Next couple of weeks

This coming Sunday, I have to go down to Owings Mills for work. The following Saturday, I leave for British Columbia. The Saturday after that I participate in the Canadian Surfski Championships in Squamish, British Columbia. The Saturday after that, I participate in the Blackburn Challenge in Glochester, Mass. I would not be exaggerating to say that these are the two most important and highest prestige surfski races of my life.

I obviously need some way to stay in shape while I’m down in Owings Mills, which is why I’m going to drive down with my bike on my roof rack. There are practically no paddle options within a reasonable distance of Owings Mills, except “Liberty Reservoir”. There are only two problems with Liberty Reservoir:

  • I’d have to buy a yearly pass from the City of Baltimore. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve given enough money to the City of Baltimore and I would be happy if they never saw another cent from me.
  • They require you to sign an affidavit that your boat will never be used anywhere except their reservoirs. I’m not about to sacrifice a boat for them, not even my ancient V10 Sport club which I haven’t paddled in two years.

Also, because I’ve got an early flight on Saturday morning, I’ve put my colleagues at Owings Mills on notice that I’m leaving no later than noon on Friday. I repeated this over and over again when we were planning this visit, and I’m still anticipating a fight when I need to leave, because 2 out of 3 times I go down there nothing actually gets done until the Friday afternoon. That’s going to be their problem, not mine.

My problem is that even if I leave on the stroke of noon, I probably won’t be home until nearly 8, and I’ve got a 6am flight the next morning. That doesn’t give much time to get all my kayaking and other shit together for the flight. And also I want to get some last training paddles in this weekend including the Sunday before I leave for Owings Mills, which means it’s going to be tricky pre-packing my kayaking gear *and* making sure it’s somewhat clean.

As well as the logistic problems of getting back from one trip and immediately leaving on the other with completely different packing parameters, I also worry about the fitness aspect.

I’ll probably get a couple of long paddles in before I leave for Owings Mills. Then when I get there, really the only option for fitness will be bike riding, as I’ve said before. Bike riding isn’t great preparation for paddling, but it will at least keep my cardio fitness up. I’ll bring some rubber bands and I think the fitness center at the hotel has some hand weights, so maybe I can do something for my core. I have this mental picture of me taking my paddle into the hotel pool and trying to do stationary paddling in the pool, but I doubt they’d allow it.

Then there are going to be two travelling days, Friday and Saturday. Then family visiting (and the fun and logistics of trying to visit two close family members who live an hour apart and refuse to get together at once place or the other) for several days. I pick up my rented surfski and have a short race on the Tuesday before the champs. Then I’ve been promised that there is some sort of down-wind paddle going on on the Wednesday in North Vancouver, and I’m hoping to scout some or all of the course on Thursday, then a rest day and then the race. Then Sunday I’ve signed up for a clinic with Sean “Prawn” Rice. Then Monday travel home, and get ready for Blackburn the following Saturday. Phew.

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That didn’t go well

This morning a group of us met at Irondequoit Marine Park (which we refer to as “Seabreeze” because it’s near the Seabreeze amusement park) for a paddle on the lake. The forecast was for very light winds and very small waves, so I didn’t think it would matter if we headed east or west. We had a good group, Mike and I often paddle together and we’re pretty evenly matched, and Pete G has gotten really fast this year and he’s probably going to be blowing us away in not very much longer. John H is a really fit guy, mostly a runner and a SUP paddler but he’s taken to paddling a surfski this year and he’s picking it up fast. And Jim managed to get back from yesterday’s Madrid race to come with us as well.

It started out as expected, with very little wave action. But what there was was almost directly on our beams. By the time we got to the Genesee River outlet those waves had built up a bit, and so had at least one other source of waves, on top of the boat wakes and the reflections from shore and the pier. The problem is that all these waves were about 1 foot high – big enough to affect you, but because they were all the same size there was no one wave that was dominating and making it so you could ignore the others. If you have one foot waves coming from three different directions, that’s far worse than if you’ve got one foot waves coming from two directions and three foot waves coming from one. You end up with two waves stacked when something hits you from the third direction and it really throws you off.

