Sunday, 3 July 2011

Eddystone Challenge - 2nd July 2011

Second race in successive weekends!...

I have a love hate relationship with this event. 28 miles is a long way and normally one of the legs is a real slog (if not both!). However it gives a real sense of achievement to finish it and is something to aim for when doing all those sessions on the canal.

This year for once the weather forecast did not make holding the event touch and go. If the forecast is more than a F4, the organisers normally abandon the Eddystone route and opt for a bad weather alternate race in Plymouth harbour and its estuaries. So with a forecast of variable 3 or less and smooth or slight seas the pre-race atmosphere was a lot more relaxed than the normal tense situation of not knowing whether we are doing the Eddystone or not.

With the sunny conditions I drank plenty of fluids beforehand - a cup of tea, a bottle of sports drink and a bottle of water. I also put on plenty of sun cream. Last year I felt as though I hadn't eaten enough, so I also had a bacon butty and a cheese and tomato roll.

The race started at noon, and the field makes its way out of the harbour by the western channel around the breakwater. In side the harbour the large number of boats create wash that causes some confused waves, but once the first few km are under your belt the harbour is left behind and you are left squinting into the distance trying to make out the smallest glimpse of the lighthouse on the horizon. Hopefully then you can settle into a rhythm clocking of the kilometres and keeping an eye on the navigation.

In theory you are meant to pass close by to marshall yachts that are stationed on the route. However the field gets spread widely and hardly anyone seems to take the direct route. This year the tidal flow and slight wind pushed the field west, so I was continually aiming off to the left of the lighthouse to try and keep on the general line, but I still don't remember passing any of the marshall yachts.

I rounded the light after 2:40 hours of paddling and didn't feel too bad. I had a quick chat with a gig that rounded with me and stayed with them and a single scull skiff for a while, but again they seemed to be going off what I thought was the best line, so I ended up by myself on a route to the west of them.

I was managing to keep up a pace of between 7-10kph, mainly dependent on the waves - sometime there would be some swell coming in from the SE, other times it would be smooth and then sometimes wash from passing boats would cause some mixed chop that needed some concentration to not be caught out.

By this time the effect of the pre-race drinks were catching up with me and I was dying for a pee!... however I knew I'd have to wait another couple of hours. On balance I think it was a good decision to take on the liquids before hand, but I could have done without the uncomfortable feeling for the return leg.

My GPS was set with the finish line as a destination waypoint and it was continually estimating the time to finish. I gave a cheer when it said 2 hours, then you keep looking down disappointed each time to see it show longer than you think it should be.

Gradually you make out more and more of the features on the land and the city and harbour of Plymouth. The return leg enters the harbour through the eastern channel by the breakwater and you are searching for the structures on the breakwater that show where the ends of the breakwater lie. My view was obstructed by a rather large ship - HMS Illustrius had just anchored up outside the breakwater and in the end I passed by quite close. If I was further up the field, I'd have had to deal with it potentially crossing my path!... not something I'd like to consider.

The western end of the breakwater has a lighthouse, then in the middle of the breakwater there is a round fortification and then the eastern end has a conical light tower. Once you can make out that tower, you know you don't have far to go.

Nearing the harbour I was getting pretty tired and my right buttock was feeling a bit numb/sore. However I was still maintaining a steady speed and gradually the GPS was showing minutes and seconds rather than hours, and then finally you enter the harbour. Even now though you still have 3km to go, and this seems to go on for ages. Boats pass you and their wash causes you to break rhythm as you correct your course. The finish line gradually gets closer and realising it's nearly all over a final push sees me over the line in a time of 5:21.

Once over the finish line there is another mile long paddle back to the event centre and I did this very slowly being extremely tired. I landed on the slipway to be met by John Willacy who helped me hobble out of my boat and a few other folks carried my boat up the slip out of the way. I stretched my legs and then headed for the loo!

For once I felt I did the event in reasonable style - maintaining an even pace throughout and having equal times pretty much for both legs. In the end I was the second single seat kayak (K1) to finish - rather depressing though because John Willacy had finished an hour ahead of me! Overall race winner was a two seater surf ski that did it in just under 4 hours. I ate a few jelly babies and three cereal bars during the race and checking my water bladder I had drank just under 2 litres of water.

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