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Paddling Middle Harbour in Winter

June 26, 2011

OK first lesson in Blogging learnt – Keep the posts regular !!

I know it’s been nearly 3 weeks since my last weekly update – and it’s been an interesting time for self-reflection…. I had been so spoilt by some interesting & fun paddles with Sean and Team Fat Paddler that when we got back to regular paddling – I suddenly felt barren for good writing material…..

Looking back 3 weeks ago – it was a poor effort in the training stakes. I think the paddling & camping adventure of the previous weekend combined with the early winter chill & bad weather took the mongrel out of me. The determination that’s been driving me since Easter wasn’t enough to get me in the water that week. I did try on Wednesday – and set off that morning with all good intentions – but the icy wind on the Parramatta River prevented me from doing more than 30 minutes of what can only be described as a ‘tragic effort’ and I drove home feeling quite dejected.

I stayed home until Sunday – when The Fat Paddler put the call out on Facebook for a Sunday morning session. The instructions were to meet at Sydney Harbor Kayaks (The Spit Bridge)@ 7.15am and to bring wetsuits, helmets and “prepare for anything !!”. Well that was an apt comment considering that when I looked out-side at 6am on Sunday morning – let’s just say it was howling with wind and rain.

I threw my gear in the car and took off down to the Spit.

There were four of us – Sean, Grumm, Gray and myself.

Beach

Grumm & Gray - but Sean must have been off photographing waterfalls...

We opted not to go out to Grotto Point as one of us had a “tippy” boat and since  the wind speed was quite high – there really was no point. We took off under the Bridge and head up Middle Harbour. I have done this a few times in a boat but never on a Kayak and the scenery up this stretch is very beautiful. In that open stretch opposite Sangrado Park, you actually feel a little exposed and a good distance from shore. We had a strong wind to our back and enjoyed a steady pace up the strait – chatting with each other and enjoying the early morning fresh air. We slowed at the curve past Sugarloaf Bay and Sean was scouting for the Coffee boat. I was skeptical at first, but sure enough – it took us about 10 minutes to find him and we proceeded to join up with this floating bronze beacon in the early morning drizzle, and order coffees.

I still find it the most interesting place to sip a freshly brewed cappuccino – sitting comfortable in your yak, bobbing in the water. Hard to beat !!

Coffee Boat

Skinny cappuccino 1 sugar please...

There was a lovely little sheltered beach dead ahead so we strapped the coffees to our deck ropes and made for the sand. What a beautiful little gem of a beach. There was a mountainous bush setting behind us which was expelling the overnight rain – and we were treated to a magnificent waterfall that was clearly visible from the top of the trees right the way down to where it snaked out and spilled into the salt water not 10 feet away.

warerfall

You only get this after heavy rain....

As the rain continued to fall – we discussed our kayaks and offered each other the opportunity to test out the different boats. I have only ever paddled my Tsunami. It has a large cockpit and extra edges on the hull for added stability. The trade-off for stability is of course speed. I have been considering buying a fiberglass yak to do the Hawkesbury Classic in and so this was a perfect opportunity to see how different boats handled. I jumped straight into Grumm’s fiberglass yak and took off for a spin. The biggest challenge for me was squeezing into the cock-pit. This was an incredibly tight fit.

Testing boats

Thats me in the back - in the "tippy" boat 🙂

I was warned that this boat was far more tippy than mine – and it was !! but it would seem that 2 years of on/off again paddling has ingrained some sense of balance in me and I really enjoyed my spin in that boat. What was immediately obvious was how easy it was to edge that boat into a turn. It appeared incredibly more sensitive to my hip movements and I was gliding through the water with complete control and confidence. For a moment there – I might have been tempted to buy myself a fiberglass yak – but over the last couple of weeks I have decided to remain faithful to my Tsunami 165 and conquer the Hawkesbury Classic in my tried and proven beloved.

….and Eily won’t let me spend any more money on kayaking *grin*….

So with freshly brewed caffeine coursing through our veins we took off at a brisk pace to the Roseville Bridge. A lovely brisk paddle that brought us to the infamous “Roseville Bridge Waterfall” !! There is a gap in the Bridge that allows the water to run off into the river below during heavy rains – less the Bridge flood and cause traffic chaos. I didn’t realize it at the time but Sean mentioned that the picture of him paddling through the water falling here – was the same picture on the cover of his soon to be released book.

 

book cover

By the way – this is the Book and an appropriate place to give it a plug. Its due out on the 1st August and if you click the book it will take you to where you can pre-order a copy if interested.

