NSW Sea Kayak Club – Where the wild things are … [73]

Over the Airwaves

By Dee Ratcliffe

One of the first spring days on Sydney Harbour, early afternoon and the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol voice is warm and friendly as she chats on VHF Channel 22 to the boaties heading out to fish. She gathers their contact details, asks for their locations and intentions, remarks what a glorious day it is on the water.

Another voice calls in, this one with an Indian accent. There’s confusion about the name of his boat. She’s referring to it as The Shambles, a bit concerned as she doesn’t seem to have any details logged for it. He corrects her, calling her Madam, spelling the name of his boat phonetically SIERRA-HOTEL-ALPHA-MIKE ZULU-UNIFORM.

He refers to her as Coastal Control, saying Coastal Control asked him at 10.30 a.m. to check in two hours later. He uses Madam politely each time he talks. She thanks him for checking in and informs him she is Coastal Patrol. Her warm voice asks for his position, ‘Madam, it is…’ he replies, giving his location carefully and precisely in degrees and minutes of latitude and longitude.

She notes this and enquires if he will be continuing to fish or moving on elsewhere.

‘Madam,’ he replies. ‘I am a bulk carrier.’

NSW Sea Kayak Club – VHF radio course [73]

By Michael Steinfeld MROVCP

While paddling in the Whitsundays recently, our pod came upon an English kayaker who had just been rescued after his kayak started to sink in the middle of a crossing near the Goldsmith group of islands. He was lucky to be alive and told us that when he purchased his kayak he was advised to buy two items of safety equipment: a VHF (very high frequency) radio and a set of pencil flares.

When his kayak started to fill with water in the middle of a crossing he sent a mayday message which was received by the local authorities who relayed it to another yacht in the vicinity. He let off a pencil flare to alert the yacht.

Not so lucky was our esteemed Andrew McAuley who used his VHF radio to make a mayday call. His signal was weak, being 60 nm away from the NZ coast, and his message garbled. His call sign was not registered, causing delay in organising a rescue. See my recent magazine article (Issue 70, March 2008).

When embarking on extended trips, a VHF radio is a necessary communication device. A basic model costs about $150. Expect to pay up to $600 if they are waterproof, float and have a longer battery life. VHF radios are now being manufactured with inbuilt GPS devices and digital selective calling, which is a button that when pressed sends out a distress message with your identification and GPS coordinates.

You can use a VHF to log in and out with the maritime authorities, obtain weather reports on trips and communicate with other VHF users in range. The downside is that its range is limited from 5 nm between two kayaks at sea to 40 nm if the signal can find a relay station on land. The radio signal travels in straight lines so it may not transmit when blocked by headlands, cliffs etc.

To use a VHF radio you must hold a Marine Radio Operators VHF Certificate of Proficiency (MROVCP) issued by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. To hold that licence you have to pass an exam. The licence is valid on vessels other than kayaks and in other countries.

In October 2008, a dozen club members attended the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol Sydney headquarters at the Spit for approximately five hours of tuition (which cost $130).

As VHF radios are operated by mariners around the globe, a set of protocols must be used if you want to ensure that any communication you have with another vessel or station is properly conveyed and understood. Each VHF operator has their own call sign. You can make one up and if you join the Volunteer Coastal Patrol they give you one, which is registered in their system. We were required to study everything contained in the manual (included in the course fee) even though it is not directly relevant to the type of VHF radios kayakers carry and the situations we paddle in.

The key calling signs are: Mayday, Pan Pan and Sécurité.

The highest priority alert is Mayday called three times and used when there is imminent danger to a vessel or person.

Pan Pan called three times is the next level down in priority and is used when there is a need to convey an urgent message concerning the safety of the vessel or person.

Sécurité (pronounced SAY-CURE-E-TAY) called three times means that an important broadcast is about to be transmitted about a navigational or weather warning.

VHF radios have a number of channels; the main calling channels are 16 and 67. There are a number of working channels where you can conduct a conversation with another VHF operator or land station. You also must learn the international phonetic alphabet, that is Alpha, Bravo, Charlie etc

After instruction we had to sit for a test, which was very difficult to fail primarily because we had been coached on the answers. The course was not specifically directed at kayakers; some items such as the maintenance of lead acid batteries were of little use (as the batteries we buy are sealed).

Members would have liked to practise the skills learnt using their radios and the course could have been shortened, but overall it was worthwhile.

Club members can join the Voluntary Coastal Patrol at a discount rate of $22 per member via an application form. See the November 2008 newsletter. The VCP is an organisation that NSWSKC should support; after all it is usually one of the first boats to turn up in a rescue situation. The club is organising a ‘rescue day’ to share tips and techniques with the help and support of the VCP.

Thanks to Lee Killingworth and John Piotrowski for organising the course and to John and Julia Woudstra from the VCP.

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Speakers at Rock’n’Roll 2009 [73]

Jeff Jennings

Workshop: How to take photos and video in a kayak and what to do with them afterwards

Jeff will tell us about equipment, planning, shooting and editing in a sea kayaking context. There may even be an opportunity to put together a short coverage of RnR09!

Evening talk: Photographic expeditions

Jeff will be sharing some of his sea kayaking expedition experiences with us, and will also showcase his photography and video technique. Locations include both Australia and overseas.


Jeff Jennings has been involved in numerous expeditions with like-minded adventurers in the Maatsuyker Sea Canoe Club. He has undertaken photographic expeditions to remote parts of Tasmania, Flinders Island and coastal Queensland, including Hinchinbrook, the Whitsundays, and from Mackay to Airlie Beach. He has circumnavigated Kangaroo Island (SA) and paddled in NZ, Thailand, Greece, Croatia, Tonga and Fiji.

