Sloop Lagoon by Kayak
Of Swans and Leaches
22 Sept 2016
It was almost impossible to squeeze into my wetsuit. It slowly dawned on me that it wasn’t mine at all but an old one belonging to my daughter. Kayaking in a teeny size 8 would feel like I’d been swallowed by a snake and so I wore it legs up only, and layered thermals over that.
I had decided to kayak around the circumference of one of the dune trapped lagoons along The Gardens Road and decided in favour of Sloop. The morning was overcast and there was a little bit of breeze by the time we reached the lagoon, somewhat later than planned. I felt a little mournful, as I always do, when the breeze is fooling with the surface tension, marring the glassy water I like so much when kayaking.
The geo helped me launch and our one dog followed, peeping unhappily. She’s the pack leader and path finder. She likes to keep us together and on off lead areas will always come back to collect me if I’ve lingered behind.
I was aiming for the bridge that goes beneath the Gardens Road and paddled swiftly across the tannin water, eventually dropping her. On the other side I found a narrow channel, closed off at its mouth. This lagoon was saline and sometimes black beneath the clouds.
I idled here. Frogs were being vocal in the rushes, a surprise to hear them in such a salty environment and I wondered if the many flood events this year had altered the salinity level. The surf boomed on Taylor Beach. It was peaceful floating and listening to the soundscape. I drifted down to where the lagoon meets the beach.
And then I turned around, headed back beneath the bridge and set off to circumnavigate this dune trapped lake.
It’s a quiet world in amongst the boobiala, rushes and ti tree. As I kayaked around the edge of the lagoon I spotted two swans’ nests in the reeds but there were four couples in total that came gliding out from among them at various points and moved away from me, honking small warnings. In fact, despite my best attempts to be non-intrusive, one took off heavily in front of me, half running across the water – we had not seen each other until the last moment.
I’d last seen black swans on the Thames, near Kensington Palace. That was a surprise too, but apparently a small number have acclimatised there. Far better to see them in a habitat that’s natural to them. They’re migratory, but their pattern of migrating is opportunistic and erratic and they plan their travels according to what the weather’s been serving up. The oddest swan behaviour I ever saw was one that flew over to a bay and paddled out to sea.
Don’t believe those stories of them being loyal to one partner for life. They’ve been found out. Swans cheat; sneaky affairs take place in hidden corners of the rushes and so watching these partnered birds gather in the middle of the lagoon, I wondered about the layers of their relationships and whose eggs were whose in those nests in the shallows. I didn’t check the lagoon’s depth, but swans like shallow water so that they can bottom feed without diving, one way to tell.
Down at the far end, near the quarry, I found a small stream and seeking out the glassy patches where I’d be more protected from the south easterly, I found a crane staring attentively into the water. There were also full throated frogs around the lake from time to time, and small lunettes that doubtless hold evidence of camping and feasts from the eras before colonisation.
The lagoon held one final surprise for me. This is what we saw when we went to load the kayak – a huge leach with a foot that could have competed with kelp for grip. A leach so huge it could suck a swan dry.