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.


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” (

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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

Willy to Altona

It’s a bright, sunny morning but I feel like I’ve forgotten something since I am now much more efficient at getting packed up and ready to go. The plan is to paddle from Williamstown to Altona with Ron.

There is a traffic jam on the Bolte and in the distance, the West Gate Bridge looks like a giant slug.  I am sandwiched in between roaring trucks but on occasion get a glimpse of the sapphire blue water of the Bay.  Finally get to the beach and unload the kayak, then find Ron,who is waiting in the carpark behind the Life Saving Club.

After navigating the fishing lines off the breakwater, it’s full sail to Altona, at least in Ron’s case, who soon has his sail up and angles his boat for a bit of product placement.  Show off.


It’s a nice run to Altona, birds perched on the emerged reef at low tide stare haughtily at us across the water.


Altona Beach is a bit of a hidden treasure, especially on a sunny day.  We haul the kayaks up onto the sand and have lunch at a picnic table overlooking the beach.  Have to be worse ways to spend a day than this…


  A few jellies have washed up on the beach.  We saw them in the water where at first we mistook them for discarded plastic bags.  They are blubber jellies, only mildly venomous but their lumpish shape and lack of decoration or elegant trailing stingers makes them look slightly sinister.  Once washed up on the strand though, they are pretty huge.  Their presence in the Bay seems to be seasonal, blown in on the tide and wreaking havoc with swimmers.


On the way back, we have a bit of a play under Altona Pier before paddling the five km back to Willy.


An uneventful, lovely day.  Simple pleasures of sun and water and lunch on the beach.  A bit of wildlife and good company.  Doesn’t get much better than this.



will to altona Google Earth

Tall Ships

In mid September, the sea kayaking club arranges a paddle from Sandridge to Williamstown for a close up view of some tall ships anchored in Hobsons Bay.


There is a perception that, being the new girl, I am nervous.  Well I am, now its been pointed out.  In the distance, Williamstown takes shape surprisingly quickly and it’s amazing how quickly we approach the western shore of Hobsons Bay.


At anchor, is the Oosterschelde, the Lord Nelson and a couple of others, all of which I’m sure must look great under full sail.  I’m not sure what I was expecting but to be honest, it’s a little underwhelming.  After all, it is billed as the Melbourne International Tall Ship Festival.  But I can’t but help think back to Hobart in 1988 at the time time of the bicentennial when the harbour was choked with ships from all over the world.

The kayaks weave in and out of yachts and then edge close to the hulls of the tall ships.  Day visitors peer at us over the side, while crew climb  high up the rigging, balanced and sure-footed.

Tall ships, Williamstown, September

The paddle circumnavigates the Williamstown docks, around the tall ships, then back across the channel to Port Melbourne for morning tea, finishing at Sandridge.  For me, the highlight of the day is crossing the shipping channel.  Hardly Bass Strait but the currents surge and retreat, opposing and yielding.  It feels like the real sea: deep and moving and resistant.  A rare glimpse into the Bay.

Tall ships Google Earth

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.


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

Pitch Perfect

Today’s paddle is Ventnor to the Nobbies off the western end of  Phillip Island.  Possibly out to Seal Rocks at the edge of Bass Strait.  The route follows the northwest coastline along empty, sandy beaches and lumpy dunes, through emerald green water and around the occasional bommie and rocky reef.


After an hour or so, we stop for morning tea near the remains an old jetty, at least that’s what it looked like although it seemed impossibly high put of the water.  Seabirds perched on the spars squawked and flapped their wings in outrage at the kayakers below.


The Nobbies seemed a long way in the distance but we seem to get closer and closer in no time at all.  Layers of lava flows are etched into relief by the sea and capped with calcarenite, suggesting a badly iced cake.


Up close, the Nobbies are no longer a lump of basalt in the sea, but a busy place.  Seabirds nest among the the pink Carpobrotus flowers and succulent coastal plants which cover all but the most exposed slopes, seals and penguins mill around at the base of the cliffs and still more birds circle the tiny island, riding the air currents and swooping suddenly into the sea for prey.  Cape Barren Geese, albatross, penguins, gannets but most commonly silver gulls and pacific gulls are commonly recorded (


Consensus is reached to extend the paddle out to Seal Rocks, with a little rock hopping around the chain of sea platforms along the way.  The water is pretty shallow close to shore and the visibility good.


