Sunday, 14 December 2014

Pain & No Gain in the 20 Beaches

Last year's 20 Beaches Ocean Classic remains one of the all-time great days on the water, a rollicking run from Freshwater to Palm Beach in a fresh howling southerly, golden beach after beach whistling past as we surfed our way along the coast, and then a crash landing through the surf at the finish. 


It certainly got me hooked, and when I saw a forecast this year closely matching conditions from last year I signed up for another go, despite the physical rigours of moving warehouses over the past month leaving me feeling a bit ragged.
The amended course
Unfortunately for the organisers the southerly system predicted kicked earlier & a lot harder than forecast, and closed all of the beaches along the planned route, as well as making a launch through pounding 3m surf impractical for most of the likely competitors. This coupled with the lack of a safe get-out point if anyone didn't go the full 26km forced their hand, and the race was shortened to a 21km, two-lap triangle. Starting from the Pittwater side of Palm Beach, we were to paddle into the teeth of the SE wind out to to a can a couple of kilometres off shore, then downwind to the mighty Lion Island, and back across the breeze & chop to a marker at the start line.


Paddling mate Gavin from the Gold Coast had flown in with his wife Cath for the race, and was paddling our demo V10 Sport, and we lined up with the other 300 paddlers on the start. 

Lacking any credible training for the race & nursing a jammed up hip flexor and a torn rib cartilage, I figured I'd just put my head down & aim to finish, hoping for some joy in the short downwind run from the outside can to Lion Island. And so it went, a brisk start off the line which I for once ignored in favour of setting my own sustainable pace, and then a turn east at the imposing Barrenjoey headland. As we cleared the lee of the cliff the sea jacked up against what must have been an ebb tide, and several sets were as big an anything I've seen, certainly from the seat of my V10. Contending with the headwind blowing the bow off the crests was making me concentrate enough, without also adjusting to the swell rebounding off Barrenjoey, all in all some very unfriendly surfski conditions!
The mayhem around the turning can (thanks to Surfski Australia)
I stopped to help a guy who had gone in way too close to a breaking bombie, offering little more than moral support & company while he finally remounted after 5 goes on the messy sea. Half a dozen guys paddled past through all this, but there was no way they were stopping and risking a similar fate to the swimmer.

Rounding the can there were more swimmers, and the SLSA rescue boat was busy helping out those who weren't nailing their remounts.
Me going past the ocean can (white visor, thanks to Surfski Australia)
As I turned downwind the power and speed of the swell took some adjustment. You can't catch the swells because with a 10-12 second wavelength they're going about 50kmh, but you can latch onto the 'sea' or wind waves that are running on top of the swell. Eventually getting the feel for the waves I started to get some big fast runs and made some ground on a few paddlers in front of me. Just before Lion Island I saw what I thought was a big seal fin poking up in the water. A harder look revealed a dark grey fin about level with my chest, and a body underneath which was a familiar grey/white and very, very long.... The shark was so big I wondered if there are basking sharks anywhere around Sydney (there aren't), and he or she was busy munching away on something tastier than me. A fine incentive to stay upright!
Gav finishes.
After rounding Lion Island there was a long reach across the bay, and the wind and chop, to the finish can, or the lap marker. This was where I started to feel the pinch, the power required to bash through the waves & balance at the same time was messing with my hip & my rib. Getting to the turn there were a lot of paddlers milling around who had obviously decided one lap was enough, and I'll be honest that the thought had crossed my mind. But, I figured I could bail out anywhere along the course with it being so compact, and bugger it, I haven't pulled out of anything yet, and I reckon I can do anything hard that only goes for an hour!
Gary finishes, a gutsy effort.
Another Queensland paddling mate, Gary, had also contemplated pulling out, but saw me coming & turning for another lap & decided he wasn't going to get beaten by me! Love it...

