In 2014, Lighthouse to Lighthouse was my first ocean race. They didn’t hold it in 2015 due to problems with permits or something. So when it came back, I was looking forward to it.
In the intervening years, I’ve gotten a lot more experience in waves. I’ve also got really into making videos of my paddle races. So I was really looking forward to not only doing much better this time, but also producing a really nice video. Sadly, neither of those things came to be.
Before the race was great – lots of old friends, people I’ve met in my travels all over the place for surfski paddling. The weather forecast had been for cool temps and semi-overcast conditions, and so I was dressed in my “V-Cold” Vaikobi gear, but it was abundantly clear that it was too warm (and sunny) for that. I changed into a lighter shirt, but retained my V-Cold pants. The part of the forecast that was correct was that the winds would be pretty light, but what winds there were would come almost exactly 90 degrees from the main part of the race course. Ugh. So there would be no swell or wind driven waves to overwhelm the bazillions of small boat waves coming from every direction.
Because my multiple video cameras, and the fact that the one I wear on my head only has two hours and twenty minutes of battery life (just barely enough for the whole race) and because our start wave was 48 minutes after the first start, I took myself away from the hubbub of the start area to just sit by myself on the beach and listen to the start waves. Unfortunately instead of sitting there quietly composing myself for the race and hearing the exact right time to start my cameras, this old guy approached me and started telling me his life history. I had to stop his story before it reached any sort of point because I heard the starter calling out my name – I’d missed the wave before ours going, and now I had literally 2 minutes to get my cameras started and get out to the start line and find a position on the line. And it turns out that in my rush, not only had I managed to not start the camera on my head, I’d also gotten moisture in the camera case so when I finished I found it was fogged, so even if I had started it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a good video from it.
I rushed out to the line and found myself hard up against the left most start buoy. I was also just a little discombobulated and no-where near as composed as I would have preferred. When the start siren went off, there was a woman on my left who tried to squeeze in ahead of me on the buoy, found herself unable to paddle on that side because of the buoy, and stopped almost dead. I found myself banging into her on my left, also unable to paddle on that side, and also almost stopped. Not the best start, and not what would have happened if I’d gotten to the line to position myself behind somebody whose wake I could have ridden.
After that got sorted out, I ended up finding some decent wakes, most of which I could hold for a while and then drop, and then find another. At one point I was on Wesley Echols wake for a few minutes. I also spend some time on some strong looking guys in V10 Sports and other mid range skis. Things up to the first lighthouse (Peck’s Ledge) were looking pretty good. Maybe not as good as it would have been on flat water, but I was being aggressive and feeling strong.
But that all changed after we turned onto the main semi-straight part of the course. With almost no wind driven waves and a plethora of boat wakes, I couldn’t get any sort of rhythm to my paddling. For the entire rest of the race, I got passed by a (small but still non-zero) number of surf skis, and didn’t pass a single ski. I just felt worse and worse the whole way. And then we leave the shelter of the small islands to the north of us and do the one mile to the second lighthouse and back to the shelter, and it was even more horrible. I never felt like I was having trouble staying upright (ok, that’s not 100% true – I missed a stroke here and there and had to brace) but I also felt like I was barely making forward progress. The only thing making me feel good was at this point I started passing some of the people in the sea kayak class. This guy in a V8 who was paddling with no shirt under his PFD came by and I could not hold onto his wake, even for a minute. Very dispiriting. But I also got passed by the first OC-6, and possibly because of that there almost the constant buzz of camera drones overhead.
I kept hoping that maybe the reason I was so slow on the way out was that the tide was running against me, and maybe I’d start to actually feel some speed one the way back. But I didn’t feel it – it felt just as horrible and discouraging on the way back. Not long after the lighthouse, before we got back into the shelter of the islands, a man and woman came by in Epic V10 Sports, identical boats to mine. I had hoped to latch onto their wake, but I couldn’t even get over to them before they were gone. A bit later I thought I was catching them with me further out to sea and them in tighter to the islands, so I was thinking maybe I’d caught a bit of tide, but then they started pulling ahead.
A few times I tried to psych myself up saying “ok, from now on, nobody passes me”. But each time I did, I got passed again.
There is a spot about 5km from the end where you see the Peck’s Ledge lighthouse between two islands. It’s a good way to lose the race – if you head directly to the lighthouse instead of going around the island on your right, you’re disqualified. But it was about that point that I started realizing I was feeling quite sick. As a matter of fact, the discussion in my head was whether if I just puked now, would I feel better and speed up, or would I be faster if I tried to hold it in until the finish. I don’t know if it was the heat, the uncertain and non rhythmic waves, or the clamping effect of the camera strap around my head, or a combination of all those things, but I felt worse than I’ve ever felt in a race before. But I’ve had enough DNFs this year and I was determined to carry on. Well, at this point even cutting between the islands and heading direct to the finish instead of passing the last turn buoy would have only cut off a few hundred meters, so really the pain wouldn’t last that much longer by completing the race. Of course, just to add insult to injury, Leslie Chappelle passed me about 700 meters from the finish and pulled away strongly. No amount of “I thought I wasn’t going to let anybody beat me” self pep-talks would give me the strength to pull back to her. Of course the other “don’t puke, please don’t puke” self pep-talk was mostly drowning out the other pep-talk.
After the finish, I somehow managed to not puke. I stumbled to shore and let Dan and Todd take care of my boat. A bit of a sit down in the shade, a rinse off in coolish water in the kiddy water park fountains, and then a bit of food, and I felt a million times better. Reconnecting with old friends, listening to war stories, not telling much of mine because it just depressed me, and suddenly that lousy two hours seemed like it was counterbalanced and then some by the rest of the day. Once again, I’m glad I came, but man I wish I’d done better.
In the final result, I was about 2 to 2.5 minutes slower than last time. Probably if I hadn’t gotten sick towards the end, I would have been closer to last time. I know I’m a fitter and more competent paddler now, but all those factors of wind weather, and my pre-race prep, and wearing that damn head camera (and without even any video from it to make up for the negatives) and it all added up to a worse performance. So now I’ve got to make sure I’m not over-trained and over-tired next weekend for Long Lake and maybe I can redeem this season.