The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend was the first Chesapeake Paddler Association kayak race of 2007. Now, I'm not a racer and my kayak isn't a racing kayak, but I thought it would be fun, good exercise and a way to see how fast I could go. My only other "racing" experience had been on the Rhode River under rough water conditions, this would be a chance to see what my speed was like on the calmer water of the Potomac. The race was divided up into different classes, based on the length of the boat (longer is faster) - with any luck I'd be the only person in the "short stubby man in a short stubby boat" category.
The race started from Jack's Boathouse, at the foot of the Key Bridge underneath the Whitehurst Freeway. I'd bicycled by this place a million times on loops that involve the Capital Crescent Trail but never noticed it before - from the road Jack's very much overshadowed by the other big boathouses where the sculling/crew type people row from. A very eclectic looking place - lots of plastic rental kayaks but Jack's also rents storage space for peoples kayaks and some really nice looking boats are up on racks.
I managed to find the holy grail (a jammed parking meter) and was able to drop my kayak off and park for free. There were about 15 people in the race, pretty evenly divided between Epics, fiberglass sea kayaks and plastic sea kayaks - and me with my stubby little Ookpik. One couple (with identical Wilderness Systems Tempest 170s) had driven all the way from Delaware for this. At the last minute, someone else entered with a 16 foot boat, which meant there was someone else in the under 17' category - all I would get was a "good attendance" ribbon, wah.
There was a bit of a breeze early in the morning, but nothing much and it was pretty warm. The picture to the right (or to the left, if you are not from the UK) is looking up the Potomac from Jack's. You can just sort of see the Three Sisters Rocks in the back ground - we would race upstream a bit past the Three Sisters to where the C&O Canal incline plane site is, then go downstream to the southern end of Roosevelt Island, then turn back upstream and return to Jacks. There were all kinds of boats out on the Potomac - I guess Memorial Day weekend is the unoffical start of boating season everywhere in the US.
At the start, everyone pulled away from me except for one woman in a very nice Impex sea kayak. As we headed up stream, I was really trying to see the paddling style of the faster kayakers but (a) everyone seemed to have a different style and (b) the faster ones basically pulled away too fast for me to learn anything. I did managed to keep one sea kayak and one of the people in the Tempest 170s a constant distance ahead of me and I settled in trying to have a strong, consistent stroke. For the initial upstream leg I was doing 4.5 mph, which is a pretty good pace for me.
By the time we made the turn (marked by Todd in his giant inflatable kayak and an orange buoy that we had been told not to abuse, because abusing little buoys was not a good thing...) about 1.2 miles into the race, I was still within range of three kayakers. Going downstream I think the long boats lose a bit of their advantage - I was able to close the gap and by the time we reached Roosevelt Island I was just about even with one of them. I was doing about 5.4 mph for that stretch - supersonic by my standards. Going downstream also meant going downwind - the lack of a breeze in my face made it really, really hot. The wind had pretty much died out completely by then anyway - I noticed the planes landing at/taking off from National Airport had switched from downstream to upstream.
I've never paddled on this stretch of the Potomac before, and every now and then I would find I had slipped into tourist mode - I was looking to the left at Georgetown University and to the right at the traffic on the Memorial Parkway and other sights while my paddling slowed down. Oops - back to trying to get that PFD zipper to move back and forth, keep that stroke rate high, stab the water, pull, twist, etc.
At the turn at the southern end of Roosevelt Island, the guy in the Tempest 170 and I cut it a bit too close and were quickly in about 1 foot of water. Once we cleared that and headed back upstream, there was about 1.5 miles left to go and I decided to really dig in. However, the long boats just pulled away going upstream and I steadily lost ground. More incentive to get a longer boat.
I ended up finishing in just under 1 hour, so basically a 4.7 mph average. Earlier that week, I had paddled 8 miles in just under 2 hours on Rocky Gorge reservoir (pictures below) for about a 4.4 mph average, so 4.7 mph was an improvement. A lot of fun and a great way to spend a beautiful Saturday am. The next CPA race is at West River, maybe by then I will be able to try out a longer boat and see how much of my speed is the fault of the boat vs. the paddler...
The picture on the left is the Rt. 29 bridge over the Rocky Gorge reservoir. The picture on the right is shot of what I've been told are barn swallow nests (the blobs of mud where the support meets the underside of the bridge). I was afraid to get any closer, as the birds started dive bombing me, and the real downside of tiny little cameras is crummy pictures if you don't get close enough.