Fifteen minutes after the posted start time for the big race, confusion reigned.
Goodland’s First Canoe & Kayak Regatta was overdue, but contestants were still launching boats. People were asking about the route and searching for the starting line at Marker 8 Restaurant. Jason Sine of Everglades Area Tours, who had brought a truckload of kayaks for the paddlers to race in, just shrugged his shoulders.
“We’re on Goodland time,” he said, as if no other explanation were needed.
Goodland, the “drinking village with a fishing problem” on the southern undeveloped end of Marco Island, has a history of doing things their own way. Saturday’s race was no exception.
Several locals were among those who took advantage of the package deal offered, which for $15, included a lunch of a barbecue sandwich, potato salad and coleslaw, an event T-shirt, and the entry fee for the race. They put on the shirt, ate lunch, and skipped the race.
Cooking up the barbecue outside under a tree, chef and Goodland resident John Cyr was excited to talk to a reporter, saying “this could be the first time I got in the paper without getting arrested.”
Lisa Mayfield, technically not from Goodland proper but next door in the incorporated City of Marco Island, explained “we loaned our kayak out, and never got it back.” She was content to sit at the water’s edge, cheer on the racers, and listen to the tunes provided by Steve Hill and his guitar.
George Vellis of Goodland, who said he was there representing his family, added “this is just what we need – another Goodland party.”
That was indeed the idea, said Marker 8 co-owner Jimmy Ketchum, who said the event was frankly patterned after the Great Dock Canoe Race in Naples. “I went to the race at the Dock and handed out some flyers,” he said. “We wanted to get some of those guys down here racing.”
Unlike the Dock race, Ketchum said, the Goodland event is open to both canoes and kayaks, and he seemed to be trying to stir something up between devotees of the two types of boats.
“The kayakers keep telling me they’re faster,” he said, “but I haven’t seen it.”
As it happened, they were. First place went to kayaker Kim Kelsey of Naples, in a sleek, almost pencil-shaped single kayak. Making his carbon-fiber paddle fly, he won going away with a time of 13:02, leaving a gap of over 300 yards between him and the second place finisher.
“The old man won it! That’s awesome,” called out Mayfield, as Kelsey’s kayak streaked past the finish line. Kelsey, reported to be 55 years old, did appear to have several decades more experience than many of the paddlers.
The second place boat, a canoe with a time of 15:41, was paddled by two more Neapolitans, Jon Ness and Tyson Beebe. The list of finishers from the Dock race lists Ness and Kelsey as partners and second place winners overall in that event.
First place in the mixed division went to Demi and Matt DeRose of Naples, paddling a canoe and finishing at 17:36. In fairness to the locals, several top finishers were Goodland residents, including kids’ division winner Tyler Gashem, “bar war” winner Chris Kneipp, representing the Little Bar in a challenge between them, Marker 8, Stan’s and the Old Marco Lodge, and also Ketchum himself, who finished in eighth place out of 16 entrants.
Other events planned for the regatta did not pan out as planned, Ketchum reported. “No one brought in anything to weigh” for the fishing tournament, and there were no takers for a proposed paddle out to Coon Key. “It was pretty hot by 3 p.m.,” said Ketchum.
One couple did complete the water-borne scavenger hunt in their kayak, winning T-shirts for their effort. Ketchum said next years’ event will benefit from Saturday’s trial run, and he is hoping to sponsor a fishing tournament in July “in the morning, when it’s cooler.”