Monday 30 January 2012

The Bay to Beach - Finally an Ocean Race for Sea Kayakers!

A couple of years ago I enquired about entering one of the Ocean Races in my Valley Rapier, a design that is essentially an elite surf ski with a deck. I was told that they no longer allowed sea kayakers to enter after a slew of safety incidents over the years & a perception that sea kayakers were less skilled in rough water, needed rescues etc etc. 
Having listened to a couple of famous ocean race stories involving sea kayakers, without agreeing entirely with their conclusion I have to say I completely understood their viewpoint & figured instead I'd see what all the fuss was about with surf skis, inspired by the brilliant videos that Rambo shoots around the world of these high octane events.
I got to learn a new skill set & love paddling my ski, but those of us sea kayakers with the skills & intent to run a real blue water race have been left to invent our own private paddles downwind at sea, and look on at the Ocean Series like a kid who got a Cabbage Patch doll instead of the Lightning McQueen race car for Xmas…
There are the harbour races, & more & more of these flat water events are popping up, enriching the local paddling scene as they appear. I entered one a couple of years back & quickly worked out that without sea conditions to read, ride & use to my advantage, my fitness meant that a flat water race was just an hour of grunting hard with none of the rewards that the sea provides for your efforts (that is big long rides where you can suck in some big ones & don't have to paddle!)
Local paddling identity & founder of the Southern Districts Ocean Paddlers Steve Newsome, told me last year he was planning to reinvigorate the grand old 'Caltex Bridge to Beach' race, a surf club challenge that had first been run back in 1984. He asked how we could get sea kayakers back into the mix. Rob suggested a pairs event whereby they could enter as a team of two, and their finishing time would be the time when the last of the pair crossed the line. The logic was that a pair of sea kayakers racing together would be able to help one another out in the event of a problem, and it also fits better with the ethos of our sport being a more collegial one than other paddlesports with a competitive base. 
Steve agreed and for the first time in many years there will be an open ocean race run in which us sea kayakers are welcome. Yay!
The 2012 Bay to Beach will be run on February 25, starting at Bonna Reserve at the western end of Silver Beach at Kurnell, head out through the heads of Botany Bay past Cape Solander & Boat Harbour, across the expanse of Bate Bay, around the headland at South Cronulla & into Gunamatta Bay & the finish. It's 18km which will take you from the calm of the Bay, through the invariably confused water of the southern cliff line around Cape Solander, out into unbroken open water with the prospect of a Nor Easterly tailwind all the way along the Cronulla beachfront, then around into the lee of Port Hacking. It's hard to imagine a course with such a great variety of water & the prospect of summer sea breezes & fast running seas.
Sea kayakers wishing to enter should consider several aspects. First, there is about 5km of unlandable cliff from Cooks Landing all the way to Boat Harbour. The water around here in a Nor Easter is confused & multidirectional, but nothing like the sort of genuinely big conditions you get around the Royal National Park or several other headlands along the Sydney cliffline. You should be well versed & practiced in the art of assisted rescues in rough water, and some experience in big open water conditions would be almost a pre-requisite. 
Steve has enlisted the local surf clubs to patrol the course in support boats & RIB's, so the safety margin is way higher, but by the same token it's not quite as easy to get a kayak on board a support boat if there is a big problem, so it's a good idea to be sure of your skills.
We are sponsoring the sea kayaking side of the race and will be offering a generous prize pool, because basically we want to race in the event & do everything within our power to ensure it continues to be a race in which we can participate! Who knows, if the concept is a success we might see pairs of sea kayakers admitted back into the Ocean Race series.
You can enter the race HERE - entry is $45 which includes a race singlet & a BBQ lunch at the presentation party afterwards. It would be great to see a huge sea kayaking field, & to maybe see this race turn into our annual event for blue water racing as well as a classic for the coean racing ski & OC1 guys.

