Yesterday was the Baycreek Cup, hosted by Baycreek Paddle Center. The race is out and back on Irondequoit Bay, however as a concession to the shallow “suck water” and weeds in the channel leading from Irondequoit Creek and the bay, the start was moved out to the channel leading out of the marina at the foot of the bay. It still finishes at Baycreek in the creek, so it’s important to keep some energy in reserve to power through that last 800 meters. Fortunately the race is only 12 and a bit kilometers, so that’s not too difficult.
It’s nice having a race in your own back yard, because you can practice the course over and over again. The first couple of times I paddled it, I was really concerned about the channel because about 500 meters of it was so weedy that I got stopped dead and could only move forward by shuffling my weight. Some of the paddle boarders nearly got knocked off their boards, such was the sudden stop when you hit this stuff. Fortunately the race organizer, Ken, arranged to drive a rented power boat up and down the channel until they’d chopped a path through the weeds. I’m sure the boat rental agency weren’t thrilled with that, but it made this way better for us. The path was only a boat wide, though, so it would be important to be in the lead of any group you were in when you hit it because there wouldn’t be any passing, and who ever hit the open water after it could really put the hammer down and drop people.
In our practices, Dennis was constantly dogging my steps, either side by side with me or riding my wake. I knew I’d really have to be on my toes to not let him get the better of me. I was figuring worst case he’d ride my wake for until near the end and then sprint around me to grab the channel first, and best case we’d trade off leads all the way around and then it would be a matter of timing and sprint power at the end. After our practices, I thought beating 70 minutes would be an attainable goal, especially if I could cooperate with Dennis.
Race day turned out to be windy. Standing at Baycreek getting ready, the flags were indicating a very strong wind directly up the length of the bay, meaning a fast first half and a horrible slog coming back. It was also predicted that above the bridge the waves would probably be pretty rough at the turn around. I liked the idea of a fast first half, wasn’t too thrilled about the turn around or the slog back. But when we paddled out to the start, the flags out there were indicating a wind directly across the bay. The waves were still pretty much heading north, but the wind was pretty much west to east, making me think the wind hadn’t shifted that long ago and maybe they’d turn completely around during the race. Ok, that would make things tricker, and maybe easier if they turned into a tail wind for the trip home. Not that the bay ever does that – it’s far more likely to give you a headwind in both directions in my experience.
As we’re milling around at the start, everybody helped each other checking their rudders for weeds picked up coming out through the channel and such. Jim wanted to dock up with me to get stability to mess with his GPS, and he was still fiddling with it when Ken gave us the 10 seconds to start notification. We quickly extricated ourselves from each other and got ready to go.
Jim leapt off the line like he usually does, and continued straight up the channel. I, on the other hand, headed more out into the bay, hoping to pick up more of that tail wind that I was hoping was still out there. We’ve discussed this difference in route in practice sessions, and Jim’s route is definitely better if there is a head wind because he stays in the wind shadow from the point, and also he stays in deeper water so less drag (or “suck” as we usually refer to it). But my way is more direct, and like I said, I was hoping there might be remnants of the tail wind and/or waves from behind more towards the middle of the bay. It didn’t really work out that way, and not long after the start the waves were definitely from the beam, although pretty small.
I risked a couple of glances around and I could see Dennis and Mark had opted to follow Jim up the channel, and the first time I spotted them they seemed about even with me. That was concerning, especially if they worked together. I increased my stroke rate and tried to make some more progress against the unfavourable winds and waves. Sometimes it seemed like the waves were coming from in front, and sometimes from the side, but the wind was mostly from the side, and I was certainly slower than I’d been in practice.
Nearing the first point, I took another glance around and saw Dennis and Mark were out of the channel and heading straight towards me, although a few boat lengths behind. I was still convinced it was a matter of time before they caught me, so I tried to speed up even more, pacing be damned. At the point, one of the race safety kayaks was there and I gave them as good a nod and a hello as I could manage.
Under the bridge I went, and the waves got noticeably choppier. But they were still coming from the side, which for reasons I can’t entirely explain made turning at the turn-around marker much easier than if they’d been from behind. I took the turn pretty wide to keep my speed and stability up, and was amazed to see Dennis was now a fair distance behind and Mark was even further behind. Maybe the chop was bothering them more than it bothered me. I guess I could afford to slow down a smidge and recover, but I was still aware that Dennis is far fitter than I am and could catch up at any time if I were to blow up or slack off.
I noticed that after the turn, Jim had headed over to the upwind side of the bay. I guessed he was hoping to get out of the wind. I considered it, but it seemed like it would add a bit of distance to the race, and also the shoreline on that side is quite irregular so it would be hard to stay out of the wind without going into and out of all the little embayments. He told me afterwards that while he was hoping to get out of the wind, his secondary goal was to find a boat coming out of one of the many marinas on that side and ride their wake.
I tried looking around for Dennis a few times on the way down and couldn’t see him. I couldn’t understand, I was sure that meant either he’d dumped it out there and was miles behind, or he was right on my stern wash and I couldn’t see him because I wasn’t turning all the way around. I found out afterwards he’d followed Jim’s strategy, figuring he didn’t have anything to lose and he might get an advantage over me. It seems to have only added 150 meters or so to his distance compared to mine, so maybe it was worth it? I guess we’ll never know for sure.
But in my uncertainty, I had to be extra vigilant to make sure I didn’t let my speed drop. I bobbled a couple of boat wakes and had to stop paddling once or twice to brace, and I was sure I was setting myself up to get caught. But every time I did I’d look down at my GPS, concentrate on getting a good snap of the blade out of the water, and watch my speed increase by 0.3 to 0.5 km/hr.
After the bridge, it was less rough in the southern bay but the wind was still being a pain. It was either straight in my face or off to the right, and quite gusty. And the boat wakes were more numerous. I only saw boats heading north, so I guess that’s why Jim didn’t get those boat wakes to ride.
Also in the south bay I was starting to pass the stragglers of the paddle board race. One of them was ahead of me and only a few hundred meters from the entrance to the weed channel, so I put on another major effort to get ahead of him. The last thing I would have wanted was to get stuck behind a paddle board going 2 km/hr slower in the channel and allow Dennis to catch up. But after I passed him I could relax a bit and recover knowing that nobody was going to pass me until the other end of the weeds. And once I got there, I put in one last sprint under the road and across the line at the shop.
Afterwards, all there was to do was to wait for Dennis and Mark. I don’t have the official times here, but I think I was about a minute and a half ahead of Dennis and maybe another minute to Mark? Both Jim and I missed our goals by 2 minutes, which I guess is the rough water and unfavorable winds factor. Still, a fun tune-up race for next week’s Long Lake, great atmosphere, good food, and the band that Ken hires every time are still as delightfully bad as they always are.