The 2012 Naish Paddle Against Plastic was run over the weekend to raise awareness of the issues plastics pose to our environment and to our own health. The final course saw the paddlers leave Airlie Beach at 2pm on Friday heading to Hamilton Island. Then Saturday the major mission to paddle to Mackay Harbor, a massive distance of 50nm.
Friday came and the weather forecast of no wind was amiss. The 4 paddlers were confronted with a 10-15 knot SE, right on the nose once they were to round Pioneer rocks. However they set off with the Sunsail support vessel in hot pursuit from the marina. The boys got off to a flyer and it wasn’t until Pioneer Rocks that the chase boat actually caught them. Kyle got a surprise when a hammerhead shark wanted to check out his Naish 17′ Javelin board coming right up underneath before cruising off in the depths. He reckons it was shorter than his board…just. The trek across Molle Passage into the wind towards Unsafe Passage was always going to be hard. The chop simply stops the board and the wind against your body acts like a sail….the wrong way. Kyle led the charge and pulled away from the pack early. Thommo headed slightly more across the wind and the Mairs boys took the slow and steady direct approach. Averaging just 1.4 knots, eventually the boys all made it to unsafe passage where a decision was made to not hurt themselves with the big paddle the next day more important, so the boards were loaded onto the chase boat and we headed across the Whitsunday Passage to Henning Island. As the sun set the boys jumped back in the water and paddled into the Hamilton Island Marina under the light of the full moon.
The evening consisted of catching up with the crew from Hamilton Island Outriggers and then dinner before we all turned in early in preparation for the early start. The alarm didn’t get a chance to go off in the morning as Thommo bounded out of bed at 03:25. Apparently he couldn’t sleep as he was too excited about the paddle. Arriving at the outriggers shed, where the boards were stored overnight, we were greeted by a sad looking Kyle. Work commitments meant he was unable to paddle on the Saturday. At 04:45 the three remaining paddlers departed the marina in glass out conditions as the moon set over Dent Island. At first light they had already cleared the southern tip of Hamilton and were charging along at speeds averaging just over 4 knots with the tide behind them, however a small breeze had blown up from the east making the initial part of the paddle a bit harder than expected.
The forecast had been for NE to N winds all day and increasing with the sea breeze. Let’s just say the weatherman got it wrong. Throughout the morning the wind moved from the East to the SE and then across to the SW at up to 8 knots. To enable the boys to get south and use the current they slip streamed the chase boat, a nice 40ft luxury sailing catamaran, that provided perfect protection. At 10am the wind died and the glass out returned, better than head winds but not the desired tail wind they so desperately wanted. Approaching Blacksmith Thommo surged ahead like he had seen something and wanted to get there in a hurry. He paddled quickly towards a small beach and as we approached we realised he had seen a large plastic bottle on the beach. He then parked the board on the beach and proceeded to pick up plastic off the beach. There was too much for him alone so Luke pulled in to help. Below is a video of Thommo returning to the boat with the debris.
Quite simply put, this paddle was all about plastic and seeing Thommo and Luke return with so much off such a small island was stunning. Out here in the middle of the magical Whitsunday Islands, and this is way south of the tourist spots. There were ropes, a herbicide container, bottles and bottle caps. Thommo says he only picked up about a third of the plastic on the beach as most of it was too small to remove and the rocks were killing his feet that were already tired from paddling for 5 hours.
The realisation of the issue spurred the boys on and they shot off towards Mackay against the tide with no wind to help. They continued to cycle through pulling up to the boat to get sunscreen, food and drinks in a style reminiscent of the Tour de France when cyclists pull alongside cars for medical assistance, hanging on for a little while, whilst they are tended to.
Finally the sea breeze started to kick in however it was very east, meaning it was dead side on to the paddlers, the worst case scenario. Initially it was O.K but as it built it meant for very unstable paddling as the waves built. With tired bodies already from 8 hours of paddling Thommo made the decision to have a rest and use the chase boat to get further east so the paddle into Mackay was more downwind. So the boys lay on their boards and hung onto tow lines for a while as we headed towards St Bees and Keswick Islands. After a short while the boys were back at it, this time with the wind behind them. Surfing down waves at up to 8 knot speeds and with a few awesome spills from Thommo, the ETA was shortening all the time. The tide changed at 16:30 and with current and wind behind them they were averaging over 5 knots.
As the sun set the boys were rounding Slade Point and could see the marina. Paddling with smiles on their faces as they caught each wave, Thommo still falling off every so often, the boys finally entered the marina just on dusk. It was a massive achievement. They had managed to cover 50nm in under 14 hours, albeit with a little help from the chase boat.
‘We’re not claiming any records, however it’s nice to be here. Compared to my sail around Australia this was easy as I had two good mates to paddle with. Doing it in numbers is the way to go. If one was feeling down the others would pick him up and pull him along. Then we had an awesome team on the chase boat. Annika, Isabelle and Kath were awesome preparing food and drinks as we needed them. All in all it was an amazing day and having seen the debris on Blacksmith, on such a tiny beach in the middle of no where, reinforces the fact that plastic is horrible and we must do something to change our ways.’ said Thommo.
Luke stated ‘I was really surprised at the state of the plastic on Blacksmith. It wasn’t the number, it was how brittle it had become. Thommo had told us about photo-degredation and how it meant plastic broke up into tiny pieces but I hadn’t seen it before. Really makes you think about every piece of plastic you use. It was fantastic to achieve the paddle to raise awareness of this issue.’
‘It was a tough adventure’ said Tris ‘however as a smoker, I’ve learnt that my cigarette butts are plastic as the filters are made from plastic. Every smoker really needs to make sure they dispose of their butts properly, not just drop them in the street or throw them out the window where they will eventually travel through drains and into our oceans. It’s just about being responsible as we don’t want our oceans clogged with plastic.’
The paddle managed to raise enough money to visit two schools. Hamilton Island Primary School and a local Airlie Beach School will be visited by Thommo personally to present the Ocean Crusaders Education Program. There is still time to donate to the campaign to allow more school visits. Just visit the Paddle Against Plastic page on the Ocean Crusaders Website. You can donate up till October 21st to go into the draw to win one of 6 pairs of Barz Optics sunglasses.
We’d also like to thank all our sponsors. Naish International for supplying us boards and world-wide coverage, Sunsail for supplying the chase boat and Barz Optics for supplying the paddlers sunglasses and 6 pairs to give away to donors. Without support like this, we cannot achieve our goals of educating the world on the issues plastics pose.