Madrid Canoe Regatta, Day 1

Today is day 1 of the Madrid Canoe Regatta. I’ve never done this race before, but it’s a NYMCRA kayak points race so I thought I’d give it a go. It’s two days, and I don’t think I’ve ever raced two days in a row in kayaking – although I used to think nothing of it when it was orienteering, or cross country skiing. The first day is only 9 miles and the second day is 13 – the entire difference being how far down stream they place the first turn buoy. Each day starts below the damn, and goes downstream for 5km (today) or 8km (tomorrow), comes back upstream, portages around the dam, and goes upstream for 2.5 km around an island and comes back and finishes just above the dam.

There is on-site camping in the same park where the finish is, so basically my tent overlooks the finish line. There are lots of canoers camped here, but not many kayakers. Oh, did I mention that I bought a tent and air mattress to save money on accommodation. Unfortunately that means that I’m over here at the one power plug in the park charging up my GoPros and batteries for tomorrow.

Also to save money, and to hopefully make sure I don’t fall asleep when driving home after the big race on Sunday, I travelled up here with Jim. Unfortunately both of us suffered from an excess of caution on the timing which meant leaving his house at 5:00 am, which meant getting up at 4:15, which meant obsessively checking my watch from about 3:15 on. So I’d be pretty tired right now even if I hadn’t raced. We arrived at 9:00 am for a 11:30 start, which meant I had time to pitch the tent and get everything set up before hand, which is good because I’m not sure I’d have the energy to do it now. And I got a good spot for my tent, right near the bullfrogs.

The start

The pro c-1 canoes started first, followed by the rest of c-1, then the c-2s then all kayaks. It was a very small field of kayaks. Jim and Matt were in a k-2, Royal was obviously going to be fastest in k-1, Eric was going to continue to destroy me, so about the only question mark in my mind was a guy in an ICF sprint boat. I didn’t know him so he could be up there with Royal or back with the two older slower people I’d already discounted as serious competition.

The starter gave us absolutely no count down or warning. He did the usual “paddle wave” to make sure everybody was there, and then we were off! Nobody had even pulled forward to the line.

At first everything seemed in order – Royal kept up with the k-2 for a few minutes, Eric was pulling away and the sprint boat was behind me. But then the sprint boat guy found his form or something and he went charging past me. I dropped into his stern wake and it looked like he was going to pull me up to Eric, but then sanity prevailed and I dropped off his wake rather than blowing up early. He caught Eric but then instead of tucking into his wake he veered off and they were paddling side by side. Which was bizarre because there was a bit of a headwind for parts of the way down and one of them could have gotten a good reduction in effort by tucking in behind.

The early going

Even though we were going down river, there didn’t seem to be much current. The breeze seemed far more important. I tried to avoid going too tight into the corners because it was shallow and weedy in there. After not too long I was passing some of the slower canoes. So at least I wasn’t lonely. I could see Eric and the other guy far up ahead, still bizarrely side by side although it looked like the other guy might be dropping off a bit. Royal and the k-2 were rarely glimpsed way up ahead when the river was straight, but mostly it was too twisty to see much.

The first turn

Nearly a kilometer and a half from the turn, I saw the first of the C-1s. I counted them, thinking that this might be useful information for Jim and Matt. When I saw them, I called out that there were 8 C-1s ahead of them. I found out afterwards that they hadn’t heard me, so that was a waste of time. But I could also see the sprint boat guy was starting to throw out the occasional brace. I don’t know if he was just tired or didn’t like the wakes coming off the C-2s coming in the opposite direction (although we’d all had to pick our way through clumps of C-2s heading in the same direction by then, and the slower C-2s are often heavier and put out more wake). And then he fell in. He was swimming the boat to shore by the time I caught up with him and I did the neighborly thing and asked if he was all right and if he needed help, and breathed an audible exclamation of relief when he said he didn’t.

After the turn, I got my first glimpse of the “older slower people”, and they weren’t all that far behind. I was going to have to keep pushing if I didn’t want to get caught.

The uphill battle

The way upstream wasn’t much worse than the way down, except without the breeze it was hotter. I was passing more canoes and they were going in tight in the corners. They put out some pretty good wakes if they’re inside and you can find a compromise position not so close in as to die in the suck water but not so far you can’t use their wakes. I was trying not to interfere with canoe on canoe action but still take advantage of their wakes, but much of the time it was just as fast if not faster to be out in the deeper water in the middle of the river.

