Port Lincoln to Adelaide…the direct way

In April 2014 word was on the street that a crew of paddlers was being put together for a Bass Strait crossing, the ‘Everest of Australian Sea Kayaking’. I was obviously keen to throw my hat in the ring but didn’t really know what I needed to do to prepare for it. The three youngest members of the group (which I was apart of) figured doing little trips that led into medium trips to then bigger trips, that built on our prior experience, was probably a sensible way to go about it. The game plan was we needed to be ready by April 2015 when the weather is best suited to Bass Strait and the lifestyle of 80% of the group who were either teaching or studying and could utilise the school and uni break time. This meant out final preparation trip would need to be held around January 2015 before we became tied down with other commitments. With all that info setting the scene, myself, Sam Ferguson and Will Mildren settled on a final preparation trip of attempting to paddle from Port Lincoln to Adelaide, a trip that would kill the following two birds…
1) Prepare for Bass Strait in April 2015 (read a reflection on that trip here).
2) Continue paying homage to the Grand Poobah of SA Sea Kayaking Peter Carter by recreating his trip from 1981 (of which you can read here).

Map route of Port Lincoln to Adelaide Journey
The route we followed

The knowns

Our preparation prior to this trip involved the following trips:
– Backstairs Passage crossing (Cape Jervis to Penneshaw)
– Lap of Wardang Island with an overnight stay on Goose Island
– Paddling around Innes National Park in 25 knot winds
– Multiple bushwalking journeys refining our lightweight camping skills and set-ups.

The unknowns

Questions that we were still asking ourselves and hoping to solve on this trip were:
– What’s it like to paddle on a trip for at least 6 days in a row?
– How hard is it do a 70 km open crossing without getting out of your kayak?
– Is it easy to carry food and water for a week in a kayak and paddle it without feeling like you’re in the Queen Mary 2?
– Is Peter Carter a god of sea kayaking?

The answers to these questions can only be learned through experience (except the one about Peter Carter…). And I needed these answers so I could make my investment into paddling Bass Strait more of a sure thing and not have so much speculation around it in my own head.

‘Beach camp’ life is a great place to reflect on whether Peter Carter is a god

Logistics

Organising a trip to go from Point A to Point B is great for the simplicity of the adventure but annoying for the transport. It was only a week to go before the trip that Sam ‘Ferg’ Ferguson’s mate Greg Pippet put his hand up to drive Will Mildren’s family’s Holden Jackaroo back from Port Lincoln to Adelaide for us. Without him we would’ve been pretty screwed! A quick few days of organising maps, food, radios and other gear ensued before we borrowed our alma mater’s trusty box trailer and one of their sea kayaks. Will would be paddling a Hurricane Tracer 165, Ferg was in his lovely Tahe Wind 585 that he’d spent a pretty penny on (that boat had already done a Bass Strait crossing too so it knew the way for him for April ’15!) and I was in a Valley Selkie which cost me about the same amount Ferg’s paddle retailed for…

Kayaker sitting in the ocean
The Valley Selkie had a great 70’s mustard colour!

The most important part of the logistics preparation for this trip was making sure we had a set-up in case things went wrong. It was the first time we were attempting a trip where success was probably not that guaranteed. Our first ‘safety’ mechanism was setting up a call sign and check in time with the Volunteer Marine Radio network that monitors SA waters. It was awesome to check in with these people each morning and night to let them know we’d made it to our intended point and gave us some nice confidence and something to look forward too. Also, $400 each of our own money dropped into the cashier at Whitworths got us all an EPIRB just in case things went really really wrong.

Itinerary

Day 1 was simple enough in theory. Paddle about 25km or so from Taylor’s Landing near Port Lincoln across to Thistle Island and find a secluded beach to camp on. We’d done similar distances before but just not with the weight of both a weeks supplies in our boats and the nervous energy of ‘are we actually doing this?’. A southerly breeze was on our starboard (right) side of our boats for the crossing over to Thistle but after that initial period we were in the lee of Thistle for a nice arvo’s paddle. Nice and easy day 1.

