A Calm Sea

I woke before dawn to a special silence. No distant crashing of waves, no wind swaying the trees, no flapping of canvas; the silence of a calm sea.

The dawn came with a burning red horizon viewed through the trees and then as a red streak as I made it to the beach.

The early signs of a Calm Sea
A sign of Calm Seas
On the beach

Today we would be paddling on a calm sea. The last few days had been choppy, wind swept and wet but still a lot of fun as we launched in sloppy conditions and paddled into sheltered bays to investigate the rocky, boulder strewn coastline.

Yes, it’s windy on this coastline as you can see from the trees. The sandy spot around the tree is used as a resting place for the local kangaroos. You can see the tail drag marks in the sand.

Launching in a fairly protected cove

Not only did we have to content with the less than ideal conditions, but this is also a major shipping channel for Port Lincoln where grain carriers carefully navigate the passage of islands that lead them to the Southern Ocean. A Bulk Carrier puts out a hell of a wake which adds to the wave chop and rebound from the islands.

Keep your distance

Not only where the launches interesting, but even the landings in a protected cove, at the end of the paddle, were a mad dash to surf to shore, jump out and drag the kayak up without getting too wet.

Charlie coming into protected waters
Greg showing his style to land without wet feet

We knew today would be different as we prepared the kayaks on the beach at Taylors Landing. Taylors is protected and generally the last mainland point before heading across Thorny Passage to Thistle Island. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a good enough weather window to be taking that route, but we would be exploring some stunning coastline.

Thistle Island is far in the distance and the closer island is Taylor Island.

Perfect conditions

Charlie had decided to make attach a Shark shield to his kayak this morning as we had just received the very sad news that a surfer had been taken by a Great White shark not far along the coast.

Loading up and checking the Shark Shield

We slid into the water and were away.

Clear calm water
How’s that for style

With Charlie keen to explore every small rock pool and Greg diligently following it was an excellent day of fun paddling.

We passed rugged granite cliffs and explored around lichen coloured boulders.

Greg was often around rocks
Charlie likes to poke his nose in
The Gulls

The next two photos show the clarity of the water and the reflection of the kayak. Charlie has “borrowed” my Greenland style paddle and is now an affectionado of the “carbon toothpick”.

Along the way we chatted to the local Sea Lions, caught a whiff of the local cormorant flock, watched small fish dart under the kayak as well as enjoying the stunning coastline.

Cormorant Rock
Drifting in close

When we got a little too close the Cormorants would waddle close to the rock edge, jump off and madly flap and run to get height. If you were in the wrong spot they would come straight at you, emptying their bowels, to lighten the load, as they struggled for altitude. Just don’t be in that wrong spot.

…and they’re off

The calm conditions gave us the chance to explore around the rock pools.

Charlie rocks
Ochre cliffs
Clear water

A White Bellied Sea Eagle kept a close eye on us for several kilometres, however, I think we were a little too big to be considered likely prey.

I’m watching you guys

It’s hard to do the scenery justice when taking photos from the kayak with a small Canon camera but here’s a few of the seascape. I have managed to drown another Nikon camera so it’s back to the “point and shoot” Canon until I decide on a new camera.

Our paddle ended on a sloping rock shelf in beautiful warming sunshine.

All that was left to do was take the 4wd track back to camp, take a walk on the beach, indulge in a cold beer, followed by a few glasses of red wine by the fire, which was diligently tended by Greg.

…and then the rain came.

A few days of great paddling.
Ian and Robyn, Greg and Charlie.

Disaster training

Training for Disaster is a philosophy I try to encompass in all aspects of my training as it helps me push the boundaries of my dwindling kayaking skills. I try to look at my kayak skills in different ways and identify the right way and the wrong way. Sometimes it helps to get it wrong in order to improve.

When practicing landing in surf I do it the right way, waiting for a smaller wave to pass under me then paddling after it to chase it shoreward, sliding gracefully up onto the beach and the wrong way, catching the wave, usually broaching the seakayak and having to support stroke as it is bounced along.

Paddle onto the back of a small wave and follow it to shore.

Sometimes you have to wait for a smaller set of waves

Get it right and you will slide gently onto the sand.

Steve shows how it’s done landing between larger sets of waves

Pick the wrong wave and you might meet disaster.

