‘A short Sea Kayak off Sorrento’



What is this all about? I hear you ask. Well itÕs about going for a solo ocean paddle, all the planning and preparation and what happened.

IÕm quite keen about sea kayaking, but also a bit nervous. I donÕt ever want to be in a situation where I might be in danger, or be a pain in the butt to my fellow paddlers because I donÕt know what to do in a rescue situation. (I used to be a pain in the butt because of my whistling, but thanks to counselling from Maggie Orum, I have been cured of whistling!)

With this in mind, IÕm trying to get the right gear, knowledge and skills. The skills I would like to have are the ability to roll up, some confidence in paddling off shore in larger seas and some navigation and weather forecasting knowledge.

Having to start somewhere, I decided to go for a short paddle offshore from Sorrento Beach and navigate a route/course around various marks in the area. I have the correct chart and so spent some hours plotting the coordinates (latitude and longitude) of a number of marks and features in the area and then entering them into my GPS unit. I also had to be sure that the chart I was using and my GPS were on the same Datum. They werenÕt! The chart being fairly recent was on Geodetic Datum Australia 94 and my old GPS only had Australian Geodetic Datum 84. The notes on the chart said that for GPS, GDA 94 was similar to World Geodetic System 84, which I had in my GPS. These differences in Datums could cause errors of hundreds of metres in position if not taken in to consideration.

I decided to do my paddle on a Sunday morning, when there would be plenty of boat traffic about if I got into any trouble and there was a Surf Patrol on duty at Sorrento Surf Life Saving Club, of which I am a member. I figured that if I had problems, I might be able to phone the club on mobile and they might send out a rescue craft for me, on the quiet like. It would cost me a load of beers at the bar, but be less embarrassing than being rescued by Water Police, or Whitfords Volunteer Sea Rescue, or Marine and Harbours. None the less, I had all their phone numbers in my mobile when I took off.

I plotted a course of about 12 kilometres, from Hillarys Boat Harbour, South to Sorrento Surf Club then out to three sailing marks, one cardinal mark on the reef, a couple of exposed rocks on the reef, a small gap in the reef, then to a sailing mark north of Hillarys and then back into Hillarys Boat Harbour.

Before commencing the paddle, I made sure that I had every piece of safety equipment needed according to Marine and Harbours Regulations and a bit extra as well. As I wasnÕt intending to go more than five nautical miles off shore, I didnÕt need a VHF radio, or an EPIRB, but if IÕd had a VHF, I would have taken it. There are plenty of craft about and it would have been easy enough to call for local help if necessary. Instead I carried a mobile phone in a water proof bag. I also had a signal mirror and flares of course. I left a float plan with my wife, Jan, so that she could contact someone if I didnÕt return on time and be able to tell them when and where I was going to paddle.

The first Sunday I selected turned out to be very dirty, strong winds and a gloomy day. My next choice, Sunday 18 Feb looked like being pretty good. The forecasts were for light easterly breezes in the morning (11 kph) and a light sea breeze in the afternoon, (17 kph), but I did not intend being out in the sea breeze anyway. There was also a forecast of 3.3 metre waves, but as I would be inside the Marmion Reef system for the entire paddle, I figured that there would be some movement on the water, but not enough to worry about.

I left home at Duncraig at 0950 and was on the water, at Hillarys Boat Harbour by 1036, having moved and manhandled everything myself with the aid of a kayak trolley.

At the entrance to Hillarys, I turned left and followed the sea wall around to go to Sorrento Surf Club. At this point, the effect of the seas became noticeable, fairly large waves coming in from my stern right quarter, (North West) and reflecting off the sea wall caused a confusing slop. Because of the nearness of Boyinaboat Reef, I was only able to get 50 or so metres off the sea wall, so it was a bit bouncy, but not alarming. After 10 minutes or so I was clear of the wall and the sea settled down.

