Saturday was the Armond Bassett memorial race. I’ve done this race several times in the past, and up until now it’s only taken place in two weather conditions, torrential thunderstorms or hot, airless and humid. This year was a pleasant change – it was absolutely perfect – cool, overcast but not oppressively so, and with a slight breeze.
As usual I arrived way way early. The best part of any kayak race is the pre- and post-race hanging around with other paddlers and shooting the shit, and we had plenty of time for that. Because the race is in Rochester, not only did Vicki come to watch, two of our non-paddling friends Mike and Gail came to watch and cheer.
Since this race is flat water, I decided to try my V12. It’s not as light as the V10 Sport and based on my results in the weekly BayCreek time trials, possibly not as fast – although that might be because the time trial spends a greater proportion of its time making 180 degree turns and accelerating out of them. But it’s a boat I want to get some experience with and so I thought it was a good risk.
It’s also a course I scouted a few times, and there are some tricks to it. The biggest trick is that from about kilometer 1.5 to the turn at kilometer 3 the water is very shallow for almost 1/3rd of the width of the river to the left side, and again on the right after the turn. It’s easy to get suckered into that side because it’s closer to the inside of the curve of the river and so it looks shorter. But our long boats get slow in shallow water, and even worse you can find yourself dragging your paddle or your rudder in the mud and/or weeds. There are other shallow spots to watch out for, and interestingly enough, one place where sneaking in behind an island is actually faster because it’s surprisingly deep in there and sheltered from the current and wind. Oh yeah, one other factor in favor of the V12 – it has an over stern “kick up” rudder so I wouldn’t have to worry about weeds and submerged logs. I’d broken the rudder of my Sport on a submerged log while scouting the course a week or two ago.
At the start, as expected Tom Murn jumped out in front. He’s just back from competing in the Under 23 World Championships so while he’s been concentrating on 1000 meter sprints, a 16km paddle is just a walk in the park for him. He was followed closely by Todd who was followed closely by Doug and Mike in Doug’s V10 Double, and by John Hair, who was trying to get on the Double’s wake. That left Roger and I hunting for a wake we could hold, or failing that a good line. For some reason, everybody was going off to the left under the first arch of the first bridge. I knew that wasn’t as good a line but what are you going to do when that’s where the wakes are, so I followed. But even within the arch there were shallow spots and deep spots, so i was trying to hold to the deeper part on the right while Roger, who was to my right, was trying to push over to the left. I wasn’t yielding an inch and so he dropped behind me. It wasn’t until I felt a slam against the side of the rear of my boat that surprised the hell out of me and forced me to brace that I realized that roger had dropped behind so he could cut to my left. I guess he’d slightly misjudged it and hit my stern.
After we cleared the bridge, he and I were pretty much neck and neck and pretty much down the middle of the river until we got to the stretch at kilometer 1.5 or so. He got suckered into the shallows, and while it didn’t slow him down as much as I’d hoped, it must have cost him energy. He disappeared from view behind me about kilometer 2.5 or so. When I did the turn at kilometer three I could finally see where he was and he was at least five boat lengths back, and neck and neck with a stranger in a Simon River boat. That was enough of a gap for me to take a gulp of water, but not enough to stop worrying that either Roger or the stranger were coming back, or worse that they’d trade pulls and both pass me.
But now I was paying attention to John ahead of me. He had a pretty fair gap, but he was going into the shallows and losing time. Every time he passed a landmark I’d count how many strokes it took me to get to that landmark and I was definitely closing on him. I just had to hope I could catch him before he ran out of shallow water to make mistakes in.
At kilometer 6.5, we were back up to the start/finish area. My cheering section was easy to spot (and hear) as they stood up on the pedestrian bridge, although I couldn’t actually read the sign they were holding. It felt good to see them, and I feebly tried to croak out a thanks, but they couldn’t hear them.
Not too far after the bridge at kilometer 7 is a “sneak” behind an island. John didn’t take it and I did. I had a fantasy that I was going to pop out the other side of the island ahead of him, but that would have only happened if he’d gotten mired in the sandbar that tails back behind the island just under the surface of the water, but evidently he didn’t, because he was still ahead of me. I continued to grind my way up to him, keeping just enough further out from the shore that I wasn’t getting into the suck water and he was. Watching your GPS to see if your speed drops is a good way to do this – if you can trust the VIRB overlays on my video, you can see that I was still making a respectable 10.4 km/hr through the “sneak”, although I was closer to 10.7 in the deeper part of the river.
I didn’t actually catch John until about kilometer 10.7. I had time to take a drink and try to recover a bit in his stern wake, and while I was debating with myself whether to go up beside him and work together or just suck his wake as long as I could when he must have noticed me, because he suddenly made a sharp “S” turn. At first I thought he was avoiding a rock or submerged log, so I tried to turn with him, losing lots of speed in the process. But then he said something to me and put the hammer down, so I started to think he’d done it deliberately to throw me off, sort of like the “Crazy Ivan” move that Soviet subs did in “Hunt For Red October” and other military fiction. He claimed afterwards that he’d just turned to see what the noise he’d heard was, and was startled to see me there. I guess he was pretty focused ahead of him because there had been plenty of opportunities for him in the last 5 kilometers or so for him to see me in his peripheral vision as I was off his stern quarter.
At the turn at kilometer 11.3, he’d gapped me by a good four boat lengths, but my turn was a little better than his and I closed it to within two boat lengths or less. But no matter what I did, I just couldn’t seem to pop up that last couple of boat lengths to be able to ride his wake. For the rest of the way downstream, he’d get out into the middle of the river and open up a larger gap, and then he’d go to close into shore around a bend and I’d close it down a ways, and then he’d be out in the middle and open it up again. I don’t think I ever got closer than 2 or 3 boat lengths the whole way.
At kilometer 15.8, I passed under the pedestrian bridge again and once again my cheering section was waiting. I was too tired to do anything to acknowledge them other than look up at them and nod. But I was sprinting for all I was worth, and that isn’t much. I managed to finish 12 seconds behind John, which I’m pretty happy with. I don’t think I could have finished that close to him without the advantages of guile and knowing the river.
Full results are here.