High seas test canoe skills

At the recent open ocean race event at Coffs Harbour, a newly established Noosa Outrigger Canoe Club team decided to launch their racing career, in conditions that would prove challenging to say the least.

The Senior Master Men’s team comprising six 55 to 60 year olds, most who had never raced in the ocean before, set out to tackle the Coffs Harbour adventure. Roger Chaffey, Maurice Farrell, Bob Hobart, Rainer Hopf, Glen Knoblauch and Ian Skyring steering, may have had the misguided assumption that they could do this, but confidence in their fitness and mental preparedness meant they were up to the challenge.

Arriving in Coffs Harbour on the Thursday to a beautiful evening, and then waking on Friday to virtually cyclonic rains, thunder storms and 180 mm (7 inches) of rain, roads cut, and flooding in the streets, the men could see that interesting conditions were being set for their race.

Saturday dawned with seas of 2 metre waves with 20 – 25km plus winds, and race organisers toying with the possibility of calling off the ocean component of the event. However, they decided to proceed. The women, youth and novice teams raced first with the Noosa Master Women’s team relishing the conditions – after winning their event, one team member described conditions as “F…ing awesome! Great fun!”

And so in the next race of 11 boats, the Senior Master Men’s team hit the water to tackle the elements, and soon realised that race conditions had deteriorated. As the team powered towards the heads to begin the 12km race, they were met by a set of 4-5 metre waves in wild seas.

“I thought this would be the beginning of the end,” recalled Glen Knoblauch, who paddled in seat 1, “But, with no fear we put our heads down and paddled our hearts out. It really was make or break at that point.”

“We saw one boat beside us flip, and the rescue boat bounce over waves at full flight,” said Glen. ”In the conditions we lost sight of other crews, and then coming out the other side of the massive waves we saw that we had passed three other crews, which had become bogged down in the troughs as they were trying to exit the harbour.”

“The seas were enormous, something I had never experienced before. If you were in a power boat, you would not go out in these conditions. In hindsight, even while racing, I thought maybe we shouldn’t have been there.”

“The elements were throwing everything at us. We were getting pounded constantly and being smashed in the face every 10 seconds by waves determined to wash us off our seats, and swallow us up.”

“With the seas so horrendous you could not see more than 3 or 4 metres in front of the boat, it was a welcome sight to see the half way buoy – it had felt like an eternity to arrive,” Glen said.

“After the turn we were all hoping for a less strenuous return run, but with the wind behind us this wasn’t to be. We were sliding across waves, and down the other side, with the swell and wind trying to drag us toward the shore.”

“At around the 9km mark, with only 3K’s to the finish line, and at least 1km in the lead in our age group, and in fourth position overall, the unexpected happened – we were rolled. We went down the side of a steep wave, and the tip of the wave caught the edge of the armour (the float), tipping us upside down.”

“We all struggled to surface, as we were zipped in, making our escape interesting. One by one, we popped up, with our steerer Ian finding the sunshine last. Thank God we were all safe,” said Glen.

“We then grappled in the huge seas to turn the canoe upright, and to heave ourselves back into our seats. The tally was one with sore ribs, one with shoulder issues, one who could have died, and the rest of us exhausted.”

The final 3kms were challenging to say the least, as the weary team battled the waves to the entrance to the Harbour. But it wasn’t over, and the challenge went to another level.

“The washing machine changed to a spa tub of turbulence as we entered the harbour,” said Glen. “We all thought this would bring us unstuck again, with the looming rock wall on the right and the swirling water all around. Luckily the ‘Wave God’ was on our side, and we caught a sweet ride to the finish.”

“Riding in was a welcome outcome to an interesting, challenging race, but best of all was all of the Noosa club members on the beach cheering us in, and greeting us with lots of hugs and kisses.”

“I am determined to return in 2016 to nail this race in a Noosa Golden Master Team,” said Glen. “Bring it on!”

NOCC always welcomes new members, both competitive and recreational. For more information, or to come and try, please check the website –

Story: Jo Searle

Photos: Lesley Downie Photography ©