27 January 2010

Butterflies and Hand Rolls - Australia Day 2010

Starring: Greg and Moira Schwarz, Gnarlydog, Adventuretess

Australia isn’t only about vegemite, koalas, mateship and cockroach races at the Story Bridge Hotel, it’s about living the Aussie dream and ‘having a go’.

After returning a day early from Fraser Island, I decided to spend my bonus day off pursuing my current Aussie dream, to hand roll my kayak.

An impromptu session with rolling mentors Moira and Greg Schwarz was arranged.
Watching Greg and Moira’s effortless balanced braces and Greenland rolls has inspired me to ‘have a go’.

It isn’t always pretty, but I have a lot of fun testing the boundaries of balance in my kayak. Without their guidance, balanced bracing would just be some weird thing that those kayak roll specialists do.
Armed with determination and a neoprene oven mitt, we met Moira and Greg among the patriotic hordes setting up bbq’s and esky’s along the grassy shorefront.
I’ve been attempting hand rolls for a short time and I just couldn’t quite pull it off. Almost reaching the back deck and then failing, my bare handed sweep wasn’t working for me. Warming up with a short paddle and a few rolls, I carefully studied Greg and Moira as they performed hand rolls.
I put the neoprene glove on and listened carefully to Moira’s instructions.

Before I knew it I had rolled and was lying on Sialuk’s back deck looking into the sky.


Tentatively I tried again, to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. Feeling more confident, I tried it again and sure enough, up I came.
By this time, I was getting excited and wanted to try it one more time before going commando (without the glove). Well, the magic left me and my hand rolling came to an end. Moira comforted me with assurances that this was common when learning to hand roll. It comes. And it goes.
Taking a break we all swapped kayaks and I watched as Moira hand rolled, Greg elbow crook rolled and Damiano butterfly rolled in Sialuk – his first!
Moira paddles an Avocet LV and the cockpit fits me very well. I decided to try the hand roll one more time and surprising myself, I managed to hand roll a further 3 times in the Avocet LV before the magic washed off.
We 4 left the beach satisfied. For a few short hours we’d all ‘had a go’ and ‘lived the dream’. Sharing celebratory ice creams afterwards, I was a very happy kayaker.

Team Vanstix 3 Days at Fraser Island

QSKC Australia Day Weekend at Fraser Island
Starring: Team Vanstix

I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons
I love her jewel-sea
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!

~ extract from ‘My Country’ by Dorothea McKellar

This poem has resonated with me since I first learned it in Year 7 at school. It often comes to mind during trips. Dorothea McKellar was only 22 when she wrote about the drama, hardships and beauty of life in Australia.

Sails at sunset_Fraser (c)
While the majority of the local paddling community were content to spend another weekend in Moreton Bay, our QSKC group decided to take advantage of a rare 4 day weekend to travel to the more remote location of Fraser Island.
During winter, Hervey Bay and the waters off Fraser Island are bustling with commercial whale watch boats vying for glimpses of migrating Humpback whales and their calves. In summer, the warm temperatures and public holidays attract 4wd campers who tend to stay inland or on the eastern side of Fraser, leaving the western side peaceful in comparison.
Launching from Urangan we quickly reached Big Woody Island, negotiating the shallow water surrounding the island before eventually rounding the rocky southern tip. After leisurely investigating the southern beach, we made the crossing to Moon Point on Fraser Island with sails up. Bracing with FEKS (c)

