BOWDOINHAM — Dwight Blease inspects the two-person kayak, which stretches more than 18 feet long, along the banks of the Cathance River on Thursday night.
Everything looks right.
“It’s going to be a good night,” he says. “Maybe we’ll go for it.”
Blease, 53, of Bowdoinham, is one of about 20 water sport enthusiasts who showed at the town landing off Route 24 for a Maine Canoe & Kayak Racing Organization points race.
Blease will paddle with race organizer Colleen Moore, who won the 2008 outrigger canoe national championship in Sacramento, Calif. The pair say kayaking can be a relaxing endeavor or a competitive sport.
On this night, it’s the latter.
“We all like to have fun,” Moore said, “but some of us like to have fast fun. The faster, the better.”
MaCKRO, as the organization is known, provides a series of races for paddlers of all ages and abilities.
It keeps point standings, and champions are crowned at an end-of-the-year banquet. There are several classes, including one-person canoe, two-person canoe and, of course, the kayaks.
Races are held throughout the state, although Bowdoinham and Waterville are regular stops.
“They are a lot of fun but people do take these seriously,” said Don Wescott, 78, of Sidney, who organizes the Messalonskee Stream races. “It is a little unusual because we have different types of canoes and kayaks all out there together, and everybody races for different reasons. It’s good competition. You find people are good friends before the race, competitors during it and then good friends after.”
Dusk is settling in as the kayakers and canoers begin lining up for the start. When the race official gives the signal, the paddlers shoot toward a buoy a few 100 yards away before circling back. The race would take them five miles down the Cathance, which has a deceptively strong current.
Blease and Moore enjoy an early lead before the paddlers disappear from view.
An hour later, the leaders come charging toward the finish. Blease and Moore are battling Orono natives Jeff Owen and Dan Lesser for the lead.
The kayaks surge toward the finish, with Owen and Lesser earning the hard-fought victory.
“That was quite a workout,” Lesser said from the kayak. “Wow.”
Moore, of Topsham, said she and her partner “went for it.” They finished the race in 50 minutes, 5 seconds.
“There’s a lot of strategy involved,” she said.
Indeed, there is.
Like runners or race cars, kayakers and canoers draft off each other, waiting for the right moment to make a move. Wake riding is also a technical skill that is not easily learned, Blease says.
“It can take years to learn how to wake ride,” he said. “It’s not easy. These races are much faster in a group. You get into situations at the end of the race where everyone is watching each other to see who will make a break for it. There’s a lot of technique to this.”
Added Weston: “You have to know what you’re doing when you make a turn at the buoy. There’s a lot of strategy to that. If you don’t take it right it can lead to other problems. You can lose three canoe lengths if you don’t do it right.”
Mark Ranco, 51, a Bangor native and social worker at the VA Maine Healthcare System at Togus in Augusta, is a self-described competitive racer.
He completes the course in about 56 minutes.
“I’ve been paddling since I was 7 years old,” he says. “This helps me keep in pretty good shape but I also love the competition. I love trying to better your time. It’s fun to come out here and race.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640