The Makai Cup is hosted by the Makai Paddling Society of the South Coast and is part of the Paddle Australia Ocean Racing Championships. This year’s race was a qualifier for the International Ocean Racing Championships in Portugal. It is primarily a surf ski race but is open to outriggers and sea kayaks.
The race was held on Saturday 8th February at Ulladulla on the NSW South Coast. A lot of the participants were South Coast paddlers. All the big names in Ski and Outriggers were there.
The forecast for the day was for Easterly winds to 30 KNOTS but the observations for the race put the wind to 19 knots swinging around from SE to NE in the one hour it ran. This might have been one of the reasons it was so messy. There was an ESE Swell of about 3 metres. The sea was awash with whitecaps and breaking waves. An outgoing tide and a massive low pressure system (which finally dropped enough rain to put those blasted fires out once and for all) all combined to make for a rough sea. Although the race is usually run as a downwinder the decision was made on Friday night to run it as a 2.5KM loop times 6 laps from inside Ulladulla Harbour and out to two marker buoys anchored about a kilometre off shore. It was supposed to be a bit further out but the motor launch charged with placing the buoys couldn’t get past the northern headland so they placed the outer one as far as they could.
There were about 200 entries which turned into 174 entrants on the day (inc doubles), the vast majority surf skis and six out riggers. There were six sea kayakers, Rob Mercer, Nick Blacklock, Gary Forrest and David Linco in Audax’s, me in the new Azure and Paul Monaro in a Pace 17. Caroline Marschner entered the Makai Mini in her Pace 17 and was the only Sea Kayak in that race. Well done Caroline.
The Makai Mini ran prior to the main event and was a loop circuit around a buoy moored about a hundred metres out from the harbour. On looking out to sea quite a few of the main race entrants downgraded to enter the mini instead.
At 12.30 the gun went off. My race strategy was to keep Nick and Rob in my sights just like I’ve done on so many Tuesdays. And to survive! Club stalwart Mark Sundin was also paddling but he crossed over and was in the front of an Epic V8 double with his power house mate Jason Hodder in the back. Check out Mark Sundin’s YouTube channel for a great video he put together of the race.
It was mayhem at the start as so many paddlers jostled for a good start. For a lot of them it was a waste of effort as the real enemy was not the competition but the sea that waited to trounce them outside the safety of the fortress walls (i.e. the harbour breakwater). I had visions of a medieval army charging forth - to their slaughter! I found myself letting out a bit of a war cry as the first wave smashed over my head. I yelled again as I rounded the furthest marker buoy and gave it all I had to get onto a big wave. Some of the rides were phenomenal and my GPS track hit a maximum speed of 25KM/H.
All the while there were capsizes going on and I must have paddled past at least a dozen. Most seemed to be around the markers where the skis were forced to go side on to the wind and sea as they made the turn downwind. I think even the best paddlers might have had to concentrate hard to pull those turns off without going over.
A few of the elite paddlers went across to the northern bommie to get the maximum help from the bigger waves. I’m told the first guy, a well known Surf Ski professional, got it wrong and ended up on the rocks, ski smashed in two. A couple of the elites behind him did manage to make it work and surfed to the front of the pack on a big wave. These guys are not only very good paddlers, they’re brave as well! Unfortunately, the next group of paddlers, all on skis, weren’t so lucky (skilled?) and got creamed on the point and a mass recue had to take place. As I paddled out for lap two the IRB (Inflatable rescue boat) came in with five shell shocked paddlers on board – I have no idea what happened to their boats but I assume they all went into the pile of smashed ski’s – eighteen of them in the end.
By the third lap the field had thinned considerably and although Nick and Rob were in front, I did notice they were settling in which was perfect for me. I remember thinking I just needed to do three more laps and there wouldn’t be too many left in the race! Alas the rescue boat whizzed past yelling that this was to be the last lap – the race was cancelled half way through.
Because it had been raining hard most of the morning a lot of the race stickers didn’t adhere and were lost. Some were also lost because the bow’s of the skis they were on got broken off and sunk! That and the fact the race was turned into laps made it a nightmare for the poor old time keepers and so the scoring was inaccurate. There were a lot of protests to say the least.
I get the feeling that us Sea Kayakers are seen by a lot of the surf ski paddlers as slow and cumbersome try hards who shouldn’t even be at these types of races. They might have to take stock of that view in light of just how comfortable we were out in those conditions compared to the ski paddlers. We only had one sea kayak that didn’t finish whilst a good chunk of the field of skis didn’t make it to the third lap. The other thing is that we weren’t that slow and finished well up the field. There were a lot of skis coming in behind us.
Credit where credit is due though. Some of the elites are absolutely incredible paddlers. I have a Fenn Spark which is considered an elite ski but I only paddle it in the harbour and even there I can have a hard time if the winds up and when ferries and big boats go by. There were a lot of Sparks in the race alongside other similarly tippy skis and I can tell you that to have these boats outside in such conditions speaks volumes about some of the ability within the ski paddling community. To me this is quite incredible. Some of these paddlers must be out every day to have that level of skill and balance. To the rest of the field and those who didn’t finish all I can say is they might not have the amazing skill of the elites but most certainly had the courage to go for it – even if they ended up with smashed boats. Such is the power of South Coast ski paddling culture I suppose.
I hope to go in more of these ocean races to fly the flag for us seafarers. Who knows, if enough of us enter these races and we keep proving ourselves we might even get a Sea Kayak class one of these days – I think we deserve that.
|Caroline, Dave, Nick, Paul, Matt, Rob & Gary - Seafarers!|
Marks Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AUIJRYuYM0
Official Makai video: https://www.facebook.com/makaipaddler/videos/1555440787966094/