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A Kayak Race, a Kayak Triathlon, a Kayak Pledge Fulfilled: The Fun Never Stops

By Steve Fagin

Publication: theday.com

Published September 14. 2013 4:00AM

So there we were, halfway through the 14-mile Lighthouse to Lighthouse Race on Long Island Sound off Norwalk last Saturday, having fought our way into the lead in the tandem sea kayak division, and we simply had to circle Greens Ledge Lighthouse and cruise to the finish line at Shady Beach. "We've got it in the bag," I called ahead to Ian Frenkel in the bow. "It's all downwind."

Ian and I, along with more than 150 other paddlers in a variety of vessels, had battled 15 mph headwinds and 3- to 4-foot seas over the first seven miles of last Saturday's race and I looked forward to getting a strong push on the return leg. There was one problem, though: Ian and had taken in a lot of water pounding through waves, so instead of surfing gracefully with a fair wind and following seas we repeatedly broached and fishtailed no matter how hard I pushed down on the rudder's foot pedals.

"The @%!!&! boat won't turn!" I cried.

"Steer with your paddle!" Ian shouted over his shoulder.

"I'm trying! Son of a …!"

A succession of vessels swept past us while we stopped to mop
out our cockpits.

"This is not fun," I groaned. It was my own stupid fault, using flimsy nylon spray skirts instead of tough, water-resistant neoprene shields to keep water out of the cockpit. The L2L Race, one of Connecticut's most popular open-water competitions, draws paddlers from far and wide, including European racers, and features not just kayaks but paddleboards, fixed- and sliding-seat rowing shells, super-fast surfskis and six-person outrigger canoes. In our 22-foot tandem sea kayak, Ian and I were about in the middle of the overall field, but determined to win the division.

"There goes Phil!" I shouted, as Phil Warner, in his sleek, 24-foot tandem, shot past.
Phil, Ian and I have raced with and against each other for years, but because his boat is longer, lighter and trimmer than mine it is
rated as a fast sea kayak, a separate division, so technically we really weren't competing.

Therefore I didn't mind seeing Phil and his partner, Russell Lazarus, slip ahead of us – as long as no other kayaks in our division did.

Long story short – Ian and I held onto first place, despite swerving to and fro like drunkards – but we both muttered the same word after crossing the finish line in the relatively pedestrian time of 2 hours, 26 minutes and 6 seconds: "Disastrous!"

By comparison, Reid Hyle, in a surfski single, blazed through the course in 1 hour, 41 minutes and 54 seconds.

At least we were faster than the guy in a standup paddleboard who slogged through in nearly 3½ hours.

Phil and Russell wound up with blue ribbons in the fast sea kayak division, and I was delighted that Robin Francis, who had joined Phil, Ian and me on several training workouts around Fishers Island, won the woman's fast sea kayak division.

Phil and I will be competing together in his boat this weekend at the 37th annual Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass., on one leg of the three-event race. Paul Brock will start for our team, riding a 27-mile bicycle route; then tag off to us in the 5-mile kayak leg. Dan Dillon will run the 6-mile anchor leg. I'll let you know next week how we made out.

In other kayak news, last Sunday I finally fulfilled a commitment I made nearly a year ago when I offered as a charity auction prize to escort a couple of paddlers to Fishers Island. The winning bidder, Kyrena Robinson of Ledyard, brought her friend, Barbara Campagna of North Stonington, and we launched from Esker Point Beach in Noank in sunny but blustery conditions.

Barbara and I paddled my tandem, while Kyrena set out in a single sea kayak. "Bit of a breeze," I said, as a brisk north wind propelled us across the sound.

West Harbor, about 3 miles distant. It took a little over an hour, and after landing south of Clay Point we strolled across the island to Isabella Beach. Neither woman had previously set foot on Fishers, and I enjoyed my role as a tour guide.

Though the sun shone brightly we lingered only a few minutes because I was worried about strengthening winds on the return trip. Kyrena agreed with my plan. "Let's roll," she said.

The wind indeed did pick up on the way back, but coming from the north it mercifully flattened the seas. Aside from some chop near the Clumps the return trip was challenging but manageable. Next time we'll pick a calmer day so we can spend more time on the island. I had offered the trip during an event to raise money to establish a 14-mile Tri-Town Trail from Preston Community Park to Bluff Point Coastal Reserve in Groton, connecting 4,000 acres of state and local open space with only seven road crossings.

It's a worthy cause, and I had so much fun last week that I'm offering the same trip for the second annual silent auction, scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at The Paddock Tack Shop, 55 Rose Hill Road, Ledyard. There are plenty of other prizes to bid on, including a week at a house on Cape Cod, flying lessons, and best of all, a new kayak.

More information about the event is available at tritowntrail.com.

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