Why does Rattlesnake Racing have a BYOB (bring your own boat) policy at our races?
This concept was solidified for me in September of 2003. Jim McTasney, Robert Butler, John McTasney and myself participated in the expedition race Primal Quest, over a 400 mile race.
The race started with a swim of two team members out to the Cobra four person sit on top “unsinkable” kayaks where the other two members had paddled out so far in the water. We knew these boats were going to be pigs and Jim and I were familiar with them as I owned four Cobra three person kayaks. We are confident and decent paddlers at least Jim, John and I were. Rob had done his fair share of paddling as well. The race started great. It was warm and sunny with a slight breeze. We were having a great beginning of the 35 mile lake paddle. We were not the skinny mini Team who could survive on a chiclet team. I was 5’7” 120 pounds. Jim was 6’2” 175 pounds. John was 6’1” 185 pounds and Rob was also a normal size guy probably 170 pounds. So our boat was loaded. We had a sail and I was the first seat in the boat. Rob was directly behind me then John and Jim at the back of the boat.
Since it was warm I had on my hydro skin paddling pants and I had removed my hydro skin top and tied it to the seat of my boat. I had also deployed our sail we had put on the front of our boat. We were moving and in the top half or better of the boats. We made the turn on the lake to head to the final CP and the take out for the long paddle. The wind picked up and the waves became enormous. We were still doing great but every time we crested a wave and the boat dove down over the top of the wave I was getting water on me and getting water in my seat. One dive finally ripped the sail off and took it to the bottom of the lake. Each wave we crested and dove over the boat kept diving deeper and deeper. It was to the point I was completely submerging including my head and upper body each time the boat nose hit the water. I was screaming something is wrong and I am freezing. What I did not know or realize is the boat we had, had a hatch In the center with a rubber hatch covering a hole in the sit on top kayak. Each time the boat rose over a wave and dove at the top of the wave the boat was flexing from the weight on the back and the rubber hatch cover was opening up and letting water in the hull of the unsinkable sit on top kayak. We were getting completely blown off course. The boat was basically not maneuverable. At last the kayak took one last dive and flipped and then hovered under the water about two feet. We could not lift the boat out of the water. We could not self rescue and were being blown way off course. It was freezing. I did not have a wet suit top on. There were no other humans or boats anywhere near us. We all four swam the boat as best we could toward what we thought was the nearest shore. I was getting so cold and hyperthermic. Jim and John pushed the back of the boat down and they put me as out of the water as they could get me and Rob laid on top of me to try to conserve my body heat. It was not working. I was terrified and literally thought I was going to die. It was at this point we saw flares being shot from many boats but they were ones far behind us. It was not even noticed we were missing except by our 8 year old son, River. River was adamant we were “expert” paddlers and way too many teams had finished and we were not one of them. He continued to tell his grandparents, our support crew, something was wrong and we should be finished. They did not listen. The rescue boats did not even look for us since we had drifted so far right off course and were busy rescuing at least a 1/4 of the boats and last of the paddlers. Most did not finish the paddle and were brought to shore with a rescue motor boat. We continued to spend about two hours in the water. I was demoralized miserable and thought I was going to literally freeze to death. Finally we saw a yacht heading toward us. I sat up on and got as high as I could and circled my kayak paddle in the air signaling our distress. This boat came to us. They Brought us on board cut their engine, warmed me up and helped pull the kayak on the side of the yacht and self rescue. The guys got the boat emptied and the hatch as secure as they could. The yacht offered to take us to shore but we refused to be DQ’d the first day. We paddled that flipping kayak more than the 35 miles and did it on our own power. We did not get rescued and hauled to shore. At the TA I was spent so we took a little time to eat hot food and recover. We went on to finish the race. We missed the whitewater cutoff but raced a solid 8.5 days. We never fully recovered from the drain on our bodies from the first kayak. The end of the race was a 16 mile trek and then another 21 mile kayak in the same boats. I was shaking and terrified. I did not want to get back in those flipping faulty boats. Race personnel assured us repairs had been made to boats and more rescue boats were on the water. The repair was to open the hatch put tire inner tubes inside the hull and air them up then seal the hatch on. I was not impressed. I was scared but got in the boat and we made a quick paddle to the finish. After this experience, I never wanted to be a race director who provided mandatory matching boats to all of my racers. I wanted racers to take responsibility for knowing their vessel and safety of their boat and what their boat could do. If their boat had a fault and sank it was on them, not me. I did still have a fleet of boats I would rent, but made it clear what the boats were and they could do research on the boat they were choosing to rent.
The Rock, Roll and Rattlesnake Challenge May 14-16, 2021 will be a BYOB race and there will be over 10 miles of Lake Stamford paddling which I can almost guarantee will have wind, waves and occasionally a bad spring storm with a tornado.
To add insult to injury the boats that got hauled to shore did not get DQ’d or penalized and we got a 17 minute time credit, but we dang sure paddled those hogs the entire paddle.