Hawkesbury Canoe Classic 2009 [77/78]

by several participants

Intro by Raewyn Duffy

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 33 years. Each year about 600 participants compete in so many classes of boats and ages that the race is more about your own goals than competing against others.

It raises funds for the Arrow 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 starts 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.

Seventeen club members competed and everyone finished — a fantastic achievement. At least six other club members crewed. Definitely a night to remember and in Rob’s words ‘every kayaker should do it at least once’.

Here are the participants’ reports.

Sarah Williams

Ladies open Long Rec 2, Mirage 730. 12 hr 28 min, 43rd on handicap

It seemed like such a good idea over that glass of wine. We bought a second hand Mirage 730, got excellent advice from Rob Mercer… started training… and…Justine got pregnant! Ah! Rozetta stepped up and we were back in business.

What a buzz at the start! Great fun chatting to the boats around us and people on the bank. We were ahead of schedule at Sackville and headed to Wisemans as the sun set. We picked up a few people’s wake on the way to Wisemans which helped as we got more tired. Distraction was good — Abba and the Black Eyed Peas were on our soundtrack!

We were still ahead at Wisemans, so I took extra time as my stomach wasn’t in good shape. Final advice for each of us from our wise land crew went like this:

To me: ‘Take it easy for a bit, just get your body back into it.’

To Rozetta: ‘Don’t kill Sarah!’

The last section was hard. It was surreal paddling in the dark — now and again we saw the glowsticks of other boats in the inky blackness — otherwise there was nothing. The GPS gave up so we relied on Rozetta’s great navigation skills and the channel markers. We stopped for food at about 3.30 am and we heard callouts from a passing boat… it was colleagues of mine! What a coincidence and a great lift!

We finished slightly over our target time, completely exhausted, but so pleased. What a fantastic event!. And thanks to our spectacular landcrew.

Gina Shannon

Brooklyn or Bust1, Epic 18. 13 hr 20 min, First Time

That was one long, dark, painful, AWESOME night. I have blisters the size of small planets on most of my fingers, and a great respect for Dee, who was obviously still able to raise her arms above her head at the finish…there was no way I could have managed it. Actually I think I was kind of delirious when I got out — thanks to Andrew Eddy for keeping me upright!

But Rae was right about one thing — the reward of having finished far outweighs the pain (or at least it will in a day or two). I wouldn’t have had the will to keep going without the insanely committed support of friends and land crew. Running into fellow NSWSKC members on the river was a real buzz, and everyone had words of encouragement to share.

Yesterday, had you asked, I would have sworn that was my first and last Classic. Now, I’m not so sure. With a little more training up front, and better nutrition on the night (more gel shots, less muesli bars, better hydration system) and most of all — a real idea of what I’m up against, who knows?

What a fantastic experience!

Ian Vaile

Long Rec1 40+, Mirage 580. 12 hr 8 min, 6th time, 66th on handicap

This one was number six for me and with the combination of bad tides and no moon it was definitely a tough one. I dips me lid to the Brooklyn or Bust paddlers who had an extra hour of flood tide and heat to contend with at the start — well done! Congratulations too to our dedicated land crews, who make it all happen for us and who don’t have as much… fun.

Some reflections… this was the first time I had done it alone; it’s a different race in a single. It was quite eventful; I fished a paddler out of the water at about 7 pm, with a bit of help from a couple of others; I had intemperate words with a paddler who had a bright white light fixed to his bow, blinding everyone in front of him; I thought I would be cogitating and internally talking all the way but was struck by just how little I actually thought about once I was in the groove (no surprise to my beloved Cathy, I’m sure); I managed to prune a bit of a dead tree using my forehead by unwittingly cutting too close to the invisible right bank somewhere after checkpoint M, immediately followed by an arresting encounter with a big oystery rock that stuck out at right angles into the stream (I moved a bit back to the left after that!) and was entranced again by the phosphorescence — it’s like paddling through green liquid fire, an unexpected repeated morale booster in the depths of the night.

This time around I used a lot of those gels — I reserved a caffeinated one for 2 am, that was definitely another log on the fire. I had the iPod plugged in from Wisemans. I didn’t realise quite how much teenage-girl pop my daughter had put on it so there were some unexpected tracks, but it was also a great lift.

