Blue Mountain Lake Buoy Race (aka BluMouLA BuFuRa)

Another weekend, another NYMCRA kayak points race. This is one I haven’t done before, but it advertises itself as “The Prettiest Darn Race In America”. It’s a bit far but Jim and I decided to car pool up and back on the same day, which is a bit grueling but it’s ok with two of us sharing the driving and napping while the other drives, and that saves a bunch of money and time away from home. So we met at 5:00 am at a restaurant parking lot. We ended up arriving before 9:00 am, so we probably could have cut it a bit closer and got a few more minutes sleep.

The course is kind of complicated – you go down through a couple of passages into two other lakes and back, and then you go around the periphery of Blue Mountain Lake with buoys forcing you deep into several bays. I’ve never done the race before, so I went into Garmin Connect and tried to create a “Course” of the race it. This was a bit risky – I’ve used saved courses before a few times (mostly to compete against my previous times and track how far I have to go) and about 1/2 the time my GPS has frozen up.

Also, I discovered that while I remembered to take my two GoPros off the charger this morning, I somehow forgot to bring the waterproof case for the one I mount up front, so no split screen in this week’s video.

There was a also bit of a westerly or north westerly breeze, which kicked up small waves. Eric was paddling his new V10, and when he was warming up he wasn’t hugely confident at first. He took out the seat pad to improve the stability but he was still wondering if he could get through it without swimming.

The other complication of this race is that they don’t use any sort of start waves. They launch all competitors, no matter what type of boat they’re in and which length course they’re doing, all at once. This year they had over 90 boats, so it was a bit chaotic.

And they’re off

The starter was out in a guide boat ahead of us, which is kind of novel. And when he gave the signal, a massive wall of boats heading in all directions. Or at least two main directions – one for the 14 and 7 mile races, and one for the 1.5 mile race.

Jim M and Jan W took off right in front of me, while Roger and Jim P in their K-2 were off to one side near a C-4. Right in front of me was a guy I didn’t know in a black V10 GT (John Redos). I thought I might be able to hold his wake because his technique wasn’t great – from behind it looked like he had very little rotation and was pulling with his arms, and his hands were too low. But what he didn’t have in technique, he did have in “engine”. While I was riding his wake, a white V10 came through, paddled by David V and was a few boat lengths ahead of us. Soon afterwards, a black V10L came through – that was Jim F who I had a bit of a battle with at Long Lake last year. But I’d heard that he was only doing the 7 mile race. But since he was passing John and I had managed to hold his wake for quite some time last year, I figured I’d move over to his wake. I got a tap on the stern that let me know that Eric was riding my wake.

We rounded the first point and I lost both wakes. But the waves smoothed out a bit, and inevitably Eric was now able to put down some power and he moved past me and caught the three boats in front of me. From my viewpoint it looked like they were almost but not quite in a pack.

The first buoy and Eagle Lake

But then we approached the entrance to the passage to Eagle Lake. Those of us on the 14 mile race were supposed to go straight and the people on the 7 mile race were supposed to go around a buoy that was off to our right and then head right. Those of us going straight were supposed to ignore the buoy, but evidently David and John had missed that part of the pre-race meeting.
So they all went off line to go around the buoy, and from my viewpoint it looked like Jim going to the left of the buoy kind of cut off John going to the right of the buoy and John either followed him a bit to the right or was unable to cut back. But then he got back on track and got back on the proper line. I was bitterly disappointed that even with all the ground he’s lost by this mistake I couldn’t catch him. But now David was a few boat lengths ahead of Eric, and John was a few boat lengths behind Eric.

After this point, I just kept losing more and more ground to these guys. The passage to Eagle Lake narrowed down more and more until there was a nice little bridge and then it widens out again. But at least I could still see the guys ahead of me.

Nothing much happened on the lake. I kept a good eye on the guys in front of me to see exactly where they disappeared into the passage to Utowana Lake. And they did pretty much disappear. The passage is very narrow and twisty and they were out of view almost as soon as they hit it.

Passage to Utowana Lake

The passage was very pretty, and reminded me of some of the places I did canoe trips like Algonquin Park. But just as I was getting to the outlet I saw a big rock flanked by smaller rocks straight ahead, and I was wondering how I was going to navigate that when I got a bit closer and I saw a buoy on the far right and a nice clear passage in that direction.

Out on the lake, I could see a point that I knew for sure was the one I was going to be rounding, but the guys ahead of me were a bit of the left of the direct line. Not sure why they were doing that, but going a direct line didn’t buy me much time.

I rounded another point, and now I can see the first pack of boats coming in the other direction. The C-4 was leading, with Jim on their side wake and Jan on their stern wake.

Not too much later, Roger and Jim P came by in their V8-Double K-2.

