Thursday 22 March 2012

Trip Report - One Degree South

Our goal was a simple one, a single day paddle from Sydney's Cronulla Beach, 117km down to the northern outpost of Jervis Bay, the coastal village of Currarong.
We were planning to go in January, when on any other year without a La Nina pattern we would have had our choice of long blustery days throughout Sydney's hot summer. It wasn't to be, and we had to wait until the shorter days of mid-March for a forecast that was even half favourable, with a three day period promising Nor Easters starting at 12 knots & building up to 25 knots as the day wore on.
As we were primarily doing the trip to help raise awareness for R U OK Day? we announced our plans a couple of days out & were then essentially committed unless the weather really went pear-shaped.
The real consequence of the shifting start date was the difficulty in holding fitness, especially for me! It's easy to work towards an expedition date & get your fitness up for it, but a date that drifts along for eight weeks makes it very hard to keep things at what I consider an acceptable level to try & paddle this sort of distance. I had a few concerns about my ability to foot it with Rob & Chris on a fairly sparse preparation.
Regardless, we met down at South Cronulla at 6am last Wednesday, Rob & Chris arriving with our mate Andrew Eddy, who had kindly volunteered to do the grueling almost-24 hour job of being our land crew.
Cronulla early morning (pic by Andrew Eddy)
We were quick to pack & were on the sand at about 0715, pushing off through the little shore break at 0730. Rob & Chris paddled their Rockpool Tarans, while I was in my Epic 18X. All three of us used wing paddles.
The wind hadn't yet arrived, & barely qualified zephyr-status as we pushed south along a wide line that we were hoping would give us some assistance from a south-set East Australian Current. It soon became apparent from our boat speed, hovering around 8kmh despite effort levels that would normally produce near enough to 10kmh that we instead had a head current & continued to do so for the next five painful hours.
The golden cliffs of the Royal National Park & the beach coast north of Wollongong skulked past from our vantage point some 10km offshore, and I began to really struggle with the heat & the resistance from the contrary sea. We knew we had to maintain a certain speed to reach Geroa & the start of the Crookhaven Bight before nightfall so had to keep pushing. If someone had offered me a jet ski & a double Mojito at the 40km mark I think I would have happily sneaked off the back of the pack & found a banana lounge at Austinmer!
The view out to our position from Wattamolla (pic by Andrew Eddy)
As we approached a long line of moored tankers some 12km off Wollongong we began to feel the beginnings of a breeze building from astern. At the six-hour mark this had built to about 12-15 knots & was starting to produce a rideable sea. We then upped the ante to string together three hours of 10kmh averages & scooted in to our only planned stop at Bushrangers Cove, a rocky cleft hewn into Bass Point, some 70km from our starting point.
 Chris Entering Bushrangers Cove (pic by Andrew Eddy)
Andrew was waiting with words of encouragement & a change of clothes, & we enjoyed a blissful 20 minutes stretched out on the boulders contemplating the 47km to go to our target at Currarong. We figured we were on track to reach the headland at Geroa & the start of the bight with about an hour of daylight left, & would then try to hammer it out into the bay & cover as much ground as we could before the light abandoned us. In many ways the Crookhaven Bight is the crux of this paddle, despite being the end bit. It's a shallow, shifting bay exposed to wind & swell from all directions & is reknowned as unpredictable & treacherous to the local fishers. With 20-odd knots blowing it's definitely best paddled in daylight….
 Leaving Bushrangers Cove (pic by Andrew Eddy)
The coastal section between Bass Point & Geroa is a beauty, green farmland atop rolling dales & sandstone cliffs occasionally broken by golden sandy beaches. The wind was up over 20 knots & while the sea was behind us, the swell was starting to crank from the ENE quarter and occasionally drop a bomb, in the form of a breaking wave which would throw us into a sideways brace for a few seconds. Despite how unnerving this sounds, it was a great change to the slog of the morning & we appreciated being able to use our skills & actually do some proper sea paddling in challenging conditions.
 Mark off Gerringong (pic by Rob Mercer)
We reached Geroa & took a bearing on Currarong, hoping we'd be able to see the lights of the village before dark, & thus avoid having to navigate at night by compass.
The twilight zone ended just after 8pm with us still 17km short of our goal but mercifully with a bead on the village lights. Time to knuckle down in what was now a fully developed & breaking sea & grind it out. We'd identified my weakness at night as a potential problem on the trip, in comparison to Rob & Chris I rarely paddle moving water at night, and it was bound to slow us down, as it had to an extent in the last hour of our 95km crossing out to Lady Elliot Island last year.
We nailed a couple of milestones, passing the 100km mark after 12 hours, then the 112km, or 60 Nautical mile, or 'one degree' mark after 14 hours.
We felt the unique & not altogether pleasant experience of whizzing along in a following sea in the pitch dark, only to have waves suddenly break across your left shoulder almost without warning & give you a real thump. The only sign it was coming in the dark was a sudden lurch astern as the water fell out from our left quarter, then the roar of the foam, followed instantaneously by the crunch as the wave got you. Sitting slightly behind Rob & Chris I could see them drop from sight into the trough & then watch their lights suddenly lurch sideways for 20 or 30 meters as they braced hard. 
