BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
SEARSMONT, Maine — The area’s competitive canoe and kayak season got off to a robust start Saturday, as 109 watercraft took part in the 30th annual St. George River Race.
That marked the largest turnout in recent years for the first race on the annual Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization schedule, according to race director Dale Cross of the Waldo County YMCA in Belfast, and far exceeded last year’s 75 participants.
One-hundred-six entries finished the 6-mile race from the Searsmont Village bridge to the Route 105 bridge in Appleton, led by solo kayaker Fred Ludwig of Houlton, who turned in the fastest time of the day at 41 minutes, 12 seconds.
Fellow kayakers Ray Wirth of Belfast (42:55) and Ryan Linehan of Westport (43:32) were next.
Aaron Cross of Norridgewock and Dan Wagner of Belfast had the fastest canoe time, 45:09, followed by Mark Ranco of Carmel and Bill Deighan of Newburgh (46:22) and Bob Martin of Dedham and Rich Martin of Newburgh (46:35).
The water level was on the low side for the race, but competitors benefited from a rise of 8 inches in the river due to natural melting over the two days preceding the race, according to Dale Cross.
“I was expecting with the low water just to hit a lot of rocks,” said Ludwig, the first racer to leave the start line, “and I hit plenty of times but nowhere near as much as I thought I would. Maybe the water is deeper than it looks. In fact, the rock I hit worst was one I just didn’t see coming, but most of the stuff the rest of the way you could get around.
“There were a couple of scary places with overhanging ice where if you weren’t paying attention the current wanted to take you under those little ice shelves. I made out OK, but I got a little concerned with some people who might have been following me.”
The race featured an eclectic field, with competitors ranging from 7-year-old Matt Dingle of Carmel to octogenarian Earl Baldwin Jr. of Orrington. A few racers donned just T-shirts and shorts under their vests, while many others were bundled up, not taking chances on an overcast spring morning with temperatures in the low 40s to go with a slight breeze.
Aaron Winslow of Belmont competed with his son, 11-year-old Jackson, a fifth-grader at Ames Elementary School in Searsmont.
“It was good,” said Jackson. “I liked the rapids.”
“[Friday] was the first time we’ve been in a boat together this year at all, so it was good to get back out,” added Aaron Winslow, a veteran paddler who has participated in this event with his son for the last two or three years. “He’s getting more and more competitive, and he’s starting to get a little more endurance and strength so he can paddle the whole race now.”
The MaCKRO series continues at 11 a.m. Saturday with the 36th annual Passagassawakeag Stream Race, an 8-mile test that begins in Waldo. For more information on that race, call the Waldo County YMCA at 338-4598.