by Neil Carleton 

They went to the other side of the world and came home with big smiles and a pair of impressive medals.  Competing in their first ever blokarting race, at Ohakea in New Zealand, was a remarkable adventure for Mississippi Mills residents Stephen Fennell and Carolyn Carrothers.

Back home in the fresh snow of Mississippi Mills, Stephen Fennell holds his gold medal and Carolyn Carrothers displays her bronze medal won in New Zealand for their C-Division blokart performances at the 2013 Masters Games.

When I visited the other day, Stephen and Carolyn explained that a blokart is a compact and fast land yacht that was developed in 2000 by the ever creative Paul Beckett in Papamoa, New Zealand.  Blokarters can be found sailing on beaches, parking lots, and even airport runways.  The sport of blokart racing has spread rapidly around the globe, from down under to both sides of the Atlantic.  They told me too that, with one hand steering and the other adjusting the sail, it’s possible for a blokart sailor to achieve speeds over 100 km/hr.  Whoooosh.

 As enthusiastic sailors, Stephen and Carolyn are naturals on the water with a sail overhead in a good breeze.  It was a chance discovery on the internet that soon had them hooked on the fun of blokarting too.  You may have seen them practicing on the parking lot at Scotia Place.

 While musing about a trip to see their son in Australia, they learned about the Masters Competition in New Zealand that included a blokart competition.  The biggest test of their endurance was the 50 hour trip from Ottawa to Wanganui in New Zealand.  A 2 day delay, because of a big storm around Chicago, would have scuttled any opportunity to race, so their journey was rerouted via Washington, San Francisco, Los Angles, Honolulu, and Auckland.  This included one overnight in the Subway restaurant at the San Francisco airport.  They have some great stories.

Another surprise was waiting for them once they landed at their destination and stopped for a bit of sustenance and some refreshments.  Introducing themselves as Canadians who were taking part in the blokart races, they were greeted with “You’re the ones in the paper!”  News of their quest from Canada had been reported in a previous edition of the community’s newspaper, the Wanganui Chronicle.

A dozen or so blokarts at the 2013 Masters Games are ready for racing on the runway at the Ohakea Air Force Base in New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Carrothers.

Each blokart race started with a 2 minute dial-up where the sailing machines circled about the runway to build-up speed before crossing the start line.  A transponder on board each vehicle was used to record the cross times at the start and finish of each race.  After 12 races over the 2 day event, each of the 62 competitors (40 years and older) could drop the poorest race score in calculating total points.  The lower the score the better were the chances of being in range of a medal.  All the others racers were from blokart clubs across New Zealand and Australia.

With borrowed machines, Stephen Fennell and Carolyn Carrothers of Mississippi Mills were the only blokart competitors from either the western or northern hemispheres at the 2013 Masters Games in New Zealand, held February 1-10 at Wanganui. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Carrothers.
A low score of 14 earned Stephen (left) a gold medal. With 47 points, the silver medal went to John Cantillon (right) of New Zealand. Carolyn brought home the bronze medal with a score of 52. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Carrothers.

The warm hospitality of New Zealanders is something that Stephen and Carolyn will be talking about for a long time.  Their heartwarming experiences after the races, with other members of the blokart community, will never be forgotten.  Friends who shared the adventures of the Masters Games invited them to their homes and took good care of them.  Later, when their much delayed flight touched down at a very early morning hour, someone was at the airport to meet them.

After a month away, and the challenge of a 24 hour return journey behind him, Stephen and Carolyn were looking forward to tapping trees on their second day back for the 2013 maple syrup run.  Welcome home.