The first lap took me about 1.10, but the second was a painful grind with only the brief downwind spurt to bring a forced smile. I stopped again near the ocean can to help a double who had gone in for the 20th time, but instead had a dip myself. To say I was relieved to nail my remount first go and paddle on would be an understatement.
Me done, but a bit bent & busted.
The last leg to the line across Broken Bay was pretty damn awful. I was trying to nurse my left leg so it wouldn't cramp in the hip flexor - I didn't even want to think about what that would be like out in the middle of a big blowy bay - and the headland just never seemed to get any closer. My speed had slowed to under 7kmh and it was just miserable.

Finally the pink can marking the turn to the sand appeared & I eased over the line to finish. I asked the bloke who grabbed my ski to pull all the &*%@ weed off my rudder, but guess what? No frigging weed, again...! The second lap had taken me nearly 90 minutes, and it felt like longer.... Gavin was there to help me with the boat having done a fantastic time of 2 hours, not that he was feeling too  cheery either; I think the contrary conditions had taken their toll on all who took part.

I learned a lesson from the race, mostly to do with a lack of proper preparation not just from a training perspective, but also physically. I can usually get away with turning up to these things without any specific training, finish them & have some fun along the way, just by virtue of all the time I spend paddling. Like 80% of people who paddle in these races, I'm in it for the experience, to participate and hopefully to crack a few decent runs, and I love the atmosphere of these big events, they're awesome. What was inexcusable on my part though was going into what is a seriously committing ocean race without being 100% right, yet carrying that same 'I'll be right' attitude about something that could have brought me undone. There is no way I would have done the second lap if it wasn't for the myriad support boats on the course, and that's a very bad reason to carry on in an ocean race or paddle. If I was leading a sea paddle & someone had done the same thing and started to struggle, I wouldn't be happy with them. It won't happen again!

The organisers did well to get us a race considering the extreme ocean conditions, and really are to be congratulated on running an event where everyone came back in one piece. Unlike last year where there were smiles & back slaps all round at the great day we'd all had  on the sea, this time there were war stories and weary bones, but a great experience regardless. Thanks to Gav's lovely wife Cath for taking all the pics.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Testing the Fenn Bluefin

The whole landscape of surf ski paddling has changed over the past 4 years, traceable pretty much to the day the Epic V8 was released. Suddenly you didn't need a background in surf life saving or competitive K paddling as a pre-requisite for being able to even stay upright on an ocean ski, the double whammy of uber stability and genuine ski performance combined in a mass-produced, mass marketed craft now there for all to enjoy.

Over the preceding years there have been a few excellent additions to the genre, with Think bringing out the Eze for smaller framed paddlers and more recently the Big Eze, but the one that has gone a little under the radar is the Fenn Bluefin. Longer than the other entry level skis at 5.8m, and with a sleeker look, it's slightly over the established spec for the genre, and we've been curious about whether this translates to a more advanced performance.

Yesterday on the bay provided a very good opportunity to test the boat in some blustery conditions, with a boomer of southerly producing squally winds ranging for 25-36 knots. While this produces an extreme sea state, on Botany Bay it kicks up boat-length waves running at about 13-15kmh, steep enough to push you all the way from one side to the other in half an hour. The strong wind warning issued by the BOM meant our regular Dolls Point Paddle was cancelled, so Rob & I took the chance to go for a one way, downwind paddle, me in the Bluey & Rob in the Pace 17.

We busted out into the headwind towards Towra Point to give ourselves a bit more downwind time, then turned and scooted all the way to the airport. The little waves lined up perfectly, and we both enjoyed run after run, easing the boats along the bumps.

The first thing that strikes you about the Bluefin is the way it surfs. Like its older sibling the Swordfish it is built for catching runners. A couple of short strokes, a lean forward, and you're inevitably whistling along on the sweet spot of the wave. Being used to my ultra V10, I eased a couple of times when another stroke might have got me a longer run, but that's to be expected when you're in a ski so damn stable you could text & drive for fun. It's also nimble enough to carve around by eye - look left, go left - with a delightful loose tracking stern that slides when you want it to without broaching. Pity was the ride was only 20 minutes, as we neared the airport I was really staring to get the hang of it.

