Thursday, 17 January 2013

Day 31: 76 km to the sea: Wellington - Goolwa.

Day 31: Tuesday 18/12

Wellington - Goolwa
River markers: 76 to 0 km from the sea.
Distance travelled today: 76 km. 
Total distance travelled: 1712 km


Day 31: Wellington, view from our balcony at the old Wellington Hotel. The evening before the lake crossing, with Jack's Boat in the foreground.

Day 31: Dawn in Wellington. By the time this photo was taken, I had already been on the water for 2 hours and was well away from the shoreline. I could now start to use my compass and maps and was less reliant on my iPhone 'radar'.

Starting off at 4:30am there was no moon, I had to be very careful where everything was and that I would be able to find my way. The beginning was a little deceptive because the strong lights from the ferry at Wellington lit up the whole river. Once past the island of light around the ferry, I paddled into increasing darkness. I had given up the idea of a torch. The river was too wide and it would ruin my night vision. I paddled gingerly into the void, trying to make out where the banks of the river began and which direction the river was headed. One way to make it out was the absence of stars. The sky was full of them. The milky way stretched high across the heavens and the Southern Cross was clearly visible, indicating South. On my deck and tied to the net in front of my cockpit I had my favorite old bushwalking compass. Don’t let me down, old friend. Next to it in its own waterproof bag was my new friend, the one which has made all these reports and photo uploads possible - my iPhone. In addition to this, in its own waterproof  map case, I had a small copy of a map of the lake to which I had added the bearings that I would need to take to get to stages of the journey across the lake and the approximate distances. In the same map case, I had a copy of the Murray River Pilot, which gave more detail on beacons, bearings and dangers. 
Day 31: Pelicans have been my companions on the Murray since before Mildura. Whilst crossing the lake they often circled low overhead, curious I suppose, but it was nice to think they were kindred spirits.

It was so dark that the maps were useless for the first 13km. It took the one and a half hours I needed to get to the open lake to be able to see them. Up until this time I had to rely on the Maps App from my iPhone. This was brilliant. That CEO should not have resigned! I was able to get a satellite image of where I was, see which direction I was headed and how close to the banks I was. It was close as a sea kayak ever had to having a radar screen. I remember the times I spent on the Nella Dan in the Antarctic. I used to like spending time with the Captain, or mate up in the bridge when I could not sleep and would watch the radar screen which was used to keep a constant lookout for icebergs. The maps app gave a similar sense of security. I used it to navigate safely out into the lake and then used sight and compass bearings from there as my main tools. The maps app was still useful on the open lake however, because it gave me an absolute fix on my position. When navigating it is important to compare where you think you are and where you actually are. This is why the sea captains in the days of sailing ships had to have such accurate clocks and to be able to work with theodolites. The maps app filled this spot for me.

We had heard tales from the old fishermen in the pub about how wild the lake can be. One gentleman with a long grey beard, bad teeth and a firm hand grip said that you have to hope that you have been treating the lady right, because she’ll turn and throw anything at you that she wants. it can be as calm as day everywhere else and she will throw in a storm. Another said that because it is so shallow, only a couple of meters deep the waves whip up quickly. He can remember being out their in a tinny with three other blokes and a storm blew in. The waves were 6 feet and only 6 feet apart. In every trough the outboard motor hit the ground and with every wave water entered the boat. It was so rough, they all had to sit on the bottom of the boat, and all three who weren’t driving bailed the incoming water. “ok”, he said, “the waves were not quite that bad, but it felt like it. “it’s called the Coorong Doctor”, said Heather, one of the party headed for Goolwa the next day, “the Coorong and Lake Alexandrina have their own weather.”

Day 31: Dawn, on Lake Alexandrina.

I headed out into open water. Despite the gentle breeze, there was quite a chop up. I had assured everyone that I would take the coastal route. The fishermen suggested I curve towards the coast but not deviate too far from the passage. I decided to give it a go. After all, Jack’s Boat was also coming this way and would be keeping an eye out for me. I found the first (and it turned out, the last) navigation beacon, set my bearing for Sturt’s Point  26 kilometres away and set off. If I was to have difficulty I could always head South to the coast. The chop became waves which hit me from the right and rear. In addition to the waves being driven by the wind, a second set seemed to exist from the weather that had passed through previously. This bounced the boat around and turned it, either into, or away from the waves, depending on their pattern. Yet the boat kept its course and momentum. I went further and further. At one point I hazarded a look to my left towards the coast, 4 kilometres away. Rolling waves, one after the other raced towards the coast. The sun reflecting off their backs had a different colour, a greyer shade , than the rest of the lake. It was quite unnerving. I knew the same was coming from the 20 kilometres of lake on my left. I told myself, keep calm. People travel around Australia on ocean voyages. If you can handle 5 minutes, you can handle 5 hours. Just keep going, keep calm and keep safe. Every half an hour I rewarded myself with something to nibble on, a 20 second stop and a navigation check with the iPhone. I had my compass on my deck and constantly followed my bearing. This was necessary every wave, because every wave changed my direction. After two hours the land I was headed for became visible. In another hour I was there. Sturt’s point in four and a half hours, with an average speed of eight kilometers an hour. I tell you what though, I am glad all that chop was a tail wind. Did you know that people also swim the Murray... and the lake. How tough would that be?!

Day 31: The Murray, coming into Goolwa.
Day 31: Something comforting and humorous about arriving in civilisation after crossing the lake. There was the most wonderful and friendly yacht club here. The members opened the facilities for us here and told us of all the ways one could get to the mouth. The swimmers always take Mundoo Channel they said. Swimmers! Tough cookies!
Day 31: Clayton Bay, neighbour to Goolwa. Now the Murray has a distinctive marine atmosphere.
Day 31: Arriving in Goolwa.
Day 31: Pulling into my final campsite. My boat has been a good friend. Nothing at all went wrong, there was plenty of room for everything... and it behaved as if it was in its element in Lake Alexandrina. Now it gets a clean and rest.
Day 31: Coming into Goolwa, into the caravan park where we are staying.
The Murray is more of an estuary here than a river. It is very wide.

Day 31: Honouring the river. I now understand that the river does not naturally have a mouth, but rather a series of entrances to the sea. The Coorong is its interchange. Except in times of flood, there is no natural estuary. We have tried to change this with the barrages which join the islands that border Lake Alexandrina, keeping salt water from fresh. The Coorong is the Murray's inland estuary. When the river stopped flowing at this end for much of the last 10 years the Lake was a meter lower than the sea and 5 times as salty. For the sake of the Coorong it would have been better to allow the sea in. I think the idea is to use Alexandrina as a fresh water reserve however. Must find out more about this.

Homeward journey.

I reached the best possible goal I had set that morning, to arrive in Clayton Bay by evening, at 11:30. I had contacted Ruth and Anna and we met for lunch at the yacht club. Whilst there we met Hal and Lucy who had travelled from Goolwa to Echuca and back earlier this year in their yacht (mast removed) to take part in the hundred year celebration of the PS Melbourne. They congratulated me and shared their own story and love for our river and its history. They told how once they hit a snag and the whole front of their yacht rose up and out of the water, it kept going and the yacht was balanced in the air, until it edged on, slipped off and even cleared the motor. It reminded me of all I have seen, all the stories I have heard, all the experiences I have had and am thankful for the opportunity to have experienced these. 

The Murray is so full of stories, so full of life, so dynamic. It is waiting to be discovered, again and again, by each in their own way.

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