Jeff has some dramatic photographs of Tasmania’s spectacular coastal scenery taken from the precarious perspective of a small sea kayak. His library contains photographs from remote locations such as Deal Island, Maatsuyker Island, Port Davey, Three Hummock Island, Maria Island and Tasman Island. In 2004 Jeff won first prize in the Wilderness Gallery Break O’Day Photographic Award. Jeff’s skill as a stills photographer is complemented by his DVD production of sea kayaking expeditions. To find out more visit www.vision.net.au/~jennings

Larry Gray

Workshop: Being at one with the ocean environment

World-class sea kayaker Larry Gray, who learned many of his techniques directly from Inuit masters, will introduce you to skills that are not commonly taught: landing on rocks if you must; your paddle as a tool, not just a motor; warning signs in nature; pre-rolling skills. This is indigenous knowledge that will help you fit in with the sea.

Evening talk: Greenland expedition

Larry was part of the first Australian team to travel 1000 km down the coast of Greenland in 1986. Larry will be sharing his Greenland expedition with us, which includes Eskimo kayakers.


Larry Gray has thousands of kilometres of expeditions under his belt. He has paddled from Victoria to PNG (4500 km), around PNG (2500 km) and around Singapore through Malaysia to Indonesia. He has also paddled in Arnhem Land and Vanuatu. His northern hemisphere exploits include the coast of England via Ireland and two expeditions to the Arctic. He has spent much time with indigenous people, learning from them.

One of the instigators of the sea kayaking club grading system, Larry has been an Outward Bound trainer in Singapore and is the designer of the Pittarak kayak.

To find out more see www.pittarak.com.au

NSW Sea Kayak Club – From the President’s deck [73]

By Michael Steinfeld

The holiday season is upon us. If you are not reading this with a martini in one hand, magazine in the other, lying in a hammock by a secluded pristine beach you need to get a life (or plan a kayak trip).

Some might think that kayaking is all about paddling a kayak forward and getting wet occasionally. But it is much more than that. When I started paddling some seven years ago, just paddling forward in a line was difficult and there was a continuous fear of falling out and perishing in the deep blue yonder.

Fast forward seven years and with the benefit of the club’s human resources department, I feel relatively confident in planning this years paddling holiday in Tassie, away from the maddening hordes. I will be carrying my EPIRB, VHF radio, flares, GPS, mobile phone/PDA, all attached to my PFD. As they say in the scouts: ‘Be prepared’. I hope I won’t look like a Los Angeles policeman with all that stuff hanging from me, and trust that the weight will not sink the kayak, otherwise I will be rolling continuously.

We are all lucky to have a number of exceptional people in the club who give freely of their time to instruct, lead and mentor the club’s ‘proletariat’. A number of members have become leaders and flatwater instructors this year. The club actively encourages women to volunteer to committee positions and into on-water leadership roles. This is what makes our club extra special.

The training opportunities are not just limited to aspiring leaders and instructors. There have been rolling and sea skills training sessions, and many paddle with an instructor days. There have also been first aid and VHF radio courses taught by professionals, and navigation and weather courses — all designed to develop skills on the water to enable your trip to be well planned and safe.

The next step is to provide courses in rescue management with the likely involvement of the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol.

Rock’n’Roll is headed our way in late March and it should be an exciting event with a number of guest speakers and many great prizes from our generous sponsors. The venue being close to Sydney should make it easier to travel for the majority.

The committee wishes you well for 2009, and remember to keep safe.

Until next time …

Michael Steinfeld

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Northern Beaches Explorer [73]

By David Fisher

Do you know what? With the Sydney climate, it makes me wonder why more of Sydney isn’t out and about enjoying the best harbour (and beach) city in the world. I reckon I could shout it from the rooftops and would all the people come and invade the water? Probably not!

But my advice to everyone is to take advantage of our wonderful waterways. Many of you do, and Lee Killingworth and John Friedman put their hands into the air and joined me on this occasion for the beautiful, picturesque run from Palm Beach to Manly and into Sydney Harbour.

We had originally planned the trip to go in the other direction, heading north. However, the weather forecast foretold nor-easterlies so we swapped the paddle’s direction to head south. No big deal. This trip was set up from the start as KISS paddle (Keep It Simple Stupid). No big drive to get somewhere out of Sydney, no packing the kayaks full of gear, no worrying about food and spending hours planning menus and shopping.

The simplicity was magic. A couple of short car shuffles, dinner out on the town, brekky 1 at Shelly Beach and brekky 2 at Balmoral’s Boatshed Kiosk. Too easy.

Now that Lee Killingworth is an interesting character. He grew up on the northern beaches so he was a natural fit for our tour guide as we plied our way south. He pointed out each headland into the distance; he could name them all and the bays too. Lee is a walking, correction, paddling GPS with maps loaded. And an aid to our morale as we paddled along, Lee recalled the first drowned bodies he ever saw as a grommet around Newport.

But for all Lee’s local knowledge, the Vietnamese restaurant we went too on Lee’s recommendation was actually Indonesian. Stick local Lee, international geography obviously isn’t your bag.

My tips for a successful repeat voyage:

Firstly, check out the Shelley Beach food — I recommend the ham and cheese wrap. Whilst there, it would be a travesty not to check out the local Shelley Beach attractive wildlife and swimsuit fashion or lack of it. It seems a lot of club members head to Shelley Beach for this reason.

