Sunday, May 21, 2006

Commencement Bay Race

map of course

I had to borrow a boat for this race as mine was at the Cadence factory being used for training purposes.

green boat

Rusty Lane was kind enough to lend me his evergreen and white demo boat. In fact, he brought it to and from the race, as well as helping me carry it down to and up from the beach. What a guy!

Anyway, we had a pretty good turnout. Two dragon boats, one OC-6 canoe, a bunch of single and double rowing shells, a horde of surf skis and a number OC-2's were present. Dick Lyon brought his 27' long Gazelle pedal boat, and though he said he had not had it in the water for some 9 months I already satisfied myself with the probability that I'd be in second place. This was pretty well assured since I didn't have my clip in cycling shoes and pedals. Oh, well.

meeting by porta-potty

We had the pre-race meeting in the parking lot adjacent to the line for the one and only port-a-potty so they would not be left out. The course was the same as last year, which meant you start off the end of the nearby pier, head towards the buoy near the mouth of the Puyallup River, turn south towards a large sawdust filled barge, head around that barge and return to the pier.

Everyone except for the dragon boaters headed to the rocky beach to launch their craft. Those folks had access to a nearby dock where their boats had been moored.

on the beach

The beach was fairly crowded with all the boats entering the water. I waited a bit until most of the folks were away and then put in. Rusty took the beaching dolly back up to the sidewalk area where he took a break and sat on a park bench.

Pedaling out past the ancient pilings near the shore to the starting line I began taking lots of photos. Some folks were just waiting for the starting signal. Others were still warming up.

The water was pretty calm, though there was a southerly and westerly breeze that tended to push the boats past the starting line.


I ended up near the far north end of the starting line near some OC-2's paddled by some young women and the double rowing shells. The dragon boats were not far behind, choosing to try to get a running start.

we're off!

we're off!

The signal was given and we were off!

As usual many of the folks seemed to just rocket away from the start - and keep on going! Those were the surf skis paddled by some folks who seem to paddle every day and have super strong upper bodies - and ultra lightweight boats. The double shells were moving fast, too, but did not seem to have quite the same acceleration. Some of the OC-2's were moving rapidly, but for the most part I was able to maintain their pace.

Dick leading some surfskis

Off to the south I saw Dick pedaling his boat at what looked like a relatively leisurely cadence of around 64 rpm. I was pedaling at a rate more comfortable to me, which was closer to 85 rpm. However, since his boat was lighter and longer than mine it had less drag; i.e., he was going a little faster than me. Perhaps I should have used bike shoes after all.

Unlike previous years one of the dragon boats began gaining on me. They must have put stronger paddlers in this boat or I was getting slower/weaker/not wearing bike shoes. Eventually they caught up to me and pulled alongside.

Dragon boat passing

Dragon boat behind, too!

Hmmm, since they are going about the same speed perhaps I could draft them, save up my energy and pass them at an opportune time!

Right behind

I dropped right behind them.

It was a lot easier to pedal and go the same speed traveling in their wake.

Off to the side I saw the OC-6 starting to move a little closer and slowly pulling ahead. Could I catch them and let them drag me along?

Speeding up I pulled away from the dragon boat in an attempt to catch the OC-6.

Unfortunately, they were just a little too fast for me and too far away. I dropped back behind the dragon boat. If only I had my biking shoes, I might have been able to maintain the effort to catch them!

Yeah, right. It was too hot traveling with the wind and I was starting to melt.

Water color change

First turn buoy

I remained behind the dragon boat as we approached the first turn buoy. We had been maintaining a speed of around 6.5 to 7 mph up until this point, where we dropped down to around 6 mph. There were a number of waves in this area, possibly caused by the wind, tides and countering current at the mouth of the river as well as boat traffic. Some of the other boats had troubles here and slowed down. We just kept on going and barreled through.

The water also changed color a couple of times, going from a bluish green to a tawny brown and back to a dark bluish green. I guess some mud had washed into the river and was now making its way into the harbor.

Dick Lyon could be seen just making his way past the sawdust buoy and accompanied by some guys on surf skis.

Near sawdust barge

It was a pretty quick trip to the massive sawdust barge and the turn at its far corner. I managed to cut around the inside while the dragon boat made a sweeping turn. Ahead we seemed to be gaining on a couple of boats, including what looked like a single rowing shell piloted by Steve Wells.

Heading into the wind felt great! I removed my hat and indulged in the stiff breeze. Ahhh!

On the return leg I tried pulling ahead a couple of times only to have them speed up a bit, making me decide to drop back in behind. I decided to wait until the near the finish and then sprint, knowing what it would take to reach the front of that considerably long vessel. Our speed was about 6.5 mph.

Passing attempt

Bulk freighters

We passed a pair of bulk loading freighters and then cruised past the docks and shoreline of the parkway. From time to time I could hear the second dragon boat off in the distance behind us as well as see some other racers far ahead. Steve was maintaining his distance, determined to not let us pass.

