Thursday, June 30, 2016

Saving The Best For Last: Moruya Heads to Tuross Head By Sea Kayak

After turning back at Pedro Point on Sunday, I was keen to head south from Shelly Beach again in the sea kayaks and get at least to Mullimburra Point, so, when MS decided to join us the possibility of a one way trip emerged and I got keen to paddle from Shelly Beach right down to Tuross Heads. I was not sure, however, what Tuross bar was like after the June east coast low so called PC, another keen sea kayaker, whose house overlooks Tuross Bar. Not only did PC assure me that the bar was fine, but he also offered to help with the car shuttle driving MS and me back to Shelly Beach after we dropped off the cars at Tuross Head. If that was not awesome enough, PC would even paddle out from Tuross Head and meet us near Bingie Bingie Point to guide us back through the bar. A good forecast, sunny weather, great company, car shuttle help, and a local guide to help us navigate Tuross bar, it was all too good to pass up. 

Seal spotting off Toragy Point, PC DB

MS and I had got a look at Tuross bar when we left the cars in Tuross Heads. It was slightly messy but not looking too bad and I was anxious to impress on MS and PC that they assure Doug that entering at the end of the day would be easy lest he be somewhat anxious throughout the entire trip. I'm not sure what either of them really thought but they were certainly enthusiastic in assuring Doug that paddling over the bar at days end would be easy. 

Seals off Bingie Bingie Point, PC DB

The coastline from Moruya Heads south to Tuross Head is basically a series of long beaches broken by rocky headlands with off-shore reefs. Pedro Point is the least prominent and Mullimburra the most prominent. As usual, there were a few dolphins patrolling the mouth of the Moruya River and a cluster of seals resting in the surf zone off Toragy Point. With a swell about half the size of last Sunday, paddling across the reef at Pedro Point was easy as the gap between breaks was easily negotiated. At Congo Point a rock platform curls north and breaks all the time but provides a somewhat sheltered landing in a southerly swell. 

Passing Black Rock, PC DB

Paddling down Congo Beach we passed some short basalt cliffs which may have good bouldering at low tide and took a trip around Black Rock where sea birds nest. We landed for lunch in a minor shore-dump at the little beach on the north side of Mullimburra Point. I knew of a narrow gauntlet at Mullimburra Point that runs clear, albeit narrow from one side of the point to the other. MS had, of course, paddled through and we thought we would take a look on the way by. When we actually got to the gauntlet, as so often happens, we all had reasons not to enter. MS did not want to damage his boat, I did not want to damage my body, and Doug was basically having none of it. I paddled cautiously in from the north and saw a very narrow passage with a big rock in the middle that did not even look a paddle length wide. Had I known that you could actually enter or exit half way through, I think I would have been more inclined to give it a go, but perhaps I am just feeling braver when I am not at sea in a small boat. 

At Mullimburra Point, PC DB

South of Mullimburra Point is Grey Rocks where there is good bouldering with sand landings on solid granite slabs and boulders and then we reached Bingie Bingie Point where there are more granite boulders to climb on. At Bingie Bingie Point, as prearranged, we tried to raise PC our respective radios and mobile phones (the battery in our phone had died and MS was unable to operate his through his waterproof case) but were unsuccessful. We could only hope that PC had paddled out from Tuross Head without waiting to hear from us. Another cluster of seals were rolling around in the swell of Bingie Bingie Point.

Photographing the photographer photographing seals, PC DB

Paddling down Bingie Beach we were well spread out and I was thinking it a shame that PC had done a car shuttle but would not get a paddle when I saw a bright red kayak far out on the horizon. It could only be PC and we all paddled over to greet him. Paddling south, we saw a Fairy Penguin in the water but were unable to get very close. 

Finally, we approached Tuross Head. I was, as usual, at the back, and by the time I arrived Peter was half way in and fast disappearing into the swells. PC was going to give us a sign, the standard raised paddle, when he got in, but, with all the breaking waves it was really almost impossible to see him. MS was busy rehearsing the set-up position for an eskimo roll which was maybe not that confidence inspiring. I took my hat and sunglasses off and put them away in case I got dumped. 

