Sunday, January 3, 2010

paddling: running on... empty? (warning - long)

Yesterday (1/2/10) I participated in my first OC1 (single person outrigger canoe) race. This was notable for:
  1. being my first OC1 race
  2. being my longest time in an OC1 (other time - about 30 minutes during a practice)
  3. being my longest distance in an OC1 (6.5 - 7 miles)
  4. being in quite gusty weather
  5. being in January in Seattle

I guess the water was around 42 degrees. I'm glad I didn't know that until afterwards. The winds were ~12-15 knots, with gusts over 20, coming from the SW. The weather was cool and fairly dry (at least one squall came through just as we were launching, kicking up more wind and dropping some rain).

The race ran from just off the SOCC beach (Waterway 18) on Lake Union to Sand Point at the north end of Magnuson Park. So, out under the I-5 bridge, the University Bridge, through the Montlake Cut and under the Montlake Bridge, then out onto Lake Washington and out to Webster point, at which point we were running before the southerly winds along the west shore of Lake Washington.

The gathering beforehand was pretty cool, with lots of OC1s, a few OC2s, a handmade bamboo OC2 that was designed after traditional Hawaiian fishing canoes and paddled by a neat couple, 3 OC6s, a couple of racing shells including at least on 8 and one 2, and 2 dragon boats, which are Chinese in origin and seat 12 or something, plus a steersperson and a drummer -- they look crazy because they look like they've got about 280 people crowded into them and they're brightly colored and I never would have taken one out in the weather we had. Oh yeah, there were a few SUP folks and at least one paddleboard, along with some surfskis.

I was a bit tentative at the beginning, feeling the wobbly-ness of the boat and trying to get a sense of how tender it was going to be. Most of the boats went south, figuring they'd blow north to the start. I hung out at the start, waiting for the horn that was our "go" signal.

When it came, the masses charged forward and I followed, paddling carefully, still working on getting acclimated to the canoe and conditions and warming up slowly. Speaking of warmed up, I was wearing neoprene shorts under neoprene long pants, with 4 layers of shirt above, topped by my PFD. I didn't want to go into the water,but I wanted to be able to handle it if/when I did huli. And I had some neoprene booties on my feet, with plenty of water in them from launching the canoe.

I followed folks out under the first 2 bridges and then across to Montlake Cut, after which it seemed like everyone took off. I was near a couple of women in OC1s, the couple in the bamboo OC2, a paddleboard, and an OC6 that looked to me like fairly inexperienced women. Melissa, who was doing the race too, was close behind me, though I didn't spend a ton of time looking back after I reached Lake Washington.

I was nervous about the wind (I'd woken up several times during the night, hearing it in our trees and wondering just how crazy I was to be doing this race with my lack of experience), but it wasn't bad through the cut and even out to Webster Point.

Then, starting downwind to the north, I was paddling with the wind swells and most of my energy went to keeping myself from getting tossed. There were times when I was able to think about pushing my stroke, but those were rare. The paddleboard slowly dropped back (I think). The OC2 quickly pulled ahead. I found myself paddling for many many strokes on one side (usually the left, ama side), and had to consciously switch over. The one woman near me (Wendy was her name) continued to be close for about 2 miles before she pulled ahead too. We even chatted for a bit as we both moved north. Then she was ahead and as I neared Magnuson Park, another woman in an OC1 (Kristen) came quickly past, surprising me. I figured she probably started late and would blow past others ahead as well.

When I considered what I was doing I realized I was spending a lot of energy putting on the brakes. Larger (2 foot?) swells would come from behind, lifting the stern up and skewing me one way or another. I found I sometimes mis-steered, pressing the wrong pedal and exacerbating the swing. If I'd known what I was doing I would have been able to surf the "bumps," but instead, given the high likelihood of flipping and then needing to deal with being soaked and out of the boat in the wind and swells, I was focused on keeping upright by regularly digging my paddle into the water to let the waves pass under me. I think I was mostly under control, but I was moving slowly.

