Monday, 28 October 2013

Trials, Tides & Tinkerbell, the 2013 Hawkesbury Classic


The Hawkesbury Classic has been run & endured for another year, with more than 450 paddlers completing the journey down the 111km course from Windsor to Brooklyn.
The 'Hawkesbury Weekend' really begins early Saturday as you pack all of your gear up for the 90 minute drive west to the start, and for me this year was complicated somewhat by also being an exhibiting sponsor.
Unlike fellow sponsor Matt Blundell from Pro Kayaks who had a huge selection on hand for any last minute gear requirements, I decided to bring out the EK marquee & a couple of boats as eye candy. It was an energy-saving tactic really, but still made the lead up to the race a little more hectic than last year. 
If you could bottle the vibe at the preliminaries to this race you'd be onto something. There is a wonderful atmosphere of camaraderie amongst the competitors & land crew, and the cheery volunteers who run you through scrutineering make the whole process of getting yourself sorted for the event simple & good humoured.
I had my Mum, Suzanne, with me again to crew, and Owen Walton & Colin Sheringham once again helped me out with moving the boat around to marshalling & the start.
Mum
The briefing done, the first paddlers in the non-competitive Brooklyn or Bust away, I got myself sorted for my Medium Rec start at 5pm. As last year, I was paddling Tiderace's fast ocean tourer, the Pace 18.
My lesson from last year's race was to try & push it when the tide was going my way, so this year I was determined to go as fast & hard as I could from the start to take advantage of what should quickly develop into a favourable ebb tide.
From the gun I targeted the fast guys in their dedicated flat water racers, but they were too quick off the mark for me to even draft, so I had to make do plugging into the head current & a gentle head wind for what I hoped would be an hour or so.
My little honesty box on the foredeck was telling me a few things that I didn't want to hear. First off I was working hard, about 10% over & above the rate I do on our brisk training paddle on Thursday mornings. Second I wasn't going very fast! Either I was suddenly crap or the tide was flooding way longer than the tide tables had indicated. The words of paddling mate Bob Turner came back to me - 'they're always wrong, don't plan around them, just paddle what's in front of you!'
Despite the brutality of busting it through this contrary stage, it's always the highlight of my race. The  slower starters from the Brooklyn or Bust line up in front of you & one by one you slide past and have a quick chat. The absolute funniest thing I have seen in five races, was Captain Hook, Tinkerbell & Smee in a triple Canadian Canoe, in full Disney kit.  Jolly Rogers flying, they were punting their ship down the Hawkesbury fast enough for a pair of elite SUP guys to get a mighty ride on their not unsubstantial wash. So you had the delightful juxtaposition of three jesters having a ball in their fancy dress, being tailed by two paddlers who looked like they really meant business. Probably sums up what the Classic is all about.

