Good competition in the Deep South
Racers gathered yesterday morning on the Pelahatchie Bay portion of Barnett Reservoir for the annual Gator Bait Race. This weekend the eyes of most North American surf ski enthusiasts might have been on a couple of higher-profile events including the East Coast Championships up in Connecticut, but I consider this race in central Mississippi one of the more underrated events of the entire year. It's not a splashy day-long event with a big post-race party full of live music and adult beverages and so on, but the race itself--the part that counts, after all--is meticulously organized and I have never been disappointed with the level of competition.
Starting and finishing at Pelahatchie Park, the course makes a big loop around Pelahatchie Bay that takes paddlers across a couple of open-water expanses and through a narrow lily-pad-ridden channel behind a couple of islands. The course is advertised as 5.5 miles (about 8800 meters), but modifications to avoid some problematic shallow sections made it quite a bit shorter than that yesterday. The absence of the usual turning buoy at the beginning of the home stretch made it perhaps a full mile shorter. One of my fellow racers measured it at around 4.5 miles (7 km or so) on his G.P.S. device.
The race always starts right on time, so we got in our boats and warmed up and settled onto the starting line. At the gun I sprinted hard to establish good position, and the boats who matched my speed were exactly the ones I'd counted on. On my left were the 15-year-old Pellerin triplets from Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Carson and Conrad and Peyton Pellerin were paddling their Spencer "Patriot" boat as a K3, and as such they had already beaten me twice this season, but I was hoping to repeat last year's narrow Gator Bait victory and provide a benevolent reminder that they haven't quite seen the last of me. Over to the right, meanwhile, was Shane Kleynhans of nearby Brandon, Mississippi, a newcomer to the sport who has made significant improvement in the last year.
I hopped on the Pellerins' stern wake, but they were moving so fast in that first kilometer that I couldn't hold it. It seemed, at that moment, that their teenage bodies had matured right out of my league. So I moved over and tried my luck on Shane's wake, but he was sprinting so hard in pursuit of the triplets that I had trouble holding that, too, and I feared that September 17, 2016, might be the day that I ceased to be relevant in the top ranks of canoe and kayak racing in the greater Mid South and Gulf South region.
Mercifully, this blistering starting pace didn't last. As they approached the entrance to the "back stretch" channel the Pellerins had to back off a bit as they sought the clearest path through the lily pads. Shane slowed down quite a bit as well, and I found an opportunity to sneak up into second place. As we advanced into the narrow channel I found the pace much more manageable and I began to think there just might be hope for me yet.
Work crews had made a valiant effort at lily pad removal, but we had to pick our path carefully nevertheless. A couple of times I thought I had snagged a hunk of vegetation on my rudder, but in the end my weed deflector proved equal to the challenge. The Pellerins and I and Shane stayed single-file throughout this part of the course to avoid any race-ruining mishap.
As the course began to open back up I sensed that Shane was falling off the pace a bit, and to press the advantage I sprinted up onto the triplets' right-side wake. That created a small gap and the pace began to nudge upward. We might have opened up the pace even more if we hadn't been searching for the buoy that, as I mentioned above, wasn't there this time.
We finally realized what the situation was when we saw race official Tom Taylor directing traffic from his position on a motorboat. We went left of a couple of islands and entered the final 2000 meters, and from this point on the race was remarkably similar to last year's in the way it played out. I held my position on the triplets' side wake, occasionally throwing in a surge to see how they would respond. Meanwhile Shane was hanging in there just a couple of boatlengths back and I knew better than to count him out.
With some 400 meters left I sprinted for the lead, but the Pellerins responded with a withering sprint of their own and I knew they had the upper hand this time around. I dropped back on their stern wake and tried my hardest to stay there. As the course veered left toward the finish line I made one last attempt to cut inside and slip by them there, but to no avail. Clearly the triplets have developed a top speed I can't match and they reached the line seven seconds ahead of me. Shane held on for third place, and a little while later Nick Kinderman of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, used a strong finish to claim fourth place overall and third in the men's single race boat class over David Dupree of Rayville, Louisiana.
The full results are posted here. Conrad Pellerin and Carson Pellerin are listed in first and second place, but they were in fact in the same boat along with their brother Peyton. So I was second, Shane was third, Nick was fourth, and so on.
After a good hard-fought 40 minutes or so of acing we were happy to unwind and start the rest of our day with a nice catered lunch in the Pelahatchie Park pavilion. Some rain moved in as the last finishers were completing the course, but there was no lightning and I would say the weather was nearly ideal overall. I expect the 2017 Gator Bait race will be about this same weekend and I hope more racers will consider attending this fine event.
Read more from Elmore here: http://mytrainingblogbyelmore.blogspot.com/