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Our sixth year of participating in the Wye Island Regatta needed an alternative style. With no Captain Topher and no Bloody Mary we considered some racing variations that would still represent the spirit of the Wye-infamous Duckhead Racing Association.
Alternative #1 – Go and compete. The Sockeye/Sea Wimp has competed four times as a tandem (time to beat: Laura and Patrick's 2:52:20 finish in 2005) and I’d like to challenge that in the 30th anniversary version.
Yeah, racing - we have some fast boats in the local Duckhead fleet and it’s always fun to cruise past the laggardly Wontonnah crew as Captain Chip slows to eye each sandy beach and whines that it would have made a perfect picnic point. I just wish there was something we could do for him in the realm of recuperative rest spots along the raceway.
Alternate 2: Go and sail. All’s fair as long as it don’t have a motor says I. Wye has categories for singles, double, four and eight man racing and rec shells, racing kayaks, outriggers, dorys, gigs, wherrys, and other rowed oddities. Double (and triple) kayaks. Mixed this and that. Weird home made recumbent sea cycles and bizarre boats starting in the “Other” category.
I’m staking my claim - There should be a category for sailing paddle or oar craft. No matter how the course is run, circumnavigation or up and back, half the race will be paddling into the wind. Either that or I’m competing next year under sail with a homemade race bib reading “Disqualified”.
Or alternate 2a - Pull a Rosie Ruiz and cut overland across the island at the mid-point slough narrows to shorten the course and finish in “record” time. Running across the island carrying a boat is still human powered in my book, even if it is strapped to a portage cart. That plan needs a feasibility route study.
Alternate 3: Go and "race" at Duckhead speed. Muckle up at some mid-race sandy point and spectate for a spell. We could set the record for slowest finish time ever recorded.
The consensus choice was #3, with an added recruiting angle flourish afterthought.
With the piteously slow Wontonnah registered to compete as Duckheads we would have a racing representative to continue the proud spirit of the DRA, and since we wouldn’t actually be racing ourselves we need not need to register. We’re just simple paddlers. Accent on the simple.
Tyler and I arrived early with the Sea Wimp and Explorer Solo, early enough to be directed to parking spot #1. We undertook the usual pre-race wandering, ogling paddlecraft ranging from shells large and small to fast kayaks, canoes, wherrys and dorys and other human powered oddities.
Pretty. Very pretty. I’ll say this General, they look pretty… but can they fight?
Because the wind is blowing this fog off and there’s a front coming through. This could be an open water epic for the unprepared. Where’s Topher when we need him?
As we were setting up the Wimp and ES with bags, covers and sail rigs (and trying not to be too obvious about the mass quantities of gear we were stowing) I overhead from a nearby rowing shell assembler “Damnmit, I dropped that washer in the grass and I can’t find it”.
Spares & Repairs bag to the rescue! An appropriate sized stainless steel washer produced and offered. The rower kept thanking me and I kept thanking him back. Bringing that small drybag of spare parts and materials on every trip I need the positive reinforcement of delving into it on occasion. Thanks again; hope you had a good race.
The Squatters arrive and now there no disguising our mysterious mountain of gear. I hid most of our the extraneous excess under the decks of the Sea Wimp, but an Old Town Camper piled with chairs, multiple coolers and drybags will draw attention at a race.
Having to employ a 4-man carry to heave our boats down to the water was a blatant enough transgression that our launch was attended by several concerned race officials.
They hail us with “Do you know what you’re doing?”
“Yeah, this is our 6th Wye Island” I respond, trying to be truthful yet noncommittal.
“Do you know where you’re going?” they ask.
“Yeah pretty much”. As much as Duckheads ever do. I considered asking him if they could recommend a good place to muckle up, but thought better of it.
“What are your race numbers?” they inquire adding, with undisguised apprehension “We want to make sure everyone gets back”
Well, there’s no getting around that one “We’re not racing we’re just paddling”. I don’t really want to stick around to establish our bona fides, or infamy, and we don’t wait around for the response.
Because of high winds this race this year’s will not circumnavigate the island; it will be a shortened out-and-back on the more wind protected side. Even that course was gusty with choppy waves along the fetch of the embayed shores. With a bit more wind challenge this would could be shades of the fantastically fun Hurricane Ivan year.
At the first pre starting line muckle up a woman in a racing single swung by to ask if any of us had a sponge. Yes, of course, in your choice of several styles and colors. Having seen racers in previous windchop years attempting to bail using a Sierra cup or Tilley hat we were happy to help. That was my favorite sponge though, in a drawstring mesh bag.
Waiting for the canoes and kayaks to pass the starting line we stuck near to the leeward shore, well off the course. And they’re off. And we’re off. Off course, off center, off base, off target, off kilter, off season, off track, off peak and offsides. We’re so far off we must be on, ‘cause we’re passing folks that are actually racing.
Tyler finally says out loud what we’re all thinking “We should be racing”. The wind and wave conditions were perfect for the bow-ballasted Sea Wimp, the spray covers over floatation bags in the Freedom Solo cut its wind profile, and the Squatters are tandem double blading the Camper with their customary competent comedy of constant laughter. If the Squatters are like this as adult siblings I gotta wonder what they were like as kids.
We passed and re-passed an older gentleman in Wenonah with a blond trophy bowman. Passed them repeatedly as we would paddle the long leeward side, stop and muckle as they would retake the lead and then pass them again. I had a feeling I’d seen him racing before at Wye and I had a feeling we’d see them again.
During a muckle we were overtaken by a bearded guy in a Wenonah Encounter, paddling with a long double blade. Passing he called “Hey, is that a Kruger?”