I remembered how disheartening the last five kilometres or so are, especially when the end heaves into view and then recedes furiously for an eternity… I made the last 10 kilometres powered by snakes — won’t mind if I don’t taste one again for a year.

I feel privileged and proud to be part of this club, and was really struck by how good all the club members I saw looked when they finished — not just handsome and comely in a raffish way (goes without saying) but in physically good shape, not shattered, hypothermic, or hypoglycemic, getting out of the boats with a smile and a joke. Dee’s picture captures that. I think it says a lot for the culture of the club that people paced themselves so well and took care of their water, food and warmth so successfully. ʊ

Matt Bezzina

Brooklyn or Bust, Mirage 530. 12 hr 53 min, 3rd time

When I ruined my Hawkesbury Classic 2007 T-shirt I knew I’d have to do the damn thing again.

This time it took me 31 minutes longer than last time but as I did it straight through without landing, didn’t take any drugs and finished in good shape I was satisfied nonetheless. Unfortunately I don’t like the design of the 2009 HCC T-shirt so I’ll have to do the bloody thing again next year.

Peter Osman

Brooklyn or Bust, Mirage 580. 14 hr 55 min, 5th time

My paddle was relatively relaxed although I did get a boost for a few minutes when Rae and Kate let me wash ride behind them and I tried desperately to keep up.

From 3-4 am was weird. There were no other paddlers ahead of me and it was very very dark. I got lost for about 10 minutes, then saw a green light flashing away in the distance. All the flashing lights: headlights, navigation lights etc played tricks with my never brilliant eyes and I started seeing optical illusions. These included aʧreat many bridges looking like aqueducts, the occasional street sign appearing and vanishing on the water and at one stage a whole field of wild waving grass on the water. Fortunately it was only my eyes and not my head so I had enough sense not to go for a walk on the grass! Unfortunately none of these optical illusions included mermaids — ah well, can’t have everything!

Well done everyone — what a night!

Anne Moore & Simon McGuire

Brooklyn or Bust 2, Mirage 730. 13 hr 6 min, First Time (Anne)

At the time of writing Simon was undertaking a paddle from Byron Bay to Newcastle, a distance of over 600 km. Simon completed half the Classic last year and teamed up in a double with Anne this year. This is Anne’s view of their Classic.

This was my first attempt and I thought this could be the toughest adventure I’d ever attempted. My husband Owen has crook shoulders so I had to find a partner for the Queen Mary (Mirage 730). Luckily I met cool dude Simon.

Unfortunately Simon moved from Lake Macquarie to Harrington so we didn’t get many opportunities to practise together. I found myself doing the familiarization paddles or setting off around Lake Macquarie by myself. Our one practice together in the Myall Classic saw us battling winds gusting up to 40 knots and big wind waves. Many boats capsized and the event was shortened to 36 km (from the scheduled 47 km). Nevertheless, it was a good practice paddle.

As the big day approached I started getting doubts — had I done enough long paddles? Arriving at Windsor I got excited and drawn into the activities of the day rather than trying to get some sleep.

The first 30 kilometres to Sackville, still being daylight, had a very social atmosphere. We chatted to all the paddlers as we passed them going down river, in relatively high spirits. I wondered if some paddlers would make it to the finish.

The lights of Wisemans Ferry were a welcoming sight but it seemed to take ages to reach. We were greeted by our cheery land crew with a warm pasta dish and hot coffee. I had difficulties walking so thought by the end of the paddle I might not be able to walk at all. This was further motivation for later not stopping at the low tide pit stop between Wisemans and Spencer, even though it looked most welcoming with a big roaring fire.

After our only pit stop at Wisemans, we pushed on at a steady pace, in the pitch dark and into the flood tide during the early morning hours, with no moon and few paddlers to follow or to talk to. This was probably the toughest part of the journey.

After paddling through Milsons Passage at approximately 5.20 am and seeing the lit-up Hawkesbury Bridge we decided we had to finish by 6.00 am. Believe it or not we still had some fuel left in the tank and sprinted, reaching the finish still in the dark at 5.36 am. A big thanks go to our land crew of Owen and Graeme who assisted us, whips and all.