Rounding Moon Point, the tantalising view of foliage rimmed by white sand and clear turquoise water spread out before us. As we headed along the beach we began looking for campsites. A friendly yachty moored close by warned us of the sandflies waiting to ambush us on the beach.
Having spent time in bug infested locations around the world; we laughingly assured them a few sandflies wouldn’t diminish our enjoyment of the surroundings..…Famous. Last. Words.
Camp at Fraser (c)
Unfortunately, we had no sooner set up camp and sat down to enjoy happy hour together than the ambush began.
The yachties were right and we watched enviously as they relocated further offshore for the evening. The onslaught of all things biting was relentless. Sandflies; biting black flies; green march flies; monster black flies; mosquitoes.
Fully dressed and smothered in various strength repellents including the usually reliable Sand Fla Van and DEET, one member of the group surrendered and retreated to his tent, the ONLY safe haven. Another member cloaked himself in a large mosquito net, to no avail. Dinner was prepared as quickly as possible and eaten together in 1 tent, where we were finally able to relax.
Rising early in the morning we noticed that there were no signs of the usual evening visits of local dingoes. Perhaps the insects had driven them away? We quickly packed up camp and without stopping for brekfast, were on the water to continue our trip in record time.
The air temperature was warm and so was the water. As we paddled, the swell running onto the beach created waves to play in.
Van bracing (c)Vanilla bracing on shore breakers Reaching Woralie Creek early, we were pleased to see only 2 others in camp. Surveying the campsite, it was extremely disappointing to see places we had previously pitched tents now littered with toilet paper, illegal fire pits and the blackend remains of fires. Aside from the fact fires are not allowed on Fraser Island, the fact that the fires had been made on the flat areas leaving only sloping sites to pitch tents on, offered an insight into the intelligence of the fire bugs.
It also raised questions about the management of this world heritage listed island. Perhaps along with Dingo warning signs posted around the island, there should be instructions on how to shit in the bush. Dingoes will dig up anything that isn’t deeply buried, so if you are merely covering your waste with a piece of bark or leaves, you may as well not bother. It’s also highly desirable to do it away from the campsite, not just at the base of the tree closest to your tent!

The QSKC in partnership with Leave No Trace Australia promotes minimal impact camping on all club trips; small groups using sound environmental practices. Information on minimal impact camping and kayaking can be found on the QSKC and LNT websites.

The afternoon was spent rolling and playing just off the beach and as darkness enveloped us, a pleasant evening was spent out in the open, the biting insects at this campsite deterred by clothing and repellent.
sunset paddling_3
A dawn text message relaying a family emergency forced a change of plans. After another fast pack up, we were quickly on the water for the return paddle to Urangan. Averaging over 8km per hr, we had moments of welcome excitement crossing sandbanks with tide rushing over them. Small following seas and a tail wind in our sails assisted us with our 35km return trip to Urangan harbour.

06 January 2010

Scarborough to Bribie - Keeping the Skin on my Tail

Starring: 8 members of the 'Claytons Group', Greg Schwarz, Gnarlydog, Adventuretess

Gnarlydog using his Flat Earth Kayak Sail and Elver Greenland paddle

The original seat in my Nordkapp LV ‘SIALUK’ has been rubbing the skin off my tail on trips longer than 15km. Very fond of the hull's shape but not of the "furniture", I tried, among other things, heat deforming the seat to change its shape but ultimately the best solution on longer trips was to duct tape the area on my butt that was likely to be rubbed raw.

Gnarlydog made me a new seat in the MEI (Multisport Expeditions International) workshop. After a week playing with kayak rolls, I decided to test the new seat during a 27km social paddle with members of informal kayak group The Southeast Queensland Sea Kayakers or 'Claytons Group'.

11 kayakers launched at Scarborough heading for Bongaree on Bribie Island, Group members quickly settled into their own paddle rhythms, the lack of breeze making the trip humid. Optimists in the group kept sails raised, hopeful to catch any whisper of wind. Unchallenging conditions combined with eager paddling made for a fast arrival at Bongaree.

Reaching the sand beach, some opted for a refreshing swim in the inviting water, while others practiced rolling. I separated from the group here to share lunch with some locals before paddling back to Scarborough later in the afternoon.

Afternoon sail

Sailing back, we noticed smoke flares and activity in the distance. The local Coastguard was undertaking a training activity, using a rescue helicopter to transfer people from water to moving boat and back again. Staying low to water and boat during manoeuvres, the ability of the chopper pilot was impressive. Watching the surface water dispersed by the hovering helicopter, I wondered about the effects the downdraft might have on a kayak....