I had my first micro break at the 20km mark, a tough couple of hours where my average speed was just below the rate I needed to break 11 hours. The tide then began to swing as the sun set & I had a red hot go all the way to the 58km stop at Wiseman's Ferry.
With the tide still running I wasn't going to mess around, so jumped out, switched my water bladder (thanks Greg & Rowley), put on my Endurance jacket, popped a Neurofen and headed off. My entry into the Ayrton Senna pit stop award, 5mins 56 seconds!
From Wiseman's I had 42km to go in 4hrs 40mins, just behind where I wanted to be, and even though at that point I was on for a 10.30 time, I new the bad tide was coming....
I figured I could grind out 24km in the last 3 hours of the full flood tide, based on what last year's opposing tides did to my boat speed. With this in mind I set myself to get to the 76km mark by 1am, which after my mini rest, meant throwing everything at the next hour and a half.
At the 8 hour mark I was 1.5km short of 76km, and that effectively, was that. I grunted it out for the next three hours but realistically only a series of ocean runners were going to give me the little push I needed to get back ahead of the game.
In the last little stretch the tide quite inexplicably seemed to return (or the Red Bull kicked in), and for a brief time I was half a chance of running down my 2012 time, but again it wasn't to be, crossing the line at Brooklyn in 11:10.
Unlike last year when I could see the little errors I made that cost me, this year (with the exception of paddling 400m further due to two navigation boogles), I followed my plan and finished the race well stuffed. Last year I got out of the boat feeling pretty rosy, not so this time, completely buggered! My trace comparing the two races shows that I worked way harder to acheive more-or-less the same time, and a few guys I consider to be yardsticks had also gone slower this year than they had managed in 2012.
I suppose that's probably why it's a bit useless comparing one Hawkesbury to another, the tides & when they kick is really what it's all about. Such a demanding event to analyse & plan around, and then physically and mentally to execute, but you still need a little bit of good fortune to really nail it.
My trace of the race is HERE.
Among my paddling mates there were some brilliant efforts. Anne Moore & her paddling partner Jack Ward smashed the previous record for Long Rec doubles by more than 20 minutes, blazing down the course in 9:44. When you consider that Anne also broke a longstanding record on her own last year (even though it was bettered on the night), she is building quite a Hawkesbury resume. 
Anne relaxing before her & paddle partner Jack gouged a path down the river
My training buddies Steve & Kate Dawson took nearly 40 minutes off their time last year, their 9:44 only four minutes short of the record that they had in their sights. Bob Turner put in 50 minutes (!) of preparation in his brand new boat before smoking it home in 10:07. I will no longert listen to Turner when he says he's not quite 100%. Dee, Rae, Clair & Merridy set a new record for Ladies K4 in finishing on 10:53. It sounded like a challenging journey for the four of them over the past few months! A bunch of my sea kayak mates also clocked good times in a varying mix of boats, and there were pained smiles all round in the dark at the finish line.
Mum was there at the end with a cup of hot soup, sneaking into the 'officials only' bit at the finish again to cheer me home, after following me down the river in the dark of the night. What a lady!
Finished & looking a hundred dollars!
Finally, friends & colleagues also helped raise more than $1000 for the Arrow Bone Marrow Foundation through their sponsorship of my race, which is just a brilliant thing. Sincerest thanks to Scott & Stephen, Ian & Dave (who are about to attempt a circumnavigation of Sri Lanka), Captain Udi, Peter from Townsville, Paddy, Stuntman, Marija, Rosy, My Favourite Mexican, Roger, Nigel, Christina, Pete, David, Auldy, Andrew, Fiona and the inspiring Davo. (PS it's not too late to donate - http://www.canoeclassic.asn.au/my/races/sponsorship?rid=15993).
Next year....?? If I'm going in it, I'm going in a boat that can mow down a few of those guys & girls in their Flashes & Sonics. I reckon it has to be an easier race if you're out there for a shorter time..!
Well done to everyone who took part, it's hard to imagine another 'everyman' event like this, anywhere, that requires such commitment to complete. Just fantastic.


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Peak UK Lands This Week

We land our first shipment of the Peak UK range of touring paddle gear early next week, the first big brand we've brought back from our trip to the PaddleExpo event at Nuremberg earlier this month.
We were keen to add a premium brand of paddling gear to complement the Reed Chillcheater & NRS range we have successfully sold now for several years, and every time we asked a reputable paddler or retailer at the show who we should be looking at, we kept hearing 'Peak UK'.
Meeting owner Pete on his big, bright stand, and having him run us through his range of touring specific paddle wear was a treat. This stuff is well thought out, as well made as anything we've seen and very competitively priced.
We have begun with Peak UK's Tourlite Short Jacket & Pro Jacket, their neoskin Pants & Shorts, a compact & nicely conceived 15m tow system, a thermal rashie & their lightweight paddle shoes. Consider that we haven't ever stocked paddle shoes before, because we haven't seen a pair that we thought combined light weight, stiff soles & a low profile.
Best of all, there is more to come. Peak release their Northern Summer range in a couple of months with some more products that are just so impressive. Keep an eye on our pages for updates.
The range is now up live on our ONLINE STORE, with freight free on all orders over $50. 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Hawkesbury Classic Looms

