What is the Hawkesbury Classic?
The Hawkesbury River presumably would be well known to most if not all readers. The Hawkesbury Classic is an event that occurs each year on the weekend of the full moon in late October or early November. It involves paddling down the Hawkesbury River starting from Windsor and finishing at Brooklyn - a distance of 111 km. It is paddled over night - no doubt to enable full concentration on appreciation of the natural beauty of the moon!
Who is Col Gibson?
Just an enthusiastic paddler who completed this event for the 5th time this year - at age 76 (77 in a month!). If I can do it why can't you, seems to have been implied, I suspect, when the original request was made. Well, read on and see if this experience suits your ideas of adventure or exercise or both. One thing - it provides very valuable exercise while sitting down. Does that give me any kind of authority for presenting my thoughts, for your attention? You decide that of course.
How long does it take?
The average time taken is 15 hours. Can you imagine sitting in a canoe or more likely a kayak for 15 hours or more? That is elapsed time because you are able to stop from time to time and of course you will have to for comfort stops and probably will want to for nourishment too.
The starters gun for my class went on schedule at 5:00 pm and the event was under way for me. Some had started at 4:00 and others would start later up to 6:00 pm. After paddling for about half an hour concentrating on my stroke I switched to automatic pilot, enabling me to turn to thinking of other more interesting things. You see you just have to have an effective and efficient stroke for 111 km and so it is vital to make sure it is correct at the start. Also you will have warmed up in that half hour and that is important.
With near perfect weather conditions again this year it was delightful to be on the water along the river just to enjoy the experience. I was paddling alone. I usually do, as a hearing loss of 80-90% isnít conducive to talking with other paddlers anyway. I was not worrying about records or bettering previous times either. Consequently, I was able to think of the beauty of the experience, and enjoy the sun beginning to set, and the colourful reflections in the sky and on the water. Some call it: taking time to smell the daisies!
Well yes, there were a variety of aromas along the river from the very heavy pollen of the privet in full bloom, and then smoke from wood fires, here a pine wood and there gum, and of course BBQís were obvious along some stretches too. Oh, yes, it was obvious when passing the farms with dairy or new mown hay or lucerne. All reminders for me of memories from the past.
Very early I noticed a flash of colour as a small azure kingfisher streaked past me from one willow to another. His brilliant colours reflected the setting sun. Then I heard some reed birds calling close by in the reeds of course. I also saw some dollar birds chasing insects over the water, and of course the usual water birds such as ducks and water hens. I even saw one pelican, and some cormorants. Yes, and a sea eagle too. That was an interesting observation as they are not as common these days as they were once. Then I heard the plovers (or spur wing lapwing) as the evening approached. Later at night when dark I still heard the willie wagtail, even around midnight!
At the start there was a slight breeze and at times a light head wind as the river bends in all directions. Nothing severe though, just enough to produce a pleasant air cooling system to keep the motor from overheating!
After the sun set there was plenty of light in the sky to see which direction to head. After the colourful glow of the setting sun faded to a light grey this remained for some hours to enable paddlers to see quite easily. Often I am asked how you see in the dark. Actually it isnít dark, or not usually. Usually you can see quite easily. However, this night there was about an hour or so after the grey turned dark before the moon appeared when it was rather dark. At least the edges of the river were very dark and the river banks were not easy to see and the direction of the next bend in the river was more of a guess. Of course there were the stars to steer by! - when you canít see your compass. At such times it is usually possible to see the lights (cyalumes) of the canoes in front - after all there were 420 craft on the river. I did find quite early that the quantity of weed in the river this year meant paddling at least 10m or more from the edge. In fact it was necessary to keep nearer mid stream than cutting corners on the bends. Quite frankly I didnít find direction any problem at all at any time. If I had any difficulty I could have used my torch to look at my compass, but I could see the southern cross most of the time. There are a lot of lights of residents along the river too.
The first check point at A (Cattai River junction with Hawkesbury) is reached in daylight, and a welcome sight as evidence of progress along the course, but there are many yet to come. After it gets dark you tend to look forward to seeing the next check point - as more evidence of your progress. Then of course you look forward to arriving at Sackville, a major check point, and the one I arranged to meet my land crew. Yes, they were there and very smartly waited by the check in point to hear my number called as I arrived and then we met further down the landing strip for hot soup and to relieve the pressure in the holding tanks. Then on to the river again without too much delay. However, it is great to stretch the legs and exercise them walking around a bit. It was a very cold night but not that cold that I felt the need to use my spray skirt for warmth below deck level. I carried thermal sox if it did get very cold but I didnít need them during the night. Of course paddling tends to keep the motor warm! I carried fuel of course, plenty of liquid to drink and some food too, both were checked by land crew at Sackville while I attended to the holding tanks.
There are four to pass, with the first at Sackville. The next is further down stream and not always operating. However, the one at Webbs Creek seems to be on a popular road route. It is just after the major check point at Wisemans (actually the Australian Ski Ground Park) which is the check point. There I met the land crew again for my major stop - more soup, and a walk around. Everything going well so back into the cockpit for the last lap, just over half the trip now behind me. Then just around the corner is the last of the ferries, the actual Wisemans Ferry. All require care - to tangle with their wires would be serious, and potentially fatal.
