Sunday, March 31, 2024

Not Quite But Almost A Circumnavigation - West and South Coast.

On the water at 6:30, the seas and rebound from the cliffs weren’t too bad so passed inside the Doughboys sailing well on the NE wind. A few kms off Mount Cameron I changed course to head directly towards Green Point stopping for lunch at a lovely sheltered beach just east of Pavement Point. On around West Point, keeping clear of the myriad of off shore rocks and keeping a wary eye out for bommies. Maybe because it was a small one, maybe when it broke it was hidden amongst the wind driven white caps as I scanned ahead for hazards. Suddenly I was over a small patch of very shallow water, with a swell steepening way above my head as the bommies teetered on the edge of breaking. I knew exactly what was going to happen next, I leant forward onto the front deck releasing the sail up haul as I did. Getting trashed with mast fixed could easily mean damage to mast, rigging or boat. I was upside down in an instant and had a wild ride for a short time. Tried to roll but paddle was caught on something, fiddled about trying untangle the paddle and tried again and failed. Bailed out. I stowed the sail and I’m not sure why reached for the paddle float instead of doing a rentry and roll. The paddle float outrigger was reassuring though whilst I put my spray deck on and before the pump had much effect on a boat full of water. Anyway I was back in the boat, the right way up, sorting myself out pretty quickly. You practice and practise these things but now I can say I’ve done a paddle float rentry for real. And thank goodness for electric pumps!

Camped out of the wind at Bluff Hill Point was all very well until the wind dropped and the tent, in full sun, became a sauna. It was lovely and cool out in the open in the breeze but squadrons of march flies determined to feast on my blood meant being cool was anything but relaxed and comfortable. From Eddystone onwards many of the campsites have been beset with march flies but this was by far the worst. Max came over on his quad bike for a chat and invited me to his place along the beach at 5 for a cuppa or a beer. At the preset time one of the other neighbours in a battered old Hilux pulled alongside the tent and said “Comin to Max’s? Jump in”.

6:30 on the water and despite very calm conditions the 20kms to Couta Rocks felt like I was paddling uphill through treacle, perhaps I was, it took over 4hrs! Northerly tidal stream perhaps? Feeling exhausted by such slow going the break for a cuppa and early lunch was extremely welcome. I plodded on for another couple of hours to a very sheltered beach at Gannet Point. Still feeling weary I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the 14km crossing to Sandy Cape, with a relatively featureless shoreline kilometres off to the east offering little or no sense of progress. The almost imaginary westerly was just enough to set the close hauled sail which helped me along I am sure but what really passed the time was listening to a few podcasts.

6:30 on the water and the next landing 38km south at Conical Rocks, then hopefully a further 16km on to Granville Harbour. Closing in on Conical Rocks with the wind building and a niggling worry about the size of the swell making it tricky to land at Granville Harbour it seemed prudent to stop at Conical Rocks. First to get in. The seas started getting very lively and messy with rebound off Conical Rocks Point. Closer in and ah, there’s the big rounded rock marking the right hand side of the entrance that I remember from 2010. It seemed to have some very large explosive surf crashing over at times. I wondered whether the swell was too big but no it’s on the low side, it must be ok. The breakers didn’t spill very far across the gap towards the shore, so there’s my route, a bit left of the furthest spill from the surf crashing over the rock. Suddenly the sea started leaping about like a mad thing, side to side, up and down and from all directions all at once, even more madly than off the point. And just as suddenly it calmed down and a few minutes later the kayak nosed up on a flat sandy beach from mirror calm water.

It turned out to be two days at Conical Rocks, it blew really hard all night and through the following day with brief intense showers that shook the tent. The second day, the wind wasn’t as strong as forecast but still too strong to go anywhere, even the short leg to Granville. The swell was well up too, I couldn’t get out to sea even if I wanted to.

Two days of big winds and massive swells at Conical Rocks.

I tossed and turned a bit during the third night, fretting about getting out of the Harbour. The swell was forecast to drop but…… Heading out is quite different to getting in. Coming in you know it can only become calmer, heading out is the opposite, it could quickly get a lot worse and suddenly it’s all a bit much and turning around is the last thing you want to do. There’s only one way to find out.

First light on a dull overcast morning and I’m approaching the big rounded rock, it doesn’t look too bad, the surf crashing over it is a lot smaller than the previous day. The mess of rebounding confused seas builds, and builds a bit more, then surprisingly drops away more quickly than I thought it would. The seas were still pretty messy outside, but to be expected, not really calming down until I was a couple of kms offshore crossing Ahberg Bay.

A short day to Granville, too short really, I considered going on to Trial Harbour but it’s nowhere near as sheltered from the swell. I needn’t have worried about getting into Granville, there was plenty of room between the breakers on each side of the entrance and was soon ashore with the kayak sitting on deep drifts of kelp covering the rudimentary boat ramp.
Tent pitched and lunch eaten I wandered off up the road looking for phone reception to ring Lynne. She was on her way, having breakfast in New Norfolk. She arrived late afternoon and we more or less turned around and headed back to Zeehan and the pub for food and a beer. We also met up with Luke a long time friend, who in a small group including Lynne and I and Craig Saunders helped each other layup our first Dean 21 doubles in the mid/late 90’s. Luke, a geologist, was working out of Zeehan on the search for sources of rare earth minerals. Back at the tent at 8pm for an early night for an early start the next morning and there were Fi & James the kayak2climb couple from the UK paddling and climbing their way across Bass Strait and around Tasmania. We’d been in touch from early in their trip about south and west coast landings. It was great to finally meet them and have a catch up, unfortunately for such a short time though as we were all headed for an early night. One thing we did ascertain was that they worked at Loch Eil Outward Bound, as I did for a quite a few years in the early 80’s!

