Roundup of the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic 2011

By IAN VAILE

The Hawkesbury Classic. It’s the kind of race that once you do it you’ll either never go near it again or you’re hooked for life. This year was marked by two things: no moon and seriously challenging tides, with two slow incoming tides bracketing an outgoing.

Fourteen NSWSKC paddlers fronted Windsor Bridge. Everyone finished, with some remarkable results. Derek won his class (the hotly contested Open LREC) and four other paddlers clocked a second in their classes.

Arranged by time, here’s how we fared:

Class – Time – Handicap

Derek Chart – Open LREC – 11:31:50 – 11:49:49
Geeb Smith – Open LREC – 11:50:14 – 12:08:42
Rae Duffy & Cathy Miller – Ladies 50+LREC2 – 12:05:05 – 10:04:43
Adrian Goodwin & Clare McArthur – Brooklyn or Bust – (B or B) – 12:33:34 – N/A
Ian Vaile – 50+LREC – 12:55:40 – 12:27:45
David Fisher – B or B – 12:56:25 – N/A
John Duffy – B or B – 12:56:28 – N/A
Campbell Tiley – 50+LREC – 13:01:22 – 12:33:14
Mark Schroeder* – 50+LREC – 13:22:00 – 12:52:35
Andrew Kucyper – B or B – 16:46:12 – N/A
Tim Ring – 50+LREC – 16:48:08 – 16:11:50
Roger White – B or B – 18:29:43 – N/A

Every paddler has a story, but none so heartbreaking as Mark Schroeder’s tale of infidelity and heartbreak:

Dear X,

Yes, yes, I have been unfaithful to you. My first time was with a little black Flash, and then I did it again with a double surf-ski, a threesome no less! I was younger, what can I say.

But you, your comfortably wide bottom has carried me far and wide, across the oceans, and that’s why I felt I owed you a debt of gratitude and why I spurned other younger, racier models this time. I was true to you, even though Rae shamelessly offered me a ride in her Flash.

So why did you treat me that way? Could you really have been carrying a grudge all this time?

I know it wasn’t your fault I missed my start by 15 minutes, I just had a brain fade, leaving me the only single to depart amongst a flock of doubles… not something I even realised until I looked around me on the start line. Shocked and slightly horrified I decided I’d find a double to wash-ride until I caught up with my class and then settle into a do-able pace. All very well until the hooter sounded, when I discovered the flaw in my plan; fresh doubles go quite a bit faster than singles. A couple were way too slow, most were way too fast but I hooked onto one, still going faster than I wanted, but hey it was a ride and it was only for maybe 20km I guessed before I might catch up with my Long Rec tribe to work with them for the rest of the race.

All good until you, my dear X, decided to bite me and drop your rudder. That’s right, popped clean off the boat at around 5km in! You picked a fine time to screw me. Suddenly the awful thought of 105km of empty river ahead of me filled my head. Struggling to the shore, replacing the rudder and rushing back out towards the disappearing doubles fleet, I determined to re-catch them no matter what.  Problem is this took an all-out 5km sprint at my absolute max… sustained only by the thought, as I ground down the metres, that once I get there I’ll recover a little on the wash.

And then just as I regained contact, you dropped the rudder again. Did I really deserve that? I only gave that Point 65 XP18 a quick sideways glance, I only slid into the Taran very briefly. You broke my heart there and then, under 15km into the race, I was destroyed, the mental game over, and my speed plummeted. In training 30km had become easy, but now, for the first time in three Hawkesburys, I pulled into Sackville sickly and ready to abandon – that’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?

Well, I didn’t. I plugged on to spite you, even enjoying some 25km following Wisemans, marvelling at the phosphorescence, watching the cool fog roll up the jagged tops as dawn broke, wincing in pain as my remaining morale ebbed away with my time ambitions… paddling on… and on… and on.

And so my Raider X, having done 11:05 my first year, 10:22 my second, this year you took 13:22 out of my life… that’s definitely way too much time to spend together. I lasted the distance but next year you’re dropped. And now it’s over between us, I have a confession I should share with you:

It’s not you, it’s me!

(*Mark’s time above is adjusted at his request!)

Andrew Kucyper has a more uplifting tale:

Inspired by Cathy Miller’s description of the rescues carried out by her team in the 2010 event, I hoped that this time I will rescue somebody who capsized. For such purpose I carried out a tow rope attached to my kayak. I had two occasions for this, firstly about 25km from the start, when I spotted an overturned ocean ski and rushed up to help. But help was not needed. For the second time, somewhere close to Dargle, I think that it was a K4, difficult to see it in the darkness. However, before I reached them another kayaker, in a Mirage, started towing the kayak to shore with the crew hanging on to their boat.

