Monday, July 2, 2012

2012 Charlemont Downriver Race

The Charlemont downriver race is a class 1-2 canoe and kayak race on the Deerfield River from the Zoar Picnic area to the Charlemont high school know as the Shunepike section. I have been told since Hurricane Irene the shunepike rapids have increased in number and size, but they are all still easy to read and very managable. With that in mind i choose my weapon, the 19ft West Side Exceed.

The magic of duct tape
I got to the race pretty early to patch up my boat. I had to replace a bungee on the rudder and patch up some screw holes and rig up a webbing brace. Nothing a little duct tape cant fix.

Modern wildwater boat vs. vintage boat

We had a great outing of canoes and kayaks. Included in the long kayak division, 14 ft kayaks and greater, were US Wildwater Team member Mark Wendolowski, Pro Female kayaker Elaine Campbell, class 5 kayaker and volunteer firefighter Jeff Berienger (off to fight fires in Colorado...good luck Jeff), local racers and former winners Tim Nutt and Lou Carrier,  Dryway racer Carl L, and myself.

After hanging around waiting for the water to make it down from the Dam release, we sat around talking shop. Lou, Tim, and I each had a 19 ft West Side Boat, the fastest boats in the group if you can handle the length and tippiness. Jeff was trying out his first 'pure' wildwater boat, a very tippy rounded hull, he was to spend as much  time controlling his stability than moving forward. Carl L had a vintage wildwater boat from the 70s (pictured on left)

The Charlemont race presents some additional challenges in that the river is not excluded from the local public and on a warm day as it was this Saturday, hundreds of tubers (maybe even
thousands) will come to float down the cool Deerfield rapids.

Mark in his Wildwater

The race started in 5 min groupings, with small kayaks first followed by long kayaks and then the canoe divisions.  The race started and immediately Mark shot out like a cannon. Tim and I quickly went after him. After the first rapid i was able to move ahead of Tim and move within 20 feet of Mark. I wanted to turn my head to see who was behind but did not risk flipping my boat.  Better to keep my eyes on Mark anyway.


Me, weaving through kayaks
 I weaved through the tubers, rafters, and eventually the short kayak class trying to get best lines of current without taken off anyone's hand. At one point the rapid hugged close to a rock and  myself and 3 short kayaks fought for the rapid. As a result, we got hung up and i lost the ability to accelerate from the rapid. My apologizes to the kayakers if i gave them a bit of a yell.  I was matching Mark stroke for stroke and keeping the distance between the two of us constant. Yet every time i gained some momentum from a rapid he would move ahead just as quick  Even though i was definitely in a faster boat then mark, i finished about 30 seconds behind.  I have to say though i am very happy with my paddle, after all he is a member of the US wildwater team


Race Organization
Downriver canoe and kayak races can be a real challenge to organize. With several divisions in kayaks and canoes, a point to point course, insurance, and having to work with local electric company to time the dam releases, i give anyone that is willing to organize this type of race a great deal of respect. Charlie Brackett has been running this race for years and does a fantastic job. Much like a trail race, this is a grass roots race with no bells or whistles (except the ones on you PFD). The cost is low at $15.00, which considering insurance and liability is really cheap.  

Be aware that changes to the schedule can happen at a days notice and this year was no different. The schedule release of 10:00 was pushed ahead an hour to 11:00, which changed our starting time from 1:30 to 2:30. My suggestion to future racers is to have a backup plan in case there is a delay. Bring a second kayak, some running shoes and /or bathing suit. Many racers took a few practice runs down the Gap while others including myself, socialized with other kayakers and canoeists and enjoyed the cool shade. If there is a delay, the Zoar picnic area is a great place to kill some time.

 This year the award ceremony coincided with the Deerfield River Festival which brings whitewater enthusiasts together and provides music, food, vendors, information, etc. 
My only complaint/suggestion for the NECKRA Charlemont downriver race would be to hold the award ceremony in the pavilion during the River Fest.  The festival would be provide a great opportunity to encourage more participation from other would-be racers, give out information about NECKRA and Birch Hill Canoe club, and would keep more charlemont racers at the awards ceremonies as many chose ( or had to go due to sponsors and support)  to attend  the festival rather than the Award ceremony held at the Warfield house.

At the award ceremony, Charlie Brackett announced this will be his last year organizing this race. I hope we can convince him otherwise, or we can find another member to give it a go. This is a fantastic race and should continue for many years to come.
Charlie given directions prior to the race

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