This summer I had the opportunity to race a few awesome Surfski races on the East Coast of the US. The Jamestown Double Beaver had, by far, the best name of any of these races.
It is a 10-mile open ocean race leaving and returning to Jamestown, Rhode Island and passing a large rocky outcrop called the Beaver’s Tail. The course starts in among the sailing boats of Narragansett Bay and heads out of the protected waters into the ocean.
Once you pass the Beaver’s Tail you try to find a red (or maybe green) turn can and make a clockwise turn and head for home. For this race, I was given the second generation Stellar SES to use. I had been alternating between paddling this and the Stellar Apex K1 on a flat water lake for a couple of weeks.
On the flats, the SES was surprisingly quick and seemed to hold speeds during race pace intervals very nicely. The narrow deck also made transitioning from the K1 to the SES easy, as the catch in the SES is relatively narrow compared to some skis I have used.
Flatwater paddlers love to talk about boat speeds on flat water but as all ski paddlers know flat water speed is great, but you’ll not get to use much of that when you get out on the ocean.
Due to my location, I would say I am definitely in the flat water camp. So it is always with a little in trepidation I mount the ski and head out into the waves. For this race, I was informed, by the locals, that it really wouldn’t be rough at all. Not believing a word of what they told me I fitted the larger 8” rudder and practiced a couple of braces.
The start was flat for ocean paddlers. I was really very pleased with the boat and was able to get off fast and open up a gap in the first 1km. This was all well and good but it was still flat and I knew as we left the bay it would certainly not be.
I was correct. Like most, who spend their time on flat water, ocean waves are something of a mystery. They are always huge, and it’s always very disappointing when you check the reports to find they are in fact several feet less than your estimates.
Still, the swells from the Atlantic were large enough that when Greg in a very close 2nd place caught up with me I lost him a number of times between swells. I know Greg and know he is certainly better in mixed ocean conditions than I am, so my aim was to keep him in contact until the water flattened and I could use some of my speed to catch him.
Surprisingly, I was feeling very comfortable in the SES moving through the swells upwind and was able to relax without any worry of having to deploy the well-practiced brace or even worse the remount! I managed to make the turn, which was a red can, not green in case you were interested, still in the lead. Just.
On the downwind leg I figured Greg would pull away leaving me a mile or so in the bay to catch him. Again, I had a little surprise. The SES was surprisingly easy to control and while others may have gotten more out of the downwind conditions, I was very pleased that the boat enabled me to work hard when I needed to and catch runs when I could. As we entered the bay I had open up a lead of about half a minute and felt great knowing the SES was fast enough to take me home to a rare Surfski win.
The post-race food and drinks are always the highlight of any good Surfski race and the Double Beaver did not disappoint. Pizza with a pesto base? Artisan.
Of course I had to bring up the huge disparity between the actual conditions and those the local paddlers had told me we would experience. It seemed to me that their predictions that “it wouldn’t be rough at all” were a little misplaced. Those waves were huge. No, apparently I was wrong. The consensus was that it had been pretty flat conditions. At most, they would concede to calling the water textured!