I think it's important to test a design like the Bluefin in these sorts of seas, it's the kind of stuff an ambitious beginner should be aiming to get into and master, and an entry-level ski shouldn't punish you for mistakes like the more advanced designs can. Experience has shown me that mastery of an elite ski on flat water, even to the extent of being very fast, rarely translates to proficiency in moving water on that same advanced craft. Something like a Bluefin as your second ski for the bounce, or obviously as your first ski if you really want to find out what all the fuss about downwind paddling is all about, makes a lot of sense.

The ski is longer and does feel fast with regards to the way it runs longer than you expect it to, and it surfs like a dream, super predictable and balanced. It's a welcome evolution of the species of entry level boats.

If you'd like to test out the Bluey, even have a shot at some of the cool Bay conditions in the video, give either Rob or I a shout.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Vaikobi Performance Gear Sprints into the EK Store


We're pleased to announce that we're now stocking the Vaikobi Performance range in our EK store.

Born in the white-hot environment of surfski ocean racing, Vaikobi has evolved into a full range of paddling gear, with a svelt selection of women's shorts & tops, racing & training kit for blokes, a seriously clever & well priced SLSA-approved water helmet, and the absolute most minimalist, lightweight, fully sanctioned PFD I've ever seen.
It differs from the other range of paddling kit we sell from the likes of Reed, Peak UK & NRS in that it's unashamedly aimed at the performance end, cut for freedom of movement and to either retain or quickly dissipate heat, depending on the season & garment.

The new women's range in particular offers some stylish & well designed gear, which I'm sure will prove popular.
You can see the full range of Vaikobi gear through the page dedicated to their range on our ONLINE STORE, or of course by dropping in to our brand new retail space in Miranda.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Tiderace Xtra - the Vibe Review

We've had the Tiderace Xtra now for almost a year, and in that time I've had it out in small surf, some more torrid surf, cruised around on a couple of instructional paddles, and most recently took it on a 29km club trip along the glorious coastline of Sydney's Royal National Park.

I'm 6ft tall in heels & weight about 94kg.

I'll admit that in a sea kayaking culture that values speed (even if mostly we won't outright admit it), and has always associated waterline with speed, the Xtra has been a boat we've had problems defining.

Paddling the boat along in peaky rebound for a few hours last weekend while keeping a close eye on a group with skinny open water experience, I was thinking about how you'd characterise this short, manoeuvrable boat with a radical planing hull.
Relaxing in my Tiderace Xtra.
Our plan was a return trip to Wattamolla Beach, a beautiful inlet in the rough hewn sandstone cliffs of the Royal National Park, with an idyllic lagoon & an oasis of paperbark trees. As a designated guide, my job was to get in amongst the group, check how everyone was handling the bounce and then wait for them to pass me so I could start my sweep all over again.
View from the cockpit, Wattamolla Beach in the background.
My trace (below) from the journey down, where everyone was reasonably fresh and moving at decent rate, shows an up & down series of spikes as I got run after run angling the Xtra down the faces of anything that had a peak. If you can imagine mogul skiing on the sea, this was it, bouncing down one face, easing over the next one then angling off to skip down another as I ran in & around the group like a sheep dog. My speed varied from nearly stopped still (a big percentage of the time) to over 11kmh, and any time I lined up a run through the group I was running between 8-10kmh at will, and without any great effort, simply by paddling down the hills. It was a delight, and if I was free to paddle the distance without my responsibilities I think I would have easily maintained 8km+ all the way there.
But, this is meant to a boat review right, with the usual references to build, weight, seat comfort, even that famous old Sea Kayaker reference to 'ease of car topping', so why am I rambling on about the vibe from a day trip? Well, quite simply because when viewed in it's entirety, this day trip summed up all of the things that you would need to test out if you were considering a Tiderace Xtra, it's a 'day & play' boat, after all....
The kind of sea state the Xtra chews up
As a typical group with mixed skill levels & experience, we averaged 6kmh over the just under 30km. I haven't been on a trip with my club over the past 10 years that has deviated far from that mean, somewhere between 6-7kmh over an extended distance. So for speed, despite being damn short & rockered, a peaky sea surface provided all of the take off ramps a torquey little design like this needs to run with or ahead of a typical paddle group cruising speed.