Sometimes you miscalculate badly. That’s me in there somewhere holding onto my paddle

Practicing for the times that you get it wrong will increase your confidence and your ability to recover after errors of judgement and can even make for a lot of fun. You don’t need huge waves to improve skills so try to practice every time you go kayaking.

Often the fun can be just getting out there…..

I was trying to stay dry today !!

Then there are paddlers I know who don’t need to “Train For Disaster”. Disaster is their middle name and part of their everyday paddling life, providing lots of fun moments, some of which are caught on camera like this one.

All Washed Up.  I have no idea what happened here…..but it looks impressive

Cheers ….Ian Pope.

When Night Falls

I slip the spraydeck over the kayak coaming as a small wave washes under the kayak. Grabbing my paddle I feel the  surge lift the hull and I’m free of the land. I take a few strokes into the blackness and feel the bow rise again this time a flood of water pours over the kayak followed soon after by another wave that sends water pouring over my head.

Well that’s a nice introduction to night paddling. Luckily it’s not mid winter when the cold water drenching would have really questioned my sanity.

When the sun goes down the familiar seascape fades and takes you to the twilight zone, where the familiar horizon disappears and a small distance ahead becomes your whole world.

Distances seem difficult to calculate, even when paddling along a coastline lit up by the city lights. Familiar cliffs and beaches along the regular route seem to be somehow different and the small line of white water crashing onto the beach seems louder than ever.

Into the darkness…Photo by Gavin Lodge

Sometimes you are lucky and the wind drops to give you amazing glassy conditions. You can glide along while taking in the beauty of coastal silhouettes. Photography takes on a new dimension.

The rising Moon can give you some amazing effects on the water

Paddling with others can be both challenging and fun. Experienced night paddlers seem able to anticipate each others actions and reactions allowing a certain amount of freedom without compromising safety.

Getting happy snaps of your fellow paddlers in the dark becomes challenging but often rewarding.Sometimes it’s a wrestle with the camera to get a focus point and then you get a lot of flare from the reflective material on kayaking gear. I have gone from a Canon point and shoot style camera to a Nikon DSLR and sometimes the increased complexity pays dividends and sometimes it doesn’t. Practice with the Nikon will eventually pay off !

A calm night with no moon made for an great paddle with Mike, Michael, Steve and Mark along our local coast and I even got a few reasonable shots. The stars were visible as the clouds cleared making for a lovely night on the water.

Mike and Mark enjoying the night sky.

Steve enjoying the new experience of night paddling in calm clear waters

Michael is an old hand at night excursions having done many miles in winter training along the coast

Calm conditions allow more time to enjoy the surroundings and try for more photos

The man made structures take on a different look as you glide past, with their lights reflected in the water.

An oasis of light

The coastline of the city seems deserted when you can’t make out any human movement along the normally busy boardwalks.

Fingers of light

As you meander further offshore the city becomes a ribbon of light on the horizon.

The camera wants to take a long exposure. Just a little difficult bobbing along at sea

Very occasionally my paddle will “double dip”, showing both sunset and moon rise, which is amazing. Often I begin just before sunset allowing me time to organise my gear without torch light and this presents other photo opportunities.

On a calm hot night the best place to be is on the water

Spotted passing a beach sculpture

Over the years there have been memorable “night landings”. Miscalculating the landing spot and capsizing in a stinking bed of rotting seaweed (much to others amusement) ranks high among the experiences on offer as does landing on a “deserted beach” that was soon deserted by a couple of lovers.

The other challenge is finding all your gear in the darkness. Hmmm….where did I put those car keys ?  I had them in my hand a few minutes ago. Hey everyone; anyone seen my car keys ?

It’s fun to be a little out of your comfort zone and night paddling can easily do that.



Haystacks…..not just a load of hay

On our wanderings across the western coastline of South Australia we have come across lots of harvesting at this time of year. Not only are there long road trains carting grain to the silos but also lots of hay being stacked into large haystacks.

These days it’s more likely to see hay in large “rounds” stacked together rather than the traditional haystacks but we have found a couple of unusual varieties as well.

Rounds of hay are more the norm these days

Square bales stacked high

It doesn’t have to be a stack of hay bales to be called a Haystack. On the Eyre Peninsula we found “Murphy’s Haystacks which may look like an old fashioned Haystack but are rock formations.

