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by Peter Evans - Melbourne, Victoria - Australia

Part One - Part Two

I enjoy rowing on this third day. I keep about 150m from the shore and find my direction by locating a tree or hill on the far horizon and keeping that directly behind me. I would try and row a set number of strokes, and then stop, have a look around and then reassess my bearing. My thinking was that each oar stroke gave between three and four yards. Thus, I was confident that three hundred strokes would give a kilometer. I consider this to be my minimum interval between pauses. Eventually, I get up to over six hundred strokes between pauses. I thus content myself that I have made a solid two kilometres, probably more.

It is here, in about four feet of turbid water, I was unjustly and without provocation attacked by prior mentioned seal.

Until now I have had few bad things to say about seals, in fact if you were to ask me I may have expressed on balance nice things to say about seals. However, now that changed and on encountering them close up I can confirm beyond all doubt that they are in fact egregiously inclined and take immense grudges at red rowing boats. Any suggestion that said seal may have mistaken the skeg of my rowing boat for fish which is its diet will of course be immediately dismissed for the complete rubbish that it is.

Having recovered from this most malicious and devious attack on my rights as a solo rower adventurer (what someone that rows a boat calls himself) I continue onwards

Now having rowed this water two years prior I was confident that traveling the same course in the same boat at the same speed would result in the same outcome. This was not however going to be. Someone somewhere had invented a thing called tides, and whilst two years ago I traveled this water without difficulty, I now run into shoals. But how could this be, last time there were no shoals here, and yet they are most certainly here now. Could just maybe last time I rowed this water at high tide and now the tide is lower? That's plausible, however I blame a conspiracy, I don't know by whom, but there must be someone out there somewhere with an agenda on all this, and I blame them.

Having learnt from two days prior that walking over mudflats is not super fun, I decide to detour to the channel. A few hundred yards and I reach deep water. Now I can continue my circumnavigation of French Island. I use my method of finding a point on the horizon, row a couple hundred strokes, and then reassess my situation. After every pause I find I am able to slowly work my way around the NE corner of French Island and now the channel runs SE as opposed to NE where I was forced to row earlier. I think I am in the channel but the deep water seems to run out. Do I choose to row close to the island, the middle of the channel or close to the mainland? I decide on a sliding approach angling my way up the channel aiming for the mainland proper and as I work my way across I must find the deep channel once again.

However, you guessed it, close to shore I hit shoals again. But what happened to the deep water? After a great deal of contemplation and testing of my logic, I deduce from sheer mind power, that there is in fact no channel. That's why perhaps very few boats come this way, and why I am having difficulty. I revert to dragging the boat. I find if I have more than four inches of water or more it is easier to row, though every oar stroke digs up a plume of mud. Shallower than this I walk the boat though every step sinks a foot or so into the same said mud. Joy of joy, where would you rather be? I feel conscious that walking through this mud is destroying something environmental, I can't really say what I am destroying, though I don't think it does the sea grasses much good. Perhaps I kid myself into thinking that very few people row boats around French Island and thus by logic very few people do this kind of boat dragging that I do.

I pass a what I first think is a navigation light, however after reflection I deduce that it is a warning light to keep boats from running aground.

For some reason I find walking the boat in thick mud, at the height of summer, on a stinking hot day and with a sun that has no mercy hot and hard work. I am sweating like a pig. I have a broad brimmed canvas hat and have applied sunscreen, however it does not seem enough. I have long pants and long sleeve top for protection from the sun, but there always seems to be places where the protection fails.

After a while the water deepens and I can continue rowing. I enjoy a swim and find to my joy that I can board the boat by going over the side. A little water comes in, but after bailing this out, the boat is no worse for wear. IMHO having the ability to board a boat from the water is a desirable thing. I have a stern rope which hangs in a loop to just above water level for this purpose, however on this occasion I found I was able to get in via the side of the boat. Perhaps the gear on the boat made the boat stable enough to permit this, perhaps the slider wider bottom at 66cm vs 60cm for my first boat helped too. All I know is that I feel sacrificing a little speed for a bit more initial stability and comfort seems to have been a worthwhile decision.

I know approach Lang Lang. A small township with no redeeming features and if such a town where to be obliterated via a meteor hit or via an air force bombing run that went wrong, the world would be no worse a place.

