WEST FORKS, Maine — Different day, different river, course, partner and race… Still, it was the same result for Jeff Owen.
For the second straight day at the American Canoe Association Whitewater Open Canoe Downriver National Championships, Jeff Owen of Orono clambered out of his canoe with the day’s best overall time.
Thursday, Owen and Ander Thebaud from Mount Desert turned in the best time overall and in their open canoe, two-person (OC2) mixed class on the Kennebec River, an alternate site used due to unsafe, high high water levels.
On Friday, Owen was again one-half of the day’s fastest canoe as he and fellow Orono resident Chip Loring churned the 1¼-mile sprints course through the Upper Poplar and Lower Poplar rapids on the (not-so) Dead River in 6 minutes, 47 seconds.
Owen was also part of the second-best time of the day as he and Brunswick’s Laurie Stearns won the OC2 mixed class with a time of 7:03.
Third overall went to Keith Havens and Zane Havens. The duo from Albion, Mich., finished in 7:09.
Drastically-improved conditions greeted the 60 paddlers on day three (day two of races) of the annual five-day event.
“We couldn’t have run this yesterday, but like the weather in Maine, it all changed today,” said 15-year ASA National Championships participant Terry Wescott, a Castine native now living in Thorndike.
Things changed so drastically in 12 hours that race officials were able to go back to the original course.
“They really did a nice job adjusting this on the fly,” said Chris Stec, an ACA staff member from Fredericksburg, Va. “It was about two or three times higher yesterday, but today we could have it at the usual course location.”
Stec and wife Claudette, a South African, are visiting Maine for the first time.
“We arrived early Monday morning,” said Stec, a former Davidson College student and varsity basketball player who was a summer camp director in North Carolina before coming to the ACA. “I’ve really enjoyed it. The scenery’s beautiful too.”
Stec has seen much of the country in the two years he’s been working for the ACA.
“A large part of my job is travel, from Florida to Seattle and California to Maine, from March through October,” Stec said. “And I’m not saying this for an interview, but folks up here in Maine have been really nice. My wife and I are talking about bringing the kids up here next summer for a vacation.”
Claudette Stec was quite impressed, although she did notice one annoyance.
“I like Maine. I don’t like the bugs though,” she said with a laugh. “It was fun today. I like the big water. It was almost like a carnival ride and it’s really pretty here.”
The 60-year-old Wescott was smiling like a child at a carnival as he finished up his third run down the course en route to a sixth-place finish in the men’s solo canoe (OC1), ages 55-over sprint division and a third in the OC2 sprint, 40-54 division.
“I’ve been racing for 39 years now. It doesn’t cost anything other than the boat and equipment and you have a lot of fun,” said Wescott, a U.S. Army and Vietnam veteran who competes in races from March through October. “It’s physical exercise that keeps you young, keeps you going, and it’s easy. Almost anyone can do it.
“The most dangerous part of it is driving to and from the race.”
Wescott, a former construction and paper mill worker, logs lots of miles on rivers across the country. He paddled almost 500 in one race alone.
“We did the Yukon Quest last month. It’s a 460-mile race from Whitehorse to Dawson,” said Wescott, who has done the race three times. “It took us 59 hours and 7 minutes to paddle it and there was a mandatory, 10-hour break in there. It’s the same basic course as the dogsled race they do in the winter.”
If that wasn’t ambitious enough, consider Wescott’s usual river race schedule.
“I’ve been averaging about 40 races a year the last seven and a half or eight years,” explained Wescott, who has competed in the ACA Whitewater Championships for the last 15 years. “I get in one race a week and sometimes two.
“I didn’t start paddling early enough, but I’m trying to make up for lost time.”
Wescott and most other paddlers were happy with Friday’s race conditions, even if their boats did take on some water.
“I was paddling with one hand and bailing with the other,” said 17-year-old J.D. Marona of Granby, Conn., who was competing with his father John. “It was tough staying dry, but it was fun.”
Event chairman Clayton Cole, who also competed and finished first in OC1 overall class with a time of 7 minutes, 32 seconds, obviously had little to complain about.
“Personally, I thought the conditions were great.,” said Cole. “It was a little higher, but that opens up some places in the river for people to paddle through.”
“Weather-wise, it was actually good it was overcast because it can really get hot when the sun’s out and this was kind of a warm, humid day already.”