Monterey Bay Crossing Outrigger Canoe Race (MBX)
By Teresa Rogerson
I figured the rigor of a long outrigger canoe race across the Monterey Bay, run “iron” without any paddler changes, would be a boon to my stand up paddle stroke and stoke. It was. A super fast cadence in our OC-6, especially when Judy was “stroke”, kept me not so much on my toes, as sitting and reaching with a major quickness. It’s all about anticipating the “catch,” which I would say was one of my best learnings to come out of college. Not so many boy loot caught, but plenty of water pulled on the rowing team most of my four years in Chattanooga, TN.
This is not my personal bio, sorry. Back to the Monterey Bay, which happens to be where I lived the first decade of the 2000’s and used to surf kayak and compete at the Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival back when it was just for surf kayaks— gah, sorry, ok. Sitting out on the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in the fog, chilly on a Saturday early fall October 3rd morning, squeezed like six peas into a pea pod-shaped outrigger, with the “ama” out over our left side (the steerswoman was always saying “Keep the ama light!”); we awaited the horn for the start of the 22 nautical mile slog across the Monterey Bay.
Our team consisted of four outrigger veterans, a surf ski paddler, and myself (see bio above). I had opened my mouth a week or so prior about wanting to do the race, and magic happened, again because of Judy’s quickness. Becky flew up from San Diego, and we had a group who had never paddled together before. Two of us had either paddled outrigger only one time (myself), or Kristen (total paddler champ, btw) who had paddled in an outrigger about five times total. Amazingly, we were pretty spot on, and the veterans in the boat agreed!
We had a couple of brownie points going for our team. A) As discussed, we were tossed together like salad and we made it happen. B) We were in a “traditional“ canoe, while others in their hot, “unlimited” canoes were pulling so much less weight owing to their carbon fiber layup. We were very heavy, but managed to pass most of those other folks, and steer a lot better as well. C) We did the crossing “iron”, meaning we did not change out any paddlers. Other canoes swapped paddlers for relief, requiring a chase boat and awkward exchanges, but we just ironed it across.
We did stop about two-thirds of the way to relieve our steers-woman Becky and let her paddle some. Judy crawled forwards to be stroke, and Daphne crawled back over all of our heads along the gunnels to steer from the rear. Stefanie went from being a great stroke to seat 2. I stayed put and ate a granola bar, and got ready to splash the back of my new victim, Becky. Every hour we did a rotation of feeding, where one person at a time would stop paddling for about 30 seconds to stuff something into their mouth and pick the paddle up again and hammer while still chewing.
Of course the sun didn’t come out until after we were done. I was reminded of the Tahoe crossing last month, where there was no land to be seen and the water stayed that deep, mysterious marine blue. It was that way this time too. A couple of us managed to see a huge, white jellyfish pass under us, and we saw the breaching of Humpback Whales a few times, but perhaps the most interesting was the massive flock of birds that gathered on the surface of the water well ahead of us in the misty fog. It was something I definitely did not want to pass through, as it seemed apocalyptic, but it spoke of that open ocean vastness and beauty, and importantly like a beacon of forward progress since we only had devices and no landmarks to reference.
There was certainly swell, and a handy little small craft warning that was looming, starting at noon. We opted for the sprayskirts, for safety and warmth. To get them onto the canoe, you have to feed a rigid bungee covered with the stiff skirt material, through a gutted channel along the gunnel of the canoe. It takes the entire crew working in unison to pull with the same force and speed to feed the skirt through. If it is not perfect teamwork, the skirt does not go on. So this was the first test of togetherness, and we found out late that it only goes on in one direction. Turns out that the swell only helped us, and gave us that feeling of being very small in a very big place. We got some push from those swells, and that is the best part of the reason I paddle- to ride nature.
We finished with a 4:20 crossing time, which we are quite proud of, considering all. Kona Brewing handed out keepsake cups and free beers, we had limitless coconut water and a great hot lunch. Raffle prizes were excellent, and we have to mention our good friend and sherpa Tony Mueller. He himself is already a bit legendary for making the boards he he uses to win his races, but he agreed to take our shuttle vehicle and all of our girl stuff down to Monterey so that we could roll back home on our own schedule.
Thank you to all who organized and sponsored this event, and to our crew: Becky Sox, Kristen Podolak, Judy Jennings, Daphne Hougard, and Stefanie Gerstbacher and myself. And thanks to the Aloha spirit in general. I have to believe in that spirit, because it is immediately self-evident when deployed. There’s no way this race would have happened for us without that instant aloha sharing and caring. Mahalo!