Granville Harbour 6:30am. Fi and James of the 'Kayak to Climb Tasmania' expedition heading north, me heading south.

With the fumbling around in the dark over, boats loaded and afloat all three kayaks headed out to sea at 6:30. Fi & James heading north, myself heading for the long 50km plod across to Macquarie Heads. Conditions couldn’t have been better though, no wind and a glassy smooth sea. The dim and distant shore to the east gave no little sense of progress, Cape Sorrel appeared as a grey seemingly unchanging lump on the horizon but at least having something to aim for is a lot easier than regular glances at the compass to stay on course. There was nothing else for it but the audio book I had ready. “Lessons In Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus passed the time wonderfully for 7hrs or more until about a kilometre from Hells Gates I spotted a kayak just emerging through the gap. I know who that is. Lynne’s boat had been on the roof from last Wednesday evening paddle so she’d brought it along and was paddling out to meet me.

Lessons in Chemistry kept me sane on the long day between Granville Harbour and Hells Gates.

Lynne had already booked a tent spot in the campground in Strahan, so once ashore at the Macquarie Heads boat ramp we loaded up the car and were soon in town with camp set up, showered and with laundry washed and drying. I had considered having a day off in Strahan but the forecast north westerly sailing breeze the next day was too good to resist.

Back to Macquarie Heads, packed and on the water at 8, heading out through Hells Gates with the current into the forecast 5-10kn north westerly. Once I turned south and got the sail up I was moving well, smooth paddling in the light wind, I wouldn’t have wanted much more. Entertainment on much of this section of coast is keeping a wary eye ahead for bommies from the crest of every swell. A quick stop every couple of hours for a stretch, check progress on the GPS and have something to eat. With relief after a long day in the boat it was wonderful to reach the little haven of Sanctuary Cove, a mini Wineglass Bay crescent of a beach, the narrow rocky entrance and offshore rocks ensuring a placid landing. By a degree the West Coast gets a little easier from here, some of the commitment drops away as landing opportunities even in larger swells are 15-20km apart instead of more weather dependent landings 30km or 40km apart on the coast north of Macquarie Heads. Familiarity too, it’ll be the fourth time I’ve paddled the coast south of here. South-west Tasmania welcomed me with the calls of currawongs and crescent honey eaters as well as drizzle and low cloud.

7am the next morning it was grey and murky but not a breath of wind in the lee of Point Hibbs. The forecast southerly headwind made itself felt though as I rounded the point, forecast to strengthen from about midday the ~20kms to Hartwell Cove would be plenty for today. Visibility was poor crossing towards Hartwell and Christmas Coves but I could just see the break in the cliffs forming the entrance. Closing in there were massive breakers and bommies extending across the northern side of the entrance and out to sea which made for an adrenalin pumping entry that required careful timing. If I’d got it wrong I’d have been smashed just like we were at this very spot nearly seven years ago. As I turned south towards Hartwell Cove I realised I’d made big mistake, closer to the southern side of the entrance, south of the massive reef breaks extending out to sea was an open, wide and surf free gap. Following the grey murky drizzly morning the clouds cleared to a warm sunny afternoon, enough for the solar panel to top up all my batteries and time to break out the repair kit to make a small repair to the mast.

I’d been in contact with my daughter Meg as she progressed around the coast from Kettering with Ian Johnstone on ‘Julienne’. They were on a mission with two bushwalkers, Dan Haley and Peter Marmion, who were intent on scrub bashing their way between Mainwaring Inlet and Christmas Cove. Meg and Ian had dropped off the walkers a couple of days previously and were bobbing around at anchor in the Inlet. I said I’d see them about 9 the next morning.

Meg on 'Julienne' at anchor in Mainwaring Inlet.

Leaving Mainwaring Inlet, heading for Cowrie Bay.

It’s still just light enough at 6.30 to be on the water and actually see where I was going. As I turned south east from Montgomery Rocks the going seemed slow despite a zephyr of a wind just setting the close hauled sail. If it’s setting that nicely it has to be helping me along, surely? The seemingly slow going meant it was going to be well after 9 before I met up with Meg and Ian. I was wrong the going must have been better than I felt, at 9 on the dot I was welcomed aboard ‘Julienne’ with coffee, avocado and tomato on toast. And cake. An hour later we said our goodbyes, them pulling anchor and heading north to pick up Dan and Pete at Christmas Cove. I headed south past The Shank, around Low Rocky Point then east to the sheltered landing and lovely camping at Cowrie Bay.

The next day with a low swell and the possibility of some sailing breezes from the NE I knew I had a good chance of reaching Spain Bay in Port Davey. If such a long day didn’t pan out there were plenty of places to land and camp, some of which Mulcahy gulch, Alfhild Bight and the Trumpeter Islets I’ve stopped at on past trips. Approaching Mulcahy gulch where I planned to stop for a break I was feeling good and was making good progress on the early morning mirror calm seas so decided to bypass the extra few kms diversion and continue on to Alfhild Bight or the Trumpeter Islets. There had been the odd beneficial puff of wind but not the forecast 05-10kn north-easterly until crossing Mulcahy and Nye Bays there was lovely sailing for an hour or so until the wind died away. What looked from a distance like a sandy beach on Hobbs Island turned out to be rocky but it and the less than 2m swell provided a place to land to sit comfortably in the sun for a cuppa and proper lunch. In such calm seas it was quite a treat paddling only metres from the rocks of North Head as I entered Port Davey.

