A 2000 km JOURNEY BY SEA KAYAK ALONG THE QUEENSLAND COAST
An idea for adventure, a dream of discovery, brought on by countless books read and tales related about how the world changes when viewed from a different perspective or lifestyle. My idea and dream came about initially by a wanderlust for chasing horizons, the next bend in a river or a highway leading away to a hazy dissolving and then by getting to know the children and families who have been afflicted by the horrible diseases of Cancer and Leukaemia and a desire to do more to help them.
I had been associated since early 1993 with the charity organization called the Childhood Cancer Support, formerly known as the Children’s Leukaemia and Cancer Society. This charity is internationally unique in its scope and focus of assistance to the children and families affected by these horrible diseases.
The CCS owns and maintains a range of townhouse style accommodation for families that need to transplant themselves, whole or in part, to Brisbane to receive their treatments. There are no costs borne by the families for this service and there is no time limit to their stay.
In addition, the CCS provides financial assistance to families that find the day to day bills (utilities, home and vehicle repayments etc.) overwhelming after the disruption created by the diagnoses and the ongoing treatment.
A truly defining aspect of the CCS that really needs to be understood and acknowledged is the fact the focus of the organization has remained firmly on Families helping Families. What this means is the organization is primarily governed and administered by people with an intimate connection with the disease or an affected family.
After more than a quarter of a century the organization remains governed by volunteers and managed by only a handful of full-time staff thus keeping the running costs to a minimum and maximizing benefit to the families. The vast majority of income, generated mostly by donations is directed back to the families in need, not to support an oversized corporate administration system.
During my time with the CCS I have felt and seen how special life truly can be. Each year, at the Thompson Farm to the west of Aratula, South East Queensland, Australia, a special camp is hosted for children with cancer and their families.
This three day camp is dedicated to good times and laughter for both the kids and their family. The name of this event is Camp CRYSTAL,Q, an acronym for Cancer Related Youth Support Time Allocated to Laughter, Queensland.
These kids, who so often realize they may have very little time left to spend with family and friends, reach out and grab every opportunity to experience, see, do, feel and hear as much as this world as possible.
And so, here I was approaching my mid thirties and seeing how these guys get the most out of life, how they strive and battle to enjoy life; it really caused me to sit back and consider how bloody lucky I am to be fit and healthy. Also, how dare I take life for granted and not take inspiration from them to milk this world of ours for everything it has to offer?
So after reading about adventures, spending hours and days in the bush dreaming about adventures, watching adventures on TV, I thought, ”Stuff this, I want my own adventure, my own expedition”. Even the word ‘adventure’, it conjures images of far away places, situations removed from modern society, brushes with danger, situations that would not make your mother very happy at all!
Well, to achieve this desire to find some adventure, take on an expedition and risk my mothers wrath I decided I needed to do two things; one of which was follow up on a long held dream of building a sea kayak out of wood and the second was not tell my dear parents what was really happening.
At this point in time it all sounded easy enough, build a wooden sea kayak, stuff it full of gear, find a place to start and “hey presto” you have an adventure. I figured that learning all the skills necessary along the way, as time passed, seemed feasible and simple, besides, I had followed accounts of far more risky ventures than this and they also started with nothing, so it had to be simple, right?
Well, unfortunately, that is no where near correct, in fact I don,t think I had ever been so naive about something in my life, well except for girls and money.
First of all I’d never built or paddled a sea kayak, river kayaks and canoes yes, but not a sea kayak. I had never lofted boat plans, and certainly had never organized a major expedition. So, in fact, every step of the way was going to be a new adventure and not knowing what was around the corner was very exciting,… scary, but exciting.
As it turned out, to be able to do this journey with a charity name attached to it, specific training in sea kayaks was needed for insurance purposes. In hindsight, now from the perspective of an Australian Canoeing accredited sea kayaking and canoeing instructor, the thought of someone embarking on such a journey without appropriate training quite frankly scares the hell out me.
Will Thompson would be my paddling partner for the journey and we spent many weekends being brought up to speed with all the basic skills necessary to simply paddle well, not just hack at the water. Then even more time to develop essential risk assessment skills and the ability to safely deal with situations that simply cannot be imagined or recreated in training.
An example of which occurred near Wreck Rock, (24° 18.9 S ~ 151° 57.9 E) where I got pounded under the 5 foot curl of a fat breaking wave. Myself and all the deck gear got spat out of the boat, and this only occurred through the ignorance of complacency, I simply wasn’t paying attention.
Our instructor who worked with us, Dave Demnar, was our brilliant training resource and the inspiration and motivation for me to become a Sea Kayaking Instructor and he became a firm friend as well.
We learned all the basic strokes and techniques, deep water recovery procedures, critical incident management etc. Then we spent a lot of time trying to create situations that may occur during a multi-month expedition. At first it was low level stuff, dealing with injuries (pretend of course), falling out of the boat and getting back in while floating around in deep, and sometimes very dark water; flat, calm, deep, water. Who would have thought this would bring big nasty monsters lurking no more than a foot or two from my wriggling toes? I now have a much deeper empathy for worms and crickets impaled on fish hooks.
We spent time in the surf zones of various beaches on lovely warm days having fun going out, coming in, getting rolled etc. And then as time passed, to try and ensure an understanding of what the real world could be like, we would take things into surf when it was cold and big, and after a full day of exhaustive training, wouldn’t you know it, it was not quite as much fun. In fact, the monsters got bigger and much closer and to be honest I have no idea how our feet stayed attached to our legs.
One memorable occasion occurred from Will and I pushing things pretty hard. Will’s lips turned blue from cold and he had a good dose consistent shivers, hello hypothermia; we realized how easily things can sneak up and go pear shaped pretty damn quickly. By this stage Will and I were working through fairly advanced training and pushing hard, at the time I thought the expressions of concern on Dave’s face whenever Will and I took it a bit further were quite funny. Now, as a well experienced instructor I understand, sorry about that!
Any way, before all this, at the charities AGM I presented to the members at large our plans to paddle our hand made, wooden Sea Kayaks 2000km up the coast of Queensland and offered for them to use the event as a PR tool. Quite a few present did not understand the size and scope of the project, which in hind sight was probably a very good thing and some thought, as we did, that it sounded very exciting, however, most simply thought us quite insane.
Our journey for the most part, would take us through the remote wilderness areas of the Queensland coast; in the very truest sense of the word wilderness. Places made famous by large Great White Sharks, Tiger Sharks, and the odd Saltwater Crocodile. Places that are world renowned as the breeding grounds for these critters and for the local stories of monstrous sized specimens terrorizing fishermen; at least the kids thought it sounded cool!
Either way the stories we would end up with and share around the campfire were guaranteed to sound just as amazing as the ones that used to wind me up as a young kid; in fact they still do!
So it was that “Paddle North” was born. An adventurous tool to be used to increase the public profile of a wonderful charity now called Childhood Cancer Support and an opportunity for us to chase never ending horizons and to live a dream.