From The Sea Canoeist, Vol 3 1980

The West Coast Trip
Paddlers in a perilous beauty.
January 1979.
(A condensed version - written especially for a Telecom magazine)

Scribe Laurie Ford
Tony Gaiswinkler is an STO1 at the Trunk Test Room in Hobart’s Central Exchange building and has been with the firm for about 15 years. Laurie Ford is a recent recruit from the outside world of TV servicing and is a TA at Central Exchange.
Both have been members of the Derwent Canoe Club for some years, are founder members of the more recent Tasmanian Sea Canoeing Club, and together have a wealth of experience in lake, river, and sea touring - different aspects of canoeing which call for different types of canoes.

The river kayak is short and easily manoeuvrable to enable them to dodge the many rocks, and negotiate wild rapids with a fair degree of safety. The sea kayak is long and narrow and must be able to carry a months provisions at a reasonable speed.

Along with many day and weekend trips Tony has taken part in a 19 day trip from Cape Portland (NE tip of Tas) to the Flinders Islands group and return, covering 256 km; at the same time Laurie was taking part in a three day trip round the southern end of Tasmania starting off in a force 8 gale.

Since these trips twelve months ago the West Coast trip was put forward as a possibility and some serious planning was started. This was made all the more difficult as this coast has never been surveyed accurately and no large scale charts or maps exist at all.

Tony’s choice of boat was a locally designed 18ft kayak which had proved to be one of the best designs in Australia, while Laurie designed himself a 20 ft monster. Both were fitted with rudders. Other members of the group were Dick Holmes, an electrician from Hobart; Ross Mansfield, a teacher from Launceston; and Bruce Davies, a teacher from Burnie.

Keeping clothes, food, and other equipment dry in a canoe is not an easy job and requires many plastic containers and plastic bags; the first day usually requiring a couple of hours to try to find somewhere to put it all, some luxury items often being left out at the last minute.

Part of the equipment carried included three waterproof 35mm cameras, a non-waterproof 16mm movie camera, a waterproof HF SSB transceiver, as well as the usual spare paddles, compasses, first-aid kits, fibreglass repair kits, water containers, cooking equipment, etc.

All food for over a month was carried right from the start, still leaving room for all Tony’s skin-diving gear, and a certain amount of liquid refreshment.

Laurie Ford takes up the story from here:-

This first days paddle was only intended to sort out the packing and get us just outside Hell’s Gates, the infamous entrance to Macquarie Harbour. Many a fine ship has been lost here and one shoal in the entrance, the Kawatiri Shoal, commemorates one victim.

A slight outgoing current helped us on our way, and after getting into shallow water near one point we stuck to the main channel. Even in the light conditions the cross currents at Hell’s Gates were quite noticeable but we slipped quietly out past the breakwater and into Pilot Bay as the sun was setting.

Pilot Bay was a beautiful little sheltered bay with good camp-sites, which were unfortunately ruined by an unbelievable amount of broken glass.

Despite this, there was a feeling of satisfaction that the packing had gone smoothly and the first day’s objective had been achieved and we finished the day with a few tinnies round the camp fire.

This was to be our big day as there appeared to be little shelter in the first 42km and once we started we would be committed to a full day’s paddle, regardless of weather conditions. We were up early and greeted by a very stiff NW wind and upon leaving the shelter of the bay were paddling in very difficult conditions.

Shouting to each other we discussed  spending the day ashore and waiting for better conditions but decided to go out to the Cape Sorell Lighthouse and have a look down the coast first.

Although this took 11/4 hours it was worthwhile as we found the wind and swell running parallel to the coast and would obviously give valuable assistance, despite the quite heavy rain at times.

We covered 52km before camping at Point Hibbs, being told of this campsite by a fishing boat who came looking for
us late in the afternoon when a fresh SW change sprang up.

This was a perfect day and Tony and Dick elected to climb the impressive looking Hibbs Pyramid just off the coast while the rest of us just floated about and chatted to some of the fishing boats anchored there.

Although the sea was smooth the long swells build up over unseen reefs all along this coast and break alarmingly, and Bruce and Ross were nearly claimed by one of these 8 metre breakers while waiting for Tony and Dick.

We then followed the coastline into Spero Bay, along some beautiful white beaches and lunched at the Spero River, where Dick made a repair to a paddle blade he broke in half negotiating the shallow rocky entrance to the river.

We also made contact with Hobart Radio and reported our position before heading off to spend the night at the Wanderer River. The river mouth was guarded by continuous white water breaking over some reefs but once past this we entered a wide deep river and camped at the entrance at a great little spot with abundant drift wood for the fire, clear fresh water from the river, and no sign of any past visitors. 

We paddled miles up this  river along some very picturesque stretches without coming to any rapids, typical of the many big rivers flowing on the West Coast. These rivers would be little visited except by the occasional fisherman and we felt privileged to explore such areas that are so untouched by man.

