Sunday, 21 August 2011
The course went across one half of the Huon river, through a little channel in a long skinny island (Egg Island) to the other side of the river, then up to the pointy nose of the island, round it and back down the other side of the river. The first thing I noticed was that unlike the other 2 kayak races I've done, I actually had people to pass - yay! So I made short work of a couple of wobbly looking people before we got to the canal, then on the other side I worked hard to get past another couple which put me within reach of a group just in front of me. People were generally staying close to the bank as we were going against the current although I was probably a little further out into the river as I was a bit warey of the sticks and branches sticking out into the water.. and then suddenly there was this big CLUNK. Like a bang really. I'd hit a submerged tree or something - probably a stump as the people on my inside didn't hit anything. My boat kept moving but the rudder had hit this thing so hard it had bent itself back against the hull and jammed there so I could no longer move it.
These boats aren't made to be steered with the paddle alone - I tried to push the steering pedals but couldn't' do anything - by which time I was going in all sorts of directions. I stopped to think.. what to do what to do… I was less than 1/4 of the way into the race and I couldn't see how I was going to finish without being able to steer. Devastated, I decided I had to turn around and pull out, so I did a big slow wide turn (cos that's all I could do) and started to head towards the safety boat which was back up the river a little. Just as I was finishing my turn, one of the zillions of paddlers who were coming past hit the same thing I did. Only he hit it even harder. I heard him swear, then he pulled straight into the bank on the island. So i'm thinking - hey that's an idea - I could try to FIX this.. so I kept turning until I was quite close to where he was wrestling with his boat. But without the ability to steer, and the river being quite deep until you were practically up on the bank, I had to tip myself out of the boat and swim the last few metres to where I could just stand. Then I flipped over the boat and returned the rudder to where it should have been. Luckily there wasn't any hull damage - unlike the other guy whose rudder went through the boat and made a hole. Then I had to try to get back in - which was difficult as the water was not shallow. I had to do the equivalent of a deep water recovery which is not easy - and I didn't actually think I could do it but I got lucky on my first attempt. I started paddling but immediately realised I still couldn't steer. Bugger. As I happened to be pointing in the racing direction again I decided to just keep trying to head that way and finish the race as it would be altogether better than not finishing at all (especially after all Jon's hard work). The paddlers I had passed earlier were blips in the distance but I soldiered on without steering and got into the groove of it pretty well. Turning at the top of the island was a pain and whenever anyone came past too close to me my boat got sucked into towards them and they would hit me with their paddle but generally I managed to hold my line pretty well and I actually started to haul in a few people. By the home straight I dragged myself past one of the guys I'd overtaken near the start and I had also passed a few of the people who came past while I was doing my swimming & boat maintenance session - yay! I finished strongly and although it's a bugger that the rudder broke I'm SO happy I chose to continue and finish. Jon claims that if he had seen me paddling back as I'd originally intended he just would have sent me back out to finish the course anyway - so I'm glad that didn't happen.
And then the best part - we came third! - our pre-race goal was to be in the top-five! The winning team was miles in front of us anyway although it will be interesting to see where 2nd and 4th were when the results come out - I'm pretty sure I passed someone in our category fairly close to the end. But how sweet the Wine we won for coming third will be! And we also won some groovy little wooden apples which have gone straight to the trophy room.
In case you are wondering, the guy who got a hole in his boat (but could still steer) finished too - although he was getting pretty low in the water by the time he finished. And it sounds like quite a few other people hit whatever I hit too - as there was much discussion about damaged rudders and I wasn't the only one to have to do the rest of the race without steering.