This is paddling! This is very different!!
The Gregory embodies all that paddling should and can be. It is about a race but that seems to be a side issue to the socialising, comraderies, spills and thrills, team bonding, the adventures and the many stories of the individual experiences. The day before the canoe race one can mix it with the crowd at the Gregory Downs Jockey Club – Saddles and Paddles Races.
You hear people recounting their spill at either Carnage Leap or Kens Corner near the start, the wild ride at Kamarga Rapids (falls) at the first checkpoint, the challenge of Wipe Bend near the major camp area of Mellish Park, the decision of whether to portage or not at Pandanus Alley as competitors approach checkpoint 3 and the start of the short race. After checkpoint 4 there is a long interesting rocky chute aptly names Galloping Jacks before a long waterhole lies in front of the competitors and the finish.
The finish is in a narrow chute of the river and has volunteers ready to catch the craft and crews after they have crossed the finish line. The expressions on people’s faces as the approach the challenges of the river or the exhilaration of finishing are priceless. The adrenalin is pumping but the adventure cannot be experienced unless you participate.
The Gregory is the remotest canoe race in Australia. The location is 300km north of Mt Isa near the small community of Gregory on the Gregory River. The long race is over 42km whilst the short race covers 17km. All finish at the rear of the pub.
The race is run by the North West Canoe Club and a band of the very enthusiastic and very hard-working volunteers. The some of the volunteers arrive a week before the event preparing the course, removing any hazardous or impassable obstacles the wet season delivered.
This year was the 46th Gregory River Canoe Marathon. In the history of the event, it has not been held twice – one due to flooding and the other a world pandemic. The race started with 4 club members paddling from the Knobbies (start) to the pub and it was converted into a race not long after with the original race in 1976 having 18 entrants.
People travel from far and wide to attend the iconic event. Many come from Mt Isa and the tablelands near Cairns. Many enter the TC2 teams challenge whilst others want to experience the river as a team in a double craft or as an individual, still striving for the prize money on offer. There is prize money for fastest race time.
All competitors must abide by some simple yet needed safety requirements – wear a life jacket and a paddling helmet. Then there is the highly recommended must carry in the craft – dry cloth and duct tape, sunscreen and drinking water. Many choose to meet up with their land crew at the checkpoints to replenish food or water or assist with the temporary repairs to craft.
A big hint – do not use a new craft or one with an under slung rudder. Craft have a habit of striking the rocks just under the surface or being redirected by the flow of the water and ramming into the bank or trees.
On 2 May 2021, 172 people had entered The Gregory. The race is held every Labour Day weekend in Queensland. The overall winner of the 42km 2021 Gregory River Canoe Race was John Lakeland from the Sunshine Coast Canoe Club in a K1. The winning time was 3 hours 26 minutes and 29 seconds. John van Ryt took out the honours in the Recreational (Short) Course in a new fastest time of 1:19:37.
By Jerry Dunn.