This past weekend was the first points event of Michigan Canoe Racing Association season. Held annually on the South Branch, both races begin with a running start down into Wallace Park in Roscommon, MI. The South Branch in this area is a stretch of twisty windy water, full of logs and other hazards looking to reach out and snag boats. It’s a highly technical affair rewarding teams that corner smooth and fast. Spectators have a multitude of spots to watch action along the way, making it a fun event for families.
The increased prize purse (over $3,000) brought in an array of some of the best paddlers from throughout the midwest (Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan all present) with a bonus team from Ontario, Canada present. 36 solid professional teams for the C2 race, and a wicked fast C1 field of 43 paddlers meant one thing. Even with the deeper payouts (25 places), there was going to be a few people present that were used to making the money going home empty handed. The race organizers were committed to paying more, and paying deeper into the field. And in turn, the paddlers turned out in droves.
The C2 race runs downriver to Deerheart Valley road, makes a buoy turn, and then returns to Wallace Park in Roscommon proper. The first heat of 20 departed Wallace Park with Mike Davis and Weston Willoughby quickly establishing dominance over the field and starting off the season with a victory in Corbin. Wes Dean and Matt Gabriel made the decision to switch from Gillies to Corbin on Friday night. On Saturday it paid off when things started to click and they moved up during the upstream portion of the race to finish second. Rounding out the top 3 was Medina and Mead in yet another Corbin.
The second heat of 16 departed just over 6 minutes after the first, with the first three boats running in order from about the half mile mark on. The team of Chris Prater (Ripple FX) and Oliver McMillan both of Ontario, Canada dominated the second heat, opening up a wide gap between themselves and the second team in the heat. Their H20Canoe ProB1 racing canoe was wicked fast up river, not to mention the Ripple FX paddles (thank you for the paddle donation to the race as well!) that they were using to propel the boat effortlessly. Coming in second in the heat was Don Brooks and Jason Sharpe (race sponsor Two Rare design studios) in an original Savage River JD Pro, followed by Rodney Elliott and Bill Mahaffy in another original JD Pro.
Steve Watson and Jason Hatfield claimed the Masters Bonus finishing in 5th place (JD Pro2)
Ray Trudgeon and Mary Schlimmer the Mixed Bonus in 6th
Bruce Barton and Bill Torongo the Senior Bonus in 10th
Roxanne Barton and Rebecca Davis the Women’s Bonus in 13th (what a great way to spend the day before Mother’s Day!)
Mike Garon and Doug Gillin the Veteran Bonus in 18th
On Sunday, the C1’s took to the river to test out the brand new course. In years past, the canoes would go off one at a time with a brief interval between boats. The race would run down river to Steckert Bridge, turn the buoy, and then head back up to Wallace Park. In an effort to increase participation, a decision was made to change the start of the race to match the C2 event, with participants running to their boats in the park and then launching before paddling downstream past Steckert to Chase Bridge.
The racing action was described as fast and challenging as the course is difficult to pass on. The first heat of 21 would see Mike Davis, Willoughby and Mead take the top three spots, with the second heat of 22 ending with Rebecca Davis (21st overall), Schlimmer (22nd) and Mahaffy (23rd) the first three canoes in. Stories of swims and hard racing were in abundance after the event. While removing the technical aspect of the upriver portion of the race, a new challenge was added that hadn’t been present in the past. Tight racing in extremely close quarters gave competitors the chance to work on their riding and passing skills as 20+ boats jostled for position in the opening miles of both heats. Paddlers crossed the line with tales of near misses, a few wet from sampling the waters.
Overall the first points race of the Michigan Canoe Racing Association season went very well. The many hours spent on preparing for, and holding the actual event were greatly appreciated. It was great to see such a large turnout of competitors on both days. Overall heat seeding was very accurate in both C2 and C1. The relatively unknown Canadian team posting the 11th fastest time on the day, and the slowest team from the first heat still posting a very solid 24th place time in the C2 race. The fastest three C1’s from the 2nd heat narrowly edging out the slowest of the 1st heat, but also having the advantage of clean water to run in.
Next weekend the circuit heads to Traverse City for the Battle on the Boardman!
Special thanks to the race committee members and sponsors.
Family Fare Nester Auto Group Two Rare Design AuSable Baking Co. Skye High Gymnastics Lear Corporation Dealer Supply Company