Good preparation is the key. I had one blister on my foot from not testing out my footwear on a long paddle, otherwise I pulled up well at the finish and recovered in a good shape, with no need for a massage the next day.

My trick to get Simon over the finish line this year was to tell him some little untruths about the distance left to paddle to a checkpoint; that is we only had 10 km to go when really it was 15.

Simon is talking about attempting the paddle in a single kayak next year so I’ll probably be looking for a new partner to accompanying me in the Queen Mary — or will I go solo?

David Fisher

Brooklyn or Bust, Mirage 580. 13 hr 3 min, 5th Classic, Personal best by 2 hr 21 min

This was my first year going hardcore. It was also the first year that I felt I had done enough paddling and my forward stroke progressed enough that I could even attempt going hardcore.

Matt taunted me into not getting out and, aside from five minutes at Wisemans, that is what happened.

I had a dark hour in which my arms wouldn’t work. I couldn’t really tell how long it lasted. I was just trying to shake it away. I loaded up on Bounty bars, gels, a banana that I had forgotten about and a bread roll (that combo sounds great doesn’t it!) and some time later, presto my body was shaking with sugar and ready to roll. I just had to keep the gels up for the next 3 hours….and I powered to the finish at 5:03 am in the dark.

Mark Gillett & Andrew Charlton

Long Rec 50+, Mirage 580. 11 hr 46 min, 3rd Classic, 54th on handicap resp. Long Rec 40+, Mirage 580. 11 hr 46 min, 5th Classic, 70th on handicap

Reflections on the journey down the Big H in Ocky Arrow…

Windsor: This was my third Classic in a row, but first in a single 580. Gee it hurts more, that extra hour without my Tail End Charlie (i.e. TEC = Andrew Charlton) in the rear power engine room of the 730. The first leg was hot-fast with a few duelling paddles, first the other 580s under Windsor Bridge, then those dream boats, the pushy 730s. Tagged on to a few conga lines for first 16 kilometres just behind TEC’s 580, then dropped off and struggled with the heat and wind. Lost my cream Legionnaire hat which I removed to cool down. If anyone found one please give me a call, it may have changed colour and maybe even glows in the dark by now.

Sackville: What a buzz is that night landing, manoeuvring and the river traffic virtually in the dark. I was boiling on arrival, too fast too early, almost pulled out, amazing what two Panadols, a sweet rub from my roadie (Anne my wife), a few encouraging words and stretching the legs for five minutes will do. We paddled non-stop to Wisemans Ferry last year but I recommend the Sackville quick pit stop to everyone.

Leaving The Sax beach, a double Vulcan was arriving but capsized 15 m from the shore and just beside The Ocky Arrow. I’m not sure if I contributed — hope not — Roadie reckoned I did. Tagged on to TEC — renamed Out Front Charlie (OFC) — who had waited a few minutes for me at The Sax, fresh as a daisy. I reckon he had a nap while waiting.

About halfway to Wisemans Ferry in pitch blackness an outrigger passes us and within a minute a great bang, swearing and two red lights slowly raised 2 m above the middle of the river, then a splash and numerous bodies were in the water. I stopped and turned on my torch to discover the outrigger had hit a thumping big unlit green buoy and capsized about 15 m in front of Ocky Arrow. I helped find the paddles, they righted and all was well. The stars and moon were brilliant and the temperature and wind dropped — ideal if not for the pain all over and the 730s gliding by effortlessly.

Wisemans Ferry: Wow, is that a great sight, but how long does it take to paddle to those tiny lights off in the blackness? It felt like a real fairyland, only the traffic was like Sydney Airport on a long weekend. Quick stop, rub, forced feed while standing and changing clothes and off in 15 minutes.

Met up with Gina numerous times on this leg; how good did you do for a first timer especially in this last leg. The water was bitter sweet, magic lit up with the phosphorescence but that tide — ouch! No capsizes sighted in this leg. With 6 km to go, OFC asked if I wanted a coffee. Out came the thermos and after a cuppa we ended up sprinting the last 5 km at 9.5 km/hr. Who said caffeine is not a stimulus?!

