Clarence River Adventure

Anyone who is an enthusiast, no matter what the pursuit, has a bucket list.  A list of absolute ‘must-do’ activities that have to be experienced before you die.  High on my personal bucket list was the mighty Clarence River.  I have now in part ticked that one off my list!

The Clarence is according to size and volume of water flow the second largest river system South of the Tropic of Capricorn.  It flows from the Border ranges near Tooloom and empties some 395km later into the Pacific Ocean near Yamba.  Along its journey South and East it collects water from 24 major tributaries including notably the Nymboida, Mann, Orara and Timbarra Rivers.  It flows through country as diverse as rocky gorges and mountain ranges near its source to wide open flood plains dotted with farmlands at its mouth.  It was the section below the rugged mountains of its junction with the Mann River that interested us and is the topic of this article.

When setting out on any journey through territory not previously experienced, it’s important to do good research in advance and make an achievable and manageable travel plan.  Fortunately for our group there is a very detailed canoe trail map series published by the Clarence Valley Council and NSW Department of Lands (www.myclarencevalley.com) which provides maps, launch sites, camping and river conditions for 195km of the Clarence, Mann and Nymboida rivers.  Our plan was to do a 2 day, 50 km downriver trip on the Clarence river from The Gorge campsite to Copmanhurst (sections 7 and 8 of the Canoe Trail Map Kit).  This section involved traversing river conditions varying from wide slow-moving pools, class 1 shallow gravel riffles and some class 2 rapids.  What more could you ask for?

We planned to break our journey with an overnight stay ay Lilydale Bridge campsite which means we had to carry enough gear to camp overnight and be completely self sufficient for 2 days on the water.  Selection of paddle craft for this trip was very important.  We needed a boat that was capable of carrying (in our case) gear for 2 people, manoeuvrable enough to handle class 1 and 2 rapids but also efficient enough to move at a reasonable pace along the long wide pools between rapids.  We choose a 15-foot canoe for the trip, with the other guys paddling 13 foot sit inside plastic kayaks.  We found both choices to have pros and cons, but on the whole good solid performers.  So, with plan, gear and boats chosen, we set off on our adventure.IMG_0417.jpg

Our launch site was the popular camp site, The Gorge, located on the river just below the Clarence Gorge.  To say the country side in this area was spectacular was very much selling it short.  The drive into the campsite showed rocky tree lined ridges strewn with granite boulders that would make a diesel locomotive blush.  It turned out to be a very an accurate preview of what we would experience on the water later that day.

Our leg for the day was a 30km run through some of the most spectacular country Australia has to offer.  From putting in at The Gorge homestead we wove our way through crystal clear water dotted with huge outcrops of granite.  The banks were lined with gums and bottlebrush trees and varied from gently rolling green hills to rugged cliffs.  It truly was living up to our expectations.

The river was at first relatively easy to negotiate with a clear path between the large outcrops of grey rock and as we progressed further down stream and the frequency of these outcroppings increased it became more challenging.  This was exacerbated by the low water levels on the river from the recent drought.  This was particularly noticeable as we entered into the sections above Gordon Brook which contained a series of class 1 and class 2 rapids.  The lower water levels meant that often a path through the boulders was not clear or contained insufficient water to clear the rocks on the river bed.  We found ourselves having to line the boats through sections that would normally have been navigable.  Whilst this did add some delay to the journey it certainly didn’t take anything away from the shear beauty of the river or the excitement of running a remote body of moving water.  There were plenty of opportunities to have a laugh as one of the other boats in the group would suddenly lurch up after running up on a submerged rock the size of a council bus! The clear water made it hard to judge whether they were 2 inches or 2 feet below the surface.10756478208_IMG_2115.JPG

The latter part of the day found us entering into flatter terrain typified by large slow-moving pools separated by shallow gravel riffles.  Again, here the low water meant we were unable to travel over the rocky bottom without exiting the boat and dragging it for a few metres before re-entering and carrying on.  The last section before Lilydale Bridge frustratingly saw an increase in these shallow gravel runs and meant we didn’t reach the campsite until just on dark.

