All posts by Paul Tomblin

Electric City Regatta 2017

Well, there’s a first time for everything, I guess. Normally I don’t do two races in two weekends, but I found out this race wasn’t too far away, and it’s a NYMCRA points race so it should be well attended. I’ve never done Electric City, but ever since I committed to doing it, I’ve had Eddie Grant’s “Electric Avenue” running through my head.

To save money, I decided to drive up in the morning. It’s a 3-hour drive, and the race starts at 10, so in order to get there in time to register and prepare, I ended up meeting Jim at a Tim Hortons at 5:45 in the morning. Because my wife is extremely understanding, she came with me to take my car home – the Tim Hortons only has about 5 parking spaces and I’m sure if they’d seen my car taking up one of the spaces all day long they would have towed it.

Somewhere along the way, we found ourselves following a van with a racing canoe on the roof rack. Old habits kicked in, and Jim tucked into his wake and followed him no matter how fast he went. About 15-20 miles from our exit, we caught up with Matt Skeels truck – very easy to spot because of the four Epic boats on the roof, including a black V10 GT with a tiny DK rudder. Jim let the canoe guy go and followed Matt instead. Which is great, because neither of us knew exactly where the parking lot was, but Matt did as he’d done it last year.

The actual venue was the Lock 9 Park on the Mohawk River. It’s part of the Erie Canal system, and there is dam crossing the river and a lock. It’s a big grassy area, lots of room to park and set up registration awnings and stuff. There’s also an unpaved boat ramp. Obviously, with the dam, there’s only one direction the race could go, upstream (and back). There was a small current but a fairly stiff breeze that was going to be in our faces on the way up. Garmin Connect says it’s a 5 km/hr wind from the north, but it felt more like 20 km/hr and straight down the river. The river bent to the left away from the start and out of sight.

We got registered and got our boats prepared, and sized up the competition a bit. Dave Wiltey was there, and I don’t think I’ve seen him since the 2010 Long Lake Long Boat Regatta and he’d beaten me pretty easily there.

Then I went to warm up. In between the put-in ramp and the lock, here was a row of low concrete blocks, each with a mooring bollard sticking out of the water. As I warmed up, I followed a C-2 that crossed in between the bollards without incident. But then as I circled around I attempted to cross it myself and discovered that there was another one of these bollards that was completely underwater. I saw the bollard and put on the brakes, and once I thought I was clear of hitting the bollard, I relaxed but hit the concrete platform that was supporting the bollard extremely hard. It made a horrendous noise and I could see white paint on the concrete corner. I was convinced I’d damaged my boat, possibly bad enough that it would fill with water and sink.

But there was no time to do anything about it, so I decided I had to put it out of my mind and just concentrate on the race.

The race started in three waves – C-1s first, C-2s second, then kayaks and C-4s. I went up to the start line and lined up on the left side of the river so I could be out of the current and out of the wind going around the first bend. Eric and Roger were both there. Jim, Matt, and Royal were a bit further out. I didn’t notice where Dave W lined up.

Immediately after the start siren went off, Eric leaped ahead of me. Roger had tried to grab his wake but left enough of a gap for me to slip in. Not long after, a C-4 came up with Dave W on their stern wake. Eric kept pace with them, but due to the way he was positioned, I’m not sure if he was getting any benefit from the wake, but I know I wasn’t – back where I was the wake was more like completely parallel to my boat. And then the C-4 started to pull ahead, so I quickly moved over to Dave’s wake – his wake wasn’t as good a ride as being straight on the C-4’s wake, but it was better than Eric’s because it was moving faster. Eric also saw which way things were going and dropped back onto my wake. Roger tried to get on Eric’s wake, but I don’t think he was successful.

On the way up, the C-4 was taking lines that were different from what I would have if I hadn’t been drafting them. Some examples of that were:

  • Threading the needle between C-2s and C-1s from the first and second waves.
  • Spending way too much time in the middle of the river experiencing the wind and current while crossing, instead of going smartly to the opposite bank.
  • Going through shallows – when this happened, their stern waves would shorten up and I’d have to come up half way beside Dave’s boat so I didn’t end up off of their wake when it got deep again.

Somewhere along the way, we lost Eric off our wake. At one point we picked up a C-2, but they didn’t last long. The C-4 didn’t seem to be trying to scrape us off because we weren’t interfering with them, although at one point the C-4 stern paddler turned and said something to Dave about our nice ride.