Darn this, I am tired, its hot, the wind is picking up and I want to rest. Its about 2pm and I have been rowing for seven hours. I want to get to the beach at Lang Lang, however you guessed it, I am stopped via mud. Fortunately, the tide is coming in bringing the water and the sand closer together. I locate myself on top of a huge concrete fuel bladder. Why it is here I don't know, I can only surmise that it's a kind of coastal erosion prevention device. Be it whatever it is, it is there where I sit. That's it, I just sit there waiting. I have the boat rope in one hand and I just wait. Looking like an f-wit sitting on a a huge concrete thingy waiting for the tide to come in.

After 45 minutes of sitting looking like a twat, the water is now high enough and I can re-board the boat and make the shore. I tie the boat up to a rock, go for a walk and discover a collection of houses that are completely lacking in any appeal. What sodding f-wit would ever buy a holiday house here? My suspicions are confirmed when I see that almost every fourth house has a for sale sigh on it.

I talk to some people fishing, but only grudgingly do I get some words out. Don't push it I deduce, like town, like people, either way not my sort of place.

I want to push on but now it is mid afternoon and I have a strong headwind. Nothing to be done but wait for the wind to die down. No point in rowing for two or three kilometres into a strong headwind just to make French Island and find a camp for the night. It is here that I notice that I now smell. I have not had a shower in three days, my socks are sodden, my pants are encrusted with salt. My skin is sunburnt and my hands have blisters from three days of hard rowing.

I ended up having to put socks on my oar handles to prevent against blisters. I coated the oar handles with linseed oil to protect them. Looking back at it now I should have used the animal fat the I use for the leathers. The linseed oil has left a hard coating that is detrimental to the use of the handgrips. I guess I need to sand this back down and apply animal fat, a job for later.

After a few hours in this horrid place the wind dies down and I can move on. I am able to make the few kilometres to the easternmost tip of French Island with a enjoyable row. I reach the point find a nice sandy beach and with the tide at a reasonable height I can approach the sand without complication of mud flats. Do I continue on in ideal rowing conditions, or do I make camp. Camp it is. Nice sandy beach, take the gear to the top of the beach, flip the boat over, lift the bow then roll the boat up the beach via its wheels.

Explore area, find a dried up creek behind dunes, walk around with bare feet, walk slowly to avoid stepping on a highly venomous tiger snakes. A little more exploring and I seem to walk into every cob web this side of Alice Springs.

Here is camp.

Make a small fire, get my gear sorted, perfect beach, perfect sunset, no people for miles around. Cost not one cent, no camp fees, no one knows I am here, do whatever I want. Good camp spot, good place to rest up. Assess the supply situation. In last three days I have managed to drink six litres of water, three litres of milk, one can tomato soup, and one can beans. That's a fair bit of water. However, I am now down to only one five litre container of water. I am amazed how much fluid I have been drinking, I guess the heat and huge physical effort requires lots of water. Hint for next trip, take more water.

Day four, last day. Wake up at first light to a high tide. A morning stroll on beach with zero people, just me and the shore birds, and forest behind me. A note for future boaters, this stretch of beach is a pain to reach at low tide, because you guessed it, mud flats. Time your arrival close to high tide and you will do well. Into the water, perfect conditions, and I make good progress. The miles roll off and I make solid progress. Its hot and I am thirsty, I don't want to waste water, yet at the same time I need to drink, so I break into the last five litre water container. I gulp water in large quantities and feel that I need every drop. Noon approaches and the wind picks up. Pull up to a beach and rest up.

The wind is still strong and my patience is limited. I wait a couple hours, the wind is still strong but a fraction less, or so I think. Should I have made more miles the day before when conditions were ideal, perhaps yes, perhaps no. I decide to make a run for the next headland a kilometer off to the south, or is it perhaps south east. I cant tell which way is which because the sun is directly overhead and of course, who needs a compass anyway.

This kilometer takes it out of me, battling against the winds, straining every muscle. I feel that I am close to my limits. Possibly making my first rowing trip in over a year a four day trip was not a sound way of building up my muscles and rowing strength (you don't say?).

I reach the next headland and just wait for the wind to die. I find out later that this was the most southerly point on French Island but I did not know that at the time. I pass my time by looking over the area, nothing but scrub behind the beach, little puffer fish in the water. I amuse myself by eating huge oysters. Now eating oysters so close to a large city could not have any risk to it, surely not. Stuff it, oysters taste nice, I am hungry, and they are free.

