Friday, 12 February 2016

The BigFoot Kayak Pump Kit

If you're like me, the idea of going out and collating the parts for a reliable bilge pump, let alone actually installing it, are enough to make me procrastinate to the point where I eventually outsource the task (usually to my slightly cantankerous business partner....)

The combination of electrics, drilling holes, fixing brackets etc is daunting for the less able among us!

We've sought to alleviate the stress with the release of our latest BigFoot product, the BigFoot Kayak Pump Kit. Following on from the successful local design of our footplates for both skeg & rudder boats, and in keeping with their simplicity of form, function and importantly installation, the pump kit offers an excellent, practical hands-free electric pump without the stress.

When you open the package the first thing you will notice is that most of the work is already done;  the pump bracket, box bracket, magnetic switch assembly and outlet fittings are all custom made specifically for this kit and they are shaped and  pre-drilled to save the hours of effort that are usually required to just to make standard parts work in a sea kayak and once the parts are fitted, there are only two wires to crimp to complete the wiring. Battery connectors, fuse holder and reed connections are already done for you. The kit comes with all fasteners, crimps and even a small tube of Sikaflex to seal everything as you fix it in place.

At the heart of this kit is a robust  sealed magnetic reed switch that doesn't need a relay. The absence of a relay greatly simplifies the electrical elements of the system, by eliminating a number of vulnerable soldered components. We believe this is the single greatest point of difference from any pump system we've seen over the years.  

Brackets are specifically designed to be used as templates so you can set out everything precisely for drilling without needing any extra measuring tools. 

The kit is designed to work with an inexpensive 2.2AH SLA battery readily available from you local battery stockist, hobby shop or electronics store.

You can order now from our online store for $390 HERE.

Friday, 15 January 2016

The Fenn Elite S, from a Non-Elite Paddler's Perspective....

We got our hands on the latest top end ski from Fenn just before Xmas, the new Elite S. It's been making a very strong statement in the hands of the pros at events around the world since it was launched last year and we figured it was time to add one to our demo range.

I have been paddling it now for a month, trucking it up the coast for my annual camping holiday & paddling it & surfing waves all the way from Noosa, down to the Clarence River Bar at Yamba, to the very friendly clean waves of South West Rocks, and back in Sydney on a handful of fast downwinders on the bay.

I'm no elite paddler, but capable of paddling any of the elite skis in rough water for an hour or so, until they inevitably start to wear me down. For this reason I advocate the intermediate skis for anyone who isn't going to seriously commit to an elite ski on the sea, but it doesn't mean my interest isn't piqued by a more demanding ski when one comes along with the wraps on it that the Fenn Elite has earned.

Stability is obviously the first thing that concerns a mug paddler like me, and the Elite S, whilst still most definitely an elite ski with lighter initial stability than anything in the intermediate genre, is blessed with a very predictable stability, with a transition that feels very much the same as other Fenn skis. The only thing I can't do in it with confidence is mess around sitting still with my GPS or camera; in an intermediate ski I can take a pic without having to throw a leg over, not so on moving water in the Elite S. The first paddle I did involved a trip to the tidal mess off Dolls Point in a 15knot NE wind opposing the flow, and I nailed half a dozen remounts from each side with no problem. This is such a huge consideration when contemplating an elite ski, possibly the most ignored factor even when people test paddle them, the ability to remount confidently in messy water. No point going fast if you can't get back on.....
On a wave it's a brilliant ski, surfing the way all Fenn's seem to naturally surf, but with miles less effort required to either catch 'em or stay on 'em. Two weeks in a row we've had southerlies gusting well over 30 knots, necessitating a challenging paddle across the chop & wind for 15 minutes to get a good downwind line on the finish, and then steep, short, bustling little waves that test your ability to put the boat in the right spot so you don't lose steerage. The typical runs that these days throw up are featured in the short video above. In these conditions, I've barely missed a beat in the Elite S, not had to back off with that split-second hesitancy that often besets the non-elite paddler in the elite ski, and had a ball. That said, a longer race like this years' 20 Beaches, 26km in constant beam chop & varying degrees of rebound on a biggish sea, would be a struggle for me in a ski like this.

