Monday 19 November 2018

South to the Surf Coast & the Prom.

Last week Rob & I made our annual trip south to spend a few days with the Victorian Sea Kayak Club at their annual Blue Water Weekend.
Held once again at the beautiful Barwon Heads, we were favoured by the weather gods & enjoyed three days paddling the crystal blue waters of the coast in beaming sunshine.

Our Friday coaching clinics were again well attended, with the ever-popular forward paddling morning followed by a more eclectic boat control session in the afternoon.

We had our mate Tim Pearse along to help out on the water, which is always much appreciated when group numbers are higher.

After a spectacular Friday night feed of mussels I got to go for a Saturday morning paddle with Peter Sharp & his group, a meander south to 13th Beach & back.

Along the way I chatted to most of the people out on the water, including a couple of dudes in a positively prehistoric Roscoe Double who paddled all the way to Cape York beyond.

I love the idea that there are still paddlers out there pushing it, taking on big, committing trips to wild places, and they had some good yarns to share. It's always a pleasure to get out on the water for just a paddle with club paddlers.

No coaching, no racing, no big stuff, no downwinders, just a gentle cruise along a coastline in the company of like-minded souls.

Rob ran a clinic in the arvo on weather observations, using a series of films & photos showing varying wind, sea & swell states & pitting teams against one another to see who could identify the likely conditions in the images. It was well received & had a few people scratching their heads!
Saturday night the second annual Mick MacRobb trophy for the best photo of the year was awarded to Pete Wilson, with a cracking shot that would surely have made Mick happy.
On the Sunday I ran a clinic on movie editing & structure, not because I'm qualified to of course, but just as a guide to putting together a kayaking movie sharing my own way of doing things. The result of the clinic is the movie below, put together from go to who in about 45 minutes, from footage shot over the preceding couple of days.

The end of the Blue Water Weekend usually heralds our return to Sydney, but this year Beau Miles had invited us to come along to his International Sea Kayak Educators Symposium at Wilson's Promontory, to run  day of 'master classes' for the assembled guides, instructors, students & coaches.

Whilst being a little nervous about spending a day trying to telling some pretty good paddlers how to suck eggs, we were nonetheless completely blown away by the beauty and majesty of the western side of the Prom & Tidal River in particular.

Monday dawned bright & very breezy, and we cast a suspicious eye over a set of lenticular shaped clouds that had settled over the top of the nearby Mt Oberon.

The last time we had seen anything like that was on Mt Strzlecki on Flinders Island & they sent bullets of 40kn winds careening into our faces for a couple of hours, but Beau assured us the wind was easing & we'd be right.
So it proved, as we ran a morning & afternoon session with 20 paddlers in each, with a couple of surf launches & landing in each for good measure. The Tidal River surf was so good we wondered whether we should have just chucked in the lesson plan & gone for a play instead, but it probably wasn't a good idea with such a big group.
Paddlers out for the day with us ranged from destinations as far flung as Norway, Germany, Hong Kong, Jersey, Ireland, the US & New Zealand, and it was a privilege to shoot the breeze & share some ideas with such a diverse bunch of people.
Our route home along the east coast took us through Pambula for an evening of kangaroos & oysters, past a lifetime of sea paddling destinations, memories of trips & days on the water and tall tales of the sea. We're lucky buggers.

Thanks to the good folks of the Victorian SKC, welcoming as always & a lot of fun. Beau & his merry gang put on a very professional show at the ISKES event, if you're looking for something comprehensive & engaging to advance your sea kayak teaching then it's on again in Boston in 2020 (

Tuesday 30 October 2018

A 10th Hawkesbury Classic

My first attempt at the Hawkesbury Classic was waaay back in 2001, in the 25th race, in a diabolical recreational sea kayak known as the Old Town Nantucket. 14'8", 67cm wide, 32kg and sold to me by a very convincing kayak shop salesman as 'a great fast sea kayak for the Hawkesbury Classic'. And you wonder why I am so careful to ask questions and steer people the right way when they ask me which boat might suit them these days! I positively laboured over the course, coming home in 17 hours, 53 minutes, proud as punch to have finished & was thereafter hooked.
Back then my crew was Mum, Nicole, & Mum's late husband, ex footy legend Brian Chicka Moore. I finished with my t-shirt wrapped around my head, in blazing sunshine, and if my memory serves me correctly 475th out of 480 finishers.
The Sutherland Shire Canoe Club, Hawkesbury Classic Chapter
Fast forward seventeen years & I managed to complete my tenth Classic on Saturday night, in a fast flat water race kayak, with a carbon paddle, all the gear, a targeted training program (kinda), but no less an inner glow of positive energy at having made it once again down this serpentine 111km route. This year there were even a couple of boats in the race that I had helped to design, in the pair of Audax' being paddled by Nick & The Don. Who wouldda thunk that could have been possible from the rank beginner, hopelessly arm paddling his Nantucket over the line back in 2001! 

