The 2006 Hawkesbury Canoe Classic [65]

Mixed fortunes for Club members

The Hawkesbury Canoe Classic, a 111km overnight jaunt down the Hawkesbury River from Windsor to Brooklyn, is an event which has tremendous standing within the NSW paddling community. It has been conducted annually since 1977.

It is a very well organised event supported by a great team of volunteers. Its main financial aim is to raise funds (nearly $2 million since it started) for medical research.

The event attracts entries from a wide variety of craft including outriggers, Olympic class kayaks and Canadian canoes. One type of craft increasingly well represented is the sea kayak, falling into either the “Medium Recreational” or “Long Recreational” class.

This year’s HCC was conducted on the weekend of 28-29 October. Over 500 craft participated. The race started with the Brooklyn or Bust division (non-competitive, any sort of craft) at 4pm on the Saturday in a reasonably stiff cross wind which abated to a gentle air once darkness set in. The night time paddling was under a cloudless sky with a quarter moon providing sufficient light to determine the twists and turns of the river.

In the previous 3-4 years NSWSK Club member Trevor Gardner had enthusiastically organised a Club team to participate. However, this year there was no formal team entered but at least 11 NSWSKC members participated. Following are some of their individual accounts:

Matt Howell

This was my first HCC and I didn’t really know what to expect. I was reckoning to paddle it in 15 to 16 hours but, to my surprise, I did it in 13. I was in the Brooklyn or Bust class paddling in a Tasman 19(ft) kayak.

I had 3 stops along the way for a period of no more then 20 minutes each: the first was at Dargle, the second at Wisemans Ferry and the third at the low-tide pit stop 25km from the finish.

I used a 2-litre bladder for a drink system located inside my cockpit, running the tube up through my spray skirt to my mouth. For food I took some energy bars, bananas, apples and nuts. At Wisemans Ferry I had some two-minute noodles and a nice hot cup of coffee.

It was a great night — better then I expected. I only felt real pain about 5km out from the finish the rest of the time I felt good and always wanted to keep going. I’m keen to do a lot more of the HCC (and thinking about the Murray as well) — maybe next time in a K1 if I can learn to balance.

Keith Oakford

The weather was good to us and the tides were in our favour, now it was up to me. My training consisted of two weekly paddles on the Georges River, distances of between 30 and 70km each time over a period of two months. Most paddles where done at night and in all types of conditions so I was feeling very positive on race day. There are always the mind games to deal with (what if this, what if that, and the big one, why am I doing this?) but, hey, that’s half the challenge. The race started and I gently built up to my racing pace over about 40 minutes. The build up was slightly interrupted when I noticed a K2 with its paddlers in the water. There were other people near them but it appeared to be taking some time to get them back in the boat so I paddled over to offer assistance. When I got there, one paddler was shivering quite severely, apparently they had all been in the water for some time. We got them to the river bank, made sure they where okay wrapped up in their space blankets then promised to let the officials know where they where before continuing the race.

The paddle to Dargle (40km) was full of chit-chat between other paddlers and with plenty of encouragement being given out. This is one of the great things about doing this race, the camaraderie that you find between paddlers. The race starts to take on a serious note from about Dargle with competitors starting to dig deep into their reserves both physically and mentally. You notice the chit-chat dropping off but at no time throughout the race do the words of encouragement fade. One of the less mentioned areas that you will find encouragement coming from are the volunteers at the check points along the course, these folk provide a welcome voice in the dark and are a credit to themselves and the organisers of the race. How they keep up the positive comments and friendly tones in their voices after sitting there in the cold and dark for hours on end is amazing.

Wisemans Ferry (65km) is the big decision point. Do I listen to my mind and my body and stop or do I push on (oh, the games the mind can play)? Well, I pushed on and I’m glad I did. About 5km out of Wisemans I met up with another paddler whom, after some initial chit-chat, I found out was 69 years old and was attempting to win back the race record that had been taken away from him the previous year, (60+ Med Rec). Well, if I needed some form of encouragement to finish the race I had just found it (bugger)! Jim sat with me through to about check point N (93km) acting as an unwitting motivator. We were joined by other paddlers through this period but one-by-one they dropped off. Jim did regain his record and although he regained it from one of our fellow club members (Pavel Stepan). It is a well deserved record and one that will hold for good period of time (12 hours, 3 minutes).

Will I do the HCC again? Well I just might, but it will have to wait until I’m 69.

