Thursday, 30 October 2014

Rob's 2014 Hawkesbury Classic

Here's Rob's account of his effort in this year's Hawkesbury Classic, partnering Mark Hempel in a double SLR2:

After the first few kms of "argy bargy" out of Windsor we settled into our race pace and let the tidal current work its magic, taking us on the ebb as far as Sackville ahead of time. Paddling partner, Mark Hempel  had plotted our likely ETA's at each checkpoint and these calculations put us on the Brooklyn finish line at 3.07. Ultimately we arrived at 3.12 or just 5 minutes late and we both agreed that 9 hours and 42min for 100km was a satisfying result for a couple of sea kayakers with no flat water pretensions and little flat water experience.

 We actually paddled faster than we predicted but stopped for a little longer at Wisemans to sort out hydration lines, we also caught two full ferry crossings. At  the first one we had just  powered past our sea kayaking mate David Linco, giving him and a few other familiar paddlers a bit of a friendly "revv up" only to have them all sitting next to us looking very amused about 10 minutes downriver as the ferry finally ground up the ramp and ever so slowly switched off the flashing light.

 We never found that magic wash ride that would have given us a little free speed to make it in home under nine and a half hours, but instead, we provided some very long rides for a school of ski paddlers who clung to us like remoras, sometimes clashing paddles  with me and generally getting in our faces, other times providing some friendly banter and encouragement. One of these paddlers had become so dependent that he started having his rest breaks when we did and urging us to get going when he was ready.  

   We had done less than 200 kms in the boat all up before the race and prior to that neither of us had ever paddled a flatwater double. More than half of these kilometers we managed to squeeze into our busy schedules in the last 3 weeks before the race and on at least two occasions we missed some pumping sea conditions to train on the river instead, but when the big night arrived neither of us regretted the extra time in the boat. 

Discussing it with Mark (H) later on I think we were both very pleased with how good we felt for most of the race, the last one and a half hours were the toughest  but within about ten minutes of landing at Brooklyn neither of us had any aches or pains. For me the relentless heat of the night was the biggest challenge and I had to make an effort to keep up the hydration and take any energy foods or drinks very  gradually to avoid nausea. I was glad that Mark was the navigator and had the rudder, his sharp eyes and a good sense of direction were essential because my glasses continually fogged up and crusted with salt and grime on the outside.

I am famously not a fan of paddling on flat water, it just doesn't engage me like paddling on the sea and I have been known to make loud and churlish pronouncements to this effect. This has provided much amusement for Sundo and Steve Dawson in particular and though these comments are occasionally directed at hapless fisherman who seem to enjoy casting under my boat, they are usually aimed at reminding myself that this sort of paddling is not on my list. i do this in the vain hope that I don't relapse in the future so it was with some surprise that I started to begrudgingly admit to myself about half way down the river that I was actually enjoying the whole experience of participating in this event. Below I have listed some of the reasons why in no particular order:

 1) Watching ordinary people do something extraordinary: I remember when I first heard about the race many years ago I found it hard to believe that mere mortals could do such a thing. To watch the commitment and dedication of the seasoned campaigners is truly inspiring. Distance is a great equaliser that means often the most determined or experienced will beat the more serious technicians and fittest paddlers to the finish line.

2) The unfamiliar pallette of scents - both good and not so good: My sense of smell was sharpened especially when we were  paddling in the dark with most extraneous sounds cancelled out by the white noise of paddles and hulls slicing through the still water and especially those noises from the school of Ocean Ski "remoras" that clung to us for most of the race. Eucalypts, campfires, flowering shrubs, cow dung, damp earth and a houseboat that smelt like a brewery were memorable by their intensity. 

3) Thunder, lightning and bioluminescence: I think the light show alone was worth the price of admission! Forks, sheets and balls of lightning ripped through the darkness. Rain showers washed us down and the occasional blast of headwind ruffled the waters and cooled us against the hot soupy night. Bioluminescence streamed off our paddle tips and flared around our bow wave. Maybe without these special treats the night would not have passed so easily. 

4) Celebration of Diversity: Canoes, Kayaks, Skis, SUPS, and paddlers; large, small, young old,male or female all sharing the experience of a night on the water and all tied together in the darkness by a spirit of goodwill and common purpose.

5) Learning: It was fun to be the student rather than the teacher to ask questions and learn more about the nuances of flatwater paddling from serious flat water racers. If I never paddle another flatwater event again that alone was worth the effort. Thanks to members of the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club and Bob Turner in particular for advice and encouragement.

6) The training sessions:  Flat water is a more static environment  for measuring performance than the sea so it is easier to gauge fitness and technique without the complications the three dimensional paddling environment you find among the waves, I am keen to see whether we reap any short term speed benefits in our sea paddling from this discipline, only time will tell. Regarding team work and planning I reckon this is one area where our experience of paddling big water in sea kayaks gave us a head start. We both paddle as part a sea kayaking group that values self sufficiency, teamwork and preparation ahead of big egos. I think this shared experience and existing friendship translated easily into planning, training and decision making on the river.

7) Finishing: By this I don't just mean the relief of finally being able to stop paddling. There is something very rewarding about setting a goal, developing a plan and then executing it as best you can.  Then there is the tantalising opportunity to  ponder on how you could improve for this or other challenges in the future. 

8) Its for a good cause: Over the long and auspicious history of the race it has raised millions for The Arrow Foundation to help them continue their research into better cancer treatments. The generosity of friends in sponsoring me for this event made it all the more worthwhile. Special thanks to David R, David K, Graeme and Sharon for their donations. 

Also thanks to our stalwart land crew Alan whose positive attitude, enthusiasm and practical approach was invaluable, my mate Mark Hempel who skippered the boat and set the pace, Sundo for sort of talking me into it and Bob Turner for entrusting his very shiny SLR 2 to a couple of rough and ready sea kayakers. 

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