Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Living The Jetty Lifestyle: Split Solitary Island By Kayak

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Jetty Beach was surprisingly busy at 8.30 am on this cloudy May Saturday. A group of wetsuit clad swimmers were exiting the water, people were riding bicycles, two guys were unaccountably sitting in folding deck chairs in the middle of the parking lot reading the Saturday papers while drinking take-out coffee, a homeless guy was wandering about looking for change, and, overlaying all the clamour of normal human discourse - parents shouting at kids, cars roaring in and out of the parking lot, the thump of a sub-woofer - was the roar of heavy industrial equipment. We were unloading our kayaks and packing them up preparatory to paddling north to Split Solitary Island and thinking that this was undoubtedly the "jetty lifestyle" we had seen extolled in a realtors office window the day before.

Doug approaches Split Solitary Island

It was a relief to leave the "jetty lifestyle" behind and paddle out of the harbour, and around the eastern side of Muttonbird Island. Split Solitary Island is about 7 or 8 km north of Coffs Harbour and about 3 kilometres off shore. There was a heavy bank of cloud over the eastern horizon and a 1.5 to 2 metre easterly swell, overlaid with a smaller southerly swell running. I'd forgotten how bumpy sea kayaking can be in these conditions and it took me a while to get used to the kayak rolling around in the swell. Particularly annoying were the two round waterbottles - one in the stern hatch and one in the bow - that clanged from one side of the kayak to the other as I crested each wave.

The west side of Split Solitary Island

After about 1.5 hours, we reached the western side of Split Solitary Island and paddled around the northern side to view the split that gives the island its name. There is a big cave on the south side of the island but it was pretty bumpy on that side with haystacks of clapotis exploding everywhere. The dark clouds on the horizon had spread across the sky and by the time we pointed the kayaks in toward land, a brisk southerly had blown up.

It seemed as if it would be a long slog back to Coffs Harbour into a headwind but as we paddled into shore, the wind abated somewhat and even the swell eased up. We plugged south along the coast keeping well out of reach of rogue waves until we passed a couple of bombies north of Diggers Head.

I was hungry, thirsty and cramped, and, although I had water, banging from one side of the boat to the other, it was unreachable sealed up in the stern bulkhead. It looked as if we could land without too much trouble at the south end of Diggers Beach. Doug was not overly keen, but agreed to head inshore to look. Somehow, I always end up going in first at these places, driven more by desperation to get out of the boat than bravery or skill.

"Rudder, rudder, rudder!"

Tucked into the very south end of the beach behind a small rock reef is a fishing club shack and I was able to land easily enough and dragged my boat up onto the ramp out of reach of the waves. Doug was coming in behind me with his rudder down which spurred me to shout "rudder, rudder, rudder" repeatedly. All he heard was "squawk, squawk, squawk." Was a giant wave looming behind him ready to trash him on the rocks? Or perhaps a great white shark was lining up to take the stern off his boat? He catapulted out of the boat screaming "what, what, what?" and was singularly unimpressed with my rudder warnings.

Unfortunately, we had not brought lunch with us as we thought there would be nowhere to land so there was nothing to eat, but we could at least drink water and I shifted the bottle out of its rolling position into a more secure location. We launched from the beach and plugged our way down to Little Muttonbird Island on and to the northern end of Muttonbird Island where foolhardy fisherman were fishing off the slippery rocks right in the wash zone. Just one big wave and they would be washed off-shore as so often happens.

Heading north to Split Solitary Island

We thought about paddling the extra few kilometres down to and around Korffs Islet but all of a sudden I was tired, hungry and ready to land, so we called it a day and paddled back into the harbour where the jetty lifestyle was still in full swing.

Usually, we are completely invisible to passers-by but on this day, many people came by to ask us about our paddle day. They all seemed frightfully impressed when we told them where we had paddled, but, it was hard to gloat in the glow of accolades when we had paddled only about 25 kilometres in fairly benign conditions. We just are not cut out to be "grammers."

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