The Cancer Society Wairarapa dragonboat team powered through severely testing conditions on Wellington Harbour to claim a silver in the women's grand final at Saturday's Wellington Dragonboat Festival.

The club can also lay claim to bragging rights to a share of a gold medal, with six of their men lending their muscle to Paddle Waikato's win in the Men's B Final, the next down from the men's grand final.

The cross-harbour swell and chop proved a severe test for the 20-person teams more used to gentle lakes and rivers, with a number of boats losing their way or capsizing on the 320m racecourse alongside Wellington's waterfront.

CSW chairwoman Kay Wilton said the day was "really good" but the conditions made it hard work for the all-women team, who have several national titles under their belt.


They reduced the number of paddlers to 18 because of the rough sea.

"Those weather conditions really cut us out," she said. "It's not quite what we are used to."

It's a good start for the season for the team, who will compete in the regional dragonboat championships in Auckland this weekend, followed by the National Dragonboat Champs at Lake Hood in Ashburton.

Some will also take part in the Club Crews World Championships in Adelaide over Easter.

Ms Wilton said the team has been national champions for "quite a few years in a row" but, in the spirit of competition, there were more women's teams today.

"We feel we have been an incentive for some of them."

She said not being able to use Henley Lake in Masterton, their training lake, for six weeks because poisonous algae had affected their performance.

"We have really suffered because of that."

The Paddle Waikato team, with six Wairarapa men on board, managed the gold for the B Final, despite capsizing shortly after their first race.

The team endured a few good-nature jeers as they and their half-submerged boat were towed back into Whairepo Lagoon.

Team member Ivan Karaitiana, Masterton, waded to shore and joked they were "cut off by an Auckland and Canterbury team".

It was his first capsize in more than 20 years of canoeing, he said.

"She's really rough out there," he said.

The Wairarapa men, part of the Cancer Society Wairarapa club, helped out to make up the numbers for the Waikato crew.

Founder Lindy Daniell said the club was open to "anybody who wants to be fit and healthy".

"We especially want to attract cancer survivors to help in their recovery," she said.

"Come and give it a go."

Mrs Wilton agreed.

"We train Sunday afternoons at 2.30pm at Henley Lake," adding it should soon be clear of algae.

"Some people get the bug straightaway. Some of us have been doing this for seven years."

She said they were looking for more men to join the club.

"There more opportunities if that happens, we could put a mixed team in."

Crew member Virginia Hawke said it was her second season with the team and she was loving it.

"It's a great bunch of women, really motivated, really quite inspiring," she said.

She was not a cancer survivor, but took it up for "fitness and fun".