Sam paddling along Thistle Island
Ferg paddling alongside Thistle Island

Until Will almost started a bushfire at our secluded spot and we lost 2-3L of our fresh water putting it out. Whoops.
And then Will and I went for better radio reception and ended up in a awkward conversation with local Thistle Islanders that went like this:

Islander‘s (a pair of grumpy looking 50 year olds with kids in the back seat of a beat up ute): ‘Where’d you guys come from?
Us (a 22 and 20 yr old male dressed in boardies, holding a radio and two dry bags): ‘… er, we paddled here’
Islanders: ‘Eh, wrong answer fella’s. How’d you really get here?’
Us: ‘Nah we actually paddled here’
Islanders:Come on boys, tell us the truth’
A mix of confusion and increased grumpiness was plastered on their face now while I, the 20 year old, was now a bit more behind the 22 year old Will and my fearless leader…
Will: ‘We came from Port Lincoln and we’re heading to Adelaide in our kayaks. We’re trying to get better radio reception, can you help us?
Islanders: ‘Oh right, so you’re not kidding then! Yeah no worries fellas, jump in the back and we’ll take you back to our place!’

Day 1 Shenanigans on Thistle

Reading this conversation back this could’ve been a great way for a Thistle Island version of Wolf Creek to get started. Instead though, our trust in these people and their banged up ute led Will and I on a little taxi ride to their shack, had ourselves a nice chat with them and our radio man and even got a beer for our troubles! All while Ferg minded the campsite!

Puzzled paddler
Will caught in the act of setting up ‘beach camp’ life

Our second day of the trip rolled pretty similarly to day 1 with a straightforward 30-35km from Thistle to Wedge Island. No issues were arising in our equipment or our bodies and we hadn’t gotten bored of our iPod playlists yet. In similar fashion to the previous day, we had another interaction with some strange people…this time it was some drunk fisherman who harassed us while we were all in our tents. The scene was like being at a park in your own little world when suddenly some random dog invades your space and tries to get you to play with them and all you want to do is tell the dog to ‘f*** off’. On this occasion, they harassed my tent more than Will and Ferg’s so I became the chief negotiator in telling them we did not want to play with them. Luckily it worked and I was as safe as you can be all zipped up under a piece of nylon… Seems paddling isn’t the hard part of a sea kayaking expedition!

Lizard on a rock
I have no idea what this lizard is but what a great photo of it! Saw this somewhere on the journey.

With our groove on and our negotiating strategies set, things stepped up a bit in terms of commitment on the third day. Our longest day of our paddling career’s so far, 42km from Wedge Island around to Cable Hut Bay was the main course of day 3. Our reward was paddling past some of South Australia’s best coastline with massive limestone cliffs, a few cool lighthouses and views of Althorpe and Kangaroo Island keeping us engaged on the horizon. Cable Hut Bay provided us with a top-up of our fresh water supplies too.

Kayaker talking to seals
Ferg doing his bit to make friends with the locals

What goes up must come down though. The highs we were on from a pair of island crossings and cool coastlines were drowned out, for me at least, with day 4’s paddle from Cable Hut Bay to Port Moorowie further up the Yorke Peninsula. A boring day of 60km in wide open bay’s with not much to look at besides long beaches was compounded by a continual rolling swell that would break over the rear hatch of my Selkie. As the day wore on I drifted further behind my two compadres and spiralled deeper into negative self-talk…

This sucksThey should wait for me, I’m the youngestIt isn’t fair, this boat is leaking I’m sure of itDo I really need to finish this trip, I’m done with it already…Am I even able to make it to bloody Port Moorowie?

A sample of my negative self-talk from that day.

I did make it in the end to Port Moorowie after Will and Ferg kindly waited for me, once again confirming Dory was right and that if you just keep swimming paddling in this case, you’ll get there eventually. Ferg and Will actually had a great day too with the rolling swell and were even speeding up to try and surf on it! Bastards! Once at Port Moorowie I had my own ‘joy’ though and realised my hatch was leaking so got straight on to any sea kayakers number one priority when finished for the day… dry your clothes! This simple task is the first step in de-briefing with your internal monologue about the days events and started the recovery process.

