When I first got interesting in kayaking last fall, one of the first kayaking events I came across as I obsessively researched local kayaking on the web was The Wye Island Regatta. For some reason this really captured my imagination and became my goal for 2007: get skilled enough in paddling to be able to at least complete, if not really compete in, the 12.5 mile race. I'd done some hiking around the Wye area but never been on the water there - I don't know Wye it intrigued me so much, but it did.
So, back in March I attempted to make the circumnavigation, to mixed results . Then I did manage a full paddle around the island and a few months later even managed to go around twice. The weather each time was phenomenal, the paddling was fun and I was raring to do the race. September 15th was the official day of the race and the weatherpeople predicted cool temperatures as a high pressure system moved in and forced a cold front through. But, just as in life, it is always the back of the front that you have to worry about.
Going over the Bay Bridge at about 0700, the Bay looked pretty smooth, just light ripples but it was still cloudy - the front of the front hadn't even hit yet. I arrived at the Wye Landing start area at about 0745 (after filling up on some of that cheap Kent Island gasoline and the traditional coffee/muffin hi-tech pre-paddle fuel) and there were an impressive array of boats there, ranging from 40 foot long 8 person scull/crew/whatever you call 'em boats to gossamer weight skin-on-frame single scull/crew/whatever you call 'em boats to the usual array of kayaks. The talk was all about the weather and lots of VHF radios were tuned to the weather frequencies - 20-25 mph winds and small craft warnings were predicted for "late morning into the afternoon." Since kayaks would launch at 0945 and generally be done by 1230, it looked like it would be close.
Susan from Pennsylvania was there planning on doing the race with a friend in a tippy tandem surfski - they were really worshiping at the VHF weather radio. At the 0815 race meeting, the organizers (who had to worry about more than the early launchers like the kayakers) decided to shorten the race from a counterclockwise 12.5 mile race around Wye Island, to a 7.25 mile out and back starting from the usual race finish and staying on the most protected side of the course. This was disappointing, but a smart decision - by 0900 the back of the front arrived and heavy winds out of the northwest began to rattle the trees. I think a lot of people decided not to launch at that point. Others (like Pennsylvania Susan) did launch but quickly turned back.
But the usual CPA racers (Bill, Brian, Charlie, Cyndi, Dave, Kristina, Stephen, etc.)were there and we all did launch, along with Holm and Melissa, and a friend, who represented the creme de la creme of speedy kayakers. As we launched and paddled the 1/2 mile to the starting point (which was usually the finish line) we passed the alleged llama/emu/Merino/gnus that Susan claims are just plain old sheep and it was obvious the conditions would be challenging - it would change from just breezy to 20+ mph gusts in an instant. Since my Epic wing paddle had not shipped yet, I borrowed a wing paddle from Brian and used this .5 mile stretch to get used to using a wing again. Charlie's rudder hadn't come all the way down, so we were going to raft up so I could pull it down but the wake from a passing crabber boat did the job for him - or so he thought.
At the starting line we tried to get the starters to let us do a mass start but they insisted on one by one kayak starts so that they could write down numbers and starting times individually. Everyone was waiting for Holm to catch up (I guess no one gets to say that very often) but I said "you guys are all going to pass me and my wimpy boat quickly anyway, I'll start now" so off I went. The wind wasn't that bad at the start, as the SE corner of the island is by far the most protected. One by one the faster CPA folks passed me by - but no Charlie, giving me false hope that I was staying ahead of him. Turns out one of his rudder cables went out and he could only turn left, so he paddled in circles for a while and abandoned right at the start.
Stephen passed me in his brand new Don Knott-leisure-suit green 20 lb, 6 inch wide, helium filled boat (when it was sitting on the shore a wind gust actually blew it over), looking a bit tentative but still moving forward at a high rate of speed through the gusts. Pretty soon I was by myself, and I went by a few recreational kayakers as the big winds hit - had to be 25 mph gusts. It was like the water turned to oatmeal - the boat just seemed to stop moving. For the first open stretch, it was mostly a head on wind - it was slow but I was still moving forward. I seem to be addicted to hyphenated clauses - I wonder why?
