SEARSMONT, Maine — Over the last 49 years, Terry Wescott of Thorndike has spent hundreds of weekends paddling in canoe races all over the country, and he estimates that he has paired up with more than 200 different partners during that time.
On Saturday, Wescott, 70, welcomed another new partner to his boat, as 31-year-old Alivia Moore of the Penobscot Indian Nation hopped in for the trip downriver on the opening day of racing season at the St. George River Race.
Up until Monday, Wescott said he didn’t really know with whom he was going to paddle. Then Moore walked into the Old Town convenience store where Wescott was enjoying a cup of coffee with another paddling buddy, Chip Loring.
“I needed a partner, and Chip and I were sitting around. She walked in and Chip gave her a hug,” Wescott explained. “I said, ‘Does she paddle?’ and Chip said, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Well, will she paddle with me?’”
She would, and she did.
Moore said she was a serious paddler when she was younger, but hadn’t raced in about a decade. She explained that paddling remained important to her, even as racing was put on the back burner. And she had an important reason to get back into the racing scene.
“I’ve been meaning to come back, and there’s never a good time. I have a young daughter and that makes it difficult, but I want her to grow up on the water and see a mom who is healthy and active, too,” Moore said. “I’ve been overdue.”
On the water, the duo finished the six-mile course in a solid 52 minutes and 34 seconds, and enjoyed their race.
“It was awesome. Terry is an incredibly experienced, patient paddler, and he gave me a lot of direction,” Moore said. “We moved along quickly and had a lot of fun in the whitewater. It was a fun day.”
In all, 182 paddlers in 105 craft — canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboards — finished the 40th edition of the race.
Top honors went to kayaker Ben Randall of Sabattus, who posted the fastest time in 40 minutes, 48 seconds. The fastest canoeist was Rod McLain of Stockton Springs, who sped to a 43:05 finish in his one-man racing boat. The top canoe tandem was Mark Ranco and Chris Francis, both of Bangor, who posted a time of 44:33.
Among the paddlers enjoying a new partnership on the water were a pair that you might think had spent a lifetime together in boats: Aaron Cross of Belmont and his sister, Caitlin May of Belfast.
But despite their smooth paddling strokes, the duo said they’d only raced together once before. But when their dad, Dale Cross, injured his biceps and had to sit out the race for the first time this year, the siblings thought teaming up and racing in their dad’s canoe was the right thing to do. Caitlin typically races with her dad, while Aaron finds another partner.
They, too, enjoyed their trip, finishing in 48 minutes.
“I thought we did pretty well. We did a test run on Thursday so we had a little knowledge of what we wanted to do,” May said.
And they achieved every paddler’s dream.
“We stayed pretty dry, which is always good. It’s usually faster,” Aaron Cross said.
“And we didn’t have any sibling bickering, which is nice, too,” his sister added.
Two paddlers who were very familiar with each other — Francis and Ranco — returned to the St. George for the 30th time as partners, and showed that they’re still a formidable duo.
“This is the 30th anniversary [at this race] for he and I,” the 56-year-old Ranco said. “This was his first race.”
Francis was just 15 years old when the pair started racing together.
While Saturday marked the first day of racing season, that doesn’t mean that top paddlers haven’t spent time getting ready.
“It’s tough being out of the boat, but we stay fit in the gym,” Francis said. “And we started paddling at the end of January. We’d go down to the coast and paddle [a couple times a week].”
Ranco said he enjoyed the level of the water, which many other paddlers said covered most of the rocks, but wasn’t overwhelming.
“I thought it was a fun level. Enough water, enough obstacles to keep you honest,” Ranco said.