Suffice to say I'm glad I learned to brace before I learned to roll!
Our pace slowed to just over 6kmh, ostensibly due to my lack of confidence to really stretch out in the dark, so it was a great relief just after 10pm to be able to make out the shore & small harbour at Currarong. We radioed Andrew & tried to work out a landing spot through the breakers, & then spotted a set of torches pointing to a gap. These were courtesy of another paddling mate Mick Martin, who had brought them along from his home in nearby Nowra when he saw our Spot tracker getting close. Thanks Mick!
One by one we landed through the shore break. The degree was done!
Team One Degree South (pic by Mick Martin)
Andrew had a feast on hand & he & Mick helped us carry our boats & gear back across the dunes to the car park. We were all buzzing from the day & spent the two hour ride back to Sydney running through the day & the highlights. For sure a great day, one I'll never forget.
Looking back now that almost a week has passed I still shake my head at the distance. I stopped working out in my head how much further, how long it was going to take etc after about 60km, the reality is when you have a go at something like this you've just got to concentrate on the next paddle stroke.
Rob & Chris were amazing throughout the day. For an old bloke Rob goes alright, a picture of calm & control & he's still he best paddler I've ever seen at squeezing the life out of any waves coming at him from behind. As for Chris, the next time I paddle anywhere with him I'm going to sneak some Kryptonite into his day hatch. That'll stop him…!
A few people this week have asked me how it compares to a Hawkesbury Classic, a race of 99km on a local river, famous for it's epic stories of endurance. Having done three Classics, albeit a while ago now, I would have to say there is absolutely no physical comparison. For starters you don't get ocean swell breaking over your head for the last three hours of the Hawkesbury! Those extra 18km are also a very long extra to tack onto a long day. As a challenge for us the One Degree South paddle brought together every skill of planning, training, and execution on the sea that we had available to us. It also called on a fair reserve of old fashioned resolve, especially in my case with a pretty patchy preparation, more so after the first five hellish hours of paddling essentially flat soupy water. Funny that the worst part of the paddle for all of us was the flat stuff!
Andrew Eddy was a superstar. He drove to various points along the coast in advance of our arrival, monitored the Spot dot, updated the web, took some great photos (see the video above) gave us an objective sounding board at our rest stop in case we had gotten cocky, & then drove us all the way back to Sydney in the early hours of the morning. It's always reassuring to know that the guy who is watching your back on land has a complete understanding of what you're going through out at sea, & Andrew is one of the country's most able & experienced expedition sea kayakers. Thanks mate…!
The other reaction from the week has been the great response to our support of RU OK Day? I personally have always baulked at doing the 'charity thing' with my paddling, I reckon it's a bit overdone & often appears to carry no great reasonance with the protagonists. RU OK Day certainly represented the antithesis of that to Rob, Chris & I. The guys had a deep admiration for the late Wayne Langmaid, and during the lead up to the paddle Rob had a close friend fall to the same fate, adding extra determination to make our trip a success & helping to raise awareness. The personal messages of support & shared stories of dealing first or second hand with suicide & depression have been both moving & inspiring, and RU OK's message of removing the stigma associated with talking openly about such things strikes a piercing chord. Well done to my old mate from school Gavin Larkin, and to the dedicated folks at RU OK Day? who continue his legacy. Please feel free to continue to donate to the cause, but even more importantly take a minute to read about their goals, or even pick up the phone & ask on old mate 'RU OK?'
As to the challenge of a single degree of latitude in a day, we'd love to see someone else, either here in Australia or in another part of the world, have a go & hopefully blow our time to pieces. Our time stands there for the 60NM at 14.02 hours. The rules are pretty simple, at least three paddlers for safety, 60NM on the sea in a day, no support craft, & paddle power only. It seems to fit well with a charity cause so some sort of money or awareness raising is also part of the deal.
I asked Andrew on the way home if he thought it was an accessible challenge, & his long pause kinda gave me the answer, however I don't think there is any reason that a well prepared team, with a full set of sea skills couldn't have a crack. We like the idea of sea kayaking having another tangent including athletic & friendly competitiveness, as Rob says it's not compulsory but it is something to aspire towards, if that's what floats your boat.
I think on the right day, with a bit more conditioning, we could probably cover the distance in 12 hours, so maybe that's one for 'One Degree North'. Chris' idea, not mine….

1 comment:

  1. Really great effort for an amazing cause. A cause that's certainly close to me and one i support wholeheartedly!

    Well done to you three for such a big effort and also for raising awareness for 'RUOK?', and hopefully some donations too.


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