Monday, April 4, 2016

Kayaking Is A Wet Sport: Some Easy Days at Tuross Bar

Quite a few sea kayakers have come to grief in Tuross Bar (go here or here). The first time I saw Tuross Bar was on one of the regular Friday Tuross Lake paddles when Wildey suggested conditions might be easy enough for some of us less experienced sea kayakers to paddle out. The regular group split, the flat water paddlers set off on the routine circuit of Tuross Lake while a smaller group headed out to the bar. There were seven of us, including Wildey, and we pulled up on the south side of the bar. The tide was flowing in, the safest time to exit these bars as, should calamity arise, you will at least get dragged back in to shore, rather than out. 

The flat water paddlers head off around Tuross Lake

We hiked up onto the sand dunes overlooking the bar and, I think I speak for everyone except Wildey, all took a collective step back. The bar looked frightfully rough. There was a constant stream of breakers coming in with no real gap, even across the tidal channel. Wildey said he would paddle out and assess conditions. He weaved expertly through breaking waves, exiting the bar not via the channel but via breaking swells to the south of the channel. Coming back in through the channel, he disappeared into a large breaking wave at one point, reappearing unshaken but wet closer in shore. No-one in the group stepped forward to follow. Instead we spent some time crossing and recrossing through the current well inside the bar instead and practicing eskimo rolls. 

A grainy image of Wildey heading out Tuross Bar

A couple of weeks later, Doug and I went down again to practice inside the bar. In the intervening period we had also been paddling in the channel where the Moruya River runs out to the ocean. It had felt relatively easy so we wanted to give Tuross Bar another go. The tide was coming in, of course, and we spent an hour or more paddling back and forth, sitting in holes created by the incoming tide. I had flashbacks to my long ago days whitewater kayaking, and all the correct leans and paddle strokes came easily back. Egress over the bar, however, still looked quite daunting and we did not try it. 

Inside the bar but still in messy conditions

Next day, however, we had a message from Wildey that the surf outside the bar was very "comfortable" and we could join in with some other paddlers for a few hours surfing. The tide was supposed to be on the way in, but was actually still ebbing. Putting aside our misgivings - Wildey's "comfortable" surf was unlikely to be our comfortable surf, we thought the opportunity too good to miss and immediately cancelled our afternoon plans and drove down to Tuross.
Sea kayaking is all about conditions and, although there was a strong wind warning in effect, there was no wind and the smooth regular swell was only around 80 to 100 cm rolling in to break in deep water off the beach. Conditions really were "comfortable." 

Doug sitting in a small hole at Tuross Bar

Wildey and Peter were both out catching waves as we paddled easily out through the channel, no waves breaking across the main channel today. We got some last minute pointers from both guys, made sure our rudders were stowed away, hats and glasses secured, and then started to surf. 

Paddling out through small surf

It took me a few tries to get up the courage to get up onto the bigger waves, and, a few times I bailed in fear, back-paddling just enough to fall off the back of the wave, but, between Doug and I we caught a lot of waves. Without realising it, I was getting dragged south down the coast by the ebbing tide, and was constantly paddling out through surf instead of using the tidal channel that the other three were using. I was so absorbed in the surfing that I did not notice until Peter paddled down and pointed out how far I had drifted from the main channel. Paddling out through the surf, however, was good practice and every time I would get a drenching I would remind myself that "kayaking is a wet sport." 

Doug landing in small surf
I broached sooner than expected on the last wave I caught and dropped into a big hole as the wave crashed on top of me. I had to fight the urge to try to paddle out and instead hooked a high brace over the back of the wave, leaned into it, and held on. My spray deck imploded under the force of the wave and the cockpit filled with water but I did not notice until it came time to paddle back through the surf when I noticed the kayak felt sloppier than ever. Out behind the surf zone, Doug and I rafted up and I bailed out and reattached my spray deck.

Kayak surfing is a lot like eskimo rolling. You need to commit to it, and, you must do what feels completely wrong. In the latter, you must keep your head down even though instinct tells you to lift up your head so you can breathe. In the former, when you broach, you must lean into and embrace that wave that is trying to trash you. Only then will you come out the other side.

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