Soon though, it’s suddenly deep once once we reach blue water.  It starts to feel like a real sea kayaking trip and it’s exciting as the kayak splices the waves, crests and falls with the surge of the swell.


Delight is the only word for the first sighting of the seal colony, even among paddlers who had been out to the rocks before.  It is the second largest colony of Australian Fur Seals.  They almost the same colour as the rock and for a moment, I don’t realise how many there are, flopped in the sun, slithering into the water, or staring at the new arrivals.


With seals go sharks, not that anyone was nervous…


Up close, seal pong started to get pretty strong but these amazing animals continued to delight as they circled and dived beneath the kayaks, clambered up onto the rocks, showing just how clever they are in the water.  Their wails and moans sound like cheers from a football crowd.


They seemed to get more and more bold and cheeky as they got used to the boats, teasing and at the same time warning us off from the young.


Reluctantly, we need to leave and paddle the 13 km back to Ventnor Beach on the incoming tide.  Everyone seems to have extra energy after the experience and even though I’m used to seeing spectacular scenery and wildlife, this has to rank with one of the best days on record.


Seal rocks Google Earth

Postscript….some weeks later, one of the kayakers re-visited Seal Rocks.  If there was any doubt about loss of biodiversity in the area, sighting a seal with its head bitten off would seem to provide ample evidence that sharks at least are alive and well.

Crepuscular and Iambic

There have been a lot of fun paddles over the last couple of months but the best, and toughest for a novice, have been in Western Port.  Beautiful Western Port.


On Thursday evenings, at 6 pm during summer, a small group of men, and on occasion me, meet at Woolleys Beach, Crib Point.  We put in next to the BP jetty.  As a teenager, I sometimes accompanied my father to this same jetty to deliver pharmaceutical supplies to ships which had docked at Crib Point but whose sailors were not allowed on shore.  The ship would radio in from sea with an order for the chemist, my father, who would drive down to Crib Point with the delivery.

In those days, the chemist often delivered prescriptions to the elderly or housebound, so it was nothing out of the ordinary in that respect.  Occasionally, the captain would offer my father a whisky after showing us around the bridge, high up above the decks and the day to day world of maritime life.  The ships arrived from all over the world, as ships do, and being invited on board was a treat allocated to the oldest child.  Hard to imagine that the Stony Point and BP jetties, now longitudinally bisected with cyclone and barbed wire fencing, could provide such hospitality.


I love Woolleys Beach.  It was here and at Jacks beach a little to the north, that we were taken garfishing at night.  Using a car battery strapped to a skiffle board and connected up to some sort of waterproof light on an extension pole, we kids trailed along in the dark, knee deep in murky water and scared shitless that we would step on one of the many stingrays which, startled, skated away into the gloom.  Worse, we had to eat our prey.  Used to King George whiting locally caught less than 24 hours earlier, even eating flathead was unthinkable, much less the mouthful of bones which was garfish.  I don’t remember how we caught the garfish and occasional flounder but I’m guessing with a net.  It’s hard to imagine that the family’s hunting armoury extended to anything more sophisticated, although it is possible that we had some kind of home-made spear.  Home-made, because no-one bought anything in those days.  That’s what sheds full of junk were for.

Later in life, as a young adult, these secluded beaches and car parks in the bush were far more fun at night.  Especially with an HR station wagon, flagons of wine and a packet of Marlborough Red.

