Miller's Run for Beginners!

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14 years 3 months ago #1793 by jtresfon
On Friday evening I organized to paddle with my regular paddling partner XXX, doing our usual downwind from Miller?s to Simonstown. When we got to Millers we saw Dawid Mocke and several other paddlers (surfski school or fish livesaving I assume) just launching for a Miller?s to Fish Hoek run, so we decided to tag on the back and join them. The wind was blowing 30kts steady and gusting 34kts. There was absolutely zero swell. XXX was on a borrowed Robberg Express (the new one) and I was on my XT.

I?ve done the Miller?s to Simonstown probably about 25 times and in some wild conditions, and thought that this would be not much different with the exception of the added mental pressure from being far offshore and there being no bounce back from the harbour wall. It?s also a bit longer, being 12km as opposed to 9km.

Well I could not have been more wrong...

From Miller?s to about halfway to Roman Rock it was not that much different. You are more in the wind and its easier to catch the runs. The surfski school guys had disappeared and it was just XXX and I. XXX dropped quite far back and I soon lost sight of him. As I approached Roman Rock the wind speed increased and the waves got steeper, leading to some adrenalin filled, gut wrenching runs. It was easy to link the runs and I managed several runs of up to about 30 secs without paddling. The wind was also strong enough to grab at the paddle and try and take it from my hands.

By this stage I was starting to worry about XXX and thought that I would wait at Roman Rock for him, but as I arrived there I found the sea became a lot more confused, with the waves being bigger and there being some refraction from the rock. I tried to turn around and promptly fell of the ski. Suddenly the mental bomb struck home of being several miles from shore in a howling wind with no way of signaling for help (not that help could arrive in a hurry anyway in those conditions) and I realised that its possible to get into some serious trouble quite quickly in this game. I did not try to remount in a hurry and took the opportunity to look behind me for XXX but there was no sight of him. I remounted and tried to paddle slowly to wait for him.

From Roman Rock to just before Sunny Cove the waves were almost twice as big as before the lighthouse (they were huge!) and the wind was definitely stronger. Paddling slowly and worrying about XXX was a mistake and I fell of the ski again about 3 times, each time remounting without too much trouble, but when I fell off a fourth time I was starting to get tired and realised that I was heading for a problem. I decided that I could not help XXX even if I wanted to and the best course of action would be to get to Fish Hoek and take it from there. I remounted and concentrated on catching the runs and straight away things became easier. The next 2km were some of the wildest paddling I?ve ever done, with big waves pushing from behind and from the sides. I caught a few bombers that were so steep I was worried about pitch poling. As I dropped down the face I lay back along the ski and still got buried to the waist, but then the nose would pop out and I sat up and took off for a roller coaster ride of note. Several times I got klapped from the side by a foamie and just managed to brace. At this section I was right on the edge of my competency level.

As I passed Sunny Cove and entered Fish Hoek bay then things calmed down and I turned around but still no XXX. I paddled into the bay, walked up the beach and stashed the ski, then went to the water?s edge to look for XXX. After a few minutes I saw some paddlers approaching but these turned out to be two old pro?s who must have passed XXX, but had not seen him. After what seemed like an eternity but was in reality about 10 minutes XXX paddled into the bay looking fairly knackered. He said he had been ok until the lighthouse, which was his mental marker that he had put the worst behind him, but then he hit the big water and got into trouble. He fell off but said it took him about 15 minutes to get back on, as every time he remounted he just fell off again.

I enjoyed the paddle but did not enjoy the stress of worrying about XXX. From a capability point of view I did not feel that I was in over my head, but had to really concentrate to stay upright and did not feel completely comfortable in the section after the lighthouse. XXX said he was right on the line and it was a survival game for him.

The next morning we went back to Millers and did the Simonstown run for comparison. The wind was the same but what a different paddle. It felt like being back in kindergarten. The runs were tame in comparison, but so was the stress. I could totally relax knowing that whatever happened I was never more than a 100m swim from the side. It also felt much shorter. I can?t even begin to imagine how wild the Fish Hoek run would be if there was a swell pushing in addition to the wind. The verdict? for after work paddles just before dark the Simonstown run will win every time. For a weekend game I?d really like to do the Fish Hoek run again, but this time maybe in about 25kts to start with. I'll definitely leave the 40-50kt paddles to Mr. Mousley et al...

