Thursday 22 December 2016

A Daring Adventure, in an Afternoon...

'Because life is a daring adventure, or nothing at all'.

Inspiring words from a great friend, but not meant to be a call for an epic Shackleton-esque adventure, just a reminder about having an adventurous attitude.

Living in Sydney we can be swept away by the traffic congestion, over stimulation of constant crowds in one of the world's busiest cities, but adventure is right there on the fringes, especially for us paddlers, where the sea interacts with the coast.

On Tuesday I made it along to the annual Tuesday night Xmas paddle, usually a short paddle followed by a long celebratory picnic. This year the crew that assembled at Vaucluse Bay was strong & keen, and the sea breeze was building from the Nor East, so Rob decided were heading out past North Head to give ourselves a long & fast run home to our picnic venue on Ronaldo Island.

We ground our way past the nude dudes on Lady Jane Beach to South Head where Kenny nearly had his afternoon curtailed in spectacular fashion. As we traversed to North Head the winds picked up, accelerating over the cliffs and slowing us down appreciably. 

Regrouping in the shadow of the buttress the guys then plotted a line into the wind as far north as Bluefish Point.
These guys are well organised and capable, arranging a staggered start for the long downwind section so as to have everyone paddling within eyeshot despite the wild water making it hard too stick too close. The paddle back was fast, bouncy, fast, bouncy & fast. Yee haaa....

Detouring across the harbour to another little beach full of perplexed nude dudes, we then climbed the cliffs to say G'day to our mate Chris, at a secret spot that is close to his and his family's heart.

With an imposing pair of thunderstorms converging from north and south we paddled hard across the harbour to Ronaldo Cove, where we set up a modest picnic ground & sat down to enjoy a lot of cheese, some prawns and a couple of cold libations. I'm glad I quite like cheese.

On the way across the 'Voyager of the Sea' steamed past, juxtaposing the nine of us having a wonderful adventure on the sea, with the 9000 (or is 90,000) on board the Voyager about to head out for another kind of adventure on the sea...! Oh man if only they knew....

As the sun set the city lights sparked up, the Xmas party boats started their scenic loops of the harbour and we soaked it all up from our humble vantage.

To top off an afternoon of howling winds, steep breaking seas which sent us rollicking along at tremendous speed, a thunderstorm light show out to sea which went for hours, an eerie calm descending in time for us to have clear skies for our picnic, we then paddled in the dark back to Vaucluse Bay with a bioluminescent light show in the water that lit up each paddle stroke like a sparkler. 

All up 20km of as varied a set of water, wave, wind & atmospheric conditions as you could hope to encounter in a month, let alone a couple of hours within a 15 square kilometre patch of the earth.

What a great finish to a brilliant year of paddling, thanks to Nick, Kenny, Andrew, Tim, Davlin, Kevin & Rob for letting me tag along.
Merry Xmas...!

Thursday 10 November 2016

A Week in the South

An invitation from the Victorian Sea Kayak Club to return for a second year to their Blue Water Weekend & AGM at the Wonthaggi Surf Club on the beach opposite Cape Patterson had us planning a trip south since September.

The sad passing of our great mate Mick MacRobb on the Sunday prior to the event meant a slightly rushed pack & departure, so we could be at the service to commemorate Mick's life, in Paynesville, just around the corner from his home in Eagle Point.
Mick out where he loved to be, with his sail flying.
Despite the desperate sadness of Mick's loss, both Rob & I were very humbled to be asked by Mick's partner Lyn & his Dad Graham to speak at the funeral, and to shine a light on his contribution to the paddling world. A eulogy is no easy thing to deliver, but it's an honour you try your best to fulfil.

The paddling world that Mick had such a giant influence over was there in force, with huge numbers attending from his own Victorian Sea Kayak Club, and others he'd spent time paddling alongside over the years. It was a reminder of the tremendous community to which we are all very privileged to belong.
Mourners at Micks' funeral raise a guard of honour.
Tim, Sarah, Bob, Rob & I then had our own little celebration of Mick's life in the evening, a night with a few tears & a lot of laughs, just the sort of evening we'd wiled away with Mick countless times over the years.

The following day we bid our goodbyes to Lyn & Mick's family & headed for the Bass Coast and Cape Paterson. This is a stunning part of the world, clear, cold blue water & on the day we arrived the sunshine revealed a craggy coastline of white sandy beaches & rocky headlands. 