Murphy’s haystacks

The kayak paddler comes across many and varied landscapes including islands. This one is called Haystack Island.

Haystack Island off the coast of Yorke Peninsula. On a day with glassy swells.

Haystack Island with a change of weather

It might not look like a Haystack from a distance but when your up close it does take on the colours and shape of hay.

Colours change as the light changes

It seems Australians have an imagination for names but for me the best Haystack is my visits to Haystack Island.

Anzac Day. A day to remember.

Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping …
Having paddled with a number of veterans and those currently serving in recent years, I  have a great respect for the sacrifices that have been made in the past.
However, as this next piece shows, it was not always a day that I remembered.

“I know that voice”
It was 4 am on a Sunday morning and I could hardly hear the alarm for the beating of the rain on our little cottages’ roof. The wind howled through the trees outside as I clobbered the alarm and fell back into a half sleep.

The last couple of weeks had been poor weather with weak cold fronts constantly passing through South Australia bringing drizzly cool days, and today was no exception with showers expected for most of the day.

I realised that Gavin and Michael would be here soon and contemplated just a few more minutes in bed. I thought they know that I am always late, but then Gavin is always early so I slowly dragged myself from the warm bed.

The mountain of gear stacked neatly in the hallway needed only the last minute additions of fully charged camera batteries and such like, which I dutifully attended to, crossing off each item off my list. All ready to go, just as I heard Gavin’s car pull up out the front. Gavin bowled in, looking just like someone who is always awake before five, which of course he is, followed by Michael who hasn’t seen this time of darkness since our last trip.

The gear was loaded and I found that Michael has claimed the backseat for the trip and I had the duty of riding in the front with Gavin, ensuring that he was awake during the drive. How anyone can stay awake listening to ABC Radio at that time of the morning is beyond me, but duty called.

Sombre music, then marching bands: hell what was this stuff he was listening to? We passed along the foggy highway out of Adelaide to the tunes of the 127 th District marching band or some such mob, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to take eight hours of this.

Passing through Tailem Bend I realised what was happening. It was Anzac Day.

There was a group of 200 or so people gathered at the park, with many spilling onto the roadway, forcing us to crawl past. I remembered back to my only time of being at an Anzac Day dawn service, when I must have been about 10 years old. I vividly remember the service being held in a local park in Parkside where I grew up, but can’t remember who I went with, or what happened afterwards. Just the short service and the music.

Sunday morning on ABC radio is Macca in the morning. I listened to the introductions and then vagued out while staring at the unchanging landscape of the mallee country. Macca had people ringing in to recount their views and memories of Anzac day.

As I rolled along in the front seat, listening to Michael’s snoring in the back I heard a woman’s voice saying that she had just come from a dawn service held with her husband and only one other person. It was a Tasmanian accent, quite distinctive but pleasant to listen to. Sounded in her late 40s or thereabouts, well spoken and confident. I didn’t hear where she was from, assumed Tasmania, but she was talking about their dawn service held on the top of a hill at the site where four RAAF flyers had died in a crash near the end of the war. They had been on a training run or similar and had engine problems resulting in the crash. The bodies had been buried elsewhere but there was still the scattered remains of plane where a small memorial was erected. She spoke of the isolated area that they from, describing the wallabies on the hill and sea views from her kitchen window. Sounded like a great place to me…

Then off we headed. Victoria to Tasmania by sea kayak.

Gavin, Michael and I stood at the base of the cliff, on the tiny windswept beach, looking up at the zig zag track that leads to the lighthouse keeper’s cottage. We had had a long hard day, crossing from Hogan Island to Deal Island, with lightning greeting us just before our dawn departure. The wind was OK before dawn but talking by phone to the duty forecaster in Tasmania I knew that we had only a few hours to get off the island or be there for some time.

The winds had risen later in the morning as we sailed and paddled our way to Deal Island in the Kent Group. Rising wind and rising seas had made for a rough ride, with worse on the way. We paddled strongly knowing that the sanctuary was only a couple of hours away, however the front grew closer with steadily increasing force. Rising seas and wind from the rear quarter made for interesting times. We eventually made shelter in the lee of Erith Island with a 40kn headwind screaming towards us as the main front hit.
The paddle along the Murray Passage was demanding with the wind coming head on between the Islands, as Michael powered past us determined to land first. Maybe he was just glad to be near a safe haven after having suffered two capsizes whilst sailing that morning, or maybe the lure of a cup of tea and Mars bars had scrambled his brain. He is a legend in the world of chocolate bars, carrying large packets of Mars Bars and the like when we go paddling. Still, you can’t complain when he insists on sharing them out after paddling, but I still think that anyone who calls them carrots is still a little unusual.

