Solo Kangaroo Island crossing . 7.1.2011 – Bernard Goble.



Objective: to plan and complete a safe solo crossing to Kangaroo Island.


The risk management process should be directly applied to the management of safety risks associated with planning organised canoeing and kayaking activities and must be undertaken prior to each organised activity occurring. (Australian Canoeing Safety Guidelines 16.3.2009.)

Due to the requirement to exercise extreme caution when undertaking any activities in Backstairs Passage, a risk management process should definitely be applied to the management of safety risks associated with planning a solo crossing.

For this trip, the following were included: –

(a)Persons to contact in event of an emergency response including failure to report whereabouts by specified times – Frances, Matthew and Mieke. (Mobile and land line numbers stored in Bernard’s mobile).

(b) Communication systems carried by Bernard included, EPIRB 406/121.5 MHz GPS equipped, marine VHF transceiver , mobile telephone and 5 hand held red smoke flares.

(c) An Australian Canoeing Float Plan left with vehicle at Cape Jervis launch site.

When undertaking a solo paddle, it is the sole responsibility of that person to ensure they have the knowledge , ability, skill and equipment to safely execute their plan.
This enables full awareness of likely hazards to be understood and means to manage these risks.
Knowledge, ability and skills have been obtained through many years of water based activities, and the Australian Canoeing Award schemes provided by CSA and run by accredited instructors including both flat water and sea kayaking  courses. Knowledge includes all aspects of the environment that one is placing oneself into. 

Of particular importance in the Backstairs passage location is the effects of tides, currents, wind strengths and directions on a proposed crossing. One should also be fully aware of other vessel movements such as large container ships transiting to or from Gulf St. Vincent, the two Sealink Ferries regularly crossing from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw and several large fishing boat charters operating in the area. Full consideration must be given to these vessels considering the relatively slow speed that kayaks can evade high speed large vessels and their lack of visibility to operators of these vessels.

Ability and skills gained through Award schemes are invaluable , however personal fitness is of a very high prerequisite for a paddle of this nature as one has to be totally self reliant, particularly if conditions deteriorate or are more arduous than expected. One cannot rely on a tow or assistance, as is the case with group paddles!

Equipment used for this crossing were Bernard’s Greenlander 3 fitted out as recommended in the Australian Canoeing Safety Guidelines and additionally including electric pump, an independent manual hand held pump, spare split paddle, GPS recording distance, speed and time travelled, compass, relevant charts, information regarding VHF operating channels, tide times and weather forecasts. Appropriate clothing and accessible food and drink also packed.

Planning the particular day to undertake this paddle was based largely on long range forecasts enabling a suitable time to be selected. The Bureau of Meteorology site,  Seabreeze, Windfinder and Willy Weather all provided a clear indication that Friday 7.1.2011 was going to be most suitable for a safe solo paddle. The BOM  South East Waters forecasts were for a 5/15 knot South Easterly with 0.5 m swells from the South and up to 0.5m sea waves, Willy Weather was predicting a 4Kt easterly at Cape Jervis and low wave& swells turning to a N/E wind of 7/12 kts  later.

Tidal movement for the day  however was predicted as virtually the highest for the year, only surpassed late Oct/early November 2011.
0603hrs   high of  1.39m         1255hrs   low of 0.23m
These conditions would need to be managed appropriately as these huge volumes of water exiting from the Gulf through Backstairs Passage would create a significant tidal race off Cape Jervis and potentially sweep a Kayak  several kilometres  southward of intended destination.

Bernard’s Report

Commencement of the day meant awaking at 3.30 am to leave Largs at 3.50am arriving at Cape Jervis at 5.30 am!
This allowed 30 minutes to unload the kayak from the car and make last minute packing arrangements before launching at 6.00am just minutes before sunrise and the predicted high tide.
Conditions were perfect and enabled me to head on a bearing of 240M degrees (to the north of Penneshaw’s location) whilst also checking a transit bearing back to Cape Jervis at 30minute intervals which showed a fairly steady 060M bearing. This was to ensure I could monitor tidal influences on my paddled course.

Boat speed for the first hour was excellent, maintaining between 9.3 and 10.2 kph whilst paddling.
A large charter fishing boat was anchored 8.5 kms off Cape Jervis and its orientation indicated that despite being one hour after high tide it was still being swept up the Gulf. Maybe there was a large tidal eddy in that location, or the high pressure atmospheric conditions were affecting the overall tidal flow conditions.

Sunrise through the clouds was spectacular with horizon and sky merging into one to the South East whilst the Northern Marsden Point of Kangaroo Island appeared to be floating above the sea!
One disturbing incident was an enormous powerful swirl of water some 50 m in front of the Kayak which was not Dolphin related, however I did succeed in keeping my imagination under control!
Approximately 4Ks from Ironstone Hill (the prominent steep cliffs to the East of Penneshaw) boat speed dropped dramatically indicating a strong tidal effect  necessitating a change of course to hug the cliffs and work hard to reach the shelter of Hog Bay, Penneshaw.
Distance recorded was 20.53 kilometres and  overall time taken 2 hours 23 minutes averaging 8.7kms per hour.
Returned by Sealink ferry who only charged $10.00 extra for the kayak which they  could only classify as a windsurfer !  

The ferry captain helped carry it on and had an interesting conversation observing that in recent months they had experienced some perceived near misses with both individual kayaks and groups on both sides of the passage. I was pleased he complimented myself on a clear course deviation I had made to keep well clear of their path whilst crossing.  Wake created by the ferries is quite significant and could cause capsizes for the unwary if too close!
A request he made is that groups or individuals operating kayaks in this area equip themselves with a short pole with a small radar reflector as in many conditions , Kayaks are extremely difficult for them to see.


This was a very rewarding paddle which can be safely executed with careful planning, preparation ,suitable weather conditions, and adhering to all AC Safety Guidelines. 
 Bernard Goble