Woolleys has changed so little over the years, other than having become a little sandier, although sand is still in pretty short supply and anyway, most of the beach is covered in rock.  High tide reaches almost to the fringe of bush that lines the coast.   Pillows of seagrass leaves, scooped up from the shallow sea floor by the incoming tide, line the upper strand; the mangroves have spread out a bit and there is a lot of recruitment now, where once there were larger, older trees.  It’s much the same at Jacks Beach and Hastings.   Not that it makes much difference.   The sand is a flimsy veneer and with the slightest pressure becomes an anaerobic wallow.   At low tide, the ooze closes in around your legs in a suctioning embrace.  It reminds me of Saturdays afternoons spent at Hastings Yacht Club while my father sailed the catamaran he had built in our garage.  My mother didn’t sail, at least not that I recall, so presumably she was playing tennis or socialising in the fibro-cement clubhouse, while we kids were sent outside to play on the mudflats.  Hastings was never referred to as a beach.  No matter how tedious or boring the environment, it was punishment to be kept indoors and at the very least, always better than hanging around inside.


On Thursday nights there’s a bit of banter, then the boats are carried down to the shore.  Depending on whether the tide is in or out, kayaks are dragged through the seagrass-thatched mud or pushed off toward the channel.  At first, there was some surprise when I turned up, being the first new paddler to join the group for some time.  But they are inclusive and welcoming, albeit with a thinly disguised warning that I would need to tolerate a bit of blokey stuff.  I can’t help but wonder if a woman might unbalance things a little but if so, they’re too polite to say, much, and after a couple of weeks I feel more or less at ease.


In the evening light, the northern end of Westernport is green and tranquil.  It is lined with mangroves and sweeps of inter-tidal mud banks exposed at low water; pelicans and seagulls cruise the shallows.  On the turn of the tide, people are fishing from boats anchored just off the main channel; there is one large tourist boat returning to Hastings but the wind seems to carry the engine sound away.

I want to make the most of these paddles, before the Port of Hastings development starts.  Construction is a few years away yet but the project is likely to go ahead and will transform northern Westernport into a container terminal capable of servicing hundreds of ships a year.


To my mind, it’s a tragedy of epic proportion that makes the arrival of the refineries and steel mills in the sixties seem relatively benign but which prompted massive increases in land prices during what is remembered as a halcyon period of employment.  Locals were bewitched by the “BP flame”, now decommissioned.  A slender, cylindrical furnace easily clearing the canopy of the surrounding bushland so tall it could be seen for miles, its purpose was to burn off excess gases in an enormous fireball which always seemed barely contained.  Almost instantly, it became a feature that had always belonged to the landscape, with its eery glow in a sky unpolluted by the lights of the city.

It was part of the phenomenon that embraces exploitative industries as saviour, something to grasp at; blindly accepted even in the face of broken promises, pollution, noise and traffic and most sadly of all, the loss of an entire place.  There are, no doubt, the same predictions for the Port of Hastings development.  Some grass-roots opposition has emerged but it is poorly organised and ineffectual. The broader community is indifferent.  Western Port has always been seen as a resource but rarely a magical bay crammed with sea birds, whales, fish, dolphins, seagrass, mangroves and all manner of deep water marine life.  Concealed beauty and abundance.  Prosperity and impoverishment.  A weird sister foretelling gain and loss.

The first week, we paddle south toward Stony Point in a stiff headwind on a rising tide and mild swell.  The green sea rushes north to the main channel leading to Hastings and the industrial jetties at Long Island.  The current pushes against the bow of my kayak and the hull smacks into the chop.  I can’t hear much over the sound of spray flung about in the wind.


Stony Point is not much more than a fibro-cement shop selling fish and chips, bait and ferry tickets, a car park, a boat launching ramp, caravan park, a Port Authority office, and the end of the railway line from Frankston.  The ferry to French Island and Phillip Island leaves from the jetty.  It carries cricket teams between French Island and the mainland for home and away games.  Bobbing up and down in the swell, a conga line of locals unloads the weekly shopping onto Tankerton jetty.  Tourists were, and still are, relatively scarce.

The paddle is tough in the wind.  There are a couple of tugs are tied up at Stony Point jetty and there is a clear view across to French island.  We round the point to Hann’s Inlet, which leads to Cerberus Naval Depot.  It starts to rain, lightly, and it feels like we’re out at sea even though the shore is only a couple of hundred metres away.