 

 Sean is your charismatic Aussie bloke who has 3 loves: his Family, his Rugby and his Paddling !!
I have read enough of his work on his Blog over the last 12 months to know this book will be entertaining, inspirational and probably strike a chord with most readers.

 

 

I always thought that picture was him paddling in heavy rain – but it actually him paddling through this waterfall after a heavy rain.

Roseville

OK - not quite the same - but there were worst to choose from 🙂

Anyway – we had a few goes emulating our fearless leader’s famous pose (and apparently me doing all the posing) – and then head back to our launching spot to change and indulge in my second favourite pastime – eating a freshly cooked egg & bacon roll with BBQ sauce !! The paddle back was ferocious. There was a strong southerly blowing straight down the guts of middle harbor and we were paddling directly into it. When you get past Sugarloaf Bay, you feel quite exposed and it’s a good distance to any shore. The wind was throwing waves up over our bow and I was glad to have the spray skirt on. I had Grumm on my right and he and I were paddling hard in the wind – alternating with cursing and laughing at our predicament. The thought of that egg and bacon roll hung like a ‘carrot on a stick’ in front of my mind’s eye and before you could say “pass the BBQ sauce” – we had turned under the bridge and were heading for the beach.

eating

They really are the tastiest egg & bacon rolls I've ever had 😉

Sean wrote a great post on his blog about this friendship and shared experiences on the water here.

 

The following 2 weeks since then it dawned on me that my paddling adventures began with a quest to compete in the Hawkesbury Classic – and if I want a respectable result in that quest then I have to remember to put in the hard yards and burn-up the kilometers. Yes I can have fun as well – but regardless of the weather and the availability of any paddling buddies – I have to regularly find a way to get out and simply churn the water & paddle.

In my next Blog update, I’ll share with you some decent ‘distance’ paddles I put in, a beautiful paddle of discovery in a gorgeous Australian bush setting down the Sutherland Shire, and my first authentic late night paddle which followed pretty much the same route I just described here…

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Commando Camping for “Paddle for the Planet”

June 6, 2011

From a training perspective – I’ve had a successful week, but from a ‘fun’ perspective, I’ve had another awesome week !! At this rate – I’m chalking up “firsts” in a frenzy !!

This weekend just past brought the good stuff. Sunday the 5th June was the inaugural international ‘Paddle for the Planet’ (PFTP) day. Being the first – the objective was to get as many paddlers from around the world, out on the water as possible – and snapping pictures to post to their profile. paddle for planet  PFTP 2 This would then set the stage for a larger campaign in the following years. Sean (Captain @ Fat Paddler) also informed us that long-term member ‘Lieutenant Commander’ Gelo was leaving for his homeland Greece next month so he suggested we turn the weekend paddle into a weekend adventure and send-off befitting Gelo’s rank and standing. The suggestion was a paddle and over-night “commando” camping trip with the return paddle coinciding with the PFTP Campaign.

Well – for those of you who know me, you might also remember that when I bought my Kayak 2 years ago, I immediately went out and spent up big on camping equipment. I bought a tent, bed roll, sleeping bag, cooking utensils and portable gas burner etc and was fantasizing about paddling down a river, then over-nighting on the bank, and paddling back the following day. My wife Eileen thought it hilarious (because she was sure I would never actually do it). In fact, she and a few others, put that investment down to a typical Stelzer “shopaholic” episode. Apparently I am the perfect consumer of a good retail sales pitch *grin*. Well they were almost right !! That gear sat gathering dust downstairs for just over 2 years……until this weekend that is 🙂

The Fat Paddler Team was split into 2 groups – those that would partake of the overnight camping and those that would rather meet us the following morning for the PFTP portion. The plan was for the campers to begin paddling at 3pm on the Saturday afternoon. Using Goggle maps, our Captain, plotted a course up a river approx. 15km to 2 possible camp sites. (by “possible” I meant that on that entire stretch of river there appeared to be only two breaks in the tree line to any sort of clearing). Our Captain Sean later recalled how funny it was that he was using satellite photography which could be up to 7 years old to base our plans on.

I suppose as the reader you have immediately spotted my concern. Given it’s winter at present and the sun sets at 5pm, and given it takes approx 2 hours to paddle 12km – then we ran the risk of trying to find our camp-site in the dark. The weather forecast was also showing rain that evening. Well I tried raising this with Sean – but he carefully chose words that implied that I was going through a gender change and so I quickly dismissed my objections and accepted my fate head-on !!

