Saturday was the Broadkill River Race, 10 miles from Lewes, Delaware to Milton, DE. I had never done this race before, or been to Milton, so off to Internet mapping sites to find the route from Ashton, MD to the starting point on Oyster Rocks Road. It took a while to actually find a mapping site that knew about Oyster Rocks Road, but finally one of them said it was 120 miles and would take two hours and forty minutes. That seemed a bit pessimistic, even though much of the route was on Rt. 404, a one lane road that goes through many small towns with 25 mph speed limits. To play it safe, I left at 0600 (after the traditional 7-11 coffee and a muffin stop) and ended up reaching the starting point at 0800 - I tend to drive faster (but always obeying all posted speed limits (in spirit) than most mapping sites seem to assume.
The race start was where Oyster Rocks Road dead ends at the Broadkill River, not a very impressive place - pretty much just a small gravel area surrounded by muddy, goopy banks with two port-a-potties. One of the port-a-potties had apprarently previously been used by Jabba the Hutt, or perhaps the entire University of Delaware football team after a very bad Mexican dinner. The race people gave out water and very nice t-shirts but there wasn't a drop of shade. The prospect of standing around for two hours (the race didn't start until 10am) wasn't very appealing. However, a nice local guy offered me the chance to follow his car up to the finish area, leave my truck there, and then have his brother-in-law drive us back to the starting point. That solved the shuttle problem and got me out of the sun for a while - it worked out great.
The variety of boats was pretty impressive. There were probably a dozen racing boats (including Neil the outrigger canoe guy), a couple of dozen long composite sea kayaks, and then pretty much every type of plastic kayak you could imagine. Some of them looked like someone had powered up their Vac-u-form and made them the night before. The usual CPA racers were there: Cyndi in her dayglo Nemo, Charlie and Stephen in their wooden boats, Bill in his Epic 18x. I saw a few other P&H Capellas, so I would be able to see how I compared to others paddling the same boat.
At 0945 Bill and I helped each other carry our boats down past the goop to the water and the river started to fill up with kayaks. Single kayaks would start first, followed by two person kayaks, then single canoes, then tandem canoes. It wasn't real obvious where the starting line was, so the 70 or so single kayaks were spread out over about 100 feet of the river. When the starting person got on the bullhorn and said "Everyone has to line up behind me" it lead to a lot of backing up and turning of kayaks being done by many people not real familiar with backing up or turning kayaks - the river was filled with the sound of plastic bumping into plastic, many "Sorry!"s and then, 10 seconds before the start, one guy splashing into the water. He seemed to have a friend with him (or at least that is what everyone else decided to assume) to help him back in, so at the starting gun (or yelp) we were off. It looks like the guy who fell in abandoned the race, so now I feel kinda bad that none of us stopped to help him.
I've only done a few races before, and never one with more than 20 or so boats - seeing 70 start off at once was pretty interesting, much the way watching parents on December 23rd rushing through the doors when Toys-r-Us opens up in the morning is interesting. It actually seemed to go pretty well, considering, and I was up in the front third of the pack at the start. Within the first mile the race pretty much sorted out to almost the exact same segmentation I'd seen at the three CPA races : men in racing boats, Cyndi, longer composite sea kayaks and then everyone else.
The timing of the start was pretty good - the tide had pretty much just turned from dead low to an incoming tide. That meant the very curvy river had some very shallow spots at the turns but it also meant we had a favorable current. When the race sorted out, I was in a pack of about 4 or 5 boats a few hundred feet behind Cyndi and a red haired guy on a tiny little sit-on-top. Cyndi seemed to be zigging and zagging back and forth - either she was having rudder problems, was trying to shake some one drafting her, or she just decided to paddle further since there wasn't much female competition.
Since I had never paddled the course before, I decided to just stick to the middle of the river. The pack I was in quickly narrowed down to just three of us: me and two guys in longer composite kayaks, neither with wing paddles. They moved ahead of me, so I decided to try to do some drafting but they were really swerving a lot to cut the corners and I decided I'd rather stay in the deeper water - without a rudder it was just too much work to keep following behind them. Slowly, Cyndi and the sit-on-top guy pulled out of sight and by the time we neared the US 1 bridge they were pretty much gone completely except for the rare segment where the river was straight.
