Scribe: Laurie Ford.
PADDLERS Cecily Butorac, John Wild, Jeff Jennings, Laurie Ford, Toby Clarke, Ian MacDonald
Drove to Recherche Bay after work Friday, arriving about 11.30pm - the others were already camped and asleep.
Up early Saturday & packed the canoes, leaving the beach by 7.30am. Weather was good, little wind, but overcast - an easy paddle down to Whale Head. Here we met the SW swell, and although only slight, it was enough to cause Toby to begin to feel sea-sick and lag behind. Sea-sickness sometimes causes canoeists to lose the ability to even sit upright, and without another paddler holding them up, would capsize. After the event, sea-sick paddlers have said that at the time they would have been more than happy to drown, just to end the awful feeling. Toby, however, just went slower and slower, with the colour disappearing from his face altogether. From SE Cape to South Cape Rivulet was painfully slow, paddling into a slight headwind, and Toby's thoughts were that he would have to camp there for a week and wait for us to collect him on the way back. We landed about midday, and Toby recovered immediately his feet hit dry land. Due to all the recent rain the rivulet was good and deep and we paddled up it a few metres and camped on the western shore. The afternoon was highly amusing as we watched groups of bush-walkers fording the stream, many floundering in water up to their arm-pits, packs and gear held above their heads. One young lady? even stripped down to nothing except a shirt, and one of our party gallantly paddled across to the other side and offered to ferry her pack across while the rest of us watched this budding Lady Godiva wade through the dark swirling waters.
Rain showers came and went during the day but not enough to be annoying, and we had a pleasant day lazing around the campfire.
Sunday saw us on the water early again for the paddle around South Cape to Rocky Boat Inlet. We fed Toby some pills for sea-sickness and he paddled the full distance with no ill affects. The low swell was rebounding back off S Cape causing some very confused seas in close to the sheer cliffs, but it was only a local effect, and we had a relatively smooth paddle along past Shoemaker Bay and Surprise Bay. Even so, the surf on the beaches is big enough to preclude landing, and our first stop ashore was in Rocky Boat Inlet - where several large rocks break the swell up and leave calm water right up to the rocky shore. It was just about lunch time but we only took a brief stop to look around before setting off to Deadmans Cove where there is an excellent campsite. In this area where it can blow up quickly I prefer to push along while the weather is holding, and then rest up for the remainder of the day if necessary.
Immediately upon our arrival in Deadmans Cove we were approached by a bushwalker to see if we could assist him in any way - his 15 year old son had fallen badly twice and could go no further without suffering excruciating pain in the hips. A message had already been sent out that morning with another group of walkers, but it was likely to take three days to reach the nearest phone. We had a two-way radio with us specially for this type of emergency and after ascertaining it was a genuine call for help we got in touch with a fishing boat who relayed the message to Hobart. About an hour later the unmistakable sound of a chopper intruded upon the quietness and it swooped in to land on the sloping foreshore, its blades metres away from the thick foliage. The two walkers had just been preparing for another nights camping and there was a mad rush to pack up the tent and other gear. The canoeists chatted to the pilot, and Keith Harper of the Police Search & Rescue Dept, while the packing went on; then the fading sound of the chopper returning to Hobart once more left us with the solitude of the SW bushland.
Deadmans Cove is one of the better campsites accessible by canoe and we had it to ourselves till evening when extremely muddy walkers arrived, and after they wolfed down some abalone gathered and prepared by John, one of them borrowed some of our diving gear to try for some of their own.
That night it rained and blew up a storm, and the 6.00am forecast gave us a strong wind warning from the NW to W, and at first we thought we wouldn't be paddling at all. However after due consideration we decided the worst of the wind had gone past in the early morning before sunrise, and by 8.00am the kayaks were packed and ready to go. Our departure was delayed slightly by an almost hysterical bushwalker requesting a helicopter ride out, claiming it was her last chance to get out of the SW alive. She had apparently been walking 12 hours a day and her knees and ankles were giving out. It seemed more a case of 24 hours complete rest rather than a rescue, and we suggested she join up with a nearby larger party who would be more amenable to a sensible pace than her companion obviously was. I must confess that our male chauvinists chuckled over this for the rest of the trip, and agreed that girls who will carry the bulk of the gear for both of them for 12 hours a day, day after day, are hard to find these days - and wondered what his secret was.
