Rochester Open Water Challenge – it was a challenge, all right

Ken Altfather and the Baycreek team and wives put on the most awesome kayak race ever (in my vast experience of three races). We had a good crowd and perfect weather – sunny, not too hot, and a good breeze providing lots of waves. I raced the short course and did really well. First things first, though.

I was in charge of refreshments, which meant buying ice, water, soda, a 1/4 keg of beer and some emergency backup beer (in case the keg ran out) and getting it there early in the morning. I did some running around last night to get the keg, since the first Wegmans I went to didn’t carry them, and the big Wegmans in Pittsford didn’t think they had any left until somebody did some digging around and found some Labatts Blue. I was specifically told that I needed to get there *before* 8am to help with parking, so I arrived at 7:30. There was a group of strangers putting up a very large marquee tent. “Oh”, I thought, “Ken hired somebody to bring a tent and set it up for us”. Nope, it turned out it was the Kiwanis club having a kids fishing tournament. I made a few panicky phone calls to Ken and Dan, and Dan suggested that our permit should be posted in the park office at the boat ramp and I could check out what the Kiwanis permit says they can do. Mostly I was concerned because their huge tent was blocking access to the main path down to the beach, and I was worried how people were going to get their boats down there if they wanted to launch on that side. It turned out that the Kiwanis didn’t have a permit and we did. This was a huge relief, because at one point Ken had definitely said that he didn’t think we’d need to bother with the permit because nobody uses that little park anyway. Ken arrived just as I was coming over with the permit and the park guy from the boat ramp. We were going to get the Kiwanis to move their tent way the heck over to the other side of the parking lot, when somebody suggested that they only needed 1/2 the tent and we could use the other half, so we turned it so it wasn’t blocking the beach access and that worked out great. We had lots of room out of the sun, the Kiwanis people had the side facing the parking area and the bridge they were going to fish off of, and everybody was happy. I was so thrilled I gave the Kiwanis organizers some of our drinks and helped them set up the tent in the new location.

The long race was great. It started in the Bay, went out the channel (trying to avoid all the fishing lines on the sides), then about 4.5 miles along the lake to Charlotte, and back, finishing at the beach. One of the starters, a guy I’ve seen at Long Lake and Tupper Lake in this incredibly long cedar strip kayak, dumped where the channel comes into the lake and swam into shore and gave up. A couple of people dumped out there on course but managed to get back in, either on their own or with help from the safety boats, and I think everybody else finished.

The flags we’d got for the finish didn’t seem to want to stay in place, so Ken and I ended up wading out into the surf to hold them up for the first couple of finishers. The winner was a pro. I’m not sure how far away he came from, but he was used to racing in the big surf in Hawaii, South Africa, and all the other big pro hot spots. When he finished, you couldn’t even see any of the other paddlers yet. I think he won by over 10 minutes. Jim Mallory came next, and he dumped in the surf about 20 feet from the finish and couldn’t get back into his boat. Fortunately he had enough of a lead that he could just walk his boat in without losing anything – he made it “legal” by draping himself over the boat and floating across the line. Next in was Dan, and this guy, Will, who evidently missed the buoy at the far end and was disqualified. After that, people started coming in in small bunches. I couldn’t keep them all straight.

ROWC Short Course
ROWC Short Course
After what seemed like hours, mostly because it was, it was time for the short course race in the Bay. I’d been on my feet since 7:30 am, and it was about 1 pm when we finally got launched for the race. The start was incredibly chaotic, … actually the whole race was chaotic. The boat wakes were horrendous, and it made it impossible to go in a straight line. While everybody was packed together at the start, that meant a lot of collisions and a lot of clashing paddles. I tried like hell to get onto somebody’s wake, and just couldn’t. When a wake would hit, somebody would paddle through it, somebody else would brace, and somebody else would steer into it. Pure chaos. A couple of people dumped, and I could feel danger in every wave. Of course Nicholle Mallory was so far ahead of us I expected her to finish before we padded the half way point.

At one point, my left foot-brace shifted, and I couldn’t get a proper push on that side. I could feel some play on the right side as well, and I was sure I was going to lose my rudder before the finish. Eventually I found myself with nobody around me, about a boat length behind Paul D. I couldn’t get on his wake, and it wouldn’t have helped because we had very different ideas about which wakes could be paddled through and which ones needed to be braced for. At the turn at the far side, I took advantage of my better rudder and turned inside him, and we went side by side for the last half. Not long after the turn, I thought we were catching these two people ahead of us, one of them in the same boat as Paul D and the other in a surf ski. The guy in the surf ski had actually been far ahead on the way out and had dumped and got back in, and was still ahead of us. But then Paul D’s paddle had ripped out of his upper hand, his boat had buried a gunwale, and I was sure he was a gonner as I kept paddling without looking back, but he managed a one handed brace and fought back beside me. After that, the two ahead of us didn’t look like they were getting any closer, and we kept plugging away. We upped the pace, and then upped it again, and then again. We were both giving it everything to the finish, but Paul D pulled away a tiny bit and he beat me by one second.

Note one fact about the GPS training log above: They used a starter gun, and I waited for the gun to push the start button which put me in a semi-bad position – in the future I should start on the “ready” call. I also forgot to stop the watch at the finish because I was caught up in the finish sprint with Paul D. That’s why it creeps up to 7 mph and then suddenly drops off to nothing.

The one sad note was Dan’s young son Tommy. Tommy had been really excited before the race, and had been doing a bit of friendly “trash talking”, offering to let me ride his wash if I got too tired and that sort of thing. Unfortunately the bright sun and lovely cool breeze had conspired to get him dehydrated without him realizing it, and he bonked hard out on the bay. Dan was out there working as a safety boater, and he got Tommy back to shore with no problems. I’m sure Tommy feels bad now, but this is a common sort of mistake to make when you’re young (I used to do it a lot when I was his age) and he’ll learn to keep drinking something with some electrolytes even when he doesn’t feel really thirsty.

2 thoughts on “Rochester Open Water Challenge – it was a challenge, all right”

  1. I love this kind of rivalry that you and Tommy have going. He was gobsmacked when you beat him last year at Long Lake. It’s neat, the rapport he has with all you old guys.

  2. In the annals of amateur kayak racing this was one of the best head to head races ever!
    Paul forgot to mention the stiff head wind after rounding the Bay Bridge to the finish line. Every time I looked to my right all I saw were the tips of our bows with in inches of each other and Paul never let up. I cross the finish line a mere 1 second a head of PT and the finishing positions could have easily been reversed if I missed a stroke finishing. WAY TO GO PT !!!

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