The race offered three route options: a three mile, six-mile and a 14.2-mile route. I opted for the six because for me, much more than that this early in the year isn't racing; it's surviving.
For some reason, racers tend to gravitate to the longer events, but I was pleased to see that the six-mile version actually hosted higher numbers this year and had some solid competition.
The course started in Apalachicola and took us through the marshes to a tight turnaround and return back to the starting dock.
When the starting horn sounded, I purposely stayed off the gas with the idea of conserving until closer to the last mile or so, especially considering that we were going against a tidal current. This is a real departure for me, as I generally jump off the line and then struggle the rest of the way to keep things moving.
Rick Baker made the jump this time. Taking off hot from the line with myself and John Mitchell settling in for the chase.
I had previously raced with Mitchell before and knew that he was a strong paddler with a background in Masters Sprint, so I opted to stay on him until late in the race.
We slowly caught Baker who abruptly slammed on the brakes, nearly causing Mitchell and myself to pile up. We thought he had seen a formidable water hazard, maybe a gator or a shark, but apparently he had caught weeds on the front of the boat and was trying to dislodge them. Not sure if he realized how close he came to dislodging John and I as well.
After that near miss, Mitchell and I came around and started to put in some distance on Baker. We began to settle into a nice relaxed rhythm as we traveled through the marshes, enjoying the scenery along the way, including an ancient, large commercial fishing vessel in the late stages of decomposition. Apalachicola is a small town that traces it's origins to harvesting oysters and the seafood industry, it has more contemporarily become a tourist attraction for those preferring to take in "Old Florida" and the solitude of the beaches as opposed to the crowded areas in other sections of the Sunshine state.
As we approached the turnaround, Mitchell called out something that I couldn't quite decipher. Next thing I knew, in a deja vu of earlier in the race, we were slamming on the brakes in order to bring our 21-foot boats to come to a complete stop and reroute ourselves around the turn buoy. I had wrongly assumed we were circling around with the marsh path.
This made for a bit of comedy as I narrowly avoided T-Boning his boat upon realizing a bit too late what was happening. We then began the hardest part of the race, turning a surfski on a dime in a tight section.
After that awkward endeavor was finally over, we set off for the remaining three miles towards the finish line. John started to pick up the pace on the way back to assure that coming around would have to be earned. As we approached the final mile, a large deep-sea fishing vessel pulled out directly in front of us. John and I got directly into it's wash and rode along for a few moments. Eventually, the exhaust became too much to bear. I pulled to the left of the boat hoping for oxygen and seeking some purchase on the side wake. I looked over and saw that John had taken the inside route of the boat wake closest to the shore. It seemed to me to be a bit of mistake as it looked like he would have less room to negotiate.
As I eventually came around the boat, I saw John flying up the other side with a good fifteen yards on me pouring it on for the finish. By this point we had approximately half of a mile to go and my competition was charging hard for the line. I put in everything I had to catch him but could not bridge up.
Important lesson learned; never trust a masters racer. Those guys are slick. Good race John Mitchell and thanks for the ride!
John took the overall, then myself and Pete Chaplin in second and third respectively.
In the 14.2, Rick Carter took first, with Ted Burnell coming in seconds behind. Shane Kleynhans finished in third.
Kata Dismukes finished first for the women in the 14 and came in fourth overall, with Dana Richardson in at second and Wyndy Amerson third.
CJ. Haynes took the win for women in the 10k, with Lyndsey O'Shea in second and Myrlene Marsa in at third.
Thanks to Joe Vinson at Kayak Trader for putting the event together. Looking forward to future installments!