The annual general meeting of the Victorian Sea Kayak Club gave us an excuse to get out of Melbourne and find out more about sea kayaking down under. We joined the Club in May, but had done nothing to pursue our interest aside from checking Ebay for second-hand kayaks. We knew no one, so it was with something approaching trepidation that we drove down the Mornington Peninsula at rush hour on a Friday afternoon.

We have had three kayaks in the course of our time together. The first was, in fact, a tandem sea kayak that we purchased somewhat rashly when we were about to launch our lives in the direction of the Philippines. We were ready to send a 20 foot container on its way from Nova Scotia when my wife asked the mover (one day before pickup) if an eighteen foot kayak would fit inside. Sure, he said.

We didn’t, in fact, have a kayak. But the mover knew someone in Halifax who sold sea kayaks and it just so happened that he had a tandem that would meet our needs. We didn’t realize at the time that the Philippines are entirely too hot for anything but sit-a-boards. The one, and only time we took it on the ocean was a complete fiasco. Mostly we used it on Lake Taal, a huge volcanic crater lake a couple hours south of Manila.

The other two kayaks were “creek” boats that we bought when we moved to Northern Florida. It didn’t take long for us to discover that kayaking the spring fed creeks and rivers with a naturalist was the best possible way to enjoy our time in Gainesville. Gators or not.

Maelstrom kayak

Sleek sea beasts of all shapes and sizes decorated the roof racks of cars, vans and trucks at Merrick’s Lodge, our home for the weekend. The Lodge is located on the eastern shore of the Peninsula, across from Phillip Island. It was constructed to meet the needs of church groups. Bunk beds and block bathrooms sent me back to my summer camp days.

But campfires have been replaced by computers. Friday evening began with Powerpoint presentations by members who had done a couple of notable paddles– a long solo trip south from Sydney to Cape Conran in Victoria, and a Bass Strait crossing from Victoria to Tasmania.

These are both daunting paddles, making me wonder if we had settled in among amateur “hikers”whose credentials rivaled that of Edmund Hillary. Despite my worries, we were reassured by Les and Helen Doyle, who did a recent paddling trip to a very remote area of Canada– Baffin Island. They adopted us and made us feel very welcome.

Saturday morning was glorious. There were half dozen group paddles scheduled. We signed up for one that seemed relatively easy, as we had rented a tandem for the weekend and it was not light. It took four hefty bodies to get it from the car down to the beach. Despite taking a drubbing for not having a line tethered to our paddles, we kept up with the pack and managed to make it back without falling too far behind.

The afternoon was devoted to the annual general meeting, followed in turn by the only catered meal of the entire weekend. Despite the less than luxurious facilities, there were no prohibitions on alcohol. We were in wine country, after all. So we kicked off our shoes and settled in for the evening. This time, there was a real slide show, by a climber, mountaineer and kayaker who had done some amazing adventures and taken fine photos.

Sunday morning was devoted to workshops covering everything from photography to fiberglass repair. We dropped in on one about kayak camping. How does one get everything you need for a week of kayak camping into a boat and out again? There are tricks involved, decisions to be made. Terry made it all seem simple, sharing his errors so we would not make the same ones.

In the afternoon, we said goodbye to our newfound friends and headed to an excellent local winery for lunch. Then we had a walk along the same beach we had paddled the day before. It was a long drive back. Sunday afternoon on the highway is not much better than Friday. But we had made connections, learned a little bit about the kayak community. Next time, perhaps, we’ll have boats and be able to roll them with aplomb.

If not, there will be a tale to tell.

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