There had been slight zephyrs of a breeze from the south-west which strengthened just enough on the crossing to Spain Bay to set the sail. A yacht moving nicely with the same breeze behind it passed inside of Swainson Island then crossed my course heading for Bathurst Channel. Both of us seeking shelter from tomorrow’s gales, as mariners have done in Port Davey since the days of bark canoes.

The first day at Spain Bay, it really blew hard, the wind absolutely roaring through the tree tops above the campsite, the relatively sheltered waters of Spain Bay white with waves and spray. It was a surprisingly hot day even in the shady campsite. I don’t think I got up until early afternoon. The wind the next day was similar, definitely another off the water day, but this time there was a chill in the air. There was the possibility of a weather window to get round the South West Cape the next day Saturday. The forecast north-west wind was on the upper limit of comfort but offering a sail to the Cape, the swell dropping to 4m during the day would help too . It was silly really but I packed up twice that day and headed out for a look keen to get the last big hurdle of rounding South West Cape out the way. The Spain Bay campsite is so sheltered it’s impossible to tell what’s going on out at sea. I barely made it past Hay Island before retreating, it was early too I was on the water at 7. The second time at about 11, the latest I was prepared to leave I almost almost made it to Swainson Island before sense prevailed.
So back to another couple of busy days of audio books, podcasts, snoozes, writing, reading, radio national, cooking, eating and sleeping.

Monday offered a window, the swell was down to 2.5-3 and the strong south-westerly was dropping out to be replaced by gentle north-westerlies. On the water about 9.30 and got it just right, the sail went up and I could just feel the breeze over my right shoulder, light but filling the sail and adding a bit of speed to otherwise really slow going in the messy seas. Once I’d cleared the horrible rebounding seas off Hilliard Head it calmed down a bit but was not smooth going until a couple of hours later when I rounded the Cape. It’s such tiring paddling not being able to keep up any sort of rhythm, one minute the water drops away and there’s little or none left for the paddle blade so it swings uselessly through fresh air, while the next stroke is elbow deep in the water. There’s a constant change in cadence and power too as the boat slows seemingly to a stop in the bottom of a hole in the sea when there’s no point in wasting energy putting any effort into the stroke only to find few strokes later on the crest of a swell a small wave propelling the boat forward requiring a few powerful sprint strokes to take advantage of the push. Off McKays Gulch about 4km from the tip the wind picked up. A welcome boost along but just a bit too much for comfort as the waters became even more confused and messy around the Cape. Maatsuyker came into view, then DeWitt, a quick glance back up the west coast and a whispered ‘thank you’ for the challenge and adventure. I could see ahead the wind had strengthened enough to whip over the lower ground north of the Cape to form vicious bullets fanning out in a sweep of white caps and spray across Karamu Bay. With the sail down I slowly crossed towards Wilson Bight until the wind was coming over my left shoulder and I could raise it again to sail across to Telopea Point. The small beach on the northerns shore of Ketchem Island offers sheltered landing in pretty much all conditions and there’s a couple of nice tent sites right at the top of the beach.

The next morning on a mirror calm sea paddling straight into the rising sun and its glare on the water stretching from bow to horizon really wasn’t pleasant. Squinting from under the pulled down brim of my hat didn’t make a lot of difference, it wasn’t until a couple of hours later approaching Louisa Island that the sun had risen enough for some respite. Whether it was trying to look where I was going without staring into the sun and the glare on the water but by the time I landed for a cuppa on Louisa Island I felt completely listless and apathetic. A cuppa and some food helped but didn’t completely remove the feeling of ennui that had engulfed me. With the swell low over the next couple of days I knew I should really get to Rocky Boat Inlet today, to shorten the final day of the trip to Cockle Creek but really couldn’t be bothered. Little Deadmans it’ll have to be, despite adding an extra 9km paddling to the finish.

I had it in my mind the forecast winds over the next couple of days were not going to be very cooperative for the 50km to Cockle Creek so was resigned to a couple of days at Little Deadmans. Lynne texted the Windy and MetEye forecasts and they weren’t too bad at all, dispelling my lethargy and motivating me to be on the water by 6.30.

As it turned out there was hardly a breath of wind all day. My favourite stretch of water in Tasmania between Little Deadmans and Rocky Boat Inlet went quickly, the early morning light on the Southern Ranges, low patches of mist over New River Lagoon and the distant view of Federation Peak over my left shoulder simply reinforced my favouritism. With no wind and a very low swell the sea couldn’t have been smoother so I was moving along really nicely at 7 to 8kph. Shoemaker Point came and went, South Cape loomed ahead then abeam and South East Cape appeared ahead. Every couple of hours I stopped for a drink, a stretch and a muesli bar or two or three. Whale Head ahead, then only a 10 metres or so to my left. So very different to when I was here in January with Tim R and Terry S when the sea conditions were quite the opposite so Whale Head got a very wide berth.
A gentle north-easterly breeze rippled the water as I rounded Fisher Point, just enough to get the sail up to blow me slowly towards the last landing of the trip. I sat back and rested, appreciating the break after nearly 7 hours in the boat.