Friday 27 January 2012

Cockatoo Cup Wrap Up

The Cockatoo Cup was run & won yesterday on a grey & sticky Australia Day. Despite the dire weather, more than 100 true believers turned up in a bewildering array of craft. Just casting my eye over the field lined up on the beach, I spotted spec skis, ocean racing skis, one, two, four & six person outrigger canoes, dragon boats, SUP's, plastic sit on tops, even a couple of Polynesian looking craft that I don't want to name & risk offending my coloured brothers! 
The club running the gig, the Pacific Dragons, have obviously developed a fun & inclusive culture with a vibrant social scene no doubt driving the enthusiasm of their on-water success.
As outsiders sponsoring the event for the first time it was nice to see a paddle scene entirely removed from our own with so much appeal.
The briefing was novel, with a dire warning about the dangers of dehydration, & a reminder that you do have a natural reserve in emergencies, followed by a demo of how to extract said reserve & drink it, in case anybody might have thought it might be a bit um, unhygenic...
I entered the race in my Epic 18X, & when asked about my handicap I remembered that Tony King, the owner of Epic here in Australia had told me he was also racing, & would be in the V8. I scrolled down the list & spotted Tony's name, and said 'yeah, I should be somewhere around his speed in the V8 so stick me in his group….'

I kitted up & headed onto the water, watching my mate & fellow sea kayaker Tim Kennings depart in a group 20 minutes before me. TK is no slouch in his Nordkapp LV & as a former champion Superbike rider must have a killer competitor buried underneath the most amiable of personas, so I started to think maybe I might have been a bit over confident in my handicap selection. Me? Over confident? Nah….
Tony, NOT in a V8!
I looked around as my group marshalled for the start & there was Tony on a V12! He muttered something about being sorry about that, loaned the V8 to a nice lady blah blah blah. Not only that, but alongside him were four other fit dudes in V12,s V10's & a Fenn Elite. Note to self about paying attention at marshalling. In golfing parlance I could never be accused of being a burglar….
At my core I'm, a filthy cheat, and I was planning a race where I'd hook onto a faster paddlers' wash & cruise the 14.5km, blasting home well rested over the final K & decimate the field. Instead I managed to foot it with the big guys for a good 20 or 30 seconds before racing the entire soupy course under my own questionable steam.
On flat water if you want to go fast you have to be fit, so I'm at an immediate disadvantage! I'll admit that flat water racing is not my go, the appeal of the sea for me is my fascination with everything that is going on in the fifteen square metres around me, watching waves, trying to link runs & varying strokes, edges, shifting your weight to try to take advantage of the shapes magically appearing in front of you. I can honestly say I've done 8 hour paddles on the ocean that have felt like less time than I spent on Thursday moochin around the Cockatoo Cup course!
Anyways, I plodded around the figure 8 course which nicely looped the picturesque Cockatoo, Spectacle & Rodd Islands twice, and then lined up Tim on the home stretch to sneak past him just before the finish. If I had any breath left I would have told Tim how well he was doing in a boat not quite as quick as my 18X…! 
Tim Kenning's back, all I saw for 95% of the race….
I was happy enough to finish in a tick under 90 minutes, if I was a horse you'd say I was well worked, but maybe a run short of a decent showing….
Rob & I then snuck out in the new Epic double ski & absolutely blasted it around the little island in front of the start. Sitting in the forward seat of the ski is like being in the Channel Nine highlights reel, we were gunning along at 15kmh plus without really trying, what a hoot! It's also remarkably stable, more stable in my opinion than my V10S, even with Mercer wobbling around in the back!
A presentation in a rainstorm & a sausage sandwich at the BBQ finished off an excellent morning.
Thanks to the Pacific Dragons for a great event, and to Tony for a brilliant fix!

Wednesday 25 January 2012

OneDegreeS: WTF….?

