Kayaker John Auber won the the 25th annual Southport Rowgatta and registered the only sub-two-hour time, but he might’ve finished sooner without an unexpected encounter along the way. A U.S. Coast Guardsman stopped him and asked to check his equipment. Auber told him he was in a race so the guardsman let him go.
Auber, a Southport summer resident who lives in Barrington, Rhode Island, went on to finish the race in one hour and 57 minutes. He beat other single kayakers Scott Yedsman, who finished second with a two hour and two minute finish, and Jasper Houston, who paddled in three minutes later finishing third.
This was Auber’s 20th rowgatta. He describes himself as a “recreational kayaker” who enjoys participating in the race for what it means to the community. The Southport Rowgatta is sponsored by the Boothbay Region YMCA which uses proceeds for funding a free second grade swimming instruction program. In the race’s 25 years, it has attracted several avid kayakers and other non-motor-powered boaters looking to navigate the island’s 12-nautical mile course.
“It’s really a great community. They come out every year to support the race, and it’s for a great cause: the YMCA,” Auber said about why he continues to participate in the annual event. “It’s a lot of fun. I train with local kayakers as part of Team Christmas Cove who come together to train and support each other.”
Auber was one of the 26 paddle-powered entrants which included 16 single kayaks, two double kayaks, one stand-up paddleboard, one single crew shell, a row boat with three generations of paddlers, two sets of father and grandfather teams, two Maine Guides, and two certified kayak instructors.
In the women’s division, Helen “Gammie” Weld won with a two hour and 27 minute finish. Auber was the first single kayak and Bonnie Haeger and Rick Taylor were the first double kayak with a two hour, 29 minute time. Andyi Hollon was the first paddleboard finisher in two hours 40 minutes. Noah Freeman was the first crew shell finisher in two hours and 10 minutes. And the rowboat pea pod team of the Grimes family — Martha, Geoff, and Anne (Grimes) Rand — won their division in three hours and 10 minutes.
The winners received gift certificates from East Boothbay General Store, Boothbay Harbor House of Pizza, and Southport General Store.
Another summer Southport resident also participated: Dennis McWhan, 82, who built his own wooden kayak. Each year, McWhan has a goal of being the oldest participant. “I enter the race every two or three years. It’s a great time with a lot of cammaraderie. And it’s a real good fundraiser for the Y, too,” he said.
Since 1993, the Rowgatta has begun at the Newagen Public Landing and proceeded to the Pratt’s Island Bridge, Southport Bridge and Capitol Island Bridge before returning back to the start/finish line.
In 1993 and 1994, Bob Eaton of Southport participated in the first two rowgattas. Eaton is 92 and attended the race to watch his nephew Scott Wallace compete. “He is about the same age I was (67) when I competed,” he said. Eaton began kayaking in 1979 when it was a relatively new sport. He and his wife took it up after purchasing a used $200 kayak.
He described the Southport Rowgatta as a challenging race. “It tests your equipment and stamina. Today, the weather was great for racing, but it can be difficult under less than perfect conditions,” Eaton said.
Next year’s race will likely be less challenging as it’s moving to Barters Island which is a nine-nautical mile course.