Storm Paddling - Videos

Wednesday, 03 September 2008 17:00 | Written by 
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Over the weekend of 30/31 August Cape Town was hit by the biggest, nastiest storm in a decade...  Gale force north-westerly winds combined with 30-40ft waves...  Sensible people stayed in bed on Saturday morning but...

(Click on the pic or here to view the video)

Reverse Millers Run

Visitors, new ski

Thing was - Billy and Tracy Harker had just arrived from Durban where they spent the winter running the Discovery Men's Health Series.  Clearly, we were anxious to show Cape hospitality and to get them back onto cold water, but that wasn't the real reason I was keen to paddle...

Billy had a new single ski with him: a Custom Kayaks Synergy, the latest design from Durban based builder Mark Lewin.   He and Tracy are off to the US for a couple of week's holiday - and he'd kindly agreed to leave the Synergy with me.  And I was bursting to try it out.

The forecast was impressive - 30kts NW at 11h00, rising to gale-force by 14h00.  Those massive ocean swells were running WSW and so False Bay was protected.  We'd have only wind generated waves - but in that wind, the runs were likely to be great fun.

Buoyweather forecast
Forecast on Buoyweather for Cape Town - weekend of 30/31 Aug 2008

Windguru forecast - weekend of 30/31 Aug 2008

"Reverse Millers"

Anyone who's read the articles on knows that I'm fanatical about our summer downwind route - the 12km Millers Run from Millers Point to Fish Hoek in Cape Town's False Bay.  We paddle the Millers Run whenever the southeaster blows.  The prevailing wind in winter is northwest.  So what do we do when it blows hard NW?  A reverse Millers Run of course!

Given that the wind is blowing offshore from Fish Hoek, the run starts off on calm water - and on a less-than-hectic day, the runs really only start near the half-way point: Roman Rock lighthouse.  Obviously the harder it blows, the sooner the rides start.  Being wind chop, the runs are close together and steep. 

Ski-cams has two (soon to be three) GoPro3 Hero cameras with a selection of mountings.  I set up the helmet-cam and positioned a sucker-cam on the bow of the ski, looking back. 

The Run

As I commented on the clip, I was a little nervous about doing the run in a ski I'd never paddled before - particularly as the last Custom Kayaks ski I'd spent time in, the Icon, was extremely tippy.  But as soon as I jumped in the Synergy I knew that balance was not going to be a worry - this ski is very stable. 

The wind was pumping - 25-30kts and we were catching runs as we passed Sunny Cove (of shark attack fame) - still in Fish Hoek Bay!

Five skis were on the water - a double paddled by Billy & Tracy with Damian Feuileherade, John Blacklaws, Justin Maddock and me in singles.  Given the blustery conditions - and especially the limited visibility, we'd agreed to stick together.

Where's the lighthouse?

Half way to the Roman Rock lighthouse, we were going great guns on the waves - but the wind felt as though it had some westerly in it and we figured it would be a Good Thing to angle towards the shore.  We had spread out a little and Damian started bleating, "Guys, stick together!" - quite rightly, given what happened next!

Squalls ahoy!

A few moments later we were engulfed by very strong gusts of wind with torrential rain - and visibility reduced to about 50m; the other skis were dim shadows on the limits of perception.  This lasted for about five minutes and while I was enjoying the runs and the ease of catching them in the wind, I was conscious that we needed to be working right...

I was confident that we were somewhere between the lighthouse and the shore but when the squall moderated, the lighthouse became visible... dead ahead!  That was a big wake-up call for me - when visibility goes, you can't tell where you are or where you're going - and I hadn't set up navigation on my GPS.  (Note to self:...)

Glorious Runs

From the lighthouse onwards, the runs just got better and better - as you can see on the video we were sitting on waves for what seemed like minutes at a time.  A few strokes, and on to the next one.  What you don't see is that in trying to work to the right diagonally across the swell, it was sometimes hard not to broach - with the very strong gust and short, sharp waves on your quarter, the rudder would sometimes pop out and the ski would weather-cock parallel to the wind.

Millers Point

In the video you can see my hesitation on the approach to Millers Point.  Normally one goes around the point and to the Fishing Club ramp on the other side.  However, I was nervous of going through the kelp and shallow water on a brand-new ski so I yelled at John & Damian to go into the ramp on the near side of the point.  They appeared to agree - but then took off downwind after the others anyway. 

To get there I had to turn broadside to the wind and waves - and you can see in the video how comfortable I was - testament to the ski's stability.

I got out and secured the ski next to a fence and then trotted off to find the others.  In the event, they'd not had any trouble coming around the point - except that they were panic stricken at my non-appearance. 

Safety Gear

Just a note on safety:

  • We were all wearing warm clothing and PFDs
  • We all had mobile phones and/or flares
  • We had two waterproof VHF radios
  • We stuck together
  • We had a shore party watching out for us
  • And we're all highly experienced!

And the Synergy?

The conditions were a bit radical to tell much about the performance of the ski - but it seems to catch runs very nicely and it's definitely one of the more stable skis around.  I'll do a review on it after paddling it (a lot) more.

Hout Bay Squall Riding

The next day, the swell peaked at about 2pm - with 30-40ft ocean waves predicted.  Dale Lippstreu and I decided to go out from Hout Bay harbor to the entrance of the bay - or as near as we could prudently get...

Strange winds

As we set off, we were hit by gusts of wind from the southeast - odd given that the storm was blowing northwest!  In fact, the wind was swirling in all directions.

As expected the waves were huge in the bay - the camera doesn't do them justice at all.

The Gust

As you can see in the video clip, we were fairly impressed by the wind and waves, but decided to go out a little further.  A few seconds later the nose of my ski popped up over a wave just as an almighty gust of wind hit us.  In a split second I was thrown violently 90 degrees off course and was bracing for dear life - we decided that we'd go back into the bay...!

The Wave

When we reached the harbor we regained some courage and decided to paddle across the bay behind the surf line to a buoy near the ruins of an old jetty.  Moments after we turned at the buoy, a couple of waves came towards us that I swear must have been 20ft.  Again the camera doesn't do them justice - but they were massive...

Here's the video clip:

(Click on the image or here to view the video)

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