Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blackburn Challenge 2010 - 'Round Cape Ann by Oar or Paddle

Driving into Gloucester on Friday afternoon, I decided to stop and pay my respects to Gloucester's legendary man of the sea, Howard Blackburn.  Upon entering Beechbrook cemetery off of Essex Avenue, I first located the Fishermen's Rest section which is very near the entrance.
Blackburn's gravestone is simple just as all the others in this section are, and that is how he wished it to be.  Judging from the stones laid atop his marker, it appears he has had other recent visitors... 

Just to the right of his grave is a stone tablet with the following engraved:
Many an angry sea they fought
Their lives and vessels to save
Their courage won what they sought
An escape from a watery grave.

The Blackburn Challenge, named in his honor, requires participants to self-propel their vessels the roughly 20 miles around Cape Ann. 
So, early on Saturday morning, I and about 300 other rowers and paddlers picked up the gauntlet and made our way to the Annisquam River starting line.  This was the view from the starting line for all forward-looking paddlers...

Rowers, of course, would see things a little differently!

I suspect Howard Blackburn would have been most pleased to see this young man rowing a traditional banks dory...

It was in a similar dory that Blackburn rowed some 60 miles to refuge in 1883.  He did it during a 5-day ordeal in mid-winter without gloves and as a consequence lost most of his fingers and toes to frostbite.
Yesterday's challenge takers had things considerably easier, and enjoyed classic New England summertime conditions.  It was a little on the warm side for the first half of the event and, just when I began to wilt, I rounded Emerson Point and was revived by a delightful southwest breeze and a bit livelier seas for the second half of the course.  A half day's work brought my boat's bow up onto the beach just in time for a cold draft beer and tasty lunch.  A tip of the hat to the event's organizers for another outstanding job!

Particularly inspiring to this paddler was soon-to-be 80-year old Dick Wheeler's conquering of the course.  Dick will be hosting the Bird Island Challenge next month in Wareham, MA.

Making the trip with me yesterday were 7 errant plastic/aluminum containers rounded up between the launch site and starting line.  Also along for the trip was a copy of Joe Garland's book, Lone Voyager which tells the story of Blackburn's remarkable life. 

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