An interesting Spit to Balmoral Paddle

Joined a new meetup group today for some paddling, because Jeff is out of town and the group I usually paddle with was fully booked. 

We met bright and early at Spit Bridge. The original plan was to do a long full day paddle, with a beach BBQ in the middle, but the winds were strong, and expected to pick up as the day went by – gusts of up to 50km/h. So the new plan was to just do a 2 hour paddle to Balmoral and back. 

Sounded easy enough, and so our 12 boats, a mix of singles and doubles took off. But it quickly became apparent that this was no leisurely stroking in the sun. At certain points I had to physically punch into the wind to move forward. Still, everyone got to the nude beach Obelisk Beach upright.

It was when we turned back that things started going awry. The organizer was towing a lady who was out on the water for her very first time – and in a single! – so he went ahead. The rest of the group was quickly spread out, everyone intent on trying to staying afloat. Then the first boat capsized, a double. I tried to steer towards them to help, but even as I did so, I could feel my boat wobble dangerously in the waves. I saw another double kayak sprint towards them, so I decided to concentrate on trying to save myself.

When I next turned around, the other kayakers that had kept even with me were now out of sight. Uhoh. 

I caught up to the organizer who was looking increasingly anxious, so I took over the towing from him while he doubled back to round up everyone else. 

Thankfully, as we struggled back towards shore, a couple rescue boats came zipping by, and in minutes, had on board the kayakers who had capsized and couldn’t get back into their vessels.

When we finally reached shore, the tally: 4 boats capsized – of which 3 needed tows back in; the 1 lady that needed help from the beginning; and the 1 guy who called it quits at Balmoral Beach and flagged a cab back to Spit instead.

But the sun was shining and nobody was freaked out. Which was really quite incredible! Everyone had the most positive of attitudes, even the first timer who couldn’t tell which way was up on her paddle. And so we spread out our picnic blankets in the sun and had a delightful BBQ.

All’s well that ends well. 🙂

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A paddle out to Clifton Gardens

When I had checked the weather forecast earlier in the week, it seemed like Sunday was perfect for our long paddle. Balmy temperatures, sunny blue skies…

But you know where this is heading. It was freezing when we started to build our origami Oru kayaks in the pre-dawn, and it seemed that the winds only picked up as we paddled out of our little bay East towards the Sydney Opera House.

At least it was quiet on the water, save the occasional ferry already plying it’s first passengers from Manly. We paddled past the Opera House for the first time, and at the governor’s mansion turned back to admire the city view. We kept on going, heading towards Taronga Zoo, then past it, all the while keeping our eyes peeled towards the Middle Harbor for a wisp of spout. You never know. Whales have been regularly spotted as far inland as the Opera House!

We weren’t lucky that day though. Finally, as we rounded the bend to Clifton Gardens, we decided to turn back. Jeff’s hands were starting to turn red and swollen from the cold; my ass was getting sore from the thin padding on the seat. And we still had to battle the headwinds to get back. 

All said and done, it was a great 16km paddle. I love quiet mornings. It would have been quite perfect, had I not accidentally dropped one of my kayak’s seam channels into the water by our jetty when I was dismantling it. Dismayed, I actually dove into the frigid waters to try retrieve it. No luck. 😥

Winter day paddle to Cockatoo Island and Goat Island

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We hadn’t taken our kayaks out on the water in a while, so I was itching to get in some paddling last Sunday, when it was nice and sunny out. The warm rays of the sun felt good on our skin. We launched at the jetty by us, and decided to paddle west towards Greenwich and Cockatoo Island.

I’ve heard a lot about Cockatoo Island, about how it’s an urban getaway island with a lot of history. It just looked very industrial to us though, not very attractive. I can’t believe that people actually paid $800 to camp overnight there on New Year’s Eve. Goodness. The setting seemed quite perfect for a dystopian film, say Divergent, or a hideout of drug cartels in some action movie.

Goat Island, which we paddled to, on the other hand, appeared greener and more idyllic. It had the added advantage of facing the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House too.

