My life in Sea Kayaking

How did I come to take up Sea Kayaking in my mid 40's?  It's a long and involved story - starting with a drunken bet with a mate. He was president of the Risdonvale Police Boys & Girls Club - which as far as I was concerned merely baby-sat young children on Friday nights while their parents were down at the pub. They played a lot of ball games and did other gymnastic things in the local hall. I suggested it was an ideal situation to actually teach them something useful. He maintained they wouldn't be interested and bet I couldn't. The long and the short of it was I started a sort of club (Kyds Corner) where kids could come every night - no charge, free coffee, bring their own music and play it full volume, play on the big slot car set, and make various items. Such as tiled coffee tables, leather belts, string pictures - all at no charge. The only stipulation was that everything had to be finished to a reasonably high standard before it went home. I would usually have about 50 teenagers there most nights - and I would have to say that if some of them weren't there they would have been roaming the neighbourhood causing trouble and committing minor crimes. This was in the mid 70's.

It came to the attention of one of Tasmania's top social workers (Ruth Errey) who popped her head in one night and was rather amazed to see the activity of quite a few of her "clients". Hobart is a small world and word got around and the Education Dept rang me to see if I would be Camp Manager at one of their Adventure Camps down on Port Esperance. So I did give it a go - my main duties were taking the teenage boys for a run at 6 in the morning, and then a swim. After breakfast they would then be instructed in bush walking, kayaking, caving. The last 4 days of the 2 weeks was a time for various groups to go off on a 4 day expedition which meant I would have been in the camp by myself. One of the kayak instructors suggested I go on their expedition - to paddle down the Huon River from Tahune Bridge, out into D'Entrecasteaux Channel, and back along the coast to Port Esperance and the camp. I'd never been in a a kayak before, but went anyway.

The kayak instructors (Darel Balding & Bruce Davies) suggested I might like to join the Derwent Canoe Club in Hobart, which I did partly because I thought it would be a skill I could pass onto the kids. It took me a few years to get competent on white water up to grade 3, and then I got more interested in sea kayaking. During this time the YMCA got me to run one of their summer camps for them, the Social Welfare Dept got me to run a kayaking weekend for them and some of their 'female wards of state'.

I started the Tasmanian Sea Canoeing Club but it never achieved it's purpose of being a serious sea kayak club and after a few years I resigned and started the Maatsuyker Canoe Club.

For many years this was the premier sea kayak club in Australia, developing new gear and doing some adventurous trips. For instance at the end of the first 12 months we planned a night paddle to Preservation Island. No GPS's of course, just a compass and a knowledge of the tides. We left Little Musselroe Bay at 10pm on a Friday night and arrived at Preservation Island in the early hours of Saturday morning. It had been a pitch black night and an electrical storm passed overhead during it. It would be interesting now to see other kayakers try this without their GPS's and EPIRB's.

I personally designed the rudder that is now being used right around the world. I personally made sails on kayaks commonplace, and I also personally introduced electric pumps in kayaks. I produced "The Sea Canoeist" magazine for many years. I was secretary of the ACF (Australian Canoe Federation) Sea Touring Committee for a few years, and am a qualified ACF Senior Sea Instructor. I was secretary of the 'Tasmanian Board of Canoe Education'.

I suppose I have a few "firsts" but these were mainly done for something to do. First to round SW Cape, first to paddle from Tasmania to Victoria (and return). Up to 2016 I have paddled across Bass Strait 5 times,  paddled across Banks Strait 35 times, and visited Albatross Island 4 times.

I spent 2 months paddling in Japan, 2 months paddling in Fiji, 10 years on and off paddling in America, and a few months paddling in Denmark.

There were some funny moments back in those early days. There was a lot of opposition to rudders and one paddler in South Australia suggested we shouldn't be using them because they didn't use them in England, and certainly not by Valley Canoe Products who made the Nordkapp, which he paddled. I suggested to him that perhaps England was 10 years behind Tasmania. Paul Caffyn used a Nordkapp to circumnavigate Australia - but when he got as far as Brisbane he sent an urgent message to Tasmania to make him a rudder and send it up pronto. The Nordkapp was an absolutely bugger of a kayak for rounding up into the wind all the time and in my opinion Paul may not have circumnavigated Australia without one of my rudders fitted. That kayak went back to Valley Canoe Products in England where they promptly copied the rudder and started fitting it to their kayaks which were sold worldwide - and promptly copied by other kayak manufacturers. So much for my learned friend in South Australia and his comment they don't use rudders in England. But they are catching up.