While the longer waterline boats frequently found themselves suspended between peaks, stopping & stalling, the Xtra just kept zipping in & out, a dead flat planing mid hull section meaning any power you apply is instantly transferred to lift & acceleration.

It's stable enough to sit next to a cliff in overhead rebound & take photos. And when a little wave or two presented themselves around Jibbon Head on the way home the boat positively exploded onto the face, where you then have a flat hull planing, as well as a defined rail to edge & manoeuvre.

As for surf, it's become my go-to boat especially if the surf is a bit bigger. The video below is a little reminder of how much fun you can have in the waves in an Xtra (and for that matter a Gemini....). We have stock of the Tiderace Xtra in both the standard G-Core & Hardcore layups, feel free to give either Rob or I a shout to arrange a test paddle.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Moving & Shaking

After 4 weeks of toil, shifting our warehouse of 12 years at Marrickville into our new premises in Miranda, severely underestimating the logistical challenges of a decade of collecting a lot of stuff I didn't really need, I can say with great relief that we have MOVED!
Our new warehouse has a dedicated space now for a small shop for EK gear & paddles, whilst the boats are still up on the racks that any visitor over the years to Marrickville will know well, but now in a much more accessible place.
Because of the way EK has evolved, from something Rob & I wanted to keep as a dedicated second interest to our main businesses, we have never fully embraced the idea of having a shop that you can just drop into as you would a traditional store. Instead it's always been advisable to call ahead to make sure we're there, then we'd apologetically open storage crates to find you what you were looking for.
No more, we're now 5 days a week, 8.30am to 6pm Monday to Friday and by appointment on the weekends (when we're out paddling), and you won't need a secret code to get in! The first few customers, including a few frequent flyers, have made comments like 'did you always have this much gear?' and 'Gee you've broadened your range'. Well no actually, with the exception of the the brand new stock we've landed from paddling performance brand Vaikobi, it's just that now you can see it all out on the racks, and even touch it....
That said, as well as a full range of Vaikobi gear, we've now got a much larger range of colours & styles from NRS and Peak UK, as well as having demo boats on hand for Tiderace, Valley & Rockpool, and ski demos for Fenn, Epic & Think. We're also a few minutes from Botany Bay, where we're fully licenced to conduct demo & instructional paddles any time.
So, to celebrate we're having an official launch this coming Friday arvo. From 4.30pm, you're welcome to drop by for a cold beer and a plate of King Prawns, to help us celebrate the latest stage of this excellent little adventure that is Expedition Kayaks. If you're around, do pop in for a chat, there are loads of giveaways & a couple of lucky door prizes.
Just a note on navigation, because southbound traffic on Pt Hacking Rd can't turn right into our complex, check the map below for directions.


Sunday, 30 November 2014

Actually Quite a Tough Mudder....



Over the last 18 months I've had a crack at a few events outside my comfort zone, and not necessarily paddling-centric. Mostly it's been to satiate my chronic goal-focused nature, and I haven't necessarily been as committed to these events in the way that those who concentrate 100% on their own particular discipline, but by hell it's been fun. And, I'm as fit as I've ever been, including when I was playing sport at a pretty decent level in my twenties.

