Well! What a trip!
When I was planning for this trip to the Coorong this past weekend, I thought I had anticipated pretty much everything. Well, you can be wrong!
This is going to be a long report, and very instructional, so grab a coffee and take notes. I got up nice and early on Saturday morning, took care of some necessary domestics at home so I was free to go and off I set to Goolwa and Hindmarsh Island. Got there at about 9:30am, unloaded, packed the yak and set off at about 10:30. Conditions couldn't have been better. Fine day, light winds and flat water. You beauty!!
My first challenge came about 10 minutes into the trip. I knew that there was alot of water coming down the river to the mouth, but I was not expecting the strength of the current. With the winds being so light I got only limited headway under sail, and even with paddle assistance I could only manage about 2 km/h of headway. The worst was right in the teeth of the current at the mouth proper. If I let up paddling I was in danger of being washed out through the mouth, so it was 'teeth gritted and don't spare the horses (arms)!'
Well, I managed to make it to Godfrey's Landing on the Younghusband side about half an hour after launching, and pulled up at the shore for a much needed rest. Had a bit of a look around and something to eat. There were a few people on the northern side of the mouth, and a few shouts over the rushing torrent revealed lots of disappointment in the fishing department. Seems the fish weren't biting at the moment.
Once I got my strength back I relaunched and it was off down the Coorong proper. The winds were just a little stronger now, and I could make reasonable headway at about 4 k's without paddling, still against a strong current but it was not quite as strong. I must admit that I thought that if the wind died off any more I might just call it quits for the day and camp for the night early and try my hand at fishing the ocean side.
But I continued on, and apart from a few spells where I needed to paddle due to the winds dying off, I managed to make it about 10 k's to a point about opposite Pelican Point.
Camp site day 1.
It was a fantastic first night's camping, with virtually no wind and not too cold. I was up and ready to go the next morning. Once again the winds were light, and paddling was needed to make a decent pace. I was amazed at how shallow the channel was considering how much water was coming down. At times I was scraping the bottom it was so shallow, and finding the deeper sections was a challenge. At least I knew I wasn't going to drown on this trip!
I had been told that there were some nice bream about near the Tauwichere barages, so I stopped for awhile, anchored up and tried flicking some SP's around, but to no avail. I actually did see some fish but they would not take a lure. So, I packed up and headed off again, reaching a tourist info point near Long Point. A few tourists were curious about my rig and came to have a look and a chat. After some morning tea I headed off again for the longest stretch to Mark Point, where I had planned to camp.
After a lunch stop near a little fishing village on the peninsular, which looked like an ideal filming spot for a hillbilly movie, I sailed/paddled on to Mark Point, reaching there just after 4:00 pm. Unfortunately the boat ramp there was rocky and unfriendly, with the supposed campsite just bear open ground. I thought it would be very unfriendly if the wind came up, so I decided to make the trip to the other side of the channel and look for a campsite over there on the peninsular.
I didn't expect the terrain to be so unfriendly over that side, and with failing light I was beginning to think I might have to make camp in the dark (never a good idea in unknown territory). But just as light was falling, I managed to find a nice little sheltered spot in a sheltered cove, made camp and got a fire going. It was fairly cold, but no wind made conditions quite livable.
Campsite day 2.
An uneventful night passed, except that the mozzies decided to try to make a feast of me. Geez, the mozzies there were HUGE, about a good cm long, and sounded like blowflies! Actually their 'bark' was worse than their bite I discovered, and a smear or two of Bushman's took care of them.
I awoke the next morning to the most amazing sunrise I have seen in years!
It was at this point things started to go pear shaped.
I had decided to stay put for a full day, and make it back to my starting point on Tuesday. So, being disappointed with the fishing in the Coorong channel, I decided to walk over to the ocean side and try the surf for some salmon or whatever. I took a dry bag with a bit of fishing gear, some food, water and my smart phone with GPS. I marked my campsite on the GPS and off I went. It was about 1.6 km's to the other side which I expected to take about half an hour. I would fish for a couple of hours and be back by lunch. Easy.
I walked overland through a mix of high sand dunes, dense clusters of bush and eerie ancient seabeds, and arrived ok at about 9:30am. I deposited my gear on the beach well above the surf and got down to some fishing. I dug a few cockles, and had some dried tube worms with me which I soaked ready to use. But although I was losing bait, I wasn't feeling any bites, and the surge of the surf was towing my line in and out and all over the place. I didn't really have any heavy surf gear, so I just persisted for a couple of hours and decided to pack up.
That's when things went south really quick! I have lost a phone to surf before, and had placed my phone in the dry bag as insurance against against an unexpected wave surge. But when I took the phone out to check the GPS position, just as I took it out, a rogue wave surged up and onto my gear. I had just put the phone down to pack up the other gear, and - you guessed it - the wave hit just as I turned my back to the water. A single splash is all it took to render my HTC Desire a brick! Even though I quickly opened the phone, took out the battery, checked to see how much water had got in, (and it didn't look like much did), sea water is devastating to electronics. I placed the phone in the sun to dry, waited a good hour, put the battery back in, but all I got was a brief vibration but no boot up!
It was right then that I started to swear.
Anyway, I thought - 'no problem, I only have to backtrack and I will make it back to the campsite, and I don't really need GPS to get back from there, so no big deal other than having to get a new phone'.