And I find this a pretty disgusting statement from Paul. (1991)

"The boat is a NZ Grahame Sisson's built Nordkapp, with my overstern rudder design and Grahame's cunning middle or third bulkhead forming the seat".  Paul Caffyn.

He is at least 10 years too late to claim the design of my rudder.

He said this about his 1981 paddle around Australia:
"When I broke the skeg blade off south of Brisbane, a friend helped me build a sturdy Tasmanian style rudder out of aluminium. Still with a mind set about kayaks and rudders, we mounted the rudder on a fibreglass ‘shoe’ or sleeve, that slid over the Nordkapp stern, and was held in place by the deck lines. Well, the mind set disappeared with the first long surfing run north of Brisbane, and the rudder stayed in place for the rest of the trip. It saved my life on several occasions."

Like I said, I doubt if he would have circumnavigated Australia without a Laurie Ford rudder design fitted to his Nordkapp.

I actually did get the Kyds Corner kids into a bit of kayaking - this is the report of a trip we did at Xmas 1976.

Kyds Corner Xmas Trip
(Taken from the Southern Canoeist, March 1977)

This trip got under way on Saturday 29th January when Cecily arrived in Risdon Vale at 8am to pick up Annette Ball, Rodney Dare, and Phillip Milburn; and Dave Gatenby to pick up Derek Dare and Brett Sutton; while I took Maria Stephenson, Sandra Ford (Shrimp) and Peter Ford, and the trailer of canoes. The rest of the kids Derek Stoneman, Michael Stoneman, Brendon Jackson, Mark Pearson, Cheryl Scotney (Mother), John Scotney, Michael Scotney, Peter Bruinger (Bru), and Mick Van Angeren were due to leave at 10am in two mini buses.

We arrived at Brady’s without incident and set up camp down near the lake itself where we hoped for some quiet nights away from that other undisciplined mob of canoeists camping by the course itself.

Saturday and Sunday were spent just paddling around here and there, with one trip across the lake to get firewood in the doubles – our canoe complement being four Barker doubles, two Dean Tourers, three North Sea Tourers, one Splinter, one Clubman, two KW7’s and one Olymp. There were many capsizes and rescues over the weekend, due mainly to high wind, fast flowing water out of the canal, and the fact that we were mainly novices – the honour of the first capsize going to Michael Scotney right out in the middle of the lake in a NST.

The party increased to its final size of 23 with the arrival of Ruth Errey, Elizabeth Dean, and Ross Nicholas on Sunday morning. All but a  couple (who stayed to fish – and got some) went to Tarraleah Sunday night and then back to camp for an early start for Lake St Clair.

Monday morning saw us at Cynthia Bay at about 9.30am with a difficult decision – to canoe or not to canoe – the wind was gusting straight down the lake in no uncertain manner, the white caps screaming round the northern point of Cynthia Bay would have deterred more seasoned paddlers that ours.

Cecily and Dave decided to give it a go so all the canoeists packs (Cecily, Dave, Ruth, Elizabeth, Mother, Mick, Derek and Michael Stoneman, Peter F, Brett, Derek, Shrimp, and Annette) were loaded on the jet boat while Ross and I got our nine walkers together. We all set out about 11am to ensure the walkers were behind the canoes and be able to pick up the pieces on the way up the lake. This paid off as Shrimp decided she’s had enough halfway up the lake and walked the rest of the way, the Splinter being left behind at this stage. Then just before the last point before Echo Point Hut Elizabeth decided to rest her arms and give her legs some exercise, and a KW7 was left behind.

The walkers were waiting at Echo Point Hut for the canoeing party and after a tea break, and with moderating weather we decided to push on to Narcissus, some of the canoeists electing to walk while some of the walkers reckoned it was easier to paddle. In the meantime Dave and I had walked back down the lake and brought the discarded canoes up to Echo Point. The footsloggers arrived just on dark, a good hour behind the canoes but only a couple of tents were erected as the hut was practically empty. The double canoes came in handy for wood collecting again, there being enough wood on the other side of Narcissus River for years to come.