It's little wonder the genuinely elite paddlers are loving the Elite S, it has speed, much improved ergonomics and an instinctive quality on waves that make it a joy to paddle. For us punters hoping one day to graduate to one of these sleek beasts, you shouldn't discount it as something to aspire toward. It's not as scary as some of the others in the genre, and at it's absolute best out in the waves.

We have a demo in the Carbon Hybrid layup in our warehouse if you'd like to take one for a spin.

Specifications & Pricing
Length:   6.44m
Width:   43cm
Hybrid (vacuum bagged fibreglass/carbon)

Carbon (vacuum bagged carbon)

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Flat Earth Trade Wind 80 Sail Review - Douglas Wilcox

Here's a very comprehensive review of Mick MacRobb's newest sail design, the Trade Wind 80, from Douglas Wilcox (

Photo courtesy Douglas Wilcox (
Flat Earth Kayak Sails "Trade Wind 80" long term test, by Douglas Wilcox.

The number of sea kayakers paddle sailing in British waters, particularly with Flat Earth Kayak Sails, has increased to the extent that designer Mick MacRobb chose Scotland for the World launch of his latest design! It is called the Trade Wind 80 sail and has a new cut and a new trilaminate Grand Prix cloth.

Design and construction 
The Trade Wind 80 is available now, other sizes will follow. It is 0.8sqm in area. This is the most popular size as it has the widest wind range. Compared with the current Code Zero sail, it has a slightly shorter luff and has more sail area in the head and roach (upper rear). The outline is more similar to the current P&H version of the sail but the cut and material are different. The new Grand Prix sail cloth is a mylar/scrim/mylar trilaminate. The scrim is made up of carbon and kevlar yarns so it is very resistant to stretching or tearing. This type of trilaminate material is very tough and resistant to UV and has been long used on windsurfer wave sails and they take a real thrashing. The previous Code Zero cloth is great when new. It is a thinner, lighter mylar/dacron bilaminate but it tends to soften with repeat folding and this may be why the leaches of some older Code Zero sails "motor" or flutter in stronger winds. I suspect this will not be an issue with the Grand Prix cloth. It is partially see through. There is no window option but recent Code Zero 0.8 and all P&H branded Code Zero sails had dropped the window. If you use the standard mast, the window only gave a view of the sky anyway.

Photo courtesy Douglas Wilcox (
The Trade Wind 80 is the fourth generation of the Flat Earth sails that has been available in Europe. It has less twist than previous generations of Flat Earth sails, particularly the first and second generation dacron sails. The twist made the early sails forgiving in gusts but due to the head twisting off , the boom needed to be kept sheeted in a bit when sailing downwind to prevent the roach of the sail moving forward of the mast and spilling wind. The new sail can be sheeted out more on the run making it more efficient. With less twist, the new sail is indeed a bit more unforgiving and as Mick MacRobb says "aggressive" than the original sails but will retain more power before auto spilling the wind. When the Trade Wind 80 is sheeted in a little further in a reach position I think the fullness low down looks a little further back than in the previous Code Zero which will make it a little more powerful for its size especially on a broad reach. When sheeted right in on a beat the head of the sail is flatter than previous versions but there is still plenty fullness low down. As a windsurfer, I have always liked using sails with a deep belly, a flat head and a roach with controlled twist for their wide wind range. As a sea kayaker, I like this style even more. I think Mick has really nailed it with this particular cut!
The boom of the new sail sits higher on the standard mast than previous sails. This gives all round vision under the sail. You could cut the mast top down and lower the sail but I am not going to do that. I like the sail up higher as the wind gets slower and more turbulent the closer down it is to the surface of the sea. The batten, boom and gooseneck fitting are unchanged from previous generations of the sail. Also unchanged is the neat and expert way the sail has been cut, assembled and sewn.

The old Code Zero 80 compared to the Trade Wind 80

Photo courtesy Douglas Wilcox (

On the water
Phil Toman and I received preview sails at the end of the winter and since then we have extensively tested them on unloaded P&H Quest, Delpin, Aries (with forward fin) Cetus MV and Valley Nordkapp LV kayaks. The Quest and Cetus MV have also been tested with the sail when fully loaded on camping trips. We were able to test the sails side by side with all three previous generations of FEKS on identical P&H Aries and Cetus MV kayaks. 

