Snake Island

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After last weeks adventure up in the Northern Territory, I kind of wanted to get away from it all, and the club’s weekend paddle to Snake Island seemed like as good a way as any of doing this.

I confess that I also had a couple of ulterior motives in joining this trip: one was that I’ve volunteered to be on a club committee looking at documenting our club’s standard operating procedures, particularly in relationship to the trip co-ordinators role, and given that I hadn’t been on a paddle for a while I figured I had actually better go on a trip and see how one is ‘coordinated’, and perhaps more importantly, I had just put the following trip on the club’s upcoming trip program, so figured I had better actually go and find out what a trip coordinator is supposed to do once they’ve put a trip on the program:

Sat 9 – 11 June Maria Island – The Easy Way Basic Skills
If you’ve ever wanted to explore the coastline of Maria Island (without the paddle across) then this trip could be for you. A lazy long weekend of paddling and walking (depending on the weather) catching the ferry across on Saturday morning and staying at the Penitentiary accommodation (camping also possible), we plan on short day trips out of Darlington, direction and distance depending on conditions. Returning on 4pm ferry on Monday. Ferry can only carry limited number of kayaks, and you’d want to book ASAP.

So we all gathered at Tinderbox beach around 9.30am and unloaded our boats ready for the overnight paddle.

We then had what I came for – the safety briefing – where we all discussed our understanding of the weather conditions, trip distance, route, direction, pace etc. and checked off that we all had brought the essentials for the trip (wine, chocolate, cake, tim tams).  Greg also went through the safety signals on the water, went over group dynamics and responsibilities on the water, his method for determining people’s comfort zones (a scale of 1 to 10) and finished off with a group discussion on likely trip risks.  He finished by verifying that everyone was happy that they could do the trip and checked for any outstanding questions, before confirming that we all understood and were happy to get out on the water.  Sounds like a lot of stuff to get through, but it was all covered in about 5 minutes, which when you consider that it took us all about 40 minutes to get our boats loaded, gear on etc. it is really a very short period of time.

I even learnt (as the club has a continual teaching philosophy) that this thing in the photo below (no not the bird, the two inverted triangles it is sitting on) means keep to the south of that pole when approaching the shore.  I promise my photo is from the south.

Unfortunately, as soon as we took off I discovered a problem – I had lent my kayak to another club member recently and one rudder pedal was now about 5cms further away than the other, meaning I could reach my right pedal and hence only steer to the right.  Another good reason to practice paddling without a rudder.  I quickly fixed this once we got across to Bruny and continued on.

We essentially just made our way down the inside coast of North Bruny, exploring the coves and birdlife (lots of sea eagles), chatting and enjoying the day.  We pulled over under some cliffs just before the Bruny Island Ferry Terminal for lunch and a break.  It was rather a beautiful place.

From there it was a short paddle down to Snake Island, and it was on this section that Greg did his training drill for a rescue that was the catalyst for my last post on leadership.

One inspired visionary (yea, that would be me) also braved a very rocky landing in order to go and retrieve a large tender that had come off a boat somewhere and washed ashore.  I managed to tie it down on my back deck (it filled the entire deck) and was subsequently rewarded that night with the most comfy seat out of everyone …

Campsite, note my comfy tender ‘seat’ at bottom of photo.
Note the trangia beside it for size perspective.

After that we just continued down to the Island, set up camp, and variously sat around drinking coffee and hot chocolate, wandering around having an explore, collecting driftwood for a fire and some of us even went off and did some compass navigation practice … basically we were just enjoying the moment however we saw fit.  Oh, and maybe some of us pulled out our mobile phones as soon as we were ashore to post ‘check ins’ and to ‘friend’ each other on facebook, but I didn’t think I’d mention that as the reality detracts somewhat from the ideal.

Andreas joined us not long after we came ashore (an expected arrival) and then just after dark, Mike Comfort also pulled in, this time unannounced … he’d just looked at the trip program that morning thinking about going for a paddle on Sunday, and seeing there were no Sunday trips on offer decided to paddle across and join us instead.  

As I sat staring into the fire enjoying my yummy dinner and sipping (OK, gulping) red wine, I did ponder how this sort of spontaneity and flexibility could be accommodated in a club where we all have these rules about safety and responsibility.  By the time I’d got onto my hot chocolate and tim tams I’d decided I didn’t want to be in such a club if that’s what we eventually come to out of this operating procedure review.  I realised as I looked around at the people I was with that I liked the club just the way it is.

