Sunday, October 30, 2005

Cascade Distance Race

Map of long course

The 17th and final Sound Rowers race of the year is the Cascade Distance Race. It is a pair of events that start at the Cascade Canoe & Kayak Center, located at the Renton Boat House at the mouth of the Cedar River on Lake Washington. The course heads northwest towards the Atlantic City marina. The short course turns back to the finish after rounding a buoy. The long course continues by heading north along the western shore of Lake Washington, rounding the tip of the Bailey Peninsula of Seward Park, and then heads south into Andrews Bay to turn around a buoy located at the furthest reach. From there one returns to the finish by retracing the course taken to get to Andrews Bay.

The total length of the short course is about 6 miles. The long course is about 13 miles in length.

The weather the night before the race was terrible. The wind was howling, the rain was pouring down and the temperature was in the low 40's. The forecast for Saturday was for more of the same.

Reluctantly I loaded my car with everything but the boat. The boat would be loaded onto the roof rack just before departure so there wouldn't be as much water to dump out after arriving at the venue.

Surprisingly enough the rain stopped shortly before I began the 15 minute drive to Renton Saturday morning. It was still pretty chilly. The thermometer indicated a temperature of 47 degrees at the Renton parking lot with a light breeze from the south.

Renton Boat House Registration

There were only a couple of cars in the parking lot when I arrived at 8:30 AM. The folks who were there were mostly the ones who had driven from far away. The locals would probably show up just before the race meeting at 9:15 AM, figuring they could get in a few more winks of sleep - or make sure that the relatively decent weather was going to hold.

I walked over to the boat house and found that registration had been set up in a shelter on the pier just outside the boat house. They must have been expecting the worst because there was enough room under the shelter for dozens of people.

OC-6 preparations Cadence at ramp
The registration fee this year for Sound Rowers members was set at $10. This included lunch, so it wasn't too bad. Some of the money also went to support some local youth paddle sports programs, which helped get younger people interested in things like Olympic flatwater canoeing, kayak racing, etc.

After registering I walked back to the car. It was darn cold!

I took off my nylon pants, which covered bike shorts, and put on some bright red woolen leg warmers. That felt much better! I proceeded to unload the Cadence and launch it at the temporary dock that had been set up at the nearby boat ramp on the Cedar River. It was better to get into the water as soon as possible so as to not get caught in the bottleneck after the race meeting ended.

Heading away from shore Going down the river Safety sign
The waters of the Cedar River were moving silently and moderately slowly down the channel. There were several large dead salmon floating beside the dock, their bloated bodies and whitish appearance reminiscent of some sort of aquatic zombies. I remembered reading that there was a salmon run happening, and hoped to see some live ones making their way up to spawning heaven.

After backing away from the dock I went down the river towards the lake. A new sign had been bolted to the low bridge. It indicated that it could be dangerous if one stayed in the area while a jet aircraft was taking off.

I made a mental note to remind myself to not stay there during such a takeoff.

Cedar River delta Shallow delta
The delta of the Cedar River had somewhat less debris than the previous year. Dan Henderson, the race director, had taken the time to mark one of the deeper channels with buoys. This made the job of transitioning from the river to the lake easier and reduced the possibility of losing one's skeg, rudder or propeller to the obstructions. Thanks, Dan!

Gulls on logs Renton Boat House low dock Cadence at dock
I pedaled around a log boom breakwater in front of the boat house. Seagulls were covering almost every available spot, so it was with some malicious glee I pedaled next to it, seeing which birds would stay and which would fly off.

Shortly afterwards I rounded the end of the concrete pier and headed to the low floating dock. The Cadence was then tied to a cleat and I listened in on the pre-race meeting, which had started just a few minutes earlier.
Race meeting
The usual things were said, e.g., wear a PFD, help anyone who is in trouble, etc. The courses were also described, and it was emphasized that people on the long course should return along the same route they took getting to Seward Park. Apparently some folks took a short cut last year and bypassed the buoys at Atlantic City and at the south end of Seward Park. Dan also mentioned that there would be grilled hamburgers and other munchies available after the race. Yumm!

