Monday, October 08, 2007

Medina-Mercer 2007

The standing joke here is "What do you call the sunny, warm day preceded by two cold and wet days? Monday.".

While the US Midwest was basking in clear skies and temperatures in the upper 80's, we in the Pacific NorthWet were having a typical weekend: sunny Friday, drizzly and chilly (low 50's) Saturday, drizzly and not quite as chilly (low 60's) Sunday, and partly cloudy Monday.

Two layers of shirts, fleece lined jacket and a wind breaker were not enough to keep me warm before the race. Replacing the fleece jacket with a kayak PFD did the trick. Putting on an insulating headband and baseball cap certainly helped, too.

After registering for the race I returned to the car and prepared for the race. This involved taking the Cadence off the roof of the car and onto its dolly, loading it with water bottles, seat pads, tow rope, GPS receiver and a safety paddle. The Coroplast race number was then taped to the rear deck. I carefully walked it down the steep asphalt path to the beach where the guy in the backhoe had just finished smoothing the beach for us.

With all the construction gear and concrete forms blocking most of the access to the beach I decided to park the boat as far from the access path as possible. I couldn't be accused of blocking anyone by leaving the boat there!

As it was still a bit early and the drizzle was getting a bit heavier, I decided to return to the car. It was quite a bit warmer and drier inside, and it gave me a chance to put the camera in its waterproof case in preparation for the race. It also seemed to be time to switch from sneakers to sandals, as there were very few dry places around the registration shelter where I could conceivably stash my belongings.

About 10 or 15 minutes later the rain subsided. I got out and took more photos of other folks preparing for the event, most of whom were bundled in warm clothing, hats and jackets. Some even wore mittens or gloves.

The pre-race meeting was held soon after my return. Rainer Storb, the race director, told us about the two courses, the long and the short. They both start at the same place and time and head the same direction - south, towards Mercer Island and the East Channel Bridge. The short course turns back after crossing under the bridge while the long course continues down the East Channel, rounds the bottom of Mercer Island and heads back to Medina Beach park by way of the west side of Mercer Island.

For today's race we had the assistance of the Medina Police Marine Unit as well as a private volunteer safety boat. Of course, we were expected to provide assistance to other racers if they were in trouble and if we could help in any way.

During the meeting another Cadence pedal boat arrived, this one owned by Todd. He parked it alongside mine and quickly got registered.

I asked Todd which race he had intended to do, as I intended to the other one. You see, this would mean that we both could get first place ribbons so long as we finished our respective races. When he replied "The long one" I was pretty happy. Given how chilly it was and how I was feeling about the weather I really did not feel like pedaling the long one.

People started launching their boats, stepping into the cool water and clambering aboard as quickly as possible. The little breakwater did a pretty good job of reducing the chop, so launching and boarding was easy to manage. The water also got reasonably deep close to shore, so I was able to have the bow of the Cadence on the sand, the stern out in the water, and not have to step too far into the water to get into the cockpit.

While still beached I got in the boat, sat down, dried my feet with the socks, and put on the sock and sandals.

Backing away under pedal power worked out pretty well, too. I was able to turn around between some of the other boats and head out into the lake.

There was still a bit of a drizzle and a strong breeze from the south. This kicked up the water a bit and also coated the optical port on the camera case. It was good I carried along a couple of cloth handkerchiefs with which to dry it!

Quite a few people seemed to be troubled one way or another by the conditions. Still, no one seemed to capsize during the warmups, and the two safety boats kept close by in case any problems occurred.

I noticed that turning around in the wind was a little more difficult than usual. Deciding that the problem was due to the sail effect of the race number on the stern of my boat I had some guys in another boat remove the number and stow it flat on the rear hatch. Thanks, guys!

While warming up I heard the 5 minute and 1 minute signals. All too soon the starting signal was heard and I was about 100 feet behind the starting line. Oh, well. At least I'd get some shots of the field as they departed!

I started pedaling at a moderate pace, resigned to the fact that I'd be well behind most of the other racers.

A funny thing happened. I was gaining on just about the entire field.

It turned out that the strong headwind and the chop was slowing down everybody else. With a little additional effort I was able to catch up to the field and motor past almost all the other competitors!

As far as I could tell through the droplet covered bezel the GPS was reporting a speed of around 6.5 mph.

This was especially true of the rowers. Their oars kept catching "crabs" as they hit the waves, and I was able to keep up with rowers that would normally be far out in front. Even some of the OC-1's and OC-2's had problems as during the recovery stroke their paddles would hit the oncoming wave tops if they didn't raise them high enough.

Hurray for propellers!

I kept pace with Rob, one of the normally fast rowers, for quite a distance. He took a slight break at one point, whereupon I scolded him for slowing down. I went around his boat and continued onward towards the bridge.

