Crossing of Backstairs Passage from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw and return — 25-26 May 2024

The crossing of Backstairs Passage from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw and return on Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th May really achieved it’s main goals- a challenging paddle with a great camp at the end. The trip was also part of the Sea Leadership Program conducted by Paddle SA Education/Phil Doddridge. Greg A and Hugh Mac are undergoing this training.

The Preparation

Preparing for departure

Pre-departure picture

Backstairs Passage is exposed and it is rare to get calm days but we scored a beauty for the paddle over to Penneshaw. We had favourable winds, tides and sunny skies. The temperature was quite mild once the sun came up given winter was just a few days away.

The paddlers were:

  • Phil Doddridge paddling in double with Hugh Macmillan (Mirage 730)
  • Abelardo Pardo paddling in double with Marg Doddridge (Delta 20T)
  • Mike Dunn (Mirage 583)
  • Matthew Eldred (Delta 17)
  • Jason Schulz (Seabird Discovery)
  • Ryan McGowan (Delta 17)
  • Berny Lohmann (Perception Ecobezig)
  • Greg Adams (Expedition Kayaks Audax)

Marg, Jason, Ryan and Berny were attempting the KI Crossing for the first time. Greg was doing Cape Jervis to Penneshaw for the first time. He had done Antechamber Bay to Cape Jervis last year as part of the Victor Harbor to Adelaide expedition.

Up Early

Chat before departure

First strokes

To get the tide just right the group needed to be taking first strokes by 8am which, for some, meant being on the beach by 7am to get packed. Marg and I however had decided to stay in one of the Eco Tents at the Seafront Holiday Park and had little to pack. I highly recommend this option should the trip be repeated in the future-luxury! We also were going to the Penneshaw Hotel for dinner which lightened the load further.

The coastal views across the Passage were stunning as we gathered for our 730am briefing. An important logistical issue in doing this trip is to stay well out of the path of the KI Ferry. We notified the business of our presence and planned a path well to the east and parallel to the ferry route. The first part of our journey was to Land’s End before heading out across the Passage; this would keep us well east of the ferry. On the crossing our heading was 220ºM. As part of the sea leadership training I discussed the best way to keep the group together and on track. From past experience I found that having a lead paddler out in front with others following achieved the best outcome. At least one paddler needed a compass designed for use at sea; better if two paddlers are equipped and can check each others readings.

Once at Land’s End I swung the kayak to the required heading and identified a prominent feature on the hills of KI. Each paddler took turns in leading the group and paddling at our target. The paddler leading the group does not need a compass; if they have one their focus is on the identified feature in the distance NOT the compass! This is for accuracy and to avoid sea sickness.

Breaking it into stages

It is more demanding to be out in front so the lead paddler was changed each 30-40 minutes. At the change the heading was checked and the feature to aim for was adjusted. To allow for tidal influence we used a technique called “splitting the tide”. The first half of the journey was done in the ebbing tide taking us further to the east and the second half in the flooding tide bringing us back to the west. We planned to be half way at 930am. Up until 930am each of the features to aim for were slightly east of the last. From 930am the features moved slightly westward due to the tide.

There are images of the plans and actual route as recorded on a GPS attached.

The Crossing

Middle of the crossing

It was a fantastic crossing, one of the best I have experienced. Unfortunately for kayak sailors there was not enough wind to fill the sails! For safety the group had at least one sail up so other vessels would see us more clearly. On the day two container vessels went through although I do not think that they would have altered their course if they saw us in the way! It is surprising just how fast these big vessels move and how quickly they go from a spot on the horizon to a big hunk of metal in close proximity! An old saying that applies here “Never take your eyes off the ocean”; I regularly did a 360º scan of the horizon!

We had several members of the group carrying injuries and I was concerned about the rate we could paddle at. I have very badly damaged shoulders and chose to paddle in a double to take some of the pressure off…a Mirage 730 is a very fast kayak needing much less effort than any other I have paddled to cover the kilometres. Paddling with Hugh Mac made it even less of an effort! In fact for the first half of the journey I don’t think I added to progress at all, Hugh did it all.

