Wednesday 16 March 2016

Rocks, Inspiration & Sunshine - Rock & Roll 2016

For those that have never been, the NSW Sea Kayak Club gathers once a year for their big soiree, the Rock & Roll Weekend. It began very humbly many moons gone within the idyllic confines of Honeymoon Bay, and has grown over the last 26 years into a full blown open water symposium complete with trips, a little bit of training & a very distinct party atmosphere.
The annual 'Ode to the Flat Earth Sail'
This year it was held on the Mid North Coast of NSW, at Jimmy's Beach on the northern shore of Nelson Bay. This location provides shelter from oceanic conditions if it's a shocker outside, but also opens up the dramatic headlands & offshore islands which are such a feature of the area.

Our involvement was both as long term club members and participants and also as major sponsors for the tenth year running, bringing along our fleet of 14 demo kayaks as well as a big bunch of stuff. We also put on the now traditional Beer & Pizza (this year Beer & Fish) Party on the Friday evening which seems to set the weekend off on a well fed & well lubricated tone.

Rob & I ran informal mentoring-style training paddles out around the islands on the Saturday, a trip Rob repeated on the Sunday, whilst Sharon ran a heavily subscribed Sunday paddle across the bay, offering pearls as she went, as she does.

Huw Kingston came along on the Saturday night to tell the tall tale of his Mediter annee expedition, a near-circumnavigation of the Med by kayak, bike, foot, and eventually row boat, which began on Anzac Day at Gallipoli and finished on the 100th anniversary of Anzac, back at Anzac Cove. Can you even imagine how good it would be to go on an adventure like that....?!

My paddle was something of an unforgettable experience, for such a humble sea scootle. I had Stephen & Jenny down from Queensland who'd never paddled these waters, Christina, who this time last year hadn't even wanted to line up an island away yonder & paddle towards it, and Roy & Bronwyn, who are pretty seasoned, but have their own way of doing things. 
Christina and the first pos of pesky dolphins.
You see, Bronwyn is blind, and Roy, her amazing husband, becomes her eyes as they regularly head off into the blue. They've rigged up a radio & mike which allows Roy to pass instructions to Bronny about direction, so his day consists of passing on a series of coded prompts to head to port or starboard etc etc. If you were wondering how hard that might be, blindfold a mate one day & try to direct them, not just with where to head, but how sharply to head there.
The remarkable Bronwyn
Up to Saturday, Bronwyn had only paddled in a rudderless skeg boat, the Tiderace Xcite S, where the prompt to 'Starboard' in the Xcite has her dropping her edge & using pure rudderless skill to change direction. On Saturday, as you do, she decided to challenge herself in a fast, narrow ruddered boat, the new Tiderace Pace 17S. It's a hull design that whilst still responding to an edge when you need it to, is better controlled over a long stretch by relying on the rudder, and executing very small course corrections with your feet. 
Rampaging Roy after painting the slot red
I watched the pair of them making their way out of the calm of the bay & saw Bronny chucking in some big edges when prompted, and figured I might offer a bit of advice. When I'm coaching people on skis, especially downwind, I'll call out 'right foot' or 'left foot' to prompt them to head for the best part of a running wave. It's uncomplicated, doesn't refer to a direction, but rather a body part, and tends to get them co-ordinating a simple movement, with a simple result. I suggested it to Roy to see if it might get them making slightly smaller course adjustments, and he told me I'd have to use 'Port' & 'Starboard', as they do, otherwise I'd confuse things. As someone who recites the ditty 'no red port left' as I'm heading for a channel marker at night during the Hawkesbury Classic, like maybe 20 times, I figured that was just asking for trouble! Anyway five minutes with my less poetic commands & Bronny had sorted the radical turn problem, away we went, and I duly handed the nav duties back to Rampaging Roy.
Jenny gets a yee-haa
On the southern edge of Boondelbah Island the craggy shoreline has some nice little slots & rock gardens, and we made our way through them with everyone getting a thrill or two as the surge took them backwards towards the rocks. Jenny had a yee-haa moment or two and Roy committed some nautical vandalism, leaving little red bits of the Pace 17 demo on the rocks.

Around the Northern end the nor' easter had kicked up some fizzing clapotis or rebound, and as I turned to make sure everyone was dealing with it OK I saw Bronwyn busting a trail through the wave tops, looking very comfy. 'Maybe it's not that hard', I thought to myself, so I turned towards our island target in the distance, shut my eyes tight & paddled. Thirty seconds later, a few airswings and a late-exit-brace or two I opened them again to find I was side one to where I began & heading for the reef on the edge of the island. Not my thing, I reckon, this paddling rough water on the ocean without being able to see! Bloody hell.....
My guys heading for Boondelbah, the Uluru of the East.
After tucking in behind the edge of Cabbage Tree Island & leaving some more gelcoat on the rocks, we turned downwind to head back towards the bay. The outgoing tide was opposing the sea breeze and things steepened up appreciably, which made me a little concerned for how the group might handle the run home. In truth, I was thinking 'how are Bronwyn & Roy going to deal with this...?' Anyway, the moment the heat came on Bronwyn was off like a firecracker, carving along, chasing waves & basically tearing the arse out of it. I had to dig in very hard to catch her because Roy was struggling to foot it, and yell at her quite loud to !%$&amp slow down! 'Why?' she said. 'Because I can't frigging catch you' was my reply.
Bronwyn smokin' it....
We burned around Yaccaba Headland, saw our second bunch of pesky dolphins for the day, and dawdled the final couple of protected miles back to the beach. An inspiring and quite amazing day for me. As someone who is expected to look after people out there on the wild blue, I learned a lot and couldn't help but be awed by these two remarkable paddlers. 

Highlights of the rest of the weekend included the short film festival the Pogies, which this year delivered enough entries to provide over an hour of grassroots, homemade paddling gratification. The winner was Lisa Bush, with a video featuring the single best bit of helmet cam filming I've ever seen (you can see it HERE). And of course, other than the scheduled events, the unscheduled ones provided the majority of the off-the-leash moments, and are what make this weekend such a beauty every year.
Chris, Stephen, Mark, Jenny & Bronwyn. Roy asked where the photo was, I told him, over there to Starboard, and it was actually Port, so he's not here.
A big back slap to the tireless David Linco, fresh from smoking it across Bass Strait, who ran a great show. It was his third and last Rock & Roll & he's set a pretty high bar for the next co-ordinator. Well done Davlin!
Sharon & Rob enjoying the Elvis tunes at the dinner, until they were controversially unplugged.
Thanks also to those of you who came along to say G'day to us on our stand, swap a yarn or share a beer; we love being involved in our paddling community and hangin' out with our club mates. See you in 2017, Gazza hoping you'll be back......

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