Through the 'Washing machine'

The Thursday we had a reprieve from the terrible weather, the forecast was good for the next couple of days, and we decided that it would be a good opportunity to go camping to try out some equipment and see what will work and what not. We got off to a little late start, but with a 2 night camping trip ahead, that did not matter. The wind was blowing medium strength from the North West; the water appeared a bit choppy.

Once we cleared the little bay, we were in for some serious fun. We had to ‘run’ the washing machine to get around to Tikini Bay. It was my first experience with the ‘washing machine’. It took everything to keep going and stay afloat. The wind was coming from one direction; the waves were coming from all directions. It was rolling the kayak and at the same time breaking well over the front.

Quarter of the way across, I realised that Marianne was falling behind badly and it seemed like she was battling. Going back to her, she told me that she had no steering and the kayak was drifting off course the whole time. We contemplated continuing to Seekoeigat, but soon realised that it is too far away and valuable energy is wasted trying to steer the kayak in the right direction. We decided to go back to the little bay we launched from to see what was wrong; weight distribution. Although the inflatable kayak can carry quite some weight (200kg) the distribution is critical. Wrong loading affects it a lot more than a hard shell kayak, due to the buoyancy. Once sorted, we were on our way again, being tossed around the ‘washing machine’ again. Battling the wind and waves for 6 kilometres, especially when the waves smack you from all sides, is very tiring. By the time we got to Seekoeigat, we were exhausted and decided to make camp there and then.

Making a fire is no problem, plenty of drift wood around. The only drawback, however, is the wood burns quickly to a fine ash, thus one has to feed the fire constantly. We quickly realised, that to boil some water takes a long time, even if you do have a roaring fire going. I did take my little Bluet 206. We were contemplating the practicality, as we would have to carry enough gas canisters as they are not readily available. The alternative is to get a MSR Dragon Fly stove, valued at R3000 that uses any form of clear flammable liquid. Nice option, but a bit expensive.

Thus, trying the fire method of boiling water was a way to see if it is a feasible option. The answer: Nope. Thus a camping stove of some sorts is critical. When one is done with a day’s rowing, the first thing one need is a good cuppa coffee or tea. Waiting an hour or more to get fires going and the water to boil is a waste of time. Getting the tents up and sorted whilst it is still light, good idea. This should be followed immediately by getting supper done. Once everything is cleared after the meal, then one can sit around and discuss the day past and the day ahead. It is rather difficult in the dark to cope with camping gear, even if you have a head lamp. That is another critical piece of equipment to have.

What I did realise I do not need is a pillow. Thus I can leave out the pillow and have more space for an extra gas canister. A PFD (Personal floating device) is not just critical for ones safety on the water, but it also comes in handy when the only available seating is hard rocky ground or tree stumps. At night when one lays one’s head down to sleep, the hips soon feel the hard ground, the PFD comes in handy to cushion the ground for the night.

After a quick cup of coffee, we set off without having had breakfast. Neither of us was hungry and we agreed that we would rather stop for a brunch somewhere on the way to Broek Spruit. I had the map and the compass and it was my responsibility to navigate our way. I soon learnt how important a compass is. At water level it is impossible to see where the lake is going. What can look like a big expanse of water ahead could be an entrance to a dead-end bay, and what could look like a narrow worthless channel, could be the extension of the lake. It is with this lack of knowledge that I guided us around Pandam Kopje and into Bossies Baai. We had covered well over 5 kilometres and felt the hunger pangs setting in. Good time to have the ‘brunch’ before we retrace our ‘steps’ back around Pandam Koppie.

Whilst heading to Tikini Bay, I found out why a compass is so important. At one point I stopped rowing and was looking for something in my small dry bag. The kayak changed direction in the slight breeze. Once done, I looked up and had no clue of where I was or where I am suppose to be going. Luckily it was easy to spot Marianne, as she has not rounded a bend yet. If she was out of sight, I would have had to locate my position and direction. At water level it looked like I was surrounded completely by kopjes. Heading for what looked like a solid range of kopjes, without any way through, we rounded Tikini Kopje into Tikini Bay.

My assessment of where to go was straight across Tikini Bay to the next headland to the entrance of Broek Spruit Bay then diagonally across will take us to the entrance of the Broek Spruit River and gorge. But I was taking the reading off the 70% water mark (which is the average water level of the lake) now the lake was 110% full and thus the headland is under water. At this level Tikini Bay and Broek Spruit Bay is one huge bay. Picking up Broek Spruit kopjes was easy and we headed for that instead. By now the wind was starting to pick up again. We had a great morning kayaking on close to glass still water. Luckily the wind was blowing in the direction we were heading.

By the time we entered Broek Spruit Canyon, we were both tired. It has been a hot windless day. The sun had sapped our energy, thus the breeze was very welcome. Not only did it cool down the heat, we also found a way to ‘sail’ the wind. We would turn the kayaks sideways, rest the paddles on the luggage, tied on the front and back, and then the wind would push us up river at quite a nice little speed. We tried finding a place to dock to have a swim, but the levels were of such that all the ‘known’ beaches were well under water. Failing to find a swimming/lunch spot we decided to dock early for the day and set up camp. That did not work either. Again with the increased levels, has flooded the sites that Marianne and her husband uses when they go out camping. The one site that looked useful had a colony of red ants using it, so we carried on further up the river.

It is mentally tiring when one’s whole focus is on finding a suitable camp site after a day’s paddling. It is something that will need addressing. By now the river’s banks were covered in reeds, making it near impossible to dock. Rounding a bend I saw ahead a clump of trees up on the bank that looked like a great spot to set up camp. There were opening in the reeds although the bank was a little steep, but not impossible. Not 100% perfect as it was visible from the road and could be reached on foot if someone wanted to come and ‘pay us a visit’, but it was ideal for the moment. From the markings it was clear that it was also the favourite spot of some small animals. There were still some red wine left, we settled down on some fallen over trees in the shade to discuss the day’s events. This time round we used the gas stove to make supper and the fire was just for warmth. A tin of curried vegetables with biltong, man what a great meal, washed down with a good cup of coffee.

Marianne’s husband agreed to pick us up at noon at the bridge where it crosses the river. We were about 1kilometer upstream from there. Thus there was no need for an early start. The next morning, however, we woke with the wind already blowing quite strong, in the wrong direction! We were not going to get to the bridge fast. In fact, once we launched, we found just how difficult the wind really was. One was not just paddling against the water, but also against the wind. Thus trying to pull the paddle through the water was difficult, but at the same time one had to push extra hard on the other end as the wind was pushing the upper part back at the same time. Stop paddling and one would stop moving and actually get pushed back. Marianne was ahead of me and as she went under the road bridge, I noticed that, no matter how hard she was paddling, she was being pushed back and sideways by the wind. She did manage to get to the rock wall on the side and just held on, catching her breath as she was slightly out of the wind. I managed to catch up with her and after a few minutes, we pushed for the beach just around the corner.

We docked, totally exhausted. It was still sometime before our rendezvous time with Terry, but there was no point in staying on the water in that wind. There is also no cell phone signal, thus we just had to wait. When one has to wait, it is also a good time to have coffee. Found a nice spot out of the wind, got the gas stove going. Just as we were relaxing with a cup each, we saw Terry’s car crossing the bridge. He decided to come through an hour earlier, just in case. What a blessing. It took us best part of an hour to kayak 1 kilometre in that howling wind. We were both quite exhausted. We still had one last exercise to go through: portaging everything up to the road. Although we only had a 2 night camping trip; we quickly learnt what will work and what not.

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