We had two coaching sessions booked in for the Friday at the nearby coastal village of Inverloch, a morning clinic on boat control with a twist, and an afternoon where we crafted the coaching around the consensus of the participants, and were lucky to have Tim Pearse come along to help us out.
Tim presenting to the morning session.
Both were well attended, and despite a building breeze that reduced our usable seaway at times to a couple of hundred metres, both groups were willing & adventurous & had their boats moving in ways that many hadn't thought possible!
As we got off the water the wind shifted sharply to the west and the temperature dropped alarmingly. Although this wasn't the big system that was forecast for the weekend it was still a stark reminder of how quickly things can change in this part of the world.
We grabbed a quick meal at the excellent nearby tavern & then headed for the surf club for the opening session of the Vic's weekend. Bob Fergie presented a terrific slideshow based around his catch cry - 'Capsize is inevitable, but recovery is possible'. Bob is one helluva big character who has overcome his fair share of setbacks to even get out on the water, let alone being the beacon of positivity & inclusiveness that he is. He's about to start his own paddling enterprise 'White Dog Kayaking', aimed at using kayaking to overcome mental illness and depression, so keep an eye out for that when it launches.

As we were making our way back to cabin the front finally hit. It sounded like an A380 taking off over our roof, such was the ferocity of the wind & rain squalls. At Wilson's prom the winds were raging over 50 knots, and we were pretty keen to get down to the beach the next morning to see what it looked like!

Saturday dawned pretty bleak, howling winds, seas that were off the richter, and nothing to suggest it was going to ease any time soon. I had booked in to go on a paddle with Peter Costello, and he'd abandoned any ideas of an ocean paddle in favour of a downwind paddle on the Powlett River.

We arranged a car shuffle, and set out through the mud & cow dung to blaze a trail towards the highway. This was some experience, we were blown along at 7kmh without paddling, simply by fluttering our paddles to catch the tempest raging behind us. We enjoyed it so much that we headed past the car shuffle point & went as far down as we could before the thickets stopped us from progressing. Then we had to earn our hot chocolates punching back into an incredibly strong wind for a kilometre or so.

In the arvo I ran a forward stroke clinic on the ergo machine which was meant to go for an hour but ended up going for nearly three, maybe because it was about the only safe way to get a paddle in!
Mark with eight year old Arieta - the best student of them all!

The club arranges a locally catered dinner for the Saturday evening & it did feel a bit like an Alaskan hunting lodge, with the weather raging outside & a good hearty meal on our plates. Mark Thurgood opened many eyes to the endless possibilities of paddling Moreton Bay in his evening presentation. John Woolard, one of Mick's oldest mates, stood up & gave a most beautiful tribute, something I'm sure everyone present will cherish. Once the formalities were over we got down too the less-serious business of catching up with old mates & telling a few lies.
On the Sunday morning the weather again wiped out any suggestions of an open water paddle, so various clinics were offered in & around the surf club. Rob ran a session on paddle selection, which picked up numbers as it went on & passers by realised just how complex and multi faceted the nuances of each of the Greenland, Flat & Wing paddles actually are. If Rob runs this workshop at an event you're at, make sure you get along, it's a beauty.

We bid our farewell to the Vics after another lovely lunch in the surf club, & headed north. 

We'd been speaking with Tim during the week about his plans to get back to Sydney from Cape Paterson, and he mentioned that he'd promised to take Mick out for a paddle to Honesuckle Point, and the lava rocks off Eden, when he recovered. 

It was a paddle the two of them had done before & Tim was mesmerised by Mick's knowledge of the area & the geology and was keen to throw that up as incentive to his friend.

Sadly that paddle never eventuated, but Tim was determined to go anyways, and Rob & I thought it might be a fitting way to say our own quiet goodbyes to our old mate & tagged along. You couldn't imagine a more beautiful sunrise, we had humpbacks breaching out to sea and several pods of dolphins escorting us along the way. An amazing place.

Our little paddle rounded off an emotional week, where at every turn we were surrounded by paddlers, many of whom were hurting just as we were in the wake of Mick's tragic passing. We both want to thank the Victorian Sea Kayakers for their welcoming ways & the hospitality we were shown, and look forward to getting back down again in 2017.

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Mark & Rob Paddle the Classic

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
I had battled with the seating position in the race kayak in comparison to my skis, never quite managing to get it dead comfortable, but after a pain-free 20km the weekend before with my Sutherland club mates I figured I was right. The drawback, both a blessing & a curse, was that to get to a good position I was sitting really high, incredibly destabilising but also great from the perspective of getting over my stroke and generating more power. 
Swapping yarns with Irishman David Horkan who added a 9 hour Classic to his long list of open water achievements.
Rob's apprehension was centred around his legendary poor night vision, so he had Steve Dawson download a very accurate race trace onto his GPS and was set to follow the little yellow line all the way down the river. Little did he realise that we were paddling into a night that would become legendary because it was so dark it created an entire field of paddlers with poor night vision!
Lined up at the start
The hype around the anniversary running of the event attracted a big field, up around 500 paddlers, including Dragon Boats, and also the much less intimidating option of a 65km 'dash' to Wiseman's Ferry, rather than the whole shebang.

