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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Race Report: Muskoka River X Classic (130km)

I don't really know where to start, except at the end.

We DNF'd.  We flipped.  We got to the finish in a van instead of a canoe.

Race Morning. The last picture
my cel phone would ever take.
Who knew?
Race Morning

We had been obsessing about wind and weather all week, and finally on race day it all looked... OK.

Sure there were some gusts in the forecast, and heavy winds... but we hoped to be well clear of the early lakes by then.

We'd scouted.
We'd plotted.
We'd practiced every aspect of the race - portaging, orienteering, night vision / lighting.

We were ready.

Peninsula and Fairy Lakes

The start was a short run to the boats (presumably to get us all spread out and avoid bumping too many boats and flips and what not).  We got in and started what we expected to be about a 20 hour day of straight paddling/portaging.

Peninsula Lake was dead calm - beautiful flat water paddling.  We quickly entered the short canal connecting to Fairy Lake.

As we exited the canal we were hit with a headwind - this slowed us down a bit, and the water was a touch choppy, but nothing serious.

Huntsville
Muskoka River / Huntsville

From there we made our way a short haul up the Muskoka River to Huntsville.

Portaging at Brunel Locks.
Such Grace.
Feeling great.  Looking great!  We knew we needed to be around 7km/h including portages, and at this point we were in the 7.6km/h or so range - with the headwind, nothing to be too fussed about.  Tail winds and downriver were ahead!

We flew through our return to Fairy Lake and into the first portage.

Muskoka River

The first portage was a piece of cake - short enough to just carry the boat by the handles.  A little traffic got in our way, but we're talking seconds, not minutes.

We popped into the Muskoka River and we were off, now getting easily into the 8km/h+ range.  Our average was looking up, we were picking off boats, things were going wonderfully.

But then...

Mary Lake

This lake had barely registered when we were planning.  Straight shot, a few islands, easy to find the river on the other side.

Well, it's seared into my memory forever now.

Before we'd even left the river we encountered waves, and we knew it was going to be a rough ride.

But we've paddled in some pretty rough stuff in Lake Ontario - how bad could it be!?

Our "original plan" was simple - follow the east shore then take the straightest path to the river.


Flip #1

In the briefing it was suggested the west shore would provide superior wind protection.

This made sense, given the forecast was for winds out of the west.

The problem was getting there.  As soon as we exited the river we were in a cauldron of high waves - it was baaaad.  The wind was as much out of the south as the west, it was blasting across the lake and producing giant swells.

We struggle on at 4km/h thinking this sucked but we'd power through and then life would be calm and peaceful as we went south.

But the wind was horrific, and pretty much everywhere across the entire mouth of the river was horrible.  There was no obvious plan.  We decided to stick to the "endure this for 15 minutes then breathe easy" plan.

Then we started taking on water - it would crash over the front of the boat.  Our front is HIGH, but in these waves it was getting pitched like crazy.  Our boat is also WIDE, so it caught every bloody drop that splashed up... so within a minute or less we had water sloshing back and forth...

Then a wave hit us, pitched us left, several kilograms of water sloshed left - and it was over.  We were in the water.

We panicked, we swam, we collected what we could, we tried to get the boat back up.  We were a long way from shore - I started kind of swimming us in that direction but it was pretty futile.

Saved by Another Competitor!

Another team saw us and came along to try help... it was unbelievable.  They knew how to do a rescue, so we followed their instructions.  Our boat was lifted onto theirs, then flipped over and voila - dry and upright!

Getting in was another matter... they were awesome, bracing the boats together while we got in.  It took us about 10 minutes I'd say, but we somehow managed.  I didn't see them again to thank them and I don't actually know who they were - but they really helped us out.

We recovered my backpack which was still somehow floating.  At that point I realized I had lost my cell phone and the maps... but there wasn't time to think about that just yet...

Back Upright, still Bobbing, Flip #2

They headed to the east shore, which we probably should have done too... but at this point we were just trying to again stay upright in the choppy water, strategizing on the fly was the least of our worries.  Priority was getting close to shore - so we chose the closest one, which also happened to be the one on the west (where we'd originally been trying to get to).

Once again we started taking on water, once again the boat became ridiculously unstable... we tried to get to a dock around a rocky point, but it was impossible - once the water sloshed we were over again.

Breezy Point

We got to the point, and it was about as inhospitable of a place as you could possibly end up.

There was nowhere you could stand, the depth dropped immediately into deep water, and the land was a steep slippery rock hill.

It was a f**king nightmare.

We knew the only way out was to try to get back into the boat, with waves crashing and bouncing around off the rocks.  Somehow - I don't know how - we did it.  We banged around on the rocks but I got us off the one we were wedged on and we were free!

Flip #3

... for about 10 seconds.  The waves knocked us over almost instantly.

And that is when we gave up.

It was just impossible at this point, we had to face that fact.  We were stuck.

