Tom Bamonte asked me to share my thoughts from the safety director perspective. Here goes!
Thanks! First of all thank you to all the volunteers from CASKA, you responded to Tom Bamonte's call for help and it was appreciated. We also had a bunch of folks from the Northwest Passage as well as Prairie Coast Paddlers.
How I got involved with the race... Tim Flentye is my neighbor and talked me into buying my first kayak. I had introduced him to canoeing, and he pushed us to both buy kayaks about ten years ago. Tim is the race director for the Shoreline Marathon. The Shoreline Marathon Race world headquarters is three buildings from Tom Heineman Enterprises world headquarters, so how could I not be involved? Tim knows my reputation for promoting safe kayaking; I owe Tim big time for all the help I get from him and his workers on my various rehab projects on my rental property. He has always come through when I needed help with anything.
Prep for the race: In the weeks preceding the race, I spent a lot of time with map software establishing GPS coordinates for the safety kayakers so that we would have them on the "as the crow flies" race lines between checkpoints an between obstructions (Navy Pier, Promontory point, etc.). Steve Quinn was the web site guru and updated his on-line maps to be in synch with my safety kayaker maps and created the laminated maps that were handed out to the racers. Just so you know, Steve was behind the scenes on all aspects of the race as was Kristin Flentye who was the overall organizer for the event. Believe me, there was a lot to organize!
As the safety kayakers know from my numerous communications, I collected information about their equipment (GPS, tow belts, VHF radios) and their skill levels and tried to place safety kayakers in spots that matched their skill and equipment. Safety kayakers placed far offshore needed to have a GPS so they could locate themselves on the race line and hopefully maintain their position since part of their job was to help the racers stay on course and not go out of their way. Safety kayakers stationed near Navy pier didn't need a GPS to know where to be, but definitely needed a radio to contact the coast guard or issue "securite" warnings to the commercial and pleasure crafts if it looked like there was a potential clash of large fast moving boats boats and little kayaks.
Where was I during the race? This year, Tim asked me to be on the big boat with him in order to communicate with safety kayakers and respond to any situations that arose. It was a good idea. I got a whole new perspective on the race.
Friday Preparations: On Friday, I was busy laminating maps for my safety kayakers. On these were GPS coordinates, the names of the safety kayakers to be positioned at each location, their cell phone numbers as well as information about whether they had a VHF or not. On the back of the maps were instructions about how to handle various situations and a bunch of telephone numbers for emergency use. I organized these into packs to be delivered to the various check-in points for pick up by the safety kayakers. I am hoping everyone eventually got the map with their name on it!
The GIANT yellow pyramid Relay Buoy: Friday afternoon, I stopped by Leone Beach to drop off my laminated maps and final safety kayaker assignments. I inquired as to who was going to locate the relay buoy and make sure it was at the GPS coordinates in alignment with my safety kayakers... I learned that the plan was to tow the buoy along with a large cinder block, from Leone, via kayak, to the 2 mile relay turnaround point on race day. I wanted to see how feasible this towing operation was going to be so I asked Humberto use my tow belt to pull the giant yellow pyramid... It was not a pretty picture. Various other plans were discussed, debated and dismissed. Peg Cipolla suggested that we just have the motor boat drop off the buoy the morning of the race. This sounded like a good plan, but there was a minor issue with how we were going to get the yellow buoy from hell to the skipper, Terry, on the motor boat that was in Diversey Harbor. Also we needed to calculate what time we would need to leave Diversey in the morning to get the buoy dropped and meet Tim Flentye's requirement that the motor boat be at Calumet by 7:30AM. After much angst and debate among Tim, myself, Kristin and Steve, we decided that the boat drop off was the most practical plan. My job was to get the giant buoy to Diversey in time for an early launch on Saturday.
Saturday Morning: Peggy Hall-Heineman, spouse of several decades, kindly volunteered to drop me and the monster buoy from hell off at Diversey Harbor at 6AM on race day. My old SAAB 9000 which doubles as a pick up truck, was able to have the GIANT yellow buoy sit on it's rear hatch bungeed to my roof rack and the bumper. Quite a site to see on Lake Shore drive at 5:30 in the morning... We arrived at Diversey at 6:00AM and the buoy, along with me and my gear, were loaded into the boat. Terry the Skipper and Scott his assistant were a great help and functioned very well despite being asleep.