After the meeting broke up I walked back to the parking lot to take photos of everyone else getting ready and launching. For some reason, however, the lot was almost empty and boats were just sitting on the grass around the ramp. Where did everyone go?
Flock of watchers Bird watchers flocking
While talking with a couple of people preparing some K-4's (four person kayaks) a bunch of people carrying spotting scopes and cameras passed through the lot. It turned out that these folks were bird watchers. They were intent on viewing some of the more unusual fowl frequenting the flow of the fine delta.

I hoped that the passage of people paddling wouldn't provoke the poor birds.
Emerging from bridge
It appeared that the birds weren't bothered by the benign bevy of boats bobbing by the bridge bearing for the log boom breakwater by the boathouse.
Intense Paddling
I returned to the Cadence. The crew of one of the K-4's needed the dock space in order to launch and board, so I got into the Cadence and headed out to the warmup area.

Several boats were already out there tearing up the water. In fact, a double HPK (high performance kayak) nearly ran me down while I was taking their picture. That might partially account for the rather serious look on the face of the front paddler!

Boat by hulk Starting lineup
Unlike last year I had plenty of time to take photos of people warming up. The boats were going in all directions, with the more maneuverable ones zipping this way and that. The rowers and longer boats were much more staid and tended to move in straight lines or sweeping arcs.

Eventually the signal for the 3 minute warning was heard. Everyone started organizing themselves into a rough semblence of a line stretched between the end of the concrete pier by the boat house and a cluster of orange buoys far out in the lake.

The southerly breeze made it somewhat difficult to maintain station. Most of the boats ended up drifting somewhat past the line when the starting signal was given. What's ten or fifteen feet, anyway?
We're off! 4 man kayak rockets away Field to the south
The surface of the lake was immediately churned into a choppy morass by the action of the paddles and oars as the boats surged forward. The K-4 next to me rapidly moved away, paddles moving in synchrony, water sent flying.

As usual, I was a bit too busy taking photos of the others to apply a lot of force to the Cadence's pedals. This meant I dropped somewhat behind and had to start pedaling harder in order to keep up. Of course, a lot of the people around me were also planning to do the short course and could afford to burn more energy as they would be doing it over a shorter distance!

The heart rate monitor indicated a pulse of about 154, and the GPS indicated a speed of just over 7 mph. This should be pretty sustainable for the 13 mile race - I hoped!
Field to the south Inline boating
In the interests of getting better photos, i.e., not backlit, I decided to try to get more to the south side of the field. The sun was peeking out a bit more and most of the racers were on that side. In fact, I was getting so warm that I had to stop and take off my nylon wind breaker. This meant taking off the camera, PFD and jacket, followed by putting the PFD and camera back on, and stowing the jacket. Ahh, that felt much better!

I cut a line almost due west across the field. This wouldn't add much to my time and there were some other boats there that looked to be draft-worthy, including an OC-2 paddled by Vern Heikkila and Steve Bennett. It was time to get moving!
A knot of boats Rowing
I had to get around a woman rowing a yellow shell in order to get to a bunch of double sea kayaks with some folks I knew. After that it was no trouble to drop behind the stern of one of the doubles and take a short break.
Passing a double
Only one of the three double kayaks was going on the long route. The others thought that was too long a race for them. So, after a few minutes of travel at "only" 6.5 mph behind these guys I decided they were too slow. It would be best to pass and leave them behind.

Quad on return HPK-2 and 2nd Quad on return
Of course, it wasn't too long before I saw the first boats on the return leg of the short course paddling off to the north. I zigged back in that direction and played photographer while also trying to pedal at a fairly steady cadence.

Some of the subsequent boats made a more southerly heading after rounding the turn, and I ended up heading back towards the double kayaks that I had recently left. We'd probably end up at the turn pretty close together!
Double and canoe Nearing the turn
After a few more shots of rowers, quad kayaks, high kneel canoes and an OC-2 I arrived at the first turn buoy, which was located near the Atlantic City boat ramp. The rower in the yellow shell got there just before me and somewhat blocked the turn. No problem - I quickly caught up and began traveling alongside.

