Sunday, August 26, 2007

Great Cross Sound Race

As happened on a couple of previous occasions I didn't have a boat for this race until perhaps a day or two before the event. The yellow and white carbon boat I had used in the Shaw event was back at the shop for some cosmetic repairs in preparation for it to be sold to a customer. The demo burgundy boat was also in the shop for final assembly. Only the newly completed demo blue and white boat was ready to go though it, too, was incomplete as it was missing its outriggers.

At Alki Beach in West Seattle near the race HQ I found a parking spot on the street with a lengthy No Parking zone directly behind. What luck! There was plenty of room for me to unload the Cadence from the roof of my car with no help needed. It also helped that my car was fairly short and fit easily into the otherwise small spot.

There were quite a few boats resting on the grass or slings on either side of the bath house at Alki. These included quite a few double and single rowing shells, a couple of wherries, a few surf skis, several single and double sea kayaks, and a couple of sit on top kayaks. Mine was the first pedal/prop boat to arrive, but it was joined a few minutes later by Todd's Cadence. There was also a tandem Hobie with the Mirage pedal/fin drive entered in the race, but strangely enough the only time I saw it was on the beach.

After picking up the pre-registration packet and a T-shirt (only $12 for everything!) I walked about taking photos of the event.

Jeff Knakal held the pre-race meeting. He mentioned that they had fewer chase boats this year, so everyone was to be extra careful in watching out for each other. He pointed out the course, which was from a starting line across Elliott Bay heading westward to Blakely Rock (barely visible across Puget Sound near Bainbridge Island), south to the buoy at Decatur Reef and back to Alki, finishing between a temporary buoy and the registration tent on the shore.

Jeff also mentioned the fact that the course crosses two ferry routes and two shipping lanes, that there were semi submerged rocks around Blakely Rock, and that there were typically strong tidal currents right at the Decatur Reef buoy. He didn't bring up the floating weed mats, but did mention a few apocryphal sea denizens that might afflict the unwary racer.

With the overcast skies, no breeze to speak of and air temperatures in the upper 60's I decided it would be a good idea to take along a windbreaker just in case it was necessary. Otherwise, bicycling shorts and two layers of nylon and polyester shirts were the clothes I wore.

The tide was quite low as we brought our boats down to the water. I wore a pair of Shimano bicycling sandals and wicking athletic socks on my feet, but somehow those socks weren't quite up to wicking away the water absorbed by wading into the chilly waters of Puget Sound. Once I was in the boat pedaling away from shore the socks seemed to do their job as there was an awful lot of water on the floor of the cockpit!

The Cadence handled well as I circled about the other 64 boats going through their warm-up routines. When the warning signals were heard prior to the start of the race I found myself near the north end of the starting line, next to a woman wearing a bright orange top and rowing a pink Maas Aero.

With a loud blast of the horn we were off!

With the usual starting line mayhem people were trying to dodge around the widespread oars of the rowers and trying to not hit each other with paddles. I decided to follow the orange topped woman, at least for a while, as she seemed to be going a speed that I could just barely maintain while taking photos.

With the fairly flat water the GPS reported a speed of about 7 mph. The heart rate monitor was indicating about 155 beats per minute - not bad.

I was pedaling quite strongly, slowing down slightly every so often to take pictures and then speeding to catch up with the Aero. A couple of large swells that came out of nowhere made it a bit interesting, too.

After a while, as we reached the midpoint of the crossing I stopped taking photos and concentrated on pedaling. The woman in the Aero was starting to slow down a bit and was angling more to the north than I wanted. I figured that she was just following the crowd, most of whom seemed to be heading much further north than necessary. We went our separate ways, and she began dropping behind.

A few minutes later I encountered the first of several zones of floating weeds. These are areas through which the ferries pass. Their propellers tend to stir up the bottom a bit and chew through the eel grass growing there. The severed eel grass then floats to the surface and tends to form mats that are up to 20 or 30 feet wide and hundreds of feet long. This makes it slow going for all boats, and a real nuisance for pedal boats as we generally have to resort to using our spare paddles for propulsion.

This year there were no true weed mats; just areas with lots of weeds loosely floating about. I powered through them, with momentary stops on the far sides to clear any accumulations on the propeller.

The several stops enabled quite a few of the other boats to pass, including the Aero.

Eventually I reached Blakely Rock, following a couple of sea kayaks that took a route close to the rocks. It was adequately deep and no monster crabs jumped out of the water to swamp my boat.

I encountered a few more weedy areas as I headed south to Decatur Reef, slowing me further. My heart rate was now in the upper 140's from all the "resting" while clearing the prop.

About this time the digital camera decided to flake out, too. The LCD displayed "Err" after I snapped a photo. This means that in order to take any more photos the camera has to be reset. To do this one needs to remove the battery and reinstall it.