My GPS, like Dave Naudi's decided to not work. It would turn on and then turn itself off. My goal, if you recall, was that we get the GIANT yellow buoy from hell in the right location. After changing batteries, knocking the GPS on the side of the boat and talking kindly to it, it managed to stay on long enough to get the buoy in the right place. We dropped the cinder block with rope attached to the bottom and attached the buoy. We then headed to the start. Piece of cake. :-(
The Marathon Race Start at Calumet: We managed to arrived in the motor boat at 7:30AM as requested my race director Flentye. Peg Cipolla brought coffee and bagels and coffee cake! What a wonderful treat for the volunteers gathered at calumet for the start! Rich Hodgkins was there as well snapping photos and helping out. Tom Bamonte and Humberto Garcia, our safety kayakers who were going to be our sweeps were ready to go with plenty of time to spare. They had their orange hats and I gave them their maps. Keith Heger, with the Northwest Passage giant passenger van, who was to be our ground support to pick up any racers who needed to abandon the race, was also there and ready to go. Tim Flentye, race director, and I met with the Coast guard auxiliary folks who were going to follow the race the entire day (there names were Rick and Rick). They were awesome. I met Patrick who was driving the jet ski. He was going to help out and get me quickly to any situations that required my attention. I never needed to join him. He did drive the photographer along all day. I suspect we will have some awesome photos. Tim Flentye, by the way, was serene and calm. He kept using the expression like "no worries" and "chill" as soon as anyone brought up any problems.
We launched in the motorboat and tried to get a good half mile ahead of the racers. The motorboat had some large orange balloons attached so as to be seen by the racers. Tim was perfectly calm as we hit a seaweed patch and we had to stop to remove the seaweed from the propeller. The idea of leading the race instead of following it was in doubt as the speedy 8mph leaders were quickly catching the motorboat as Terry calmly removed seaweed and Tim patiently waited... A miracle occurred and we got on the move again slightly ahead of the racers... We established communication with Tom Bamonte, Humberto and Keith Heger (Keith was on the water for the first mile and a half just in case someone needed to go back to the start). We went through the opening of the Calumet breakwater (1.5 miles from the start) and the race was going smoothly.
The Water Filtration Plant #1 (mile 4) and 63rd Street Pier (mile 6): There was some debate about the race line to the water filtration plant with Tim debating whether my GPS coordinates were accurate. Basic Geometry was debated as well. Especially the part where the race line changes depending on where you are positioned at any given point... But enough said on that. The debate of technology versus ded reckoning continued for the next 25 miles. (Tim, later, did ask me to stand on the swimmer platform on the back of the boat and look at some girl in a bikini, but I didn't fall for that ploy.)
Jim Des Jardin established contact soon after we left the Calumet breakwater. He was stationed by the breakwater by the water filtration plant pretty much exactly where I asked him to be. I asked him to contact me via radio when the last racer passed him (Tom Bamonte was going to be the final sweep up to 12th street beach, so Jim would know when the last racer had passed.) Next we spotted Beverly Serrell at the end of the 63rd Street Pier with her orange hat and red pants. A welcome site for us and for the racers. She was to make sure that the racers hung a left after the pier and went to the beach check in. Jim and Beverly were the first of 24 safety kayakers that the racers would see.
Promontory Point (mile 7) to 12th Street Beach (mile 12): We established communications with Paul Doughty who was the safety kayaker stationed on the race line from 63rd St Beach and 12th street beach. He was even with 50th street. My GPS, (which came back to life by the way) was pointing right at Paul. He was exactly where he was supposed to be. I knew I could count on Paul. He met up with me on the first day of my expedition around the lake and met up with me on my last day around the lake. He is kind of an official greeter and cheerleader for all kayakers on the Chicago lake front. I'm sure many of you have run into him on the water. After Paul, we established communications with Brian Kroening who was stationed on the race line just off of 38th Street. He, too, was in position. My GPS arrow for his position was pointing right at him. Next in line was Dave Naudi, who was just off of 25th street. He was having a good time and had managed to get both his radio and GPS to function after some early morning misbehavior. Paul, Brian and Dave formed a straight line of kayakers for the 5 miles of open water between Promontory point and 12th street. At 12th street, Dave Strauch was positioned to make sure kayakers checked in and also to alert them about the submerged sea wall. As the first racers pulled in, he was paddling along the submerged seawall making it obvious where they needed to exercise caution. You could observe some of the surf skis tilting their boats as they went over the submerged sea wall to make sure they didn't damage their skegs (is that what you call those rudder things on the bottom of a surf ski?)
12th Street (mile 12) to Water Filtration Plant #2 (mile 14): This is perhaps the most hazardous part of the course for the racers. I assigned Bill Pomerantz, an expert at VHF communications and "securite" messages to hang out near the locks and be on the lookout for dangerous situations. I also assigned Kris Dressler to be on the race line near Navy Pier to serve as a friendly face to the racers as they crossed the various paths of the commercial vehicles and also to communicate as needed with the various vessels that might prove to be a problem. The racers were in good hands with these two kayakers on the scene. In addition the coast guard auxiliary boats were hanging around as well as the marine unit of the Chicago Police.