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14 years 3 months ago #1794 by robin.mousley
Hey Jean
Great story, and some thought provoking stuff there. Thanks for sharing it!

Some suggestions for folks going on their first Millers runs:

- Find an experienced paddler to go with you - and to commit to staying with you.
- Have a discussion before you launch about what you're doing, how you're going to do it (ie inside the lighthouse, agree to stay in touch, etc) and emergency procedures (who has a cell phone, do we all have each other's numbers).
- Use a leash. If you lose your ski, the chances of losing your life increase dramatically.
- Use a PFD - no brainer.
- Take cell phone in waterproof pouch and make sure people on shore know what the number so they can call you... It's sometimes easier to answer the phone than to make a call.
- Store the number of the Simonstown NSRI in the phone: +27829905965. Send them an SMS before you do the run like: "3 skis, Millers to Fish Hoek, ETA 17h00". That way they're already mentally prepared should something go wrong.
- Take flares with you. Remember you'll see your rescuers long before they see you - you need something to signal with. A cell phone may be difficult to use after you've been in the water for an hour.
- For the first couple of kilometres, go straight up the coast, there is no need to angle out to sea.
- Then head straight for the point on the left side of Fish Hoek Bay. This is the shortest route and will take you 200-300m to the left (ie nearer to the shore) of the Roman Rock lighthouse. There is no need to go right ie seaward of the lighthouse.
- Stick together. The first couple of years of doing Millers runs, we would always keep each other in sight. It's only recently that I've started going after "personal best" times, but even now, when the conditions are really hairy we try to keep in touch most of the way.

We had an excellent exercise with the Simonstown NSRI a few weekends ago - we learnt a lot and I'm in the process of writing it all up for the site. The station commander is Darren Zimmerman and he and his team are some of the most friendly, most approachable people you could hope to meet.

Some paddlers seem to be afraid that if they tell the NSRI that they're going out in big wind and waves, the NSRI will tell them not to go. This is not true - they understand why we do what we do but they prefer to be told upfront if possible because then they know what to expect if they are called out. It takes them some 30 minutes to assemble the crew and to launch and knowing what they're looking for and where saves precious minutes.

Rob

Currently Fenn Swordfish S, Epic V10 Double.
Previously: Think Evo II, Carbonology Zest, Fenn Swordfish, Epic V10, Fenn Elite, Red7 Surf70 Pro, Epic V10 Sport, Genius Blu, Kayak Centre Zeplin, Fenn Mako6, Custom Kayaks ICON, Brian's Kayaks Molokai, Brian's Kayaks Wedge and several others...

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14 years 3 months ago #1795 by jtresfon
Hi Rob

Thanks very much for the practical advice, obviously gained over a lot of experience.

Just for clarification, neither of us ever paddle without a PFD and a leash. We usually take one phone between us since we always paddle together. This of course assumes you will stick together and the folly of this assumption was well highlighted on the run!

We changed the plan at the last minute, had no discussion of how we were going to do it, made no plan for an emergency and did not manage to stick together. We carried no flares and were unprepared for the conditions. Pretty much a recipe for a disaster.

Liasing with the NSRI is an excellent suggestion and we will definitely SMS them in the future, thank you for the contact details.

Regards
Jean.

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14 years 3 months ago #1796 by robin.mousley
See also:
Millers Run without the fun: www.surfski.info/content/view/395/154/
Gordon's Survival Tips: www.surfski.info/content/view/425/155/

The Millers Run is my all time favorite route - but stories like these (and yours!) remind us that we all need to treat it with respect! :)

Rob

Currently Fenn Swordfish S, Epic V10 Double.
Previously: Think Evo II, Carbonology Zest, Fenn Swordfish, Epic V10, Fenn Elite, Red7 Surf70 Pro, Epic V10 Sport, Genius Blu, Kayak Centre Zeplin, Fenn Mako6, Custom Kayaks ICON, Brian's Kayaks Molokai, Brian's Kayaks Wedge and several others...

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