This would not be much of a problem, except that it also involved removing the camera from its waterproof case. Sigh...

There were a couple of seals poking their heads up in this area. One sea lion was nosing about the buoy, and tried to jump onto it several times as I headed towards it. My attempts at photographing the jumps only succeeded in getting a few of the splashes as the sea lion fell back in. Oh, well.

There was a light current at the buoy, but nowhere near as strong as it had been in previous years. I put the pedal to the metal as I saw a "target rich" field ahead of me. There were quite a few boats that I just might be able to catch - if the weed gods were willing.

My pulse increased to the low 160's, and the GPS was reporting speeds in the 6.5 to 7 mph range. I passed a rower that caught me after Blakely, and left him behind. A few minutes later a kayaker met the same fate.

Again, the field of boats ahead seemed to be confused as to the right direction in which to head. Most of the people were heading too far to the north, confused by the large tent on the shore that a nearby beach volleyball tournament had erected. I located the bath house at Alki and the nearly invisible registration tent next to it, and made a bee line towards it.

A few weed encounters caused me to lag far enough behind that I was only able to catch one more boat, a kayaker, a few hundred yards from the finish. With a time of 1:14:38, an average heart rate of 155 bpm and a distance of about 7.4 miles I crossed the finish line. Whew!

After a few moments of idle pedaling beyond the finish I headed back out to take photos or the remaining incoming racers. It was a lot of fun cheering them on, sprinting here and there for photo opportunities, and escorting them to the finish.

Todd appeared pedaling alongside a kayak and having a good time. He said that he decided to just take it easy and carry on a conversation with some of the other racers rather than beat his brains out. Besides, if he finished he was guaranteed to get a second place ribbon!

Todd pushing his Cadence
After returning to shore Todd and I hauled our boats out of the water with the beaching dollies and pushed them back to the grassy area. It was not long before Jeff started the awards ceremony.

Robin gets fastest woman award
This year, unfortunately, the person responsible for bringing the custom printed ribbons for all the races somehow managed to forget to bring the ribbons for this race. The only awards actually handed out were the Windermere Cups for the fastest man (Evan Jacobs 51:59) and fastest woman (Robin Clark 1:02:21).

Thank you Jeff, and all the volunteers, for putting on a great race!

All the photos from the race can be seen here.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Round Shaw Tour

On Saturday, August 11, five people departed on a tour around Shaw Island, WA. Instead of racing in the Sound Rowers' Round Shaw Row this group decided to take their time, planning to sample the local cuisine, shop at the stores in Friday Harbor and Orcas, and generally have a good time.

At about 11:15 AM our group headed out. This was shortly after the racers had departed in an easterly direction going counterclockwise around the island. We decided to head in the clockwise direction since this would get us to Friday Harbor around lunch time. This also had us heading into a lifting fog which reduced visibility somewhat. Still, the water was pretty flat and the boat traffic was fairly light.

For the most part we stuck together, though at times the separation between the first boat in the party and the last approached a quarter mile. In general, Deb was out in front paddling her surf ski, while the rest of us pedaled our Cadence boats en masse as we crossed San Juan Channel towards San Juan Island.

Pedaling with moderate effort and with some assistance from the tidal currents, the group managed to achieve speeds of about 7 mph.

I was experiencing problems with the waterproof camera bag. The air inside the car where it had been stored apparently had been quite warm and moist. With the bag exposed to the cooler outside air the moisture condensed on the inside of the case as well as inside the camera. I did my best to dry out the bag, but was unaware of the condensation inside the camera until after returning home. Sigh...

We reached Friday Harbor shortly after noon. Using the marine VHF radio I carried along for safety purposes I hailed the harbor master on Channel 68. After identifying our group as "the pedal boat flotilla" I asked where we might be able to tie up for a couple of hours for lunch. The harbor master said we could tie up along the floating concrete walkways on pier "C".

We made our way to that pier and found a couple of spaces just barely large enough for our boats to fit. Deb pulled her boat from the water and set it on one of the adjacent docks. Todd and Lucia tied up together at one spot, and Paul and I tied up at the other.

After extracting our land essentials, e.g., wallets, jackets, etc., we headed over the docks to shore. There was an ice cream shop that looked especially inviting, but it was decided that it would be best to have dessert later.

Todd, Lucia and I decided to eat at Friday Harbor Seafood. They shared a sampler plate of shrimp, scallops, etc., and I had the fish & chips with a garlic caper saute. Deb and Paul decided instead to pick up some sandwiches at a nearby shop.

After eating our fill we headed up the main street for a little window shopping. Just after we had our photos taken at a viewpoint above the harbor we remembered that Paul and Deb needed to pick up some supplies for camp.

