Sunday, February 18, 2007

La Conner 2007

I was all ready to do this race, having blown off the New Year's race since I didn't have a boat with which to enter. In fact, I drove all the way there (90+ minutes) the weekend before the race as my PDA calendar had the 10th as the race date. Sigh...

Cadence Pedal Boats on a Matrix
Anyway, I brought two brand new boats on top of the car to show off. One - a gray hull/red decked boat - was there for me to race with, trying out the prototype outriggers for the first time. The other - a bright orange boat with white trim - was there to get some finishing touches at the factory.

The parking lot below La Conner's Rainbow Bridge was mostly empty when I arrived about 8:30 AM. There were a couple of large rowboats on trailers being prepared for launch, a couple of rowing shells and some kayaks laying about. A shelter had been erected over the registration tables across the road next to the boat ramp. On the other side of the shelter a pickup truck with a camper shell was parked on which the Sound Rowers banner had been hung. This must be the place!

I registered, paid the $8 entry fee and accepted my racer number - lucky 13! The Sound Rowers have reusable racer numbers consisting of coroplast rectangles that fold into A-frame like signs. These signs are secured to the top of one's boat by means of duct tape. On both sides of the "A" the number of the racer is presented in large block digits. These signs have worked quite well for several years and make the job of the race timers identifying the racers much easier.

Returning to the car I removed the red/gray boat and prepared it for the race. PFD, GPS, water bottle, tow rope, spare paddle, cushions and camera bag were tossed in. I decided to carry the outriggers separately down to the dock rather than mount them in advance. It would make getting past the other people on the dock a bit easier. Besides, I could then test how easy it was to install them on the water.

Cadence Pedal Boat on a Dock
With a bit of assistance from another racer the boat was wheeled to the end of the dock. There was a bit of very cold seawater covering a large portion of the dock, making it a bit of a balancing act to keep one's feet dry by walking along the rail on its edge. Whew! I made it!

The tidal current in the channel was fairly strong. I decided to wait until after the pre-race meeting to launch, just to be on the safe side.

Pre-race meeting
Rob O'Brien, the race director, held the meeting soon afterwards. He described the course, the availability of safety boats, the VHF radio channel to use if you needed help, etc. He also mentioned that after the race there was going to be a soup and bread lunch at Maple Hall just a few blocks away, and that the awards ceremony would be held there. With that, we were to prepare for the race!

Returning to the dock I installed one of the outriggers and quickly launched the boat. The boat was positioned so that the cockpit was directly adjacent to the edge of the dock and the outrigger was distant. This made it easy to get in, and was quite stable.

Cadence Prototype Outrigger Float
After grabbing the other outrigger I pushed away from the dock, drifting with the current. Installing the second outrigger was a bit of a chore as it was difficult to align the holes for the securing pin. That will have to be changed in the production version. Once installed the two floats were submerged by no more than half an inch or so - just as planned.

Cadence Prototype Outrigger Float bow wave
I began warming up, pedaling up and down the channel, taking pictures of the others. The floats did not seem to create much drag at speeds up to 4 mph; however, with the very simple bow shape and orientation I was starting to get splashed at higher speeds. A more gentle entry should correct most of that.

Waiting to start
Eventually the channel filled with boats, congregating just north of the orange colored Rainbow Bridge. Patiently we waited as a few stragglers launched and the 5 minute warning was given. It was a little difficult maintaining station against the tidal current flowing through the channel and the breeze blowing the opposite direction. Several boats just floated a little past the starting line rather than collide with the boats ganging up on them in the rear. The GPS indicated an "at rest" speed of about 1 to 1.5 mph, depending on where one was in the channel.

At last the starting signal was given and we were off!

Racing down the channel
Pedaling madly and snapping photos left and right of the other racers, I scurried down the channel. As the drive system in this brand new boat was still a bit stiff with friction from the gearbox seals and the stuffing box bearings I found myself dropping slowly back into the field. The slight additional drag at higher speed form the outrigger floats was probably contributing to the reduction in top end speed, too. Of course, as this was also my first time out on the water in months and many of the surf ski racers and some of the kayakers had been working out all winter, my engine might need a bit of a tune-up as well.

