Botany Bay with winds over 70km/hr
The crazy kayakers I join every Tuesday evening have been known to venture out in some pretty serious conditions. But even they weren’t mad enough to tackle the apocalypse generated by the mid-July east coast low. With swells of five to eight metres, and wind gusts over 90km/hr, group leader Rob Mercer was thinking about his duty of care. That didn’t mean there were no options for making the most of the conditions. The 30 knot-plus southerly blowing along the western shores of Botany Bay looked like being ideal for a bit of thrill-seeking, while greatly reducing the risk of imminent death.
Rob warned participants by email, and again on the beach, that conditions on this day could make turning around into the wind exceedingly difficult. So, we all needed to be confident in our ability as paddlers, in the safety of our boats and equipment, and in our ability to self-rescue. I stuck my paddle float under the deck-lines as an extra security measure.
We launched into the southerly at Dolls Point, slogging into a headwind about as strong as I have encountered. We inched south to a point where we could turn and get a good run to the north. It is often much harder paddling into strong winds in a bay than in the ocean. At sea, the bigger swell gives a degree of protection from the full force of the wind. Here, we were completely exposed. So, by the turning point, we were warmed up and happy to give up the struggle.
It was an N.N.E. run toward our target at the mouth of the Cooks River. But first we had to paddle northeast, as there was moderate swell coming in through the heads, and a good shore break that started 100m and more out from Ramsgate Beach. We skirted the edge of a sizable breaking wave, went a little wider, then turned almost due-north, aiming toward the old control tower at Sydney Airport.
Even though the ocean was 7km away, the swell coming in from the east was a decent size. This approached us from our front and right side, giving the appearance of consecutive steep slopes that we had to climb. But the wind waves gave us such a push, it felt like we were being propelled up and over these ‘rolling hills’. The sensation this gave in a kayak was remarkable, and not one you would often experience short of being under sail.
About a third of the way along the swell direction changed, so that is was coming from behind and to the right. This made the sea livelier. The merging of swell and sea started forming waves that were well over head-height. And the wind waves were running fast, but not swell-fast. They were catchable with just a few quick paddle strokes. The rapid acceleration meant easy linking of waves and increasingly longer runs. And every so often the larger waves picked you up and really spat you forward. Amazingly, top speeds towards 25 klicks were reached in the bay! Maybe not so surprising, when Sydney Airport was recording winds of up to 40 knots. Mark Sundin and the other ski
paddlers who launched before us must have really been motoring.
Then the 7km fast downwinder was over before you knew it. We wanted to go back and do it again. With waves providing most of our propulsion, we reached the finish line feeling like we’d barely started. Everyone was buzzing. It had been the best fun you could have with your closed waters on.