Thursday, 29 July 2010

Paddle to Work...?

Emerging from a taxing couple of months of home inspections, selling a house, buying a house, the usual work/life pressures and a cool Sydney winter, I've finally settled the family into a temporary holiday house in the bayside suburb of Kurnell. With eight weeks to kill until our new house is vacant, I figured a home on the water would be fun for a short spell before we go back to the 'burbs for the next twenty years...
My office in Marrickville is about a 900m stroll from the Cooks River, which feeds out into Botany Bay. From the beach at Kurnell, about 11km down the line, it's another 200m to our house, so I have committed to paddling to & from work two or three times a week. I reckon 'what the hell, who ever gets the chance to do that...?'
First job was to rig up the Rapier 20 with some lights, and then set the camera to record the maiden voyage. It wouldn't be much fun with a 20kg+ boat so I put an old set of wheels on the Rapier, which weighs in at about 15kg, and off I went. 
I'm sure the sight of a man in fitted black rubber clothing wandering through industrial Marrickville with a long black phallic canoe would have had some of the locals looking twice. It might just provide some inspiration for a new Mardi Gras float. A float that floats...?
My put in spot at the Cooks River is, umm, interesting. It's a river making a bit of a comeback after a century as the default dumping ground for inner Sydney's now defunct heavy industry, but it still has some serious aesthetic issues. The banks are revegetating, the fishermen are back & as you progress downstream the birds are active & numerous, but I still wouldn't fancy a swim. The black goop on the banks & the deep silty brown (Sweet Georgia Brown?) water don't exactly take me back to the foothills of the Patagonian Andes.
But, it's a waterway to the sea, and my highway home, so it has to do...!
Heading down the river you pass the airport, then out onto Botany Bay itself. After seven years living alongside Botany Bay I've come to appreciate it for the unique place it is. It's full on working port, with the biggest airport in the region, a desalination plant pipeline bolted along it's keel line, yet it retains pristine mangroves on the southern shore, lovely white sandy beaches from Kyeemagh to Dolls Point, and features a National Park on it's northern & southern headlands. I've paddled it most weeks either on my fitness paddle along the western shore, or out to sea from La Perouse, and using just the past year as a snapshot have seen everything from a mirror calm lagoon to a seven metre wave, in a series of four metre swells off the lighthouse at Henry Head. I've paddled calm water, surf off Dolls Pt (5km inland of the heads), rough bastard headwinds & had stupendous 20kmh+ blasts downwind in my surf ski, as well as smashing myself up on the rocks behind Bare Island, all in this essentially enclosed area called Botany Bay.
Paddling out into the bay in the fading light there were commercial dive boats heading home, trawlers making their way in from a day offshore, and the usual assortment of tinnies & punters hauling lines after a calm day's recreational fishing.
From the tip of the southern runway I carved a line across to Kurnell (or Far Kurnell to the locals), a place proudly announced on a beaten up sign as 'the birthplace of modern Australia'. It's a moniker laced with irony, when you could reasonably argue that it also represents the staging post of the beginning of the end for ancient Australia.
I could make out the long finger wharves which transport the petrochemicals from the Caltex Refinery to the tanker ships, and as I got closer in the dusk light the  refinery started to light up like a celestial city of linear halogens.
Pushing through the last few metres I checked the GPS, showing 11.3km, covered in about an hour & a quarter. A spectacular & varied paddle which on it's day will doubtless present some good sea conditions, but which for Tuesday's inaugural 'Paddle Home' presented a gentle & relaxing cruise....with a bit of man-hauling...

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