The second half

Clear water in Penneshaw

Arrival to Penneshaw

In the second half the group needed to give Jason a helping hand. ACC events are notorious for travelling at a “fair clip”! Jason’s 4.3 m Seabird was no match for the 5.8m Deltas, Mirages and of course the two doubles in the fleet. The initial tow was applied by Matt and after he had done his bit Phil and Hugh Mac took over. I always like having doubles on potentially challenging trips for this reason, they are brilliant towing vessels; the effort needed by two paddlers is much less. After awhile we applied a “V” tow with both doubles powering Jason’s kayak along. I’ll be willing to bet that was the fastest the little Seabird had ever gone!

The crossing was completed in a little more that three hours and we arrived in Penneshaw in bright sunshine and landed on the white sand beach through crystal clear water(see pics). The Seafront Holiday Park was just over the sand dunes and the group had a leisurely lunch before making camp.

Accommodation and Dinner

Penneshaw Beach

Chat before dinner

I was impressed by the improvements made to the caravan park since last visit. Besides us low budget kayak travellers there were a lot of beefed up 4×4’s towing big caravans…I see this where ever I go! So much for minimal impact travelling (personal budget and planet). The hot showers were a treat! After an afternoon of chatting and comparing notes the group walked into the Penneshaw Hotel for dinner. The hotel too had undergone a makeover since last I was there. The food was great as were a few wines or beers depending on personal preference!

Catching the last Ferry back

We said farewell to Greg and Mike shortly after dinner as they were catching the 10pm ferry back. Mike had commitments for Sunday and Greg had caught a ride down with him. It was a stunning night for a boat trip! Jason also chose to take the ferry back next day.

The Return

About to launch into return

Sunday’s weather forecast was for a warm day with light northerly winds and our plans were to make a leisurely paddle down to Cuttlefish Bay before heading back to Cape Jervis on the incoming tide. This would have made the trip about 5Km longer than journey over. Well a forecast is only a forecast and the weather gods had other ideas! As we were preparing to launch the winds were a little stronger than forecast. The seas were a little rough with small whitecaps forming out in the Passage. Small surf was breaking on the beach which unfortunately meant a wet launch if your timing was out. The group decided to stay to plan and see how things developed.

Direct to Cape Jervis

It wasn’t long before it was obvious our plans were best changed. Traveling along the rocky coast had us in confused seas with a lot of rebounding waves. The group moved further out away from the coast but there was little difference. It was bumpy, wet and hard work. A quick survey of the group voted for a change of plans and we would head direct to Cape Jervis hoping that as we went further from the coast the seas would calm down a bit. This plan worked for a while and then the wind began to increase; recordings in the area had it peaking at 20Knots during our crossing. Initially I had the lead paddler just keeping to a heading based on best “course over the ground” navigation. This had us punching almost directly into the wind/waves which was slow and energy sapping.

Or not so direct…

Forecast? What forecast?

Another saying I have is “best to get a crossing done, quickly as achievable, and sort it out on the other side”. I changed the group’s heading so that the wind and waves would hit us on an angle of 30-40 degrees from the bow. This meant we would travel faster with less strain on each stroke and would be a little drier. Unfortunately the dry bit did not apply to Marg and myself who were in the front seat of the doubles; the kayak is simply too heavy to lift over the waves so it just plowed through and the waves slapped us in the face!

Needless to say we were all pretty tired when we reached the coastline just east of Cape Jervis. As I had set up navigation to have us east of Cape Jervis and the final few kilometres were aided by the flooding tide to the west…a welcome relief. The crossing back took three and half hours; it felt like double that!

Back in Cape Jervis

When acting as leader I always prefer to have my group land as one and insisted we all just “float” in on the tide as there was no hurry. Also in the last few hundred metres on approach to Cape Jervis the group would encounter a strong tidal race that forms off the breakwater. If you don’t know what it is like it can sweep you past the entrance to the harbour and it was really pumping!

The tidal race can also sweep you into the path of the ferry which would just be bad advertising for the competence of sea kayakers!

So we paddled into the harbour happy in having accomplished a significant milestone also avoiding the tidal race to be greeted by a Marine Safety Compliance Officer on the beach. He seemed happy but had many questions for me relating to the safety of our trip and the gear we were carrying. In the centre of the Passage we were more than 2NM from either shore and in “Unprotected Waters” (See the Marine Safety SA’s page on Boating safely: equipment & operation).