Water Filtration plant (mile 14) to North Avenue Pier (mile 16): This was another area with boat traffic and navigation issues. Richard Stiers was stationed by the water filtration plant and was directing racers to the west opening of the breakwater around the "play pen" north of Navy Pier. Tim Flentye had the motor boat position itself on the race line between the water filtration plant and the Oak Street opening so that racers wouldn't accidentally go through the opening further east. Richard did a great job of directing folks and communicating with us about who was coming along. Likewise we could hear Kris and Bill's communications about what was happening on the other side of the pier. At one point Bill announced that the coast guard had issued a warning to commercial vehicles (maybe directed at the Sea Dog) to slow down and watch out for kayakers. We were not 100% sure that the communicaiton was directed at the infamous Sea Dog, and Tim believes he heard the Sea Dog respond to our chatter and asked me to please not piss off the commercial craft in the area. Personally, I'd love the Sea Dog and the rest of the cigarette type boats to hear what I think of them. :-) Dan Leigh was positioned off the opening of the sea wall by Oak Street each and was directing the racers to go around North Avenue Pier and check in at the beach. Dan was a big help in this rather tricky area. Tim and I and the motorboat crew waited near the water filtration plant for the last racers to come through. Tom Bamonte had given us a heads up when the last racer came through 12th street and had reported that a racer had dropped out at 12th street due to the probability that he wouldn't finish the race by the 4pm deadline. Tom Bamonte then turned around and paddled back to Calumet. Kris Dressler decided to join the ranks of the sweeps, as did Richard Stiers. Humberto Garcia, Kris and Richard were all going to be sweeps all the way back to Leone. This would allow them to spread out as needed with the final racers. They gathered by the motor boat and had soem snacks and sandwiches before continuing on the way.
North Avenue Pier (mile 16) to Montrose (mile 20): As the motor boat made its way north beyond the breakwater, we were able to establish communications with Emily Kornak and Mark Sesemann. They were both stationed along the race line between North Avenue Beach and the Montrose Pier. We told them they could start heading back to Montrose since we had three sweeps bringing up the back of the race. The area that Emily and Mark were working is another busy area with boat traffic. I had them stationed even with Diversey Harbor and Belmont Harbor so they could keep an eye on boat traffic as well as mark the course for the racers. Kate Moring was the safety kayaker stationed off of Montrose who's job it was to make sure the racers from the south reported in to the beach and the racers from the North didn't go beyond Montrose. I wasn't able to establish communications with Kate, who didn't have a radio, so if you read this, Kate, thank you for being our safety kayaker at Montrose! We appreciate the long time you needed to wait for the racers from the south to go by. Emily, Mark and Kate probably had the longest, loneliest positions on the course since they were on the water so long and so spread out. Next year I will try to find some relief kayakers to help in this area. Thank you all for your patience.
Montrose Pier (mile 16) to Leone (mile 24): As we passed Montrose we established communications with Pat Lutsch and Kathi Siegrest as we headed toward the GIANT yellow relay buoy from hell. We spent quite a bit of time getting a handle on how many racers were still coming from the south and whether there was anyone still coming from the north. Once we established that there were no more racers from the north and that the remainder of the marathon racers were covered by our sweeps, we let Pat and Kathi them know that they could start making their way back to Leone Beach. We pulled up the GIANT yellow buoy from hell and continued north. I established communications with Bob Lippold (stationed at Pratt Pier) and my son, Eric Heineman, roaming safety kayaker, and let them know that they could make their way back to Leone and let the other safety paddlers (Susan Thompson, relief kayaker) and Bruce Stromberg (Leone launch area) to do the same. It was quite a site following the group of 5 or 6 orange hatted safety kayakers back to Leone. There seemed to be quite a lot of camaraderie among the Montrose to Leone Kayakers who got to witness all three races... They said they had fun. Maybe they were humoring me. :-)
At Leone finish, Tim and I unloaded out gear from the motor boat to the safety kayakers and jumped out of the boat and came to shore so we could join the end of race work and festivities. We bid Terry and Scott farewell as they headed back to Diversey Harbor.
Thanks to all of the volunteers on land and on water for a job well done. You safety kayakers exceeded my expectations. If I didn't get a chance to personally thank you, I do so now. You helped make this race a big success and you helped make this as safe was possible. The race organizers and I can't thank you enough.