Thursday, 31 May 2012

This is (not) the roll ...

Brilliant news ... next time I capsize on my left hand side in a swimming pool whilst wearing my full face goggles ... I now know with near 100% certainty that I'll be able to roll back up again.

Unfortunately, I also discovered that if I should roll on my right hand side or without my goggles ... well. I'm likely to drown.

My Sea Skills Competency is still some way away I fear.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Sprint Training

I veered off from the rest of the paddling group as we came back around the corner towards Sandy Bay.  They continued on towards Marieville Esplanade as I cut off closer to shore, heading to the Derwent Sailing Squadron where I had left my car so I could give my boat a good clean before the pool session tomorrow.

It was beautiful at first, paddling alone through the darkness, seeing the rest of the paddlers moving further and further away.

Then my mind started to dwell on the fact that I was paddling in the dark by myself. Alone ... just me.  Nobody really knew I was there other than the other guys that were now gone from my sight, and no one was expecting me anywhere anytime soon ... it was just me.

Then I heard a splash behind me, probably just a fish breaking the surface, a big fish. 

Sometimes I really hate just how active my imagination can be ... oh, and all those horror movies I watched as a young child.   Not that I was worried or anything.  I just decided that it might be time to put down the camera and get to shore ...

Honest, I just needed some sprint training, that was all it was ...

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A Morning's Walk

I went out on the club's Wednesday night paddle last week.  It was a horrid day for outdoor activites: cold and drizzly with low hanging clouds sitting on all the surrounding hills, and I fought a serious motivational battle with my inner demons in order to convince myself to get out there on the water.

However, by the time we pushed off into the darkness, the night air had warmed a little, the seas had turned milky smooth and the dozen of us on the water were able to slip silently along the shoreline enjoying our own company and admiring the beauty of the city lights around us.

Despite my misgivings about heading out, by the time I had returned to shore I was buzzing and alive.  I could barely recall the 'me' of three hours ago that didn't want to go out for a paddle on such a day.

Back in my University days when I was a bit more career and financially motivated, I remember reading Noel Whittaker's book "Making Money Made Simple" (a book I would still recommend to anyone who wishes to learn how to manage their finances).  In this book, he pointed out that only 8% of people reach what they consider to be financial independence and happiness.  From this he posits the question: Why would you follow the crowd, why would you do what the other 92% of people do when you know it will lead to unhappiness?.  Young me thought this was a pretty good argument.  So much so that I printed it out and kept it on my wall for many years.

I am sure of few things in my life, but I knew I wanted to be in that 8%, and I also knew I wanted to be around people who also wanted to be in that 8%.
I may have altered my definition of happiness in the intervening years, but I think I had eleven of these people with me on the paddle that night, and what's more,  I've been noticing these people everywhere lately.  They're the people you see doing today what others don't.

I got a "Come save me" call from Bec. the other day when her derailer snapped off her bike on her ride home.  In fact it was on the Wednesday night previous to my trip above - a night I had wimped out of going paddling because it was too cold, so instead I was sitting on my nice warm couch eating my dinner and watching TV (ironically an Ironman race).

Anyway, as I drove down to find her, I passed a girl out running, and I recall she had this big smile on her face and I remember thinking ... if she can be out here, then why can't I?

I went for a ride up to the Domain during my lunchbreak yesterday.  It was a beautiful day and I wanted to do a reccy of Cath's and my planned "100 (little) miles to Nowhere" route around the back of the domain before this weekends ride.   After doing a few laps around the 2.5km circuit to test it out, I headed back down the Soldier's Walk path and was amazed at how many walkers and runners were out there using their lunch break for exercise (not to type up a blog as I am doing now) ... and I thought "Why aren't I doing this more often?"

Just five hours later, after leaving work late, I walked out to my bike only to find I had a flat tyre.  I guess I could have fixed it, but instead I figured it was late, it was cold and after glancing at my watch I realised if I ran I could get the next bus, otherwise it would be another hour before the next bus if I couldn't fix my tyre ... so I ran.  I then sat in the bus and looked out at people running and riding their bikes down the sidewalks and thinking "If they can, why can't I?".

