Hamilton Island -The 3rd and Final Chapter :

August 6, 2003 · 0 comments

Lori Velesik FCRCC

Day Four, Monday June 16th... The Big Day...

It was a beautiful morning...at the pre-race meeting we discovered
that the course would be the "normal course"...dispelling fears and
rumors that the wind had come up too much and that we would not be
heading out towards Pentacost Island.
Yeehaw...bring it on!!!

After loading our canoe...the very famous "WOODY", the "start crew"
said good bye to the rest of our team mates and our extraordinary
coach du jour, Rick Nu'u. They headed off to do some silly
interview for Aussie TV and then boarded the escort boat to start the
stressful wait ...

In this 42km Change Race, all canoes/teams start on the line....Men,
Women, Mixed, everyone...a total of 85 crews jockeying for
position. It was crazy. The top crews were positioning themselves
for the best lines considering current flow/tides, etc. As you can
imagine...all the men's crews were 'puffing up', staking their
territory and doing their best to be strategic within a super
competitive field. Our strategy was to actually start BEHIND the
line, on the tail of a very strong men's crew (Mooloolaba Masters)
that we knew had a great steerer...someone who would not screw up and
cause a disaster in front of you and someone you knew was experienced
in this event. This strategy proved to be a good one. Once the gun
went off, we had a clear run with little or no boat interference at
all....quite a relief.

It was a real competitive dash to the first major turning point...the
south end of Dent Island. It was so exciting...boats
everywhere...paddlers calling...the wind, the waves...AWESOME!!!
We were in racing with a bunch on men's crews when one hulied just in
front of us, a few hundred meters from the point...a subtle
reminder. The water at this point can get really gnarly and the
trick is to stay as close to the rocks as possible...a bit nerve-
wracking with canoes pressed tight to you and rebound swells tossing
you around but we trusted Sue's steering and we trusted each other
and just went for it...passing a few men crew in the process....WE
BELIEVE !!!!!!

After the point, there were nice little runners and waves to
catch....shift gears from wave bashing to riding. We had a good run
in through here and made great progress against the other teams
around us. We became aware of the other women around us at this
point too...Kai O'pua and Outrigger Australia.

Sue & the her girls, in WOODY, the green boat, "threading the needle"
between rocks and the coast...a tight
fit but a secret back-eddy river that gave us a sweet
ride...definitely worth the risk ! It was a total chute.
All this before the first
change!!! Gotta love it !!!!

Meanwhile, back on the escort boat, the girls were anxious to see how
we had faired. All the escorts go around the top end of Dent Island
at the start of the race...and they wait...the canoes and escorts
converge at the lighthouse and beyond....LET THE GAMES BEGIN !!!!

We were coming up to the lighthouse, the landmark that signals the
first change for the women. The Men's landmark was farther up but
crews had already reached that point. THERE WERE ESCORT BOATS
EVERYWHERE !!! IT WAS INSANE !!! If the insurance companies had
any idea what was going on out there........yikes!!!

I have never seen so many close calls and so many tight drops...boats
swooping in behind and in front of canoes, driving straight down
amongst them...craaazzzyyy...never mind complaining about bad boat
wash, it was everywhere...it was escort boat and canoe soup !!!!...I
guess it was that "Aussie Rules" thing again...anything goes!!!!

Rick and our Escort driver, Phil, tried to do our first change but
had trouble getting in deep enough...in and around like 5 other
canoes...the girls jumped in the water but Sue called the change off
b/c we were being pulled off line too much....a good call by Sue and
no harm done...but pretty sketchy for the girls being tossed around
in the water.
We were successful with all our other drops and changes throughout
the race....no "Cling-Ons, no "Starfish", no misses, no paddles
kicked out, no bad calls, NO WORRIES !!! (Gotta love it when you
have a zero-error race when it counts the most !!!)
All the ladies did fantastic changes, despite practicing only one day
in Mooloolaba!!! (You ladies make me so
Proud !!!)
At the top of Dent we experienced what we had been warned about...the
men will block any women that try to pass them.
One crew gave us grief...bashing boats, veering all over the place
and at one point their ama ended up on some of the ladies in our
canoe!! It wasn't until Sue...our calm, tiny, mild mannered
helmswoman...ripped an absolute strip off the guy :
"@$J*!#!*!,C*#!!.."HOLD YOUR LINE !!!!! ", that we were able to pass
them.

After passing South Head, we started the long 10km grind upwind
towards Pentacost Island. It started to get big...REAL BIG...open
ocean...big swells with wind chop...stacking up b/c or the outgoing
tide. We were bashing into the troughs and gettin' big air at the
front. Personally, I had the most fun stroking a 6 man canoe in my
whole paddling career...doing a double shift into the gnarl. It was
just SICK...I just loved it !!!! Our crew seemed to really excel in
the hardest conditions...we were just eatin' it up....it was so
exciting!!!

We were fighting back and forth the whole way with Outrigger
Australia and Kai O'pua...the lead would change many, many times
between the 3 of us before the day was done....fantastic racing.

After Pentacost came time to shift into big time surf mode...away we
went...Outrigger Australia (OA), who were leading took an inside line
and we followed Kai O'pua (KO) on a more direct line back to
Fitzalan Island. A great call made by Rick as we emerged at
Fitzalan Island with about a 5 boat length lead over O.A.. However,
KO had put a big lead on us too.