Pre-packing

Will it all fit??

Well I reckon I spent all of Friday and Saturday morning planning and packing for the event. I was pretty excited because I don’t think I have camped out in the bush since I was in army cadets back at school exactly 27 years ago. My dining room looked like a bomb hit it – and Eileen was quite possibly well past seeing & hearing about it. It didn’t help she was sick with the flu, on the couch in a state of delirium.

By the time I packed all this gear in my kayak – It weighed a tone and I had serious doubts about whether it would retain any buoyancy on the water. I head down to the river and met the rest of the Team.

There was Capt Sean, LCDR Gelo, Seaman Nathan and myself (also Seaman rank). The rank is indicative of the number of sanctioned events each member takes part in – and I was still a virgin in this regard 🙂 Upon completing my first sanctioned event in PFTP – I was promoted to Midshipman. The Officers list for Team Fat Paddler is here.

 

Nathan was in a nice fast fiberglass yak, while Sean and Gelo were sharing a canoe. But it was a sturdy vessel and Sean kindly offered that if Nathan and I had too much equipment, then the canoe would easily handle our excess. We got underway at approx 3pm and made our way up river. It was slow paddling. The tide was running out and at the bottom-end of low tide. There were massive expanses of mud-flats near the shore-lines and for the first 45 mins we were virtually skimming across the mud in maybe a foot or two of water. Once we got around the first corner and into deeper sections, we could generate cleaner strokes – but the outward running current was distinctly visible in it’s urgency – and this made that paddle equally demanding.

About an hour or so further in and the conditions changed dramatically. The water turned to flat glass and we were lost in quiet solitude. The reflective surface of the river gave incredible length to the tree covered mountains on either side and I was in awe of mother nature. In fact, the crystal clear mirror image on the surface of the water was so persistent and intense, that after about 30 minutes of paddling into this optical illusion I began to experience bouts of vertigo.

Me and Nat on water

Nathan and I moving ahead...

Nathan and I got to chatting, and I remember saying to him that on any other day – you’d never get to experience the majesty of this stretch of water at dusk unless you were prepared to camp overnight, because we were so deep in and the darkness was imminent.

And the darkness did come…. And we were still a good hour away from our destination.

I’m almost certain Sean timed it this way on purpose. He knows how much I dread paddling in the dark and that this was something I would have to face because it is a huge component of the Hawkesbury Classic. We talked about it a few times and he said that once I was out there – I would love it. He was right. But if I’m honest with myself – I loved it because I was paddling side by side with another soul. I think If I was out there on my own, then that is altogether a different scenario. I said it before – “a man’s worst enemy is his imagination”. In another’s company, my imagination is shackled and tamed. On my own – it runs rampant. And I have an awesome imagination.

We got to a sharp bend in the river that signaled we were close to our camp-site so I sacrificed my night-vision to check Google Maps on my Android and sure enough we were close. We shone our torches along the bank looking for a break in the tree line. By this time – the canoe with Sean and Gelo had caught up and together we made for the shore-line. I remember saying to Nathan that I had the reflection of what looked like a set of eyes in my torch-light. He couldn’t see them – but I had been spot-light hunting in my youth and these were eyes. I thought at first perhaps rabbit or fox but something was different – and I had this uneasy feeling that they were human. They stayed on us until we hit the shore and then disappeared. Sean and I scouted up the embankment and into the clearing and nearly tripped over 3 tents pitched in our prime location. DAMN that was a slap of a disappointment for all of us -just plain bad luck ! The occupants of those tents turned off their lights and literally ignored us as we scouted the area to see if there was sufficient room for us to settle in as neighbours. Given the small size of the clearing, and that others had already settled in for the night clearly unhappy about our arrival – we decided to paddle back to the alternate camp-site.

Well we were surely tested at this stage. The only clearing we could find was a narrow shoreline of mud facing a 5-6 foot embankment of loose soil, with a dead tree inconveniently laying between the two. I grabbed a torch and set off to scout the clearing that was supposed to be just up the embankment. Well, I reckon I took about 5 steps and was ankle-deep in what the Webster dictionary would fairly call a swamp !! There was a huge tangle of what looked like water lilies and matted strands of long grass all floating on inches of ice-cold water. Sean, Gelo and Nathan came up and we proceeded to move inland. It was probably 30 meters or so until we finally hit sold ground. BINGO!! This was going to be our campsite. All we had to do now was lug 1 canoe and 2 kayaks up the embankment and drag them into the campsite. It was somewhere between 6.30 and 7pm and it just started to rain *grin*

All my worst fears were unfolding before me and I was LOVING IT !!! We were covered in mud, heavy kayaks were being hauled up hills and emptied of precious cargo, tents were sprawled out on wet matted grass, dinners were needing to be cooked and the rain was falling in a slow steady way that teased you with an imminent downpour. I was amongst the company of like-minded men who were laughing and cracking jokes and reveling in the chaos.

