“It could be worse – it could be raining”
– Marty Feldman, Young Frankenstein
One of my top goals this year was to finish a 10 mile kayak race, and today I did it. The Armond Bassett race takes place here in town at the Genesee Waterways Center, a place I’ve paddled a lot in the last year. Maybe I’m not being fair to the organizers, but in some ways the AB seems like a canoe race that reluctantly allows kayaks to participate. I can’t really explain why I feel that way, but I do. Maybe it’s because on the second day (tomorrow), they have canoe races that *don’t* allow kayaks to participate.
The course was 2 miles down stream, then 5 miles upstream, and then three miles down stream again to the finish. In years past they used to do two loops of 1 mile down, 2.5 miles up, and 1.5 miles down, but for some reason people don’t like the format so they changed it. The weather was threatening, with rain promised, and thunderstorms considered quite likely. But it wasn’t raining at the start, which is good.
One problem with the down river start is that you sometimes get a bit of a pile-up from people back-paddling to avoid drifting over the line, and losing directional control and ending up sideways. That’s what happened at Tupper Lake. I lined up on the left side of the river, which wasn’t optimal, but once I realized my mistake I didn’t want to change. I was beside a cedar strip kayak, and a couple of carbon fibre C-1s. The organizers got the start off nice and fast after calling us up, so that avoided the pile-up problem
At the gun, the 2 C-1s just lept off the line, and the guy in the cedar strip boat got on their wake and I got on his wake. They were taking what I would consider a C-1 line, heading towards the inside of the bend under the bridge which is a shorter line but through shallow “suck water” and not taking advantage of the current at our back. Over on the right side of the river, I could see Jim Mallory already opening a huge lead over the pack, then Dan Murn and the other unlimited kayaks, and then Bill F and Mike F all using that faster water well. But I was on that wake, so I kept with it on the bad line. After we got back into the fast water, another racer came by in a greenish West Side Boat Shop (WSBS) EFT, and I left the C-1 wakes and got in his wake. He dragged me up to Mike and Bill, which was way too fast for me, but I was enjoying it while it lasted. As I faded off them, the cedar strip boat came by, now leading the two C-1s. I got on the C-1s wake, and held that to the turn. They dropped off the cedar strip K-1, but I’m not sure if he left them at the buoy or had already dropped them before that.
On the way up, the kayaks ahead of me were off to my right, trying to hug the shore and stay out of the current – I made the risky decision to leave the wakes I was following to get into the better line. Maybe I was right, maybe I was wrong, but after a minute, the two C-1s swung over and got on my wake, so I was thinking that was right. But almost immediately, I got into horrible “suck water”. I watched my speed drop from around 6 mph to the high 5s to the low 4s and even below that. C-1s are reputed to not be as affected by shallow water as kayaks and sure enough they both decided to pull past me and there was nothing I could do to follow them. I tried to pull further into the river to get out of the suck, and it helped, but I’d lost their wakes and now was on my own. I took stock, and realized I’d started out too fast, and it was time to slow down and settle into a pace that I could maintain for the remaining 8 miles.
By now, everybody was heading over to the other side of the river. We did a lot of zig-zagging on the way up to keep to the inside of the bends, out of the current and hopefully out of the wind. But on my way there, the third C-1 in the race came by, and I threw out my “settle” pace and grabbed his wake. He pulled me almost all the way back to the first two C-1s when we got into some more shallow water and I lost them again. This was almost in sight of the GWC, coming back up through the same “suck water” under the bridge that I’d encountered on the way up, but this time it was where I would have been even without the influence of the canoes. I was cheered up mightily by seeing Vicki there at the start line. I was so thrilled that she’d come out to cheer me on.