For me this race is always a reminder that I was a beginner once, and also of course of where that paddling path has led me since & what it's added to my life.

Smiling Hobbit from the Shire
And in a nutshell, that's the great thing about the Classic, it's one of the few extraordinary things an ordinary person can achieve, and I bet there are literally thousands of satisfied smiles being smiled by the myriad collection of masochists who have made the journey from Windsor to Brooklyn, when they stop & reflect on their own experience.

Pre-race tactical chat
Crew Captain Ross
As always my race was part of a club effort, the mighty Sutherland Club out in force with crew, marquees, watermelon, and enough encouragement and good humour to power a small city. Mum was on hand for her 10th Classic as my trusty land crew, highly organised & fresh off the plane from Sri Lanka to get the job done!

The Don, on the water.
We debated what to wear, as it was a hot arvo at Windsor and many of us decided a wool t-shirt was the way to go, knowing that the temperature wasn't going to plunge under a cloudy evening sky as it can when things are clear. It's always a crucial strategic decision I the Classic, as the cold bring's paddlers undone more than anything else.
Locked & loaded, Canoe 195
I lined up on the start line alongside my mate Johnny Denyer, who has been training the house down, and joked - loudly - that there was a $5000 hot spot on the first bridge at Windsor, about 300m from the start line. As I cracked my funny I looked right & saw gun paddler Mick Carroll, possibly not thinking it was all that funny, & I thought well hell, I've never been first to the 'first' bridge, lets give it a crack. Anyways, the horn sounded, I shot off like a scalded cat, got my bow to the front, started to taste glory, only to have Mick change gear & smoke me by two boat lengths. And I'm not convinced he was trying all that hard either. So from that point, heart rate apoplectic, only 110.7km to go, depending on who you believe, carry on!

Nearly beating Mick to the Hot Spot!
I slipped into a pack with John, Richard Fox, Nick in his Audax, which was pretty cool I have to say, and Brendan O'Sullivan in a K1 doing his 32nd Hawkesbury. A scorching ebb tide had us running at well over 11km an hour for the first 40km, and I even entertained the thought that with this much recent rain, maybe it was flow! Just maybe the flood tide would be negated by all that rainwater careening down from the Blue Mountains.
The peloton from the start to Sackville (pic thanks to the talented & generous Ian Wrenford)
Yeah nah. Within half an hour of such wildly hubris-laden optimism I was up against the bank, hiding from the flood tide, in the dark, down in the 8kmh zone & working into a long, long grind. 

Doing it easy with the ebbing tide (pic thanks to the talented & generous Ian Wrenford)
I stopped about an hour before Wiseman's to free up some weed and had The Don, Bob Turner, sidle up alongside me in his Audax. Considering we'd spent many hours crossing Bass Strait earlier this year that made me feel quite a bit less miserable and alone. The familiarity turned to vaudeville moments later, when maybe ninety seconds after delivering a spray about my poor line, essentially too far out from the debris-strewn river's edge, he launched himself into a bank of reeds and came to a crunching halt.
"Bloody hell, are you alright" I said barely concealing a rumbling belly laugh.
"Yeah fine, play on"
"You sure?"
"Yeah I'm #%?!! sure, I'll catch up"
"Righto. Geez I'm glad I was here to see that"

True to his word, ten minutes later I heard the familiar slice of his man-sized Gamma Rio, and as I caught a sight of the Audax bow in my periphery a faint green glow from my forward cylamume light silhouetted a dirty great fallen tree and I 'chested' it at full speed. If it was a game of footy, the tree would have ten in the bin & a date with the match review committee. Bob didn't even have to say anything, I knew what he was thinking. Something like "Geez I'm glad I was here to see that". As I disentangled myself from the branches, a pissed idiot watching on from his adjacent bonfire and banjo session said 'mate you owe me $20, that's my favourite tree'.