I guess where this is going, is that seeing all these other people out there doing these things has shone the spotlight back on me, and I realise that I'm not doing the things I need to do each day to be the person I want to be.  That's a harsh light to get caught in.

That's why this morning, I set my alarm for 5.45am, and instead of catching the bus, I walked the eight kilometres into work.

I got to see the leaves coated in frost and ice, I got to watch the city step out from the pre-dawn darkness and embrace the sunrise, and most importantly for me, as I thawed my frozen skin under the shower at work I got to think "I can do this, I can".

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Comfort ... outside my zone

"I used to have a comfort zone where I knew I wouldn't fail
Those four walls were really more like jail."

There's a moment in the chaos of the seas where you know that your brace just isn't going to save you: you've passed the tipping point of your skills, and you have to move from the effort of staying upright, to the moment of committing to an exit.

I've always found that moment both terrifying and yet strangely exhilarating:  It's only when you fail like that, that you really know you've gone beyond the limits of your skill and that's when you learn where your limits are for next time ... unless you die, I guess.

I made a commitment this year to improve my paddling skills, particularly in big water, so when Stephan rang me on Friday to say that BOM's forecast explorer was predicting 15-25 knot SW winds and two to three metre swells coming into Frederick Henry Bay the next day, I immediately said I'm in ... then I hung up the phone, realised what I'd just done, and spent the next 12 hours trying to think of ways of getting back out again. This was the kind of forecast, if I were going on a sea kayaking trip, where we'd all sagely agree to postpone the trip to another day.   This wasn't paddling weather.

However, despite my repeated attempts to subtly talk/bribe Steph out of the trip (coffee Steph? what about I shout you lunch?), and despite millpond like conditions on the Derwent when I picked up my boat, I found myself standing at the top of the dunes at Seven Mile Beach looking out over long sets of big waves crashing in on the shore and seemingly endless white caps coming in behind them.  It was about this time I thought it appropriate to facebook the rest of the world to let them know if I died in the next few hours, then it was Stephan's fault (My apologies to anyone who is still resisting the use of the word 'facebook' as a verb).

I tried one last time to suggest to Steph that this may not be one of our better ideas (and if you knew our record of brilliant ideas, then you'd know that that was a shouted understatement) and maybe we should rethink.  My suggestion was of course greeted with an "I'm going, your choice what you do."  The glorious thing about Stephan is that once he decides to do something, he does it.

Those waves are much, much bigger than they look.
So, thirty minutes later I found myself struggling to get my boat onto the water at Cremorne, as the wind buffeted me one way and then the next, but eventually we were on the water and poking our noses out of mouth of Pipe Clay lagoon to see what the weather had in stall for us.

Heading out from Pipe Clay Lagoon (Cremorne)
Last photo I was able to take on the trip.

The first section down to Lauderdale wasn't too bad, with 1 to 2 metre swells (mostly at the smaller end of that range) coming in behind us, but there were a lot of seas and cliff bounce coming at us from all directions leading to lumpy and uncertain conditions.

It was however all manageable until we cut out across the Lauderdale bay and suddenly found ourselves at the mercy (or not as the case turned out to be) of a very strong cross wind and building side seas.  To say the water conditions were large and building was a bit of an understatement.  Let's just say the forecast was feeling pretty spot on from where I was sitting.

In between the odd moment of terror it was also however rather awesome fun, and I caught some of the steepest, fastest waves I've ever been on.  Then after negotiating a hundred waves before it that weren't really that different, I suddenly got hit by a side wave as I was surfing down a swell front, I put down my paddle for a brace, felt it bite, and expected to rebalance, but instead the back of the boat kicked out behind me, my paddle moved out in the water and I entered that moment where I new I wasn't going to save this one. 

The next moment I was under the water.

I came up to the surface, huge smile on my face, grabbed onto my boat and prepared to jump back on and keep going when it suddenly occurred to me just how bad these conditions were ... and why the sea skills always say to practice your self-rescues in the conditions you expect to paddle in ... not the swimming pool. 

