Two young mates, a kayak and a BIG OCEAN

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Adventure - - Kayaking - ByJamesCas­tris­sion

“Jonesy” I cried “Are we go­ing for­ward or are we gunna get blown back to Vic­to­ria?” “9 km an hour” he replied. We had strate­gi­cally timed the ebb tide, but never had we wit­nessed any­thing such as this. The strong tidal in­flu­ence was hav­ing a dras­ti­cally greater im­pact on our progress than the 65km/hr head­wind! Gi­gan­tic waves erupted all around us; we were crash­ing through a 4 me­tre swell. Our Pit­tarak dou­ble han­dled the con­di­tions mag­nif­i­cently. Not once did we feel threat­ened that we would be rolled up­side down…

This is the story of two young mates (Justin Jones and James Cas­tris­sion); a Pit­tarak dou­ble kayak and Mr Pen­guin (our team mas­cot); to­gether, we crossed Bass Strait via the “East­ern Route”. This cross­ing - 350km - is a step­ping stone to “Cross­ing the Ditch”. In the sum­mer of 2006/2007, we will at­tempt to kayak 2200km across the Tas­man Sea, from Aus­tralia to New Zealand - un­sup­ported. This will be the first ever kayak cross­ing and the long­est two man kayak ex­pe­di­tion ever un­der­taken, with no sight of land for 45-55 days. Why pad­dle to New Zealand you may ask. Well, we all have goals; we are for­tu­nate enough to live in a coun­try like Aus­tralia and we have the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore a vast ar­ray of dif­fer­ent land­scapes each with their own unique at­trac­tions. By chal­leng­ing one­self in the out­doors, you peel away lay­ers of su­per­fi­cial­ity to re­veal your­self. That is why we have cho­sen to pad­dle to New Zealand.

There are 28 is­lands be­tween the Aus­tralian main­land and Tas­ma­nia and our course linked three of th­ese: Ho­gan Is­land, Deal Is­land (in the Kent group), Flin­ders Is­land. Pre-trip jit­ters on our drive to Melbourne were com­pounded by a look of de­spair on Jonesy’s face: he was los­ing the bat­tle to a nasty fever.

I chuck­led: “Per­fect part­ner to go pad­dling across Bass Strait!” Four days later, we be­gan our jour­ney.

Our pad­dle to Refuge Cove was un­event­ful. We en­joyed great weather and a much wel­comed tidal as­sis­tance which spat us from the mouth of Port Welsh­pool and guided us down the mag­nif­i­cent coast of Wil­son’s Prom. As we drifted to sleep at Refuge Bay, we knew from the weather fore­casts that our first is­land cross­ing would not be blessed with the same good weather. In the morn­ing, low cloud hid the re­ced­ing peaks, mak­ing us feel like Juras­sic Park ex­tras. There was lit­tle chitchat; full con­cen­tra­tion was re­quired for the choppy con­di­tions. No sight of land for al­most two hours height­ened our sense of iso­la­tion. We pad­dled round the south­ern tip of Ho­gan Is­land to find our­selves hid­den from a Southerly wind that had caked salt down our left-hand sides. Al­though there are no trees on Ho­gan Is­land, the birdlife, pen­guins and the gen­eral ela­tion of be­ing on our own is­land was mag­i­cal. Next morn­ing, our tran­quil shel­ter be­came a caul­dron of froth caused by a change in the wind di­rec­tion. The exit looked dan­ger­ous, and thoughts of pad­dling into a 30 knot wind didn’t ap­peal. In­stead, we spent the day ex­plor­ing. Af­ter a day out of the kayak, it’s amaz­ing how rapidly the body adapts to the stresses of ex­pe­di­tion pad­dling. Both of us felt much stronger af­ter our rest day (al­though, that may have had some­thing to do with eat­ing all the choco­late mousse!) The to­pog­ra­phy of the Kent Group (cov­ered in a thick blan­ket of shrubs and trees) is a stark con­trast to Ho­gan Is­land.

On our fifth morn­ing we awoke with trep­i­da­tion: our big­gest cross­ing – 65kms. With a cold front ex­pected the fol­low­ing

day, bring­ing gale force weather, we were anx­ious to seek refuge at Kil­liecrankie - a small fish­ing vil­lage with a pop­u­la­tion of 15 on the north­ern tip of Flin­ders Is­land. A 6am weather fore­cast ob­tained over our satel­lite phone pro­vided as­sur­ance that we had a win­dow to get to safety. We started pad­dling on a bear­ing of 1240 with no sight of land. As each hour passed, our um­bil­i­cal cord with Deal Is­land was slowly sev­ered, leav­ing us more and more ex­posed. We were alone. It was a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence sit­ting in a prim­i­tive kayak, sur­rounded by hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of ocean, with only a smat­ter­ing of is­lands dot­ted around us. Our minds wan­dered to six months ahead: we would be half way to NZ! This was why we cross­ing Bass Strait: for the phys­i­cal, men­tal and psy­cho­log­i­cal prepa­ra­tion. Our progress could have been cun­ningly de­cep­tive with­out our trusty GPS giv­ing us con­stant mea­sure­ment of our speed; such is the havoc that cur­rents and tidal in­flu­ences can play. Our com­pass kept our GPS read­ings hon­est. Slowly, Flin­ders Is­land crept over the hori­zon like At­lantis ris­ing from the sea.

