Pair of Jamestowners prepare for race around the island
The Jamestown Counter Revolution is a 15.5-mile race around Conanicut Island. The Aug. 27 race, now in its fourth year, attracts elite kayakers and rowers from all over the country. Two of those racers are Jamestown residents who are among the top athletes in their sport.
Bill Prichard has lived in Jamestown since 1983. When he’s not out rowing, he focuses on his 20-yearold company, which specializes in the design and manufacture of decorative commercial light fixtures for the North American market.
“After 25 years of running and a knee that had to stop running, I took up rowing when I moved to Jamestown,” Prichard said. “I did it poorly until about 1999, but I had a great time doing it. Then I started getting some coaching and I started racing.”
The counter-revolution field is open to rowers to double sculls as well as kayakers in surf skis, sea kayaks and double kayaks. There will also be high-performance outrigger canoes racing, with crews ranging from one to six people. A total of 100 boats are expected to compete.
Prichard, who has participated in all of the previous races, won the event and set the course record in the double scull last year. This year he’s moved up to a quad scull with a coxswain. “This year I’ve introduced a new class to have a little fun,” Prichard said. “There are four of us rowing and an 11 year-old cox.”
There are a number of challenges involved in the circumnavigation of the island. Prichard said that the course is an interesting length. “In 15.5 miles, you can go very hard,” he said. “It’s not as critical to pace yourself. It’s right at a point where you don’t want to go too hard, but you can go hard. It’s a faster race. That’s one of the reasons we chose to make it a high-performance race and not have the charming boats that take 4.5 hours to come in.”
Prichard also talked about the shotgun start, which means everyone starts at the same time. “All across Mackerel Cove we hope we have as many as 100 boats starting at once. That first mile going straight out into the ocean is wonderful.”
According to Prichard, rowers will be the first finishers, but he acknowledged that kayakers paddling high-performance surf skis will finish ahead of some rowers. There is definitely some good-natured competition between rowers and kayakers at this level.
Prichard cited navigation as one of his prime concerns. “To get that right is always critical,” he said. He also noted difficulties with rip tides in the bay and waves off Fort Wetherill, which usually hits the boats from the side.
Competing in his home waters is special to Prichard. “We have people who come from the Seattle area,” he said. “They drive trailers across. That’s one of the most beautiful areas in the country and to see that they can come here and feel the same way about it is great.”
Jamestown resident Tim Dwyer will also be an islander who will compete in home waters during the race. Dwyer will be piloting one of those fast surf skis in the counter revolution. Dwyer said he was a former rower, until he caught a glimpse of a sea kayak.
“I was working for a company that made recreational rowing sculls,” he said. “When I saw the sea kayak I was kind of star struck. You could see which way you’re going, unlike rowers. You could get close to the rocks and go camping with it.”
Dwyer went on to build many wooden kayaks, but his interest in speed, high performance and a better form of exercise led him to a craft called a surf ski. These boats are about 21-feet long, 17-feet wide, and weigh 24 pounds. They are made of carbon and Kevlar. All of the fast kayakers in the counterrevolution field will be paddling surf skis.
“This race is not about getting the ‘Average Joe’ out,” Dwyer said. “This is more of an elite event. The people who do it are really good at what they do. They’ll be going at warp speed. It’s really a championship for rowers, as well as outriggers and kayakers.”
What differentiates the surf ski from the other boats in the race is the ability to surf down waves much the way a surfer does. “People don’t think of kayaking as a thrill,” Dwyer said. “This sport is a thrill. It’s as different from regular kayaking as riding a fat-tire bike is from riding a 10-speed. It’s like a different sport.”
Dwyer notes that $1,500 in prize money has drawn national champions from Florida, California and other areas to the race, which is being called the East Coast Surf Ski Championship. He expects that the best of them will complete the course in less than two hours, and could beat nearly every rower. depending on the conditions that day.
Dwyer, who finished second in the race last year, is the reigning title-holder of the New England Surf Ski Championships, a series of races held throughout the area. He is in second place this year, but notes that he was in second place at this point last year until the counter revolution race launched him toward the championship.