The westerly was still fresh, and the seas a bit choppy, but we plodded into it for a few hours, with one rest stop tucked in behind the lee of a small point and some big rocks. We entered Louisa Bay between the island and river mouth, dodging round some fierce looking groups of breaking waves. Between the island and shore is a long sand bar that is uncovered at low tide, but at this state of high tide was a most impressive sight. The SW swell was curling round both ends of the island and meeting right over the sand bar - a great spume of water racing shorewards at about 60km looking like a continuous line of underwater explosions. As we approached it we were picked up by a wave from behind and surfed in at a good speed towards this maelstrom, only to crash into a similar wave coming from the opposite direction. If we'd had un-loaded boats and felt a bit fresher we could have played around here for a while, but as we had been paddling for a few hours in almost continuous rain and spray we were looking for a good campsite. There is supposed to be one in the NE corner of Louisa bay, but as we got closer to the beach to check it out we could see the SW swell really building up and making a landing out of the question so we stayed well out. Even so there was a slight moment of panic as a couple of much bigger swells came in and we moved further out to sea very quickly and headed for Anchorage Cove. Although there is no campsite here it was absolutely dead calm and sheltered - and tents sprung up along the beach just above the high water mark. Fortunately shortly after we arrived and had a big fire going on the beach the miserable steady rain eased up and then stopped altogether, and after lunch most of us just sprawled out on the sand and went to sleep for a couple of hours.
So far our progress had been pretty good - we were now only 2 hrs paddling from Maatsuyker Island, our main objective. The club was originally named the Maatsuyker Canoe Club because we considered all sea canoeists should be quite happy to paddle in this area, and we had been quite prepared to do short distances each day in much worse conditions than we had so far encountered. We had altered our club constitution to bring forward the AGM for this year only, so that it could be held on Maatsuyker Island - our home port so to speak. To look at the South West properly would take weeks, necessitating camping in the same place for days at a time so that we could walk into places like Precipitous Bluff, or Melaleuca Inlet. As we had only planned for nine days none of this was possible, getting to Maatsuyker was our aim, but even so it had let the whole club know what landing spots are available for future trips.
Toby had gone to a fair bit of trouble to put the name of his kayak and home port on its' rear deck - EUCRYPHIA LOUISA BAY so we duly christened it with beer and stout and wished it fair winds etc.. It's good to see someone take up sea canoeing as whole heartedly as Toby has, and by only having six trips a year it still leaves time for members to keep up their bushwalking, white-water canoeing, and other activities. However he wasn't too keen on camping on the sand, and carved out a campsite in the scrub, only to move his tent again and again, finally ending up on the beach with the rest of us anyway - after a lot of comments about being like a woman not being able to make up her mind where the furniture should go.
Day four (New Year's Eve) started like day one and two - no wind and just a smooth rolling swell and we were on the water shortly after 6.30am. After a couple of kms a light NW wind freshened up and we used our sails to speed us on our way. It struck me that if conditions held out for a couple of hours we could easily go out to the seal colony at the Needles, and circumnavigate the whole island. But if there is anything you can rely on in this area, it is that you can't rely on the weather, and the wind continually strengthened and went round to the SW, with the seas building up accordingly - but not before we were close to Walker Island. Cecily and Toby decided to give the seals a miss and ran in before the big swells between Walker and Maatsuyker to the landing stage, where they rode their kayaks up the rocks on the swells, and then hurriedly scrambled up the haulage way - knowing they really wouldn't make in it time to see us go through the Needles.
