It was always going to be a bittersweet moment. Our very own Gelo had announced his intention to move back to Europe and that he’d miss the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic. The impending loss of a good friend and Team Fat Paddlers’ own crash test dummy is difficult, but to celebrate we decided to take advantage of the Paddle for the Planet event by holding one last paddling bash for him before his departure. And what better way to do so than to include a paddling camp-out as part of the event.
The plan was simple. Get on the water somewhere on the Hawkesbury River, paddle to a pre-planned site and prepare camp before the sun was down. Plans were carefully made; an alternate site picked in case of any issues, the distance measured to make sure we’d make it, and kayaks/canoe loaded with all the necessary gear for the night. Of course a few miscalculations had been made too. Like an outgoing tide, shallow mudflats, an un-steerable untrimmedd canoe, and about an extra 5km of distance to the final stopping point. Oh, and did I mention the storm clouds on the horizon??
By the time we made it to “Camp A”, it had been dark for almost an hour and was bucketing down with rain. The new Team Fat Paddlers had been sent ahead in their faster kayaks to secure the camp in daylight, but they were still searching for it in the dark when we caught them up in our slow zig-zagging canoe. When we finally did find the campsite, we found the only part of it not under half a foot of water was already inhabited by other less-than-friendly campers.
Onto Plan B and Camp B, a few hundred metres down-stream. Except the whole area was raised a good six feet from the river by a vertical embankment. The only spot we found for a possible landing was a tiny piece of exposed mud criss-crossed by a fallen tree in front of a somewhat-stepped muddy vertical embankment, but it seemed our last chance at making camp and with the rain coming down more heavily we decided to give it a look. First we sent Midshipman Mike in to climb the bank and scope out the area, but once we got the all clear to follow I climbed up after him to see what we could see – which was a big area of tall grass and swamp! Desperate, we waded through the shallow swamp for another 20-30 metres before the water cleared and we found a raised dry clearing – perfect for our camp site. Of course, we couldn’t leave the boats below as the high tide would wash the mudflat away and strictly speaking we probably weren’t really supposed to be in this part of the wilderness. So together as a team we lifted the boats fully laden up the bank before dragging them through the swamp and into the campsite.
We took advantage of a brief rain stoppage to quickly make camp, setting up tents and tarps and preparing a little mock campfire area to do our cooking. We’d brought a few chairs in the canoe so were pretty comfortable – in so much as you can be comfortable having paddled through rain, climbed through mud, hauled boats through swamp and finally set-up a home for the night in the pouring rain! And I haven’t even mentioned the fat leech Gelo picked up in the swamp!
From there on it was all fun. Sausage and steak sandwiches cooked over camp stoves, heated wine and heated hands from the Trangia, and the laughter and ribbing of men living wild out under the stars – or in our case, under rain, clouds and fog! Not exactly a holiday you’d take a family on, but a great session never-the-less. Then finally we each snuck away to our own tents or tarps and enjoyed a good nights sleep rugged up in our sleeping bags – except for Gelo, who tried to sleep in a tent full of water. 😉
When we awoke it was freezing cold and still foggy. We huddled around the stove as Midshipman Nathan cooked up sausages and baked beans, washed it all down with coffee and tea. Then it was time to break camp, pack everything away and lug the boats back through the swamp and down to the water to meet the rest of TFP who were joining us for “Paddle for the Planet“.
The rest of the crew (Grumm, Alan and Nat) had by now overshot us and paddled to the very end of the waterway we were on, but as we pushed out they came around the corner on their return journey, ready to join us for the 17km paddle back to where we started – the paddle we were doing for Paddle for the Planet.
Of course the return paddle just about destroyed us all, and especially for the morning paddlers who’d put in a 40km round trip. It was a tough but decent paddle and all up a great way to farewell our good friend Lt Commander Gelo an he prepares to make his European Odyssey. We’ll miss you matey, but look forward to your eventual and triumphant return! Cheers – FP