The portage

I knew the portage was going to suck. It was on grassy parkland and paved paths, and my paddle shoes have no padding and no support. Plus the whole reason I got into paddling was because I couldn’t run or ski any more. I got passed by three boats on the portage, but managed to pass one. The one I passed was a guy with only one leg who was dragging his canoe on a rope around his body. He wasn’t very fast but full marks for being up there. I also knocked my head camera askew – it looks like the last 5 km are just a view of my legs. The whole experience was very painful and I couldn’t wait to get back in the water. Except I messed up my drink hose and had to stop paddling to untangle the mess and get that working again. It was too hot to do the last 5 km without water.

On the way up and back

I was still counting C-1s for Matt and Jim, although this was made slightly more difficult in that there were some recreational paddlers around. Although it really isn’t that hard to tell the difference between a C-1 Pro and somebody in the 3 mile recreational race. But some of them required some dodging. Matt and Jim came by with just one C-1 Pro left ahead of them. They ended up not catching him.

The turn around at the top of the course was an island. It was very shallow and weedy around that and it was pretty painful. The disadvantage of a loop around an island is that when you’re coming back down, you might not get to see your rivals because they’re the other side of the island from you. I never saw the two I’d dismissed before the race, so I knew they were close, and I just caught a glimpse of the guy in the sprint boat before he disappeared behind it. That made me feel like at least I still had some cushion on him.

I managed to catch and pass all three of the boats who had passed me on the portage, but I know I lost a lot of time to everybody on the land portion.


As expected, the K-2 was the fastest boat on the course, Royal was second fastest boat in his v12. For some reason Royal was registered in touring class, which meant Eric was second in touring class and 4th fastest overall. I won unlimited class. The man and woman I’d dismissed as old and slow were 51 seconds and 2:52 behind me respectively, which means I should pay more attention to them tomorrow. The sprint boat guy was almost 4 minutes behind. I wonder how much of that was from that one dump, or if he continued to struggle with his balance.

Tomorrow is another day, and a longer one. I’m hoping I left enough in the tank.

Tupper Lake 8 Miler

Today was the Tupper Lake 8 Miler canoe/kayak race. This race has had many iterations. Before I started paddling, it was evidently called the Tupper Lake 11 Miler, because it was 9 miles long. When it was my first Adirondak race, it was called the Tupper Lake 9 Miler because it was only 7 miles long. In those days it was all downriver, starting at “The Crusher” (which is a boat access on the Raquette River) and finishing at the Tupper Lake Rod and Gun Club. Now, it’s called the Tupper Lake 8 Miler, and in a break with tradition it’s actually 8 miles long. It starts at the Rod and Gun, goes up the river to an oxbow, around the oxbow, and back down the river. This means there is actually a fork in the river and Roger, the organizer, makes sure there is a safety boat and a buoy so you don’t get lost.

I haven’t done the race in a number of years because it’s the same weekend as the “Surfski Immersion Weekend” that I’ve been to a number of times. Last year I didn’t go because it was right after we got home from our cruise.

The field

There were a fair number of boats here. But to me, they broke down into the “too fast to care about” category, and the “too slow to care about category”. The middle ground was occupied by Scott Visser, a 15 year old kid in the same type of boat as me who rode my stern wake at Round the Mountain and who only finished behind me because he didn’t do well remounting after the portage. No portage this time, so I knew I’d have to think of something else. Eric Young was probably still out of reach, but I held out a sliver of hope of finishing within sight of him. Mike Finear was making his return to paddle racing after a winter that was even worse than mine, and I was hoping he’d do well but not over tax himself. I didn’t expect him to finish near me.

The warm up and start

During the warm up, there were some moderate waves coming directly from the direction we’d be starting in. Mike and I were both hoping that they’d build during the race and give us a nice ride to the finish. Waves really help separate out the inexperienced from the experienced and they’d be a big advantage if I came to the lake with young Scott on my tail.

At the appointed time I got to the start line. My bailer leaks terribly so I try to time it so I don’t have to sit there too long with it leaking and my boat filling up with water. Unfortunately Roger decided to delay the start by several minutes because of two late arrivals so by the time we were ready my cockpit was completely full. That means the first paddle stroke would dump a load of cold water in my crotch, which is not pleasant. Also, he said “in thirty seconds I’ll start the count down”, and the next word out of his mount was “GO”, so I had to hit start on my GPS while everybody else was paddling. I’ve always got a slow start, but that didn’t help.

