USCA Nationals, Day 1: Touring Class

The Preliminaries – Getting a boat

This weekend is the USCA (United States Canoe Association) National Championships. Yesterday was sprint races and youth, so I didn’t go. Today is for Men’s Touring Kayaks (and a bunch of other categories, like Women’s Unlimited Kayak). And I wanted to compete. The regulations for Touring Kayak, as stated on two separate pages on the USCA website) say the boat has to be at least 18″ wide at the widest spot at the 4″ waterline. My normal boat, an Epic V10 Sport, is just slightly narrower than that – their official spec has them wider, but that’s not at the 4″ waterline. So for over a month now I’ve been asking anybody I know with an Epic V8 Pro if I can borrow it. I started by asking Roger at the Electric City race, and he said yes. But then I heard from Eric Young that Roger had said yes to him earlier. So I asked Frank Cabron, who didn’t know that there was going to be a touring race this year, but once he heard he was quick to say he was going to use his V8 Pro. I asked several of the Baycreek paddlers, since a whole bunch of them have upgraded to V8 Pros this year. I asked Ken if I could borrow the Baycreek demo V8 Pro, in spite of the fact that it is “club layup”, which makes it way heavier than everybody else’s. Epic doesn’t even make the “club layup” anymore because nobody liked it, so I can’t quote you the official weight difference between it and the ultra and elite layup boats I was trying to borrow. Then last weekend Roger once again emailed me to say that Eric had decided not to borrow his boat, so it was available if I wanted it. I immediately wrote him back and asked him how I could get it – but then he never responded to my email. So I went back to Ken. And Ken was under the impression that he’d promised it to Jim, not me. I knew that Jim was paddling K2 today, so I straightened that out and picked up the Pro. I found out later than Roger had heard I had borrowed Ken’s boat, so I didn’t need his and loaned it to Scott Visser. Meanwhile Mike had also been unable to secure a V8 Pro and was going to have to paddle his extremely heavy West Side Boat Shop EFT. EFTs aren’t normally terribly heavy, but he’d taken it to somebody to have it re-gelcoated and the guy had added a very thick layer of resin and gelcoat.

Then last night, Frank emails Mike and I to say that he’d just been at the race venue and had talked to one of the official jiggers who said that the V10 Sport now qualifies as Touring class. I couldn’t believe that, so I went to the USCA website, and on a page titled “USCA Kayak Specs (from the Competition Rules)” and another one called “USCA K1 Touring Kayak Specs and Models”, I found the official rule – 20 feet maximum length, and at least 18 inches at the 4 inch waterline. I even built a hillbilly jig out of three pieces of wood and verified that my V10 Sport is too narrow under that rule. What I hadn’t counted on, however, is how bad some organizations are at updating their websites – it turns out that buried in a 31 page PDF copy of the Competition Rules, there is the updated rule: 20 feet maximum length and at least 17 at the 4 inch waterline. But because it’s a PDF, it wasn’t what came up on a Google search, just two separate pages, including the one labelled “from the competition rules”. So I could have skipped all the hassle and false leads of trying to borrow a V8 Pro, and had a lighter faster boat. Oh well, only one of the boats that beat me was legal under the new rules but not the old one, so I guess I don’t have much to complain about.

Because of the doubt about the rules, Mike and I brought our “touring” boats, the EFT and the V8 Pro respectively, because we were driving together and so could only bring two boats. Frank was coming alone with two racks on his car, so he brought both his V8 Pro (in ultra layup) and his V10 Sport (in elite layup). And when he confirmed the new rule, he said he was going to paddle the V10 Sport. But Mike was quicker off the gun than me and asked Frank for his V8 Pro, so he ended up in a much lighter boat than me. Like I said, I don’t know the official weight difference, but the ultra layup is 8 pounds lighter than the performance layup, and club is heaver than the performance.

The Start

Today is Friday, and tomorrow is both on the weekend and is Men’s Unlimited, so of course the field was a little smaller today. So all the touring class kayaks started in one giant wave instead of being separated by age class like they were at the last USCA nationals that I went to. I don’t know what tomorrow will be like – I guess I’ll find out.

The race course is a bit convoluted – it’s a giant Y shape and we had to do it twice. But we started basically at the top of the leg of the Y, headed down towards the bottom, did a buoy turn and went around the left arm and then the right arm before returning to the bottom of the leg, and then doing it again. The distance between the start and the first buoy turn was just barely enough to get things spread out a bit so it wasn’t massive carnage. I dread what it’s going to be like tomorrow. The 2016 USCA nationals I think was a bit smarter in that instead of one 180 degree buoy turn, they had two 90 degree turns a distance apart, which allowed a smoother transition to a more ordered line of boats when we turned upstream.

