Skip to content

Completing the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic 2011

November 2, 2011
Good coffeeI’ve been neglecting my Blog. I suppose I could blame it on work since I have been enjoying my new job. It’s been three months now since I came off that extended ‘gardening leave’ period and was padding every other day. I start work early and sometimes finish late. I am passionate about my industry and I have gratefully found, what I like to call “the holy trinity” in this job:     1. The technology is really sexy 2. Our customers are happy and 3. I like the people I work with – and they like each other. Given my pedigree as a sales person, this is also breeding an urgency to succeed.
But in hindsight – I suppose I was harbouring extreme doubt and fear about my ability to complete something as big as the Hawksebury Canoe Classic (HCC).It’s an interesting mental cycle. I was making excuses in my mind. Rehearsing reasons for failure. And then when the next weekend came around – those reasons found a way to materialise and I would miss another training session. All in all, I reckon I squeezed in nothing over 27km and a handful of leisurely 15 to 20km paddles. I was so disappointed in myself. I had so much time to prepare – and I felt like I let it all waste away…
My friend

My wife

Anyway – I remember saying to my land-crew, Eileen (wife) and Frank (friend) in the week prior – that I would see how it goes but there was every chance we would be driving home by the first checkpoint, and be in bed well before midnight. Strangely, this mental resignation took the pressure off. I wasn’t thinking about the race – but I had such a busy week ahead of me, as well as a trip to the US on the Monday immediately after, that I packed everything the weekend before. And then before you know it – it’s Friday night and I’m lying in bed using a meditation to get to sleep. Somewhere in that state of zoned out bliss I remembered Sean (The Fat Paddler) telling me it was more mental than physical. He said “If you can paddle 30km – then you can paddle 111km”. And that was when I first felt the determination.

Saturday morning we left early. Eileen, Frank and I jumped in the car and picked up Sean. We had the marquee and everything we needed to select our position and set up camp at Windsor. It was beautiful at the site. There was residue mist from the night before and a slow emerging sun which promised a very warm afternoon. Burnsie was right behind us. He is the Land Crew Leader and has a lot of experience helping Sean in past campaigns. He is also incredibly well prepared and before you knew it – everything was set-up and Burnsie had delivered freshly brewed coffee and biscuits to our hands.

Morning plastic

Mines the slow looking plastic one in the middle 😉

Camp

Camp TFP with Burnsie & Eily at the ready !!

I’ll skip the detail of Saturday except to say watching the field around us grow to something like 1500 or 2000 people, watching the vast array of boats arrive on roof-racks, and enjoying the camaraderie of Team Fat Paddler (TFP) &  land crew was simply wonderful and a great day in itself.

Briefing

Less than an hour to go at The Briefing !!

TFP

TFP - 10 paddlers in 9 Boats - all wonderful people & friends.

At 4pm I was sitting in my kayak on the water, out the back, behind the many other “Brooklyn or Bust” paddlers waiting anxiously for the horn to sound. And then I was paddling…..

My first recollection was that the sun was so damn hot. It was bad enough sitting around all afternoon seeking out the shade trying to conserve energy but paddling for 2 hours in that heat was really dehydrating. Not to mention we had an incoming tide so we were paddling against the flow. I tried to stick to about 60% of effort, but finding the rhythm took a little while. I enjoyed the company of two paddlers for the first 30km. Mel (from Greenland Downunder) who I had known previously, and Alistair who I had just met on the water. It was good to chat every now and then as the km’s disappeared. I also remember getting a real morale boost paddling past the first checkpoint at Cattai and seeing our entire land-crew on the banks cheering us on.

LandcrewBy 9.30pm we were 31 kms in and had reached the first of three major check-points – Sackville. This is where we could stop and get refreshments, restock supplies and receive encouragement from our land-crew. It was already very dark when we paddled in and there were hundreds of torches on the bank searching for their respective paddlers. I found Eily and Frank easily enough. I just used my usual method – I called out “BABY” really loud and they knew where to look 🙂  I remember getting out my boat and feeling wobbly on the sand. Eily and Frank were outstanding. Like a finely tuned pit-crew on the race track. They walked me over to a seat, sat me down, filled me up with hot pasta, re-filled my water bottles, re-stocked supplies on the boat, rubbed deep-heat on my back and helped me change into warm clothes. I got the updates on how the rest of TFP were doing and saw a few equally weary faces of fellow TFP members – all the while offering encouragement to each other. There were some minor injuries all round. Mostly muscular and blisters. Some nausea and throwing up. Nothing the land-crew and first aid tent couldn’t fix. I had my hands strapped up with gauze and tape and then we were back on the water.Winning

I had lost track of Mel and Alistair, but fellow TFP Grumm and I agreed to paddle together for the next leg. The Fat Paddler (Sean) and Trav had also arrived not far behind us in their 2 man Canoe – so as it turned out, we all took off together from Sackville. This was the part I was dreading in the weeks prior – but it turned out the be the easiest stretch of the whole race. I was concerned about how I would be feeling and how I would cope with the isolated dark stretches of water. But with Grumm on one side and Sean & Trav on the other – well, we talked and laughed a fair way down the river. We also had the tide now running with us. It was quite surreal on the water. At points it was overcast with cloud and fog. It was also pitch black. The sky was one shade of grey. The mountains on either side were black and they cast equally dark shadows in the water. The only way I knew which way to go was by following the illuminated glow-sticks stuck to the back and front of every boat. And they dotted the river ahead, forming an illuminated mystical trail…

