`Danno' missing, but show goes on

Canoeing: Visitors to the Kent Narrows can be forgiven for thinking they took a wrong turn somewhere when, in a scene out of "Hawaii Five-0," they spot the Kent Island Outrigger Canoe Club practicing.

August 25, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

CHESTER -- On any given day at Kent Narrows, a few miles east of the Bay Bridge, the smells of crab cakes blend with diesel fumes and the sounds of herons and gulls mix with the whine of power tools and the rumble of traffic headed elsewhere on Route 50.

The Narrows is a traditional maritime center, where stained workboats from a small commercial harbor and polished mega-yachts from several big marinas share a busy channel connecting the Chester River and Eastern Bay.

Several times each week these days, there are new noises at the Narrows, the sounds of the Kent Island Outrigger Canoe Club counting out strokes and bringing a bit of Hawaii to Queen Anne's County.

"Sometimes when we paddle through the Narrows, we will pass some boats, and the people will yell, `Book 'em, Danno,' or hum the `Hawaii Five-0' theme," said John Fulton, head coach and founder of the club.

"It can take the edge off a workout and make you remember this is supposed to be fun."

But foremost outrigger canoe racing is a team sport in which six paddlers propel 45-foot, 400-pound Hawaiian racing canoes at speeds around 7 knots for two hours or more -- counting strokes, shifting paddles side to side and blending physically and mentally.

"This is very much about the aloha spirit, a type of mentality that makes you all move together as one," said Lisa Maikalani Franklin of Columbia, who was born in Hawaii 26 years ago, but started paddling only last March.

"That makes it Hawaiian. But it also is very much a competitive sport where you think winners and losers and concentrate on the drive to win."

The sport has been popular for years in Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand, Fulton said, and it is spreading quickly on the East Coast, with 21 clubs from Canada to Florida, including six on the Chesapeake Bay.

"People are migrating into this from different sports, and mostly they are around 40 years old, professionals, and looking for something different," said Fulton, who works for the National Security Agency and started racing several years ago with the Lokahi club while living in Honolulu.

"Marathon canoeists, for example, seem to like it because instead of a solitary sport it involves teamwork."

Outrigger racing is an outgrowth of Polynesian seafaring, and while the hull shapes are based on traditional wooden forms, the Kent Island club's two Force Five OC6 canoes are built of fiberglass in Maine.

The canoes cost between $6,000 and $7,000 and are transported on special trailers.

"Some people have switched from dragon boats into outriggers because with those you need a crew of 40 and with these you need only six."

Unlike the cumbersome dragon boats, the 45-foot outrigger canoes have hulls only 18 inches wide, making them sprightly and subject to capsizing when used by inexperienced crews.

But with a little training and an understanding of how the outrigger works, said Fulton, "You can do this in any weather conditions and take on waves and wakes without any problems."

Debbie Hall of Severna Park said there is a protocol to be followed when the club takes out its two canoes, Maka Uli Kukana (Black-Eyed Susan) and Aina 'Olu 'Ola (Land of Pleasant Living).

From the bow aft, the crew responsibilities are: Seat one sets the pace or stroke, seat two counts strokes and calls paddle changes, seats three, four and five are power strokers, and seat six steers and gives commands.

While keeping the boat upright is a team effort, the paddlers in seats two and four also keep an eye on the iako, the outriggers, which tie the canoe to the ama, a steadying float carried several feet outboard on the left side.

"It can be tricky," said Hall. "It really takes only a slight lean to the right to turn you over."

One evening last week, the outriggers slid into the water bow first, Fulton called out, "Ho'omakaukau!" (ready oars), and the canoes sped south down the Narrows, paddles flashing to a mixture of commands in English and Hawaiian.

"It's very unusual, especially for this area," said Bruce Schuler, a longtime member of the Kent Island Yacht Club, where the outriggers are based. "When they're out there practicing, people stop to watch, yell mostly nice things and snap pictures.

"It's not the sort of thing that appeals to me, really. But you have to admire how hard they go at it."

Last weekend, the club sent a co-ed crew to the Lake Champlain Challenge in Burlington, Vt., and finished sixth in a field of 11, paddling 15 miles in 2 hours, 5 minutes.

The performance in Vermont, Hall said, was a warm-up for the Viginia Beach Challenge scheduled for this weekend and the Kent Island Cup Sept. 4-5 at the Narrows.

"Seven miles per hour is a good pace, and you need to be able to keep it up for a couple of hours," Fulton said. "And in sprint races, there are 8-minute miles and faster paces."

But there also is a fun side to the sport, said Jim Hall, who sells fire-protection equipment.

"Last December, the club did the Lights Parade [in Annapolis] and won three awards," he said.

"We strung 600 lights and had two speakers playing Hawaiian Christmas carols and, oddly enough, the entry numbers on the boat were Five-0."

Facts, figures

What: Kent Island Cup, Maryland Outrigger Challenge

Where: Kent Island Yacht Club, on the south side of the Kent Narrows Bridge, Exit 41 on Rte. 50.

When: Sept. 4-5, with racing starting at 11: 30 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.

Parking: Public parking is available under the Rte. 50 bridge.

Information: 410-643-1306

Pub Date: 8/25/99

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