I’d say the day dawned bright and early, but Mike and I actually hit the road before dawn so it was not bright but it sure was early. After driving behind what I thought were the slowest drivers in the Adirondaks (at least until the drive home) we arrived around 9:30 in plenty of time to register and prepare.
There was a strong breeze, and Mike decided to switch from his cut down rudder to a normal weedless. I stuck with my new 5″ DK rudder, which is a bit smaller than an Epic stock weedless, but still gives me pretty good control. The wind actually picked up by race time and gave us a ton of challenging wind and wave conditions from every direction, but I never wished for more rudder control.
There was a stronger field this year than last. There were the guys who I knew I had no chance against, like Jan W and Eric and Ed Joy. There was Jim Fredricks and his wife JoAnn, who last year only did the 7 mile race but this year he was saying that he’d “probably” do the 14 miler – in this race you’re allowed to decide which one you’re going to do at the first buoy turn. Eileen Visser was here, as well as her son Scott. And a whole load of our Rochester paddling group, including Dennis Moriarty and Mark Ressig, both of whom have beaten me the last time we raced each other. Roger Gocking and Jim Phillips were in Roger’s V8 Double.
Of course, being racers we had to have the traditional pre-race “airing of the excuses”. Eric claimed he’d just gotten over some sort of stomach bug, and Jan said he had only paddled twice since the Tupper Lake race. We declared Eric the winner of the excuse contest. Turns out later that he actually hadn’t been exaggerating.
Off the start, I was resolved to not make my usual mistake of leading a pack and then getting beaten by them. So I was sort of on Jim F’s side wake and Mike was beside me. Eric must have had a slow start because he came chugging through on the other side of Mike. Jim was a little anxious to get on Eric’s wake and basically was pushing me into Mike until I thought “why am I doing this” and decided to hold my line. Jim ended up tapping me, but that’s racing. Then he was ahead, and I kind of crowding Mike out of his stern wake. Looking back I could see Dennis and Mark and a few others on Mike’s wake.
We were somewhere near the buoy where the 7 mile racers turn off when Eileen came chugging up along side me. She wasn’t looking for anybody’s wake to ride, but it looked like a lot of Mike’s train was now on her. We pretty much stayed like that, with Jim leading one train with me right behind, and Eileen leading another train. The first river was a bit narrow but nobody really got in each other’s way. Then we came out into Eagle Lake.
We had quite a headwind by now and the waves were making it hard to keep station on Jim’s stern wake. I tapped his stern exactly once, which I thought was pretty good boat handling on my part considering I’d been on his stern for 4 kilometers, but he didn’t like it and yelled at me. As we went into the second river, I ended up side by side with Eileen and we were trying to not interfere with each other or with Jim but it was a tight squeeze and we couldn’t be 100% non-interfering without just conceding the whole race and going into single file.
On the next lake, the wind seemed even stronger. Jim grabbed his drink hose and I noticed his hand shaking a bit and his boat twitching, and I thought “hey, maybe he doesn’t like being in the waves or maybe he doesn’t like being in a pack in the waves, either way I’ve got to take advantage of that”. If either of those is true, it’s no wonder he didn’t like me tapping his stern earlier. Or maybe it was a ploy – earlier he’d tried a few ploys to make me take the lead or to drop me but I saw them coming a mile away. Just one of the many advantages of training in a big group like we do here in Rochester.
I surged ahead, hoping I could drop him. Eileen came with me and we ended up side by side going into the wind. Eileen remarked how this is just the most beautiful race, and I can’t say I disagree. We didn’t drop Jim, although we had dropped a lot of our respective trains at this point. Jim seemed like he wasn’t sure which of us to follow as I saw him switch from my stern to Eileen’s a few times.
Approaching the turn buoy, I could see that the people ahead had gone clockwise. Since I thought we had a gap, I suggested to Eileen that we go counter clockwise instead, because it would mean that we’d exit the turn with a good strong wind behind us. But just as we start the turn we see Jim and JoAnn and a couple of others just a half a boat length back and bound and determined to go around clockwise and yelling at us to widen our turn so they could turn inside us. While the map at the captain’s meeting didn’t indicate a preferred turn direction at this buoy, and last year we turned it counter clockwise, the map on the race website does show a clockwise turn so they were probably within their rights to demand we accommodate them, and we did. But turning into the wind did help, and we opened up a good gap.
On the downwind, our speeds went up from around 9 km/hr to around 11 km/hr. I was hoping we’d pick up more but the waves were only moving about 9 km/hr and we had to punch through them rather than ride them. Eileen stopped to eat something, so now I was alone for a minute or two until Jim caught back up and passed me. I tried to stay with him, but couldn’t. He had maybe a two boat length gap heading into the first river but he kept pulling away. And as we headed into Blue Mountain Lake, JoAnn came through and passed me and caught him – I’d actually expected Eileen rather than JoAnn. They then proceeded to work with each other and increase their lead on me for the rest of the race.
As we proceeded around the lake, each buoy turn gave you an opportunity to see who was behind you and how far back they are. They also launch you into a new direction with respect to the wind and new conditions of wind and wave. Sometimes it was surprising because you’d think based on the previous leg that you’d end up with a beam sea for the next leg, but the wind would be channeled around an island or the waves would refract between two islands and you’d find yourself with a good following sea or at least a not very adverse angle.
At the first couple of buoy turns, I could see that I had a really good gap on Eileen and Dennis, that Mike and Mark were well off the pace, and Bob Raymonda had moved himself nearly into contention with Dennis. And then as the race went on, my gap over Eileen and Dennis shrunk a bit but not enough to worry about.
But then the last couple of legs had quite adverse beam waves and reflected waves off the shore and all manner of challenges, and I was foundering a bit, having to brace once or twice on some of the turns and missing strokes. But I was still amazingly surprised on the last leg into the finish when Eileen passed me, and I glanced over and saw Dennis almost there as well. Suddenly I was no longer thinking about the waves and balance, and only thinking about catching Eileen back up and keeping ahead of Dennis. And you know what? I felt much more stable then than I had before. I didn’t catch her, but I don’t think I was more than a boat length behind. (I think the official result has me 39 second back, which I don’t think is accurate.) Looking at my rear facing video camera, it looks like Dennis was at least 5-10 seconds behind me, although officially he was given a time 2 seconds back. Oh well, as long as the positions are right, right?