Adrian Clayton

I paddled an Epic 18(ft) kayak in the non-competitive Brooklyn or Bust category as part of the Sydney Harbour Kayaks corporate team. This was my first Classic as a competitor. I regret to say my preparation for the event had been minimal and my enjoyment suffered as a result. Even so, I was moderately pleased with my time (13hrs 18mins) given that I had two land stopovers, the first at Dargle (41kms from the start) and the second at Wisemans Ferry (65kms), which added more than an hour to the trip.

Lack of knowledge regarding the course cost me time. In the dead of night I found myself paddling through mangroves, surface weed and over shallow mud flats. Despite a good map, I overshot the hard right-hand bend in the river at Spencer and this lost me more time and added to the distance paddled. A more efficient hydration system would have allowed me to keep paddling rather than stop to take a drink. My staple food was brown rice flavoured with stewed fruit. It was quite palatable but time-consuming to stop and eat.

Thanks to some massage therapy from my support crew at the land stops, the old body pulled up okay. No blisters (I wore fingerless gloves). A little bit of RSI set in to my right wrist in the latter stages. The hardest part of the race for me was the 45km from Wisemans Ferry to Brooklyn in the wee dark hours, however, wisps of cold mist and brilliant fluorescence in the water provided a diversion. My arrival at Brooklyn coincided with a magnificent sunrise lighting a stunning sandstone escarpment. A nice way to finish.

I’ll be back next year expecting to achieve an improved result given the lessons learnt first time around.

Lee Killingworth

This year was my fourth HCC with a plan to break 13 hours and enter a “race” age division (Vet 50 Long Rec) for the first time. My kayak, “Muzz”, is a modified Tasman 19(ft) named after the builder, Murray Reece, from Nabiac. The hull is a standard design Tasman 19 but it has a K1 style cockpit and 45 degree lift-up Kiwi multi-sports boat-style rudder to clear the dreaded Hawkesbury weed, jelly blubbers and mud flats. It is not a real race boat at 25kgs in standard glass but is both stable and comfortable for a long wet overnight trip and easily accommodates my considerable rugby front rower’s build.

Our 5pm start was very competitive with sixty Long Recs off the line and two capsizes from the wash-riders in the first 2km. Being a plodder, my coach tells me to “start at the same speed that you can maintain to the finish”. That means a steady 8.6-9.0km/h at 80 per cent effort for me. My water system is a 3-litre bladder on the floor with a wire frame around my neck for hands free sipping with 20 per cent reduced Staminade mix to Wisemans and then 100 per cent water for the long paddle home. Food is a mix of Vitamin J (junk), soft muesli bars, dried fruit and mini Mars Bars for a sugar hit the last 40kms.

The temperature forecast called for a chilly 5°C overnight and many pulled out with hypothermia. Overdressing and too warm including cag at the start was well worth it after sunset as the air chilled quickly. First stop was Dargle (4h 25m) for a stretch, food and another layer under the cag plus a few back rubs from my wonderful land crew and partner Carolyn. Then my usual “torture leg” through the Moons against a small flood tide to Wisemans was surprisingly easy for a nice change arriving 40 minutes ahead of schedule (7h 50m) for a well deserved 30 minutes rest, hot food, drink, socialize and stories swap with other paddlers. Of interest was the large number of paddlers complaining of the cold with some crying that they were hurting, shaking uncontrollably. One well known gun paddler in a K2 had his race ended here by his paddle partner and the Red Cross staff when he recorded a body temp of only 31°C after hallucinating about seeing trucks on the river the past hour!

Exiting Wisemans and feeling good at 01 30hrs my event fell apart after 20 mins with cramps in the upper thighs and hips preventing leg drive and reducing my speed (with numerous stops and beach walks) to around 6km/h average. Paddling like a shot duck the last 20km was painful despite Panadine Paradise and luckily the last of the ebb tide helped me to the finish in what had unpredictably turned into a fight with the inner demons to quit at the Low Tide Pit Stop with the great caterers and entrancing fire. Thankfully the demons stayed in the bilge and, much later than originally planned, my partner and mates at the finish lifted me out of the boat after 14h 13m. After walking around for a few minutes the thigh cramps departed which the GP put down to the possibility of my woollen socks being too tight around the ankles causing blood flow restriction back up the leg. Geez, that info would have been great before the start though having warm feet was wonderful but not worth the eventual angst.

Terry Renford

It started out as an idea for Rob Richmond and I to have a paddle together. Rob did the HCC in 2005, but was not happy with his time, and I did the HCC in 2004, with my daughter in a double, for a DNF. As time passed Rob and I decided to do a little training in the lead up to the HCC by setting out the weekend before and paddle to the start at Windsor. This is a whole different story, however.

