Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Rock & Roll 2011

Rock & Roll 2011 has been run & won, with a bumper attendance of more than 160 paddlers enjoying bright sunshine, enough variable wind to produce some exciting seas, and the unmistakeable goodwill that radiates from gathering of this ilk with people who share a passion.
The weekend began a day early for me, as I met WA paddling legend Les Allen & his good mate & accomplished expeditioner Ian Pexton at the airport late Thursday. We headed south as far as Ulladulla, and becuase I always do my best to go 5 star with interstate guests, I booked us in at the salubrious Marlin Hotel. We adjourned to the local Italian & then back to the pub to share a beer & swap tall stories. Les & Ian do their paddling in a very different way to my style. They specialise in big loads, massive distance, unbelievably hard coastline, and the big boats that align to that bee-line expeditioning school. They were both here primarily to test out the Wind 585, after hearing good things.
The Marlin, the Waldorf Astoria of the South.
We rose surprisingly early Friday & shot down to Bateman's to set up the sprawling EK display. Even at 9.30am there were still plenty of early arrivals at RnR, showing what a highlight it has become for paddlers.
By the time our traditional Beer & Pizza welcome party was in full swing the crowd had swelled to over 100 & everyone was having a great time. Kayaking celebrities like Mick MacRobb from Flat Earth Sails, continental circumnavigator Stu Trueman (flown back for the RnR from FNQ to give a presentation), Les Allen, Capricornia Keys expeditioner Gary Forrest and solo female Bass Strait crosser Shaan Gresser mixed it up with their clubmates in a very friendly opening ceremony. 
In a new RnR record, 40 large pizzas were dispatched in a frenzied 27 minute, 22 second burst that would have done the local Gannet colony proud. The dozen cartons of beer lasted about another 45 minutes, with several of us getting well more than our share.
On a personal note, I'd like to thank Paul Loker for hauling me out of a bush at 1am, what is it about that guy being in the right place whenever an idiot makes a bad mistake? Thanks Paul…..
I ran a clinic on Saturday morning based around the skills required to chase down following seas, and Neptune delivered in the morning with a freshening southerly which had kicked up steep little wind waves & chop. With a short flat-water session centring around acceleration as a skill & how to go about developing it under our belts, we headed out into the bay to have a crack, with everyone managing a screaming ride at some point. I think this sort of paddling is the ultimate for a sea kayaker, where essentially we're harnessing the power of ocean to make ground & also, of course, have a ball tearing amount of fun, so it was good to get a keen & aggressive group out to see how a structured lesson might work.
Saturday evening's event dinner was headlined by canoeist Richard Barnes, a chap with a 'just do it' attitude. Stu Trueman then finished off the evening with a brilliantly delivered grab of tales from his epic voyage thus far from Broome to Cairns. If you get the opportunity to hear Stu speak, take it. In his understated way he mixes his own special brand of humour with some very raw descriptions of calculated expeditioning at the outer edge of our sport.
Stuart Trueman
Sunday dawned with a mixed weather report but southern observations suggesting the worst predictions were likely overestimates, so in small groups pretty much everyone who wanted to get out & experience the sea got a trip leader, guide or instructor to accompany them west. 
I took a group out to the iconic Tollgate Islands, a special little volcanic outcrop 6km offshore which reveals something different every time you head out there.
With little sea experience in the group, it was good to have a skilled paddler like Vincent Weafer along to 2IC, and we headed across to the islands at a good clip.
Vincent Weafer
There is a shallow gap between the islands which can be a bit hairy in a big sea, but with a group plan we picked bit of a lull & one at a time threaded our way through. The exposed western coast of the islands provided some wide eyed moments for a couple of paddlers, but it was only a short skip around the lee of the south shore where a perfect little rock garden presented itself. Once again we devised a plan, set up a paddler with towline at the ready, then shot across a small surging platform into the safety of a deep gully. Everyone managed to manoeuvre in, turn in the tight confines of the gully & then trace their line back out again. Well, almost everyone… Last to go through, Helen charged across the platform, got a surging wave at the exact wrong moment & wound up high & dry on an adjacent platform. Just as I was weighing the options of how best to fetch her from her predicament, another wave flooded the platform & she gracefully slid off the back & away into deep water. Full marks from the instructor!
By the time we were ready to head back the wind had built so we headed further across the sea in order to get all lined up for the 8km or so back to HQ. The great little following sea almost got us back to shore, running out of puff as we rounded Snapper Island.
Sunday night featured Captain Jim Kakuk from the Tsunami Rangers and his truly staggering collection of big water photos gathered over more than 20 years of close-quarter adventuring around the east coast of the US. Forget the hype, these guys are calculating risk managers who thoroughly reconnoitre their rock garden targets before unleashing some imposing skills to produce the thrills. Don't try it at home if you think they're just brave, there is way more science involved, not to mention some XXXL sized audacity.
On Monday I went for a blast with Ian Pexton, with Ian trying out the Taran & me in the Epic V8, which concluded with a great surf off the Bateman's Bar where we both clocked long, long runs at high speed. My GPS recorded one run in the V8 at 84 seconds, where I didn't dip below 16kmh, and twice hit over 20kmh. I also managed to 3/4 endo the V8 on a slightly steeper one, and can report that these skis are made a little stronger than some give them credit for!
The event concluded about midday Monday, and was once again an unconditional success.
At Rock & Roll paddlers new to the sport, if they so wish, can get proper sea exposure in the hands of competent paddlers trained to look after them. The social side of the event has reached a new level, with everyone getting into the spirit.
Team Hairy Racing Snakes trying out some boats.
Our own commercial side is well represented with Mirage making a welcome return to the event with their beautiful boats & new range of Stellar skis, Nadgee Kayaks exhibited as well as Andre from Hybrid & superstar Mick MacRobb with his peerless sails. The buzz from our boats was squarely centred around the broadly appealing Zegul 520 range, as well as the Taran, which pretty much excites everyone who jumps in for a paddle.
Thanks especially to RnR Co-ordinator Claus Busseler for the overall organisation & also to Matty Bezzina for getting it all together on the water.

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