There was a massive rain in Chicago on a Friday evening rush hour years ago, streets were flooded, traffic stopped everywhere, rivers canals and creeks overflowing. Interestingly, it takes one week for that bubble of water to travel from Chicago to Peoria, IL 150 miles to the South via the Illinois River where I competed in a regatta.
We rolled in Friday night, being fall time, the Illinois River was normally very low in the dry season, some years the event is cancelled because the water is too low. Imagine our eyes popping out when we saw the water was up to the top of the launching wall.
The locals explained to us that the crane for launching the boats would be under water by Sunday and there would be no racing Sunday as a result, and we would jam all races into Saturday and have a long day on the water.
Saturday morning the water was above the wall about mid-shin and we stacked cinder blocks on the edge of the wall so we didn’t take one step too far and go into the drink! The crane operator sat up on the arm of the crane staying out of the water to operate the up and down buttons to get our boats launched.
And then it began. As a flood occurs, everything that has been washed up on the river banks throughout the season has been dislodged and is free floating in the middle of the river. Branches, chairs, garbage, and other stuff. And lots of it. The water was brown from farm run off (soil) and you couldn’t see through it.
While racing alongside other boats, you would see one suddenly slow down, a tree branch had snagged on their keel and they would swipe it off with a long pole. And then we’d take a turn snagging a tree branch suddenly slowing down and swipe it off. You couldn’t see these branches they were floating below the surface of the water. It really became a game of chance.
As we were working up the course on one leg, I saw full tree branches to the left of us, scanning the horizon, I saw full roots of a tree to the right of us. I shouted, “TACK!” The skipper turned the boat 90-degrees and we sailed around the whole full mature tree. Glad we didn’t hit it.
When we hauled our boats out late afternoon, the water was getting close to waist level. Sunday morning the boat storage lot was fully underwater some 12′ below the new surface of the water. Impressive.
At the Saturday evening dinner, a good guy from Springfield, Gill Cole, stood up pulled a harmonica and sang a song about the “Log rolling and stump jumping contest” we had gone through out on the water earlier that day. It was hilarious, good natured and in good fun.
We were doing this for fun and recreation. We were not at the Olympics. We had not spent years in training, practicing, in the gym, getting coached, qualifying to be there. Was it a fair contest in Peoria? No, far from it. Did it change the outcome of who won? Probably. But we were there for fun, not Olympic Gold and no one made a beef about it. If this were the Olympics, we would not have raced, there was no way to guarantee a fair contest.
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