching boat rolled almost to vertical, before popping up over the crest . Much swearing from the white-faced trio ( and me), they got the motor going again and powered out of the zone back to Lobster beach … passing the marine rescue boat the ferry had called after seeing a man in the water. 

My rescuers were very shaken by the event and considered dumping their boat and hitching home to Sydney rather than try the bar again.
The runabout from the rescue boat, at Lobster Beach

The rescue boat ( crew=1) pottered back around the corner and agreed to take me back to the other side of the bay so I could find my boat, after shepherding the runabout out past the bar.  We spotted the black hull of the boat twisting and rolling in the surf a km  away , halfway across the bay. He drove me over, I jumped out and  stood shivering on the beach as Rae and Cathy paddled back across.

Cathy and Rae, left, and my boat, right. Click to enlarge.

After climbing an embankment we could make out the GT a few hundred yards out, just where the bar came up to a metre or so of eth surface. With me spotting form the shore Cath and Rae paddled out, disembarked in the shallows of the bar and retrieved the boat. Miraculously the prized Novorca paddle was still attached by a paddle leash. I’d lost a hand pump and a sponge, but otherwise undamaged. The boat had travelled quite a way from where it was lost. 

We had so much fun!

The whole thing had taken about two hours. I was cold and shivery, and Cathy and Rae were not inclined to get back into the surf. Rae reckoned I’d taken the fall for the three of us. It was a long way to drive to do a rescue. My abiding memory is being in the runabout as it broadsided the wave and started to tip – that would have been very ugly indeed.

Rae towing my boat back to shore

Waves 1, paddlers 0.

Installed an electric pump in Cathy’s Etain. Kevlar. Power tools. Explosive cloud of potentially carcinogenic dust. This is the third pump I have put in a boat – more to come on my GT installation epic, gnarlydog I am not  – and I didn’t bugger it up more than necessary, which was a nice change.

Got up early to finish Cathy’s pump, since the sikaflex had set.  Rae had asked us to paddle la Perouse to Malabar, about 7-8k, while Dave Fisher and Shaan were joining us but heading on to Watson’s bay, about 28k of mostly cliffline.

As mentioned, big seas and winds. Here’s the Manly Hydraulics Lab chart for the waverider buoy ( 12k off North head) that day and a couple of previous days. Note the 8m spike on the morning we were mucking around retrieving me from the surf.

Cathy in the Etain, third time, and I took the plastic Aquanaut. bit cautious of the GT in big following seas after Saturday.  Switched to Euro blade as well.

The impeturbable Dave Fisher and Cathy


Some steep stuff heading off from La Perouse out around Bear Island, and though it was pretty bumpy it wasn’t diabolical , so by the time we reached Malabar we all decided to head on to Watson’s bay. Needless to say within about fifteen minutes the wind had risen t o 30-35kt gusting and the waves had escalated as well. Awful lot of right-side bracing, especially for the three skeg boats ) Shaan and Dave in their Mirages looked almost placid.

The middle reaches if the trip weren’t without incident. Shaan mentioned a sideways surfing episode that had her attention, and Cathy missed the water and fell over.  She was in a left stern rudder so had trouble resetting the roll in the big seas, and popped out. But she climbed straight back in ( engaging the wonderful pump) and did a perfect re-enter roll.

Cathy and Shaan

Just shy of Bondi I suddenly felt my  old pal Seasick come bounding up alongside, and swiftlywas reacquainted with breakfast. And dinner.  Deep , bucking vomiting for a minute or so, beautiful trajectory. I pride myself on my ability to keep paddling while broadcasting, and felt much better. But it took it out of me – with about 8 k to go I asked to raft with Rae for a moment , but as soon as we rafting it was all on again for young and old, so I had to cast off. That much hard  chundering is tiring.. a few K short of South head I rafted with Cathy as I was getting weak and cold, but again as soon as we were rafted I fell into another vomiting fit, so off I paddled again. I find paddling hard is the best way to get through the illness, so I struck out ahead. I was concentrating on my stroke as a way of keeping my mind off the  nausea, and as a result contributed to group spread.

When I was rafted with Rae and happily  chucking, Cathy again went over, after bracing against a wave that was all talk and no action. She rolled up again immediately. She so rocks.

South head. Rescue helicopter, police boat. When we  rounded the head and were in calmer waters the police boat  gurgled up . Someone had reported five kayakers in trouble off Diamond Head.. we were five, but we were all safe and well. A ski paddler had disappeared off Bondi as well, Dave had seen him as we went past.

Landed at Watsons, 28ks of big seas, four hours on the water, I was shattered: throat burned from the  acid, muscles aching from the spasming, cold and almost hypoglycemic  from  loss of food.
I had popped a couple of Stugeron before starting, but obviously they wore off. I stupidly didn’t take more on the water.

Pulling into Watsons. Free of cares and breakfast.

It was a good group to be with:  everyone kept an eye out for the others, and I felt well supported when I was compromised by the seasickness. Big seas, big day.

Next morning, of course, back in the kayak to go to work.

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