Report by Kevan Wolfe
Photographs by Paul Wilson
It was another huge February weekend for the running
of the 2004 Club Marine Southern 80 ski race, organised by the Moama
Water Sports club on the ‘Mighty’ Murray River.
More than 300 teams entered this year’s Southern 80, which
still lays claim to being the largest water ski race in the world,
and a huge crowd of enthusiasts descended on the twin border towns
of Echuca and Moama. Teams came from all over Australia as well
as New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom.
But even before Saturday afternoon’s Bakers Blitz, it was
obvious the outright record of 31 minutes and 23 seconds, held by
Top Shot, would be safe. The ‘Blitz’ is an
invitation event run over a 20-kilometre course to decide the starting
order of the top 20 boats over the full 80-kilometre course the
The weekend weather forecast was for heatwave conditions and fairly
strong winds on the Murray. The mercury reached 39 degrees on Saturday
but soared to 44 degrees on Sunday, which did nothing for the performance
of the boats, especially the highly modified inboards of the top
runners. Crews found that it was almost impossible to adjust the
fuel mixtures for best performance and most engines were running
‘fat’. The river was running well and this didn’t
Despite the conditions, two records were broken. One in the Standard
Motor Open Cockpit (SMOC) Expert class and the other in Junior Girls
under 16 Expert class.
In the SMOC Expert, Tony Rowe, driving Crossfire, a Bullet
powered by an Evinrude 225, broke his own record that he had set
in the same boat in 1998. Ian Kirk was the observer with Andrew
Ellis and Sam Home.
The other record was set by a local Echuca boat, The Sting,
driven by Neville Freeman, Jeff Howard observing and Kahlie Freeman
and Lauren Eagles on the planks.
On Saturday all the attention was on the Bakers Blitz and the
battle of the twin-turbo Chevvies.
Last year’s Blitz winner and back-to-back Sydney Bridge-to-Bridge
winner, Stinga was again hot favourite. The boys from Blown
Budget, overall race winner last year, were pretty relaxed
and reckoned they were in with a chance. Humble spun out
last year in the Blitz but this year with Jamie Oliver and Nathan
Glynn skiing, both previous outright winners, it was a bit of a
dark horse. Another chance was Gary Holzwart’s Special
Edition, which won at Grafton with a blistering pace, but a
broken rope was to put them out of the Blitz.
Col McQuinn had added a coupe of turbos to his Chev 540 in The
Chief. He had dropped the compression down to 7:1 and wound
the boost on the turbos up to 20lb. The boat looked immaculate and
Col was hoping for some better luck this year. Unfortunately, the
propeller he had ordered from the States didn’t arrive in
time and he was forced to use an untried three-blader. Col said
he expected to finish in the top five.
There were the usual suspects making up the rest of the field;
Thundernuts, Mayhem, Moonshot, Hellrazor, The Axe and Violator
towing three times women’s world champion, Leanne Brown.
The Stinga team charged around the course in seven minutes,
eight seconds outside their winning time last year. But just two
seconds away was Syndicate and another five seconds behind, The
Axe. Most of the other boats had fairly slow times in the hot
conditions. The Chief finished in seventh and a happy Col
McQuinn said that the boat was on race pace and he expected to do
well in the big race the next day.
Race day was a stinker. By mid-morning the temperature was already
38 degrees and climbing.
Stinga had pole position for the mid-day start but the
favourite was only to make it halfway before the sterndrive expired.
The Syndicate didn’t appear and then around the final
bend into the finish straight came The Axe on full song.
They were about a minute off the pace but it was obvious that their
time was not going to be beaten on the day. The team from Beacon
Hill in Sydney, Kelvin Black (driver), Darren Patterson (observer),
Grant Patterson and James Buser finished in second place last year
and this was their first major race win.
“We were a bit worried about the engine as we could only
get 100 octane Avgas fuel and we normally run 120 octane,”
said observer Darren Patterson. “The water was also a bit
rough in some of the straights.”
But, despite the river conditions and the heat, The Axe
averaged 148kph (92.5mph) for the 80-kilometre course with its 120
bends. At times the GPS was showing the boat was travelling at 110mph
in the straights.
For Grant Patterson the win is the start of bigger things for the
keen skier who has been racing since he was nine-years-old. “I
am only 24 now so I have a long way to go. Many of the top skiers
are well into their 30s,” he said.
Hellrazor, driver Mark Cranny, observer Greg James and
skiers Steve Rowe and Keith Buxton, claimed second place with a
time just over a minute slower than The Axe. Mark Cranny
had brought the 2002 winning Racecraft out of the shed for the race.
He has been recently campaigning Hellbent, a Connelly 21
with some success.
Then just 10 seconds behind came Special Edition, a 19-foot
Stephens with a twin turbo 496 Donavan on board, driven by Gary
Holzwart from Forestdale in Queensland with Jason Griffen observing
and Charlie Hunt and Chris Singleton on skis. They had come a long
way and putting aside their disappointment in the Blitz they turned
it on. There was a very nervous Di Hunt (Charlie’s mum) waiting
at the finish for them to come around the last bend.
Blown Budget crossed the line with a decidedly sick sounding
engine in a time of 37 minutes and 59 seconds – and where
was The Chief? They broke a rope, even though they were
using a wire trace near the engine. Apparently the heat from the
turbos was transmitted down the wire trace to the synthetic rope,
which melted. And that was the end of their race. By the time they
got it fixed they were well out of contention.
The only major incident occurred when Gassa, a beautifully
fitted out 21-foot Stephens with a new supercharged 540 Chev, driven
by David Broadford, with Kevin Dahlberg observing and Michael Stevens
and Justin Cadden on skis, came to grief about a third of the way
into the race. The prop shaft broke, jammed the rudder and pitched
the crew out of the boat, which then sank. Broadford suffered a
broken arm and Dahlberg damaged his shoulder.
|Matty Morrison (inset) - A little man on a
But the one little guy who stole the show was, almost-six, Matty
Morrison whose family had come down from Mackay in Queensland for
the race. This gutsy little guy has shrugged off open-heart surgery
at the age of two to get into ski racing. He has only been on a
single ski since September last year and was up behind Still
Crazy in the Tadpoles class under 10 with his mum, Jodie, observing.
His older brother, Luke, who is just eight-years-of-age, up behind
Rhythm with dad, Brad, observing finished second. Matty’s
ambition now is to beat his older brother.
The happiest kid on the day was young Dayne Tannenberg. During
practice he snagged his handles and lost them. Another pair could
not be found for love or money in Echuca and it looked as if he
would miss out on his first Southern 80. “We had one devastated
little boy,” said his mum, Leanne. “We were so grateful
when the Newtons from Gangster offered to lend us a pair.
We couldn’t thank them enough.”
Dayne finished the 20-kilometre course with a big grin on his face.
Of the international competitors, the New Zealander’s cleaned
up the Unlimited In/Outboard Expert class. Grant Hazelwood shipped
Warlord over from Auckland for the race. The Bullet with
twin-Mercury outboards was an outright Southern 80 winner in 1994.
He had Steve Madsen observing and John Sloan and Mathew Campbell
From the United States came Gary Sawyer and Bob Grande to compete
in the Veteran and Unlimited Expert class behind Michael Dominguez’s
old Thundernuts driven by Cameron Cox. Grande is the current
over 45’s US marathon and speed skier champion. They didn’t
make it to the finish.
Once again the Southern 80 has proved to be not only an event
that attracts international skiers but one that also caters for
families and social skiers. And with the younger skiers, coming
through, boys and girls, the Club Marine Southern 80 will be around
for some time yet.
|The winner heads for home - The Axe.