On a serious note, a low tide crossing into the Narrabeen channel is not on. There aren’t one or two rocks to avoid – the rocks are everywhere and many are covered in oysters and barnacles. High tide is the way to go (subject to conditions naturally) which is how we left the beach. On our entry, we landed 20-50 m from the channel and did a simple portage of 50 m past the rocks. As it happened, the surf was as flat as you’d probably get it even though we were there more or less close to low tide. A high tide entry at Narrabeen has the other advantage of filling up the lake, which has some pretty big sand flats to negotiate at low tide. In fact, the tidal delay in the lake is something like three or four hours. These aren’t deal breakers as we discovered. The Narrabeen surf is the more critical issue. However, there is no doubt that paddling the lake would have been simpler at high tide.

The wildlife joined us on Sunday morning, all in a short space of time. First was the penguin that surfaced between our kayaks around Curl Curl, followed by swarms of feeding Kingfish under us, next the aforementioned Shelley Beach eye poppers, next were Andrew Eddy and Peter Osman off Blue Fish Point, shortly thereafter the breaching whale a distance offshore, and finally in the heads off Chinaman’s Hat were Peter Levy and Claus Busseler.

All in all, a great trip. Thanks guys.

Trip details:

  • Participants: Lee Killingworth, John Friedman, David Fisher in 3 x Mirage 580
  • Dates: Saturday 11 to Sunday 12 October 2008
  • Location: Pittwater to Clontarf, camping Narrabeen Lakes (caravan park)
  • Weather: light – slight swell up to 1-2 m, low period, waves to 2 ft with calm periods, light to moderate winds.
  • Distance: around 20 km each day
  • Dep 1130 Pittwater
  • Arr 1530 Narrabeen and completely missed high tide 1830 DST
  • Dep 0730 Narrabeen to catch high tide 0708 DST
  • Arr 1300 Clontarf

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Gear Review: Kayak Light [73]

By Andre Janecki

The Guardian Model 5400 Dual Function white light. RRP $35.00

“The lightest, brightest and toughest light in its class!”

— quote from the manufacturer.

This report is based on a kayak trip (salt water) with the lamp exposed to the elements continuously for a period of three weeks.

I am happy to confirm the lamp performs well in a marine environment.

The simple twist action to turn the light ON and OFF is excellent, unlike other similar products. No leak or condensation build-up was to be found and the battery contacts remained intact. The body and the lens are made of quality impact and scratch resistant materials.

No tests were made regarding the CR2032 lithium coin cell batteries (two) but the manufacturer advises 250 hours of life in the flashing mode and 100 hours in the steady-on mode. The replacement cost of the batteries is around $4.50 each.

The omnidirectional (360 degree) light is generated by a single ‘bright’ LED. I found the light intensity a good balance between the overall size of the lamp and the replacement costs of the batteries, etc.

The low weight of the lamp and its very small footprint lends itself to be mounted onto a kayakers’ hat (or helmet.)

The included clip secures the lamp sufficiently, however an additional lanyard would help further since the lamp body has negative buoyancy.

In my eyes, the lamp is a winner due to its clever dual function, which allows for a continuous or flashing mode by reversing the polarity of the batteries. This alone makes the lamp easily adaptable to the often confusing and varying maritime water regulations throughout Australia…so check it out before paddling at night!

For more info visit www.adventurelights.com

NSW Sea Kayak Club – The Hawkesbury Canoe Classic [73]

The Hawkesbury Canoe Classic (111 km from Windsor to Mooney Mooney) is the ‘City to Surf’ for Sydney kayaking, and many club members have taken part over the last decades.

Each year about 600 participants compete in so many classes of boats and ages that the race becomes more about your own goals than competing. It raises funds for the Arrow Bone Marrow Transplant Foundation, provides a challenge, and for anyone who has taken part there are lasting memories of the fantastic organisation, jokes and camaraderie of participants, volunteers and crews.

The first wave start at 4 pm on Saturday and the last boats come in about lunchtime on Sunday. Paddling through the night provides that extra element of adventure to the experience.

This year 14 club members competed (as far as we can tell). Cathy Miller and Ian Vaile won their class and achieved a silver award for five years of finishes, with the bonus of having bettered their time every year. Katrina Nicholls and Raewyn Duffy won their class and set a class record.

Everyone who participated has a unique experience. Here are their stories, in their own words.

Andrew Kucyper (Mirage 580)


1. No problem with right shoulder, injured just before the 2007 HCC (Exercises lasting 10 months paid off).

2. Good research resulted with comfortable seat pad ($65 self-inflating pillow) and backrest (connected to the front bolts of the kayak seat mould) — no problem at these body locations during the paddle and after.

3. False prediction of cold rain and wearing all the time paddling cag and sprayskirt was causing unnecessary sweating and overheating during the first leg of the journey.

4. Liquid food and bananas only during paddling worked well.

5. Plan was: One stop for changing clothes, at Wisemans, and finish below 13 hours. However, this did not eventuate!


Up to Wisemans everything went in accordance to the plan. One exception was strong cramps of the stomach and diaphragm muscles that hit me the first time after 55 km and the second time after 60 km. Both times it happened during stretching by leaning backwards.

I reached Wisemans at 0015, after 7 hr 15 min uninterrupted paddling. It was 15 minutes ahead of plan.

I stayed at Wisemans, as planned for 1 hr 30 min, changing clothes, eating a few muesli bars and talking to my land crew (my son), sure that starting at 0145 would leave enough time to get a total time under 13 hours.

However, shortly after the restart I began to feel pain and discomfort under my right side ribs — where my previous muscle cramping had been worst.

Soon I adjusted my mind to the discomfort and forgot about the pain, enjoying paddling in the complete darkness following the lights of the other boats. However, the night was not without happenings. Namely, I had a similar near miss to that which Mark Schroeder had, nearly running into a moored boat. I think that it was the same vessel!