We talked a little about the race and what we thought the lake conditions would be with the tail wind we were now experiencing. I was guessing it would get rougher as we headed north, especially around the tip of the Bailey Peninsula, since the wind would have acted on the water for a longer distance. She agreed, but hoped it wouldn't all that bad.
Man overboard Safety boat to the rescue
Up ahead I saw a couple of boats stopped and clustered not far off the shore. As we got closer we saw that there was someone in the water holding onto an overturned boat which, in turn, was being held by another person in another boat. Paul, a rower, was also there providing stability and floating assistance.

I wondered why the racer wasn't wearing a PFD, and why he wasn't getting back on board his boat. The conditions were not very rough, and with all the help it should have been easy.

Anyway, the safety boat came cruising up and stopped next to the flotilla and performed a rescue.

The woman in the shell and I continued towards Seward Park. Only a few seconds were lost looky-looing.
Chop Rower pacing
As we headed north the wind-driven waves did start getting larger. They were getting to be almost a foot from trough to crest which, in my opinion, were barely worth mentioning. The rower thought she might be able to start surfing a little, but it would have been hardly worth trying.

Far ahead I could make out the OC-6 as it passed along the shore of the peninsula, with a brightly colored tawny yellow OC-2 following it a minute or two later.
Nearing the 2nd turn
The greenhouse effect of the sun on the camera bag was taking effect. This meant that the interior of the bag heated up, causing any moisture inside to condense on the wind cooled optical glass port of the bag. Heating up the port with the heel of my hand helped to reduce the condensation somewhat, but many of the shots taken during this portion of the race came out quite foggy. It looks like it is well past the time to replace that dessicant!

The rower was happy to have me alongside her for this part of the trip. She said that while she tried using a head mounted mirror for navigational purposes the truth of the matter was that those were only good for viewing over short distances. Since we were quite a way from the shore heading straight to the 2nd buoy, she could make course corrections based on her position relative to mine.

I told her that the rest of the way from the 2nd buoy to the 3rd and furthest buoy was along the shore. She would have no problems finding her way there.

Meanwhile, I decided it would be a good idea to eat something so I would continue to have energy for the latter portion of the race. The rower was envious that I could use both hands to open a Power Bar package, eat the contents and drink from a water bottle - all while still pedaling and moving at the same pace she was rowing.

As a matter of curiosity I asked her what her heart rate was at that moment. She replied that it was about 154 bpm. Mine was about 145. The GPS indicated a speed of a round 6.5 to 7 mph.
After the 2nd turn Triple shell on return
I made it to the 2nd buoy ahead of the rower, and continued on ahead. The GPS indicated a speed of around 6.5 mph and the heart monitor indicated a pulse of about 145.

There is a paved pedestrian path around the perimeter of the peninsula popular with the public and their pets. As I pedaled it was fun to see people walking and jogging. The runners elicited something of a competitive spirit in me as I tried to keep up with or pass them.

Heading due north now, the water grew smoother rather than rougher. Apparently the wind was being substantially blocked by Mercer Island. Rats! This meant the other boats would not be slowed down after all!

Approaching the tip of the peninsula I saw a dark spot in the distance heading my way. Sure enough, it was the lead boat on the return leg.
Triple shell returning
The sun had diminished in intensity and the camera lens now appeared to be fairly clear. Hurray!

As they grew closer I took numerous photos, and I cheered them on.
OC-6 Rear view
Shortly afterwards the OC-6 came into view. Those guys were moving!

I arrived at the tip of the peninsula. With the lake level lowered for winter the gravel lined shore seemed much more barren, though it probably was fairly popular with folks who brought their dogs here for a swim.
Single shell returning
A couple more boats appeared, including a double HPK and a rowing shell. Rob O'Brien was in the shell, and I was surprised to see him so far behind. I cheered him on nonetheless, figuring that he must have been feeling under the weather.

The third buoy was now in sight at the far end of the bay.
Unhappy paddler returning
As I continued towards the buoy a guy in an HPK headed nearly straight at me as he headed back towards the finish. He began yelling at the rower behind me, saying something on the order of "Look out rower! You're heading my way!". What gall!

