Australia Day 2011

Wednesday 26 January and the nation celebrates its national day. 

On this day last year I joined John and David for a paddle to a FAD (fish aggregating device) 10km off the coast of Sydney.  Despite never finding the FAD (it had, in fact, been dragged elsewhere by storms) we had a very special paddle with calm seas of the deepest blue.  Heading that far off the coast is inspiring, the perspective of the city changes.

This year Dave had a family BBQ and John had a bung foot so Pete and I considered another plan – use the forecast nor’easterly……paddle out of the Heads, out to sea in a NE direction and then sail back with the increasing winds.  As the day grew nearer, the plan adapted to the changing forecast – strong NE followed by a southerly change with the possibility of thunderstorms.  We decided to still go to the ocean, just to start earlier and to stay closer to the coast.

Mother Nature had yet other plans……a sea fog hung around as we prepared and launched from Watsons Bay.  We were confident that the sun and winds would soon shift the fog.  How wrong we were……paddling out the Heads was eerie with the top of North Head shrouded in mist and as we looked back towards South Head, the cliffs disappeared in the fog.

On approach to North Head we could just see three other kayaks, each with a white sail.  As the kayaks and kayakers disappeared into the troughs, these three resembled silent butterflies fluttering in the grey.

On we continued through the bouncy, choppy conditions created by easterly swell hitting the cliffs and around to Shelly Beach where we had to land carefully through all the beachgoers.  While there, the skies cleared and it seemed like we might just get some sailing on the way back.  But as we paddled off, the sea fog got thicker.  After rounding Blue Fish Point, the fog obscured the cliffs completely.  We only knew where they were by the white of the waves breaking at their base.

The familiar landmarks were gone, no North or South Head, no cliffs at Dover Heights, no city skyline.  It was weird and freaky.  I used other senses – listening to the sounds of the water around my kayak, the waves whumping into the cliffs; feeling the constantly moving waters and allowing my hips to respond, feeling fluid; even the smells , the heavy scent of sunscreen as we had paddled into Shelly. We kept our eyes peeled for boats approaching out of the fog and listened carefully.

Paddling from North Head back into the harbour, we had to rely on our compasses and almost ended up paddling to Bondi as we’d decided to follow a southerly heading when we should have gone SW.

Not what we’d planned but instead a very unique and special kayaking experience.

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