The remaining 3 mile slog upstream was all pretty much the same – I was constantly being passed by faster boats, attempting to get on their wake, and mostly failing. I could still see Mike and Bill up ahead, along with the guy in the greenish WSBS EFT. I have no idea where the cedar strip kayak went, I never noticed him again, but I assume he was up ahead with the C-1s. At some point it started to rain lightly. But the rain was warm enough, and it was welcome in the heat. It looked like Bill might have been fading, but since my speed was dropping off too, I disabused myself of any thoughts of catching him. Actually, it looked like Bill wasn’t fading, it was more like Mike had put the hammer down and gapped Bill and the EFT guy. But I was far enough back that I couldn’t really see what was going on. Jim Mallory came by on his downstream leg disturbingly early on, looking like the champion he is, and after a while Dan came by riding the wash of a K-2.
You know that scene in the grave yard in “Young Frankenstein” where Igor says “Could be worse, could be raining”, and then there is a flash of lightning, an immediate thunderclap, and then it starts pelting down like crazy? That’s normally a movie cliche, but that’s exactly what happened less than a mile from the turn-around. It was incredible. Visibility went down to less than a mile, and the rain was coming down so hard it was bouncing a good 2 inches off the water surface. The lightning was quite close. Even boats going down stream started heading to the banks, away from the good current assist, but also no longer the tallest thing within a few metres. In spite of the lowered visibility, it was incredible at the turn – the river coming upstream behind me was almost a continual line of C-2s. The C-2s had started behind, and while the first couple, including a formation of 4 from Forge Racing, had passed me on the way up, the rest were coming up fast.
At one point on the way down, there was another flash of lightning off my right, the thunder less than a second later, and then the sound of a light plane taking off from Rochester airport. I could barely see him in the rain, but I had to wonder what sort of moron takes off in the middle of an active thunderstorm cell. I mean, it’s risky to be in IMC when there are embedded thunderstorms in the area even if you have a Stormscope or StrikeFinder, but to take off when there are lightning strikes within a quarter mile of the airport is suicidal. On the other hand, I was still paddling down the middle of the river trying to get maximum speed, so maybe I’m not the best person to judge what was dumb.
I’ve had this weird on-going problem with my boat that sometimes it requires a lot of pressure on the right rudder pedal to keep going straight. Last time it happened on Thursday, I looked at the rudder immediately after I finished paddling and it was fine, and it was fine again on Friday and for most of today. It now started doing that at about the 7.5 mile mark. That was not good. Also, in spite of the half-skirt, my boat was getting a lot of water in it, mostly dripping off me. Every time I pushed with my leg and straightened my knee, it was in the water in the bottom of the boat. That wasn’t more than an annoyance, but I was concerned with how fast it seemed to be filling up – there was probably around an inch and a half of water by the end. And then, just to make sure that I didn’t start enjoying this down pour, my left foot suddenly cramped up at about the 9 mile mark and I had to try not using it. That continued right to the end. It was kind of good that I had to push harder on the right side, so I could take my left foot off the rudder pedal and not lose complete control of the boat.
Considering how tired I was, it actually astonishes me to look at my GPS chart and see that my speed on the way down river stayed pretty constant, and started to pick up on the last mile. I swear some of the sudden jumps in my speed and heart rate where when nearby lightning strikes reminded me that I didn’t want to be out there for much longer. I can only remember one or maybe two more C-2s passing me on the down river leg, but the K-1 that passed me a few hundred metres before the turn-around kept pulling away steadily, and I lost sight of him in the down pour before the finish line.
The bottom line is that I’m glad I raced, glad I finished, and ready to do it again, confident that at least some of the races won’t be quite so dire on the conditions. And the Baycreek Team did very well, with just about everybody entered getting a prize (NYMCRA races have a *lot* of categories, which helps). Even better, three members of our “development team” (i.e. some of the Wednesday night crowd) came out to race the short course, and did well too. Dan’s son Tom won his category in the short course too, which was great – he really deserved to have a good race after the problems he had at the Rochester Open Water Challenge. I also have to congratulate the organizers of putting the short course on at the same time as the long course, meaning that they got treated like first class citizens and we all got to socialize together afterwards. The ROWC short course didn’t start until after the long course was done, and many of the long course people didn’t hang around, so we felt a little second class there.