Today is a test run of my new sea kayak. I launch off Sandridge and paddle gingerly toward Williamstown. I have resolved to fall out (on purpose), get wet (obviously) and get back in (hopefully) again. The aim is to become sufficiently confident to go off on my own. So the plan goes. However, I can’t resist the idea of paddling off into the void of the bay. The water is flat and grey and every now again the kayak is gently lifted and lowered by the swell. I look behind me. The beach is suddenly distant and soon we are almost around the point toward Webb Dock. The kayak moves unexpectedly fast, skimming past a solitary fisherman fiddling with his line, glancing up and tracking the kayak with an anxious gaze, concerned that we might become tangled since I am sticking close to shore where if the worst happens, I can swim the boat in. So I like to think.
Rounding the point, Williamstown is laid out along the edge of Hobsons Bay. For a moment, I don’t recognise it, until I spot the bristle of masts around the yacht club, then identify various landmarks: wharves, sheds, a naval destroyer and the cluster of houses along the Strand. I realise I’m at the edge of the shipping channel close to Webb Dock, not too far from the mouth of the Yarra, with a sum total of about twenty minutes sea kayaking experience.
Webb Dock is an outlier of the docks along the Yarra. It has a couple of enormous boxy cranes, a few containers and a ship. Signs direct stray watercraft to keep a distance of 75m, which I am inclined to obey under the circumstances, with the expectation of the water police appearing and swamping my boat. So I turn around and head back toward the glittering towers of Port Melbourne. The sea is slatey grey-green and the clouds are starting to thicken overhead. The bridge is slumped over the north western skyline. I don’t feel like going in yet so I paddle toward the ruins of Princes Pier.
From the water below only ranks of weathered pylons are visible. Panicky seabirds shriek in protest at the disturbance, sweeping from one spar to another, settling, squawks receding with one last, huffy, fold of wing. There are surprisingly more pylons than I had thought; the pier must have been enormous. In fact it was over half a kilometre long and intricately linked not only to movement of cargo in and out of Melbourne by rail and sea, but also human movement to and from wars in the northern hemisphere. The recent restoration project has rebuilt some structures and deliberately exposed the original pylons by removing part of the old decking,. It honours the industrial, maritime and social history of Port Melbourne. Paddling deeper into the skeleton and surrounded by the ruins is eerie.
The water is clear, almost aquamarine. Beneath the surface fronds of kelp move slowly with the current which winds among the stumps. The wood is fissured from the salt and at the waterline its surface is braided with glossy black mussels and crusted with cream coralline algae. Paddling toward the other side, it’s weirdly quiet; the birds raise and settle their wings in half-hearted protest then return to sentinels and gaze out to sea.
As ever, the bridge is a constant on the skyline.
Back close to the shore, I practice falling out and trying to get back in again. It’s difficult but I eventually succeed although the next day I am covered in enormous bruises and it does little to increase my confidence since I realise how much harder this would be in rough sea.
Better to learn to not fall out in the first place.
Better find someone to paddle with I think.
Then Ron showed up. How easy was that?