OLD TOWN, Maine — It was a memorable morning for the Owen family during the final day of the Penobscot River Whitewater Nationals Regatta on Sunday.
Jeff Owen and Eric Gallandt from Orono posted the fastest time of the day with 1 hour, 6 minutes and 6 seconds, winning the open canoe two-person F14 men’s downriver class for 40-54-year-olds over the 9.5-mile course.
It was Owen’s ninth win over the four-day event.
“It was a good week,” grinned Owen.
And his father, Bucky Owen, teamed up with Falmouth’s Frank Woodard 42 years after they made their whitewater nationals debut on the lower Dead River.
The 76-year-old Woodard and 78-year-old Owen, who lives in Orono, finished third in the two-person canoe F14 class for ages 55 and over.
“Forty-two years ago, we placed third in the long class on the lower Dead River. It was a 22-mile race with a three-quarter mile portage,” Owen said. “It was really something. This [event] was started on the Dead, basically.”
Owen and Woodard were elated that the race has returned to Maine after being held in North Carolina last year.
“This is fantastic. To have this river bounce back and celebrate it with the nationals is really special,” Owen said.
“What I do for a living is treat industrial and municipal wastewater in order to clean rivers up,” said Woodard. “Part of the fruits of my labor in my profession is shown in this river in how nice and clean it is now.
“And I very intimately know how clean it is now because I swam in it, unintentionally, on Wednesday [during practice],” Woodard said.
The removal of the Great Works Dam in 2012 and the Veazie Dam a year later, which was part of the Penobscot River Restoration Project, enabled paddlers to negotiate the river from Old Town to Eddington and make the event possible.
Race director Scott Phillips announced at the post-race awards ceremony that the Penobscot Indian Nation, which staged the event, has been awarded the Whitewater Nationals Regatta for the next two years and they will move next year’s race to late June to try to get higher water.
Jeff Owen and Gallandt were challenged by Levant’s Chris Francis and Mark Ranco of Bangor but managed to finish 36 seconds ahead of them.
“It was a great run,” said Gallandt. “I don’t think we made a mistake. We paddled hard through all of the whitewater and then, at the two-thirds mark, we settled the boat down nicely and made some nice power strokes the rest of the way through.”
“We chased them the whole way,” Francis said. “We caught up to them in the flat water, and then they would pull away in the white water. Hopefully, we’ll take it next year.”
Owen has been racing since his dad introduced it to him when he was 10, and six members of the Owen family raced over the weekend.
“I’ve loved it ever since. I’ve been doing it my whole life,” said Owen, a ninth-grade earth science teacher at Orono High School and the coach of the school’s canoeing team and the Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization’s Junior Wildwater team.
Several of his Orono High canoe racing alums participated in the event.
Owen’s two Mackro students, recent Bangor High graduate Hannah Rubin and Orono High’s Kellen Doyle, will leave with him for the U.S. Junior National trials in North Carolina on Monday, and if they make the team, they will remain in North Carolina for the Junior World Championships.
The two-person canoe F16 class had the most intriguing finish as four canoes representing two different age groups wound up separated by just 26 seconds.
Rod McLain and Terry Wescott won the 40-54-year-old class in 1:12:29, 23 seconds ahead of William McDuffie and Henry Wicker. In the 55-over class, Keith Havens and Ed Sharp clocked a 1:12:47 to nip Jim Farrington and Kirk Havens by just eight seconds.
All of the OC-2 F16 canoeists started at the same time.
The other winners were Bill and Angus Deighan (OC-2, F14, 19-39 age group), Alan Paradise and William Anderson (OC-2, F14, 55-over); Jacob Gallon and Lowell Ruck (OC-2, F16, 14-18); Brian and Dick Kelley (OC-2, F16, 19-39); Rubin (OC-1, F14 women); Nicole Grohoski (OC-1, 19-39 women); Christy Stout (OC-1, 55-over women); Ellen Mallory (OC-1, F16 women) and Karl Kohler (Stand-up paddleboard long downriver 19-39).
Ten-year-old Phoebe Jones from Granby, Connecticut, won a miniature canoe for being the youngest competitor.