Thursday 16 November 2017

A Festval of Blue Water & Blue Sky

It's always a tough one packing for our annual migration south for the Victorian Sea Kayak Club's Blue Water Festival. We invariably leave Sydney in balmy spring weather, the cold weather gear having been dispensed with for another season, and never quite manage to get our heads around the fact that several degrees of latitude south does tend to cool things down!

Having mostly been blown to smithereens at the previous two years' events, we did our best to prepare for whatever may be, despite a forecast promising plenty of sunshine.
The club put the weekend on at Barwon Heads this year, a seaside village so idyllic it was used as the backdrop for the TV series Sea Change.

We drove down to Melbourne via the eastern edge of the city & caught the Sorrento to Queenscliff Ferry across to the surf coast. If you haven't done that before, it's a real treat, and they have a bar.

On the Friday we had coaching booked for more than thirty club members, a morning session on forward paddling, and an afternoon of very targeted rescue practice cloaked in the inevitable buffoonery of Rob's excellent rescue game.

Don't assume we're going to let you use your paddle, just because it's meant to be kayak coaching!

Geoff Murray had sailed across from his native Tassie on the Spirit to be the headline act for the weekend, and we caught up with him and enjoyed some local seafood & spring water at a beautiful little restaurant perched on a wharf. 

On the Saturday morning I accompanied Gerard, Tina & a big group on a paddle out along the surf coast between Barwon Heads & the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, a broad expanse of small rolling swell that traverses a sandy sea floor of at times wildly varying depths.

Scanning the water ahead provided the occasional highlight as a peak seemed to rise alarmingly & then dissipate as quickly as it had appeared. Every now & then there was a hint of white water, ranging from about 500m to about 800m behind the surf zone, but we clipped along the calm, windless sea profile without incident.

At about the point where we were due to turn, I looked south & saw a big green wall that was threatening to break, but as years of ocean paddling experience tell me, surely  won't. Regardless, as it began to turn transparent, I decided a desperate charge was my best form of defence, and busted over the lip into a lot of clear air as it did, in fact, start to tumble over. With a degree of hubris, I thought "Phew, I'm glad it missed me, but I bet there's some collateral damage on the other side!' as I glanced back at the hissing white wall that was heading for my new paddle mates. 
Then the hissing sound changed ears, and when I swung my head around there was a bigger one, and I wasn't going to get away this time! Charging regardless, I hit the wave almost vertical, was pushed straight up into the air by the pile of whitewater, driven backwards into a not-so-elegant reverse endo, which terminated, by my best guess, on the 'over-the-falls' part of the breaking wave, where I was window-shaded three times before managing to grab a handful of purchase with my roll & breathe again. The trace on my GPS shows a 12 second ride backwards, but I swear it was 6 minutes.... With my sinuses now remarkably clear and chiropractic work done, I then set about retrieving my very expensive sunnies (on a float), my $90 hat and my pump (also both floating). So a good tale, but not an expensive one!

Excitement over, Gerard & his able deputies then proceed to calmly put the group back together, retrieved the riderless horses; Ben deck-carried one of the swimmers (as we'd practiced the afternoon before), and within 5 minutes were were all sharing a laugh about the experience.

A wider course home was deemed appropriate, so we paddled out to the submerged wreck of the HMAS Canberra, before running back to Barwon Heads on some very cool little waves.

Back at the beach a few curious souls tested out my demo Audax, before we made our way back to the HQ for lunch.

In the arvo Rob told the tale of the Audax, from concept through to design & manufacture; a story that surprises most paddlers when they hear first hand just what's involved in bringing a new design to market. In a part of the world where a plumb bow sea kayak is often treated with suspicion if not bewilderment, we hope we managed to explode some of the myths peddled about this new style of boat.

On Saturday night our mate from Tassie, Geoff Murray, presented his gobsmacking trove of images & tales from years spent paddling in Greenland & Antarctica. 

Preceding that however, the club had decided to honour Mick MacRobb by naming their hotly contested photo competition in his memory, and had invited Mick's Mum & Dad, Graeme & Jenny, and his partner Lyn to speak & present the award. It was lovely moment, in a room full of warmth & good wishes, and well done to the Vics say we.

Ben Flora's winning photo - what a stunner!

The final day dawned with blue sky & warm sunshine yet again, so Rob took the opportunity to join in on the club's surf coaching session in the insanely fun Tiderace Action, where from all reports all he did was surf himself silly. He certainly had a grin from sunscreen-smeared ear to ear when he came back from the beach!

The weekend finished with a catered lunch & a farewell from President Richard, and this year everyone went away with a sunburnt nose & big smile. What a top weekend.

Thanks so much to Richard, Steve, and the committee of the VSKC for inviting us down & making us feel so welcome. You know you're coming to play with a healthy club when they welcome outsiders & their seditious ideas in good humour, with an open mind, and we had a ball.

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