I attempted a scramble rescue, and got in, but couldn't get my paddle into the water quickly enough to brace and so found myself ungraciously dumped out the other side of the boat, however this time the leg rope had managed to wrap itself right around my legs, effectively tying them together.

This wasn't so good.  The boat was now upwind of me, so kept getting pushed on top of me by the waves, so I was having to hold the boat off with one hand and hold my paddle with the other, leaving me no hands to actually untangle myself.  Did I mention that this wasn't good?

Eventually after lots of contortions and many dips under the water I finally managed to untangle myself enough to scramble up for another unsuccessful attempt at a scramble rescue (much harder from the downwind side) before falling out again, thankfully this time on the upwind side.

Now, somewhat fortunately for me, I've recently become an avid reader of the USA based Sea Kayaker Magazine which has a brilliant article in each issue on 'accidents' where people got themselves into trouble, what happened and what could have been done to improve things.  

I had just read the latest article about a guy who tried to do a scramble entry (hey, that's where I got the idea from) who ended up exhausting himself repeatedly trying to do the same rescue instead of stopping and resting for a while and re-evaluating the situation. 

I took a moment to remind myself that I was attached to the boat, I was warm, I had a paddle partner nearby ... so there was no rush here.  Instead of launching into a third attempt, I instead lay on the back deck to catch my breath, waited for Steph to paddle up, rested a bit more and then did what I should have done in the first place ... I did a side-sit entry, landed it the first time and paddled off.

I was initially a bit tentative after that, but a few minutes later I figured "bugger this" and set off in pursuit of some more runs, and let me assure you there were more than enough of them out there to be found.

All good things come to an end, and we eventually got back to the beach, and suddenly had a whole new problem - how the heck were we going to get in there? I recall reading a few articles recently about sitting outside the surf zone and counting the sets as they came through in order to be able to pick the lulls between the big sets and paddle in on the back of these, but having just seen three huge waves crash on the beach and seeing what appeared  to be a fairly benign set of waves coming in behind me, I figured "this is my spot" and took off for the beach.  It was all going OK, though I had underestimated how quickly I would be able to go, I assume because of the water coming back off the beach, but I was feeling confident enough in my approach that I looked around behind me to see how Stephan was going.  What I saw instead was a huge wave building right behind me. 

It had come seemingly from nowhere, and it was one of those moments when I knew that that wave was way too big for me to handle.  At the same time my quick calculations made me realise I could neither outrun it nor could I back paddle enough to get back behind it.  This was my wave like it or not.

I felt it start to pick up the back of the boat, even as I was already paddling full force forward hoping in vain that I might be abler to run with it for a while, but it was a wave too big, a wave too steep, and it flicked me around like flotsam.  I still had the sense to lean into the wave and get my blade down for a brace, but being in a ski, I just wasn't connected to the boat strongly enough and almost instantly I was in the water, paddle in hand and my boat nowhere to be seen (I had unclipped before coming into the surf zone).

If you look carefully behind the middle drop of water, you can see
my boat already washed up on the beach.
As I started to make my way into shore trialling a new "swim using your paddle technique" I'd also recently read about (I am taking my sea skills study seriously) I  also saw Stephan kicked out of his boat by the surf (Small, silent yay from my savaged ego).

I eventually made my way onto the shore to be reacquainted with my boat, before starting the hike back up the dunes to the car and some warm clothes.

What a sweet day ... big waves, big wind, new boundaries, and of course plenty of time to plan the next adventure as we drove back to gets Steph's van  ...  God, it's good to be alive.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

How to Plan a Holiday

I'm not very good at planning holidays as quite frankly there's too many places I want to go and too many things I want to do. OK, and maybe I'm not the most decisive person in the world. 

You see, I really hate doing anything that limits my options ... and that includes making a decision on absolutely anything.  I mean what if a cheaper airfare comes up? what if I decide I want to go somewhere else? what if, what if, what if ....

So, here's one way to plan a holiday (it's a roughly four month process).

Step 1: See a picture of the Alps and decide you're going to Europe (January)

The Dolomites
Step 2: Read an article about mountain biking in Colorado, and decide you're going to Colorado instead (February).