And we’re off

My start was slow, so I was behind Mike Finear and Jim Phillips and just about everybody else. I don’t recall if Scott started slow or what, but I soon found myself coming up to Mike’s stern wake with Scott on my side wake. Mike had tucked into the wake of this guy in a Lake Placid boat who is astonishingly fast in it. Lake Placid boats are canoes, but they’re almost always paddled with a kayak paddle, and people will insist that they’re actually open top kayaks. Which I guess is why this guy was starting with us rather than with the canoes. But even though he’s very fast in it, it’s still a canoe and it’s not as fast as a real kayak. So it puts out a good wake and I was thinking that would be a good place for Mike to spend the whole race if he’s up to it. I took a few breaths and then blasted up through both Mike’s and the Lake Placid boat’s side wakes, and turned up into the river.

Scott was latched firmly onto my stern wake. We were starting to catch up to the canoes of the first start wave, but otherwise Eric was tantalizingly close up ahead and the really fast guys were rapidly disappearing out of sight.

The grind

The river is quite winding, which is one of the things that made it so much fun when it was downriver. But going up river you wanted to get into the insides of the corners, but not so far inside that the shallow water (aka suck water) would slow you down. I misjudged that balance many times and watched helplessly as my speed dropped and dropped, from somewhere around 10 km/hr down to the mid-8s. And suck water is hard on your joints as well, so my shoulders were getting sore.

Eric and some of the canoes seemed many times to be entirely on the wrong side of the river, going around curves on the outside bank. I never figured that one out. But after a while I was starting to get the hang of how far away from the bank to be on the inside line to not get slowed down too much by the shallows.

The bridge

There is a bridge that crosses the river. Roger said it’s 2.75 miles from the start. Another local paddler warned us that near the abutments there are rock cribs just under the water and to stick to the middle of the channel between the abutments. Fortunately the river was relatively low – one of the downriver years I remember having to stop paddling and duck under it.

I figured 2.75 miles was a good place as any, so after the bridge I suggested that Scott take a turn leading. He said “well, I hope you don’t mind if I’m not as fast as you”, and then promptly put the hammer down and hit nearly 11 km/hr. So much for getting a bit of a rest. Also, he hadn’t figured out the suck water thing yet, so he dragged me through some pretty horrible shallows.

And of course now that he’s leading we of course passed a family who were watching the race from their dock, as well as canoers who knew him and made disparaging remarks like “oh, I see you’re paddling a double today”.

The oxbow

I was warned that the oxbow was shallow but Scott dragged me through fields of lilly pads. I was completely on my limit in terms of muscular fatigue and shoulder pain, and if he’d dropped the hammer there I would have had to drop off. But he didn’t, because he’s too new to this game to know the tactics and to know that shallow water affects heavy guys a lot more than light guys.

And sure enough, in the oxbow were two balcony-like structures with more spectators who thought I was taking advantage of this poor young man.

When we came out of the oxbow back on to the river, he had a moment of confusion because now we were paddling at people we’d passed 20 minutes earlier. I reassured him that we were in the right course. I tried to yell encouragement a few times because he’s young and new and I figured he could use it.

Down river

It sure was nice to be going down river now. You could stay away from the shallows and see speeds exceeding 11 km/hr the whole way. In a fit of exuberance I decided to take over the lead again after the bridge, which meant I’d be leading for 5.5 miles out of 8. I haven’t checked the distances on my gps track, so I don’t know what that is in real units.

Most of the way down was uneventful. I don’t think we passed anybody or were passed, although we did of course see that same family on their dock when Scott was leading.

The final stretch

All the time I’d been counting on the lake to give me some good waves that would help me finally drop Scott. We come out to the lake and I can see a flag pointing in the right direction, but no waves. I cut really tight on the turning buoy and tried to get a gap, but even though he turned outside me he wasn’t dropping. In fact, he stated to pull away. Jim Mallory and the other fast guys were warming down and Jim yells “250 meters” to me. I know exactly what that means – speed up your cadence and pull as much pain as you can tolerate because it’s going to end soon. And it nearly worked – I think I was starting to close the gap a bit, but not enough and he beat me by 4 seconds.

I don’t have a laptop or an SD card adaptor, so I don’t know how much video I got, but I think I only got about an hour with the Hero 5 Black because I forgot to put the internal battery in and was just using the side car battery. The Hero 5 Session was saying “SD card full”. Hopefully it lasted to the finish, but I don’t know.

So it was a good race. I’m still rebuilding after a lousy winter but I can feel the progress.

My current video workflow

So this post showed up in my “On This Day” feed on Facebook, and so I thought I should post an updated version. These days I record with 2 GoPro cameras, a Hero 5 Session on my head, and a Hero 5 Black on the front of the boat on a mount made by James I Smith, from North Carolina. James gave me the mount as a gift, which I’m really grateful for. I also managed to snag a legit copy of Final Cut Pro X when it went on sale.

So here’s what I do now after shooting some video.

