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Submitted: 08-04-2011 by generaljeb
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Once again I find myself at Gloucester High School, home of the Fighting Fishermen, bearing up beneath dark storm clouds and a gale of calendar pages. I'm staring down the barrel of my 56th birthday and Father Time's itchy finger grows heavy on the trigger. The words of Mike Livingston play over and over in my head:
"Good morning. We are privileged to live another day in this magnificent world. Today you will be tested."

Just two years earlier a vascular conspiracy brewed in my bloodstream. It knocked me flat on my back and left me unable to get out of bed. Faceless strangers wheeled me down hospital corridors as I stared at the ceiling tiles and counted light fixtures. The "eternal footman held my coat and snickered" and in short, I was enraged.

Today, the roster of competitors in the 25th Anniversary of the venerable Blackburn Challenge includes yours truly. Attention to detail, relentless analysis and dedicated training will combine with old age and treachery for a go at the winner's circle. A former friend owns a veterinary pharmacy but he selfishly refused to provide horse steroids. The best I can muster is a fair representation of a caffeine-fueled jackass. Heat is an issue. Last year, I used a yak with a cockpit. Three miles from the finish line it flipped in some chop. With no skirt, the boat took on water and I hauled an extra 100 pounds of shifting payload to the greasy pole. Again this year, a skirt is not an option because of the heat. Yesterday, we had record temperatures at Cape Ann. These wormy legs would bake into cramps under that black shroud so I've found an alternative, the Epic V-8. If the boat flips, you can jump back on and it will self-bail.

At the starting line is Roger Gocking who took first place last year. He jumps ahead early and as we hammer the water to catch him I sense I'm going out too fast. Dave Furniss is on my wash and the three of us snake down the Annisquam River as a single creature with loose joints. This is unsustainable. I'm on the express train to Bonk City. Somehow I make it to the ocean in second place. Gocking slows down ever so slightly and things get a little easier. Furniss is stuck on my wash like a tick on a bird dog. Near Halibut Point we find some small bumps and the kid blasts ahead. He moves to the front. Now I'm in third place.

Three or four times, I have had to fiddle with my "hydration system" only to fall off their wash. Each time, the acceleration and responsiveness of this vessel lets me rejoin without undue effort, but now the bumps are throwing me beyond Gocking's stern and I can't find the brakes so I steer past him. Catching some good runners, I surge ahead, but at a 20 degree angle away from their course. For a few glorious seconds the corn dog is in first place! I think I've found a faster line. I am an idiot.
It is now just a matter of holding on to third place as they shrink in the distance.

Approaching Dog Bar, the swells increase. My gaze remains locked on the turn at the seawall but I'm conscious of cold water crashing abeam into my lap and filling the cockpit. The stability is dead solid and I never miss a stroke. As I'm surfing toward the rocks, trying to exploit the bumps, the safety kayaks are getting nervous. One paddles towards me to steer me away. My right shoulder is screaming. The temptation to coast is enormous but I won't. After coming this far, it might as well be Olympic gold on the line. I finish the race without ever having made the first brace stroke and officially become what Bart Simpson calls the "second loser".

Roger later says that at the seawall, the swells and slop were a concern. He became tentative and Dave pulled away. That would have been my moment. That is where the better boat would have won the day, if not for a weak motor and a bad decision. Now, I'm on the beach enjoying Ipswich Ale and visiting with my favorite people. Tomorrow we will resume the battle with unemployment, personal relationships and all the thorns and spurs of this life. Today is for savoring the simple privilege of just one more day. As for the boat, the numbers speak for themselves.

Blackburn 2010 11th place 3:37
Blackburn 2011 3rd place 3:04
Seventeen surf skis finished behind me.
My sincere thanks go out to the folks who hosted this event and the many people who supported me in this crazy pursuit. That last part would include Wyndy, who suffers from a strange affinity for skinny old men with abnormally large heads. See ya at Molokai.
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