Back to the main drag, and up to the hardware store we went. On the way a couple of lattes were procured at a stand next door to a place that sold the most unique lamps. I took a few photos through the front window.

We returned to our boats to find them safe and sound. One of the larger boats that had been tied up next to Paul's and mine had been replaced by a much smaller one. The larger gap made it easier to pedal away.

As we left the harbor we noticed that there appeared to be a fairly large section of rough water in the channel separating San Juan Island and Shaw. Todd, Lucia and I generally kept towards the Shaw side, but Paul and Deb started heading across. As they seemed to be having no problems and were definitely moving quite rapidly along with the current I called out to Todd and Lucia and suggested that we head further out into the channel and do likewise.

The water in the middle of the channel was indeed moving rapidly northward. It also had quite a few waves and eddies caused by the tidal currents. This made it rather exciting and something of a challenge. I was worried about Todd and Lucia, as they did not have as much wild water experience, and they were falling behind.

I turned around to rejoin them, and found that they were handling themselves quite well. A paddle that had been stuck onto the front hatch of Lucia's boat had fallen off, but she managed to collect it and stow it in her cockpit. Well done!

Paul and Deb were pretty far ahead of us now, nearing the northwesternmost tip of Shaw Island. Seeing that we had fallen behind they slowed down a bit to let us regroup.

We entered Wasp Passage to find the currents against us and the wind pretty nonexistent. There were a few sailboats in the channel, slowly tacking one way and then another, trying to find a favorable wind. We quickly sped by, waving our greetings.

Paul decided to try to touch a few of the smaller islands on the way, just to increase his personal count of "landings" for the trip. He pedaled off towards the north side of the passage and made contact with a couple of them as we headed for the Orcas Island ferry terminal.

Lucia, Todd and I pretty much kept together in this part of the trip. As we passed Crane Island the currents seemed to be more neutral. A breeze arose, which helped to cool us a bit.

As we closed in on the ferry terminal I noticed what appeared to be a spout coming from the water not too far ahead of Paul. Could it be a whale?

The spout never appeared again, and Paul said later that he didn't see anything unusual.

We tied up at the floating dock just west of the ferry terminal. There was some grumbling about paying the $5 per boat fee required if one wanted to tie up, and the beach was pretty much under water. We decided to tie up at the dock anyway and handed the money to the young dockmaster in charge. Later on we found out that the dockmaster, a boy of perhaps 12 years of age, was working for free in order to raise money for medical treatment for his father's cancer.

After buying a few things for supper at the Orcas General Store and drinking some energy fluids (sport drink for me, beer for Todd and a latte for Lucia, plus animal crackers), we returned to our boats and readied for the final leg back to camp.

The skies were quite overcast and there was a definite chill in the air. I put on a windbreaker over my PFD. Paul switched boats with Deb, and off we went.

On the final leg the ordering was different. Todd and Lucia were out in front, with Paul and Deb generally bringing up the rear. The water was generally pretty flat, with the high tide covering most of the rocks and sea life along the shore.

On the east side of Shaw the only notable thing we ran into was a large block of foam floating a hundred feet from shore. Apparently a dock somewhere is missing a vital piece of flotation!

Eventually we rounded the point of land separating Indian Cove from the main channel. With the boat ramp of the county park in view Paul decided to have a final sprint to the finish. I decided that it would not do to have a paddled boat finish ahead of all the pedal boats, so I took up the challenge.

I pedaled faster and faster, catching up to Paul and soon passed him. He continued paddling strongly for a few moments and then gave up the chase. I continued on until finally reaching the boat ramp. Whew!

We landed on the nice, sandy beach, with the waves gently lapping the shore. It felt good to be back at camp!

For all of the photos taken, click here.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

10th Annual PSBC Swim for Life

The Puget Sound Blood Center was having a Swim for Life fund raiser. In this event a bunch of people who raised money from sponsors would swim approximately 2.2 miles across Lake Washington, from Medina Beach Park to Madison Beach Park.

Since this is a potentially dangerous thing to do on a large lake with cool water with possibly quite a few large, fast boats passing through, the organizers asked for volunteer human powered boaters to accompany teams of swimmers as they proceeded across the lake.

I volunteered.

It would have been easier and more convenient to have used a Cadence as the nearest boat launch was about 3.5 miles away. On the other hand, the Escapade had seats for three people (including the pedaler) as well as a roof in case it rained. If nothing else, I figured it would be a nice warm-up for this weekend's Shaw Island tour.

It was still dark when I reached the Medina boat ramp. Hurrying, because I was behind schedule, I backed the trailer into the water and pulled the boat off the trailer. The deep keel of the boat and the short length of the boat and trailer makes this a bit more of a chore than for other boats at most boat ramps.

The boat was already loaded with supplies and equipment for the day. All I had to do was park and lock the car, run to the boat, jump in and pedal off.

