14 May is an auspicious date in the annals of kayak expeditions. Right back in 1932 one of the longest expeditions ever (if not the longest) commenced. Oskar Speck headed down the Danube in a folding kayak leaving depression-era Germany with hopes of finding work in the copper mines of Cyprus. Somehow along the way his ambitions and destination changed with Australia becoming the aim.
Surviving many adventures, hazards and crazy experiences, Oskar reached Saibai (amongst the northernmost islands of Australia) in September 1939. World War II had broken out, he was promply arrested as an enemy alien and spent the war years in an internment camp. Released in 1945 he stayed in Australia, never to return to Germany.
Today, 14 May 2011, Australian kayaker Sandy Robson will start her journey, retracing the route of Oskar Speck in stages over the next five years. Sandy’s own expeditions are legendary amongst Australian kayakers. Her journey (2006-2007) to follow the paddle strokes of Paul Caffyn around Australia was going really well – until she was attacked by a large male crocodile. The story of Day 166 is heart-stopping (ignore the security certificate, Sandy assures readers that site is safe).
All the best Sandy! I’ll be following your journey.
The southerly had kicked up some swell, the wind was still blowing but forecast to decrease after midday. Stephan and I agreed to do a short one-way paddle with an easy car shuffle. We launched from La Perouse and were smart enough to test equipment within the bay. He had a new sail attached to a kayak he’d never sailed before, and I stuffed around the initial sail deployment. That done, and my nerves settled somewhat, we headed out of Botany Bay to see what the sea offered.
We knew there were waves up to 5 metres waiting out there. The ebbing tide took us quickly out and the incoming sets opened our eyes wide. We stayed well clear of all the edges, giving Cape Banks a wide berth. Turning north, Stephan suggested we unfurl our sails. After an initial reluctance, I told myself to get a grip and just do it. The winds were still over 15 knots and there were white caps catching the sunlight all around us.
Once underway I sailed, letting out a few laughs as I moved higher and lower amongst the sets, turning round to see swells the size of houses moving towards me, and Stephan looking a long way down. A penguin called out in greeting and I cheered back. Perhaps seeing the headland where we would be turing back in helped me, but after I while I realised my mind had shifted to things other than the water, the waves, the wind – was I relaxing out here? Yes! What a hoot!
Refocussing on the conditions, I caught a few rides, watched the kayak’s bow get buried a few times and blasted along. Entering Long Bay the swells stood up some more, eye-widening seas made more irregular by the rebound coming from both northern and southern headlands. Turning in, we adjusted our sails to the new angles and carried on right to the beach. A quick victory roll and we landed to hugs and smiles of accomplishment and delight.