Less than two weeks to go to this year's Hawkesbury Classic, an iconic 111km paddle race with up to 500 hardy participants, overnight along Sydney's Hawkesbury River.
I revisited this race last October after not having taken part since 2003, and gained a lot of satisfaction from my race training & the event itself.
I was aiming to beat the magic 11 hour mark, racing in Tiderace's fast ocean going Pace 18 sea kayak, but fell foul of a brutal final tide and a smidgin of tactical nous, in just missing out, finishing in 11:08. My report of the race 'Emptying the Tank' is HERE.
Last year's start - I'm back in the Tiderace Pace 18 in 2013
This year I think I'm generally fitter, maybe if not quite as flat water paddle hardened - lets face it, how much of that stuff can you do before you start to go a bit strange? Not much offence intended to my white line buddies…
The tides are going to cruel a few of the early starters in the recreational 'Brooklyn or Bust' non-competitive division, but for my Medium Rec category (I'm back in the Pace 18 so it's fair race against my 2012 self) going off 45 minutes later things aren't quite so unfavourable. This year we'll run into about 60-90 minutes of weak opposing tide, before getting an almighty push for 6 hours or so.
The colour of the Hawksbury Classic
Herein lies the crux of my race against 2012 me. My aim is to get as far & as fast along the course in that 6-7 hours where things are either going my way or not going against me too hard, then holding on for the last 3 hours or so & hopefully clawing home inside my target time. Last year's maximum flood tide dropped my speed as low as 7kmh, which when I need to maintain about 9.1kmh to beat 11 hours is quite a slug. If last year's flow is replicated, this means I need to be no further than 30km from the end after 7 hours (the true race course being pretty much bang on 100km).
The good news from past experience, is that even if you feel like you're going to die at the traditional 60km stop point at Wiseman's Ferry, you generally don't feel much worse than that at the finish line. I call it the 'feeling like sh*t plateau', and it's quite comforting to know that what you're feeling at Wiseman's is probably as bad as it is going to get.
Wiseman's Ferry stop 2012, overjoyed at reaching the 'feeling like sh*t plateau'
The tactical nous that I missed last year was not going hard enough when things were running my way. I conserved energy paddling down tide, when I probably should have gone harder, and trusted my ability to recover whilst moving into the steady resistance of the incoming tide later on. Hard as it sounds, the flood tide by it's very nature restricts your hull speed and you do tend to level off your effort as you plug through it. I'm fitter this year so no excuses!
Last year's finish, 8 minutes adrift….aaarghh!
The Classic is run in support of the Arrow Bone Marrow Foundation, and this year it carries special resonance for me, having caught up a few weeks ago with my old cricket coach at Randwick, Barry Davison. Davo is a proper legend in the Sydney grade cricket scene, having mentored countless Test & State cricketers through the system, and even managing to get a few decent performances out of me when I was paying attention. He has had his coaching curtailed in recent times by a full frontal battle with bone marrow cancer, one that has hosed him down more than once, but fingers crossed a fight he is slowly getting the better of. During our lovely catch up he he gave me the rundown on the treatment, the expense, the discomfort of it all, and emphasised the phenomenal research work being done by bodies like The Arrow Foundation. He has had a couple of brand new drugs fresh off the lab table and they have made a world of difference to his recovery, so this stuff is real and it makes a difference.
The Hawkesbury Classic people make it very easy for people to sponsor paddlers, with individual pages set up for donations. Mine can be found HERE. I described sponsoring me in race a while back as an investment in my suffering, but having talked to Baz I think that's clearly an overdramatisation of something that I'm choosing to do for a challenge. If you've got a spare few bucks, please consider sponsoring me and contributing towards the treatment of Bone Marrow Cancer patients. If you look at my sponsor's list, you'll see that Barry was the first guy to chip in.
Best of luck to all of the paddlers taking part this year.
Expedition Kayaks are a major sponsor of this year's Hawkesbury Classic, following on from our support of the Myall Classic, Royal Challenge & Hydrothon. If you've got any last minute questions or queries about your race, we've got well thought out gear combinations that are proven to work across the broad temperature range during the night, and can offer advice on tactics & race day preparation. Always happy to hear from a fellow Classic racer!