The latest was the very popular Tough Mudder, billed as 'the toughest event on the planet', a 20km trail run & hill scramble broken up every kilometre or so by a military style obstacle. I had no desire to do one of these essentially manufactured events, but when I loudly bagged it as a 'controlled fun run for people who never do anything hard' in front of my particularly hard-nosed mate Tony after we saw the Tough Mudder tent at the finish of the Sutherland to Surf, he rightly told me I should do one before I criticised it.
Start pic, so clean.
So, last Saturday we lined up at Wingello in the Southern Highlands to give it a lash. First up I was impressed by the waiver, four pages of tiny text which mentioned 'accidental death or injury' 700 times. With a waiver like that I reckon I could happily take novices rock gardening in a storm.

Tony & I immediately noticed how, umm, old we were in comparison to the field. In most of the paddling races and running events I do I'm about on the mean demographic, mid forties, mid life crisis, etc etc. Not this sucker, it was like a scene from a late night rave party, crazy wigs, bright eyed youth & lots of muscles.

The wind up at the start was clearly designed for a generation raised on military video games. Lot's of 'give me an OOH HAH', 'I can't hear you peeps' and finally the US Marine Corps rest signal 'Take a knee'. Standing next to a serving soldier I couldn't help but ask Tony if they say 'OOH HAH' in the AIF, to which he glared back and said "NO". Once the Mudder oath was out of the way ('Don't whine, kids whine'), we were on our way.
That's cold.
After a few minutes jogging up a rough incline we descended into a shallow valley with a seriously dark mud pit below some barbed wire. So, within 5 minutes of starting, my nice white singlet was black & sticky. We then wound our way through the course, vaulting over high walls, diving under a mud-ice bath & swimming through the cold shock, carrying big gnarly logs & each other along a forest path, shimmying through stinky pipes and wading through more mud than you'd see flung at a sitting of parliament. 
Ice bath...
Having just finished a course of antibiotics for a minor chest infection, I was sucking in some big ones after about 20 minutes and wheezed to Tony that actually, it's probably not the manufactured doddle for softies that I'd prescribed. 

There were three obstacles that I just couldn't do, and all of them involved explosive upper body strength. The most difficult was a cargo net positioned about 8 feet away onto which you had to leap long to even get a grab onto the bottom rung of netting. Once there, you had to haul your body up & over the net onto a platform, or risk plunging into yet another muddy cesspool. 

The other two involved swinging through a series of olympic style rings, and traversing a sloping set of slippery parallel bars. Mess any of them up, and yep, up to your neck in cold, black, mud. 

Some of the obstacles were quite confronting. A pipe that you had to crawl through looked like a synch, until you got inside & realised that there was no room to crawl, so you had to 'worm' through in the dark. Another one late in the course involved a sprint up a wall that increased in angle as you got closer to the top. I had three goes & was eventually hauled over by Tony & another bloke after just managing to grab the platform.

Happily though, we were one of the very small percent of competitors who actually ran the course, finishing it in just over 2 hours including all of the obstacles. The kicker however, is that it took us over 3 & a half hours to get around, due to long delays on most of the obstacles on the back end of the field. So, strength & power for us Forty somethings, maybe not so good. Endurance? Try & catch us Gary Gym Muscles....! The finish line was guarded by a 30m dash through a mud heap with suspended live wires, which was an electrifying way to end it all!
Looking cheery at the end.
Would I do it again? Probably not. There is something about a stop watch, a goal, and a challenge to work towards that makes this 'all about finishing' thing not my cup of tea. I can see how the demographic it's aimed at would love it, and there were heaps of groups of young people out having a ball. I also think the 'all about finishing' ethos also allows the organisers to open it to way more people than is practical, after all it is a commercial venture, and the queues would never be tolerated in a race where people were racing each other or a clock.
Me & my cheer squad.
Regardless, Tony & I had a great day, and if you're ever going to go in one of these things picking a partner who knows a thing or two about negotiating military obstacles is a damn good idea!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Rob's 2014 Hawkesbury Classic

Here's Rob's account of his effort in this year's Hawkesbury Classic, partnering Mark Hempel in a double SLR2:

After the first few kms of "argy bargy" out of Windsor we settled into our race pace and let the tidal current work its magic, taking us on the ebb as far as Sackville ahead of time. Paddling partner, Mark Hempel  had plotted our likely ETA's at each checkpoint and these calculations put us on the Brooklyn finish line at 3.07. Ultimately we arrived at 3.12 or just 5 minutes late and we both agreed that 9 hours and 42min for 100km was a satisfying result for a couple of sea kayakers with no flat water pretensions and little flat water experience.

