A Mum on the Water [50]

By Julia Ansell

Although my experience in a kayak is somewhat limited at best, it is nonetheless very relevant. NSWSKC members are very ardent paddlers, hooray for them. For a single mum with a couple of dependents it is not always possible to get on the water every week, fortnight or even month but my experiences are just as relevant to the other women and men who ‘occasionally’ paddle.

12 months ago I purchased a piece of plastic from Ian at Jervis Bay. With a really great friend and experienced kayaker (recently Melbourne to Hobart, the ‘Loop Man’, etc) to guide me I started a very slow yet happy relationship with my craft. Previously I had been subject to paddling his old Dancers and going around North Head, which is an experience in itself. Dare you to try it sometime! Better off to take a friend though!

I had, however, progressed through that stage mindful of the fact that all that rudderless hard work pays off, albeit being very stressful on the relationship (not with the kayak but with my best friend).

I was now capable, I thought, of going it alone.

One of my first lone adventures was at the end of school term. I work with 500 smelly teenage boys each day. Therefore, I think I’m entitled to a little downtime now and then. I went to school that day with my red piece of plastic atop my roof racks. I was, however, not the only one who paddles at the school as I work with both the original Solo man and another international surfski paddler. So not standing out too much, as there are always other kayaks around, by the end of the day I was ready for a little light relief.

Working in Manly obviously has its advantages, as I was finished work at 2:30 pm and at Little Manly for take off in no time. I thought it would be a good idea to go to Balmoral Beach for lunch, as I do look at it from the classroom window every day! Doesn’t every inexperienced, lone, female paddler do that for stress relief after work?

I’ve learnt to time the oncoming ferries and dodge a few rocks. The sun shone on my Autumn Day and I enjoyed my lunch. Well, not really, as I bought it from the school canteen! Do you remember how that stuff tasted? Yuk!

The little one hour journey was pleasant and uneventful, as I’m sure you would have expected it to be. Each trip gives me a touch more courage to try something more difficult or just the inner energy to just keep paddling. I’m convinced many ‘for sale’ kayaks are due to people just unable to find it in themselves to have a go.

My adventures continued but not until another 10 weeks later. Again the school holidays provided me with the time required to take off for a day ‘child-free’.

Having some care for my own safety I decided a longer trip in safer waters was going to be a nice little adventure. Again inexperienced, alone and still female, I set off from the ferry crossing at Berowra Waters. The gentle mist rose gracefully over the shadows of the other leisure craft on the water. I could see but not yet feel the sun creeping atop the sheer tree lined cliff tops that enveloped me. Only a single fisherman and the fluoro-vested council workmen standing against their shovels flagged my 8:15 am departure.

I had packed a little hastily and for that matter a tad meagrely as I had forgotten to take anything warm or waterproof (maybe you won’t print that bit as it doesn’t quite fit the NSWSKC code, but heck that’s just my inexperience showing). A simple fare of homemade bread, a billy, stove and tea bag and some water were going to see me fit for the day.

I had previously looked up the UBD for a general guide of ‘where in the heck I was going’. It proved to be enough. My paddling was slow but consistent and in no time at all I had reached Bar Island. At that point my memory of the map had faded and my UBD was nowhere to be seen. So I did the next best thing. I waited a while and watched the motorised water traffic cruise in and out of the area. I soon understood which way to go. Exit…stage right! I paddled on and in true girly style looked at all the houses on the way, checked out the colours and styles and unusual houses that grace the shorelines. Some of those places are really cute.

I landed just under the Hawkesbury River Bridge around lunch time and presently set up my stove for a warming brew. Lucky for me I take my tea black with no sugar (less to carry you see!). I rested about 30 mins then headed back. Whoops, forgot about the current. A slightly harder paddle was endured to get out of that little spot. But I had been told on other expeditions of a different nature that you just keep going. It doesn’t matter how fast, just don’t stop, one foot in front of the other or paddle as the case may be. Well, that advice was again sure and true and I arrived back in my little Berowra spot a total of 6.5 hours later after a 34 km paddle for the day in my little red Penguin.

It’s like being on retreat, on the water and exercising. I have had two car accidents and have an insidiously poor back but paddling is the best fix I can get, and it sure beats going to the physio at $40.00 per hour. So if I paddle for the 6.5 hours I save myself about $260.00 in physio fees; now that’s economical and much more enjoyable.