Hockanum Canoe Race sees low water, high turnout, big fun

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon, Manchester, East Hartford - posted Fri., Apr. 15, 2011
Phoebe, 5, helps her dad, Eric Jones of Granby, navigate the course just downstream from the falls at Union Pond in Manchester during the Hockanum River Canoe Race on April 10. Photos by Steve Smith.
Phoebe, 5, helps her dad, Eric Jones of Granby, navigate the course just downstream from the falls at Union Pond in Manchester during the Hockanum River Canoe Race on April 10. Photos by Steve Smith.

Despite a lower-than-expected water level, crew members of 132 boats enjoyed the Hockanum River Canoe Race on April 10.

Race coordinator Andy McKenzie explained the conditions before the race’s start, as well as the last-minute efforts to make the course more passable.

 “The river is real scratchy,” McKenzie said, adding that Doug Smith, chairman of the Hockanum River Linear Park Committee had the dams upstream at Amerbelle and Shenipsit Lake opened, in order to raise the water levels.

“They’re so far upstream and there is so much wetlands,” McKenzie said, “that it doesn’t increase the flow tremendously.”

A tree had also fallen the night before, McKenzie said, but volunteers had worked feverishly to cut it out of the way before the start of the race. Still, McKenzie warned that the racers should not expect to remain dry.

The water levels did cause more racers to scrape or get stuck on the rapids section, near Tolland Turnpike in Manchester. Volunteers helped the racers break free and/or rectify their capsized vessels.

While some racers were serious competitors, others were in it just for the fun.

Andrew Kalmbach of New Bedford, Mass., (originally from Tolland) said his homemade wooden canoe was really just an experiment destined to fail.

“It floats really high, so I put the outrigger on it,” he said. “I got plans online and adjusted it.”

“I’d be disappointed if we didn’t have to use [the outrigger] as an escape canoe,” said Justin Webster, Kalmbach’s crewman, before the race, “even though it only seats one.”

Dozens of family members and friends lined the banks, especially near the rapids, to cheer their racers on.

Although - as predicted - the outrigger canoe did not make it to the end, the finish line in East Hartford was a scene of relief and jubilation for most.

Eric Jones, of Granby, said his rowing partner, daughter Phoebe, 5, did most of the work. “She’s an old pro at this,” he said, “We came down dry. Well, we did get splashed.”

The first racer to shove off from the start near Connecticut Golf Land in Vernon, 70-year old Bill Balocki, of Newington, finished third in his category.

“I did it again,” Balocki said simply, after the race.

For complete race results, visit www.neckra.com.

Another race, on the East Hartford leg of the river, is set for May 1.


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