After a few hours Grumm and I had pulled away from Sean and Trav. They were never really far behind. If we had stopped, it probably would have only taken them 5 minutes to catch up. But we had a good stroke happening and I noticed we had begun overtaking a few boats on the water. We were never short of adventure either. Twice I almost rammed these huge buoys head-on. They were unmarked and the size of tractor tyres – usually sitting in the middle of a wide bend in the river. Each time they emerged out of no-where and I only just managed to push the rudder and point my nose a fraction away from a direct collision – so I side-impacted them instead. At speed that’s a scary proposition. Each time I bounced off, a had a bit of a wobble – and then we had a good laugh, some cursing and more paddling.

By about 1.30 am we had completed another 34km and reached the next major check-point at Wisemans Ferry. It seemed like we would never get there. If there is one thing about paddling distance that I will forever remember, is that the next corner or checkpoint is always much further away than you think. The monotony of paddling in the dark is laborious. Without a gorgeous bush-land view to recharge your spirit – you remain on high alert and scan for the faintest obstacle inches from your bow. And it never seems to end…..

Leaving Wisemans Ferry with FP (Sean) for the final leg...

By the time we pulled in to Wisemans Ferry, there seemed fewer boats at the beach than at Sackville. I suppose the spread in paddlers widens by this point, given the distance and speed everyone travels at.  Some people only stopped for minutes at Sackville, while others didn’t stop at all. In my case, I think I stopped for about 30 minutes. Coming into Wisemans was a similar experience – my land-crew were superb. I had my hands re-strapped. Ate another big bowl of hot pasta and had Frank rub my back hard with the Deep Heat. I changed into dry clothes – kissed my wife and headed back to the boat with Grumm right behind me. Eily asked if I planned on stopping at Spencer. The thought of quitting this race never entered my mind once I had actually started paddling. My tail bone, both heels, the balls of my feet, and my left shoulder all ached in new and interesting ways. My hands looked like the top layer of skin would come away with soap. But I was determined to finish this bastard. So I told her I would pass Spencer and meet her at the finish.

Taking off from Wisemans Ferry was a challenging proposition. It was 2.30am, the tide had turned again and was now running hard against us. The sky was pitch black, there was faint fog, the waterway was a wide expanse of nothing, and not a glow stick in sight. This time Grumm and I were grateful to have another TFP, Alan Jones, join us. Alan is an amazing paddler. He can speed it up or slow it down with ease.  The three of us took off into the night.

The tide must have been running hard. I was watching the map and the distance between the first two checkpoints was only 6km. That first checkpoint should have taken less than an hour to reach given our average speed. It actually took us over an hour and half to get there – and that was when I fully realised the strength of the tide. This was quite demoralising. But with Ying there is Yang. One of my unforgettable memories of this night was Alan singing. He has an angelic voice and can sing really well. Once we passed the last set of ferry cables  – Alan started singing and it was mesmerising, surreal and soul enriching. Took my mind off the tide. Simply AMAZING.

By daybreak – Alan had taken off ahead. Grumm and I were slogging it out and nature called me for the third time since we took off from Wisemans. I needed to pull over to an embankment and then disaster struck. I put my full weight on the left pedal and then there was a loud TWANG and I grimaced with the comprehension that I had snapped the cable running to the rudder. I had relied on that rudder for the entire race to make steering easy and now I had the remaining 30km ahead of me with no rudder. Just as well I had plenty of practise steering (or edging) without a rudder, and I managed to adapt quite easily. I don’t have a skeg on my boat so if the rudder is up – then maintaining a straight course is abit difficult, especially in wind or swell. This was really frustrating for me at first – and I struggled with some mental issues at this point. I think I resigned myself to quite on about 3 occasions. Problem was – there was no-one and no-where to give up to 🙂

Misty morning

Team re-unites !! Grumm & Alan behind me - Trav in frame.

About 5 more km – and we found a pit-stop. Some volunteers had set up coffee and biscuits on the side of the river and paddlers were permitted to stop here and rest. I took the opportunity to recharge and in doing so, caught up again with Alan and Grumm. Taking respite here also meant that by the time we were about 20km out from the finish, The Fat Paddler and Trav had also caught up with us. At the outset, I would never have guessed that myself and 4 other  members of TFP would see the home stretch in together.

Home stretch

The last 10 - 15 km to go....

We paddled as a team. We supported each other with encouragement. We bitched, moaned, sledged, belched and laughed the remaining kilometers away. I felt energised by the camaraderie – and even though I was in tremendous pain and fatigue – I had mentally flicked the automation switch and was locked in endless powerful mechanical strokes.  Paradoxically – I felt strong.