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Messe'n Around in Nuremberg

Rob & I returned earlier this week from a whistle stop tour to Nuremberg in Germany where we visited the annual Kanumesse show. It's the biggest paddle sports expo in Europe and presented us with a golden opportunity to catch up with our mates from Valley, Tiderace, Rockpool, NRS, Reed & Epic, as well a bunch of other mates we didn't realise we had!
Hansel & Mercel
Nuremberg itself is a beautiful city, steeped in both mythical ancient lore, and more sinister recent history as the host of the Nazi Rallies.
On arriving we spent a perfect autumn day strolling the car-less old city, eating sausages and stopping every hour or so for another varietal German beer in a street side bar, checking out the castle, the cathedrals, the quaint little river that winds through town, and generally playing the cultured Aussie tourist. 
Cultured Aussie tourists, or Brothers Grimm, complete with security blankets.
We got a chance to check out the infamous rally grounds as well as the comprehensive display in the Document Centre detailing the rise & fall of the Third Reich. 
The scene of the Nuremberg Rallies
If you can imagine mixing the pure delight of experiencing a fairytale European town in beaming sunshine with the sombre realisation of what was effectively created here prior to WW2, you'd come close to understanding the emotions Nuremberg can generate in a visitor.  It's quite something coming from the sheltered southern hemisphere, to stand on the very spot where something so vicious was hatched & let loose on the good people of Europe, including I suppose the good people of Germany.
Rob ponders the display highlighting the darker history of Nuremberg
Luckily, there is a lot of beer available. Did I mention the little street side bars...? German beer is amazing.
The Kanumesse show itself was an absolute hoot. Even though it's pretty big, we wondered how we could possibly spend three full days wandering through the displays, but so detailed were the meetings & appointments we had booked in that it was barely enough time.
The NRS guys walked us through their entire set for the coming season, with some streamlining of their range & some new lightweight paddle wear that will be perfect for our warmer weather.
Chris Reed & his merry bunch of minstrels have a huge display, with Geoff from Karitek showing off Mick MacRobb's Flat Earth sails front & centre on a Rockpool boat, with his newly re-modelled rudder skeg pumping away like a stamping battery. 
The new Rockpool paint job, dubbed 'Concept' was also on the Karitek stand creating quite a stir. We got to catch up with the innovative Mr Rockpool, Mike Webb, for a good chat on the second arvo.
Chris treated us to dinner on the first evening, you can imagine how it was a sombre affair with little humour, long periods of uncomfortable silence and hardly any beer. If Chris ever asks you out for a feed, beware!
The Reed Chillcheater Roadshow, with Karitek, Northern Lights & KeelEazy, a great bunch of guys!
We spent a good few hours talking boats & bollocks with Oscar Chalupsky from Epic, & met Boyan from the Tarifa Ski Centre. If you want to see what Boyan gets up to, Google one of his downwind videos! Oscar is a hilarious bloke to shoot the breeze, a legend if ever there was one but open minded enough to take in our thoughts on his kayaks. Keep your eyes out for the next big innovation from the Epic stable, it's a beauty!
Valley had a typically impressive display, and it was great for Rob to finally meet Pete & Jason & have a long chat about what's coming, and how they work. They're great fellas & continue to produce boats that wow our customers.
The industry night party was also a sombre affair, with little humour, long periods of uncomfortable silence and hardly any beer. How we managed to stay there until so frigging late in the night is beyond me, but Mr Williams from Tiderace is very persuasive. Suffice to say much boat discussion ensued amongst detailed analysis of spreadsheets and prismatic coefficient data. Seriously, it was no fun at all. 
Sombre times for Mark & Aled at the Industry Night (spreadsheets off camera)
Despite the FIFO nature of the trip, we had a fantastic time, and several big paddlesports brands are about to start flowing through our store over the coming weeks as a result of our extensive work filtering through the products relevant to us sea kayakers. Yes I hear you say, we did actually do some proper work while we were there, if you can call wandering through a hall packed to the rafters with unbelievable paddling bling, for three days, work. 
A sincere thanks to the organisers of the expo for hosting us so generously and to all of the paddle industry people we met who were just so damned nice.
Does anyone know where in Sydney I can buy some Witbier...?

The Audax vs The Surf Ski

We're occasionally asked if the Audax is just a surfski with a sea kayak deck, usually followed by our explanation that you can't ju...