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 Canoeing in Western Australia

Shark Bay without the Sharks

by Robyn Khorshid

© 2002, Robyn Khorshid

click here for pics of this trip

I must say that this was not my idea! Paddling with some people whom we had never met, for 70 kilometres over two days (possibly with hungry sharks, adverse currents and wind) from Gladstone via Faure Island (both of which I had never heard of ) to Monkey Mia! But there seemed to be an endless supply of support craft (lots of helpers should anything go wrong), a positive organiser, Wilt (whose real name is Lee) and a very keen paddling friend, Sue.

It turned out to be one of the best trips I have ever done!

Despite my initial reluctance I soon started to look forward to it. None of my kayaks were fast enough or stable enough, but a long-time paddling friend, Terry, who has a shedful of assorted sea kayaks offered me a super manouvrable, light weight, but rudderless Anas Acuta. As he had always meant to add a rudder to it and because I was so nervous about maybe having continuous strong south-westerlies the whole time he just managed to fit this task into his busy schedule.

This was my first attempt at paddling this far without river assistance so I packed a bagful of anti-inflammatories and pain killers, wrist bandages and a splint and bandaids for blisters, plus three different kinds of paddling gloves, including the washing up gloves as recommended by Alwyn Duke, Avon Descenter of some renown. That was the break-down kit for me - now the boat . . . gaffa tape, screw driver and pliers was all I could think of, plus two sponges. Terry had thought the boat leaked a bit whilst testing it after the addition of the rudder and shoved a bailer into my hands as I was leaving for this paddling adventure of a lifetime (in shark infested waters)!

On arrival our briefing was held and a flares' expert briefed us on the two types of flares that we were to carry, one red and the other - I've forgotten, but they both would get extremely hot and should be held aloft- I understood perfectly what he said, but forgot everything the moment he had finished! Fortunately he repeated everything for my paddling companion, Sue, who had been socialising with the fisherfolk at the next camp, unaware that the paddlers' camp was next door.

After a sleepless night which involved repeated imaginings of sharks chomping off the end of Terry's boat and me sinking whilst trying to hold a flare which was as hot as h.... it was a relief to get up and pack up, stuff some more carbo into my bloated body and cart the overnight gear for the yachts to the water's edge.

All thoughts of tiredness left as we were at last underway. The sky was blue, the sea was calm, the company was pleasant and soon we stopped for morning tea, or should I say, bananas. Photo session.

We were making excellent progress (what had I been worrying about?). The landmass in the east had disappeared, but soon we could make out more land in the west - this was too easy. "That is Faure Island", said the skipper of one of the yachts. "Just aim for the south end". Our paddler with the GPS, Andi, who was in front of us, seemed to be aiming at a more northerly course, which puzzled me somewhat. Before long, however, he was aiming for the south end as well.

Have you ever had a picnic lunch whilst walking around in the middle of Shark Bay? Well, we have! To everyone's amazement and delight it was so shallow in that spot we could jump off the kayaks and stand and wade around. It was great to stretch the legs. Another photo session. More bananas. No thought of sharks! (too shallow?)

Discussion amongst those in the know and those with charts revealed that we should have been following a more northerly course, as we had not been aiming at Faure Island at all! Andi had been right. No problem - just a few extra ks.

The marine life for which this World Heritage area is so famous came to investigate us in the afternoon We had a close look at them, too: dugongs and dolphins mainly, plus one large fish which must have regretted it because Ian in the K2 gleefully hooked it with his trailing line. He generously shared it with his mate, Matt, for dinner that evening, even though Matt had been about to hit him as the fish was leaping around. (He'd thought Ian was backpaddling in the back of the K2.)

Faure Island eventually appeared in the haze and we aimed for the south end. We paddled and paddled and paddled leisurely towards the front paddlers who had become mere dots in the distance. Then I was sure they must have landed because all I could make out were some stationary black posts in the water. The detail of the island was very slow to emerge. Uh, oh, the sea breeze had come up AND the tide had turned- we no longer had its assistance. In fact, if we didn't turn up the revs, we would soon be back at Gladstone! The only way to get there was to turn on some power - thank goodness for a light boat, a hi-tech paddle, the rudder and not forgetting some hours training twice a week for this event. The 'black posts' in the water were indeed our front paddlers, making slow progress against the elements.

How wonderful to finally arrive - the best thing was to be able to stop paddling!

I have to say that campsites were hard to come by on that narrow stretch of sand on the south-eastern corner of Faure. For future events could we please find somewhere a bit wider? Champagne flowed freely as we were all relieved that the hardest leg of the journey had been successfully completed. The yachts and dinghies were moored just offshore, within wading distance. Their skippers and crew were very hospitable and helpful.

About 4 am Wilt decided that he would like to paddle with the forces of nature (rather than against them) so we were all roused from our deep sleep of exhuastion, packed and onto the water by 5 am. I must say I was surprised at how restorative just a few hours sleep can be.

The full moon cast its magic silver light over everything and made the paddling easy, not to mention the wind and the tide going our way as well! More shallows saw Wilt attempting to give Sue a hand by attaching a parasail to her boat, but the wind had dropped by then.

Monkey Mia slowly appeared on the horizon and we eagerly anticipated our arrival. Stingrays skidded around the shallows on the approach to the resort. It seemed such a short paddle compared to the previous day.

We had made it! Jubilation! More photo sessions. No bananas.

Now there's talk of making this paddle an annual event - FANTASTIC!

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