Sunday, October 30, 2016

All Kayakers Are Merely Between Swims

The story of the man, the kayak, and the crocodile is lore in Australian sea kayaking and Doug and I were keen to meet the man and the kayak, but not so much the crocodile. Meeting up with David Winkworth at Bittangabee Bay near Eden for the annual sea kayak whale watching weekend in early October, encounters with big lizards seemed unlikely. The late September blustery weather was continuing on into October, a month which local sea kayakers say can be "dodgy for kayaking" but Doug and I headed down to Eden hopeful of a couple of days good kayaking and company. 

Disaster Bay

As we had a dog with us, we were unable to stay in the lovely campground at Bittangabee Bay which looks out towards Green Cape over impressive sandstone cliffs but stayed instead in Eden driving out to Bittangabee each day. We drove down from Moruya on Thursday and, in the afternoon, we carried the kayaks all of five metres to Shadrachs Creek and paddled out into Quarantine Bay. A north wind was forecast so, of course, we paddled north around Lookout Point and Eagle Claw Nature Reserve to the south end of Aslings Beach. Although this section of coast is developed, there are a lot of big sea caves to explore. 

Big sea cave near Lookout Point

On Friday we drove out to Bittangabee and spent the day climbing some short trad routes on the cliffs north of Bittangabee Bay. The routes are short but good quality and the location - on a wide rock platform just above the ocean - is spectacular. We saw a few whales and also a few kayakers who had arrived early for the weekend. Apparently, there was an inadvertent swimming incident when a kayaker capsized in a rock garden and was unable to roll, proving what Terry later said "all kayakers are simply between swims." Before we drove back to Eden we met David who is a giant of a man and looks completely capable of grappling with a dozen crocodiles. 

Oman Point

We got back out to Bittangabee before 8 am on Saturday morning but were too late to catch Wildey and the A team who had already headed south to Green Cape. There was another swimmer in a rock garden, capably rescued by Wildey, before the group returned to Bittangabee later in the morning. Doug and I got signed up with the B team who were also heading to Green Cape under the leadership of Graeme. 

Heading south to Green Cape

After a briefing on the beach, the pod launched from the sand of Bittangabee Bay and paddled out to the headland and turned south. This was a good sized group of 11 kayakers but surprisingly well behaved as no-one wandered away from the pod despite the tantalising rock gardens along this section of coast. We were protected from much of the swell and wind by Green Cape so it was an easy paddle with lots of opportunity to chat. The coast is beautiful here with steep cliffs fringing the shore all the way to Green Cape and the lighthouse. We stopped just north of Green Cape where a line of breakers was stretching far out to sea. Whales were breaching just off the Cape and on the paddle back to Bittangabee Bay a curious seal followed along behind us. 

The lighthouse at Green Cape

A gale warning was forecast for Sunday and, although I thought that these guys paddled in all conditions, apparently they don't. By 8 am, when we arrived at Bittangabee, the sea was a seething mass of waves and white-caps. Some people went home early but the rest broke into small groups and went down to Bittangabee Bay to practice rescues. Everything I've learnt about kayak rescues has come from books and videos, a lot of which never made sense to me, so it was great to have an instructor actually teaching us in person. Doug and I ran through various scenarios all of which involved getting extremely wet and finally a bit chilled. After a couple of hours we repaired to the campground, a smoky fire, and hot tea. 

 Terry paddling the Maelstrom by Bugga

It was the end of the trip for Doug and I as an incipient case of tendinitis in my elbows flared up and I could not paddle any more. Three weeks later I'm still not paddling, but I am happily remembering the Bittangabee Bay days, the best part of which was meeting a wonderful group of kayakers, some new to the sport, some with a few decades experience, but all of whom share a passion for the wild earth and the even wilder ocean. 

 The pod paddling to Green Cape


  1. Oh gosh, that croc attack at MacArthur Island ........!!!!!! I am just looking at planning a holiday at Russell Island in the frankland. Should I show Dave's blog to the children?

  2. You may be interested in the theory of Portuguese discovery associated with Bitangbee bay.

  3. Kayakers and other boaters frequently visit the Frankland Islands and I have not heard of any crocodile sightings out there although they have been seen in the Russel River. Most kayakers head out from Bramston Beach. I probably would not worry about crocodiles out there.

  4. Awesome. Thanks for the link.