Saturday 17 August 2013

Lobster SUP Cup 2013

Check out my report on the Lobster SUP Cup weekend on Distressed Mullet(click here)

I’ll restrict my recap here to details about each of the two races rather than about the event in general as you can check that out on the Mullet. I’ll simply say this was one of the most fun weekends I’ve had in SUP in one of the most beautiful locations to paddle on the continent.

The Lobster SUP Cup was supposed to be a downwind weekend, unfortunately Mother Nature had other ideas and both days presented conditions with different challenges, not least those mental ones associated with grinding out a result in a long race without much help in the way of wind or bumps.

Day 1 was almost 19 km on my GPS, taking us from Rockport Harbor into Penobscot Bay, into Camden’s Inner Harbor and then back out into the bay and on to Lincolnville Beach. Winds were blowing 15 mph out of the west with gusts stronger than that. That meant we had a strong tailwind and small bumps coming out of Rockport and then had a left side wind all the way to Camden. Entering Camden Harbor was a strong headwind. Leaving Camden we had a tailwind again and then the rest of the way to Lincolnville was a sort of side tailwind from the left.

The race start was unique – a water start with the countdown coming from someone playing bagpipes. When the piper stopped, there was a 30 second pause, then an air horn signaling go. There were about 40 boards lined up on the start including men and women on boards of all classes. I expected the fastest competitors to be race organizer Thor Emory on a 404 Arrow, former Olympic canoeist Rod McLean on a Bark Dominator, and eastern Canada’s top SUP female, Jessica Rando on a 14’ Starboard All-Star.

I got off the start very cleanly and hammered. I figured if I went as hard as I could go to the turn into the bay it would at the very least represent an excellent simulation of the effort I’ll need to the first buoy at the BOP, less of course the beach start and paddling through the break. It was really cool that about half way out of the harbor I found myself racing a massive motor yacht which was on my left. Knowing it was eventually going to pass me when it neared the harbor entrance, and that I needed to turn left at that point I decided to drop back, drop in behind it and try to hitch a ride for a bit. I was blown away to see it flying a massive Canadian flag off the stern. I hopped on for a brief ride, but would really like to have been able to ride longer. I mean, wouldn’t it be sort of appropriate to hitch an extended ride off my countrymen? Canadians always stick together when abroad. There were small wind generated bumps to use, particularly as we neared the opening into the bay.

At the opening I turned to the left and now had a strong wind blowing directly from the left. The shoreline here wasn’t exactly smooth so it was difficult to follow the shore really closely. As such I spent a lot of time paddling on the right in this leg. Being a right-sided C1 paddler this is not a problem and I tried to really paddle hard in this stretch, hoping to create a large lead to use as a cushion for the second half of the race. Nearing Curtis Island and the entrance into Camden Harbor there were some fast moving swells but it was hard to take advantage of them because as we turned to the left the enter the harbor the strong side wind was becoming a headwind. Furthermore even though the tide was coming in, local conditions created a situation where we were going into a fairly strong tidal current through this stretch. Despite the wind and the current this was a fun section of the race because of all the moored boats we had to weave through. Each paddler had a lot of flexibility as to which path to take through to the turn in the inner harbor.

At the turn buoy in the inner harbor I made a mistake. I turned 180 degrees around the buoy and headed back out the channel I’d entered from. The official boat signaled me with an air horn to come back and go around the buoy again and head out the channel on the other side. There is a lesson here. Listen CAREFULLY to all of the details in the pre race briefing. I know that I occasionally miss details because I am thinking more about the start than about absorbing details. Being in this headspace worked extremely well for me in sprint canoe where every race was basically the same and all you needed to do prerace was sort of focus in on your race plan and your commitment to paddle through a whole lot of pain. In long SUP races, particularly in unfamiliar waters, I’m finding you can’t get away with that approach. You’ve got to pay attention, have a clear head and absorb all the little details so you can be comfortable with where you are on the course at all times and not make mistakes.