A medium sized power boat had come through in the other direction. Its wake hit us while we were snaking our way through several canoes, and everybody slowed down except me. Even Dave had to brace. Being in a surfski seemed like a distinct advantage, even though the occasional wave would splash into my cockpit and I’d have to open the drain a touch.

Nearing the turn, I could see Jim and Matt together. Jim appeared to be riding Matt’s wake – I found out afterward that Jim and Matt decided to just trade off leads as a training exercise. Not far behind them was Royal. He’s getting good very quickly.

At the turn, Dave slowed down and tried to take it very tight. The C-4 and I both took a wider route and kept paddling hard. I was just about on the C-4s wake, but when Dave came along to challenge me, I backed off and let him take it. I’m still not sure why I did that.

On the way down, the wind, now coming from behind, was kicking up small waves. This seemed to be giving Dave problems – he’d often end up at an angle to the direction of travel and then have to sprint back to the C-4s wake. I think his overstern rudder was letting him down in the small waves. I was thinking it was a distinct possibility that he was going to lose the C-4’s wake and I wanted to be ready to go around him if that happened.

But then a very large power boat came through in the other direction. I’d seen what a smaller boat wake had done to both the C-4 and Dave, so I was looking forward to this. This boat made a pretty large wake, and the C-4 turned into it. Dave turned directly into the wake rather than following them, and actually ended up having to brace. I sprinted ahead and grabbed the C-4’s wake. Awesome, now I had the good ride and Dave would have to settle for second best. Except, unfortunately, it didn’t last. Less than 40 seconds after I got on to their wake, they saw a crowd of boats all clustered around somebody who’d been knocked into the water by the power boat wake. I could see that the canoe was already being slid over somebody else’s canoe (a so-called “canoe over canoe rescue” that gets the upside down canoe out of the water and the water out of the canoe) and that one of the C-2s that was in the gaggle was already leaving, so obviously things were under control and I wasn’t needed. I decided to strike off on my own. I glanced back and it appeared that Dave was joining the gaggle, so I thought I was really on my own, but reviewing the backwards-facing camera footage I can see that Dave had second thoughts almost immediately and came right back to my wake.

I had no idea Dave was there, and I just was working my way up through the widely separated C-2s. I’d get up to one, take a drink and recover a bit, then blast past them and try to chase the next. Just about the time I got to the bridge where the 3-mile race course turned around, there were two C-2s close together but neither one was riding wakes. I couldn’t tell if one was faster than the other. I caught up to rear one’s stern wake and I was hanging out trying to recover for my next blast up to the next one. I was tiring, and these were getting harder to do. Suddenly I see Dave coming past and onto the wake of the leading C-2. Oh, that’s a surprise and not a nice one. I find myself back in the now familiar place, riding Dave’s stern wake. But the second C-2 either wants the first C-1s stern wake for themselves or they’re not very good at paddling in a straight line because several times they come in close enough to Dave that he has to stop paddling on that side. Each time that happens, Dave slows and I attempt to come through, but I don’t have the energy.

But now it’s less than a kilometer to the finish and I can see it straight ahead. Rather than paddle in this variable speed battle for the C-2’s wake, I decided to see if I can get any benefit from the now very strong tail wind and wind driven waves and strike out directly downwind. At first, it appeared to be working, as I ended up even with the C-2 while Dave was still on their stern wake, but then he put the hammer down and came around them and passed me. He ended up finishing 4 seconds ahead of me. Eric was a minute and eight seconds behind me, and Roger was a minute and four seconds behind him.

And after the race, obviously, the first thing to do was to get a good look at the damage to my boat from the pre-race bang. And it was bad. Not catastrophic leaking boat bad, but bad enough that cloth is exposed which means no paddling it until I can get it fixed. I hope it doesn’t cost $500 like the last time.

The second thing to do was to look to see if the lunch was worth the $5 they were asking for it. It was. Really good value, and really good food. A very well organized race, and a very well organized lunch afterward.

Armond Bassett 2017

The Armond Bassett (AB) race normally has two moods:

  • Hot and airless and humid or
  • Torrential downpours and lightning touching down less than a quarter mile away

Based on early weather forecasts, I thought we were going to get the second option this year. But instead AB decided to throw another option at us – it was mild temps, still pretty humid, but with a strange swirling breeze that delivered head winds and tail winds at completely random times on the course.

It was a big crowd this year – lots more kayaks than in past years. Other than Royal, the guy who’d ridden my wake for the first half of Round the Mountain this year and then demolished me in the second half, the top contenders were all local guys – Jim, Todd, John H. I knew I wasn’t going to be seeing a top 4 finish with those guys here.