Lilydale Bridge is a free campsite located right beside the bridge and along the bank of the river.  It has flushing toilets and, in the section where we pitched put camp, plenty of shade from trees along the bank.  It was quite busy being school holidays, however we had no trouble finding a quiet spot right on the river bank to hang our hammocks for the night.

The second leg of our journey was an easy 20 km run from Lilydale to Copmanhurst.  The river here was similar to the last stage of the previous days paddle, and we found ourselves more regularly stretching out and getting the boats up to a good pace on the wide deep sections.  As with the previous day the scenery did not disappoint and we saw an abundance of birds, turtles and fish.  The clarity of the water made turtle spotting one of our favourite pursuits on this trip, and there were certainly plenty to spot!10757285488_IMG_2142.JPG

This section is an easy class 1 paddle and would suit novice paddlers wanting to experience a longer down river paddle on moving water.  The only thing to really watch out for are the series of railway iron posts in the river bend immediately before arriving at Copmanhurst.  These are fairly easily avoided if you are aware they are there.

We arrived into Copmanhurst at 1.30 that afternoon after a relaxing day on the water and set off to retrieve our drop off car from The Gorge.  By 5pm that afternoon we were back in the caravan park unpacking gear, enjoying a refreshing beverage and discussing which section of the river we would tackle next.

Based on our experience of these sections we most certainly will be tackling the other 6 sections of the Clarence Valley Canoe Trail.  It is at this point that I need to stress that our party consisted of 4 experienced paddlers who had previously paddled on moving water.  Some sections of the Canoe Trail are deemed suitable for experienced paddlers only and should be treated with respect.  The river can be very unforgiving and is often in very remote areas where help could be many hours away.  The preparation required is definitely worth the effort as the reward is paddling on some of the most pristine waterways in our country.  For inexperienced paddlers there are a number of guide services running on the river which offer the opportunity to experience various sections in a controlled environment.  I recommend you add this amazing river to your own personal bucket list!  For more information about this trip and other similar locations feel free to contact One Tree Canoe Company at www.onetreecanoe.com.

Fishing From Canoes

Without a doubt kayak fishing has become one of Australia’s rapid growth activities.  More and more amateur anglers are hitting the water in an array of craft from cheap plastic sit-on kayaks to top end composite offshore fishing kayaks, fishing in waters from narrow freshwater creeks to open lakes and oceans.  It’s not surprise really; paddle craft offer anglers a low-cost and hassle-free method to get off the river bank or ocean shore and onto the water.  They are generally speaking lighter and easier to manage by yourself than a tinnie and can in some instances get into places they can’t.

The one style of paddle craft that is seemingly overlooked in the fishing world is the humble canoe, despite its long history as a traditional fishing craft.  This to me seems a shame as it truly is a versatile and very capable fishing platform with a lot of very positive attributes.  So, in the interests of defending the canoes honour, I shall outline what I think are the 5 best things about fishing from a canoe.

