Boxing Day at Black Rock

The tide is just starting to come in on Boxing Day morning, in time for a paddle from Ricketts Point at Beaumaris, north to Black Rock.  Ricketts Point Marine Sanctuary is another of the Bay’s little surprises.  Through clear turquoise water, algae, rocky reefs, fish and sea grass combine in a display of colour and texture invisible from the flat, sandy beach only metres away.

Tide coming in at Ricketts Point

Tide coming in at Ricketts Point

Looking across the Bay to the south, smears of distant showers and a smudgy grey sky and the diffuse grey green sea are precursors of the cool change predicted for around midday.  Still further, the granite You Yangs  squat above the flat volcanic plains north-east of Geelong.

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Cool change coming in over the You Yangs

Still, there’s still time to paddle toward Black Rock and beat the weather.  Occasionally, the wake from a speed boat disturbs the mild swell and current of the incoming tide but otherwise conditions are pleasant and the paddle is reasonably easy work under the cliffs along the beach which shelter the coastline from the north wind.

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Heading off before the cool change (photo: Greg Skowronski)

The Spirit of Tasmania, momentarily caught in the pre-storm light, heads out toward Bass Strait, then on to Devonport.  Otherwise, there are surprisingly few craft out, possibly because of the threat of unsettled weather.  Thankfully though, there are no jet skis.

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Rounding the orange calcarenite cliffs of Half Moon Bay, the wreck of the HMVS Cerberus comes into view.  It’s closer in to shore than I had imagined and much smaller, since the rising tide conceals part of the hull.

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The wreck receives considerable attention from volunteers, Heritage Victoria and others. This includes Federal Government funding of $500,000, probably well in excess of Parks Victoria’s budget to manage the Bay’s marine parks and reserves.  The HMVS Cerberus website lists ways that the public can help:  everything from making general suggestions, to joining the navy.

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The Cerberus has a number of claims to fame, which to fully appreciate, some knowledge of maritime history is needed.  That counts me out.  I find it a little hard to believe that the wreck “is important as evidence of the development of Australia as a nation and as part of the British Empire…a period in Australia’s history when the colonies were thought vulnerable to coastal attack and invasion. This was especially felt by Victoria, the wealthiest colony, and from which, a significant amount of the wealth from the goldfields was exported” (http://www.cerberus.com.au/nhlist_values.pdf).

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The Cerberus is, however, the only remaining breastwork monitor class warship…

On the way home, I stop at Sandringham to have a look around.  The modern yacht club building dominates the beach but moored along the older jetty, away from the marina, are a number of small old-fashioned sailboats, with their own place in the history of the Bay.

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The paddle, an easy 7 km, return.

Ricketts Pt

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Head to Head

Port Phillip Bay has an almost waveless beaches and shallow water.  It is fringed with suburbs and lassoed by a monotonous highway.  It has glittering high rise apartment blocks, marinas, holiday houses, piers and sandy beaches.  Port Phillip Bay is urban by anyone’s standards.

I have arranged to test drive a couple of sea kayaks at Sandringham, a middle ground beachside suburb which straddles the social divide between Brighton to the north and an array of suburbs to the south with equally ludicrous names – Black Rock, Beaumaris, Bonbeach and, improbably, Chelsea and St Kilda. The last of these is Frankston, a city in its own right and the gateway to the Mornington Peninsula, which divides Westernport from Port Phillip Bay.

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Half Moon Bay, Black Rock

Beyond Frankston, the rocky, cliffed coastlines and intermittent bays with their coarse yellow sand at Mt Eliza, Mornington and Mt Martha give the coast a slightly wilder mantle but it’s short-lived and the Bay soon resumes its almost perfect curvature as it sweeps toward Point Nepean, past Dromana, Rosebud, Blairgowrie and Rye and finally, Sorrento and Portsea. The Bay ends at the orange, calcarenite cliffs of Point Nepean and about three kilometres opposite, at Point Lonsdale. At this point its waters are pinched into the Rip and sucked in and out of Bass Strait.

Mothers Beach, Mornington

Mothers Beach, Mornington

Working back toward Melbourne from Point Lonsdale on its western coastline, the Bay is a ragtag collection of fashionable holiday resorts, unfashionable holiday towns, industrial estates, a sewerage farm, the mouth of the Werribee River, market gardens, an airforce base, shallow muddy bays, the majestic Corio Bay at Geelong and offshore, a couple of marine reserves and the serendipitous Altona beach.

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Altona Beach

Closer to the city, the stubby Williamstown peninsula on Hobsons Bay is the last beach before the industrial wonderland of the Port of Melbourne.  After that, there are the beaches of Sandridge and Port Melbourne, still close to the docks and under the shadow of the West Gate Bridge, then South Melbourne, and as the industrial landscape drops away toward Albert Park, Middle Park and St Kilda. And so it goes on, Elwood, Hampton, Sandringham.

Port Melbourne Beach, one morning in late winter

Port Melbourne Beach, one morning in late winter

Sandringham has a very swish yacht club, marina and array of gleaming boats of one sort or another. There is a grid of wooden moorings but the shallows are squelchy and thick with the residue of marine fuel. What should be sand is viscous, oily slime which sucks my sandals off my feet as I push the kayak out onto the water, adding to my annoyance with the long drive to get here, the insouciant attitude of the kayak shop owner and the disagreeable nature of suburbia, wealth, cafes, overflowing rubbish bins, brutal gusts of northerly wind and seagulls. Soon I’m sick of it and give up and go home.

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Sandringham Yacht Club

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Sandringham Beach

But a few weeks later on a mild Friday morning, after a little bit of shopping around, I am launching my new kayak off Sandridge. Only an occasional flash of reflected sunlight indicates the cars tracking the curve of the West Gate Bridge which, as ever, rises over the Yarra River, just beyond the Williamstown waterfront on the other side of the shipping channel. The hull of the kayak scrapes the sand as I pull it the last metre or so into the shallows, to the very edge of Bay. Then comes the moment when the hull slides into the water and land is left behind and very soon the car park and Surf Lifesaving Club buildings and compound are tiny in the distance. On the bay, there is a gentle swell as the sea lists between its shores.

The glittering city

The glittering city