By the time we decided to turn, we were getting straight beam waves and an exactly 180 degree off reflection from the shore, as well as at least one other set, and I was bracing more than I was paddling. When we turned 90 degrees to directly off-shore, it actually became way easier, and I actually started enjoying it. Except I didn’t want to go 90 degrees off shore, I wanted to go back along the shore to where we’d put in. After we’d gotten far enough from shore that the reflection from shore was much reduced, I turned as much as I dared putting the incoming waves about 45 degrees off my right bow. That was still heading us directly towards a sailboat race, which we probably didn’t want to do. But after a short time, we got a another wave set, this from about 30 degrees to my right, so I tried to angle a few more degrees off the first set so I was almost directly into the new set. That was actually giving me an angle that would allow me to pass further out from the horrible mess that Mike calls “the potato patch” at the mouth of the Genesee. John H seemed to not make that turn, and so he continued towards the sailboat race. Luckily Jim went with him so he was taken care of if he got into trouble. Mike and Pete somehow managed to cut further in shore, and were just skirting the end of the Genesee outlet right in the horrible stuff. I was completely alone, and hating every second of it. I found myself thinking “why did I ever think I had any talent at this? I’m completely useless.”

After getting out of the worst of the potato patch, I managed to work my way inshore enough that I was beside and then slightly ahead of Pete, but Mike was literally a mile ahead of us. He didn’t seem to slow down at all. Being in with Pete made me more comfortable, both because I now knew I wasn’t going to have to go completely beam on for the rest of the paddle in order to get home, and also for the comfort of knowing that somebody would notice and possibly be able to help if I fell in and had trouble remounting. John and Jim were still miles off shore, but heading in quickly. I was getting a bit more confidence, and getting a bit more speed, but the number of boat wakes was getting more and more problematic. At one point I got hit by two sets of boat wakes that were more than 2 feet high and exactly 90 degrees apart, so instead of getting something I could surf, I just got pyramids of water.

After the paddle was over, the unenjoyable part of the day wasn’t over. When I’d set off, I’d decided to carry my Mocke PFD instead of wearing it, and I’d put my phone and car key in the big pocket on the front. I’d previously realized that the pocket has a bit of a flaw in that the velcro that closes it is much shorter than the width of the mouth of the pocket. I’d decided that I should go to Home Depot and pick up some a couple of snap rings or mini-carabiners or something so I could attach the keys and phone securely to the PFD, but I figured just for today it would be fine if I just made sure the bungees that hold the PFD to the boat were laid between the keys and phone and the mouth of the pocket so things couldn’t fall out. It seemed like a perfect plan. Once I got the boat out of the water, I discovered that somehow the key had managed to sneak out. I have no idea how, I have no idea where. I just know it was gone.

This lead to an hour or so of the whole group of us scouring the sand to see if just possibly it dropped out when I’d been carrying the boat to or from the water while back home Vicki searched to see if she could find the other copy of the key. We both thought we knew where the other copy was, but it wasn’t in any of those locations. So I called AAA and settled in for a long wait. I had my phone, and it was pretty fully charged, but unfortunately my spare reading glasses were in the car. But with a bit of squinting and pinching, I was able to keep myself amused for the first hour or two. But then it started to sprinkle. Since the only shelter at the boat launch was a really stinky public toilet, I called Vicki and she came so we could sit together in her car for a few hours while we waited for the locksmith to come, and them while he attempted to get a key made for the car.

We eventually got home just before 5pm. Not a great way to spend the day.

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TC Surfski Immersion Weekend 2015

This weekend was the third annual TC Surfski Immersion Weekend. I went last year and learned a whole bunch and a had a bunch of fun, so I of course signed up to do it again. The weekend takes place at the awesomely beautiful Hilltop Log Lodge which just coincidentally is next door to the home of the proprietor of TC Surfski, Nick Murray.

Unfortunately Suttons Bay Michigan is a heck of a long drive away, so I missed the introductory paddle Thursday night. We actually saw them out in their skis not too far from the launch site as we were just about to turn in to hilltop trail. If I hadn’t been so tired from nine hours of driving, I would have left Vicki to the settling in and unpacking and tried to rush down to the launch site to catch them. But I didn’t. 