A strong paddler in a surf ski was keeping pace to my left, while two strong paddlers in an OC-2 slowly began catching up on my right. Their periodic shouts signaling they were switching sides on which to paddle could be heard clearly above everything else.

I timed a similar shout as a joke. Steve, one of the OC-2 paddlers, thought it was pretty funny and was wondering if I was trying to confuse them. Yes, I was!

The closer we approached the bridge the quieter the wind and waves became. The propeller drive advantage was being lost. The normally faster boats started performing "normally"; i.e., they started pulling ahead. If there was any good news it was that the drizzle had by this time mostly stopped. I was getting warm enough that I actually had to take off my hat and open up my wind breaker.

Another rower managed to catch up and pass me just before reaching the bridge. Meanwhile, I took a few shots of the leading racers returning from the bridge on the short course.

I began to wonder if Todd was actually going to go ahead and do the long course. The conditions further ahead looked pretty easy; perhaps he would continue on after all.

I rounded the four pylons of one of the bridge piers and headed back towards the start. It was amazing how far ahead of the rest of the field we had gotten.

Rather than take a bee line back to the start I decided to try to get fairly close to the incoming racers for some photo ops. This worked out fairly well, though I'm sure it slowed me down a little. However, with the wind at my back I was heating up quite a bit. Going a little slower meant I could feel more of a breeze. Ahhhh!

Unfortunately, however, going slower would also mean that other folks would eventually catch and pass. I continued pedaling faster, with the GPS reporting a speed of about 7 mph.

Todd appeared at about the middle of the pack. He seemed to be pedaling strongly and was still planning to head around the island on the long course. Go Todd!

The GPS was reporting my speed as a bit slower than I expected for the amount of effort. I paused a couple of times, pedaling backward and forward in an effort to dislodge any milfoil that might have accumulated. It was hard to say if there actually was an improvement, or whether I was merely getting tired.

Heading further away from the bridge the wind and waves started picking up, as expected. I began pedaling a little faster. This enabled the Cadence to go faster than the waves were moving and eliminated any surfing effects.

About half a mile from the finish I noticed a rower that had slowly and slightly crept up close to my position. Oh, no! I wasn't going to let him catch me!

I pedaled harder, trying to make nice circles with my pedals.

It seemed to work. The boat appeared to be cutting faster through the waves and the rower seemed to be dropping behind.

At long last I reached the breakwater and heard the horn signaling my race was over, with a time of 1:01:55 and 8th place overall. Not bad, but it didn't break my record of 56:23. Of course, that was in smooth conditions with far fewer photos taken.

About 20 seconds later the rower crossed the line.

I circled back and took more photos of some of the incoming racers. It didn't take too long before the wind cooled me off, perhaps a bit too much. It was time to return to shore.

I raced back, passing another boat as he crossed the finish line. Woohoo!

Back on shore I wheeled the Cadence on its dolly most of the way back up the path towards the car. I left it there, returned to the car and changed into dry clothing. That felt much better!

In honor of the Medina-Mercer Sausage Pull name a lunch of freshly grilled fine German sausages was offered. I picked out a tasty bratwurst, some sauerkraut and ketchup and consumed it hungrily. Yum!

By this time the weather had lightened considerably. The drizzle was long gone and every so often the sun would break through the cloud cover. The wind was still fairly strong and chilly, but nylon pants over woolen leg warmers, two layers of jackets, an insulating head band and baseball cap kept me nice and warm.

Many of the short course racers decided to head out rather than wait in the cold for the long race to complete. The rest of us had pleasant conversation and watched for boats as they arrived one by one from across the lake.

There was some excitement when two boats arrived neck and neck. Though they tried mightily, the two man boat finished just behind the one man surf ski.

As the crowd dwindled further it was decided to hold the awards ceremony, even though the last of the racers had yet to arrive.

I found out that another racer started 30 minutes late and was given his own time. He ended up in 8th place, pushing everyone else (me included) down a notch. This didn't sit too well with a number of other racers, as it was felt that the conditions might have been easier later in the morning. I suspect that this might be a topic for the club's annual meeting in December.

Shortly after the awards ceremony was over I walked back to the fence along the shore. In the distance one could see the Medina Police boat escorting a racer from Mercer Island. After much squinting through binoculars it was determined that it was Todd, finishing the course under his own power. Go Todd!

After Todd neared the finish the police boat left to find another boat to escort.

I helped Todd get his boat from the water, pointed him in the direction of the hot food and scored the last of the soft drinks for him. He was a little late and had some family obligations to rush off to. Congratulations on finishing!

Even with the cold and rain it was a fun event. Thanks, Rainer and all the volunteers!

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