Up until Wisemans (from Sackville) I suffered strong and unusual waves of stomach cramps. However, at Wisemans, after a full cup of pumpkin soup from the LCRKC group, just before re-entering the kayak, I threw up everything from my guts. Suddenly I became a new man, able to paddle to the low tide pit stop while enjoying the night scenery, without any of the previous suffering. It was really very enjoyable!
In my fifth Classic I decided to stop at the low tide pit stop for the first time. What a great experience it was! What dedicated and useful task the crew there was fulfilling!

For the first time in many years I was able to pass other boats without being overtaken by a single boat (post-Wisemans).

Derek Chart was determined, and it paid off by winning his class. His paddling comrade Geeb Smith hit the ramp at Mooney in 11:50, coming second. Derek’s tale:

This year was my fourth year participating in the Classic and I was determined to make it my best yet. I went into the race with a mindset to make 11 hours which would have escalated my personal best time by about 30 minutes each year since I started. With two third placings in the past, I wanted a blue ribbon this time. Once the gun went, I let the leaders power off and set myself up for a steady but fast pace and by about 3 hours into the race I had caught up to them.

Stopping at Wisemans… always a Godsend… massage, food, water… back on the river in 10 minutes. Rounding the bend from Spencer, it was eerie with all the fog and no idea where I was going, thank you GPS. Brought it home in a new PB, so pleased – so bloody sore! Thanks heaps to my paddling buddy, Geeb Smith, who pushed me so hard in 2010 and was part of my motivation this year… a very deserving second in our class.

Huge thank you to the road crew this year. Despite text messages from friends suggesting that the Classic was just a supporting paddle to the Road Crews ‘pub crawl’, they did an outstanding job with supplies and encouragement, and the most important cold esky at the finish. The Road Crew also arranged an interview with ABC Radio Central Coast to chat about the race, loads of fun!

Cathy Miller and Rae Duffy brought their Mirage 730 home in 12:05, which on handicap placed them 13th overall, the best placing in the club. Cathy takes up the story:

Before the race I set my goal, which was pretty simple really: get Rae to the end, which meant I got there too. If one of us arrived without the other, we’d be in trouble seeing as we were in a Mirage 730.  And my other goal was to smile at the ground crew at the end because that would mean we were still in good shape. We knew in advance we’d get three tides – slow, fast, then incredibly slow, so we hoped for 12 hours but thought it was probably a ‘stretch target’.

At the start, Rae and I sprinted to catch up with a Super Sonic double, which paid off as we rode on their wash in the ‘sweet spot’. We managed to hang with them for about 8km then they left us. My race plan is always to stop during the race and look after my needs. The whole racing mentality where they just go like a bat out of hell is just not for me.

When the second boat in our class passed us meaning we would come in third, I was relieved when Rae said, “It’s hours to go, just let them go”. From then on, we just ran our own race and we rewarded ourselves with a small break at each checkpoint.  This meant we made it to the end in good form and it was such a joy to finish in 12:05 at 4.15am, right on our target. Rae is a great paddling partner; tenacious, positive and determined, gently reminding me where to steer when I had one of my many ‘vague’ moments and patiently putting up with her less organised partner.

Rae was picked up by her daughter at 5am, on a plane at 11am to fly to the Gold Coast for a two week sea kayak trip in Moreton Bay.  This meant she had to get back into a sea kayak at 5pm that evening after minimal sleep to start the trip, a gutsy effort indeed considering I know how sore her bum was.

The other club double was paddled by Adrian Goodwin and Clare Macarthur, coming in at 12:33. Adrian writes:

This was the second time down the river for Clare and me.  We had last done it in 2008 in a time of 12:25 and our aim was to do a little better than that. Once again, we weren’t interested in being competitive because our barge-like Horizon double would be one of the slowest boats in the LREC2 class. But that said, we were interested in doing our best given the boat and the flat blades we normally use with it.  That rationale saw us launch at 4.30pm in the Brooklyn or Bust category for doubles.  We finished with an elapsed time 12:33, slower than last time, but we were delighted with our effort! By my reckoning, allowing for tides, we would have paddled the 2008 out-in-out course in about 11 hours.  That’s why my tired face is smiling!

Was it about improving on a time?  Not really.  It’s more about the satisfaction of preparing for and completing a challenge which until quite recently seemed absurd.  When we first started paddling in 2008 with the Sunday Paddlers group, we’d need an afternoon siesta to recover from the 15-20km morning paddle.  How was it possible to even hold a paddle for 12+ hours let alone propel oneself 111km with it?  That’s part of the amazing personal transformation that big challenges like the HCC allow.  Also the bonds of friendship that develop whilst sharing the challenge in a double.  Each training run Clare and I did was a little adventure and we enjoyed every one of our fifteen Saturday and Sunday jaunts.  And in the race itself… the satisfying feeling of rhythm, the power of unison, the phases of easy and hard, the fun and the frustration, phosphorescence pluming off the bow and paddles, the fogbound entrance to Milsons Passage (thank God for the GPS), and then finally the Passage, the bridge and the warm welcome.  We’d made it!  Buggered but satisfied.

