Fairfield Canoe Club
2019 Centenary Year

An Incident on the Yarra - Be Prepared

I have always joked with my bike friends, that when I come out of the boat at least I have a soft landing.

But one of them came back to me after my ‘incident’ on the Yarra, that after he came off his bike, worked out that he was ok, he knew where his bike was … not like me …… all I knew was that the boat was further from FCC than I was – but how much further?

I will fill in a few of the details, re the incident and “what does be prepared mean”?

  • Running, I used to enjoy a long run, especially on holidays, great way to get your bearings and even find a coffee shop –  being prepared was knowing where you were going and how to get back, letting someone know when you would be back and wear a hat. Most of my running days were done without a mobile phone – so you could say I was prepared for a ‘good outcome, but not prepared for all outcomes.
  • Bike riding, a bit the same as running ; pump, repair kit, etc maybe a credit card so you could get a taxi home if required and a phone. Never know when you may need to talk to someone about changed plans - prepared for a good ride  but maybe not for all outcomes.
  • Ocean swim – to the beach, straight out and straight back – not much planning just a hard swim until you turn around to come back and the wind, the current and the waves throw out a real challenge. Maybe look, ask and see what others are doing before you hit the water, no one in the water is always a good sign that more questions need to be asked. After an episode with five bull sharks once, I now swim along the beach rather than straight out.
  • Paddling – on the Yarra (4 November 2022), height 3.1 metres, flow about 18,000 ML per day (compared to 2,000 ML per day when water at the bottom step), went out by myself). I had been out a few times over the past weeks, when the river was at this height, so wasn’t too concerned.
    • Paddled downstream from the club to Kane’s Bridge – quick but still comfortable.
    • Turned at Kane’s, knew that it was going to take a bit longer to get back but not unreasonable.
    • About 2km back up, got pushed sideways towards what I thought was a reasonable branch, was going to push away from it – but it had no substance and just moved away, enough to tip me out.
    • With the PFD on, felt in no danger, looked around and say my paddle moving away and my boat behind me. Thinking that the paddle might be harder to find I went after it. The boat had flipped but afloat and close by.
    • Got the paddle and headed for the bank, but much harder to get to the bank and climb out – fast flowing and steep and no track just a steep slope to houses above.
    • When I finally got out. Looked for the boat and found it moving quickly downstream in the middle of the river. Planned to walk downstream catch up with it and get into the water if required.
    • No track, paddling booties are not made for walking, didn’t see the boat but thought it would have got caught up somewhere, so planned to go back to the club, get a boat go to Yarra Bend and paddle upstream.
    • Phone was in the car at Fairfield, so wanted to get back so I could call home to explain why I was going to be late. Also wanted to call the police, as I didn’t want some to find the boat jammed under a tree with no paddler in sight.
    • Some people I know have run the track, but walking along a track that is flooded, in paddling booties is not easy. I think I went into the water about 4:00, back at the club about 6:30 . No key for access to the club as I hook it into the boat, luckily a few people still (paddling) there.
    • The boat was floating down the centre of the river (6:00) at the rocks, (swimming spot) about 1200 mts upstream from Dights when sighted by a person in a white-water boat filling in time while her children were training at Dights. She pulled it and noticed the key and thought that it must belong to some at Ivanhoe or Fairfield
    • Following a number of phone calls (and I believe some chatter on Facebook) she eventually got to Rowan, and the ownership problem was solved. (I do have my name on the boat, but then Wenceslaus vL is not the same as Wennie van Lint)
    • Picked the boat up at Westerfolds Park on Saturday morning. Boat was muddy but no damage.

What can be learnt from the “incident” ? 

  1. Be aware that we tend to plan/prepare for ‘good’ outcomes. When the environment changes, maybe we need to adjust.
  2. Don’t paddle when the river is high (plus 2.0 mts). Bottom step below the deck 0.8 mts, grass level above the first earthen step 3.2mts.
  3. If you must paddle when the river is high, go out with someone else.
  4. If the river is high, go upstream, do some efforts at Zoli’s – if you come out there and the boat is heading downstream you have a much better chance if keeping up with it along the track, and there are some places where you may be able to intercept the boat.
  5. Always wear a PFD
  6. Get used to wearing paddle booties – not the best for ‘trail walking’ but better than bare feet.
  7. Chase the boat rather than the paddle if you get separated from both ($3000 vs $400)
  8. Maybe think about leaving your shed key behind, especially if your car keys, phone plus are in the club house or shed.
  9. And the wider paddling community are awesome at supporting those of us who get in to a spot of bother...

Wennie van Lint, 5 November 2022

Note - Wennie is not the only experienced FCC paddler to swim and lose a boat (temporarily) in the last few weeks...

A happy K1 ready to be reunited with its owner
Wennie's K1 at Dights - boat rescued and owner chased up / found by an awesome white water paddler!

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