Brooklyn: Tide with you, no wind, no heat and the finish in sight, caffeine up. And that announcer, how good was he?! It was eerie just before and after OFC and I dead-heated at 5.13 am. Every second finisher was a NSWSKCer. Ohhh what a night!

Rohan Marshall

Long Rec, Mirage 580. 11 hr 55 min, First Time, 73rd on handicap

One day late 2008 I met two NSW Sea Kayak Club members at Palm Beach whilst taking a breather from falling off my surf ski. The husband and wife team had paddled their Mirages over from Ettalong. After talking to them for a while I paddled home and put my surf ski up for sale.

Soon, as the owner of a 580 I could paddle wherever I wanted without falling in. Great! I decided I needed a goal — something to force me to get on the water. The Hawkesbury Classic was the natural choice.

At first it seemed ridiculous to even think of doing that paddle but as time went on it became set in my mind. I did the first familiarisation paddle to Spencer and back and went OK. I also found out about Lyle Mead. He offers a coaching service and is an accomplished paddler. I figured some guidance would help if I was seriously going to attempt this paddle. So about three months before the race I started training according to Lyle’s program.

Although the longest paddle I did was the (cut short) Myall Classic, I felt confident about my fitness. My major concern was my seat. I had tried a few different options — all homemade foam seats to replace the standard 580 seat. Unfortunately the Myall River paddle revealed just how painful paddling can be in the wrong seat. So with a few weeks to go I made mark II, with a lot of help from others and Google.

Race day — fully loaded with carbs — such a lot of effort to eat ONE donut guilt free! Well rested and tapered thanks to the training schedule, we arrived at Windsor with enough Endura for four people. Down to the start, homemade hydration tube holder fitted, in I hop for a quick warm-up paddle.

The moment arrives and I am off, paddling like mad trying to stick somewhere near the front. I settle in behind a conga line of kayaks and watch the manoeuvring. Gradually we drift apart and I enjoy, finally, a little personal space. After two hours I feel quite bad pain in my right shoulder and my right lower back. After pushing hard every time a faster double passes, trying to grab a free ride, I realise it’s time to go easy or I’ll be lucky to make it to Sackville. I pause to take the first dose of Voltaren. Over the next 12 hours I end up taking 10 and I’m sure they didn’t work — the mental comfort is something though.

The sun starts to set and the river is glorious. This is why I wanted to do this paddle — such a wonderful sport, surrounded by great people who share the same emotions. Then, from the left bank… ‘Homos, you’re all homos,’ comes the cry from a water ski campsite. I just laugh, keep paddling.

Sackville comes and goes and then we are into serious night time. After more bends than I thought, finally the lights of Wisemans come into view. I hit the shore after six hours paddling, happy with my time, thanks to the tides, and start looking for my crew. After 15 minutes of searching I start to realise I am wasting time and running out of ideas when suddenly I bump into my surprised wife, closely followed by our friend and second land crew, both of whom seem a little caught out. I later found out they were having a rest in the car as they didn’t expect me — good lesson for next year.

Thirty-five minutes later I am pushing off into the darkness with dry clothes and full hydration packs. My good luck with the ferries ends and I have to wait at both. Then we are away. I follow the trail of fading Cyalumes and every now and then push on my GPS to see where the hell I am meant to be going. This bit was hard — dark, in pain, tired and a long way to go. On and on, then a nice surprise — low tide pit stop. I’ve taken in too much Endura and my body has given up processing it. A quick coffee by the fire and back in for the final stretch.

My goal was under 12 hours but by now I am totally complacent about it. I just want to finish. My back pain is excruciating and I SWEAR I will never do this again.

Paddle on and on — have a nice chat with a fellow NSW Sea Kayak club member — David I think. Talking to him is great — distracts my mind from the pain and the need to keep pushing to reach my goal. Finally the tide turns and a look at the GPS says 4:58 am finish. Right, paddle on and I might just make it.

Watching the minutes tick by, I slide across the line four minutes under 12 hours. I am pulled from the boat and stand up. Not jubilant or overawed, just really worn out and in pain. I hobble back to the car and take a l-o-n-g time to get changed. More pills, lie down in the car seat, pain still pumping. Never, never again.

