There was a canoe/kayak race yesterday – 23 July 2017. It wasn’t highly publicized, it isn’t a NYMCRA points race, it was very short, I had raced both previous weekends, and very few people I knew were going. But on the other hand, it was close and it is a rehearsal for next year’s USCA Championships. Oh, and the other drawback is that I put a big gouge in my V10 Sport so I’d have to use my V12 – fortunately, the race was on a river. So I decided to go.
When we arrived, the venue was huge – vendor areas, parking marshals, signs everywhere. I’ve rarely seen a race organized like this – but basically, our race was tacked onto the end of a big rowing regatta the previous day, and most of this stuff was there for the regatta. I kind of feel bad for the people who were manning these beer gardens and food booths with more people serving than were competing in the race. Mike and I registered, and there were a couple of touring class boats and Scott S was registered. There was a guy with a Stellar SR in the parking lot – I think I remember him from the Seneca Monster race last year where he finished behind me even though I was having a terrible day. Hey, I was thinking, maybe I’ll actually win. Then Brian Mac showed up with Royal’s V12 on his boat rack. Oh well, there goes first place.
By race time, the field still hadn’t filled in – just 5 of us in Unlimited Kayak, and 2 in rec kayak and 2-3 in touring kayak. I didn’t count how many canoes, but it wasn’t many. There appeared to be almost as many SUPs as anything else. Mike said something about how it would probably be Royal, then me, then him. I secretly agreed but thought he probably shouldn’t have said that out loud in front of the other competitors.
The race organizer was used to doing rowing regattas, so Brian Mac was helping him with logistics. They had moved the start/finish line out into the lake “so the spectators could see that something was going on”. I seriously doubt anybody except the competitors noticed. They also went down to 2 start waves – everybody except unlimited kayak, and then us.
The tiny little waves on the lake were screwing with my balance. I guess I didn’t warm up enough to get really comfortable with the V12 – I really need at least 2 kilometers before I feel less twitchy in it. You can see my body twitching on the video, even though I had one foot in the water until seconds before the start to increase my balance.
At the start, I was still having problems putting down power. By the time we hit the entrance to the channel, I was in last place. A few seconds later, I started to pass Mike as he was passing Scott, so things were almost as expected, but that guy in the SR had taken a very short line to the channel and put on such a sprint that he was briefly level with Royal. He was still pretty far ahead. It actually took me until the 1-kilometer mark until I came up level with him. I was going to say “nice start” or something, but I just didn’t have the breath. But once I got ahead of him, I was pretty much alone for the rest of the race.
Just an aside – the course is kind of “Y-shaped”, except there is an island smack dab in the middle of the place the legs of the “Y” join. So you paddle up one arm (the channel) to the island, go 1/3rd of the way around the island, up the next arm to a turn buoy, come back to the island, go the second 1/3rd of the way around the island and up another arm to a turn buoy, back to the island and last 1/3rd of the way around the island, and back up the first arm to the start/finish. There are three bridges across the first channel and the USCA champs will start at the second bridge, and do the “Y” twice.
Just after I passed the SR guy I was approaching the third bridge in the channel. Royal had warned me before the race that there was a big mat of weeds on the right side under the bridge, so to keep left. I could see he was quite far left, and I did the same. Afterward, I found out that this had confused Mike because he knew we had to head right as soon as we went under the bridge. The turns around the island weren’t sharp enough that I could look back and see where everybody was. I could still see Royal up ahead working his way through the kayaks, canoes, and SUPs of the first wave. He seemed to have moved all the way to the right bank even though there was no reason to – we had about a kilometer per hour of current behind us, and staying in the middle was the fastest way. I was basically was on a straight line to the turn buoy, except for having to move right because of two on-coming canoes who had already rounded the buoy. Royal rounded the buoy almost exactly a minute ahead of me. Don’t know why I took note of that because I knew that there was no way I was catching him.
Just as I’m getting to the buoy, I’m also passing the slowest rec kayaker of the first wave. He was heading directly to the buoy, as I was swinging out to round it at speed. But I remembered what Mike had said on the start line: “Make sure you don’t get t-boned”. He was referring to the fact that the other paddlers were taking a different line to the channel outlet than us at the time, but I suddenly realized this rec kayaker was going to run right up to the buoy and then try to pivot around it. So I make sure I rounded the buoy about a boat length away from it.
After the turn, I could see Mike was in third position, with the SR guy not far behind him, and Scott behind them. I started working my way up through the first wave paddlers. Even though the breeze was not behind us, I could definitely feel like I was going upstream. Speeds were dropped off, even when I started searching out the banks to get out of the current. A couple of places there were distinct current shadows that were completely filled with water lilies, so they were out.
One of the signs that this was organized like a much bigger event was that there were marshals at every decision point (every time you got to a “Y” junction at the island, and at the turn buoys) pointing out which way to go. Not that I needed them, but it was a good sign. Especially if we’re going to be doing this course twice next year – it’s easy to make mistakes when you’re 18 kilometers into a 20-kilometer course.
Approaching the second turn buoy, I passed a C-2 that looked beamier than some of the racing C-2s I’m used to seeing that was putting out a really nice wake. I tried to tuck into it and grab a drink, then blasted ahead. I could see the boats coming back from the buoy, and I could see that ahead of me were Royal, a guy in a pristine West Side Boat Shop EFT, and a C-1 paddled by a person I recognized but whose name I don’t know. After the turn, I could see that Mike was still comfortably in third, and Scott had passed the SR paddler and had a good long gap on him.
It didn’t take me long after the buoy to pass the C-1, and I set my sights on the EFT as a possibility. I lost sight of him in the turns but once I got into the channel I could see him dangling ahead of me like a carrot. I put on as much speed as I had left, and I think I was closing the gap, but there just wasn’t enough time. I think he finished about 30-40 seconds ahead of me.
Looking back, Mike finished in third not far behind me, and Scott seemed like he must have slacked off because the SR had nearly caught him. So pretty much like Mike had predicted at the beginning.