Black Rocks, PC DB

It was a bit tough to hang around off the bar getting a feel for the waves as we were getting carried steadily south and inshore to where the waves were breaking. I managed to avoid any real breakers by paddling swiftly back out but Doug got caught a couple of times as waves broke directly on the stern of his kayak. I'm pretty sure I saw the whites of his eyes the first time one broke right on this stern deck. MS was next in, then Doug, and I followed right behind Doug. Once you started paddling in, it wasn't actually too bad as right in the channel the waves did not seem to be breaking. It still got my heart pumping though, half from paddling as hard as I could and half from wondering if I was going to get slammed from behind. After that, landing on the beach near the caravan park was easy and another grand winter day out on the water was over.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

I Won't Go There: Shelly Beach, Pedro Point and Broulee Point by Sea Kayak

It was the usual forecast for this time of year, moderate winds, two different swells with a local sea on top, maybe not the best forecast for sea kayaking but close inshore, where kayakers tend to paddle, the weather just never seems as bad as forecast and, in kayaking, like mountaineering, it often pays to go take a look. 

Our plan was to launch from Shelly Beach and paddle out around Toragy Point south to Pedro Point, on to Congo Point where we should have been able to land relatively easily, and then, if all was going well we would continue south to Mullimburra Point where a small north facing sand bay would also offer an easy landing place. It sounded like a good day out paddling down a stretch of coastline we had only visited on foot with a couple of landing places and, although it was a chilly 5 degrees Celsius in Moruya, the hope of some sun to warm us up. 

Launching from Shelly Beach was easy and we both managed to stay dry. The big east coast low at the beginning of June has changed the river mouth and there are standing waves where there were none before and, at times, the entire entrance to the river closes out with breaking waves. 

 Launching from Shelly Beach

There is a big deep gutter at Toragy Point but the swell was peaking at 2 to 3 metres so entering the gutter was out of the question. Surprisingly, a bunch of seals were resting with fins in the air right off Toragy Point where the waves batter in. We paddled wide of Toragy Point and then headed down the coast to Pedro Point in an off-shore wind. Just off Toragy Point, a couple of large dolphins paddled right under Doug's kayak and surfaced perhaps a metre off the bow. There always seems to be dolphins hanging about the mouth of the Moruya River. It must be good fishing. 

It was not long before we began to see a long line of breakers running parallel to the beach and almost a kilometre off-shore. We had a little discussion but we were both hoping to pass inside the breakers closer to Pedro Point so continued on. When we got near to Pedro Point it was obvious that the way around today was right out to sea around the breaking reef. There is nothing at all marked on the nautical chart or the topographic map and it is possible that sand dumping from the June east coast low has built this reef up so that it breaks more frequently. 

I felt confident there was a narrow gap between the line of breakers through which, with careful timing, we could pass but Doug was having none of it. Usually, in this situation we have long discussions where one person attempts to sway the other but Doug felt unaccountably strongly on this occasion and simply said "I won't go there." He was so emphatic that arguing seemed pointless. We did have the option of paddling back to Toragy Point, heading out to sea around the reef and then continuing down the coast but generally I don't like paddling a kilometre off-shore because there is not much to look at and progress can seem terribly slow. 

Paddling north to Broulee Head seemed like a better option and we (thought) knew that we could land in the little cove - I think the locals call it Honeymoon Bay - on the south side of the Boat Harbour sand spit that joins Broulee Island to the mainland. 

Paddling uphill on the way to Pedro Point

There are a few larger sand bars off Bengello Beach too since the east coast low, but it is easy to paddle north along the shore to the surf club near Broulee Head. As we approached Broulee Head we could see more extensive breakers running all the way from Broulee Head to the east side of Broulee Island. We paddled east along the entrance to the little cove but it was completely closed out by breaking swells. Paddling through breakers over a shallow rock reef seems infinitely worse than paddling through breakers over a sand beach and the swells were so close together that getting in without being overtaken by breakers seemed dubious. This was a bit of a shame as we now had numb butts, full bladders and a hankering for a hot thermos of tea. We could have continued on around Broulee Island and landed on the north side but the east side of Broulee Island harbours a shallow sloping reef that extends a long way off-shore and we would have had to paddle very wide to get around. The total distance would have been pretty close to just paddling back to Shelly Beach so we turned around and headed south again. 

This time we stayed well off-shore paddling in a straight line for Toragy Point which is easily visible from sea. The breakwater at the mouth of the Moruya River is too low to see when a reasonable swell is running. I don't usually like paddling way off shore but this was a really nice paddle south. The sun was low over my shoulder casting shadows on the water and thin clouds were stretching out from the forested hills to the west. The coastline had an interesting tiered look with the white sand beach backed by the green gum forest which was in turn backed by the forested ridges beyond. I would rise up on a swell and Doug paddling a hundred metres to my right would disappear into a trough, then he would rise and I would fall. 

