LALAGULI is the sea kayak used by Australian born paddler and sea kayaking pioneer Paul Caffyn in his epic Round Australia Kayak Expedition in 1982. This was the first ever circumnavigation of Australia by sea kayak and had a major social impact after its successful ending. The voyage became a catalyst to the growth in sea kayaking as a major recreational pursuit, and an inspiration that lead to other long distance sea kayak voyages, including the two trans-Tasman voyages in 2007 and 2008 by Andrew McAuley and the 'Crossing the Ditch' team. Caffyn built the fibreglass sea kayak which he paddled throughout the entire journey, and many of the individual passages were undertaken solo. This aspect was considered unique at the time.
DescriptionLALAGULI and a sister kayak BIRUBI were built by Caffyn and kayak builder Graeme Sisson in Nelson New Zealand based on the popular Nordkapp design. This is a Greenland style of sea kayak, which had been the dominant hull shape for the very early development of production sea kayaks in the mid-1970s. These boats feature a hollow bow and stern waterline plan, moderate veed hull with a firm bilge section, a graceful overhanging bow, and shorter overhanging stern with a skeg effect at the heel. They had excellent characteristics without any serious vices; however Caffyn did modify the hulls to have a deeper skeg effect aft for more control in following seas. In previous expeditions he had used Nordkapp craft, including a trip around the British coastline in mid 1980.
Paul Caffyn was born in Sydney Australia, but grew up in Brisbane and first started paddling canoes on the Brisbane River. He later went to New Zealand where he worked as a mining geologist. He took up sea kayaking around 1977, and then paddled extensively along the New Zealand coastline, pioneering routes and learning then refining many of the skills needed for safe passages in offshore conditions.
He planned the Round Australia Kayak Expedition shortly after finishing the journey around Great Britain. Initially he had thought it would be impractical, because parts of the coastline in the Great Australian Bight would require at least one overnight paddle, and he could not sleep in the kayak without it tipping over. However, to overcome that he thought that with two kayaks, they could raft up together by lashing their paddles to the hulls, and form a catamaran that would not capsize. Therefore the expedition required two people, along with a land support crew. He formed a team with Lesley Hadley who had assisted as land crew on the UK trip, and Americans Thom and Liz Thurbet.
Caffyn and Thom Thurbett left Queenscliff Victoria in the two kayaks on 28th December 1981 heading east or counter clockwise around the coastline, timing the route so that they were in the northern waters outside of the summer cyclone season. Hadley and Liz Thurbett were the land crew in their HQ Holden van, christened ULLADULLA. Midway along the NSW coast the Thurbets withdrew from the expedition after disagreements with Caffyn and Hadley, and Caffyn carried on alone at sea. He was later joined for different periods by Andy Wood and then Shaun Leyland as paddling companions; both used BIRUBI, the red kayak. Hadley stayed on as land crew throughout the expedition.
LALAGULI was an orange/yellow colour, and was only given that name once Caffyn had reached Crowdy Head on the mid NSW coastline. He had wanted to give it an Aboriginal name as he was planning to be about five months in their territory across the northern coastline, and LALAGULI was a water nymph in some Indigenous stories. Hadley and Caffyn cut the name from black contact adhesive and stuck it on the foredeck in a gentle curve, and the name has remained on the kayak ever since. The christening ceremony in the harbour at Crowdy Head was not well attended; it involved Hadley, Caffyn, a cardboard cask of Killawara Vintage Moselle and a stray tabby cat.
Caffyn encountered a full range of conditions and experiences while managing to keep to his approximate schedule of one year. Sharks, crocodiles, whales and dolphins featured at different stages, and many of the locals helped out with meals and accommodation when they stopped and encountered poor weather, keeping the kayak ashore. At other times he camped out, but for much of the journey, he was able to meet Hadley and the ULLADULLA at pre-arranged camping spots each evening. When he was in Sydney, Caffyn also took the extensions off the skeg he had made at the stern, and reverted to a fin he had trialed on an earlier kayak, as the skeg modification was unsatisfactory.
Caffyn's plans to do a dual paddle on the overnight sections along the cliffs forming the Great Australian Bight did not eventuate. Instead he paddled alone, for up to 36 hours, kept awake with coffee and no-doze tablets. This test of endurance became legendary amongst sea kayakers at this time, when the sport was limited to genuine enthusiasts, and still some years from the mass appeal and large range of craft now seen as typical in 2010.
LALAGULI returned to Queenscliff on December 23rd 1982, almost one year from the time Caffyn had left, and he completed his journey mid-afternoon with little fanfare as the extraordinary voyage came to a quiet conclusion. Caffyn went on to make other journeys around New Zealand, Japan and along the coast of Alaska. Meanwhile the sport of sea kayaking that was then the domain of a few enthusiasts began to realize its full potential. Clubs were formed and the sport opened itself up to greater appeal as many more found satisfaction in weekend paddling. Other people took on bigger challenges, culminating in trans-Tasman crossings in 2007 and 2008. Caffyn tried this voyage twice but abandoned both attempts.
In 2010 LALAGULI is now on display at Queenscliff Maritime Museum, complete with its name on the foredeck and the fitout as used on the expedition.
Deck layout:decked with cockpit
Deck material and construction:fibreglass
Hand propulsion/steering mechanism:paddle
Hull material and construction:fibreglassFRPGRP
Hull shape:overhanging stem
Keel/centreboard/rudder type:transom rudder
Current status:museum vessel