Monday, December 1, 2014

Hokkaido - A visit to the Master

By fortunate circumstance I am in Hokkaido, Japan, designing with two architect friends a very special building and landscape for a truly spectacular mountain site. A site that has a panoramic view and at the focus of which is a snow-capped volcanic mountain of incredible physical and spiritual presence, looking for all the world like a Hokusai woodblock print.

Equally fortunate, a chance comment from a local Hokkaidonese paddler has the seemingly inevitable consequence of carrying me (and my two Australian colleagues and our Japanese housekeeper) like leaves on a river to the shore that is the self-built timber house and ski lodge of Akio Shinya-san - a Master mountaineer, rock climber, skier, adventure sea kayaker, and much revered local Hokkaido legend who, like Mount Yotei and Annapuri just outside, quietly and naturally receives the deep respect of all who have the good fortune to meet, listen to and talk with him.

The "river" did not take us directly to his house which is not so easily found within its birch forest, amongst a scattering of other timber houses sitting on their stone bases. However the glimpse of an upturned sea kayak lying beside a wall - like a washed-up dolphin carcass on a remote beach - was an immediately recognisable signal that we were at least on the correct "shore".

Shinya-san's house, he tells me, was made by his own hands and first commenced 41 years ago when he was aged 26. I did the quick sum in my head and found it unfathomable that the muscular physique and healthy radiance of this man could be anywhere near to being aged 67 years. But that is what good genes and a subsequent life lived in daily physical engagement and harmony with the natural world does for one's physique and aura.

Shinya-san's many personal achievements exploring enormous mountain ranges in the Himalayas to the deep powder-coated slopes of Hokkaido are counter-pointed by his self-less and focused application to generating daily avalanche risk analysis and guidance reports in the Niseko area. On his large wooden table was sitting an incongruous gold trophy - awarded to him just four days previously in Kitzbuhl, Austria - for his lifetime of service and dedication to research into avalanche safety. Everywhere else in the house is scattered the memorabilia of mountain climbing expeditions, adventures undertaken on snow skis, and expeditions by sea kayak. A traditional Aleut kayak paddle with its distinctive raised central axis ridge line is positioned high across one wall, below which is a marine chart of the Aleutian Islands - with a scale model of a Greenland kayak pinned to it and a larger scaled model of a Greenland paddle rakishly angled across the chart.

I have come to meet with Shinya-san to listen and begin to learn about the sea kayaking conditions and environments of Hokkaido and its associated islands. Shinya-san's list of completed adventures by sea kayak are truly legendary. Six trips through the Aleutians, twice around Cape Horn, and of relevance to my interest here, many adventures along the beautiful and remote wilderness coasts of Hokkaido where he leads groups of kayakers during the paddling season - March to October.

With the wood stove radiating warmth throughout his house Shinya-san picks up my sketch book and draws into it the Hokkaido coastline with the simplicity and accuracy that perhaps only someone who knows its shape from deep coast-hugging paddling engagement can do so well from memory. He describes the large tidal currents that sweep through many of the sea fields surrounding Hokkaido and the beautiful forests that line the East Coast wilderness shores.

I open up my kayak blog with a small tablet device on the same timber table and share with Shinya-san images of the landscapes and seascapes that form my local environment. His breath is audibly taken by the sheer cliffs of sandstone rising out of the sea at North Head. I invite him to visit me in Sydney to paddle and there is enthusiastic agreement that this is a good idea to realise.
Shinya-san then sucks his lips with the enthusiastic hunger of the sea hunter when he sees the tableau of images recording the sea life that my kayaking companions and I eat on our paddling adventures: black-lipped and green-lipped abalone, crayfish of multiple varieties, kingfish, families of oysters, mussels, sea urchin roe and much more that we catch with our hands from the south-east coastlines of mainland Australia and Tasmania. In return he shows me images on his blog of salmon caught while paddling in Canada. Like all Hokkaidonese he would have a good palette for traditional local food and I speculate that an expedition with him would be memorable for that reason alone.

The conversation wanders into kayak design. Shinya-san picks up my pen to do another drawing. This time it is a stunning Baidarka with its curious double-prow bow and truncated swept stern. This kayak is so unique in its form that it appears like a genetic freak on the family tree of kayak evolution. From his description of its paddling performance in following seas I am reminded of its brilliant "otherness" and feel the urge resurfacing to make the fabrication of a Baidarka my next kayak building project. 

