Sutherland Shire Canoe Club's Kate and Steve Dawson win Hawkesbury Canoe Classic title

Sutherland Shire Canoe Club's Kate and Steve Dawson in action. Picture: Supplied
Sutherland Shire Canoe Club's Kate and Steve Dawson in action. Picture: Supplied

A shire-based couple has won one of the most difficult and prestigious races on the Australian kayaking calendar.

Sutherland Shire Canoe Club members Kate and Steve Dawson, from Woronora, were the overall winners of the 111km Hawkesbury Canoe Classic, coming home ahead of the next nearest competitors by just 11 minutes.

Held over the weekend of October 27 to 28, the race started in Windsor and finished in Brooklyn. Results have only just been finalised because there was a drama during the event that played havoc with the final placings.

The Wisemans Ferry car ferry broke down mid-stream delaying many paddlers by anywhere from a few moments to a full hour. Organisers then had to calculate how much time to credit each paddler for the delay in order to determine the results.

The drama continued into the night and early morning with the southerly winds picking up to the point where officials closed the final eight kilometres of the race. Conditions were so bad that many highly experienced paddlers capsized and had to be rescued.

“This was our seventh time and it was definitely the toughest for many years,” Steve said.

“Some said it’s the toughest they have done, but that might be a stretch since we raced in a full-on lightning storm in 2015.The attrition rate was the highest I’ve seen it with only 88 of the 161 entered ‘boats’ actually finishing, but the organisers did an incredible job with their safety plan.”

Aside from the Dawsons, the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club had another eight members contesting the big race, and all of them posted strong results. With the handicap system, each combination of age, gender and boat choice gets a percentage adjustment to level out the differences and calculate an overall handicap winner. Under the system, adult men in fast team boats have their time increased and juniors in recreational-style kayaks get their time reduced.

The all-female duo of Robyn Bingle and Deb Buchan finished fifth on handicap while the other double combo of Peter Faherty and Gareth Stokes finished fourth outright.

Of the single paddlers, club president John Denyer was second in his class (18th overall) and Mark Sundin finished first in his class (and 24th outright). Three paddlers entered the Brooklyn or Bust category, a class for those who enter for the satisfaction of completing the gruelling endurance event rather than chasing records. Of those Adrian Di Cesare finished 5 th outright, Bob Turner, 9th and Fook Chee Tam, 19th.

Conspicuously, all of the Shire paddlers all crossed the finish line despite the conditions.

With the race being run overnight (competitors start around 4pm), Steve says there are plenty of strange things that happen in the dark, some true and some imagined.

“There are collisions with fallen trees and there are people who take a wrong turn in the dark. Sometimes there are some very funny hallucinations when people are tired. People have ‘seen’ aliens and Kate ‘saw’ a lollipop lady waiting to cross the river with some kids a few years ago. I’ve never had a hallucination, and I really feel like I’m missing out!”

The Hawkesbury event was first run in 1977 and is the fourth longest annual canoe race in the country. Aside from being a major challenge for the competitors, it has raised more than four million dollars for bone marrow research.

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