Monday, May 21, 2007

Commencement Bay Race 2007

After having had a nearly week long period without precipitation the rain returned Friday afternoon. The forecast was for showers and clouds on Saturday, with temperatures in the 50's to low 60's.

Sure enough, Saturday dawned with some light drizzle and 50 degrees.

After breakfast, however, the rain had stopped. Yay! It was time to put the boat on the car and head to Tacoma.

Cadence on car

The parking lot was mostly empty at 8:30 AM. Several cars and vans carrying double racing shells were parked, and a couple of kayaks were present as well. I pulled into a spot near a large grassy area.

Preparing goodies


Todd Silver, the race director, was setting up a table loaded with goodies for the event. There were tasty muffins, soft drinks, fresh fruit and even a pecan pie. Yum!

Steve Wells was handling race registration at a nearby table. I walked over, registered and was handed boat number 1. Perhaps this was a portent of things to come - I hoped!

Another Cadence

Upon returning to my car I found that another pedal boat had arrived. Todd (another one) had driven down from Seattle with his blue Cadence to participate in his first Sound Rowers race. Welcome, Todd!

We unloaded the boats from the vehicles and wheeled them to a staging area not far from the cobble beach where we would soon be launching.

Pre-race meeting

The pre-race meeting started a little late. Todd Silver described the course. It was a narrow triangle with the start and finish at the apex, and the base formed by two buoys at the far eastern end of the bay near the container docks and a paper plant. This year, however, there would not be the hulking sawdust filled barge moored at one of the buoys as there had been in previous years. The 5 and 1 minute warning signals and the starting signal were also described. The meeting concluded with announcements relating to safety on the course, PFD requirements, etc.


Family affair

Todd and I helped each other get our boats down onto the beach amidst the other folks launching their vessels. One man brought two young children with him to race in his 3 man kayak. They seemed to be excited about going on this adventure with their father.

For launches such as this where one has to wade into the water before entering the boat, I used to wear water shoes for the wading and switch to cycling shoes for the pedaling once the boat was further out. Today I was trying out for the first time a pair of Shimano cycling sandals. They were excellent! The soles were tough enough to protect my feet from the stones, yet able to provide adequate footing on their slippery surfaces. The open design allowed the water to drain out immediately so I did not have to delay stepping into the cockpit. The velcro fasteners were quick to disengage and engage, and made putting on dry socks a quick and easy task. Lastly, the cycling cleat secured them quite well to the Speedplay Frog clipless pedals.

Now we'll have to see if they truly do have problems holding up when used in a salt water environment. This was a complaint by one or two people on a Hobie mail list.

Heading to the starting line

Awaiting the start

I pedaled out to the fleet of boats massing near the starting line.

Dragon boat

There were a couple of dragon boats from a local dragon boating club in the race today. The folks on board all seemed cheerful and ready to rumble. There were also several men's double rowing shells, piloted by some of the best Sound Rowers racers. With the southerly wind and fairly calm conditions at the start it looked like it could be a very fast, competitive race - at least for these guys!

About the only boats not present were the usual outrigger canoes and surf skis. I guess that some of them were in Hawaii for the Molokai race.

We're off!

At the starting line the wind was pushing the boats northward. Some boats had more windage than others, causing them to clump somewhat by the time the one minute warning signal was heard.

Finally, we were off!

Heading east

Pedaling east into the bright overcast the GPS was reporting speeds of around 7 mph, possibly higher. The double rowing shells gradually pulled away, with a surf ski or two not too far behind. A couple of single rowing shells also pulled ahead. Meanwhile, most of the rest of the field remained behind as we headed towards the first buoy.

Still heading east

Remembering how this race turned out photographically in previous years, i.e., lots of shots of different racers at the beginning followed by shots of one or two racers for the rest of the event, I decided to do the course in the same fashion as I did the Lake Whatcom race. I would head to the second buoy first, head to the first buoy, and then return to the start with the rest of the racers. This would enable me to take photos of everyone in the race as I passed by in a sort of reverse direction.

Grain elevator ahead

I bid adieu to Steve Wells as he headed in the direction of the first buoy, and set course towards the freighter moored at a grain elevator on the south side of the harbor.

Paper plant ahead

With the sawdust barge gone the second turn buoy was hard to see against the far eastern shore. I made my best guess as to its location and pedaled rapidly toward it.

The GPS was reporting a somewhat slower speed than before. I guessed that perhaps the tide and river currents were working against me.

First racers approach

Sure enough, I encountered almost head on the first racers in their double shell on their return.

More racers

Third place

The competition between the front competitors was looking pretty fierce. Those guys were working like maniacs!

Approaching second buoy

Surf ski approaches

Rounding the second buoy I met the first paddler in a surf ski. We exchanged greetings and off we went our separate ways.