Just posted an update on our plans at the One Degree South blog…

OneDegreeS: WTF….?
This is one bizarre Sydney summer. We have been ready to go now for about the last 3 weeks, yet the weather is still stuck in a typical spri…(Read More)

Thursday 19 January 2012

I love my job….

I've had a memorable four days of 'work', if you consider what I've been doing to be in any way laborious!
Rob is in Tassie having an extended break from his unbearably stressful existence - people who've been to his office will know what I mean - so I've been out doing demo paddles & mixing it up with some new paddlers/customers. I've also had the chance to reacquaint myself with 9 of our different designs, something I really should do more often, as your perceptions of a craft change as your paddling develops.
Sunday was a demo paddle with Wade down at a dingy, cold, rainy & windy Dolls Pt, testing out the Zegul 520, North Shore Atlantic  & Nordkapp LV head to head. The three of them are radically different in their design intent & the way they feel on the water, & there was plenty of chop & bounce, not to mention an easing Easterly wind (what's with all these frigging Easterlies around Sydney at the moment…!) for Wade to plough through & under to test the characteristics of each design.
The Zegul 520
He struck up an affinity with the Zegul 520 & really made it sing, carving turns & blending strokes very impressively. I haven't spent a lot of time in this boat & having watched the way Wade danced around in it I'm thinking I should be paying closer attention.
On Monday arvo I met another customer, Chris, at La Perouse to pit the Atlantic RM against the Valley Aquananut LV RM. If you ask Chris James what his favourite boat of the last 4 years would be - and he owns a lot of boats - I reckon he'd nominate the LV as the one. I haven't paddled it for over a year, and in the neat little 1m sea whipping into Botany Bay on the back of a 12-15kn breeze it was a joy. 
The Aquanaut LV RM
The plastic version of the Atlantic feels much the same as the composite, maybe with a little extra buoyancy, and this translates to a very reassuring ride in rough water. Chris has been paddling an Inuit Classic, a beautiful little boat originally designed by one of the sport's great pioneers & characters, Norm Sanders. I used to own one years ago & learned the art of surfing a sea kayak in it, one of the all time great short sea kayaks, sans rudder or skeg. This background showed in Chris' paddling, and although he doesn't have an extensive resume of sea paddling, he looked at home in the two Brit boats, comfortable using his edges in the bounce & looked like he was enjoying himself. After we finished I pulled out my Mitchell stick & rattled through my repertoire of Greenland rolls, sadly neglected of late in pursuit of a single degree of latitude, but still passable, even in the Aquanaut LV, which isn't exactly a Greenland T.
Yesterday I met up with Neil, again down at Frenchman's Bay, this time so he could have a go in the V10 Sport. Once again the weather turned it on, with a gentle onshore wind giving us some small runners to ride back to the island from the rebound around Henry Head. Neil hadn't paddled anything as demanding as this ski in the sea before & was a bit tentative to begin with, but was soon stretching out & pushing himself & gave it a good enough go to want one.
I always encourage paddlers to try a more demanding ski design so they can see what's over the horizon from the entry level boats, but it remains an undeniable truth that if you keep falling off your ski you'll soon chuck it all in. The boat that suits you best is the best boat for you! Paddling skis on the ocean is a completely different ballgame to paddling sea kayaks, or even paddling the same ski on the flat. You need to be either very dedicated to the acquisition of a new set of skills that take away deck contact as a means of support for bracing, or have a history with rough water & reading the shapes in front of you, as well as a little more core strength than our forgiving sea kayaks demand of us. But the rewards, oh man the rewards, running a big following sea in a ski is as good as it gets…. In my view, as someone who still considers himself a beginner ocean ski paddler, the key is to get out in rough water as often as you can safely, and keep at it, and obviously that means you need a reasonably stable platform.
With that in mind, and an appointment at Epic in Brookvale that I managed make myself suspiciously very early for, I pulled in at the Spit & took my V10S out for a short cruise to North Head & back. There was very little action happening out in the harbour, it's a harbour after all, but I still managed to crack a few small waves on the stretch back to the calm of Grotto Point from across the way. Once inside Middle Harbour I latched onto the stern wave of the James Cadman & went almost all the way back to the Spit at over 13kmh, riding along with very little paddle effort. That is my kinda paddling, my lazy paddle is featured in the little video above set to the music of the Lazy Song….
Having the ski on the roof allowed me the luxury of spotting a chance & a waterway & fitting a sneaky paddle into my schedule.
So, in the space of four days, I've been able to paddle 9 different boats, get out on my ski a couple of times & crack a few runs, paddle a couple of supreme British skeg boats, give the Zegul 520 a refreshed shot, and have a little refresher session on my Greenland rolling.
Tough way to earn a quid right…?