conditions varied from force 2 to force 4 on exposed (quite rough) water and force 5-6 on sheltered (pretty flat) water with a fetch of 15km. The sails have been tested in the tidal waters of the Sound of Jura and the Solway Firth, in exposed waters at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde, in more sheltered water among the islands of the Firth of Clyde and along the exposed North Sea coast between Lunan Bay and Arbroath. Between us we have covered over 500km with the Trade Wind 80 sails.
After the sail arrived I wasted no time in getting it out onto the water on my P&H Delphin. The wind was very gusty offshore in a sheltered bay from F2 to the bottom of F5. The sea was flat. On all points of sail the sail set with a noticable lack of wrinkles. When launching the sail, it goes up with a satisfying wumph! One thing to note is that the top batten is now longer than the mast. When launching in stronger winds I like to hold the sail by the tip of the mast for a few seconds and allow the sail to blow free before pulling the uphaul to fully hoist the sail. This checks that I have not folded the sheet right round the sail when I previously furled it. Initially I found myself holding the top batten rather than the mast but I have since learned to go for the shorter mast. The sail has less twist and so is indeed a little less forgiving when you launch it on a broad reach than the original all dacron version. Code Zero and P&H branded FEKS sail users will probably not notice much difference though. The very gusty winds were a good test for me (a relatively experienced paddle sailor) to see how a newcomer might find the sail in steadier, lighter conditions. Well it was no trouble at all. I liked everything about it, launching, tacking upwind, on a reach, running, gybing and furling. There were no scary moments even in the most sudden gusts. In the strongest winds there was not a hint of the leech "motoring".
Photo courtesy Douglas Wilcox (
This sail proved very controllable and powerful downwind in stronger winds. In winds at the top of F4 it gives the extra power to your paddling to overtake the wave in front then climb over it and chase the next wave. The GPS showed my maximum speed hit 22.9km/hr when paddle sailing the Aries hard in a F4 with following sea and I was frequently hitting over 20km/hr when planing on a wave. The cut and heavier cloth give the Trade Wind 80 sail a very stable feel downwind. When you drop off the plane you slow down and the apparent wind increases (you should paddle hard at this point to maintain speed and reduce the load on the rig).
In the older dacron sails if you suddenly slowed, the leech would suddenly twist off spilling wind but this moved the centre of effort and made the sail feel a little unstable. This sail continues to pull hard when you decelerate but in no way does it feel unstable. My one reservation for someone upgrading from a dacron sail is that undoubtedly the stays will be transmitting more force to the hull, especially if you are loaded with expedition gear. You may wish to reconsider your existing stay anchors. I now use two side stays and two back stays, all anchors are bolted through the kayak seam.

Many kayakers will not bother to use their sails upwind but it is worth the effort learning how to do so. The Grand Prix sail material is stiffer than the original dacron material and it is a little more difficult to judge how high to the wind you can paddle sail without luffing (back winding) the sail. The softer dacron sails definitely showed the when the leading edge back winded at an earlier stage. I was not bothered by this but if beginners are particularly concerned about beating performance (rather than just blasting downwind having fun) they could thread a wool tell tale through the luff of the sail about half way up and in front of the batten. The tell tale should blow horizontal sailing close as possible to the wind but if you point too high into the wind it will start to move vertically. Swapping between two Aries kayaks, one with the Code Zero and one with the Trade Wind
80, the experienced paddler found it easier to out point the other paddler when using the Trade Wind 80 upwind in a F3-F4. However, down wind there was little difference in speed between the two sails. Interestingly the flat area behind and above the batten often appeared to be back winding when close hauled but the full part of the sail below the batten continued to pull strongly. One thing I did notice about the new sail is I find it easier to control upwind in stronger winds. It feels much more stable than the previous dacron versions of the sail. Although they may be softer and more forgiving, they lack the feeling of stability and power of this new sail. I think the Trade Wind 80 sail's very solid feel is due to its centre of effort being much more static. Basically I like the feel of Trade Wind 80 a very great deal when going upwind. It also proved particularly effective upwind in combination with the Aries using a forward fin.

