BELFAST, Maine — With bright blue skies and unusually mild temperatures hovering over the Passagassawaukeag River on Saturday afternoon, Ray Wirth decided an eight-mile paddle wasn’t enough.
After the Belfast man piloted his kayak down the river in 41 minutes, 22 seconds, he decided to take in a few more rays and head back upriver for some extra paddling.
“It was just a beautiful day and I wasn’t in a hurry to get off the water,” said Wirth.
Nobody was in such a hurry as it turned out, as 125 boats completed the trek from Waldo to Belfast, the second-highest in the 37-year history of the race.
Veteran kayaker Fred Ludwig of Houlton actually had the fastest time of the afternoon at 40:40, but it was listed as “unofficial” on the results.
Early in the race, Ludwig’s paddle broke and, since he didn’t have a spare, he took his boat back to the starting line, drove to the finish to borrow a paddle from another racer who had already finished, then started again in the last heat.
“The paddle broke right down the center, I’ve never had anything like that happen before,” said Ludwig, who won this race two years ago.
Since Ludwig started the race twice, Cross informed him after he finished that he couldn’t accept an award, but Ludwig didn’t make an issue about it.
“I don’t have any problem with Dale Cross addressing it as he did. He’s a good guy and I think he did the right thing,” Ludwig said.
Not getting any hardware wasn’t as important to the 50-year-old Ludwig as enjoying a summer-like day and getting in a good workout.
“The main reason I do it is I like the exercise,” he said. “Ten minutes is not enough exercise. I’m glad I finished it.”
Saturday’s conditions were quite a contrast to the first major canoe race of the spring, the previous week’s St. George race, where shorts and short-sleeves weren’t options for anyone.
“We finished the race last weekend [and] you could see your breath, and we had people with frostbite,” said Cross. “What a difference a week makes.”
Cross said the record for most entrants in the Passy race is 133, set in 1992.
Mark Ranco and Chris Francis of Levant posted the second-quickest official time of the day at 42:32 in their open-class two-person canoe. Berry and Lori Dana of Solon, paddling in the same class, were right behind in 42:45.
Jeff Sands of Bangor, also in a solo kayak, came in at 43:05 to finish fourth while the century-racing tandem of Bill Anderson of Morrill and Greg McMorrow of Thorndike rounded out the top five finishers at 44:53.
After a few days of soaking rain had raised the water levels, some dry conditions leading up to race day lowered the levels slightly.
“It came down fast and we were able to race no problem so that’s good,” said Cross.
Wirth, who has participated in every Passy race since 1996, found the water levels to be a lot different than those of the St. George race, where he finished second.
“The river went way up with the rain, but it has really dropped quickly, whereas the St. George is running really high,” Wirth said. “It was a great level today, it was fun.”
When Wirth went for a practice paddle Thursday, he said the river was roughly a foot and a half to two feet higher than it was Saturday.
“There’s not as much water in this river. There’s more rocks, so it’s a little more technical,” he said. “There’s some overhanging branches in places.”
With that being the case, fast times were going to be at a premium.
“I even felt that today when I was out there,” Wirth said.
Not that paddlers seemed to mind. There were not only smiles on quite a few faces after exiting the river, but there were eight two-person boats entered in the high school class, with Daniel Lesser and Mark Rowe of Orono winning that class in 47:57.
It’s not unusual to see some new faces or young paddlers at this event.
“The weather and the rain we got earlier in the week, all the publicity, all of those things, kind of combined for an exciting race,” Cross said.
“Its not so treacherous that people are afraid to do it or something. A lot of families, a lot of the young people, high school kids and college kids, are doing it. It’s just really, really cool.”
The next race on the spring slate is Saturday’s Souadabscook Stream race in Hampden.