I've just spent a week in Hawaii racing in the Queen Lili'Uokalani Long Distance Canoe Race. The women's course runs from Kailua-Kona town to Honaunau Bay. As always at these events, the women go out first, at the crack of dawn. The start is often the best part of the race: over 100 canoes tightly packed along the start line waiting for the gun in a maelstrom of incredible energy and excitement. Unfortunately our canoe missed the gun; at that point we were about 50 meters behind the line and rather than powering off the start galvanised by the boats around us, we were forced to set off somewhat bathetically on our lonely 18 mile course, already behind.
The water itself is not particularly exciting: nothing like the 4 meter swells we encountered at Hamilton Island; but once we had shed our frustration, we began to pull back against the other boats and enjoy the race, particularly when the 9-member change race crews, who started 15 minutes behind, began to catch us: when the top women's crew steamed past us, we caught the wake from their support boat and some of their power and started to feel better again.
Our time was 2 hours 42 minutes, a good 30 minutes behind the winners but better than the 3 hour marathon we'd been training for. Huge turtles surfaced in the bay as we brought our boat to shore beside Danny Ching's crew who were preparing for the men's race, returning all the boats to Kona. The area where we landed is sacred in Hawaiian mythology as a place where you could seek refuge for any number of transgressions: if you were a woman who made the sacreligious error of eating with a man, or even worse, eating a banana, or a man who crossed the shadow of a great chief, you could find sanctuary there.