Monday, December 01, 2014

New Boat Ideas

The Q-boat is showing its age. All of the hatches seep water. The day hatch is so leaky that I need to mop it out at lunch. The other hatches don’t seem to be as bad, but their size could be making masking the amount of water in them. The floor of the cockpit has pretty deep grooves were my feet sit. The keel strip is worn through. Some of the gel coat patches have patches.

I’m sure there is nothing that cannot be fixed. The question is if it is worth fixing. At some point an old kayak, like an old car, should be retired. The Q-boat has seen eight years of hard service.

If it is time to retire the Q-boat, what do I replace it with?

The recommedations I’ve gotten so far are to get a Cetus. They are the kayak-du-jour in my local kayaking circle. I’ve tried a few of them and not been impressed. They felt plenty stable, had decent speed, and were manueverable for a long kayak. They were easy enough to roll. In all that competance hid a lack of character. It was like driving a Camery or a Celica. Maybe the Q-boat’s quircks have messed up my expectations, but I want more than bland competence.

One other suggestion was a Tiderace Xcite. They get excellent reviews, but are also positioned as a jack of all trades kayak. I will definitely try one out, but based on the description it doesn’t excite me.

While checking out the Xcite, I saw that Tiderace has a new series called the Xtra that does excite me. It is billed as a rough water play boat for the ocean. At under 17’ it is a little short to be a great expedition kayak, but I rarely do more than day trips. It also gets great reviews.

The other kayak I’ve considered is the Greenlander Pro. I paddled one when I was looking at the Q-boat and liked it. It is a fast kayak and handled pretty well for a long kayak. It also looks good.

Both the Xtra and the Greenlander Pro are hard to find in my area, so I may be out of luck. Are there any other kayaks that I should put on the list to consider? I basically want a kayak for day trips and rough water. It also needs to be OK for the occasional overnight trip.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Blow by Blow

There are two divergent truths about the weather forecast: you always need to check it before going on the water and you can never trust it.
I made sure to check the weather before leaving to paddle this morning to make sure it was not going to be a total slog fest. The weather forecast was for moderate winds and nice temperatures. When I arrived at Gooseberry Point, I was greeted with howling frigid winds....
I am not sure I would have left the house for the actual conditions. The actual conditions were not bad enough to head home without getting on the water. I could definitely make the best of the conditions. There was plenty of surf and bumpy water along the Horseneck Beach side of the point.
This was also the first real cold weather paddle. I packed the dry suit and a bunch of fleece layers. I check the box-o-gear to make sure I had gloves. I forgot to check for a hat.
Most of me was toasty warm in fleece lined gortex. My head was freezing. Fortunately, JS had a spare hat he was willing to lend out. It was a perfect fit and cozy warm to boot.
We launched in the shelter of Gooseberry Point. It was hard to match the conditions on the water with the conditions in the parking lot. The wind and seas were calm. It was almost boring.
On the other side of the point things were much more challenging. The Q-boat is a notorious weather cocker and the beam wind knocked the skinny little tail around. I usually try not to use my skeg because, in my twisted head, it is a crutch and there is a little shame in it. After struggling with a myriad of correcting strokes, I finally gave up and dropped the skeg. Then, we stopped to play in the surf.
At first, I just sat outside the surf zone. Then I got bored and tired to catch a few waves. I got few OK rides. The wave were OK, but not great. So, I decided to try surfing backwards...in a Q-boat....
The first time I dumped, on the first wave I caught, was not bad. It's amazing how toasty fleece lined gortex is. I was a good way off shore, so I swam in, took the opportunity to relieve myself, and relaunch.
The second time was more adventurous. I was in shallow water close to sure. I actually managed to roll up once. Before I could settle, I was knocked over again. I went for a second roll and felt the mighty stick touch the bottom. I tried not to push off the bottom, but it was too late. I came up without my hat and losing my sunglasses. As I tried to secure my glasses, another wave knocked me over. I tossed the glasses toward shore to clutch the mighty stick in one hand and the grab loop with the other. I popped up between the kayak and the shore. Before the Q-boat knocked me silly, I ducked and got on its good side. I dragged everything to shore and started searching for my missing kit. JS kept telling me not to worry about the hat.... The glasses, thanks to the croaky, float and were easy to spot. My head was still naked and getting chilly.
TM, who is a boy scout leader, had a back up hat and my head was once again toasty.
The paddle home was a slog. Beam winds and chop made keep the Q-boat on a straight course nigh impossible. I started off using a paddle, paddle, stern rudder sequence with a few sweeps thrown in. Then I dropped the skeg and found that I still needed the occasional stern rudder to keep straight. Shame and corrective strokes were too much for me and I pulled the rudder again. TM told me to try a stern draw to keep the weather cocking in check. I'm not sure if it was lack of technique, the Q-boat, the mighty stick, or all three but I found myself slicing like a half dimpled golf ball.
Getting around the point made me feel like a novice. Getting the Q-boat to turn was a bitch. I was tired and out of practice. Getting the Q-boat onto a chine and make it turn was a physical and mental struggle. I finally got a enough of a turn to make it back into the lee of the point.
Conditions in the lee were clam again. The last bit of paddling back to the put in was easy peasy.
This was not an easy or relaxing paddle. It was energizing despite the frustration. A good challenge is always worth the time.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Outer West Passage of Terror

