Going Solo

My memory is still quite good, well I hope so anyway; it’s just the rest of the body that’s feeling the effects of time. It’s 1982 (I think) and the day is slightly overcast but at least the wind had dropped overnight. I slid the kayak into the water and checked and rechecked all my gear. No need to turn on any of those electronic gadgets to track my speed and distance as I didn’t have any. Were GPS units even invented then ? I had a small deck mounted compass and a map in a plastic bag and that was it. The kayak was an ancient “Sea Leopard” that was interesting to paddle but it’s low deck meant you were always in for a wet ride and the hatches were not exactly waterproof.

This was my first solo paddle of any note. A crossing of Backstairs Passage to Kangaroo Island and return with a favourable tide later in the afternoon. Actually it remains one of the few times I have set to sea by myself. Mostly I have been part of a pod or at least one other, so there has always been someone to sing along with.

Solo paddling adds another dimension to the adventure of being at sea in a small craft well out of sight of land. So when I see a young paddler pushing the boundaries and paddling open water crossings solo I am very much in awe. Even more so when James Fishers decides to make a series of videos on the way.

Here’s a link to his Youtube videos of his trip across Spencer Gulf from Pt Lincoln to Innes National Park. I hope you enjoy his “home movies”.
Ian Pope

Mother’s Day Paddle

It’s Mother’s Day today in Australia. A day honoring the “Mother of the family” and a day that is celebrated in over 40 countries. Generally it’s flowers and chocolates or maybe a special lunch for Mother but in my case Robyn had requested a quiet paddle somewhere.

We’ve been travelling in places that haven’t seen water for a while, riding Fatbikes in a desert landscape and if you missed the photos they are here. Having headed more towards the coast we saw a small lake on the map and Mr Google told us it was a fresh water lake suitable for swimming and boating.

A perfect place for a quiet if short-ish paddle on Green Lake and with a camp site on the banks it really was perfect. We drove into the heart of the Wimmera District chatting excitedly about the opportunity for a paddle. What about a swim as well I thought. It might be chilly but that would really wash off the desert dust and there’s nothing better than a bracing dip.

We pulled into Green Lake and found a great campsite right on the sandy bank.

Sandy banks and a great view

There were ancient but serviceable picnic tables and facilities so nothing else to want for.

NIce place for lunch

But it seems that one thing was missing on this perfect Mother’s Day. Yep you guessed it: WATER. Green Lake has been dry for the last 18 years.

Dry as a bone

We chatted with a couple of locals and legend has it that there used to be a tree in the middle of the lake which was a bit of a nuisance to the water skiing fraternity so some bright spark decided to pull it out. Sort of like pulling out the bath plug I think as it broke the lakes’ base layer and all the water disappeared down the plug hole.

Maybe this is the remains of the tree

Now we sit here looking at the old water level gauge and wonder what it was like when local families camped here on Mother’s Days past and the place was alive with sounds of play. Now it’s just us and the only sound is that of a Kookaburra laughing in a nearby tree and a crow calling in the distance.

A reminder of what once was

And on a brighter note there is talk that the locals have raised enough money to reseal the lake and it will return to its’ former glory sometime in the future.

Have a great Mother’s Day.

Paddling the Scraper

“We were 73 days out from San Francisco. and entering Backstairs Passage, with less than a days’ sailing to our destination.”

“When we passed CapeWilloughby there was a strong south-east gale with a heavy sea. All hands were on deck and the vessel was running before the gale. I kept the vessel as close on to the western shore as I judged it was safe, as by so doing I would be able to shape a course for Cape Jervis….. Just at this time, as we were entering the passage, to my surprise the vessel struck the outer edge of the Scraper (reef). The wheel was at once put hard down, so as to get farther out, but the next sea hurled her farther in, and the vessel would not answer the helm.”

That was the fate of the 4 masted Schooner “Kona” in 1917, bound for South Australia with a load of lumber from San Francisco and their introduction to the Scraper Reef off the coast of Kangaroo Island. Luckily the 11 crew were able to launch a lifeboat and were washed into the calm waters of Antechamber Bay.

Fortunately our meeting with the Scraper was in very different weather conditions. We had decided to paddle across Backstairs Passage, which is a particularly turbulent stretch of water dividing Kangaroo Island from the mainland. Conditions are made interesting by a 3kn tidal current being squeezed through the Passage as well as the Yatala Shoals, although the Autumn neap tide suggested calmer seas.

Our plan was to paddle across Backstairs Passage to Antechamber Bay and set up camp, paddle the Scraper in calm conditions the following day, then catch a tide back to Cape Jervis on the mainland the next day. With luck we could also venture a few kilometres further along the east coast to land on the tiny beach at Pink Bay near Cape Willoughby Lighthouse, which is the most eastern point of Kangaroo Island.

