Friday, August 19, 2011

1981 International Canoe Worlds; The Racing

The racing for the 1981 International Canoe Worlds at Marion was breezy as expected but the famed Buzzard Bay seabreeze only made a late appearance for one race; we spent most of the week in good Northerly breeze courtesy of a strong cold front; a rare weather occurrence for the U.S East Coast in August.

The regatta was fought between the four Swedes and Steve Clark, the rest of us were nowhere close in boatspeed or boathandling. For me, tacking was a 40/60 proposition in the breeze, it being very easy to stall these craft head to wind and then end up going backward.

The drill for tacking an International Canoe goes sort of like this (everyone has their different techniques).

  1. Ease main while scooting back into the boat.
  2. Get both feet aft of the seat.
  3. Blow the jib sheet.
  4. Helm over and at about the same time, grab sliding seat and give it a good heave to get it from the old side to the new side.
  5. Cross to the new side (some cross on their knees, some walk around the end of the boom),
  6. Hopefully you've got the bow around enough on the new tack to sheet the jib on the new side. (A partial sheet will do).
  7. Here the decision tree branches out a little. Any indecision will see you get blown over. If you haven't got the seat far enough out on the new side, you need to heave it out and quick. If you have got the seat out far enough to land on, land your body on it hard, hopefully butt first but many times I've done a belly flop.
  8. Simultaneously (or as near to it as you can accomplish), finish extending the seat while you're sliding out to the end, sheet the jib in and sheet the main in.
  9. And you're off (unless you got it wrong, in which case you may be going backward, or capsized on the old tack, or maybe capsized on the new tack, or maybe you stepped off the boat, or maybe the seat is still stuck on the old side, or maybe the tiller extension has ended up under the boat trapped in front of the rudder, or.......)
There were thirty boats at the regatta from five countries; US, Canada, England, Sweden, Germany. I ended up smack dab in the middle in fifteenth. I made it into the top ten twice with two eighth places but by the end of the week I was exhausted. I made a hard landing coming in from Thursday races and bent my rudder shaft. I did my best at straightening it out but I sailed my worst race on the last day. Since I had already racked up a DNF as my drop race, adding a 22 didn't help my overall score.

But it was a great regatta and I was going to spend the next fifteen years of my life trying to learn how to tack these beasts (and gybing them in a breeze was no picnic either).

Oh! I did have one fleeting moment of glory in the regatta. I wrote about it for the U.S Canoesletter.

From the April 1985 issue of the Canoesletter

"In the second race of the 81 Worlds at Marion three canoe neophytes, the author, Tim Prince and Martin Herbert went the ‘wrong way’ (according to local knowledge) on the first beat to round the weather mark 1,2,3. Heady stuff and, with soon to be world champion, Swede Max Tollvist, in fourth place, this trio of North Americans fought like demons to hold their positions down the next two reaches. The first beat had been the lightest of the series, a 5-8 knot southerly, but as we approached the leeward mark the famed Marion seabreeze had started to kick in at 15-20 knots. Tim and Martin had sneaked past your author leaving me to round in third, one boat length ahead of Max. I resolved to sail as fast as my limited canoe experience would allow and not bother worrying about Max (for the Swede had already proved devastatingly quick in a breeze). Around the leeward mark I hardened up on port tack, attention riveted on snaking up and over the waves, the senses devoted to keeping US 163 flat and driving; sailing totally absorbed, sailing with blinders on. Two minutes passed wrapped in this hyper-concentration. It was time to check on my competition. I quickly stole a glance over my aft shoulder. No Max? Had he capsized? Not that I could see. I rotated my torso forward and peered upwind. Shock and despair! Max was 50 yards upwind and going twice as fast. My first hard lesson on the distance an International Canoe planing upwind could put to an International Canoe that, in relative terms, was only mushing along.

As it turned out there were 30 of us mushers at the Worlds and only five (the four Swedes and Steve Clark) who had mastered the art of upwind planing in an International Canoe. It was not surprising the North Americans were so deficient. Most of us were lucky if we had six months of tiller time on the International Canoe."

Photographer Gail Scott Sleeman just happened to capture Tweezerman (US 163) on film whilst leading the second race. Here, I'm still holding the lead but being chased hard down the first reach by two other International Canoe neophytes at that regatta, Tim Prince (US 160) and Canadian Martin Herbert (KC 11)

Another Gail Scott Sleeman photo showing Tweezerman launching off the starting line.

The World Championship title came down to the last race. Steve Clark was battling the two top Swedes, Max Tollvist and Olle Bergqvist. Steve ended up tied for second with Olle but lost the tie breaker. A photo of Steve (looks like he's coming into the launch beach) from staff photographer Ren Elliot, scanned from a yellowed article in the local newspaper, Sippican Sentinel.

Two other scanned photos of the launching beach off Tabor Academy, again from Ren Elliot of the Sippican Sentinel newspaper. Tweezerman is getting ready to shove off in the background of the first photo.

And another one from Ren Elliot of the Sippican Sentinal; Swede Olle Bergqvist (2nd overall) on his way out to the race course.


tillerman said...

Excellent! Looking forward to reading more about your exploits in the olden days.

I wonder what happened to that clever Steve Clark chappie? I hope he had the opportunity to build a few more boats.

Tweezerman said...


Looks like I frontloaded most of my major regattas at the beginning of my adult life while you have backloaded all your major championships into your retirement years!

My last World Championship was in 1993.

Steve Clark is still at it in the International Canoes. The International Canoe Worlds are on a three year cycle and Steve has attended all but one in the last 30 years.

tillerman said...

I guess that's right Tweezerman. I didn't start sailing until my early 30's and I think I attended my first national championship in the year I turned 40 and my first world championship in my 50's.

Karl said...

Funny 1981 does not seem like that long ago. Please send me your mailing address Rod so I can add you to our holiday card list. I always thought your sketches were pretty much the coolest ones I ever received - so much for altruism! Best, Karl dr dot wittnebel at g mail dot com