15 June 2015

Hail hell

by Tess Dodd_Adveturetess

 I am almost halfway across, enjoying leaving the demands of a busy morning further behind me with every paddle stroke. My thoughts are filled with plans to paddle in Alaska.

Reading Audrey Sutherland’s books (87 days solo kayaking in Alaska, swimming and kayaking remote sections of the Hawaii coast); I recognized her spirit and felt inspired by her adventures. I spend many hours vicariously sharing her inflatable canoe. A deep rumble draws my attention to my right. I was no longer sharing Audrey’s inflatable canoe in Alaska, but alone in my Nordkapp in Moreton Bay.
Looking south, I can see darkness on the horizon. It’s distant and appears to be moving across the lower bay, out to sea, away from me. I can see the strip of white sand where my friends are camped. I know it’s not far for me to paddle now. I stop day dreaming and increase my cadence, keen to reach the beach before any rain falls. I don't fancy setting up my tent in the rain.

 Loud rumble. The storm is moving closer to me but still appears to be tracking out to sea. I stop paddling to hydrate and consider my options: I am closer to my destination than any other land.
If the storm moves towards me and not out to sea, no matter which direction I take now, I am going to get wet. I decide to continue my original course.
Before I move on, a sea turtles large head breaks the surface nearby, taking a huge gasp of air before sinking below. I notice a large shadow to the right, too big for a turtle, maybe a dugong? The shadow moves closer, rising from below to bump my boat, moving it with its body. Far out, a shark! It brushes my kayak as it moves away; I drop my drink hose, pick up my paddle and get moving.

Hail storm at Bakesleys_Gill
Storm approaching, viewed from Blakelseys Landing _photo Gill Booysen

 I can see 2 motor launches near the island heading for anchor. Other watercraft have disappeared. At least I won’t have to worry about being hit by a boat out here.
BOOM… a BIG thunder clap. Louder. Closer.
The cell is moving as fast as my heart is beating – fast! I know I will soon be engulfed by this heaving beast. OK Tessie, don’t panic. Relax, think clearly, and make a plan. Stow the sail securely on deck. Point the kayak into it. Prepare to brace. (Larry Gray ‘storm brace’ technique – it works).

I glance behind me and see sunshine and blue sky. Bizarre. Ahead, I see people moving about on the beach, the storm cell has not quite reached them. I think about my friends and wonder if they can see me out here, knowing they can’t. I don’t want them to be worried about me. I wish I was with them right now. Looking into a sky that is now a deeper green than the water, I realize it’s going to hail.

I think of Australian Ironman Grant Kenny who was out training on his ski when a sudden hailstorm hit. The hail stones cut his head open. He flipped his ski over and used it for protection until the storm passed.
After the earlier shark bump, I was really hoping I would NOT end up in the water today, but knew I may not have a choice. I also hoped for small hail stones and a fast storm. The transforming beast of green and black was almost upon me. I could feel my body trembling, adrenaline I guess.

BOOM. …BOOM…crackle…The vibrations travel through me. I can no longer see the beach. The wind increases slightly as large drops of rain begin hitting the water around the kayak. It is a strangely beautiful moment. A bird sitting in the water just ahead dives below and does not reappear. Darkness wraps around me. Shit! A wave of anxiety washes through me. My senses tingle as I wait. Suddenly, a raspy sound becomes an almighty roar, heralding it’s arrival. I try to point the bow into it, bracing. The ferocious blast is more than I have ever experienced in the kayak before, EVER.

meanwhile on shore...
I struggle to stay upright, my ears fill with the roar of the wind, waves wash over my deck, my body is physically forced backwards over the deck. I bend forward trying to lessen the effects of the wind on my body. The drops of rain become bigger and the waves smaller. My saturated hat brim is down around my face. I can’t see or hear over the roar and have no idea what’s coming next. I focus on staying upright. A new sound joins the melee. Crack. Crack. Crack. Then, I feel it. HAIL! Hailstones begin hitting my head, my arms, my hands. Hail ricochets off the kayak painfully hitting my face and teeth! The hailstones increase in size. Taking one hand off the paddle, I cover the top of my head until my fingers hurt from the stinging ice. There is no relief. The noise is deafening. The hailstones bruise and sting where they hit my body. If this continues, I will have to get in the water for shelter. I don’t know how long the storm lasts, but neither of my hopes comes true. The hailstones are large and the storm is not over quickly. I endure an icy beating from Mother Nature until the storm cell eventually moves over me, the hail and wind easing to leave only gentle rain hitting my bruised face and body.

After storm selfie
After storm selfie
 Once again able to see, I look towards the island. It is further away but, in front of me is the bizarre sight of half the beach covered in grey sky, half blue sky with a rainbow…half storm, half rainbow! I self-assess. My kayak is still upright. I am beaten up but OK. I am close to tears, instead of crying, I begin laughing. Strange, stress relief laughter. I feel spent, alone and ready to resign the ‘Adventure’ from AdventureTess.

AFter the storm_Tess

But, I am in the middle of the bay and need to get moving again. The storm is north of me now, cutting a swathe over the water and Dunwich on the west coast of the island. I have a clear view of blue sky either side of this intense black and green field of energy. Eager to see my friends, I pick up my paddle and begin the work to reach them. I have been blown away from the island, so have additional distance to make up. While paddling, I reflect on the experience and my choices that day. I believe I made good choices and would have felt some comfort with company, but would company have created an additional concern? Using the last of my energy, I reach the beach. People are moving about, fixing campsites, and checking boats. I see my friends and call out. Relief floods through me as they make their way to the water’s edge to meet me.

Tess' arrival_Gill

Note: I launched just after lunch to paddle 10km to meet my friends, who were waiting at camp. Conditions were mild. The water was bumpy with a 10 to 15kn headwind. A possible late thunderstorm was forecast. It was early and there were no signs of a storm when I launched. I often paddle alone and am familiar with this stretch of water. I have been asked about the wisdom and safety of my paddling alone. Even for these short distances in familiar water. I enjoy social paddling with a few close friends but feel confident in my skills and decision making ability to kayak alone.

Recounting the story_Gill
great campsite story...                                                                                                                                       photo: Gill Booysen



  1. As I read your story, my heart was racing! Alone, a thunderstorm, painful hail, deafening sounds, little visibility, and add being bumped by a shark to the mix (not like we don't know they are there already). Yikes! So glad to hear everything turned out ok and that you are still posting. Definitely a great story to tell around the campfire.

    1. Hi Anon
      It was certainly a memorable event for me.
      I have been away from the "virtual campfire" (my blog) for a while, but I am still out adventuring.
      Thank you for your comments.

  2. Nice story!! very well written!!
    I was skipping the photos to know what came next.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Ps, don't pay attention to those who critizise your actions, they dont know what they miss by playing extra safe all the time. Life is too short not to live it.

    1. Hi fer
      I'm glad you enjoyed the story.
      I love life outdoors and plan to keep loving it!
      Thank you for your kind comments.

  3. Wow...awesome... you know company may mean security but ultimately its your journey and your alone dealing with it. It is good you paddle alone confidently(:, we are unwise but it is only because we are uncertain not to miss out on a new opportunity or experience. Be safe, I am glad you faced the strom bravely and did not have to face the sharks...good...


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