The end is near! Er…actually, it just passed. The end of our 2021 Indiana USCA racing season, that is. And what a great way to send out the racing year! A few days of rain prior to the running of the St Joe River Race ensured that we had plenty of flow (helpful in getting around Kamm’s Island!), but it cleared up shortly before the race, leaving a clear, pretty day that was just a bit on the cool side. In other words, perfect racing weather! And just to make certain no one got complacent; the increased current from the additional flow made for a good upstream challenge, while the stiff winds from the west countered that current (but made for some additional downstream work).
Matt Meersman had a good turnout for this race, particularly of kayak racers, including 3 out of state kayak racers and one local guy (local to South Bend) who turned out to be particularly fast. Matt began in his usual St. Joe Race fashion with a 5k running race. This year only Matt and two women who didn’t paddle did the running race, which ironically took place in the middle of a local marathon race. Then it was on to the morning and afternoon paddle races.
Lining up on the river was a bit tricky with the faster current, but we all managed to get away successfully, heading downstream to our turn bridge (roughly 1.5 miles downstream). This is always a fun part of the race, as we jockey for position and strive to out-turn our competitors at the bridge. Knowing that my long surfski turns like the Queen Mary with the over-stern rudder, I concocted a secret plan: I installed a short, weedless under-stern rudder. This worked brilliantly! Unfortunately the motor didn’t perform as well, but we’ll get to that. At any rate, heading downstream we had a pretty good competition going among Matt Meersman, Pieter Visser (the new local fast guy), Rick Widman (very fast sea kayaker from Ohio), Paul Kane, and myself with the others very close behind. Matt and Pieter circled the turn bridge first, with Paul, Rick, and myself competing in the next group. Here I was pleasantly surprised to find my rudder change was quite effective, and I was actually able to turn inside some of the others. But now it was time for the upstream workout, all the way to Kamm’s Island.
Heading upstream effectively requires a decent knowledge of how your boat performs in shallows. Going close to the shore reduces the current, but also puts your boat in shallower water. It was interesting jousting with Rick and Paul as we headed upstream, and also watching where Matt and Pieter went. Matt, being in a canoe, naturally hugged the shore. But the following kayakers took different approaches, with Rick staying further out in the current while Paul stayed closer to the shore. Knowing my boat likes deeper water and has a narrow profile, I opted to hang a little further out in the current, but in a little closer than Rick. This served me well; I ran a strong upstream race, and Rick, Paul, and I all arrived pretty much right together (and in that order) at Kamm’s Island. Meanwhile that Bill Kanost character snuck up from behind and was right with us as well.
Going around Kamm’s Island was easier than usual, with plenty of water. Nevertheless, with a stiff current and shallower water it was still a workout getting around Kamm’s Island. Bill, with his excellent shallow water skills in his canoe, made his move here and moved up in the line. Meanwhile I dropped a little further back. Coming around the top and jumping back into some fast downstream current, I was looking forward to making up some of the time, but a stiff headwind put a kibosh on my efforts. Meanwhile Bill caught and ran right with Paul for a photo finish, with Rick coming in slightly ahead of the duo (Matt was solidly ahead of everyone, with Pieter a few minutes behind Matt). Meanwhile back in my race Larry Swift and Jon Henderson caught up with me, giving me some extra motivation. But extra motivation isn’t always enough, and they pulled ahead of me before the finish, with Jon just edging out Larry by 1 second.
Just behind us Ted Beatty and Jody Runyon were battling it out in C1’s, with another photo finish as Jody edged out Ted by 1 second. Lots of close “sub races” within this race! Deb Kanost upheld the honor of the female paddlers as our lone woman sea kayak racer (and in a beautiful new Stellar S18Sx), and came in behind the C1’s and just ahead of the Gilman C2 team. Roger Crisp and Brent Ernsberger were also racing Sea Kayaks, but both opted to paddle the 3 mile race. In Brent’s case, I understand he had some shoulder issues (something I understand well) and decided it would be smart to pull out earlier.
The afternoon races featured two C4 canoes lining up against each other: Matt, Ted, Danielle, and Jody in Matt’s fast Savage River C4, while Guy, Sonja, Bill, and I paddled the Gilman Wenonah C4. We were at a disadvantage with the wider Wenonah, but we paddled a good race and ran pretty close to the Meersman C4 for the first half or so of the race, losing some additional time with the (now shallower) trip around the island and the stiff headwinds of the return trip. But it was still fun – there’s nothing like working as a team in a canoe race!
With two good races under our belts, several of us headed out to the Crooked Ewe for some excellent eats and some good socializing before heading our separate ways. Many thanks to Matt and Danielle Meersman for putting on another excellent race! And many thanks to those who helped with timing: Danielle and Matt’s (?) mom for the morning race, and Roger Crisp for the afternoon race.
Click on “2021_stjoeriverracesresults-1” to view results.