Being male, I don’t read instructions or ask for directions and on Saturday morning I was once again demonstrating the navigational technique best described as “following somebody with a boat”. It was all going well, there were three ski laden cars in front of us coming across Captain Cook Bridge so we were obviously going to the right place.
Following them into the carpark of the sailing club, we congratulated ourselves on arriving early to get a prime parking spot and began unloading the car. The paddles were just coming out when one of the other paddlers realised we were at the wrong start point and we needed to reload everything and decamp to the other sailing club a couple of kms further along the bay. Perhaps this was an omen.
Pre-race is the time catch up with old mates, check out who’s supplementing their training with a faster boat or new paddle and engaging in a little good natured rivalry.
On Saturday, our focus was Bob and Kristy with Bob’s V10 double, making their Iceberg Series debut.
There’s a quiet rivalry running in the Sutherland Shire between our two mixed double crews, each pursuing different tactics and technology in an ongoing struggle for doubles supremacy. In the beginning it was SLR2 vs TK2, until Bob had raised the stakes with an Epic K2. We’d retaliated with a fast but stable Fenn double before they had a chance to get too fast in the K2. At Narrabeen, they broke the deadlock with a new V10 Double and we’d been lucky to have conditions which favoured our more stable Fenn and our experience on rough water. We’ve now acquired a K2 and the end of the world is at hand.
But Saturday was a ski race, so for the first time we’d be on flat water, where it would be ski versus ski, Fenn vs Epic, and only fitness or a faster boat would win the day.
Steve Newsome had asked Bob to carry a GoPro on the V10, and let’s be honest, nothing fuels rivalry like the chance of going viral on YouTube.
The second mistake of the day was standing at the back during the race briefing so that we couldn’t see the map. If we stood closer, it would have been a shorter race.
Despite the clear blue skies and calm water, the water temperature was cold and most paddlers limited the pre-race warm up to perfunctory circle around the starting buoy and assembly on the starting line. A special mention goes to Robbie Cook who spent the pre-race minutes with his feet dangling in the water, probably just a habit, but perhaps he was subconsciously preparing for what was to come.
Team Turner lined up on the left hand side of the start line, we’d opted for the deep water on the right. In our little microcosm of rivalry, it’s important to ensure that nobody can ever make a direct comparison. A win or loss needs to be explained in terms of a tactic that didn’t play out, a sand bar that’s shifted, or the wrong boat for the conditions. It should never come down to just fitness or training. They’re stronger, we’ve got better balance. We’re very different crews, but very close at the same time.
Rounding the first point for the run to Brighton Le Sands, the pack narrowed and elongated as everyone slipped into washriding mode. Having carefully calculated the position of Bob’s backward facing camera, we slipped in behind them concentrating on looking good for the camera, made a couple of gratuitous diagonal runs across their wake to get our faces into the video and more importantly make sure the Fenn logo on the bow was neatly in frame, before pulling up alongside.
The big orange marker by the Novotel was hard to miss and the field made a sharp but tidy right hand turn out into the bay for the run to the boat ramp at Towra point.
Being local, I’ve regularly paddled on Botany Bay between Kurnell and Captain Cook Bridge but usually hang wide around the shallows between Kurnell and Towra Point so the exact position of the turn point near the Towra boat ramp was a bit vague. When the lead bunch set off across the bay, the course was wider than expected and seemed to be aiming towards the finger wharf at Kurnell, but since that seemed to agree with some part of the briefing about a marker post in that general direction we set off in pursuit. After all, following other boats had always worked in the past.
About a kilometer out into the bay, the wind started to pick up and the choppy waves that had been barely noticeable on the first leg began to sharpen up, now coming in from behind and right.
There was a constant temptation to try and pick up a runner, but the chop was messy and a run out to the left would have to be followed by an uncomfortable reverse tack back to the right which would leave you running parallel to the waves.
A few of the waves were large enough to crest the sides of the ski, filling the ample seat buckets, making the ski plow deeper into the trough, but as long as we maintained forward speed the bailers soon had us emptied out and running light again. Bob and Kristy with the V10’s bailers closed found themselves floating in their seats on this leg of the course.
As the field moved into the middle of the bay, some of the boats around us began to break stride, the near parallel waves lifting their boats onto the crests, leaving them stroking air and bracing to stay upright. There was a clear margin between paddlers who were experienced on rough water and those more at home on the flatter water of the first leg.
The lead boats were already making their return run along the final leg before the turn marker shimmered into view. They’d obviously had a strong run across the bay, while we’d been content to get to the turn in one piece. Constantly being alert for the next wave had also kept us from looking over our shoulders to keep track of the opposition. In these situations, we pace ourselves against boats nearby and try to maintain our relative position rather than get hung up on the lack of forward speed.
Rounding the mark, we had our first opportunity to assess our race position. There were still plenty of skis crossing the bay from Brighton, but unexpectedly there were also a handful of skis running close into the shoreline about 1000m off to the left of our course. Were they rec paddlers, or racers who had run for shelter from the wind and chop? We pointed the nose straight for Towra Point and put our heads down.
There are plenty of paddlers who don’t like running into a head wind, but it’s rarely bothered us. After the long run through the side chop, it was even a relief to be running square on again. You put your head down, settle into a rhythm and drive with your whole body. The size and weight of the double ski gives it momentum and with the waves coming in square and regular, you can set a comfortable rhythm and plough through.
Approaching Towra Point for the second last turn I could clearly make out Bruce with his battered Fenn and strangely relaxed paddle stroke converging on us from the shoreline group. I knew we’d passed him somewhere near the end of the first leg and didn’t expect to see him beside us again. Maybe the shoreline had a fast running channel and those in the know were using it to slip past us.
Finally the green marker of the last turn was in view and the run to the finish was on. It’s odd how the distance from the beach to the marker looked much shorter when we were on the beach at the start and now it looked like a mile. We hung on tightly to the group we were in, rounding the last mark and finally hit the beach in a time of 1:32:04.
Off the beach and into warm clothes, we were back at the car cleaning the boat when Bruce sauntered past and asked “where did you guys go off to?”. Along with a fair portion of the field, we’d gone around the wrong marker at the top of the course and as a result had run an extra 600m. Bruce was one of the few who’d made the turn in the correct spot at the Towra boat ramp and that was why we’d passed him twice in the same race.
Despite the cold and navigation errors, it was a great event enjoyed by all. Thanks to all the organisers and sponsors.
Belated congratulations to Greg Archibald and Kevin Kelly who posted a class winning time of 1:29:00 in their Mirage 730! A full three minutes faster than our double ski. A combination of following the directions and a series of time credits for heroic rescues performed at the tail of the field. Well done lads.
Save a few warm thoughts for Rob Cook, who’d been pre-cooling his heels at the start of the race. He posted his GPS track later in the day, immortalising a race with four swims on the second leg. It can only get warmer from there Rob.
Bob and Kristy finished a few minutes behind us on 1:37:45 having been slowed by the rough water of the bay. They replied by thrashing us on the flat water of the marathon course at Wyong on Sunday. The rivalry continues.
Our dreams of going viral on Youtube were dashed later in the day when Steve Newsome emailed us to say that Bob hadn’t pressed record on the camera.
And a final suggestion to the paddlers who led the race around the wrong race… When you don’t know where you’re going and find yourself in front… stopping to clear weed from your rudder is a time honoured excuse for letting somebody else take the lead. Me, I’m going to stand closer in the briefing.