Sea paddling and SAR around Banks Peninsula
It was the middle of winter, and the rivers had been low for weeks. Eventually, one week it looked like rain was coming to the west coast, but by Thurday, the forecast had changed back to drought. I had a three-day weekend, and was keen for some paddling, so instead I started looking into a trip I'd long wanted to do, but had never had the weather, time and fitness for before: a sea paddle around Banks Peninsula.
By Friday morning, the forecast was perfect, with light winds and little swell. I left Christchurch and drove to Birdlings Flat, my planned point of departure. Unfortunately, there was more swell than forecast, and I wouldn't want to launch through the dumping break at Birdlings in anything other than flat calm, so instead I drove over to Wainui, in Akaroa harbour, and launched there.
Akaroa harbour was glassy and calm, and I made rapid progress out to the harbour mouth. Half a dozen blue penguins popped up alongside the boat as I paddled—I've never seen so many! Once out of the harbour, Hector's dolphins followed me for hours as I paddled with the flood tide up the coast. The coastline here consists of high volcanic cliffs, but with regular sheltered inlets. When evening was drawing in, after 40km of paddling, I pulled into Le Bons bay and made camp.
The next morning, conditions were perfect—completely still and only a slight swell. I made rapid progress North, and soon Godley head was in sight. I hadn't anticipated getting this far today, but it would be convenient for shuttling to get home tonight, so I pressed on into Lyttleton Harbour against the ebbing tide, and landed at 5.30pm, after a 43km paddle. As I waited for a bus home, I laughed at texts about an Ashley trip on Sunday—my arms were knackered!
An hour later, I was walking home from the bus stop and my phone rang. It was a voicemail message from the police—could I contact them immediately as my car had been reported abandoned, and they were out looking for me! I left a message with the police controller, then immediately received a message from Arthur asking if it was me on the news?!!
When I'd launched from near Wainui, one of the locals had seen me paddle away, and the next morning had seen that my car was still there and had called the police. At the same time, every SAR volunteer in Canterbury was on call in preperation for a major coastal training exercise. Finding no sign of my intentions on my car, they all set out in search for me while the police tried to work out who I was. After talking to my neighbour and searching my house they put my name out on the news, and soon got a massive response from my paddling friends and my work mates, thanks everyone!! Kerry knew I was intending doing that trip so could tell them where I was likely to be, and then two paddlers I'd met and talked to that morning contacted them to say where I'd been and where I was heading. Eventually the search was scaled back, and not long later they heard from me and it was all over.
In future I'll be leaving intentions and emergency contact numbers with my vehicle when left overnight. I don't think anyone would read a small note left under a wiper unless they were wondering where you were. Otherwise SAR will occasionally break in to your car or house to see if any notes are left inside. The SAR man said that vehicles are frequently reported 'abandoned', and several friends have since told me that their cars have been reported abandoned to the police, who normally take no action.
This incident was also a good chance to remind people that I often go away for multi-day tramping and kayaking trips, and always carry a PLB, emergency overnight kit and safety kit with me. PLB's are awesome kit (the WWCC has one, and they are recommended by SAR)--if you pull the pin, your GPS coordinates are relayed by satellite to the coastguard or SAR, who'll start a rescue, and if you don't pull the pin, in theory no-one worries. I've frequently been delayed on trips by floods or bad weather, and hope that being a few days overdue from any trip wouldn't cause anyone any concern. Intentions left with a contact are great (I'd informally told a few people), although plans are always subject to change, and need plenty of slack for delays.