When I started building this website one of the enjoyable tasks was sifting through old photos and being reminded of past trips. My most memorable sea kayaking trip was with 5 other mates paddling from Victoria to Tasmania across Bass Strait. I first heard about this being possible at school (from the teachers I would later paddle with on the trip) and then got an invitation to be a part of trip across Bass in 2014. At the time, I was just starting uni, had started working at Adelaide Canoe Works to supplement my instructing commitments and this was going to be my first real big trip. I was bloody pumped. To go back and look at old photos documenting the training journeys me and a couple of mates went on leading up to Bass highlighted to me the importance of how we had all our ducks lined up in a row before we pulled the trigger on paddling across. At the completion of the actual trip across I was stoked and had that real passion of planning, executing and enjoying a big project in the outdoors lit inside me. The islands and places we saw on the trip still rank, as a collective, as one of the best spots in Australia I have visited. I summed up all my experiences of the trip in a neat little article I wrote for the newsletter that the Outdoor Educator’s Association of South Australia (OEASA) produces and have re-produced it here without editing it (but I have included some photos).
Lessons of Bass Strait – By Fraser Darcy (2015)
To a sea kayaker the allure of paddling from mainland Australia to Tasmania across Bass Strait is akin to an athlete competing at a world championships. Over the April school holidays six current and former South Australian outdoor educators, all with a connection to Westminster School, were able to experience the notorious section of water between mainland Oz and Tasmania in the hope of completing a tough crossing but even greater adventure. Gordon Begg*, Rob McLean, Evan Jones, Will Mildren, Sam Ferguson and Fraser Darcy represented a unique group of individuals showcasing the important connection made between student and instructor/teacher that is made in the outdoor world. (Gordon had taught all five other members of the group with Rob and Evan also either teaching or instructing the younger trio of Will, Sam and Fraser.) This connection highlights how instructors past trips and adventures can inspire their own students to complete the same adventures…with their old teachers along for the ride of course!
The groups adventure spanned 11 days and saw them successfully paddle from Wilson’s Promontory National Park, Victoria to Little Musselroe Bay, Tasmania. Along their way they paddled distances of up to 70kms a day (where wake-up was at 3:30am!) with most days averaging between 30-40kms. The paddling conditions varied along the way with most days thankfully having light-moderate winds. One day however brought a 20-25 knot cross-tail wind and a moderate-large ocean swell which generated a lot of excitement within the group as it took a while to get over the massive peaks. The most challenging part of paddling Bass Strait was negotiating the many different tidal influences in the area. Tidal races, standing waves and long eddy lines showed why Bass Strait is not just an everyday paddle. Despite the ocean’s attempts the group was able to overcome any current it threw at them (even if they were 3km off their bearing at one point!).
Apart from the paddling the trip also represented an opportunity to experience an area only reachable by boat. The views, landscapes, environment and communities within the area astounded all members of the group (even those who were returning to the area). There were constant sightings of rare birds, stunning views of granite slabs, friendly locals and interesting rock gardens of which made for great paddling. The most appreciated aspect of the Bass Strait environment for the group though had to be the opportunity to catch some abalone on an uninhabited island marked simply as Craggy Rock on the charts. After a long 70km ocean crossing there was nothing better than treating ourselves to some fried abalone, even if there was a lesson on how to do that first!
One of the overall lessons from this expedition however was that it showed that an engaged instructor/teacher can have a major influence on a students experience that extends past the classroom. Outdoor educator’s can easily fall into the monotony of teaching students the skills to be sufficient for the activity at task. Whilst this is a justifiable practice, the student leaves the activity only experiencing the highs (and/or lows) of that particular activity. Relating to students with your own personal trip experiences is one resource that a successful outdoor educator will heavily rely on to engage with students whilst on program. It won’t be obvious when you mention it but by simply referring to the climbing you did on the weekend or the dive you have planned coming up you may be inspiring a student to continue venturing into the outdoors, which I’m preaching to the converted here, we all know is beneficial to a students education.
*Gordon Begg has now completed three Bass Strait crossings which is a fantastic achievement!