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All in all, it was a great day to be out on the water, and we even got to paddle up to Balmain, which I still haven’t been to visit. On the books the next sunny weekend: paddling out to Taronga Zoo.

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Comfort food – hot toddy and beef stew noodles

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We’ve both been battling this cold for ten days now. Didn’t help that instead of staying in to rest this weekend, we went for a two hour paddle down in Cronulla. Oh but the water was so clear, and the sky too blue to stay indoors.

Needless to say, by the time we got home, we were both feeling quite out of it. Nothing like some warm comfort food to sooth the throat and stomach though. Hot Toddy with lemon, honey, ginger tea, cut chillies and a generous shot or two of Laphroaig. Beef stew noodles with beef balls.

Ahhh. Well rain in the forecast tomorrow = R&R at home.

A paddle by Tunks Park

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I’ve strolled out to the Waverton Peninsula plenty of times before, but never at sunrise. Finally made it out this morning. It’s been a hazy few days, so the colors seemed kind of washed out. Nonetheless, the weather was mild, the air smelled crisp enough. Perfect morning for a paddle as well.

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Which is what we did. Although we’ve gone out to play kayak netball a few times, it’s been a fair few weeks since we launched our kayaks out for a spin. Went out to Tunks Park in Middle Harbour today. Can’t get over how serene the waterways here is.

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And look, moon jellyfish season! There were thousands and thousands of these cute little buggers at various points along our paddle. Happily, these are the harmless variety.

Sunrise paddle with Chris

Chris and I tried bringing our own kayaks out last Friday. But even as we were building the kayaks, we could hear the wind howling and gusting about us. We decided to give it a shot anyway, and launched the kayaks in the jetty.

But boy oh boy, even though the waves weren’t that big, the winds were some of the strongest I’d experienced on the water yet. After a half hour of just battling to get out of the cove we were in, I decided it might be more prudent to call it quits.

Happily, Chris had so much fun exploring the city, she extended her stay in Sydney by a few days, so we were able to try catching the sun rise over the Opera House again this morning, this time with Laura’s Sydney by Kayak outfit.

Excellent conditions this morning. 😀 Haha and Chris sure got her fill of the view of Sydney Harbor Bridge, given that we were just at Lavender Bay a mere 12 hours before too, playing kayak netball.

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Gut

On hindsight, we should have heeded her warning, and our gut.

As we hoisted the kayaks over our shoulder and made to the water’s edge, the lady who had been watching us set up the boats called out, “Be careful out there. The current has been really strong. There has been three drownings in the past two weeks, the most recent just last night. A little Korean boy.”

It was most incongruous, with the scene of little kids splashing and yelling out happily in the water before us. And yet, as soon as we pushed off, I knew she was right.

The waters, while on the surface smooth with very small waves, seemed uneasy, restless. There was a strong current pushing us out towards the mouth of the bay. But even as we strove against it, I could feel my kayak being pulled in multiple other directions. And if I looked down at the waves instead of the horizon, I had the most discomfiting feeling of the waters pressing in on my boat.

Fleetingly, I thought, this isn’t much fun. Maybe we should turn around. But we had just launched. And there were swimmers out, and a couple of stand up paddle boarders. But, as we passed the paddle boarders, I heard one of them remark, “I’ve never seen rips like that before, it’s all over the place.”

We weren’t just swimming, we were paddling, and we had life jackets on. And Jeff gleefully pointed out the Maritime boat patrolling up and down the coast. So we just dug in and paddled up the bay.

I have no idea how strong the current was, but it took us a half hour to probably go up one km. We finally reached the little strip of beach off where locals say is a good snorkeling spot when we eyed with dismay the churning white water in front of us, swirling in all sorts of directions.

“What do you want to do?” Jeff asked, but as I started to answer that we might probably be able to beat our way through that, we heard cries from about twenty metres away. A trio of snorkelers were summoning us to them.

I paddled towards them, one of whom was a little girl, maybe about ten. As soon as my kayak was within reach, she, and her mother, grabbed onto the side of my boat, almost toppling me over. The man with them swam and grabbed onto Jeff’s boat.

