Saturday, February 09, 2008

La Conner 2008

The weather preceding this race had been quite chilly, with lows in the low 30's and highs in the low 40's.

This year's La Nina had been depositing close to record breaking quantities of snow in the nearby mountains, and there had been several days of snow on the ground in the lowlands, too.

As luck would have it, however, the low temperature on the day of the race was in the mid 40's. It was still pretty gray and windy, mind you, with occasional showers, but at least it was relatively warm.

Cadence Pedal Boat on a Matrix
Cadence Pedal Boat
Cadence Pedal Boat

As has been sort of a custom for me over the past couple of years I had a brand new Cadence pedal boat for this race. It was a full carbon, green and black painted boat, with pin striping, and matching green carbon fiber outrigger floats. I just hoped that my body was up to the task of powering this boat as fast as its paint job!


Registration for this event was pretty easy. Since this was the first race of the year I had to fill out two forms. One form was for the annual Masters Rowing Association waiver that all club members have to fill out, and the other was the club waiver for the race. Non-members have to fill out both forms at each race and pay higher race fees. The cost for the race for members was a mere $8. It still amazes me that people attend other athletic events, paying $20, $50 or more for the privilege, and not frequently not getting the benefits of numerous awards, meals, race photos, etc., included in the price.

Map of course

It started drizzling at the pre-race meeting. Greg Gilda, the race director, described the course, the hazards one was likely to encounter, and repeated the requirements for the race participants. Racers needed to have PFD's on board the boat, they needed to have noise making devices (whistles, etc.), they needed to stop to assist any other racers that were in trouble until those racers were truly out of trouble and back under way, and that everyone was supposed to have fun.

Search & Rescue

The Skagit Search & Rescue team also spoke for a few moments and identified the boats that were part of the team. These included several power boats and a pair of large jet skis.

After the meeting people returned to their cars and/or boats to prepare.


I wheeled the boat to the dock, intending to launch it from the end of the dock into the water. Unfortunately, however, the freshly and fully inflated wheels of the dolly refused to roll up over the steel plate at the landward end of the dock. Instead, they stayed in position and the boat slid.

Growling a little I then tried to lift the boat and dolly over the hump - and promptly managed to drop the boat approximately half a foot onto the edge of the steel plate. Ouch!

A brand new boat and the paint was already scratched by this misadventure. Sigh...

With the assistance of some of the other folks trying to use the dock I got the boat into the water and ready to go.

As I backed away from the dock I heard this crunching sound as the boat came to a sudden stop. Oh, no! Not another ding!

Sure enough, the stern had collided with one of the pilings, smearing creosote on one side. I guess the crunching sound was from the barnacles being crushed by the stern.

I hoped that this was not how the rest of the day would go!

Backing away

After adjusting the position of the pedals to suit my leg length I began to do the warm up. I was wearing a polyester long sleeved t-shirt, a nylon shirt, a Kokotat PFD and a nylon windbreaker on top, bike shorts and Gore-tex (front half) biking tights, wicking athletic socks and bicycling sandals below.

Just standing around at the pre-race meeting I felt a little chilled in that combination, but on the water I had concerns that I might be over dressed during the race. Several other folks decided to leave their dry suits or other gear that they would normally wear in non-racing situations since they most likely would be rescued by others in short order if they ran into difficulty.

The boat was handling well. The stiffness of the drive train was readily apparent with every cycle of the cranks. The outriggers were working well, too, though it would be better if they were mounted perhaps an inch or so higher. This would have them skimming just above the surface of the water. As it was they extended about half an inch or so into the water, creating unnecessary drag.

Other boats

I began taking photos of the other racers as they, too, warmed up. The vinyl waterproof bag in which the camera was contained was a little stiff from the cold, but the warmth of my hand in the bag's glove began to loosen it up over time.

The tide was slowly ebbing, but there wasn't much current in the Swinomish Channel. The GPS wasn't registering more than perhaps one mph in the southerly direction. With the wind from the south more or less counteracting the effects of the current this was probably as close to calm conditions as one could expect.

