This article was first published in Juice Magazine, September on Mango Airlines.
Testing his recently acquired fitness, BRIAN BERKMAN takes to the water.
Zipping the drinking water pouch into my lifejacket, I think back two years ago to my first kayak experience. Actually, that experience which took us through the backwaters and rivers of Madagascar, was the second time on a kayak. The first time, at the invitation of a friend, was harrowing – I still weighed 153Kg and capsized the kayak almost the moment I sat on to it, despite being in a shallow river.
Although much lighter and fitter now, that initial fear still sits with me and despite three-days kayaking in Madagascar I still feel the novice.
Very happily though False Bay is so calm that I can perfectly see the reflected seaside restaurants and mountains behind them. We’re given the briefest of briefings by Derek Goldman of Sea Kayak Simons Town – “push the paddle away from you with your top hand while pulling it with your bottom hand. To stop, push the paddle into the water away from you. Steering on these two-person sit-on-top kayaks is with foot controls from the back seat. Push left to go left.”
I’m wondering about the much older couple in our party. Looks like they’re the parents of people just a little younger than we are. Worrying about other people helps me channel my own anxiety and I immediately feel more confident. Geoff Hart leads the way and Derek keeps an eye on us from the rear.
Soon my spouse JP and I are in a comfortable paddling rhythm. I’m still barking orders which way to steer as if he, not sitting a meter behind me, can’t see which way to go. Fortunately he knows my bossiness is just a cover for fear so is happy to oblige.
As we approach the Simons Town harbour wall, I can see the water is much choppier now that a headwind approaches. “That’s a Grey Heron”, Derek calls out to us while we paddle faster against the tide. While it is wonderful to see Kelp Gulls, Terns and the endangered black Oyster Catchers, we’re here to see the penguins. Our two-hour trip takes us past Seaforth beach where, if time and weather permits, groups stop for a swim. “Getting back into a kayak is as easy as getting out of the deep-end of a pool – most people can manage it and we’re here to help if they can’t,” Derek says also responding to one of my perineal fears of being on the water – what happens if I fall in?
The older couple are struggling so Derek latches them to his kayak and does the heavy lifting. The approach to Boulders is breathtaking. The granite orbs seem especially bright and the midday sun beats off them like an oscillating lighthouse.
Commonly known as Jackass Penguins because of the eerily donkey-like sound they make, Spheniscus Demerus or African Penguins make Boulders their home. This colony has about 2500 inhabitants and many of them are walking on the beach while others are poised like sentries on the rocks. Typically found in pairs, we encountered a lone wanderer fishing near us. In the protected bay I finally feel able to relax. “Keep paddling”, Derek says, “or you will drift with the current.” Staying still on the water doesn’t seem to be an option.
Now Geoff takes the older couple back to the harbour more directly while Derek, sensing our keenness, takes us past Ark Rock. Paddling through Simons Town Harbour, up close to a submarine that is now a museum is another highlight.
Late and Flustered
Once the paddle bug has bitten, it bites again. Stuck in traffic on the N1 into Cape Town I can see we aren’t going to make our 5.30pm sunset paddle from Three Anchor Bay.
Embarrassed at our lateness I’m already flustered. The two dogs lying under the desk couldn’t be less interested in me, or my stress, it seems, despite my head nodding like one of those dashboard dogs while only listening with one ear to options: Yes, I’ll take the splash cover skirt, I say, although the others in the party seem to be more interested in saving their manhood than keeping their legs warm. Comfort first, I say.
Being on a Kaskazi Kayaks’ two-hour guided trip tour means everything (except drinking water) is laid on for you. Our guide, Dirk Kaiser, has the locally manufactured touring Kaskazi Duo kayak ready for us at the waters edge at Three Anchor Bay and adjusts the steering pedals. He tucks my splash cover around the rim and I’m ready except I can’t find my gloves. Cycling gloves really protect your palms while paddling and make it easier to grip the paddle but there’s no time to look for them. Not thrilled.
Head Straight Out to Sea
On the water I feels less stable then I did in Simons Town so I’m a little less confident about being on the water as I’m aware of the kayak slightly tilting each time we paddle which may be because we’re sitting inside, rather than on top.
“Head straight out to sea”, Dirk shouts with his still heavy accent. I wonder if our paddles will get trapped in the kelp but then I’m overwhelmed by the views of Sea Point and Table Mountain from the water. This is the sort of perfect kayaking day people hope for “Keep away from the shore”, Dirk warns as we pass Bantry Bay, “or the waves will push you towards the rocks”. Now the 12 Apostles come into view and it feels as if we are paddling directly into the sun, heavy above the horizon like the opening of a pizza oven.
In this light the water takes on a different hue, looking like velvet folds as it undulates beneath us. Now, totally relaxed about our movement, I pause to take photos and to rest my arms which, even after an hour, aren’t as tired as I expected them to be.
We see three seals bobbing and weaving, large flocks of yellow-billed black cormorants and a few gulls but not much else. At first glance it looks like the neck of the Lochness Monster but deep at sea the kelp grows so thick it resembles a twisted human arm.
“Yesterday we saw two sunfish”, says Dirk, “and in the morning, on our trip towards the Waterfront, dolphins.”
The goal, we’re told, for adrenaline-junkie paddlers is to paddle through the tiny gap between Lion’s North Paw, a mini-mountain with its base 40 meters under the sea, but we take the more gentle route around it.
With The Tide Behind Us
Heading back, the tide is behind us and nudges us along although also towards the coast which we must steer against. Despite hearing the waves crashing against the sea wall at Bantry Bay it is extremely calm out at sea and quiet. As we approach the Sea Point promenade, and see the umbrellas on the beach for sundowners, I’m sure we can hear people talking. Here we wait for the sun to set.
This is a first for me. I feel part of the sea, smelling its briny air, moving as it does. My heart feels open to it. I even imagine that I can feel myself moving with the earth as it rolls past the sun. I feel totally vulnerable yet equally safe.
Heading towards Three Anchor Bay I’m very glad for my splash cover which has successfully kept my lower body dry and warm. My top is damp though and to fight against the cold I paddle ever faster entering the slipway at speed. Maybe I’m not a beginner anymore.
Side Bar: Top Tips
Wear gloves: Cycling gloves protect your palms
Take a water bottle
Have a dry, warm top and bottoms to wear immediately after coming out.
A waterproof camera is great although all tours will take photos of you and post to their Facebook page.
Wear the splash cover if they offer it.
Sea Kayak Trips, Wharf Street, Simons Town
082 501 8930
Kaskazi Kayaks Shop: +27 21 439 1134 Tracy: +27 83 346 1146 Arthur +27 83 230 2726 www.kayak.co.za 33 54.331S / 18 23.902E