With night descending in a freezing frost on the birch forest that surrounds Shinya-san's house we slide off our house slippers and lace up our outdoor boots. To the resounding accompaniment of multiple "arigatou gozaimasu" we farewell one another like old friends. But Shinya-san has one more footnote to add to this short story. He takes us up a slope to an enormous shed into whose dark interior we follow. In the deep blue-black gloom of a Hokkaido winter night he proudly shows us (with the crystal-tinged illumination of an iPhone) his two loves - a massive snow vehicle as big as a combine harvester with which he grooms the ski slopes of Hokkaido in the winter months. And a road trailer with perhaps fifteen sea kayaks arranged on it with which he shares his love of the Hokkaido coast with others in the ice and snow-free paddling months. It is a well balanced personal equation and evidence of a life that is being well lived in close and contemporary engagement with the stunning natural environments of Hokkaido.


Respectful of Shinya-san's privacy I have posted here only a single tightly-framed image from within his house - a view of him sketching a Baidarka in a following sea.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Coming soon to the east coast of Australia ...

Here are a few early photographs of Lawrence Geoghegan at Nadgee Kayaks Australia shaping the foam plug in advance of making the production moulds for an innovative and swift long distance expedition sea kayak.
Swift, but not necessarily as fast as other fine tourers already available elsewhere.
For what this kayak design sheds in hull speed it gains in the more nuanced facets of stability and true agility. 

While it will be swift through the water, this kayak is not designed solely as a down-wind flyer.
Rather it is a sea kayak specifically designed to be capable of comfortably covering 50kms a day along the bouncy east coast of Australia - with or against the wind, in milky calm seas or in the vibrant back wash and clapotis that is so characteristic of our cliff-lined coast with its deep sea swells and wind generated surface chop.
This kayak's hard chine mid-section will give the boat an enhanced ability to edge and pivot that other tourers lack. Being able to pivot a plumb-bowed kayak with agility in big seas and strong winds might literally be a life-saving characteristic.
Its large oval hatches to the fore and aft compartments will swallow all the gear that an extended expedition should ever require.
All deck fittings are recessed - including the compass and mast step.

This kayak has an exceptional rudder system thoroughly tested on previous Nadgee Kayaks. When deployed the NKA rudder blade emerges from its slotted housing beneath the deck profile to engage deeply, rather than sit up on the deck and stab ineffectively at the sea's surface as so many deck-mounted rudders do.
Considered thought has gone into every aspect of the design and ongoing fabrication of this kayak.
Further enquiries can be made directly to Lawrence Geoghegan at Nadgee Kayaks Australia:


Above: Lawrence shaping the foam plug, ahead of making the production moulds.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rise in the sun

Lives drifting, seas drifting
Worlds drifting with the sun

: )


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Farewell Dad

My father - Granger - passed away in his sleep today in Sydney, aged 84.

He was born in Suva, on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji, in 1930.

Boats were companions throughout his life.
His father ran a fleet of large and small trading vessels in Fiji for W.R.Carpenter that, as a young boy, Dad used to travel on through the many islands of Fiji.

There were other large vessels that carried him and his younger brother, Miles, to and from their dreaded boarding school in New Zealand throughout their schooling life.

As a young man he served in the Merchant Navy of Fiji.

Later there was the ship called "The Lakemba" that he serendipitously met my mum on while travelling from Suva to London.

There were many yachts in his life too - including the yacht "Kanai" that he raced on Port Moresby Harbour for many years with his friends from the Royal Papua Yacht Club ,and in later years the yacht called "Narawi" that he raced with his friends on Sydney Harbour.

The photo above captures him at right with a paddle in his hands, sitting on the stern deck of a skin-on-frame kayak. I am guessing that this photo was taken on the Avon River in Christchurch, NZ, during one of his school boarding terms, and thousands of miles away from the warm waters of Suva that he would rather have been paddling over.

