This trip had a disappointing turn-out considering it was advertised through the Club programme, and enough people read the magazine. I drove down to Fortescue Bay early on Saturday morning with my little Olymp strapped firmly on my roof rack, expecting to see hundreds of people there! I discovered Cecily had arrived the night before and pitched her tent in the dark. Laurie had arrived that morning. We stood around discussing general apathy in the canoeing fraternity when one other person suddenly appeared - a complete novice named Lyn, who'd heard via Cecily that the trip was scheduled, so decided to come and give sea canoeing a try,
Since both Laurie and Cecily always seem to carry spare canoes around with them, it was easy to provide Lyn with something in which to practise. Cecily lent her the Greenlander whilst she used her own old faithful North Sea Tourer. Laurie turned up his nose in disgust at my Olymp IV and asked if I'd like to try a real canoe, so he lent me a Sea Leopard. We packed our lunches (except for Laurie who doesn't eat on day trips). Cecily and I had to lend Lyn some spare clothing to paddle in, as it hadn't occurred to her that she would even get wet! Then we set off across a calm Fortescue Bay towards Bivouac Bay at the northern entrance to this beautiful area. Our novice paddler soon got the hang of paddling in semi-circles until she mastered the art of using the rudder. We headed into Canoe Bay where we watched men on a fishing boat at anchor cleaning couta by the dozen. They'd obviously had a good catch. Cecily, by using her feminie charms, managed to glean a large couta fillet from them. She secured it under her deckline. The men asked us what we'd do if we capsized. Laurie demonstrated a roll just as easily as falling out of bed. Laurie then asked the fishermen what they would do if their boat capsized!
We paddled on round to Bivouac Bay pulled our kayaks up on to the rocks before having lunch in amongst the trees of that delightful little campsite. Laurie contented himself with exploring the shore. Later we returned to Fortescue beach but on the way a breeze sprung up and caused Lyn some hassles, so Cecily gave her a tow. Laurie muttered into his beard that the only way to learn canoeing was to battle on regardless. As we reached flat water again Cecily released the tow line and we headed towards the beach. Unfortunately just as we relaxed our vigil over our novice paddler she capsized! There was a great flurry of water as first a paddle and then a body shot to the surface. Cecily got to her first and Lyn hung on to the bow of Cec’s kayak gasping, “I can’t breath, I can’t breathe!” She was instantly reassured when Cecily pointed out that she must be breathing to be able to utter those words! By rafting up three kayaks with Lyn's in the middle we managed to get her back into hers. After that Lyn declined to practise any further rescue techniques. She sat on the beach watching Cec do Eskimo rolls. Cec showed me how to do a Pawlata roll. She couldn’t understand why I'd been trying unsuccessfully for five years to do a screw roll when a Pawlata was so easy. I attempted one and surprised myself (and everybody else) by suddenly popping upright again! Euphoric with success I did another and yet another!
Lyn went home for tea, taking the couta with her as we'd all taken other perishables for our tea (except for Laurie who doesn't eat perishables!). The rest of us enjoyed a pleasant evening around the campfire. Laurie offered to help a very attractive French girl, newly arrived at the camp ground who, despite his offer, managed to put up her tent quite successfully. She then disappointed him by going off to have tea with the Ranger!
Next day Laurie, Cec and I went off at 9.00 am. to paddle towards the Lanterns. I had seen this magnificent spectacle of towering rock formations on foot, from the end of Cape Hauy, but never at such close range as this. It was a truly awesome sight with thunderous surf roaring through the gap between the Candlestick and Cape Hauy. To my amazement Laurie said we should paddle through! I said, ”You’ve got to be joking!” He wasn't! I had instructions to sit and wait immediately behind Laurie's Longboat, with Cecily's Greenlander hot on my tail. The moment Laurie took off I was to follow! We waited for perhaps ten minutes on the edge of the boil whilst Laurie studied the surf. Each thunderous wave seemed to get higher. Suddenly, after a tremendous surge passed through, Laurie started paddling. Scared of being left behind I paddled after him, not daring to look behind for Cec. To my astonishment I discovered a relative lull in the heart of that narrow channel and, although the kayak was pulled between unseen forces I managed to paddle through unscathed. "Piece of cake!" grinned Laurie on the other side! Cecily appeared from the gap and we proceeded south along the coast line.
The weather changed slightly as a lumpy sea developed with a following north-easterly. After a couple of kilometres or so I suggested it would be nice if we could land to stretch our legs.
