Monday, 10 November 2008

Paddling with a Paddy

I had the great pleasure of paddling on Saturday with the NSWSKC, on a trip led by Peter Osman, with a guest from Ireland, David Carraher.
David Carraher, Irish Sea Instructor & all round good fella.....Photo Dee Ratcliffe

We had a good mix in the group, with two sea instructors, Peter aiming to re-register as a Sea Leader, a couple of Sea Skills qualified paddlers & a reasonably new kayaker. Our trip was intended to run from the protected waterway of Middle Harbour, through the outer harbour between Sydney Heads, & around the long stretch of cliffs between North Head & Manly. The forecast swung around like the Aussie dollar in the days prior, & even as late as Friday it looked like conditions might be too demanding for the group, but a settled Saturday morning outlook saw us depart for our original trip on schedule. This pre-match process highlighted to me the importance of paddling with a club or experienced group when you're intending to paddle on the sea. There was much emailed correspondence in the days prior to the paddle, as several experienced kayakers analysed the meaning of the forecast, in relation to the stretch of water to be covered. I've heard much denigration over the years of the concept of risk management, but this to me was a terrific example of a group of experienced paddlers figuring out a weather forecast, along a route, keeping in mind the abilities of the group, & then deciding the risks would be worth the experience. Top marks to trip leader Peter Osman for co-ordinating the preliminaries!
Paddling with our guest paddy, Dave, was a real pleasure. He is one of the leading instructors in Ireland, & has a resume as long as your Mitchell Blade of great expeditions, ranging from West Greenland to direct crossings from Ireland to The Isle of Man, to the tide races of Northern Ireland & Wales. One of the great differences between the way true sea kayaking is taught in Ireland & here in Australia is due to the hazards which predominate. Paddling around Ireland, you need to know your tides, navigation in limited visibility & have good moving water (ie tidal) skills, whereas here our emphasis is much more heavily on surf & it's associated risks. What I wouldn't give to have a crack at one of those awesome tide races that figure so prominently in the This is the Sea & Pacific Horizons DVD's!

David Carraher cracks a wave on Fairy Bower Photo Dee Ratcliffe

The paddle progressed out & around North Head & down the cliff line to Manly, with a moderate nor' westerly cutting up the top of the water & making things reasonably challenging along this notoriously bouncy stretch. There were a couple of good small waves which provided some entertainment at Fairy Bower , followed by a cup of coffee on the sand at Shelley Beach. We met up with Mark Schroeder & Matt Bezzina - author of the world famous "Matt's Blog" & they joined in for the trip back to the heads. New paddler Wendy Stevenson - the lady who blitzed me in the Montauk if you read back in the blog to my 'Speed' entry, was in her new Avocet LV & gradually got a feel for this awesome little boat. For small framed paddlers, this little beauty is a god-send, keeping things in proportion for the larger-than-you-think percentage of the paddling community who can rarely find a sea kayak which fits.

Wendy Stevenson showing picture-perfect poise in her Avocet LV

The trip back was assisted greatly by the current which runs south along the cliff line, & we were then entertained by Mark & Matt slowly delaminating their hulls on the Cungewoi reefs around North Head.

Mark Schroeder getting a bit of a splash from the North Head sandstone.

Back at Clontarf there was a bit of rolling practice & some demo paddling for Peter O & Dee Ratcliffe, before the last paddlers standing adjourned to Skiffies for a couple of beers & some tall tales.

Peter Osman dropping his skirt in the soup.

All up, an awesome day out with mixed conditions, good company & some proper sea kayaking. Thanks to Peter O, Dee, Wendy, Bruce, John, Matt, Mark & David for making it such a great day out.

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