Home. Hugs with family. Fight (yep — legal fight with my Dad) for more pain killers. GIVE ME SOME MORE. Bed. Sleep. Wake up…

Pain is gone. Feel pretty good. How was my time ? Could go faster next year…wouldn’t mind…wonder how much a faster kayak costs.

Now, a few weeks later, the memories of the pain have all but gone. It was a great night, A great atmosphere and wonderful people. A magical experience and certainly a great way to spend one of my nights on this planet. (That was one thought I actually did have on the night.)

Next year, they are saying full moon, better tides, maybe get a faster boat, train more, paddle faster, more donuts…

Hard to say no.

Simon Padmore

Med Rec1, Tracer. 12 hr 56 min, First Time, 105th on handicap

During the lead-up to the race it was great to meet, paddle with and exchange ideas on the great race with people from the club. I was especially motivated by the people who had done it several times before and seemed totally at ease with the prospect of spending 14+ hours to complete the race. On race day I was stoked to be part of the NSWSKC team that met on the grass for the photo.

I mistakenly believed the night would be chilly (from past experience) and the brilliant day and hot winds would trick everyone into hypothermia. So I wore my warmest thermal pants and long sleeve thermal under my heavy long sleeve cag! As the race progressed I was literally on fire and while I was still in the leading group from my start I decided not to remove any gear to cool down lest I drop from the pack.

Red-hot, blue-hot, white-hot, I started to feel blissfully euphoric which fell away to a searing/blinding headache and vomiting then out of control dry retching — great!

I’d been dropped from my group and was having a pretty horrid time.

I pushed on and passed Richard Barnes’ wiggly tail. Richard, who was paddling a short white water kayak, told us all at the Hawkesbury race sea kayak dinner that finishing was ‘just a state of mind’.

I had trained hard and one member of my support crew had travelled from Tassie to see me finish. This was a turning point for me and seeing someone so happy to be out there made solid my determination to cross the finish line.

At Wisemans I could tell by my land crews’ faces that all was not well. It took me 50 minutes to change out of my sweaty spew-covered gear and into dry stuff. My chilly night had still not descended. I was only able to stomach a small cup of coffee and couldn’t even face a whole Tim Tam as a burning throat from throwing up prevented me from wanting to eat.

I set off again and soon after passed Richard’s waggly tail for the second time. Although hazards were some-times marked I still managed to crash into a few trees fallen into the river as well as running aground twice and scraping the bottom of my boat. I witnessed other boats struggling with obstacles, including a double kayak that T-boned a moored motor yacht at full speed — ouch!

I had sense enough to stay hydrated, forcing myself to keep taking sips of water despite the fact that it seemed to bounce straight back up. I only ate one of my expensive supercharged energy gels/bars the whole race. Determination to beat the sun saw me cross the finish line at about 5.40, just under 13 hours after I started the race.

During training I had been seeing a physio due to a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder. He has since ordered a new BMW for himself and no doubt when he hears I have broken my lower right leg and dislocated my ankle at the surf club last weekend will probably order one for his wife as well!

Andrew Kucyper

Brooklyn or Bust, Mirage 580. 16 hr 55 min, 3rd Classic

This year I decided to do everything possible to have great enjoyment and spiritual uplift while paddling.

I also decided to change my diet. Namely, instead of relying on liquid food only (Endura-Optimizer and Gatorade) I decided to experiment with Kelloggs Sustain cereals and ordinary (full cream) milk.

My land crew had a gas stove and at the pit stops (firstly at Windsor, before the start and later at Sackville and Wisemans) prepared for me a big bowl of cereal with hot milk. My total food intake, during the event, was two litres of milk with 700 g cereal at the pit stops and Gatorade during travel. Downstream of Spencer I also had a few rice bars.

As I was there for enjoyment only, I spent two hours at each of the pit stops.

I think that my goal was reached as I was not struggling at the last 10 km, and was not humiliated there by other boats passing me (as it happened during previous years). I enjoyed paddling under very bright starlight, with no wind, no fog and just-right air temperature.

