This past weekend saw the annual running of our local Avon Descent, a 2-day, 133 km water race that proceeds from river mouths through snaky water courses, over rapids and down flat, broad stretches of wide river paths. Cancelled some years, due to dry river beds, this year we saw good rains shortly before the event and a sunny weekend, ensuring rapid movement for both engine-powered and hand-powered boats and some exciting action.
We parked our family (thank you event organisers for the disability parking access for our daughter in her wheelchair) on a bend of the river at the Bells Rapids, a short drive from us. This is a picturesque part of the river, surrounded by eucalypts, and dusty red earth pierced by the granite hills and upthrusts of rock. Pink galahs flock through the treetops. Around us, hundreds of people enjoyed hot chips, hot dogs, icecream (yes, this is our dead of winter) and bbqs, in their canopied sitting areas or just with bums on rock.
Support and exchange crews for the racers punctuated the park surrounding the river. The water fairly raged over the rapids. Last winter we could walk across the dry riverbed. Moses didn’t even need to part it. This year, the water was hewing out new paths with tremendous force. Niagara Falls it ain’t, but it’s a glorious sight still.
As we watched the boats fly down the straightaway towards the rapids, a spotter and balancer on the front of the two-person boats (there were many mixed gender crews), would give directions to the person in back powering and steering the motor. Some crews doubtlessly communicated by radio mic in their helmets, however all used a combination of gestures, body movement and shouted command to direct their steerer. As they approached a tough spot in the rapids, they needed to maintain speed and momentum over the rough rocks, without damaging the boat bottoms or propellors.
The different strategies employed by more or less experienced crews showed the value of preparation and quick action. Some crews, heading towards a rocky granite outcrop that blocked their view would continue heading straight on what appeared the easiest course. This lead to a shallow water course that ended with most of those crews scraping bottom and having to get out and portage their boat for a few metres, then restart their motor and slowly gain momentum, losing valuable time in a race that was eventually won by just two seconds.
Crews experienced with the river – who had done their homework – approached the bend with their spotter far out front on the prow. As the boat passed a rocky outcrop, the spotter swung his or her body out to the left and pushed down on the prow as the steerer swung the boat to starboard. The spotter then swung his or her body to the right as they instantly swung the boat to port to run through a deeper flow raging between a gap. The steerer would lift the propellor for an instant as the boat leapt through and dropped down into the flowing river. Within three or four metres, they had fully swung the boat right and then left, powering through a gap with tremendous momentum that threw them out into the calm stream, speeding on.
It takes great flexiblity and adaptability to navigate the twists, turns and rocky outcroppings that life, service and leadership can present. Planning and preparation can ensure that you navigate treacherous paths without losing too much momentum. Quick action had to be taken without hesitation. That required trusting partnerships. Powering through brought teams out quicker, squeezing through the tough spots.
By truly working together, relying on the other person to do their part, with preparation and quick, coordinated action, you can punch through narrow paths that look more difficult and more challenging than the outlying streams, but that eventually thrust you out with greater momentum and speed in order to leap ahead in the race.