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A Kangaroo Island Challenge!

An enthusiastic interest in sea kayaking will naturally lead to any one of us wanting to improve our skills, from paddling, personal fitness, an understanding of environment we are about to enter, our own readiness to set ourselves personal goals and the challenge of actually getting out of ones own comfort zone!

Hugh Stewart and I after much paddling together on coastal trips including a Wardang Island circumnavigation now recognised each of our strengths and weaknesses and felt that with the right conditions, a crossing to Kangaroo Island together was feasible.

Fitness wasn’t an issue, boat preparedness was good, equipment carried was fine, our respective partners had even given approval, however, was Mother Nature going to play ball?

This is always the key factor in planning a paddle across the notorious Backstairs Passage, as two previous successful and some cancelled crossings for myself had clearly shown.

For a safe crossing, it’s essential to ensure that wind strengths, directions, wave and swell heights and very importantly, tidal movements are all carefully monitored and factored into any decision to attempt this paddle. Canoe SA and the Adelaide Canoe Club for years have offered excellent training and advice to enable ones skills to reach the required level and recognise which conditions are appropriate. My strong advice is, do not attempt this paddle without serious research, advice and training!

Our chosen day for the crossing was to be the Adelaide Cup Day, 10.3.14.  For several days prior, the forecast had shown favourable conditions, gentle to moderate winds from the south and tidal movement was minimal.

However, an important lesson is to never take forecasts “as gospel”, an 8 to 10 knot Southerly predicted, proved to be a 10 to 12 knot North Easterly on arrival at Cape Jervis.

This was actually ideal for our crossing and after 2 hours of surfing down 1metre waves we arrived at Cuttlefish Bay on the East coast of KI.  Whoohoo!!

Clearly, the weather wasn’t behaving as expected, so a call to American River Voluntary Marine Rescue confirmed that a trough of low pressure that had moved in could result in winds of 20 knots later in the day.

A decision to paddle south to Antechamber Bay into now Southerly winds of around 12knots along the dramatic eastern cliffs of KI was most rewarding. By lunch time, conditions were still very benign so we decided a return to Cape Jervis was quite achievable and by paddling initially to a more Easterly location of the Cape, a safety margin could be built in to our course should the southerly wind increase in strength.

Forty minutes after leaving Antechamber Bay and nearly 3Nm’s from KI, well into Backstairs Passage, conditions began to change rapidly. From the occasional white cap, very quickly a mass of white caps were developing.

Whilst still manageable, two choices were evident. Continue, but head in a more northerly direction up the Gulf to Cape Jervis and hope the wind strength didn’t increase too much more, or run diagonally with the sea back to Kangaroo Island. The latter was definitely one of the best Kayaking decisions we have made, as the wind did increase, a mass of rolling white caps developed further out in Backstairs Passage emphasising that it was certainly not a safe place to be in a kayak.

A long paddle surfing waves along the East coast of KI eventually to Penneshaw and a safe return crossing by ferry was the culmination of a great day of adventure Kayaking.

In conclusion, although the return paddle was not possible, the satisfaction in knowing that the years of training, skill development and  awareness of sea conditions led to all the right decisions being made, resulted in the trip being so rewarding.

Kangaroo Island is definitely one of Australia’s Kayaking jewels!

Bernard Goble.