Another Pedal Boat

A long, light blue boat with white outriggers was being launched. This boat had very high sides to it and appeared to be a bit different from most other boats, so I went closer to take a look.

This boat was built to use the Hobie Mirage pedal powered flapping fin drive for propulsion. For going in the reverse direction the pilot used a paddle.

Another Pedal Boat

The boat seemed to be quite stable in the water. Given the long and narrow hull with the outrigger floats suspended slightly above the water this boat should give the Mirage drive an excellent chance to show its stuff!

Congregation at the starting line

Boats were beginning to congregate at the starting line, so I joined them. Signals were given for the 5 minute and 1 minute warnings, and then we were off!

The race begins

The scene was pretty chaotic as paddlers and rowers tried to maneuver their craft down the narrow channel.

Moving down the channel

As usual, most of the rowing shells and a bunch of surf skis slowly pulled away from the pack. The surf skis tended to sort themselves into drafting groups while the rowers generally stayed more or less in the middle or towards the generally emptier right side of the channel. My speed was about 7 mph for the first 100 yards or so, then dropped to about 6.5 mph as I decided to pedal at a more reasonable pace.


A couple of outrigger canoes were keeping pace around me as we passed some yachts and fishing boats moored on the east side. Our speed seemed to have dropped to about 6 or 6.5 mph.

Just as we reached the end of the piers we encountered some logs and branches floating in the water. Ah, so this was the debris to which Greg referred!

Some of the smaller branches clunked against the hull - no problem.

Hugging the shore

As we continued down the channel the boats tended to stick closer to the east side of the channel. I'm not sure why, perhaps they thought we were fighting a current, or perhaps they felt they were being better sheltered from the light breeze. Personally, the breeze felt good as I unzipped my windbreaker in an effort to cool off.

The misty rain continued to be a problem for the camera. Prior to each shot I had to wipe off the optical port on the waterproof casing to remove the droplets that had accumulated in the short time since the last shot.

I could only hope that the shots would work out on this dark, wet day.

At the first turn

Eventually we reached the end of the channel, passing the navigational marker on the shore and turning westward towards Deception Pass.

West with tailwind and mist

The wind was a bit stronger here, and coming generally from the east-southeast. The breakwater kept the waves to a minimum, and most people were still moving at a moderate 6 to 6.5 mph pace.

West paceline

My breathing was not especially hard at this time. I figured that with the drag of the outriggers preventing the boat from truly zipping along at planing speeds there was not much point.


Ahead and off to the right in the shallows I saw what looked to be a kayak with its paddler in the water.

Nobody else was over there, nor was anyone stopping to assist, so I headed over.

As I got closer the reason this guy was being "ignored" was that he was not a kayaker after all. He was a paddle board racer! We chatted for a few moments before I sped on ahead.

The tailwind kept blowing and the misty rain kept falling. A couple of boats were keeping pace with me as we approached the #5 green can buoy.

First racers returning

Meanwhile, the first of the racers on their way back from the turn buoy heading to the finish line were passing by. I did my best to keep out of their way and still take photos, though the camera was making the job difficult. It kept adjusting its aperture to the maximum open setting, and it took a second or two to readjust for proper exposure. During that second or two, of course, the mist would again coat the lens. Oh, well. Maybe it was time to bite the bullet and get a new camera after all - or perhaps not bother trying to shoot in the rain.

The incoming racers were scattered pretty widely across the width of the course. Some chose to stick close to the log booms, rocks and breakwaters on the south side of the channel. Others chose to head down the middle, fairly close to the stream of racers still heading out to the turn buoy. I was in the middle between them in order to take photos as close as possible, yet still trying to stay out of their way.

Pacing racers

Through this leg of the race I was pedaling moderately hard, but not breathing especially hard. I was pretty toasty, with my nylon shirts and jacket soaked either by the mist or by my sweat. The two OC-1's that had been pacing me earlier were now ahead a bit, mainly because I slowed down a little for the photo ops. A couple of other boats were just ahead of me as we cleared the end of the log boom and entered a short stretch of water marked by one to two foot swells.

The turn buoy was now just ahead.

