BELFAST, Maine — An exercise in resourcefulness made necessary because of the paucity of a certain natural resource has ensured that the 39th annual Passagassawakeag River Race will be held as scheduled Saturday.
Low water levels caused by this year’s early snowmelt and a lack of recent precipitation has forced race organizers to change the course, turning the event from an 8-mile downriver run from the Littlefield Farm in Waldo to Belfast into a 4½-mile out-and-back route that will require some upstream paddling.
Competitors will start from the same location as in past years but will work their way downstream for approximately 2½ miles before being redirected by a race official around a strategically placed buoy station for the approximately 2-mile journey back upstream to the finish line at the Poors Mill Road bridge.
“It’s going to be a great challenge,” said race director Dale Cross of the Waldo County YMCA in Belfast. “We’re in Maine where we normally thinking about racing downstream all the time, but this will be something different for everyone.”
There will be one mandatory portage on the return upstream near the Snowmobile Bridge drop. Racers will exit to the right at an area that will be clearly marked with surveyor’s tape. Once paddlers finish the portage they will re-enter the river to paddle their way to the finish line.
The awards ceremony will follow back at the starting line at Littlefield Farm.
The down-and-back nature of the event should be interesting for both the competitors as well as the river vultures who turn out to watch the race, as some paddlers making their way downstream will be passing others who left the starting line earlier and at that point are heading in the opposite direction toward the finish line.
“We’ll have some river police out there,” said Cross, “but I’m sure everyone will get through it just fine. I think a lot of people will be excited about having something different thrown at them.”
Cross estimated the revised course will take most competitors between 50 minutes and 1 hour and 10 minutes to complete, with much of that time spent completing the upriver section of the route.
Last year’s Passagassawakeag winner, veteran kayaker Fred Ludwig of Houlton, was timed in 45:04 for the 8-mile, all-downstream race.
More than 110 boats and kayaks made their way to the finish line of last week’s 33rd annual St. George River Race from Searsmont to Appleton amid similarly low water conditions that led to slower times and plenty of contact between watercraft and uncovered rocks.
With no additional rain coming since that race, officials were left to cope with similar conditions this week despite the use of a temporary dam along the Passagassawakeag route to help bolster the water level.
Race organizers met Thursday morning to formalize their Plan B for the race.
“There’s some pretty decent dead water in most places,” said Cross, who has labeled the revised race as the “Passy Shoot-out.”
Cross said approximately 60 watercraft had entered the Passagassawakeag race as of late Thursday morning, a total similar to the number that had entered the St. George as of a similar time last week.
The first paddlers will leave the starting line at 11 a.m. Saturday, with race day registration scheduled from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Littlefield Farm on Savage Road in Waldo. Cost is $25 per paddler, and proceeds from the event will benefit children’s programs at the Waldo County YMCA.
For more information, contact the Waldo County YMCA at 338-4598 or access www.waldocountyymca.org.