Use when fully loaded on expedition
Paddling sailing fully loaded on expedition is very rewarding especially with a favourable wind at the end of the day. However, the kayak will not accelerate so quickly in the gusts and unless you are lucky with the waves it will be very difficult to get it planing. This means you will be travelling slower and when you are paddling downwind the apparent wind will be greater with greater forces acting on the rig. This is another situation where it is important to continue to paddle hard to reduce the pressure on the rig. This is also why I think the 0.8 sqm sail is more suitable for all-round paddle sailing including expedition use than the 1.0sqm sail. We were recently paddling south down the West Kyle of Bute when a "securite" strong north wind warning was broadcast on the VHF. In the relative shelter, the water was flat but the squalls were coming through the mountains at F5-F6 from various angles. All the yachts dropped their sails and motored home under bare poles. We carried on paddle sailing on a very broad reach. We were in identical Cetus MVs loaded with supplies for 5 nights camping. I had a Trade Wind 80 and Mike had a Code Zero 0.8. In these extreme conditions there was a lot of load on the rigs and I think I had an easier time controlling the Trade Wind 80 than Mike did with the Code Zero. Two days later we enjoyed a more moderate F3 to F4 downwind blast of 30km across open waters of the Sound of Bute and it was more difficult to differentiate between the two sails' performance and handling.

Wear and tear
At the end of this test there was no sign of wear, cracking or delamination in either of the sails on test or the material.

I like what Mick MacRobb has called the "slightly more aggressive" nature of the Trade Wind 80 sail. I felt more of the gust was being transformed into forward drive rather than spilling out off the roach as the sail twisted. The defining characteristic of the Trade Wind 80 is a very stable centre of effort. This makes paddle sailing at the top of your ability and conditions range a joy! This is steady evolution, it certainly won't make your Code Zero or P&H FEKS sail redundant. However, if you have one of the original all dacron (or dacron with mylar reinforcement on the leech) Flat Earth sails, then changing to the Trade Wind 80 would make a significant and noticeable upgrade. You could always sell your old dacron sail to a newcomer to paddle sailing, who might not yet be ready to invest in a new sail and who would appreciate the older sail's softer feel in lighter winds. If you are new to paddle sailing do not be put off by the high tech appearance of the Trade Wind 80, it is actually very easy to handle, especially in the lighter winds you should get to know it in. If you already have a Code Zero or P&H FEKS, the incremental improvement is probably not worth an upgrade at this time, unless you just MUST have all the latest kit! The biggest
difference in performance is in winds that will probably be at the top of most people's comfort zones anyway but it also excels if you like going upwind in F4 winds. I cannot think of a better day or expedition sail for paddle sailing in all weathers, summer and winter.
If you are in the Southern Hemisphere keep an eye on the Expedition Kayaks web site as they are main distributor in the FEKS's native Australia.

Conflict of interest
Phil and I have been using free loan sails that remain the property of Flat Earth Kayak Sails, the only cost to us was the postage from Australia. I have however, bought three other FEKS sails at full price. Neither Phil nor I have any financial interest in FEKS.

We have stock on the shelf for $390 including shipping nationally, you can order HERE

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Dolls Point Downwind Video

Here's a short video we all helped put together last Thursday night of our weekly Dolls Point Paddle, with a strong southerly blowing a one-way soon from Dolls to the Cooks River. If it looks like fun, well it's because it bloody well was....

Friday, 4 December 2015

EK Demo Day - Sunday December 20

We'll be holding our first all-comers demo paddle day in many years in a fortnight, starting at 9.30am Sunday December 20. 

We'll have every single kayak model in our range on the beach for you to come along and try out in the forgiving waters of Botany Bay, as well as our various paddles from Mitchell Blades, Lendal USA & Epic.

Sharon, Rob & Mark will be at the waters edge to give you any ad-hoc coaching tips, guidance on the various craft & what makes them work, everything you'll need to identify the traits in each boat & maybe help solve a few of the mysteries about our multitude of different kayak designs. You'll have the opportunity to try our fast tourers, skeg boats from manufactures Valley & Tiderace, as well as the new Mission X2 Styrlolite Kayak from Vajda which features a whole raft of nice design innovations in a super light touring boat.

The event kicks off at 9.30am, Sunday December 20, in front of the Georges River Sailing Club, Sanoni Ave, Sandringham, at the southern edge of Peter depend Reserve, and finishes up around lunch time. There is plenty of parking, a great cafe on the beach, and a safe environment to mess around in boats for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

All @ Sea IV - Bouncing Beecroft

The All@Sea weekend with the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club would have to be one of our favourite weekends away in the year.