Turn buoy

With the wind driven waves and the current it appeared to be a bit of a struggle for the other boats to make a straight line to the buoy. On the other hand, the outriggers on my boat and the propeller drive made it pretty easy for me to not only make a fairly straight line, but also let me concentrate on taking photos at the same time. Woo hoo!

Submarine kayak

After rounding the buoy we now found ourselves going almost directly into a stiff head wind. The mist was a bit lighter now, but with the wind it was actually a bit more difficult to keep it off the camera lens.

I decided it was time to concentrate more on racing than on photography.


The boats that were with me at the turn buoy were almost immediately dropped. I targeted the pair of OC-1's, and noticed that a safety jet ski was heading at high speed in their direction. Uh-oh - one of them had huli'd, i.e., he flipped over.

By the time the jet ski reached them the capsized boat had been flipped back over and the paddler was back on board. It had taken no more than a minute.

OC-1 passed
Safety boats

Traveling into the wind is one of those things where the Cadence really shines compared with just about every other human powered boat. Even with the extra drag caused by the outriggers I was able to shrink the quarter mile distance between my boat and the lead OC-1 quite rapidly, passing him at the east end of Goat Island. This was about the same place where a couple of the safety boats were stationed, so I took a few shots of them as I passed.

Traci near shore

Along the shore on the north side I could see Traci paddling her surf ski. Ahh - perhaps I could catch her, too, though that would be a rather surprising feat with outriggers.

She continued along the shore as we neared the turn at Hole in the Wall where the Swinomish Channel met Skagit Bay - and then she disappeared. I swear, I looked away for a moment in order to snap a couple more photos and to check the progress of the last OC-1 I had passed, looked back and Traci was nowhere in sight.

Being followed

Pedaling across to the north shore and heading around the turn I finally caught a glimpse of her. She was at least a quarter of a mile ahead of me, making her way up the channel. Rats! In the relatively sheltered waters of the Swinomish she was making excellent time. That meant that the OC-1 might also be able to catch me!

Desperate times call for desperate measures. In the calm water I had no real need for outriggers. If I could remove them while pedaling then I could go faster up the channel.

Nearing the finish
Rear view

After a bit of effort, mainly due to my wet hands slipping on the carbon amas as I attempted to pull them out from their mounts, I was able to extract first one and then the other. With both amas laying across my lap and being held with one hand I was able to increase my speed up the channel by perhaps half a mile per hour.

Near the finish

That increase in speed was critical. The OC-1 had come within talking range shortly after the turn at Hole in the Wall, and it was highly likely he would have passed me by the finish. Instead, he was soundly left behind as I crossed the finish with a time of 1:13:01. He crossed with a time of 1:13:23. Woo hoo!

After a short recovery time I decided to try some speed tests without the outriggers. As there was still some tidal current I made two runs. The first run was north, up the channel and against the fairly feeble current.

The second run was south, with the current. According to the GPS there was not much difference between the two runs, possibly because I was running pretty low on energy. The highest speed reached was a little over 10 mph, not too bad considering this was the first time I was on the water since November.

Cadence on dolly

With the assistance of some folks on shore I loaded my boat onto its dolly and more or less rolled it up the extremely rough concrete boat ramp. I washed off the boat, changed into some drier clothing and returned the boat to the top of the car. The damage caused by dropping the boat on the ramp prior to the race wasn't too bad. Some of the accent paint on the bottom was roughed up a bit, but there appeared to be nothing else amiss.

Lunch at Yacht Club
Soup de jour

With the rest of the competitors I drove over to a nearby marina club house for the race-provided hot soups, fresh sourdough bread and desserts. Let me tell you, it was delicious!

Awards Ceremony

Greg Gilda made the post race announcements and handed out the awards. The first boat over the finish line was a double rowing shell crewed by John Alberti and Tyler Peterson. They had a time of 52:15. The other pedal boat, piloted by Jamie Wells with the Mirage drive, finished with a time 1:29:13. The last boat across had a time of 2:22:30, and one of the two paddleboarders apparently did not finish. The one that did finish had a time of 1:34:23.

All in all it was a pretty fun race, even with the mist and wind.

My stats:

Lampi's statistics

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