Photos: Humberto Garcia
Yesterday marked the 2010 edition of the Chicago Shoreline Marathon. The Marathon attracts competitors from all over. Each year there seems to be more competitors. I was a safety boater this year and about 35 competitors passed my spot.
The 23.25 mile course runs from Calumet Park to Leone Beach. The fastest competitors, paddling surfskis, finish in about three hours. There are also ocean canoes, tandem kayaks, traditional sea kayaks and performance sea kayaks. The Marathon requires that competitors finish in six hours. Those who fall behind that pace are shuttled from one of the four check-in points along the race course to the finish line at Leone Beach.
There also is a mini-marathon that runs from Leone Beach to Montrose and back. This 8 mile course is a nice opportunity to folks to ease into competitive paddling. It also ensures first crack at the food table at the end of the course!
This year there was a nice breeze from the south. The heavy motorized boat traffic between 12th Street and Montrose and the unforgiving breakwalls created somewhat chaotic wave conditions. Performance boats are typically tippy boats and a number of competitors took a spill in the warm water. Fortunately, everyone was able to get back in their boats quickly and continue with the race, losing nothing more than a little time and a few caps.
The Chicago sea kayaking community, with our relatively wide and stable craft, provide the safety boaters for the Marathon. We position ourselves about a mile apart. Our bright hats provide visual reference points for the competitors. We pitch in and help with rescues when needed and identify for the race organizers competitors who appear to be veering off course or are having trouble of some sort. This year Keith Heger was the Safety Director, taking over from Tom Heineman, the Safety Director in previous Marathons. Tom had spent a chunk of August paddling in the Bay of Fundy.
Local kayakers also help staff the four check-in sites where competitors get out of the water for a brief spell before forging ahead. Pierre Kornak was the race sweep, following the competitors and letting the safety kayakers know that their term of duty was over. He probably paddled longer and farther than anyone on race day.
The heavy boat traffic was a challenge but overall the conduct of boaters during the Marathon was good. It was obvious that most boaters were keeping a careful watch as they plowed out of the harbors along the race course.
However, I do want to report the conduct of a sailboat called "Sorcerer's Judge." Pierre Kornak and I were accompanying a competitor northbound around Montrose point. This competitor was in a new boat and was being challenged by the chop. Indeed, he had flipped and rolled just 10 minutes before.
As we approached Montrose point Sorcerer's Judge approached from our left, out of Montrose Harbor. The boat was close and I called to the captain and pointed out the competitor paddling a bit ahead of me on my right. The last thing this competitor needed was the added distraction of being spooked by a sailboat.
The captain acknowledged he saw the competitor and I gestured that he should steer away from the competitor. The captain replied that he had no brakes. I told him he had a rudder and should use it. The captain then said something to the effect of "let me show you how to use the rudder." He then used his rudder to set his sailboat on a course set directly at the competitor, veering away at the last second to avoid a collision.
I reported this shocking incident to the Coast Guard Auxiliary boat that was patrolling the race course and that boat went searching for the Sorcerer's Judge. I also reported it to the Chicago Police Marine Unit and to the Corinthian Yacht Club, which operates out of Montrose Harbor. Watch out for this boat and take appropriate action if encountered on the water.
Perhaps the best part of my day was accompanying one of the final finishers. This competitor was paddling an ocean canoe. He said that the folks at the Montrose Beach check-in appeared ready to yank him out of the race because he was dangerously close to finishing in over six hours. However, he had hopped back in his boat before they made a final decision because in almost four decades of racing he had finished every race.
We had a nice south wind and with less boat traffic there was less chop. Yet, the clock was ticking. This competitor was obviously tired and his digestive system was upset from too many power gels. Yet, he paddled on, taking advantage of every following wave he could.
He got a bit off track, aiming for the wrong beach, but I was able to talk him back on course by establishing a landmark at which he should aim. The clock was ticking. I knew that getting to Leone on time would be a challenge. We chatted occasionally. It was obvious that finishing and, especially, finishing on time, was important to him.
He found one last reserve of energy and we landed with a couple minutes to spare. He was nearly last. There was no one on the beach cheering him on. The feasting and post-race ceremony had begun and his landing was unnoticed by the group.
Yet, the handshake he gave me was firm and the thank-you was deep and sincere. In the best spirit of the Marathon he had done the best he could and that, in the end, was more than good enough despite his finish near the end of the pack.
A final note. Tim and Kristen Flentye, the Marathon co-organizers, had a baby earlier in the week. Needless to say, this was a busy week in their household. Congratulations to them and to all who participated in this year's Marathon.
Humberto's Marathon pictures here.