BANGOR, Maine — Trevor Maclean took advantage of a pair of uncharacteristic miscues by 11-time champ Robert Lang en route to the overall win in the 44th annual Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race on Saturday.
Maclean, a 33-year-old from Halifax, Nova Scotia, started the race a minute behind the 54-year-old Lang, but passed the Rothesay, New Brunswick, paddler for good when Lang hit a rock and rolled his kayak about four miles into the race.
Lang hit another subsurface rock — paddlers call them “sleepers” — just after the bridge at Six Mile Falls, allowing Maclean to lengthen his lead.
Maclean finished the 16½-mile race in 2 hours, 19 minutes, 5 seconds, while Lang was second in 2:23:46.
Jeff Owen of Orono and Steve Woodard of Cumberland paddled their two-man racing canoe to third place in 2:31:27, while solo kayaker Ray Wirth of Belfast was fourth in 2:38:49.
The win was Maclean’s sixth over the past nine years. He finished second the other three times he competed.
“Robert has a lot of experience on this river. You’d think he’d have all those rocks marked so he’d know where they are,” Maclean said.
Both paddlers were racing in Olympic flat-water boats that can provide a racing advantage during the first 10 miles of the race, which runs downstream from Kenduskeag to Bangor and has no rapids. The boats are more apt to tip over, however.
Lang, a whitewater specialist who had never tipped his kayak in his Kenduskeag racing career, estimated he lost three or four minutes each time he tipped over.
He said he thought his experience might allow him to challenge Maclean for the win over the final six miles of the race, when his whitewater savvy could pay dividends.
That didn’t happen.
“To be honest, if I had not had the second swim, I may have had a slight advantage over Trevor,” Lang said.
“I might have been able to pull back some of that minute [that Maclean made up after the staggered start]. So it would have been quite interesting. But my race was over on that second swim. It was just too long to get back in the boat.”
The race was run under low-water conditions and cloudy skies. The air temperature was in the low 40s and the water temperature at Six Mile Falls was 41 degrees.
In all, 889 paddlers in 479 canoes and kayaks entered the race. The weather and low water may have had a slight impact on paddlers who tend to make last-minute decisions to participate in the race.
According to a Bangor Parks & Recreation worker, 60 boats registered to compete on race day a year ago. This year, only 13 boats registered in Kenduskeag on race day.
Some veteran paddlers said the stream’s water level was as low as they’ve ever seen it on race day. That low water led to slower times and a more strenuous trip for competitors.
“I think that might have been the lowest [we’ve raced in]. Definitely the top three, anyway,” Woodard said. “We had a lot of near misses on sleepers, which are the rocks that are about 2 inches underwater. A lot of times you just miss them and clank your paddle, but no real damage.”
Owen and Woodard, both 44, began paddling together during high school and make a point of getting together to run the Kenduskeag each spring.
Their trip was enjoyable, but grueling, Owen said.
“We had a good, clean run,” Owen said. “It was very low, we had to slog it through the first 10 miles, but we ran everything cleanly. It was good. A nice, clean run.”
Woodard said low water makes it difficult to simply find a speedy course down the stream.
“The lines change quite a bit, that’s for sure, and it becomes a matter of just finding a lane that’s got some water,” Woodard said. “When it’s high water it’s all about trying to miss the big waves so you don’t take in much water.”
Fans who lined the stream at Six Mile Falls were treated to their fair share of spills Saturday. Many of the fastest paddlers chose to portage around the falls, but those who did brave the rapids had to vie for space at a single chute at the end of the falls.
J.R. Mabee of Bangor, who competed with five friends in a war canoe named the Kenduskeag Screamah, said his crew had an enjoyable day, but he used the same word to describe conditions that many other paddlers used.
“What a slog,” he said. “It’s just low water everywhere and trying to pick your lines through the shoals,” Mabee said. “That thing drafts pretty deep, so you’ve got to be careful where you go. We bumped a few.”
Among the hundreds of paddlers was a pair of Orono men who have more Kenduskeag experience than most.
Dick Storch, 73, and Ray “Bucky” Owen, 72 — Jeff Owen’s dad — teamed up again and won their two-man long canoe class by nearly 10 minutes. They finished the course in 3:02:29.
Veteran race-watchers have come to expect the names Owen and Storch to be listed high on the roster of finishers over the past 44 years.
“I don’t know how many [we’ve raced] together, but Bucky has done 40 and I’ve done 38,” Storch said.
That makes 78 Kenduskeag races between the duo, out of a possible 88.
Storch said he was satisfied with this year’s run.
“I can’t tell you if it was the lowest I’ve ever seen it, but it was as low as it’s been a lot of times. It’s within the top five low ones that I’ve been in, I’d say,” Storch said.
“It was very slow. The water was low. And we hung up on a few rocks at times. But the big drops we handled quite well, thank you,” he said.
Mabee, for one, said the low water did dampen his enthusiasm this year.
“I get fairly excited about this race. I don’t think I was excited this year,” Mabee said. “Usually when I get up first thing in the morning on race day I get pretty wound up right off the bat. It didn’t really seem to hit me this year. I think water level [affected that]. Just hoping we were going to get down through without putting a hole in the boat.”