The trip. We left Echuca for Queensland at 6am on Thursday 9th December with our new Inland Outrigger canoe trailer in tow with singles and double on board. Our mission, to be in Tweed Heads by midday on Friday then onto Coffs Harbor that evening to compete at the National OC1/2 Ocean Racing titles on Saturday and Sunday. We picked up our new folding Mirage six person outriggers canoe and arrived in Coffs Harbour at 5.30pm. We were worn out from the traveling. The car crew consisted of Tony Bond, Alex James, Dillon Guascoine and Rod Clark. Our fifth member, Yvonne Stansfield, flew to the event.
Racing started on Saturday morning with the junior events. Dillon had prepared well for his 16&Under race which was to be held inside the harbor. To our surprise the race director, Mike MillsThom, was of the opinion that these kids needed something more challenging. The result was a 6km course out through the harbor then around a small island and return through the harbor. A daunting task for a young man from the Murray. Dillon attacked the race with power and precision paddling but unfortunately his inexperience in the ocean resulted in three huli’s (capsizes). He passed several canoes then overturned, got back on and passed some more then overturned, got back on and passed some more then overturned. The end result was immaterial, the experience gained immeasurable. It was a fanstastic effort.
The senior paddlers were waiting for the weather gods to behave and give us some downwind conditions but it was not to be. Yvonne and I were racing singles in the 25km event from Woolgoolga to Coffs Harbor. Our good friend Notto also joined us for the paddle. Yvonne paddled with strength and consistency to complete the grueling course which was mostly into a headwind! I was in medal contention early but the wheels fell off at 10km where Notto paddled past. It was a long haul to the finish for us both.
Saturday evening we had the opportunity to ‘talk story’ with our friends during the dinner and presentations. Then to everyone’s shock my name was called. I had finished second in the senior master OC1 25km event. “I must admit I knew something was wrong and mentioned it as I accepted the medal” Five minutes later the real winners were announced and the medals returned as Mike MillsThom had read out the second three paddlers and not the first three! We had a few beers and a few laughs over it.
Sunday morning came around too soon, we would of liked some more sleep! There were a few surprises in store for us this day. Alex was like a cat on a hot tin roof. He was paddling OC2 with Tony who wasn’t helping his nerves any by telling him how hard it was going to be today. There was a breeze. We were going to get a downwind race today. 12km from Coffs Harbor to Sawtell.
Before the senior race the juniors were racing OC2 in the Harbor. Mike MillsThom came looking for Dillon, Kai Bartlett wanted to paddle doubles with him as an exhibition in the 14&Under event. Now Kai Bartlett is the ocean racing world champion! Dillon went very quiet and very white! Two laps of the harbor on Tony’s OC2 made Dillon the envy of everyone at the Regatta. People were paying $50 a head for a group clinic and Dillon was getting a personal 30minute tuition from a paddling god. The highlight for Dillon was the second lap when Kai asked him to lean right and keep paddling, Kai lifted the ama out of the water and they paddled towards the pier on the incoming swell flying the ama for a hundred metres. To top it off Mark Kennedy took Dillon out on the V1’s (Singles without a rudder) for another lesson and a free T shirt. One happy camper!!!!!
Now for me personally I was not happy with the way things went on Saturday so I needed to put in a decent performance so I could go home happy. Matt Carter (Rowdy) told me the Hawaiians were paddling stand up boards in the race so I would be able to use my new canoe. I had bought the canoe Kai had imported to race on. My excitement was tempered with the news that we would have to paddle back through a break at Sawtell. I had visions of busting up my new XM Scorpious on my first paddle! All our crew apart from Dillon were racing.
We lined up across the harbor, the SUP’s had gone earlier. There was a total of 180 craft in the race. The flag dropped and we were away. I sat on the back of Steve Viney and his flying Pueo. As we neared the rock wall at the entrance to the harbor Kevin Long joined us. I was in very good company. These guys really know what they are on about so I followed Steve’s very tight line around the rocks driving in with the wave and catching the rebound. Kevin came up the inside and gave me some instruction on what I should be looking for. Coming off the wall I was in great position and the new canoe was firing so I decided to have a crack and I tried to keep up with Kevin as best I could. Unlike the day before only a couple of canoes passed me. Notto caught me towards the end. He is really firing at the moment, fortunately I am a bit older and not in his section. It was amazing how 180 paddlers can just melt into the horizon as the field spread across the ocean only to congregate close to the finish buoy. I had a couple of paddlers who looked like they could be in my age bracket, I had no idea if I was in medal contention but I knew I was doing well so I gave it everything at the end to finish in front of those guys just in case there was a medal pending. Meanwhile Tony and Alex were making their way through the middle of the field paddling sensibly and finished the race without a huli, well done Alex at your first Nationals. Yvonne put in another strong performance on her Zepher.
The break at Sawtell was very small and easily negotiated and after packing up our canoes we drove back to Coffs to load up some more canoes for the long drive home. I said to Tony, “Can we hang around for presentations, I probably finished fourth but there is an outside chance I might get a medal”. We finished loading and waited, they were still working out the results. Finally my class was called and I had won silver, I did ask Mike if it was correct, I didn’t want to give this one back. So my first National Ocean medal and the first for Inland Outriggers, a big thrill and an honor to represent our club at Nationals. Our Inland Outriggers displayed great sportsmanship and camaraderie and have established a standard which we hope others will follow.
So the road trip was all that was left. From 4pm to 11am the next morning we drove straight through to Echuca beating Notto home and he flew! Unloaded and then collapse.
The blessing. The most important part of our trip was the transportation of our new canoe to Echuca. It was blessed by Rick Ronnan of the Yorta Yorta Nation on Wednesday evening before being paddled in the club handicap race. It is a thing of beauty and must be respected. Paddle in her with great pride!
Clarkie (Paddlenuts Incorporated)
Follow the link to Rambo's video of the 12km race, look for Tony and Alex in the background at the 48 second mark.