or for you Tblisians: Tboned on the Tbroadkill, Terrific Tailwind to Tchase Tcyndi
The Broadkill race in 2007 was just about my favorite of all last year, so I was psyched to do it again this year. Things did not bode well, however - I put the Marlin in at Triadelphia on the Thursday before the race to get in a little training and make sure the boat was all set, and about a mile in the rudder fell off, kersploosh. Looks like the threaded stud that inserts into the hull fitting to allow the rudder to pivot had never been fully threaded into the rudder assembly, and all the wobbling stripped the threads. Some email to Gray at KayakPro, and to Cyndi who owns scads of Nemo's (the Marlin's skinnier, flashier little sister), clued me in on how to re-install the rudder until KayakPro could send some replacement parts, and I was all set - assuming the rudder would stay on for the curvy 9.6 miles of the Broadkill race...
Charlie and I planned to meet at 0830 at Milton to leave one of our vehicles there for a shuttle back to the race start, so after the traditional 7-11 coffee and a muffin, I was on the Bay Bridge by about 0700 looking west at some big old clouds. The weather bookies had predicted a hot humid day, but it turned out to be cool and overcast, with a tailwind and an incoming tide - you really couldn't ask for better kayak race weather.
As I drove east through Delaware, the signs of our August drought were obvious: corn fields that were irrigated were green as could be, those without irrigation were completely brown. Farming sure is a tough business. I pulled into beautiful downtown Milton a bit early, but Charlie was already there, applying a mysterious speed enhancing wax to the hull of his skinny hand-built wooden 20 footer. We transferred my boat and stuff to Charlie's Scion and were off to the start.
The rainbow regatta of recreational kayaks was out in full force at the start at Oyster Rocks, but many of the usual racers weren't there. According to her evil twin Pattie, Ladyjustice Susan was taking the easy way out and doing some downriver race in Pennsylvania. Stephen had family obligations and Brian was a no-show, as well. Holm and Melissa were there with their pool cue-width boats. I did see Vince and Jeff and many of the others from last year and this year's Nanticoke race.
Much like last year, the tide was just switching from dead low to incoming, so we would have a nice current helping us go upstream. As we all put in ahead of the start, the current was impressive - you had to backpaddle pretty vigorously to stay in one spot. After getting banged around at the mass start at the Nanticoke race, I decided to stay at the back until the actual start and try to avoid some of the carnage. That worked pretty well - for about 15 seconds. Then as I tried to sprint through an opening, a guy in a blue kayak lost control and turned left right into me, knocking me sideways into the path of some other kayaks and we all came to a dead halt. Once I got out of that, I headed to the side and sprinted around the big blob of boats and got into clearer water. Now I know - stay on the side at the start, stay out of the middle.
I quickly caught up to a pod consisting of Jeff, Vince and the guy in the black Epic who I beat by a few seconds in the Nanticoke race. The Epic guy was still doing the "cut the corners of the curves" approach, which at low tide guarantees a lot of suckwater paddling, so I passed him by. Jeff and I chatted for a bit and he commented that my rudder was waggling back and forth - uh oh. But then I realized this was just a bad habit I have of leaving my toes on the rudder pedals while I try to push with my legs. I corrected that and Jeff said no more waggle and I gradually pulled ahead as we continued around the snaky turns on the Broadkill.
Holm and Melissa and all the toothpick boat racers were long gone and Charlie disappeared from view quickly, too - it must be that mystery wax, or perhaps the fact that he is very fast. A few hundred feet up ahead I could see Cyndi in her blazing orange Nemo. Since the Nemo and the Marlin have the same hull, essentially all the difference in our speeds would be due to differences in the paddler. I have advantages in being bigger and stronger, a much faster typist, and pure of heart. Cyndi has advantages in being younger, a much, much better paddler, and sneakier. Turns out that much better/sneakier paddler stuff wins out every time.