Somewhere in Colorda
Step 3: Vacillate between Step 1 and 2, driving your partner to distraction and frustration by changing your mind repeatedly, loudly and often ... oh and change the dates you're going on as well, that's really  appreciated (February - April).

Step 4: Randomly respond to a post on 'big mountain riding' on the forums about some places you like to ride (April).

Step 5: Get in an offline conversation with the original forum poster asking him where the photos he posted are from (April):
Step 6: Receive this reply (April 27):

"As for the photos they are from Canada mostly ... if I
was going to do a trip that is where I would go.
better than anything else in the world by a country mile."

Step 7: Look at airfares on a daily basis for about two weeks.  Make sure partner gets repeated and conflicting updates on what you're thinking of doing.  She likes that (May).

Step 8: Check your financial situation, realise that with the recent Northern Territory holiday, couch purchase and computer breakdowns you can't really afford an overseas holiday this year (May 18).
Step 9: Recall the Walden quote "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately ... and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.".  Ponder this and who you want to be. (May 21)

Step 10: Book a flight to Vancouver.  Choose to live deliberately. (Today).

I'm going on another adventure ....



I've been having a bit of a battle this week, just a few too many little things not going my way ...

My Epic V8 ski is sitting in my lounge room awaiting some long overdue repairs (I can hear it calling to me now saying "why are you blogging, when you could be fixing me.").  In my defence I did do some work on it on Sunday ... admittedly this was just an attempt to put a new sticker on it ... but just to show how bad my luck has been lately, even the sticker was broken ... it was stuck to the sticker backer thing.

My two year old phone is now working so slowly that it would be quicker for me to walk to the library and look something up in the Encyclopaedia Britannica than it would be to wait for a google search to give me an answer.

Plus the screen locks up about every third time I turn it on.

I'm still fighting with Apollo Campervans who seem to be having extreme difficulties in returning my $7,500 campervan deposit (and that's after they pocketed the $153 mastercard charge. the f*#krs).  I cannot understand how they can put the transaction through and get my money out of my account the day I pick up the vehicle, but nearly 10 days after returning the vehicle, and them agreeing there were no problems that would require them to keep the bond, I'm still waiting for them to put the money back into my account.  Apparently that's not so easy.  Love your work Apollo.

But, the thing that really got to me this week was when I woke up in the wee hours of the morning last week and I noticed a light on downstairs.  Thinking that this was strange, I wandered down to find my laptop (which of course is 13 months old and just out of warranty) had somehow turned itself on and was sitting there with a simple message flashing at me:

Screen re-enactment - the real screen looked different to this
Repeated attempts at resurrection have failed, and I suspect I will soon be forking out for a new laptop, which to be honest is another expense I could really do without.

Anyway, today I decided to try and start turning my luck around.

I must say, randomly choosing internet images
is a whole lot easier than taking my own.
I started by getting my butt into Telstra and getting a new iPhone which I justified on the basis that I'm thinking of looking at developing a App (feel free to read that sentence again and notice how unconvincing that statement really is) - my idea though is a good one - it's to create an App that allows you to just download the route description and route onto your iPhone out at a trailhead and go for a ride then and there - which I think would be rather cool.

I may have splashed out a bit more than necessary, buying the 64GB version rather than the more modest 8, 16or 32GB versions, but I justified this by thinking of the memory problems I had with my current phone which makes it so slow, plus I have about 20GB of music on my computer (well, OK, technically I don't as the hard drive has just died ... but if I did then the argument would hold...) and I hate having to decide which songs to sync and which ones not to sync. Truly. that is how lazy I am.

OK, so maybe now I'm getting lazy.
But to be honest, the price difference between a 32GB and 62GB phone was only $5 a month, which is the cost of my daily cup of coffee, so I figured it was a justified expenditure.

I also tried to get my computer fixed under my Gold Card Extended Warranty scheme, but surprise, surprise the fine print read that there is a $100 excess on these claims and that I had to get a written report from Toshiba stating that the repair would have been covered by warranty had the failure occurred within the first 12 months.  You can guess how that conversation went with Toshiba. 