These guys are accomplished racers, punching miles above their weight in the NSW Marathon Series and iconic races like the Myall Classic & Hawkesbury Classic, yet they refuse to be pigeon-holed and will have a go at anything.

Many are regulars at the Dolls Point Paddle each Thursday on their skis & fast kayaks, they regularly have surf days at Bundeena, paddle canoes, take their sea kayaks along the challenging Royal National Park coastline, and there isn't even a whiff of the stifling pecking order of importance that can undo many clubs.

When the plan for this year's All@Sea was hatched & they indicated a willingness to take on a circuit of the very committing Beecroft Peninsula, Sharon, Rob & I jumped at the chance to help out.
The forecast promised a building northerly, which would push us down the fortress-like cliffs of the exposed edge of the peninsula, allow protected entry into the very cool caves & features on the inside of Pt Perpendicular, and then maybe a battle across the breeze to Cullala Bay, our amended landing spot due to the huge bushfire preventing access to Honeymoon Bay. 

Dropping the cars off at Calalla for the shuffle home, we noticed a strong Sou' Westerly wind blowing across Jervis Bay, but with every single forecast saying that it could only possibly be a very local land breeze, we went ahead with Plan A, a clockwise trip. It was a good lesson in 'playing what's in front of you' instead of what every weather guru says is gonna happen, as the southerly stayed up for the entire passage! By the time we'd reached the cars 35km later, we calculated that we hadn't had a single puff of wind from astern....

Last time we tried this with the SSCC, in 2013, we didn't make it past Little Beecroft Head, essentially on the map above the point where the first orange line turns yellow, so this was going to be a challenge for all involved.

Once out of the protected northern coast of the peninsula, we turned right & headed down south. Those who haven't been along this stretch should grab a cuppa & watch the 8 minute video above. It's like kayaking through the set of Lord of the Rings, serrated cliffs, huge cathedral-like sea caves, sea eagles soaring on the thermals, seals basking, and the fierce & unwanted bonus of a constantly flaring bushfire on the tops of the cliffs, that had nearly forced the evacuation of our launching spot at Currarong. Some of us got up real close & personal with the multitude of arches, caves & gauntlets, for others it was adventure enough just to be out there in the mayhem, 100m from the cacophony of booms & crashes as the swells careen into the immovable cliff face.

I'll let the pics tell the story, but this was a day to remember, paddled in great style by a group of paddlers who really are an admirable bunch for their capacity to have a go at anything.
Pre-paddle briefing at Currarong
Janet sets out through the creek
Rounding Little Beecroft Head & into the swell (pic by Steve Dawson)
Rob in the first cave of the day

View from the inside, 100m back
Rob & I exiting the very dodgy in & out cave (pic by Steve Dawson)
Rob around the corner from Gumgetters (pic by Steve Dawson)
Steve riding the surge up close
Paddling towards Pt Perpendicular with the bushfires flaring above.
Rob & I pass Lamond Head
Pt Perpendicular looking more like Mordor
Bob at Boat Harbour
The contrast of a sultry Honeymoon Bay.
Well done to all, can't wait for All@Sea V! 

Friday, 27 November 2015

D-Day for Next Tiderace Shipment

We finalise out next Tiderace shipment today, for delivery in February. There are only 6 boats remaining un-sold in the container, so if you've had your eye on a Pace 17, Pace 18, Evoke or a Pace 17S please let us know your preferred colour & layup as a matter of urgency. 

Our last container landed last Friday & is now completely gone apart from one remaining Pace 17S.

You can see our full range of Tiderace kayaks HERE.

Friday, 30 October 2015

A Year in the The Think Evo II

We picked up our demo Evo II at the start of the year, and have had it out in conditions ranging from a big & lumpy sea, to raging downwind, to the long fast grind of a 100km Hawkesbury Classic.
First & foremost, I’m an advocate of intermediate-range ocean racing skis. I think the reality of the elite skis, even the elephant in the room, is that to paddle them where they’re designed to be paddled, in a decent running sea, you need to have an elite attitude. Over the course of a few years watching paddlers turn up with elite skis and paddle around like they’re sitting on a watermelon, in conditions that most intermediate skis would simply absorb, I think there are far too many guys limiting their paddling days on skis that are not only beyond them now, but will probably always be beyond them. To me that’s what it comes down to, within reason, making sure your ski doesn’t put any limits on when you can go paddling.