  1. I make a bluescreen video with my Garmin data overlayed in Garmin VIRB Edit. The procedure I use is detailed in this video
  2. While that is processing, I bring the files from each camera into Final Cut Pro X, and for each camera I make a full duration compound clips to simplify the editing.
  3. Hopefully I will have remembered to clap or otherwise do something distinguishable in front of both the cameras so I can get the two compound clips time synchronized.
  4. I’ll use the transforms to move and clip both compound clips to create a split screen effect.
  5. It’s sometimes a good idea at this point just to leave everything overnight so the VIRB Edit export can finish and so can the creation of FCPX render files. Even my new iMac is pretty sluggish until those files are finished.
  6. I’ll scrub back and forth on the split screen looking for things I want to comment on in the video, and putting in lower third titles. I’ll also look for places where I only want the front view or the back view instead of the split screen, because all the action is happening in front of or behind me. I’ve experimented in the past with making my own transitions using key-frames so the split screen transitions to a single view over a few seconds, and transitions back over a few seconds, but I rarely use it because of all the cutting I do later.
  7. At this point I’ll bring in the blue-screen video above the other clips on the timeline, and apply the Chroma Key effect to it so the other videos below show through. Then I’ll try to time synchronize it – hopefully you can see me pushing the start on my GPS in one of the videos.
  8. Now I’ll make a compound clip of the blue-screen and the two compound clips.
  9. I’ll use the “Blade All” key shortcut and cut out all the bits where I didn’t have anything to point out. I’ll make another pass of cutting and deleting to try to get the video down under 15 minutes, although sometimes I don’t succeed.
  10. I’ll add transitions on all the cuts. I prefer to use the same transition on every cut for consistency, usually one of the simpler ones. I want it to be obvious I’m cutting.
  11. Usually I reduce the volume on the compound clips down to near zero, and try to find some music to put over it. There isn’t a lot of talking during paddle races, and some of it we’d rather not remember afterwards. I prefer bouncy folk music, especially stuff from Genticorum or Great Big Sea or something that sounds like Voyageur music, but I’ve had problems with YouTube and copyright on those songs.
  12. Add title and out-tro titles. In the out-tro, don’t forget to label all the music I used. I should probably have boilerplate asking people to like, subscribe and share like all the pros do.
  13. Export the video to a master file, and then upload to YouTube.

During the off season I’ve been thinking about and experimenting with some things to see if I can improve my videos. Here’s some of the ideas that you might see in this year’s videos:

  • Using motion tracking or a 2 second freeze frame to label the other people in the video. Here‘s a short example of using a freeze frame.
  • Adding a third camera. I’ve only got lower resolution cameras like the Contour, but I’m thinking of sticking it behind me pointing backwards for when the camera up front is missing what’s happening because of my body being in the way.
  • Making a public Dropbox that other paddlers can share their videos so I can include other people’s points of view. The biggest hurdle is finding out if people will actually do this.

Video labeling

I thought it would enhance my video if I could call out people’s names. At first I was looking to use motion tracking to have the labels follow the paddler on the screen. I tried using Motion, which comes with Final Cut Pro X, but it has two problems

  • I have to export a 10 second or shorter clip from Final Cut Pro, bring it into Motion, do the motion tracking, and then bring it back into FCP and fit it back into the right part of the timeline.
  • It really didn’t work very well – I had to keep adding manual key frames and restarting the tracking. In the video here, I actually gave up on adding more manual key frames when I was working on JoAnn’s label which is why it goes off into the weeds.

Then I tried a couple of plugins that would supposedly do the job without having to leave Final Cut Pro X. Both of them had trial modes, so I was able to experiment without paying the $100 they wanted. The first one, EasyTracker, did a pretty good job of tracking, but it crashed FCP several times every time I tried to track, and eventually screwed up the playback window so I couldn’t see anything until I deleted the plugin. The second one, CoreMelt TrackX, was practically useless. I tried putting a polygon over Jim’s bright orange shirt thinking it had pretty good contrast to the water and trees it was in front of, and said to “track forward”, and within a few seconds the polygon was somewhere off to the right of the war canoe that was to his right. Useless.

So then I had a thought – in his highly entertaining “How The Race Was Won” videos, Cosmo Catalano likes to call out riders names by using a freeze frame. He also puts a mask around each rider to emphasize it. He told me once he actually takes a screen shot and brings it into Photoshop to do that. I would prefer not to do that, not least because I don’t have Photoshop. However, FCP has a nice “Freeze Frame” feature that inserts a nice 4 second freeze of the frame at the current playhead position. Here’s what it looks like.

I kind of like this way.