In the darkness I also felt a sudden, violent flutter of my paddle. In the total dark, I examined the paddle by sliding my hand along the shaft towards the blade. I found that paddling forward using the wrong side of the paddle blade (Mako propeller) is not too pleasant.

Anyway I enjoyed my journey, exercising full body rotation and taking care with paddling style at least up to the time, when six kilometres from the finish I checked my watch and found that it was already 6 am.

To my frustration a large number of other kayaks were overtaking me. At that time I was still focusing on maintaining the proper paddling style and thought that I was doing it very well and could not believe that so many boats were moving faster than mine.

The answer came just before the finish line when I noticed that the kayak was tilted to the right side. This caused slight traversing sideways. The water wake of my kayak was unsymmetrical during straight line paddling! I think that the kayak tilt was caused by repositioning of my body to lessen (eliminate) pain in under the right side of my ribs.

PS: After finishing the Classic I did not have any problems with my body, such as sore muscles at shoulders, bum or back etc.

My plan is to have several future paddles with the rudder removed from my kayak, to adjust back to paddling straight.

Cathy Miller & Ian Vaile (Mirage 730)

Ian and I had a good run to Wisemans, arriving 50 minutes ahead of our scheduled time, but the stop there took 30 minutes. I changed clothes but once back on the water found the new outfit wasn’t warm enough, so we pulled over and I layered up. That took some time but from then on I was warm as toast so it was worth it.

Over the last 30 kilometres the body started objecting rather a lot to the whole undertaking and I needed lots of stretching/procrastination stops! So we lost the lead we’d gained, but decided it was more important to stop and stretch to prevent injury.

We just missed our goal of getting under 11’30, but still managed to take a whole 3 minutes(!) off our time last year and won our class, finishing in 11’35’46. And boy wasn’t that sleep good? (I slept 11 hrs Sunday!)

Kayku (haiku) composed on leaving Checkpoint L:

Black water green fire
river anchors velvet sky.
Still so bloody far!

David Fisher (Mirage 580)

My friend Nicole and I have paddled together for quite a few years. We paddle together side by side and pep each other up through the night.

Last year, we finished in some 17.5 hours. For Nicole, it was her first finish in a single kayak. For me, it was also my first finish, after a failed attempt the year before.

This year, we were out to consolidate on the previous year’s effort and try to shave off considerable time from last year. And we did just that. We proudly smashed our 2007 time by two hours, coming in at 0724 (in 15 hr 24 min).

Our race plan included starting in the ‘Brooklyn or Bust’ class to maximize daylight, regular on-water food breaks to keep our energy up which included stretching exercises to make sure we didn’t seize up, planned breaks at Dargle, Wisemans and Pit Stop and to make use of the physios for some body panel beating.

It was a dark night with the moon setting early, which was only a sliver and was hidden by the cloud cover, whilst it was up. The darkness did impact on our psyche. This year the race was conducted after daylight savings had started and, although we had an extra hour of paddling daylight in the evening, Nicole and I were impatiently paddling through the night waiting for our second (or third) wind which comes with the dawn.

Each year, our Scout group, 2nd Gordon, volunteers to run the Wisemans Ferry major checkpoint, probably the busiest of all land checkpoints. The volunteers there encouraged us along which was a great boost to our morale and we enjoyed spending a few moments chatting to them.

All in all, we’re proud to have finished again and proud that in achieving our personal goals, a worthwhile charity gets some much needed funding.

Garry Thompson (Mirage 580)

The first four hours were pretty good. Good atmosphere, great scenery, great weather, good to see the techniques of the elite paddlers as they powered past, chatting to paddlers as they came past, the night paddling was great, all good stuff.

Then the bad stuff set in.

The fifth hour was uncomfortable. In the sixth hour extreme discomfort set in. For my last hour I had to stop paddling every 5-10 minutes to get some relief. So, after six hours and 40.8 km I pulled out at 10 pm at Dangar.

To summarise the body: forearms locking up, shoulders sore, back sore, both buttocks on fire, web on right hand between thumb and finger burning — could not grip paddle, overheating due to too many layers put on at 8 pm Sackville stop when shivering set in.

OK, OK it was bound to happen. I only made the decision to enter on the closing date one month out. And yes, I didn’t get around to doing those training paddles I knew I had to do. I’d been out every couple of weeks in my Mirage 580, but only up to about 20 kilometres on paddles like the Spit to Shelly Beach, Coogee to Bondi.

However I thought that 65 kilometres to Wisemans was achievable, and with a bit of wishful thinking, on to Mooney Mooney. That’s what my land crew thought too. They arrived at Dangar in the car without the roof racks. It was a 1 1/2 hour drive back to get the car with the racks and a three hour wait for me to get evacuated.

My son came along for his second time out in a kayak. We had to pull him out at Dangar mainly due to the logistics. However he reckoned that he could have finished. (It helps to be young and foolish.)

The event is extremely well run. Safety gets high importance. And the Red Cross and physio support is great. I had a wonderful pre-start massage. Then on to the Red Cross tent to get a precautionary band aid on my right finger where I sometimes get a blister. Twenty minutes later I came out with both hands padded in sponge rubber and covered with soft gauze, all nicely wrapped around finger joints to maintain hand flex.

Anyway, it’s all good. There was no permanent damage. I know my limits. I now know what I need to do to finish. And I’ll be back next year.