Turning the boats back north and into a following sea, it’s suddenly and eerily quiet without the noisy protest of current and wind.  No longer a head-on battle, the sea artfully and unpredictably claws at the kayak, sometimes shoving bow into trough, or playfully pushing its stern obliquely over the wave crests.  The sails on the other boats go up and with the south-westerly at our backs, we coast back to Woolleys Beach along the flank of the channel to avoid a large tourist boat that seems to have come out of nowhere as it makes its way toward Hastings.  The experienced paddlers surf its wake but for me, finding some compromise with the wily current is enough.  When Woolleys comes into sight, I’m starting to feel tired after ploughing into the headwind and hope like hell that the end is in sight but soon we’re back at shore and it all seems over too quickly.


It’s twilight carrying the boats back up to the car park, dusk by the time we’ve washed them down, dark by the time we sit at the picnic table to hop in to a few drinks and some snacks.  The others are surprised that I’m from Hastings, in fact I don’t think they believe anyone actually comes from Hastings.  Then again, one of them lives in Crib Point, which is even more unlikely in my book.

The following week, the group heads in the other direction, toward Sandstone Island, stopping on the way at what must be one of the most bizarre sights in Westernport, the HMAS Otama submarine.


Here’s the thing.  In 2002, a local group describing themselves as a community organisation, the Western Port Oberon Association (WPOA) bought the submarine with a view to converting it to a maritime museum.  So far, courtesy of the then local Liberal member Peter Reith, $500,000 was granted by the Federal Government in 2001 to the WPOA, so that they could tow it back from Western Australia, with a bit of extra spending money.  No doubt  a sum Parks Victoria could happily use to manage its two parks at French Island, as well as those at Churchill Island and Yaringa.  All of these will be in the firing line for destruction come the Port of Hastings.  Add it to the $500,000 spent on the HMAS Cerberus in Port Phillip Bay and it becomes obvious that Parks Victoria is in the wrong business.

However, not until the return of a Liberal State government has there been an approved location for the Otama as a maritime museum.  Consequently, the submarine has become a rusting eyesore dumped off Crib Point.  The current plan is to drag it off to a site adjacent to the Hastings marina.  After a fair amount of dredging, land reclamation and infrastructure costing millions of dollars, a maritime museum will be built.  Supposedly.  Just exactly what the connection is with Hastings is pretty hard to fathom.  Excuse the pun.  Sure there’s Cerberus (with its own Federally funded and curated museum), and there was a strong fishing industry at Hastings, but submarines?  The WPOA website is spin taken to new heights and clearly has the support of the Liberal party all under the smokescreen of job creation.  Even so, the amount of money involved is flabbergasting.  I’m not sure where this all fits with the Port of Hastings development, but I’m guessing there’s somehow more to it all than meets the eye.


But hey, it’s fun for kayakers and from the water the Otama looks every bit of its 2,000 tons.  By sheer force of bulk, it generates its own currents as the sea parts at one end and races toward the other, 90 metres away.  But its external structure is also featureless: nothing but sheer vertical planes rising from a curved hull and ornamented with rusting fittings.  There’s not much to look at after a while and we paddle off to Sandstone Island.


By now, there is very little water left in this corner of Westernport and it’s a bit of a race to get around to the other side to avoid being marooned.  Birds pick at the exposed mudflats.  My paddle almost gets stuck on the bottom and I nearly have to get out.  Julian does, and squelches over the shallows to deeper water.  I resort to pushing off the bottom with my hands and after what seems like about three years, we’re all water-borne again.  Then it’s back to Woolleys in the evening light.

The third paddle I do with the group is to French Island.  It is almost impossible to wade through the mud and get into the boats.  Mick has arrived with a ludicrous aluminium home-made kayak that he bought on eBay.  It is artfully bent and misshapen but happily moves through the water at a cracking pace.


The tide is falling and the route follows the BP jetty before heading west toward Middle Spit, an inter-tidal mud flat a kilometre or so off French island.  The shallow water at its edge is warm and the air is humid, although there is a light wind which is just enough to make me a little chilly.  Everyone climbs out of their boats for stretch.