A wave of re­lief washed through our veins as we ar­rived at Flin­ders Is­land. We had the big­gest stretch of ocean be­hind us; we could en­joy the com­pany of peo­ple - not pen­guins - and we had ex­pe­ri­enced the foul weather that has made Bass Strait fa­mous.

“Gale warn­ing for all Bass Strait!” Nes­tled in a tiny hut be­hind sand dunes, we gained wel­come respite from the in­ten­si­fy­ing storm. Af­ter it passed, we hitched a ride with a lo­cal fish­er­man to Whitemark (the cap­i­tal of Flin­ders with a pop­u­la­tion of 50) to tuck into a pub meal and down a cou­ple of beers. Later we dis­cov­ered our “free ride” sen­tenced us to 5 hours labour mov­ing the lo­cal sou­venir shop around the block! Shift­ing dis­play cab­i­nets had us keen to be back on the wa­ter and we packed the kayak ready to pro­ceed down Flin­ders Is­land. Al­though we had re­ceived an ad­verse weather re­port, the weather looked favourable at the time, so we jumped in our kayak and set our sights on Roy­don Is­land. As we pad­dled out from Kil­liecrankie, an old salt clear­ing his lob­ster nets ca­su­ally warned:

“Wouldn’t go out there to­day boys” Enough said; in we went. Bet­ter not to dis­re­spect 53 years of lo­cal knowl­edge and an ad­verse weather fore­cast? The cold front passed the fol­low­ing morn­ing and with an OK from our old mate, we were off down the west­ern Coast of Flin­ders Is­land to set up for the Franklin Sound cross­ing. As our jour­ney pro­gressed fur­ther south, the chill pen­e­trated our bones. Through­out the day, there was a con­stant cool­ness in the air re­quir­ing us to wear gore-tex jack­ets even whilst pad­dling. Our fin­gers felt like wooden roots curled around our pad­dle shafts. At Trouser Point we lit a fire to pro­vide warmth and to cook; our sup­ply of fuel was di­min­ish­ing rapidly. The nag­ging chill did not let our bod­ies ef­fi­ciently re­cover dur­ing sleep and co­pi­ous amounts of en­ergy were ex­pended to warm our bod­ies dur­ing the night. As we started across Franklin Sound - a stretch of ocean renowned for more ves­sels lost than any­where else in the Bass Strait re­gion - we were blessed with lake-like con­di­tions. “Hey Jonesy” I yelled “How’d you like to push to Tassie to­day?” Si­lence Was I suf­fer­ing from the de­bil­i­tat­ing ef­fects of sum­mit fever? Did Jonesy think that I had been out on the wa­ter too long?

“Let’s see how we feel in a cou­ple of hours”, he cau­tiously replied. Hours went by and we found our­selves at a cross-road. Head for land or go di­rect to Tassie? As con­di­tions re­mained idle we called our land­man to en­sure that the Bureau did not ex­pect any ad­verse weather shifts. The go ahead was given and on we went! But the tide shifted di­rec­tion and our speed dropped. We con­sid­ered worst case sce­nar­ios. (It’s amaz­ing how your head can play with dif­fer­ent speed, dis­tance and worst case sce­nar­ios). The slog con­tin­ued but we were for­bid­den to com­plain. This stretch of ocean (known as ‘Banks Strait’), is renowned for sink­ing ships and epic ad­ven­tures. As Tassie drew closer, the num­ber of birds and pen­guins in the wa­ter grew - and so did our singing! 5km out we knew our judge­ment had paid off; the tide swept us to­ward Tassie like a land­ing jet. Touch­down! Af­ter over 9 hours on the wa­ter we ar­rived at our des­ti­na­tion. No wav­ing flags or cheer­ing girls in mini-skirts wav­ing pom-poms; just a deep glow of self-sat­is­fac­tion and this was in­fin­itely more re­ward­ing than any­thing else. We had pad­dled 350km across Bass Strait over 9 days with lit­tle sup­port. It was a spe­cial mo­ment; a mo­ment of re­flec­tion on set­ting a goal that we be­lieved and had achieved. Cross­ing Bass Strait was an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence; es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing Jonesy’s ill­ness prior to the event. How­ever, it is re­ally only the start of things to come. A con­fi­dence-builder; a trial, and now a solid foun­da­tion for our up­com­ing, ma­jor ex­pe­di­tion: to kayak from Syd­ney to Auck­land this com­ing sum­mer. For spon­sor­ship, more in­for­ma­tion and reg­u­lar up­dates, please visit: www.cross­ingthed­itch.com.au

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