Landing back at Scarborough with the skin on my tail intact, I was very happy with the new kayak seat, which only need minor mods to be perfect for me.

45 Rolls for my 45th Birthday

Starring: Gnarlydog, Greg Schwarz, Adventuretess

Celebrating my birthday close to Christmas and New Year has always posed challenges as to the best way to celebrate. Most people are partied out after so many ‘festive’ celebrations. I prefer celebrating by spending time with favourite people, outdoors if possible.
During a recent QSKC trip, ideas were tossed around as to the best way to acknowledge my 45th birthday. It's the wrong time of year to undertake a 45km bush walk in Queensland (too hot), perhaps a 45km paddle would do the trick. The suggestion was put forward to try doing 45 kayak rolls using Greenland paddles (GP).
As I only learned to kayak roll with a euro paddle a little over a year ago and could then only do 3 rolls in a row in flat water if I was lucky, I felt this would be a suitable, fun challenge to commemorate my birthday. While I can roll and have spent hours roll training, I have never counted them. I believed the desired outcome was achievable; I just wasn’t sure how difficult it would be.
Vanilla and Blackduck were both out with chest infections, leaving Gnarlydog and Greg Schwarz to bravely join me in the challenge. Plans were made, rules discussed and rewards decided. The 3 challengers would use traditional paddles (Greg his homemade Schwarz GP; Gnarlydog an Elver GP & Adventuretess a borrowed Mitchell GP thanks Steve).
We 3 are all GP newbies, with different kayaking styles and skills. The smart money was on Greg having the easiest time reaching our target of 45 rolls each. Greg and his wife Moira are skilled rollers who practice regularly and enjoy sharing their knowledge with others. They introduced me to balanced bracing and have taught me new rolls, as well as helping me to improve my existing rolls.
All the visualisation, vitamins and yoga paid off (I’m kidding, we woke up, drove to the beach and launched) as Gnarlydog set the pace by aggressively rolling 10 times in fast succession.
While Gnarly was eager to get his rolls on the tally board, Greg and I were a little slower to begin.

A healthy competition to be the first to reach 45 was soon underway, our beachfront audience of mostly grey nomads watched in alarm before realising we were repeatedly tipping over on purpose.
There was a variety of beautiful rolls performed, but the choppy conditions made photographing our quest difficult.
My rolls were not always ‘pretty’, but I did not fail any until I passed the 50 mark and started playing with my offside and forward sculling rolls – neither of which I have done before!
Gnarlydog was first to reach 45, plus 1 for good luck.

Greg and I quickly followed and as there was still some air left in the tanks, we continued to roll. Around 60 rolls in, Gnarly’s ADD (Action Deficit Disorder) kicked in and he couldn’t resist surfing the small waves pushing us around.
‘Speed rolling’ was something else I hadn’t tried before, so timing each other, we took turns to see how many rolls we could do in 10 seconds. What fun, although I may need to change my name to Dizzytess!
Celebrating later with Greg and his wife Moira over a feed of fresh prawns and ginger beer, the new Gordon Brown DVD played in the background as we discussed the different ways to construct traditional paddles and the merits of using different types of wood. It was the perfect end to my birthday challenge.
Completing the challenge was a huge achievement for me. The improvement in my rolling during the last 12 months affirmed my 2009 decision to dedicate time to roll and play instead of ‘throwing a few rolls in at the end of a trip’, usually tired and with a loaded boat.
I’m now almost more comfortable upside down than right way up in the kayak.
2010 presents more opportunities to continue improving my skills, with a strong focus on GP. I am very impressed with traditional paddles and particularly the lack of stress in my body. I also paddle with an Aleut paddle, which is slightly different to a GP.
I could not think of a better way to celebrate turning 45 – except maybe doing 45 different rolls….