(By Chris Bartkus)

A regatta at La Perouse. Men’s Novice Short Course

…or something like that? Five out of the six guys on our canoe were SO novice that we struggled working out even what race we were in.

And what did I care anyway? …I’d earlier declared myself to be non-competitive by nature. A Queenslander until recently, this day was more about splashing about in the same waters as Captain Cook, a stone’s throw from the birthplace of our nation.

…Turns out maybe I’m a tad more competitive than I thought!

I’d heard rumours in the morning that there was one other novice crew, so – in my head (and yes, I now see how ridiculous this is) – I imagined two boats paddling up to the starting line to fight it out for either first or last place (or second – if it happened to be us that came last.)

And we were confident.

We’d had a good training session a few nights earlier, and I’d been rehearsing the stroke timing (I was in seat one) on my daily walk to and from work.

The reality however was so different from what I had imagined.

A flotilla worthy of D-Day; men, women, mixed, novice, expert, and ‘us’ – wherever we belonged in that mix? – jostled at the starting line. …Or at least that’s what it looked like from the beach – we were running a little late!

As we rushed out to join them, I had just enough time to preemptively revert to being ‘non-competitive’, as the realisation dawned on me that at least twenty of these boats would finish before us.

Our Women’s Novice team were having some pre-race troubles of their own, and I thought smugly to myself that at least we would beat them.

…apparently misogyny is a sin, punishable by humiliation.

We arrived at the start line, and some flags went up, and I tried to remember what each of the flags meant,  when I realised that somewhere amongst those three colours, one of them had meant ‘go’ …and we hadn’t gone yet. …so we went!

And we went well! Wow. How?

The flotilla stretched, and we neared the first turning buoy in a small handful of competitors.

I don’t even remember the turn itself, but it must have been good, as we suddenly found ourselves fourth, and then third.

The boat in first were clearly using an outboard motor as they were already so far ahead they were clearly never going to be caught. They were moving so quickly I suspect they have already finished next week’s race.

We turned our attention to second. They were ‘gettable’. Definitely ‘gettable’.

My rehearsals had paid off, I could hear the stroke timing in my head.

We were catching second. They were a bit inside our line, and now just in front as we approached the buoy that would turn us towards home.

I could see that they were stroking harder than us, and yet we were closing in on them.

I had the plan in my head, my body was feeling good; we’d take the turn, and then step it up and blow these guys away.

This ‘non-competitor’ suddenly requires triumph. We shall settle for nothing less.

…and then the water was on the wrong side of the canoe!

I’ve heard various versions of it from my team mates, spectators, and other speculators, but all I know, is one minute we were storming our way towards triumph, and the next minute, we were really wishing we’d paid more attention to the Huli drill (…or in Roger’s case, wishing he hadn’t brought his car keys along for the trip! Sorry Rog.)

As I heard Nicola’s voice in my head telling me to kick out of the skirt, all I could think was ‘…but we were doing so well!’

Is this what ‘competitive’ means..?

…Maybe if we bail really quickly?

As ten, then fifteen boats pass us, it starts to become obvious that we’re not going to finish second or third. Then the Women’s Novice team passes us and it starts to become obvious that I really can be a dick sometimes. …a worthwhile reality check, as I suddenly realise – bobbing there in the mouth of Botany Bay – that competitive or not – I’m having fun, and that’s what this is all about!

Yep, we’re in last place. The guys are bailing out the last dregs as we all climb back on board, and collect ourselves.

…and then the water is on the wrong side of the canoe! AGAIN!

…but I’ve already learned my lesson!

So we finished last. But we finished. And there were smiles and joking on the beach, and much discussion as to how, and why?

And the six guys on that boat now share a great bond. …and the honour of being the only boat to Huli on that day. …and we did it twice!

And the lesson I take away from that day is that nothing in life is ever ‘sure’, but it sure can be fun!

…Well that, and ‘don’t let Adrian steer’!