And there was a complication: I'd been losing feeling in my left toes through the first 1/2 of the race. I'd gotten a fair amount of water into my booties as I launched (there's no way around this with short booties), and by the time we reached roughly halfway in the race I had a wooden foot and no feeling up to my knee. This made steering quite difficult, and there were times when I wondered if I could/should finish the race. It certainly added to my caution as I fought the swells and mostly drifted north.

But once I rounded that north point, the water was protected and flat and I could focus on paddling hard.

The 2 women in OC1s were within reach, so I set my goal to catch them. The first (Kristen) I caught fairly quickly (I learned later that she was a good paddler and experienced in surfing canoes, but hadn't been training much on the water). The second, Wendy, the one I had been keeping pace with until we reached the downwind run, was harder to catch. I slowly gained on her as we approached the finish, and then DougN happened by, heading back to the start (he was going to paddle back to the start, meaning upwind, after doing the race -- he's a bit nuts and an awesome paddler) and he yelled some encouragement and reminders to stretch and work the forward part of my stroke. That helped a lot, focusing me on really powering the front of my stroke.

The last 500 yards were a race, and I slowly crept up on Wendy, gaining, gaining, while she kept paddling hard and well and staying out ahead and to my right. With maybe 50 yards to go I was a couple of feet behind her, overlapping her canoe, and I stuck to paddling on my left side simply because I didn't want to lose any momentum by switching over to my right. We raced down toward the dock that marked the finish, and at some point as we crossed in what seemed like a dead tie, I heard someone say "number 5 is first" and a horn. I was #5!

It took me some time to catch my breath, and I really didn't care as much about having beaten Wendy as I did about having caught her. Later she told me she'd though we were both over the finish so she stopped paddling. Which is a shame, because if she was even with me, she should have been noted as even.

Melissa came in shortly after, having spent her downwind time working on learning to surf the wind bumps. It's something I need to learn, and something that she'll benefit from having done, but I just couldn't bring myself to risk a dump in the water and a struggle to get back on the boat. Maybe in April, but not in January. I'm a wimp! She ended up catching some good ones and was pretty pleased about that.

And Rob and Naomi were there to greet us! Nice to have well-wishers at the finish line.

All in all, I'm happy with the race and the experience. It was a little nerve racking, but I think I was able to get away with doing it because I'm fairly comfortable in water. Not that it means I can do well in wind and swells, but I survived.

And Melissa's rule of thumb is:
  1. finish the race
  2. don't huli
  3. don't finish last
  • Accomplish any 2 and it's a good day.
  • Do all 3 and it's a great day.
  • So, we both had a great day. And a January 2 paddle in Seattle.
Oh yeah, by the time I finished I'd regained my feeling in my leg (I forgot completely about it during my race to the finish), so I suspect it was mostly due to my leaning left toward the ama during the bumpy windy section. The push at the end probably helped forced blood back into my leg as well.

And I heard from Rob that one of the dragon boats hulied. Not my idea of a good time, landing in the water with 279 of my closest buddies, all with paddles! I guess they got to the shore fine.

Updated: Just got the results:
  • I came in 37th out of 59 finishers (13th OC1 at 74:53.59)
    (one double shell and one dragonboat didn't finish)
  • First OC1 in was Alan Goto (8th at 57:26.45)
  • DougN was the 3rd OC1 (16th at 61:20.15)
  • Melissa was 43rd (79:33.32).
  • Winning boat was a single racing shell (51:06.94)
  • And it looks like the bamboo OC2 came in one spot (and less than a minute) ahead of me (74:07.40)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dragon boats (db) typically have 20 paddlers, a drummer, and a steersperson. I think Sat crews didn't have drummers and at least one boat had less than a full complement of paddlers. The style of db that huli'd was a particularly tippy one, they should have used one of the more stable varieties especially since the race was planned as a downwinder.

You did awesome for your first race and conditions were rather rugged for a first race. I told you my first OC1 race was in Canada, it was freezing, snowing, and the wind was howling. I was creeping along at a snails pace and I finished the race cramped and frozen. This race had better food at the finish, too!

I definitely had a good time catching bumps. We should do a car juggle sometime and work on learning to surf!

It was a great day racing, what a way to kick off the new year.