Paddlers unfazed by snowstorm; veteran kayaker Ludwig wins Passy

Posted April 02, 2011, at 4:48 p.m.
Last modified April 03, 2011, at 7:36 p.m.
Leslie Gregory negotiates the rapids near the Poors Mill Road during the Passagassawakeag River canoe race in Belfast Saturday.
Leslie Gregory negotiates the rapids near the Poors Mill Road during the Passagassawakeag River canoe race in Belfast Saturday.
Participants of the 2011 Passagassawakeag River canoe race wait for their starting time Saturday in Waldo.  In spite of Friday's snowstorm 93 boats registered for the race.  This year the competitors not only had to contend with the usual rapids, cold water and rocks but floating chunks of icy snow were also among the obstacles.
Participants of the 2011 Passagassawakeag River canoe race wait for their starting time Saturday in Waldo. In spite of Friday's snowstorm 93 boats registered for the race. This year the competitors not only had to contend with the usual rapids, cold water and rocks but floating chunks of icy snow were also among the obstacles.

BELFAST — For many Maine folks, springtime traditions involve digging out baseball gloves or running shoes from the closet.

Fred Ludwig, however, gets his springtime rush paddling down some of the state’s most challenging rivers. And doing it very fast.

The Houlton kayaker, who has been paddling for more than three decades, won his second spring river race in as many weekends, navigating the Passagassawakeag River Race in 45 minutes, 4 seconds Saturday afternoon.

The race covers seven miles from Waldo to Belfast.

Ludwig has put a lot of paddling miles on his craft over the years, and not even an April Fools’ Day snowstorm could keep him from winning yet another Passy race.

“It’s kind of a novelty thing for me, paddling a boat in late March or early April,” said Ludwig. “I’m still able to do half-decent and have a chance at winning, so that gives me a little incentive to do it.”

Even though the storm had ended by early Saturday morning, Ludwig still had to make a judgment call on whether to make the three-hour drive from Aroostook County to the midcoast.

“When we got up today, we figured we’d give it 10 miles or so, and if the interstate was half-decent, we’d keep coming,” he said. “It was about an hour into our drive before it got decent.”

Ray Wirth of Belfast, who was also piloting a kayak, posted the second quickest time of the afternoon at 46:30.

Aaron Cross of Morrill and Dan Wagner of Belfast had the third fastest time at 48:45 in their two-man canoe, the quickest among canoes.

Rounding out the top five overall times were John Alsop of Cornville at 50:04 in a solo canoe and Barry Dana of Solon in 50:54, also in a solo canoe.

The snowstorm helped the race by pumping up water levels, which were very low at the beginning of the week.

Eighty-five boats completed the journey down the river with 147 participants, which was a great turnout considering Friday’s weather conditions.

By Saturday morning, roads in the Belfast area were snow-free.

“Under the conditions, that’s a great turnout,” said Waldo County YMCA Executive Director Dale Cross, who added that cancelling the race never came to mind.

Paddlers from as far away as New Hampshire and Vermont participated in the race.

“Maine canoers, canoers in general, they’re hardy souls,” Cross said. “They’re willing to do this in low water, high water.”

The water was low earlier in the week.

“The local people here said its probably risen six or eight inches since Monday, and they said on Monday you could hardly paddle it at all,” Ludwig said. “You had to get out of your boat and carry it around rocks and so forth.”

But the snow aided the river slightly, as did a dam located near the starting line in Waldo which is opened just prior to the start of the race.

Ludwig, who won the St. George River Race last weekend, said that the Passy and the St. George are slightly different.

“They’re both about the same in length, but this one requires a lot more concentration because you have to do a lot more maneuvering,” said Ludwig, who plans on taking next weekend off and may do the Kenduskeag Stream race on April 16.

The youngest of the paddlers was 7-year-old Tommy Owen, who teamed up with veteran racer and dad Jeff Owen of Orono to navigate the river in 53:03 and win the Junior-Senior 12-under class.

Other race highlights included: fastest canoe, Cross and Wagner; fastest solo canoe, Alsop; and oldest paddler, Maber Cronkite, 74, of Etna.

The spring season continues next weekend with the Souadabscook Stream Race in Hampden.

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