Just to reinforce this point in my mind, as we sat around having our breakfast about 7.30am, another club member, Peter, paddled into our camp.  He had set off at 6.30am and paddled across to join us for a cup of tea and a bite to eat.  He was gone again just after 8am, needing to be back up in Hobart to meet some other club members by 10am who were getting together to build their own skin on frame boats this weekend.  In fact, part of the reason he’d paddled down was to seek some advice on frame lengths from a couple of the guys who were on the trip.  As I say, I think I love this club just the way it is.

Just before sunrise on Snake Island.

Mike had left just before Peter had pulled in, and Stuart also decided to head off separately with Andreas and take an early exit at Trial Cove rather than paddle all the way back up to Tinderbox with us as he had some things he needed to do, so when we eventually set back off towards home, we were down to six.

We followed Andreas and Stuart across to Trial Bay, and then although initially planning on a leisurely trip home, the group was all quick to agree to a faster trip home when it was apparent that Greg’s ‘touch of the flu’ was taking it out of him.  So instead of pottering in and out of all the coves around Kettering we started a point to point paddle back to tinderbox.

Just as we were heading past Kettering, a gaggle of sailing boats came heading out for the mornings race which provided us with some morning entertainment in more ways than one. 

Not knowing where the race course was, we just continued along the shore and out into the next bay, only to have half the fleet come flying past us into the bay.  Thinking that the best course was to just cross the bay, and get in close to shore we continued to paddle on across the bay and were rather happy to see the bulk of the competitors heading out and away from us … but then they all turned as one and came straight back towards us.  Turns out that the buoy we were heading for was the first turning buoy for the race.  This placed us in a bit of pickle with yachts coming towards us from both the left and the right, and the sensible thing to do, given we were still 50-100 metres shy of the buoy, was to raft up into a single visible group and let the racers do their thing before we continued on our way.

Only problem with this plan was that a few yachts had started a bit late, and one of them was thundering right up behind us in our collective blind spot.  Fortunately one of us spotted it, but not knowing which way it was going to go, Terry made the sensible call that we remain where we were, making us as small a target as possible.  The idea was to allow the yacht to choose its course around us …  after all one flotilla of 6 kayaks tightly packed together is much easier to steer around than six paddlers heading in six different directions.

Before the near miss … enjoying the yachts going by.

Unfortunately we hadn’t banked on two things (1) he hadn’t seen us and (2) he didn’t care.  We were just about to launch into flight mode with the yacht no more than 10 seconds away from us when finally one of the people on the yacht spotted us and called out “paddle left, paddle left”.  That was all we needed and we went.

As Peter (who is a keen yachty) pointed out to me later, the yacht still had plenty of time and speed to steer around us, he just didn’t want to because he had the perfect speed and racing line into the turning buoy and with his blood up, he wasn’t going to give that up for a few kayakers.

We quickly escaped into shore after that, but it was a bit of an adrenalin shot, especially as this is the second time something like this has happened to me.

After that little bit of excitement, it was an enjoyable tootle back inside the fish farms and along the lovely sandstone cliffs towards Conningham, although at one spot, I did find a heap, and I mean hundreds, of dead crabs, each the size of a small dinner plate just off shore which had me rather baffled.

Small section of dead crabs …. it went on like this for about 100 metres

Then it was across North West Bay where we passed three groups of seals, apparently just enjoying the sun and sea, as they frolicked on the water surface.

One group even followed us for a while, popping up and splashing all around our kayaks.  Then, just to finish the day off a pod of dolphins swam past as we reached the shore.  Very nice.

Greg held a debrief after we’d all got ashore and got changed, just to discuss the trip, how it went for everyone, and particularly the near miss we had as a formal closure of the trip.

I think I went into this weekend thinking that the club would really benefit from better procedures and documentation around the trips, but after a late night discussion with Peter around the campfire (who is also on this subcommittee) my thinking has substantially changed.  What makes this club great is its people.  We didn’t need a leader out on the water, because we all worked together.  What I really liked is that although some of us had never met before the trip, we all understood that we were there as a group of like minded people setting off on an adventure together, and it just worked.

When a ‘leader’ was needed, Greg, or Terry or whoever just stepped forward, it happened naturally and seamlessly, and of course the big eye opener for me was the acceptance of the individual paddlers who came and went over the life of the trip.  In such safe conditions as we were in (which would present no technical challenge for any experienced paddler who can roll or self rescue) I could see the real strength in the club philosophy and modus operandi as it currently exists.  It was right there in front of me.

So my closing thought: I salute those who have come before me in this club, because I think you’ve got it just about right.

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