I walk over the rocks and discover that my shoe has fallen apart, the sole is now completely off, and between my foot and the rocks is just a thin liner, oh joy. I go for one last oyster. I try and get it with the knife but with no luck. I am tired, hot, sun burnt and collecting oysters with a folding knife, what can go wrong. The last oyster I attack but the blade is now slightly angled. After applying force the knife slips and jams on the thing keeping the blade in place, my finger. Red stuff comes out. Darn fiddle. Mistakes always happen when your tired. Bandage it up and hope for the best. Turns out though the cut was moderately deep it was nothing extreme, hint for next time, be more cautious when your tired, and invest in a straight, not folding knife. (Hint I have a strong preference for non folding knives over folding knives, though non folding knives are harder to find).

Wait a good two hours, the wind seems to have died and seems to have changed direction. Back to rowing again. I now seem to have a slight tailwind. Rowing progress seems reasonable, I count of the strokes and only have a pause every five hundred to a thousand strokes. Well the boat is not going to row itself. Pass a house on the shore, and later is becomes a small speck. Find another house, more rowing and same thing happens. Just hard work. Drink water, row, drink water once more, row and row and row. Now down to two litres of water. If I have to keep going another day, I am going to have to go ashore and ask if I can get some water from a farmhouse, (they wouldn't say no would they?).

How much further, hard to say, I see a headland far ahead, not knowing where I am I assume that is the SE point of French island. Darn long way to go. Closing in on the headland I look over a spit and see white drums in the distance, what on earth is that? Then I realise, hey that's the Esso oil terminal at Hastings. I am on the homeward leg, the point that I assumed to be the SE corner is actually the SW corner.

I pass a boat that is fishing, they ask me if I have any spare beer, can't help them, would kill for a beer. I ask where is Hastings, and they say turn right after the second headland. Drat I can see the steep headland 300m ahead but the second one is miles away, guess a few more miles before my turn. Nothing for it, just row, keep rowing, more work, row the yards, do what has to be done. I am physically spent but what I can I do, no sympathy to be found from the sea, just dig in and do what has to be done.

Rounding the headland I see a smaller headland that is only 300m further. Ah this must be the second headland the fishermen were referring too. Round this and now I am on the homeward stretch, I have a following wind and sea, so just keep the miles going. Fatigue comes and goes, a mile here a mile there. The fatigue seems to come in cycles. I don't know where my limit is, I am starting to learn that what I feel is my physical limit is not the true limit, and that my body can do more.

I pass a moored ship taking on cargo. First it is in front on me and on my port side, then abeam, later it is behind me. If I have passed the ship at least I know I am making progress. I pass an abandoned navy submarine. Meant to be a 'tourist attraction', been sitting there rusting for ten years now, hmmm good idea that one, just maybe not.

The last stretch, I keep the land close to port and make my turn into Hastings. I can make up moored yachts, that looks like the place where I left from. Line up the bow with those boats, turn around, find a landmark directly behind, that is my marker, keep that directly behind. Another 300 strokes, another kilometre down, not far to go now. Just keep going, thirty strokes makes a hundred yards, 60 strokes makes 200 yards. Progress is progress. I turn around, I can now see the pier, the place I want is just to the left. Avoid a yacht coming out of the marina, no one seems to care in the slightest what I am doing, boat hits the beach, I am finished, exhausted but satisfied.

I check to see that my car is still there, car insurance is over rated anyway. No parking tickets after four days parked in the same spot, I am happy with that. It takes me an hour to pack the boat as I am that tired. The boat felt so heavy lifting it up onto the car I was sure I must have water in the bow compartment. I drill a hole to let the water out. Nothing comes out, seems the extra weight was a figment to my fatigue and not of the weight of the boat. The bow sits on the back of the roof rack extension. I then walk to the stern, lift it up and slide the boat onto the rack, the boat is fitted, no more lifting for me.

I gorge out on ice cream that my body craves. For the first time in my life I drink sugar free lemonade and discover that I like it. The five litres of water I had that morning are all gone, and still I needed more, it's a physical thing, this rowing thing, yes a most physical thing.

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