Every Friday morning in Victoria, Marilyn and Ken Tomlinson lead their teams, Senior’s Moment and the Friday Flyers, on a paddle down the Gorge Waterway. They uncover their 45-foot [13.7 m] outrigger canoes while the teams laugh and joke as they lift the boats into the shallow water and guide them to the dock. Once all six team members are seated comfortably in each boat, they take off from the shore. The teams dip their paddles into the water in perfect synchronicity. On a calm morning, the waves behind the canoe are the only disruption on an otherwise sheer sheet of water. Ripples glide off the stern of the boats as the teams paddle toward the Portage Inlet.
Outrigging is a worldwide sport that requires teamwork and can be practised by all ages and abilities. Unlike rowing, paddlers in an outrigger sit facing the bow of the canoe. The person in the sixth, or last, seat of the canoe is responsible for steering, while the person in the first seat sets the pace of the strokes. Originating in Southeast Asia, outrigger canoes are stabilized by an outrigger float, which is attached to the hull by two spars. Leaning too far to one side can result in the boat accidentally capsizing. As such, each member of Senior’s Moment and the Friday Flyers must feel comfortable righting a capsized canoe, which can be a wet but necessary process.
“A huli is when the boat accidentally tips over. We practise it every two years. Everybody has to do one, and each seat has its own job. I’m a seat one, so I go to the bow and keep the bow in line and gather the paddles. The stern does the same thing, and it rights in no time,” says Marilyn.
“It takes organization,” says teammate Pat Thomson. Her seat is in the middle of the canoe, so she is responsible for going over the hull.
“Accidental hulis are rare but we have to be prepared,” says Marilyn. “It’s a very high hull, and very narrow. It won’t go left, but if everyone leaned right, it would go right over. The phrase is, ‘don’t lean right.’ When we reach out for garbage, whoever is reaching out, tells everyone to lean left. That’s to counterbalance.”
Senior’s Moment was formed in 2000, and, like the Friday Flyers, is a recreational team. Five of the six members of Senior’s Moment have paddled together since the beginning. They are made up of teammates Muriel Johnson, Peggy MacDonald, June Price, Ken and Marilyn Tomlinson, and spares Pat Thomson and Anne Marie Meunier. The Friday Flyers, on the other hand, formed a few years later. Recently, the team has been made up of Jenny Cutler, Louise Johnston, Odette Ouellet, Wendy Clapp, Marjorie Helland, Karen Dumais and her spare, Tom McPherson. Both teams have a long list of spares that are always eager to participate.
Although the teams used to race in Victoria, they’re now content to enjoy the scenery and wildlife around town. The Gorge, with its colourful flowers and rich variety of birdlife, offers the teams plenty to admire as they paddle. At times, the teams will meet up a half hour earlier and paddle to the Inner Harbour, but it can be difficult to schedule, as such a large group of people is bound to have other commitments.
“If you want to go down to the Inner Harbour, or up some of the creeks, an hour-and-a-half is not too long of a time, so we switched it to two hours, but we’ve crept back to an hour-and-a-half again,” says Ken.
In April, the teams host Wake up the Gorge, a sprint race that attracts paddlers from all over British Columbia. Many of the Friday morning paddlers also take part in other paddling programs such as dragon boating, canoeing, kayaking and the voyageur canoes and, this summer, the paddlers will repair and paint their two outrigger canoes. Every March, the voyageur canoes from their club paddle to Port Angeles and back as a fundraiser for Camp Shawnigan, and many outrigger paddlers take part. They practise for two months and are accompanied by naval reserves and coast guards.
“There are some years when the weather and water are too rough and they have to paddle the Gorge waterway instead, which is always a disappointment,” says Marilyn.
Tides can also pose some difficulty for longer trips.
“The problem with the Gorge-Tillicum Bridge is the flow of the tide will be three or four hours different than the tide table. You have to make sure you know what’s happening because when the tide stops rising on the other side of the bridge, it’s still flooding over here,” says Ken. “Sometimes when we’ve done the paddle to Port Angeles, you expect that the tide will be different when you get back, because you leave at 6:30 in the morning and get back at 6 at night. Quite often, when we get back, we have to get out of the boats to get them back.”
Because outrigging is a year-long sport, the Friday Flyers and Senior’s Moment only break for Christmas, when the weather is poor, or there is ice on Portage Inlet. In fact, the majority of outrigging is done from September to June.
As a sport, outrigging can be tailored to a wide variety of ages and abilities. With many hands to help transport the boat from land to water, the load is lightened. Competitive teams practise for speed and sprint racing, while recreational teams paddle as a way of enjoying the outdoors and fresh air and to keep fit.
“Paddling is a sport that you can carry on with, and you adapt to your various aches and pains,” says Linda Thomson.
The paddlers agree, though, the friendship is the best part of being on the team.
Anne Marie, who spares for Senior’s Moment, says, “I’m pretty much needed every week. There’s a great camaraderie around this group, they’re really great people. Everybody helps everybody.”
Pat agrees. “I got into outrigger through a member who was on the team, who I met through work. Eventually, we shared a seat because he couldn’t come every week. I like the experience and the friendship. Oh, and I love paddling, too.”