We could see the finish at Brooklyn. It was still about 20 minutes away – such was the distance across that wide expanse of water. We could see the tiny black and white stripped TFP shirts on the ramp. The sun was out, the swell was rolling and the motor-boat activity was increasing. We paddled with new-found urgency and it suddenly dawned on me that I was about to do it – and finish the HCC. I think it was this realisation that I achieved what I thought impossible only days earlier – brought an enormous swelling of emotion. I struggled to hold back the sobs of shock and delight – lest I felt less manly amongst my team-mates. I knew the minute I saw Eily or Frank – I would lose it – and spent alot of the remaining time trying to subdue the emotion and crack a joke or think of something else.

coming in

Jubilation as the I approach the ramp...

getting out

The outstretched hand of friendship....

relief

I did it....

It was 18 hours and 7 minutes since I began paddling to the sound of a horn the afternoon before. I remember the bells ringing as we reached the ramp. I remember two members of TFP standing on the ramp with outstretched hands – offering me assistance. I remember the cheers, back slapping and sheer relief from the aches and pains of that monumental paddle. I remember hugging Eileen and Frank – and I remember wiping my eyes…

I also remember the blissful feeling of sitting in the car in fresh dry clothing, just before I fell asleep, thinking with a new-found and very intense conviction….”I can do anything I set my mind to !!!”

I’ve always thought I was confident and optimistic – but I don’t think I ever really believed that until now.

Hugs

The best hug....

IMG_1115

I suppose my face says it all.....

Mind Games…

August 29, 2011

So its been about 5 weeks or so since my last Blog update. Who knew my new job would be so demanding….??  Well I suppose I did!! I probably just thought I’d balance it all. As it turns out – I have been out about 4 times since my last post and clearly not enough training this close to the HCC.

The problem has been in finding the time. I start early during the week and finish late in the day. I could go out paddling at night but that’s not really going to happen unless I pre-arrange to do it with some-one else. Anyway – by the time I get home I am surprisingly tired and all I want to do is eat diner, change into PJs, muck around with the kids and catch an hour of TV before bed.

By the time the weekend comes around – I’m all set to take the boat out. Then I battle a different demon. His name is Apathy !! When I don’t train regular – I find it difficult to get back out. It’s funny that I can determine this pattern in my behavior but seem unable to change. I find when I’m training frequently (like I did when I was off work), the urge to maintain is strong and the ease with which I can get myself out on the water effortless. On the other hand – when I miss a few – the muscles seem to forget the euphoria – and I start making excuses. Last weekend I fought the flu. Could feel it building in my throat and my chest was heavy with a  three day cough. I managed to keep the full effects at bay and completely recover – but I lost a weekend in the process. The paddles haven’t been anything to write home about.

Three weeks ago I thought I was never going to make it. My Manager asked me to book a trip to the US for a Partner Conference in Indianapolis. The conference began on Tuesday the 27th October. He wanted me to fly out on the Sunday (25th). I told him my race finished on the Sunday morning and he was fairly insistant that I’d be fine jumping a late plane that same day. Of course I wanted to be a good corporate lad and my manager is certainly very committed to the company. That was a horrible couple of days. I knew I’d have to refuse the trip. There was no way I wanted to sit in an economy class seat on a flight to the US after spending anywhere between 12 and 18 hours paddling all night long. I’ve been wrecked all day like a zombie after a hard 4 hour paddle. What were my chances of making it to Indy? And arriving in any state to meet the top line executives in my new company?? What a nose bleed !!

Anyway as good fortune would have it – later in the week my manager gave me the choice to not go – which I took. Of course – I didn’t feel as good as I had expected. I actually felt trapped. For a brief moment while I was booked to go overseas, I thought I’d almost found an excuse to pull out….

Of course – all those mixed up feelings aside – I made a commitment. I made it to myself. Declared it in public. Made it to my new found group of paddling friends (Team fat Paddler). I had started taking donations. My wife, children, family and friends all expected me to complete this “mile-stone of life” that I was determined to do…..

Arrrrggghhhhhhh……. Frustration !!

So I have spent the last few weeks debating my commitment. I have lamented the lost weekends. I have begun to worry about my preparation.

On Saturday morning I went out to push myself hard. It might have had the reverse effect. I loaded up on carbs the night before (Eily makes the best seafood spaghetti). I woke early and ate of bowl of Nutrigrain. Sucked down an energy gel and hit the Lane Cove River. I felt strong and applied some mental fortitude to push past any pain and switched my mind to other thoughts…..I found if I can get lost in a long monologue in my mind about something work related – I can access a time warp. By the time I had returned to the ramp – I had completed 23kms in 3hours flat. I was EXHAUSTED. I was so tired – I tried to keep going to crack 30km but my body was spent. I got home – ate some more pasta and crashed on the couch all afternoon. I think I paddled too hard for that period and given the size of my paddle (a Werner Corryvecken) I may have over-exerted myself. My little plastic boat held out at over 8km an hour for about 2 hours then I got caught in a visibly strong outgoing current on the way back up the river, and my overall speed dropped to about 7.5 km per hour. That night every muscle ached. The following morning I was stiff and somehow had managed to pull muscles in my lower back and left should near the base of my neck.

It seems I am doing everything wrong at the moment.

