Reg (Mark) Grundy had a problem.
It was March 2016, the end of another busy summer for Roaring 40s Kayaking. His six SeaBear Packhorse kayaks had spent the previous months carrying visitors around the sparkling (and sometimes not-so-sparkling) waters of Bathurst Harbour and Port Davey, in remote far far southwest Tasmania.
SeaBears are sturdy craft, built for stability, safety and comfort, able to do a lot of miles and carry heavy loads without too much damage. But not even a SeaBear can go forever. Roaring 40s had had the boats serviced in the winter of 2015. By April 2017 they would need to have their structural condition checked again, with repairs to fibreglass, and this couldn’t be done in the southwest. They needed to be taken to a workshop.
In 2015 Reg had shipped the kayaks to Hobart on board the tall ship, the Yukon.
But that had felt wrong. SeaBears were not really cargo. They were vessels in their own right, designed and built to travel on oceans. Reg couldn’t help thinking that this time it would be more satisfying to paddle his boats to Hobart, around the south coast of Tasmania.
The Southern Edge
The trip from Bathurst Harbour to Cockle Creek is 180 kilometres and goes past some of the wildest coastlines in the world. Landing places are few, spaced well apart and sometimes perilous.
Reg had paddled the route before, in four days, solo, in a single kayak with a sail. But taking six fully laden SeaBears was going to be a different prospect.
In March 2016, on a cold exposed stretch of water on Port Davey, Reg found some people hardy enough and … ummm … brave enough (we are not going to use the word ‘insane’) to take on the South Coast Challenge.
He ran the idea past them, had a positive (if slightly guarded) response, then spent the winter planning the expedition and acquiring the necessary permits and licences.
By April 2017, the group was trained, geared and ready to go. For many of the paddlers it was their third trip with Reg. For one it was the fourth.
Reg is an extremely experienced open water paddler and tour guide (and general all round adventurer). He has paddled in the tropics and the Arctic and when he decided to move back to Tassie, he did it by paddling across Bass Strait.
For this expedition he had chosen his “A Team”: Tim Warren, who came home from the US for the trip, and Tom Keith. Both are highly accomplished adventurers and tour leaders.
Reg was not in any doubt that this voyage could be done successfully, and he was ready to handle all contingencies. For months, whenever paddlers and loved ones aired misgivings, he listened patiently and responded calmly and knowledgeably. It was clear he had heard all the anxieties before and had already planned for any imaginable situation.
Reg really only had two main concerns.
One was the first day out of Port Davey. From the time the expedition left Spain Bay, they would be paddling south and then east, past coastline that was mostly sheer rock walls and surging inlets. There was no feasible landing place until Ketchem Bay, 46 kms away. That day the kayaks would be in the water for over 9 hours, without a break.
The other concern was towards the end of the trip. A SeaBear, holding two men and fully loaded, weighed around 300kg and they were not manoeuvrable in surf. Capsizes would be dangerous. If they happened close to shore, there was the possibility of paddlers hitting their heads on sand or rocks, with the full weight of the boat behind them. It was also unthinkable that there would be a collision between such massive crafts, or, worse, that one would run into a person in the water.
To have any chance of landing on a beach, even with guides swimming and helping to manoeuvre the boats in, the expedition needed manageable surf. On the south coast of Tasmania, this meant they should be aiming for beaches that faced east or south-east, sheltered from the worst of the swell.
Between the last two legs of the trip, the nearest thing to a sheltered beach would be at South Cape Rivulet, which was prone to big seas. It was quite possible that the surf there would be dangerously high.
Nevertheless, Reg was very familiar with this coastline and with the Southern Ocean, and he had confidence in his boats and guides. There would be options. He was never in any serious doubt that he and the guides could bring this expedition home, come what may.
On Thursday 6th April 2017, Reg, Tim, Tom and nine intrepid guests boarded two Par Avion Britten-Norman Islanders and set off, bound for Melaleuca and then for Cockle Creek … via the Southern Ocean.
Day 1, Thursday 6th April: Bathurst Harbour.
The team assembled at Melaleuca Creek with 180 kg of food, thirty-four bottles of wine (I did say they weren’t insane) two Christmas cakes and two bottles of whisky. They packed the kayaks. Most of the time was spent carefully siphoning the wine into collapsible bladders …
And then there was nothing to do but begin.
Thanks to these people for the images
Tom Keith, Martin Baker, Jim Sloan, Reg Grundy, Dave Cromarty, Tony Smith.
The Paddlers were:
Jeremy Baker, Martin Baker, Dave Cromarty, Neil Grant, Col Johnston, Jim Sloan, Tony Smith, Phil Steele, and Andrew van der Vliet.
Guides: Reg (Mark) Grundy, Tom Keith, Tim Warren of Roaring 40s Kayaking.