And then it was over.

A total of 38 days, 28 paddling days, ~1100km.

And I’d do it again next year…..

Not Quite But Almost A Circumnavigation - North Coast.

The day I rounded Cape Portland and reached the north coast was, well, one of those amazing days that's unlikely to be repeated in a hurry.

I was looking forward to Bridport and the comforts of what is generally termed civilisation, but was not really looking forward to the 22km crossing of Anderson Bay. I sensed the forecast wind direction was going be just a tad too close to the bow to sail. I also knew that the slightest errant puff close abeam would necessitate raising the sail as muscles tired and Bridport, shining in the sun ahead, didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Only to be dropped in frustration a short time later, as yes the wind is really just a touch too far forward.

The forecast gale force north-westerlies meant Bridport was going to be home for at least two days, Lynne and Meg were driving up to meet me and hang out for the days off. Instead of $45 per tent for a night in the campground I found a cosy camp with enough space for all of us in the dunes behind Adams Beach at the northern end of town. The 30mins walk into town, in the heat of the afternoon was enough to justify a beer itself let alone all the previous days on the water. Delicious fish and chips for dinner again before returning to the tent for a little snooze. I awoke after dark to undress and get in my sleeping bag then didn’t wake until well after first light. 12-13 hrs sleep!

Lynne and Meg arrived for a lovely cafe lunch, then as they’d had a puncture en route we drove to Scottsdale to source a new tyre. With a new one ordered for pick up the next day we retreated to the Little Rivers Brewery.

Following a great walk up Mount Stronach overlooking Scottsdale the next morning we were back sampling the wares at Twin Rivers brewery, they even let us eat our picnic lunch at their outside tables.
I had vague plans to be on the water before the NW headwinds strengthened the next day but couldn’t be bothered as I guessed I wouldn’t make much progress and I didn’t fancy camping in the dunes of East or West Sandy Heads. Another days rest in Bridport.

The gentle south-westerlies just enabled me to sail so good progress to a boat ramp west of Weymouth for a cuppa and a bite to eat. On to Low Head in similar conditions. I found a nice spot for the tent at the first beach on the western side of the Head just on the edge of a penguin colony, then as I explored further I realised I would probably be in the middle of that evenings penguin tour. I was asleep when the tour guides arrived and they were really not happy with my presence. I sleepily mumbled an apology, pointed out I couldn’t really move on in the dark and what’s the problem anyway? It turned out they’d even moved my kayak on the beach as they said it was blocking the penguins coming up the beach! As they left one of the guides hissed “I hope you’re utterly ashamed with what you’ve done” as though I’d let a pack of rabid dogs loose on the penguins not just quietly settled in for the night. I strongly suspect my discreet presence disrupted the penguins far less than the guides and their regular tours.

Despite being on the water at first light I didn’t think I’d get very far the next day due to the forecast strong headwinds but made it to the east end of Bakers Beach before the wind slowed progress to a crawl. I walked many kms along the beach to the PWS campground for water only to discover on returning to camp that there was fresh water only a few hundred metres away. It was good to have a walk though.

South west wind again the next day so marginal sailing enabled good progress to Devonport Bluff for a cuppa and a bite to eat. Towards the end of the day I pushed on to a ‘camping ground’ just east of Sulphur Creek that I’d spotted on google maps. Spots to land and camp along this section of coast are very few and far between. The shore is generally rocky, nice landing beaches are rare and the coastal strip is packed with houses, the railway line, the cycle way as well as the old and current highway. Landing on the beach to the west of the camping ground was easy then having carried all my stuff to a small spot amongst the field packed with campavans I started to pitch my tent only to be informed that this Council run free campground was for self contained campavans only. With no other choice but to get into trouble again I continued pitching the tent. I didn’t get into trouble either. Of course being Tasmania I met someone I knew and we chatted for a while.

On the water at 6 again for sunrise and smooth water, another lovely early morning except for the loud and incessant rumble of traffic on the highway. Cuppa and food at Wynyard and a sail out to Table Cape, headwinds to Boat Harbour for a quick stop to pick up water and on to a lovely camp spot at the western end of Anniversary Bay.

Anniversary Bay, Rocky Cape National Park

On the water at 6 again, timed to sail the north-easterly into Stanley to arrive for the 10am high tide as it dries a long way out here at low water. Lynne and I passed this way in 2010, landing by chance at high tide right on the shoreline right in front of the campground. On checking in I expressed surprise, i.e. I had a little whinge at what I considered a rip off $45 for a single tent site. It worked, they only charged me $38, old grumpy pensioner discount! My allocated spot was so close to where I landed I was able trolley the boat up right next to the tent. The most glorious long hot shower followed, then laundry.

Food stocktake and shopping the next morning then on the water about 11 to paddle an hour or so out of Stanley to camp at Halfmoon Bay ready to cross to Robbins Passage the next morning.

