I signed up to participate in the 2012 Race For The Rivers.I joined a group participating in the Voyager Class. Our boat built by Joe Ringling and Larry Hassle would be some 30 feet long and 4 feet wide, holding 14 adventurous souls! The group, Colter’s Crew, had two training runs leading up to the race. I was fortunate to participate in both training runs. Until the day of the race, there had never been a full crew of 14 paddlers in the boat. I got to the race about 15 minutes later than I wanted to and missed getting the boat in the water. I have to say that it was the best looking boat hands down!
When the race was about to start, we pushed away from the dock and warned everybody around us that we didn’t have much steering and would run them over. It wasn’t mean spirited, but just a fact. When the boat is not being actively propelled, it is a bit tippy! At the start of the race, we took an immediate lead. i wasn’t sure if it would last as it seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, it was too good to be true. We had a tandem kayak pass us a few minutes in and slowly pull away from us the whole race.
Eventually we found ourselves in fourth place having two other boats pass us, but not by a significant distance. Our plan was to be persistent and wait them out. One of the greatest things about a canoe so big is that one person can take a quick break for food/water/rest and the boat doesn’t significantly slow down. So our goal was to wait out the other competitors to take breaks and tire out where we could pass them.
Somewhere in the first twenty miles, there was a large cabin cruiser that passed us from behind and caught us by surprise. We decided that the waves would not be that bad and took them broadside. That was nearly a huge mistake! Most of the crew didn’t realize it, but sitting in the middle of the boat, I took water over the side and right into my lap. I seriously thought the boat was going to tip. Luckily for me, most people on the boat didn’t realize what was going on, or just stayed calm and we kept going as if nothing happened.
Our drama for the race was not over. We further encountered a barge coming up the river. Our understanding was that there was not to be any barge traffic during the race. Unfortunately for us, that was not the case. Because it was a race, we decided not to pull over, figuring that we could make it. We met the barge at one of the more narrow sections of the river. Because our boat is so large, we had to start turning into the barge’s wake before it was fully past us. Plus the barge’s wake was already at us before the whole barge past. Behind the barge were HUGE waves! The first few came and went and things seemed good. Then we crested and crashed into the trough while the next wave didn’t wait for the boat to come back up. We took what we are estimating to be about 100 gallons of water into the boat
With that much water in the boat, there was little control. Larry and I spent our effort leaning side to side to counteract the water in the bottom of the boat while trying to paddle to keep the boat going forward and stable. Larry did his best to get the bilge pump out from under our bench seat, but somebody behind us had better luck freeing the pump and activating it. Larry grabbed the bucket and started trying to bail water. I started yelling out a cadence for the group to paddle in sync to. It was the only thing I felt I could do to contribute and take my mind off the events taking place.
Eventually enough water was manually bailed out and the bilge pump finished off the rest. Looking back, I believe it was probably only two minutes of terror, but it seemed more. With the water out of the boat and back in the river where it belonged, we still had about 20 minutes of rough water before the river calmed down.
The rest of the race was calm until re reached the last bridge, I-70. At this point, we were back in second place overall, but in no position to take first. i glanced over my right shoulder and thought I saw the third place boat. A quick check with others in the boat confirmed that they were trying to sneak up and take second place from us. That ignited a final half mile sprint to the finish. The whole boat was counting ONE – TWO – THREE – FOUR over and over again in cadence all the way to the finish line. The massive display of teamwork was amazing and it kept our second place overall position.
I want to say thanks to the team for letting me be a participant in this amazing adventure!!!