Sunday, December 07, 2008

Deception Pass Dash 2008

Today the Deception Pass Dash was held. The roughly 7 mile long course starts at Bowen Bay, in Washington, goes around Deception Island to the west of Deception Pass, heads through Deception Pass to go around Strawberry Island, and returns through Canoe Pass to head back around the first island and then to the start.

There was a pretty strong SW wind (15+ mph, gusting to 26, so flags spread almost completely horizontal), which turned this into a rather interesting event.

Approximately 132 boats were there at the start, including one Cadence pedal boat.

Having never been on the water here before, other than in a big whale watching vessel a couple of years earlier, I figured that it would be a good idea to have the outriggers on the boat. While we were supposed to be going through the pass around slack, the area was still known to have lots of waves and eddies. In addition, since this area was new to me I decided to make this more of a photo excursion than a serious race.

The start was rather chaotic with all the boats trying to keep station at the starting line in the not quite headwind. The 1 to 2 foot chop in the bay also splashed me and my camera lens. This resulted in most of the pictures I took to be of poor quality.

As we headed out to the island the waves quickly grew higher, and most of the paddled boats started falling behind. Piercing wave after wave I needed to open the speed bailer, or suffer with a flooded cockpit.

Interestingly enough, the prop on the Cadence didn't aerate very much, and I was able to keep within fairly close range of some of the really strong paddlers. My heart rate was in the upper 150's, and the speed was over 6 mph.

Since I was doing pretty well relative to the paddlers, and since the camera was being continually spattered by spray, I decided I might as well put forth a little more effort and actually do a bit of racing after all.

Going around Deception Island I encountered a tandem surf ski that had capsized, but by the time I reached them they were back under way.

Shortly after that I ran into a large kelp bed. After clunking into one with the prop I paddled through the rest of the bed into clear water. The prop was able to spin, and off I went towards Deception Pass with the wind at my back.

Heading east I was able to surf on quite a few of the waves. The outriggers worked very well in their raised position, though every so often they would dig into the water and rotate on their axis into the lower position. I just flipped them back up and kept on pedaling. While I could have secured the outriggers into place with their integrated spring pins I didn't bother. There might have been a situation where I would want to be able to put them down and it might have been more of an effort to so do. (I can't think of any good reason right now. Sigh.)

Heading downwind I was able to catch a couple of outrigger canoes and another surf ski, but as the water grew calmer in the pass they stuck close to the shore. I stayed a little further out into the channel, but realized that the ebb tide must have begun. My pace was only 4.2 mph as I pedaled under the bridge at the pass, perhaps 200 feet above me. It was also possible that my prop still had some kelp or eel grass fouling it, but I didn't want to stop and clean it.

Not much further we reached Strawberry Island. There was a big kelp bed on the southern and eastern side, so I steered clear - until I noticed a kayaker taking a line very close to shore in an area that seemed kelp-free.

A paddler I had been following headed towards the shore through an area that seemed clear, and I followed. It was great - no problems were encountered and the route was several hundred feet shorter than the "great circle" route.

Heading back towards Canoe Pass (the pass on the north side of Pass Island), the wind started rising. Again the paddlers dropped behind, due to their more significant windage. I stopped for a moment and cleared the prop, seeing bits of eel grass float by in the reverse prop wash.

Canoe Pass was much like a narrow canyon, but at the west end I saw some really large standing waves as the ebb flow met the Sound. Some of these waves were 5 or 6 feet in height. I decided to try going around the waves rather than through them, which was what I had inadvertently been doing by concentrating on photography rather than navigation. Outriggers really work!

Heading into the waves was getting a bit tiresome, and with the temperature in the upper 40's or low 50's I was even starting to get a little cool. Getting plastered by waves (not spray - full-on waves) tended to reduce my body heat a bit, even though I was wearing Gore-tex insulated winter cycling tights, two layers of wicking shirts under a thick PFD covered with a large windbreaker, and thick wicking socks on my sandaled feet. I really hoped that we merely headed back to Bowen Bay after Canoe Pass.

Unfortunately, however, the guys ahead kept heading west towards that Deception Island. I kept pedaling, and even managed to catch up to them on the other side of the kelp patch.

The other guys took a course that kept them far away from the rocks and breaking waves on the west side of the island. They were near a couple of safety boats that had their lights flashing for some reason, probably picking up some defunct paddlers. I took a course a bit closer to shore, but with enough of a margin that the side wind and waves wouldn't force me against the rocks.

Rounding the island I was again able to surf downwind, though not quite as well as before. I was getting a bit tired, or perhaps there were some weeds on the prop. Clearing the prop seemed to help a bit, and then I had to dodge a field of kelp that had grown up in the bay between the start of the race and now. I hate it when that happens.

Just before the finish a pink double sea kayak managed to slip ahead, putting me in 23rd place overall out of a field of 92 or so boats that completed the race. My time was 70:41, which surprisingly enough was about what I thought I'd do before encountering the waves and wind.

For me this race was a blast! It would have been suicide without the outriggers, which pretty much let me do whatever I wanted with the camera - like wipe off the lens time and time again. Many strong surf ski paddlers and kayakers did not finish the race due to the waves, wind and kelp.

After beaching I had a great lunch of home-made vegetable soup, garden burger with roasted chilis, chips, etc., provided by the organizers. The raffle was fantastic, and everyone who stayed got some sort of prize. I got a nice, warm paddling vest.

Woo hoo!

After the race I heard that the Sheriff's safety boat encountered waves of up to 8 feet as the currents in the Pass grew to full strength. Wow!

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