Travels with Paddles

a sea kayaking journal

Axel Schoevers (Photo: A. de Krook) Name:
Axel Schoevers
Rijswijk, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bay Sydney Rollers

In Sydney the NSW Sea Kayak Club organized a well-attended club weekend at Bundeena for coach and trip leader development. The Sunday afternoon sessions ended a bit abrupt and prematurely by a bush fire a little south that, with the southerly force 6 winds, had a chance for an evacuation of Bundeena and/or closure of the only road into town.

In the week after, Rob Mercer of Expedition Kayaks, organized a number of courses out of Watson's Bay. Most popular were the Greenland paddling and rolling sessions.

On Thursday Rob and business partner Mark Sundin took me on a trip along the coast to Manly to experience some 'rebound'. One can pick almost any condition and on bigger days even in the various bays and beaches inside the large bay that is Sydney Harbour. A great paddling and coaching environment. It is not difficult to imagine that sea kayaking is VERY popular here! And one does not even have to venture out into the open ocean.

After some play with the rebound off Blue Fish Point we continued to Manly. This is a popular spot for board surfers. We were surprised to find only one surfer and excellent sets to work with.

Being aware of the surfing etiquette, I was quite careful not to steal the waves from the surfer. But he let pass a number of good waves when he signaled me to go for it. By then I had a late start, for what looked like (and was!) the biggest wave of the day.

The very steep surf ended in a bongo slide (towards Mark) and a capsize. Wearing a wide-brim hat is not a good idea in surf... It was ripped off my head, taking with it my glasses and sun-glasses. While carried-away by the foam-pile I was totally focused on holding on to my glasses and sort-out the rest later. Holding the glasses in one hand an my paddle in the other, I resurfaced right-side up. So I was quite amazed that I only lost my hat. Only to have Mark tell me it was dangling off my strobe-light. A few days later I noticed that the surf took something after all; the plastic 'nose-clips' of my glasses.

Mark wrote something about this day (and something about my hat and sun-glasses) on his blog.

BTW, we do not have this kind of waves in the Netherlands, so it was very enjoyable to surf these waves on long runs, maneuvering with edge, trim and paddle rudders at will.

On my last day in Sydney I joined Raewyn, Sally, Karen and David for a paddle in Sydney Harbour. At least I got to experience some of Sydney's major 'watermarks'.

With a strong afternoon sea-breeze, again appreciating the wonderful and varied sea kayaking there is to do in the Sydney area.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Upon leaving Barwon Heads, John and Tina gave me the book "Solo" by Vicki McAuley. Yesterday evening I finished reading it. And when the disastrous day unfolded in it, it dawned upon me that it was exactly 4 years ago, on 9 February 2007 that Andrew McAuley was lost at sea in the Tasman.

This week I am in Sydney and I came across quite a few (place) names that are mentioned in the book; the area where he lived, worked, trained and tested out his equipment. Andrew was a local Sydney paddler. He has touched many lives. And with the age of the internet we know this is world-wide. It is an emotional read, even more so than the viewing of the documentary with the same name.

The Tasman Sea at the 40 degree parallel is a very, very dangerous place. After reading the book I now have some clue of what "The Roaring Forties" are about to any vessel, let alone a sea kayak. It also gives a close-up insight to what it is to live with an adventurer.

In many ways the book is a true love story. Allowing someone to pursue his dreams with the ultimate sacrifice of losing the one you love and dealing with loss. Andrew's spirit of adventure was never lost.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sea Kayak Victoria

Arriving at Melbourne Airport, Ginni and I were picked-up by David Golightly of the Victorian Sea Kayak Club.
David would be our 'coordinator' for our stay in Melbourne. We were moved from one venue to another, but under the professional and in the very relaxed care of David this shuffling around relieved a lot of the pressures of getting the most out of our stay for the club. On the Friday evening lecture the first question I got asked was what I thought about rudders... And when I told (with pictures) something about paddling in the Netherlands: if Dutch kayakers often cross the North Sea. Well, not really, only very rarely. I learned that for Aussies, the 'pinnacle' of sea kayak proficiency is crossing Bass Strait. With Geoff in Tasmania, I looked into a Bass Strait navigation and I learned it is a kinda advanced crossing.

By Sunday afternoon I was totally spent (through a combination of heat and session concentration) when John and Tina drove us on the Sorrento ferry to Queenscliff for two days of easy-going chilling-out on the Geelong coast. We could use Sea Leopard sea kayaks that were kindly lent to us by Bob Mitchell of Rafta Sea Kayaks. Sea Leopards can fly... I just barely cleared a big set wave over a reef break and felt fully air-borne for a moment, with some adrenaline-rush. On Tuesday, Tony lent me his Nadgee sea kayak. Despite fitted with a (retractable) rudder, I found the Nadgee very easy to control without the rudder. I had a great time in clean surf with long rides on the swell-generated surf and surfing a following sea in increasing winds.