Now I’m typing this from memory, and I haven’t looked at the video yet, so I’m probably going to get some details wrong. But by the time we passed back through the start, we had a pack with young Scott Visser in the lead, then a bunch of us strung out in a line behind him. Dave Wiltey was there in his usual West Side Boat Shop boat (possibly an EFT), and I knew from experience that he hasn’t going to take a turn in the lead. There was another guy in a club layup V8 Pro, a guy in an elite layup V10 Sport, and a guy with a blue boat that when I originally saw it from afar I thought it was a Mohican (which is a very expensive and very formidable boat) but as I got closer I found out it was home made and looked it. He also had terrible technique, which made it even more annoying that he was ahead of me. There were probably other people around, but that’s all I remember. Eric Young was way ahead, as expected, and way out ahead of him was this guy who looked like an Olympian, who just kept pulling further and further ahead and was soon out of sight.

At the buoy turn, Wiltey and the blue boat guy both had over-stern rudders, and they turned like they were in sea kayaks – ie they put on the brakes on the inside and did big sweeps on the outside. Unfortunately I was behind them which meant I had the choice of slowing down before the turn to avoid crashing into them or trying to go around outside them in the turn. I ended up losing some ground on them and having to sprint to catch up. But a new order quickly established itself. Scott was still leading. The blue boat guy was second. I didn’t want to be third so I was on his side wake. I think the other V8 Pro guy was next, but don’t hold me to that. Blue boat guy’s technique was bad, and so I couldn’t get in sync with him and we kept clashing paddles. He didn’t get his paddle very deep in the water, which meant he had to paddle faster than me to go the same speed. Which meant every few strokes I’d have to pause so I didn’t clash paddles with him, although I didn’t always get it right.

This status quo pretty much lasted until we were approaching the buoy turn at the other arm of the Y. Dennis Moriarty came charging past. I know from previous conversations exactly what he was doing, too – he was trying to give me a wake to ride and break up the pack. And it actually worked. I got on his wake and pulled away from the rest of the pack, except I couldn’t hold his wake. Not too far after the turn I could feel that the whole pack was now on my wake, while Dennis pulled further and further away. Not optimal that I was leading, but I kind of like that feeling of being in front and being stronger than everybody else.

And So On, and So On

The buoy turns were great, because you got to see everybody coming in the other direction, regardless of whether they were behind you or in front of you. Eileen Visser, Scott’s mom, had started a wave or two behind us, and she was always cheering on Scott as we passed. That’s how I realized that after the right arm buoy turn that we were dropping Scott. The pack was down to just five or so of us. It looked to me like Dennis was going almost the same pace as Eric Young, or maybe even closing the gap a bit.

For all the way down to the foot of the Y, I was leading. Again, not smart strategically but man it felt good. At the turn, I ended up side by side with the blue boat guy. As we passed the dock where we’d put in at race headquarters we could hear an announcer call out our names, and he said something about a “strategic battle going on”, which was cool. That’s when I found out the guy in the blue boat is named Steve and the guy in the other V8 Pro was named Bob. Steve and I were side by side, but sort of using each other’s wakes, but he said something about the freeloaders we had behind. The freeloading was so bad that I heard Dave and Bob having a conversation that was something about a bear and somebody’s fiancee.

Again at the right arm’s buoy turn I had to go outside around the “sea kayak style” turners, sprint to catch them. But again, after catching them back up, I would recover a bit and decide that I could go faster than these guys were doing, and take the lead again. Not smart.

About half way between the left side buoy turn and the “crotch” of the Y, I suddenly felt like I was completely blown. First Steve and Dave jumped ahead of me, then a minute or two later Bob and the guy in the V10 Sport Elite dropped me. I was barely keeping it together – my speed was terrible and my arms felt like they were going to drop off. I would have given anything to just quit right there. But I didn’t, although I did stop paddling for a second or two to try and regather something.

Dave and Steve looked like they were catching up to Dennis. That was a surprise – Dennis is a triathlete and is a lot fitter than most of the rest of us. They didn’t quite manage it, but if the race had been much longer they might have. According to the results they were only 12 seconds behind him at the finish, and of course Dave out-sprinted Steve. That’s what he does.

Bob, who I’d realized some minutes prior was the only one in our pack that was in my age class, ended up finishing 20 seconds ahead of me. Judging from the results, the guy in the V10 Sport was named Bill and he finished 18 seconds behind Dave and 29 seconds ahead of Bob.

I ended up second in my age class behind Bob. It was a hard fought race and I’m pretty happy with it, but I wish I’d paced myself better and not blown up so badly. Like I tell anybody who will listen, I had a great 10 mile race – shame it was a 12.5 mile course.

Now I’ve got to somehow recover and prepare for tomorrow.