I actually took this photo, to prove I'm not that lazy.
Suffice to say, this has led me to plan B - I've now found and watched a 3 minute youtube video on how to replace a Toshiba laptop battery, printed myself off a self awarded Diploma in Computer Repair, and then went and purchased a new hard drive ready for installing as soon as I get a set of recovery disks off someone.  I should note that as part of my conversation with the Toshiba man, he pointed out that hard drives only cost $109, so given the $100 excess, plus the fact I'd have to pay shipping to get it repaired, maybe self repair was a more realistic option.

Truthfully, I suspect, based on a similar experience I had with a camera repair a year or so ago, that this repair is not going to go well, but I'm currently in that euphoric "it hasn't turned into a disaster ... yet" moment and that's a place I'm happy to be in.

Oh, I also decided that as my luck is going to turn for the better that I'd buy myself a new kayak helmet so I can go and practice rolls in the surf :).  I'm determined to force my luck to change .... or die trying.

See ya!

PS.  I apologise to all and sundry whose pictures I have used above without permission.  I blame Google - they make it too easy to find and use stuff for lazy sods like me.  Pease don't sue me for unauthorised use as I'm trying to turn my luck around here.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Snake Island

After last weeks adventure up in the Northern Territory, I kind of wanted to get away from it all, and the club's weekend paddle to Snake Island seemed like as good a way as any of doing this.

I confess that I also had a couple of ulterior motives in joining this trip: one was that I've volunteered to be on a club committee looking at documenting our club's standard operating procedures, particularly in relationship to the trip co-ordinators role, and given that I hadn't been on a paddle for a while I figured I had actually better go on a trip and see how one is 'coordinated', and perhaps more importantly, I had just put the following trip on the club's upcoming trip program, so figured I had better actually go and find out what a trip coordinator is supposed to do once they've put a trip on the program:

Sat 9 - 11 June Maria Island – The Easy Way Basic Skills
If you’ve ever wanted to explore the coastline of Maria Island (without the paddle across) then this trip could be for you. A lazy long weekend of paddling and walking (depending on the weather) catching the ferry across on Saturday morning and staying at the Penitentiary accommodation (camping also possible), we plan on short day trips out of Darlington, direction and distance depending on conditions. Returning on 4pm ferry on Monday. Ferry can only carry limited number of kayaks, and you’d want to book ASAP.

So we all gathered at Tinderbox beach around 9.30am and unloaded our boats ready for the overnight paddle.

We then had what I came for - the safety briefing - where we all discussed our understanding of the weather conditions, trip distance, route, direction, pace etc. and checked off that we all had brought the essentials for the trip (wine, chocolate, cake, tim tams).  Greg also went through the safety signals on the water, went over group dynamics and responsibilities on the water, his method for determining people's comfort zones (a scale of 1 to 10) and finished off with a group discussion on likely trip risks.  He finished by verifying that everyone was happy that they could do the trip and checked for any outstanding questions, before confirming that we all understood and were happy to get out on the water.  Sounds like a lot of stuff to get through, but it was all covered in about 5 minutes, which when you consider that it took us all about 40 minutes to get our boats loaded, gear on etc. it is really a very short period of time.

I even learnt (as the club has a continual teaching philosophy) that this thing in the photo below (no not the bird, the two inverted triangles it is sitting on) means keep to the south of that pole when approaching the shore.  I promise my photo is from the south.

Unfortunately, as soon as we took off I discovered a problem - I had lent my kayak to another club member recently and one rudder pedal was now about 5cms further away than the other, meaning I could reach my right pedal and hence only steer to the right.  Another good reason to practice paddling without a rudder.  I quickly fixed this once we got across to Bruny and continued on.

We essentially just made our way down the inside coast of North Bruny, exploring the coves and birdlife (lots of sea eagles), chatting and enjoying the day.  We pulled over under some cliffs just before the Bruny Island Ferry Terminal for lunch and a break.  It was rather a beautiful place.

From there it was a short paddle down to Snake Island, and it was on this section that Greg did his training drill for a rescue that was the catalyst for my last post on leadership.