Cec decide it was for too dangerous to land along that particular stretch of coastline with its sheer cliffs and spectacular sea caves. Laurie had other ideas! He spotted a narrow rocky shore covered with bull kelp at the base of a very steep scrubby incline rising almost sheer to stunted forest 100 metres above. “We can land there”, he shouted. We suggested he try it first! Nonplussed he bided his time, then headed in on the next wave, making a somewhat awe-inspiring landing as he crashed through the kelp in a wall of spume. With one almighty movement he was out of his boat and hurled it up on the dry rocks. Then he shouted, “Next!” Cecily made a similar landing, disappearing completely from view under a wall of water as Laurie grabbed her boat! Petrified, I sat outside the surf line trying to guess when I should make my run for the shore. “Now!” shouted Laurie and I paddled frantically for a gap between two rocks. I was swept off course and carried clean over the top of one of the boulders when, as luck would have it, the surge subsided, stranding me gently on a bed of bull kelp. Laurie grabbed the bow and said, "Get out quick!" I did so just in time to be almost submerged by the next wave and having to grab a trunk of kelp to prevent myself being sucked jut again. The three of us sat on the dry rocks comforting ourselves with a snack and a drink.
After a few minutes I said to Cec, “I'm sure those waves are getting higher and the wind is stronger!” She agreed and said, “My God Laurie, how are we going to get out of here?” He didn't seem to think there would be any problem but just in case, he sent me first! I had to sit in my kayak while he held it, and then paddle like crazy after he'd pushed me out. “Don't worry about your spraydeck!” he said. You don't need a spraydeck for sea canoeing!" Miraculously I shot through the gap between the boulders with no trouble. I sat sponging out my boat waiting for the others. Cecily slipped whilst traversing the rocks to get to her kayak and broke her paddle. As it was a break-down paddle anyway it was able to be mended by taping it strongly around the middle. Then Cec was successfully launched to join me. We both waited patiently for Laurie in the increasing swell.
He seemed to sit in his boat for ages with waves breaking over him, often hidden from our view. (We later discovered his boat was held back by strands of kelp over his front deck). Suddenly he lurched violently to one side, then the other, and finally held up one arm displaying a bare paddle shaft minus both blades! Meanwhile, being a bushwalker by nature, I was scanning the rocky cliffs behind Laurie, looking for an escape route! Suddenly Laurie’s Longboat was propelled through the breakers towards us with Laurie swimming behind. Cec retrieved the boat and rafted up while Laurie got into it. He’d kept one paddle blade which he used as a scoop to paddle behind Cecily's Greenlander while she towed him! This didn't prove very successful, so they exchanged paddles (or part thereof) and Laurie towed Cecily. The north-easterly was blowing straight at us as we headed back towards the lanterns. No chance of taking a short cut through the Candlestick gap whilst towing some-one now! It was a case of each looking after his own going around the end of the Lanterns! Cec said to me, "Don't you dare tip over!"
As we rounded the point a power boat driver saw our predicament and asked us if we'd like a tow. I, who was getting exhausted by this time, would have loved to have accepted the offer but was even more petrified by the prospect of overturning and being dragged along at high speed under water! Besides, Laurie would never have forgiven me! So I doggedly paddled on, hitting a large sideway slop together with increased wind speed as I struggled to control the rudderless Sea Leopard which was gradually filling with salt water. I became separated from the other two by at least 300 metres and I thought they'd never find me in such a choppy sea if I turned turtle. So I consoled myself by trying to memorise how to do a Pawlata roll if I needed it, having only done it for the first time the day before!
Slowly but surely I paddled towards Fortescue Bay. Behind me on the horizon two sails appeared. Then Laurie went sailing past effortlessly with the wind behind him. Look Mum, no hands! Cecily, also under sail, paddled alongside to see if I was OK. Thankfully I sat on the rear deck of the Sea Leopard as Cec rafted up so that I could stretch my numb legs. When we arrived at the lovely long sandy beach I staggered out, dived into my food supply and sat on the sand cramming sandwiches into my mouth as if they were going out of fashion! Laurie laughed and said it was time for roll practice! I told him what he could do with his roll practice!
I don't think I've ever been so pleased to see terra firma. The trip really enhanced my appreciation of Fortescue Bay and its surrounds. In retrospect it was very worthwhile as it demonstrated to me that there’s more to sea canoeing than meets the eye. A few more trips like that and I could enter the Miss Musclebound competition! Roll on next summer!
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