Plywood Paddling Party [44]

By Ian Phillips

Being a skin kayaker, Andrew Eddy made it clear that it would be in my best interests to attend the launch of his new plywood Baidarka.

The threats of gross physical disfigurement for non-attendance were bad enough, but when he said my subscription to the Club Internet chat-line was in jeopardy, I quickly signed on the dotted line.

The thought of missing Fishkiller’s banal diatribe was too much to bear, and I began checking my gear for the great and mysterious launching party.

The date and time set, 10 am Sunday, I promptly planned a four hour paddle immediately beforehand, obviously having learned nothing from my previous Club outing where I fought the harbour for five hours in preparation to do battle with the infamously swift ‘Thursday Night Crowd’.

Indeed I must be insane – fellow Club members who enquire as to my launch time quickly disappear, never to be heard from again!

I choose my favourite launch spot, Clontarf Beach, and I arrive in the gloom at 5:15 am. Making myself a quick cup of green tea, I poke about in the boot, dragging kayak pieces onto the grass, using the headlights as illumination whilst I construct a kayak and a worried dog looks on sniffing precariously.

One last check to ensure I have packed sufficient bananas, I haul my trusty craft to the water’s edge. Finding all right with the world and nary a person or craft in sight, I push off and paddle through moored yachts and gin palaces and past houses that I will buy if I win Lotto four times over.

Wearing a nifty new PFD that sports several garishly bright yellow patches I feel a little conspicuous, but quickly dispel such thoughts as ridiculous paranoia brought on by memories of my previous PFD that was in my favourite dull-black – that perfect colour for attracting JetCats and out of control 18-footers. This PFD is my first with pockets, and like a giddy kid with a new toy, I have filled these new novelties to bursting with muesli bars, whistles, knives and bananas, and I feel a little like the Michelin Man as I paddle forward. My normally full deck bag sits limply ahead of me, looking rejected and forlorn.

There is not a vessel on the water, and I cross Middle Harbour to spy on some more houses that are ideally suited for kayak launching, and I then push on past Balmoral Beach. Hearing a familiar “stroke… stroke… stroke… stroke…” behind me, I turn to see a good impression of a Viking long boat looming up, manned by some ferocious looking Iron Men, and I wave hello. Getting no response, I give them the finger instead, conceding that community relations was never my strong point anyway.

I turn and paddle for the Heads, deciding a jaunt ‘outside’ is what I really need, and I make good time past Middle Head and out through the precise middle of the Heads. I am a little disappointed with the water, as I have only every passed the Heads close to the cliffs and rocks before and have become accustomed to the choppy, washing machine action. The relative serenity smack-bang in the middle takes me by surprise, for it has always been forbidden territory up ’til now as I have only ever been around this area during ‘peak-hour’ and a watery demise at the hands of some tugboat this close to home has never been a priority of mine.

The wind has been blowing quite strongly from the south all morning, and it seems to intensify as I decide to paddle into it. Being the smart lad that I sometimes am, I realise that this is a silly idea, and so I turn around and head north for a while.

I catch a few swells as I head past North Head, miss even more, and execute a few very sloppy braces as I am kicked around by the increasing waves as I head in around the cliffs.

I mess about between North Head, Blue Fish Point and Shelly Beach for a good hour, arguing with sea gulls and shouting nonsense to a few energetic fishermen before I head east, and paddle in a wide arc in an attempt to come behind the wind somewhere around Diamond Bay and then ‘go with the flow’ until I reach the Heads again.

The wind has really picked up now, but I dare not guess the wind speed after reading Dave Winkworth’s Training Notes in the last issue and his comments about most kayakers zealously overestimating wind speed. Perhaps it’s 20 knots, perhaps it’s 5… all I know is that the entire front of my kayak is being swamped as I paddle through the swell, and I am becoming increasingly disinterested in this uphill battle.

I push on until I draw level with South Head, and I then attempt to make a beeline straight for it, my target being the hopefully wind-free waters inside the Heads. I paddle a bizarre zigzag pattern as the wind alternatively catches the bow and stern as each rises above the waves that I am plunging through, but I finally make it, and I paddle into the relatively calm waters of Lady Bay for a bit of a breather.

I have wasted a lot of time messing about outside the Heads, and it is now getting dangerously close to the 10 am meeting time so I decide against stopping at the beach. I instead push on for Rose Bay. I carefully note that the wind appears to have changed direction to present me with a nifty headwind as I paddle through the Harbour, and I swear at the weather gods as I pound on through the swells.

In the distance I see a couple of kayakers, seemingly on a similar course to me, but I have no hope of catching up to them, and I watch them slowly disappear into the distance.

I finally turn into Rose Bay, and, whilst I may be dreaming, I swear the wind switches direction again to present me with another headwind. Maybe those rude gestures at the rowers this morning are coming back to haunt me.

I finally paddle onto the beach, almost getting stuck on a bit on a sandbar in the bay having never paddled this area of Rose Bay before, and I alight amongst a group of kayakers unknown to me, and I make myself known.

The newest plywood maestro Andrew Eddy Esq soon arrives, and finally I get to the part of the story that the title actually refers to (yes, I heard you grumbling at my story in the last issue that also took forever to get to the point).