In retrospect about the only thing we maybe could have done was swim for a bit?  It was hundreds of meters to the next dock though, and my partner doesn't swim at all... maybe he could have hiked across the slippery rocks while I swam??

Hard to say.  But in any case, this is where our race ended.

We pushed the red button on the GPS that notifies the cavalry that we were in an emergency situation, and waited.

Breezy Point - So Very Breezy...

This race isn't a local 5k, it's not a triathlon, it's a back-country canoe race where you spend a lot of time away from civilization.

As such you carry supplies so that you can weather out an emergency.  Emergency clothing changes, water resistant clothing, waterproof matches, first aid kits, etc etc etc...

... and for the first time, it wasn't just "a bunch of heavy crap to carry around" - it was useful, used, and appreciated!  I used by warm toque that I had scoffed at in previous years, the rain jacket, even a bit of emergency food I'd carried.  I could have really used my emergency cell phone, but by this point it was probably at the bottom of the lake...

We waited for what seemed to be forever - I'm sure it wasn't, and the organizers were really busy plucking people out of the lake.

While we were waiting a big wave caught the boat, slammed it into me - I was standing in the water on the precarious rocks, and fell hard into them.  Blood streamed down by leg - but hey, just a flesh wound, everything still worked.  I took that moment to get my ass up to dry land though, even though I was colder out of the water than in it!

We saw a few other teams attempt the lake - some survived (the stand-up paddle boards did remarkably well!), some didn't (another team of 2 was left stranded at a dock in the bay we capsized in).

Rescue

Finally the rescue boat arrived.  We had to swim out to it, they couldn't get up to the rocks obviously - and the wind had actually gotten worse in the meantime.

Once plucked out of the water we let our wives (who were watching our GPS!) know we weren't dead.  They were happy, which is good.  When we got back to shore, there were 3 other boats of people who had given up and were already gone, plus 2 other teams that had flipped and were headed back with us.

So that was the end of our Muskoka River X - a ride in the Algonquin Outfitters van back to the Hidden Valley Resort.

Post-Mortem

There is so much I have on my mind right now.

I'm crushed that we weren't able to finish.  In the end nobody did - they cancelled the last leg of the race across Lake of Bays due to high wind and the general chaos of the day.  We talked to others that had learned, as we had, from previous years and had scouted, planned, trained... everyone was pretty gutted not to have been able to do the full course.

Such is life, and weather.

What we found out, though, is that a lot of teams did make it through Mary Lake.

It was terrible.  Some flipped.  But many made it.

Our Canoe
HCC Grand Huron

We started wondering what it was about the boat that made it so tippy.

Our boat is an oddball of oddballs.  I don't know how many were made, but I suspect less than 10, and possibly much less.  It was made by the now defunct "Handcrafted Canoes", it's called the "Grand Huron".

It's over 18 feet long, carbon, 48lbs... at the waterline it's as narrow as the Susquehana (which is kind of the standard "fast marathon C2 boat that's not a pro boat").

Allegedly it was made for this race - but it has several flaws that make it unsuitable.

There were two major problems:

  • It took on water
  • It was tippy as hell
Taking On Water

The taking on water was/is confusing - this is a very high sided boat, higher than other marathon C2s.  It is also very high at the front.

But when the waves crashed, they went right over and into the boat.  Not only that the nose dove way into them, under the water!

I think the worst part is that because has sides that flare OUT (rather than tumblehome) it caught everything thing that went into the air!  It basically acted as a giant catcher's mitt for water.

The main solution to this is to use some kind of skirt/cover to keep the water out, not in.  As well some boats had built in things at the front and back to cover the open parts that were most vulnerable.  

Our boat was wiiiiiide open.

We talked to several teams - the H20 Slingshot 222 took on almost no water, likewise the rental boats from Algonquin (16 foot Prospectors).  The Susquahana's weren't so lucky if they didn't have good covers... 

Tippy

This one we figured out thanks to this explanation from Wenonah.

Our boat has a very flat bottom.  We walked around the parking lot - nothing was as flat as ours.

Stability is basically made up of initial stability and final stability (or "secondary").  


Initial stability means that on nice flat perfect water and when you get into the boat, it is stable.  Great.

Final stability means when you tip the thing over, it will tend to resist tipping.

Flat bottom boats have little to no "final stability" - the side that is out of the water loses contact with the water and you're going over without corrective action.  So we've managed to paddle in some pretty serious waves, but it was in spite of the boat...

What we really want is a "Shallow Arch" design, which is what our old boat had... the Jensen 18.  It was really heavy, but so well designed.

The Route We Took

The teams that went to the east shore still had waves, and some flipped.

But they also had convenient docks at cottages that they could use to right themselves and keep going...

We were trying to get to the sheltered shore but just couldn't get there, conditions were too bad.  And where we ended up was dreadful.

Next Year?

You know it.




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