Well I think the Werner paddle will become my back-up paddle. There is no way I’ll be able to push water with that blade for the full 111km. It’s Monday afternoon and the skeletal frame of my upper body – particularly the tops of my shoulders, feel like they’ve been through a medieval rack. I’m going to need to find a way to make many new adjustments to my preparation over the next 7 weeks. I think I may have found a way to overcome some of these hurdles. My beautiful wife brought me something new and exciting home tonight. It will mean learning a new stroke…. This will either break me or make me…..I’ll let you know how I go this weekend…..

Thrills & Spills amongst the Surf & Rocks

July 28, 2011

So its been 2 weeks since I began my new career at Interactive Intelligence. Its been a crazy 2 weeks of early starts and late finishes, but I am fired up with enthusiasm – and you know how single minded I can get when that happens !!

The impact on paddling of course, is that I can only get out on weekends at the moment. I’m concerned that this reduction in the amount of paddle-time is going to adversely affect my preparation for the Hawkesbury Classic (HCC). Last Saturday I managed to squeeze in a 20km paddle on Saturday morning, and the following day a leisurely afternoon paddle at Berowra Waters with a few members of Team Fat Paddler.

7-29-2011 7-58-38 AM

That Saturday night – after the 20km, my body ached like crazy. It had been over a week since I put in a hard long paddle and I really felt it. While I was down the South Coast I put in a lot of paddle time – but not the proper training effort. The difference with the training paddles is that you don’t stop to take photos, or to stretch out whenever the mood hits you – but rather you paddle hard and consistently against the clock as you target a set distance. I realise I need to incorporate more of this….

Berowra Waters was more leisure time but I just love the social aspect of paddling – especially in gorgeous bushy surroundings – so when The Fat Paddler (Sean) put out the word that we would set out for an afternoon paddle – I jumped on it !!

266599_2273956768836_1246192646_32776680_7938112_o

Could be a scene from a blockbuster movie !!

279611_2273957048843_1246192646_32776681_7210824_o(2)

These guys never once broke formation *grin*

279458_10150319224762059_103743367058_9456341_6096849_o

One of my favourite photos...

The week flew by quick and I had every intention of getting out on the water on Saturday to knock out another 20km or so…. but it never eventuated. My wife Eileen promised our daughter Isabella a girls day out on Saturday and it was the perfect opportunity for me and Tristan to spend some quality time together. He wanted to watch the movie Cars 2 and so I forsake the paddling to indulge little Master 4.5 years old – in a day of shopping for toys, eating his favourite junk food and watching a movie !!

271531_2288789619648_1246192646_32797597_7803525_o

Good effort given he hates having his photo taken !!

Sunday morning was the regular meeting of Team Fat Paddler at SHK @ The Spit Bridge to go and play amongst the remaining waves from Sydney’s week long downpour. I packed my wetsuit because it was FREEZING and my helmet because I knew Sean couldn’t keep away from the rocks. We stood on the beach at Sydney Harbor Kayaks and looked out towards Grotto Point – the waves looked huge as they smashed against the rocks at the base of that cliff.

Off we took and after about 5 minutes we were riding over swell that normally doesn’t reach this deep into the harbor. As we got to Grotto Point – I was reveling in the motion of the ocean. There were only 3 of us – Capt Sean, Nat and me.

PHOT0005

Nat likes his boats lean and fast...

I really do love paddling in the lumpy stuff and I recently figured out why.

When I started paddling a few years ago – I was really nervous about staying upright – even on flat water. I’ve never seemed to have good balance –  in fact, I always felt a little uncoordinated. It wasn’t a physical handicap – I think just a confidence thing. You know – like a fear of heights…. If I didn’t know that I was standing on a ledge high above then I would have no fear of falling. As soon as I see the drop – I panic, freeze, hyperventilate and experience vertigo to the point where my balance is shot to hell. I think it was the same with paddling. I distinctly remember looking at a series of videos I bought 2 years ago “This is The Sea” – a 4 part series on Kayaking around the world – and I was adamant that I would NEVER paddle in the ocean, or white-water, or surf a wave etc… They looked impossible for a chubby 40 year old with poor balance to begin doing. I remember those thoughts as clearly as if I thought them yesterday.

And yet here I am…..???

267087_2291581569445_1246192646_32801519_2606806_o

265387_2291581969455_1246192646_32801520_8030_o

So what changed??? I think like anything – practice  breeds competency – and all the paddling I have done now has somehow taught the muscles in my body to move and react instinctively to the motion of the water. I have found myself being able to paddle through all sorts of water recently and not remain focused on staying upright – and I enjoy it because I can do it. The fear is dissipating because competency is overtaking it !!

I think being a part of Team Fat Paddler has been a primary driver in trying new things. Much like this method of entering the water from a beach with waves breaking… I am still not sure if this is the correct method or if Sean was just having a lend of me…. feel free to pass a comment below if you know a better way 🙂

Anyway – I had a go at surfing. I body surfed a bit when I was a kid but never on a board and certainly never in kayak.

I put together a short video of my attempt here. My first with splicing and music (inspiration form the Fat Paddler himself) – and a bit of rock gardening later in the morning…..

