Canadian Surfski Championships

After Thursday’s downwind, I got a bit of advice on strategy. Evidently by going in close to Watts Point into the relatively calm water, I ended up too close to where the outflow from the river curves around and hits you from the side. I was advised to stay further out of from the point, and at first to aim towards the wharf where the big ships are loading instead heading directly to the channel where the finish is (Mamquam Blind Channel), and only cut over at the last moment. This strategy would supposedly mean you get a better ride down the second part of the Sound and also not spend too much time in the “Potato Patch” that gave me so much trouble on Thursday.

The schedule for Saturday was a bit of “hurry up and wait”. Packet pickup was scheduled for 9am at the O Siem Pavillion (which doesn’t appear on Google Maps, by the way), but they posted on Facebook at 8:30 using the words “set up” making me think they had set up and were ready. I drove down there and found they were actually still setting up. So I came back at 9. Then I had to apply my race numbers and sponsor stickers to my boat, and drop it off at Porteau Cove. Then I drove back to the hotel and hung around biting my fingernails. At noon, a bus ran from the O Siem to Porteau. There was very little parking at Porteau, and this was their way of making sure people didn’t park up there until after the race. There was some time for socializing with the other paddlers. I managed to introduce myself to Greg Barton (founder of Epic Kayaks, only American ever to win Olympic gold medals in sprint kayak, and old friend of Jim Mallory). Then there was a mandatory paddlers meeting, and then it was time to paddle over to the start area to warm up. Vicki and Mom came over to watch me set off but the start ended up not being in the same cove as the launch area so I guess they didn’t see me go.

Earlier in the day there were some grumbles that the wind wasn’t going to be high enough, but as seems to be the pattern in Squamish it built during the day and was blowing pretty well by race time. The organizer said after the race that we were lucky because it was high enough to be useful to the pros but low enough that there wasn’t massive carnage – as it was there were about 8 DNFs with the safety boats bringing in various people and their skis. If it had been higher winds, I likely would have been one of them.

The wind whips straight down Howe Sound at the top part. Howe Sound has a nearly 90 degree bend in it at about the halfway point in the race, which causes some interesting effects, first with rebounds off the rocks, and then on the second half of the race with the swell coming at an angle to you as it rebounds down the Sound while the wind is coming from another direction and kicking up some other waves at a different angle.

So at the start, we have to paddle exactly 90 degrees to the waves out to the Think Kayaks Hot spot. That sucked for me. I was convinced I was probably last until a guy right in front of me dumped. So yeah, not quite last.

After the hot spot, I turned downwind and started to get some good runs. Most of the waves were in the 3 foot range, but there were some 4 footers or higher. Looking down the sound was an awesome sight as there were boats spread out in front of me from one shore to the other for as far as the eye could see. As I caught and passed a guy in a V8, he was whooping and hollering every time he caught a run, which was slightly annoying at first but later I started to feel respect for his strength – he ended up winning the “18 foot” class, finishing about 50 seconds behind me. There was this woman just in front of me who I had finished slightly ahead of on the Tuesday night race, so I was holding out good hopes of catching her. I got a couple of good runs and thought I was going to do it, but she caught several runs that I didn’t and the next thing I know she’s at least a kilometer ahead of me. I did catch and pass a guy who as I was nearly catching him he suddenly veered 90 degrees in front of me and I had to swerve to miss him. I’ll be charitable and assume he veered because of things beyond his control. I completely lost sight of the woman from before.

As I got close to the point the only people I could see ahead of me were well inside of me towards the point, contrary to the advice I’d been given before. Maybe that’s because everybody else who knew the secret was already around the point, I don’t really know. I kind of hedged my bets, getting closer in than I’d planned but further out than I’d done on Thursday’s downwinder. And after I turned, I headed for the big wharf.

Staying further out actually seemed to be working because even though the water was showing distinct signs of “potato patch”, with a strong swell coming from about 45 degrees off my stern on the left, another coming from about directly to my right, and even some coming from directly in front of me, it wasn’t completely throwing me off. I wasn’t sure if it was the better line, or the distraction of competition, but I seemed to be handling it much better than I had on Thursday. But eventually I had to get over to the entrance to the channel, which meant going through the worst of the potato patch, as well as dodging kite surfers and boats coming out of the channel. And at almost exactly the same place as Thursday, I dumped. My remount was actually a bit better than Thursday’s because I didn’t catch my paddle under the boat. But as I was remounting, who should I get passed by but that same woman who’d been over a kilometer ahead of me at the halfway point. I can only think she must have taken a much worse line or dumped. I put down every last bit of energy I had, but I was unable to catch her and she ended up finishing about 30 seconds ahead of me.

Just looking at the results, you’d say I sucked. I was 60th out of 71 finishers and 4 DNFs. But on the other hand, I raced in conditions far more challenging than anything I’ve ever done before, and I managed to finish. I even managed to have some fun on some of the runs. So I’d say it was a success. I went to bed happy that night.