 We actually paddled faster than we predicted but stopped for a little longer at Wisemans to sort out hydration lines, we also caught two full ferry crossings. At  the first one we had just  powered past our sea kayaking mate David Linco, giving him and a few other familiar paddlers a bit of a friendly "revv up" only to have them all sitting next to us looking very amused about 10 minutes downriver as the ferry finally ground up the ramp and ever so slowly switched off the flashing light.

 We never found that magic wash ride that would have given us a little free speed to make it in home under nine and a half hours, but instead, we provided some very long rides for a school of ski paddlers who clung to us like remoras, sometimes clashing paddles  with me and generally getting in our faces, other times providing some friendly banter and encouragement. One of these paddlers had become so dependent that he started having his rest breaks when we did and urging us to get going when he was ready.  

   We had done less than 200 kms in the boat all up before the race and prior to that neither of us had ever paddled a flatwater double. More than half of these kilometers we managed to squeeze into our busy schedules in the last 3 weeks before the race and on at least two occasions we missed some pumping sea conditions to train on the river instead, but when the big night arrived neither of us regretted the extra time in the boat. 


Discussing it with Mark (H) later on I think we were both very pleased with how good we felt for most of the race, the last one and a half hours were the toughest  but within about ten minutes of landing at Brooklyn neither of us had any aches or pains. For me the relentless heat of the night was the biggest challenge and I had to make an effort to keep up the hydration and take any energy foods or drinks very  gradually to avoid nausea. I was glad that Mark was the navigator and had the rudder, his sharp eyes and a good sense of direction were essential because my glasses continually fogged up and crusted with salt and grime on the outside.

I am famously not a fan of paddling on flat water, it just doesn't engage me like paddling on the sea and I have been known to make loud and churlish pronouncements to this effect. This has provided much amusement for Sundo and Steve Dawson in particular and though these comments are occasionally directed at hapless fisherman who seem to enjoy casting under my boat, they are usually aimed at reminding myself that this sort of paddling is not on my list. i do this in the vain hope that I don't relapse in the future so it was with some surprise that I started to begrudgingly admit to myself about half way down the river that I was actually enjoying the whole experience of participating in this event. Below I have listed some of the reasons why in no particular order:

 1) Watching ordinary people do something extraordinary: I remember when I first heard about the race many years ago I found it hard to believe that mere mortals could do such a thing. To watch the commitment and dedication of the seasoned campaigners is truly inspiring. Distance is a great equaliser that means often the most determined or experienced will beat the more serious technicians and fittest paddlers to the finish line.

2) The unfamiliar pallette of scents - both good and not so good: My sense of smell was sharpened especially when we were  paddling in the dark with most extraneous sounds cancelled out by the white noise of paddles and hulls slicing through the still water and especially those noises from the school of Ocean Ski "remoras" that clung to us for most of the race. Eucalypts, campfires, flowering shrubs, cow dung, damp earth and a houseboat that smelt like a brewery were memorable by their intensity. 

3) Thunder, lightning and bioluminescence: I think the light show alone was worth the price of admission! Forks, sheets and balls of lightning ripped through the darkness. Rain showers washed us down and the occasional blast of headwind ruffled the waters and cooled us against the hot soupy night. Bioluminescence streamed off our paddle tips and flared around our bow wave. Maybe without these special treats the night would not have passed so easily. 

