by Tess Dodd_Adveturetess
I am almost halfway across, enjoying leaving the demands of a busy morning further behind me with
every paddle stroke. My thoughts are filled with plans to paddle in Alaska.
Sutherland’s books (87 days solo kayaking in Alaska, swimming and kayaking remote sections of the
Hawaii coast); I recognized her spirit and felt inspired by her adventures. I spend many hours
vicariously sharing her inflatable canoe.
A deep rumble draws my attention to my right. I was no longer sharing Audrey’s inflatable canoe in
Alaska, but alone in my Nordkapp in Moreton Bay.
Looking south, I can see darkness on the horizon. It’s distant and appears to be moving across the
lower bay, out to sea, away from me. I can see the strip of white sand where my friends are camped.
I know it’s not far for me to paddle now. I stop day dreaming and increase my cadence, keen to
reach the beach before any rain falls. I don't fancy setting up my tent in the rain.
Loud rumble. The storm is moving closer to me but still appears to be tracking out to sea. I stop
paddling to hydrate and consider my options: I am closer to my destination than any other land.
the storm moves towards me and not out to sea, no matter which direction I take now, I am going to
get wet. I decide to continue my original course.
Before I move on, a sea turtles large head breaks the surface nearby, taking a huge gasp of air before
sinking below. I notice a large shadow to the right, too big for a turtle, maybe a dugong? The
shadow moves closer, rising from below to bump my boat, moving it with its body. Far out, a shark!
It brushes my kayak as it moves away; I drop my drink hose, pick up my paddle and get moving.
Storm approaching, viewed from Blakelseys Landing _photo Gill Booysen
I can see 2 motor launches near the island heading for anchor. Other watercraft have disappeared.
At least I won’t have to worry about being hit by a boat out here.
BOOM… a BIG thunder clap. Louder. Closer.
The cell is moving as fast as my heart is beating – fast!
I know I will soon be engulfed by this heaving beast. OK Tessie, don’t panic. Relax, think clearly, and
make a plan. Stow the sail securely on deck. Point the kayak into it. Prepare to brace.
(Larry Gray ‘storm brace’ technique – it works).
I glance behind me and see sunshine and blue sky. Bizarre. Ahead, I see people moving about on the
beach, the storm cell has not quite reached them. I think about my friends and wonder if they can
see me out here, knowing they can’t. I don’t want them to be worried about me. I wish I was with
them right now.
Looking into a sky that is now a deeper green than the water, I realize it’s going to hail.
I think of
Australian Ironman Grant Kenny who was out training on his ski when a sudden hailstorm hit. The
hail stones cut his head open. He flipped his ski over and used it for protection until the storm
After the earlier shark bump, I was really hoping I would NOT end up in the water today, but
knew I may not have a choice. I also hoped for small hail stones and a fast storm.
The transforming beast of green and black was almost upon me. I could feel my body trembling,
adrenaline I guess.
BOOM. …BOOM…crackle…The vibrations travel through me. I can no longer see the beach. The wind increases slightly as large drops of rain begin hitting the water around the kayak. It is a strangely beautiful
moment. A bird sitting in the water just ahead dives below and does not reappear. Darkness wraps
around me. Shit! A wave of anxiety washes through me. My senses tingle as I wait.
Suddenly, a raspy sound becomes an almighty roar, heralding it’s arrival. I try to point the bow into
it, bracing. The ferocious blast is more than I have ever experienced in the kayak before, EVER.
meanwhile on shore...
I struggle to stay upright, my ears fill with the roar of the wind, waves wash over my deck, my body
is physically forced backwards over the deck. I bend forward trying to lessen the effects of the wind
on my body. The drops of rain become bigger and the waves smaller. My saturated hat brim is down
around my face. I can’t see or hear over the roar and have no idea what’s coming next. I focus on
A new sound joins the melee. Crack. Crack. Crack. Then, I feel it. HAIL!
Hailstones begin hitting my head, my arms, my hands. Hail ricochets off the kayak painfully hitting
my face and teeth! The hailstones increase in size. Taking one hand off the paddle, I cover the top of
my head until my fingers hurt from the stinging ice. There is no relief. The noise is deafening. The
hailstones bruise and sting where they hit my body. If this continues, I will have to get in the water
I don’t know how long the storm lasts, but neither of my hopes comes true. The hailstones are large
and the storm is not over quickly. I endure an icy beating from Mother Nature until the storm cell
eventually moves over me, the hail and wind easing to leave only gentle rain hitting my bruised face
After storm selfie
Once again able to see, I look towards the island. It is further away but, in front of me is the bizarre
sight of half the beach covered in grey sky, half blue sky with a rainbow…half storm, half rainbow!
I self-assess. My kayak is still upright. I am beaten up but OK. I am close to tears, instead of crying, I
begin laughing. Strange, stress relief laughter. I feel spent, alone and ready to resign the ‘Adventure’
But, I am in the middle of the bay and need to get moving again.
The storm is north of me now, cutting a swathe over the water and Dunwich on the west coast of
the island. I have a clear view of blue sky either side of this intense black and green field of energy.
Eager to see my friends, I pick up my paddle and begin the work to reach them. I have been blown
away from the island, so have additional distance to make up. While paddling, I reflect on the
experience and my choices that day. I believe I made good choices and would have felt some
comfort with company, but would company have created an additional concern?
Using the last of my energy, I reach the beach. People are moving about, fixing campsites, and
checking boats. I see my friends and call out. Relief floods through me as they make their way to the
water’s edge to meet me.
Note: I launched just after lunch to paddle 10km to meet my friends, who were waiting at camp. Conditions were mild. The water was bumpy with a 10 to 15kn headwind. A possible late thunderstorm was forecast. It was early and there were no signs of a storm when I launched. I often paddle alone and am familiar with this stretch of water. I have been asked about the wisdom and safety of my paddling alone. Even for these short distances in familiar water. I enjoy social paddling with a few close friends but feel confident in my skills and decision making ability to kayak alone.
great campsite story... photo: Gill Booysen