It’s a strange feeling, walking around an ephemeral island in the middle of Western Port, in kayaking gear, like a bunch of Robinson Crusoe impersonators.  At low tide, the surface is sandy and rippled, there are sheets of water rendered pewter by the low angle of the setting sun.  Our feet sink readily sink through the thin sandy surface and into the mud beneath.  For a moment my childhood fears of being stuck, for ever, return.  Like in those old Jungle Jim television shows when someone would always go down in the quicksand, the rescuer’s fingers gradually losing grasp of the victim’s until all that remained was a subtle indentation on the surface, before everyone simply moves on.

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A hundred metres or so away there is a group of rocks which someone speculates may have been dumped as ballast, since any other explanation is hard to think of.  There are also the shells of mud oysters and other bivalves.  I had only been wondering the other day if mud oysters were still common in Western Port.  Not for the faint hearted, being much larger than a Pacific or Sydney rock oyster – mud oysters are a bit of a mouthful.  I had thought that they were never popular, although they were fished in Port Phillip Bay in the nineteenth century until suffering a population crash, attributed to disease.

The weather is still looking good and the tide is about to turn so we head off to French Island.  Our route follows the edge of Middle Spit then picks up the channel leading toward Tankerton jetty, where the ferry docks.  The jetty seems impossibly high out of the water at low tide but there is a series of platforms to allow for the tidal range, around two metres.

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It always strikes me just how isolated French Island is.  From memory, all that is visible from the reasonably long jetty at Tankerton is a collection of salt bitten, rusting cars and an information shelter.  There may also be a lodge or some sort of low key accommodation.  From the beach, arriving by kayak, it’s like landing on an uninhabited island.  There are still fewer than 100 permanent residents and no mains electricity or water, only a single general store and the island is not part of any shire.  It used to be possible to borrow a car from the collection at Tankerton to get around as a visitor and the island was well known for not needing a driver’s license since it was outside any jurisdiction.  There’s time for another quick stretch and then it’s back in the boats.

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From this point on it all gets a little more exciting.  It’s my first time paddling in a following sea as well as ferry gliding across the current at the same time.  This is great but initially a little unnerving when the bow of my boat dives in under a wave.  And then I actually let out a little scream.  I still can’t believe I did that.  Mick was very right in pointing out that it wasn’t going to help and that paddling through the swell was the way to go.  Yep.

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Soon everyone is spread out along the channel, singly or in pairs.  There is a bit of light traffic crossing the main channel so we need to pick up pace to avoid the tourist boat which is returning from Hastings.  I think it must be the somewhat clumsily spelled Georgianna McHaffie, which runs cruises between Hastings, Phillip Island and Flinders.

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The swell’s not particularly high but enough to make me want to concentrate on not falling out of my boat.  There is a well-intentioned gesture among seasoned paddlers to chat away to novices to get them to relax.  It drives me nuts.  Quite often I like to paddle along and watch the sea, concentrate on trying to improve my technique or just not have to yell over the wind and waves.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a conversation and then I do.  At other times, no-one else wants to talk either and so I don’t.  I might be screamer but at least I know when to shut the fuck up.


Anyway, the sea looks gorgeous:  green and mysterious but with a light pink cast from the summer evening light.  Soon I’m enjoying its rhythm, and the surge and retreat of the swell.  The boat is pushed and pulled sideways and I learn to go with it.  Then the shoreline inches closer and the BP jetty takes shape and I realise that we’re nearly back at Woolleys after covering about 12 kilometres.  The tide has only just started to come in and the last swatches of exposed seagrass will soon be flooded again.  Hauling the kayaks through the mud and back up to the beach is truly appalling.  The mozzies are in full force.  Weeks later black mud is still stuck under my toenails.  Lying in bed that night I am rocked by a ghostly swell.

It’s good to be home.


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wooleeys google earth

Wooleys to French Is

Around Princes Pier

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.

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Williamstown across the shipping channel

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.

Webb Dock from Sandridge Beach

Webb Dock from Sandridge Beach

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.

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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?

Princes Pier Google Earth