By Geoff Emery
April 2020, the year of Covid-19 saw Colin Priest and Geoff Emery maintaining social distancing as they set off from Palm Beach, Rockingham for a paddle to Penguin Island. They paddled west under the Garden Island causeway, past a pod of dolphins to John Point where they usually turned south through the reef behind Mushroom Rock, but not today!
Ten knots of West wind combined with a two to three metre swell, caused large waves to break over the reef. Down at kayak level it wasn’t inviting with waves close to two metres, but neither Colin nor Geoff would call quits before the other. They agreed they would have to get out behind the wild surf and Geoff elected himself as crash-test dummy. He took off between two outcrops of reef as if a white pointer was on his tail and paddled up and over the next wave before it broke. Colin lost sight of him and wisely decided to wait for a lull in the waves. Meantime Geoff was calling on all his skills from a misspent youth surfing, to pick a route through the wave sets. Once through the gauntlet he looked back for Colin but could only see white water and breaking waves. Finally, Colin’s helmet came over a wave with the rest of his body close behind. Geoff thought he looked just a bit too relaxed and decided he was faking the stiff upper British lip.
With both paddlers shaken and possibly stirred, they headed south behind the breakers, bypassing Bird Island as there was a lot of white-water action happening near there. The sea was dancing with crazy clapotis, giving the paddlers hips and lower body a serious work out and requiring a lot of concentration and the occasional brace. After about seven kilometres of shimmy and shake they pulled in behind Seal Island for a breather and a one-sided conversation with a sea lion who swam out to visit. Big brown eyes stared curiously at the paddlers and implied that anyone without a thick brown coat and flippers was crazy to be out on the water. After a bit of stretching and a drink our intrepid paddlers pressed on to Penguin Island which was holding a large convention for Pelicans. In the lee there was a chance for cake, a chat to another sea kayaker and an opportunity for a bit of communing with nature but the toilets were unlocked anyway.
Ever intrepid, Colin and Geoff paddled south two kilometres from Penguin Island to The Sisters where there was more reef and more waves, before turning north for home. Back behind Seal Island once more, their friend the sea lion jumped into the air three times being so happy to see them. After a bit of cavorting he left the paddlers to pick their way back along the coast inside the line of surf. A brief reconnaissance at Point Peron confirmed that the route inside the reef and behind Mushroom Rock was still a no-go zone. Discretion being the better part of valour our weary paddlers headed out to sea and back to John Point. Turning east the sails came-up, but the wind wasn’t a lot of help. With twenty kilometres under their hulls by Palm Beach, Geoff and Colin packed up, had a drink, ate lunch at a good social distance and exaggerated their exploits and the wave heights. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of the dynamic Pandemic Paddling Pair.