Safety Equipment

The group was required to carry the prescribed safety equipment. Paraphrasing Marine Safety SA…“when travelling as a group with at least 2 other vessels(kayaks)… within 50 metres of each other…one vessel can carrying 2 hand held red flares, 2 hand held orange smoke flares, 1 compass, a map or chart of the area of operation and an EPIRB.. the other vessels are exempt from carrying the equipment”.

Another way of doing this is for the group to have all the gear but carried by different group members. The prescribed equipment is carried for up to five paddlers. If more paddlers are in the group then a full set is required for each group of five or part thereof. We had all the gear. The compliance officer just questioned me and did not want to sight the gear. (Bernard G commented that he has been checked by officers on his trips in this area previously). All of this is for the safety of those at sea and I am appreciative of Marine Safety doing their job!

After all the excitement the gear was loaded onto vehicles, some of the group had to head off but Phil, Marg, Matt and Berny headed to the ferry terminal for a coffee and review of the day before beginning the drive home.


The attached pics tell more of the story. This was one of the most enjoyable crossings that I have done; probably approaching 20 or so over the past 30 years! Great conditions for the most part, great people to share the adventure with and we are so lucky in SA to have such a coastline to explore. Thanks to all who took part and the support crews who helped with transport.

Overall statistics (Links point to GPX track files)

The Pages Island Expedition. 21st – 24th April 2023

By Greg Adams

The Pages islands expedition was the brainchild of Phil Doddridge, an ambitious adventure starting at Victor Harbor and ending at Second Valley via Tunkalilla Beach, The Pages, Pink Bay, KI, Antechamber Bay, and Cape Jervis.

The weather gods needed to be on our side, and they were, providing the perfect wind and weather conditions for this epic adventure. The only real problem was a strong ground swell.

Day 1 – Victor Harbor to Ballaparudda Beach

Seven paddlers, Phil and Pat Doddridge, Tresh Pearce, Karl Meyer, Giresh Chandran, Gordon Begg, and I met at the Bluff boat ramp, Victor Harbor at 8am on Friday the 21st of April.

Conditions were perfect, the sun was shining, and the wind was absent. We managed to be on the water and left by 9am passing The Bluff, West Island and rounding Newland Head after 2 hours paddling.

Beach Ballaparudda

Waitpinga and Parsons beaches had a large oily swell rolling in and a grey sky above, creating an eerie atmosphere.

Karl and Tresh paddled in close near the surf zone to experience the power of the swell as we continued approx. 1 km out to sea, waiting for them to join us again at Parsons beach.

Looking for a place to land

Leaving Parsons beach, we realised that landing at Tunkalilla beach with this size swell would be very difficult. There were two options, Callawonga and Ballaparudda beaches, just prior to reaching Tunkalilla. Arriving at Ballaparudda, the closest, 23km from Victor Harbor, it looked quite manageable. We decided that this would be tonight’s camp.

Tresh, Gordon, and Pat successfully made the first landings. Then Karl, I, Giresh, and Phil attempted landing. All capsized in the difficult conditions. Phil’s kayak nosedived into the sand bar causing a fatal fracture in the bow. The kayak was then swept into the rocks on the western shore. All in all, with four in the water it was a disastrous landing attempt. No one was hurt and all gear was salvaged beside the fatally damaged kayak.

Thoughts were with Phil as he had planned the expedition and now, he would have to abandon after only one day on the water.

With Karl’s local knowledge, he managed to wrangle access for his daughter, Sahara to drive down the beach through paddocks to extract Phil and Pat and their kayaks the following morning. Once things settled down, a comfortable campsite was established, and much discussion of the days adventures was had around the campfire.

Day 2, Saturday – Ballaparudda Beach to Pink Bay via The Pages

North Pages

With a healthy respect for Ballaparudda’s sandbar, the remaining paddlers said their farewells to Phil and Pat and headed out through the surf zone one at a time, Tresh leading.

Within 30 min all were out and prepared for the 16km paddle to North Pages Island in calm conditions with virtually no wind. We were heading slightly east of the islands to counter the flooding tide which worked perfectly, paddling in a tight group, and chatting, we headed south. The closest island was reached in 3 hours and there was a reasonable swell running. A fishing boat was anchored nearby, and we explored the lee of a barren, guano covered, granite island. Australian Sea Lions, screaming Gannets and Terns greeted us, this is a wild place!