The weather was still fine and we made good time past High Rocky Point to the Mainwaring River where we stopped for lunch and the radio sched, before going on to Acacia Rocks where we delayed our progress for some spear fishing, picking up numerous abalone amongst other fish.

The Lewis River was our next objective for the night and the entrance was boisterous to say the least, the swell building up over the shallow reefs, and also rebounding off the steep rocky shores to cause a very confused sea.

We paddled up the river a couple of kilometres and found yet another incredible little campsite where we made short work of the abalone before consuming a few more tinnies round the fire. This was really getting away from the rat-race.

A very leisurely start as we were only going a few miles to a mining exploration camp for lunch, having received an invitation by radio the night before. The Lewis River was explored first but rapids stopped us from getting to the old iron bridge put in many years ago to service the Low Rocky Cape Lighthouse.

Point Hibbs had been our first big milestone and rounding Low Rocky Cape was our second, again in near perfect conditions. The mining camp was beautifully set up complete with gas stoves and fridges, an electric freezer, and we were treated to a lunch of fresh lettuce, tomato, bread, cheese, and cold meat, a welcome change from our usual fare.

They are supplied by helicopter weekly and are doing a very systematic survey of the area, taking soil and core samples, using bombardiers and trail bikes for transport.

We headed off down the coast for the Giblin River after lunch, the breathtaking beauty of the rugged SW gradually coming into view.

A few hundred metres up the Giblin was a flat grassy campsite, and the day was so good we ended up in the river with a cake of soap, washing all our clothes as well as ourselves. We were in radio contact with the HEC radio station at Strathgordon every night and the operator (Nat King) was going out of his way to pass messages on to our families in Hobart, a service we were very grateful for.

Tony and I paddled  up the river for miles without coming to an end before turning round to rendezvous with the others who had gone off for a walk along the magnificent beach. Just after we headed south again a light plane with friends from Hobart flew overhead, dropping a message of encouragement.

Stopped at midday in Mulcahey Bay and picked up a few crayfish and abalone, and trumpeter, keeping them till we made Wreck Bay that evening. Here on the beach is mute testimony of the dangers of the coast in the wreck Svenor, a steel ship slowly rusting away.

We were kept awake part of the night by one of the biggest thunderstorms I’ve ever seen, the ground literally vibrating from the intensity of the thunder and when we finally arose the stiff NW from the previous day had increased, bringing still more rain and lightning.

It was rather eerie paddling along in the middle of this storm with lightning hitting the sea around us, the nearest being over 1 km away fortunately.

With the aid of these 25 knot winds we made the entrance to Port Davey by about 9.30 am and here I left the others, they were going in to spend a week in Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour while I tried to make it out to Recherche Bay in two days on my own.

This was part of our original planning and I had a mast and sail to help me along in hard following seas. The conditions were ideal, a hard 25 knot NW which I hoped  would get me round the dreaded SW Cape before the change came. The barometer had been falling like a stone and fishermen had been warning us of the impending fury, as well as receiving gale warnings on the radio.

I shot away with the sail pulling like a team of wild horses and four hours later rounded SW Cape after one of the most exciting rides of my life, a battle all the way.

The big breaking sea often had me up to my armpits in water and my kayak was continually awash. Thinking the worst was behind me I stopped for a brief rest behind the Cape, only to be hit by the SW change which screamed in without warning and unbelievable velocity and almost had me driven on to a nasty lee shore consisting of unclimable rocky cliffs.

The spray being whipped off the water was stinging my bare arms and only a determined effort got me out of this trap and away I went on a partially controlled ride to Cox Bight, it being impossible to sail in these conditions. Although there were many hours of daylight left I felt I’d had enough at this stage and went ashore for the night.

The next day (Friday) saw an increase in the SW but I headed off again, making heavy going of it, till just off De Witt Island a rudder wire snapped. This made the conditions almost unbearable and an hour or so later off Ile Du Golfe I decided to head for shore and walk out.

There was no shelter along this stretch of coast in these conditions and about 1 km off shore I was dumped by a wave of extraordinary violence, which forced my spraydeck off and fractured the bottom of the kayak in three places.

The craft was full of water so I got out only just before a second wave followed in.

Swimming myself and the kayak ashore took about half an hour or so but was done in comparative safety without losing any gear and after some bushwalkers helped me carry the battered canoe clear from the water I quickly packed my pack and set out on foot, leaving all unnecessary items in the canoe to be picked up at a later date. Camped at Shoemakers Bay just on dark, leaving early  the next morning.

About 12.30 pm Saturday I staggered into the Recherche Bay camping area, the first person I saw being my boss from Central, Arnold Tedders, just down for the long weekend for a spot of fishing. I was relieved when he offered me a lift to the nearest phone (many miles away), and even more grateful when he produces a couple of ice cold cans. Beer never tasted so good.