The GPS was indicating a speed of over 7 mph going down the channel. With the current assist that meant I was pedaling the boat at around 6 mph relative to the water - not too bad.

OC-1 following
A guys in an OC-1 was drafting closely behind the Cadence. I snapped a few photos as I continued pedaling.

Last minute turn
Nearing the south end of the channel a rower passed between me and the shore. I yelled out to him, warning of the rocky shoreline he was heading into. He looked around and quickly changed course. Whew! That would have been an expensive lesson in navigation!

At the turn
Turning westward the current became stronger. My speed increased to over 8 mph. While it was nice now that current would make for a slow return. This race could be won using strategy if you could find the top current outbound and the least current inbound.

The camera lens was fogging up due to the greenhouse effect and the fairly cold southerly breeze. Pressing the palm of my hand against the glass for a minute or two was enough to cause the condensation to evaporate, and keeping it somewhat out of the wind for the remainder of the race was enough to stop it from happening again.

Leaders returning
Turn Buoy
Near the western end of the jetty I met the leaders returning. Robert Meenk was just ahead of Tyler Peterson, both of whom were rowing single shells. Not far behind were folks in surf skis and double shells. I was able to take pictures of most of the racers as I headed to the turn buoy, but had to pause a bit as I made the turn. The current from the channel was affected by the current in the Sound. The resulting flow was pushing me and everyone else somewhat off course as we tried to round the buoy. The increase in wave height to 1 to 1.5 feet (trough to crest) started making things a little more wet as well.

On the return leg the southerly breeze caused the splashing from the floats to keep the camera case wet. It also got my lens cleaning cloth wet - no more sharp pictures. Rats!

The GPS showed my return speed at around 4 mph - not very good. I headed to the north side of the channel where the water gets very shallow. That should impede the current - and it did. My speed increased to around 5 or 5.5 mph, and I began passing boats that took a course down the center of the channel.

Following in the shallows
Unfortunately, however, some of them noticed what was happening and they veered toward the shallower water, too. Sigh...

Entering Hole in the Wall
After a long time I reached the "Hole in the Wall" and turned back north up the Swinomish Channel towards the town. There were a couple of other boats in close proximity, including a double canoe, a single shell, a kayak and a two man wherry. We headed up the channel trying our best to stay out of the current and not hit the rocks on the shore.

I was getting fairly tired and let the double canoe and shell get ahead. The others dropped back a bit, and I was able to cross the finish ahead of them. Hurray!
P2170062 Photo-grapher finish small SR Photographer Michael Lampi finishing
Shooting the SR Photographer Michael Lampi finishing
My time was 1:20:19, which was not too bad. Ok, so it was 10 minutes slower than my time the previous year. That boat's drive system was looser and it didn't have outriggers.

I pedaled around the channel near the finish line for a short while, and then decided I wanted to try standing up in the boat. No problem!

Having had enough fun for one day it was time to go in.

Back at the dock I removed both outriggers and placed them on the dock. It was rather crowded, what with a couple of the 5 man wherries tied up and their crew milling about. With the help of one of the guys holding the boat against the current I got out of the boat. Paul Rollinger helped me wheel it back up to my car and place it on the rack.

With a change into dry clothes I was feeling nice and warm - and hungry!

Maple Hall lunch
Soups du jour
I headed over to Maple Hall on the south end of town a few blocks from the boat ramp. Deb Natelson made gallons of different types of soups and organized the group that rented the hall served the hot soup and bread for the participants. Excellent work, Deb!

Awards Ceremony
With the soup and bread consumed by one and all it was time for the awards ceremony. This year the Sound Rowers have started providing race ribbons with the name of the event for all of their races. I think it makes the event more memorable. Bravo!

Thank you for another fine race at La Conner!

My stats:
Lampi's statistics

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

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