When comparing sea kayak performance my 'bias' tends to evaluate how well/quick the kayak responds to the effort or stroke I put into it. Instant 'feedback-loops' between the mind, body, blade, boat and the water; a constant 'activity'. The ONE 'perfect sea kayak' does not exist. Sea kayak performance is something to experience one selves and is very personal !

Returning from Barwon Heads we visited Queenscliff lighthouse to view 'the rip' and give homage at the Paul Caffyn 'plaque', the location where he (and Freya Hoffmeister) started their Australia circumnavigation. Currently Stuart Trueman is well on it's way and his progress can be followed at:

A big thank you to all the people at the VSKC for organizing our stay. Next stop on the "Australia Tour" is the New South Wales Sea Kayak Club in Sydney.

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Paddle Salute

Very sad news arrived this week from the Netherlands. Fred Leemans very unexpectedly died. I first met Fred at the Anglesey sea kayak symposium where his enthusiasm was very catching. Puzzled with the question from the local instructors wether he had any 'BCU stars', he answered that he had 'no stars', and I subsequently referred to him as Fred 'no-star', with a smile. Sometimes one has those special people on trips that by personality boosts group morale. Fred was one of those 'naturals'. He joined me on trips to Jersey and Baja Mexico. Fred, it has been good to know you; I very much enjoyed your company. From Half Moon Bay in Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne, Australia, a salute to you!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

From a Sea Down Under

It is almost a month ago that Ginni and I arrived in Australia. So much experiences to share from this (for me) other part of the world. Is it about the pro's and con's of rudders versus skegs; a frequently asked question? The 'cultural' differences in sea kayaking. The similarities, the differences, the 'local' variations and adaptations. The stories of the committing crossings of Bass Strait (east, west, middle), challenging West Coast Tassie, Big Ocean Swells, frequent 30-40 knot winds and 30 knot afternoon sea breezes.

This all in a climatically very unstable year for Australia and Tasmania, with massive floodings in Queensland and even Tasmania! The 'La Niña' cycle is taking it's cause. Australia is VERY BIG, the TV news is as close as it got to us, while Summer in Tasmania has yet to begin.

The first three weeks Ginni and I spent in Tasmania where Geoff lent me his Explorer and Alaw Bach to have familiar kayaks to paddle in. Ginni used a Valley Atlantic. So we found ourselves not only on an Island (Tassie) but also in a very isolated patch of British design kayaks. Short (too short) hops in the Mirage sea kayak and the classic self-built glass-fibre Tassie 'Greenlander' kayak, both designed to go long distances, fast and straight-tracking, often powered by wing paddles and another addition... Differences in sea kayaking environment and paddling preferences and habits lead to different kayak designs. During our stay Ginni and I were 'drawn into' help building a website for Lyn for the Cambodian Children's Trust Challenge.

It can be very windy out here and it is the wind that the kayakers have learned to use in their favor: kayak sailing... It got me right into a 'controversy', where Geoff's sail (on top of that on a skegged kayak!) is considered a 'Victoria Sail' and not a true 'Tassi Sail'... But WOW!! what an experience, even a (kayak) life changing experience...

Mick MacRobb of Flat Earth Kayak Sails from Australia makes a sailing rig that is mounted up-front the deck and that in no way limits (my) normal/performance forward paddling and stern rudders. The sail was reviewed by Douglas Wilcox in issue 22 of Ocean Paddler Magazine and that article didn't mention or even hint towards the, for me, most rewarding part of the sailing: tracking by edging!

Cruising effortless at four knots in a 15 knot quartering tailwind, catching and overtaking surfing waves and changing direction by just applying edge and trim (body position / skeg) ! And a wide range of wind directions to work with. My first experience ever with sailing, and it is a good one. My sailing vocabulary might need more work than the kayak sailing itself. This is fun! Within a minute after raising the sail up for the wind to catch it!

The USA distributor for Flat Earth Sails is Columbia River Kayaking. For the Netherlands it is Zeekajak.NL working through the European distributor Kari-Tek. You probably want to try it yourself first. When I am back in the Netherlands, my Explorer will be fitted with the sail. And more developments are on their way. For the US, keep an eye out for the symposium traveling schedule of Ginni Callahan to have a sailing opportunity near you.

And now I hope I will not be 'outcasted' by the Dutch sea kayaking scene from 'jumping ship' to the 'other side' (Sailing). Ginni words it as "Kayak Sails for Paddlers"; it adds a dimension to it and not take anything away.

Next stop is Melbourne, home of the Victory Sea Kayak Club, home of the 'Victoria Sail' and home of the Nadgee Sea Kayak.