It wasn't long before I had to stop and take off the outer shirt and long pants, leaving a pair of bike shorts and a long sleeved T-shirt on for clothing.

At the stately pace of 4 mph I cruised north through fairly calm water towards Medina. The only other folks on the water were an early morning ski boat and a water skier.

At 6:50 AM and only slightly later than planned I reached Medina. There was a large construction crane on a barge tied up near the breakwater. A half dozen motorboats were also moored in the vicinity, apparently there in support of the swim.

The water was a bit choppy here, with a west-southwesterly wind. The waves were about a foot or so in height. With the beach swim area roped off there was no place for me or any of the motorboats to land.

I circled around very close to shore and finally decided to try mooring against the cushioned boom that was chained against the outside of the breakwater.

That worked fairly well. The Escapade bobbed up and down against the heavy duty cushion, and neither seemed to be harmed.

The breakwater itself appeared to be under destruction. The concrete that had been poured on top of the rocks had been fractured, destroyed completely or removed. With a bit of care I was able to scramble to shore.

Scott Leopold was the event organizer. After all the swimmers were registered Scott had a meeting describing the event and the safety plan. Swimmers were distributed in teams of 4 among the available boats, which included a canoe, two kayaks, a rowboat, the Escapade, a rowed inflatable boat and two motorboats.

A man who had taken an interest in the Escapade while I was circling near the beach earlier asked to have me assist his team. "Sure!", I said.

I took a couple of bags and towels from them to the boat, along with some bottles of water.

On a second trip to the boat I loaded it with bags of bananas and a case of bottled water that the organizers were unable to distribute to the power boats due to the construction, the swim ropes and the waves.

After jumping into the Escapade I pedaled towards a couple of power boats and managed to unload a couple of bags of bananas. Still, there were at least three banana bags left besides the extra water, the bags for the swimmers in my team, the blanket and towel I brought for emergencies, the camera bag, the extra jackets, waterproof utility box, canoe paddle, anchor, ropes and water shoes I brought along.

Oh, well. This was not going to be a race.

Swimmers were wading into the water and heading out. I found my team and away we went.

For the first half mile the team stayed fairly close together. One swimmer was a bit slower than the others, but the rest of the group would wait until she caught up. Another swimmer joined our group for a short while, but then it was decided that he was a better fit for a slower group that was trailing behind.

Not much later another group of four swimmers joined the team. Now I had to keep an eye on eight swimmers!

It was a good thing that they had to wear fluorescent orange swim caps. It made the task much easier.

From time to time a swimmer would head off in the wrong direction. I pedaled quickly over to that swimmer and herded him or her back towards the group. A few times I had to slow down the lead swimmers as the group stretched across the water. Other times the swimmers policed themselves. All I had to do was take photos and cheer them on.

About 1.4 miles into the course the slowest swimmer in the group decided to join the group following. There was one less to worry about, and one less that the team leader had to cheer onward. Everyone, even the slower swimmers, seemed to be taking it all in stride and were swimming with excellent form.

As we approached Madison Beach Park the team began to stretch out. The faster swimmers did not want to be held back and the slower ones could not keep up. Luckily there were now a few volunteer boats from faster teams making their way back along the course who could watch over the ones I could not be near.

Eventually we reached the dock at the north end of the park. I unloaded all the gear, food and water, which made the boat quite a bit lighter.

Latter group of swimmers
My team original team of 4
Everyone was very appreciative of the volunteers, and amazed at the capabilities and maneuverability of the Escapade. I suspect there will be a few inquiries made of Nauticraft about them!

After the swimmers got their food and gear they boarded the power boats and headed back to Medina Beach.

Jeff in his pea pod
Jeff, in his pea pod rowboat, and I decided to head over to take a look at Bill Gates' house on the other side of the lake. I was rather surprised to find out that the house I thought was his actually wasn't. Bill's house has been so overgrown by trees and bushes that it was difficult to distinguish from a distance. Oh, well.

The chop had increased to perhaps 1-1/2 feet. It made for a great test for Jeff's pea pod, which handled it with flying colors. The nice breeze was welcome in keeping my temperature down, too.

We soon returned to Medina Beach Park, where Jeff and I parted ways. I continued south, taking a side trip into Meydenbauer Bay near downtown Bellevue. A small fleet of tiny sailboats was circling the far reach of the bay, each piloted by a child of no more than 10 years of age. What fun!

Shark attach on Lake Washington
Exiting the bay I continued to the Mercer Island boat launch, passing mega mansion after mansion. One house had a stone tower with parapets; another had a penguin statue beside a waterfall with dolphins. My favorite was the house with the great white shark float.

I reached the boat ramp about 12:30 PM, and was quite ready for lunch!

It was a beautiful day to be on the water.

Photos, etc., can be found here.