I still can't believe I paddled around Hong Kong Island last Sunday in an outrigger canoe! It was such an experience. I'd been training for the whole month hoping to make it. Ten of us from Lamma OCC formed the women's racing team for the day and I was lucky enough to make the cut and get to be in the boat. It was such a great time and I’m still high as a kite thinking about it.
The day before the race, we'd paddled the two canoes over to Middle Island where the race would start. It was our last training run and also our last chance to practice sea changes and rip up my legs some more. In this event, ten people paddle around Hong Kong Island, but the boat only holds six at a time. So, every 3, 7 or 8 kilometers there is a sea change.
How it works is that the support boat draws alongside the canoe and someone shouts out the number of the seats of the people who are changing. Then the boat powers ahead and slows down so that the paddlers can get in the water about 100 metres in front of the canoe. We line up in the water and put our hands up so that the steerswoman can see us. She steers so that the ama (the outrigger part) and the canoe straddle us. As they paddle at us at full power, we grab on with one hand and either lift, sling or heave ourselves into the canoe with varying levels of speed and grace. Meanwhile, as soon as we, the new paddlers, grab onto the canoe with one hand, the people in their seats dump out the other side. All people still in the canoe paddle like crazy trying to maintain momentum until everyone gets settled and can join in. It’s a little stressful because if you miss the grab or don’t get in smoothly it really slows the boat down. It’s also painful because the only way I can do it is to throw one leg in and lever it under the seat and get in that way. So for the past month, I’ve had huge abrasions and bruises on the back of my right knee. You can see what they look like and more on this YouTube video: http://hk.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZbLAZz3fiw. On the first change, I get in the boat at seat 4 (counting from the front.)
The actual race started at 9:00, but we left Lamma at a quarter to seven to ride over to the starting line. I was about as nervous as before a running race, but in a different way. When I was going to run a marathon, if I screwed up or wimped out, I’d be the only person I let down. When you have lots of teammates, it’s worries about letting them down that filled my mind. What if I got too tired? What if I mess up the sea change? What if my timing is off? What if they wish that they hadn’t let me in the boat? I wasn’t in the boat for the start, so I had hours to wait around nervous.
But finally my chance came. My first leg was pretty short, only 3 ½ km. The sea change went really fast, so it was great for getting the butterflies out. I got out just before we turned the corner to go through the harbour. That began a couple of really long legs for the paddlers because it’s much too dangerous to do sea changes in the middle of Victoria Harbour – one of the busiest harbours in the world. Some people might think that it’s pretty dangerous just to be in an outrigger canoe in that harbour.
As it turns out, they’re not far wrong. We were traveling along pretty close to the outrigger when we looked behind and one of the huge Macao hydrofoil ferries was bearing down full power at the girls. It is unbelievable how big it was and how fast it was coming. Gina’s steering had already been awesome dealing with all the chop and wakes coming her way, but when she saw that ferry coming, she was amazing. You can see in the pictures how much strength she was putting into getting that boat out of the way. The other girls never looked up. They had their eyes in the boat like they were supposed to and kept that power up. If they had stopped paddling, there’s no way Gina would’ve had the momentum to get them out of the way. Everyone in the junk was totally freaking out. But Gina and the other girls in the outrigger were masterful.
Two more ferries came pretty close to the canoe, but one slowed down a lot and the other stayed on the opposite side of the junk from the canoe. At Causeway Bay, I got back in the boat, but it wasn’t a sea change. Getting in the water there is too dangerous, not because of boats, but just because of the filth in the water, so the support junk and the outrigger pull into a little bywater and we just stepped from the junk to the outrigger.
I paddled in that leg for 11 km. (I'm in seat 4 with the black cap on.) We went along the north side of HK and past the Museum of Coastal Defense – I could even see the battlements on the hills. After we turned the corner to go south the wind picked up a little and the chop a lot. I got out for 3 ½ km and then I was back in for my last leg of the trip. It was from Ng Fan Chau Island until the last change at Cheung Hom Kok Point. – 10 ½ km. That side of the island is so beautiful. It was sunny and the spray and the chop were beautiful. It was really tiring of course, but when it came time for the last change, I so didn’t want to get out of the boat. It was the end of my race, and the others were going to bring it home. Claire, Anna and I dumped out of the boat and cheered and screamed them on as they hopped in and took off. Then the woman from the junk threw us a life ring and hauled us back to the boat.The boat was going so well as they finished. They looked so strong, like they’d only been paddling 5 or 10 km instead of 43. There was no slowing down as they powered in to the finish line. The Lamma women’s OCC crew did the 46 km race in 4.49.32!!All of the Lamma OCC team and supporters were so high after that race and for days afterwards. We keep posting more about the race on facebook and talking about it on the ferry. Everyone did so well and worked together so well. The food at the barbecue afterwards was well-deserved, and the beer too.