Thursday, 27 November 2008

Rumblin' in Currumbin

I've just returned from the terrific Australian Sea Kayak Symposium in Currumbin, on Queensland's Gold Coast. The event was a great start towards establishing an event that will hopefully become a part of the kayaking calendar for years to come. The weekend began for Rob & I with a 13 hour drive up from Sydney on the Thursday, so we were set up for the demo day we held on the Friday morning.
The demo day was an unqualified success, with Brian & Deb McCarthy ordering a shiny new Aquanaut each, & Brooke & Eddie paddling & then buying the awesome little Avocet. Several other paddlers turned up to try out our designs & attempt to get their heads aorund rudderless paddling. With a great new customised boat trailer, we will be doing plenty more of these demo days around the place, so keep an eye on our website for dates. Of course, we'll also take you out to demo paddle any of our boats, at a time to suit.
The venue for the show was the Currumbin State High School, where the opening honours were done by Christine Smith, ALP member for Burleigh.
Proving that everyone has one, MP for Burleigh Christine Smith, gives her opinion on the Nordkapp.....
We set up our stand & showed off our shiny boats & Mitchell Blades, along with the other unique gear from our previously only online store.
The Saturday had a pretty solid lineup of speakers & workshops and a short paddle in the afternoon, while the Sunday involved a full day on the water for the 100+ participants. While skills instruction was pretty basic in comparison to something like the iconic NSWSKC Rock & Roll Weekend, it was understandable given the lack of a generic grading system, and the fact that this was the first event of it's kind in the state. I'm sure everyone came away with a new tool in the skills armoury regardless of their level of competence.
After the instruction morning, paddlers were free to demo paddle the range of boats from the many retailers in attendance.
Queensland sea kayaking is definitely defined by the paddling opportunities available around the South East of the state. The open ocean is rarely accessible other than through a breaking river bar or tidal narrow, or of course through the teeth of a long beach break, and the sort of big water we get used to in the southern states around headlands, & with long period southern swell is generally absent in all but the biggest weather days. So, like all things in Queensland, people tend to take it a bit easy - all very admirable! If you want to see a paddling community smelling the roses, enjoying the true relaxation our sport can offer, go no further than the litany of 'pods' who paddle together up & down the Gold Coast, Brisbane & Moreton Bay, & the Sunshine Coast. To boot, there are awesome moving water stretches, without the 'consequences' of getting it wrong in the surf trying to surf your kayak at a beach break around Sydney. All in all, I was very jealous of the weather, water temperature & bar breaks available to Queensland paddlers. The folks at Queensland Canoeing are to be commended for having a go & pulling off such a successful event. If you can make it along next year, it's well worth the effort.

Leading Queensland instructor Craig McSween taking his little boy for a paddle in his brand new Outasea design.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Australian Sea Kayak Symposium

We're pretty excited about next week's inaugural Australian Sea Kayak Symposium, organised & run by Queensland Canoeing on the Sunshine Coast. Head honcho Mark Thurgood has done a terrific job pulling together an event that promises much, as an annual get-together of salty sea paddlers.
They have a good range of speakers & workshops, some basic instruction for all participants on both the Saturday & Sunday, and from all reports a good pre-registered roster. Rob & I will be there from Friday morning, and will run a demo paddling session on the Currmbin Creek from 10am to 3pm, in order to allow our loyal Queensland customers a chance to get out in some of our newer designs. We'll be in the water with the demo paddlers, offering our customary tips & tricks on how to handle rudderless kayaks, as well as having our Reed gear, This is the Sea DVD's & other store goodies for purchase.
Sunday at the Symposium offers much the same experience, with a bunch or retailers & importers offering their demo boats for all to try. It is a rare opportunity to try, compare & contrast different craft head to head.
To register your attendance, click HERE

Monday, 10 November 2008

Paddling with a Paddy

I had the great pleasure of paddling on Saturday with the NSWSKC, on a trip led by Peter Osman, with a guest from Ireland, David Carraher.
David Carraher, Irish Sea Instructor & all round good fella.....Photo Dee Ratcliffe

We had a good mix in the group, with two sea instructors, Peter aiming to re-register as a Sea Leader, a couple of Sea Skills qualified paddlers & a reasonably new kayaker. Our trip was intended to run from the protected waterway of Middle Harbour, through the outer harbour between Sydney Heads, & around the long stretch of cliffs between North Head & Manly. The forecast swung around like the Aussie dollar in the days prior, & even as late as Friday it looked like conditions might be too demanding for the group, but a settled Saturday morning outlook saw us depart for our original trip on schedule. This pre-match process highlighted to me the importance of paddling with a club or experienced group when you're intending to paddle on the sea. There was much emailed correspondence in the days prior to the paddle, as several experienced kayakers analysed the meaning of the forecast, in relation to the stretch of water to be covered. I've heard much denigration over the years of the concept of risk management, but this to me was a terrific example of a group of experienced paddlers figuring out a weather forecast, along a route, keeping in mind the abilities of the group, & then deciding the risks would be worth the experience. Top marks to trip leader Peter Osman for co-ordinating the preliminaries!
Paddling with our guest paddy, Dave, was a real pleasure. He is one of the leading instructors in Ireland, & has a resume as long as your Mitchell Blade of great expeditions, ranging from West Greenland to direct crossings from Ireland to The Isle of Man, to the tide races of Northern Ireland & Wales. One of the great differences between the way true sea kayaking is taught in Ireland & here in Australia is due to the hazards which predominate. Paddling around Ireland, you need to know your tides, navigation in limited visibility & have good moving water (ie tidal) skills, whereas here our emphasis is much more heavily on surf & it's associated risks. What I wouldn't give to have a crack at one of those awesome tide races that figure so prominently in the This is the Sea & Pacific Horizons DVD's!