Blue Mountain Lake Buoy Race (aka BluMouLA BuFuRa)

Another weekend, another NYMCRA kayak points race. This is one I haven’t done before, but it advertises itself as “The Prettiest Darn Race In America”. It’s a bit far but Jim and I decided to car pool up and back on the same day, which is a bit grueling but it’s ok with two of us sharing the driving and napping while the other drives, and that saves a bunch of money and time away from home. So we met at 5:00 am at a restaurant parking lot. We ended up arriving before 9:00 am, so we probably could have cut it a bit closer and got a few more minutes sleep.

The course is kind of complicated – you go down through a couple of passages into two other lakes and back, and then you go around the periphery of Blue Mountain Lake with buoys forcing you deep into several bays. I’ve never done the race before, so I went into Garmin Connect and tried to create a “Course” of the race it. This was a bit risky – I’ve used saved courses before a few times (mostly to compete against my previous times and track how far I have to go) and about 1/2 the time my GPS has frozen up.

Also, I discovered that while I remembered to take my two GoPros off the charger this morning, I somehow forgot to bring the waterproof case for the one I mount up front, so no split screen in this week’s video.

There was a also bit of a westerly or north westerly breeze, which kicked up small waves. Eric was paddling his new V10, and when he was warming up he wasn’t hugely confident at first. He took out the seat pad to improve the stability but he was still wondering if he could get through it without swimming.

The other complication of this race is that they don’t use any sort of start waves. They launch all competitors, no matter what type of boat they’re in and which length course they’re doing, all at once. This year they had over 90 boats, so it was a bit chaotic.

And they’re off

The starter was out in a guide boat ahead of us, which is kind of novel. And when he gave the signal, a massive wall of boats heading in all directions. Or at least two main directions – one for the 14 and 7 mile races, and one for the 1.5 mile race.

Jim M and Jan W took off right in front of me, while Roger and Jim P in their K-2 were off to one side near a C-4. Right in front of me was a guy I didn’t know in a black V10 GT (John Redos). I thought I might be able to hold his wake because his technique wasn’t great – from behind it looked like he had very little rotation and was pulling with his arms, and his hands were too low. But what he didn’t have in technique, he did have in “engine”. While I was riding his wake, a white V10 came through, paddled by David V and was a few boat lengths ahead of us. Soon afterwards, a black V10L came through – that was Jim F who I had a bit of a battle with at Long Lake last year. But I’d heard that he was only doing the 7 mile race. But since he was passing John and I had managed to hold his wake for quite some time last year, I figured I’d move over to his wake. I got a tap on the stern that let me know that Eric was riding my wake.

We rounded the first point and I lost both wakes. But the waves smoothed out a bit, and inevitably Eric was now able to put down some power and he moved past me and caught the three boats in front of me. From my viewpoint it looked like they were almost but not quite in a pack.

The first buoy and Eagle Lake

But then we approached the entrance to the passage to Eagle Lake. Those of us on the 14 mile race were supposed to go straight and the people on the 7 mile race were supposed to go around a buoy that was off to our right and then head right. Those of us going straight were supposed to ignore the buoy, but evidently David and John had missed that part of the pre-race meeting.
So they all went off line to go around the buoy, and from my viewpoint it looked like Jim going to the left of the buoy kind of cut off John going to the right of the buoy and John either followed him a bit to the right or was unable to cut back. But then he got back on track and got back on the proper line. I was bitterly disappointed that even with all the ground he’s lost by this mistake I couldn’t catch him. But now David was a few boat lengths ahead of Eric, and John was a few boat lengths behind Eric.

After this point, I just kept losing more and more ground to these guys. The passage to Eagle Lake narrowed down more and more until there was a nice little bridge and then it widens out again. But at least I could still see the guys ahead of me.

Nothing much happened on the lake. I kept a good eye on the guys in front of me to see exactly where they disappeared into the passage to Utowana Lake. And they did pretty much disappear. The passage is very narrow and twisty and they were out of view almost as soon as they hit it.

Passage to Utowana Lake

The passage was very pretty, and reminded me of some of the places I did canoe trips like Algonquin Park. But just as I was getting to the outlet I saw a big rock flanked by smaller rocks straight ahead, and I was wondering how I was going to navigate that when I got a bit closer and I saw a buoy on the far right and a nice clear passage in that direction.

Out on the lake, I could see a point that I knew for sure was the one I was going to be rounding, but the guys ahead of me were a bit of the left of the direct line. Not sure why they were doing that, but going a direct line didn’t buy me much time.

I rounded another point, and now I can see the first pack of boats coming in the other direction. The C-4 was leading, with Jim on their side wake and Jan on their stern wake.

Not too much later, Roger and Jim P came by in their V8-Double K-2.

Some time later, Eric came by, followed pretty closely by John. Close, but not directly on his wake. Then a bunch of boat lengths behind was David. Since he’d been in front of Eric earlier, I was hoping he was blowing up enough that maybe I could catch him eventually. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.