Dragon boats approach

More racers

Racers were passing by quickly now. Some were taking a rather wide tack towards shore, and others were heading closer to my position. The water was also starting to get fairly choppy, probably mostly due to the merging of the water from the Puyallup River with that of the harbor.

Todd approaches

As I neared the first buoy I encountered Todd pedaling his Cadence. He seemed to be having a good time and was making pretty good progress. Unfortunately, however, it appeared that his chain had come somewhat loose and would skip if he applied too much pressure on the pedals. I yelled to him that I would come back and give him a tow after getting shots of the rest of the racers.

Heading to first buoy

Vadim in a lot of chop

Still en route to the first buoy I encountered a cluster of boats, including the one paddled by the dad and his two kids. They all seemed to be having a great time, even though most appeared to be a little wet from the increasingly heavy chop.

After rounding the buoy I continued westward through the chop until I found Vadim paddling his sea kayak. He was doing great in that mess but was happy to hear that it was calmer further along in the course.

I headed back in the general direction of the second buoy in order to join up with Todd. The waves were mostly abeam, which reduced the splashing a bit. The propeller was no longer spinning in air from time to time, either. Meanwhile, the GPS was reporting a speed of about 6 to 6.5 mph.

Nearing the Navy ships

Eventually I found him. He had progressed quite a bit further along the course than I had expected. Rats! I should have angled further towards the west! Now I would have to work in order to catch up.

Catching Todd

Slowly but surely the distance between his boat and mine shrank. He had been doing a great job of pedaling evenly, just cruising through the water. We talked for a few moments - and then I left him in my wake with a short sprint. Seeing a couple of rowers close to shore and not very far ahead I briefly entertained thoughts of trying to catch them.

Crossing the finish

After a short consultation with my muscles the decision was made: nope - not today. I just continued pedaling at moderately high effort.

After an hour and 4 minutes I crossed the finish line. Overall, with the pauses for photography and the extra distance covered (about 6.5 miles), that wasn't too bad.

Todd is done

Todd came across the line soon after, with a time of 1:05:27. That was also a good time, though the distance he covered was probably closer to 6 miles, and he couldn't press as hard as he would have liked.

Heading to shore

After a while talking and taking more photos we headed to shore.

The munchies were still there, so I grabbed a chunk of pecan pie. That really hit the spot!

First Place Mixed Junior/Masters 3 Person Kayak

The awards ceremony was held after the last racer crossed the finish. The first boats across the line were the double rowing shells, which was not a surprise. However, they managed to set a new course record with a time of 40:36. Their average speed was over 8.8 mph - not bad at all, especially considering the chop approaching the first turn.

After the ceremony I assisted Todd in adjusting the chain on his boat. It appeared that a couple of mounting screws had come loose, but no damage had been done.

We assisted each other in putting the boats back on the cars and headed home. Another race and another fine day!

More photos and the race results can be found at the Sound Rowers web site.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Commencement Bay Race tomorrow!

This race is not nearly so long a drive from my house as the Lake Whatcom race. I guess that means I'll be late to show. Maybe not!

At least the Konica-Minolta A-1 camera is back from the repair shop, so I should be able to get pictures with a camera that I'm familiar with using.

The Sound Rowers web site has the details. See ya there!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Lake Whatcom Classic 2007

The Lake Whatcom Classic was held on a fairly chilly morning. The sky was mostly cloudy and there was a light breeze from the southeast. At least it wasn't raining, which was certainly a possibility given the forecast.

The race was held at nearly the same location and at the same time as the start of the Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts (W.A.K.E.) Demo Day. With both popular events occurring simultaneously the parking lot was nearly full of cars, boats of various types and sizes and trailers.

For this race I was using a light new Cadence that was mostly lime green in color with blue accents. With the race being about 13 miles in length and my nonexistent endurance training I figured it would be best to be as efficient as possible in the use of my meager muscle reserves. Besides, the outrigger boat would be busy at the demo day for people to try out.

With the club's camera undergoing repairs I made do with an ancient Casio 3 megapixel camera for taking shots on land. Another racer was lending me an Olympus ultra-zoom camera in a diving case for use on the water. It included a lead weight intended to make it have neutral buoyancy in the water, but out of the water it served to help steady the camera for those higher magnification shots.

This was pretty much the maiden voyage for this boat. I also had to reacquaint myself slightly with handling a Cadence without outriggers; e.g., don't shove the rudder all the way over unless you are ready to balance against the torque. Still, this boat was light and nimble and handled well as I scooted between the other racers warming up on the water.

The starting signal found me near the northern end of the starting line. Hmm, there were not really any opportunities for drafting over here - just a couple of rowing shells. Regardless, I started pedaling moderately hard, snapping picture after picture of the others.

As the field was pulling away I decided it might be a good idea to pedal harder. This increased my heart rate to around 156 beats per minute and my speed to somewhere in the 7 mph range according to the GPS. The gearbox and chain were generating a whirr-whirr sound, indicating that I needed to pedal better circles.