4) Celebration of Diversity: Canoes, Kayaks, Skis, SUPS, and paddlers; large, small, young old,male or female all sharing the experience of a night on the water and all tied together in the darkness by a spirit of goodwill and common purpose.

5) Learning: It was fun to be the student rather than the teacher to ask questions and learn more about the nuances of flatwater paddling from serious flat water racers. If I never paddle another flatwater event again that alone was worth the effort. Thanks to members of the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club and Bob Turner in particular for advice and encouragement.

6) The training sessions:  Flat water is a more static environment  for measuring performance than the sea so it is easier to gauge fitness and technique without the complications the three dimensional paddling environment you find among the waves, I am keen to see whether we reap any short term speed benefits in our sea paddling from this discipline, only time will tell. Regarding team work and planning I reckon this is one area where our experience of paddling big water in sea kayaks gave us a head start. We both paddle as part a sea kayaking group that values self sufficiency, teamwork and preparation ahead of big egos. I think this shared experience and existing friendship translated easily into planning, training and decision making on the river.

7) Finishing: By this I don't just mean the relief of finally being able to stop paddling. There is something very rewarding about setting a goal, developing a plan and then executing it as best you can.  Then there is the tantalising opportunity to  ponder on how you could improve for this or other challenges in the future. 

8) Its for a good cause: Over the long and auspicious history of the race it has raised millions for The Arrow Foundation to help them continue their research into better cancer treatments. The generosity of friends in sponsoring me for this event made it all the more worthwhile. Special thanks to David R, David K, Graeme and Sharon for their donations. 

Also thanks to our stalwart land crew Alan whose positive attitude, enthusiasm and practical approach was invaluable, my mate Mark Hempel who skippered the boat and set the pace, Sundo for sort of talking me into it and Bob Turner for entrusting his very shiny SLR 2 to a couple of rough and ready sea kayakers. 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Lightning, Martians & Dead Sheep, the 2014 Hawkesbury Classic.


What an experience it was, without a doubt the most interesting & challenging night out on the river of all of the six Classics I've now completed. Only now that my hands have unfurled from the Hawkesbury Classic competitor's position, bent awfully around the approximate width of a carbon paddle shaft, am I able to pen a few words about Saturday night's race.

From the first checkpoint there were lightning strikes all around, but thankfully nowhere too close. How do I know? I applied the old adage of counting to the clap after the strike, using my cadence as a measure; I think the closest anything high voltage got to me was 7 paddle strokes.
Hanging out with Mum under the EK tent.
One massive strike far to the east sent a chorus of oooohs from the pack in which I was furiously duelling, but it was so far ahead of us that the only people in the firing line were the record setting K4 crew, and they were going too fast to get hit.
Rob Mark & I all smiles at marshalling.
The fork lightning storm ended with a brief deluge at about the 30km mark, to be replaced as the dark descended by an amazing sheet lightning storm which illuminated the entire world, a blessing as the moon was busy shining brightly on Bolivia.

Somewhere around 85km, I watched ball lightning bouncing around in a cloud out to sea, but that was almost the same time the bright bioluminescent algae dancing around my paddle shaft morphed into tiny aliens, so I stand to be corrected on whether that was there, or not. I was shaken out of my chat to the martians by a severely bloated dead sheep, which I unwittingly jabbed hard with my paddle as it drifted into my ski in the darkness. Don't even ask why I only smelt the poor creature after I'd poked it.
First stroke of the evening.
The race for me was simple, beat the sh*t out of the one & the one in eleven hours. I paddled my V10, because I knew it would get me down faster as long as I could deal with the exposure.

