Saturday, 28 January 2012

Around St Georges head, via Ulladulla.

Well we had this plan, you see…

We would go from Vincentia, in Jervis Bay, down to Bateman’s Bay. We had six days: Claudia Schremmer, Megan Pryke and I. With fair winds, shouldn’t be a problem. We had the advantage of a very similar   trip that a group of friends had done back in 2010 and we were following their route, with Guy Reeve’s excellent sketch maps. Unfortunately the weather gods had other ideas. Or at least the gods of weather forecasting.

We left Vincentia early afternoon in good NE winds but with  the forecast of a 20-30kt southerly the next day. After a delightful paddle down the fabulously caved and crenelated cliffs of St Georges Head we rounded the point into Wreck bay and sought a camp at one of the small beaches there. 
Megan along the cliffline

Next morning the southerly was well under way so we abandoned the 30km leg and instead went for a bushwalk, complete with wallabies and grumpy black snakes. Bit of a swim as well, but water way too turbid to snorkel.

Whiting Beach

Third day: wind was still NE about 15kt and 1-2m seas so we set off early and set our sights on Ulladulla, to make up time. An hour or two in the rudder cable on my Mirage broke and after another hour or so trying to control the furiously weathercocking boat I gave up and headed for shore, landing at a small rocky beach with an outgoing tide. A bit of string later and we were off. Not quite. We threaded between the rocks and oysters to beat the outgoing tide, leaving stylish spots of gelcoat all along our way.

Megan, Pigeonhouse in the background

We made landfall at Ulladulla in late afternoon, after a long day, and beached in front of the shops. Claudia and Megan strolled off to the local marine rescue headquarters to talk weather, returning with the dispiriting news that for the next two days the forecast was 20-30kt southerlies with seas up to 3m. They did have directions to camping on a public beach just around the headlands, though.  

We set out again, rounded the point and found a rather fine little nook with a public toilet just 15-20 minutes’ walk (one way). It was a fine night,  and although it was one of the main public beaches it was deserted. We looked out to the south and decided to check the forecast in the morning but if it hadn’t changed we’d abandon the southward trip. Megan’s a very accomplished and storied caver and canyoner and we discussed how much more weather-dependent sea kayaking was than other similar wilderness pursuits.

On Ulladulla Beach

Rain next morning, striking camp between shying squalls, then through the pattering sea back to marine rescue.  The welcoming crew staffing the centre on a rainy Sunday gave us all the weather specs and  the obligatory grizzled white-bearded commander interpreted what they would mean in the local area. Looked bad: the two days of 20-30 southerlies were still forecast and there’s no way we would make it to Bateman’s in three days against that sort of seas. We decided to give up the one-way trip and instead to circumnav St George’s head the long way.

So we headed back north, into the rain and the nor’ easter.  The nor’ easter that blew all day at about 10-15kt, never swinging south.
Megan bound for Conjola as the rain sets in

Around midday we pulled into Lake Conjola in time to be off the water as a thunderstorm rolled through, lightning crackling in the hills to the west, but we couldn’t see anywhere attractive to camp so back out to sea into Ne winds (!) and flogged up  to the bar at Sussex inlet. A long, exhausting day, 38k flogging into the headwind through rain and storms, but we did find  a delightful campspot that the locals call Little Manly.
The other Little Manly

Next day continued on into St George’s Basin. With a detour up a creek where Megan and I had some very undignified fun with a rope swing hanging over the river, we ended up at the same ramp at Erowal Bay that I had ended on back in June. 

Yep, that's about it. 
Megan didn't get wet. I did. 

A nearby resident was kind enough to run us back to Vincentia to the cars, avoiding an unpleasant  tramp in wet gear down the side of the road for 12k, and that was it. Final night at a council campground at Huskisson and a fine feed at the Husky pub.
Husky camp

So we ended up doing a circumnav with an absurd spike down to the south. The sustained southerlies forecast never really eventuated apart from that second day, so had we headed off we probably would have made it. But you can only paddle the forecast, not the hindsight, so it was the right thing to turn back. It was still a fine trip, some new country for me , and very good company. Next time, we’ll make it!