So I did.

The boat speed seemed to increase slightly and instead of keeping even I was beginning to pass some double canoes and OC-2's. Yay!

Pausing slightly in order to take their photos enabled them to regain the lead. Resumption of circular pedaling soon put an end to that.

Far ahead I could see a cluster of surf skis, with a couple of rowing shells off to either side. In addition, a couple of club regulars in an OC-2 could be seen roughly midway between the cluster and my boat. Perhaps I could catch them!

I sucked down the contents of a juice pack. The sugar would help later in this two hour race.

Slowly, slowly, the distance between me and the OC-2 grew shorter. Meanwhile, a couple of the boats I had passed earlier had caught my wake and were drafting. After taking a couple of photos I then took off, leaving them far behind.

My pulse had not dropped below 152 this entire time. With hope I'll have enough energy to carry me through the race to the end! At least the light head wind was helping to keep me cool.

Just past a little marina on the south shore I finally passed the OC-2. Steve and Rocky, the paddlers in the OC-2, appeared a little perturbed at this, but I smiled and took their photos.

Shortly afterwards I came upon another OC-2 that had dumped its paddlers into the drink. They refused assistance and were able to board and continue on their way. Steve and Rocky also slowed down, but were also refused. Onward!

Far ahead I could see the first of the rowing shells on its return from Reveille Island, the turning point in the race. Abandoning the southern shore I headed over to take his photo, as well as those of the other racers following him on the return leg.

The Olympus camera and its waterproof case were getting pretty heavy and slick from sweat by this time. I did my best in framing shots and planning which ones to take, as the camera was pretty slow to focus and store the images. Still, there were a few missed shots that would have been wonderful if they had turned out. Oh, well.

I did my best also to try to not cause problems getting in the way of the other racers as I headed to and around the island. There were a couple of times when my boat got a bit closer than I wanted when I inadvertently played "chicken" with a couple of them. Sorry about that!

On the return from the island the light headwind turned into a light tailwind. Things were definitely a bit warmer and I ended up cooling my hands in the water a few times. Ahhh!

My strength was starting to ebb. The heart rate monitor was indicating a pulse of around 146 bpm. Hmmm, perhaps more energy was needed. The second juice pack was consumed in the hopes of staving off muscle failure as there was nearly half the race left to go.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that my slowing down for photos around the island didn't put me very far behind Steve and Rocky's OC-2. They became the goal for my pedaling efforts.

The GPS indicated I was going just over 6 mph. That was strange. With the pedaling effort and the tail wind the boat should have been going closer to 7. I stopped momentarily and pedaled backward a bit to see if any vegetable matter might have been wrapped around the propeller. Sure enough, a leaf or two were visible in the forward moving prop wash.

I resumed my chase.

The OC-2 seemed to be trying to avoid me as they zigged and then zagged about 100 yards ahead. As far as I could tell this tactic only served to slow them down while I headed in a nearly straight line towards the finish.

With about a mile to go I noticed a guy in a surf ski had caught up and was following in my wake. My legs were pretty well spent by now. All I could do was try to maintain my cadence and heart rate and, perhaps, snap a photo or two.

With less than a quarter mile to go the surf ski began to make his move. I decided that I should, too. There was no need to conserve anything now!

Putting the pedals to the metal the speed of my boat increased, reaching 7 mph and higher. The surf ski was quickly dropped as the Cadence surged through the water towards the finish line. Go, go, go!

At last the horn was sounded as I crossed the line with a time of 2:01:41 for a GPS distance of 12.5 miles. Wahoo!

Several muscles began to cramp and it took a few moments for them to loosen enough to pedal strongly again. I headed over towards the timing officials on the shore.

Joost told me that he was rather impressed with my finishing sprint. He had to change the order of the finish because he felt certain that the surf ski was going to be ahead. I told him that I had merely slowed down to snap that guy's photo (which I did) and then headed on to my rightful place. Ha!

I met Rusty at the dock and gave him the camera to take my photo. Afterwards, I headed over to the WAKE demo area, dropped off the boat, and walked back to my car for a change of clothes. It felt good to be out of those sweaty garments.

At the awards ceremony ribbons were handed out to the finishers in each class. The first boat across the finish was Robert Meenk in a single rowing shell with a time of 1:30:12. That was an average of 8.3 mph! The next single boat was paddled by Brandon Nelson, with an average speed of 7.7 mph. Those guys were truly cooking.

My speed averaged 6.16 mph, which was fairly comparable with previous years. Two big differences, however, are that 1) this year I didn't draft anyone for the entire race and 2) I was pedaling a brand new boat with very stiff seals on the gearbox. So, as far as I'm concerned, it was a pretty good improvement overall. The average heart rate for the 2 hours was 151 beats per minute. Whew!

Thank you, Joost, for directing this great race in such a beautiful venue.

Additional photos can be found on the Sound Rowers web site.