The Evo II was an addition to our demo range following on from the great success we’ve had with the Eze and the Ace, both short, stable, and light entry level boats which have spread through paddling circles based on what the new owners have been able to do in them. By that I mean the mix of ergonomics & stability have provided confidence in spades to paddlers who had been tentative about either owning a ski in the first place, or had been wobbling around on boats that didn’t offer the right amount of confidence-inspiring stability.

Like all Think skis the Evo II has a very disciplined seating position, perhaps the most regimented of all the ski brands, and simply doesn’t allow you the option of splaying your legs. You sit in a very upright position with knees forced together by the narrower channels for your calves, and once you adjust it makes it very hard to slouch or fall into any of the bad habits of paddling posture that drag most of us punters down.

It feels buoyant on the water, something I’ve always considered a reassuring quality in the rough stuff whether it’s a kayak or a ski, and the seating position, with your bum well & truly higher up than your heels, makes you feel like you’re well over the top of your stroke.
First impressions, especially if you hop on board on dead flat water, is a lighter initial stability than some of the other designs in the genre, but this hardens up considerably once the water becomes more dynamic. Essentially the Evo heels a few degrees further on flat water than some of the flatter hulled intermediates, but then locks into a solid secondary point every bit as solid as the rest.

As the waves wash through & around the hull, the transitions that separate the tough boats from the sympathetic ones are gradual & predictable. You don’t get a fast twitch from the Evo II even in crappy little bay chop. The trade off with a hull that moderates the bumps is usually a loss of that instinctive quality that allows to you turn the boat on waves using your eyes. By this I mean the ‘look left, right shoulder moves forward, right arse cheek drops, boat turns toward the raised edge of your ski’ in a nice organic motion that isn’t necessarily predicated by a hard push on your rudder pedal. The best intermediate boat I’ve ever paddled for this sort of instinctive turn is the Fenn Swordfish, and while the Evo II doesn’t quite carve around in the same way, it makes up for it in hull speed and the capacity to grab the runs with lift and acceleration.

It has speed to burn, more than I’ll ever be capable of harnessing in the ocean, and because you have the nice buoyant feeling that extra volume provides, it never feels like you need much of a dig to get it up & running. I’ve used the boat a lot to ride shotgun on our weekly Dolls Point paddles, where a big group of us take on the Sydney sea breeze for a 10km blast into, across & with the wind. It’s been a great mothership for effecting rescues, helping paddlers who’ve missed their remounts etc. I can manoeuvre it in bouncy chop, pull alongside to raft up & help out without having to think about my own stability, a trait in the sometimes individualistic world of surf ski paddling that should perhaps carry more weight. When you do do take a swim, the low gunwales mean you don't have to be anywhere near as precise getting your backside into the bucket as you do with the skinny skis, and remounts are pretty stress free.

On flat water the ergonomics really shine. Whilst metronome rhythm is your enemy on the ocean, for flat water training & racing your form and tempo are everything, and a disciplined posture gives you a great base for harnessing the right muscles. Whilst not a particularly dedicated flat water paddler, I didn’t hesitate to reach for the Evo II from our quiver of demo boats to do this year’s Hawkesbury Classic, a 111km overnight race on the outskirts of Sydney. Despite only paddling a couple of half rat-power 10 & 15km flat water sessions in the boat, I knew it was the one that would keep me in the right form, and would have enough glide to allow a comfortable & reasonably quick trip down the river.
111km done & dusted, and a good ski for the task.
There has been a trend recently towards using elite skis on flat water for marathon racing, understandable given the challenges most K1 hulls provide to those of us not raised paddling them. But, if you can only afford one ski I reckon only the fittest of racers would get more out of an elite than they would out of something like an Evo II, and the versatility of the ski in the ocean allows you to go beyond being just a fair weather sea paddler.

