CATALINA ISLAND — It was a good day for a reunion Saturday, or at least Newport Beach's Off Shore Canoe Club certainly thought so.
The women paddlers of Off Shore held an old-timers get-together during the 27-mile race from Newport to Catalina Island, winning their sixth straight U.S. Outrigger Canoe Championship along the way.
Some observers had predicted that 1985 would be the year long-dominant Off Shore would finally get knocked off in its favorite event.
This speculation was based on the fact that Off Shore's closest competition, San Diego's HanoHano Canoe Club, had been winning most every race lately.
In fact, HanoHano, a Hawaiian word meaning "glorious and worthy of praises," had edged the perennial champions at four recent races, and was clearly hungry and ripe for its first U.S. Outrigger Championship.
But Saturday, with a little help from three old friends, Off Shore was still a little more hanohano than HanoHano.
The Off Shore team had taken an immediate lead upon leaving Newport Harbor, and was nearly a mile ahead of its lone challenger after three and a half hours of almost machine-like paddling.
Off Shore completed the race in 5:17:27, under faster weather conditions than last year's winning 5:41 clocking. The victory was accompanied by the Mayor's Cup of the City of Avalon, a new trophy awarded by Avalon Mayor George Scott.
HanoHano, which was third last year behind a team from Tahiti--which decided not to send a team this year--came in second in 5:25:08.
The Imua team of Newport Beach took an unexpected third-place finish in 5:33:17, gamely catching and pulling away from Marina del Rey's KaiNalu, which was fourth in 5:36:43. Newport was fifth in 5:39:07.
From the start, the HanoHano women had an inkling that the task of upsetting Off Shore in this race would not be as easy as last week, when the San Diegans won their first title at the 18-mile Dana Point race, traditionally another Off Shore property.
Saturday's clue came in the form of three world class kayakers who rejoined their Off Shore teammates for the Catalina challenge.
The oldies-but-goodies who appeared to help recreate an all-star Off Shore lineup were Jo Jo Toeppner, Leslie Klein and Sheila Conover.
These three "ringers," as the other teams half jokingly called them, have previously paddled in the Olympics, the state kayaking championships, and the National Sports Festival.
When HanoHano saw that trio show up, it saw their chances of an upset diminish rapidly.
"They got a really great start and that gives them a strong psychological edge,' said HanoHano paddler Jill Murray, 28.
"Also when you see these three other girls and you know what they are capable of doing, it's another psychological advantage for them.
"Not that we were defeated before the race, but it puts a little doubt in your mind. For them to have everyone back puts a lot of power in that boat."
Off Shore already had the substantial services of Julie Leach, the 1982 women's Ironman Triathlon champion. Leach joined the canoe club this spring following the retirement last season of eight veteran Off Shore paddlers.
With a bit of a vacuum in Off Shore's ranks early this season, HanoHano hoped to surge into eminence, using Catalina as the final symbol of the changing of the guard.
"We were looking at this as our year to win Catalina," Murray said. "We did our best, but it wasn't good enough.
"The surprise was that there was no surprise."
That suited Off Shore just fine.
"We didn't know what to expect (of the race to Catalina)," said Off Shore steersperson Mindy Clark, a six year veteran of the race.
"We weren't expecting a whole lot, but we thought we would do better with Jo Jo in the boat. She always makes a good combination with everyone else in the boat.
"It felt great all the way. Usually some paddlers have good races and some have bad races, but everyone in the boat had a good race this time.
"When you get off to a good start, it's so much easier to keep the morale up in the boat. Being in second (place) is more mentally tough . . . But I was surprised there was a gap that large (between Off Shore and HanoHano.)
"We've battled back and forth with them in all the other (Catalina) races. This really meant a lot to us."
Nick Pappas, president of the Kalifornia Outrigger Assn., said, "(Off Shore) consistently increased its lead on HanoHano, and you can attribute that to the fact that Off Shore has a more experienced crew. It handles open ocean conditions better.
A team from Dana Point--Monarch Bay Canoe Club--won the Malia hull class by finishing sixth overall in 5:52:19. Marina del Rey was second in the Malia class in 5:59:48, seventh overall, and OffShore's second boat placed third in the Malia with a time of 6:03:09.
The men's race begins at Avalon Lover's Cove at 9:30 today and will finish near the Dunes in Newport Beach at about 1:30 p.m.