“No, it’s a 30 year old Sockeye, getting better with age”, I replied, no doubt causing a rapid and indignant rotation of Verlen Kruger’s mortal remains.
I couldn’t resist adding the oxymoronic “Hey you cheater, you’re using a double blade” as he paddled past. A large bearded fellow with a nine foot double blade in a solo canoe - I had a feeling I’d see him again.
Duckheading up the lee shore, paddling and muckling we were startled to see the racing singles heading back down course. Already? Ahead in the distance we spied the turn buoy and race boat. And off to the racing side of the course, fortuitously, we see just what we are looking for – a broad sandy beach that isn’t the front yard of a billionaire’s mansion, but instead fronting a cornfield. Men to the right, ladies to the left.
Cutting across to the sandy landing we offloaded chairs, coolers, hors d’oeuvres and miscellanea. That miscellanea including a large mallet. The mallet was needed to install our recruiting angle flourish, a performance art piece titled “The Siren’s of Wye”
3 large signs reading “FREE”, “RACE” and “BEER”, erected on the beach in front of the coolers and chairs. Let’s see if we can’t lure a few boats off course. Consider it recruiting, a test of priorities, an initiation rite. An offer no natural born Duckhead could refuse.
Most of the serious racers never even looked up from the course, although we did manage to throw off the stroke rhythm of an 8-man shell when a couple of thirsty crewmembers looked over longingly and suddenly stopped rowing, causing a cascade of clashing oars.
As expected we snared Chip Walsh and the crew of the 20’ Wontonnah. No surprises there, as Chip had paddled a grueling four or maybe even five whole miles without a break.
We considered that it would be kind of a sad commentary if the best our free-beer recruiting effort can snare was Chip and Stephen. Fortunately the Wontonnah’s complement included Matilde and Dennis, and we had our first Duckhead recruits.
With the sole DRA entry safely lured ashore we upped the put-ashore ante. “Chocolate!” Stephen would holler to the lady racers, while the Squatters suggestively waggled their India Pale ales at the gents.
Here comes the bearded guy in the Wenonah Encounter. As we watch him round the point and look at our signs we know we have him. We know we have him with the same certainty a hitchhiker knows they have a ride when they seeing an old man in a grimy gimme hat driving a rusty pick up coming down a back road.
No question about it, he’s headed in with a gleam in his eye and a thirst in his belly. Not to mention an Encounter he bought at BMO and a 280cm Bending Branches Tailwind. He’s always been a Duckhead; he just didn’t know it ‘til today. Well met Richard.
From what we’ve seen on the way out it appears that only a few canoes are racing and we’ve snared two of them. Here comes another, carried atop a safety boat, the older gent and trophy bow woman sheepishly chagrinned.
The safety boat motors over and asks “Are you OK?”
Hmmm, a dozen paddlers and boats on a sandy beach, folding chairs, coolers, food, and a series of signs reading:
Oh the humanity. Yeah, save us from ourselves.
The safety boat motors off and here come a couple of kayakers. They’ve seen the signs, they’re vacillating, thinking about it. They’ve taken the bait and we’re reeling them in. Welcome Liz and Frank. I hope the golf umbrella sail back was fun Liz; that golf umbrella sail had special sentimental value ya know ;-)
Here comes yet another safety boat, toting rescued racers, heading towards our oddly sign posted beach.
“Do you need help?” Yeah, but it would probably take years of Freudian analysis to understand.
“We’re fine thanks”, I tell them, thinking “It’s all downwind from here, we have Spirit sail and golf umbrellas to spare, spare clothes, food and drink extraneous essentials to last for days, it’s barely afternoon and we paddle open water slop far worse than this with a laugh.” The laugh part goes without saying on a Squattered trip.
As the last of the 8-man shells oared past, some with notable oar-bashing distraction and the crew of the Wontonnah disembarked, looking to set a Wye Island record for slowest time ever. Richard craftily denied them even this accolade, floating back among the Duckhead faithful to set the DRA’s benchmark for dawdling time to beat.
I can hardly wait for the Wye Island Regatta finish times to be posted. Several struggling dories, wherrys and canoes passed us outgoing into the teeth of the wind never to be seen again, and no doubt there are numerous DNF’s in the proud tradition of Paddler01. I’m sure the Wontonah crew did the DRA proud, and I expect that Richard set a Wye Record.
I wonder what Richard’s wife thought when he arrived home late with the Wye Island
All-Time Slowest Record, toting his souvenir sign “BEER” sign.
Great downwind sail back with the full sized Spirit Sail bent over on the Sea Wimp, Ty sailing the Explorer solo and the Squatters trying the universal bow mount on the Camper. . . well Paris, that was my favorite Spirit Sail Y, and had it sentimental value… not floatability…
Frank finished in 2:50:32, earning 3rd place in Men’s Rec Kayak and Liz finished in 2:50:41, taking 2nd in Women’s Rec Kayak. Frank may have sprinted ahead at the end to garner a 9 second lead, but Liz took Place to his Show.
The Wontonnah finished in 2:31:43, taking 1st place in mixed OC4 at an average speed of 3.3 mph. Of course the Wontonnah was also the only OC4, so they can rightly claim last place as well.
The crowning achievement of the day goes to Richard, who finished with a new Duckhead record of 4:29:54 and an average speed of 1.84 MPH. Not only did this represent Duckhead Racing at its finest, but Richard still took 1st place in men’s Masters 50’s.
I should also mention that the Bloody Mary was there at least in spirit – the official race program reprinted last year’s trip report of the Bloody Mary’s memorable 1st place finish.
Laminated course map distributed by race officials. Or just paddle around the island and remember to keep it always on your left if going counterclockwise...
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