I decided I would just try to maintain the same gap behind Cyndi until we hit the Rt. 1 bridge that was the halfway mark. Then, with 4.8 miles remaining I would start trying to close the gap. Just before the bridge there was a water police boat idling along and I told them they needed to stop Cyndi to inspect her boat because she was probably carrying prohibited substances but they said nothing was prohibited in the Peoples Republic of Delaware. Dave Biss was cheering us on at the bridge and I accused him of installing a trolling motor in Cyndi's Nemo but he managed to deny it with a straight face.
I can't stand paddling with the Camelbak mouthpiece in my mouth, and I've never figured out to get it to stay close enough to my mouth to easily grab while paddling, so every 14 minutes (arbitrarily chosen because 14 minutes into the race I realized I should drink something) I had to stop paddling and get the stupid thing in my mouth. That's another thing to work on for next season. I noticed Jeff Pringle had a Stevie Wonder harmonica holder around his neck holding the Camelbak sippy straw - maybe I'll look into that.
One nice thing about following that far behind was that I could use Cyndi to decode the turns in the river, since it isn't always obvious when you are looking ahead at water level. I tried to shave a bit off of her line each time when she seemed to go a bit too wide, but I didn't want to get stuck in the shallows. After the bridge there was a junction in the river where the volunteer water barge was and Cyndi headed the wrong way - aha, I had a chance. But the water guy told her she was going the wrong way and she quickly corrected, so I only gained a few yards on her. I yelled at the water guy that he wasn't getting the $20 I had promised.
As an experiment, I tried to synchronize my stroke with Cyndi's and found that her cadence was about 10% higher than mine, even though she has definitely moved away from Energizer Bunny mode. I tried to pick up my rate to match hers, but I would always slip back to my natural, slower rate. So, I decided that whenever she went out of site around a curve I would dig in and sprint, really going for the wood-chopping, stab the water mode. When I came around the curve and she was back in sight, I would go back to normal paddling so she wouldn't increase her rate. This seemed pretty sneaky to me, but of course Cyndi is much sneakier - and was already doing exactly the same thing. Every time she came back into sight, I'd find I hadn't gained much - in fact, it looked like I was gaining more when she was in full view and losing time when I was "sprinting", or what impartial observers would more commonly call "thrashing".
I was just starting to realize that my strategy wasn't working when I came upon a white "3/4" sign on the left bank. I looked at my GPS and we had only gone about 6.3 miles. If that was the 3/4 mark, then this was only an 8.4 mile race and there was only 2.1 to go. Since I had forgotten to start my GPS the year before, I wasn't sure how long the race was but I thought it was 9.6 miles, meaning there were really 3.3 miles to go. I decided to ignore the "3/4" sign, mainly because I just didn't feel like pushing for the finish yet. Turns out I made the right choice - a lot of people commented on how long the last 1/4 of the race felt.
Towards the end, the river gets narrower and more scenic, and Cyndi began to get really tricky. I whammed into something and it turned out to be a dead horseshoe crab that "mysteriously" appeared right in my path. When the odometer said there was 1 mile to go, I tried to go to full time water stabbing mode and after a few minutes of seeing the speedometer go higher, I whammed the paddle into something in the middle of the river. I think it was a turtle that "mysteriously" appeared in my way, as well. Crabs and turtles under the command of Captain Nemo, perhaps???
I finished in a little bit over 1:29, a minute or or so behind Cyndi and an 11 minute improvement in my time from last year when I paddled the Capella. That matches what I've seen so far - the new boat all by itself took about a minute per mile off my time. Improvement from there requires my paddling to improve. Looks like my heart stayed in a pretty narrow band, averaging 158 with a max of 168. That's a good deal lower than the Nanticoke race, but there wasn't as much current assist in that race and I was actually racing someone nearby for most of that race and pushed harder. You can see dips in the heart rate every couple of miles where I stopped paddling to sip at the Camelbak.
At the finish we all enjoyed the phenomenal weather and chatted about boating stuff. Charlie and I shuttled back to the start and I headed home - just in time to get trapped in a backup due to an accident shutting down Rt. 50 in both directions at the Severn River bridge, big sigh. Another fun race at Broadkill, and some goals for next year: shave a few seconds off by avoiding demolition derby at the start, and shave a whole bunch more off by getting my paddling power up. The Google-tronic map of the race below and the Garmin summary here: