13 February, 2011

Row, row, row your boat...

It seems that rowing was definitely the order of the day today as I went for my run. Having forgotten earlier warnings that there was a regatta being staged, I hit the river as usual but then found myself wading through the middle of the Rowing Victoria Schools Regatta. After threading my way through a significant number of teenage girls in Lycra, lugging skulls, I then passed their well-dressed parents providing support from the marquees along the bank. Finally I found some clear space and headed over the McIntyre Bridge.
Whilst I was never a rower, I did spend my fair share of time on the bank barracking loudly for the Grammar contingent in my day. And what a day it was in 1986 when Grammar's boys and girls crews both won the Head of the River.
As a consequence, I know that the McIntyre Bridge is important to this particular rowing course as the point from which the final surge from the line was made. It was also during this time that I was made aware of the alternate name for the bridge in question which reflects its main purpose - that being the transport of sewage from one side to the other on its way out of town. Today I made use of its secondary purpose as a footbridge and headed over and then up river, past the top of the course where amongst others, Carey and Caulfield were being exhorted to do their best by coaches comfortably positioned on the bank. No sign of Grammar, I noticed.
Once past Princes Bridge, I was clear of the rowing fraternity and headed for Queen's Park. With nothing better to distract me, it occurred to me that I know virtually nothing about the history of rowing on the Barwon. So, now I am rectifying this situation:
The Barwon Rowing Club which wears the familiar blue and white hoops was the first club to be established on the Barwon in 1870. In recent years, the previous timber shed owned by the club was demolished and replaced by a more solid concrete structure, which presumably will be able to better withstand the periodic flooding to which the rowing sheds are subjected (as recently as last week-end as it happens). The previous structure it was suggested, was at risk of being deposited in Lake Connewarre if subjected to too many more floods.
Almost as old is the Corio Bay Rowing Club which is located a couple of boat sheds downstream, however in its earliest years the club - as reflected by its name - was located on the shores of Corio Bay and only later moved to the banks of the Barwon. Its present building was erected in 1965 with some additions made in subsequent years.
Between these two bastions of the Geelong rowing scene are the sheds of Geelong Grammar and Geelong College - rivals since the 19th century. The Victorian School Boys Head of the River today is fought out by the 11 schools in the APS (Associated Public Schools of Victoria) however, the event was initially established in 1868 in a race between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar, raced on the Yarra River with other schools joining the competition in subsequent years. In 1879 the race was for the first time held in Geelong on the Barwon River. From this time, the race moved back and forth, being held in Geelong every few years until 1948 when it moved permanently to the Barwon until, 2000 when the Boys Head of the River moved to the Olympic standard course at Nagambie.
The equivalent race for girls was first held on the Barwon in the 1970s and was replaced in 1987 by the Head of School Girls Regatta which is still raced in Geelong in March and this year will be held on the week-end of the 19th and 20th of March - must remember to run elsewhere that week-end!
Okay, so now we know a little more about rowing on the Barwon, however skulls and shells are not the only rowing craft to make use of the river. Only a little further upstream, near Balyang Sanctuary is the Geelong Canoe Club, which was established in 1981 and holds regular races throughout the year. These guys (and girls) paddle singly or in pairs in canoes and kayaks and yes, there were several on the water today as I passed.
Somewhat more unusually however, there was also a dragon boat crew out on the river. I discover that they were most probably the local Dragons Abreast crew, known as the Juggernauts who train from the same facility as the Geelong Canoe Club. For reasons I have never quite understood, survivors of breast cancer seem to be drawn to this particular sport and this crew are no exception. Rowing in a pink boat and wearing teal Lycra - or was that a teal boat and pink Lycra? - it was fairly clear what their common cause was.
So clearly on the river was the place to be this afternoon, although there were a good few of us beside it making use of the track. Observing all of this, I made my way back over the river at Queen's Park and headed back towards the girls in Lycra. By this stage, I thought I'd pretty much seen what there was to see in the way of oar- and paddle-powered boats and knew pretty much what they were about. That is, until I came across a kayaker towing a timber palette of the type commonly used to transport bricks and other building materials. What the???!! The paddler had attached the pallet by a rope to the back of his or her vessel (I was too distracted to notice gender) and was making their way downstream with what I suspect was a fair amount of effort. Timber pallets are not the best design for slicing through the water and this one was digging in its metaphorical toes. Its front end was at the surface of the water with the remainder riding higher at an angle of about 45 degrees. Where was my camera when I needed it?
If I'd had the energy, I'd have scratched my head. As it was, I continued on my way, finally deciding I'd had enough when I once again reached the eloquently named S#*t Bridge. I figured that whilst I had the presence of mind to duck and weave my way through the rowers and spectators on my outward journey, my agility on the return trip was probably not of a standard to guarantee that I wouldn't flatten some poor spectator or find myself plowing into the middle of a no doubt very expensive shell, so I erred on the side of caution and made the rest of the journey home at a civilised walk.

07 February, 2011

Saturation Point

On Saturday I was due to go for a run and I figured it was time I made the effort and headed up to Fyansford to see what state the river and surrounds were in after the January floods and after a torrential downpour on Friday courtesy of the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Yasi. I had expected to find mud and sections where the bank had washed across the track. I was not disappointed. At various points I dodged mud, clay and small rockfalls. What I had not expected to see was the river creeping up its banks. The rainfall had been heavy, but had only occurred within the last 24 hours, which is not long enough for water to flow down from the Otways to flood the lower reaches of the Barwon.
To be honest, I wasn't certain the river level was rising. Rather, I suspected it was just flowing a little higher as a result of several months of rain. Just past Queen's Park the water level was almost level with the path. At Fyansford, the Moorabool was flowing as high as the footbridge which leads to the Common. The river was definitely up. Interested and running reasonably comfortably (a little too comfortably given my eventual run time) I headed across the Common and back towards town. A little more than a kilometre down the track I noticed that a section of the river contained a pool of water which was much clearer than the rest which was quite turbid. The distinction between the two was quite pronounced and there was a section where the two combined, with the clear water tailing off and swirling in to blend with the muddy.
Path below Fyansford Common.
I was puzzled briefly until I realized where I was - I was passing the confluence of the Moorabool and Barwon and that explained the colour difference. I'd been told previously that much of the mud which coloured the water through town had found its way from the Moorabool, rather than the Barwon. Looking at the two visibly different streams of water merging, this was clearly the case. The water from the Moorabool was distinctly muddy whereas that from the Barwon was relatively clear. If only I had my camera!
Once I'd finished my run, I came home to check on the Bureau Of Meteorology's website. Yes, the river was indeed rising, but interestingly, only through Geelong  and upstream at Pollocksford  and the Moorabool.
I hadn't seen that before and I can only assume that such is the level of saturation of the surrounding countryside that any significant rainfall can presently cause localized flooding.
And flooding it was - well, according to the official Bureau website it was not quite a flood as levels hadn't reached the official "minor flood" level of 2.5m - but when I returned to Fyansford at around midday on Sunday, the Common was  once again awash. The path I'd run down only the day before was under water in several places and any low-lying ground was underwater. I'd hoped to get a couple of shots of the confluence of the two rivers, showing the different water flows however, as I hadn't brought a pair of waders with me, this proved an impossibility so I had to settle for another set of scenic pics of soggy river banks. At this point, I was trying to ascertain whether the water level was still rising so I decided upon a spot of impromptu time-lapse photography on a section of path near Queen's Park - where incidentally, the path under the bridge was once again underwater.

After several minutes and some none-too-scientific observations, I decided that yes, water levels were still on the rise. So it seemed, from the sign next to the nearby "duckpond" were levels of blue-green algae, giving rise to interesting swirls of green on the surface of the pond. This did not however appear to be having any effect on the teeming aquatic life which lives there. I guess it can't read the warning signs.
Whilst I was in the process of checking out the surrounds, I came across another flood sport - hiking. As I stood taking photos, a lone hiker with pack on his back waded up out of a submerged section of track from the Fyansford direction and headed off under the bridge, back into the water and on his way. Exactly how he managed to determine where the track was I'm not sure. I'd been there the previous day, but couldn't be sure where exactly it was I'd run. So much for avoiding floodwaters! By this time, I was ready for lunch, so I decided enough was enough. Perhaps I am becoming blase about floods on the Barwon after the last few months, but this was only a little one in the scheme of things, so I went home.