Katrina Nicholls & Raewyn Duffy (Mirage 730, on loan, with thanks to Keith Oakford)

Katrina: Raewyn and I had only met in June; I was drawn to her determination and positive ‘can do’ attitude. We went on a few club paddles together and then later we spoke about doing ‘The Classic’. I had done it in 1985 and again last year (22 years later) but wanted to do it in a double so I had someone to chat with on the long lonely stretches of the river.

Raewyn: I’m fairly new to kayaking and not sure why I thought I could paddle 111 kilometres, but Kate’s enthusiasm is infectious and when Keith so generously offered us his boat there was no turning back. The whole experience has been terrific.

K&R: We went for our first training paddle on Middle Harbour. We didn’t know much about paddling doubles and experimented with swapping seats, different paddles and timing. We sought lots of assistance and advice from other club members. Rob Mercer assisted us to fine tune our forward paddling technique and the balance of the boat. Mark Sundin provided us with information relating to the GPS, boat speed and utilising the current. Keith Oakford helped us with training regimes and came out paddling with us. Cathy Miller and Ian Vaile shared a wealth of knowledge and experience with us in relation to planning stops, eating the right sort of food, water ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ and tidal effects on the river.

Our training paddles were fun and full of chatter and we felt that we were able to solve some of the ‘problems of the world’ and come up with many imaginative ways of making our millions (still working on this).

Classic’ everything went smoothly. We got to Windsor with plenty of time to get through the registration procedures and scrutineering and even had about an hour’s rest. Our wonderful land crew — Raewyn’s daughter, Shannon and her boyfriend Dean — had everything organised for us. They carried our boat, put up a shelter, prepared heaps of food and coffee and tended to our every need.

We started at 4:15 pm and our plan was firstly to finish; secondly to finish under 14 hours and 11 minutes (my time from last year); thirdly to go under 13 hours and very quietly to maybe even go for the ‘old girls’ record — 11 hours 52 mins (depending on how we were feeling and where we were at).

K&R: At the start we identified the only other boat in our class and decided to try and keep up with them as long as we could (they were the record holders and looked pretty fit and strong). Right from the start we got into a gentle rhythm and we managed to go past them on the first straight. Along the way we met Frank who was competing for the twentieth time, two school girls from Canberra who we paddled with from the start to Dargle, and two grumpy guys in a Canadian canoe who were having a domestic just 30 minutes into the race. At one stage we set a cracking pace (tide assisted), paddling and chatting with two South Australian doubles and this helped us arrive at Wisemans ahead of schedule.

R: Our trusty land crew were there to greet us. It’s a long night for them; they were well-organised and enthusiastic; they did an amazing job. A real role reversal for me as I passed my daughter my smelly wet clothes and they cleaned up half-eaten food.

K&R: After a 30 minute break we headed out again. The tide was against us, the darkness disorienting. We almost hit a moored boat; with very few boats in sight were often unsure which way the river would turn next. The initial boost that the stop at Wisemans gave us faded quickly and we started to wonder if this was such a good idea. But it was also beautiful to be paddling in the still of the night with the phosphorescent light of the water spinning off the blade. By Spencer we realised that we might still come in under 12 hours so dug in for the next hour.

R: As we crossed the last wide stretch with the finish line in sight Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ came on the ipod that we had playing through a speaker. (For me it’s been Dad’s song since he died 5 years ago, so it felt as if he was there helping us along to the end.)

K&R: It was wonderful to be welcomed at the finish line by Kate’s parents, friends and our crew, especially when Shannon said, ‘Mum, I’m just so proud of you’. Although exhausted and a bit wobbly, there was no damage that wouldn’t mend with a massage and lots of sleep and even that faded when we realised that we had broken our class record by two minutes. We were buzzing for days.

The Classic is an extremely well-run event and incorporates humour and cheer along the way from the volunteers and supporters. It is hard work and tests your inner strength, determination and grit but it’s also memorable for the atmosphere, people and funny incidents. It’s one of those events that you’ve just ‘gotta give a go’ then when you’ve done it you want to ‘do it better’. We surprised ourselves by achieving and then exceeding the goals we set ourselves. We’d love to do it again next year but it might never work this well again.

Kieron C Potger (Mirage 580)

This was going to be my second attempt at the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic. Last year I did not know if I could even complete it — but I got there in the end and felt quite pleased at doing so. This year it was different; a second attempt meant to me that failure was not an option and one’s time must be reduced — a completely different psychology. For months prior to the event, the Hawkesbury Classic never strayed far from my mind whenever I kayaked. With a busy work schedule it always remained a challenge to slip in training sessions.

Three weeks before the race I took a surfing lesson — in the process injuring my ribs. Oh bother! And I was feeling reasonably fit and strong up to that point. It became painful to paddle so I needed a rest from kayaking. One week before the event I paddled again — it still hurt; there was no way I could race in that condition. I decided to rest another six days and reassess. The day before the event I gave it another go in the morning — still some pain … but not too bad. What to do? Further procrastination. At five o’clock I decide to go ahead, much to the justified exasperation of my ground crew i.e. my wife Christine! We only have a few hours to shop, organise and pack.

In a stark contrast to last year, I position myself near the front of the field of ‘Brooklyn or Bust’ — a different strategy that I hoped would pay off. And we’re off — this is ridiculous, I can’t keep up with the pace of 10 km/hr in my Mirage 580. I try anyway. After a couple of hours it becomes unsustainable — and I have to let the better paddlers disappear into the distance. I also pay the price with excruciating pain in my shoulders. This settles down when I paddle at my normal speed. After a short but welcome break at Dargle — with the kind ministrations of Christine — I’m back on the water. The next leg to Wiseman’s Ferry is the worst — endless loopings of the river, the tide turning and an almost total loss of visibility. I end up virtually ‘instrument kayaking’ in the dark using my GPS. It is hard and painful; my body wanted to pull out at Dargle but I mustn’t yield. Just ignore the discomfort and keep paddling. Eventually in the distance there appears to be a bizarre kaleidoscope of flashing lights — is it a hallucination because it doesn’t seem to ever get closer? Eventually I reached the lights — Wisemans Ferry.