One inspired visionary (yea, that would be me) also braved a very rocky landing in order to go and retrieve a large tender that had come off a boat somewhere and washed ashore.  I managed to tie it down on my back deck (it filled the entire deck) and was subsequently rewarded that night with the most comfy seat out of everyone ...
Campsite, note my comfy tender 'seat' at bottom of photo.
Note the trangia beside it for size perspective.
After that we just continued down to the Island, set up camp, and variously sat around drinking coffee and hot chocolate, wandering around having an explore, collecting driftwood for a fire and some of us even went off and did some compass navigation practice ... basically we were just enjoying the moment however we saw fit.  Oh, and maybe some of us pulled out our mobile phones as soon as we were ashore to post 'check ins' and to 'friend' each other on facebook, but I didn't think I'd mention that as the reality detracts somewhat from the ideal.

Andreas joined us not long after we came ashore (an expected arrival) and then just after dark, Mike Comfort also pulled in, this time unannounced ... he'd just looked at the trip program that morning thinking about going for a paddle on Sunday, and seeing there were no Sunday trips on offer decided to paddle across and join us instead.  

As I sat staring into the fire enjoying my yummy dinner and sipping (OK, gulping) red wine, I did ponder how this sort of spontaneity and flexibility could be accommodated in a club where we all have these rules about safety and responsibility.  By the time I'd got onto my hot chocolate and tim tams I'd decided I didn't want to be in such a club if that's what we eventually come to out of this operating procedure review.  I realised as I looked around at the people I was with that I liked the club just the way it is.

Just to reinforce this point in my mind, as we sat around having our breakfast about 7.30am, another club member, Peter, paddled into our camp.  He had set off at 6.30am and paddled across to join us for a cup of tea and a bite to eat.  He was gone again just after 8am, needing to be back up in Hobart to meet some other club members by 10am who were getting together to build their own skin on frame boats this weekend.  In fact, part of the reason he'd paddled down was to seek some advice on frame lengths from a couple of the guys who were on the trip.  As I say, I think I love this club just the way it is.

Just before sunrise on Snake Island.
Mike had left just before Peter had pulled in, and Stuart also decided to head off separately with Andreas and take an early exit at Trial Cove rather than paddle all the way back up to Tinderbox with us as he had some things he needed to do, so when we eventually set back off towards home, we were down to six.

We followed Andreas and Stuart across to Trial Bay, and then although initially planning on a leisurely trip home, the group was all quick to agree to a faster trip home when it was apparent that Greg's 'touch of the flu' was taking it out of him.  So instead of pottering in and out of all the coves around Kettering we started a point to point paddle back to tinderbox.

Just as we were heading past Kettering, a gaggle of sailing boats came heading out for the mornings race which provided us with some morning entertainment in more ways than one. 

Not knowing where the race course was, we just continued along the shore and out into the next bay, only to have half the fleet come flying past us into the bay.  Thinking that the best course was to just cross the bay, and get in close to shore we continued to paddle on across the bay and were rather happy to see the bulk of the competitors heading out and away from us ... but then they all turned as one and came straight back towards us.  Turns out that the buoy we were heading for was the first turning buoy for the race.  This placed us in a bit of pickle with yachts coming towards us from both the left and the right, and the sensible thing to do, given we were still 50-100 metres shy of the buoy, was to raft up into a single visible group and let the racers do their thing before we continued on our way.

Only problem with this plan was that a few yachts had started a bit late, and one of them was thundering right up behind us in our collective blind spot.  Fortunately one of us spotted it, but not knowing which way it was going to go, Terry made the sensible call that we remain where we were, making us as small a target as possible.  The idea was to allow the yacht to choose its course around us ...  after all one flotilla of 6 kayaks tightly packed together is much easier to steer around than six paddlers heading in six different directions.

Before the near miss ... enjoying the yachts going by.
Unfortunately we hadn't banked on two things (1) he hadn't seen us and (2) he didn't care.  We were just about to launch into flight mode with the yacht no more than 10 seconds away from us when finally one of the people on the yacht spotted us and called out "paddle left, paddle left".  That was all we needed and we went.

As Peter (who is a keen yachty) pointed out to me later, the yacht still had plenty of time and speed to steer around us, he just didn't want to because he had the perfect speed and racing line into the turning buoy and with his blood up, he wasn't going to give that up for a few kayakers.