It would be very difficult to do a good HCC without a good road crew. And I must say we had the best. In some trying circumstances, they not only got us to the start without any fuss but they looked after us on the day and throughout the night, carried all our camping gear, extra food, water and clothing to the finish, allowing us to paddle light boats in the race. What a Godsend.

For days leading up to the HCC I was telling Rob how comfortable the wing paddle I was using was to paddle with. Offering it to him for a try, I suggested that if he liked it he should try it in the race, telling Rob I had another paddle my wife was bringing with her to Windsor for me to use. Well he did like the wing paddle, and after following 20 metres behind Rob for one-and-half hours, I stopped for a few moments for a quick snack and a drink only to see Rob paddle into the distance, not to see him again until the finish. Rob looked very comfortable, his style differing to that when using his usual paddle. His cadence increased markedly. I think Rob enjoyed the new paddle in the race, he must have, he sliced almost two hours from his 2005 time.

Although not going as well as Rob, I thought I was paddling OK and well within my comfort zone. Then some time after 10pm I started to feel really tired and sluggish. I began to nod off, awakening with a start only to realise that I was still paddling. A really weird feeling knowing that I was paddling while asleep. I did not know I had this ability, I am sure this will be a handy attribute to have, although I know not what for at this point. Anyhow, I paddled for the next two hours to Wiseman’s Ferry in differing stages of consciousness, all the while marvelling at the fact that when snapping out of a nap, I invariably found myself still paddling.

Well, into Wiseman’s Ferry and I said to my wife that I needed to lie down for 20-30 minutes, asking if she could wake me with a good cup of hot coffee to help me make it to Brooklyn. I finished up staying at Wiseman’s for an hour before re-entering the water at 1.30 am. This enabled me to attack the last part of the river in a much more conscious and energized condition. In fact I rather enjoyed this part of the race through the dead of the night, paddling this section in under five hours. I was on the river by myself for the most part, the night was still, the river silent and dark after the moon sunk, stars were shining brightly from a cloudless sky. For this period of the night all was well with the world.

The darkness of the night did bring with it some problems however. With no boats in front of me, I did not have the benefit of lights to follow through some of the more tricky twists in the river. On a few occasions, at the wider sections of the river, I found myself losing the line. I made some very wide turns trying to find the next area of the river to attack. This was frustrating, but from what I heard I was far from the only paddler to encounter this problem. The light can play tricks on a dark river.

I got to Brooklyn at 6.25am for an eclipsed time of 13hrs 25mins. If you had told me of this time before setting out from Windsor I would have been very happy indeed. However, with the problems I encountered before Wiseman’s, and the extended time I spent off the water there, I feel maybe I could have done a little better.

This year I was entered in the 50-59 age division, giving an obvious 9 years to some competitors. Next year I will be a junior in the senior citizen age division of 60-69 years. Watch me go. Well I can but dream. Twelve months is a long time at my age. Who knows what deterioration could take place in this time. My children may place me in a nursing home, citing senility. I can still dream. If anyone sees me at the start of the HCC next year, would you please point me in the direction of east, just in case. Maybe I am dreaming.

Summary of the results achieved by NSWSK Club members in this year’s HCC:

  • Andrew McAuley, Mens Open Medium Rec (?). 10:9:47 (finished second in class and twentieth on overall handicap).
  • Keith Oakford, Mens Open Long Rec (Mirage 580), 11:41:07 (3rd and 77th)
  • Rob Richmond, Mens Vet 50+ Long Rec (Mirage 580), 11:41:50 (4th and 59th)
  • Tony Hystek, Mens Vet 40+ Medium Rec (?), 12:23:19 (4th and 111th)
  • Pavel Stepan, Mens Vet 60+ Medium Rec (Epic 18), 12:46:51 (2nd and 95th)
  • Matt Howell, Brooklyn or Bust (Tasman 19), 13:05:05 (n.a.)
  • Adrian Clayton, Brooklyn or Bust (Epic 18), 13:18:05 (n.a.)
  • Terry Renford, Mens Vet 50+ Long rec (Mirage 580), 13:25:25 (12th and 145th)
  • Lee Killingworth, Mens Vet 50+ Long Rec (Tasman 19), 14:13:10 (14th and 162nd)
  • Barbara McGrath and Roger Price, Brooklyn or Bust (Mirage Double), 17:03:05 (n.a.)

(Apologies to any NSWSK Club members who participated but do not have their results included above).