Fort Wayne Canoe & Kayak Race, IN 6.18.16

The day dawned bright and beautiful Saturday morning, with the water calm and…uh…silty green – a perfect way to start the first race Lori Blaylock would be sponsoring.  Lori took over Jim Anderson’s (and I believe formerly Jerry Begue’s) Fort Wayne Three Rivers Canoe & Kayak Races, and she did an outstanding job.  Jim had modified the course the past few years, changing the 9.5 mile single loop into a shorter distance comprised of two loops that were a little more “viewer friendly”, but being the masochist that she is Lori opted to return to the “classic” 9.5 mile loop.  And the buoy actually stayed in place.

One of the more fascinating aspects of paddle racing is how each race takes on its own unique character.  Terry Pontius’ Tippecanoe race was heavily dominated by the C1 class, with 6 or so competitors, leaving me a little lonely in the K1 Unlimited class (not that I’m complaining – winning with less effort is kind of nice early in the season).  The Fort Wayne race, on the other hand, tends to be a dominated by kayaks, with three of our typically C1 competitors switching over the kayaks.  This time it was Terry Pontius and Skeet Craig who bravely soldiered on with a lonely existence in C1, upholding the honor of the canoe class (and having a relaxing tour of the St. Joe River), while I found myself in the midst of a 6 boat class in K1 Unlimited – and all were out for blood.  Maybe it’s because Jim Anderson commented that I was “slow” at Tippecanoe… 

Though the day was pretty, it was also heating up rapidly.  The morning races took place while the temps were still relatively comfortable, but the lack of a breeze was considered both a curse and a blessing by the contestants.  Otherwise, the race was essentially uneventful – at least from the standpoint that no one swam or got lost!  At the whistle, Matt Conrad charged out with the strength of a bull, pulling that sea kayak into the lead over everyone for a short time.  I stayed to the side of Matt as he charged out and saw we were running 8.5 mph for a while; that’s impressive speed in a sea kayak!  Unfortunately for Matt, the laws of physics took over and the energy required to run a wider boat that fast sapped a lot of energy out of his race, but it was still impressive to watch.  As Matt fell back, Ted Beatty latched onto my side wake and Paul Kane pulled up behind us.  I tried to run Ted into an over-hanging tree coming out the side of the river, but he sat low enough in his boat that he just slipped right under it. Drats!  At the turn I assumed he would turn tighter than I could turn my surf ski, so I went to the outside of his boat, only to find I could actually turn tighter – but now I was stuck running wide.  At this point he accelerated away and I just couldn’t catch him, even pulling some better lines.  Ted Beatty paddled a flawless race and kicked all of our tails, once again proving the “Notre Dame Neuron” is master of the kayak.  He really seems to have a bond with the Kirton ICF boat he borrows from Kelly Harrington, and combined with an excellent stroke and my “Lance Armstrong Edition Performance Enhancing Water Bottle” no one could touch him.  But his pre-race didn’t come together quite as smoothly.  As we got a chuckle out of Ted calling Kelly to ask if he could borrow her boat after he had already unloaded it at the race, he also related to us that in the haste to get to the race he forgot his change of clothes and his hydration pack.  He was planning to just go with a regular bottle of water (with the screw-off lid), but I felt he shouldn’t be that handicapped in the race and loaned him my cycling water bottle, which obviously was the key to his victory (couldn’t have been the superb paddling, right?)  At least I can claim to have some connection to the winning boat…

Meanwhile, early on in the race Paul Kane had fallen back behind Ted and me due to the chop in our wakes, and now he and Bill Kanost were preparing to do battle as Bill caught up to Paul.  Bill Kanost wasn’t transgendered (to the best of our knowledge), but he was trans-boated, not only crossing over to the kayak side, but also switching kayaks with his wife, Deb.  Thankfully he wasn’t wearing a skirt in it, but he did find that life on the other side could be “problematic”.  Deb’s boat had somewhat less stability than he was used to with his Razor, and his feet were constrained enough that using the tiller steering was a challenge.  Between the rough waters at the start and a wider than expected turn radius at the bridge, Bill had his work cut out for him early in the race, losing 30 seconds or so just getting started.  Paul was waking Bill along much of the race, but Bill “Master of the Shallows” Kanost managed to get the boat into one of the few shallow regions in the race and dropped Paul, staying ahead through the end of the race. I did see from the photos that Sonja Gilman was making good use of Guy Gilman’s wake as they passed by the ramp on the way upstream, but apparently Guy did the ungentlemanly thing and dropped his wife along the way, beating her to the finish by a few minutes.  Marital counseling may be needed…

Jerry Gillison came down from Lansing, MI to join in our races, bringing a WSBS Sleek with him.  There was some debate on where to place him, since the boat is really designed for Touring Class, but we don’t run a Touring Class so we usually place such boats in Unlimited.  In reality, they tend to be better matched with the sea kayaks, since a good Epic 18X or similar can typically run with the Sleek & EFT, so we placed him in Sea Kayak class, where he proved to be the top banana.  Larry Swift had his pretty home-built sea kayak, and he ran it to a good 2nd place finish.  Matt had used up his juice early on, and with the heat of the day he came in 3rd, but what a fantastic effort he put in.  Deb, now running Bill’s boat, did a great job piloting the Razor to a close 4th behind Matt.  She may not give the boat back…

Brent and Lori went back at it in Down River kayak; last time Lori took first, but this time Brent put some power into it and pulled ahead for the 1st place finish.  Brent owned the course record in the past when he ran K1 Unlimited (not sure if the record was surpassed this time or not), so it’s great to see him now working with the down river boats.

The afternoon races were relaxed, with a mismatched pair of contenders: the Aluminum C2 of George Tinsley and Hilman Culp, and the C4 crew of the Gilmans and Kanosts as they prepare for the Adirondack 90.  It’s always a sight to see a C4 moving out under power; that probably would have been a great wake to ride!

One of the biggest blessings of this race was having my wonderful wife Julie attend to cheer me on and to help with timing and photography.  She’s making progress battling chronic Lyme disease, so for her to be able to show up and participate like that was awesome!  It was also great to see Allen Albert back again.  Allen isn’t at a place where he can race hard, but he did a great (and much needed) job helping with timing, then went on to paddle the 2 mile rec race in a very respectable time using Lori’s plastic kayak.  Allen started racing rec class in plastic boats a few years ago, dominated every race, and then moved to Sea Kayak class USCA racing.  Seeing him back in a rec boat and making it move was a great experience!  Colleen Current showed up with a rather inefficient plastic boat, but she’s a strong paddler and ran hard with Allen through the rec course, then switched boats with him (moving to Lori’s boat) for the rest of the 9.5 mile course.  Unfortunately, she was overheating and had to return part way through the course, but she sure put out a gallant effort!

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