Just over a week has passed since the 40th Anniversary of the Hawkesbury Classic, Sydney's own iconic 111km race overnight from the foot of the Blue Mountains to within smelling distance of the ocean.
Both Rob & I had managed to get our hands on Greg Slade's specialist long-distance racing kayak, the SLR1, and to varying degrees had spent a few weeks getting ourselves into Classic mode.
We were both eyeing off a time in the low 10 hour range, but as that's substantially faster than either of us had managed previously we weren't thinking too far ahead.
|Posing with Roddy who smoked a 10.03 in his second attempt at the race|
|Swapping yarns with Irishman David Horkan who added a 9 hour Classic to his long list of open water achievements.|
|Lined up at the start|
For the first time the great majority of competitive classes started together at 5pm. This is a little earlier than we're used to, and with the opportunity to wash ride a whole armada of slightly faster boats, the first 5km after the gun were absolutely hectic.
|Rob left, me right as we approach the Windsor Bridge|
|Hangin' with David over the daylight section of the course|
|Rob looking comfortable at the 12.5km mark.|
The into-the-tide stretch to Wiseman's was a tough one, as it always is. You have to be up close to the banks to get out of the current coming at you, but in the pitch black, moonless night you literally couldn't see your paddle hitting the water, let alone an overhanging branch or hazard.
At about 45km I ducked under a branch that my cyalume light illuminated dull green moments before it would have coat-hangered me, and on the other side of the tree there was a boat stopped dead. In fact it didn't even look like it was floating. I asked the paddler if he was OK, and he said 'actually not really'.
The conversation from there went like this:
Mark 'Can I help you'
Paddler 'Yes, I think you'll have to, I'm stuck hard in a tree'
Mark 'Have you tried back paddling'
Paddler 'Yes but I'm too far up between the branches'
Mark 'OK, I'll come alongside & see if I can free you up'
I pulled along one gunwale & the tree blocked me from getting closer, so backed up & came along the opposite side.
Mark (in best I'm-in-charge-now-mate-do-as-I-say voice) 'OK, I'm going to lean over your deck & try & prise your boat out backwards'
Paddler 'Who is this?'
Mark 'I'm Mark'
Paddler (chuckling) 'Mr Sundin!'
Mark 'Who's this'
Paddler 'It's Rob!'
A healthy dose of hilarity ensued, firstly because it was so dark we couldn't see one another, and secondly because we were so bloody frazzled by near enough to 50km of effort that we didn't even recognise one another's voices! It just goes to show you where the race takes you mentally. Eventually we freed Rob's bow from the oversized slingshot frame he'd perfectly bisected, and took off together to make up lost time, after I reminded him that those seven minutes he'd lost, I was gonna get back on recourse for assisting a stricken paddler!
|I love this pic, the two of us pulling into Wiseman's side by side, looking a little frazzled.|
I got back on the water first & headed for home, delighted that the tide was releasing & the speed was starting to reach into the 11-12kmh range. For the first time in eight Classics I pulled over at the Low Tide Pit Stop, where a gregarious bunch of dudes dragged me from my boat & offered me all sorts of incentives to stay. Sadly I spent 5 minutes doing nothing more exciting than stretching & swearing, before I remounted for the final 25km home.
My GPS had me on track for a time very close to 10 hours, but the tennis ball and the easing of the ebb flow saw that blow out to 10.15 by the time I reached the bridge at Brooklyn.
|My finish - yes I know where the camera guy is after 8 Classics!|
|Rob finishes, dripping wet, no hat, no GPS and just the tube from his Camelback!|
My Mum Suzanne had her responsibilities double for the night with Rob's inclusion, but as always handled the pressure with a throw-your-head-back laugh & her brilliant laid-back efficiency. That's eight Classics for Mum now, she's starting to talk to the greenhorn crews with some authority when she's asked!
|A last pic with our crew, my Mum Suzanne.|