I never saw Spring. Maybe it had more pressing engagements elsewhere. None of those lovely Spring days with the sun shining and the temperature starting to show signs of what’s to come. No watching warm red sunsets with a favourite beverage. No sunburnt nose from forgotten sunscreen. No need to check your kayak for spiders lurking under the seat. No need to have a hat for every occasion.
None of that. We had water. Not the type you paddle on, but the type that comes in bucket loads, drenching everything and everyone. The type that causes massive flooding river systems, inundates whole towns and livelihoods. With the rain comes the wind; howling, screaming, terrorising wind that wipes out all in it’s path.
Luck was on our side as we sheltered from flooding rains in the Australian “outback”. We reached a bitumen road that headed south towards home, our path flooded in many places. I had the kayak on the car roof but fortunately the creek systems fell just as quickly as they rose.
Summer was closing fast and finally a small Spring weather window opened. Not enough time to get in any substantial sea kayaking journeys but long enough to fit in a little surf play.
Summer will come, the waves will be clean and uncrowded, the sea kayaking perfect with pods of dolphins, the water crystal clear for snorkeling and the mountain bike tracks dry, running smooth and fast.
Dreams are free. In reality I take every FUN I wave I can and here’s a few I took today before the wind reappeared
It was a cold night; a freezing cold night. I peered out but it was so dark that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. The clouds cleared and the Milky Way made an appearance in the night sky. With no lights and the moon not rising until 2am it was a stunning display in the desert night sky. I thought of getting up and trying a night sky photo but quickly dismissed that idea.
The morning light woke us and illuminated the houses of Beltana, a small town in northern South Australia. The town is Heritage listed and the buildings have been restored by the residents and we had been camping near the Community Hall.
This is a land of contrasts with red earth plains and rugged ranges. When it does rain here it has a huge impact not only greening the landscape but also scouring the water courses with flash floods. Old railway bridges still survive as they were built high above the river bed.
We had come to paddle the Aroona Dam, a body of water that was originally built to supply the mining town of Leigh Creek. A rocky vehicle track leads to the dam wall and spillway which has seen overflows in recent weeks.
You need to portage to get to the launch spot down an interesting track, rocky, narrow and washed away in parts from recent flood inflows but we managed, picking our way down to the water.
Once on the water we enjoyed the company of various water birds including a variety of ducks and a lone pelican.
We had been trying to photograph the native Tortoises that are abundant in the dam. They would pop up their head next to us then disappear at lightning speed. These slippery little suckers were going to be a challenge to add to our photographic collection. (Later we walked along a nearby ridge and saw tortoises sunning on the surface but the camera was in the car)
A number of Wallabies watched us from vantage points along the shoreline seemingly unperturbed by the kayak and camera. This is an area inhabited by Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies and we saw some on our drive in, but none around the dam.
The rock formations are stunning, even more so at water level. Here’s a few photos that hopefully give you an idea of the rugged beauty of this desert waterway.
We spent a morning paddling, drifting, watching the wildlife and enjoying the sun. We hope you get out and enjoy the beautiful Spring weather and maybe the freezing desert nights.
I stretched forward and flipped the spraydeck over the coaming and checked the fit all-round. How many times have I done that I wonder. Thousands of times, tens of thousands of times or more; I try a quick calculation in my head and I’m immediately hit with a searing “ice cream headache”, not from the mental gymnastics but from a wave that snuck up and pounded my head.
It’s been with me a while now, this kayaking thing. From the 1970’s when I started in river touring kayaks and graduated into just about every discipline of the sport. I have been a competitor of sorts, mainly thinking of myself as someone that “made up the numbers ” due to my lack of training time, or more likely ability.
One thing remains the same; Surf Kayaking. I loved it from the first time I took a river touring kayak out through the break and ran down a small wave. Lots changed in that time both in kayak shapes and equipment. Does anyone remember the Johnson Surf Shoe (kayak) or Valley Moccasin ? I owned both as well as an Australian designed Rosco Phase 3 Kayak and locally made Olymp 75 kayak.
Back from meandering through the past I paddled out into a freezing morning to test out my latest kayak, a Jackson Rockstar V. I jumped a dumping wave and stayed upright whilst pulling a couple of 360 spins followed by a long backsurf. The next couple of waves were not so glorious, ending in a sound dumping as I tried a forward loop. The kayak felt great and will be better with a few minor seat adjustments.
Here’s a flat spin sequence. I promise to try it on bigger waves next time !
I found another kayaker (Steve) grabbing a few icy waves as well.
Here comes another 360 spin on a small wave and then back surf.
We bounced around in the waves until my body was near frozen then grabbed that last wave to shore.
Back on shore and suitably warmed with coffee and cake I checked out a couple of archive boxes I had seen in my shed. Sure enough amongst the certificates and other stuff was an article written about our early Surf Kayaking in a magazine SA Canoeing 83.