But it wasn’t chaotic. It was in reality a perfect and controlled adventure.

Once our tents were up – we sat in the rain and cooked our sausages. I received endless sledging for packing creative ingredients. How was I to know these rugged adventurers were content with just sausages, bread and tomato sauce. I began preparing thin sizzle steaks with soft bread rolls, layered with avocado, tomato and baby spinach. The condiments of choice were either Chilli or Hoi Sin Sauce and we laughed all the way through dinner. If it wasn’t the food choices, it was the gadgets….. I thought it was clever to vacuum seal everything including the sauces. I thought it was cool that my very sharp adventure knife had a torch on the handle that lit up whatever you were slicing, and my cutlery set from Aldi’s was like a swiss army knife – every single utensil on one compact little fold-out unit. I had a mini-chopping board, and I even had a packet of moist toweletts to increase the comfort factor of any purpose you could need paper towels for – and I thought nothing of whipping out my waterless toothbrush to extract the remnants of my meal from between my teeth….. All of this was fuel for us to burst into fits of laughter as we cooked, and drank into the night….

laughing

Gelo, Nathan, & me probably laughing at my raincoat... with Sean behind the camera !

I was probably most impressed with Nathan for handling the outdoors. With a country boy’s knowhow, he packed a huge waterproof tarp. He folded it in half and that was his tent. When he was ready for bed he simply unrolled his sleeping bag and lay down between the sheets. His gear was under there with him and he reckons he slept like a baby. I don’t doubt him and I’ll keep that one up my sleeve should I ever find myself having to survive the outdoors Rambo style *wink*

tents

Flouro Blue is me, cammo green single is Sean and flat tarp is Bear Grilles - I mean Nathan 🙂

Sean and I were the last to call it quits. I crawled into my tent (which unlike Gelo’s was waterproof), and changed into my thermals, unrolled my inflatable bed roll, and crawled into my two sleeping bags. I was as comfortable and toasty as I was in my own bed…and probably the single most difficult thing I have ever done in my life was getting up at about 4am to leave that heavenly abode and address a nature call. The mist hung heavy upon our campsite all night and well into the morning – when only the direct sunlight could evaporate it until it returned the following night.

That morning we ate breakfast, packed our camp and loaded the kayaks for the return trip. Because we forgot to mark our location by the water – the second team of morning paddlers missed us and continued right up to the very end of the river where it turned into a narrow freshwater creek littered with rocks. Our timing was impeccable because as we prepared to depart from our campsite they rounded the corner on the way back. The second team consisted of Commander Paul, Lieutenant Commander Alan, and Lieutenant Nat. These guys are machines – they paddled something like 20Km to find us – then about 17 Km back with us – all without a break.   A Massive Effort !!

 

Together, all 7 members of Team Fat Paddler churned the water in a leisurely pace back to the starting point and enjoyed equally gorgeous scenery on the return paddle.

team FP

TFP - a great bunch of paddlers: Gelo, Nat, Paul, Alan, Nathan and me... & Sean behind the camera again 🙂

I cannot put into the words the profound joy of paddling Australian waterways. There is true beauty in the bush setting of eucalyptus trees, and other natives, thickly covering the mountains and horizons, occasionally punctuated by the jagged orange cliff-faces of sandstone seemingly smiling in the sun – and periodically you can hear the distinctive sound of the eastern whip bird pierce this serene setting.

Scene 1

Magnificent scenery on the river we paddled courtesy of Lieutenant Commander Alan.

scene 2

Same river - but with Lieutenant Nat and Commander Paul in shot.

For more great photos from this adventure – please Like the Fat Paddler Face Book page and you can see them here.

sean 1

Signing off for the day - The Captain of Fat Paddler - Sean !!

Training, Shopping and Spills…

May 30, 2011

Another wonderful week on the water. I managed to squeeze in a number of training paddles but given that my wife and kids came down with a bug this week – I didn’t get out as often, or as long, as I would have liked. Nonetheless, I enjoyed two particular highlights.