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
I saw Rob disappearing off into the distance safely embedded on the wash of a few big doubles, and settled into a steady speed alongside David Little in his K1.
Hangin' with David over the daylight section of the course
My backside was feeling good over the first 25km and I was prematurely self congratulatory about my pulling off a great escape, fluking a perfect seating set up on the night, even though I hadn't really managed it up to that point in all my training.
Rob looking comfortable at the 12.5km mark.
As the sun set I started to go numb in my right bum cheek, and that was the last moment in the race that I was free of pain. I had a quick stop just before Sackville to add a blow up cushion that had got me through the Myall Classic with a few wobbles, then again at Sackville to install a slither of foam that John Denyer handed over to me when he saw me struggling.

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.
At Wiseman's we pulled in together for a short rest, I jumped out & tried every single bum & hammy stretch I knew to try & release the tennis ball knot that had formed in my right buttock, while Rob sorted out his water change.

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 had an entirely different adventure on the home stretch. He became a little obsessed with staring at the GPS track, and noticing how as the tide started to crank, his arrival or finish time began to dip below 10 hours. The screen was telling him he had 40 minutes to paddle 7km to the end whilst moving at 13kmh, to get under the magic 10 hour mark, when he looked up in the darkness & BANG! was shoulder charged by a jetty bollard! Upside down in a racing kayak he decided to have a crack at rolling, but couldn't manage to get any purchase solid enough to prevent his backside floating free. Exasperated he swam the boat to shore minus his hat, GPS & drink system, emptied it out & set off once again. He crossed the line 40 seconds faster than me in 10.15.19. The irony of following Steve's dead-eye track was that the jetty was a recent installation, & everyone, including Steve, who was dutifully following his line had a near-miss story to tell. Except Rob.....
Rob finishes, dripping wet, no hat, no GPS and just the tube from his Camelback!
So, in the grand scheme of things a pretty decent set of times in the Classic for a pair of sea kayakers, by our count 13th & 14th single paddlers home, but we've now got that malaise typical of Hawkesbury paddlers, the 'geez if only I'd done this, this & this it could've been a really fast one...!'

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.
Thanks to Dave, Louisa & Rosy for generously sponsoring my race, and well done to everyone who had a crack, the Classic remains one of the few extraordinary challenges that an ordinary person can conquer.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Broughton Island & Back

Here's a photo diary of a trip Rob & I did with our mates from the Sutherland Shire Club out to Broughton Island on Monday & Tuesday.

We needed a solid plan for the Monday with a strong offshore wind likely to make the 15km crossing from land a little uncomfortable, and decided to paddle along Bennett's Beach for a few kilometres before striking out, downwind to Broughton.

On the Tuesday an easing headwind made for a grind home, and coming in through the heads to Nelson Bay with a 2.5kn ebbing tide making the swell stand up and break, providing some thrills (and spills) at the butt end of a long day.
The gang checking out the crossing from the mainland, approximately 15km to Broughton Island.
I can't imagine a more varied set of paddling conditions over the course of two days on the ocean, and considering this group had never done an overnight sea paddle before, they absolutely smoked it. There a few pics below, and 8 minutes worth of vision from the trip in the video above.
Campsite shenanigans
A lumpy entrance to Nelson Bay
Esmeralda Cove from the camping platforms.
View from the summit of the island.
Kristy & Kate, fresh from a blistering Myall Classic race, paddle the last few strokes into Esmeralda Cove.
Stargazing on Broughton Island.

Tuesday 13 September 2016

The Gloucester Mountain Man

A conversation at a late night ski pick up in Sans Souci, which with Stew's shiny black car & hoody could have easily been mistaken for a drug deal were it not for the 6m kayaks being swapped, featured an exchange about a paddle race in the Barrington Tops, with 'a bit of a bike ride & a run' as well. 'The lads go up every year, it's a lot of fun & just a bit of a laugh'.

Missing anything to motivate me for training, I went home & looked up the race, the Gloucester Mountain Man. 26km trail ride, even though I don't own a mountain bike I could do that, 11km paddle, downriver, sheesh I could hand paddle that, and a 10km run across nice green paddocks to finish off, dude, I've run a frigging marathon, that's nothin'....

If you doubt that my brain really works like that, well it does. The source of many of my problems.

I managed to pump a mate, the Meister, for mountain biking tips, as he has been busy burning a hole through the local scene, got myself a cheap 29er Dual Suspension bike and headed out a month before the race to start training on the local trails in the Royal National Park. It's probably the closest thing to the thrill of paddling a big following sea - when you're going down the hills - but more like interval training for the cardio ward when you're going up. Mountain biking is a very different animal to the refined sport of road biking. Anyways, my last hit out before the Mountain Man was the first one where I managed to ride up all the hills instead of pushing, and I felt like I was as prepared as I could be.

