Cooked the Straight & Our Arms

Here it goes the report from the lastest Adventure. To paddle across Cook Straight.

We got a late start on Monday afternoon from Picton where i work. Didn’t start paddling until 4.30pm, which was a lot later that what we were hoping for. 3 of us, Andy, Craig(from Scotland) and myself, all guides with Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company. The plan was to paddle to the end of Tori Channel and sleep in a wool shed (a place with sheep are shorn)belonging to Joe & Heather Heverley (sheep farmers on Arapawa Island) then get an early start on tuesday morning.

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With the late start we didnt arrive at the Heverley’s place until 10.30pm. Easy enough to find their bay/cove. ‘Come on up, we are the last bay on the left, looks like you have got a good weather window to give it a crack.’ When we arrived after 6 hours of paddling didn’t feel like knocking on people’s door at 10.30pm and there are several other family homes in the same inlet. So we picked what looked like a wool shed and realized we were wrong, but basically crashed there on the ground on a tarp for the few hours of sleep we would get.

Getting to the end of Tori Channel and the Heverley’s was in of itself a challenge as we paddled into an incoming tide. Tidal currents and flow is very strong in this part of the world. And we knew we would be fighting the beginning of another incoming tide in the early morning. Therefore while the weather and marine weather forecast was great we were battling incoming tides on the way to the end of Tori Channel and getting out into Cook Straight.

On the way monday evening we also encountered the numerous ferries as they made the same route to Wellington in their 3hour jounrey. And these are big ferries. They put trains on these and 100’s of cars and trucks.

After eating we bedded down for a few hours around midnight to wake up at 4.30am. Not a great sleep but just good to be horizontal and not paddling for a few hours. As you know (or if you dont) you should go out and see the full moon, its beautiful and the same one we had monday evening and into the dawn on Tuesday morning. We were packed in our kayaks and paddling again by 5am. Summer is fading here so still really dark at this time in late Feb. The moon was wonderful and provided great light to help us see what was perhaps the scariest part of the whole journey.Getting out of Tori Channel and into Cook Straight.

As we got underway we felt quite good and happy about getting out early as Cook Straight is often at its calmest in the morning and the wild Northerly winds pick up in the afteroon. We could see the entrance to the Straight and it looked relatively calm.

This all changed as we really entered the strong incoming tide and just sheer volume of water trying to get into Tori Channel and the Sounds through this tiny narrow passage. Complete mayhem would be the best way to describe the next hour. We were were tossed around by current, rips, swells, waves, whirlpools etc. To be paddling along and then have the kayak either spin 180 degrees or be swamped all the way across the bow and deck of the boat by waves in every direction. Then at one piont to realize we were paddling hard and not getting anywhere. We were literally on treadmill as we looked at the nearby towering sea cliffs in the moon light were not falling behind us. The incoming tide v’s our paddling speed was holding us in place. NO GOOD!! And did i mention its dark and theres no one around just the 3 of us.

We decided to ferry glide out of thr current, which basically means to paddling diagionally out of the current to escape it. This took us out of the tidal stream but close into the rocks along with separating us out, which at one point was as bad as 3-400 meters between all 3 of us. I know that afterwards all of us admitted feeling a little freaked out at that point.

We could see there didnt appear to be any current there, pushing is back down Tori Channel, but big wave slamming against the cliffs. But to our viewing pleasure we discovered there was a backwash current flowing the opposite way and taking water out into Cook Straight. We were very fortunate to find this. As mentioned there was a dangerous distance between us at one point. No a good situation to be in if someone had flipped. I looked again to see how far back Andy was and remember thinking. “Shit, this isn’t good”. I literally paddled for about 20-30 seconds and looked again and all of a sudden he was right there behind me. He caught the backwash current alittle after me, but when he did he flew across the gap and caught Andy and I almost instantly. Very strange and weird feeling.

By now we were spat out of the channel entrance and paddling hard to get away from it and the confusing swells, waves, currents that were constantly coming out way. I found myself checking with a point on the land to percieve if it was slowly falling behind us… it was.

Bu now dawn was appearing on the horizon over the North Island or Te ika o Maui which is the Maori name for it (way cooler name than just North Island) And sun rise arrived were were treated to a magnificant day unfolding before or eyes. WOW.

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There was a light southerly ground swell rolling underneath us and our boats (as forecast) and this in fact was pushing us to towards the north island. My worst fear about this whole trip besides Tori Channel was being swept out to sea. However we are all safe kayakers and had waited for this weather window. Each had a emergency flare on our boat and i had the UHF Radio if we needed a mayday call to go out.

From here on out the weather kept on getting better and better the Southerly swell was fading, as forecast, i thank God for weather people. There was a slight Northerly breeze but only really to keep us cool not a head wind at all. It was really now just find that compass heading, maintain it and keep paddling. As we paddled we saw lots of wonderful marine life including dolphins, penguins and albatross a huge southern ocean bird that has a wing span on between 8 & 11 feet. These birds are so majestic and graceful as they glide in and out of the swells hardly flapping their wings.

At one point the straight resembled a perfectly still pond, and the 3 of us were very happy yet tired at the same time. Very hard to believe, when it has such a reputation for being fierce and dangerous, which it is. However on this day we interacted with its good side and it was an absolute pleasure to be out in God’s creation using the very humbling God given talent i have to expereince and commune in God’s handiwork.

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Towards the end we were definitely feeling fatigued after spending most of the last 18 hours sitting in a boat kayaking. But well worth it. We paddled into Makara Bay on the west coast of the north island about 6 1/2 hours after we began. We didn’t paddle to Wellington. The few people who even attempt crossing Cook Straight are happy to just make it across and Makara is a popular place to end. We reached the beach and peeled ourselves out to almost greet the beach with a hug, while the few fisherman and other there minding their business had no idea what we had just done… And thats really ok by me. Quickly followed by phone calls & texts to Robin to tell her we did it, safe & sound and that she could relax now.

A friend of Andy picked us up, we tied on the boats to a very dodgy looking roof rack and drove to Wellington hopefully in time to catch a 2.30pm ferry back to Picton. And re-trace our steps in the comfort on a big ferry. We made it to the ferry in good time. As we drove through downtown Wellington it felt strange to be in a big city again but very satisfied to be where i am both at that moment and at this place in my life.

The trip back (the more conventional way) was filled with sleep, eating, and ‘oh remember that part over there?’ and took look again on those swirling waters now safely beneath us as we entered Tori Channel. We made it back to Picton to be eagerly greeted by our co workers. To wash our kayaks that we brought back with us on the ferry and then gear up to bike home to Blenheim… yeah really an hour bike ride after that, but figured my legs had be idle all day so why not.

Today i had to work, and lead a 1/2 day sea kayaking group. My arms are very sore, with a touch of tendonitis. However happily tired and satisfied about completing another adventure. Further metaphorical reflections to come.. you can count on it.

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One Comment on “Cooked the Straight & Our Arms

  1. Paul, I cannot believe you did that. Judy and I took the ferry from Wellington to Picton and back once and the crossing was really rough. On the return trip from Picton to Wellington, the currents and wind were so bad the huge ferry could not dock in Picton. It took 6 tries before they got the big ferry to the dock. Going across Cook Strait it was so bad the ferry literally came totally out of the water as it hit the huge waves head on. Everyone on board was getting sick and kids were screaming. It was wild. I cannot imagine what would have happened had you encountered the same weather. Looks like you have good weather people down there.

    That was something but don’t do that again, ya hear?

    Lewis Brewer

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