Thursday, July 16, 2009

Log Canoe Adventure

Last weekend I skipped training to visit my daughter and her husband on the Maryland Eastern Shore. C&F are avid sailors, and they were participating in a log canoe regatta. A log canoe is a long, thin, sleek boat with sails. (The three sails have names, based on their positions, but since I’m sort of out of my element here, I’ll just call them all sails.) The boats were originally raced by oystermen, and the one C&F crew with was built in 1902. Imagine still riding a bike that old!

Preparing for the log canoe race seemed a lot like preparing for a triathlon. There was gear to gather – boat shoes, gloves, hats, suntan lotion, course maps, bailing buckets, and duct tape. The tape is apparently some sort of talisman – the Silver Heel does not leave the dock without it. The race was set to start at 10 a.m., but we arrived at the launch site by 8:30 a.m. C&F and the other crew members (about a dozen in all) hoisted the two masts into place and adjusted the sails. Each canoe is identified by a number, which never changes because it’s printed on a sail, and the color of the crew’s shirts. The SH folks wore red.

About 9:15 a.m., the canoes were towed to the starting line by the “chase” boats – so named because they follow the canoes on the course and are at the ready to assist when necessary. I rode with F and some other spectators in the chase boat for the SH. C’s assigned spot was the very rear tip of the canoe, jutting out over the water. (She's the tiny spot on the right side of the above photo.) Saturday was very windy, and there were white caps on the river – not ideal conditions for the race. In fact, one team decided they didn’t have enough experienced crew to handle the rough weather and stayed at the dock.

The 10-minute warning sounded. At the 5-minute warning, the six canoes jockeyed for position, wanting to be as close to the starting line as possible without crossing it before the race officially began. Having next to nil knowledge about the course, I couldn’t tell where the canoes were supposed to go or who was ahead. It looked like the SH was leading, but then the other canoes all turned toward an orange buoy. Someone in our chase boat soon figured out the Heel was off course, but race rules forbid communicating such information to the crew in the canoe. We could only watch until they discovered their mistake and re-adjusted their course.

The SH tried to make up lost time as she rounded the next buoy. Strategically positioned on long boards placed perpendicular to the sides of the canoe, the crew scrambled from one board/side to the other as they tacked. From the chase boat we saw the canoe nearly capsize several times. Then someone fell overboard, and the canoe went down. The race was over for the SH.

The chase boat anchored close by and we began the long process of gathering the heavy, wet sails into the boat, along with other miscellaneous equipment. Then the canoe was turned right-side-up and bailed out. Once the masts were laid flat along the length of the canoe, the chase boat towed it back to the dock. Some of the crew rode on the SH and some rode in the chase boat. Luckily, only one person was hurt – a sprained knee. We later learned several of the other canoes also had capsized. Everyone spread their sails out to dry and got ready to race again the next day.

The weather was better Sunday, and two shorter races were held. The SH did all right in the first race and was running third in the second race when, again, she capsized. If this regatta had given a “bottoms up” prize, the SH certainly would have won it.

1 comment:

Mullet said...

Sounds like a wonderful weekend. It makes me homesick to have fun activities close at hand. Maybe I'll be able to convince A. to ride on the ferry tomorrow. (She doesn't like it since we are packed tightly and surrounded by smelly people who stare at us like we are aliens. I guess it doesn't sound like so much fun after all but it's still a nice ride on the water.)