Crossing Backstairs Passage – Cape Jervis to Antechamber Bay and Return — 18/19th March 2023
The adrenaline has finally stopped racing through my veins to allow me to tackle the promised trip report of our crossing of Backstairs Passage to Antechamber Bay and return on the weekend of 18/19th Mar 2023. What a paddle, with a SE gusting to 20Kn and seas over 2m at some stages. All paddlers did extremely well without any incidents, but special recognition should go to our two crossing first-timers: Abelardo Pardo and Simon Delaine. Talk about jumping into the deep end! Conditions in Antechamber Bay didn’t look too bad at departure, but steadily escalated during the return crossing.
It was a great turn-out with twelve (12) paddlers participating. The trip was led by Phil Doddridge with Charlie Walker, Matt Eldred, Mark Loram, Mike Dunn, Peter Vincent, Anthony Aardenburg and Bella, Tresh Pearce, Abelardo Pardo, Simon Delaine and recent member Karl Meyer following Phil’s lead. Similar to our crossing in March 2022, the trip was aimed at demonstrating the splitting of the tide to achieve the most efficient crossing.
Four of the group (Mark, Simon, Abelardo and Phil) drove down on Friday Night and camped at the Cape Jervis Caravan Park ready for an early morning start. We used this site when training for our Bass Strait crossing and had fond memories of relaxing amongst the pines at the rear of the Park overlooking Backstairs Passage.
A lovely evening soaking up the view and not a ripple seen looking over to Penneshaw. In the evening the highlight was looking up towards the sky and counting the satellites passing overhead – I have never seen so many, there seemed to be a continuous stream passing just below the Southern Cross. A strong wind came up overnight which eased in the morning, but which probably should have been a warning of an approaching front.
Day 1 — The easy one
Up and about around 6am and met the remainder of the group at Cape Jervis Boat Ramp in time for an 8.30am on-water start.
After loading kayaks (I overdid the equipment list again!) and after the safety briefing from Phil we set off at about 8.45am, following the coast east to Lands End to avoid the ferry’s path. We then set our bearing for Cape Coutts and headed out on our adventure, with a few whitecaps between us and the safety of Antechamber Bay; just east of Cape Coutts we were on our way.
A pleasant paddle across but no wind advantage which disappointed those with sails in the group, just a solid slog for 5 hours before we made Antechamber Bay, even explored a bit of the sandy beach to eventually reach Chapman River. Just checking that the mouth hadn’t moved!
Many hands made light work of the portage across the beach and we were soon paddling up the picturesque Chapman River, admiring the paper bark trees and new bridge as we approached campsite no 12 that Mike had kindly booked.
After setting up camp most of us relaxed, enjoying the location while others went paddling to explore the upper reach of the Chapman River.
Once again the campground was pretty busy so we made an early appearance at the camp kitchen, admiring the stunning views. We had a very pleasant evening there – night solar lights might be handy, a note for future trips! The kitchen is very well set up and we spent the evening discussing kayaking adventures while being entertained by Tresh’s attempts to get his cooker operational.
Soon after we turned in and slept well, being serenaded by several Boobook Owls during the night. In the morning some fairy wrens visited, very elusive but I did manage to get a couple of pics as they checked out my tent.
Day 2 — The not so easy one
No rush in the morning with the plan to be on-water in Chapman River by 10am, bit of drizzle overnight and the additional time was put to good use sponging the tents and gear and getting packed up. We said our farewells as we paddled under the KI version of Sydney Harbour Bridge and down to the mouth for another portage. The waters in the bay looked calm but the forecast for the crossing was increasing winds 15 to 20Kn SW. The sky towards Deep Creek threatened to bring squalls during our crossing.
The briefing was a bit somber and Phil gave the group the option of returning via the Penneshaw ferry instead of attempting a borderline crossing – we all mulled it over but the mutual decision was to paddle the return as the group was fired up to complete the crossing. These sort of situations are always difficult with experienced kayakers, particularly with several having done crossings in similar conditions.
We split into sail-assisted kayaks and those just going with the swell, although on the starboard beam. We headed off together before separating into two groups, with those sailing heading directly across the passage towards Deep Creek before following the coast back to Cape Jervis while our group of five (5) made a beeline for Cape Jervis. There was no time to relax on the four (4) hour return paddle, it certainly required continuous attention. Phew, all back in the safety of Cape Jervis boat ramp by 3pm.
Sunday’s return crossing was by far the most challenging that I have done and I breathed a sigh of relief when we all arrived back at Cape Jervis safely, with the sailors having arrived about 15 minutes prior to the non-sail group.
Looking back, the return paddle was probably borderline, but to achieve the crossing without incident is a credit to the experience within the Adelaide Canoe Club. This is due to regular sea kayak training provided to Club members over several years particularly from Phil Doddridge, Bernard Goble and Peter Carter. All of the group are also regular paddlers, both at Club events and privately, regularly working on improving their skills. The paddlers conducted themselves in a very professional manner exhibiting a good appreciation of group dynamics to ensure we all remained safe.
All of us wanted to celebrate and swap stories, so we adjourned to the Yankalilla Bakery to debrief. And yes, the adrenaline was flowing strongly for quite a while afterwards!