Festivals are, well, festive – and the Three Rivers Festival was no different. Although it really didn’t start out that way for the intrepid paddle racers who braved a beautiful but slightly cooler and initially cloudy morning by themselves, enduring the lonely duty of signing up for a canoe & kayak race. One of the advantages of coming out several hours before the raft race party starts, however, is we had no trouble finding parking and having room to set up our boats. As the festival goers began congregating in preparation for the raft race that followed our canoe race, parking became a non-trivial issue. But we were all safely tucked into our spaces; in some cases a bit too safely: after the races my wife found her truck was completely blocked in by vehicles on all sides. Thankfully one of the “blockers” came and moved his vehicle right before I was going to drive Julie home with the intention of bringing her back later to pick up her vehicle.
We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather this year, and the waters were decidedly “mellow” (although still utterly opaque), in contrast to the raging flood waters of last year that resulted in a cancellation of the race. The current was essentially non-existent, but with the downstream dams water levels were good. Kind of like a narrow, stretched-out lake. But a lake populated with bizarre contraptions! Part of the fun of paddling the Three Rivers Festival Canoe & Kayak Races is seeing some of the raft race contestants as they prepare their craft (I’m using that word broadly) for the 2 mile or so trip down the river. I’ve set up the course to go through the raft prep area, and it’s nothing if not entertaining. There are things that look like backwoods interpretations of rowing shells, others that look like a floating scaled down version of the Grand Old Opry, some that mimic cars on the water, and all manner of other things. Between the rafts, support boats, rec paddlers hanging around the raft areas, an air boat giving rides, a helicopter flying low overhead, and DNR boats, there are plenty of maneuverability challenges and sights to see on the St. Mary River. At least the DNR boats were slightly less prone to generating over-turning wakes than they were in past years. Leading the pack, I think I hit all the wake producers; they seemed to have mellowed once they passed me and figured out there was a race going on.
Another fun aspect to this race is the multi-river/multi-loop layout. By having the paddlers make a loop on each of the St. Mary, St. Joe, and Maumee Rivers respectively, we were able to pass each other multiple times, making it a lot more interesting than simply running down a river ahead of or behind everyone else. The St. Joe loop seems to be make or break loop; each year the finishing order among a group of paddlers seems to change on this section of the race. This year Bill Kanost was leading the C2 Gilman team all through the St. Mary section and up the St. Joe, but when I saw them on the Maumee the position had changed, and the Gilman’s were able to hold Bill off to the finish. Some exciting racing between those competitors – and upcoming Adirondack 90 C4 partners!
We had a lot of overcomers at the race this year: Bill Kanost was back racing after having surgery just a week and a half prior (nothing seems to stop that guy!), and Ken Stelter was out in his recently finished Pax 18 home-built sea kayak racer, just his 4th time on the water following eye surgery earlier in the year. Noel Schutt came out with his Wenonah Advantage C1, and in true hard-core style raced against the USCA paddlers. The Advantage is pretty advanced against rec boats, but a bit slower than the dedicated C1’s, so Noel had the deck stacked against him from the start, but he put in an outstanding effort. Our sole rec team paddlers (Richard Cunningham and Collin Giddings) had a good time and put in a great effort in the 4 mile race. They now seem to be motivated to put in some additional effort to boost their performance for next year.
In Sea Kayak Larry Swift came back for revenge after losing to Matt Conrad at the Wabash Race. These two paddlers are both really doing well this year, and it’s exciting to see them competing so strongly. Ken followed in his new boat, and while his time was slower I was highly impressed that he was doing so well after such a recent return to the water. Lori and Brent powered their down river boats superbly. Brent was under pressure to perform well, since his wife was there to watch him, and he didn’t disappoint. Lori seems to be poised to make big advances in the near future; her paddling and balance skills in the RPM have really improved, and I suspect it’s going to really come together for some big gains shortly (and she’s already highly competitive). Deb has really bonded with the Razor; while she was the only woman sea kayak racer, her performance put her squarely in the middle of the pack with the men. In C1 Dave Hendrich and Skeet Craig paddled a good race with each other until the St. Joe loop, where Skeet had to back off a bit. These two seem to be giving each other some solid competition this year. And of course George Tinsley and Hilman Culp Jr. ably paddled their classic Aluminum C2, giving Noel Schutt some company and competition along the way.
I should also mention that this seemed to be the year of the wooden boat as well: Ken Stelter, Larry Swift, and Guy & Sonja Gilman all paddled wooden boat.
Many thanks to Allen Albert, Brian Goff, and my wife Julie for their efforts as race support. They did an outstanding job taking care of registration, timing, and the myriad of other details that make a race go smoothly. These supporters were indispensable!