Monday, February 22, 2010

Point Taken – a Kayaker's Perspective

Yachties do it, skiboaters do it. Even dedicated surfskiers do it. We had to do it - kayak all the way around Cape Point from Simon’s Town to Kommetjie. Interest was high, and the availability of two cottages in the reserve for an overnight stop determined the dates. The rest was up to the weather, which as it turned out, was magnificent.

13 Kayakers launched from Seaforth Beach early on the 13 February for the first leg to Buffelsbay. We were on the water before the wind. The remnants of a passing cold front screened the rising sun so that False Bay was washed in a pearly glow. The sea was unusually calm, allowing us to keep close to the coast and to thread our way between the boulders of both Millers and Partridge Point, saluted, so it seemed by waving kelp fronds. So far so good, the first 19km section was a gentle warm up with a short stop at Smitswinkelbay and then on to an early lunch at Buffelsbay.

After lunch the group split and the kayakers who had come for the first leg returned to Simon’s Town by car while the rest of the group kayaked to the Point. We followed the base of towering cliffs, a group of red, white and yellow paddlers in a landscape that dwarfs human achievement. It soon became evident that the conditions on the Atlantic were much more energetic than in False Bay. From a distance we could see foam and huge swells breaking at the Point. Here the vast expanse of the African continent tapers to a narrow knife edge – awesome! Almost at the point where this knife edge enters the sea stands a tower of rock, a column with an animal head on top, sometimes lion, sometimes sheep. Does the head mirror the mood of the viewer or the state of the sea? On that afternoon the head catching the light was that of a lion. And the sea below was roaring. But so were the 5 of us who rounded Cape Point to complete the second leg to Oliphantsbos. Our escort turned back toward Buffelsbay shouting “Don’t take any chances” into the rising wind.

On the Atlantic side, we were forced to keep well out to sea to avoid huge swells which suddenly toppled and foamed over hidden reefs. Albatross Rock about a kilometer from Olifantsbos gave us a blast of pure adrenalin. We had been riding the swells complacently, or maybe after 43km of paddling we were tired. A particularly big set almost caught us off guard. The top of the first swell collapsed in threatening white water and sucked a huge hole in the sea exposing reef directly in our path. Basil and Silke were already committed and scooted over the breaking wave with the alacrity of road-runner-at-sea. After that experience, Mark headed for the horizon and had to be summonsed back with loud whistle blasts. Good to know that the whistle on my lifejacket is not a toy!!

Still pumped full of fright, maybe I should speak for myself, it was time to negotiate the approach to Olifantsbos. The swells obscured sight of our landing and it looked as if waves were breaking across the bay. We had done two reccies previously and had a GPS course and landmarks of the safe route to shore. Now it was just a matter of trusting these systems. Margaret and Derek of Paddlers were on the beach waiting for us. Their phone call “Keep to the channel guys, its open” was hugely reassuring. Bracketed by breaking waves, but safe in the channel we got in without any drama. (PS Don’t try this unless the conditions are very calm, you know the route or alternatively don’t mind being turned into seafood soup.)

Was it the champagne, the camaraderie or the relief of having made it, but that evening around the campfire was great? And knowing that the swell was dropping and that kayaking into `The Komm’ was easy made for a peaceful night’s sleep.

Sunday 14th dawned sunny and windless – a gift from St Valentine. Liz sent us off with a skottel breakfast fit for champions and Viv joined us to show us the route into `The Komm’. Paddling out of Olifantsbos was a cinch, the swell had dropped dramatically and a flock of Malgas kept us company at sea. A gentle south wind nudged us toward Kommetjie and before long we were passing the assortment of craft that venture out to catch crayfish in season. Chris phoned a friend as we approached Slangkop Lighthouse who advised us to come in through The Komm rather than the slipway route. The tide was very low and a skiboat had just flipped in the channel to the slipway. We were met on the shore by the friends and family whose logistic support had made our trip possible.

60km around the Fairest Cape in all the world and a wonderful experience of kayaking, adventure and companionship. That’s the Point.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Picture preview of the weekend's paddle

Silke's GPS track
Simon’s Town (Seaforth) to Buffel’s Baai 16.8 km
Buffel’s Baai to Cape Point 5.8 km
Simon’s Town to Olifantsbos 43 km
Olifantsbos to Kommetjie 15.7 km

The general area

Muizenberg and the Lighthouse behind the group heading for the Point

Passing Steve's rock on the way from Seaforth to Cape Point

The group in the Buffels area

And rounding Cape Point

What it looked like left of the landing channel

Happy faces after landing at Olifantsbos

Suiping at the braai

Suiping more at the braai

Setting off Sunday morning from Olifantsbos destination Kommetjie

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Seaforth to Buffels Bay - 7.30am Saturday 13th February

Friday update: weather still looks good.

This is approximately a 19k paddle, planned as a warm-up for those who haven't done much distance paddling before. It is has been organised as a non strenuous paddle and includes a stop along the way. Everyone who wants to do this trip should be known to the group and/or have proven experience of group paddling. Standard safety equipment plus plenty of water and snacks.
Meet just after 7am at the Car Park in Seaforth for briefing, car share, planning and last weather check. As of Tuesday weather looks perfect.
Check this blog Friday night to see if there any updates or in case weather forces a cancellation or change of venue.

