The competition was intense at The Great Portage Race at Lake Murray’s Dreher Island Park.
Those competing at the event, held Sept. 14, included three Navy Sea Cadet Corps (NSCC) divisions in South Carolina; Columbia’s Palmetto Division; Mt. Pleasant’s Yorktown Division; and Beaufort’s Port Royal Battalion. Sixteen cadets competed in the canoe race, two in each canoe, traversing six arrival and departure checkpoints beginning at the Primitive camping area and around the southern end of the park. After launching, the cadets were required to locate each checkpoint using a map, and portage the canoe to take knowledge tests at four of the checkpoints. They were asked questions relative to previous training they had received — such as identify cloud formations, navy specialty ratings, flags and pennants, and common nautical knots. Points would be added up at the end of the race, combining the overall race times and testing results. Extra bonus points would be given for additional correct answers in the knowledge tests.
The co-ed competition was divided into two age categories, Navy League Cadets ages 11-14 and Navy Sea Cadets ages 15-18. The Sea Cadet Corps is a youth group organization that encourages, trains and aids youth to develop sea-going skills, and to teach patriotism, courage, self-reliance and kindred values.
Some of the cadets had participated in the Great Portage Race last year and were more skilled and experienced, thought the race starting and ending checkpoints were reversed this year. As the wind picked up along the water, all cadets would put their abilities and strengths to work in the canoe race to get to the finish line. Even after completing the race, there was a challenging uphill portage to the finish line at the hill top, a seemingly long trip to carry a canoe. At every turn, other uniformed Sea Cadets were assisting the Navy League and NSSC volunteers with logistical and supportive details.
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U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary members from three flotilla units based in Charleston, Lake Marion and Lake Murray supported this event, on the water and on land. Auxiliary members also loaned five VFH radios to race officials in order to monitor the various land checkpoints and stay in contact with event happenings. Two boats and one Personal Water Craft (PWC), under orders from U.S. Coast Guard Station Charleston, provided a safety zone for the paddlers between the shoreline and the many faster power boats in the area. Coxswains Festus Burchfield, Jay Dahlgren, Ann Graham were supported by crew members Bob Weskerna, Al Crothers, Don Carty, John Owen and William Hayes. The PWC operational facility was able to maneuver into shallow waters that restricted the larger boats and was a welcome addition this year to the Auxiliary safety patrol. Auxiliarist photographers Barbara Burchfield and Sue Carty covered the race from start to finish for both the Auxiliary and Navy League.
James Offutt, National President, Navy League of the United States, Bryant Kohut, Race Coordinator, and Thomas Brown presented awards in a formal ceremony at the park following the race.
First Place awards for the fastest time to finish the course were presented to Philip Gee and Frank Drose from the Yorktown Division. Second Place award went to the team with the second best time to finish, Josh Smith and Conrad Long from the Palmetto Division. Third Place award, for third best time to finish, went to Amy Haslip and Spencer Williams representing the Palmetto Division.
Best Team Award went to the team with the least number of minutes when all the times for all the canoes in each division were added up. That coveted placement award was presented to Josh Smith and Conrad Long from Columbia’s Palmetto Division, led by LT Tammy Rivera.
The Spirit Award goes to the team that demonstrates the “spirit” of the race with a positive attitude, courage and determination. Tabatha Olsen and Elizabeth Erker from Port Royal Battalion in Beaufort broke out in big smiles of surprise and pride when their names were called to receive this high honor.
All other teams received the Navy League Challenge Coin, a distinguished honor presented in person by the President of the Navy League, James Offutt. Every cadet who finished the race was a “portager” and had proved their abilities to themselves and their shipmates.
Thomas J. Brown, Race Committee Chairman, planned the logistics and communicated with team leaders via monthly teleconference to ensure the race coordination and success. The Navy League is primary sponsor of The Great Portage Race along with SCE&G, Belser & Belser Law Firm, South Carolina State Parks, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and Columbia Sports Council.