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Night Paddling Under a Canopy of Stars (and a veil of mist)

July 4, 2011

DSC_0003 I was waiting patiently for last Saturday night (2 weeks ago) to come around.

Captain Sean Smith (AKA The Fat Paddler) put the word out to the Team (TFP) that we would do a night paddle – and this would be my first proper paddle under a canopy of stars.

Yes – I had paddled once previously in the dark. You might recall that a few weeks ago, I blogged about getting caught at night on a river looking for a camp-site in Commando Camping for “Paddle for the Planet”. But that was maybe an hour of dusk and 30 minutes of pitch black. Saturday night was going to be a paddle on Middle Harbor beginning at about 4.30pm and finishing closer to midnight.

This meant packing for a night paddle and adjusting the entire experience to accommodate the surrounding conditions. I think it’s fair to say that you take daylight for granted when you always paddle by day. You can easily see oncoming obstacles and maneuver accordingly. You can see the passing boats and prepare for their wash and waves. You know that the large majority of other vessels will see you and avoid you accordingly. You can see where a low tide creates a hazardous environment or if large debris is in your path. By night – you leverage all your senses to travel safely through the water.

I attached a small light to my stern and Sean attached a glow stick to the back of my PFD. The lights were more a case of wishful thinking because Sean said later that when I took off for a bit of solo paddling – he couldn’t distinguish my light from all the reflections on the water. The glow sticks were probably the most visible aspect of our silhouettes.

We took off from our usual location (Sydney Harbour Kayaks under The Spit Bridge)  and head back under the Bridge and paddled down Long Bay over to the boat ramp at Tunks Park. This is where we were going to meet Lieutenant Commander Alan Jones – the third and final member of the team to join us this evening. On the way over Sean suggested we visit the ship wrecks in Saltpan Creek. I’m not sure if you (the reader) knew there was a shipwreck there – but it’s quite the sight.

Sean whipped out his Lumix camera and snapped away…


I found a daylight picture of the wreck on one of Sean’s earlier Blog entries.


Funny thing is by night you can see very little of the wreck. I was a bit like a blind man feeling my way along the side of the rusty hull *grin*. Anyway – I thought I’d return the favour and snap a picture of Sean with my camera.  And yes – that’s the camera I bought on Ebay – the one from china that was really cheap. It seemed to work pretty good by day. The pictures in my last post were all taken with it. Pretty good deep rich colour scheme….. Right??

Well he posed, I balanced, and pop goes the flash. Damn it if you don’t get what you pay for !! Bloody thing was lousy at night photography. Compare the photo of me above with this…


Sean with that stoic "this aint going to work" grin on his face 🙂

Of course I tried a few times.

No matter how many I snapped – the result was the same washed out disappointment !! Cheap crap !!

Sean was chuckling away with a “I told you so” kind of laugh and when he asked me to show him the results, I didn’t realise that behind that inky blackness he was cocked and loaded….. *snap*…. I suppose the look on may face says it all 🙂


"This bloody thing still aint working properly !!!!"

Anyway – we put our cameras away and head over to the boat ramp to meet the Lieutenant Commander. By the time Alan was in his kayak and the three of us under way – it was well and truly dark and the night’s chill descended upon the water.

We head out into Middle harbour and up towards Sugarloaf Bay. It was a really nice paddle. We were a few meters apart and chatting away. Much like a game of golf – we were afforded plenty of time to discuss a wide range of topics and enjoy each others conversation. I found myself often drifting into the surroundings and really enjoyed the surreal nature of paddling into the stillness of night. On a few occasions a fishing boat would be heard in the distance – fast approaching in our direction – and we would pull out our flashlights and signal in his direction. Each time they passed, we would brace ourselves and try to anticipate the wash hitting the side of our yaks. We braced, cursed and laughed on more than one occasion when the wash was maybe a bit bigger than we expected…

We paddled right up to where the waterway forks, the left hand route snaking up to the Roseville Bridge. At this fork, more or less dead ahead is a small beach – the same one we stopped at to photograph waterfalls that I blogged about in Paddling Middle Harbour in Winter. I think it’s called Flat Rock Beach at Killarney Heights. Anyway we beached safely and set about breaking out our refreshments.

Trying to live up to my newly appointed nickname “Inspector Gadget” – I proceeded to breakout the coffee. Forget the instant stuff – I whipped out an Italian Espresso kettle, freshly ground coffee, 3 porcelain espresso cups, sugar and milk !!


yes - I know I am posing !!

I just can’t seem to not pull a “magazine advertisement” pose when I see a camera pointed at me 🙂  Unlike Alan – I don’t know what he is doing?? Maybe he is directing that light from his headband to my coffee pot…? Anyway – the coffee was OUTSTANDING according to the lads, although it was that cold – I reckon anything warm would have received equal praise. We ate some food, chatted and laughed some more, then packed up our mess, and head off towards the Roseville Bridge.

As we approached the bridge, the houses on the shore thinned out – and the reflection of their lights become scarcer. We passed under the orange glow of the Bridge and continued further upstream and into the national park. All I can say is WOW – this was real night paddling. It was pitch black and ice-cold. The landscape on either side seemed to rise up and there were no lights because there were no houses. We were transported to what seemed like a prehistoric time. Every breath produced thick plumes of steam. The ridges on either side were tree-lined and high. Everything below this ridge was pitch black and invisible. The only way to determine which way the river flowed forward – was to look at the ridge above on either side and watch for where it met and dipped in the middle.This is a stretch of that waterway by daylight…
Would you believe this is smack bang in the middle of Sydney??

I copied this from Google maps. I clearly remember this sandbank as we passed it and a short distance passed here round to the left – we reached as far as we could go – and got out to stretch our legs.

The Mist hung heavy all around us and the temperature was intensely cold. I think the air was so still and insulated by the surrounding bushy hills that it acted like a big esky. It was worst than stepping into a deep freeze at the Bottle-shop in summer to grab a slab of beer. Bbbrrrrr…..bloody cold.!!

I am the eternal optimist and continued to live in the hope that my camera would come good. I snapped a couple of pics of the yaks on the sandbank….


This is Alan's speed a misty washed out setting !!

It didn’t matter –  this cheap rubbish still didn’t do its job properly…. *sigh*…..

Even on the paddle back – I balanced myself in the middle of the river to catch some action shots of the boys speeding past – only to realise it was all in vain…. I definitely need a better camera…..


Did I mention Sean was doing this in his Canoe?


Alan in stealth mode - going much faster than this picture does him justice 🙂

It’s a fabulous experience paddling by night and one I thoroughly recommend to any fellow paddlers reading this who are yet to do so.

We arrived back at the beach under the Spit Bridge at half past midnight – and in the glow of a nightclub party going off in the restaurant next door – we loaded our boats, bid farewell and drove home…. to spend the next hour rinsing off my gear, washing down my yak, and generally cleaning up my mess 🙂

Thank god the next day was Sunday, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way….

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