Hockanum River Race fun for all, despite rapids and breeze

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon/Manchester/East Hartford - posted Mon., Apr. 8, 2013
Hockanum River Race
Darleen Lehmann of Manchester paddles downstream after clearing the mandatory portage over the dam at Union Pond in the Hockanum River Race on April 7. Photos by Steve Smith.

About 100 boats took part in the 35th running of the Hockanum River Canoe and Kayak race last weekend. Andy McKenzie, who has directed the race for 10 years, said the proceeds from the race benefit the Hockanum River Linear Park Committee, and there are numerous volunteers who make the race possible by clearing downed limbs, helping rescue boats from the rocks and rapids and providing communications and safety personnel.

Bill Balocki, 72, of Newington, was once again the first racer to shove off from CT Golfland in Vernon. Balocki said he keeps coming back to the Hockanum race for a variety of reasons. “It’s fun, it’s got some challenge to it, and there’s a lot of people,” he said. “It’s a cool, local race.”

Balocki, and many other racers, agreed that the most challenging part of the race is the section of rapids, just after the river crosses from Vernon into Manchester. “If you can get through that, it’s a big ‘Thank God,’” he said, adding that he planned to approach the rapids by staying to the right. “It will be more spectacular, whether I make it or if I screw it up,” he said.

McKenzie gave advice for getting through the rapids. “If you’re stuck, and there’s nobody there to help you, get out of the boat,” he said. “Don’t just sit there and wait until somebody plows into you.”

Manny Barreira, of Newington, didn’t get hit by anyone, but got flipped over on the rapids. “I almost lost my boat,” he said. “I got too close to the wall, and held onto a tree. The boat just took off from me.”

Pete Bradley and Aaron Granato, from Bolton, had trouble with their canoe. “Our boat was completely underwater, and up against a rock wall,” Bradley said.

“There was only 6 feet to get by us and there were a good dozen people who had to get by us,” Granato said.

“We went down on the right-hand side of the rapids,” said Eric Jones, of Granby, who was racing for the third time with daughter Phoebe, 7, as his partner. “She’s great on the corners,” Jones said. “She helps me keep the boat straight, and it makes it a lot easier. Even easier than going solo.”

Paddling across the mostly-still waters of Union Pond was another challenging part of the 6-mile race, especially this year, when race day happened to bring a strong head wind.

“The lake was awful,” Jones said.

“That wind was brutal,” said Kristy Baker, of Middletown.

After finishing the race safely at the finish line in East Hartford, Kelsie Lappen, of Bolton, who was part of a two-man team with her father Michael, said she enjoyed her first race. “It was a good time and a good experience,” she said. “We made it through and didn’t dump, which was our main goal.”

For more information, including race results, visit www.neckra.org.

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