Jill Gaiswinkler drove my wife down to pick me up at Lune River and my trip was over, the sequel coming a week later when I walked back in to New River Lagoon, patched the canoe up and paddled it out to Recherche Bay, and thence by car to home again.

When I left the others outside Port Davey on Thursday morning they proceeded to run up the port before the wind to the shelter of Schooner Cove where Tony found two friends in their own boats anchoring there for the night, and they all spent a pleasant evening on board.

Because of the rain and violent winds the main group was loath to leave their tents but roused themselves when one of their friends came ashore with the news that a fishing boat had reported I was sheltering in Cox Bight that night.

They eventually packed and headed up Bathurst Channel to Claytons Cottage, a two bedroom house built by a fisherman years ago and now kept in good repair by the park rangers. It includes a combustion stove, bath, and 240v generator for lighting.

After making themselves at home they were visited by the crew of the motor cruiser Mascarin and spent an enjoyable evening imbibing a few and spinning some yarns.

Using Claytons Cottage as a base they explored Bathurst Harbour, most of which is only accessible by boat. They paddled up the Old River, climbed Mt Rugby, and visited the Kings at Melaleuca Inlet where they have a tin mine.

Tony claims the view from the top of Mt Rugby to be one of the best in the world, taking in rugged mountain ranges to the north, as well as giving a perfect view of Bathurst Harbour and most of Port Davey. It also takes in Cox Bight and De Witt island to the south.

Spring River was paddled as far as possible till stopped by log jams, and Monday night saw the party back at Schooners Cove again, where they were kept awake half the night by a group of power-boats from the NW Offshore Cruising Club who apparently are very partial to loud music.

A leisurely paddle to Piners Point to set up camp before a trip up the Davey River to the magnificent gorges, and a chance to play around in some rapids before returning to camp.

This was the big day to round SW Cape and was as dramatic as my solo trip, but started in ideal conditions and averaged 10 km/hr for the first couple of hours.

As the day wore on they realised their speed was being reduced to  half of their earlier average by a contrary current flowing up the coast, and the hot day led to a moderate sea breeze blowing in from the south to add to their troubles. It was a very weary quartet that finally rounded the forbidding mass of rock, SW Cape.

Their troubles were not over yet, as shortly after, Bruce snapped a rudder wire, and they decided to head for the nearest landing spot - Wilson Bight. Here they encountered dumping waves similar to the two that caught me.

Bruce and Dick were both capsized by the first one but rolled up, Dick not being so lucky with the second one, being
thrown out of his canoe.

While he was attempting to swim it to shore safely another wave slammed it against some rocks, breaking it cleanly in two. Tony, Bruce, and Ross managed to land safely on the western side of the bay and arrived to find Dick just standing staring at the two halves.

Camp was quickly set up and round the fire after tea the decision was made to completely repair the canoe and complete the trip as planned.

Spent repairing Dick’s boat and rudder, after which a bit of diving was done, ending with a good catch of crayfish, abalone, and trumpeter.

Headed off at 9.30am past Telopea Point, heading for Louisa River for the night. On the way they looked into Ketchem Bay, New Harbour, and went into Cox Bight for lunch.
A SW change after lunch helped them on their way to Louisa River where they heard on the radio that I had walked in to get my canoe out and was probably only ten kilometres away. They little realised I walked in, paddled out, and drove back to Hobart in less than 36 hours.

Inspected some aboriginal middens in the morning, complete with large piles of shells and bones, before making out to sea about lunch time to hop along the coast to Prion Beach, finally landing and setting up camp in Rocky Boat Inlet. Here more sea food was consumed while the quartet relaxed before the fire and watched yet another spectacular sunset.

As one of the tents nearly blew away in the night and had to be pegged down more securely conditions were against rounding South Cape, another long ridge of rocky cliffs that deserves to be treated with some respect, so after the rain stopped they walked into New River Lagoon and back, before plucking more delicacies out of the sea.

Conditions had moderated and were ideal for a fast run round S Cape, SE Cape, and on towards Hobart, covering 62 km before making camp at Lady Bay near Southport. Ross left them as they passed Recherche Bay as he was due to leave Hobart that evening on a yacht sailing for Adelaide.

Another fine day saw our trio on the water and heading for home, although only intending to go halfway; but by lunch time were well ahead of schedule and so pushed on to do the 80km before being united with their families at Montague Bay - in the shadow of the Hobart Bridge.

The ease with which these kayaks covered such long distances backs up our decision to use local designs, as many overseas expeditions cover shorter distances and quite often have a planned rest day after three days paddling - a feature we did not plan for at all, only intending to have a rest if any members of the party needed it.

The total distance covered was 633 km in 19 days, an average of 33 km a day (or 37 km/day if you discount the two rest days - one for repairing Dick’s canoe, one for bad weather).

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