General Clinton Grand Prix Relay Race: Splash, Bump & Beach 2009

This is our 3rd recent Splash, Bump & Beach team. We were the 15th team in a 30 team field. We had a 2005 and 2007 version who’s stories are told in a 2005 pdf/2005 pictures here and 2007 posting here.

Honestly, I was going to let the 2009 opportunity go by but back in January when we were visiting Howe Caverns I saw and talked with Sparky. Sparky related that Beth so enjoyed his description of the 2007 that she wanted to try the Relay Race. It sounded like fun; a team relay race, an easy paddle down stream rather than fighting wind across a lake. Of course, in 2007 Sparky did a 4.25 mile leg…..

So I started recruiting, searching for a stock aluminum canoe and organizing our team. I asked our previous team members; of which Skip, Connie, Sparky, Vanessa, and Kathryn all agreed to participate – except Kathryn declared she would not paddle the 1st leg again. Past year battling with aggressive competitors and being hit and swamped had her justifiably concerned. In addition to Sparky’s partner Beth we recruited fellow Winter Camper Len Fudge and a friend from volleyball, Beth Bohlman. Steve and Vanessa volunteered to supply the canoe and I wbrought my bent shaft paddles and a spare. Steve applies our race number to his Sea-King canoe – quite likely the only time this canoe has seen a racing number applied.

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The race is approximately 30 miles in total with all 5 legs starting/exchanging on the left side (south) of the river going downstream. Skip and Beth were volunteered to tackle the 1st leg and the notorious strainers in back of Hannaford Markets; the rest of the race broke out accordingly.

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Water flow was moderate and while it didn’t provide a big boost we didn’t anticipate excessive shallow areas.

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As the 15th entry we lined up on shore starting in the middle of the pack with all the action. This year the start was moved up to 11:15am. Below Skip and Beth position the canoe along the shore.

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The start of the race is frantic, with everyone striving for optimal position as the river converges in a narrow chute beneath the Route 23 Bridge. Below Skip and Beth are located centrally ahead of 7 other canoes.

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It starts to get a little crowded as the team pass under the bridge.

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And even more crowded coming out from the other side of the bridge – a four way. Now just stop and take a moment to compare the width of the three Grumman canoes to our Sea-King. See a difference? Perhaps in the width of the canoe? As Steve aptly stated later in the race “I have been looking at these canoes and ours seems to be pushing more water”. Hmmm…. note to self, next year a narrow (and faster) canoe would be nice.

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Good bye Skip & Beth. See you in 30 minutes.

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Sparky stops the canoe, Beth disembarks, Jim holds the canoe, Beth is amazed and Skip exits.

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A quick dump of the canoe to rid it of accumulated water.

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Sparky & Beth are off on their 9 mile jaunt. They passed one team, they rammed shore, they questioned why they were doing this race.

Sparky and Beth declared they were happy to keep the bottom of the canoe in water. Beth said “We did go backwards down one set of rapids, which was my fault. There were three to choose from and I chose the lowest, but as we approached the canoe in front of us went sideways. In an effort to avoid hitting them, I decided to take the middle rapid, only it was too late. When the current caught us it turned us around. Of course, there were three spectators sitting on the bank. I yelled to them that we just wanted to give them a little excitement. They yelled back that we weren’t the first!”

All that could be heard by the spectators on the banks was Sparky saying,”I want to be over there in the current.” and Beth replying,” I know, I’m trying.”

Sparky does admit putting his paddle down 3 times for rests.

Below, Skip enjoys being done with his portion of the race during the cool of the morning.

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Sparky and Beth come into the Wells Bridge Fishing Access. They only looked moderately tired. (See how broad the canoe looks?). After wards Sparky showed off bruising along his forearms from banging his arms on the gunnels.

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This exchange point has a slippery clay bottom and it is deep near the stairs where most teams exchanged. We opted to change just a few feet downstream where we could stand without falling. Skip and Kathryn secure the canoe. Sparky and Beth had shed their life jackets mid-leg.

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Kathryn sets the pace, Skip gave a push, Sparky realizes how much one uses their legs during paddling and Beth washes up. At this point we could barely see a group of four teams ahead of us in the distance with close to a 1/2 mile lead.

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Kathryn set a great pace through out the 8.75 miles. She stopped her pace at two points: once to pull up her knee pads so she could brace her knees on the boat and once to cram two Oreo cookies into her mouth for a quick sugar boost. Slightly away from the exchange we declared passing the last boats of the group in front as our goal and passed three of the teams. Team Blue Lining was the 1st to be captured after about 40 minutes of paddling. As we were catching up to them we were caught by a C-1 canoeist with a red cap. He told us to stay right through the current section of the river and we would have no problem passing the next team. We tried drafting on the C-1 but he easily out paced us. We passed Blue Lining and quickly passed a 2nd team who were caught broadside in a shallow riffle. As they re-positioned their boat we skirted around them and were re-passed by Blue Lining. I kiddingly told them “Have you no honor? We passed you once.” Shortly downstream we picked a great line on the far right through a shallow riffle and left Blue Lining behind. We found and passed one other team who were wearing grey T-shirts, straw hats and fake mustaches. They were choosing good lines through the current, but lacked the pace that Kathryn maintained. The final member of the 4 canoe group we set out to capture maintained their lead throughout and we were never able to catch up to them.

There were several bridges in the 1.5 miles approaching the Unadilla Fishing access. We were hopeful that each one would be our exchange point. At one point we asked spectators how far it was to the exchange and got the not-so-helpful “Not far”. Come on people; time and/or distance estimates would be nice.

Finally, we pulled into Unadilla. Len holds the canoe, Kathryn swings a leg out, Skip is ready to help dump, Connie gets ready to enter, Eric checks the water depth, Sparky helps dump the canoe and Jim disembarks.

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Len (rocking his WinterCampers.com t-shirt) and Connie head out on their 4.25 leg to Sidney. Kathryn finally gets to drink from her water bottle and Skip snaps a picture of the departure.

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Skip provides a little balance for Kathryn. Sparky observes as Eric gives Dad a high five.

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Len and Connie come into the Sidney exchange. Connie swapped the bent shaft paddle for the straight paddle that feels more normal to her.

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Steve and Vanessa battle the wind as they come in under the finish line with a total time of 5:22.

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After wards we enjoyed a BBQ chicken dinner, talked about our race and watched the teams behind us come in.

The table below depicts the year we raced, our cumulative time, the times of the 1st and 10th place team, the time difference between our finish and our desired Top 10 goal and finally our overall placing. You can see in 2005 we were in 15th place less than 15 minutes out of 10th place – after dumping on the 1st leg! I still think a Top 10 finish is achievable.

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Over the years we have gotten better (or the water flow has improved), but so has the competition. Graphically it looks like this.

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What will it take for us to make it into the Top 10 and get a trophy? About 40 minutes. A faster canoe? Maybe shuffling our lineup around? A couple of practice sessions? A better starting position?

Regardless I think Steve said it best; “It was a great way to spend a day”.
Applicants are being accepted for the 2010 Splash, Bump & Beach team. Commit early!

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