For you more experienced Kayak Surfers out there – I suppose if you watch the video below you will instantly spot half a dozen things I did wrong with regards to bracing, and posturing etc…..but I figure the best way to learn is to just get amongst it and learn by trial and error. I also know I need a few lessons on rolling and bracing too – because it would sure as heck be a lot easier to roll upright than have Sean conduct a full scale rescue every time I get dumped 🙂

I hope you like it !!!   Maybe double click the image to enlarge (and hit escape to return) & and turn up the sound for best effect !!

By the way – if you recall that scene where I was taking a photo right before a wave splashed me ? Well this is these are the pics a managed to grab !!

PHOT0018

PHOT0019

….and this is the little rock garden we played in. It may look calm enough in this picture – but I can assure you for a novice like me – trying to time my entry between the waves was hair-rasing enough !! Great fun once you pull it off though 🙂

PHOT0023

Sean saw me checking this out for a few minutes - then showed me hows it done !

By 10.30am we were hungry and tired – “Did someone say egg and bacon roll???” –  and so we took off back to get some lunch !!

See you next week !!

Kayaking the South Coast – Part 2.

July 10, 2011

Day Two

I rose early to go out fishing.

I was again blessed with perfect weather…. Who said it was winter??

01 a Roos

Good morning Mr Roo!! - There are harder ways to start the day.

I had rigged up the top deck of my yak with some fishing gear…this included a purpose-built fishing rod and a special working platform, that strapped to my deck lines.

02 fishing deck

Nice set-up huh?

And then I spent the next 2 hours stalking my prey…

I could go on about my prowess as a hunter, my skill as an angler, and my local know-how for the best fishing spots – but this video best sums up my entire experience….

Apparently – and to add insult to injury – the ‘Bream Classic’ fishing competition that  I mentioned was on that same weekend, saw a total of 140+ fish bagged with the largest weighing in 1.4 kg. They were all released but who am I kidding anyway…. ??…..

Thankfully there is a good fish monger in town….

Day Three

The weather held out again – and I was determined to practice my rolls and self rescue.

I got my hands on two of those paddle floats – and essential bit of safety kit for the lone paddler. I had  also spent the previous evening watching a “how to roll” video and figured I knew all the moves.

I found some deep water, set up my camera and then went through the motions….

Having reviewed the video – I’m afraid I can only go with a select few snapshots – the video is way to undignified for the eternal memory banks of the Internet *grin*….

I started with the floats on each end so I could practice my hip snap.

Roll 1

Then I practiced rolling with a float on only one end of the paddle to provide some buoyancy and get the over-all feeling of the movement.

Then – with newfound confidence – I removed that last paddle float and executed…..

roll 2

a near perfect…..

 

roll 3

….Wet-exit  🙂

I am definitely booking a hands-on instructor next.

To wrap up this overall experience – I thought I may as well practice a self rescue since I was already bobbing about in the water. I had the float after all and Sean (AKA The Fat Paddler) explained the reverse entry technique for re-entering the cockpit with a float… How hard could it be…??

 

Need I say more?

It helps to make sure both legs get into the cockpit before you turn around….but before you write me off as a complete failure – I did successfully re-enter the second time in a time of 2 minutes 40 seconds… something to benchmark against for next time  🙂

In fact – I’m sure I’ll look back on this in a few years time when I am far more accomplished, and chuckle.

Day Four

This is turning into a long Blog entry so let me wrap it up by saying that day 4 was a paddle up the Berrara River (just 10 minutes drive from Sussex Inlet) and I’m glad I squeezed it in because even though these pictures show the sun – it was really windy. And the forecast was only getting windier – in fact by nightfall it was blowing a gale outside and that didn’t let up until Thursday.

So to wrap this up I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story – just a lovely paddle up a beautiful isolated waterway on the South Coast.

PHOT0113

PHOT0084

PHOT0086

PHOT0097

PHOT0104

PHOT0101

PHOT0108

Kayaking the South Coast – Part 1.

July 9, 2011

The South Coast was calling me again….

Go back to Thursday 30th June, and I had less than 2 weeks left until I started my new job and the school holidays had just began. Perfect timing to grab the kids and drive down to that tranquil waterway called Sussex Inlet.

It was here at Easter some 10 weeks ago that I had decided to embrace kayaking more enthusiastically – and committed to doing the Hawkesbury Classic. Since that time – my kayaking has evolved considerably – not just in my range of experiences, but also in my power & endurance. We arrived late on a Thursday night, pottered around on the Friday and I was blessed with a gorgeous sunny day on the Saturday. There was very little to no wind and a crispy sun.

Day One

I took off from my usual location – which is about a 2 minute walk from our house.

01 Jetty

This is the Jetty where I always launch from...

Once I cleared the weeds – I turned right to head down the Inlet towards the infamous sandbar where the Inlet meets the sea. If I had turned left – I am only a few minutes from the mouth of the St George’s Basin. I wanted to measure the distance and take some photos on the first leg. I also hadn’t paddled for a whole week and felt a bit stiff.

For the first 15 minutes I just soaked up my surroundings….

02 up the inlet

More of this weather please….

