Having enjoyed our morning base training sessions, Mei Sing and I didn’t hesitate to sign up for the PaddleNSW marathon on June 20th at Windsor on the Hawkesbury River, especially with the promise of a BBQ and chocolate crackers afterwards. Billy suggested that we paired up to use the club’s OC2 being first timers at single craft racing and Paul and Norm could have the OC1s. Mei Sing shares her experience and I share my perspective of the day from Seat 2.

Seat 1 Mei Sing: My journey began at Kirribilli shed on Saturday morning. I was to pick up one of the club canoes. After the incident with my Hurricane, I was a little anxious about transporting the canoe. I could still hear the crashing sound of my brand new canoe, still unchristened, when the garage door shut down on it as I drove through my car park.

Billy and Linda were there at Kirribilli, and they helped me load the canoe onto my car. We left for Windsor together. I followed closely behind Billy’s car, changing lane when he did, just so I wouldn’t lose sight of him. Having Billy and Linda in front of me gave me a sense of security. Sure, it wouldn’t stop me from doing anything stupid. But hopefully they’d see it and warn me before it turned into a disaster.

About 45 minutes later, we arrived at Windsor. The canoe unscathed. That was a third of the battle – now I just had to do the race, and transport the canoe back.

Windsor was covered in fog. We could barely see the river. There was a mystical feel to it. I felt like I was in a dream. Less than a year ago, I never gave paddling a thought. A moment of madness had led me to sign up for the novice course, just to try something new. Before long I found myself addicted to the sport, and there I was, about to experience my first single craft race. I was excited, and a little nervous.

Sou’s calmness soothed my nerves. I knew Sou would be steering, so I had left my glasses in the car. At the last minute just before the race began, we had to swap positions because the front seat couldn’t be adjusted for Sou’s height. The only issue with that was, of course, I couldn’t see without my glasses. I sheepishly told Sou that I was short-sighted. With a smile she told me not to worry, she’d tell me when to turn.

So the race began. Sou was behind me, directing me away from obstacles, keeping me on course. Each time we had a boat within reaching distance, she made it our next target. And one by one, we overtook them all, until we finally finished the race.

My gluteal muscles were wrecked. It took me a few seconds before I could stand up again. But I was one happy paddler. I had finished the race. It was only a 10km race, which was an easy paddle for most PDs. But it was the longest race I had ever done, and so to me, it meant something.

This experience would not have been possible without all the encouragement and support I’ve received from everyone. Thanks Billy for organising the race; Billy, Todd and Nic for all the single craft sessions; Sou for being an awesome OC2 partner; everyone in the club for the constant encouragement. Also, thanks Mark, for helping me return the canoe to Kirribilli shed – the last part of my battle. Again, it was comforting to have an experienced paddler driving in front of me. The canoe was intact. The race was completed. It was a very successful day indeed.

Seat 2 Sou: As soon as we were pushed off to the water, I turned to Mei Sing (“MS”) to return to shore to adjust my seat. There was no way I could sit with my knees up for over 1 hour. We both struggled with the seat adjustment and smartly decided that MS should steer so that we didn’t miss our start of the race.

After we swapped seats, MS nervously added that she had not sat in the front of the OC2 before but I assured her that it was fundamentally like the OC1. We had not partnered during training, but I knew that MS was fitter than me and I had seen her cut the turns (buoys on Sydney Harbour) like a Formula 1 driver. As we approached the start line with our fellow Division 9 paddlers, MS added that she is short sighted. “Oh Okay.. how short sighted?” I asked. “I can barely see the bridge” she said. The bridge was about 500m away and it’s big, so we shouldn’t run into it. I was more worried about the other smaller things on the water.. like boats. And there were lots of them that day! Yes, in a twist of fate, this race had just turned very exciting for me. “We’ll be right! I’ll let you know where to go” I confidently said.

All the paddlers were divided into groups based on race distance & the 20 km racers further divided into teams with similar expected finishing time. The start was called and kayaks and canoes took off leaving the outriggers behind. By the time we got to the bridge, we stayed with a chatty pack of kayakers. We quickly settled into an even rhythm and MS led at a good strong pace. About 1.5 km into the race, 3 boats had hulied. Being well spaced from other boats, we were not in danger of running into anyone and I soon realised that MS might have exaggerated her short sightedness as she steered with excellent precision to exactly where I asked her to point our canoe. By the time the first turning buoys came into sight, we overtook 2 canoes and were drawing closer to the boats ahead of us. From there, we just aimed to overtake one craft at a time. We started to see familiar smiling faces of our fellow PDs and cheered each other on as we passed one another.

The hardest part of the race was perhaps the last 2 km home, to stay as strong as the first 2 km. We crossed the finish line elated and proud that we had done a very good first race, and for me, it was twice as much fun to share the experience with Mei Sing on an OC2! Congratulations to the other PDs who completed their race too – Anne, Annett, Billy, Gavin, Julia, Linda, Lisa, Mandy, Mark, Michelle, Nicola, Norm, Paul, Suzy and Todd. Commiserations to Christian who could not get to the start line because of a problem with his canoe. Thanks to Billy, Todd, Nicola and the whole gang for their encouragement and paddling advice.

For anyone wondering if they could do a long race on their own, definitely give it a go! The marathon is a great day out to paddle as fast or as slow as you like, on easy waterways with beautiful green surroundings. You also get great company, share lots of laughs, delicious food and maybe even pat & feed some animals, some chubby bunnies which would make Peter Rabbit look anorexic, in our case at Windsor.

~ Sou