A paddler in an HPK who had caught up to me was wondering what was up with that guy. I had the same thoughts!
Passed by HPK
I asked the HPK paddler what his pulse was, and he reported it was about 134. At that time mine was about 145, and the speed was still around 6.5 to 7 mph. Very interesting!
OC-2 returning Triple shell returning
I took shots of a few more boats on their return as the HPK continued past me towards the buoy. He made the turn just ahead of me and started gaining distance almost immediately.

I felt that I should be pedaling harder, but for some reason my legs just didn't seem to have a whole lot of energy. I was wondering if the Power Bar took away my power or if my pacing of the race wasn't as good as it should have been. Perhaps both were the source of the problem.
Boats following Boats following Nearing the tip
Just in case I went through the weed clearing procedure with the propeller. It might have helped a little, but it was hard to tell. Anyway, I continued onward at about 6.5 mph and took more shots of the boats that were following me into the bay. By the time I reached the tip of the peninsula I had passed the last of the racers on the long course. It looked like I was roughly in the middle of the bunch.
South along peninsula Heading toward 2nd buoy
The trip back along the peninsula was tiring, but the headwind was both wonderful and a problem. It served to keep me cool, but unfortunately it also made it too cold to remove my leg warmers. Those could have been part of the reason for my legs tiring, too, though they didn't feel as though they were binding much. Oh, well.

The HPK that had passed me could be seen in the distance, slowly getting further and further ahead.

As I neared the south end of the park I continued to stay away from the shore. It was appearing to get fairly shallow and I did not want to hit anything.

Even so, just as I was passing a concrete bulkhead with a distance of at least 30 feet from the shore the propeller suddenly went Clunk! Clunk-clunk---clunk! It had suddenly gotten so shallow that I had to take out the canoe paddle and use it to shove the boat out into deeper water.


Did the propeller get damaged? Did the shaft get bent?

Gingerly I startd pedaling again. The pedals seemed to be turning smoothly, with no apparent problems or weird noises or vibrations. In fact, the boat seemed to be moving a little faster and easier than it had been before.

Of course, part of this was probably due to pedaling in deeper water, and part of it was due to the short rest given my muscles while poling. Hopefully things would remain in working order to the finish!
2nd buoy HPK ahead
The second buoy was rounded soon afterward. The HPK could be seen far off in the distance as we both made our way back to the first buoy.

The trip to the first buoy was quite a slog. I took a couple of short breaks in order to let my muscles recover. It seemed to help a little, but I figured that the only real solution was to finish the race. My body seemed to want to work no harder than a heart rate of around 125-130 bpm, so it was with quite a bit of effort I managed to get it back up to about 140.

I think I'll use something other than a Power Bar for energy next time!
First buoy
It was possible to see the boats ahead of me make their turn around the first buoy. Upon reaching the buoy myself it appeared that the OC-2 was about 6 minutes ahead, and the HPK was about 3 minutes ahead. Maybe the wind would slow them down, but somehow I doubted it.
Last leg, HPK ahead Last leg, not zoomed
If I thought the leg heading back to Atlantic City was tough, the final leg was worse. I ended up pedaling faster for short periods, getting my pulse up to 145, with equal length recovery periods where the pulse was in the 120's. I'd get there eventually!

Off towards the southern shore the safety boat could be seen as they checked for boats that might have overturned and been pushed there by racers unable to get back aboard. Either that, or they were leary of passing next to me as they did at the previous race!
Mouth of the Cedar
At long last I reached the mouth of the Cedar River. This was also the only place on the course where I ran into clumps of floating milfoil and other weeds. Almost immediately the propeller fouled, dropping my speed to 4.5 mph. It cleared quickly and almost as quickly fouled again a few hundred feet later.

I continued pedaling at the slower speed, deciding that it would be better to just get out of the floating debris and weed field.
Almost at the end Finish line officials
A couple of hundred yards later and the water appeared clean enough that I cleared the propeller one last time. Ahh - that felt much better!

I made one final sprint to the finish, pouring whatever energy I had left into the pedals. The boat spurted ahead, with the GPS showing over 7 mph.

At long last the horn sounded and my race was over. Whew!

