Saturday, November 24, 2012

2012 Open Canoe Slalom North American Championships

I had not been to a Nationals (now called the North American Championships to include Canada) since Jenna and I competed in the Junior/Senior Class in Wausau in (I think)  1989.  But this year it returned to the Nantahala River in North Carolina at a time of the year when I could go.  I mentioned this to Ed Daugherty when I was doing a review of Wilderness First Aid skills for the Davidson Outdoors program in May, and he suggested that we paddle tandem in addition to the planned solo entry.

The race practice runs began the Wednesday after the North Carolina Challenge, with racing Friday through Sunday.

We got to practice for about an hour at the NOC Staff Reunion in September, and we got in several practice runs in the day before the race.  The course was not full of upstream gates in eddys as we anticipated.  Instead it consisted of several sets of offset gates and a crux gate at the exit of Nantahala Falls.

Each of our race runs got better, finishing with a one touch run in our final go in the tandem Race Boat class on Sunday afternoon.  We were racing in the Masters class (Over 40 years old).  We managed a second in the Masters Recreational class and a third in the Masters Race class.  Neither of us finished in the money in solo.  Below are some pictures from the races:

Approaching the Falls.  Photo by Renee Clark

Finishing a low brace in the Falls gate (no I didn't swim!)  Photo by Renee Clark

The following pictures were taken by and are copyright by Colin Moneypenny:

More photos later . . .

Saturday, November 17, 2012

2002 North Carolina Challenge

2012 WaterTribe North Carolina Challenge in a Gig Harbor Melonseed

Ann and me in the Gig Harbor Melonseed at the Cedar Key Messabout in May

Every boat design is a compromise. I have always been promiscuous when it comes to boats (But I have been married to the same woman for 44 years!) because I am always looking for more on one vector or another.

I have competed Water Tribe Challenges in a Sea Pearl and in a Core Sound 20, both cat ketches with attractive characteristics.  The Sea Pearl is a relatively quick double-ender that is a comfortable camp cruiser (See "Third Annual Water Tribe Everglades Challenge" in the July 1, 2003 Messing About in Boats). The  Core Sound is a quick, close-winded planing center-boarder that just gets better as the wind pipes up (See "Toughest One Yet" in the September- October 2012 Small Craft Advisor and earlier in this blog). Neither boat rows worth a darn.

I also paddled and sailed in three Everglades Challenges with Michael Collins in his schooner-rigged Kruger Cruiser canoe (See "Two Grandpas Win The Everglades Challenge" in the July-August 2004 Small Craft Advisor). We could paddle faster than any sailboat and sail faster than most canoes and kayaks, but sleeping on board leaves much to be desired.

I had a Norseboat 17.5 sloop that sailed well and rowed moderately well, but it's complicated gaff rig took forever to rig for a daysail. So, as I thought of the next "mistress," my head was turned by the classic lines of the Gig Harbor Melonseed. She had a single balanced lug sail (easy to set up for day sailing and to go under the low bridge filters in WaterTribe races) and sliding seat rowing.  I found one for sale in Virginia about the same time I found a buyer for the Norseboat.  The next chapter was set.

As I sailed and rowed the new (to me) Melonseed, I was also thinking of my next WaterTribe Challenge. I was sure her rowing characteristics made her a good bet for the eight mile row under the low bridges in the 100 mile North Carolina Challenge (sails are an option in the Gig Harbor Melonseed).  I loved her turn of speed downwind, and I figured that she would sail OK into the wind.  The question was, whether this little boat had characteristics that were conducive to the 300 miles of the Everglades Challenge.

The sail had only one set of reef points and the WaterTribe requires two, so I contacted Gig Harbor Boat Works to find out who would be the best folks to do this.   They not only recommended Glaser Sails in Huntington Beach, California, but they offered to pay for the modification. Glaser did a quick turnaround on the sails while I practiced rowing, added navigation lights, and made crutches so the mast and rig could be stored high enough for me to row.

The last weekend in September finally arrived, and I made the 700 mile drive to Cedar Island, North Carolina for the race.  I got there a day early to explore the short cut through the island about a mile to the east of the start/finish that several competitors discovered the year before - it's a shallow bay, but it saves almost six miles, so it would be worthwhile in all but the lowest tides.  I got the boat onto the start beach early and was able to have everything but food and electronics on board in plenty of time for socializing, looking at other boats, and the mandatory captains' meeting.

The melonseed on the start beach

Dawn arrived on Friday morning way too early and we assembled on the beach for final adjustments, roll call, a picture, and the wait for the ferry to Okracoke to clear the area.  About 7:30 the air horn sounded and we were off.

Looking out on Pamlico Sound just before the start

The tide was especially low due to the full moon and I had to drag the Melonseed a bit to get into deep water, but I was soon rowing and then sailing.  The wind, which was calm at first, increased to about 5 mph with the sunlight and it wasn't exactly on the nose.  The kayaks and canoes paddled away, and the sailboats tacked toward the turn onto the Neuse River and a reach down the river.

As we put the end of Cedar Island behind us and sailed into the reach between Raccoon Island and Big and Little Swan Islands, the wind quit and the water became glassy.  It was time to row again!  I could see a Core Sound 17 and a Lightning behind me, and Marine helicopters were practicing strafing runs on targets on Raccoon Island (a clearly marked restricted area).   It seemed like a long time, but the wind finally began to blow as we approached the end of Raccoon Island.  I had no trouble staying ahead of the two sailboats while rowing, but they eased past me on a reach as the wind picked up and we rounded the end of the island and turned into the wind.  Slowly their sails disappeared and I was tacking alone up the Neuse.