After they came back, I got reintroduced to the returning instructors, a few returning participants, and a whole bunch of new people. And being me, I promptly forgot just about everybody’s names. Sorry everybody. But there was a wide range of experiences including a lot of beginners who have never paddled a Surfski before. The only non-paddling spouse other than Vicki was Eric Haas’s wife Melissa. Eric came last year, but without his wife. I’m happy she came because she and Vicki seemed to have a good time together when we were off paddling.

I won’t attempt any physical descriptions because I heard through a mutual friend that Eric Borgnes took some good natured objection to the way I’d described him last year. At least I hope it was good natured.

Friday morning dawned foggy and not particularly warm. We headed to nearby Cedar Lake for a concentration on technique. We did mostly modified versions  of Oscar’s drills including one I didn’t like much because you had to release the lower hand to do a top hand spear, then re-grab with the lower hand to pull. That threw me completely off each time. 

I got told a few things I already knew and have to consciously think about every time I paddle, like making sure I get the paddle fully in the water before starting to pull, and sitting up straighter. They also found a few things I didn’t know about – I’ve been paddling with my paddle length set to 217cm, but Rob has a wider “wing span” than I and he paddles with 212cm and suggested I do the same, and shorten to 210 in rough water. He also suggested I lower my knees (by adjusting the foot plate forward) in rough water at least until I get more confident. Because I’m one of the more experienced paddlers there other than the instructors, I also spent some time trying to give tips to some of the other participants, but I’m not a teacher so basically I’d just give them a suggestion or two and paddle off looking for my next victim. 

In the afternoon we returned to Cedar Lake for the safety session. Adding a safety session is a good idea in general, and last year’s Sunday downwinder showed the need for it when one of the beginners fell in and couldn’t remount. We’d been warned to dress for full immersion in cold water, and while Cedar Lake is shallower and warmer than Lake Michigan, it still wasn’t warm. We did a bunch of remounts. Not exactly a new thing for me, but a good thing to practice every now and then and especially to practice on your non-preferred side. We did some other exercises that I found enlightening. In one we attempted to paddle with the ski leaned over as far as you could. As I paddled along with water coming into the cockpit, I gained a new respect for just how much final stability the V10 Sport really has.

That evening, Vicki and I and Eric H and Melissa went out for a nice dinner at the 9 Bean Rows restaurant in Suttons Bay. It was really nice except we’d sat outside and everything was sticky from tree sap. Also Vicki was a little mean to Eric about his hypermiling obsession – but since Melissa was just as vocal about it, it think it was taken in the good natured way it was intended.

Saturday morning there was a race in Traverse City. It seems it was just a coincidence that it was put on the same weekend as our camp, but it worked out nicely. Besides our lot in the surfskis there was at least one other guy in a Fenn surfski, a few kayaks and a whole bunch of SUPs. Because last year the Surfski race had been over so quickly, this year he made it longer, with a squarish course to test our abilities. On the first leg, it very quickly settled into a lead pack of Eric Borgnes and Rob Hartman, then the guy in the Fenn with Greg on his tail and Nick and his son in a tandem ski paddling off to one side (well, Nick was paddling, his son’s paddle rarely left the horizontal). I buried myself trying to get on Greg’s stern wake, but never got closer than about 2 boat lengths and eventually gave up and settled down into my pace. There was a very small swell coming down the bay from my front left but it wasn’t a factor. At the first bouy turn, however, the transition from front left to directly astern caused me a missed stroke. I snuck a very quick peek behind and Eric Haas was not far behind. By that point Nick and his son had joined the second pack. The first half of that leg was assisted by the swell, now directly behind, but as we got closer to the break wall reflections off it became more dominant. Both packs ahead seemed to be angling off towards the wall rather than heading directly to the turn bouy – not sure if they were intending to use the wall for shelter or to use the reflected waves somehow or what. The turn took us parallel to the shore. Both packs ahead went to the right of the direct line to find deeper water and stay away from a bunch of bouys marking a swimming area, and I followed suit. I didn’t think Eric was gaining on me, but I used that as a reason to keep the pace up and not slack off. The next turn was directly back into the swell from the top of the bay and numerous boat anchorages with anchor lines to avoid. Just as I passed the “tall ship” and was about to turn towards shore, a largish boat wake came along so I paddled beyond the direct line and turned after it had abated. The posted times were about two minutes slower than my GPS, but I evidently came in a minute and a half behind Nick and his son, and about 1:40 ahead of Eric Haas. Not counting the guy in the Fenn because he wasn’t part of our group, that means I was slower than all the instructors and faster than all the other Immersion participants. Although one of our number ended up with a prize because his V6 had been classed as a kayak rather than a ski.