As I rehydrate, eat and rest a while I contemplate my plight — what the Dickens am I doing this for? It has become very demoralising being constantly overtaken by much better kayakers in faster boats and being on the receiving end of such helpful comments such as ‘You’re doing really well there mate’, and ‘You’re going really fast’ as they overtake you! There is nothing to see as it is pitch black and one is physically uncomfortable. But I have got to keep on going — that was the deal.

I am back in my boat and on my way. The checkpoints are a welcome relief as I dreamily float past. Fewer and fewer boats pass by as the field disperses in the lower wider reaches of the Hawkesbury River. I see long trains of car lights snaking along the river edge; presumably they are those of the ground crews. Time becomes meaningless — just endless paddling in the dark. Someone overtakes me announcing that there is only 20 kilometres to go — the end is achievable! This gives me a new lease of life and I quicken my pace. Spencer, Bar Point, Milsons Island all become reality. The last stretch and I give it everything I’ve got. And then it’s over.

Yes I completed it and yes I beat my previous time, but only by 15 minutes. The sense of achievement was sadly lacking. Would I do it again? In a faster boat maybe. Would I encourage others to attempt the Hawkesbury Classic? Most definitely. Apart from the worthwhile contribution to the Arrow Bone Marrow Transplant Foundation, every paddler should experience the knowledge that despite the discomfort, your body is capable of far exceeding the discomfort barrier that becomes entrenched in a comfortable western existence. So if you have any doubts, just remember ‘Yes you can’.

Lee Killingworth (Slickcraft 700)

A difficult dark night caused numerous paddlers to hit the sides, run aground and capsize.

I failed to finish after the Red Cross dudes would not let me back in the kayak at Wisemans. We made a last minute change to our double team when my mate Murray Reece was replaced in the bow seat by his wife Lizzie, who is a way better paddler than me and holds three HCC records. Murray has had recurring neck hassles and his chiro advised him not to paddle.

We had a budget of 11 hr 15 min for the event and were on track through our Dargle pit stop (3 hr 50 min) and fine to about 57 km when I started developing stomach and upper inner thigh cramping and had to back off power paddling for the last hour into Wisemans. We arrived there in 6 hr 45 min, 15 minutes behind our target with a plan to have a 15 minute break and then attack the last stanza with no Low Tide pit stop planned.

Being helped out of the cockpit by my great land crew I felt wobbly, disoriented and cramped in both hammies so was put into a camp seat to eat some food. My partner, Carolyn, was asked to find a physio for me but came back with Scott from the Red Cross who wanted to check me out with a flashlight in the eyes and a thermometer in the ear.

I’m not sure how or why I ended up flat on my back in the Red Cross tent but it was very pleasant to lay down, stretch the back and ease the cramps. Stripping me off and wrapping me in two thermal blankets and two woollen blankets, I was shocked for Scott to tell me in a very grave voice that I had hypothermia with a body temperature of 35.3 C. I promptly told him that that was crap as my skin was boiling and I felt like I was sitting in the midday sun!! Having thrown the blankets off, I lay there for a minute to show that I was OK and could go back to the kayak.

Then a few other Red Cross dudes checked me out, including a doctor with a stethoscope (great medical cred those things) who assured me that I was ratsh*t and they would not let me back in the kayak. Bloody hell, I’m not that bad … still lucid as usual verbose + cracking lots of crook medical puns. They then told me that I was getting worse as my temp dropped to 35.0 C. I heard them mumbling about calling the ambulance to take me to Hornsby Hospital unless my ‘core temp’ went up soon.

At that point I sat up, tried to stand up and told them that I was not gong in any blood bus and they were way wrong in their diagnosis and I was good to go back to the river.

Boy, did they put me in my place, but all agreed with me that while my core body temp may be too low and not going up, I was not showing ANY other signs of hypo T like shivering, body curling to retain warmth or obviously hallucinating (some would argue that I’m mad normally!!). In fact Dr Stethoscope said my skin was still on fire and could warm his hands up touching my body. After consuming two sugar-loaded hot Milos my core temp was rapidly climbing and went back to normal very quickly. Shortly I was back in my civvies and walking around unaided.

Anyway, while all this crap was going on with me, the land crew was trying to keep Lizzie warm and placated as she really wanted to finish her tenth HCC. So unbeknown to me, Murray had told Lizzie that he would hop in the back and paddle her home after having his crook neck checked out by the physios. He came to borrow my spare thermals, life vest, cag and booties. I felt much better knowing that he was paddling Lizzie home after having suffered serious remorse over letting Lizzie down by faking illness and laying down in the tent like a piss poor impostor.

So off they went, after a long stop of 1 hr 40 min and way behind our race plan obviously.

About this time David and Nicole arrived for their physio workout when the Red Cross guys transferred me to the physio tent to work on my legs and stomach cramps that were still mildly occurring. I had a good chat with the near-naked David as his back was stretched and pummelled to perfection by those great volunteers. Nicole seemed relaxed and resigned to wait for her escort but both were clearly good to go.

For the rest of the night I had the first time experience of being land crew for Lizzie and Murray as we tracked them downstream to Spencer. All this was novel to me and good to check out from the bank for future reference as I ate everything in our esky. Carolyn told me to stop acting like I’d been out drinking and had a few too many but I was just hungry, happy and not tired.