Some time later, Eric came by, followed pretty closely by John. Close, but not directly on his wake. Then a bunch of boat lengths behind was David. Since he’d been in front of Eric earlier, I was hoping he was blowing up enough that maybe I could catch him eventually. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.

I reached the first buoy that I was actually supposed to round. It was gold in color and very easy to see from a long way away. It actually turns out to be a space hopper – you know those bouncy balls that kids sit on and bounce across the room on. The handle was how they were tied to the anchor rope, which is why the actual decoration isn’t visible until you’re almost there.

But rounding the buoy gave me a chance to see exactly where I stood. And it was now obvious that David was 3 or 4 minutes ahead of me, and there was a big pack of C-2s and one K-1 about 3 or 4 minutes behind me. So really as long as I didn’t give up, I wasn’t going to pass anybody and nobody was going to pass me. So think of the rest of my race as sightseeing while experiencing the pain of being at the anaerobic threshold.

Back to Blue Mountain Lake

By the time I rounded the last point and could see the end of Utowana Lake, I could barely see where Eric and the guys were disappearing. But I could, so I headed directly to the outlet. Once again through the narrow and twisty passage to Eagle Lake, thankful that nobody was coming in the other direction.

I don’t even remember if I could see the other paddlers on Eagle Lake, but there was a power boat coming out of the passage from Blue Mountain Lake so it wasn’t hard to find. There were spectators on the bridge I mentioned before, and they were cheering and clapping which was nice.

On the other side from the bridge, there were a couple of kayaks who I don’t think were racing, and a sailboat that was taking back and forth in this narrow passage. I was really hoping they weren’t going to tack in front of me, and they didn’t.

I came out into Blue Mountain Lake, and I can see the point you’re supposed to go around, but I haven’t reached the buoy that we were supposed to ignore on the way out, and go around on the right on the way back. It seemed like a very long way out of the channel.

Around and Around Blue Mountain Lake

After I passed the buoy and turned, I immediately saw just beyond the point I just mentioned that there is a large white arrow on an island. I guess that’s where I’m supposed to go. So I paddled over in that direction.

I kind of knew that I was supposed to go between these group of islands and the shore. But for some reason I saw this gap between two islands and decided to head for it. (I think I might have seen Eric’s group through the gap.)
And as I got closer and closer, it was getting shallower and shallower, and I soon realized that not only had I made a mistake, but it was probably too late to fix it. I just squeaked over one log when I suddenly hit a very hard bump. I swore loudly.

I could see a point up ahead that I knew was where the next cove with a buoy was to be found. Dave disappeared around the point and Eric and John were coming out of it. Dave seemed to take a long time to come out again. After I rounded the point I could see why – it was a long way into the cove. The cool thing, though, was that upon leaving the cove there was a dock where there was a very prominent map of the next part of the course. I think they did that because there was a small cove coming up that we actually don’t go into. I rounded the next point and went into the big cove, and rounded the buoy. Then it was along the shore direct to the next one. For a change you could actually see this buoy from the last one.

Approaching the buoy, the wind seemed to kick up right behind me. Which was great, until I made the turn and now had to parallel the shore beam on to them with reflected waves. Ugh.

After rounding that point, there was a choice of going between Osprey Island and Long Island, or going between Osprey Island and the shore. In the pre-race meeting they’d mentioned that it might be more shallow and weedy between the islands, and also from the map it looked like it would be easier to see the buoy coming on the shore side, so that’s the way I went. I ended up being able to see the buoy from a long way off, but it looked strange. For one thing, it was round, rather than flattened on the bottom like how something floating in the water would look. I was so confused by that that I actually stopped to consult the little paper map I’d taped to the cockpit of my boat.

I still wasn’t sure, but I decided to press on. I noticed a small power boat heading from what looked like the gap between the islands towards this strange “maybe a buoy, maybe not”. Then I noticed they were waving a small flag. I took that as a sign that they were stationed there to lead people to the buoy, so I continued towards the gold colored thing.
When I got closer, I could see that it was a buoy, but it was dangling from a diving board on a swim dock rather than fully in the water, which is why it had looked odd. There was also another map of the rest of the course on the dock.

The rest of the course wasn’t actually all that difficult navigationally, because all it was was around the last point then directly to the finish. The hard part was remembering what the building at the finish looked like. There were two kayaks at the point, and one of them yelled that I was supposed to head to “the pavilion”. Well, one of the buildings looked more pavilion-ey than the rest, so I headed that way. But here the small waves became a factor again, and once again they were almost beam on. But at least there was very little reflection off the far shore because it was sandy rather than rocky.

It was somewhere on this last straight-away that I realized my GPS was frozen up. Up until that point, I thought I’d just been maintaining a very steady speed and heart rate.

I was really glad to be finished. That’s a long hard race, and I finished about 4 minutes behind David and about 4 minutes ahead of the next C-4, so I was pretty lonely out there. But I like the course, and I like the variety, and I’ll definitely be back.

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