Trip Report: Across Port Phillip Bay……and back

Across the Bay November 2013
Across the Bay November 2013

On Sunday 10 November 2013 I set off on a challenge to cross Port Phillip bay.
It is 32km (straight line) between Rickett’s Point and Indented Head. This is the same distance as the English Channel.

You can’t see the land at either side from the water – although you can see some mountains and higher ground further behind. I was running on a compass bearing for the first half and the high land near Portarlington before I could see the land I was aiming for.
Leaving just after dawn – it took me 5.5 hours to reach the other side of the bay. I had 15 knot winds on the bow quarter which didn’t help progress.

The only thing of interest on that leg was the coast guard boat that crossed within 150m of my path right in the middle of the bay. They saw me but they didn’t stop for a chat. I can’t imagine it is common for them to see a solo paddler in the middle of the bay. Perhaps they were in a hurry to rescue someone….

The winds gradually increased but it was mostly 15 knots on the port bow quarter.  Waves were 1-1.5m and knocking me off course a bit but not too bad. I think the wind and waves were slowing me down Рbut not as bad as if I was going straight into it.

I landed at an idyllic beach at indented head where it took a few moments for my wobbly legs to get working properly. I found shelter from the wind, warm sunshine, green grass and a picnic shelter. Apart from no mobile service (damn you Optus) and the toilet block being locked it was a very pleasant lunch break. The Westpac Rescue helicopter was doing training exercises nearby away and winching people out of the water. Reassuring to know these guys are around.
Then at 1pm I jumped back into my trusty kayak and set course for Rickett’s point – although my bearing did not make sufficient allowance for the northerly drift I would experience as a result of the wind & waves. I had 15-20knots on the Starboard beam for most of the trip. About half way back I could see Rickett’s Point and realised I would need to head slightly upwind to make landfall at the car. I was looking OK but with a few km to go from shore I could battle the wind no longer. I decided to run with the waves and go ashore at Half Moon Bay (where the Cerberus wreck is). I called Mrs B who kindly came to pick me up. G-Man also came down and thankfully helped me load up the kayak and gear as I was shagged by this stage.

The return leg had a bit more shipping activity in the North-South Shipping channel about 10km west of Rickett’s Point. The only drama I faced was when the tanker ‘Value’ turned to starboard unexpectedly and could have run me over had I not changed course. I am not sure why he decided to deviate from the main channel and head west all of a sudden – or whether he saw me amongst the white caps – but it was a valuable lesson about making assumptions.
So it was a tough day – with 11 hours on the water but it provided me valuable experience and training for Bass Strait. I can’t say that I recommend the trip but glad I can cross it off my list.

Crossing the bay one way on a calm day with a few friends…..that could be fun!

I found out later that some kayakers had run into trouble near Williamstown that day so I was glad I didn’t end up on the news.

http://www.shipmate.com.au/news/ClosecallforkayakersoffWilliamstown

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The Bass Strait story……how it all started

Wilson's Prom 2013
Wilson’s Prom 2013

About 10 years ago I stumbled across a website article about a small group that paddled across Bass Strait in sea kayaks. These weren’t elite athletes with corporate sponsorship and a support team in a helicopter….these were just normal everyday people with a sense of adventure and a love of the outdoors. The more I looked into it I realised it was quite do-able for your average aussie battler. Sure Bass Strait has a nasty reputation as one of the roughest stretches of open water in the world – but not everyone knows there is a string of small islands along the way that enable sea kayakers to island hop from Wilson’s Prom in Victoria to Cape Portland in north-east Tasmania. The general program is to paddle all day, camp on an island overnight and keep going the next day subject to favourable weather conditions. If a big storm comes through….you explore these remote islands, drink casked wine and talk to the penguins.

I got quite excited about the idea and decided to look into it further. There was only a few issues I had to overcome:
1. I had never paddled a sea kayak before
2. I had no money to buy a sea kayak
3. I didn’t know anyone else who was into sea kayaking
4. I had no one to go with
5. I wasn’t fit enough to paddle 30km – let alone 300km
6. I couldn’t find a sea kayak that had a seat wide to accommodate my large rear end

Reality soon kicked in and my dreams of adventure on the high seas slowly faded away….

Fast forward 8 years and not much had changed except I no longer had to buy my pants at High and Mighty – so I thought there was a good chance I would fit in a sea kayak.

I bounced the idea of crossing Bass Strait past the not-so supportive Mrs Bretto who said: “sure…..as long as you can find someone else to go with you”. Obviously she didn’t think anyone else would be interested so Mrs B was quite surprised when 2 of my friends G-Man and Stiffo signed up for the trip.

I should point out that I have a special talent when it comes to talking people in to doing things. Whether it be a 24 hour Bear Gryll’s style survival challenge in the Victorian High Country or crossing the Simpson Desert – I can normally find some like-minded people to share the good times (and the bad).

So at that point I came up with a 2 year plan for Bass Strait which included:
1. Buy a sea kayak
2. Get all the other gear you need (and there is plenty)
3. Learn how to sea kayak (in all conditions)
4. Get fit and harden up
5. Work out exactly where to go
6. Work out the best time to do it
7. Work out what to do if things go bad

I figured that 2 years was a reasonable time to gain the required skills and experience and mitigate any potential risks to an acceptable level. And none of us are getting any younger!

[Although I had no sea kayaking experience I should state that I am not a novice paddler. I was a competent whitewater paddler 20 years ago. In fact the older I get the better I used to be].

Unfortunately Stiffo has recently pulled out but the trip must go on! G-Man is getting his long overdue sea kayak today! Hope he can find some room in the garage between his ocean ski and K1 racing kayak.

Keep an eye out for more posts where I will go through some details of the gear and planning for a trip like this.