The daily ritual of finding locations to dry your wet paddling clothes

Sea kayaking journeys for me have had moments where I’m on the water and I’m thinking that life is pretty shit and I’d rather not finish the trip. But as soon as I finish that days paddle and I’m on the sand going through the routine I forget all about those thoughts and get to work on recovering and preparing for the next day. It’s like a F1 driver getting out of their car in the pits and going for a walk while the pit crew take over. Except, I am the pit crew and the driver in one. All that matters is I try not to make decisions based on thoughts whilst on the water and leave that to pit-crew/beach camp life Fraser.

Two days to go on the trip and we’d only answered one of the unknowns by working out its not too bad to paddle a fully loaded sea kayak. The big final day of a 70+km stretch across the Gulf St Vincent was almost right in front of us but first we had to meander up to Edithburgh over the course of 25km which was just what the doctor ordered for day 5. Great little town Edithburgh is, had a nice cafe where we recharged and got our bodies prepped for the big finale!

The burgers weren’t the only things that were ‘cooked’ in that Edithburgh cafe. I’ve just smashed a Powerade and am in recharge mode here.

Final Day

What do you do differently before you’re about to start your biggest day of your paddling career? Do you need to? Or is it a matter of same old same old but just for longer? We went with option 3 for our experiment on the final day and started paddling away from Edithburgh around 4am to give ourselves plenty of time to enjoy the expected 11-12 hour journey. As we ticked away the km’s and got more excited about the prospect of finishing the trip the answers to our two main questions were becoming clearer. 6 days in a row of paddling is not too bad provided you eat and drink and have enough small chit chat in your arsenal to keep you sane. The ability to clock on each day for a day out in the sun and on the water really just comes down to having a good simple routine that keeps your body and mind right. Something that, considering our success so far on the trip, we believed we had and were confident in for Bass Strait. Secondly, what’s it like to paddle 70km? Well, after actually 13 hours in the boat it turned out to be not too bad. Regular breaks on the hour allowed us to keep on top of our sunscreening, iPod playlists and toilet-ing needs. Plus, the reward from paddling a few extra hours on the water to what we’d normally do matches the increase in commitment which was a nice thought to have for out future endeavours. So yes, after 13 hours we did make it to West Beach to complete our journey and ticked off both our objectives along the way.

Three kayakers at the end of their trip
Three happy guys, two objectives completed and one great trip

In another bonus we also got to test one of the elements of our ‘safety set-up’! I forgot I mentioned to my Dad we’d be finished sometime between 4-5pm (12-13 hours) worst case scenario. He got spooked, rightfully so, when he hadn’t heard from us at 5pm so got on the phone to Adelaide Sea Rescue who also hadn’t heard from us that day (we missed our check-in time in the morning, a mistake on our end). It was nice to know my Dad cared about us and started the alarm system but then lucky for all involved that we showed up just five minutes later so everyone was all smiles (but Mum’s blood pressure was still quite high probably…)

Take home message

A successful trip sounds all ‘sunshine and rainbows’ when you tell your friends and family how it went. Hopefully this article shows that it’s not always sunshine and rainbows but there are actually some interesting moments and encounters on the way and some real negative moments. The one consistent thing through the whole trip is having the right foundations or routine to fall back on in those times. For me, I had confidence in my use of land equipment (not my kayak), my nutrition strategy and my mates as my foundations for success. I was pretty happy that no matter how bad a day I would have on the water I’d be able to level it out with some pasta, some banter with Ferg and Will and some good beach camp living. Without a good simple routine to hang my hat on I think I would’ve felt lost at times and would’ve wasted more energy on having to decide what to eat, how to set-up my camp etc. each night. The application of the 80/20 rule is a good way to wrap this up. For a successful trip I want to be able to commit 80% of my brain and physical effort for that day to challenging my limit for each day. The other 20% I’ll use for the daily tasks of eating, sleeping, organising etc. that should all be automated process and require just that 20% of brain mode to get done so I can focus on the 80% and real reason for doing the trip!

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