Kayakers duel in New Haven River white water

BRISTOL — The temperatures were up on this past Saturday afternoon for the 11th annual New Haven Ledges kayak race down the New Haven River in Bristol, and so were the water levels.
Forty-nine whitewater paddling competitors dipped in at the starting gate just above Eagle Park on the Lincoln Road before plunging into a 1.3-mile course that required them to navigate waterfalls of up to 15 feet in height — that one’s called “The Toaster.” Overall they would drop around 130 feet in elevation in a little more than a minute and a half.
When water levels are at their normal depth, this stretch of river is classified as Class Four, on a scale of one to six, where six is extremely dangerous and potentially impossible. But the water was especially high this year, with flows on the course rivaling the first year the race was held, in 2009, according to race organizer Ryan McCall.
“We had 56 people register, but only 49 took bibs because folks were uncomfortable with the water level,” McCall said. “Fortunately, the weather was warm and the competition was stiff, so for the folks who competed, it was great to see them take on big water like that.”
Seven competitors bailed from their craft or were thrown and “swam” and had to be rescued by waiting support crews before they tumbled over the waterfall at the course’s terminus at Rocky Dale.
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE GRADUATE Reed Hutton of Victor, Idaho, takes on a big rapid in the New Haven Ledges Race on April 13. Hutton tied with three other racers for 13th place in the men’s category with a time of 1 minute, 43 seconds. Photo by Bob LoCicero
Greg Lee of San Francisco took first place in the men’s category, smoking fellow competitors by a full six seconds to complete the course in 1 minute, 34 seconds. Jason Kahn of Quebec tied with University of Vermont student Ryan Mooney for second place, each completing the course in 1 minute, 40 seconds.
Franconia, N.H., resident Leanne Bernier took first place for women with a time of 2 minutes and four seconds, with Jessica Sterling finishing second with a time of 2 minutes and 25 seconds.
“This year, people had a lot of trouble with the Rooster Tail,” said McCall, referring to the rapid just above Toaster created by a big granite slab. On Saturday, it generated a big hole, or churning circular spot in the river.
Overall, with more than 200 spectators, McCall called the event a success.
“We couldn’t do it without our sponsors and incredible volunteers,” he said.

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