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Cockatoo Cup 2012, Australia Day

The annual Cockatoo Cup is being run again this month on Australia Day. The race is open to Dragon Boats, Outrigger Canoes, Surf Skis, SUP's & Sea Kayaks, in fact almost anything that floats. It's a family day, with a BBQ lunch at the end of the racing, and a short course & long course option.
The Pacific Dragons run the event, & last year attarcted over 100 participants. We're a sponsor of the race & have donated prizes, & will have our trade stand on site with our range of gear & a few demo boats for people to test.
You can sign up to take part at the event HERE.
This is a fun event with participation the main theme, handicap starts & a nice chance to pre-emptively work off some Australia Day largesse!

Thursday 12 January 2012

Kayaks & Shark Attacks

A recent posting on the Sea Kayak Forum which diverted into a discussion on the usefulness of shark repellent devices got me thinking about our toothy friends & their interaction with us as sea kayakers.
In 10 years sea paddling I've probably had a shark encounter at least two or three times every year, usually a flash under your boat or a fin off to one side. 
I've been bumped a couple of times by something identifiable to my paddling partners as almost definitely a shark, and bumped many times by everything from what could have been a Great White Shark, to a Great White Turd. I can't honestly say I've ever felt a hit & known for sure it was a shark, the only time I knew for certain was when others actually saw it.
Top view of a curious Tiger Shark
At a recent talk on his round Oz paddle, Stuart Trueman was asked about sharks, obviously you'd expect a guy who paddled the entire coast of Australia to have some tall tales of great escapes from monster beasts of the deep. His reply was something I've observed many times over the years, it's over before you even realised what it was! Rob echoes Stu's thoughts on the toothy far north of Australia, where the vibration from your rudder seems to be a beacon to the sharks in the murkier water & it's invariably a target for them, with a sonar signature undoubtedly similar to a big fish in distress.
Paddling through the crystal clear waters of the Capricornia Cays, about 100km off the coast of Queensland, in an area Brian Towell described to me as the most shark infested place he's ever been, having spear fished there for many years, we saw plenty of big Tiger Sharks. They would barrel along straight at you from the deep (at least the ones you could see coming from in front), veer off at an alarmingly fast rate once the 'Snackability ID' had been made, then almost always come back around for a slow pass just for a look. One of the things that strikes you is not how long they are (it's impossible to judge from a kayak really & I swear one of them was 27m long), but instead how round they are. Their girth is amazing, less the sleek greyhound of the sea, more the swimming Brahmin Bull on steroids.
Tigers have a fierce reputation and are justifiably an animal you probably want to avoid being in the water with unless you know what you're doing. However, it soon became apparent that these big sharks were firstly not the slightest bit interested in eating us once they worked out what we were, & then became almost playful in their curiosity. While it is a bit unnerving to see the distinctive mottled stripes going under your boat just a few feet below in clear water, after a few encounters it became a rare thrill to see them so close.
A beautiful Tiger Shark
When I mentioned these shark tales to Tim Harvey, the manager of the Heron Island research station, embellished by a few beers at the island bar, all jokes stopped. Tim looked me square in the eye & said 'you realise there is no way in hell that those sharks will hurt you, don't you?' His message was simple, treat them as a beautiful animal of the deep like a whale or a dolphin & enjoy the privilege.
Attacks on kayakers by sharks are most uncommon. Experts point to the fact that 98% of sharks eat small fish, & taking on something 5m long in the natural world is bound to have nasty consequences for a predator. It's only really Tigers, Great Whites & a couple of other big sharks that will have a go at something as big as a marine mammal, because basically the rewards aren't worth the risk & effort.
Where that changes is in the murk. Dawn & dusk, a river mouth after rain, estuarine water with silty outflow etc, are places where the risk is undoubtedly amplified, as the sharks have much more difficulty in identifying their prey. On the same trip my anxiety levels rose when we reached the inshore area of Keppel Bay, with the water as brown as a cup of cocoa. If any of those big buggers were going to be forcefully curious it was surely in this muck. My nerves weren't helped when I remembered that Rob had said there were crocs around this area, & I yelled the question across the wind:
"Hey Rob, is this where you said the crocs were….?"
"Yeah, why…..have you seen one?"
Thanks for that Mercer, about as funny as a shark in an elevator.
Around Sydney Bull Sharks pose the biggest threat because they have a strong salt tolerance & can get right up into the brackish fingers of harbour & estuary systems & do tend to hit first & ask questions later. They've knocked a couple of paddlers out of their boats in the upper harbour, with no more harm done than a bruised shin climbing quickly back on board & maybe a strained sphincter...
Stu again mentioned a massive hit he copped off the WA coast, which moved he & his fully loaded kayak about an inch. Not much you say? Try swimming at a loaded kayak from below, head butting it & getting it to budge. Importantly though, the 'hit' is where it ends. I can't find may examples of a shark making a reconnoitring strike on what it hopes is a dying whale or a big seal, getting the fright of it's life when instead it smashes it's precious snout into 120kg of hard laminate, & still thinks it's a good idea to head back & have another bite. Can you imagine the fright the poor shark must get? 
I think sharks are the single most misunderstood creature in the sea, sensationalised by films like Jaws, inducing fear so far & above the actual risk they pose as to make it almost a Monty Python-esqe farce. Only about 1400 people a year in Australia are attacked by sharks seriously enough to require hospitalisation, & only about 15 a year die, & they're mostly little kids, no big deal right…..? Sorry, sorry, that should read dogs, not sharks.
Happy paddling!