Dee Ratcliffe

Ladies Med Rec 40+, Mirage 530. 13 hr 53 min, First Time, 41st on Handicap

Only twice for brief moments did I hit that ‘gee, this is good paddling and I am in the zone’ feeling. Most of the time it was just hard. But all the hours spent training paid off and my arms and body kept on paddling.

I never realised how many Mirage 730s exist! They seemed to overtake me all night long. For some mad reason at 4.15 am, I decided I wanted to finish by 6.15, so I paddled even harder! At least that shook me out of the sleep zone I was in at the time.ʠAmazing what little things kept me going — reaching a checkpoint and awarding myself with a brief stop to check the map and maybe eat some gel goo. The gels were fantastic, as I didn’t want to use time peeling bananas or reaching for food. My apologies to Rob for almost sending him into the river for a swim…oops!

My thoughts during so much of Saturday night were that anyone who did this more than once was crazy, stark-raving mad!ʠBut by the next afternoon I was contemplating what I will be doing next time…argh!!! The Hawkesbury addiction has struck!

Kate Nicholls (4th Classic) & Raewyn Duffy (2nd)

Womens Long Rec2 40+, Mirage 730. 11 hr 41 min, 17th on handicap

Kate: This was a tough, dark night and seemed longer and more challenging than last year. It’s the second Classic we have done together. Our training schedule was going well until I was whisked off overseas by my handsome new boyfriend. I was away during much of that very important training period — the six weeks prior to the event. Prior to leaving I assured Rae that I’d do some cross training whilst away. But the reality was that I didn’t do anything but eat, drink and have fun.

All in all our preparation was somewhat compromised so we were very pleased to achieve our goal — to beat last year’s time of 11 hr 50 min and therefore break the record for our age group.

Rae: We started at 4:15 pm and set off strongly, passing boats from the 4 pm start before the first checkpoint. While it’s light there’s a party atmosphere on the water, lots of chatting and things to see. Last year we paddled for a while with Frank and did so again this year (his 21st Classic); he was aiming to beat last year’s time (and did) with the trusted method of buying a faster boat.

Later two schoolboys joined us; they were in high spirits, singing along to their boom box. The music went off and we were surprised and delighted when they sang ‘Toreador’ from ‘Carmen’.

After dark it settled into a long, long night. It was much harder than last year and for most of the night I just wanted it to be over. This would be my last Hawkesbury Classic!

I thought about Gina in her single (so much tougher than a double). I’d told her the Classic was fun and encouraged her to do it. Would she ever talk to me again? We stopped for half an hour at Wisemans then headed out against the tide, determined to finish.

It’s interesting how the body just keeps paddling even when the mind seems to have deserted the process. It felt like that when our friends Greg and Craig caught up to us. They’d had enough and the company boosted morale for all of us. We benefited from their GPS with the course plotted while they enjoyed the music we had playing. We paddled side by side for nearly two hours, chatting and trying to distract ourselves, hugging the shore to avoid the worst of the tide. This was a great strategy until we ran into a tree, Kate lost her hat and I nearly fell out of the boat. By Spencer we were alone again but the end was near and the record still possible.

Reaching Brooklyn is an amazing feeling, a mixture of euphoria and relief. Our wonderful crew Neil and Dean were there to greet us. They’d had a long night but while we staggered to the physio tent they cheerfully cleaned up the boat and gear.

The Hawkesbury does strange things to the mind; within 24 hours we were considering next year’s event and Neil was so inspired that he’s started training too — an enormous step for an aqua-phobic who’s never been in a kayak.

Rob Richmond

Long Rec 50+, Mirage 580. 12 hr 27 min, 3rd Classic, 64th on handicap

It was a tough night. I think the tides had a bit to do with that and certainly much tougher than last year. Everyone who kayaks should do at least one Hawkesbury.

I am planning the training regime now for next year’s race — let’s see if we can entice more members of the NSWSKC to experience the elation after so much pain.

Next year I am sticking to my normal diet. I felt sick eating all those carbs. It took 20 km before I could breath properly, I was so carbed up. I powered between 20 and 60 km, then was sick again — thank goodness for the stop at Wisemans.

Anyway a great night, let’s all do it again next year. You will, won’t you?