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Trip Report

The Lucky Leg
Howlong to Corowa November 2007

This trip was lucky in almost every way, although it didn't seem that way at first. The barrels that I tow along behind the board holding my camping gear and clothing initially refused to float correctly. The lid seals were underwater, allowing water to leak in. Soggy bedding and clothes were not part of the plan, and I had visions of the barrels filling with water and heading for the bottom like streamlined bricks! They had the potential to drag the board to the bottom! I was lucky to have Frank and George Chadwick assist with the launch - Frank suggested a way of tying the barrels together which overcame the problem.

The planning for this Howlong to Corowa leg was woeful. I guess the main reason was the uncertainty about the river levels. With the severe drought I wasn't sure if the water would be deep enough to allow the windsurfer through the snags and sandbars, and whether the trip was feasible at this time. I wasn't sure which stretch of the river I should plan for. To add to the lack of planning the usual reconnaissance didn't happen. For previous legs I had driven ahead to study the river and the various challenges that the next leg would present.

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I left Sydney with a fall back plan - if the Corowa trip was not possible I would drive further down-river where the locks ensure a guaranteed body of water. A friend of my neighbours, Sharon, provided information on the river levels at Swan Hill and Robina. Her mother suggested a number of useful websites to monitor river levels.

Frank Chadwick who lives on the river at Howlong assured me the water level at Howlong was high enough for my needs, and he was right. At the launch on November 6th I was concerned that the board was very heavily laden and unstable. Drinking water, food, ropes, sunburn cream and other essentials made the board 'tippy'. So much so that as George and Frank Chadwick pushed me off I was not brave enough to test the balance by swivelling on the board to wave them goodbye! By limiting my movements on the board I made good progress and stayed dryish.

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I was lucky in the selection of a spot to sleep on that first night. Due to the late departure I only travelled a few kilometres before pulling in to the river bank for the night. The site was constricted by trees - I had two choices of places for my sleeping bag. Either under an old creaky red gum with the danger of falling limbs or on a dirt car track. Although a camper had been killed by a falling branch in Victoria a few days beforehand I chose the red-gum roofed option. This turned out to be lucky as during the night an old ute clattered along the track, and may well have cleaned me up! The two men in the ute were doing an admirable job of speeding along the rough track, holding rifles and controlling the pig dogs without spilling a drop of beer!

The next day's travel down the river involved several incidents where luck played a part - the fin dragged on unseen sandbars several times but the board was never completely brought to a halt, and my dangling toes scraped on hidden snags several times without injury! The day went well except that I pushed myself to reach a forest reserve for the night, which I eventually overshot! As the board cannot make any progress upstream against the current I had to settle for a far less salubrious overnight campsite downstream, in amongst the cowpats.

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I reached the upstream side of Corowa at about 4 pm. I yelled out to two fishermen on the bank "Is there a camping ground on the banks of the river?" The answer came back across the water: "Yes, down near the old bridge." This turned out to be very useful information. I had expected to see shops and businesses along the Corowa riverbank, or at least a road along the river, but the banks looked similar to the rural 48 Kms I had covered since Howlong. I was curious so I pulled in at a spot aptly named 'the Rocks' to have a look. As I clambered up the bank I quickly realised I was in someone's back yard, rather than the centre of the town, as I had hoped.

I continued on until I came to a beautiful old wooden bridge and pulled into the Ball Park Caravan Park. The managers of the park went out of their way to find a place for my tent near the water. Four young rowers from the nearby rowing club helped me carry the board and the gear up the bank. I told them about my little venture. They were interested and amazed. 'Some people might say you are crazy!' said one as they wandered back into the water for a swim.

Details: 2128 Kms to the Murray Mouth (Howlong) to 2080 Kms (Corowa).

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