We spend a far portion of our time introducing paddlers to the sea, and even the seasoned & technically sound flat water guys don’t take very long to work out that the two disciplines are a world apart. We’re lucky thesedays to have the breadth of excellent mid-range, intermediate skis which provide the portal into the part of ski paddling that I reckon provides the big smiles. Fortunately for us and you the consumer, the brands we represent, Vajda, Epic, Fenn & Think, are all damn good. They're all well made, well designed, they have their own traits that run through their ranges nowadays, so you really do need to get out there and get in them before you make a decision about which one is for you. The Think Evo II is a very successful blend of speed, sympathetic predictability at sea, and acceleration for the days when it’s all going your way, a boat I love to paddle.
Length 625cm   Width 48cm   Weight See Below   Paddler Weight 75-110kg
$3295 (Performance - 15.5kg) $4295 (Elite 12.5kg)

We have a demo at our Miranda store and will happily take you out on some moving water so you can see for yourself.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Hawkesbury Classic 2015

Another weekend in late October, and another 111km Hawkesbury Classic finished, with time to ruminate.

This year I had no goals, no target time, because of my commitment to the Sydney marathon hadn't done any hard paddling, unless you count a couple of 10km technique paddles and a 5km time trial as preparation, and was purely along for the ride.

I figured I was as aerobically fit as I'd ever been, did one very worthwhile hour with a local flatwater coach ironing out a couple of flaws that I sensed had crept into my stroke, knew how to fuel myself, importantly had done this race for the past 3 years and knew what I was in for, so why not...?
Continuing my excellent dietary tapering program (pic by Steve Dawson, who with Ross Bingle broke the LREC 2 record)
My craft of choice this year was the Think Evo II, and despite having paddled no further than 15km in the boat, I could tell it was going to be the best mix of comfort & speed for the race.

Compared to last year when the race started and ended with a fast running tide, this year was the direct opposite, with a pretty pissy ebb for an hour at the start, a brutal stretch into the flow for 5 hours, a second ebb, and then almost definitely, at my speed at least, an opposing flow over the last 10km. In other words, way more than half the race with a current in your face, and the demoralising reality that as you're getting closer to the end, you're only going to get slower!
Hanging' out with the SSCC - Remember who picks 'em, and what hand they use.....
Once again my trooper of a Mum, Suzanne was along as crew, although this year she'd also messed up her preparation with an enthusiastic session with the neighbours and their wine collection the night before. I bunked in with the Sutherland Shire Canoe dudes, relinquishing the opportunity as a sponsor to set up an exhibit in favour of a relaxed arvo under a tarp, and some lively conversation about dates and Gurney Goo.

The start was somehow even more furious than other years, and despite having the experience to know that I shouldn't be chasing the K2 down the river, I couldn't resist and whistled through the first 10km of slack water in under an hour. The tide then turned and by the time the sun set I was down to 7.8kmh and seriously contemplating pulling the pin at Sackville, the 30km crew checkpoint.

It just seemed too early in the tide cycle to be going so slow, and I surmised that maybe spending the Thursday night before the race enthusiastically catching up with my old Randwick mates on the south coast until 3am was biting me on the bum. Whilst I usually whizz past the Sackville stop, a little smug that I don't have to stop there, this year I pulled in, disconnected my knot of goo and drinking tubes, and stood in the mud. I stretched my legs, my back, looked around at everyone welcoming their paddlers ashore full of smiles and cheers, & decided to truck on after 2 minutes feeling very sorry for myself.

Inevitably in this race, if you can just tough it out, the tide turns and you start to feel better as the resistance on your stroke eases and the GPS lurches into double figures. For me this was about an hour from my planned stop at Wiseman's Ferry, so by the time I skidded onto the astro turf lining the boat ramp I was feeling pretty cheery. A quick stretch, beanie on, and after a seven minute rest I had the balletic and quite wet David Little for company as we both chugged out of the lights and headed for home.

By now the tide was really humming and I was clipping it along, bang in the middle of the river, lining up the turns easily in the glow of a very bright moon, probably as perfect a set of conditions you could ever hope to paddle in this race. I caught Rodrigo after an hour & gave him a wash riding tutorial on the go, which he took on board, slipped his Rockpool Taran onto my wash and hung around with me for a good hour chatting away in his South American lilt. He went on to do 11.30 in his first Classic, not bad for a guy who can really hang one in a mean sea, and only started paddling a year ago.

Just at the point I was starting to fatigue, a big old OC6 loomed behind me, and I took my chance to glide onto their slipstream and hitch a good thirty minutes up the line as they powered through the night. Six man paddling does look like fun, gotta give it a whirl one day...!