I'm ahead!

About half a mile from the finish I decided to make my move. With determined concentration I put my head down and began pedaling faster. Slowly I pulled up along the dragon boat, eventually pulling even with the bow. Pedaling slightly faster I proceeded beyond their bow - and ahead!

I was pedaling strongly, breathing hard and moving along at about 7 mph. The breeze was helping to keep me cool, and the dragon boat was right on my tail. Gotta move!

The captain of the dragon boat shouted out that it was time to sprint. They began paddling faster and, lo and behold, they started catching up. I was heading straight to the finish line, but the dragon boat seemed to be trying to crowd me over. I didn't want to hinder them, yet I also didn't want to get pushed out of the way, so I pedaled harder.

Back behind

Unfortunately, however, my legs just couldn't do it. I ended up dropping behind the boat one last time, hoping to ride their wake in and not be too far behind.

At long last we crossed the finish. The dragon boat was ahead, followed by a rower in a shell that had managed to catch us at the last moment, and me in fairly quick succession. Whew! What a race!

My time was 57:26 over a distance of about 7 miles.

After recuperating for a short time I circled back to take photos of the remaining racers.

Ahead of Shane?!?

Young racers

I was surprised to see some folks who normally finish ahead of me still crossing the line.

Not bad for an old, getting out of shape guy with water shoes!

Thank you, Rusty, for the boat, and thank you, Todd, for putting on such a fun race!

The entire set of photos can be found at the Sound Rowers site.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Lake Whatcom Classic

This race was moved from a starting date earlier in the year to one later in the year in order to take advantage of the typically better weather. Unfortunately, however, the weather gods decided that it would be rather nice and sunny on what would have been the original race date and cold, windy and wet on the actual date.

As I'm writing this nearly two months later my memory is a little sketchy and this report will be limited to those few moments of lucidity remaining.

There were quite a few people at the race, though fewer than last year due to the weather. As luck would have it the rain held off during the the registration and pre-race meeting, so people were only chilled by the wind off the lake. I was wearing several layers of warm clothing and had no problems, though deciding what to leave behind when getting into the boat was a question. Should I be cold now and warm up in the race, or be warm at the start and have to make clothing changes and have to stow the clothes?

I decided to be a little colder at the start.

The launch and warmup was a bit of mayhem, as usual, with a little sprinkle from above thrown in for good measure. I pedaled about trying to get photos of all the racers without running into them or getting into other people's way. The sprinkle, light chop at the start and the wind made this a little interesting in trying to keep the camera lens clear.

The signals to line up and then to start were given. I was closer to the north end of the line by the rowers and some surf skis. The rowers soon left me in their wake.

I pedaled for quite some time alongside Heather, the wife of Brandon Nelson. The previous week Brandon had set a new world 24 hour flat water paddling distance record - nearly 146 miles! This was done as part of an attempt to raise money for hospice care in honor of his recently deceased mother.

I left them to go after two friends of mine on a beat up OC-2, Vern and Steve. They were paddling closer to shore, probably trying to get somewhat out of the wind to the calmer water.

We exchanged greetings and continued towards the island turn around point.

About a quarter mile before the island I saw the first racers coming around the island. It was time to abandon the standard route and go around the island in the reverse direction to take photos of the other competitors.

While I had been feeling fairly strong pedaling to the island, I was starting to feel a bit worn out as I made my way around it. Perhaps it was the change of pace, stopping to concentrate on taking shots and wiping off the lens (maybe that is why some of the photos are smeared!), or perhaps it was because my energy reserves were becoming depleted, I was getting tired. It might have been the consumption of a packet of concentrated energy goo that was giving me a sugar low, too, though I would have thought it would have energized me instead. Oh, well.

Upon reaching the other side of the island and heading back to the start I was not surprised to find that Heather had managed to put some distance between us. No matter; I was content to try to keep up with Rocky and his paddling partner on their OC-2.

It was pretty toasty now that we were traveling with the wind. After removing a jacket I caught back up with them and ended up following the OC-2 most of the way to the finish line.

On the way we caught and passed the guy who had been tagging along with Heather on the outbound leg. He looked completely exhausted, with his arms barely going through the motion of paddling. Gotta pace yourself, guy!

I tried to pass the OC-2 but quickly dropped back behind. My energy reserves were not deep enough to make a long sprint for the finish.

As luck would have it, about 100 yards from the finish I started pedling faster, heading off on a somewhat different tack than the OC-2. For some reason they decided to head at an angle that would take longer to reach the finish line. For some other reason they then decided to stop paddling. I guess they thought they had crossed the line!

In the midst of their confusion I kept on pedaling and crossed the line in 31st place overall with a time of 2:00:53 for some 12.8 miles. Hurray! Thanks, Rocky!

Due to some confusion on the part of the race director there were no ribbons to award the finishers. People milled about, munching the goodies, and talked about the race to each other. After a while I loaded up the car and headed home. What a day!

More photos can be found here.