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March 26, 2005

Dances with Crocs - part 2

As I think I mentioned in yesterdays update, many if not most North Queenslanders I've run into since arriving back in Australia, upon hearing of my intention to paddle a kayak to the mainland, have cautioned against the salties. Just recently a man was taken from his tent while camping on the beach just north of here in Bathurst Bay. In another instance a kayaker was taken from a sandbar in full daylight in front of his companions. Since hunting was banned in 1974 crocs have made a healthy rebound in population numbers and seem to be getting more and more confident with approaching humans for 'tucker'.

Just before heading out from Lizard yesterday morning Russ, the Aboriginal guide for the Research Station, said to me, 'There's some big Lizards over there mate. Watch yourself'.

It was with these words in my head that I rounded the sheltered southern edge of Lookout Point, looking for a sandy beach to make landfall. At 300ft from shore I saw two largish crocs (one 15 ft, the other more around 17ft) basking on the sand near the rocks. I couldn't believe the likelihood of this happening! Detecting my approach they both quickly slipped into the water and swam out to sea (opposite to my course); their torpedo shaped bodies tracking effortlessly through the crystal clear water.

I thought, 'Well, they're obviously shy creatures and that's the last I'll see of them.' How wrong I turned out to be!

At 150ft from shore I felt the hairs rising on back of my neck, like you feel when someone is watching you. Turning my head I noticed in horror to see one of the crocs breaking the surface and wheeling around to follow me. I've since spoken to a couple of experts here in Cooktown who think the croc may have mistaken the kayak for a rival.


At 100ft from shore I started paddling with all I had. It had been a long 5 hours in the kayak from Eagle Island, but that extra burst of energy seemed to appear from nowhere, without effort! At 5 odd knots I chanced a glance behind me and could see my pursuer easily closing the distance. I knew my only hope would be to get to shore, or at least to where I could stand with my feet on hard ground to defend myself. Out in deeper water, still in the kayak, I knew I'd be done for. No capsizing now!

I hit the beach with the croc just 10, maybe 15 feet behind me. Tearing the skirt from the velcro fastenings I lept like a gazelle from the cockpit and sprinted up the beach, paddle still in hand. The sudden change in the shape of its quarry seemed to take it by surprise. It stopped, slowly turned and slipped back into deeper water.

I called Bob Lamb to tell him of landing safely on the mainland and of my ordeal. Laughing he said, 'They're bad mate - real bad'. No kidding. And my ordeal had only begun...

An hour later I started to carry equipment up from the kayak to the high water mark - a walk of around 100ft up the beach. On my second trip up the beach I dropped off my load of dry-bags, turned to make for the kayak again, only to stop dead in my tracks. The croc has returned. This time it was slowly advancing towards the kayak on the ocean side. Instantly I could see my kayak getting attacked along with all the gear and communications equipment inside, including the satphone. So without really thinking though the implications of what I was about to do I found myself running down the beach, paddle in hand. At 10ft out the monster saw me and opened its jaws, displaying a pink and white mouth and a fiersome array of teeth. 'Shooo' I said, waving the paddle hopefully towards it. Unperturbed it let out a long hiss (a sign of aggression I've since been told - hmmm, I'd never have guessed...) and took a step towards me. Realising that more pro-action was needed I thrust the end of the paddle into its mouth, upon which it clamped its jaws firmly over the blade. I tried to pull it back, but it was no good. I quicky tried reversing the action, pushing the blade further into its throat and bingo, the jaws opened just enough to pull it free! I then gripped the paddle with both hands and belted the croc as hard as I could across the side of the head, splitting the paddle in two.


By this time I knew I've pretty much played out all my cards, and the only thing left between me and it was a flimsy canvas kayak (that itself has also tried to kill me on three occasions by nearly sinking). But by this stage the croc seemed to have had enough fun with me and by the grace of whatever/whomever, retreated into the surf and back into deeper water.

A little later I lit a large fire on the beach hoping that it would keep the beast from coming ashore again. I also used the spotlight on my new headtorch to keep track of its whereabouts patrolling back and forth 100 feet off shore - the reflection from its eyes giving me an exact position.

I called John on the satphone for advise. 'Get off the beach NOW' he urged with firmness and urgency in his voice. 'They're wiley as hell. It'll wait around until you've fallen asleep, then come and get ya. Get yourself and your gear up on top of that headland where it can't climb'. This I spent the next 2 hours doing, hobbling up and down on swollen feet, bitten all the way by the clouds of mosquitos. Finally, at 11pm I lay down in my sleeping bag and tried to sleep.

Posted on March 26, 2005 1:34 PM