As the last big turn loomed the head tide returned with a punch, however the bright night made it a little easier to get out of the full flow & catch a few eddies going my way. The last bit of the race has been a painful one over the years, but Saturday night with no goal time I just took it all in, alone for once and enjoying the spectacular light show in the water from the bioluminescent algae that lit up the blackwater. Paddling real hard over the last 3km I was going just 7.6kmh in a ski well capable of going 13kmh, so the poor buggers behind me must have had a very hard run home.
I crossed the line in 10hrs 43mins, 16 minutes outside my best time in last year's race, but last year I had a lot of training under my belt, in a boat that is probably a little bit faster, in an easier tidal year (this year I had about 4hrs 30min with the tide, last year about 5hrs 30mins, my trace of the race is HERE). Even though it wasn't my fastest, I reckon it was the best I've ever paddled in a Classic. It just goes to show how silly it is to compare one Classic to the next by race time, we might get better, fitter, or even worse, but no river is ever the same twice, right? 
My race trace
Once again, it was a terrific night on the water, even if only for the fact that paddling is our thing, & where else can you take part in an event like this with such a big bunch of like minded souls?
Me & my crew in the middle of the night (pic by Dave Linco).
A couple of random thoughts on the race this year:

1. I heard a few of the hardy volunteers speaking among themselves about how much work it had been this year to even get the race going, because their numbers have thinned dramatically. The problem, it seems, is that so many of us enjoy multiple Classics as paddlers, but when we invariably take one off we don't turn up and volunteer, which when you think about it, is pretty crook. I've decided that if I miss one, and I'm in town, I'll be heading for Windsor or Wiseman's or wherever they want me to help out on the night and put a little bit back in. If twenty paddlers a year fronted up to volunteer, I reckon they'd be right.
The good humoured volunteers at the scrutineering tent.
2. Numbers were way down, reminiscing about the carpark at the start overflowing a few years ago it was barely half-full on Saturday, and many familiar names were missing from the field. There is a LOT of competition thesedays for the event junkie, and I should know. Even in paddling, the marathon series is fair humming along with participation numbers way up, ocean and harbour races are well attended, and little clubs, like our own Dolls Point Paddlers, are popping up around the place. I may be well out of line for even suggesting it, but I reckon an option of a 60km race to Wiseman's Ferry, or a 3 person full-race relay stopping at Sackville & Wiseman's to change paddlers, would greatly invigorate the event. Every big event nowadays has a half version, some even a half & a shorter race all going from the same start, and it would be great if the Classic organisers could figure out a way to do this. When I floated this past a mate he said it might make the full 111km event fade away, but I think it would actually elevate it to something really big to aspire towards, as it does in the running marathon. I know heaps of paddlers who would do the 60km or a leg of the relay with a couple of mates as a stepping stone to the big one, and it would be nice to see those big numbers at Windsor return. I don't think it's any coincidence that a race like the Myall Classic is thriving with big numbers across three race categories, 20/20 didn't kill 50-over cricket, 7's rugby only made the 15 man game better..... I also suspect that the points I made above about volunteers would also help facilitate an expansion of the Hawkesbury Classic, if that's the way they wanted to go.

3. Personally, I'm going to spend a lot more time concentrating on technique in preparation for these kinds of paddles, whether they're in the ocean or the river. My little tune up, a week before the Classic, probably saved me from a very long night, gave me little cues to remember when I got tired, and got me home with no hot spots, no injuries, no worries. When things went my way, I was able to operate within a sound set of movements that kept me efficient & safe, and paddle pretty hard. Of course you need fitness and I've never been as fit, so assuming it's possible to do the race every year without some form of targeted training is just plain silly, but when I was essentially forced to come up with a last minute plan, it was the technique that got me through.

4. Marathon vs Hawkesbury Classic? I had a fair go at both and they were only 32 days apart so fresh enough to compare. As I wrote in my marathon story, if there was a paddle race as brutal as the marathon we'd have people falling out of their canoes and drowning en masse at the 80km mark, not just feeling lousy and soldiering on. As a non-runner my view is obviously skewed, to finish a marathon I had to train really hard, to finish this years' Classic I got away with form, fuel & experience. Suffice to say they both take some doing, and both leave a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

Thanks again to all my paddling mates out on the river and on the banks, surely this is the friendliest paddle race on the calendar, and thanks also to Don, Christina, David, Gav & my mates in the office for kicking in to support the Arrow Foundation & sponsoring my race.