BANGOR, Maine — Trevor MacLean is not one to judge his progress in a race with a stop watch.
Instead the veteran kayaker from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, relies on personal feel, course conditions, and by passing those who were sent from the starting line before him.
Usually that’s virtually everyone who begins before him, as was the case Saturday when MacLean won the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race for the fifth straight year and ninth time overall.
MacLean completed the 16.5-mile trek from Kenduskeag Village to downtown Bangor in 2 hours, 12 minutes and 20 seconds, well off his personal best for the race of 1:53:30 in 2007 but well ahead of his 3:06:02 clocking last year amid historically low water levels.
“I was hoping for a little higher water but compared to last year it was much better,” said MacLean, who has finished first or second in this race for each of the last 12 years. “I was happy with it, I felt pretty good and my time wasn’t bad for the conditions. It was 2:12 and I was thinking 2:20, so it was a couple of minutes faster.
“I felt strong and kept it nice and steady the whole way down, and I was able to catch up with everybody along the way and say hi to the gang. It was good.”
MacLean didn’t keep his own split times for the course, but he quickly made up ground on the 95 watercraft that started ahead of him. He trailed just one six-person war canoe when he portaged at Six Mile Falls approximately an hour and 20 minutes into his race, then cruised the rest of the way at a comfortable pace.
“So much depends on the water and the water level,” he said. “I could be working as hard as I can, and not to say it wouldn’t make a difference but [today] I wasn’t going to set a really fast time. Even today if I worked a little bit harder I might have shaved off two minutes, but I wasn’t going to go under two hours, so you have to judge your effort versus the lay of the land.”
The two-man tandem of Jeff Owen of Orono and Steve Woodard of Cumberland, Kenduskeag race champions in 2007, posted the fastest canoe time and second-fastest time overall with a clocking of 2:23:11.
“It was really nice, with more water than we expected,” said Owen. “It came up six or eight inches since [Friday]. It was still bony and shallow but we paddled the whole way nicely.”
Kayaker Ray Wirth of Belfast, who had won three events on the local racing circuit — the St. George in Searsmont, the Passagassawakeag in Belfast and the Marsh Stream in Winterport — during the previous three weekends, placed third overall in 2:31:19.
The two-person canoe tandems of Chip Loring of Old Town and Rod McClain of Byfield, Mass., (2:32:16) and Clayton Cole and Justin Wardwell, both of Corinth (2:32:42), completed the top five finishers.
A field of 408 watercraft involving 752 paddlers registered for the 47th annual edition of this event, which was held amid intermittent drizzle along a course featuring low water, but nothing like the droughtlike conditions of a year ago, when many boats went aground just after leaving the starting line.
The field was sent off from the starting line five boats at a time in one-minute intervals, led by an initial grouping that included the popular “Gumby” boat manned by the four-person crew of Dan Pelletier of Alton, Larry Doucette of Damerston, Vt., and Daryl and Jed Boyington, both of Hampden.
When he got his chance 19 minutes later, MacLean left the starting line in a hurry and soon settled into a racing pace of about 100 paddle strokes a minute for the first 10 miles of mostly flat water.
“Definitely the flat, straightaway parts are times to really focus on speed and making sure that I’m getting the most out of a section of water,” said MacLean, whose kayak measured 17 feet long and just 16 inches across at its widest point. “Anywhere it’s flat I’m definitely focusing more on technique and power because I know I can make up the most distance on people wherever it flattens out and the water is calm and deep.
“Then you can take your time a little bit more on the rough water parts.”
MacLean will focus mostly on road races and triathlons in the coming months, but come next spring he expects to return to Maine to continue his pursuit of another goal – fellow Canadian Robert Lang’s record 12 Kenduskeag race victories.
“We’re getting there, we’re getting there,” said MacLean. “Three more to go.”