7th Annual Battle On The Bayou canoe and kayak race
Old Fort Bayou, Ocean Springs, Mississippi
March 19, 2016
With spring moving into the northern hemisphere, the 2016 race season is getting underway. I opened my own season on the 19th of March with the Battle On The Bayou race at Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Since its debut in 2010, this event has consistently attracted over 150 paddlers in all varieties of canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. I have participated in all seven editions, and I won the first two rather easily. But I have managed only one victory in my last five tries, and while that’s not great for my ego, perhaps, it’s a sign of a robust event and a rising quality of canoe and kayak racing here in the “Gulf South” region.
Even though I am writing this article for the Surf Ski News website, I would characterize the Battle On The Bayou as more of a flatwater marathon than a true surf ski event. The only place you’re likely to encounter some “conditions” is in the first kilometer or so, which takes place in the Back Bay of Biloxi; after that the course turns up into Old Fort Bayou and follows this mostly currentless coastal creek another nine miles (14 km) or so to a finish line next to The Shed barbecue joint.
There were in fact quite a few surf skis on the water Saturday, as the ski is the go-to training and racing craft for many of us in this part of the country. The only entrant in the kayak “race boat” class to deviate was Mike Herbert of Rogers, Arkansas, a three-time Olympian and world championships medalist in flatwater sprint kayaking. Still in excellent shape in his mid-fifties, Mike has proven himself a force in longer-distance events throughout the region and even made the U.S. team that competed in the 2014 world marathon championships at Oklahoma City. He came to Ocean Springs planning to race his surf ski, but when he saw the placid conditions Saturday morning he opted for his K1.
When an athlete like Mike shows up at a race like this, the rest of us must accept the reality that we’re probably racing for second place, and indeed when the gun went off Saturday morning, Mike was beginning to pull away by the time we reached the mouth of Old Fort Bayou. I was counting on a challenge from three other boats, and soon I found myself in a pack with those exact three. There were the Pellerin triplets from Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, paddling as a K3 in one of those hybrid boats you see in events like the Texas Water Safari; there was the team of Phil Capel (Sherwood, Arkansas) and Brad Rex (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) in a tandem surf ski; and there was Rick Carter of Eutawville, South Carolina, paddling a surf ski just like mine.
Our four boats spent the next eighty-plus minutes engaging in some old-fashioned hard-nosed racing complete with clashing paddle blades and a wake-riding chess match. A couple of times, when the two team boats surged into the lead, I was able to hop on “the diamond” between them and that was a satisfying thrill. I think I did a pretty good job of conserving my energy and waiting for the other boats to falter, but the Pellerins and Capel/Rex remained strong throughout and refused to relinquish the lead. Meanwhile, I had Rick on my stern wake for most of the race and was wary of him getting the better of me like he has several times in the past.
Mike Herbert cruised to the overall title in one hour, seventeen minutes, 57 seconds, lowering the course record set by yours truly back in 2011 by exactly four minutes. My guess is that the Pellerins and Capel/Rex and Rick and I were still some 1500 meters out when Mike crossed the finish line, and that’s about when we were beginning to sort out our final finish order. In one of those subtle moments that are hard to put a finger on, the two team boats opened a gap of a couple of boat lengths on me. I still had something in the tank and threw in a hard surge, but couldn’t quite regain the stern wake of either boat. I did manage to put a little distance between myself and Rick, however.
As we passed beneath the Interstate 10 bridge about 600 meters from the finish, it was clear that one of the team boats would take second place. The triplets, now 14 years old and quickly rising in the ranks of racers here in the South, began to surge and I thought they had an excellent chance, but luck failed them when they cut the inside of a bend too close and ran aground for a brief moment. That was all Phil and Brad needed to take command and cross the line in a time of 1:26:34. The triplets recovered quickly and took third place seven seconds back. I maintained my lead on Rick and we filled the fourth and fifth positions, and finishing a very respectable sixth place was the first non-race-boat paddler, Muril Robertson of Huntsville, Alabama.
Wyndy Amerson of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, was the top female finisher with a time of 2:04:38.
It was time to unwind with some barbecue and a New Orleans jazz and blues trio at The Shed. We all agreed that race director Mike Pornovets and his crew from Everything Kayak in Gulfport did an outstanding job keeping this event going strong for another year. Stay tuned to the event website, www.battleonthebayou.com, for the 2017 race date.
More from Elmore Holmes http://mytrainingblogbyelmore.blogspot.com/
Photo Credits Doug Heller