My main goal was to beat Roger and Eric. Both of them paddle Epic 18Xs, but in spite of the slower boats, I’ve had my hands full with these two in the past. In last fall’s Long Lake I’m managed to drop Roger but Eric had ridden me off his wake. Roger and I have traded off beating each other in various races in the last couple of years, so he was the benchmark.

Because AB is so flat, I elected to paddle my V12. I’m not 100% sure I’m faster in it on the flat – I’m definitely slower in it in any sort of waves, but I think I have a small edge in these conditions.

Also, because of the humidity, I elected to not wear my PFD, which necessitated a change to my drinking system. With the PFD, I keep the water bag on my back, with the drinking hose snaked through the straps of the PFD and dangling on my chest where it is easy to grab it and stuff it in my mouth without losing more than one stroke. In my V10 Sport there is a perfect spot for the drinking bag ahead of the footplate in the cockpit, but it’s a very tight squeeze in the V12 cockpit because of this stupid ledge that Epic put in for no discernable reason. If I’d been thinking clearer, I’d have remembered that previous times I’ve paddled the V12 without wearing my PFD I’ve put the bag under the bungees on the back deck. I should have done that this time.

So when it was time to warm up, I started up my two GoPros. Nothing seemed amiss except the one on the front of the boat seemed a bit askew. After a few minutes warm-up, I discovered my drinking hose must be kinked because I wasn’t getting any water out of it. I stopped at the GRC dock and adjusted both the hose and the GoPro. However, the GoPro then decided to beep and announce it was missing an SD card. I have never forgotten the SD card before, so I assumed it was a glitch and power cycled it. No luck. So with no time to put it away somewhere, I left it on the front of the boat.

One aside – the GoPro Hero 5 Session that I wear on my head sometimes shuts off in the middle of a paddling workout for reasons I don’t understand. Hitting the record button on top starts it up, and it’s usually so quick I can easily cover up the glitch in the edit.

As I was lining up for the start, trying to make sure I was close to Eric, I heard the characteristic beeps of a GoPro shutting down. Thinking it was the one on my head, I quickly hit the record button on it. In retrospect, it was probably the one on the front of my boat deciding it had been on standby long enough and shutting down. So GoPro #1 shut down and I reacted by shutting down GoPro #2. That’s like the classic Cockpit Resource Management lesson about the airliner that crashed in the British Midlands because the pilot shut down the wrong engine when one was losing power. So there won’t be any video for this race. My adoring fans will just have to wait until the next race.

So anyway, the start siren went off and we launched from the line. We had the current and wind behind us, making for a fast first segment. Immediately Jim went off like a bullet, followed by John H and Royal. Todd wasn’t immediately up there but he came through pretty quickly. Eric got a good jump on me as I struggled for a few seconds in all the boat wakes, and Roger was right beside me. I put in a big pull to get up to Eric’s wake. I didn’t turn to look because of my lack of stability, but I assume Roger was now on my stern wake.

I wasn’t on Eric’s wake for long when he suddenly stopped to deal with his drink hose that was sort of falling out of his boat. I’m not sure if that was a ploy to get me to pull or a legit problem, but the upshot was that now I was pulling and Eric was on my side wake. I did a very quick glance and I could see somebody in a white boat on Eric’s stern wake, but I couldn’t tell you if it was Roger or Aaron (more about Aaron later). He stayed on my side wake for a while, but I suddenly felt like he was slipping back. I put in a dig and tried to scrape him on a canal buoy. It worked and he wasn’t on my side wake anymore. I don’t know if he was on my stern wake or not.

At the bottom turn buoy, I could spare a very short glance back and see there was more than Roger and Eric behind me. I couldn’t see who else was there, but there was one other boat right there, and several close enough to be considered a legitimate threat. I rounded the buoy and went for the wall, which is optimally shadowed from the current and the wind. And I immediately grabbed my drink hose and shoved it in my mouth and sucked, only to find nothing coming out! Dammit, kinked again! This is going to be a problem, I thought.

Half a kilometer from the turnaround there’s a point where you have to leave the shelter of the canal wall and move out because it gets shallow and weedy. That’s when I realized that instead of Roger or Eric, the occasional paddle banging noise I’d heard behind me since the turn was Aaron B, a local young sprint paddler. He was now up beside me on my side wake. Since he was obviously more stable in his ICF sprint boat than I was in my V12, I asked him how far back the others were. He said they were 5 meters behind. Well, 5 meters is better than nothing, so I kept grinding. I knew they could close 5 meters in no time if I tried any tricks to get Aaron to lead or tried to give another pull on my drink hose, and I didn’t want that. Better to tow Aaron than end up towing Eric and Roger.