  1. Carrying capacity. If there’s one thing a canoe does well its carrying gear! Most canoes are somewhere around the 14-15 foot range and can carry up to 350kg of passengers and equipment.  That represents in general terms 2 average sized paddlers, fishing gear, food and drinks and a good size esky to take your catch home in.  Better still you’ve got room to have all that gear on board and still have space to swing a rod!
  2. Canoes may be a simple boat but their possibilities are endless.  Most canoes come standard with 2 seats but can usually be paddled relatively easily by one person or by 3.  Want to take the better half along?  No worries, take the canoe… Want to go out alone?  No worries, take the canoe.  Want to take the kids?  No worries, put in a spare middle seat and take the canoe!  Canoes are also very easy to configure with rod holders, fish finders and camera mounts.  In most cases a couple of simple bolts through the side of a canoe are all that is needed to set up your new fishing boat.  Al you need to decide then is which camera angle will capture your next catch best!
  3. Most recreational canoes are designed to be stable confidence inspiring paddle craft. They have enough width to ensure you can comfortably sit and relax whilst waiting to hook your next monster.  In some cases, they can be stable enough to allow the paddler to stand and cast.  And if that’s not enough, take a leaf from our pacific islander friends and add an outrigger to your boat.  Now your canoe is a stable platform from which to cast a line, retrieve a pot or fight that reluctant fish in.7791203472_IMG_1775.jpg
  4. Power options. The hull on a canoe is indeed an agreeable beast. It’s happy being pushed along by a single or double-bladed paddle, an outboard or even a sail.  Modern canoe designs certainly take that into consideration.  From low sided pack canoes, designed to be paddled with a longer kayak paddle, to square transom canes with mounts on the rear to facilitate the fitting of an outboard motor, there is sure to be a boat to suit your needs1960783_10203836805134188_5347896622375270256_o.jpg
  5. Perhaps the single biggest drawback to paddling a kayak is the sitting position.  With your feet at the same height as your backside, there is a lot of pressure placed on the lower spine and hips.  Many a kayak paddler has complained about dead legs and lower back pain after a few hours in the seat.  Canoes, with their raised seating position offer some relief to paddlers aching posteriors and being a deal roomier allow them to shift about during the day.  The secret is in your ability to get your feet under you slightly in a canoe and take some of the weight off your lower back.  In addition, most canoes can have a backrest fitted to allow the paddler to ease back into an afternoon of fishing.  Interestingly many of the larger fishing kayaks are now coming fitted with a raised seat to allow a level of comfort on extended trips.7793343488_IMG_1800

A word of warning however, canoes like most paddle craft, have their limitations.  Unless very experienced, I do not recommend taking a canoe out on open water when there’s a strong wind warning or chance of a large swell.  Canoes being an open topped boat can become swamped in heavy conditions providing you with an unwelcome dunking.  Most modern canoes will have buoyancy fitted to prevent them sinking completely but you could still be up from an uncomfortable swim back to shore.

On rivers, lakes and sheltered bays, it is hard to beat a canoe as a comfortable and versatile fishing platform.  So, when you’re next in the market for a new fishing platform, give the humble canoe a thought.  It might be the right craft to chase those elusive big ones in your secret spot!  If you want to know more about fishing from canoes and fitout options give Dan a call from One Tree Canoe Company at www.onetreecanoe.com. Happy Paddling 😊

Canoe Sailing on Somerset’s Dams

It’s no secret to anyone who has known me for more than 30 seconds that I’m a huge fan of canoes.  The primary reason for this is their incredible versatility; their ability for one simple craft to be able to fulfil so many perform tasks.  One of my personal favourites, aside from paddling of course, is canoe sailing.

Canoes having a relatively stable and efficient hull lend themselves very nicely to sailing.  Whilst not as capable as a dinghy of withstanding an overturning force, with the correct rig they make a fun and effective sailing boat.  You’re never going to win an America’s Cup, but you can sure have a great day out on the water when you fit a sailing rig to your canoe!  Having said that, canoe sail racing is quite a big sport in the UK, particularly around the Lakes District.

The rig that I choose for my canoes is called a Lug Sail rig.  It’s an older design that was developed for fishing and coastal sailors around the 17th century.  It’s ease of use and good performance to windward have made it a design that has seen continued use even racing dinghies today.  The main reason I use it on my canoes is that it has less overturning force than a lot of modern rigs, so you’re less likely to take a swim 😊.

When fitted to my 14-foot canoe, I’m able to get up to speeds of around 5 knots (9km/h) which is certainly faster than I can paddle at for any length of time.  I have taken it out in breezes approaching 15 knots, anything more is a little too exciting for comfort!

So, the question begs to be asked, where do you take your canoe if you want to go for a sail?