There was a bit of squirrelly water coming in to Shelly Beach and the entire river channel was closing out with some of the larger waves. Two more dolphins passed us by in the choppy water. Landing was easy, and, remarkably, I got out of the kayak completely dry, something I can't remember happening for months and months.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Peaking Early: A Too Short Climbing Trip

The blog has been pretty quiet lately and there has been a significant lack of any adventures, mini or maxi, in my life lately. Soon after our last kayaking day, the virus that had been dragging along Doug's heels caught up with him, and, about a week later, just as I was smugly thinking I had avoided it, the virus dragged me down too. 

We had, however, been pining to go climbing up on the Southern Highlands for a while, so when a weather window appeared, we packed up and prepared to leave. As somehow seems all too common, the good weather coincided with a public holiday, so we delayed leaving until the Monday figuring two more days for both of us to recover was not a bad thing. Doug did get somewhat better, I stayed about the same which I took to mean I was at the nadir of the virus and would only get better. Monday morning, however, I felt terrible but, in social media parlance, I was "stoked/amped/psyched/doped" to go climbing so we went anyway. 

The access route to the crag on better health days

Doug had to drive the whole way as I felt too ill to drive, which should have been a sign of things to come, but which I over-rode in my desire to go climbing. This is not new for me. The closest I consider myself to have come to dying in an avalanche happened when I was too motivated by ambition and too little by prudence. Luckily, this time the consequences would not be so high.
I had a big goal for this climbing trip. I wanted to lead every route that Doug led. In all the years we have been climbing together, I have never done this. It's not really something you can do - at least not sensibly - on multi-pitch routes, but it is entirely possible on single pitch sport routes, and I thought having a firm easily measurable goal would motivate me even if, nay when, I was scared. 

Unfortunately, the first afternoon we were there we got zero climbing in. This was due to a combination of a new gate which drastically increases the approach time, short winter days, and a hare-brained plan to try to find one of the newly developed areas all of which conspired to result in an afternoon spent thrashing about in the bush. It was dark when we set up the caravan and I was in bed by 7.30 pm trying to tell myself that I would feel great after a night's sleep.

Never underestimate the inventiveness of a group of climbers

Next day we had as solid a climbing day as you do when it is the middle of winter, you are old and sick, and the approach is much longer than it should be. I was happy to lead all the routes Doug led, although by the last route of the day I did have to prod myself to pull the rope and lead it instead of simply top-roping it. It was a long stagger up the hill at the end of the day and I was in bed again by 7.30 pm.

Next morning there was a lot of frost on the ground but we hopefully headed off climbing. By the time I had walked in and struggled down the approach gully - which felt desperately hard on this particular day - I knew the trip was over for me. I simply had no energy left. I belayed Doug up a couple of climbs in between coughing jags and offered to stay for the day and belay him, but, truthfully, I was very glad when he suggested packing it in and heading home. A hot shower, a comfortable bed, heat, lights, medication these things suddenly sounded way more appealing than laying in the dirt at the bottom of a crag feeling terrible. Once again, I had peaked too early. 

 Last rays of sun over the crag

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Healthy Interest Or Crazy Obsession: Surfing The Line In Batemans Bay

It was cold, a bit windy, overcast, there was both a strong wind warning and a "large and dangerous seas" warning, pretty much the perfect day to go sea kayaking. Actually, inside Batemans Bay it wasn't too bad but as Doug and I stood by the whipped up brown ocean pulling on wetsuits for another kayak surfing session it was hard not to feel that we might be crossing the line between healthy interest and crazy obsession. We could probably legitimately blame Peter who, the day before the east coast low moved in to pummel NSW, noted that on days with a huge swell on the open ocean, semi-sheltered locations often have great surfing waves.

On Tuesday, the swell was still running around four metres with peak waves up to seven metres and a long line of breakers was hitting the sandbars near the breakwater at the mouth of the Clyde River. The ocean was brown with run-off. It was a mostly easterly swell so we thought Surfside Beach would have some good waves. The swell was good, around a 1 to 1.5 metres with larger waves rolling in frequently, but the beach itself is too steep for a good spilling wave and was instead a nasty shore-dump. Just to the west, around Pinnacle Point, the beach is long and flat. Normally, there are no waves here, excepting perhaps a riffle, today there was a steady line of breakers. The small creek that usually trickles out was a steady flow. 