As we hit the long chute into Wiseman's and the 60km mark the wind began to blow, producing tiny little following waves that were very disconcerting in my racing kayak. I was glad to reach the safety of the ramp where Mum & the crew were waiting. Despite the grind I was there in good time & felt like I was still half a chance of getting under 10 hours. 
Overjoyed at the long stop at Wiseman's Ferry.
I had a speedy three minute changeover, and as the guys lifted the boat to send me on my way an official ran over & stopped me in my tracks. The race was suspended pending the removal of the Wiseman's Car Ferry from the middle of the river, where it had broken down & clean blocked our route home. He said we may not even get back out there & the delay was left open-ended. 

I chucked on some dry warm gear and sat down to stretch & try to avoid getting cold, while The Don did his strange yoga thang on the mat in front of me.

After a 39 minute delay, we got the green light, I'd sorted myself out in another five minutes, & took off into the still raging flood tide to get the thing done.

Now I'm on the record saying that this race is really all about getting to Wiseman's, and that the leg home, whilst still 40km, is general pretty cruisy. Not so this year, as the wind continued to gust across various exposed stretches of river, providing chop & mess that you would eat alive in a ski or sea kayak, but in the dark, in an unstable racing kayak, provided a whole world of pain. Just as the tide turned I was joined by the Flying Dawson's, powering their double Atlantic to a new record in their class, and I enjoyed singing along with them to the new Sutherland Club song.

I rounded the final turn, 3km to go, with the wind really starting to crank and running straight over the fast ebbing tide. I was well & truly buggered from all of the extra stabilising my core had been doing for the past four hours, and realised that I couldn't risk paddling a quartering line to the finish and the very high chance of being capsized. So, I beat down the channel into the teeth of the wind until I was adjacent to the finish, then had to turn towards the line with about 1km to go across the chop to get home. To say it wasn't fun would be an understatement. That might sound odd coming from someone who paddles in waves of all shapes & sizes most days of the week, but it was genuinely challenging, especially with nothing left in the tank.
I crossed the line in 10.32 by my GPS, but at the time of writing we're all still unsure of how the race committee will deal with the ferry stoppage. I commend them for stopping the race shortly after I finished, as it was getting dangerous at the very most dangerous spot for weary paddlers. A crappy outcome for the hordes who had slogged it as far as Spencer for sure, but definitely the right call. A nightmare of a night for the poor buggers in charge really, ferry breakdown, wind & waves, handled as always with aplomb.

So, ten of these things done & that 'pleasantly weary' feeling of achievement once again. Probably the toughest one in many respects; the rough stretches, the ferocity of the spring flood tide; but a week out they all feel like the 'toughest' one!

The race is run to support the Arrow Bone Marrow Foundation, and a hearty thanks to Daniel, David R, and David K for sponsoring my effort, it's really very much appreciated.

To my Mum, what a bloody trooper, we worked out that 10 Classics paddled equates to about 3000km driven in the dark, along some windy bad roads, sleep deprived and lost half the time, requiring an organisational skillset that would make Rommel proud, and all done with a big smile. Thank you!

This year the elephant in the room was the poor turnout, numbers have dwindled alarmingly since the roaring success of the 40th race a few years back. You'd have to think some serious changes need to be made if the race is to continue in what has a become a crowded and competitive market, full of much cheaper, much less demanding events than this iconic ultra marathon. The most obvious solution is a relay option. If the organisers can make that fly, I reckon it'll be back as a 500-paddler event in no time.

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Bass Strait by Sea Kayak - Ocean Paddler Magazine Article

Rob's article on our Bass Strait crossing was published in the UK paddling mag Ocean Paddler a couple of months back, and they've kindly allowed us to reproduce it here (you can also download it through this link -
Ocean Paddler is the premier sea kayaking magazine, with spectacularly good production standards & a range of interesting & varied articles every issue. 
If you're a sea kayaker & don't have a subscription, you're missing out (you can subscribe to a physical or a digital subscription here - Ocean Paddler

Wednesday 16 May 2018

The Epic V5 - a ski for you & your mates....

So what to make of a surfski that's 4.3m long, and 60cm wide, with a surf rudder the equal of those found on the big guns like the V12?