For the entire way upstream, I was using every trick I could to get out of the wind and the current. I’d paddled the course a few times and I knew which tree branches you could duck under and which you had to go around, and I knew about one island you could sneak behind and the other one that wasn’t an island anymore. I also made use of the wakes of canoes we were passing to get a bit of a launch. But here’s the weird thing – when I used one of these tricks, Aaron would leave my stern wake and go paddle in the middle of the river, still keeping up with me. I got the distinct impression he was toying with me. And because he’s young and fit, I assumed it was only a matter of time before he got bored of that and blasted off ahead.

I was actually kind of counting on him blasting off ahead. By the second turn buoy, my cockpit had an annoying amount of water in it, but I didn’t want to kick open the venturi drain because of the extra drag. I figured he’d blast off after the turn, I would be able to assess where I was ahead of Roger and Eric, and see if I had time to deal with the venturi drain and maybe even make another attempt at getting something out of my drink bag. But he never did, so I never did.

The second turn buoy is the best place for assessing where you are in the race. I was a little surprised to see Todd coming downstream before Jim. After Jim, John H was very close to him, but Royal looked like he’d be well and truly distanced.

I had a pretty substantial gap on Eric and Roger, who were still together. Not very far behind them was Dennis, a local triathlete who started paddling with us last year and who is making rapid progress to becoming a fast paddler. Further back was a clump of paddlers that contained Jim P, Steve B, Mike F and Mark, another local triathlete who is making the transition to paddling. It was kind of weird to see Jim leading because he put a heavy weight belt into the bottom of his boat to give himself more stability. His boat must have weighed 1.5 times as much as the Ultra layup boats of Mike and Steve. Steve B called something to his son Aaron – I think he was asking if Aaron was feeling ok, and Aaron said he was fine. So suspicion confirmed – he wasn’t having a bad day, he was toying with me.

Ok, I thought, he’s going to outsprint me. Big deal, that’s his specialty. He can probably hit 15 km/hr in a sprint, whereas I’d be lucky to hit 12 km/hr for more than a few seconds. But I kept grinding away because I knew if I didn’t, Eric was going to grind right back up to me. Aaron would be on my stern, then out a boat length or more off to my side, then he’d be back on my stern. I really had no idea where anybody else was – I couldn’t see the kayakers ahead of me through the forest of canoes, and I couldn’t hear or see anybody behind me except Aaron.

At all the landmarks where I knew how far to the finish, I expected Aaron to sprint past me. Under the 490 bridge, 600 meters to go, no Aaron. I tried to raise my speed as much as I could. Under the pedestrian bridge, 300 meters to go, still no Aaron. Ok, this is weird. He should be able to pass me in his sleep. But he didn’t. As I crossed the line, they called out our finish times, and I was a few seconds ahead. So he didn’t even pull up even. By the time I got to the dock, I could see Eric and Roger had finished not very far behind me. But the important thing was they were behind me. I think I heard somewhere that Roger actually passed Eric, but I’m not sure about that.

In terms of actual time and speed, this was actually my slowest AB since 2010. That’s a little worrisome, but I think the stronger than usual current and wind slowed me down a tad. Thanks to Royal and John H still being youngsters, I ended up finishing 3rd in my age group. I’ll take that.

The Great Loop

My brother and I were together to celebrate our dad’s 85th birthday. We don’t get to see each other that much so it was great to catch up. But he confessed that he had one great ambition – to buy a boat and spend a year doing “The Great Loop“, and then sell the boat when he’s finished. And he says he’d have room on the boat for me if I wanted to join him for some of it.

The Great Loop is a circular path that encompasses the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, the Intracoastal Waterway, and various things that join those great waterways. And after he described it to me, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. I would love to do the whole thing. Not only would this be an amazing opportunity to see some amazing parts of the US and Canada, but it would be a chance to connect with my brother and heal some very old wounds.

The website linked above says it’s about 6,000 miles (although they give a whole bunch of different options – like whether you do the Erie Canal or the St. Lawrence, or go through Lake Ontario and Erie or take the Trent-Severn through to Lake Huron) and taking a year to do it makes for a very leisurely 16 miles per day average, or more likely a lot of exploration days and waiting for the good weather and some more ambitious days.