I was a tad nervous about the 15-25kn NE forecast, would the seas build a bit too much for comfort as the fetch increased crossing to Robbins Island? First to get off the beach though, I could see it was going to be very awkward. A 150-200m of rolling unpredictable surf from the overnight onshore north easterly and 15-25knots diagonally across the very flat beach. It took multiple attempts to successfully get afloat and get the spray deck on. When I pointed the bow into the waves I barely had time to get in the boat and well before any chance of getting my spray deck on and I was blown beam on to the surf and I was aground again. After one attempt I ended up with boat half full of sandy water. If I pointed the bow into the wind even before I was afloat the surf washed me beam on to the beach again. I nearly gave up but then suddenly through more luck than judgement aiming in just the right direction at exactly the right time and I was both afloat, had my spraydeck on and was heading out into the unpredictable surf. It was weird surf, more like unpredictability of tidal standing waves, the surf was really close together and breaking with no predictable pattern. At one point I crested a small unbroken wave while the same wave was breaking cascading white water a good meter above my head only a meter or so to the side. The surf wasn’t that huge or terribly powerful but two capsizes and rolls later I finally got out of the surf zone and was heading for North Point. Blimey, after that I think the seas off Cape Ely are going to be of no concern at all.

I’d realised ages ago that if I lashed the top of the main sail batten parallel to the top of mast I was able to reef down to a tiny storm sail. So small though that I thought it was too small. Hah! On rounding North Point it was very obvious that with the full sail up I was well and truly over powered, out came a small strip of double sided Velcro and the storm sail was rigged for the first time. With 20knots behind me I rocketed downwind, on a bearing for a while until I could see the low lying land of Cape Ely. The sea steadily built but wasn’t too bad, though it was a relief to relax on the smoother waters of Robbins Passage. I considered heading across the wind towards Stony Point for a cuppa and something to eat but realised there was no point in going out of my way so reverted back to flying along on my original downwind course. Kates Point just east of the low tide crossing point between the mainland and Robbins Island provided shelter from the wind, a comfy backrest and a leisurely lunch spot. Over the sound of the wind and waves I could hear for the first time the low incessant roar of the west coast swells breaking on the reefs, rocks and beaches to the west. Here we go I thought, the soundtrack to next ~500km of paddling. Local knowledge had informed me that high tide at the crossing between the mainland and Robbins Island was HW Burnie +2hrs so in theory I was ahead of the high tide but a few kms past the crossing point a channel marker north-west of the Wallaby Islands showed it was already ebbing. Despite this I took a gamble and left the channel as it turned north into the wind and cut across the shallow sand banks south of Kangaroo Island more or less directly towards Woolnorth Point so I could continue sailing. The tide was still high and it would be very embarrassing to be stuck on the endless expanse of sandbanks until the next high! I was doing fine still sailing fast in very shallow water until inevitably the kayak ground to a halt on the sand. Jumping out, the boat kept sailing with me sloshing along holding the mast and trying to keep up. After about 100m it was deep enough for me to jump back in and keep paddling, a short while later the same happened but on clearing the second shallow patch the colour of the water darkened and it was obvious I was out of danger of embarrassment. From there to Woolnorth Point the wind was howling and the ebb stream building. With little fetch it was relatively smooth water so under full sail now I was flying along. I couldn’t resist switching on the GPS to check the speedo, not paddling I was moving along at 10kph. I knew there were a few small sandy beaches on the western side of Woolnorth Point promising easy landing. Rounding the Point and suddenly into another world, the intimidating feel, sight and sound of the west coast overwhelmed me, butterflies in the stomach, nervousness swept through me. The north-easterly wind was lifting spray in huge curtains from the top of the breakers on the rocks and islets between Woolnorth and Trefoil Island. Chill, big slow breath out reassuring myself that, first of all I’ll get used to it, secondly treat it with the respect it deserves and it’ll respect you. So to camp following an epic day. After the celebratory dram and message to Lynne to say I was safely ashore I wandered around looking for a campsite, a track came out onto the beach and I realised it was the same spot where I picked up Guy and Ebi at the end of their west coast trip in 2017.

Not Quite But Almost A Circumnavigation - East Coast.

Monday 22 January

Do I go, do I not? The eternal sea kayakers dilemma. Scrub going around the Tasman Peninsula, the wx wouldn’t be settled enough to head that way for days and I didn’t have days to spare as I have to be home by early March at the latest. The departure day forecast south westerly 15-20kn was a touch marginal and it certainly looked like it as on approaching Tinderbox the view down the Channel was obscured by grim looking squalls and the water streaked with white caps. The sail went up 50m from the beach and didn’t come down, aside from a quick stop on Green Head to eat the delicious cut lunch Lynne had made for me, until Marion Narrows.

And we're off, on a blustery south westerly.

To make the most of the early morning calm I was on the water at 6, the first of so many wonderful dawn paddles. Heading straight across to Cape Peron the forecast NNE headwinds began ruffling the water. Onward to the southern side of Point Lesueur for shelter from the strengthening wind for a cuppa and a bite to eat. Further steady headwind paddling to Darlington to top up water containers then around to a steep pebbly beach on the tip of Cape Boullanger and a nice camp tucked into the scrub behind the beach.

Strong north easterlies and rain shook the tent during the night but was forecast to drop during the day. Will it drop enough and early enough for me to cross to Schouten? I slowly started pulling gear together in case. Suddenly no wind, not a breath. A quick pack up and on the water about 11 bashing into the remnant choppy seas. By the time I reached Isle de Phoque the clouds had cleared, it was hot and sunny and I was gliding along on smooth seas. Not being fully paddle fit the last hour or so to Schouten was a bit of a plod. A faint south easterly was just enough to set the sail, providing, if nothing else, a morale boosting semblance of assistance for a short time as I rounded Sandstone Bluff. I was soon set up in a lovely shady campsite under the casuarinas in Moreys Bay.