I scanned some pages below and I remember the two people who produced it. Phil Read who wrote the surf article Noel McPharlin who took the surf photos using a Nikanos waterproof film camera
Yep I was there on another page as the first Secretary of Canoe Polo Committee that started a pool competition in June 1982. It seems a lifetime ago, probably because it was, and it meant that kayaks would become my recreation and occupation. Anyway, have a look at pages from that era.
Bumper Boats, Dodgem Cars and the Ghost Train were my favourite rides as a kid. Whenever there was a show or fair in town I was there looking for excitement and spending my money on rides, hot dogs and fairy floss. As I got a little older I still rode the Bumper Boats but often got kicked off for “rough play” and my fascination with the Ghost Train drifted towards the scantily clad girls on the high trapeze.
Times change but somethings stay the same. Hot Dogs were out and Falafel Rolls are in, and the Ghost Train is no longer scary, but I still get that Bumper Boat feeling every time I hit the surf.
The wind had dropped and the offshore wave recorder showed some activity, although the glassy waves were not as large as we hoped, but still provided some Monday Bumper Boat action.
It was a beautiful morning with a nice mob of paddlers and bound to be repeated soon.
The wind seemed to have increased again or was it my imagination, or just fatigue. I could see another green wave building on my right side and sure enough it broke over my head and washed me 20 metres sideways, whilst I held a desperate support stroke. Was that the 10th or 12th time that had happened, I decided to stop counting. I was out here alone and this was supposed to be fun or at least character building.
The day had started with an ominous covering of grey cloud and the wind hovering above 15knots. I reasoned that I would have a 7km paddle across the open bay paddling parallel to the created swell. It sort of worked that way, except I way pushed in an arc by the wind and current. It took 1.5 hours to reach the next headland where I was to change direction and pick up a quartering tail wind and flooding tide. Unfortunately, the wind switched more to the East, making it from my side again and even worse a slight headwind. A couple of dolphins dropped in for a chat and stayed a while but tired of my slow pace they zapped off ahead.
Only another 15km or so of this I thought and it probably won’t get worse; but of course it did. The 14km run along the coast was bordered by 7km of remote sandy beach and 7km of rocky cliffs. The beach section was bad enough, with steep cresting waves but the cliffs sent rebounding clapatis waves back towards me, so the kayak was constantly in motion, up, down and sometimes forward as I executed about 2 gazillion support strokes. Absolutely no chance of photos today.
Rounding a small headland I spotted Lipson Island from the crest of a wave and gauged it to be 3 km away. Knowing sanctuary awaited I increased my stroke rate, concentrated on technique and forward power. With the tide in full flood I could slip through the channel between the beach and island where Robyn was meeting me and with a little lucky maneuvering I missed all of the reef and landed on white sand.
Paddling solo was something I hadn’t done for many years as there had always been lots of fellow paddlers. However, this time they had other commitments or maybe better judgement. It certainly sharpens the senses and gives you time to think about what the hell you’re doing out here while everyone else is enjoying coffee and conversation in a café.
The paddle had started well, leaving Port Lincoln on Spencer Gulf, with a modest tail wind and a 12km crossing past Boston Island. A bit of a sloppy ride but a nice day “on the paddle” passing the shipping channel used by large grain carriers and skirting the fish farms anchored in the bay. The 24km was only interrupted by a pod of dolphins showing me their surfing and acrobatic skills.
Louth Island passed and soon I was cruising into the shelter of Louth Bay which was protected by the resident Osprey whom I named “Scuffy”. Again, Robyn was there on the cliff to direct me to the best landing spot.
I had various species of gulls soar past me when off shore and when coming ashore I was always greeted by a gaggle of cormorants who took off in all directions, including straight at me.
At night the wind abated and I sat on the beach having a Skype call with friends Matt and Katrin in Germany, whilst enjoying a well-earned beer. I watched the moon rise reflected on the now calm water and hoped for calm winds in the morning. I promised them a photo of the moonrise so here they are.
The next morning my prayers were answered with a slight tail wind and smooth-ish seas so the kayak sail was deployed for a lovely 3 hour paddle into Tumby Bay township.
Whilst I was on the water Robyn was investigating the coastal walking trails and photo opportunities. She captured some of the rock formations along the coast.
She had also become a regular at the Tumby Bay bakery. Robyn and her friend Ann were delighted to enjoy a coffee with holidaying celebrity Mr Billy Connelly and even had their photo taken to prove it.
I had a great experience, although the increasing wind meant that I didn’t reach my 100km solo paddling goal, but I came across some new paddlers. I met Peter in Tumby Bay who is starting his experimentation with a Greenland style paddle and Dave who is about to join the sea kayaking fraternity, so hopefully next time they can come along with Dennis the veteran paddler of the region.
Paddling Solo. A great experience that sharpens the senses. The feeling of being alone is daunting when you are in a challenging environment but the joy of knowing that you were the only person to chat with that dolphin, watch that bird soaring above or yell at the bloody wind is sort of special.
Solo also means careful preparation. Check, recheck and check again all your gear and navigation. Have confidence in your own ability and above all remember it’s fun, even when it isn’t .