Monday 9 January 2012

Back on Deck

Happy New Year to all, here's hoping 2012 is a cracker.
Just a short post to let everyone know that the warehouse is back at full staff, & all orders placed over the Xmas break will be sent out today.

Sunday 8 January 2012


I've just switched the electronics back on after a brief sojourn into the blissful unconnected world of the NSW South Coast to find that we have changed from Expedition Kayaks into Extradition Scamacts! 
It appears my blogger password and proxy settings have been hacked and put to mischief.
One of my best mates runs the fraud section of a major credit card business, & he says its a malicious attack, an actual person out to do some harm, not some spambot infecting and churning out scripts, suffice to say its fixed.
To the guy who did it, well a few cross checks are underway and we'll shortly have a very good idea of who you are, even if we won't be able to prove it. Luckily over the years there have been precious few negatives in our business, certainly compared to the cut throat industry in which my primary business operates. I'm flattered that someone could go to this amount of skulduggery to cause problems, apparently you'd really need to know your stuff to pull it off.
To Mr Dickhead Hacker Dude, the password is no longer monkeyturd69. I've learnt my lesson on web security, having treated it much like my car, which I never lock!
Apologies if you've received a weird email from me, please let me know if anything strange has come in from my direction.
Thanks to Dredgy & Pete for raising the alarm, only just picked up your SMS & emails, much appreciated.

The Velocimiser Sea Kayak Foil Rudder

After two solid years of R&D, we can finally announce a series of successful sea trials of our new foiling sea kayak rudder, The Velocim...