Moreys Bay, Schouten Island.

 Gentle westerly winds provided a surprising amount of sailing the next morning but as predicted the north-easterly built whilst having lunch at the southern end of Friendly Beaches. Plodding into it wasn’t too bad and I felt good so instead of camping as intended on Butlers Point I rang Lynne to say I would be in Bicheno later that day. Waubs Beach Bicheno was busy, the shallows packed with kids and adults splashing in the shallows and playing in the small surf. I had to give way to two young girls with their boards as I approached the beach. In full sea kayaking regalia I felt like an overdressed spaceman amongst the skimpily clad holiday hoards lolling about in the sun. I unpacked the boat, trolleyed it up the beach and turned it over near the community box of free to use beach toys pondering whether the kids would think the kayak a fancy beach toy. Well, now I come to think of it……… A block and a half behind the beach I scored the last tent spot in the campground. With camp set up, batteries charging and a wonderful long hot shower I set off for a beer, had fantastic fish and chips for dinner, then bed, tired.

Lynne arrived for a lovely cafe breakfast in the sun and we caught up with our now quite disparate lives. From me some of the minutiae of detail on the trip so far on waters that Lynne knows well and from Lynne homely news of the veggie garden, Weds paddles and rolling practise. A cruisey morning but as the strong gusty westerly was forecast to ease a little by midday I was keen to keep moving. The wind dropped enough to battle my way straight into it towards Diamond Island where, as I turned more northerly and with the sail as close hauled as I dared I was able to sail. Marginal and tricky sailing all day with gusts coming off the hills from every which way but made it to Four Mile Creek and a lovely sheltered grassy campsite.

Leaving Bicheno into a strong gusty westerly.

On the water at first light again. Despite the W, WNW wind there was a surprising amount of sailing so made good progress until rounding St Helens Point to cross to Humbug Point. Barely making headway against the full strength of the north westerly I was tempted by the boat ramp on the Point only a few hundred metres to my left. Lynne and I had landed there in 2010, the boat ramp and car park were a dust bowl and we searched high and low amongst dry prickly scrub to eventually find a crappy tent spot a long carry from the ramp. It has to be better on the other side. It was.

West north westerlies, so again a surprising amount of close hauled sailing, then a wild close to downwind run from Ansons Bay as the coast turned north easterly. Eddystone welcomed me with clouds of small flies that seemed determined to be up your nose and in your eyes, ears and mouth all at the same time. Again the boat ramp, car park and vicinity offered as many tent spots as the in the vicinity of the St Helens Point boat ramp - none. The choice between camping in a gravel car park or cheekily tucked behind one of the old lighthouse keeper’s quarters up towards the lighthouse on level flat wallaby cropped grass wasn’t a hard one to make. I gasped audibly though when it sunk in what I was doing. The gall of me, a white fella, making myself at home uninvited on aboriginal land. On Australia Day long weekend. As a penance I’ll make a donation to the Aboriginal Land Council ‘Giving Land Back’ fund that will enable the return of Country to Aboriginal ownership.
For two nights too, as I knew the wind would have me off the water the next day. The first weather day off of the trip and a lie in will be very gratefully received too.
Late the following day two cars and mobs of people arrived, they’d booked the house I was hiding behind. I explained my predicament, apologised profusely and offered to move immediately but it was all cool. Once they had settled in I was offered the use of the toilet and shower just metres from the tent at the back of the house.

Eddystone Lighthouse

Thursday, February 1, 2024

A Perfect Days Sea Kayaking?

I'd day dreamed before I got there of the perfect combination of tide and wind sweeping me NW from Eddystone to Cape Portland then WSW across Ringarooma Bay to Waterhouse. I then measured the distance, 70+km, gulp and thought 'that'll never happen'.

Hah, the elusive sea kayakers dream of perfect conditions! 

Somehow it all came together, maybe if you day dream enough, dreams do come true.

The forecast promised light to moderate South Easterlies backing steadily around to eventually a strengthening North Westerly late in the afternoon. I’d better be sure to land at Waterhouse before then, the thought of plodding against a 10-15kn at the end of a long day was not attractive. Let’s work back from a planned landfall at 4pm. 

The tide too matched the dream. Navionics predicted the flood stream in the middle of Banks Strait starting about 9:30am, I suspected I would be getting a lift with the tide along the coast before then. Tidetech confirmed this, indicating I’d pick up the flood stream off Cape Naturaliste, Musselroe Point section of coast about 8.00am.

My float plan for the day. Features I'd be passing, as I’m not using paper maps, timing and the odd bearing if needed. 

‘Would it be too dark?’ at 5am I wondered? I knew it would be too dark to see the compass but would it be light enough to make out the coast ahead? It was, just. 

There was no discernible glimmer through the clouds in south eastern sky but a waning moon lit a glistening path ahead. I could just make out where the darker grey strip of land petered out between the differing shades of lighter grey of sea and sky. Small dark shadows flitted ghostily across the sky in front of me, shearwaters silently heading out to sea.

So, on the water at 5am, sail up, rollicking along with the 8-10kn SE wind, the forecast was spot on, so far. Aiming for the vague difference in greys ahead and appreciating winter Wednesday paddles for the familiarity of paddling in the dark.

