Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Riding The Wave: Kayak Sailing From Machans Beach to Ellis Island

“Where are you going?” Doug was screaming at me as I hurtled across the waves in front of me, leaning way out to the side on my paddle blade desperately trying to keep my kayak right side up as the wind, gusting into the 30 knot range threatened to capsize my kayak. “I'm just hanging on” I screamed back. I was finding communicating just as difficult as kayak sailing in the raunchy conditions. 

We were on our usual 23 km kayak sailing route from Machans Beach in the south to Ellis Beach in the north and the wind was blowing a steady 23 knots with gusts up to 32 knots. We had already had one minor adventure when Doug capsized as he was deploying his sail and his paddle, held only loosely in one hand, had wound up under the gunnel and tipped him over. It took me much longer than I had hoped (although it was still probably only a couple of minutes) to get my kayak pointed back into the wind (best to pull-up the rudder to enable a sharper turn) and rafted up along side his kayak so he could climb back in and bail out. 

 An old photo, our camera has gone in for repairs, 
and I couldn't have taken a picture if I tried

Using a bit more caution, we stayed rafted up and deployed just one sail at first. After a while, we decided to deploy my sail as well and sail/paddle independently. After all, the whole point of the exercise was to gain more experience with our Pacific Action sails in stronger winds.  We covered ground relatively quickly up to Yorkeys Knob and stayed well off-shore as variable water depths and small cliffs can make for some confused sea conditions closer in to Yorkeys Knob. 

Somewhere between Yorkeys Knob and Taylor Point I began having increasing difficulty controlling my kayak. I was surfing wildly down the following sea broaching first to right and then to left. Usually, I find the sail keeps the bow pointed into the wind, but, with a much stronger wind blowing, I was having difficulty travelling in anything resembling a straight line, and a few times, I could swear, I virtually sailed in 180 degree arc. 

Another oldie

The problem with kayak sailing, at least at my level of experience, is that once the sail is up in a strong wind, it is desperately hard to pull it down. We both have fairly tippy kayaks and with the strong gusty wind and building seas, I needed both hands on the paddle to brace and avoid a capsize. No matter how out of control I felt, I couldn't get the sail down, all I could do was lean out on a good brace and hang on. 

After my eighth near capsize in as many minutes, I shouted at Doug to raft up. This procedure took another 10 minutes as, try as he might, Doug could not slow down (he also could not pull his sail in) and I was having a hard time catching him and pulling along side. Eventually, yelling “on your left” I managed to ease in beside him using some strong back paddling strokes and grabbed on to his cockpit cowling. 

We quickly pulled in both sails and sat panting for a time getting pushed around by the building seas but now in no real danger of a capsize. At this point we were probably about 2 or 3 km off-shore and I thought if we paddled in a bit, we might get some shelter from the wind and building sea behind Taylor Point. We separated and paddled shoreward, getting blown well past Taylor Point but coming closer to shore near the south end of Palm Beach. I had only one almost capsize when I got caught by a bigger wave during a moment of inattention. It was somewhat disconcerting to hear the crashing of the waves breaking behind me as I paddled shoreward, but, I felt reasonably confident that I could keep the kayak running straight and any waves I did broach on, I could handle by bracing over the break. 

Last old photo

Once we had got closer inshore, we decided to deploy one sail and stay rafted up and sail to Double Island. This worked really well. We made good time, were much more stable than when we sailed solo, and managed to stay on course without great difficulty. The only difficult part was hanging on tightly when the wind threatened to blow us apart. As we came into the shelter of the reef between Haycock and Double Island, we pulled down Doug's sail and struggled to paddle the kayaks into shore against the wind. Standing on dry land was a bit of a relief except we found ourselves getting dive bombed by a couple of Plovers that must have had a nest in the vicinity. 

We decided to sail into shore to the north of Buchan Point using only one sail and staying rafted up. As we thought we would get pushed quite far north, we aimed our kayaks to the SW and thus had the wind blowing across our port side as we headed towards shore. We deployed Doug's sail and stayed rafted up. Doug had to lean way over to keep his kayak upright and I developed a technique where I hung on straight armed to his cockpit and also leaned my boat way up wind. 

The sailing was much easier when we pointed the boat towards Ellis Beach. I'm not sure if this was because we were getting some shelter from Double Island and Buchan Point, or if we had been in a bit of a wind tunnel as we crossed from Double Island to the mainland, or if it was just a factor of sailing down wind rather than cross wind. In any case, we sailed quite easily up to Ellis Beach where we pulled in Doug's sail and rode the waves into the beach.

After we had pulled the boats up on to the beach (closed due to strong winds) we said “Wow, that was fun.” It seems that kayak sailing, like climbing, also involves that strange mental warp where you forget all about how much you were scared and struggling and remember only how great the experience was.

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