Saturday afternoon we headed to another local lake. This time it was to find a friend of Nick’s who owned a ski boat so people could practice catching the waves behind it. This is nothing new to me, but it’s always fun. What they attempted to do was to line up four people at a time in the stern wakes and slowly increase the boat speed. What I noticed after the second one is that most people can’t stay on the wake after it gets up to any speed, so rather than wait for my turn I would line up outside the group, and get on the bow wake. The bow wake is harder to ride, and I would have water constantly pouring into the cockpit – good thing the epic bailer is quite effective. But once several of the group had fallen off the stern wake, I’d cut over and ride that. I ended up getting several good rides, and they indulged me with some nice fast ones. I believe I sustained over 15 km/hr a few times. 

Then on the way back to the cars I found myself up front with Eric H. I encouraged him to ride my stern wake because that’s a good skill to have for racing and one you don’t get to practice often unless you have an awesome paddle group like we do here in Rochester. After paddling about two kilometers, we suddenly realized that nobody was exactly sure where the put-in was. Fortunately I have the track map enabled on my GPS so I switched to the map view and could see that the it was about a kilometer further on and to the right. So I surged on ahead – I’m not sure I adequately conveyed that I now knew with complete confidence where the put-in was because Eric and a few others who had been with us suddenly seemed well behind me. But sure enough, the GPS track indicated a turn to the right just as a power boat came out of the bay, and there was the boat ramp right ahead of me.

That evening, the same group of four headed back to Suttons Bay. This time we ended up at a restaurant called “Martha’s”. It was utterly amazing. Possibly the best meal I’ve had all year, if a tiny bit expensive. And both the chef and the owner came out to chat after the meal. Vicki promised to put in a glowing review in TripAdvisor, which Martha seemed happy about.

Sunday morning a few people talked about going for a short early paddle – last year we’d had a ripping down winder which had been a highlight of the weekend for me, but this year there was no wind and I just couldn’t muster up the energy for a flat water paddle after the long day Saturday. So we packed up and hit the road. Uncharacteristicly, I’d added a tie down strap to the normal bungees I used to hold down my ski, and a few hours later near the Canadian border I was extremely glad I had. The wind was so strong that in spite of the one tie down, my boat was shifting around in the rack and I ended up pulling into a lay by to add another strap. Other than the wind, it was a pretty uneventful drive home, just exceedingly tiring.

So what is the verdict? Last year it was easy to be extremely positive about the whole thing because I learned so much and we had that great down winder on the last day. This time I feel like I didn’t learn as much, and we didn’t have a down winder, but I still think it’s a positive experience. There is something magical about hanging out with a bunch of other enthusiastic Surfski paddlers, both experienced and inexperienced. And it really is a beautiful setting.

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Round the Mountain 2015 video

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Round the Mountain 2015

Today was the Round the Mountain race. There are two reasons it’s a big milestone each year – it’s usually my first race of the year, and it’s usually the last time I paddle my Thunderbolt for the year. After this, it’s all surfski all the time.

We arrived at the start at Ampersand Bay, and found the first disaster of the day: the bungee that holds my rudder down had broken on the drive up here. I managed to beg a small bungee from Todd and borrow a knife to cut the ends off, but it was thicker than the one I’d had so I had to arrange a different route for the cord. It worked, so disaster averted.

I had two video cameras on the boat, one just in front of the GPS pointing forward, and one just behind my PFD pointing backwards.

The weather was warmer than last year, and the wind was lighter. I almost wish I’d dressed lighter. I might even have been able to manage the V12 in these conditions. But it was just about perfect. There were a bunch of guys in sprint boats here, including a large guy in a beautiful top of the top Nelo and a young guy in a red Plastex boat. I think we got a lot of Canadians because it’s Victoria Day weekend.