Whilst there are a number of great options in SEQ, my favourites have to be the dams in the Somerset region on the Brisbane Valley Rivers.  Both Lake Wivenhoe and its smaller brother Somerset make excellent locations for sailing any sort of craft, as evidenced by the location of Brisbane Valley Sailing Club at Logan Inlet on Wivenhoe.  With good access to the water, plenty of interesting scenery and a consistent breeze during the summer months it makes for a great day out on the water.  Average windspeeds for the area tend to be around 10-12km/h in the mornings with a slight increase in the afternoons.  Certainly enough to push a small sailing canoe along at a nice pace and not so much that you could spill your drink…

As any sailor will tell you, sailing involves picking a direction to travel in and then going in another direction entirely.  Canoe sailing is no different, Mother Nature has a nasty habit of sending a breeze from exactly the direction you’re intending to travel in!  With that in mind, sailing locations that have plenty of open space to manoeuvre in are always the best.  If all else fails, you always have a paddle…

On Wivenhoe the launch sites at Billies Bay and Logan Inlet offer plenty of open water and a favourable prevailing breeze, whilst on Somerset the Kirkleigh area is best, especially if you head North and away from skiers.  For my money, I think it’s had to beat sailing out from Logan Inlet, across and around Pelican Island and then back again.  The scenery on this route offers the full range of what Wivenhoe has to offer with glimpses of the D’Aguilar ranges and the many wooded inlets of the southern end of the dam.

As with any water-based activity, make sure you check the weather forecast before heading out.  The old saying ‘You can have too much of a good thing’ definitely applies when sailing.  Wind speeds between 7 and 15 knots are perfect, especially if they’re coming from behind you on the homeward leg of your trip.  Anything more will be a handful for most paddlers and anything less is really just a paddling trip with an annoying sail flopping about in your face! Also make sure you check direction to determine the best route for your trip.  Catching a free ride on the end of an extended paddling journey can turn a long slog on open water into a pleasurable run home.

The best part about canoe sailing is how easy it is to do, it doesn’t have to be a professionally made sail kit, any flat surface will catch a tail wind on a paddling trip and provide an easy ride.  In fact, anyone with a hiking fly in their shed can jerry rig up a sailing rig for their canoe.  For the handier paddlers, building a homemade sail kit is relatively straight forward and there are plenty of photos on the internet for inspiration.  Retrofitting to an old or existing canoe is straight forward and can be as simple as lashing a couple of paddles together.  It really can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make it, you’re only limited by your creativity

So, if you’re looking for something new to try with your old favourite canoe or for a new way to traverse our inland waterways, I highly recommend you give canoe sailing a go.  To find out more about how to fit a sail to your canoe or having one made professionally, give One Tree Canoe Company a call and we’d be delighted to help get you under sail! www.onetreecanoe.com

 

Developments in Modern Canoe Construction.

Often seen as the dated and less sexy cousin of the kayak, canoes had been sadly left standing beside the dance floor when it came to modernising their designs.  I say had, because in recent years canoes have seen a resurgence in their use and importantly for paddlers, significant changes in their design and construction.  The timeless design and inherent versatility of canoes has always been the secret of their appeal to paddlers, now with improvements to ease of handling on and off the water that appeal should stretch to a much wider audience.

As one would expect the North American manufacturers have lead the way on embracing new technology in both selection of materials of construction and hull design software to improve the shape and performance of their craft.  The Australian market whilst initially slow to respond, due largely to smaller demand here, has now seen an increase in demand for high quality imported canoes which in turn has given local manufacturers confidence to embrace similar technology to that being used overseas.

As mentioned above, the focus of improvements to the humble canoe has been around improving handling the craft both on and off the water.  Manufacturers have sought to build boats that are light, stable, quick through the water and responsive to paddle strokes.  Whilst equally true for kayaks as it is for canoes, the higher demand for their double bladed cousins meant that more improvements have been seen in kayak than canoe offerings.

Whilst no means a comprehensive list, the following are some of the key developments in canoe design and construction over recent years.

Weight.

Its seems odd for us to hear in Australia, however in the US the market perception is that if you want a lightweight boat you get a canoe – kayaks are seen as the heavier craft.  Manufacturers in the US and Canada have spent a lot of money on research into materials and construction methods to reduce the weight of their craft whilst maintaining strength, durability and importantly stiffness.

