Two shotgun blasts shattered the silence as Tommy and Sandy Yonley of Houston passed a viewing point, just two miles into the third day of the 2012 Tour du Teche.
The Yonleys were leading in the Tandem Single Blade racing division. Paul Delcambre of New Iberia was on the bank, and he caught their startled expressions.
“We’re just going to make sure it’s someone from Louisiana that wins,” he told them.
The team running second in the Yonleys’ class, and not far behind them, was New Iberia native Tave Lamperez, now of St. Charles, Ill., and his nephew Aaron Vidusek, Hampshire, Ill. Delcambre was their coureur du bois. It was opening day of squirrel hunting season and Delcambre was having fun with the Yonleys.
But the Texans didn’t miss a beat. They went on to win their class in a cumulative three-day time of 20:23:12, breaking the class record by just over 40 minutes, and winning the $1,000 bourré pot in addition to their $1,600 first place award – 135 miles in just over 20 hours at an average speed of 6.62 mph. Lamperez and Vidusek finished second, less than 14 minutes behind them, to share $800 in prize money. In third place, fellow Illinoisans Pat Faul of Lake Zurich and Steve Conlon of Batavia, took home $400.
Despite headwinds in the last few miles of the race, conditions were improved over last year’s race. The weather and a stronger overall field ensured that the bourré pots for all six Racing classes were broken this year, and new records established.
This year the field of nearly 100 boats was divided into Racing paddlers and “Voyageurs.” The Voyageurs are typically less obsessed with paddling, usually slower than most of the racers, and more focused on their experience as an adventure down the beautiful and historic waterway that is the Bayou Teche.
Racers pay a higher entry fee and have a shot at winning prize money. They typically take their paddling seriously, training hard and long for endurance and skill.
Race spectators often see clumps of racing boats paddling close together, just off to one side, or right on each other’s tail. They are not there to socialize – though you may get some chat, and a bit of good-natured teasing, too, as one team tries to needle another.
“You know, Gareth, your boat wouldn’t zigzag so much if you called your huts (switching sides) more often!” and “Wow, you boys look really tired. Are you in pain?” – both are quotes from Rick Lorenzen (paddling with Dave Dahl, both of Maple Grove, Minn.) and trying – in vain, I should add – to rattle Gareth Stevens (Hubertus, Wis.) and Rocky Caldwell (West Plains, Mo.). The two teams spent much of Day Two together and, for a couple of hours in the 60-mile section from St. Martinville to Franklin, they were joined by a third team in the USCA C2 class, Tony Bodine and Daryl Simon, both of Rogersville, Mo.
Boats group together to ride each others’ wakes: to surf the subtle waves generated beside and behind other canoes and kayaks. Riding teams gain an advantage – sometimes of speed, by drafting a faster boat, and sometimes of lesser effort for the same speed. Teams of equal strength usually have a hard time getting away from each other. A lead boat might suddenly sprint, in an attempt to drop the other boats. If a riding boat doesn’t react quickly, the lead boat’s wave will accelerate forward under the riding boat. It then becomes an uphill battle, literally, working to get back over that fast-moving wave.
Each team in a pack keeps a wary eye on the others, waiting for a mistake, or another opportunity of some kind to get away. Portages can provide that opportunity. Case in point: Day Three.
The Caldwell/Stevens and Dahl/Lorenzen boats took off from the Franklin start line and stuck to each other like glue. For most of the 11 miles to the Calumet Cut, solo kayaker Morris Paillet (Houston) set the pace, with Caldwell/Stevens hanging on to Paillet’s stern wave and Dahl/Lorenzen riding them, first on Caldwell/Stevens’ side wave and then on their stern wave.
The West Gate Calumet Cut portage came into sight and the three boats sprinted for the portage, with Dahl/Lorenzen heading for a takeout and a route close to the perimeter fence. Stevens and Caldwell had other plans and sprinted forward for the hazardous looking rocks – a shorter but trickier route over the portage. The strategy worked and Stevens/Caldwell headed across to the East Gate portage and made quick work of that, passing the four-man team from Texas who were maneuvering their unwieldy craft over the portage.