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For the 38th year the Keelhaulers Canoe and Kayak Club put together a well-run and well attended event. 86 paddlers braved overcast skies, and an altered race course. Lack of snow and rain led to desert-like conditions that would have forced racers to jog the course this year if the race were held on the traditional race portion of the river. The bad news went out over email and until I saw it with my own eyes, I didn’t believe we’d be racing in the slack water near Vermilion.
Following the race, I’m sure there were a lot of sore shoulders from paddling and sore knees from praying for rain. A late week rain storm didn’t pan out and it pretty much left this year’s race high and dry. Race organizers from the Keelhaulers wisely moved the race to the low water location, near the mouth of the Vermilion River near Lake Erie.
Gray skies with no rain greeted our group from Toledo as we pulled into the put-in at the South Street Boat Launch Ramp on West River road in Vermilion. This year’s put-in was a dramatic change from previous years. Instead of a wild and scenic Birmingham Park, we were greeted with the swift harbor smell of dead-fish, boat oil and seagulls. The launch site is a decent park, mainly used to launch fishing boats. This launch site is just upriver from the harbor in Vermilion, only a stones toss from Lake Erie.
I was surprised to see as many racers as there were that morning. I had thought using the alternate race course might deter a fair share of paddlers. I surmised that I wasn’t the only paddler in northern Ohio that had looked forward to blowing the dust off my equipment? The Keelhaulers Canoe club out of Cleveland has a strong following and also produces a well organized event.
This year’s course comprised of an up-river paddle to a point where race organizers stationed a buoy and a spotter. Approximately 10 inches of water greeted paddlers as we made the first turn. Heading back down river we passed back through the race course into the Vermilion Harbor. After making the turn at a second buoy we made our final burst to the finish line. Organizers placed an approximate distance on the race between 6.5 and 7 miles.
Scenery and wild life sightings were slim to none, unless you include the early morning fishermen along the shore. Ramshackle docks and cottages dotted most of the race course until you reached the first turn buoy. At this point racers got a glimpse of the kind of scenery the Vermilion has to offer in its up-stream sections. High cliffs and rocky shorelines greeted racers just as we had to make the turn. Racing back into Vermilion brought few surprises, with the exception of a dredging barge that racers had to avoid. There is supposedly a marsh section of the harbor that organizers sometimes use for the low-water race course, but the decision was wisely made to steer away from this section because of the work hazard.
I pulled into the finish-line having caught my paddling buddies from Toledo. I served as an on-the-water cheering section as each crossed the finish line. Usually racers stay around and socialize at this event, but many quickly loaded and headed for home.
Our group loaded up and headed to the traditional Rodger Mill Bacon Reserve take-out to see the low river level with our own eyes. I had spent the better part of the past year talking-up the scenic race course. I had hoped that by showing them the usual take-out, my buddies could get a glimpse of what the river really has to offer!
Sadly, we left the Vermilion and headed back to Toledo. We previously pre-planned to grab some more water-time on the Vermilion if water levels cooperated. Realizing that it was an exercise in futility to even try, we made secondary plans to stop and paddle the Sandusky River near Fremont, OH for a few hours. Experiencing some water time on two separate rivers in one day, was a bonus and we all returned home tired and happy.
Race organizers are quick to post the race results and I was excited to see where our group placed. I was narrowly edged out of the medals, but was still excited at my time. As usual, the winners are the racers who possess superior conditioning and equipment. I just wish they would use their turn signals as they blow by me on the course!