It was a rough week at work. My boss resigned and my new master made it clear that I was no longer going to have as much freedom to address issues as I was used to having. So H pushed me to get out and paddle if possible.
TG posted a level 3-4 paddle out of Bay Campus for the weekend. Level 3-4 is around the top of my current range, but it is safely in the range-as long as things don't get too pear shaped. The forecast was for wind, but I was feeling pretty good about getting on the water. Then I read the message board on Saturday.....
There was a thread about how this was going to be an advanced level paddle, Only paddlers who had been paddling regularly should attend. There was a second post describing the conditions on Saturday as closer to level 4-5. I was feeling a little less confident that I was up for the trip. Was I really up for an edge of the envelope paddle? Would I slow the group down or become a safety issue?
Upon careful consideration of the facts, I decided to go. I had been paddling regularly. A lot of the paddling was not in rough conditions or on RIC/KA trips, but it was time on the water paddling. Pushing Big Red around exercises the same muscles and takes a good deal of skill. Maneuvering a double without help is not easy. The NOAA forecast for the area did not match up with the described conditions; they were night and day. It was a safe bet that reality was somewhere in the middle. I was comfortable with the middle. I also trusted that TG and TM would tell me if they felt I wasn't up to the conditions.
At the put in, it was a little windy. The seas looked bumpy, but not scary. The scariest decisions were where to park and what to wear. Autumn, like Spring, is always tricky from a wardrobe perspective. The weather was sunny, but a little windy. The water is a little cold, but not really cold. People were wearing drysuits and people were wearing shorts and paddle jackets. I wasn't ready to give up on the warm weather or admit that winter is bearing down, so I went with the shorts and paddle jacket.
We launched and crossed over to Dutch Island. From there we proceeded along the Jamestown coast. The wind and swells were a minor presence. You knew they were there, but just. It was nice to just paddle and catch up with people.
Once we passed Beaver Tail, the wind and swells picked up. Crossing the mouth of the Bay from Beaver Tail to Whale Rock is bumpy on a clam day. Today was no exception. It was bumpier than average, but far from uncomfortable.
From Whale Rock we paddled down to Narragansett Town Beach for lunch. Getting to the beach took some planning. The beach was busy, there was a little choppy surf, and the rip from Narrow River was in place. We stuck close to the rocks to avoid the rip and the surf. A few adventurous paddlers did take the opportunity to play.
Lunch was nice, but windy. It was the only point on the paddle that I regretted not wearing a drysuit. My legs got a little chilly. Several people pulled out storm cags for warmth. I took the opportunity to break out the emergency shelter for a little respite from the wind. The shelter, which is little more than a big nylon sheet, is a little unwieldy. Once inside the shell, you are toasty warm. From the inside, the shelter is easy to manage.
After lunch, we paddled back along the mainland coast and the rocks. The wind and the swell made it a fun ride. We also had the National Guard giving us a show of men being dangled from a helicopter. Gawking at the string of men being dragged through the air on a rope was a nice way to spend the breaks between surfing through rocks.
I've grown more cautious as I've gotten older. I am not more concerned about getting myself hurt; I'm more concerned about finding the time and money to get the kayak fixed. OK, I am also concerned about getting myself hurt. The worry is not really for myself though; it is for my family. How would my being injured effect them? Could I afford to get the kayak fixed without impacting them? That doesn't mean I don't want to play in the rocks. I just have to balance my desire to play with my responsibilities differently.
The rocks were fun. I didn't tackle all of the rocks, but I made anough runs to challenge and satiate the need. Ultimately, I think I enjoy the distance paddling more than the rock playing. The adrenaline rush is great. The quiet is better.
We ran into some paddler looking for surf in Bonnet Cove, so we checked the beach out. The surf was small. People played a little. I mostly just bobbed and recharged.
Back at the put-in, I did the mandatory roll on each side. I can still roll. They were not as pretty as in the past, but I get up.
The paddle was just what the doctor ordered. I drove home feeling much better and mentally relaxed. A good day on the water can wash away a lot of crap.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Circumcisioned

