Ride the Wave Regatta
Michigan City, Indiana
September 8, 2018
Temps were cool, but the rain stayed away as our hearty band prepared to tackle the wild waves of Lake Michigan. Or not; it appears the waves were wild enough for a small-craft warning to be issued, converting our surfing adventure into a flat-water criterium of sorts due to insurance requirements. This caused a bit of a split among the racing aspirants, as waves of this caliber were exactly what many were seeking. A rebel group split off and opted to hit the high seas in search of adventure on their own, while the rest of us took to Trail Creek with the goal of surviving some hard-fought racing without pissing off too many fishermen…
Most of Trail Creek was indeed flat-water, but the opening segment from Lake Michigan to the first turn had enough wave action to make the transition out of the marina either challenging or fun, depending on your water craft and comfort levels. Some of us went out before the race and played a bit in the incoming waves just for the fun of it. Yee Haw!!!
The race start was a bit delayed as buoys were placed and changes put in place for the revised race. With the cool temps and a stiff breeze coming off the lake competitors got a chance to cool off before the race, but once under way the lower temps were actually quite a blessing. We had a mass start, with an interesting mixture of water craft: Dan Plath’s young son took on one loop of the course in his kid-sized kayak, and actually paddled impressively well. Another recreational competitor hit the course in a short recreational canoe, also paddling one loop. Guy and Sonja brought their C2 to the party, and become the sole competitors in that class. Bill Kanost was the sole C1 paddler, testing out a boat he just recently purchased. Matt Meersman borrowed a Hurricane OC1 for the race, expecting to be on open water. Had that been the case, his surf rudder would have been just the ticket. But that long, straight rudder was destined to give him fits with the weeds on this course. Matt Conrad brought his Epic 18X out to give some stiff Sea Kayak competition, while Roger Crisp took to the waters in his beautiful wood-strip kayak. Colleen joined me in paddling OC2 with my Huki VX-2. Some other non-Indiana surf ski paddlers rounded out the field. Most paddlers raced the 2-loop course (7 miles), while Matt Meersman, Colleen and I, a few of the non-Indiana surf ski racers raced the 4-loop course (14 miles).
Loop courses have unique advantage of being able to see all the other paddlers multiple times during a race. This can be encouraging (if you’re advancing), or possibly discouraging (if you’re losing ground), but it’s fun all the same. We lined up at start in the marina, and at the sound of the air horn charged out towards the first turn inside the marina, before turning out onto Trail Creek. Getting onto Trail Creek requires some degree of caution, as a large boat entering at the same time you’re attempting to exit will typically emerge victorious in the confrontation. Exiting the marina, we turned left and headed upstream. At the first turn (left), we discovered a bunch of fishermen on the inside of the turn – exactly where we racers wanted to be. Some sharp last-minute course corrections kept some of us away from the bobbers, but Meersman found himself to be the object of some very colorful and descriptive language as he passed by a little closer. On each of the first three loops I could hear Matt and the fishermen exchanging some less than friendly communications, but on the fourth loop he figured he might be pushing his luck and kept somewhat further out. I figured that if the sea weeds didn’t stop Matt, an altercation with these fishing enthusiasts might slow him down…
As the racers sorted out their positions, Rob Hartman from Michigan and his friend Bill took a commanding lead. Matt Meersman was holding third as we started the first leg, followed by a surf ski, then Colleen and myself. Colleen and I managed to pull in behind the ski, then pass it and pull in behind Matt Meersman, running right behind him for a short time before exchanging places. Matt worked to pull back around us, but then slowed again. Then he started slowing more. It became obvious he was being taken captive by weeds, and from thereon out it he was plagued with having stop and back up periodically to clear the weeds, then paddle hard to try and regain some ground. And hence it’s the reason for the temptation to cut in close on the corner, under the fishing lines, hoping to catch back up again. He made some valiant efforts, but ultimately he had to settle for 5th place in the long race. Meanwhile, during the first two loops, Bill Kanost was paddling his new boat impressively fast and keeping pace a short distance behind us and Meersman. Roger Crisp was working on catching Guy and Sonja, and says he was making ground, but somewhere along the way Guy and Sonja “got their act together” and took off too fast for Roger to catch them. And right behind Roger was Matt Conrad, who was wake riding Roger until Roger hit some shallows and pulled away. Colleen and I moved the OC2 fairly well, and surprisingly didn’t have any problems with weed build-up (unlike when I used it at the Mississippi Nationals). Our biggest challenge was getting a 24 foot boat turned reasonably in the width of the river (at the top end) or the marina channel (at the bottom of the loop). By hitting full left rudder, Colleen applying a cross-bow rudder, and me paddling hard on the right side we managed to get the big OC2 around without any issues at each buoy, other than slowing somewhat.
Colleen and I did have one other challenge; I thought I had given her Julie’s (shorter) paddle to use, but I had actually given her my outrigger paddle, which is even a bit long for me. I was using my ZRE marathon paddle. As we ran the first loop, I noticed she was slowing down and wearing out kind of quickly, until I figured out the paddle issue. So we swapped paddles on the way back down the first loop, which worked really well: the lighter, smaller ZRE paddle enabled her to pick up her stroke rate, while the larger outrigger paddle slowed mine some, and we ended up matching pretty well, ultimately ending up third overall for the long course.
Many thanks for Ken Stelter, Dan Plath, and the Northwest Indiana Paddlers group for fun and well-run race – and the flexibility to change the race when needed and keep us paddling! We all had fun, and nobody left complaining of a lack of exercise…