After going around the turn buoy again and coming out the right channel towards the outer harbor I found it nice to feel the push of a tailwind at my back again. Exiting the harbor things got even better when I was able to catch some motorboat wake and get a sizeable ride. I continued to follow the same line out into the bay and ended up a considerable distance from shore before I turned the nose of my board to follow the shore up to Lincolnville. It made sense to me get that far off shore. The tide was supposed to be coming into the bay and I’d get more of a push from it further from shore. Unfortunately I wasn’t very happy out there. Within just a couple of minutes I realized the side wind was too strong to make normal paddling possible. Even moving forward on my board didn’t really help. On top of that, the pace my GPS was giving me sucked. I ended up angling sharply towards shore till I found a line where the wind was significantly less. Suddenly I was much happier. There were some more residual bumps from the previous day’s south wind and the wind even felt more tail than side this close to shore. Glancing at my GPS I could see that my pace was back within an acceptable range and was even dropping below 5:50/km regularly.

I’ve commented before on the value of racing with a GPS for pace information. It’s helped me enormously at the last two Carolina Cups and it was turning out to be no different at the Lobster Cup. I think it is actually a necessity in races in tidal water for anyone who is serious about their results. The feedback you get from it regarding your choice of line is essential.

The rest of the paddle to Lincolnville was pretty uneventful and I hit the sand beach with a comfortable margin to spare over Thor who came second. Unlike most races where there isn’t anything to worry about the next day, the first thing I did was get some ice on my elbow. I’ve got some tendonitis (lateral side, left elbow) that is very manageable if I’m smart about it. Within only a couple of minutes of finishing I had a plastic bag full of ice from the water cooler on my elbow. The next thing was some food. A couple of orange slices, a banana and an energy bar, all supplied by the race organizers, and then I mixed a big jug of Recoverite. I think it is good practice to address these things as soon as possible after ANY race, but when you’re doing another 13-mile race the next day it is imperative.

We stashed our boards in Thor’s shop which is across the street from the finish line, then headed to McLaughlin’s Lobster Shack for the post race grinds and the awards. McLaughlin’s was awesome. Very laid back and their portions were extremely generous. I ended up eating 3 ½ lobsters plus all the sides that came with the dinner. Definitely more than I would normally scarf down right after a race, but I couldn’t resist, having not eaten lobster in years.

We had a pretty low-key evening and I got to bed early. Thor was planning on starting the race a little late to see if we could take advantage of a predicted shift in the wind that would provide light downwind conditions so we didn’t have to get started too early, but all the sun and the long drive to Maine had taken as much out of me as the race and I found myself really sleepy and ready for bed before 10 p.m.

Day two broke with similar conditions to day one. Despite our best hopes the wind was the same. We got to Thor’s shop in Lincolnville and then drove up to Belfast to drop our cars and then get shuttled back. By 11:45 Thor was giving the pre-race briefing and by noon we were off.

The start this time was a beach start and much like the day before the first kilometer was downwind to get out of the little bay at Lincolnville. Then we turned left and followed the shore up the coast towards Belfast. For a while the conditions were very light wind with small trailing bumps, but around 8 km and where the coast started to bend to the left towards Belfast the wind shifted to a headwind. The final 10 km or so into Belfast harbor was a grind. There were a few places were you were faced with the choice of going straight and doing a shorter distance but with more wind, or hugging the shore and going further but with less headwind. Each time I opted for shortest distance and more wind. I’m not sure it was the best decision but I had a comfortable lead so I figured I could gamble on it. To be honest the day two paddle was pretty uneventful. It was just one of those efforts where you have to grind it our and keep going – a bit of a mental game. I cruised across the finish line in Belfast in just over 2:07. Not bad for nearly 20 km in those conditions. I sat down on my board, finished whatever water was left in my hydration pack and waited for second place to cross. I was stoked to see it was Rod McLain. We both raced in LA in 1984, me in C1 and Rod in C2. It was fun to be two old farts from ’84 ending up one-two in 2013. Jess Rando won the women’s race for the second day in a row, and taking a page out of Annabel Anderson’s book her combined time for both days placed her third overall beating most of the guys.

The Lobster Cup was an incredibly fun weekend. Maine is beautiful and the waters there are great for paddling. The race was challenging even though the conditions were fairly benign. I could see it being an amazing event with strong downwind conditions, and it could also be an extremely challenging and much less fun race if the conditions got ugly. Definitely a challenge for any racer. Thor has a lot of ideas for making this event even better next year and I honestly believe it can grow to be to the late summer what the Carolina Cup is to late April. Whatever Thor has planned for next year, I am already looking forward to going back! Hopefully many of you will join us there next year as well.