They looked at us in a funny cynical way. 'You are going to get wet' the boss of the Pelican boat hire company told me yesterday. I had booked an hour in a kayak on the 1,000 yard wide River Noosa in Queensland Australia.
Was this 'Healthandsafetygonemad" Australian version? 'You should leave your shoes behind'. Really. My eleven year old grandson had kayak-ed before. He is young and strong. I am not. 'Best to leave your money here and your mobile and the car-keys.' We agreed. After all it's their country. Insisting on life jackets seemed a bit much. I kept my glasses on so that I could get a good view of the pelicans.
The boatmen argued on who should sit on the back seat of the Kayak, the strongest person for direction or the heaviest for stability. I was awarded the front seat and we moved majestically from the pontoon buoyed up (in my case) by the supreme confidence of the uninitiated. In retrospect I think the boatmen may have had a bet on how long we would last.
It went well at first and we paddled to mid-river. I am not a natural kayak-person. It seems to be a fundamentally unstable vessel. My seat was fragile and the back wanted to fall back to a horizontal position. Grandson decided that a left-turn was required to inspect the pelicans. I paddelled energetically with my right paddle. I felt my body gradually but inexorably sliding to the left until I entered the waters of the Noosa. From a couple of feet below the surface, the water is more a cappuccino brown than an Americano one. It tasted surprisingly salty for a river. The kayak had turned over. I grabbed the paddles. Grandson was giving little yelps of joy at this unexpected treat. There were no worries as we are both strong swimmers.
Grandson manfully tried to turn the kayak upright. I was not much help, impeded by my inability to swim and hold on to the paddles. I had neglected to tie the life jacket on properly and it rose up and concealed most of my face. After about 15 minutes the boatman arrievd with a catamaran. 'Do you want help mate?' Did he think we were deliberatedly swimming among the ferries and jet-skies? He secured the paddles and kayak and helped my grandson to board the catamaran. I could not mange that but offered to cling to the side while he sailed back to the pontoon. This is strictly againt the rules. He asked if I coyuld make it to the other bank of the river about 50 yards away. I am well used to swimming long distances and this was easy.
We were safely delivered to shore where we gratefully shamefacedly collected our valuables. I had a change of dry clothes handy in the car. Grandson was kept comfortable and warm by the car's heater and the joy of his anticipation of revealing the details of our adventure to our famiy. His version paints me in a slightly less heroic role than mine.
The meal with our new Australian relations that evening was a riot. Of course, they were grateful that I had initiated a potentially valuable new lesiure activity of river swimming in Noosa. No-one had thought of it before. Perhaps because of the thousands of sharks that infest that section of the river? Or perhaps the sting rays? Or it could be the stone fish? They are known to bite the occasional swimmer's toe off.
Australian wildlife is still abundant and wondrous. Sometimes ignorance is an advantage.