Lizzie and Murray finished safely at 0535 (in 13 hr 5 min) including a Low Tide stop of 20 minutes, which is still a very respectable time given the hassles at Wisemans. Murray’s neck was very sore and Lizzie’s neck was also in sympathy so after few minutes in the physio tent they were good to go but decided to have a wee sleep in their car before driving anywhere.

For me, apart for a little tiredness on Sunday at midday when cleaning up the gear, I had no ill effects or problems and didn’t go to bed until after 2300 after watching our Kangaroos flog the hapless Poms by a huge margin. On Monday, with Carolyn nagging me I went to my GP for a download and check over. He knows me well and says my physiology is weird, like my brain, but could find nothing wrong other than some excellent chafe around the stomach and bum like all long paddles I undertake.

So we’ll wait to see what the blood tests say but I feel fine; I swam 1.5 km yesterday arvo.

I’m now making plans to land crew for Carolyn and her friend Rhondda in next years HCC. After all, they have done it for me for six years so surely it’s my turn to stand in the mud at the checkpoints and make the long drive in the dark.

Mark Schroeder (Ski double UN2)

This was my second Hawkes; it took me three years to get over the previous one which I paddled in a Flash (great boat) in 11 hr 10 min from memory.

This time I wanted to get it over with quicker so I teamed up with non-club member Dave Bloomfield who had access to a fast double ski. OK, what we gained in speed we probably lost in comfort! To compound the challenge, Dave is relatively new to paddling and the ski was pretty tippy so a lot of our training was dedicated to teaching Dave enough technique to — hopefully — ensure we stayed the right side up for the night. (Which as it turns out, we did). Although I’d resigned myself to spending the night wet, cold and fighting capsize threats, I’m not all stupid because despite his lack of technique, I spotted Dave for a naturally strong paddler and I set an ambitious target of sub-10 hours.

Starting with the unrestricted category, we were shocked by the sprint pace for the first 15 or so kilometres before we decided to let the group go lest we blow up. However, after stopping at Sackville for a five minute break we got to Wisemans on track for a 9.45 time … great!

However as I wolfed down a roll at Wisemans I looked around for Dave … to find him lying down in his undies getting a full massage from his girlfriend … NOT part of the plan and it took us a long 20 minutes to get going again.

Luckily the night was really mild but as we continued it was often pitch black. Next stop was the finishing line but we had all sorts of adventures en route including paddling into trees, very nearly spearing a moored boat which loomed up from the dark and which we missed literally by centimetres under full brakes, two off-route groundings and having two fish jump into the kayak — one crossed the finishing line with us although it was marginally worse for wear than us, i.e. clinically dead as opposed to just feeling that way.

All up a disappointing 10.22 for us, slower than hoped for but a fantastic experience and I ended up feeling a lot more human than last time I did the race.

We spent the entire night being ruthlessly hunted down by two girls we know paddling the same type of ski and they crossed the line just seconds after us. What was really disturbing was that as we silently grunted through the pain, we could hear them chatting and laughing the whole time. Damn!

Mark Clarkson and Sean Gill

Two hundred metres north of Lion Island at the start of September …

Mark: Hey, I really feel that my fitness levels are dropping and I need some sort of goal to aim for!

Sean: What about doing the Hawkesbury Classic?

Mark: You are joking, aren’t you? We’d never be fit enough!

One week later …

Mark: Were you serious about doing the Hawkesbury?

Sean: Well I am if you are. Right, let’s register.

After an intense two months of training we arrived at Windsor for scruntineering. I think the first thing that struck me was the friendliness of everybody and jovial piss-taking by the scrutineers of the standard grade 3 spec safety equipment.

Scrutineer: I can’t let you race with that lifejacket mate … too many pockets … you could have an outboard concealed.

Suitably chastised, I decided I could do without the cappuccino machine, disco ball navigation lights and screen showing the motivational DVD.

The start was not too frantic; a mixture of all sorts of boats and set-ups. Coat hangers fashioned around necks as drink tube holders, bananas taped to decks, a smorgasbord of different craft and questionable paddling styles. As we progressed everyone on the water had a piece of advice for us first timers:

Take it easy and slowly build up your speed as you feel comfortable … more than likely you will hit a wall on the run up to Wisemans Ferry … if you can make Wisemans Ferry and still feel good then you will make the distance … the only sprinting you should do is the last 400 m to the finish line.

Our plan was to take a brief stop every hour to top up on food and hydrate. This seemed to work as we did not run out of energy, although by the end of the race I had lost all interest in the food I had and it became a very mechanical process to force myself to eat something when my stomach began to rumble.

A pattern seemed to emerge for us that our cue for starting from our hourly stop was when the guy paddling standing up on a surfboard caught up with us. We would then provide him with a wash to hang off for a while until we lost him again. We finally parted company with him on an exposed straight when the wind got the better of him.

By the time we got to Sackville things were beginning to ache, but we were in good shape and enjoying the additional speeds of the ebb tide. A quick massage, change of clothes, cup of coffee and banana bread from our fantastic land crew and we returned to water to maximise the tide.

As it got dark, the race took on a surreal mantle and as the night was mild we stopped to peel off a layer and felt better for it. It was good to have the checkpoints at four to six kilometre intervals, as we could set minor goals to push to the next checkpoint.

There were moments of light respite in the dark night, thanks to the school girls from Armidale:

Paddler in the rear: Hey, how much further do we have to go?

Paddler in the front: 75k.

Paddler in the rear: Shuuuuut uuuuup !!!’

