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Mixed fortunes in training for the Speights Coast to Coast

Gavin Bonnett - 18/12/07

My day's training started at 11 am at the Mount White bridge.

I had competed in the Coast to Coast multi sport event on six previous occasions, but I still felt I needed to train conscientiously.

The setting as I began the training.
The setting as I began the training.
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Diary notes following a momentous day out training
Excellent day Wednesday, had a day off work for Coast to Coast river training, great river conditions and weather.

Planned to kayak 67km alone. We had all given up on the Coast to Coast river section. Three months of flooded river conditions added to training difficulties. However this was a perfect day.

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Training day: the start of the Coast to Coast kayak leg at Mt White bridge, 67km of paddling in a 10kg 6.2 metre modified Olympic flat water kayak. No matter how good the paddler these kayaks are built for speed and given the chance will remind the skipper with the odd swim.

Earlier a group of students set off for their first ever river mission. Later in the day I would get to know Josh the instructor a bit better!

Josh and his followers had set off more than an hour before me. I was pleased to catch them even though they had fallen out of their brand new kayaks that resembled covered-in barges, so stable, but so foreign to these new recruits. There was something comforting about having others around. I passed Josh completing his last rescue before re-gathering his clients, - all in a day's work.

Feeling quite confident I started to push things along. The stress of paddling this river is the same for everyone. As you become more experienced a faster more unstable kayak becomes a competitive dream. In reality most fast kayaks get sold at a rather cheaper price than their purchase price, mine being the end of the line for comfort and stability.

The start of this river is not such a challenge. It seems open and exposed with no real hazards. Two hours latter the pressure builds knowing you're entering a non-return trip through a water canyon. Uncertainty on coming out can lead to thoughts of a rescue by helicopter or jet boat.
The start of this river is not such a challenge. It seems open and exposed with no real hazards. Two hours latter the pressure builds knowing you're entering a non-return trip through a water canyon. Uncertainty on coming out can lead to thoughts of a rescue by helicopter or jet boat.
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Okay, now for the main part of the day!
I found myself having an unprogrammed rest on the river bank to reflect on my first sinking of a kayak. I must say I stayed to the end like all good skippers. My kayak, a JKK UFO, is no longer, (actually a bit shorter!) and later would return to its inventor for further inspection.

The broken kayak
The broken kayak
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Brief summary of events

  1. Tried to take on one metre wall of water driving onto a rock.
  2. First half of boat went through okay.
  3. Tipped upside down while reverse parked onto the rock.
  4. Rolled back up, gained composure, looked around with a funny grin.
  5. Sank 30 seconds later.
  6. Swimming lessons!

Sitting on the river bank planning on waving down the local jet boat operator seemed the only way out of this place. I would stash the kayak overnight and return with my own jet boat. Other thoughts led to my waiting wife panicking because her solo paddler was nowhere to be seen!

How do you explain $2,500 for a new kayak!

An hour passed and then along came Josh. Most students pulled across before entering the big rapid. Others followed Josh. Twenty minutes later, all students retrieved and distant kayaks regrouped, they joined me for reformation.

I had a strange feeling. After being involved with this river for many years jet boating and kayaking as a river guide for Coast to Coast friends, I had become totally helpless.

Students gathered around my kayak. "Oh that looks serious!" Josh took over. Even though my kayak had three metre-long splits down the side Josh came out with the comment, "I've seen worse than that". It was like clockwork. Students were instructed to help. We used my duck tape first (10 metre roll 50mm wide of sticky tape), but I just couldn't see how this was going to work with the amount of kayak damage.

Again along came Josh with two more rolls of duck tape. "This is how you do it." We let the air out of the air bags (similar to a car crash air bag but used for kayak floatation). Josh went into a controlled frantic rapping motion on the kayak, starting from the back slowly overlaying the tape toward the front.

Next step - blow the airbags up to expand the inner, the broken portions of kayak, onto external tape that Josh had engineered.

Within minutes students were back in their kayaks and gone! I collected my thoughts and my unplanned departure was under way. I paddled the kayak close to the last student in the group. I needed to move on with more speed through the water to keep this skinny kayak stable (like standing still on a bike you need to be moving for balance). I passed Josh, thanked him, and he then went to work recovering another submerged student!

One pickup point for kayakers is at Woodstock. Josh and his students were getting out at this point. I had an additional lonely 15km paddle, but first a quick check to see if the kayak is leaking. No water in the bottom. It leaked more before Josh's repair!

A tear came to my eye as I paddled toward my waiting wife. Her first words were, "You're a bit late. Did you help someone out?" - strange sort of comment!

A stranger thought was, every year Robin Judkins and I jet boat the lower section of this river. Normally we surprise competitors training for the Coast to Coast by having Juddy, the eccentric inventor of the Coast to Coast, being positioned in a remote river location (even known to hide the jet boat). Competitors training have fallen out of kayaks with surprise at seeing the sight of Juddy. Only one week before we were playing this trick on competitors as we have often done, and after the surprise of seeing Juddy many concerned kayakers reported a dangerous rock with water flowing onto it.

The dangerous rock
The dangerous rock
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Latter in the day we boated up the river to investigate. Nothing was found.

The following week I could report exactly where it was. We had boated to within 500 metres, then turned around. If I had seen the big rock when jet boating I would have avoided it more easily.

Oh by the way any one wanting to know where the rock is - it's 500 metres past the iron railway bridge. You will come to the area called the lake. At the end of this wide lake-type river section several options are available. The river naturally goes toward the left. Do not do what I did and take the first or second channel (there are no options to bale out on the left side of the river). The correct choice is the third or last channel which heads directly down onto the rock in question (a one metre drop and where the other two channels meet at the base of the rock).You should be on the far right going down the channel placing the kayak in the eddy to the right of the rock which will naturally push the kayak away from the rock.

I would recommend before attempting the rapid for the first time you portage at the end of the lake and carry your kayak 30 metres down the right hand side of the rapid, or after viewing the rapid paddle upstream in the slow water above the rapid, turning downstream gaining a nice line through the rapid.

PS I went left on the first channel and attempted to paddle across the flow going onto the rock (which didn't work so well).

Photographs for this article were supplied by Gavin Bonnett.

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