About three miles in (actually, I have no idea how far in, since I kept hitting the wrong button on my Forerunner Dick Tracy GPS watch thingy and only had a speed readout, no mileage) I noticed I had a bow wave, but only on the right side of my kayak. I was keeping up a pretty good speed, in the 5.8 - 6.0 mph range for stretches, but not that fast - it turned out that they had taped my race number on too low and it was catching the water and throwing a wave over the right side (OK, matey - the starboard side). For a mile or so I stared at it trying to decide if it was actually slowing me down, or was it just a psychological thing. I was tempted to reach forward with my paddle to knock the number off, but figured it would be pretty embarrassing to fall in. I convinced myself it wasn't really slowing me down and paddled on - but just then the guy behind me caught up and said "Hey, your number is acting like a sea anchor - want me to pull it off?" Not wanting to slow him down, I said no - but a few turns later he caught up again and offered again. I took him up on it this time and lo and behold - it did seem easier to paddle. If nothing else, it was much quieter without all that water splashing over the front bow.
I thanked him and then sort of rudely pulled away. I think the nice guy was Vince Lewonski, who I've read about in Susan Williams kayaking blog . Thanks, Vince! Without my sea anchor, I slowly caught the other guy in our triad and passed him. He was paddling a really nice looking sea kayak but I couldn't quite see what type - a Millennium maybe? I settled into trying to keep the speedometer above 5.3 mph but since I had no odometer or timer, I really had no idea how far we were from the finish and didn't want to push it too hard in the heat and burn out before the finish. They had a guy in a boat offering water but when I asked him what mile maker he represented, he had no idea. Somewhere around here the teenage "Todd boys" passed me by - they were calmly paddling with their knees up by their chins, sucking on Camelbaks as they went flying by.
The river is pretty isolated and we went by a number of sunken wharfs and other ruins for a while, then a marina or two, then some houses - one with a traffic light hanging on their dock, but luckily it wasn't red so I just kept paddling. It was hot out, in the 90s and very humid - I reached the point in a ten mile paddle where you just want it to be over. Somewhere after this, the other guy passed me and I made the mistake of letting him get 50 feet or so ahead of me. I still wasn't sure how close we were to the finish, and figured I'd see the Milton water tower or hear noise from the festival at the finish when it was close enough to push it - wrong.
We passed a "No wakes" sign and I figured we were close (or they just had very informal funerals in the Milton area), so I started to push it a bit but didn't close on the other guy at all. Then we turned a corner and there was the finish maybe 100 yards away. I tried to sprint and I made up a few feet but ended up finishing about 15 seconds behind Jeff Pringle, according to the race results, with a time of 1 hour 40 minutes. I think someone said the distance was 9.6 miles, which works out to a 5.76 mph average, a good deal faster than I've ever done over 10 miles. That time was definitely aided by the current, but someone did say I was the first plastic boat in. I don't know if that was true - the sit on top guy was in a plastic boat - but I felt good about my time. If I'd been a bit smarter with tactics I might have been able to come in one place higher ( I was 14th out of 70 in single kayak), so maybe next year.
The town of Milton was having a festival at the finish area, and a shaved ice really tasted good in the heat. I took a quick walk through the festival, but it was more a family oriented kind of thing, and the food was of the county fair variety: fried dough and hot dogs after a 10 mile paddle in the 90 degree heat weren't all that tempting. I was looking for Eastern Shore tomatoes, watermelon, crabs, lopes - never saw any. There was an Irish pub across the street that many of the CPAers were going to but I had to get home. I gave Bill Woodruff a ride back to his car at the start and headed back - and hit a 6 mile backup on Kent Island due to an accident that had the westbound Bay Bridge down to three lanes.
All in all, a lot of fun. This was the first race I've done where I was actually racing anyone, vs. basically paddling alone for the entire race. A beautiful river, a nice ending spot and a lot of fun people made it one I'm definitely planning on doing next year. Next is the Wye Island Regatta , a 12-miler that should have some rougher water, too.