I had given up hope for paddling the season. It looked like every weekend save for a very few were booked up. The fall season, while it can offer great paddling days, is also notorious for rainy weekends. Work was feeling like a long, bleak slog to nowhere. Is it any wonder that most representations of Autumn in literature are bleak and hopeless.
Then TM e-mailed asking me to post a Jamestown circumcision paddle on a day that I had free!! I only had two days notice, but I was hopeful that I'd get clearance. I was a little uncertain about my stamina and skills for a long haul paddle, but felt that I could handle the distance and the price I'd pay the next day.
Saturday morning I woke up achy and stuffy... Initially, I thought it was just lingering effects from a long week. As the day wore on, I started thinking it may be a cold. Knowing there was a potentially excellent paddle the next day made me even more miserable.
The forecast for the following day was looking pretty grim as well. There was a better than 50% chance of thunder showers. In New England 50% is hardly a sure thing. I checked with TM and his feeling was that the showers were a red herring.
H kept asking if I was still thinking about going. I kept saying that I was holding off until morning to see if I felt any better. Secretly, I think both of us had come to the conclusion that I was going to be home.
I was not prepared to admit defeat. I packed the car and deployed the roof racks.
Sunday morning I woke up feeling much better. At least better enough to go paddling. The sky was grey and the forecast still called for showers, but the paddle was not being canceled. H was very kind and said nothing and helped me load the kayak on the car.
The paddle crew was an interesting mix of old faces and new faces. It was odd not knowing everyone. It was odd to be using the stick again. It was even odder to feel like I may be the weak link in the chain. I resolved to just pretend everything was normal and that I was still the same seasoned paddler I was years ago.
As it turned out, I am still a pretty good paddler. All the paddles in Big Red kept my paddle muscles in functional shape. The rest of the skills are like riding a bike. I little time on the water and I felt pretty good.
The paddling was an interesting mix of play boating and distance paddling. Our first leg was up to the dumplings to see if there was any current to play in. There was a little, but not enough to hold our interest for long. We then headed south along the Jamestown coast. There was enough energy in the water to make things fun and require helmets. We worked our way down the coast and around Beavertail. Then we headed north up the other coast. TM wanted to lunch at Ft. Getty, so we passed most of the little coves that dot the coast. After lunch we passed Dutch Island and into the harbor. We carried over the beach and headed back to Ft. Weatherill.
It was a long paddle at nearly 13 miles. I was tired, but I felt good. I was fully re-energized and ready for a week of work.... even if I was planning on being a little stiff on Monday.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Big Red Gets Ice Cream

We bring all of our toys with us on vacation. The car is not happy about lugging everything to the far reaches of Maine, but that is the car's raison-de-etre. So, we spent four days in Searsport camping.
On Friday, we biked around Belfast and found a Cool Spot that has great ice cream and coffee.
On Saturday, we wanted to use the kayaks. Bug mostly wanted to hang out and it took us until mid-afternoon to get our acts together. We used ice cream as the lure to get Bug's buy in for the adventure. The paddle to Belfast is along a pretty protected coast with no major crossings. I'd guessed that it was maybe four miles one way, and would take about an hour.
Once we got on the water Bug cheered up. She enjoyed playing with her paddle and looking for birds on the water.
We moved along the coast at a nice pace until Bug had to pee. I didn't think this was a big deal. I suggested that she just climb out of the boat, hang on the side, and do her business. There was no chance of Bug tipping Big Red and she was wearing a PFD. It would be a quick in and out stop. I was overruled and we headed into shore to find a decent place for Bug to get out and pee in shallow water. It took a little doing, but we did find a spot.
Back on the water, Bug and chatted about all sorts of things as we made our way to ice cream. Then we repeated the pee stop.
The last third of the paddle was free of stops and involved the only crossing of the trip. The Passagassawakeag River empties into Belfast Bay. The currents are barely noticeable, but it was enough to stir up some anxiety.
The paddle turned out to be more like six and a bit miles. It took closer to two hours. Our time for ice cream was going to be short. If the return trip took as long, we would just beat sunset.
Once on land, we rushed to the Cool Spot for yummy, and deserved, ice cream. We each got our own version of chocolate decadence. The flavors are lush. It was hard leaving.
After ice cream, the fun stopped. Bug didn't want to get back into the kayak. She refused. It was clear that the return trip was not in the cards, despite our best efforts. Fortunately, we were in a populated area and could call a cab. H returned to the campground and got the car.
The trip was good until it wasn't. H and I learned that you cannot always push a four year old. Bug is usually pretty flexible, but has her limits. Our plan was ambitious for adults.
I'll take a good oneway trip with the family any day. Even if we don't complete the whole mission.