Feisty winds, lingering thunder, a broody dusk sky, and a playful sea…
Let’s load the kayaks with lots of gear and paddle 18 km from Cape Jervis to Second Valley!
So we did. Four of us, buoyed by confidence, loaded with apprehension but up for experience.
We were excited but certainly weren’t care free and for the days leading up to our departure we had all been watching the forecast as it shaped from general to specific. The final analysis was 30 km wind from the SSW, tide a couple of hours into its way up the gulf and a diminishing chance of thunderstorms. Despite the strength of the wind all of those aspects were favourable given our intended passage. The wind was on our backs and we would be running with the tide and though the light was diminishing and the sea a bit bouncy that was enough for the four of us to agree that, on balance, it was worth a go.
Slipping through a gap in the rock walls of the Cape Jervis harbour and then out to avoid the rocks we were soon well on our way. Pushed and surged by wind and tide I was surprised just how well we were going and how quickly we covered distance up the coast. The clouds broke, the sun came out and there was exhilaration and I’d say some relief as it seemed as though we had made a successful start to our endeavour.
It wasn’t easy though. The elements, although assisting were not aligned completely to the course I wanted to steer. The sea had more west in it, the wind had more south. When running with the sea I made great pace but it’s direction was at the coast whereas I wanted to travel parallel to the coast. To steer in the desired direction meant I had to travel across the face of the wave and this was problematic as the kayak heeled and felt unstable. The wind on the other hand had a tendency to push the kayak into that unstable position. In effect I felt jostled between wind and wave. I realised that I needed my wits about me, ready to respond to the push and surge and maintain the kayaks stability and keep a reasonable course. It was fun though, to dance with the elements in this way.
We were passing coastline that I had covered a year earlier on foot. The empty Morgan’s beach into which spilled high dunes, the steep fall and rise of rugged headland to rock and stone coves. There are secluded beaches, home to secluded houses and stretches of inhospitable rock home only to birds. Wild goats ranged the hillsides and eagles ranged the skies and above all this towered the almost graceful wind-turbines with their noses turned to the wind.
The others paused for a drink, so I turned around and joined them. I bobbed casually about then turned once more to head off, but my turn was tardy and when the swell came from underneath the other kayaks I wasn’t paying proper attention and whoa! Over I went. My first thought was how warm the water was. My second was to see in my minds eye my own legs treading in the green water, the upturned kayak with its lashed on gear just above, and below that was a sense of the silent stir of deep water, home of sharks. Time to get out.
We were soon on our way again, but whilst nothing had changed everything had. The conditions were as before but vulnerability had set in, and the fun was gone. For the next while, until we made shore I paddled with unease. In the final approach to “Investigate Bay” (so named because of the same word being written with future intent on the map) I steered clear of the submerged rocks only to be whooshed into the bay on a surge of incoming sea. Adrenaline surged too and I was glad to reach land with the others arriving soon after.We had been paddling for about 90 minutes and had covered around 8 km.
By sundown we had made camp at the extremity of the bay in a part of the rock that looked like a bite had been taken out of it. With it as shelter from the wind we sat around a warming fire eating and swapping stories till late. Overall we were happy with our situation. We were warm, dry, well fed and had covered half of our intended overall distance (we even had beer). The only mishap was my capsize which though it cost me my phone, head-torch and sunnies I had gained valuable experience and of course a story to share. Over the years I have listened to varied stories earned from being “out there” where the elements and the unexpected have overlapped bringing mishap or good fortune. They are the scars received, one of the nine lives lost and the stripes duly earned. It’s one of the motivations to go out and a reason to add or look for some degree of calculated risk to my wollemiing.
I slept deeply on the shingle beach but at some point woke to a starlit sky. The milky way proceeded above and I searched for familiar constellations. I felt calm in my relative insignificance to the cosmos above but gradually I became aware of the wind creeping into my bivvy followed by doubt re-surfacing into my thoughts as I began to reflect on the capsize. Clearly the event wasn’t behind me as the vulnerability was still present. I began to consider the conditions for the coming day. How strong would the winds be? What would the current be doing? Was the sea going to be up? What about that section where we would pass only cliffs with no possible landfall? what if, what if….?
When I awoke to a new day I determined that I needed to do two things to counteract my insecurity. Firstly pay close attention to what the conditions were really like and not what I imagined and secondly give myself permission to voice my worries and reserve the right to pull out if I needed to. I did both, but the thing that convinced me most to continue with the intended trip was the act of speaking my concerns aloud. That and me not being judged as weak. I have come to realise in this and other situations that owning my vulnerability is an important part of being present and honouring my self imposed limits. When I cross a personal boundary consciously into discomfort with my fears embraced I know that I am being authentic. This process is much easier when in the company of people who value humility. I find this in the group of friends I go out with. In them is an absence of competitiveness, of machismo or careless risk taking. There is a natural respect for natures power and a calculated approach to risk taking but overall a willingness to show vulnerability.
We re-entered the water and continued north taking in the empty beaches and sweeping hills that looked at times like waves building to a break. I had again the experience of being a mere blink in the long gaze of time that formed this landscape. It was beautiful. I knew that but my lingering unease, despite the easier conditions made it difficult to connect. Close to rapid Head (the sheer rock that cornered the headland) we pulled in at a slither of pristine sand and high cliff and pottered about. For a time I lay on the sun warmed rock and gazed up to the cliff edge and blue sky above. With the rocks solidity beneath me and the uncluttered blue above all immediate discord seemed to resolve. Finally I was ready to enjoy the rest of the trip.
Rounding the head we passed lolling seals sunning themselves and a gaggle of black-white sea-birds on a black rock striped white with shite. Tresh claimed they were penguins and swore there was a zebra amongst them. A seal raised a lazy flipper to acknowledge our presence. Once around the corner the sea flattened and the now sou’ easterly wind whooshed around the Rapid Bay gully and hit us head on. The bow of the kayak slapped up and down and I revelled in the effort required to push into the gusty wind. We went under the old jetty, a skeleton stripped of the flesh of its industrial past where steel and meaty wooden posts stand helpless to the rust and rot that feed off them.
Beyond Rapid Bay and with the wind once again behind us we paddled past the many coves along that part of the coastline. The sea was light green, the sand pale gold, the solid cliffs as though asleep. We dragged the kayaks up on the sloping shore of one of the coves and made lunch and lolled in the warmth of the cove’s trapped sun. Time slipped by without care. When back in the water our trips end was no more than an easy 30 minutes paddle away. Second Valley was sprinkled with teenagers rock jumping, folk fishing, beach goers playing in the shallow bay and divers hauling heavy gear back and forth. As we arrived I imagined us being seen as windblown explorers, wild men unorthodoxly clad in salt stained clothes with our assorted barrels, bags and boxes haphazardly lashed here and there amidst an aura of well earned self-satisfaction.
(Thanks to Tresh for the great photos.)
If you have any capsize or aquatic dramas to share, or memorable paddle trips let me know by reply, I’d love to hear them.
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