No mistakes; no miscalculations; extreme caution was in order as getting caught in the wrong place or the wrong tidal stream can mean being swept southwards. Michael and I had done this crossing many times in various conditions but it was Rodney’s first crossing. He had been putting in many hours training in the kayak, not only doing endurance work but lots of sessions paddling the coast in windy, sloppy conditions combined with many sessions handling large surf waves.

We had picked a Neap tide to cross the Strait as the tidal movement would be minimal. The forecast in the morning was for 11kn SE which is a cross wind that would be blowing against the Ebb tide flow. Wind against tide always makes for a very choppy passage and with that in mind we set off from Cape Jervis.

Day 1.
The predicted 11kn SE wind rose to about 15kn soon after departure and went more to a ESE direction giving us a side on sea of around 1m. Lots of white caps and sloppy conditions but easily handled.

Riding the beam on swells into Backstairs Passage


Short choppy waves hitting beam on

We were able to use the side sea  to our advantage, often catching small runs that picked up the laden kayaks. The crossing took 2hr 15m and was generally uneventful except for a few waves that pitched up suddenly and landed a ton of water on your shoulder. It’s also a little difficult taking photos in these conditions, so please excuse our defects.

Kangaroo Island approaching

We just missed running over a wooden pallet that had been floating for some time, given the number of barnacles on it.

Floating Flotsam

We had made a couple of course changes during the paddle as we found the wind was holding us further west than we had originally calculated. We hit the shore of Kangaroo Island at Cuttlefish Bay, a tiny sandy bay only accessible by water, exactly as planned.

Arriving Cuttlefish Bay


Cuttlefish Bay. Emergency landing spot if needed.

The next job was to push east on the last of the Ebb tide and into a wind that had now gone even more easterly. This meant no protection provided by the high cliffs and lots of boiling clapotis on every small headland. The next 8km took us another 2hr  of hard paddling before we rounded the headland into Antechamber Bay.

Working our way along the cliff face. Resting out of the wind.


All smiles as we head into the wind


The Navigator

The camp was located inland a few hundred metres on the banks of the Chapman River, however on such a low tide the mouth was closed and a portage was required.

Landed on Antechamber Beach


Paddling up the Chapman River


View along the river

This riverside campsite went perfectly with a Grant Burge Shiraz, kindly supplied by Rodney, our personal sommelier.

Early evening drinks and snacks

I did tell Rodney the Possums were very friendly but he was still a little amazed to find one sitting at the table with him. This guy grabbed some food and ran.

This guy believes in self serve

The next day was perfect weather with only a light 4kn breeze predicted and very little tidal movement. We set off to portage back into the ocean and head for the Scraper Reef and then to Cape Willoughby and Pink Bay .

Members of the South Australian Boat Draggers Association in action.

The boat draggers


Heading out of Antechamber Bay

The Scraper lays approx. 1km off Cape St Albans and is well known for its’ large breaking waves in any easterly weather. Water over the reef is only 1 fathom deep (about 3.3ft/ 1.82m) taken on an average tide.

Unfortunately “Google Earth” doesn’t show “The Scaper” but you can get an idea of the wave action nearby if you view Cape St Albans photographs.

As we rounded Cape St Albans we caught a glimpse of large breaking waves but they were mainly slow moving swells across the reef.

Cape St Albans Lighthouse


Arriving at the Scraper on slack water with the calmest conditions I have ever seen here

I paddled into the edge of the reef while Rodney took photos and Michael stood by as our safety paddler.

Riding a “Scraper” swell

We then pushed on towards Cape Willoughby.

Cape Willougby Lighthouse in the distance

….. and landed at nearby Pink Bay.

A calm cove for lunch

You can see the remains of previous inhabitants.

Evidence of habitation

After a lunch stop it was back on the water to catch a small flood tide back to camp.

Heading north from Cape Willoughby Lighthouse

On the way we spent time playing in the rocks around Cape St Albans.

Floating along the cliff face


Floating around the rocks at Cape St Albans

Day 3
Light rain had fallen during the night and the wind was evident even in our protected campsite.

Light rain all night


Checking the weather from a warm place

We checked weather forecasts through a couple of sources which both predicted an acceptable wind from the SE. We had a phone conversation and ascertained that the wind at nearby Penneshaw was currently 11kn from the SE and it was expected to remain that way for a few hours.

We decided to cross earlier than planned as the last hour of the very small ebb tide would be overridden by the SE wind. We would then be running a flood tide with the wind in the same direction.

We packed and portaged back into Antechamber bay where conditions were as expected, being at the bottom of Beaufort Wind Scale around 4, meaning “smaller waves, becoming larger; numerous whitecaps”.  Our heading would take us within 1 nautical mile of the Yatala Shoals so I knew from experience that the waves would be quite steep and confused where the tidal rips collide.

We started off across the passage with the conditions as predicted.

Goodbye to Antechamer Bay

After 1 hr we found the SE wind had picked up slightly making for sloppy conditions with larger swells and occasional breaking seas. It was actually lots of fun making fast runs down steep waves and then being surrounded in deep troughs.