To understand why, you have to look at the paddling culture in North America and in particular the notion of ‘portaging’ or carrying the canoe.  With large tracts of water separated by short overland trails or sections of rapids, paddlers find themselves unloading and carrying their canoes from one waterway to another.   Nobody wants to lug a heavy boat overland through wilderness trails, so demand grew for lighter more manageable canoes.

In the 1970’s materials with high strength to weight ratios like Carbon and Kevlar became commercially available to manufacturers of composite products.   Canoe manufacturers, traditionally using glass fibre to manufacture their hulls, now had access to materials that allowed them to manufacture strong, stiff and durable hulls with a significant reduction in weight.  Technology has continued to develop and now the composite industry has access to a range of materials from polypropylene and nylon based fabrics through to those made from drawn strands of Basalt rock!

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Reduced fabric weight combined with low density resins and vacuum bagging / resin infusion manufacturing techniques has seen a dramatic reduction in canoe weight over the years.  Great news for tired paddlers hefting their boat back on the roof of their car after a long day on the water.

Hull Design

Back in the days of the Canadian Voyageurs, transporting bundles of furs up fast flowing untamed rivers, large curved ends were important on their canoes to keep paddlers and cargo dry through rough fast-moving water.  These were purpose-built boats designed for the local waterways and refined over generations of indigenous paddlers to perform a specific task.  Whilst some paddlers still aspire to conquer the mighty rivers of northern Canada, most everyone else is paddling on very different waterways and require different attributes of their boats.

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The first composite canoes made were based largely upon the traditional canoe designs of days gone by with some changes made to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of the materials being used.  The traditional look often times did not translate well into the new material and a lot of early canoe designs were quite clunky looking beasts.

Aesthetics aside, the large ends required to keep a canoe dry when plunging into a trough in a set of wild rapids was a curse to paddlers moving across open wind swept waterways.  Keels with lots of rocker, designed for manoeuvrability on  moving water, were a chore to paddle on long straight stretches of water.  It was obvious changes needed to be made.

Designers began to experiment with straight bow and stern stems to increase waterline length and it’s resulting increased boat speed. They looked at the effect of more slender profiles on their craft to weigh up reduced drag verses reduced stability. Hull cross sections were developed to improve tracking without adversely affecting manoeuvrability. Most significant of these was the move away from a pronounced keel on canoes to use of shallow vee or shallow arched hulls.

The rise of computer aided drafting packages and analysis software for modelling the attributes of a boat hull in the water has allowed designers to model and revise new designs without the expense of actually making and testing numerous prototypes.

This means that now canoes are being designed to suit a paddlers needs, because as we all know, one size rarely fits all

Other Developments

As materials and hull shapes have developed over the years, fitout of canoes has also come a long way.

New materials and manufacturing techniques have allowed canoe builders to provide their customers with more comfortable and adjustable seating configurations and the ability to configure their canoes for a multitude of uses from sailing to fishing and other outdoor pursuits.

Gunwales and thwarts on modern canoes are selected to allow easy attachment of accessories and other personal touches (some people even fit motors to their canoes!). As most canoe owners will tell you, one of the great appeals of this craft is it’s versatility.

The future certainly looks bright for the faithful canoe. Even though it is one of the oldest designs of watercraft, modern processes and designs have ensured it is as practical and relevant today as it was in the distant past.

Stable predictable hulls and lightweight fittings mean that the humble canoe is a great choice for everyone from young families looking for a day on the water through to couples wanting to get away from it all or seeking a taste of adventure.

If you’re looking for a cost effective and versatile craft to get out on the water, a canoe is well worth looking at.  For more information about canoes and new developments in this space, give Dan from One Tree Canoe Company a call on 0424 00 1646 or check out www.onetreecanoe.com

Canoe Go Camping

Yes, I’ll admit it I love canoe puns, they never seem to get old for me.  Something else that doesn’t get old for me is camping out of a canoe.  The attraction very much lies in the simplicity of it.  Loading a bunch of gear into a canoe and getting on the water is easier than most people realize, here’s a list of reasons why I think that camping from a canoe is one of the most under rated experiences you can have with your family in the great outdoors.

