Launching this morning was a bit wet, as I stupidly timed it not perfect through the moderate breakers. At least it woke me up!
I didn’t really like the almost overcasted sky, as I was aware I won’t have any moon during the night. So I was hoping at least for some stars on the dark sky! I noticed a bit relieved this morning the swell was much less than yesterday’s 4 meters, and the night’s paddle should be hopefully not too tough.
I had to paddle out of the bay to the open sea into the moderate north-westerly, but again I preferred to be way out there, about 5 km, free of any rebound action of the cliffs. The direct course to Kalbarri would take me even 10 km offshore! Nothing to worry about, I’d rather be free floating way off the cliffs than in case of a problem getting drifted towards them too fast.
Once I could turn in to my planned bearing of 150 degrees, the north-westerly was nicely pushing me along on a moderate 2m-swell! I noted a good speed on my GPS, and was able to average including rest and food breaks 7km/hr with my empty boat! This was fast for me!
But the moderate north-westerly freshened up during the afternoon to about 20-25 kn, so was the swell lifting to 4 meters again, plus some 2 meters whitecapping seas on top! I was hoping very much it would get down towards darkness as forecasted!
I was not seasick today, thinking my stomach got slowly used today towards the big stuff. On my scheduled sat-phone calls at 6pm to Terry and Greg I was in high spirits to get through the cliffs in a very fast time! I was averaging easily due 7 km/hr, and I was joking on my calls this would make me probably arriving in darkness next day – but in the morning instead of in the night! My realistic previous goal was to arrive next day well before dusk.
I was calculating I would be down to 90km at 7pm, 12 hrs paddled, and if conditions won’t change much during the night, I could arrive around 8.30am next morning.
BUT – conditions changed MUCH during the night!
First, I noticed I got seasick sitting there at 6pm, not paddling, but just calling briefly in to Terry and Greg, texting my position message to Karel, putting my cag on with the hood and pulling out my two torches. It may have taken me about 10 min only, but too much for me. It was big 4 meters swell and quite rough increasing seas, balancing the empty boat on calling and texting was not easy. I couldn’t look to the horizont on that task, this was the problem. I was fighting seasickness successfully for the next two hours, but felt the inevitable coming up soon.
Full darkness came in at 7pm. I knew there won’t be any moonlight, but I was hoping the stars make enough light to at least see the horizont! I had never paddled in FULL darkness, and the big seas and swell won’t make it any easier! I felt I had to experience with light options, and eventually felt comfortable with a head torch shining at least around on the waters surface. I couldn’t stand my usually all night slightly lit GPS, it was too dazzling on my eyes, so I switched the permanent light off and occasionally shone quickly with my headtorch on the display to see my position and progress.
And I was seeing an UFO at 7.30!!!! No joking! I first thought it was a green signal flare fired off by the rescue team to show me they are out there in position in the night (which for sure they were not…). But I soon realized a flare is going not horizontally down only, and is wayyyyyyyy less big and bright! I reckon it must have been an meteorite or a piece of a spaceshuttle entering the atmosphere burning up brightly green for about five or more seconds! It was an amazing nature spectacle…
I was feeling the upcoming seasickness got worse in the darkness at 8pm, and I eventually had to throw up my last feed of an apple and ceral bar…don’t even think I am looking at what was landing on my spraydeck…I kept on looking ahead to the barely visible horizont and washing it aways as fast as possible. But I was not as relieved as usual, thinking there is still a rest of food in my stomach wanting to come out!
The next throwing up session was at 9.15pm, this time triggered by two salty fingers in my mouth, and I though now my stomach is empty, I’m feeling better!
The problem of the night was soon clear: The visual horizont was mostly NOT there, as the horizont was in darkness covered mostly in some fog, and this made paddling in those big seas and swells almost impossible. I could paddle a few strokes, but as soon as there was no visual horizont any more, I had to switch simply into “survival mode”.
