Over Xmas, I organised a paddle out from Port Hacking into a building summer Nor 'Easter with Steve, who was taking his V10L ski out for the first time into a decent sea. Steve is an accomplished racing paddler & regularly surfs his ski, but has had limited experience on the ocean in genuine downwind conditions.
We bashed our way out past the headland of Cape Solander, about 3-4km offshore.
As we turned beam onto the seas to run home I gave Steve some very vague advice about not backing off & staying aggressive, even when everything is screaming at him to brace or throw in a stern rudder, and off we went.
With the wind now pushing 20 knots and seas running at fast boat speed we then ran back all the way past Jibbon Head in our excitement (a bit further than we had ideally planned)!
Steve was tentative for about two minutes, then gradually started to relax and let the boat go. By the time we risked annihilation on the Jibbon Bombora he was looking really solid.
John by contrast has only had his ski for a month, a more stable V10S, and has had it out on the river trying to adapt his fast evolving rough water paddling in his Nordkapp LV to the intermediate ski.
John has a background in cycling, keeps himself fit & motivated and has a history of attacking new challenges. He bought a Nordkapp LV knowing it would be a steeper learning curve, but hopefully with greater rewards once he'd found his bearings. He became a regular on Rob's Tuesday paddles, making that adaption we've all made from one of the guys who gets rescued a lot, to becoming the one who is looking for someone to rescue, over a year or so of constant rough water paddling, with a competent and strong set of peers.
On Thursday we met at Doll's Pt and in the face of another strong Nor Easter building by the minute, resolved to paddling 40 minutes out into it, and then running the 20 or so minutes back as our reward for toil. John mounted his ski in the shore break at Dolls Pt & promptly fell out. The wind waves were steep enough to make him doubt the validity of this idea, but he managed to get himself set again & followed me out into the bay.
We had to grind it out into some really strong wind, with John getting used to the lack of stability endemic to a ski that has no thigh bracing.
We rounded a channel marker after about half an hour & then ran back. Again I blurted out some generalist advice on staying positive, easier said than done, and off he went.
Despite rating his anxiety levels at '9' John slotted into the following waves and made it all the way back without looking like taking a swim, a top effort. There is a short video below showing John running along, a stirling effort in some challenging conditions for a first timer, for sure.
A fine line indeed.
I have done a similar thing recently, getting Gazza to ride shotgun in his Taran while I took on a paddle around Noosa in a V10 that had sections of coast providing wave action that I couldn't have responsibly taken on by myself.
In both instances we'd planned a paddle that despite being designed to challenge, had us blowing back to a lee shore (OK, with Steve & I that ended up potentially being a very hard, tall lee shore…) We had deigned to keep an eye on one another (remember I'm no expert on a ski) and also felt competent in assisted rescue techniques in the event of someone being unable to remount. We were all strong swimmers, all reasonably fit. In other words, we'd identified & managed the risks that could turn a paddle of this sort, in winds of this strength, into something that could turn ugly.
The rewards? Exposure to 'the deep end' removes many of it's fearful secrets.