I’d been worried before the race that in my training all spring I hadn’t had my heart rate up over 152, and even then for less than 8 minutes at a time but I knew that I normally raced with my heart rate over 160. So I wasn’t sure I could even get my heart rate that high. But as I was warming up, I was so nervous my heart rate was up over 150 even when I wasn’t doing anything.

At the start, as expected, Jim and Todd took off with some guy in a V14. The Plastex guy and the Nelo guy weren’t too far behind them, then I was behind Roger Gocking. But that didn’t last for long – I passed Roger almost immediately, but he glommed onto my side wake. It looked to me like I was catching the Nelo guy and the Nelo guy was catching the Plastex guy. I put in some speed to come up behind the Nelo guy and just latched onto his stern wake and was able to rest a bit. Roger didn’t follow me when I moved right to catch this wake, so he was still hanging out alone beside us. As we were catching the Plastex guy, Roger came steaming up alone. I blasted past the Nelo guy (although for some reason I went the wrong way around him instead of swing off in the direction of Roger) and latched onto Roger’s stern wake just as he was coming up to the Plastex guy. Plastex guy got onto Roger’s side wake and we made a nice little group. I risked a glance back and Nelo guy hadn’t managed to hold onto any wake and was well behind.

As we got near the gap between the island and the shore, the Plastex guy was starting to fall back off Roger’s wake and he tried to catch my right side wake. I didn’t want to let him catch it, so I pulled up on Roger’s left side and blasted past them both. I ended up leading both of them up the river. If you look at the rear camera, it appears Roger was about a boat length or two behind me rather than right on my stern wake, and Plastex guy was well behind. I lead them through every narrow and shallow little sneak I could find and I hit my paddle a few times, and felt my rudder hit at least once, but I could hear them hitting things as well. Having an overstern rudder and polarized sunglasses was a real plus.

At the portage, I had trouble getting out of the boat, and Roger was up and trotting before I got out. Then I picked up my boat and started trotting, but the PFD fell out of the bungees so I had to put the boat down and go back and pick it up. By then Plastex guy was up and running – in bare feet no less. By the time I hit the water and got mounted up, both of them had about two minutes on me.

It did not look like I was catching Roger at all, but I was definitely catching Plastex guy. Every time he passed a landmark, I’d check the time he passed against the time I passed and I could see I was making up time all the time. And then he followed Roger through a sneak but ran aground, and had to come to a full stop. I figure I made up nearly a minute of the two minute gap for that. As I came through that same sneak without trouble, I knew I was going to catch him.

After a few more minutes, I caught his stern wake. I contemplated staying on his stern wake all the way to the finish and trying to outsprint him, but he looked like a sprinter. So I pulled around him and swung out far enough that he couldn’t catch my wake. He sped up and stayed with me. We were neck and neck for the last three kilometers. I put in more speed and he sped up. I put in some more and he sped up some more. I had nothing left, but we were a kilometer from the finish and Jim was out warming down and he yelled at me to drop the hammer, and I barely gasped out “I don’t have a hammer”. I didn’t hear him say it, but he said afterwards that he was telling me to try to scrape the guy off on the buoy. I actually managed to increase my speed again with about 500 meters to go, but the guy had more in the gas tank than me, and he managed to beat me by a boat length or so.

As far as I can tell, the Unlimited Kayak class results were Jim, then the guy in the V14, then Todd, then me. So no wood plaque for me. Touring class was won by Roger and Unlimited under 50 was won by Plastex guy. I think somebody else ended up ahead of the Nelo guy.

Results:

Racer Class Time Diff from Last Year
Jim Mallory Unlimited +50 1:22:57  
Steve Rankinen (V14) Unlimited +50 1:23:42  
Todd Furstoss Unlimited +50 1:23:44 -3:25
Roger Gocking Touring +50 1:32:51 -2:48
Mike Archembault (Plastex guy) Unlimited -50 1:33:48  
Paul Tomblin Unlimited +50 1:33:50 -3:09
Pete Gugel Unlimited -50 1:36:01 -3:00
Rich and Angela Guide Boat 1:50:27  
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