….then I thought about what I would do for the week I was here. If this weather holds out a few days (and the forecast said it would) then I planned on squeezing in a variety of kayak related activities. I had brought my fishing gear and was determined to find some early morning solitude on the water wetting a line. I had my video camera with me also – thought I’d rig that up so when I get a hook-up I could show my kids that I can in fact catch fish – not just buy them at the shop…*grin* I also figured we could spend a day picnicking by the side of the river – and I could get Eily to video tape me attempting to roll, and performing a self-rescue. Throw in a few training paddles of good distance and this would be a very productive week away !!

As I paddled up past the boat hire shed and RSL club, I found myself looking across the water to that imposing homestead that always captured my imagination. It was one of the first homes to be built on the Inlet and today I think it’s a fancy bed & breakfast. It really is a wonderful looking place out here amongst the trees….

03 Homestead

If I win lotto - I’ll retire into something like this…. 🙂

There was a fishing competition on this weekend. The Bream Classic or some such event. Surprisingly there weren’t as many boats in the Inlet as I expected. Seems they all went either outside or up in the Basin. I reckon the biggest bream will be lurking in the Quays. Deep cool channels of water with all the “expensive” houses backing onto them – plenty of food and shelter. Might try that out when I go fishing….and teach the pro’s a thing or two 😉

04 up the inlet 2

Just one fishing boat in the distance and plenty of water to push through…

05 sand slide

The sand hill the kids and I have slid down in Summer

055 shallows

Further up the Inlet, another caravan park comes into view and you can see how the water goes from shallow to deep and back to shallow again. I love gliding over the water in a kayak down here – because I can sneak up on all the fish. I am constantly distracted by all the darting and scattering of fish as I glide overhead – and sometimes a monster will tease me with a flash of silver before flicking his tail and instantly disappearing.

06 sandbank

I paddled right up to the mouth that feeds the Inlet from the ocean. This is a notorious sandbank which has claimed a few fishing boats over the years. The sand constantly shifts with the tides and while there is generally always a channel to navigate through – it’s rarely in the same place and depending on how rough the water is outside, will determine how tricky the exit and re-entry will be.

 

It was in this lovely rich aqua coloured water, freshly flowing in from the sea, that Mother Nature blessed me with a special visit by the largest stingray I have ever seen. I have often spotted the distinctive shape of a stingray against a sandy floor – but this guy blew me away. He was a giant!!  Unfortunate, none of my photos do his size any justice.

07 stingray a

I tried to include the paddle to provide some scale – but the depth of water here gave it away.

09 stingray b

I remembered my camera was waterproof so I stuck my hand down and snapped away blindly.

08 stingray c

He was a few meters away here and in deeper water – but you can get a sense of his size.

I floated over him in fairly shallow water and his circumference was so large that I could see a generous portion of his wings on either side of my kayak – he was at least as wide as my paddle shaft was long and his tail trailed at about half the length of my boat. I tried to take his photo but he started moving faster once he figured out I was following him. I also couldn’t turn as quickly as he could, because I had to drop my paddle every time I aimed the camera. We kept each other intrigued for a good 15 mins and then I thought it best to leave him in peace – less he whip his tail up through the floor of yak and spear me in my butt !!

 

I put the camera away and decided I need to burn some calories on the way home and as I was about to power into it – on a small raised sandbar – I was treated to another special visit. Sussex Inlet is well-known for its Pelican population – but here I was treated to a congregation of 6 huge pelicans all huddled together basking in the sun. I couldn’t help myself and paddled over to say hi.

10 pelican a

Look this way, stand still & smile for the camera !!

11 pelican b

OK – maybe not – see ya next time…

I paddled hard the distance home – all 6 km (it’s a 12km round trip) and it felt good. The wind did pick up on the Wednesday & Thursday – as you might recall the winds were ferocious across the State. I managed to squeeze in two more 12 km training paddles before that happened, so was pretty pleased with that effort.

12 basin

The mouth to the St Georges Basin.

As I arrived back at my launching spot – I detoured up to the mouth of the Basin to sneak a quick peek at that magnificent expanse of water and snap a quick picture.

The rest of the trip was very eventful – I took a paddle up the scenic Berrara River, had my wife video tape me attempting to roll and snuck in a morning of stealth fishing from my yak. I’ll write part 2 of my Blog this weekend and get it up asap. There are some good pictures and a video or two which I’m sure you will enjoy !!

Night Paddling Under a Canopy of Stars (and a veil of mist)

July 4, 2011

DSC_0003 I was waiting patiently for last Saturday night (2 weeks ago) to come around.

Captain Sean Smith (AKA The Fat Paddler) put the word out to the Team (TFP) that we would do a night paddle – and this would be my first proper paddle under a canopy of stars.

Yes – I had paddled once previously in the dark. You might recall that a few weeks ago, I blogged about getting caught at night on a river looking for a camp-site in Commando Camping for “Paddle for the Planet”. But that was maybe an hour of dusk and 30 minutes of pitch black. Saturday night was going to be a paddle on Middle Harbor beginning at about 4.30pm and finishing closer to midnight.

This meant packing for a night paddle and adjusting the entire experience to accommodate the surrounding conditions. I think it’s fair to say that you take daylight for granted when you always paddle by day. You can easily see oncoming obstacles and maneuver accordingly. You can see the passing boats and prepare for their wash and waves. You know that the large majority of other vessels will see you and avoid you accordingly. You can see where a low tide creates a hazardous environment or if large debris is in your path. By night – you leverage all your senses to travel safely through the water.

