The Hydrobowl 2003 was probably most noteable for all the close races. This year was the year of ties! The early days of Hydrobowl were characterized by boats coming in sometimes minutes apart. In most of the races this year, however, the placer's overall score was determined by seconds; 2003 even produced an overall tie, as well as a tie in the sprints. These close races even showed up in the fifteen and a half minute citerium!
In the sprints, Jake Free squeezed out a 26.5 second run. He couldn't manage to do the sub 26's he was putting out the year before. In a new catamaran with a pedal stroke period as long as one of the seasons, Bob Buerger blasted a 26 flat (a trap-speed of 8.6 miles per hour. This was followed by another 26 flat from Dan Grow in his sit-on-top surfski. Bob tried another run and possibly broke the 26, but due to a timing glitch, had to settle for a tie with Dan for first.
The slalom was next. Ran after lunch, the racers started from the north end of the course. Bob was an untouchable with a 1:53.2. Dan Grow logged a 2:08.4 with Bill Murphy closely following with a 2:09.8. Free followed the two runs with the knowledge that this was make or break, and logged a 2:07.4 placing him in second. With neither Bill, nor Dan desiring to try again, the focus moved onto the criterium.
The criterium was fascinating indeed with Free breaking out for the first position at the first straightaway, even though Buerger started at pole. Buerger was on Free's heels for the whole race. As Free would do too much "resting" from being out in front, Buerger would make multiple attempts to pass where both boaters would break into a sprint until Free maintained the inside groove for the comming turn. Dan Grow was "in the flow" immediately behind the two of them. As the group approached the end of the course, two turns before the last straightaway, a spring fresh Buerger was already making for an outside gradual turn with although more distance covered, a whole lot of speed. Meanwhile, Grow went for the inside in the last straightaway. Both bidders were on the same track as the leader, and within his boatlength as they headed down the last 100 meter leg. It was an all out spin and paddle respectively with Buerger gaining on Free from the outside, and Grow gaining from the inside. As Free spun desperately for the lead, Buerger and Grow got sucked into his wake, so the three boats were rubbing and bumping for the last 50 yards. As the whole clump of human powered boats spun across the finish line, it was Free's long beak in first, with Buerger's starboard nose snuggling to within six feet of it, still rubbing against the gunwale, and still gaining. The leader's port side saw Grow's sit on top surfski rubbing the hind port outrigger, complete with thumping from his paddle stroking on the inside spaces of Free's proa.