Tuesday morning saw a bit of swimming and canoeing before leaving for Pine Valley after dinner, the canoes being carried up behind the hut and the paddles being hidden in the scrub half a mile along the Overland Track.

As on the first day there were many stops but nevertheless our three elderly ladies (Cecily, Ruth, and Elizabeth) did a magnificent job especially when our fearless leader decided we should have a taste of button grass and took the Plains Track. Pine Valley Hut was made with a lot of daylight left and we set up camp down by the river, a quiet peaceful little spot but incredibly damp, it being so sheltered that the sun and the wind just don’t get there. Anyone contemplating camping there should take several ground sheets, or a lilo, or a mattress roll, just a ground sheet and sleeping bag are not enough.

Wednesday was officially a rest day so we had an easy walk up the Acropolis, everybody making the plateau and about half going on from there, the keen ones being Cecily (with camera) Ross, Dave, Maria, Annette, Mick, Mark, Rodney, Brendon, Derek S, and Peter F.

An early start Thursday morning saw us back at Narcissus about lunch time in brilliant sunshine which enabled all sleeping bags and tents to be dried out and left plenty of time for swimming, fishing, and paddling around. The elders had an informal conference later on in the evening, with Mother serving tea and coffee, and we decided that as our transport was arriving at Cynthia Bay at 2pm the next day we would send all packs by jet boat, accompanied by anyone that would not be able to walk out in a hurry. This left 13 to canoe out, 5 to jet boat out, and 5 to walk out.

Another early start Friday morning as we were expecting the jet boat between 9.00 – 9.30, the walkers getting away by 9.30 with a few bars of chocolate and a jar of fruit saline. Maria set a cracking pace to Echo Point Hut where we had a ten minute break. With no sign of the canoes having left we thought we'd beat them out, particularly as Bru is not a person that can be hurried when canoeing. With only another ten minute break halfway down the lake we arrived at Cynthia Bay in just under 4 hours, with the first canoe beaching about 60 seconds behind us, a near thing indeed. It was a tremendous effort even with the help of a very light northerly, although they all claim without Bru they could have made it in a lot less that the 2 hours they took.

The kids got along pretty well together, and apart from one unfortunate lapse, on the last night at Narcissus Hut there were no incidents, and the camp sites were being left cleaner and cleaner. Cooking was done by trial and error, some of the Rosella looking like soup, and some nearly needing to be cut with a knife, but on the whole we ate reasonably well (I have to confess that our leader concocted a special brew of Rosella one night which nobody would eat so he left it our for the possums, but even they wouldn't touch it). The best spot for camping at Narcissus is about 200 yards up the river from the hut, down on the river bank, where Mother set up camp with stools around the fire and a table complete with tablecloth, in fact the area was so neat and tidy I was forced to go up river for a bath and change into clean clothes before sitting down for tea.

My very sincere thanks (and I am sure from the kids themselves) to all the people who made this trip possible, namely Bruce Davies for giving up time to help us train; Kerry Behrens for making a trailer load of canoes, paddles and life jackets available for training; Daryl balding for all the helpful advice; Roy Stoneman for making his 14 seater bus available, as well as his own time to drive it; The A.A.P. for the use of their mini bus; Dave Gatenby for assisting in training and taking part the trip; Ross Nicholas for giving up evenings for showing slides, checking gear etc. and leading the trip; and last but not least by a long shot Cecily who gave up time for training and not only got the canoes there (and I still don’t know how) and back again without incident and was also a great help and comfort to our four younger girls and was their chief blister bandager, and official photographer.

Without Ross and Cecily’s participation we would not have got past the planning stage. And finally to Iain Barnes from the Division of Recreation who also made the trip possible by way of making available tents, groundsheets, rucksacks, chuffers, billies, first-aid kit, sleeping bags, machetes, plastic bags, and especially canoes, trailer, and life jackets  after our negotiations with Geilston Bay High School for the use of their canoes broke down. From nowhere else could we have equipped so large a party so well.

 L. Ford (Organiser)

(From the Editor) Thanks for such a prompt report, Laurie, and those kind words too. But everyone who had anything to do with this trip will agree that the credit for its success is due to the blood, toil, tears and sweat put in by the organiser, Laurie Ford.

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