South Bend Race 9.22.18
Saturday dawned somewhat cloudy, and about 25 degrees cooler than the prior day(!), with more sun coming out through the day. Somehow Matt Meersman has a knack as choosing the one cool day for his race – but he also has a knack at putting on a really nice race with some great sponsorship! By the time I arrived in the morning to prepare for the first round of paddle races, some hard-core athletes – namely Kelly Harrington, Ted Beatty, and Matt Meersman – were already hard at it, taking on the running option of the day’s races. Motivational guilt seems to have played a part in the racing options: Kelly says Matt and Ted urged her to run until she felt she couldn’t let them down, and Ted says he really wanted to paddle kayak, but he knew that Matt and Bill Kanost were hoping he would show up with the single-bladed paddle. But all survived the day and enjoyed the heat of competition.
Races are nothing if not flexible, and what was expected to be morning heavy with C1 racing turned into a morning heavy with C2 racing. Several racers were planning on competing in the C4 races in the afternoon, so they opted to go C2 in the morning with their partners. We did have a few C1 competitors in the a.m. as well, including Paul Kane and a group of guys from the St. Charles, IL canoe club who showed up with the hopes of racing C4 in the afternoon. Two of them raced C1 in the morning, but the afternoon races were in doubt; the guy who actually had the C4 hadn’t shown up yet, nobody knew where he was, and he didn’t have a cell phone… In addition to the single blade folks, we had a decent turnout in Sea Kayak class, with Larry Swift, Deb Kanost, Matt Conrad, and Roger Crisp all vying for top honors. Brent Ernsberger brought his RPM to compete in Down River, and I filled out the K1 Open class..
C2 competitors were kind of a wild mixture of classes: Ted Beatty & Kelly Harrington competed against Guy & Sonja Gilman in C2 mixed; Bill Kanost teamed up with another Bill for C2 Men; and Matt Meersman teamed up with his 12 year old nephew Jonathan Hickle for C2 Adult/Youth. It was cool to see Matt mentoring young Jonathan in the ways of canoeing, and Jonathan seemed to do a fine job during the race. I did see Jonathan admiring my surf ski after the races, so I let him set in the cockpit and try the rudder pedals and such. I’m leading him over to the dark side of kayaking…
A mass start was the order of the day, leading to some fun internal races. Heading down stream from the dock towards the bridge turn, the C2 competition was pretty fierce. I pulled ahead in my ski, and after rounding the piling I could see the boats running pretty closely together. Downstream is always good for me, but I had some concerns about the upriver slog; this is where I typically lose ground. Along with Kamm Island. I think I’ve always had to get out of my boat at some point going around Kamm Island, sometimes killing my race. But this year the path around the island had been modified by flooding. Matt Meersman gave us detailed info on how to make it through the channel. It sounded tricky, but just maybe…
Working my way upstream, hanging close to what I remembered as the optimum line, I eventually started hearing the hut…hut…hut… of the Bill^2 team. Drat you, Kanost! Ol’ Bill & Bill were hanging tight on my tail, and I knew Kanost was good in the shallows near the shore. No slackin’ here; this was going to take serious effort. I particularly wanted to beat them into the channel around Kamm Island, where I knew there was a good chance of them either blocking me or gaining ground in the shallower water. Powering up the core, I managed to hold them off, taking the lines Ted Beatty took in prior years that proved advantageous. It proved to be a smart course of action; Bill would intentionally take a line different than mine, but he never made up time. Coming into the channel I carefully followed Matt Meersman’s directions and something of a miracle occurred: I made it around Kamm Island without grounding out! I did have my paddle in the gravel a few times, but the old ski kept on moving. Circling the top and moving back into the downstream run, I noticed the hut…hut…hut… sound of the Bill^2 boat had disappeared. Blissful quiet! But there was no time to stop and smell the roses, dead fish, or anything else. I figured they got hung up in the island, but I knew they would be coming hard once they made it out. But at least I was back in my territory – deeper, fast, down river current – even with the confused chop from a powerboat. I just focused on running fast and staying upright to the finish. A good but tough race!
Roger Crisp apparently wasn’t quite so lucky in his run around Kamm Island. Roger was having a good race, running behind Larry Swift but ahead of Deb Kanost and Matt Conrad in Sea Kayak racing. Unfortunately, Roger ground out at the top of Kamm Island, and as he got out of the boat to move it into better water, he dropped his paddle into the fast moving water, initiating a chase to retrieve his paddle. Roger noted that hand-paddling his sea kayak back to the finish would have been detrimental to his time. Eventually Roger recaptured his paddle and relaunched his boat, but by then everyone had passed him up. Roger definitely earns the “Race Adventure” award this time around! When Roger later went to work timing the afternoon races, he said it was his “punishment for coming in last”…
Brent Ernsberger was running well, but cramping was causing him some problems, so he converted his race into a 3-mile race. One of the advantages of being in a class of 1.
I brought along all kinds of contingency gear for racing that day: my kayak & paddle, SUP & paddle, & a canoe paddle, thinking that if a seat opened up in C2 or C4, I could join someone. If not, I had other paddling options. As the afternoon race gang began their preparations, the C4 of the IL team still hadn’t shown up. We wanted to see these guys race, so a couple of our members offered their C2’s. With one paddler of their 4 paddler team not there (the guy with the boat), I hopped into one of the C2’s with an IL paddler named Steve (apparently it was a requirement that day that you had to paddle C2 Men with someone having the same first name). But was we were warming up and preparing to come to the line, their missing C4 paddler and boat showed up. It seems that he got lost on the way over, and managed to tour Plymouth, Elkhart, and a few other destinations. So plans changed rapidly again; now we had 3 C4 teams, and I resorted to paddling SUP, which was fun for me anyway. The C4 races were very competitive and exciting to watch. The Meersman team took the lead in the first segment of the race and kept it all the way, but the other two teams were not far behind, and in a fierce battle. Prior to the island, the Gilman/Kanost team held off the IL team, but following the island as the two teams came closer to the finish, they were running side-by-side, and then the IL team passed the Gilman team shortly before the finish to eke out a 9 second victory!
After all the racing several of us headed over to the Crooked Ewe for some fantastic food, then some of that crew headed over to the Iron Hand Winery to support one of the race sponsors.
Many thanks to Matt for some great racing, and to Danielle Meersman, her mom, and Roger Crisp (afternoon timing) for help with timing the races and over-seeing registration.
From Matt Meersman:
Thanks to everyone who came out yesterday for the 15th Annual St. Joe River Races. It was a beautiful day on the river with lots of great competition. The results and course records are now posted on the event page here:
With the generous support of Iron Hand Winery we raised over $300 for the Friends of the St. Joe River Association this year. I hope you all come back next year on September 28th for the 16th Annual St. Joe River Races.