The Core Sound near the end of Cedar Island with no wind

                         The Lightning passing me near the end of Raccoon Island

From time to time the wind would drop, and I would row for a while, then it would pick up and I would resume tacking.  The worst case scenario was a light wind on the nose, and that was what I had most of the day.  The Melonseed sailed reasonably close to the wind on ne tack, but it was not very impressive on the other tack (when the mast would compromise the shape of the sail). 

Darkness overtook me still on the Neuse.  The wind had picked up and there was a steep two foot chop, but the Melonseed's flared bow kept me relatively dry.  At one point, a couple of fast, quiet stealth boats zoomed up without lights.  I shined my bright flashlight onto the sail (probably blinding them if they were using night vision goggles) and the passed close by with little wake.  I understand that there is a lot of training for SEALs and special operations forces in this area.

As I neared the entrance to Clubfoot Creek, the wind dropped.  I lowered the sails and took down the mast, rigging for rowing.  For the first mile or two, the current was against me and the tide was dropping, then the current turned in my favor.  I managed to get lost on a side passage that was so narrow that I had to break out a canoe paddle because the oars touched both shores.  The GPS doesn't have the upper end of Clubfoot Creek and the beginning of the Harlowe Canal in exactly the right place, and exactly is what is required at low tide.

The light line is the track of me getting lost where the Harlowe Canal meets Clubfoot Creek

Even with a full moon, the canal was a challenge to row.  I could not see snags and fallen trees Since I was facing the stern, and even looking over my shoulder did not help since the trees interlaced overhead, filtering the moonlight.  After a couple of hours, the steep sides and arrow-straightness of the canal gave way to marsh grasses and meandering channel of Harlowe Creek.  Tide was dead low on this end, and I ran aground several times in the estuary.  (I later learned that the Core Sound and Lightning were aground nearby, but I did not see them as high, thin clouds were covering the moon.)

In the darkness, I re-stepped the mast and raised the sails.  The wind was picking up and favorable, and I was able to sail (albeit with the daggerboard mostly raised) across the shallow bay they call the Newport River and into the old seaport town of Beaufort.  The drawbridge (which raises on the half hour) was to be down door another 25 minutes and my VHF radio had finally died (it had been through 5 Everglades Challenges and 3 North Carolina Challenges on my life jacket, so I was not surprised), so I pulled up on a beach beside the bridge and lowered the sail and mast again. 

As I rowed out, the Core Sound, the Lightning, and WaterTribe's Chief (in a Kruger Sea Wind with a Balogh sail rig) arrived.  Their radios were working and the bridge tender opened up. We rowed and paddled together into the checkpoint, arriving at 7 AM.

After checking in and fixing breakfast, Chief and I pushed off together with a favorable tide in Taylor Creek.  We had favorable winds and sailed on a reach until we turned the corner at the end or Harkers Island.  As we entered Core Sound, the wind was once again on the nose and a tacking battle ensued.  We continued to tack the rest of the morning and on until mid-afternoon. Slowly one tack became more favorable and we were close-hauled and, later, close reaching.  I was out in the middle of the Sound and Chief was much closer to the shore, but we could still see one another's sails.

This continued for several more hours.  As we approached the little town of Atlantic, about 17 miles from the finish, in the late afternoon, I noticed flashes of light.  Since there was no sound, I kept thinking that there was more bombing going on on Raccoon Island.  I should have paid more attention to the clouds, but I was only thinking of the finish. 

When I realized that that the flashes were lightning a and that there was a wall cloud approaching, I turned toward shore.  But the wind was picking up and blowing right at me and the seas were building fast.  I lowered the sails into the hull, put on foul weather gear, and dropped into the bottom of the boat.  The storm raged around me.  Seas quickly built to about three to four feet.  Lightning was striking all around and visibility was severely limited.  At one point a Parker trawler came by to see if I needed help, but I felt safe riding ahull.  I took on about five inches of water from the rain, but very little from the seas.

As the winds and rains eased, I began to assess the situation.  I was cold and tired.  I had blisters on my hand and butt from rowing for over 16 hours.  I had been up for almost 36 hours, and I had to drive across North Carolina the next day (you can nod off on a boat, but the consequences are much greater!).  I had blown across Core Sound to the shallows on the edge of the Outer Banks.

The track showing the initial turn toward shore, getting blown toward the Outer Banks, then sailing into shore at Sea Level

I decided to end my trip in the interest of safety.  If I kept going (the wind was again foul), it would be after midnight when I finished.  And I still would have to load and unpack the boat for traveling. I pushed the OK on my SPOT to let race management know that I was OK and began to sail into the shore.  I would land near the little town of Atlantic on a little beach at a fish processing plant.  Locals were very helpful and got me back to Cedar Island by dark.  I later learned that Chief had weathered the storm near shore and finished after midnight.  

The winning Class 4 (monohull sailboats) boat - a lug-rigged CLC Noreaster Dory built and sailed by Neil Calore of Philadelphia (also known as Leatherlungs)

So, what did I learn?  I learned to budget enough time.  If I had an extra day at the end of the race, I would have had no problem doing the final 17 miles and finishing after midnight.  I could also have afforded the time for a little rest.  The boat did well.  Lug rigs do not always go to the wind well (though there is a heated discussion in Small Craft Advisor about this right now).  It rows very well for a sailboat.  It took good care of me in the storm and in the chop.  I would want more storage and to devise a way to sleep on board if I were to take her on an Everglades Challenge.  As it is, she is my go to boat for day sailing.