We set off fully equipped for the climb up the Deal Island path with extra supplies of Mars Bars and Snickers stuffed in our pockets. Half way up the path we paused briefly to admire the view and call in to our families. The surprise of the caretaker was evident when we strolled up to the cottage, certainly not expecting paddlers in this weather, but as always we were invited in for tea and scones.

It was unsafe to proceed to the campsite and hut on Erith Island so we were able to bed down in the spare cottage on Deal. We had the opportunity of a hot shower and a real bed and that was not to be knocked back. A quick shower and change of clothes and up to the caretaker’s for high tea.

We entered the cosy warm cottage and met our hosts Dallas and Shirley. They are caretakers on the island for three months at a time, with this being their second time here.

Bloody hell, I know that voice!, the soft but distinct  accent coming from the kitchen sounded familiar, but I didn’t recognise the face. Shirley plied us with scones with jam and cream and tea, while I thought about where I knew her from.

When talking to Dallas about the awful weather heading our way it came to me. Have you been on the radio lately? “Yes, twice on the ABC talking about Deal Island”. Did you have an Anzac dawn service here? “Yes just three of us, up near where the plane crash site”. It was her, the voice on the radio that cold rainy Anzac morning. Strange things seem to happen when you go paddling.

We were marooned on Deal Island for eight days waiting for the weather to moderate. The winds stayed at around 60 kn for most of that time with huge seas battering the island group. We did wallaby musters, helped other blow-ins and had many other adventures in those eight days and many more on that 19 day crossing of Bass Strait.

Deal Island looking towards Erith and Dover Islands

Deal Island looking towards Erith and Dover Islands

Now every Anzac Day not only do I remember those who fought in our wars but I think of that lonely crash site on that lonely little island.
Ian Pope

Another Desperate Friday

The Autumn weather has arrived and we had expectations of a nice swell rolling up the coast with light winds giving almost glassy conditions for our Friday Surf Kayak paddle. Before dawn the wind was perfect with just a puff from the north, but as the first rays crept over the hills we knew Surf Kayaking wasn’t to be. The swell from the last couple of days had dropped; in fact it had disappeared almost completely.

NO waves this morning…..photo by SurfsouthOz surf report

It was some consolation that we enjoyed a great surf session on Wednesday, and that we could paddle our Sea Kayaks out to our local bommie for a bit of fun today.

Standing on the cliff we were greeted by a gently lapping sea but further out the tide was right for a few waves exploding over the bommie. Yep; it has some quite shallow spots were the reef is only 20cm or so below the surface and the trick is to avoid finding those rocks, especially with the sea kayak bow or your head.

The edge of the bommie was quite sedate while we waited for a larger set of waves.

Scouting around the edge of the bommie. It looks pretty sedate here.

We made a number of runs through to the outside of the bommie and managed to grab a few good rides as the waves pitched up over the shallows. A couple of rather desperate support strokes saved the day as the kayaks ploughed under on the steep waves and then bobbed up again only to be buried again by the white water.

As the tide flooded over the bommie we played in a place where 2 waves meet causing an explosion of water and some seriously powerful turbulence.

Ian decided to punch into the spot where the two waves meet and was greeted with some success although he did end up flying backwards and was buried by the foaming wave. (He said he was in control all the time but the expression on his face said otherwise….Steve)

Flying backwards as the strength of this old guy just wasn’t enough to get him through…photo Steve King

Then he was buried by the foam pile. Can you spot the hat and the piece of red kayak ?

Can you spot the grey hat in the middle of the photo ?. Yep that’s Ian. The rear of the kayak is on the far left….photo Steve King

It certainly wasn’t a wasted 2 hours on the water. Lots of support strokes, frantic back surfs, buried bows and two wet but happy paddlers. Steve not only managed to get some great photos whilst staying upright but was the only one to “kiss the reef” with his kayak.

Like to join us ? You’re welcome to come along as we always need more ‘crash test paddlers”.

Cheers Ian and Steve.