John Duffy, Dave Fisher and I all clocked in within a minute of each other. John writes:

Many years ago, when I was in my first HCC and struggling towards the finish line beyond 16 hours, I thought doing nine more to get to ten would be a worthy goal to work towards.  Like milestone birthdays, I didn’t expect the tenth one would come round so soon.

I had been solidly preparing through regular weekly time trials down Sydney’s Lane Cove River and rounded out by longer weekend paddles.  Preparations were interrupted with the death of my wife’s dad. That sort of thing certainly puts the Classic into perspective.  It meant a USA trip for Bob’s funeral before the event, and I dedicated the race to him.  But the theft of my trusty Mirage 530 four weeks out from the event really threw a spanner in the works.  I’d paddled thousands of kilometres in that boat and I was confounded by who would do such a thing.  I was overwhelmed with offers of replacement kayaks from far and wide and settled on an identical 530 from a good friend.

A few years ago I erected a dodgy contraption on the deck of the kayak to house a couple of speakers.  I found listening to music out loud achieved two goals: the music keeps my mind off the discomfort, and I can still carry on an uninterrupted conversation with other paddlers.  The banter between paddlers is what makes the HCC so special.  The music certainly helped me this year, although I am not sure it helped everyone else.

I hooked up with two friends at Sackville in Mirage 580s and we eventually cruised into Wisemans in very good shape.  Minutes after Wisemans, I almost came to grief when I hit a houseboat mooring side on and came very close to tipping out.  We kept along at a cracking pace, three abreast, stopping after every checkpoint for 15-30 seconds for quick stretches.  Sometime later the trio picked up a kayaker promoting and offering No Doze.  I recall his name was Dave Fisher, president of NSWSKC.  And then there were four of us.

While in sight of the finish I could sense the PB slipping away and, surprising myself, dropped my bundle.  But knowing I left absolutely nothing in the tank, and having kept up with faster boats for the last 75km, I wasn’t a bit disappointed.  The company I was with for much of the race was fantastic.  The HCC was and always is a pleasure to be part of.  I’ll be back

Dave’s night was driven by his desire for a PB, always a tough ask with the contrary tides. But he managed it:

I can honestly say I was knackered at the end and, it sounds funny, but it wasn’t that way last time.  After Wisemans, it was down to guessing how long the ebbing tide would last us, what impact the changing tide might have and keeping the effort and pace going to give it a red hot chance of beating a 5.00am finish. Even in Milsons Passage, the last few kilometres, it was clear it was going to be touch and go whether I’d beat a 5.00am finish. So I dug deep for the best sprint finish I could muster.  I was dousing my head, neck and back in water to try to cool down despite it still being pre-dawn.

This year was another personal best time by the slender margin of 8 minutes and I’m super pleased with it, especially considering the tides were more adverse than in 2009.   This was the sixth time I entered.  My time was certainly helped by teaming up with fellow Mirage 580 paddlers John Duffy, Andrew Benoit, and Chris Thompson at Wisemans Ferry.

Except for 1992, each race has been in my Mirage 580.  This year was the first for a while with a straight shaft paddle.  My wrists didn’t suffer the same creaking that they did in that first effort in 2006.

Thanks to my hard working landcrew, Lynda and to the support of the John, Andrew and Chris.

Roger White delivered an epic race this year, paddling well into the morning:

I look at the race times and I wonder how people can get their various bits of plastic down 100km of river in such a short time?  One of them (Ian) didn’t even use a proper paddle.

Obviously Rae must have forgotten to point out some important feature on the forward stroke, I hope she can remember what it is and correct it for me before the next one.

An amazing event. The paddlers and their huge range of craft, some didn’t even look sea worthy.  Some with disco music to help them downstream. One looked like it had an esky on the back.  I met up with fantastic people, fifteen year old school girls just enjoying the effort and the scenery as they paddled their double.  Or the guys in some kind of open canoe who couldn’t stop for coffee at the low tide pit stop because they were on target with their times to win. They were the only ones in their class.  I needed the coffee earlier, as I got the nods and fell to one side, lucky my blade was flat at that moment and I managed to save a capsize. And how did the two stand-up paddlers do it?  They still beat me.

Which brings me to the most important result: out of 97 starters for Brooklyn or Bust, I came in at 77!  God bless Alastair Morris for being in the race and coming 78th.  The rest didn’t finish.

What more can I say.  It’s a night I will treasure.

And this year I decided to go the Greenland stick. My eighth Classic and my plan was simple: just don’t get out of the boat. My wonderful crew waded out through the mud at Wisemans to bring me hot chocolate, and then away again. The phosphorescence was beautiful, with sudden green lightning strikes at my bow as I spooked big fish. I still managed to hit a tree (again) cutting too close to the bank (again) but the rest of the night was delightful. Clocked in at second in my class so it appears the stick isn’t as much of a handicap as I had expected. Next time though I’ll remember to inflate my cushion!

A very strong showing by the club again this year, I’d lay money on every one of the paddlers being back in 2012. OK, maybe Mark will be in another boat.

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