Sunday, April 23, 2006

American Lake Classic

It was a long time since last I was in a boat for a workout. The La Conner and Long Lake races were back in February or early March, and the Blake Island outing didn't really count in my book. I had been trying to keep in reasonable shape by running up the hills in my neighborhood, but it is just not quite the same thing.

So, it was with some excitement and even some trepidation that I drove down to Tillicum, WA for the American Lake Classic race with the Sound Rowers.

There was plenty of room in the parking lot when I arrived around 8:30 AM. I managed to find a spot only a few cars from the path to the boathouse. Woohoo!

The sky was partly cloudy and there was a fairly chilly, brisk wind from the north sweeping down the lake. The lake was quite wavy, with white caps on the tops of the waves.

As I walked around the boathouse the wind managed to blow a surfski off its camp stool supports and onto the dock. It was strong enough to blow the hats off people who weren't careful, too!

After registering for the race I returned to the car for my boat. The parking lot was starting to fill with boats, cars and people. A bunch of folks from the Gig Harbor paddling club were present, and they had brought their boats on a long trailer. As these competitors were teenagers, they also brought along their parents and other family members.

There would be a fair number of spectators today!

I had to get assistance in carrying the Cadence over the rooftop walkways of the boathouse and down the ramp to the dock. There was no way for a dolly to handle the steps and tight turns involved, or for it to get around the hand rails lining the walkways. Thanks, Paul, for all your help!

The Cadence was put in the water immediately alongside the dock, with the bow facing the wind. It stayed there quite nicely and generally out of the way of foot traffic.

Meanwhile I circulated among the other folks and took pictures.

Dave Anderson, the race director, had the pre-race meeting somewhat later than scheduled. He described the race, with a long course being three laps around Silcox Island and a short course being a single lap. The rowers were to start two minutes before the paddlers in order to give them time to make it around the first buoy before the tighter turning paddling crowd reached it.

The meeting ended and everyone began to make preparations for launch.

Well, maybe not everyone. Quite a few people decided that the conditions were too severe for them and their boats. In particular, many of the Gig Harbor folks decided against going out. Their boats are designed for flat water and low wind environments and would have been easily swamped or overturned. Two of the 4 person flatwater kayaks also bowed out. Several rowers also declined to race as they would have had difficulty negotiating with the strong winds.

Shortly after people started launching Dave made an announcement. One of the major local TV stations, KING-5, called to say they would be coming to cover the race. They were a bit late in their arrival so Dave postponed the start by 30 minutes.

I decided to go out anyway to start taking pictures and remember how to handle my boat in these conditions.

It was fairly easy to pedal out of the protected waters in the tiny marina. The wind was still a bit of a factor but having propeller thrust against a rudder for steering helped immensely in making the tight turns.

Out in the open the waves made balance more of an issue, but soon I was pedaling "no handed", taking shots of the other intrepid folks starting their warm up preparations.

KING 5 appeared and interviewed a number of the racers, concentrating primarily on the dragon boat paddlers and some of the Gig Harbor kids. I pedaled around the dock to see what they were doing, but they appeared to be pretty well occupied for the short period of time they stayed. There would be no pedal boats on the evening news! Oh, well.

Eventually the other racers got in their boats and headed out into the lake.

Ok, it's been a couple of weeks and I have been a little busy with other things. I'll just have to wrap this up.
The wind and waves made it a little interesting taking photos of the others. Sometimes a wave would catch me a little off guard, but the Cadence never tipped over.

The race started with a 2 minute lead by the rowers. This was done so they would supposedly reach the first turn buoy and not tangle with the paddled boats who could turn much more sharply. Unfortunately, however, with the waves causing quite a few "crab catches" by the rowers they weren't able to reach the buoys before the paddlers caught them.

I was able to keep pace with the main body of paddlers, and even able to pass a four person rowing shell between the 1st and second turns on the first lap.

By the time I was in the middle of the second lap there were no boats around me.

Rather than stop taking photos I decided to turn around at the end of the second lap and do the third and last lap in the reverse direction. This way I would be able to catch all the racers, including the the ones in the lead.

The plan worked. The two remaining 4 person kayaks in the race were soon within view. I caught them on the camera as well as all the other racers. Sometimes it was a bit difficult to get them all as some chose to paddle or row far to one side of the course or the other. Still, it was great getting front view shots as opposed to just side or rear views.

On the last leg of the last lap the wind blew my Sound Rowers cap off my head and into the drink. Circling back added nearly a minute to my time as the wind caused me to drift off to the side relative to the sea anchored and slowly sinking hat.

Finally, with a time of 1:12:07 I crossed the finish line. This was a little confusing to the race organizers as I crossed the line in the direction opposite to that of the other racers. Thank goodness for the data provided by my GPS receiver!

After the race the awards ceremony was held. It turns out that the record for the course was soundly broken by the 4 man kayak, even though it carried a couple of inches of water in the bilge. The fact that three of the paddlers were former Olympic athletes probably helped! They had a time of 49:43.

I managed to finish in 12th place out of a field of 26. Thirteen boats that came in addition to these chose not to compete on account of the conditions.

It was another fine race. Thanks, Dave, for putting it on!

Photos are at the Sound Rowers web site.