Then there was the extremely loud rave party, so we paddled to duff duff music for a couple of kilometres in the middle of nowhere, with the guys on a houseboat offering words of encouragement and a beer if we wanted. This was momentarily tempting, but we decided to push on.

The dark also had it dangers. At one point we thought we were going to be overtaken by some Swiss cattle herder when we heard Hup…Hup…Left…Hup…Hup…Leeft…Hup…Leeeft! Then !*?&!@* as they cut right across Mark’s bow, forcing him to do an unannounced raft-up with my kayak. There was a mumbled sorry from the cox as we saw them zig-zagging up the river like a drunk in a dark alley.

At about the 55 km point my shoulder muscles began to ache so to take my mind off things and push through the pain, we upped the pace, hunting down paddlers in front and overtaking them. My pain was quickly forgotten with this intense activity. The run into Wisemans Ferry is deceiving, as there is a tantalising optical illusion created by all the lights which makes it difficult to gauge what distance is left. A string of white lights on the right appears to string across the river to the checkpoint, which was hard to reconcile to our maps. As we got closer it became clear the lights were in fact the lights on the riverbank of the camping ground.

Getting out of the boat at Wisemans Ferry, I decided to ensure that the muscles on my shoulders received some robust treatment from the sports physios. After a mixture of extreme deep tissue massage and chiropractic abuse everything was solved. No other bits had given out, although you are never quite sure what will go and when, but you keep pushing in the hope that nothing major gives up. After another change of clothes, some soup and tender words of encouragement from our land crew, along the lines that ‘there are heaps of paddlers ahead of you’, we headed back to our kayaks with renewed vigour.

After Wisemans the night was calm and the phosphorescent dances from our bow waves and paddle strokes became mesmerising. Just as we were entering into a trance-like state, fish started jumping, hitting the odd paddle stroke and scaring the living daylights out of our slumbered aspirations. Was that a shark or a big fish? Then there were the big jellyfish about the size of a basketball, again pretty solid when your paddle bounces off one — at least I hope it was a jellyfish.

With even fewer reference points in the pitch darkness we had to resort to the GPS to see what was coming up ahead. The only problem was that even on the lowest backlight for 15 seconds it left Mark night blind for twice as long as that. After a few near misses of buoys in the shallows, including one that we swear was the size of an evil teletubby, we had to slow our blistering pace a tad.

Right on the point when my eyes were shutting and Dr Karl’s circadian rhythms had my mind telling me to find coffee or it would go to sleep, we came across the low water pit stop organised by the SES. What a wonderful place; the volunteers wading through knee-deep mud to drag you to land, the cup of coffee, apricot jam scones and a roaring bonfire. No day spa could match such rejuvenation.

With six kilometres left the tide started to turn agonisingly against us. After one exposed slog against the tide and loss of speed, we decided to use ferry gliding and tidal eddies to our advantage. Our speed was maintained and our energy levels and morale were not sapped.

After such a journey we decided to cross the line together; it was such a good a night to be spoilt by giving one bragging rights over the other … maybe next year. Checking in with home after the race, my daughter was so excited that I received a medal (which was bronze for just finishing). ‘So you came third daddy!’ Well not really, only in her eyes.

Simon McGuire (Prijon Seayak)

With a dubious training regime leading up to the Classic, I was unsure as to what to expect or how far I would get. The furthest I had paddled prior to the Classic was 30 kilometres, and I had only owned a sea kayak for a couple of months. I tried keeping a fairly relaxed pace that I thought I would be able to maintain for the entire course and used the advice given to me from club members Cathy and Ian prior to the race (whenever I remembered!).

I made it to Dargle relatively fresh, and even better after a shower and a massage. Hitting the water again, I dropped into a nice rhythm and was overtaking paddlers and thought ‘Geez I am paddling well, I should finish this easily enough’ (perhaps a mild delusion). Along the way I stopped to help a couple who had lost one of their paddles — when they stopped for a wee break, it seems the young man had put the paddle down and it had floated away with the current (a nice domestic altercation ensued). I then came across a couple of young guys, one of whom had capsized, and who was now sitting in a Mirage full of water with no idea how to get it out, so I pumped that out for them, offered further assistance and was on my way.

The last couple of kilometres to Wisemans was a hard slog and I was pleased to arrive at around 2.30. Feeling sore and tired by this stage, I had a shower, something to eat, and then drifted off to sleep. Upon waking I decided that was enough for me (to the relief of my land crew I think). I will take this first one as a great learning experience and will be back next year to complete the entire course. I have already discussed with my crew things I will do differently next year.

Wayne Wanders (Time Traveller made by Steve Muir at Grafton Paddle Sports)

I had a slow start at Windsor as someone nearly knocked me over, missed the fast bunch that took off at the start.

I worked back through the pack that had taken off fast and paddled strongly straight through to Wisemans in about 5 hr 45 min (with a nice wash ride behind a Mirage double for the last six odd km).

After a quick stop I left Wisemans with just under six hours elapsed and started the paddle down to Mooney Mooney. Knowing the tide was coming in, I initially stayed close to the bank, but after nearly decapitating myself in the dark from an overhanging branch that I just saw in time, I decided it was safer to stay in the middle — at least I would stay upright despite paddling slower than I planned.

This was the darkest I had paddled this part of the river and at one stage got ‘lost’ near the low tide pit stop (I thought I was still a couple of turns short of it).

Anyway, I finally worked out which way to go and paddled the rest of the way down the river largely by myself — not many lights to follow when I went through (but at least there was no fog like last year). I managed to finish in just under 10 hours 40 minutes.

Like most people, I would have preferred a slightly faster time (there is always next year) but overall I’m happy with the time and at least I’m the fastest paddler in my boat type.