On Saturday, August 31, 2013, we sent a crew down to compete in the Kent Island Cup Relay, a 36 mile relay around Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay. The race is divided into 4 legs with changeouts to circle the entire island, so the two crews alternate on the 8-10 mile legs until each crew completes two legs of the course and we’re back to the yacht club. As we had a crew of 8 enthusiastic paddlers from Cayuga Outrigger, we joined forces with a crew from New York Outrigger, one of our favorite ECORA clubs! Bill joined the NYO crew and we kept a crew of 7 with Cynthia, Ray, Cookies, stellar “novices” Virginia, Trish, and Sue-Je, and me, with two of our novices doing one leg each.
As this was my first time steering a race (and this is a pretty big race to take on … yikes!), I was nervous about the race start (playing bumper boats against the other teams…) and the third leg, which is the longest leg (10.5 miles) and likely in the roughest water, as it crosses the southern tip of the island in a very open part of the Chesapeake. NYO agreed that we could have the 2nd and 4th legs, as their crew (also with 3 novices!) was up for the challenge of 1&3! Since we had an extra paddler, we were in the “mutt” (or unlimited) division, along with 3 other teams who had pulled together their crews from multiple clubs and had some extra paddlers floating in and out. No pun intended.
So Friday night, we drove down to the yacht club and set up camp right at the finish line. It was much windier than we expected (about 12mph) so we didn’t get much sleep, with pre-race jitters and flapping tents keeping us up. But come morning, we watched the women’s and mixed crews take off to the canon at 7:30, then the men’s and “mutts” launched shortly after. With NYO en route, we took off in our cars to catch them at Love Point, the first changeout. Upon arriving, we were informed that our team wasn’t keeping up with the other 15 boats in the race. The water was rough with the strong winds, and there were only two safety boats available to keep an eye on the crews, so they simply couldn’t spare one to watch our crew. They said that when the crew arrived to the change location, we could either continue on the 2nd leg as planned, but that the third leg would be too challenging for the other crew to jump into, so our race would end there, OR we head back to the start in reverse order. Disappointed but understanding, we opted for the second option, not totally sure where we were going (as I hadn’t studied that part of the map!) but determined to make the most of it. Thinking this was our one and only leg of the race, we went all out and worked our butts off to make our training worth it. Cookies also had to stop paddling to tie the a’ma back on at one point, as the rigging was coming undone and un-wedged!! We finished those 8.2 miles in 1 hour 28 minutes, which we were extremely proud of! What a fun crew, giving it every ounce of steam.
When approaching the start/finish line at the yacht club, much to our confusion, the NYO crew was standing on shore with paddles. But the race was over, no? No! Apparently, the organizers wanted us to get our 30-some miles in, so they set us up to do the “hurricane course,” out to the infamous buoy turn (PJ’s huli, which you can read about in our 2010 Kent Island blog entry… sorry, PJ) and back for leg 3, then repeat for leg 4. 8 more miles per crew, if you can follow the map and the math! So NYO’s crew hopped back in the boat and took off while we stood bewildered on shore, wondering how we were going to complete a 4th leg after giving it our all in the 2nd! Jack, who is a steersperson for Kent Island, provided lots of tips for how to master the turn without huli-ing (and probably took about 4 years off of my life while filling me with terror of what could go wrong) and offered suggestions of where to catch the currents on our way out and back. We caught our second wind as we saw the NYO crew approaching, and took off ourselves to try our luck. For 4 miles, we plowed into the wind … keeping it short and fast and never giving up through the waves. Incredible determination from everyone. Meanwhile, the three top crews in the “normal” race crossed our path and approached the finish line — pretty exciting! Finally we found our buoy and braced ourselves for the worst. Indeed we got caught on the eddy behind the buoy, but teamwork and cooperation and focus won out and we conquered the turn and kept the boat up! Thinking that the worst was over, we started to head back, just as boat #4 joined our course, also aiming for the finish. Little did we realize that even though the wind was now at our backs, catching the return current to our left would be easier said than done. The wind was picking up and the waves on our left were vicious, rocking our boat like never before (again, subtracting a couple years from my life … whoa baby!). Meanwhile, some rogue waves came in on the right from time to time, but the crew responded well and magically, we got through it. It included fantastic teamwork and communication, and this was exactly the crew for it. We finally caught our current, the crew never gave up, and we powered through. We could see the buoy at the finish for the final 30 minutes and there was never a lapse in energy. We had an amazing finish (1 hour 26 minutes!) and were thrilled to see NYO on shore ready to pull us out.
We enjoyed lunch at the yacht club, watched some other teams finish (I think ours was the most impressive, personally!), and got all spiffy for the luau. Cynthia had made some beautiful leis for each of us, and we had a delicious dinner, wonderful music of the Aloha Boys, and hysterical awards presentation from Jim. Some of the crews finished the course in just over 5 hours … and one of the women’s crews spent 7 hours, but only used one 6-person crew the entire race — no changeouts! What incredible teams. We were awarded 4th place and received wild applause from the rest of the paddling community. We had fun getting to know more friends in NYO, and were overjoyed to run into a former teammate who was with COCC at its start — Iori! We watched her paddle like crazy with NCA and got to hang out at the luau — so proud of her!
So even though things didn’t quite go as planned, it didn’t matter. We had an amazing experience. Our crew was simply phenomenal, and I wouldn’t trade any of them in! This is truly a team sport and because of the passion and strength of each crew member, we accomplished so much.
I would be completely remiss not to thank other members of the club for sending so much support and providing encouragement while we trained, to former club members for giving us this foundation and providing so much guidance along the way, and the other paddling communities and ECORA for giving us extra pushes in the right direction. To NYO for rounding out our team, and Kent Island for incredible hospitality, keeping us safe, and providing this opportunity for such a fun and memorable experience.
Can’t wait to do it again. We’ll have some photos soon, too!