We quickly escaped into shore after that, but it was a bit of an adrenalin shot, especially as this is the second time something like this has happened to me.

After that little bit of excitement, it was an enjoyable tootle back inside the fish farms and along the lovely sandstone cliffs towards Conningham, although at one spot, I did find a heap, and I mean hundreds, of dead crabs, each the size of a small dinner plate just off shore which had me rather baffled.
Small section of dead crabs .... it went on like this for about 100 metres
Then it was across North West Bay where we passed three groups of seals, apparently just enjoying the sun and sea, as they frolicked on the water surface.

One group even followed us for a while, popping up and splashing all around our kayaks.  Then, just to finish the day off a pod of dolphins swam past as we reached the shore.  Very nice.

Greg held a debrief after we'd all got ashore and got changed, just to discuss the trip, how it went for everyone, and particularly the near miss we had as a formal closure of the trip.

I think I went into this weekend thinking that the club would really benefit from better procedures and documentation around the trips, but after a late night discussion with Peter around the campfire (who is also on this subcommittee) my thinking has substantially changed.  What makes this club great is its people.  We didn't need a leader out on the water, because we all worked together.  What I really liked is that although some of us had never met before the trip, we all understood that we were there as a group of like minded people setting off on an adventure together, and it just worked.

When a 'leader' was needed, Greg, or Terry or whoever just stepped forward, it happened naturally and seamlessly, and of course the big eye opener for me was the acceptance of the individual paddlers who came and went over the life of the trip.  In such safe conditions as we were in (which would present no technical challenge for any experienced paddler who can roll or self rescue) I could see the real strength in the club philosophy and modus operandi as it currently exists.  It was right there in front of me.

So my closing thought: I salute those who have come before me in this club, because I think you've got it just about right.

Saturday, 19 May 2012


When something goes wrong ... for example a person collapses on the street in a crowd, what is the first thing you'd do?

If you answered something like "rush over and see if they're ok."  then either give yourself a pat on the back (but only if something like that has happened to you and that is what you did) or get real.  

I'd argue that the first thing most of us would do is either jsut try and ignore it, or look at everyone else and hope that somebody else does something about it.  It's only when that first brave person has stepped into the breach, that maybe we'll also jump in, but often even then we'll wait until 'the group' starts to act.  You see there aren't too many of us who are shirtless dancing guys or first followers ...

... though I kind of wish we were.  I believe that most of us hesitate on that cusp between doing what we know is right (jumping in and helping) and our fear of doing or getting it wrong.  Certainly I know I do.

I recognise that one of my personality characteristics is that whilst I am deeply conservative and restrained in most things, I also have this need to be the shirtless dancing man - to stand out and be different, to take risks.  It's largely self-destructive, but it's a need, almost a craving, deep inside of me.

Apple's 'think different' advert captures and explains this need to me at a very deep level.  It's a rejection of the ordinary:

I think it is why authors like Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Malcolm Gladwell also appeal to me so much ... they resonate with me at a very basic level when they write about the way we use 'hindsight' to incorrectly order and explain completely random events, and in Gladwell's case explains what happens in the tail of the probability distribution, not what happens around the mean. It explains the extraordinary.

The key thing I'm getting to is this: that shirtless dacning guy is a freak, most of us would laugh at him, and normally he'd dance alone until he jsut stopped; Steve Jobs wasn't a good 'leader' if you believe what you read about him (he was bossy, domineering and exacting), and the ideas of Taleb and Gladwell aren't the mainstream, in fact they're fairly unknown and far from accepted.  

I think this is why I always struggle a bit when I attend leadership courses (and I probably should have prefaced this whole blog with the comment that I was on a leadership course for two days this week).  It seems to me that we pick traits we see in leaders who have been good, but forget that that may not be why they were good leaders.

Certainly I think leadership is a skill that can be learnt to a point, just as I can ride a bike ... to a point, but I think it is also something that people have a natural ability at, and although we can learn to be competent, I'm not sure if we can learn to be great.