I attached a small light to my stern and Sean attached a glow stick to the back of my PFD. The lights were more a case of wishful thinking because Sean said later that when I took off for a bit of solo paddling – he couldn’t distinguish my light from all the reflections on the water. The glow sticks were probably the most visible aspect of our silhouettes.

We took off from our usual location (Sydney Harbour Kayaks under The Spit Bridge)  and head back under the Bridge and paddled down Long Bay over to the boat ramp at Tunks Park. This is where we were going to meet Lieutenant Commander Alan Jones – the third and final member of the team to join us this evening. On the way over Sean suggested we visit the ship wrecks in Saltpan Creek. I’m not sure if you (the reader) knew there was a shipwreck there – but it’s quite the sight.

Sean whipped out his Lumix camera and snapped away…

P1050410

I found a daylight picture of the wreck on one of Sean’s earlier Blog entries.

cobakiwreck

Funny thing is by night you can see very little of the wreck. I was a bit like a blind man feeling my way along the side of the rusty hull *grin*. Anyway – I thought I’d return the favour and snap a picture of Sean with my camera.  And yes – that’s the camera I bought on Ebay – the one from china that was really cheap. It seemed to work pretty good by day. The pictures in my last post were all taken with it. Pretty good deep rich colour scheme….. Right??

Well he posed, I balanced, and pop goes the flash. Damn it if you don’t get what you pay for !! Bloody thing was lousy at night photography. Compare the photo of me above with this…

PHOT0051

Sean with that stoic "this aint going to work" grin on his face 🙂

Of course I tried a few times.

No matter how many I snapped – the result was the same washed out disappointment !! Cheap crap !!

Sean was chuckling away with a “I told you so” kind of laugh and when he asked me to show him the results, I didn’t realise that behind that inky blackness he was cocked and loaded….. *snap*…. I suppose the look on may face says it all 🙂

P1050412

"This bloody thing still aint working properly !!!!"

Anyway – we put our cameras away and head over to the boat ramp to meet the Lieutenant Commander. By the time Alan was in his kayak and the three of us under way – it was well and truly dark and the night’s chill descended upon the water.

We head out into Middle harbour and up towards Sugarloaf Bay. It was a really nice paddle. We were a few meters apart and chatting away. Much like a game of golf – we were afforded plenty of time to discuss a wide range of topics and enjoy each others conversation. I found myself often drifting into the surroundings and really enjoyed the surreal nature of paddling into the stillness of night. On a few occasions a fishing boat would be heard in the distance – fast approaching in our direction – and we would pull out our flashlights and signal in his direction. Each time they passed, we would brace ourselves and try to anticipate the wash hitting the side of our yaks. We braced, cursed and laughed on more than one occasion when the wash was maybe a bit bigger than we expected…

We paddled right up to where the waterway forks, the left hand route snaking up to the Roseville Bridge. At this fork, more or less dead ahead is a small beach – the same one we stopped at to photograph waterfalls that I blogged about in Paddling Middle Harbour in Winter. I think it’s called Flat Rock Beach at Killarney Heights. Anyway we beached safely and set about breaking out our refreshments.

Trying to live up to my newly appointed nickname “Inspector Gadget” – I proceeded to breakout the coffee. Forget the instant stuff – I whipped out an Italian Espresso kettle, freshly ground coffee, 3 porcelain espresso cups, sugar and milk !!

P1050420

yes - I know I am posing !!

I just can’t seem to not pull a “magazine advertisement” pose when I see a camera pointed at me 🙂  Unlike Alan – I don’t know what he is doing?? Maybe he is directing that light from his headband to my coffee pot…? Anyway – the coffee was OUTSTANDING according to the lads, although it was that cold – I reckon anything warm would have received equal praise. We ate some food, chatted and laughed some more, then packed up our mess, and head off towards the Roseville Bridge.

As we approached the bridge, the houses on the shore thinned out – and the reflection of their lights become scarcer. We passed under the orange glow of the Bridge and continued further upstream and into the national park. All I can say is WOW – this was real night paddling. It was pitch black and ice-cold. The landscape on either side seemed to rise up and there were no lights because there were no houses. We were transported to what seemed like a prehistoric time. Every breath produced thick plumes of steam. The ridges on either side were tree-lined and high. Everything below this ridge was pitch black and invisible. The only way to determine which way the river flowed forward – was to look at the ridge above on either side and watch for where it met and dipped in the middle.This is a stretch of that waterway by daylight…
stretch
Would you believe this is smack bang in the middle of Sydney??

I copied this from Google maps. I clearly remember this sandbank as we passed it and a short distance passed here round to the left – we reached as far as we could go – and got out to stretch our legs.

The Mist hung heavy all around us and the temperature was intensely cold. I think the air was so still and insulated by the surrounding bushy hills that it acted like a big esky. It was worst than stepping into a deep freeze at the Bottle-shop in summer to grab a slab of beer. Bbbrrrrr…..bloody cold.!!

