A Family Adventure


Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

3:58

July 18, 2009
Emilie Phillips

We paddled the Blackburn (20 miles) in 3 hours and fifty eight minutes! This was far beyond our wildest expectations.

We showed up at a reasonable time for registration. And we got our boat pretty well packed before the captains meeting. The forecast wasn’t great, but it had improved enough that the race could go forward. It was supposed to be mildly rainy and increasing winds to 20 knots.

The tandem kayak class departed the start third from last. So we had a little bit of time to chat with the other paddlers. Jonathan we had met last weekend, but his paddling partner and wife were new. They were taking his more stable tandem. There was a father-daughter pair in a red boat whom we guessed were probably about our speed, and were there just for the expirience. And then there were two folks who had a rec-boat type sit on top and had only been paddling for a short while. The other three teams we didn’t meet until the start line. One was a couple from down south who had flown up. Another was a pair in a wooden boat who were reputed to be fast. And there was a blue boat. The sit on top didn’t make it to the start line on time, so we didn’t see them again.

Jonathan & Priscilla, the southern couple, the fast guys, and the blue boat took off fast from the starting line. Although the blue boat had lots of splashing. We didn’t bother trying for an impressive start, so we were soon behind. The three fast boats were gone soon enough. The blue boat’s energy ran down. And soon enough it was the red boat, blue boat, and us all keeping pace.

Just about then we got over run by the high performance solo kayaks who had started five minutes later. The front pack was very serious and fast. The later folks were willing to chat on their way past. All this first bit was in a tidal river. It was a little foggy, but overall easy going. We passed our first of the slower kayak class.

Then we got passed by the first of the six men canoes. They were a long ways ahead of the next one. We were well out onto the ocean by the time we heard the next two coming up. I had set a somewhat optimistic pace in the river expecting that once we hit the ocean we would have to slow down for waves. But the water was flat. Or at least in our opinion flat. Some of the weaker surf skiers who had passed us slowed down. Also, as we hit the ocean, the fog thickenned. We managed to keep up with some of the faster boats by not staying so close to shore, and instead using the gps to direct us to the next headland.

Somehow through all of this, we managed to keep up the optimistic pace. We caught up to our first dory. Mom and Dad were shadowing us on land and were having some issues keeping up. However, we were still generally keeping pace with the red and blue boats, just a bit in front of them. It was really kind of fun having a gaggle of people to paddle with. I could pace myself against the faster boats to motivate me to keep up speed.

We paddled around the north point of Cape Ann, and then there is a big bay that swoops south. For some reason, none of the folks around us were paddling straight across. They were all hugging the shore. Talking with people afterwards, it sounds like the fast boats did take the short route, so I wonder when the snake of people migrated south. Anyways, we ignored everyone else and followed our gps into the fog.

It was at least 20 minutes that we were out in the fog without anything to see or hear. Our pace did slack of slightly since we didn’t have anyone or anything to compare against. It wasn’t until we almost smacked into the coast again that we found people. This was also the middle point where you checked in with the race officials.

We were now in with a crew of surf skis. I assumed (correctly) that we had left our two fellow tandem kayaks behind. The surf skis generally went faster than us, but the had two guys in their group who were sort of unsteady, including one dip in the water. Eventually they pulled away. I forget all the details of what happened next. The fog rolled away and the sun came out. The forecast winds were totally absent. The sea was still pretty well flat. We waved to Mom and Dad on the shore a few times. We fished a guy in a surf ski out of the water. And then he fell in again, so we fished him out again. He paddled ahead of us, and we kept waiting for him to go in again.

The last bit of the trip, thee waters around us were pretty much empty. Tnere was an outrigger canoe to our left whome we could outpace if we put our minds to it. There were a couple of row boats whom who slowly caught up to. and that surk si guy we had rescued. The big problem now was fatigue and just keeping going.

2 miles from the end, you round a long jetty and finally get the finish in sight. I took this as a reason to pick up the pace. Tyson spotted a one man rowing shell to try to catch up to. The net result was that we increased our pace almost to 6mph for the last stretch. We never quite caught that rower, but our last sprint got us in under 4 hours. We were about an hour behind the first of the tandems.

We did way above our expectations. The flat water probably helped. But a lot of it was just the extra effort and preparation. We came in fourth of the tandems, and technically second out of two for our class, so we got a medal.

Read our adventure training for this epic race.

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