My grandfather used to always have a yacht and a dinghy, and so from an very early age I knew how to row. My sister and I would have fun rowing around and playing in the dinghy.
However the first time I was in a kayak was in Outdoor Education in year 10 at school in 1997. I went to one of the only state schools in Victoria that has an indoor pool. The kayaks were put in the pool and we all had to calmly move so that we were nicely spread out around the pool. We then had to purposely capsize and before getting out (so upside-down in the water), had to lean forwards and tap the underneath of the kayak (which was now above the water) twice to show that we were having fun and then we had to get out.
I was one of the few people who successfully patted the kayak so thankfully I did not have to do it again. We then practiced moving up and down the pool.
The next week we took the kayaks to a nearby lake and had fun moving around. Then we were told to circle the island. I was fine with getting to the island, but a large wind picked up when I was on the far side and I couldn’t get back, fighting against the wind. I had to get on the other side of the island so the wind couldn’t effect me and it took me ages to get back.
In December 2008 I visited my friend Charlie and she had a great idea to go kayaking, and remembering how much fun I used to have with my sister I said yes.
So it was arranged that we would go. Charlie ordered a two-person kayak and a great deal where we start on the Murray at Yarrawonga and head downstream to a pre-arranged pickup spot. That way we did not have to do any work upstream.
Just before we left we saw two kayak teams pull in, who had completed the Red Cross Murray Marathon (404km in 5days) on Boxing Day (http://www.redcross.org.au/vic/murraymarathon.htm)
Shayne who we hired the kayak from, and would pick us up five hours later, asked us if we had been kayaking before, I said once and Charlie said twice. He asked about our swimming ability and my is good and I was confident that in the unlikelihood of having to swim, I would be fine.
Shayne also pointed out the line of the kayak and told us that as long as our heads were within the line the kayak is stable and would not capsize. Move your head to far and you will go over.
We were given a water-proof map, life-jackets, a water-proof bag where we put in Charlie’s backpack with the food, camera and mobile phone and we were sent loose. I was in the front and Charlie was in the back. I think we were both wondering if Charlie should have been in the front as she is probably stronger than I am.
We slowly left the Victorian bank and the next thing I know the NSW bank is getting closer, too close. I start paddling on my right to try to turn to left, but no matter how hard I tried the kayak just kept on going straight. We crashed into a log on the bank. What then follows is a mad five minutes where we somehow got into the middle of the river and then turned around the 360 degrees twice.
I told Charlie to stop paddling and I managed to get the kayak pointed in the right direction and then we both paddled off, zigzagging down river, however this time, not crashing into the banks.
The day was beautiful, the sun warm, the water cool when it splashed on to us and after a while we became good at travelling, however sometimes we would just stop, enjoy the scenery and let the current take us downstream and we would just do a lazy stroke every now and then to ensure that we wouldn’t get to close to the banks.
Occasionally I would have to get Charlie to stop paddling while I got the boat straight and we would set off again, until she realised how she can help turn the kayak with me – which is when we got really good at dodging all the trees that had fallen in the river.
To cut out a lot of distance we were told to go down a channel which flowed through NSW. The channel was similar to the main river, but a bit narrower and had a lot more trees lying in the water. At one stage we had to land the kayak and walk it around a tree that went the entire way over the channel – Shayne told us that we might have to do this twice.
We had been kayaking for about three hours when there was another log in the water, one that had a stick sticking out at about head height. We were approaching it rather fast and I was trying very very hard to head the boat right to miss it, when I realised that I just couldn’t get it far enough away, we wouldn’t hit it, but our heads would be in trouble. “Duck” I shouted and lent forwards. Charlie saw the stick and to avoid it lent to her right, right over the side of the Kayak. And over it went.
I realised pretty quickly what was happening. When I knew we were past the point of no return I think I started moving, so by the time we were upside down I was most of the way out. The Kayak was in the middle of the channel, I had it in my left hand. “Are you okay?” I asked and could hear a yes. With out thinking I grabbed everything that I could with my hands and used my right to move us to a conveniently placed tree which I grabbed. The Kayak pivoted and became nicely stuck in the tree and Charlie was able to climb on to it. And at some stage I righted the Kayak and saw my drink water bottle slowly floating downstream.
Thankfully the water proof bag floated nicely underneath the Kayak and when we turned it over, I could put it back in.
There was no beach. The current was strong. The banks were about a three meter vertical climb. We were in trouble. I managed to wedge everything on the vertical bank, at a section where there was almost footholds. And then we had to get the water out. The good news is that the water was beautiful. The perfect temperature. The bad news is that we couldn’t get the water out.
Charlie got out and called Shayne, well she would have, if it wasn’t for the fact that the only piece of paper with his number on in was the map which apart from my drink bottle was the only thing that was lost. Charlie called her workmates who where hopeless and she started panicking.
So I got out of the water, after falling off the tree and probably scaring Charlie half to death. When Charlie pointed out that my Asthma medicine had escaped from my pocket and was floating down river. I had to make a quick decision. I had probably spent a good 45minutes treading water and trying to get the boat empty, would I have enough energy to swim back to the tree and climb out if I were to save my medicine. Oh well, there would probably be another spot to get out, so I bravely managed to save it and climb out.
We couldn’t get help. Charlie wasn’t in a state to do anything. So I called the police. Dreadful reception, but by a number of phone calls and messages, somehow we communicated for them to contact Shayne (though we had no last name) and all we had to do was sit and wait to be rescued or so we hoped.
I was quite happy. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm day. We had one bottle of fresh water and an entire river to drink. We had a bit of food. The time was 1:30ish and if our messages didn’t get through people would know that something was wrong when we weren’t at the pickup spot at 3:00.
Remembering my childhood – a boat is easy to see, so if you get in trouble stay with the boat. So worst case scenario the police rescue helicopter would see us. We had nothing to worry about. However poor Charlie was worried. She was also worried that Shayne left a message on her phone telling us to get to the Victoria side. But as we were in a channel both sides were NSW. So I said we stay here, if we were on the main river we would have been able to get help from passers by, but not here.
So I tried to set her mind at ease and also told her off for forgetting to bring the cards.
At some stage I thought that I could drift the boat downstream to see if there would be any place with a decent beach where we could beach the boat, and then have more luck in emptying the water. However by that stage we had left a number of messages that we were in trouble, so we did the right thing and waited.
We probably only waited for 45mins to an hour when Shayne came. Luckily the channel ended in about 700 meters, and on the Victorian side one of his friends (who I will call Alan) was camping. We walked the 700 meters and Alan picked us up in his boat and took us to Victoria.
Shayne managed to get the water out of the kayak and paddle it to Alan’s campsite without getting wet.
And that was that. We stopped by the Yarrawonga Police Station to say thanks for getting Shayne, but sadly they were not in and we went home, had a bite to eat. Three hours later in Melbourne, I noticed I was covered in bruises, and cuts and grazes.
But, wow, I had fun. Who wants to go kayaking with me?