The drive to Gloucester is worth the entry fee alone, winding along the Bucketts Way past postcard towns like Stroud & Booral. Living in Sydney you just forget that these places are there, and so bloody lovely.

Arriving at the camp ground adjacent to the start venue, I got my tent up, dropped my kayak off at the transition point 12km out of town, and headed back for the race briefing and pre-race Carbo dinner. This was old-school country hospitality at it's best, big helpings of hearty food, rice pudding, ice cream & two fruits for desert, served with a big smile & a friendly chat. With over 200 competitors registered, it's a big event that has a small event feel, just gold.

I enjoyed a quiet night in my tent, tucked up in my down bag, slept like a baby. Is it just me, or do you think we'd all be better off with a night a week in a tent? Maybe we could start a movement, the 6-1 Sanity Sleepers.

Race day dawned clear & sunny, cool to start but with the promise of a warm day by the time I was striding powerfully across the last few kilometres to the finish.

Not ever having been in a bike race before, I respectfully took myself to the back of the start pack, and awaited the gun. And yes, it was a gun, a frigging 12 gauge, both barrels, very cool. We were in the bush after all. 

The first part of the ride cruised through the local roads, before abruptly turning into a farm & heading up. And up. I managed to ride to within a seven iron of the top, then like everyone around me was off & pushing.  Matt Blundell had told me I'd be pushing for a couple of minutes (after he loaned me a PFD that I'd forgotten!), so I figured 'that was pretty painless, this is easier than I thought'. A cranking downhill, a big splat in a muddy creek, a gorgeous ride through native forest, then the crux of the thing. 

It's called Wok's Heartache Hill. I understand that of the 200 riders, 2 made it to the top without having a walk. I have no idea how, bloody hell. I decided to save my lungs, and commenced the '2 minute walk' up the 200m ascent, at 65 degrees (may be exaggerating a little there). If Matt ever tells you something takes 2 minutes, remember how fast he goes.

At the top a local bushy offered me a fresh cut orange on a plate, can you believe it? If I had enough air in my lungs to swallow I would have eaten it, but had to push on. From there we forded rivers, peddled up & down beautiful farm hills though grass, mud, trees, rocks, more local windy roads, just amazing. I wasn't even put off when an old bloke on his 8 year old daughter's Grifter blasted past me in his Dunlop Volleys wearing a footy jumper. Even though it was one of the hardest things I've done it was brilliant.

The transition to the kayak was through another river ford, and then up a nasty slippery little hill which was clearly a crowd pleaser.

I hitched my 24kg Tiderace Pace 17 onto my left shoulder & trotted the 200m or so down to the river entry, relieved to be doing something that I can do.

Stew had advised me to head for the tongue of the whitewater, but he also told me this was just a bit of a laugh so I decided to ignore his advice for the first two rapids. Bump, bang, stopped. Hand push, twist, bow draw, edge, and back running. Better head for the tongue from now on. 

Man oh man did my boat cop a beating. The Pace is built incredibly stiff, but I could feel the bigger rocks bending the keel as I thundered over the top of them. An absolute hoot but I was hoping not to have a big repair bill at the end! On one tricky turn I had to get out of my boat & help a guy who had managed to submerge his K1 under a log. We spent the best part of 10 minutes pushing & pulling across the current and eventually freeing the boat from the nasty spot it had lodged. I'm glad old mate wasn't in the cockpit when it got stuck.

I found my river sense over the last half of the course, steering down the deep bits, not bashing into too many big rocks, and not having to get out & pull the boat off the shallows. You can now call me a downriver expert...!

The kayak leg finished with a rope line across the fast flowing Barrington River, up a muddy bank, where you're handed your running shoes and off you go on the trail run.

So, Mr Marathon runner who despite not doing a bunch of running since May's half marathon was confident of burning the last 10km to the finish strode off up the hill. Remember that dude? My last 10km in the marathon last year were at about the same speed as my 10km & over the Thunderbolt Way course on Sunday. It was hot, hilly enough, and I was buggered. As we neared Gloucester the locals were out in force throwing buckets of water on us (this is why it's called the Bucketts Way, by the way), and as we hit the backstreets out came the hoses. Fantastic!

The finish was at the end of a lap of the local oval, and the guy announced over the PA as I finished that I sell kayaks & kayak gear & I had forgotten my PFD. Gotta love the country experience.

Next year, and yes I'll be back, I'm going to get busy on my bike and make sure I can at least get half way up the hill of torture. If you're after a weekend away, maybe with a couple of mates to do the course as a relay team, something to keep you interested & motivated to train, then this is one of the all time great races you could come up & take part in. It has none of the city slickness and commercialism you get at silly events like Tough Mudder, but twice the challenge & physical reward.

It's on the second Sunday in September, and you can check out the details at 

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