This was all meant to be a short introductory preface into a blog about my Snake Island paddle, but I think it has now turned into a blog all by itself.  What I wanted to say about that weekend (and I will probably expand in my next blog entry) is this:  A group of seven of us were paddling down to Snake Island this weekend, and I was off to the side of the group in my own little world as I so often am, when I heard a whistle blow behind me.  I turned around, and there was Greg in the water, with all of the other paddlers continuing off into the distance.

... and no, I didn't stop to take this photo before doing anything about his predicament.  In fact any hesitation I had was momentary, even though a part of me strongly suspected this was a training exercise (there's that little voice that gives me the excuse to do nothing "it's only a training exercise, someone else will respond") .  Instead I called out to the rest of the paddlers to stop (interestingly two didn't despite my frantic pointing behind them, instead they just looked at me and where I was pointing then carried on paddling forwards) but once I had done that, I immediately turned my kayak and paddled as hard as I could to get back to Greg and assist him get back into his boat. 

Sure, even as I was doing this I realised that the most likely scenario was that it was an unneccesary effort, but that was OK with me.

In fact it was more than OK, because as one or two others in the group realised what I was doing, they too eventually turned and started to follow me back to Greg, and by the time I got there, everyone was heading in his direction ... after all to not do so would have left them outside the group.

For a brief moment (under my life jacket, kag and thermals) I was the shirtless paddling guy, and I liked that.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Cage of Death

So, after spending nearly a week avoiding waterholes for fear of crocodiles, and then after seeing the awesome speed and power of them in the wild, Kim suddenly decides that we just have to go swimming with them.  Hey, apparently (in case you have forgotten) it's her Birthday Week and she can do what she wants to.  Cue my wallet (I kid, I kid).

So, we rock up at Crocosaurus Cove at 9.30am only to be told that the next available cage slot is at 4.30pm.  Darn.  Anyway, we fork out our money and have a look around before heading off and having a look around Darwin City (and more importantly the big Billabong Sale being held out at the showgrounds).

I can't string this one out - put simply, the hype is well above the reality.   To explain the experience, you climb into a perspex type cage which is lowered into three pools of water with different crocodiles in them and then you see what they do.

We watched a couple of people before us, and in both cases the crocodiles didn't even move - they just sat on the side of the pool and did nothing - we had a better view of them from outside the cage. 

These crocodiles are obviously smart, and they've figured out long ago that it's a pretty pointless exercise attacking the cage and although we probably got one of the best sessions of the day having two of the crocodiles swim past us, one of them right up against the cage, it was still a fairly lame experience especially after the Adelaide River cruise the day before.

And just for the record, I tried everything from banging the cage to smiling at them (hey, they say never smile at a crocodile) to try and get some response, all to no avail.

To be honest, the scariest part of the experience (other than the $100 they wanted us to pay for the photos they took) was the blowfish that I got stuck in the cage with ...

The Human Blowfish
Definitely a tick box activity, although it was probably exciting in the early days when they first started doing it.  I have to say that the 'cage of death' moniker is probably in need of a serious overhall. cage of dearth perhaps?

Got the wrist band ... moving on.

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Crocodile Circus

Expectations can really kill an experience - no matter how good something is, if you expected it to be better, then you'll still be disappointed and that sucks.  It's why one of my few rules about travel is to have "no expectations".  Good rule, difficult to implement.

I had pretty low expectations for the jumping crocodile cruise on the Adelaide River, even if I have to admit at the same time being reluctantly excited about going on it.

Turns out that it would be one of the absolute highlights of the trip ... really well run, and just amazing to see all these crocodiles up real close and personal.

I had in my mind this one poor crocodile jumping up and down all day for the entertainment of the tourists (yes, including me).  To see so many crocs, of all different sizes and personalities was just brilliant.

Kind of glad though that we did this after doing the rest of the trip.

My only concern was how much thought had gone into the life saving devices for the boat ...

 ... I mean really?  didn't it occur to someone, somewhere, that a sit in, fully enclosed raft might be slightly more useful than one where you all swim along in the river for a cruise boat where they teach crocodiles that anything falling off the side of a boat should be eaten.  Seriously?