David Carraher cracks a wave on Fairy Bower Photo Dee Ratcliffe

The paddle progressed out & around North Head & down the cliff line to Manly, with a moderate nor' westerly cutting up the top of the water & making things reasonably challenging along this notoriously bouncy stretch. There were a couple of good small waves which provided some entertainment at Fairy Bower , followed by a cup of coffee on the sand at Shelley Beach. We met up with Mark Schroeder & Matt Bezzina - author of the world famous "Matt's Blog" & they joined in for the trip back to the heads. New paddler Wendy Stevenson - the lady who blitzed me in the Montauk if you read back in the blog to my 'Speed' entry, was in her new Avocet LV & gradually got a feel for this awesome little boat. For small framed paddlers, this little beauty is a god-send, keeping things in proportion for the larger-than-you-think percentage of the paddling community who can rarely find a sea kayak which fits.

Wendy Stevenson showing picture-perfect poise in her Avocet LV

The trip back was assisted greatly by the current which runs south along the cliff line, & we were then entertained by Mark & Matt slowly delaminating their hulls on the Cungewoi reefs around North Head.

Mark Schroeder getting a bit of a splash from the North Head sandstone.

Back at Clontarf there was a bit of rolling practice & some demo paddling for Peter O & Dee Ratcliffe, before the last paddlers standing adjourned to Skiffies for a couple of beers & some tall tales.

Peter Osman dropping his skirt in the soup.

All up, an awesome day out with mixed conditions, good company & some proper sea kayaking. Thanks to Peter O, Dee, Wendy, Bruce, John, Matt, Mark & David for making it such a great day out.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The NDK Explorer

I had my first serious paddle in the famous Nigel Dennis Explorer on Friday morning, accompanying a new paddler, Ben Khan, on a trip from his home on Sydney's Bare Island (yep, you heard it right, Ben is a NPWS ranger & calls the old fort his home), around to Little Bay & back. Ben Khan negotiating the swell in his Valley Aquanaut (obscured.....!)
The boat has a peerless pedigree, having been used on just about every major expedition undertaken around the world for the past decade. Most recently, Justine Curgenven & Barrie Shaw paddled an Explorer around NZ's South Island (you can watch this trip on 'This is the Sea 4'), while Freya Hoffmeister also circumnavigated the South Island in her customary black Explorer, in record time. I've have been eager to get into our demo boat on a decent sea paddle since we landed our stock a few weeks ago, and Friday was my first chance.
My first impression was that this is a boat with such a clean hull design, that it is hard to imagine a circumstance in which it would even need a skeg, to keep on track. It holds a line beautifully, with the same sort of bouncy secondary stability you find in the Impex performance kayaks like the Assateague & Montauk. Doubtless the performance of the Explorer & it's predecessor the Romany have been a strong inspiration for Impex...!
On the reasonably flat water heading out of Botany Bay it was quite quick, definitely a faster upper end speed than my Aquanaut, with an effortless cruising speed.
Rob Mercer & Ben Khan round Cape Bank
Once around the corner & out onto the rebound & confusion of the Cape Banks headland, the real reasons for the success of the Explorer are revealed. It is a fantastic boat in a confused sea. The v-keel constantly shifts the hull from side to side, adjusting to the moving water & giving a remarkably smooth, stable ride. I imagine with a full expedition load this stability would be accentuated, which goes a long way towards explaining why the Explorer is the kayak of choice for rough water, long distance paddles the world over.
Nigel Dennis makes his boats strong, making no apologies for the 'unsexy' layup of the Explorer. They are a kilo or so heavier than the cutting edge, aerospace vacuum-bagged Valley boats, but the comparison is a little unfair, as these Explorer's are absolutely bombproof.
The ride back from Little Bay was great fun, with a quartering nor' easterly 2m swell pushing us along, while once back inside Cape Banks with the swell wrapping dead east, I was really able to catch some long surf rides.
I wasn't expecting to have as much fun in the Explorer as I did - sometimes you can read up on these expedition boats & get the impression that they are just straight line logs. It is a very responsive kayak in the same vein as the Valley designs, sporty enough to use as a day boat, and clearly the best around for expeditioning.