The first was a nice long 17km training paddle which took me  2 hrs 15 minutes to complete. I launched from the Putney boat ramp into the Parramatta River and paddled hard and non-stop following the shoreline, up and under the Gladesville Bridge, round the point at Woolwich and into the mouth of Lane Cover River – which I followed all the way up to the pontoon near the Mowbray Rd Athletics Park. My longest distance thus far and not a bad time over-all.

17kms

I’ll use this as a bench mark over the next 2 weeks to see if I can improve on both my time and distance. Ideally I’d like to get in at least a couple of  20km paddles each week along with my shorter recreational paddles.

This training run taught me a few things – one, I’ll have to toughen my hands (or buy gloves) as I began to manifest a few small blisters by the end of this, and two – I’ll have to learn a more efficient stroke. I’ve been training with the same paddle I bought with my yak 2 years ago. It’s a large heavy square blade that clearly wasn’t designed with either distance or efficiency in mind. I liked it at the time because I thought I’m a big bloke with big shoulders and this would give me a great workout. Well I think I’ve outgrown this paddle now – and the advice I have received is that if I want to do distance then I’m going to need a better paddle – and know how to use it !!

So today being Monday, I took ownership of my new Werner ‘Corryvrecken’ red paddle.

corryvrecken
It’s lightweight with fiberglass laminate blades and a carbon blend shaft. The blades are designed for a high-angle stroke and being a larger blade will still suit my style of paddling. The way I see it – I’ll use this paddle for training in distance and a general workout. I’ll keep the heavy square paddle for Rock Gardening (The Fat Paddler reckons they are ideal for that since they will get bashed around the rocks a fair bit), and lastly, I’ll eventually get myself a Greenland Paddle for recreational fun and as a spare/alternate choice for distance / touring.

I’ve also booked in with a certified instructor to  improve my stroke and also learn to roll. As soon as the weather clears (hopefully by Friday) we can get out and do this !!

Caspian

On the topic of new equipment – I bought a few other nice accessories this week – a wetsuit, a helmet, a spray-skirt, a paddle Jacket, and a marine compass.

This paddle jacket has to be one of my favourites.

This baby wears really well, is waterproof, has soft adjustable seals around the waist, wrists and neck and when paired with a good thermal – will probably be my garment of choice for the Hawkesbusry Classic !!  🙂

Now the downside….. I’m sure I spied my wife thumbing though a few clothing catalogues too – I reckon she is about to go shopping in a big way and I wont be game to say anything after my little splash out on gear….. Rats !!

The second highlight of my week was going out again this week with Sean (AKA The Fat Paddler) and enjoying a Rock Gardening session.   I also met a Team Fat Paddler (TFP) Angelo (AKA Lt. Gelo) whose company was as equally enjoyable !!

Gelo & me

Gelo & I in a calm rock garden waiting for a wave...

Gelo has a reputation as a bit of a wild man on the water and is always keen to throw himself into the mix – often with him swimming after his yak as a consequence. Well this week it was The Fat Paddler himself who practiced a little scuba diving amongst the rocks – as he took a spill inside the very Rock Garden he calls a second home.

Sean & Me

Sean & I captured on his GoPro

I’m pleased to say he survived the ordeal – albeit a little worse for wear – given his shoulder at one point was the fulcrum to his upside down yak. Sean wrote an insightful blog entry on this session here. It is a timely reminder (especially for me being such a novice) that even in a low swell and familiar surroundings, paddling in a Rock Garden requires constant attention, analysis and respect.

Lt. Gelo and I got to practice a successful rescue and we went on to enjoy a  few more hours in the harbour.

rocking 2

Timing my exit...

rocking 3

Hey is that a camera pointed at me??... *smile*....

So to wrap up this weeks post you might notice that I pinched a bunch of these pictures from The Fat Paddler’s FaceBook page. I’m pleased to include his logo in my future Blog posts as I have asked to join, and been accepted as a Member into Team Fat Paddler !! I’ve been a fan for some time of The Fat Paddler and I’m very excited to a part of this group, and to get to spend more time paddling with this diverse and interesting bunch of people.

I get to cut my teeth, and earn my stripes, this weekend when I paddle under Team colours at the Paddle For The Planet event scheduled for this coming Sunday.

Stay tuned for some pictures and an update from the day 🙂

Greenland Paddles, Rock Gardens and Eskimo Rolls.

May 23, 2011

What an amazing weekend. If I thought last Sunday was a ground breaking paddle for me then this weekend just past was as equally exciting.