Are we talking about a North American bird watcher's kayak here, short, stable, surely slow & lacking direction stability? We'll you'd bloody well think so looking at those numbers!

However, after watching my mate Boyan surf his millionth Levante-powered 15kmh wave at his surfski centre in Tarifa on YouTube, realising belatedly that most of that incredible footage is taken off a V5, we decided it was time to explore this sawn-off Epic.

Our demo arrived last week, a performance layup, 16kg with handles & a nicely proportioned rear hatch for your tent or lightweight camping gear, and very reasonably priced at just $3600.

We have a long history surfing boats around this length, think of kayaks like the Valley Gemini & Sirona, Tiderace Xtra & Vortex, and understand just how nimble & manoeuvrable those designs are in bigger breaking waves. But, to get out and enjoy the surf in them you do need a fairly developed set of skills, a good understanding of how to use your edges and a very strong brace. A reliable roll is also an asset. Given that skill set, the new wave of play sea kayaks are the bomb; you can do things on a wave that would scarcely have been believable before they were conceived.

But, and like the V5 it's a big but... what if you don't have those skills & don't feel inclined to get 'em? Just how accessible is that YouTube surfing experience if you can't roll, or use your edges, and frankly find the idea of a capsize in the surf & a re-entry into a flooded cockpit about as palatable as sticking a fork in your eye? How about if you could head out to your favourite bar break or spilling wave safe in the knowledge that your surfing experience wouldn't be greatly diminished in comparison to the 'play sea kayaks', and if you got crunched & ended up swimming the craft onto which you're going to re-embark is hugely stable & easy to remount?

Chuck in a generous back hatch for gear, which despite a few trashing yesterday remained tightly sealed, and a seating an paddling position that entirely belies the stubby nature of the ski. It would have been easy to forget that I was in a ski with these generous proportions yesterday if it hadn't been for my paddling mates shaking their heads at the sight of me in something so short, with a big EPIC sticker on the bow.

As luck would have it, yesterdays debut on the water coincided with the back end of a southerly swell episode, and our favourite bar break was providing the sort of amusement park rides for which it's famous. Five of us agreed to meet at the mid afternoon low tide, and go for a surf. Everyone else was in a longer ski (in fact when you think about it, it's hard to imagine a shorter one...), and on the steep sets had to sit out on the wave shoulder or risk being either pearled or broached in the breaking sections. I had no such worries in my little V5 however, and proceeded to charge down the steepest bits I could find, to see if the ski could really surf like a kayak. Whilst the 60cm beam does get in the way of really sharp edge control, the dirty great rudder more than makes up for that, and I just carved around and had a ball. We got broached, barrelled, the spray flew and in amongst it all were the ninety second rides that we love about this place. A great arvo out for a bunch of paddling mates.

Paddling home after the session I ticked at 9kmh on the flat water of Gunamatta Bay, not too shabby at all and proof that looks and old rules about length, beam and therefore speed are very quickly being eroded by clever designers.

So, is it a surfing ski? I'm not 100% sure the designers figured that would be it's primary use when they sketched it, but it's pretty damn good at it regardless. It would be a great little overnight getaway craft to chuck your tent & sleeping bag into & head off for a night on a river. It's just got enough speed to paddle & get your heart rate up without pushing a huge wall of water in front of the bow, so a cruisy craft for gentle fitness paddling. It's light, and it's about the same length as a lot of SUP's so really easy to handle & store in the garage.

There is a video of me paddling it yesterday above, no stats on speed or heart rates or V02 Max, just plenty of smiles from all of us. This is genuinely a mighty little ski to enjoy with your mates.

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Rob Mercer Introduces the Flat Earth Sails 'Footloose 80'

Below you can see a photograph of me from our 2004 unsupported expedition from Cooktown almost 1000km along the Cape York Peninsula to Sesia in Torres Strait. It remains one of the highlights of my time on the sea and provided the group with many wonderful days of surfing the SE tradewinds.

Obviously the picture was taken in the lee of a headland so out of the wind but I have chosen it because it provides a good view of the sail itself. 

This was my first three panel sail, it was designed and made by my good mate Andrew Eddy specifically for this trip. He had already used the same design on this and many previous trips.

From the late 1990s until the present I have been fascinated by kayak sails and curious about the relative merits of different shapes and sizes.