As the rest of us approached the Needles it looked a dicey spot to be in, with huge waves crashing over the rocks, but we managed to get within 15 - 20 metres of one rock covered with seals. After a quick look about we decided to get out pretty quickly as conditions were deteriorating every moment. Every gap through the Needles looked pretty alarming with white water breaking in all of them, but I picked one that seemed reasonable and headed through it, hoping the others would follow. The sound of the crashing waves was incredible, but although the passage was turbulent it was safer than a first glance would indicate. Here we were within metres of rocks on either side, and the water was alive with seals - so thick you could poke them with a paddle as you shot past. This was exciting stuff, all the more so as the exit appeared to be swept by walls of white water, in fact there was room to get round it safely. "Jeez" 'Wowee" "That got the old adrenalin pumping".
Round about this time we had been spotted by the head lightkeeper Graeme Heynes who called to his assistant Owen Barrett, “Hey, come and have a look at this, there's some wreckage by the Needles." But as Owen looked over the l00m drop some of the 'wreckage' began to paddle. "The mad Bastards!" They completed what they were doing knowing it would take us a while to get right around the island to the landing stage, and then were surprised to meet Cec & Toby halfway along the 1km road to the haulage way. We battled quite fierce winds now to make the landing stage where I was in for a rude shock. Several years ago I had spent two nights on the island during a canoeing trip, and had camped in the boatshed on the jetty. Now it was all but gone, just the framework standing with two sheets of iron on the roof - I had been hoping we might have been allowed to use it again. After shooing numerous seals off the landing stage we landed alongside it and lifted the kayaks up and quickly changed into dry clothes. Then it was the long scramble up the now unused haulage way, stopping a few times to get our breath back, and to look out across to the mainland - the sea in-between now a carpet of whitecaps. At the top we met Graeme & Owen who were talking to Toby & Cec and we presented them with car-stickers of our club emblem and welcomed them to the Maatsuyker Canoe Club.
We rode in the back of the ute round to Graeme's house where his wife Julie gave us morning tea, and Graeme gave us permission to camp. After struggling down to the kayaks again and making them secure - literally tying them down to the jetty - we brought up what camping gear we needed. Later that evening at light-up time Owen showed us over the lighthouse and then invited us back to his house to meet his wife Brigitte, and welcome the New Year in - which we did in true Australian fashion. Back at camp at about l.30am we held our AGM - what a way to start the New Year.
New Years Day was extremely windy and wet and we decided to stay put for another night, and explored most parts of the island. That night was another good one, sitting up till the wee small hours at Graeme & Julie's place playing Trivial Pursuit - which was eventually won by Julie and our Secretary Jeff - with a helping hand from 'Hirsute' Clarke.
Despite the late night we rose early to get the early morning forecast - another strong wind warning, but from the south. This suited us down to the ground and by 7.00am we were on our way back down to the kayaks. Seal launching off the rocks was no problem and once clear of the island had our sails up and were scooting along before a reasonable swell, making for de Witt Island. The wind and seas just off the western end of de Witt started to alarm one or two paddlers but we were soon in smooth waters and landed in the short narrow gulch on the northern side. The ferns were about 2 metres high, and after scrambling about for half an hour or so decided the campsite back at Deadmans was much better and took to the water again. It was still a glorious run before the wind with sails up all the way into the campsite, the only bit of excitement coming within 300m of landing - where some of us chose to risk dodging big breakers in close to the point - but escaped unharmed. Once the camp was set up on our old site the two previous late nights caught up with us and most people slept for two or three hours - or more. One person fought it for a while but finally went off mid afternoon, not to be seen again till breakfast next morning.
The following two days saw us retracing our out-ward journey - one day back to South Cape Rivulet, and the next back to Recherche Bay, ending with a lovely 3km sail right to the beach where we'd left the cars.
Although the weather had generally been overcast and wet, and we'd paddled on three days with a strong wind warning we considered conditions had been good - knowing what the area can be like with gale after gale sweeping the area. It was an interesting trip with some of the highlights being; calling up a helicopter for the bushwalkers, circumnavigating Maatsuyker, spending two very interesting days on Maatsuyker, and presenting Cecily with the ‘Clanger of the trip’ Award (the details are not really suitable for publication so you'll have to ask Cec about it).
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