Friday, February 05, 2010


Barbara has asked why I have not yet joined her and Estelle at Zandvlei on their Tuesday and Thursday training paddles...

The short answer is that if you are, like me, 1.9 metres tall and a beginner then finding a suitable ski seems to be a challenge.

The problem, is essence, the lenghth of the cockpit. A very friendly shop asistant at a famous Paddling Shop told me yesterday that "all cockpits are the same length" and while I readily admit that I know very little about Skis, I cannot, with respect agree. The issue really, as I see it, centres around the overall length of the ski. If the ski is long the cockpit can be made longer. My admittedly limited Engineering savvy tells me that all things must be kept in proportion...?

The longer skis (+- 6,4m) are aimed at the upper end of the skill level. They are also narrower. This we know from Kayaks. Compare an Epic 18 to a Skua. The problem with a Ski is that the longer and narrower boats are far more tippy. They are aimed at the advanced paddler. The shorter skis (+-5,6m)are wider and more stable.

From a beginners perspective (I view myself as a beginner in this context) stability is a major issue. When a Kayaker first climbs on a "beginners" ski it is like learning to paddle all over again. You are unstable but feel subjectively that your balance is probably better than a complete novice. Having said this I must point out that their are some skis that claim to be so stable that a complete novice can just jump on and paddle them. I think that a Kayaker who is moving to Surfskis thinks (as I do) that if he/she wants that kind of stability then maybe he/she should just get a faster Kayak...

So to my point.. The faster, narrower and unstable Skis fit me legwise although, being so narrow, they seem to be a bloody tight fit at the hips. The shorter, more stable skis don't fit me legwise but are wider and the waist is comfortable.(at least those that I have seem to date). If this unltimately proves to be an incontravertible fact across all makes then where to??

The only ski that  have paddled for any length of time is Derek's Fenn XT (wider and "stable"). Yesterday I tried to paddle a Custom Kayaks Synergy (fast and long). By comparison this is the equivelent of the Fenn Elite (+_ 6,4m). Suffice it to say that I struggled to stay upright in flat water and all my senses went into overdrive just to maintain any semblance of balance.  The narrowness and tight fit at the hips, combined with the "instability" also makes it harder to get back on.

I think that stability is to some extent, a relative thing. With experience and practice, practice, practice, the issue fades. But how much practice? And in the meantime... where and when to get the paddling time in?

I am also convinced that at our level, the differences in speed between the stable and "unstable" boats is not significant. I am not the quickest paddler to start with. Basil, 15 years my senior, is quicker in any boat than I am. He is just a better, stronger and fitter paddler. Maybe some of this is that he just gets much more time on the water than I do.

As to the makes of Skis in this scenario? One of the problems is that there are few boats readily available for testing and it seems as if you often have to paddle privately owned boats. This is both a bit embarrasing and frustrating because my time is extremely limited. I am told that the Epic V10 is a very good ski but that you can't get them at the moment. The Fenn Elite has about a 2 month waiting list but would (I am told) be too narrow for me. Custom Kayaks boats seem to be readily available. There are one or 2 others that I have not been able to test (or see).

I received some good advice from the guru himself- Dawid Mocke and from Derek who, while only a recent surfskier himself, has a good sense about paddling and boats. Of course the shops can only sell you what is available on the market. My problems are mine and I must ultimately make an informed choice.

Derek and I chatted yesterday.  We think that maybe a XT with a modified track if that is possible. At least Derek has the boat in stock. On the other hand - The XT is so ubiquitous. I have it in my mind that I would like to have something different. Maybe a colour other than white? Maybe the solution is to approach one of the manufacturers?

The search continues...


Tuesday, February 02, 2010


The paddle was probably as calm and uneventful as the weather. So not much to report. Never really is actually, unless you, like me, embellish the tale with all kinds of fanciful nonsense. You actually have to be there to savour the pleasure.

Statistically speaking the Paddlers were, in no order of preference or ability:

The Wavemaster (in a plastic tub)  minus calamari, The Hun minus calamari (she lost her bag in the water). How to you do that?, Hendrik (exhausted from a weeks hard work, or play - not sure which one) , Barbarella showing off on her Fenn, Viv (lifejacket mannequin), another guy and girl (don't know their names), Great Chris White (with undersea cable in tow) and I.

Great Chris White reported that Viv was attacked by a 27 metre Great White (no really) which he singelhandedly fended off with his electric tail. I think that he may have seen a jellyfish or Silke's Calimari bag.

The rest of us had a really ordinary and gentle paddle up to Steve's house and back.

When we got back Great Chris White proceeded to scare away all of Derek's customers by regaling with tales of all the sea kayaks eaten by his bretheren in False Bay to date. Derek is suing.

I by the way, am trying out surf - ski's...this week. Maybe I will let you know more about this endevour...



Blog Archive