The Fat Paddler (Sean) tweeted me on Friday afternoon to see if I wanted to join him for a paddle Saturday morning. Always eager to meet new and interesting people who share a passion for paddling – I said yes and met him at 7am at the Spit Bridge the following morning.

While we were preparing to launch, Sean (TFP) handed me a helmet and said “want to borrow this? – just in case?”. Apparently a look of horror spread across my face as I muttered something back along the lines of “Why would I need that? What sort of paddle did you have in mind?”

Let me explain my apprehension. Sean is an aficionado of Rock Gardening. Rock Gardening is essentially the art of maneuvering your yak in amongst the rocky outcrops along the cliff bases and learning to read & time your entry & exit with the rhythmic motions of the sea. It includes activities like ‘running the gauntlet’ and performing ‘seal landings’. Of course this requires much patience, skill and a degree of courage. I was about to decline the offer until Sean backed up with something like “May as well have it just in case you want it – rather than want it and not have it”, with that sly grin of his. So we set out – me with the spare ‘Fat Paddler’ emblazed helmet strapped to my deck.

About 5 minutes out we began discussing his Greenland Paddle (GP). I always wondered how effective this could be. A GP looks much like a long thin stick. Upon closer inspection the tips flatten out, but all in all they look like long flat sticks. “A Greenland paddle is a paddle in the style of those traditionally used by the Inuit of Greenland. It is characterized by long, narrow, tapering blades and a relatively short loom, or shaft, that is typically one-quarter and no more than one-third the length of the paddle.” (pinched that off Google *grin*)
Anyway – Sean brought a spare one along and lent it to me.

stormSP001

This is almost identical to the one he lent me – you can get these in OZ from: www.greenlanddownunder.com.au

He explained that being considerably lighter than the regular paddle, and having as much surface area grabbing the water as a regular paddle, it makes for a lighter, easier experience. I also suspect that Sean enjoys the purity of paddling. He doesn’t use a rudder and wields the GP with considerable ease. I found the initial 10 minutes a little unsettling – given I was used to paddling with a feathered blade but I had to admit it was very light in comparison and after a while, I began to adapt to this new instrument and quite enjoyed it. Of course as our paddle progressed even further – I felt very comfortable with the GP and found it very versatile. I might have to consider buying one of these to take with me on the Hawksebury Classic.

Mike04

The GP: A very smooth ride


Saturday the 21st of May was a glorious day in Sydney. The weather was perfect. Not a cloud in the sky, very low wind, calm seas with a  gentle swell and simply a gorgeous way to take in the beauty of the cliff faces along Sydney’s North Harbour. As we approached Grotto Point that finger of land protruding out opposite Middle Head, Sean showed me one location where he likes to go Rock Gardening. He explained that the best way to get into it was to reverse your yak in amongst the rocks, and use your paddles to maintain position and ride out the incoming swells and outgoing wash.

Mike03

Finding my way around the rocks

Given the gentle conditions (“gentle” being his word not mine), I strapped on the helmet and proceeded to follow him in. The swell picked up a bit and there were a few decent waves that rolled in and out while we bobbed about constantly working the GPs to maintain position. I have to admit, it was a lot of fun and not as scary in the mix as watching it from the outside. You quickly learn about the buoyancy of your yak in such conditions and develop better handling skills. And as the morning adventure unfolded, round to a small protected beach directly opposite Manly Cove, Sean and I backed ourselves against a few rocky outcrops. As I write this now,  I even recall “running the gauntlet”  with him, which was a thin river of water between a  long rock and the sea cliff wall. Now that was some exhilarating paddling !!

Mike06

Sean & I in amongst the rock garden !!

Once at this small beach, we get out to stretch our legs and Sean proceeds to submerge himself in the icy cool water. Our conversation turns to me wanting to learn to Eskimo Roll and Sean suggests now is as good a time as any – so the next thing you know – I’m upside down in my yak extending arms, twisting hips, and snapping knees to right myself up !! He gave me some good instructions and out of about 6 to 8 attempts – at about my 3rd go, I managed to pull one complete roll off without assistance – all the while still wielding the GP!! I was laughing my ass off and Sean was yelling up a storm!! It was quite a thrill to roll around in my plastic Tsunami 165 which I had paddled in for 2 years but never pushed any boundaries in. I must say though, rolling uses muscles that don’t generally get a lot of action – so it tires you out quickly. I’m clearly going to need a lot more practice !!

MikeRolls01

Coming up - leen back, twist and snap that knee !!