Coach Rick took Sue out and put Cheryl into steer now as the water
was flattening out and the currents became more apparent. We knew
that it was gonna be a horses race with lots of hard water to deal
with around the top of Hamilton Island. It was a great call. O.A and
us were battling fiercely towards Plum Pudding Island and heading for
the marina and the finish. The 2 crews were side by side, stroke for
stroke for what seemed like and eternity...UNBELIEVABLE....the 2 crew
were fighting so hard that we were both reeling in KO...then to our
amazement, KO missed a change and only had 5 girls in the boat !!!
We finally passed O.A., and maintained a boat length and we were
right on the heels of KO.

Meanwhile, at the finish line..... the amazing Mooloolaba Open Women

were probably already in the bar celebrating their race victory!!!
They won the race 13 minutes ahead of the rest of us...even after
having hulied !!! WOW... big congrats...and well done Mooloolaba !

It was now a 3 horse race for 2nd, 3rd and 4th place.

This was the most incredible racing after 4 hours of strategy,
currents, different lines, wicked tides, surf, lead changes, chop,
slop and full on intensity...non-stop !!!
I have reviewed the video footage I shot from the escort boat ( like
20 times ! ) in an effort to describe the ensuing end battle as
accurately as possible.

KO turned the buoy first heading in the flat water towards the finish
line in the marina. We turned wide right behind them with OA on the
inside, beside and just behind us. OA turned tightest and started
taking an inside line.
We were on the outside with half a boat length on OA and our nose
along side KO when the first boat bumping occurred.

We were slowed down a bit...no big deal...and continued racing with
each canoe regaining space apart from one another. About 20 second
of full out hammering passed with us gaining on KO...our nose was up
at 3 seat when something happened...KO's nose was suddenly pointing
at 45 degrees toward our escort boat and the 2 boats were in a major
tangle.
Most of the girls in both canoes were still paddling madly....there
was a lot of excitement, confusion and shouting going on.
Our team was effectively blocked and could do nothing other than stop
paddling.
OA took quick advantage of the situation and passed both of us on the
inside and went on to win 'the battle of the day' and a well earned
2nd overall placing.
KO straightened out in front of us as our girls got the canoe up and
running again. To the amazement of all of us on the escort watching
this unfold, our girls were regaining ground with every stroke on
KO....but, unfortunately, we simply ran out of room, time and luck.
We crossed the line with our nose at KO's tail in 4th place over all.

Admittedly, there has been a lot of public controversy as to what
happened at the end of our race...a lot of people with opinions...a
lot of people with "their versions" of what happened even though they
were not even there.
One thing is for certain...the girls that were involved and were
there know what happened...this is all that matters....in the heat of
battle, with intense, fantastic racing, stuff happens....we have
accepted our lot and our place in this.

I speak for my team in saying that we have nothing but respect for
the women of Kai O'pua...it is an honor and a privilege to even be
racing with them and simply phenomenal to be at a level to challenge
them. They have been the inspiration for us and our clubs back home
for years...quite simply they have raised the bar for all of us. For
this, we thank them...Mahalo !

Coming to Australia so "scattered", from all over the Pacific
Northwest and Hawaii, we had absolutely no expectations of how we
would place or stack up. We did not come looking for medals and
money. We came to race our faces off...we came, not to back down,
but to challenge and to race in every race we could...we came to not
wanting to save anything...we wanted to fully experience Hamilton
Island and all that it offers....and we did.....holy cow ( pun
intended) did we ever !!!!!

We are proud to have been contenders for 2nd place in such a

prestigious event. We are proud of all of our results and the fact
that we gave everthing that we had...every stroke, every race, every
day. We graciously thank Outrigger Australia and Kai O'pua for
giving us "the race of our lives"...it was simply fantastic...we will
never forget it.

This truly was an exerience of a lifetime...12 paddle chicks from all
over...gettin' it together half way around the world...showing
ourselves, and anyone else who cared to notice, what paddling 110%
for each other can do....It can make boats go fast.... and it can
make friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.

To Cheryl, Tracy, Zoe, Sheila, Kathleen, Justine, Patti, Lori J, Sue,
Linda and Gena...thank you for making a long time idea and dream a
fantastic reality...this adventure was far better that I ever could
have imagined. You are all amazing paddlers and people. You are the
best team mates and friends one could ever have. I, for one, will
never forget.

Mahalo !

I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have had writing
it. I am glad to have our trip and the events recorded if for no
other reason than to relive a wonderful trip and experience in the
future. I hope a few of you out there will be inspired to go and
experience some of the great races our sport has to offers.

.....Dare to dream.......dare to do......Thanks for all your interest
and support.....see you on the water !

LORI VELISEK

Thanks to all of our sponsors for helping us look good and paddle
fast !!!!!

Thanks to all of our friends, family, clubs and coaches for making
this possible :

RACE COACH : RICK NU'U
COACHES : KAMINI JAIN, DAVID VELISEK & ALAN CARLSON

DAVE AND MEG CHUN
DAWN STEWART
THE KRANENBURGS
STEVE WEST AND TANIA

PANAMUNA CANOE CLUB
SURFERS PARADISE CANOE CLUB
COLIN AND JULIE BARTLEY

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