In PNG we were fortunate to have friends in the spectacularly beautiful Trobriand Islands.
Dad and his friend Ret.Captain Don Wilson took us out in small motor boats to fish on the surrounding reefs at night, pulling up seemingly huge fish on baited lines.
During the days I remember us studying the traditional large outrigger canoes that still lined the beaches in front of the villages.

From PNG, Dad once took our young family for a holiday to Vanuatu where we paddled beautiful slender local outrigger canoes. That pleasant experience of one afternoon with him on a Vanuatuan lagoon has stayed with me ever since and it has undoubtedly shaped my fascination and enjoyment of paddling quietly around in a slender boat.

Farewell, Dad.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mr Beachcroft returns to shore

On Saturday 28th June 2014 Tony and I went for a paddle out the Heads to see if we could say "hello and well done" to Jason Beachcroft - a man who was expected to complete his beautiful personal journey from Rose Bay to Rose Bay, the very long way.
It was gusting up to 25 knots outside, so we returned to the harbour thinking that the tired man of the sea was probably slogging it up the cliff line from Botany Bay.

A helicopter was making a nuisance of itself, buzzing around the harbour in a desperate search for its news story and stalking anyone in a kayak who looked vaguely as though they had just paddled 17,500 kms.

Representatives of the local kayak community were also on the look out ..."Any one seen Jason??"
- "Nope"
- "Nah"
- "Who? I can't hear you ... that fucken helicopter is making too much noise"

Helicopter pilot:
"Here we go! There's a greeny-blue canoe at 270. That must be the guy!"

Camera operator:
"Ok ... keep her steady ... I've got a great composition forming up here"

Fifteen minutes of aviation fuel later ...

Camera operator: "Hang on! Even I know that's not a Nadgee! That's a bloody imported kayak!! We've been following the wrong bloody paddler all morning!!!"

Helicopter Pilot: "Shit, eh? No fuel left, mate - we're outta here."

Quite appropriately, the elusive Mr Beachcroft quietly slips ashore to a round of polite applause from his family and friends, a few bemused onlookers and a small fluffy white dog waving its tail ...

Hats off to Jason Beachcroft.
A very humble and determined man who has just completed a very big personal journey.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

It takes time ...

I have not yet found the time or space to draw the whole trip across the Strait together into a concise summary report. It needs a little time to sink in.

There are many hundreds of photos to filter through ... many, many, many recollections and memories of this adventure amongst a beautifully unfolding sequence of seascapes and landscapes.

So here are just a couple of images that fall out of the bag ...

New Year's Eve on Hogan Island

Diving for abalone in the Kent Group of islands.

Winter Cove camp.

Hooning over to Hogan. Top speed of 19.9km/h.

Slogging it out to Flinders. 72km this day.

Cruising through the Furneaux Group. Ross and Peter having joined us at Killekrankie.

Mercury sea with Mt Chappel on horizon.

A sea kayaker's dinner.

A sea kayaker's entree ... about seven hundred dollars worth of green lipped abalone.

Mt Strzelecki Group from Anderson Island.

Derek exploring the sea ...

Tony with more abs above, and wondering where Bass Strait has gone below ...

I intend to write a comprehensive summary one day ...

Over & out.

( Luke )


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Crossing of Bass Strait

OK - so we made a successful crossing of Bass Strait.

Tony + Luke + Derek

Departure from Port Welshpool, Victoria, on 30th Dec, 2013.
Arrival at Little Musselroe Bay, Tasmania, on 15th Jan, 2014

Full details of our crossing to follow soon.

Initial expression of our sincere thanks to the following kind and generous people and places:

Katie + Claudia + Vickie for enduring the whole thing at home with children
Richard Barnes for incredible generosity and spirit
Rob Mercer for skills instruction
John Duffy for advice on fresh water locations
The Erith Mob for the 3 bottles of wine
Rick and Meg Amor for their genuine concern over our life expectancy
Kim and Spud for wonderfully kind hearted welcomingness and hot pumpkin soup
Warren (Yachtie) for the well meaning donation of provisions
The Great Bite Cafe, Killecrankie, for coffee and breakfast
The Hut at Royden Island for its cosiness
Tim and Wendy for their happiness
Meredy and Warren for their interest
Dee and Harry - so good to meet up with you on Tas!
The weather gods of Bass Strait ! ! !

Thank you all !