By Mark Sundin
A concerned call to The Don on Friday night sparked by a forecast gale was met with a stern ‘it’ll be right’, as my double partner Axe and I debated whether to get on the cans or remain committed to our strict pre-race regimen.
‘It’ll be right’ from someone in a position of authority in a peak paddling body would normally reassure, but coming from a bloke who has offered advice like ‘just ignore the lightning’ in the past, I wasn’t so sure.
Regardless, after an early start, grabbing Axeman from his Longueville palace, we made our way up the freeway to the Vegas of the Central Coast, Tacoma.
The same smiling faces you always see at marathons were there, smiling as usual, but the wind had messed up everyone’s hair.
The briefing featured lots of advice about buoys and what colour they were and what side to pass etc etc, but our race plan was simply to follow the Buchans, because they’re slightly faster and do this stuff all the time.
The club had a good roll up, just what you’d expect with all those big Wonnie miles we do every week. Good on us…! As well as Jeff and Deb, Mark Moro, Samwise, Andrew, Lindsey had entered, and The Don was there too cheerfully in the background.
The wind seemed to build steadily in the lead up to the start, and by our kick off at 0945 it was gusting to 32 knots. Just to stop things there; in my world if you find yourself paddling into 32 knots, you’re either going to turn and go a long way downwind within a few short minutes, or you’ve made a serious error.
Lining up among some glum faces at the race start, Axe and I challenged the field to a ‘hot spot’; a jetty about 300m up river. First one past to get beers off everyone else who took up the challenge. I was hoping these fast dudes in a double and Mark Moro would decline, which they did, (actually they didn’t dignify our proposition with even a glance) but Jeff Buchan couldn’t help himself. Off the gun we blitzed the Buchans, loudly gave them our order for two very expensive $17 Bavarian beers, then slipped straight in behind them and let them ride our bow pressure wave all the way to the first turn. Like dolphins in front of a container ship. Axe had never been in a race with me before and he thought this was ‘race pace’, and completely freaked.
It was great chatting to ‘Pogie Man’ all the way there, but sadly because of the wind we couldn’t hear anything he shouted back. And his shouts got louder, more despairing but no more intelligible. Deb seemed to be saying something too after a while but she was also impossible to understand.
As we approached a Dragon Boat weighing maybe 3000kg on a particularly sharp turn, we watched in awe as Jeff and Deb offered them some friendly words of encouragement, and then mercilessly cut them off cold on the adjacent bend. The sweep was right alongside us as they initiated desperate evasive action, yelling ‘possible stop…..prepare to stop….STOOOOOPP!’ as the Buchaneers swerved manically into their path.
This was more like it, no quarter given, biffo, win at all costs. Just brilliant. Apparently Samwise got into a stink too, so maybe us Sutho mob are turning into the ‘enforcers’ of long distance marathon. I say, if they put one of ours in the hospital, let’s put three of theirs in the morgue!
As we paddled past the stricken single bladed crew of 23, I yelled out ‘Number 200!’ and ‘protest’, just so they didn’t get the wrong culprit.
The turn was a relief, as we bustled along downwind and down tide, swapping tales of our years flatting in Coogee together. We had to stop when we got within earshot of other racers, adhering to the old ‘what goes on tour rule’
At the bottom turn, just as we’d got onto our rugby careers, the wind returned in our faces and we really did have to grit our teeth with no Buchans to follow. We decided we’d try to Alpha Annie Moore in her K1, and figured two powerful fellows like ourselves would make short-shrift of her 200m head start. But when Annie was 400m ahead at the final turn we knew we’d have to dig deep to reign in this pesky grandmother. When we finally got her we offered her a wash ride and were pretty happy with ourselves when she couldn’t hang on in the gusty force 7 breeze and chop. Lesson for all those 50kg women in their ‘60’s out there paddling K1’s in high winds, don’t mess with Sundo and the Axe.
Just to remind us of the tempest which was still building, the final 1.5km was back into the teeth, and we dropped to 6kmh as we closed on the finish line. And in a sad moment of karma for alpha-ing Annie, Mick Carrol paddled past us into the wind going about 13kmh. We muttered ‘yeah we’d be that fast too if we’d done the short course, champ.’ He did do the short course right…?
Axe was pretty chuffed to have finally finished a kayak race, after missing the cut in the Myall and then inventing his own 120km version of the Hawkesbury up some previously uncharted tributary and sparking a land, air and sea search.
And then at the preso to be crowned silver medalists, men’s open double (none of this age-group everyone-gets-a-prize rubbish folks. Opens…) capped off a royal gala performance.
Also credit to the Buchan’s 2nd in their class, Mark and Gareth 3rd in their classes and the SSCC team rounded out with Andrew G and Lindsey. Well done to all!
A different race for sure, well run and one to consider as slightly less punishing warm up for the bigger ones to follow. Well done to all the racers and to our hardy bunch who made the trek north.
Gotta luv a bit of ultra marathon.