MikeRolls02

Wow - that 'big kid' grin says it all 🙂

Our conversation on the return trip home was mostly about my wish to compete in the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic. Sean has done it twice and is signed up again this year. We talked about the commitment and that the real preparation was as much mental as physical. In fact – it’s easy to train for the physical – you just get out on the water and put in some distance. It’s much harder to prepare for the mental challenges that grip in the dead of night when your muscles ache, then the numbness sets in, the endless hours & distance that stand foreboding ahead, and by 3am your natural inclination is to sleep….. Hmmm…. ?? …. perhaps I should be grateful for this insight….. Do I have what it takes…..????

One thing is for certain – I have to get my own helmet !! I can’t continue looking like a fat-head version of Seargent Shultz from Hogans Heroes squeezed in a tiny helmet !! *grin*

A week of firsts…..

May 17, 2011

So Sunday night came and went and I was too exhausted to write my Blog update.

The reason was that I spent Sunday morning on my first proper sea-kayaking adventure – and I reckon I used muscles that I had never used before. In fact – come Monday morning, and I knew that I had used muscles which previously lay dormant. My entire mid-section (core muscle group) was aching in new and interesting ways  !!

It was planned at short noticed and made possible through an industry colleague (Stephen from Salmat) that I have known for probably 10 years or so. He is an avid Sea Kayaker and tweeted me on Saturday to say he was going out on Sunday. Well given I had only paddled in closed waters – and these opportunities don’t occur that often – I jumped at the chance.

Long story short – and Sunday morning finds me standing on a small protected beach at Little Manly Cove. Stephen is there with some of his paddling mates and we discuss the journey. The original plan was to paddle out the Heads and around to Shelly Beach. I borrow a spray skirt and a paddle shirt from Stephen and then we are off.

We took off out across the Heads, the water being quite manageable. Once we paddled about 2 km out past the Old Quarantine Station – the swell really started to pick up and the churning of water and spray from the wind really had me on my toes. We opted not to paddle around the Head given the conditions and my lack of experience – and instead paddled out across the guts and over to Watsons Bay. It was quite an experience to ride horizontal to what seemed like a 2 meter swell rolling in slow huge surges…. in fact, compared to the chop and churn (much like a washing machine) that you get closer to the rocks, the middle of the Heads is a lot calmer, and even though you feel like you are out in the middle of nowhere – the paddling is alot more predictable.

Open water 2

This picture doesn’t really do it any justice (and I’m sure at this point you’re thinking I was greatly exaggerating earlier – but trust me I wasnt !!) – although I must admit I was just plain impressed that Stephen felt confident enough to grab his camera and shoot some pictures.  I was too busy looking forward, paddling and watching for the next big swell 🙂

I don’t know exactly how to describe that first experience on open water – except to say words like exhilarating, adrenalin pumping, nerve-racking and a whole lot of fun seem most appropriate. In fact, I probably amazed myself at completing that paddle, given that if I stopped and thought about it too long, I probably wouldn’t have done it.

open water 17-05-2011 7-38-26 PM

On the way into Watsons Bay – we passed a swimmer who was being accompanied by a kayak. When he reached the beach – a number of people on the sand applauded and shouted congratulations. It seems he was the first of  a small pod of swimmers who braved the weather to complete a 12 km swim from Bondi Beach. Impressive stuff !! Here I am sweating on my 12km open water paddle and these crazy iron men are swimming that distance up the coast !!

We stopped at Watsons Bay for a coffee then jumped back in our yaks to head back.  If you look at the map above you’ll notice that on our return trip – we veered right at the 8km mark and headed out past the Heads. My confidence was increasing and the swell was definitely picking up – but at that point where you see me turn (just after the 9km mark) – is where I lost my nerve to continue around to Shelly Beach. Even though I had been on plenty of boats – I suppose when you’re sitting at water level in a yak – well I was just in awe of the power of the ocean – and suddenly felt very insignificant. We turned and paddled hard back to our original launching spot and I quite enjoyed feeling the powerful swell at my back which seemingly lifted and hurled us forward at regular intervals.

All in all a wonderful experience and I hope the first of many. I bid farewell to my paddling companions and remain grateful to Stephen for the opportunity.

Now if you’re wondering about any other “firsts” (as I aluded in my title) – well I also resigned from my current employer.  First time ever that I resigned without having another role lined up to go straight into !!

It’s very liberating !!

I have decided to take a few months off and enjoy time with my family, complete some long overdue household projects – and last but not least – leverage this luxury of time to get in plenty of paddling practise for the Hawksebury Classic.