The first reason is carrying capacity.  The misconception most people have about camping from a canoe is that you need a high-tech backpack and ultra-lightweight, space-age camping gear.  The perceived effort involved with this seems to stifle the urge to ‘just do it’ in a good many prospective canoe campers.

Unlike a kayak paddler or hiker, the canoe paddler is not obsessed with every kilogram going into their pack.  Most 2-person canoes have a carrying capacity in excess of 300 kilograms which means that even with 2 burly blokes paddling you still have room for 100kg of gear!  Gone is the worry of purchasing ultra-light tents and camp gear, or for that matter having to carry freeze dried foodstuffs.  The canoe camper has the capacity to carry ample provisions, camp chairs, standard tents and even a few cold beverages.

Which leads to the second reason, cost. Not having to purchase expensive light weight gear significantly reduces the cost of camp gear. Most people have a basic camp setup stored somewhere in their back room.  A canoe’s larger carrying capacity is usually more than adequate to carry the average setup, plus the cargo area in the centre of a canoe is like the tray of a Ute.  The only limit is your imagination!

In addition, canoes themselves are quite inexpensive when compared to other expedition watercraft.  An average canoe suitable for camping will cost between $1500 – $2000, compared to an equivalent kayak which range from $2,000 and upwards.  Note here I said suitable for camping.  A 10-foot SOT kayak is not really going to cut it for multiday camping trips.

Carrying a canoe is also a simple matter.  The best way to carry a canoe is upside down on standard roof bars, riding on its gunwales.  No need for expensive cradles or tie downs and able to have gear stowed up inside the hull if you’re short of space.

The third reason is simplicity.  That canoe design has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years is no big surprise.  The secret to their effectiveness lies in their simplicity of design.  An open top boat with enough beam to carry large loads and remain stable but with sleek enough lines to be powered easily by 1 or 2 paddlers (or more, if you consider the famous voyageur canoes of Canada).  What this delivers to modern day paddlers wanting to get away from it all is a craft that is easy to paddle, can carry heaps of gear, is easy to load and unload, and is robust and most importantly versatile.  What more could you want?

The last and perhaps most compelling reason is location. We are blessed in SE Queensland with a range of wonderful waterways with campgrounds located along their banks.  A few of my favourites are listed below.

Ngumbi Campsite on Wyaralong Dam.  Access to the campsite is via hiking, cycling, horseback riding or paddling.  The paddle trip is an easy 6km journey from the boat ramp near the dam wall with camping available either in the old homestead or surrounding grounds located on top of the ridge.  Great stop-off point if you’re doing a through paddle to Lilydale camp at the other end of the dam.

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Upper Brisbane River (Spillway to Kholo).  The navigable length of the upper Brisbane River is 56km with numerous campsites along the way (some by prior arrangement with landholders).  The river lends itself very nicely to down stream canoe journeys and there is even a local shuttle service available for shorter durations.

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Noosa Everglades.  Queensland National Parks have done an amazing job of preserving this pristine wilderness and converting it into one of the premier paddling destinations in the world.  Extensive camping sites are available from Fig Tree Point, at the start of the everglades, Harry’s Hut and through to the campsite 15, located some 40km upstream.  With the exception of Harry’s, all of these sites are hike in or paddle in only!

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Wivenhoe Dam.  Whilst different from the others in that access to the campground can be had from motorised vehicles, Wivenhoe has the potential to offer a great canoe camping experience.  Our suggested journey would be from Harmon Cove through to Captain Logan’s, camping the night there.  The second day’s journey would then be from Captain Logan’s across to Billies Bay.  Alternatively, the option could be to camp at the grounds at Captain Logan’s and do day trips from there.  Either is awesome!

Other notable mentions are Bribie Passage, Mary River and if you fancy venturing south of the border: the Clarence and Nymboida Rivers.

Just remember, the only thing more enjoyable than camping in a canoe is camping with a whole bunch of canoes.  So bring your friends!  If you require any more information about camping from canoes and destinations in SEQ, give Dan a call from One Tree Canoe Company on 0424 00 1646 or check out http://www.onetreecanoe.com .