2009 Crossing for Cancer


It was a historic marathon and very dangerous sporting first that slipped under the radar of the mainstream media. For the first time two six-person 14-metre outrigger canoes have crossed treacherous Bass Strait in aid of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF).

Taking 11 event-filled days, the crossing saw the two teams of six battle huge waves, wild seas and encounter startled sharks and giant albatross.

It was done to honor two men.

One of these was Peter Corbishley who has personally built more than 300 racing outrigger canoes in Australia over the past 20 years. Corbishley continues to make an enormous contribution to the sport here in Australia and his canoes have been exported to teams in Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Tahiti, Samoa and New Zealand.

After making canoes for many years in his factory in the Whitsundays Peter moved his operation down to Tweed Heads and it was here he finally picked up a paddle and began training and competing in the sport he has contributed so much to.

Earlier last year Peter was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin’s T-Cell Lymphoma a rare and terminal form of skin cancer. Astonishingly he was part of one of the crews who wished to raise awareness for cancer and funds for the ACRF, and to also prove that there is life after diagnosis.

The trip was also being made in honor of Chris Robinson, a paddler and world-renowned Greenpeace skipper and activist who sadly lost his battle with cancer this year. Chris devoted his life to protect the oceans from whaling activities, nuclear testing and exploitation.

He learnt his skills in Bass Strait and participated in campaigns to give the Bass Strait Islands protected status. Chris was to be the skipper of the support vessel for the crossing.

The two outrigger canoe teams island-hopped from Port Welshpool in Victoria, the most southern tip on mainland Australia, to Musselroe on the North Eastern tip of Tasmania .

The largest stretch of open-ocean they crossed was 65km and the teams averaged distances of a back breaking 50 kilometers per day.

The two canoes used were Outrigger Connection’s Mirage OC6 with a crew of 6 paddlers each. A support boat escorted the two canoes carrying supplies and a spare paddler in case of injury.

Participants camped along the route on Bass Strait Islands. Making the trip for the ACRF was a team of dedicated rowers.

These include Brendan Condon, nicknamed “Brendo’’ who is 40 and the Managing Director of Australian Ecosystems, Cape Paterson Ecovillage.

He said after the crossing he had personal reasons for making the trip.

“Cancer is a perennial scourge of humanity and impacts on the lives of everyone. I am paddling in memory of my friend Chris Robinson – last year he skippered a support boat and shepherded us across Bass Strait in sea kayaks and then was diagnosed with cancer,’’ he said.

“He was with us in spirit across the voyage. We need to find a cure for cancer as soon as possible and this trip will help give our best scientific brains a bit more support to that end.”

The journey’s highlights…

“Our group gathered on Good Friday at Port Welshpool where we rigged the canoes and practiced safety drills, before loading up our gear on to our escort boat the Furneaux Explorer.”

“Although our group is comprised of very experienced paddlers from all around Australia, it was our first time together as crews. We left in the pre dawn, hitting out on a 60-kilometer leg to Refuge Cove. We stayed together at all times for safety and morale, and blended the two crews so they were a as even as possible and not spread apart over the hours.’’

Fellow paddler Jason Shepherd confirmed the crossing had been an ordeal.

” We battled 40-50 knot winds and huge seas,’’ he said.

“Luckily the caretakers on Deal Island in Bass Strait looked after us with some accommodation as we waited for the seas to calm.”

“The roughest we went out in was 2-metre waves and 25 knot winds, the longest day being when we covered between 65 and 70 kilometers,’’ he said.

“But apart from that it was plain sailing and very appropriately Peter was the first to land.’’

Other participants in the paddle include Peter John Corbishley, Colin Bartley, Lisa Spain, Marie Jane Pearson, Chris McKiernan, Terrence Russell,ert Herremnn Christensen, John Huber, Ian Newland, Alison Green, Marcel Mangelsdorf, and Stephanie Jaques.

The crew was welcomed by a crowd of enthusiastic supporters upon their landing in Tasmania, including a large turnout of eager youngsters from the local primary school. Peter’s parents also made a surprise visit from New Zealand for the landing, adding further to the emotion of the occasion.

To mark the start of the “Crossing for Cancer’’ challenge, a special fundraising evening was held at Breezes Restaurant in Melbourne’s Crown Casino Complex.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation is humbled to have been chosen as beneficiary of the “Crossing for Cancer”, and offer our warmest thanks to all involved – the enthusiastic and committed event organizers, the courageous paddler team and support crew, the generous sponsors, and all of the team’s wonderful supporters. What an absolutely awe-inspiring achievement!

See Crossing for Cancer’s website here

Watch the adventure’s video here