A stop in glorious sunshine at Musselroe Pt for a cuppa and couple of big cheese, peanut butter and salad rolls setting off again and I was still ahead of my planned schedule.

From there the flood tide picked up strongly. Perfect timing to be whisked up the coast early on the flood stream, there was only one noticeable race and associated overfalls and jobbly tidal water off the unnamed point just north of Little Musselroe.

Another stop on Cape Portland for coffee and cake and to consider the crossing to Waterhouse Point. The wind had now backed to the NE, lighter but still a sailing breeze. An hour ahead of my schedule and the flood stream near enough at its peak I left for Waterhouse Point, a bearing of 235deg leading the way until land ahead could be seen.

Years ago Lynne and I had crossed Banks Strait to catch the flood stream around Cape Portland where we stopped for lunch and then wondered why we were moving along so well crossing Ringarooma Bay. Ah duh, of course the flood stream but so strong despite such an open body of water. Tidetech, was predicting ~0.6kn north east of Waterhouse Point at the end of the flood.

The crossing went smoothly, a quick stop for a stretch and a muesli bar every hour and suddenly the beach was close enough to be picking a spot to land. The wind though backed west of north a touch too far and I had to take the sail down. So close but so far from having sailed the whole day.

3pm, an hour ahead of plan and the celebratory wee dram before the drudgery of lugging gear and boat up the beach. 

What a day, a perfect day.


Monday, July 24, 2023

Ullapool! And The End of an Era.

Crossing The Minch from The Shiants to Rubha na h-Aiseig on Skye went smoothly. The sea was exactly that and the south-westerly headwind was gentle enough to be pleasantly cooling. For a long featureless crossing the time went remarkably quickly.

In theory the tide should have been taking us south-west but there was no noticeable drift all the way across. We’d timed the crossing to be off the point of Rubha na h-Aiseig at about 1300, the Tidal Atlas indicating the stream changed north-east sometime between 1230 and 1330. A couple of kilometres from Eilean Trodday, the island about 2km off the point, we could see a beach that offered the chance of landing as after nearly three hours in the boat lunch was very much on our minds. 

But… slowly dawned on us that it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Out came the GPS and sure enough we were down to less than 4kph. Damn, the north-easterly stream! 

Muesli bars were eaten and bearing away to the east to go with the current also enabled us to put the sails up, our speed doubled and in the lee of Eilean Trodday we sped up even more. 

Fours hours after leaving The Shiants we found a beach just inside Kilmaluag Bay to land and finally some lunch.

Our camp for the night at Staffin was about 10kms further south. Along the way was a spectacular section of cliffs boasting basalt columns that rivalled those on Garbh Eilean.

Nesting fulmars.

Pulling into the beach at Staffin, the jetty busy with fish farm workers, local families and tourists, suddenly there was a shout. There were the very friendly locals who had tried to help us with new golf cart wheels in Uig last Sunday. It was great to catch up and thank them again for their efforts.

The next day south along the coast from Staffin, across to Rona through Caol Rona, the channel separating Rona and Raasay, to continue south along the eastern shore of Raasay was a day to forget.

It was one of those days when if bike riding you’d have stopped to make sure the brakes weren’t rubbing. Or for us in a kayak, do we pull up the rudder to detach the line of creels we seeem to be dragging along behind us? Paddling uphill, through treacle - all day.

With relief we found a grand spot for the tent near the light on Eyre Point. The farmer there didn’t mind us camping right on the point - but the resident Arctic terns did …. we paddled a few hundred metres back and settled in.

Eyre Point was also decision point. 

Do we head south through Kyle of Loch Alsh, Kyle Rhea towards Mallaig, Ardnamurchan, Sound of Mull to pull up in style on the beach in front of our friends’ place in Appin. A distance that we could achieve if focused and not held up by weather. Timing could possibly be tight. 

Or head north, as planned, to Ullapool. A shorter distance, easily achievable in the time we have left, too easy perhaps we’d really have to be lily dipping to use up the time. Surprisingly we could extend our hire van booking by a few days with a nominal increase in cost enabling us to arrive in Appin in plenty of time and with wheels. Wheels that open up the opportunity to roam and visit more old friends before the seasonal imperative of southerly migration to the warmer climes of Devon and Tim’s Mum’s 90th birthday.

Paddling south and pulling up on the beach at our friends place was very persuasive. What better way to deliver the kayak to its new owners, rather than in four pieces out of the back of a hire van. 

So too was heading north, a gentle figuratively downhill cruise to the end.

South it was. Charts and Tidal Atlas consultation began, we could easily make the tide through Kyle of Loch Alsh but not today through Kyle Rhea.

Suddenly decision reversed. Head north, are we sure? Yes! Right, wrangle the van hire booking, new dates confirmed, old booking cancelled. 

Chill, lily dipping our way to Ullapool. 

The Inner Sound between Raasay and Applecross is a submarine exercise area, muscle flexing of a live firing variety rather than the lifting of weights.

“Considered to be clear of shipping” Oh good that is reassuring.

UK sea kayak ‘pilot’ Tidelines has this to say.

“Inner Sound testing area: Underwater weapons testing is carried out in the Inner Sound (MOD BUTEC). If leaving the shoreline, it may be prudent to monitor VHF channel 13.”

The submarine exercise area monitoring buildings. We’re no doubt on some sort of hit list now for this photo.