That changed as soon as the river made a turn to the south and hit an open area. Now the wind gusts were on the beam and I really learned why a rudder would be a nice thing to have. The Capella's skeg definitely helped, but every big gust would cause it to take a jump to the upwind side and I'd have to lean and sweep to get aimed back in the right direction - and my sweep stroke still is pretty pitiful on a wing paddle. This was about 2-3 miles in and all the kayaks and canoes started veering back and forth - just at the time the early launched single scullers started coming back on the return. Having the race be an out and back had the advantage of getting to see the faster boats coming back but the wind made it pretty comical as no one could stay out of anyone else's way.
It was really funny when the big winds hit at the last stretch before the turn around buoy at about the 3.6 mph point. I had just pulled even with a 4 person canoe and was trying to pass them when the wind kicked up, the water turned into wet cement and the canoe started heading right at me. It was a big canoe and I really didn't feel like getting t-boned by it, so I somehow did the best buoy down wind turn of my life and managed to escape them.
For the next mile or so I pretty much just canoe paddled on the upwind side to try to go straight and a number of kayaks with rudders passed me. I didn't mind when Kristina passed me in her Epic 18 or Bill in his fast boat, but seeing other plastic boats that were only a foot or so longer than mine do so kind of got my adrenalin going. I started just sort of full time edging and paddling faster and began to catch up to them when ahead of me I observed a very strange sight.
It appeared to be Cyndi in her Nemo veering back and forth across the river, seeming to be either investigating the shores or trying to surf waves. I thought she had finished the race and then come back a few miles and was just playing in the waves. As I got closer, I noticed her rudder was up and I thought "Man, she is really showing off." Turns out it was a bad rudder day overall - she had popped a cable on the Nemo's rudder and the wind kept forcing her to the left, so she would over-correct to the right and gradually get forced to point upwind again, repeat.
Just about then the 4 person sculls starting showing up behind us and through the wind I could vaguely hear them yelling something about "yellow kayak" but since I already knew my kayak was yellow, I just ignored them and they seemed to figure out how to go around me. We made a slight turn to the north and were back in the relatively sheltered area, with the finish line in sight about .5 miles away. I was finally able to just try to paddle as hard as I could without having to steer and I just tried to swing faster, pull harder and rotate more. I managed to finally get ahead of the the other two kayaks and finished the 7.25 miles in 1:31 according to my GPS.
That works out to a 4.8 mph average which I guess was OK for the conditions. When you look at the speed profile from my (CArole's) Dick Tracy GPS watch thingie, you can see at the 3.6 mile turn around point, my speed dropped like a rock and didn't comeback for over a mile. That sort of suprised me but that was when the wind was on the rear beam and kept turning me upwind. I thought I'd be slower fighting the headwind but I guess the pushing effect of the tail wind was much less effective than the turning effect and the fact that almost all my paddling was going into turning the boat downwind, not moving it forward. Okie doke - the next boat will have a rudder, I give.
While my GPS said I finished in 1:31, unfortunately, the official results say I finished in 1:57, which would be a miserable 3.7 mph and can't be right. I emailed the head Regatteer and they are reviewing and modifying the results so maybe it will get changed. They responded that they will honor my GPS time of 1:31:42, though I said they could add anything to that they want to just to be fair - but I know it wasn't 1:57.
While I would rather have had conditions be good enough to have the full race around the island to see what my overall average speed could have been, I actually had a blast. The wind was a huge issue but mainly for steering, not for stability - the waves never got very big as Wye is still a pretty sheltered area where we paddled. I probably instinctively braced a few times because of doing so much leaning/edging but I don't think I ever came close to going swimming. I don't get the chance to paddle in rougher conditions very often, so it was a lot of fun fighting the wind for those 7 miles.
At the shore Dave Biss helped me out of the water and I still hadn't realized Cyndi hadn't made it back yet. When she did reach the take out, she used some nasty words that would get her FCC fines if she was on the radio. We all shared war stories for a while and packed up and drove home. Going back over the Bay Bridge at about 1pm it looked like about 3-4 foot whitecaps on the Eastern side of the bay - big winds still. Amazing how about 45 miles of practice paddling on the Wye was done on basically flat water and the day of the race it turns into a wind tunnel! I guess you really can't fool Mother Nature.
Here's an attempt at embedding the Google map and track into this site - never seems to work twice: