The inaugural Palmetto Paddle Race, hosted by the Palmetto Paddle Club took place this past July 9th, in Charleston, South Carolina. We arrived on Saturday morning to find a very enthusiastic volunteer group, who guided us into the boat drop and gave clear and accurate instructions on what to expect next. I have to say that for their first race, the organization gets an A+ for running a well-oiled machine.
We had the mandatory race meeting promptly at 8:30 and received our instructions. Afterward, the 8 milers headed directly to the dock to mount our boats and hit the water. We would be traveling out towards the mouth of the harbor, while the 3-mile racers started 15 minutes later and headed up the Ashley river. The race staff helped carry boats and held them still while we mounted our craft from the low boat dock. It was the perfect launch for an exciting venue.
At just after 9 AM the race was staged to start with local paddlers like Eric Mims, Laurens Willard, Andrew McMarlin and the two Epic Doubles with Waylon Willis/Bruce Poacher and Morgan House/Joe Vinson teams as well as Kata and many other strong paddlers at the front and in the mix ready to go.
The start was sounded and off the fast paddlers went in a scurry. The two doubles teams immediately moved to the front with Eric Mims, Laurens Willard, Andrew McMarlin, Kata Dismukes and Mark Volkmann all quickly set themselves apart from the rest of us. The water was calm at the start and immediately started building as the pending storm moved into the area. The race went down the Ashley river for several miles and then out into the open harbor towards a distant lighthouse. I encountered the leaders around the 5-mile mark and witnessed team Epics Waylon Willis and Bruce Poacher leading with Eric Mims approximately 20 meters back. Joe Vinson and Morgan house were another 50 yards back and then there was a measurable gap to the next boats. Minutes later several boats including my wife Kata’s came by and went off into the distance back towards the Charleston Battery wall. In the end, The epic double prevailed and finished the 8-mile race just over an hour. Eric finished at 1:02 with Kata the first female at 1:12. The remainder of the racers all worked hard to get back and beat the looming pop up lightening storm.
All the racers returned under their own power but one. You guessed it, I was the DNF. I bit off more than I could chew and learned a valuable lesson. My race was not flawless but a great experience none-the-less. I headed out after the main pack and quickly realized that all the extra movement coming off the battery wall really taxed my strength quickly. My arms felt like lead and eventually I fell in at the 1.5-mile mark with a rogue wave and quickly remounted and continued my journey. I began wondering if I should turn back or continue my adventure. I decided to keep going only because I was in close proximity with a 6 man row boat and I knew if I fell out and could not continue they would have room for another weary paddler.
At about the 3 mile mark I encountered my next challenge, when two large passenger tourist boats went by, sending some pretty large waves and eddy currents my way. I kept going and finally made the turn in significant side waves and a good bit of wind.
I barely made the turn and followed Jeremy Whitted on his 14-foot paddle board. He was the only person in close range as I did my best to stay with him. As we reached the battery wall I put my head down and decided I had had enough of this massive core workout and I passed him and tried to make my run to the finish. For the next two miles, the water continued to build into a mess that closely resembled a double black diamond ski run. I was in water moguls with no clue how to approach it. I kept on paddling and hoped I would eventually emerge on the bunny slope but instead I was hit by 3-4 foot waves now coming at me from 45 degrees and from the back as well. I tried to turn with the wave and ride it into the Battery but only made it a good ten feet before I tipped over and fell out 75 feet from the wall. I was tired and really not liking the swim in the same water I saw a 6-7 foot bull shark pulled from the day before. I had a case of clapotis and no antidote.
Jeremy had to course correct and go around as I floundered in the water. I got back in my boat, but due to the refractory waves of the Battery, quickly fell out again. I went through this routine several more times and each time I got back in with paddle at the ready, I would be hit by the next wave and subsequently, fall back in.
I was now very tired and starting to get a little concerned with my never ending remount lesson. I looked over my shoulder and saw the friendly harbor police waving to see if I was okay. At this point,I was tired and worried so I waved them over and got on board. We picked up my boat and waited while they investigated a bridge jumper call. They offered water, asked a good number of questions about the boat and were very encouraging of my multiple remounts that they witnessed. I looked out over the area I fell in and watched a paddler in a rainbow HUKI OC1 as he fell over 4 times and had to remount. I realized if he was swimming then I could live with my choice.
Motoring back in with the police I met my frantic wife at the dock. She did not see me on the boat but heard the familiar family whistle and knew it was all normal again. I took my boat off and did my 100-yard walk of shame, shared my story with Kata and returned to the car tired and hot. I needed a less tippy boat for this trip and learned stability issues can quickly lead to fatigue and mistakes. I probably need a second wider, easier to remount boat for the ocean. In all, it was a great race, great day and great life experience. I will return in September and try it again. Thanks Palmetto Paddle Club for a great race and for making a new fan of the Charleston area.