I survived the Ocean-to-Ocean 2014

This post is also available in: Spanish

By Ilene Little

Roughest race in 15 years marks O2O race

The “JRock” crew: (from left to right) Adolfo Herrera, Chris Huerbsch, Rodwell Chang and Jeison Tovar. (Photo: Trois)

The “JRock” crew: (from left to right) Adolfo Herrera, Chris Huerbsch, Rodwell Chang and Jeison Tovar. (Photo: Trois)

The 2014 Ocean-to-Ocean, in its 61st season, was a race to remember – and survive. Eighty nine cayucos competed in the 50-mile, three-day regatta from April 11 to 13, including about 16 international crews hailing from the U.S., Brazil, Spain and Venezuela.

“In the last five years I’ve been Race Master,” explained Ralph Furlong, “2014 had the worst weather by far.” The crew of the JRock took to the inclement weather like ducks to water. “Never before has a cayuco team broken the five hr., five ½ minute (finish time) and JRock did it,” he said. “They broke the record on the 1st and 2nd day, and on the 3rd day, they broke the overall record of any boat in any Ocean-to-Ocean race.”

Christopher Huerbsch, member of JRock, elaborated: “We were fast enough that we could use the rough water to our advantage. We surfed the entire time. It was actually, by far, the most fun race ever.”

An ominous start

Entrance to the Panama Canal, Atlantic side to Gatun Lake

“On the first day, we had one- to three-foot waves and four-foot swells. Six of seven boats had to be towed that day,” said Furlong. He praised the 12 escort boats for their fine work. “They pulled a lot of boats out of danger,” he said. “Where the new channel and the new set of locks are, that’s where we had a lot of issues because the waves were crashing right at that point.”

Day two – a race to survive Gatun to Gamboa

“The second day the winds were still strong,” said Furlong, “about 18 to 20 knots. Once we passed behind Tiger Island and into the Banana Channel, we hit two to three foot seas and the wind was coming from the side. I had about 16 to 17 escort boats helping, and we pulled out 16 cayucos –people who couldn’t paddle against the elements.

“For the first time ever we had to rescue some paddlers and leave the boats. I told everyone, ‘Forget about the boats, let’s get the people.’ We tied the cayucos to buoys and went back after the race to rescue them,” he said. When they returned, they found one boat submerged. The Golden Frog was split in half.

“My sons were in the race in the SNAFU. This was their first race,” said Furlong, “They are 15 and 16 years old. They got a lot more than what they bargained for, but they never swamped and they made it. They survived the Ocean-to-Ocean 2014.”

Day three – the winners’ story

The third day was better, weather-wise. Once out of the locks, the teams raced to Diablo towards the finish line. Sunday evening, the Canal Authority used the Balboa Stadium for the Race Awards Celebration.

The winner of the First Place Boat in the Trophy Class was Chava. Rio Teta won in the Female Juvenile Class. Almost won in the Juvenile Coed Class. Saga won the Adult Open Class.

JRock won in the Adult Male Class and broke several records in spite of (or because of) the strong winds and high seas. JRock steerer, Jeison Tovar, was at the top of his game to read the waves. “It was a team effort,” said Huerbsch. “To be able to get on those waves you need to have the speed to stay in front of them.”

The hard hitting, power-stroke crew of Nossa Vitoria led the women paddlers in all the stretches. They took first place in the Adult Female Class and set a new record in the overall time.

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