USCA Wabash River Race, Lafayette, IN 7.8.16

‘twas another beautiful day for racing on the crystal-clear…no wait – rather opaque, but warm – Wabash River in Lafayette.  Following last year’s confusion about how many times to circle the island, Terry apparently figured just once around the Island was sufficient, and so we ended up with a shorter race than last year.  I may be off, but I seem to detect a correlation between the reduction in race distances and the aging of our paddlers. J  Be that as it may, a 5.6 mile or so race actually keeps the pressure on, with no slacking permitted.  As usual, the Wabash exhibited a decent current and plenty of shallows, but water depth was sufficient to go almost anywhere on the river, although not always optimally.  The top of the island was another story.  I know about meandering around the river; the canoeists behind me said it looked like I was taking a leisurely tour of the river as I wandered about in search of optimal water.  With no other competition in my class, it was a luxury I could afford.  This time.  Bill Kanost was taking a “recovery break” following surgery Tuesday, so I had no one to follow through the brush an shallows.   

Travel up to the island mainly consisted of trying to figure out which side of the river had the best water and staying there until reaching the bridge.  Terry Pontius apparently sampled the water a few times in the morning race, using his paddle to bear against the mud in a manner that overcame his natural resistance to roll.  If he could only get down a bomb-proof roll in that C1!  Approaching the bridge paddlers found construction on the bridge limited options to one section.  With beams hanging precariously off the bridge structure, it felt a bit like Damocles Sword overhead, threatening each paddler who passed beneath. Working against the current and the wind made the remainder of the trip to the island invigorating.  Not exactly Fantasy Island, but paddlers who worked to the point of hallucinating may have heard someone calling “The Plane! The Plane!”.  Naturally, that referring to looking at the R/C plane flying on the far side of the river…  The biggest obstacle to progress came in the form of the Sherriff’s Department boat, which managed to put out a wake big enough to overturn the “Stars and Bars” patriotic canoe of Fred Tuttle and Dave Hendricks in the afternoon race.  An obvious sign of the problems facing this country.

The Island was kind of entertaining; with shallows abounding, it was generally best to stay towards the middle of the channel, but even at that I nearly tossed myself as one paddle stroke contacted a non-liquid item under the surface.  The top of the island exhibited a broad shallow region that required going well past the tip of the island to stay in decent water.  Larry Swift apparently cut the top of the island short and scraped through the shallows in the morning C1 race; in the afternoon race he took a similar path but this time he flew through the shallows in his sea kayak with only a few scrapes and gained a few hundred yards over the canoe of Terry Pontius and Skeet Craig.  Turning down river after the island made it all worthwhile; with the fast current and wind at our backs, speeds on the return trip were rewarding.

In the morning races, Brent Ernsberger proved he’s obtained mastery of the Spirit down river boat he’s paddling, putting in a solid time and just edging the tied canoes of Skeet Craig and Dave Hendricks in an exciting finish.  Just a couple of minutes behind Brent, Lori has really done well with her down river RPM; she’s now feeling comfortable and well-matched to the boat.  It’s interesting comparing the times of Lori and Deb between the morning and afternoon races: Deb was a couple of minutes ahead of Lori in the Sea Kayak races in the afternoon, but Lori’s Down River time in the morning was slightly faster than Deb’s Sea Kayak time in the afternoon (in the Razor).  They’re both running very competitively in the smaller boats, generating some exciting competition.

The most exciting finish of the day undoubtedly took place in the afternoon races when the C2’s of Guy & Sonja Gilman and Terry Pontius/Skeet Craig were coming in almost tied with the sea kayaks of Larry Swift and Matt Conrad.  As they came within a few hundred yards of the finish, Matt really powered up and pulled ahead, while Larry got into some shallower water that took its toll on his speed, but he stayed just ahead of the canoes.  Only 23 seconds separated all 4 boats at the finish.  For those that ran morning and afternoon races in the same boat, the afternoon speeds were slightly faster than the morning speeds. 

Many thanks to Terry for putting on another great race, and to Roger for doing a great job timing the races!

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