Vaka Eiva Day 5

Jan – Jericho

Up at 5am for a 7am Round Rarotonga change race start. There’s a bit of cloud cover but it’s mostly going to be a sunny hot day.

The canoe is set up, ready to go and the gear is loaded on to the support boat. The boat was excellent; a good size, had a nice cover, great coolers and a captain that had done this race every year. He got us settled and we were off.

18 women’s crews were in the race. The Australian crew – Crown Beach, was in the lead, with the Cook Islands 1 crew closely behind. We had a great start, and the first change was about 20 minutes into the race. It’s so wonderful to jump off an escort boat (or canoe) and into warm tropical water. The last changes we’d done were in a practice around Passage Island. Each change into the water there was heart attack inducing! Our escort boat dropped us in perfect position each time, and timed it around the big reef breaks. He had a long towline to toss us each time, so no swimming required to get back on to the supprt boat.

Conditions changed about every 5 kms. around the island, from big waves, to tough choppy stuff, headwinds, and then a final 2 km run into the finish line on small bumps, wind behind us and blue-green glassy water below us. During the race, paddlers saw a humpback whale or two, turtles and flying fish! As you round the final buoy, it’s a couple hundred meter dash to the finish line. As soon as your canoe is in site, there were four local drummers, who hit the Tahaitian drums to give us a pounding welcome in. It was fantastic. The volunteers are there to take the canoe off your hands, and then we were treated to fresh fruit and iced fresh coconut water, right out of the shell. We managed to finish 12th out of 18, but with the smiles on faces, you would have thought we’d come in first!

The men’s race went off at 1pm, with about the same number of crews and very similar conditions. Teams from the same clubs won that event – Australians from Crown Belle and the Cooks Islands top men’s crew. The Cook Islanders put on a much better show coming in with big smiles, same side paddling and flying the ama across the finish line. That race did have a bad note as one of the paddlers on a local team suffered a heart attack. They got him off the water, and quickly treated but he didn’t survive. His crew finished the race and got a big welcome in.

All in all, an amazing day. Thursday, the mixed crews do their Round Rarotonga, Friday – it’s time for sprints and wrap up parties…..

Vaka Eiva Day 3

Jan -Jericho

It’s on the left. Other than everyone regularly turning on windshield wipers instead of the signal light, we’ve adapted pretty well. It helps that the main road around the island is only one lane in each direction and that traffic seldom exceeds 50km. Cars are small as gas costs about $2.64 a litre!

The main form of transport is the scooter. Almost everyone old enough to drive has one. It’s like Hells Angels on 50cc’s… Grandmas have the little kids with them, sometimes tied to them with a sash, often they just hang on. Speed limit for scooters is 40 without a helmet, 50 if you wear a helmet. I think we’ve seen about 3 helmets as it’s too hot to wear them. Better just to go 40 .


Food and drink
For most part, the food has been really good and in some cases, outstanding. Prices are comparable to Vancouver. The baked goods – from bread to croissants to cakes – are amazing! Also – coffee…. to our great pleasure, it’s been wonderful. Coffee is grown on one of the outer islands and roasted here. And folks really know how to pull an espresso too. The fruit is as great as tropical fruit can be. There’s just something about papaya and mangoes fresh from the tree!

Traditional canoes
There are many, many traditional wooden canoes around Rarotonga. Some are simple hulls, others intricately carved and decorated. They sit in cages, hang in grocery stores or lie in hotel lobbies. Many of them get taken out at least once a year for a traditional fishing competition. There is concern that it is a dying art as there are fewer carvers around and fewer young people interested in learning.

Typically tropical – when it rains, it pours! There had been quite a drought before we arrived but we’ve had a few good dumps of rain. It does keep all these gorgeous flowers happy. It never lasts long and it’s still 29 degrees, so no complaints here. Winds have been u usually variable, coming from directions they don’t usually come in at so it’s anything goes

Rocs and Mahimahi are the main available canoes. The Rocs are a bit lighter and a bit faster. There is no weight restriction with the local racing association so most canoes are about 225 lbs. The very few Mirages are 400 lbs and aren’t used for racing. The rigging on the canoes is braced high off the gunnels. Skirts are attached with Velcro and and varying shapes and sizes. Some are so tight across the canoes that the knees are rubbing against them.

Roosters and chickens…. Nature’s alarm clocks, even if you don’t want to wake up at 4am. Dogs: pets and community dogs…. Not quite feral as everyone feeds them. Slow moving dogs in this heat, no one is playing fetch! Mosquitoes and ants….. Lots and lots and lots of them. We have donated a substantial quantity of Canadian blood to the mosquito population. Beautiful birds…. Fish…. Aquarium like fish in the lagoons, with even some aggressive ones. One of our paddlers was bitten while snorkeling!

Vaka Eiva Day 2

Jan – Jericho

The races begin with OC1 and V1 events. For the non-racers, it’s market day and we all head down there early to stock up on fresh fruit, coffee and maybe just a few souvenirs. And yes, it is hot (29) and sunny again….

There’s not many personal canoes on the island (maybe 50?) and they are in all shapes and sizes (bout 50/50 for OC1 and V1). Conditions are breezy and a bit wild. Wind is coming from the NE, not the expected direction so it means a lot of side swell for the racers. For this race, all paddlers must wear the sponsor jersey. It makes it hard to pick out paddlers when they are all wearing red!

The first race of the day is men’s Masters and Senior Masters. No Canucks in this one, with Nappy Napoleon being the best known paddler to us. The race leaves the harbour, heads up the coast to Matavera, around a buoy and back – total 12 km. The Aussies take this event, Nappy finishes very respectfully mid-pack, and one canoe and paddler had to be rescued as he hit the reef and broke his (wooden) iakus. Luckily he only got got one bad scrape on the ankle.

Ladies next (open, masters, snr masters) and this is the biggest race with almost all available canoes on the water. Lilliana B. got out there to represent Canada, paddling a Paheo. This was the same course as the first race and turns out to be the most exciting one of the day. There were lots of races within races, lots of hulis as the paddlers try to make the final turn, and Lili finishes upright, not last, and with a great big smile.

The men’s Open race is last and it is extended up to Muri Beach for 18km. At the last minute, Phil G. gets a canoe (Hurricane), borrows water, paddles, jersey etc. He had to do a sprint to make the start line… The locals where well represented in this race and the best show put on by the V1 racers. They had to work so hard to make the final turn and then battle the cross currents to make it to the finish line. It looked like just way too much work. One V1 racer was getting pushed in to the reef, huli’d a couple times, got back up racing, but missed the buoy turn and was DQ’d within just that last couple hundred meters. Phil lost the handle to his race paddle about half way into the race, had to wave down the escort boat to hand that one off and then finish the race with the spare…. I’ll let him fill in his own details. He did seem to be ready for that beer at the finish line! Conditions were crazy all day. I heard one paddle say be was swept off his canoe about 20 times!

While all this was going on, there were junior races going on up at Muri. It would have been fun to catch those but OC1 races were behind time so we had to give that a miss.

The day wrapped up with official opening ceremonies, entertainment by a local school, day 1 medal presentations and then a paddlers dinner. My claim to fame this week? I was first in line for dinner – likely my only first place of the week:)

Sunday – no racing, and no paddling at all. It’s church day here in Paradise….