This was for me and my comfort level to lay on my back deck, with the paddle bracing on the surface. I need my PFD strapped on my backdeck for a somwhat comfortable padding for this purpose. My “pillow” is my hair bun…When I have the PFD on, I can’t rest on my backdeck. But I hooked myself to my boat with a line, in case of a not unlikely swim…I wonder about my rolling skills in such rough conditions in complete darkness? I really didn’t want to try…
From about 7.30pm until almost dawn, I was thinking NOTHING else than only two words: “Survival mode, survival mode, survival mode…” like a mantra, to get my brain fully concentrated on exactly this only task: surviving the long 11-hrs dark very rough night. No thoughts about making progress…
In moderate conditions with a loaded boat I can lay there on my backdeck and rest withouth locking my knees or even bracing seriously with my paddle and even closing my eyes for a catnap. But this night I stayed wide awake with no problems, my hands were cramped on my paddle, feeling constantly on the right side the surface of the rough sea. Survival mode…survival mode..survival mode…
I was really kicking my ass for not taking my paddle floats with me for the stable outrigger setup I have successfully used on my crossing of the Gulf of Carpentaria…but I was not planning on sleeping that night! And somewhat I didn’t really anticipate I would have any trouble balancing and paddling…Survival mode…survival mode..survival mode…
Every five minutes or so a big breaker was approaching and tried to crash over me, and without throwing myself into it even from the lying position, I would have capsized. When I was not alreday lying on the back deck, the sound of the approaching breaker made me instantly throwing my body backwards towards the more stable lying position, plus the bracing into it’s foamy waters. Survival mode…survival mode..survival mode…
I was checking frequently on a lit gap on the horizont which would enable me to at least sit upright again for a few paddle strokes to relax my cramped permanently bracing arms, not to think about making any paddling progress! But the night had about 5 rain squalls in store for me, each lasting for about half an hour or so, which made the sky fully dark! So there was not much active forward progress possible. At least the strong north-westerly was pushing me into the right direction, and I was offshore enough to feel safe about not getting pushed towards the clifffs. Survival mode…survival mode..survival mode…
To make the night even more pleasant, the flying fish, quite active during the day, obviously couldn’t see me during the night and were frequently flying into me and my boat. I was smelling about three times like a fish, as one of them was hitting me somewhere on my cag or spraydeck. At least I didn’t get one in my face! Survival mode…survival mode..survival mode…
At around 2am I noticed a change in wind direction, it swung around to the west, and later to the south-west. This made me thinking I URGENTLY need to paddle a bit to at least maintain a safe distance off the cliffs! At least my GPS showed me still being some 3-4 km away, but the distance was constantly closing up! I felt a bit scared, and tried to orientate myself in which direction I would have to paddle! Still not much horizont or stars out there…and few paddle strokes possible…Survival mode…survival mode..survival mode…
Around 4am I was able to see the horizont relatively well, and I could try to paddle some distance into the right direction, and not only off the cliffs to maintain a reasonable distance! I had a hard time to simply *see* my GPS, as the light shone on it was dazzling my eyes. At some point I was messing up the navigation star I chose, and was paddling simply into the wrong direction for a while.
At 6am, my sat-phone call with Terry was scheduled, but I gave him a very brief “I’m ok” meassage only, and “I’ll call you when it’s really light in about an hour!”. I still didn’t feel too happy out there, and I was paddling into headwinds in big seas.
Text message from Freya via satellite phone:
26.57 113.39. 73km down 97 km left to go
Note from Chris Cunningham:
Freya is paddling along the Zuytdorp cliffs. From Paul Caffyn’s The Dreamtime Voyage:
“The Zuytdorp Cliffs extend southwards for a distance of 126 unbroken miles from Steep Point to Kalibarri. Horizontally bedded limestone has been eroded into a continuous line of near vertical cliffs which reach a maximum vertical height of over 600 feet.”
The cliffs have to be paddled in one go as no landing is possible.