It turned out that they had just gone for a leisurely snorkel by Little Beach, down by where we had launched, when they got caught in the rip tide that swept them up the bay. They needed help to get back to land.

And it seemed that we weren’t able to help. After we got them to hold onto the bow and sterns of the kayak instead, Jeff and I tried paddling furiously towards the shore. But as hard as we dug our paddles in, our kayaks seemed rooted to the spot. By now, a small crowd had gathered on shore, and people were yelling unhelpfully at us to go upstream, with the mother screaming behind me, paddle harder, harder.

We were not moving. If anything, it seemed we were getting sucked further into the whirlpool. After five minutes or so of struggling and getting screamed at, I lost my temper. I yelled at everyone to shut the hell up. Then I realized, gosh darn it, we can’t fight this. It’s not working.

So I let the current take us out, out towards the mouth of the bay, further from shore.

And the current finally relented somewhat. Eventually, we managed to go around the rip and everyone safely back to shore.

Which was when the three Maritime boats showed up.

I had more than enough of an adventure for the day, so we turned back around. And what do you know, after an hour struggling up the bay, we got back to our starting point in mere minutes. The woman who had called out the warning before was now splashing in the water, and called out cheerily to us. “Back so soon?”

We should have taken her warnings more seriously. I should have listened to my gut. The entire time I was trying to get the snorkelers back to land, I kept thinking. That could have been us. That could so easily have been us out there snorkeling today.

Heralding in the New Year in Sydney by Kayak and Sailboat

One of the things we most looked forward to when moving to Sydney was welcoming in the New Year by the Sydney Harbor Bridge, for we had long heard of those famed fireworks display.

But squeezing in between a few hundred thousand people to catch a glimpse of the display didn’t seem appealing, even if that set us up for the perfect vantage from which to take pictures.

We had however, the use of a private jetty in our apartment complex, and kayaks! So at the 11th hour, we, along with some kayak netball friends, launched our kayaks into the water and maneuvered our way close enough to the Harbor Bridge to watch the magnificent displays. Nevermind that I couldn’t quite get sharp pictures from a moving vessel. We were on the water and close to the action!

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After catching the 9pm fireworks, Jeff and I were quite ready and happy to call it a night, given that we’d awoken up at 5am to catch the sunrise at Jervis Bay, battled strong waves and wind for a paddle there, then rushed back to Sydney. But our friends invited us to their dad’s yacht which was moored close by, and so after we dropped off one of our group, the rest of us paddled to the boat and camped out on deck to catch the midnight fireworks.

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Happy new year!

Snorkeling and Kayaking at Jervis Bay

After we left Tathra, we continued up the coast to Jervis Bay where we spent the night. Given its proximity to Sydney, we have to go back again, but this was a good teaser for what we could expect.

On recommendation of our Airbnb hosts, we drove to Honeymoon Bay on the northern end of Jervis Bay for a spot of snorkeling away from the crowds. The water was a little chilly in our rashguards and shorts, but we still had an incredible time. Jeff spotted a woebbegone shark sleeping between some rocks – our first sighting! Yay! And as we were about to turn back into the bay to warm up in the sun, along came a pod of dolphins! While they didn’t quite come right up to us, they were only about 10-15 feet away, and did a couple passes before continuing their merry way south.

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We also stopped by Hyams Beach, supposedly the whitest sand beach in the world, to catch the last of the sun setting. The sand indeed was quite white and fine. Didn’t get a glimpse of any sharks though the coast guards shut the beach the next day because of more than a dozen shark sightings. Exciting!

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The morning of new year’s eve, we squeezed in a 8.5km paddle before we headed back to Sydney. When we launched from Callala Beach, the water was calm, glassy, and we effortlessly glided down to Myola Beach, our eyes peeled for another pod of dolphins or sharks. The winds and current picked up as we turned around though, and it was frankly quite a battle to get back. Pity the kayakers preparing to launch just as we pulled back up the beach!

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