I reached the first buoy that I was actually supposed to round. It was gold in color and very easy to see from a long way away. It actually turns out to be a space hopper – you know those bouncy balls that kids sit on and bounce across the room on. The handle was how they were tied to the anchor rope, which is why the actual decoration isn’t visible until you’re almost there.

But rounding the buoy gave me a chance to see exactly where I stood. And it was now obvious that David was 3 or 4 minutes ahead of me, and there was a big pack of C-2s and one K-1 about 3 or 4 minutes behind me. So really as long as I didn’t give up, I wasn’t going to pass anybody and nobody was going to pass me. So think of the rest of my race as sightseeing while experiencing the pain of being at the anaerobic threshold.

Back to Blue Mountain Lake

By the time I rounded the last point and could see the end of Utowana Lake, I could barely see where Eric and the guys were disappearing. But I could, so I headed directly to the outlet. Once again through the narrow and twisty passage to Eagle Lake, thankful that nobody was coming in the other direction.

I don’t even remember if I could see the other paddlers on Eagle Lake, but there was a power boat coming out of the passage from Blue Mountain Lake so it wasn’t hard to find. There were spectators on the bridge I mentioned before, and they were cheering and clapping which was nice.

On the other side from the bridge, there were a couple of kayaks who I don’t think were racing, and a sailboat that was taking back and forth in this narrow passage. I was really hoping they weren’t going to tack in front of me, and they didn’t.

I came out into Blue Mountain Lake, and I can see the point you’re supposed to go around, but I haven’t reached the buoy that we were supposed to ignore on the way out, and go around on the right on the way back. It seemed like a very long way out of the channel.

Around and Around Blue Mountain Lake

After I passed the buoy and turned, I immediately saw just beyond the point I just mentioned that there is a large white arrow on an island. I guess that’s where I’m supposed to go. So I paddled over in that direction.

I kind of knew that I was supposed to go between these group of islands and the shore. But for some reason I saw this gap between two islands and decided to head for it. (I think I might have seen Eric’s group through the gap.)
And as I got closer and closer, it was getting shallower and shallower, and I soon realized that not only had I made a mistake, but it was probably too late to fix it. I just squeaked over one log when I suddenly hit a very hard bump. I swore loudly.

I could see a point up ahead that I knew was where the next cove with a buoy was to be found. Dave disappeared around the point and Eric and John were coming out of it. Dave seemed to take a long time to come out again. After I rounded the point I could see why – it was a long way into the cove. The cool thing, though, was that upon leaving the cove there was a dock where there was a very prominent map of the next part of the course. I think they did that because there was a small cove coming up that we actually don’t go into. I rounded the next point and went into the big cove, and rounded the buoy. Then it was along the shore direct to the next one. For a change you could actually see this buoy from the last one.

Approaching the buoy, the wind seemed to kick up right behind me. Which was great, until I made the turn and now had to parallel the shore beam on to them with reflected waves. Ugh.

After rounding that point, there was a choice of going between Osprey Island and Long Island, or going between Osprey Island and the shore. In the pre-race meeting they’d mentioned that it might be more shallow and weedy between the islands, and also from the map it looked like it would be easier to see the buoy coming on the shore side, so that’s the way I went. I ended up being able to see the buoy from a long way off, but it looked strange. For one thing, it was round, rather than flattened on the bottom like how something floating in the water would look. I was so confused by that that I actually stopped to consult the little paper map I’d taped to the cockpit of my boat.

I still wasn’t sure, but I decided to press on. I noticed a small power boat heading from what looked like the gap between the islands towards this strange “maybe a buoy, maybe not”. Then I noticed they were waving a small flag. I took that as a sign that they were stationed there to lead people to the buoy, so I continued towards the gold colored thing.
When I got closer, I could see that it was a buoy, but it was dangling from a diving board on a swim dock rather than fully in the water, which is why it had looked odd. There was also another map of the rest of the course on the dock.

The rest of the course wasn’t actually all that difficult navigationally, because all it was was around the last point then directly to the finish. The hard part was remembering what the building at the finish looked like. There were two kayaks at the point, and one of them yelled that I was supposed to head to “the pavilion”. Well, one of the buildings looked more pavilion-ey than the rest, so I headed that way. But here the small waves became a factor again, and once again they were almost beam on. But at least there was very little reflection off the far shore because it was sandy rather than rocky.

It was somewhere on this last straight-away that I realized my GPS was frozen up. Up until that point, I thought I’d just been maintaining a very steady speed and heart rate.

I was really glad to be finished. That’s a long hard race, and I finished about 4 minutes behind David and about 4 minutes ahead of the next C-4, so I was pretty lonely out there. But I like the course, and I like the variety, and I’ll definitely be back.