Wabash River Race 7.11.2020

Wabash River Race 7.11.2020

The view is better from the back…

There’s an old saying that goes “never bring a knife to a gun fight.”  I suppose I could adapt that saying to canoe racing with an adage of my own “never bring an ocean boat to a shallow water race.”  That’s not to say I didn’t have a lot of fun (and quite a workout) racing Saturday; it’s just that I got to see a lot more of the race than I might have otherwise.  

You couldn’t have asked for much better weather for racing than what we had Saturday – at least until the end of the afternoon races!  Temps started in the low to mid 70’s for the morning, and eventually made it to somewhere around 80, with nice skies and relatively little wind.  But at the end of the afternoon races the winds picked up and all that liquid sunshine started falling from the sky in great torrents as a few of us worked our way to the finish in the afternoon.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For the morning races we had a nice mixture of canoes and kayaks, and even a few C2s running the course early.  I lined up with my OC1 at the starting line, but noticed that we had a few boats still working their way over, so I opted to make another loop to warm up.  About the time I got to the farthest point away from the starting line, pointed cross-river, our starter suddenly yelled “Go!” Aagh!  Being that this was Julie, Roger’s daughter, I can only assume that he paid her handsomely to take me out.  Starting at the back of the pack was going to be a challenge, but I figured I might be able to make up some time. 

Such was not to be; this was some mighty shallow water, and my ocean-spec craft likes it deep.  Further complicating things was my placement behind the C2 boat of Guy and Sonja: they were moving their boat along nicely, but in the process they were creating large waves in the shallows that also sucked out some of the water.  Now I had extra shallow water and waves too tall to overcome.  I tried moving out into the current, but the current was strong enough that I lost placement and moved back into at least try to ride their wake.  Terry Pontius was running with us as well, in much the same predicament.  Eventually I was able to move closer to the shore, where I made my move and got past the Gilman boat.

As we moved upstream, newer racer Terry Howard was running among a group of sea kayaks paddled by Matt Conrad, Roger Crisp, and Brent Ernsberger.  Roger was leading this group at the moment.  Up a bit further were Skeet Craig and Larry Swift, with the front group of Matt Meersman, Bill Kanost, and Ted Beatty battling it out for the lead.  And this is pretty much how we stayed as we approached the island.  This year, Terry had us go to the bridge beyond the island, with paddlers having the option of either cutting around behind the island (shorter) or continuing up the Wabash to the left of the island (less risky).  A little while before we got to the island, as I was gaining ground on the sea kayak group, I saw Roger depart the group and move to the left side of the river (all of us had been running up the right side). I thought that was interesting, and checked to see if he was on to a secret pathway for greater speed.  Unfortunately for Roger, the current was stronger on that side and he gradually lost ground.

Our next big challenge was deciding how to go around the island.  I watched Larry Swift head to the left side of the river to stay on the Wabash and clear the shallows, and some of the group followed him.  But as I watched it appeared that he was running into a lot of current.  Also, I noted that Skeet Craig, a local river master, took the behind-the-island line.  So I followed suite, along with Brent Ernsberger and the Gilmans.  Not a good choice for Brent or myself; I watched Brent get out of his boat and walk it for a distance, only to find I had to do the same; twice, in fact.  Brent also got a fair amount of water in his cockpit as he rolled his boat over.  The Gilmans, on the other hand, cruised right along through the shallows and passed us both up.  Drats!!!  Now my race timing was looking hopelessly pathetic; my Samsung Health app apparently felt the same way.  It kept saying “workout paused” which is does (on bike mode) when it figures you’re going so slow that you’re probably stopping…  Brent and I made it out of the shallows and to the bridge, where I caught up with Brent shortly after the turn.  Heading downstream I hoped to make up some time and catch a few paddlers, but I couldn’t get the speed in the shallow waters that I typically get in deeper waters, so I had to just watch them from a distance and try to make up what time I could.  And just enjoy the challenges of a fun race!

One of the things that makes our races both fun and challenging is the variety of waters we encounter: currents, shallows, etc. make each course both different and fun, and sometimes the same course varies from year to year.

After some relaxation trying to recover for another round of racing, it was time for the afternoon C2 races (except for Bill Kanost, who opted to paddle K1 Open).  Colleen Curran was on her way to join me in a C2, but she actually read the posted flyer and ended up at the wrong spot.  Fortunately she called and we got her to the right place.  Meanwhile Danielle Meersman and Kelly Harrington drove in to join up with Matt Meersman and Ted Beatty respectively.  With the Gilmans running again, we had a pretty decent C2 Mixed field.  Terry Pontius and Skeet Craig joined up for C2 Men and George & Hilman opted to paddle again. Only this time we had some boat mix-up going on.  Skeet Craig offered his C2 Cruiser to Colleen and myself to paddle, so Colleen offered the Kevlar Wenonah Jensen to George and Hilman.  This was the first time Colleen and I had paddled C2, and the first time George and Hilman had paddled that boat, so we each had a bit of a learning curve.  

After a decent start, we headed upriver for a repeat of the course.  Outside of being a bit worn out from the morning races, things went reasonably well for all of us, at least for the most part.  Some of the boats opted to go through the island channel, while others of us stayed on the main channel.  The real excitement came for a few of us (the slow gang) at the end.  About a mile or so from the finish, we started hearing the rumble of thunder.  Somehow that’s motivational to keep up your pace… Looking back briefly, I noticed that the clouds were quite dark and moving in.  This wasn’t looking great.  But we kept heading down river anyways.  Not far from the finish I noticed that the wind picked up smartly, and suddenly we found ourselves being driven by the wind, with white-capping waves!  At least the wind was behind us!  We finished ok, but had some challenge getting the canoe turned around and headed back to the put-in.  George and Hilman, meanwhile, were encountering some major boat control issues with the wind, and were substantially delayed in getting back.  Shortly after Colleen and I got off the water, the rain started.  And before George and Hilman could get in, it turned into a real gully-washer.  At that point it was agreed that we would bypass the awards ceremony and all do our best to get home without being washed away!

Many thanks to Terry for a fun, challenging, and entertaining race! Results are listed below.  


2020 WABASH RIVER CANOE RACES RESULTS                                                   

Morning Races

C-1 Man 

1. Matt Meersman    1:08:03

2. Bill Kanost            1:08:59

3. Ted Beatty             1:09:03

4. Skeet Craig         

5. Terry Howard       1:17:52

6. Terry Pontius        1:21:22


1. Steve Horney        1:18:22

K-1 Open 

1. Brent Earnsberger  1:22:25

K-1 Sea Kayak Man   

1. Larry Swift     1:14:00

2.Matt Conrad  1:14:38

3. Roger Crisp   1:23:55

K1 Sea Kayak Woman   

1. Deb Kanost   1:14:53

C-2 Mixed       

1. Sonja Gilman   1:15:31

    Guy Gilman

C-2 Aluminum         

1. George Tinsley  1:30:38

     Hilman Culp

Afternoon Races

K-1 Open       

1.  Bill Kanost        1:06:55

C-2 Mixed       

1. Matt Meersman  1:11:59

     Danielle Meersman

2. Ted Beatty            1:12:00

    Kelly Harrington

3. Guy Gilman          1:18:48

     Sonja Gilman

4. Colleen Curran      1:22:58

     Steven Horney

C-2 Men         

1. Skeet Craig            1:15:53

    Terry Pontius

C-2 Standard

1. Hilman Culp Jr.            1:37:07

    George Tinsley

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