So watch this space for more regular updates.

Fat Paddlers do it better…

May 10, 2011

So far I have found paddlers in general  to be a nice & helpful bunch of people.

Whenever I have met some-one on land, or bumped into some-one on the water – then general conversation, assistance and advice is always on hand. I remember when I first visited with the LCRK about 2 years ago – the people in that group were very generous with their knowledge. One fellow in particular taught me a few invaluable paddling tips to improve my general manoeuvrability that I still depend on to this day !!

Last Saturday morning I met this bloke on the water, who paddled with me for a short distance. He was in a faster yak but slowed to chat for a few minutes, and the assistance he provided me on improving my stroke was much appreciated. He also shared a few ideas on how to improve my overall training and given this man had years of experience, then it’s something I will definitely try. He suggested that I tie some rope around the bow of my boat so that it disrupts the smooth lines and creates some resistance in the water. He didn’t advocate it all the time – but suggested about once a month I do this to create sufficient drag and cause me to paddle harder. It’s a great idea and one I am looking forward to trying !!

Lastly – there is this other fellow called the Fat Paddler – great name huh?. He has a worldwide following and runs a great Blog which you can read here www.fatpaddler.com

I found him on Twitter about 1.5 years ago and have enjoyed reading about his regular exploits on the water. If you like reading Blogs about kayaking – then without sending you away from mine – I thoroughly recommend him. This guy raised the bar and set the benchmark. His name is Sean Smith – and I spoke with him last week to get some advice about preparing for the Hawkesbury Classic (namely because we have alot in common – being a “Fat Paddler” that is *grin*). True to form he was generous with his advice and offered assistance above and beyond. So I wanted to acknowledge him here. Thanks very much Sean !!

Confronting the fear.

May 9, 2011

The words ‘Sexy’ and ‘Sporty’ have rarely, if ever, been used in the same sentence as my name…..

….well at least ‘Sporty’ hasn’t *grin*

But looking at my sleek yellow Yak on top of my pearl white Mitsubishi Challenger – hmmm hmmmm – brought exactly those two words to mind !!

Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

 I reckon I look 20 years younger driving to the water in this – ahhhh… it’s like stumbling upon one of the bubblers from the legendary Fountain of Youth !

So this week I had 3 paddles. One of those was a huge disappointment – while the following two were significant victories.

Wednesday afternoon, I took off from work a little earlier to try and get out on the Parramatta River before the sun sank below the horizon, knowing full well that I would still get caught at dusk on the water and wanting to incorporate this into my paddle experience. The trick is that afternoon paddles always bring significantly more wind and chop than in the early morning. Combine this with the ferry & boat activity, as well the impending inky murkiness of the water, and my discomfort grew at an intense rate. I was determined to suck it up and deal with it – but a man’s mind can be his own worst enemy. I won’t elaborate on the array of gloomy thoughts that seized control of my imagination – but it made for a very uncomfortable, and in some ways disturbing, paddle. Needless to say I cut it short and paddled back to the boat ramp feeling the massive weight of defeat weigh heavily in my chest.

I guess the key words in my description above was “my imagination”. And I realise I am going to have to work on this and develop a mental fortitude to control my imagination if I am going to complete the Hawkesbury Classic. It would be a tremendous shame to succeed in my training regime and develop the stamina to go the distance – only to fail at my inability to paddle alone at night.

Geez – reading over this makes me feel like the little kid that sits in his room afraid of the dark.

Oh well – perhaps this marks the begging of my turning point. I must get out with some fellow paddlers over the coming weeks and begin practising night paddling. I am certain this could be a very beautiful experience – and in the company of others I know this crazy fear will simply cease to exist.

So my other two paddles we sensational. Thursday morning I completed 9.3 km in approx 1hr 15hmins and then on Saturday morning, I paddled a straight 12.17 km in 1hr 35 mins. This last paddle was a milestone in itself for me. I can feel my strength and endurance increase virtually on a daily basis.

The Saturday morning paddle of 12kms is the course that the LCRK (Lane Cove River Kayakers) paddle – but these guys in their sleek racing yaks are completing the course in as little as between  60  & 70 mins. Looking at their time trial results on the web, a very few in the elite class are doing it in around 50 mins (OMG!!!) but there are a few (not many) stretching out to 80 and 90 mins – so it would seem in my ‘plastic fantastic’ – I am doing OK time. Now the challenge is clear – I need to stick with this course for a few weeks and improve my position.