St. Joe River Race 9.24.22

Matt Meersman ended our season in a big way Saturday with his St. Joe River races in South Bend, Indiana.  With 19 paddlers, 6 runners, morning and afternoon paddling races, and the chance to compete for “biathlon” status, it was a great finale for what has really been a great season. 

It was a rather cool start to the day, with temps in the mid to upper 50’s when I arrived, but that actually worked out pretty well for racing (probably low 60’s by the time the morning races started). With a morning overcast that negated the need for sunscreen, we had good racing weather that no doubt contributed to some pretty impressive performances on the water. The sun came out and the skies cleared for the afternoon races, which actually felt pretty good following the morning chill.

4 solo canoes (3 “standard” canoes and my OC1) joined Dwight Walker and Lacy Buck in their C2 for some single paddle action against 11 kayaks in the morning. As per usual, we had a downstream start from Veteran’s Memorial Park, heading down to our first turn at the walking bridge below the Notre Dame boathouse, then back up past the start (where our 3 mile times were recorded) and up to Kamm Island, which we encircled before returning back to the start for the finish. Most of the race involves your “standard” race features (making tight turns, how close to the bank do you want to run, etc), but the most technical side – and the section that often makes or breaks this race – revolves around Kamm Island. Choose the right line, and you can sail thru it. Some even found extra speed by “poling” through the shallower sections. But choose wrong and you grind out or slow substantially.  Definitely entertaining!

At the start I told Matt Meersman I would take him for the first 10 feet or so, and I made good on my promise. It’s easy to quickly accelerate my light and stable OC1. I may have even held him and everyone else off for 50 or more feet. But alas, the race was 7.2 miles and I couldn’t maintain that pace.  Dwight and Lacy in their C2 saw me charge out, and they pulled up to tag onto my wake, only to discover I wasn’t going as fast as they hoped. In the process they lightly bumped my boat, which I told them must have meant something to the effect of “move over, you’re going too slow!” That worked in my favor; as they went around me I tagged onto their wake and enjoyed a good ride to the first turn. Meanwhile, Matt Meersman, Pieter Visser, and Ted Beatty had moved ahead of the rest of us and they were vying to be first to the turn. If I heard correctly, I believe Ted got in a little ahead, at least of Matt, and forced him to turn a little wider.  Pieter may have already been ahead at that point.  This is only Pieter’s second year racing, but he’s already a force to be reckoned with as he took the lead and held it the entire race. As I followed Dwight and Lacy into the turn, I realized that it’s tough to stay on someone’s wake in a turn, and you typically lose them. So using my OC1 superpowers, I turned inside them, jumped ahead for a bit, then got back on their wake as they began to pull ahead again. That worked until we hit shallower water, where I couldn’t stay with them anymore. Meanwhile Bill Kanost and Paul Kane caught up and moved past me. I tried riding their wakes, but to no avail. So from there on out it was a solo trip for me.

Meanwhile Jon Henderson and Larry Swift were duking it out for Sea Kayak honors. They were running pretty close, but I believe Larry managed to pull ahead around Kamm Island, and Jon wasn’t able to pull him back in. Speaking of Kamm Island, I was pretty pleased with how I ran it overall, at least until the top. I managed to choose good lines and good water, but at the top of the island it looked shallow all the way across, and I opted to go to the right for what I thought would be better water. Alas, it was not, and I ground out. Little did I know that in this case choosing the left side would have given me the ability to keep on paddlin’…  So I straddled my OC1 and half carried/half floated it over to deeper waters, before getting back in. No one caught me at that point, so at least I felt good about holding position.  That didn’t quite last either.  Near the finish Brent Ernsberger came cruising by in his new Falcon, finally comfortable in paddling it.  I sort of had mixed emotions about this, as I tried to reel him in, but failed. I didn’t like losing position, but since I sold him the boat I was happy to see him using it successfully!

Behind me Deb Kanost and Steve Hoogstraten had an awfully close race, with Deb taking the win. Steve was an early surf ski paddler from years ago, with experience racing the Hawaiian Molokai and other races, but just now getting back into racing. It was good to have him join us!  Matt Conrad was just a short distance behind Steve, with Ken Stelter, Roger Crisp, and Sam Welch following.  Sam is a new racer from Fort Wayne (but no, I hadn’t met him until this race).  Sam also took part in the run, coming in second behind Matt Meersman.  He was slower in the boat (and Roger was doing a great job of giving him advice and encouragement), but considering this may have been his first race, he turned in quite a good time. Of course, much like taking that first drug hit, he’s probably now headed towards faster boats and more paddle workouts…

Afternoon racing was a unique mix of a C4 and a K2. Pieter was joined by his wife Liz in the K2, and they smoked the course. Their synchronization was something to behold. Apparently they listen to music while they paddle, and search out songs with 80 beats per minute to keep their stroke rate up. It worked!  In the C4, I joined Matt Meersman, Danielle Meersman, and Lacy Buck to utterly dominate the C4 field. It really was a great experience; it is fun to make that big canoe fly, and I learned a lot about the course and Kamm Island from the way Matt ran it.  We were hoping to give Pieter and Liz some good competition, but it’s tough to compete with a fast K2 team!

When all was said and done with finished off the day with some excellent food and fellowship at the Crooked Ewe before departing to our respective destinations. Many thanks to Julie Birge for timing and photos. I believe Ted Beatty took care of the afternoon timing, and I know Danielle Meersman put in a lot of work with registration and running the event. I probably missed some others as well. Many thanks to all for a well-run event!

Next up: our Fall meeting on October 15th!


Results attached.  Photo by Julie Birge

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