Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Road Less Travelled

I kayak to work every day.

I live on the water in the old industrial ( well, post industrial)waterfront  suburb of Balmain and work as a manager in a corporate job only a few km away in Ultimo, also an old waterfront  industrial suburb... but separated by the harbour.  It takes an hour and a bit to walk to work: twenty-five minutes by bicycle,  about half an hour door to door by ferry, and over half an hour by car. Any land route involves a long detour and lots of traffic choke points. 

So I kayak. I use my 25-year old Dancer whitewater boat, still in surprisingly good nick after all the abuse. I have to seal-launch off a wharf every night and that would make short work of a rudder or a glass boat.  For the last three years in all weathers (except lightning storms) I head out in the morning and head back at night.
When daylight saving arrives suddenly I’m paddling home in the dark.

 I can’t say I look forward to being out on the harbour alone at night in my little boat, especially  when it’s rainy and windy and visibility is poor. Quite apart from what may be active beneath, there’s a fair bot of traffic and it’s not always easy to spot against the city backdrop. Lately there’s a big old sailing ship that takes cruises ( the Southern Swan, lovely boat) but it is almost invisible at night.

 It’s not as bad as it might sound: I run parallel to a ferry route but not crossing it, and the 800m crossing isn’t the main harbour but into the relatively quiet Blackwattle Bay.  I‘ve only been over twice in several hundred trips: once launching off the pontoon at very low tide in front of a bunch of Chinese tourists, probably a couple of metre drop, and doing a very tasteful endo (very amusing) , and the other in complicated circumstances involving a ferry, a wharf, a dozen rusty sharpened steel spikes and a stormwater drain (not amusing at all).

On the home side I simply slide into the water off a pontoon . On the work end, I haul the boat out with a line, then lug it on my shoulder into the bowels of the  building and into the bike area. My work is bike-friendly and the building seems to tolerate my boat. I don’t point out I’m pulling lots of salt water into their car park and I’m also bringing in explosives when I carry small flares to scare off the boats at night.

Ya gotta have a system. I have a locker at work, and a dry cleaner has a drop-off  in our building, so now I leave shirts, shoes  and pants at work and just carry in undies, socks and my mobile phone.  I take a towel in each week, and on weekends wash all the bits.

Hi Ho,Hi Ho

I get some interesting reactions at work, from “cool” to a sort of blank incomprehension. I think I’m riding a fine line between cool and eccentric, and I certainly can’t afford to slide too far over that line. I get most comments when it’s wet: I would get much more wet walking from the carpark to work or catching the ferry than kayaking in and getting into dry clothes, but colleagues seem to think that as soon as it rains I abandon ship.

Things have changed, though. Since my beloved Cathy has gained her guides’ ticket, she also now paddles to work occasionally : her commute is longer than mine, being an hour forty from Balmain East to the Spit. For an 7.00 start she has to leave well before dawn.

Cathy under the Harbour Bridge,rainy  pre-dawn,  on her way to work
She arrives at the Spit, lights still on. 

I’ve joined her occasionally on weekends, either  to go to work or I’ve paddled over to come back with her.

So there we are: a couple of kayakers who are able to kayak to work.  All’s well.

I use my old Dancer, with reflective tape on the sides. I’ve strung a deckline which I detach to haul the thing out of the water up the ladder.  Whistle and knife on the PFD: I have had cause to cut fishing line from inconsiderate fishers who have cast across my deck.  I have not needed a whistle make my feelings known.

Mostly paddle with a handmade GP now, but sometimes use a Werner Rio blade.

I carry two lights:  one small Princeton Tec on my PFD and another larger Princeton Tec on the end of a metre of white electrical conduit which I stick down the back of my PFD so it pokes up in the air.  The lights are white continuous so I’m street legal. I softened the top of the conduit  with a heat gun so it fits the light really tightly.  I’ve tried lots (and lots) of lights: I think there’s another post in that! But for the last 18 months I’ve used this  arrangement and it’s simple and safe (ish) and hasn’t failed me yet. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ian,

    Awesome story. I found it while googling around for fellow kayak commuters. I just tried it out for my NYC-area commute. I realize this post is from a long time ago. Do you still do it? Do you get thunderstorms often where you are, and if so, do you think it is unsafe to kayak in a thunderstorm? You mentioned your trip is 800m, how long does that take (just the on-water part)?

    Here is my blog: https://greenwaycommuter.wordpress.com/2015/07/14/frequently-asked-questions-on-kayak-commuting/