In more recent times I have used the various Flat Earth Sails including the Original, Code Zero and Tradewind models, these are Mick’s most notable legacy to kayak sail design and I continue to enjoy these sails for their ease of use, efficiency and simplicity. To my mind they are less aggressive and a little easier to use than the three panel sails with their ability to “spill” some of the extra heeling force caused by gusts, but I have always appreciated the performance offered by the three panel designs and had started work on a three panel sail with Mick only a year or so before he passed away.

As part of this process Andrew Eddy was kind enough to send him vital information about the original sail and after much deliberation Mick sent me a beautifully crafted prototype based on his interpretation of the Andrew’s pattern. The original worked best with a full load and a straight tracking kayak, Mick maintained the stable shape and power of this sail but in a more compact and easily manageable form and then he went over the original material selection and design with his meticulous eye for detail.  
I was immediately delighted with the result and once out on the water, felt how taut the sail was in fresh winds, a characteristic we had valued so highly using the original in the big “tradies” north of Cooktown all those years ago.
There were a few hardware and design issues I needed to talk through with Mick before it was ready for the final test and to take to market but sadly we never got to finish the project…

Recently with the backorders of Flat Earth Sails finally under control, master sail maker Neil Tasker has been helping me fine-tune the design. I tested Mick’s prototype on a trip in North Queensland last year and then came back to Neil with some suggestions that in turn lead to several tweaks and hardware changes. 

I have included pictures of this design from our recent Bass Strait Crossing, and video of the sail in action in the two minute clip at the top of the page (noting that none of the sailing in the video is in dead downwind conditions, in fact most of it is nearly beam-on).

The hardware was from Mick’s Prototype and featured a fiberglass tubular boom with the sail loose footed as in the original (we have subsequently replaced the fiberglass with an aluminium boom for greater durability). The sail performed very well with a loaded boat and held its optimal shape further off the wind than the Tradewind Sails being used by the rest of the group. I was delighted with the result and look forward to using this design again on my next trip.

It is important to note that this performance does come at a cost and that is the slightly higher heeling force applied to the kayak when sailing across the wind, and more notable, the greater acceleration when driven by gusts. This extra push onto the waves will exhilarate some and maybe intimidate others. For these reasons I see this as more of a sail for experienced kayak sailors looking for more outright drive to catch running seas and/or those paddling heavy kayaks. If you like to cruise with the sail up and want a more relaxed ride or you have not sailed before then I would expect the tried and trusted Trade Wind series is still for you.

Throughout eighteen months of testing, one of the features of this sail that distinguished it from most others in the kayaking world was the way the boom attaches to the cloth by simply being tied off to an end cap rather than having a pocket stitched into the sail to enclose the boom. This elegant, minimalist design feature has always performed well for me. Among it’s many virtues are ease of service and the ability to position the sheetline anywhere along the length of the boom for direct attachment. For this reason we have decided to name this sail the: “Footloose 80”

I know Mick was curious but not convinced about this three panel sail design so he was pleasantly surprised with the results when I reported back to him. Mick believed these designs would never replace the original Flat Earth sails and I think he was right, so we consider the Footloose 80 more as an addition to the range; a compact sail ideally suited to those experienced and adventurous kayaker sailors chasing some more performance without going to a bigger sail.

Rob Mercer, May 2018.

Friday 27 April 2018

Video - Bass Strait by Sea Kayak

In March this year I was fortunate to be able to join Gary Forrest, Rob Mercer, Bob Turner & Andrew Trickett on a crossing of Eastern Bass Strait. All up we covered 329km, in just on 45 hours of paddling, spread over 8 days, with 7 days off the water for what at times was apocalyptic weather.

In assembling the video, we used hand held waterproof point & shoot camera for the on-water shots, GoPro's mounted on customised mounts for the POV video, and a DJI Spark drone for the spectacular aerial footage.

We were trying to portray the water & islands of Bass Strait in a way that offered an original view of the place, as well as capturing the great time we had as a team.

It really was one of the most enjoyable couple of weeks with mates that you could possibly imagine.

Rob is writing a report of the trip at the moment, which will be posted here once it's been published in Ocean Paddler Magazine, but for now here is the video we made of the journey.

Hope you enjoy it!

**there is a also a full image gallery HERE.

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...