Michael and I were enjoying the conditions and Rodney was really getting the hang of running parallel to the waves, rising and falling as they swept under him.

Rodney having a fun day out


Michael was there one second and buried in water the next


Keeping on track

Everything continued to plan as we approached Blowhole Creek on the mainland and then started our run west to Cape Jervis staying a couple of kilometres offshore to get the best of the following sea.

Heading for Blowhole Creek (the gap in the hills)


Resting before the run into Cape Jervis

We arrived at Cape Jervis 4 hours after launching, with the crossing of Backstairs Passage from Antechamber Bay to Blowhole Creek taking around 2hr 30m.

Our last duty to load up and head for the Yankalilla Bakery, for a decent cappuccino and pasty.



Paddlers and photographs by Ian, Michael and Rodney. Editing by Ian.

pope2Yogi bearSir Rodney







The mysteries of Yoho beach

It happens every year. Somewhere between Friday the 13th and the Winter Solstice on 21st June we watch the weather patterns for the perfect day that will take us back to Yoho Beach. That type of day where the sky is just a  haze, sea the colour of ink and the horizon almost indistinguishable, is when we return to continue our research on Yoho Beach.

During summer we often paddle past Yoho beach, which lies in Gulf St Vincent just a few kilometers north of the gulf’s entrance at Cape Jervis. It’s a lovely place to paddle on a warm summer day, passing along the rock strewn coastline, looking at the abundant bird life and keeping an eye out for the local dolphin pods but the swells are rarely low enough to land. But in winter at the appointed time we return to continue our study of the mysteries of Yoho Beach.

We set off from Rapid Bay for the hop along the coastline passing the towering cliffs of Rapid Heads and enjoying the frolicking seals. The water is calm, dark and certainly deep as we round the headlands.









Paddling along this area is always eventful, especially when you get in close to the cliffs and ride the surging waves as Michael soon found out.



After a while the Headlands of Yoho come into view, with the winter grasses blanketing the slopes.


It’s an odd place, sort of eerie, a strangeness that creeps up on you every time you land there. You always feel like you are being watched by someone lurking on those bald rock strewn hills; but there is never anyone there. Like someone is looking over your shoulder when you wander along “beach combing” the area, but I’ve never met anyone else on the beach and know of only a few people who ever stop there to explore or enjoy lunch on the grassy slopes.

This year we bought with us “Professor” Rodney B.,  a newcomer to this area, who could hopefully cast more light on the strangeness of Yoho.

We carefully landed in the small channel and came ashore.



An ancient rock wall stands guard halfway along the beach, it’s purpose long lost and the people who built it long departed.


A small creek winds its’ way to the ocean making an excellent habitat for local fauna.


The first sign that something was different here was what we found when beachcombing. Left foot thongs. Never a right, only a left. Some people call them Flip-Flops others Sandals but in Australia they can only be Thongs. Over the years we found some with Asian branding, some with English, a few with German and Arabic, some near new, others with the imprint of the previous owner well worn into them. All sizes, all shapes, all left foot they magically came to be washed up on this lonely beach.

A colourful thong



We kept returning over the years to see more thongs as well as a scattering of other shoe styles, still all left foot, and recently we have been coming across more  left foot Crocs wedged amongst the rocks.

washed up amongst the seaweed

washed up amongst the seaweed


Lost and lonely

We have even picked up a compass, it was probably discarded as it too pointed Left.


Pointing left of North

We often gathered with a nice bottle of McLaren Vale Shiraz and wondered about this place. We pored over tidal flow charts looking for answers and even started taking measurements in the area. We erected markers next to rocks so that they could be measured each year.


Over the years we found that they too were wearing more on the left side than the right. The wind is also strange here, no matter which direction you turn it always comes from your Left.

Is it the unusual dodge tides that frequent the gulf that allow only left footwear to come ashore and why not the right as well ?. Is it the high pressure cells that pass through over summer, rotating in an anticlockwise direction ?.  Is it a stranger phenomenon, something that we don’t understand about this lonely beach ?.

Recently I was sorting some old camera equipment and saw my old Minolta waterproof camera that I had used in the 1980’s and when I found it still had film I decided to have it processed. The pictures were of sea kayaking and camping  near that beach.

An early visit to the area. camped on a rocky beach near Yoho.

An early visit to the area. camped on a rocky beach near Yoho.

And then there it was.  Maybe the answer to the riddle of Yoho beach partly hidden in the trees.

The Spaceship perched above the nearby beach

The Spaceship perched above the nearby beach

Was it the arrival of the spaceship, perhaps spinning anti-clockwise that created that Left vortex that is still there today?. I’m not sure that we will really ever know the answer but it sure makes a good reason to paddle along the rugged coastline, stop for some beach-combing and maybe even lookout for that spaceship 🙂

Ian, Robyn, Michael and “Professor”Rodney B.