Despite being one of the last to arrive, Andrew still manages to snaffle the prime parking spot, his NSWSKC Car Shuffle Wizard® software obviously well installed.

The small crowd that has been milling around us on the beach quickly deserts as they see Andrew and Sharon unload two gleaming, sleek craft off their cars and, searching for the softest patch of grass, carefully lay them down.

I take off my salt-encrusted sunglasses to get a closer look at these marvellous creations but quickly put them back on again as the sun’s reflection off hard chines and exquisitely lacquered, straw coloured decks momentarily blinds me.

Maybe it is my temporary blindness, but these boats seem to have a glowing aura around them, appearing quite heavenly. Quickly I realise that it is my temporary blindness, as I also see the same aura around Andrew, and I know that just isn’t so, despite what the rumours say…

Oohs and aahs abound as kayakers and ‘normal mortals’ alike admire the ultra-sleek lines of these similarly designed, but remarkably different craft. Andrew’s boat features classic Baidarka touches and appears impossibly skinny, until you turn to view Sharon’s mini-version – ridiculously skinny (for the likes of my lumbering frame anyway), and so sleek looking it scares even the super-fast Mirage paddlers.

Whilst Sharon has opted to delete the traditional carved bow for her boat, which, incidentally, turns it into a remarkably sexy and individual creation, Andrew has retained the full glory of the phallic bow-piece, and the jokes are already rolling in.

The more you look, the more you see – Sharon’s superb colour coordination of all fittings and accessories, Andrew’s nifty hatch closure design, each a marvel of construction and outfitting. It all looks good, very good, and the proud owners beam amongst the praise and violent jostling to get a good look.

Nearly an hour-and-a-half is spent admiring and discussing these newest additions to the kayak world, and more kayakers arrive and more curious onlookers shake their heads at the devotion of these seemingly mad individuals to their passion.

Finally we all launch, and the group paddle in all directions, surely one of the most bizarre group cohesion plans for many a long time. Some paddle off into the distance, some off to the sides, myself paddling in wildly erratic circles, all in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the Baidarkas on the water.

Again blinded by the sun reflecting off the ridiculously shiny decks (I think we may have to affix eye protection warnings), I lose my sight again and paddle off in the wrong direction. When I finally turn around I find that more paddlers have joined our group, several lucky individuals who rode the southerly wind from Coogee that I had chosen to fight earlier in the day.

We all congregate on the water outside Milk Beach, and then complete what must be the shortest trip in Club history, paddling little more than a kilometre to Shark Beach.

Alternating between paddling in a straight line and exploring drift wood and floating debris, I meander in to the beach and await the arrival of the now infamous Baidarkas, who have stopped back at Milk Beach for a spot of posing.

Swapping silly yarns and admiring several wooden kayaks as they arrive at the beach, several bottles of champagne are proffered to christen the Baidarkas, and despite some fairly incessant whining, Andrew and Sharon reject our suggestions of breaking the bottles across their bows in time-honoured tradition. We instead dribble champagne liberally over the craft, whilst ensuring our digestive tracts also receive sufficient lubrication.

We meander up to a spare grassy knoll, dragging dry bags and empty glasses with us, and the chatter is excited as we munch on lunch and swap evil yarns and nasty gossip. My pen works feverishly as I record tales and anecdotes for future exposés in NSW Sea Kayaker – Fishkiller would indeed be proud.

My humble banana sandwiches hold up feebly against the lashing of cake and exotic foods being passed around the group, and so I stuff as much of Sharon’s delicious cake as possible into my PFD pockets before she can spot me and lash out with a sharpened paddle half.

After a couple of plate passing sessions my pockets are full, and whilst the other satisfied paddlers amble their way back towards the shiny Baidarkas, I skulk off into the wilderness with my ill-gotten bounty, and I prepare to bid a hasty adieu.

It proves difficult to pack my kayak without bending and squashing my booty, but I manage to complete the task without attracting too much suspicion. Whilst the remainder of the party are mesmerised by Andrew as he performs his umpteenth roll as part of his Baidarka initiation process, I paddle a wide arc towards the safety of the harbour and I rest a few minutes before attacking the busy shipping lanes. I think I hear a female voice screaming something about patisserie in the distance, and so without turning I power straight across the harbour, chopping and changing as yachts hurtle by, ducking and weaving as crusty sailors hurl abuse and empty stubbies in my direction.

I seek temporary refuge behind a mid-harbour lighthouse, one of the infamous ‘Wedding Cakes’, and as I sit in its shadow and ponder the significance of being a cake thief under a wedding cake, I try to dislodge several chunks of the tasty morsels that are slowly disintegrating inside my PFD pockets. Once my fingers are stuck in the gooey paradise I lose balance and collapse unceremoniously beneath the barnacle-encrusted pylons. I think I now understand the significance …

My cake horde now completely washed and ruined, I hop back into my soggy crumb infested cockpit and make another mental note: don’t tell Sharon about her cake … she’ll never know …

Now I can safely relax, with no incriminating evidence left, and make my leisurely way back home… if only those blasted tugboats would stop aiming for me …