A scorching day greeted us at Windsor for the start, where the objective was to get registered, and get under a tree. We all managed that to some extent, but the forecast of an unseasonably high minimum temperature made most of us adjust our dress plan down. I even contemplated starting in my smugglers.
Rob having a Nana nap.
The first three hours of the race were pretty hectic, an ebb tide & a close and fast series of packs had me running slightly harder than I had planned, but I was quite cheery when I'd done 33km,or 1/3 of the journey, after 3 hours. So quickly did the tide turn however, that I pulled over & harangued a couple of blokes having a rest into pulling all of the weed off my (weedless) rudder. 'Sorry mate, it's clean' was the reply, much to my chagrin.
There is always an uptide battle in the Hawkesbury, and this year it was an unbroken four hours during which I managed only 32km. It's soul destroying, because the effort levels required to go even 5% faster into the tide are a lot more than 5% extra effort.

I stopped to change into warmer pants at Wiseman's after 60km, then took off to do the last 40, hopefully within the 4:12 I'd left myself to get under 10:30. I had a brief stop at a houseboat to get my drinking tube unkinked, whereby one of blokes on board cracked me a beer & handed it over. I'll call him Shhhhimon, because he was shhhpeaking the least amount of shhhhit. I took a swig to be polite, then backed out into the darkness, while all six of them loudly debated why any dumb bastard would row a f#%cking canoe down a f#%cking river in the middle of the f#%cking night. On reflection they weren't being entirely unreasonable.

Slowly the tide swung as the river widened out, my pace picked up & I began to claw back that dastardly AVG SPEED reading on my GPS which is the one & only truth of your Hawkesbury campaign. I was busy bathing myself in hubris at the 100% navigation job I'd done in the dark, when I noticed Checkpoint 'O' far away on the left bank. Bugger, I'm on the wrong side, I swung left to shout out my number only for them all to yell in chorus 'TURN RIGHT!' Bugger, I wasn't on the wrong side, I'd just added 600m to my race by going to the optional Spencer checkpoint. If I ever crew the Classic, I'm going to stand at checkpoint 'O' for while so I can yell out 'TURN RIGHT', and then listen to the swearing.

Loudly & enthusiastically admonishing myself, I turned the big bend, drank my special 'final hour' concentrated caffeinated drink, and took off for the finish. Whistling along the second-to-last stretch, I heard the familiar whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of a faster craft looming beside me, and like a gift from Gough I had a fast-finishing SLR2 to draft home. I must have nudged these hard-paddling, very generous blokes about 10 times as I surged when they eased, apologising only to hear 'no worries' 'it's alright' barked back every time. 

The island at Milson's Passage loomed, followed by the lights of the finish, and having edged past my hairy godfathers in the double as we entered the final stretch, they rightly powered past me right at the end to pip me by a few seconds. It was great to finish 100km still racing hard.
Finished, another one down, and maybe the last one!
My Mum Suzanne was there again, the bestest land crew you could hope for & entertainment for my faux landcrew, Owen Walton & Colin Sheringham. My final time of 10:27 was, for once, 3 minutes under what I'd figured I was capable of. My trace of the race is HERE.

Rob Mercer & Mark Hempel also had a great race, powering down the course in 9:40, running Mark's meticulous plan almost to the minute. Rob has written his own account of the race will be posted here later this week.
Rob & Mark firing past the first checkpoint.
Finally, I asked friends & colleagues to sponsor my paddle, as a tribute to the late Barry Davison, a victim of the blood & bone cancer that the Arrow Foundation tirelessly works to stem. I'm pleased to say that through their generosity, we raised over $2000 for the cause. To Lyall & my old club mates at the Randwick Petersham Legends, David, Paul, Bryce, Scotty, Graeme, Steven, Jason, Paul, Singhy, John, Tim, Greg, Dino, Ian, Selim, Emma, Mick, Peter, Rollo, cuzzy Haden, Rod & Greg Davison (Barry's sons), Tiernan, Jess & the team from Wentwest, Groucho from CE Chapman Lawyers, Suzie @ Popink, Harry from Promotional IT Solutions, Birger & his team at James Harvest Sportswear, Rosemary & the guys at Bottles of Australia, and Hamish Solomons from Kingsgrove Sports Centre, I thank you for your support.
The 100km stare.....