Between Sackville and Wisemans somewhere around midnight I began to feel the need for sleep, and the motor wanted to go into shut down mode. That was relieved by a pit stop for other relief that was necessary too, just in time. That stop helped for a while, but the need for sleep was urgent and insistent. In fact keeping awake became the main issue at that time. A numb bum wasnít serious in comparison although it occurs too. The vital stop at Wisemans postponed all such worries - for a while anyway. However, some hour or so after Wisemans check point stop the need for sleep returned, and it was a fight to keep awake again. After managing to get to that most welcome stop at the low tide pit stop (not a check point) you enjoy their services. They provide a cup of coffee or soup along with their first class service helping you in and out of their landing spot. After their service you feel renewed and able to continue on to the finish or even beyond!
Well, almost, but not quite! The sky is beginning to lighten with the sun announcing that it is soon to rise. You can see quite easily now and the banks of the river can be seen clearly if the fog isnít too thick. Last year it was very thick and it was quite impossible to see the other side of the river. In fact it was impossible to see either side if you were in mid stream. This year the fog was only light and patchy. This last stretch from Spencer to Brooklyn of about 14 km seems like you are in the home straight. It is familiar territory, and not far to go, or so it seems now. Renewed energy seems to make it possible and much easier. It can also be necessary to paddle strongly because it is an adverse tide by this time for the majority. It is more open water and with winds can mean white water too. However, the end in sight to spur one on to the finish - at the Brooklyn bridge, on the F3.
I am often asked what you talk about or think about on such events. Well I did paddle with another paddler for about an hour or so. He was doing it for the first time. He had two sons paddling with him but they had gotten ahead he said. It appeared however, when they caught up a little later, that he must have left Sackville ahead of them. At that stage I left them to continue their journey together, as it seemed he was more comfortable travelling at a slower speed anyway. The advantage of paddling and talking is that you forget any numb bums and the time tends to go faster or appears so.
Of course that leaves these problems to solve when paddling alone. Many paddlers were paddling alone in single kayaks too. Well what do they think of. I have no idea. I know only what I think of. I havenĎt compared notes with others on this question, a question that I have been asked quite often.
I mentioned at the beginning of these comments some thoughts I had while it was still daylight and the beauties of nature were evident. After dark, and after switching to automatic pilot what was there to do, and think about. Well for me I normally have many projects on the go, and it is solutions to problems in these projects that I tend to turn to to exercise my mind and hopefully to keep me awake too. That latter hope is not always successful though.
If you are reading this and you havenít yet retired you may not believe that retired people could be busier than ever they were when they worked for a living. Then they worked to live. After retiring you learn to live to work, but the work is voluntary, and you have the privilege of choosing what you do and avoiding what you donít want to do, so you get to doing those things you enjoy doing. If you are retired then you will understand what I mean here. You may even think of paddling for exercise. After all you can sit down while getting first class exercise and in the most enjoyable surroundings too as a bonus. Believe me, and if you donít, then try it out for yourself and find out for certain.
How can I get started?
Get a canoe or better still a kayak, and even better still borrow one, until you know what you want before buying one.
What does it cost?
You can borrow or hire kayaks from shops that sell them, or from most canoe clubs, if you don't have a friend who has one he/she is willing to loan you. New ones might cost anything from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand for a kevla racing K1. Second hand ones become available occasionally but not often. It costs virtually nothing to use and lasts for years if maintained well.
What if you can't swim?
Wear a life jacket (or a PFD which means a Personal Floatation Device). Most official canoeing events require the use of PFD's.
What training is necessary?
You train for races or special events, or to enjoy the exercise without injury. The exercise is a more gentle rhythmic type of movement and therefore doesn't damage muscles or ligaments etc.
What preparation did you make?
I paddle regularly each week with a group of local friends who enjoy doing so. I enter local marathon events, and am a member of a local canoe club.
What are the particular advantages of such exercise?
Paddling is a gentle rhythmic movement that engages the entire body in activity. You can put as much or as little effort into the strokes as you want and continue the exercise for as long as you wish. It is an ideal form of exercise for gaining or maintaining fitness.
Are there any disadvantages or dangers in paddling?
Most activities have some dangers. In canoeing they are minimal Falling out is one.This requires the ability to get back in, and this should be the first lesson to master when starting canoeing. Other disadvantages are blisters, and some possible soreness in some areas, such as wrists, or shoulders at the base of the neck, or the arms. My doctor told me that professional tennis players don't get tennis elbow. The moral is: if you do the exercise correctly you don't suffer from bad habits you could develop otherwise.That means get lessons on correct style for paddling from a club.
What kind of canoe should I get?
Don't buy any until you know what you want, and find that out by borrowing or hiring one first.
Where can I get a canoe/kayak?
Canoe clubs would be happy to advise and help.You may have friends in this sport who would help. Canoe shops certainly would help with advice, but it's best to have a pretty good idea what you want before visiting a shop and it would be a good idea to visit as many as you can to see the range of canoes/kayaks available, as well as to compare prices.
Do you have to join a club?
No, but it has advantages, which you should check out.I have been a member of a club for some years.
For more information please visit the NSW Canoeing website.
Submitted by Col Gibson.