Heading around the eastern side to the southern islands, we encountered clapotis waves which kept us very alert. As we paddled between the islands, large boils were appearing indicating submerged bombies. Not a place to hang around. The southern island had a lighthouse and tower. It seemed smaller but just as inhospitable. There is meant to be a place to land on one of the islands, but it was not obvious. A quick feed and discussion and we then headed to Cape Willoughby, 16km away.

To Cape Willoughby

For the first hour we had amazing conditions, blue sky and oily seas and paddling with a flood tide, 7 kph was a comfortable pace. We noticed the tide was drawing us towards Antechamber Bay and on this course, we were potentially going to run into a dangerous shoal called “The Scraper”. Gordon made the decision to head for Cape St Albans. The sea and wind picked up as we got closer to St Albans. We were then working hard against the flood tide to try to get to the cape. The tide was about to change but we were fighting a strong current. My computer was telling me we were not making much headway.

Once we got close to Cape St Albans the tide went slack and we had a beautiful 4km paddle along the cliffs to Pink Bay in the late afternoon. A 16km paddle turned into 24km taking 4.5 hours.

Pink Bay is paradise! (don’t tell anyone). Camp was set and I found out that I had left my tent poles and pegs back at the previous camp. Ben Weigl joined us, paddling from Cape Jervis to Pink Bay in 4.5 hours. He, Tresh, and Karl were going to leave us and explore the south coast of KI the following day, Giresh, Gordon, and I were heading to Antechamber Bay. A beach campfire rounded out a big eventful day.

Day 3, Sunday Pink Bay to Antechamber Bay

Pink Bay from Gazebo

We bid farewell to Tresh, Karl, and Ben at 9am the next morning and we went for a walk to Cape Willoughby. From the lighthouse we could see the trio sailing towards Cape Hart, an awesome sight.

We spent a leisurely morning exploring the lighthouse and surrounds returning to camp for lunch and a departure to Antechamber Bay by 1pm to catch the end of the flood tide. It was nice to have a bit of a rest day and only a couple of hours on the water. Passing Cape St Albans was exciting with lots of turbulence and at times travelling with the flood tide at up to 9.5 kmph. An awesome beach camp was made in Antechamber Bay on a glorious afternoon. A walk up the river and through the campground then back along the beach was the end to another perfect day.

Day 4, Monday – Antechamber Bay to Second Valley

Steam rises from the sea at sunrise, Antechamber Bay

Phil had contacted us and had decided to paddle down to Cape Jervis (from Second Valley), wait for us and complete the final leg together. The tide was due to flood at 10.30am. Gordon recommended that we head off at 9am and get as far across Backstairs Passage before the flood tide kicked in and assist us to Cape Jervis and beyond.

The sea was like a mill pond and the first 2.5 hours were a dream. But nothing is ever that easy. 8km from Cape Jervis, a 15kt (27km) northerly head wind blew against the flood tide. The sun was in our eyes and the sea was a crazy mess. It was a tough 1-hour + slog to the shelter of Cape Jervis. It felt like we were not moving but with the flood tide we were easily travelling at over 7kph and at one stage at 10.5kph. What a relief it was to paddle into the harbour and meet Phil, who was lounging on the beach in glorious sunshine. A stark contrast to where we had been.

After a 1-hour break, we headed around the corner and into the gulf. The plan was to camp on Morgan’s beach or a smaller one further north but because of the long weekend, Morgan’s was crowded with car campers. So, we decided to press on and with light winds, sunshine and a following tide, paddling cannot be better.

Because of the high tide the second beach option was not suitable, so decided to press on to Second Valley. We landed at 5.30pm on a balmy evening, finishing the expedition with the final night spent in Giresh’s holiday shack. Perfect.

Overall Statistics

  • Day 1, Friday – Victor Harbor to Ballaparudda Beach – 4 hrs, 23km
  • Day 2, Saturday – Ballaparudda Beach to Pink Bay via The Pages – 7.30 hrs, 40km
  • Day 3, Sunday Pink Bay to Antechamber Bay – 2 hrs, 10km
  • Day 4, Monday – Antechamber Bay to Second Valley – 7.30 hrs, 40km
  • Total distance travelled 113km,
  • 21 hours paddling including breaks on the water.
  • Average moving speed 5.8kph over the 4 days.

Departing from Cape Jervis

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

Enjoying the crossingUp 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.

Setting Camp

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

On our way to Antechamber BayNo 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.


Together in the bakerySunday’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!