 Doug catches a wave where normally there is barely a riffle

We spent about an hour surfing here. The waves were a little tricky to catch as they were somewhat irregular and steepened suddenly which meant the kayak would broach even sooner than normal so rides were short, spin cycles long. I lost half my spray deck on one large crashing wave, pulling out finally to see Doug giving me a thumbs up for hanging on. 

After a bit we decided to wander back around the corner to Surfside to see if the falling tide had improved the waves. It hadn't but we could see a nice wave across the way just inside Square Head. Although the waves were pretty small here, no more than a metre, they were fantastic for surfing as you could get on and ride a long way in towards Cullendulla Creek then exit at the end without the usual thrashing. They were gentle enough on the face that a stern rudder would hold the kayak in a straight line. We hung out here for a long while until Doug's virus began to assert itself and we decided to head back. 

Heading home across Cullendulla Bay

It took a long time to paddle back to the car as not only was the tide and wind against us, but all the rainwater flowing out the various rivers and creeks was creating even more current. The swells were a decent size coming in but not steep enough to get much of a ride. When we pulled the boats up to the car, I realised I had managed to leave my life jacket on the beach near Cullendulla Creek. Neither Doug nor I had noticed that I had spent half an hour surfing and almost an hour paddling back not wearing a life jacket. 

Neither of us relished the idea of another two hour round trip in the kayaks to retrieve it. Luckily, I found a good track down to the Cullendulla Creek from Long Beach and retrieved the jacket in a scant 20 minutes on foot.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Day The Kayaks Took Over The Surf Break

Taking your sea kayak surfing is to ocean kayaking what sport climbing is to rock climbing. It's a kind of low commitment, just have fun kind of activity. Just like sport climbing, surfing can still be a bit scary, but, unless you are out in monster conditions, mostly if something goes wrong you can bail out and swim into the beach, just like you can bail off a sport climbing. The weather is also less important. If it all goes to crap, you can just go home. There is no feeling that you are stuck on a big mountain or a wide ocean in a horrible storm. 

Someone is looking just a wee bit unhappy as a storm rolls in

With the colder and cloudy weather lately and a friendly 1 to 2 metre swell we have been taking the sea kayaks surfing instead of doing long paddles. On Wednesday, we took the kayaks out to Moruya Heads where there are a number of spots you can ride. The big kids play right in the middle of the river entrance where a sandbar picks up a nice regular wave. You can also play inshore on the south side of the breakwater where there is a long swash zone, or, if conditions are right, some good waves can be had off Shelly Beach. 

It was pretty fun for the first hour and I caught lots of waves, the second hour the swell was diminishing and there were longer gaps between good rides. No-one capsized, which is always nice, although I was wet through from breaking waves. Doug, who had a more conservative approach, and was wearing a wet suit, stayed remarkably dry. 

 Doug in the swash zone at Moruya Heads

Friday we went up to Mossy Point which almost always has a good easy wave on some sandbars off Tomakin Beach. It was a grey kind of day and feeling distinctly chilly so we were surprised to find six other kayakers there including a friend from Tuross. Turns out some young folk were training for their sea skills certification and had come out to do some practice in the surf, so it turned out to be the day the kayaks took over the surf break. 

Kayakers take over the surf zone

There's not that much you can say about surfing if you don't get ejected from your boat in a pitch pole down a wave and horribly trashed, so I'll just say it was fun. Some rides were long, some short, some kayakers definitely took a swim, but not Doug or I, we were all wet, some of us were colder than others, and, finally the time for wearing a wetsuit to surf in is probably here. Doug and I had a wee paddle around the rocks off Mossy Point in between sessions as I was getting pretty chilled, having a habit of getting way more thrashed in waves than Doug does. 

The only problem with surfing a sea kayak is that it will inevitably broach on the wave and then you'll feel like you've been through the spin cycle of your washer as you bounce sideways into shore with a wall of water crashing over your head. It's kind of like "fun, fun, fun, oh no I'm broaching, lean, brace, no fun at all." 

Getting warmed up paddling around Mossy Point

When I first starting surfing I would fight broaching as long as I could leaning the kayak and using a solid stern rudder. Then two kayakers, much better than me, told me to just let the boat broach when it was ready. I've been doing that lately and I'm pretty sure the "fun, fun, fun" transition into "no fun at all" is getting quicker and quicker. Next time I go out I think I'll revert to the fight the broach until the fight is lost tactic again, which, given we are currently being pounded by an east coast low, may not be for a few days at least.