A short sharp very heavy shower had done its torrential thing on us just as we took down the tent at Eyre Point. Great. Fantastic. A soaking wet tent to put up at the end of the day.

En route to our camp at Ardban and its lovely beach we explored the narrow channel, drying at low tide, that splits the Crowlin Islands.

The southern end of the channel made a great lunch spot.  

We then paddled north up the eastern side of the Crowlins against a fresh northerly wind, and relieved, turned south to investigate the northern end of the channel under sail.

After two kms gentle sailing, another heavy torrential squall bore down on us  from the south !!

Within minutes we were now sailing,  fast, back the way we’d come!

A perfect storm of unpleasantness. Another squall with a chilly north west wind just as we arrived at Ardban, us very damp and getting cold in old slightly leaky dry suits and a tent with pools of water inside. We need shelter, now. 

We forego our preferred tent spot on the exposed bank above the beach with grand vistas across Inner Sound to Raasay and find a hollow out of the wind just big enough for the tent and dive inside to mop out the pools of water with our pack towels. 

As the restorative powers of coffee and cake take hold and we’re warmed up, we set off dressed in full waterproofs and wellies to explore our new surroundings. 

The drizzle and wind abate to the point that our little sheltered hollow having done a sterling job sheltering us on arrival has outlived its utility and we’re looking longingly at the bank above the beach. 

I’ll bore you again with the practicality of a free standing tent, lifted in entirety with sleeping mats and other gear inside to our proper place of great views and nae midges. 

Ardban, such a lovely spot that we stayed three nights. If we had wanted to stay longer perhaps we should have bought the white house on the left in the picture above. For sale last year for £150,000, access only by sea or a 2km walk from the road, but it does have mains power.

The days based at Ardban were very relaxing - beers in the Applecross Inn, the best hot fresh fish and chip lunch from the mobile food van across from the pub and massive bacon rolls one morning on our way to the Heritage Museum. 

We love the little local museums we find along the way as they always offer a fascinating insight into the local community and it’s history. 

This one was no exception, in addition once we got chatting to Margaret we got some local gossip too and Lynne had some spinning lessons. 

First carding to straighten and separate the fibres.

Then a delicate coordination of fine finger work and feet on the treadle. 

Onto Gairloch for petrol for the stove and another fantastic museum. A big step up in quality and quantity from Applecross, winning a Museum of the Year Award in 2020. The building a nuclear bomb proof bunker from the 1950’s very cleverly and attractively adapted to display an extensive range of the local history. 

The dominating centre piece on the ground floor was the complete light array from Rubha Reidh (pro. Rube Ray) lighthouse. The massive construction of bronze and glass the largest the Chance Bros. ever made.

We discovered we had missed an exhibition, ‘The Spirit of Beyond : The Shiant Isles’ by local artist Alison Dunlop of drawings, watercolours and photographs. 

Amazing pieces of work. 

Graphite drawing of the Eilean Garbh cliffs, 100cm x 152cm, £8,000.

Slightly more within our price range was the book published to accompany the exhibition which will sit on our bookshelves at home as a tangible memory of our visit to that magical place. 

In the tent that night looking at the map it dawned on us that our lily dipping way to Ullapool may not be quite so straightforward and relaxing. The point of Rubha Reidh sticks well out into The Minch and could easily have some tidal considerations. Sure enough it did, 3kns at springs and we weren’t far from springs. 

Suddenly all attention was on the Tidelines sea kayak ‘pilot’ and the Tidal Atlas. Easy, we just have to be there as the north-easterly stream drops off around 1230. 

Easy, though, it certainly wasn’t.  

We were moving fast sailing on the westerly breeze and northerly tide, but the seas were the roughest most uncomfortable seas of the whole trip. A large north-westerly swell was thrown up in confusion as it rebounded off the cliffs and clashed with the northernly current. 

We corkscrewed and lurched north with trepidation, if it’s like this here what’s it going to be like off Rubh Reidh?

The nervousness increased as a couple of dark and threatening squalls appeared north and west of us adding to the undercurrent of menace the sea always seems to exude on grey overcast days. We lurched onwards with little choice. 

The first squall passed well in front of us but the second showed itself with a few pattering rain drops then heavy drizzle and poor visibility that added to the murkiness of the day. Thankfully though there were no accompanying squally blasts of wind.

Rubh Reidh lighhouse came into view and a fringe of white water around its surrounding rocks but the seas off the point didn’t look any worse than those of the last couple of hours. 

Rubh Reidh lighthouse.

As we followed the coast eastwards away from the tide and lee shore the seas abated and we were able for the first time today to paddle with some semblance of rhythm. There was nowhere to land for lunch and a cuppa around Greenstone Point or the nearby islands so on across the mouth of Loch Ewe to Slaggan Bay. Despite only 26km to our camp here we we both felt knackered from being thrown around by the unruly seas for most of the morning.

The following day couldn’t have been more of a contrast, a very civilised south-west wind blew us speedily over smooth water across Gruinard Bay around Cailleach Head and into Annat Bay. Slabby rocks provided a reasonable landing a couple of hours after high tide. Perfect, we had to launch the following morning a couple of hours before high tide for the last couple hours paddling of this trip. 

Ullapool high tide at 1040 and the beachside campground. The sea though didn’t want us to leave giving us a headwind all the way and despite double checking the tide times an ebbing flow from Loch Broom.