My time for the 13 miles was 2:11:29. This was a new pedal boating record for the course!
Single shell returning
Some 30 seconds later Paul Mueller crossed the line. I congratulated him on his finish, and silently was happy that I kept up the effort long enough to not have him pass me before the finish!

Remembering that there was supposed to be food available after the race, and that most of the racers had already probably already had their share, I decided it might be a good idea to pull up to the boat house and grab something before it was all gone.
Back at the boat dock Cadence demos
My desire for lunch was interrupted by a call from the dock. Someone who had called me prior to the race was interested in getting a demonstration of the Cadence. He and his wife came down to the boat house and were waiting on the dock for my return.

Getting out of the boat I was moving rather slowly as befit my de-energized condition, but managed to get the gentleman prepared and into the boat without mishap. He then went pedaling off while I went over to where the food was.

Sure enough, the buffet lunch was getting close to the bottom. There were some garden burgers, hamburgers, a few remnants of raw veggies and a bowl of M&M's mixed with nuts still available. Yum!
Buffet lunch Cadence demos
By the time I had returned with a plate of food the person demoing the Cadence had returned. We talked a while, and then he went out for a second trip.

By this time several other people had gathered, each wanting to try out the boat. When the first gentleman returned I prepared the next person for his trial, intending to continue my conversation with the first person directly afterwards. However, he and his wife departed without another word. Oh, well.

The other folks who tried the Cadence were strong kayak paddlers. They found it to be quite different from kayaking, yet still very fast. One big difference was that instead of leaning away from a wave and using a paddle to brace they had to lean into the wave; i.e., try to maintain a globally vertical position. They also found the seating position to be extremely comfortable. Some of that might have been due to the foam cushions I use, but I certainly agree with their viewpoint.

One person said his wife was interested in going boating alongside while he paddled, and this might be just the thing for her.
Safety boat in trouble Michael to the rescue
A call from the people on the docks interrupted the demos. Apparently the motor on the safety boat had failed and Paul, the pilot, was trying to get back to the dock by paddling with an oar. He requested that I, having a boat readily available and nearby, do him the honors and tow him in.

I climbed back into the Cadence and shoved off. As luck would have it, the piles of weeds that we had been dodging during the demos had completely surrounded the boat while it was tied up to the dock. Pedaling away from the dock managed to foul the propeller quite a bit, but once away from the weed mats a few vigorous clearing cycles did the trick. I sped around the end of the pier and was by the safety boat in short order.

Paul threw me a line. I grabbed it and, holding it over my shoulder with one hand and steering with another, began pedaling hard towards the dock. Progress was slow at first, but we gradually gained speed. Paul began paddling with the oar again, but the oscillation it created in the rope tension was more of a hindrance than help. Soon we were back at the dock, safe & sound.

I had given my camera to someone to take pictures. Unfortunately, however, the battery had given out just as I left the dock. There are no photos of this "rescue". Sigh...

Just after getting out of the Cadence the awards ceremony was held. The fastest boat on the 6 mile short course was a four man kayak with a time of 37:38. The slowest boat on that course was a sea kayak with a time of 1:30:19.

The fastest boat on the 13 mile long course was the triple rowing shell with a time of 1:39:27. The OC-6 was right behind them at 1:40:50! The last boat in (a sea kayak) had a time of 2:49:53.

I was tickled to find that my finish time and class (Pedal) was already written on the back of the first place ribbon given to me. Thanks, guys!

After the event was over I went back to the Cadence and pulled it onto the dock to check the propeller. Sure enough, one of the blades was bent at the tip about 90 degrees over a length of about 3/4 of an inch. It looked like it could probably just be bent back into place and all would be well. Otherwise, the propeller was in excellent shape. There was some very minor roughness on small portions of the leading edge of the other two blades, but nothing to write home about. These manganese bronze propellers are really great!

I got the boat back into the water and climbed aboard. Pedaling it under the concrete pier of the boat house I headed back towards the Cedar River delta, under the bridge and back to the boat ramp. The day had turned out to be nice and sunny, with big, billowy clouds surrounding the horizon as I pedaled up the river. It was a nice finish to the race season.