It is a lesson to learn not to get slack about using your normal navigating skills and tools even though you have GPS. I was so confident that there was no problem with navigating over such a short distance that I just rested confident in the GPS alone and didn't take visual notes, mark the track with rocks, broken twigs etc. that I have used in other situations. Now with the GPS gone, and no other backup, I tried to re-trace my footsteps back, but as soon as I reached the first hard ground, followed by dense bush, I lost my tracks. I also forgot how easy it is to veer WAY off what you think is the direct route home.
After about an hour I arrived at the channel side, but NOTHING looked familiar. I couldn't recognise anything that could give me a cue as to where I was. I also thought I had veered south east when I came back, so I just headed north west up the shoreline. But after an hour I was still no wiser as to where I was.
At this stage I had to take stock of the situation. I re-checked my gear. I had just under a litre of water with me, and a fair bit of food, and it was not hot, so I thought I had adequate provisions for a good few hours of heavy walking. So I turned south east and decided to keep going until I found the campsite, which I figured was definitely in that direction.
The only problem was that the terrain is very inhospitable, and broken up by large sand dunes and same-looking bush which is so dense in spots that it is almost impenetrable. It was very hard going, and I was forced to consume water very quickly, finally running out at about 2:00 in the afternoon. I had only eaten a bit of my food, but I know enough about bushcraft to know that water is the number one survival item when the going is tough. Even in cool weather, you can consume a litre in a couple of hours with no difficulty. I was getting worried.
It was at this point I had to make a decision. I decided to make my way to the shoreline, and walk along the shore looking out for the campsite as I went. If I happened to see a boat I would hail it for assistance, and although it meant walking in the water for long stretches, the sand was mostly fairly firm under foot, and the water wasn't too cold. It was alot easier than climbing up and down steep sand dunes, which would be the end of me if I persisted.
Once I ran out of water, I started praying. Yes, praying! I am a Christian, but I can tell you that it is at times like this that most people start to pray. But no miracle came. I didn't find the campsite. By 4:00pm I was really getting dehydrated, so in desperation I took a sip of the water I was wading through. I was amazed that it was almost totally fresh. It was slightly brackish, but definitely palatable! The amount of water pouring down the river had sweetened the water even this far down the channel! Normally the water in the Coorong is so salty you can almost walk on it, but it was definitely fresh enough to drink - at least until I found home. So I filled my bottle, and proceeded walking, taking small sips as I went, and stopping to take food and rest as I went.
Things still didn't get any better by dark though. Even though most of the time I could follow the shore, there were times I had to cut inland and make my way over the dunes. That was very slow going, and very tiring, forcing me to rest frequently. My 56 year body was starting to severely tire. And it was now getting dark.
I have been camping and going bush all my life. I am very comfortable in isolated lonely places. I have had to use bushcraft to deal with problems before. But this was the first time I really thought I could perish out here. That is a very scary feeling. It makes you pray hard!
It was about this time that a miracle happened. I didn't think so at the time, but it was a life-saving thought that burst into my mind. 'You are going to make it, but you will have to sleep out tonight. Make a bed of twigs in a sheltered spot and wait the night out.' And another very calm logical thought. 'You haven't passed any viable campsites, so you have just veered further north than you thought, you will find your campsite in the morning.' I know it might sound silly, but I believe God spoke to me right there to save my life.
So, with light failing, and cold coming in, I went about finding a suitable spot. I found a 'den' in a grove of bush in a hollow. With light failing I went about breaking leafy twigs off and laying bundles on the ground. I knew I would need lots, so I just kept going until I couldn't see safely any more. I had a big pile of leafy twigs after about an hour, so I lay a thick mattress down, lay down, piled the rest all over me and used my dry bag as a pillow.
It was very cold, It was very uncomfortable, but I survived a long, slow night. I had to rearrange the 'bed' occasionally to take a leak and to turn over every now and then, but I managed. (No, I didn't take a fire lighter!)
In the morning at first light, I took the rest of my food and a good drink, and set off again. And true enough, within an hour I found the campsite. You don't know what relief is until you have experienced it, lifting your head as you struggle up the umpteenth sand dune to see a speck of blue tent in the distance!
Just to add another twist, during the night the wind came up, and was quite strong by the time I arrived at the camp. It was so strong that the kayak which was tethered to the shore was totally swamped with waves crashing over the top. I knew I wasn't going home on Tuesday.
So I headed straight for the tent, took a good drink, made a hot meal and went straight to sleep for about 10 hours straight! I woke up in the late afternoon and then bailed out my yak and pulled it up onto shore.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I managed to pack up and head off on Wednesday morning with a good strong breeze on my starboard side, making good headway on a broad reach. I had a couple of minor incidents on the way with rigging but nothing serious, and made it to my launch spot on Hindmarsh Island in 4 hours! I clocked my speed at 12 kms/h at some points (using my other GPS - the one that's waterproof - the one I didn't take with me on the short walk!), which is more than my yak is supposed to be able to do according to JEM Watercraft. I even got some attention with the local tour ferry cruising past with waving passengers and cameras clicking. Anyone would think looking at me I was totally at peace and the trip was uneventful!
Any way, I am happily home now, my wife was relieved, and wasn't too angry with me (but she was going to call the police if I wasn't home by that evening), and now I can't wait for the next trip!!
I don't think I'll go on a trip like that alone any more though.
Water lapping against the hull, warm gentle breeze, fish straining on the line... how much sick leave do I have?
Mulloway 1.2m (x2)
KG Whiting 45cm
Skipjack tuna 58cm