He has been thinking about it for a while, and he knows exactly what boat he wants. He’s looking for a sailboat, preferably a Morgan Out Island, between 33 feet and 41 feet long. They’ll be able to cruise under sail or power. He assures me it will have two bedrooms, have enough electric power to run a laptop and other stuff, and will have a shower. I suppose there are also other things to look for like fridges and stoves and navigation equipment. I’ll let Dave worry about that.

I’m not sure it would have room to put a V10 Sport on it so I could paddle for an hour or two every day. But because it’s almost all on rivers or the Intracoastal, it would probably be in range of cell towers most of the time, so I could probably work. If only I can get another remote job, I could work and keep paying the bills at home. Vicki isn’t interested in going the whole way, but she might be willing to spend a week or two with us on the Mississippi part – maybe Karen and Vicki could come at the same time for those parts. It would be sad to be apart that long. But what an opportunity!

I feel like a lot would depend on my next job and how flexible it is, whether I’d have to log in every day or pull code and work on it off-line, etc. Plus I don’t see being able to afford anything until the mortgage is paid off in October 2018.

I have a mental picture of us sailing down the Mississippi, on a sunny day sitting on the deck typing away on a laptop and just taking life as it comes in a mix of high tech work and low-tech travel. I’m stoked for this and hope I can make it happen.

Orcas getting their own back

So I just saw this news story: “Gangs of aggressive killer whales are shaking down Alaska fishing boats for their fish: report” and I had to write about a similar experience.

I don’t know if I’ve written about it before, but after I graduated from University of Waterloo in 1985, I got a VIA Rail Youthrail Pass (30 days unlimited train travel on VIA Rail) and decided to see Canada. I ended up visiting my brother out on Vancouver Island, where he “worked” on the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental and Test Ranges. His job was to man what was probably the smallest vessel in the Canadian Navy, a 2 person patrol boat. It was also probably the only vessel in the Canadian Navy equipped with a downrigger and a recreational fishfinder. Officially, I think his job was to look after the engines, but the other guy assigned to the boat didn’t seem to mind letting Dave drive or do anything he wanted to do. Including bringing his little brother for a day out on the range.

The reason I wanted to go out on the range is because of that downrigger and fishfinder. The offical duties of the boat didn’t take up much of the day, so the rest of the time they’re trolling for salmon. And being very successful at it, I might add. We ended up with enough to give the base commander a few salmon to thank him for letting me come, grilled salmon for dinner that night, and smoked salmon for later – I took some on the train going home later and it sure made up for how bad train food was.

So at one point during the day, I was reeling in a salmon when the line when “PING” and snapped. Dave said “You didn’t keep the tip up”, and I was just about the argue the point when a whole pod of orcas surfaced all around the boat, moving fast. Obviously one of them had stolen my salmon. But that was just an appetizer for them – off on the horizon where they were heading so fast, we could see a fishing boat trying desperately to back off their purse sein. They could see the orcas coming and wanted to open the purse before the orcas got into it and tore their nets up. We could soon see the orcas jumping out of the water in his nets. Poor guy probably lost his catch and thousands of dollars in nets, but man it looked cool to watch.

Maybe it’s time to shut it down…

I wrote earlier about using my navaid.com website as an excuse to practice some new skills, rewriting the UI to use react.js and just generally making it look better and more responsive. One thing I haven’t had time to do yet is redo the backend. I was going to use that as an excuse to learn Flask or Pyramid.

Except today I read a news report about a plane that crashed because the idiot pilot relied on a waypoint on his GPS instead of following the regulations and actually checking “all available information” about his place of intended landing. In the news report, Garmin said that the place he was planning to land wasn’t in their database. And I checked and sure enough, it’s in my database as an Ultralight park. Now the thing about microlights/ultralight parks is that they can be anything from a short paved strip to a cow pasture that a farmer sometimes allows ultralights to land in. They’re also not listed in the official AIP (Aeronautical Information Publication). Not the sort of thing a prudent pilot would land without doing due research first, including phoning the owner and finding out the landing conditions.

But even if it’s 100% clear the pilot was at fault and didn’t do his legally required flight planning, I had a bit of a panic at the thought that he might have loaded the data from my navaid.com site into his GPS (it’s not that difficult with a handheld GPS, damn near impossible with a panel mounted certified GPS).

Meanwhile, I’ve basically been keeping this site going out of a sense of duty. I don’t fly any more, and the programs I originally did this to support were for the Palm Pilot so nobody uses them. I used to get donations, but I don’t any more. I haven’t received any feedback in years. I’ve been doing this for 20 or more years. Maybe it’s time to retire it?