I am the eternal optimist and continued to live in the hope that my camera would come good. I snapped a couple of pics of the yaks on the sandbank….

PHOT0056

This is Alan's speed machine......in a misty washed out setting !!

It didn’t matter –  this cheap rubbish still didn’t do its job properly…. *sigh*…..

Even on the paddle back – I balanced myself in the middle of the river to catch some action shots of the boys speeding past – only to realise it was all in vain…. I definitely need a better camera…..

PHOT0054

Did I mention Sean was doing this in his Canoe?

PHOT0053

Alan in stealth mode - going much faster than this picture does him justice 🙂

It’s a fabulous experience paddling by night and one I thoroughly recommend to any fellow paddlers reading this who are yet to do so.

We arrived back at the beach under the Spit Bridge at half past midnight – and in the glow of a nightclub party going off in the restaurant next door – we loaded our boats, bid farewell and drove home…. to spend the next hour rinsing off my gear, washing down my yak, and generally cleaning up my mess 🙂

Thank god the next day was Sunday, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way….

Paddling South in the Sutherland Shire

June 29, 2011

PHOT0032 Last week on Wednesday I motivated myself to get down to the Lane Cover River and found myself reaching for a personal best in the distance stakes. I paddled out from my usual location (The Athletics Park on Mowbray Rd) and followed the 12km course that the LCRK’s paddle every Wednesday night. Instead of turning around at the Burns Bay Rd Bridge though – I kept paddling up past Hunters Hill and round the point of Woolwich to Clarkes Point Reserve – then turned and paddled back. It was an interesting paddle – I had 4 seasons in one day, and the whole way back I was going against the tide and had a pretty fierce wind around every corner. At least I dressed appropriately and can vouch for the waterproofing of my new paddle jacket  🙂

29-06-2011 1-41-48 PM

I reached the dock after 4 hours in the boat – of which 3hrs 40 minutes was constant paddling – and according to the Android I had completed 27km !!  The missing 20 minutes was me playing around with my new waterproof camera which I picked up on Ebay. I felt pretty tired and sore that afternoon and it got me thinking that this was exactly one quarter of the HCC. I still have 4 months of preparation and training – so I think I am well on my way to developing the stamina for this race in October – and that felt good !!

The following day was a rest day and then on Friday – I met up with Gray Thorn and he introduced me to the waterways he frequents in the Sutherland Shire.

PHOT0001

Gray Thorn - sounds like an action hero movie star right?

It was a gorgeous sunny day and we took off at about 1pm from Audley in the national park. What a fabulous place to paddle the water was crystal clear and positively alive with fish !! Got me thinking I’d have to come back one day with a rod and a couple of beers. There was a rich luscious bush setting all around us and zero wind. The stillness of our surroundings left us feeling isolated. Perfect for an afternoon paddle.

PHOT0003

You can see the long rocky reef lurking just beneath the surface...

We followed Hacking River all the way up to Gray’s Point (no relation) and as the water opened up, the horizon became  speckled with houses and we were reminded of the surrounding civilization.

PHOT0002

Before we popped out at the end into Gymea Bay – there was a small river which broke off to the right and Gray said this was well worth the detour – particularly since it was high tide as normally its inaccessible when low. So we took the detour and again I was struck in awe with this narrow winding river. The water was teeming with baby fish in shoals of varying sizes. The embankments were heavily decorated with all manner of roots and burrows, reeds & river-stone, and the occasional petrified twisted tree branch off-set a typical lush Australian bush setting. Out the corner of my eye I was convinced I caught a platypus dart under my kayak and disappear into a mangrove system… it looked like a ball of feathers with 2 webbed feet kicking out from behind….it certainly wasn’t a fish or Cormorant.

We followed this for about 2 kilometers and reached the end which was a layered rocky terrace with a running waterfall. Absolutely stunning.

PHOT0014

Gee - my new PFD looks a little bulky from the side 😉

PHOT0027

We parked the kayaks and set about climbing the terrace and following the waterfall right up to the top.

PHOT0017

It's a good thing I'm nimble and sure-footed like a cat 🙂

After about 30 minutes of scrambling around like Tarzan we head back to our boats – snapped a few final pictures and navigated back to the river mouth.

PHOT0022

Gray - teaching me how to pose for photos...

Gray is a bit of an outdoors-man and constantly burning energy – so when he suggested we paddle around to the South West Arm Creek – I didn’t really appreciate what I was getting into. Let’s just say that it’s a decent distance and we also followed that all the way to the end, and of course, found another waterfall.

PHOT0038

I love the colours set off by the sun here....

It was just after 3.30pm and I was thinking we had about an hour and half to get back before the sun disappeared and we were finding our way in the dark.

PHOT0035

We set off back at a steady pace and it was a good workout !!  We didn’t stop this time and we estimated the entire trip was about 25km. So it was a nice way to back up from Wednesday’s paddle. It meant I got the recreational aspect and the training aspect nailed at the same time  🙂  I love multi-tasking !!

We loaded the boats at dusk and by the time we drove out of the national park – I needed headlights to stay on the road.


24062011418

It was a great day paddling and I am looking forward to returning to this magnificent waterway.

Thanks Gray !!