I reached the centre groyne at Sorrento, my official navigation start point, after 2.1 kilometres and 22 minutes. I then used the ÒgotoÓ function on my GPS to set a course for sailing marker ÒSorrentoÓ, about 700 metres on a magnetic bearing of 218¡. This was nice pleasant paddling in a bit of low slop with no apparent breeze. When I arrived at the GPS position, I found the mark was directly off to my right, about 150 metres away! Difference between datums? Or did the Hillarys Yacht Club, who laid these markers, pick them up over winter, or had they adjusted them at some time after the chart was produced? Unconcerned, I used the GPS to set my next leg, to sailing marker ÒMarinaÓ, 900 metres, magnetic bearing 288¡. Again, when I arrived at the theoretical position, the marker was there, but 2 or 300 metres off to my right. This situation repeated it self for the next marker, ÒFoamÓ 1250 metres, mag bng 219¡. I next headed for a Cardinal Mark, a large pylon with flashing light near the reef, which signified shallow water (rocks!) to the North. This time I arrived reasonably accurately, some 50 metres out. En route I saw a grey fin appear for a moment in the slop about 50 metres away, but by the time I had said to myself, ÒI hope thatÕs not a sharkÓ it became clear that it was a dolphin, eight or so dolphins in fact. They crossed my track about 20 metres ahead of me and continued North while I continued South of West. I always think that itÕs a good day when I see a dolphin!

At this point, I was 3 kilometres offshore and there was a noticeable change in the sea conditions about me. I could now feel a light breeze in my face which signified the start of the sea breeze and the seas were much higher. As I was heading into the sea, it was not too bad, but I could fully appreciate the significance of Ò3.3 metre seasÓ. My next leg was a long one, about 2.4 kilometres, parallel to, but inside the reef and heading roughly north. I had hoped to cruise by Horseshoe Reef, described as Òrocks awashÓ on the chart. However whenever I passed a gap in the reef, the waves coming through unobstructed were quite big, steep and side on, so I moved away from the reef, about 200 metres. I felt that there was a slight possibility that some of the bigger waves might occasionally break inside the reef and I didnÕt want to risk being caught up in it. I identified Horseshoe Reef and then continued North, looking for another sailing marker ÒLittleÓ in the vicinity of Little Island. It was quite obvious each time I paddled past a gap in the reef by the change in wave height on my left. When I got to the GPS plotted position, north of Hillarys Boat Harbour, the marker was no where to be seen. I felt that it should be there, though, because every one of the previous markers I had sought had been there, if somewhat away from the plotted position. On stopping and having a long look around, I finally spotted it, some 500 or so metres away out towards the reef. As a matter of principle I paddled out to it and plotted its position, disturbing a crested Tern who was perching on it.

All the way round the course I encountered many power and sailing craft. Some of them changed course to come and have a look at me, but didnÕt come too close. What I did notice though was that the boat wash set up by those larger power boats moving at high speed is much larger than that typically encountered on the Swan River.

Having found and plotted most of the points that I wanted to visit, I decided to have morning tea and head back to Hillarys. The sea was a bit lumpy and sloppy, but I was able to sit comfortably and eat a snack bar. I then paddled back towards Hillarys, joining half a dozen or so other craft at the Harbour entrance and taking my place in the line as we motored in. I jumped onto the wash of a large power boat for the last 200 metres for the fun of it.

I was back on shore at 1220 hours, having paddled about 12 kilometres in 1_ hours with lots of stops to play with my GPS.

It was a rewarding paddle and I am very pleased that I did it. I learned that large waves are fairly harmless if there is little or no wind and you are watchful, that GPS is good providing you have it set up properly i.e. correct datum and that using a deck compass to paddle a course takes a lot of practice and you need to be confident in it. I had one on board and it was swinging plus or minus 10¡, was hard to read and didnÕt seem to be reading the same bearing as my GPS. If I ever feel the need to rely on a deck compass, I will buy a larger one that is easier to read when placed near the forward hatch. If however I decide to rely on GPS for long trips, I will make sure that I carry a spare GPS unit and a good supply of batteries to be sure to be sure.

Next paddle I will explore the reef more, looking for sea kayak navigable, safe gaps in the reef. I hope one day to paddle through the reef, along it outside and then come back in through another gap. Such a trip will need good weather and a mild sea, at least while outside.

I got off the water, phoned Jan to tell her that I was back and headed home feeling quite chuffed about my solo short sea kayak trip.

Ian Garthwaite